A fresh inversion of expectations told in vivid art and idiom.

WE BECAME JAGUARS

Left alone together, a small child and their grandmother transform into jaguars, walking on all fours on the carpet and then out into the night.

The grandmother, with her “very, very long” white hair, dark brows, crimson nails, and spotted cardigan, appears game for anything wild. The child has met her only once, and her bold demeanor will intrigue children used to benign literary grandmothers who dole out cookies and cuddles. This grandmother directs the child to look “leaner” and “fiercer” as they make the shape of a jaguar on the floor alongside her. “Now we go,” she states flatly. A clever gatefold shows the pair’s metamorphosis from white-skinned humans to furry felines stalking through night grasses. Transfixing painterly illustrations offer nocturnal purples and blues along with bioluminescent pinks and greens, creating a woozy, otherworldly habitat. The little jaguar seems a bit scared at first, tremulous, turning down raw rabbit by claiming an allergy. Young people will find humor in the child’s narration, perhaps especially when they relate that “we were somewhere in the Himalayas when I remembered that I had school.” The phrase “we jaguared on” repeats again and again as they cross varying landscapes, and it perfectly captures the fluidity of jaguar movement in its languid articulation. Children will relish this book’s blurred ambiguities; what’s real and what’s imagined are as hard to distinguish as a jaguar in the shadows.

A fresh inversion of expectations told in vivid art and idiom. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4521-8393-0

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Hee haw.

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THE WONKY DONKEY

The print version of a knee-slapping cumulative ditty.

In the song, Smith meets a donkey on the road. It is three-legged, and so a “wonky donkey” that, on further examination, has but one eye and so is a “winky wonky donkey” with a taste for country music and therefore a “honky-tonky winky wonky donkey,” and so on to a final characterization as a “spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.” A free musical recording (of this version, anyway—the author’s website hints at an adults-only version of the song) is available from the publisher and elsewhere online. Even though the book has no included soundtrack, the sly, high-spirited, eye patch–sporting donkey that grins, winks, farts, and clumps its way through the song on a prosthetic metal hoof in Cowley’s informal watercolors supplies comical visual flourishes for the silly wordplay. Look for ready guffaws from young audiences, whether read or sung, though those attuned to disability stereotypes may find themselves wincing instead or as well.

Hee haw. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-26124-1

Page Count: 26

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2018

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Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle...

THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING

Making things is difficult work. Readers will recognize the stages of this young heroine’s experience as she struggles to realize her vision.

First comes anticipation. The artist/engineer is spotted jauntily pulling a wagonload of junkyard treasures. Accompanied by her trusty canine companion, she begins drawing plans and building an assemblage. The narration has a breezy tone: “[S]he makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” The colorful caricatures and creations contrast with the digital black outlines on a white background that depict an urban neighborhood. Intermittent blue-gray panels break up the white expanses on selected pages showing sequential actions. When the first piece doesn’t turn out as desired, the protagonist tries again, hoping to achieve magnificence. A model of persistence, she tries many adjustments; the vocabulary alone offers constructive behaviors: she “tinkers,” “wrenches,” “fiddles,” “examines,” “stares” and “tweaks.” Such hard work, however, combines with disappointing results, eventually leading to frustration, anger and injury. Explosive emotions are followed by defeat, portrayed with a small font and scaled-down figures. When the dog, whose expressions have humorously mirrored his owner’s through each phase, retrieves his leash, the resulting stroll serves them well. A fresh perspective brings renewed enthusiasm and—spoiler alert—a most magnificent scooter sidecar for a loyal assistant.

Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle characterization for maximum delight. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55453-704-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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