Even when McPhail (The Teddy Bear, p. 496, etc.) is somewhat predictable, he can’t seem to help but turn out a winning story; his never-failing artwork doesn’t hurt either, with its fine lines, robust color, and deep narrative content. Here, in a story in chapters, he’s back with one of his favorite creatures, the pig—Piggy, in this case. Piggy was the runt of the litter, but tendered into youth by the kind Mr. and Mrs. Farmer Todd. Among the gifts they bestow upon Piggy is the secret to Mrs. Farmer Todd’s delicious pancakes. When a young and starving fox by the name of Fox (“The name certainly suits you,” notes Mrs. Farmer Todd) is caught in the hen house, Piggy invites him in to have some pancakes. Soon, Piggy and Fox decide to open a pancake parlor in their little burg. It becomes a great hit and gives Piggy a chance to display his remarkable patience, tolerance, and loyalty: he works more like a beaver than a porker; he handles unruly customers with kindness; and he doesn’t reveal the secret ingredient to the pancakes, even when offered a substantial cash bribe. Finally the day comes when he confides the secret ingredient to Fox—with Mrs. Farmer Brown’s approval. You guessed it: love is the answer. But that isn’t what propels this story forward, except as an aspect of Piggy’s general deportment; the secret ingredient is McPhail’s terrific way with words—“But Piggy and Fox were young and strong, and the hard work agreed with them”—and his ability to craft affecting, soulful characters. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-525-45930-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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Aims high but falls flat.


Through 20 short poems, Maestro Mouse invites readers to meet a series of animals who have lessons to impart and a symphony to perform.

Brown, author of The DaVinci Code (2003) and other wildly popular titles for adults, here offers young listeners a poetry collection accompanied by music: a “symphony” performed, for readers equipped with an audio device and an internet connection, by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra. From the introduction of the conductor and the opening “Woodbird Welcome” to the closing “Cricket Lullaby,” the writer/composer uses poems made of three to eight rhyming couplets, each line with four strong beats, to introduce the animals who will be revealed in the final double gatefold as the players in an all-animal orchestra. Each poem also contains a lesson, reinforced by a short message (often on a banner or signpost). Thus, “When life trips them up a bit, / Cats just make the best of it” concludes the poem “Clumsy Kittens,” which is encapsulated by “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on your feet!” The individual songs and poems may appeal to the intended audience, but collectively they don’t have enough variety to be read aloud straight through. Nor does the gathering of the orchestra provide a narrative arc. Batori’s cartoon illustrations are whimsically engaging, however. They include puzzles: hard-to-find letters that are said to form anagrams of instrument names and a bee who turns up somewhere in every scene.

Aims high but falls flat. (Complete composition not available for review.) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12384-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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