A clear victory for a pufferfish and, more importantly, readers.

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POOR LITTLE GUY

A small, bespectacled pufferfish must face the everyday reality of being a small fish in a world full of big fishes.

Readers first see the pufferfish swimming alone, totally unaware of a giant eye looking in its direction. As the fish makes its way along, it passes in front of two giant eyes; these, it notices. “Gulp.” The fish glances back in fear. Thinking it's escaped unscathed, the fish breathes a sigh of relief just as a long tentacle sneaks up from behind. “Hello, little guy! Let’s play… / Catch of the Day!” says a big octopus that’s just a bit too friendly. Allen wrings a lot of humor from the wickedly funny abuse the octopus inflicts on the pufferfish, inventing a series of bizarre scenarios that increase in absurdity. The hand-lettered text, meanwhile, twists and turns on the page according to the whims of the octopus. The book at times recalls Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat (2012) in both subversive humor and minimalist aesthetic. Muted, vague strokes coil and curl around the yellow pufferfish and white octopus, conveying motion and contrasting against a plain backdrop that alternates between sea green and light blue. Eventually, the octopus wonders if the “cute” fish tastes “cute” and pops it in its (anatomically incorrect) mouth. “Ohh! You taste adorabl….” Though knowing readers will predict what happens next, it nonetheless still packs a punch.

A clear victory for a pufferfish and, more importantly, readers. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-525-42825-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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Serve this superbly designed title to all who relish slightly scary stories.

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CREEPY CARROTS!

Kids know vegetables can be scary, but rarely are edible roots out to get someone. In this whimsical mock-horror tale, carrots nearly frighten the whiskers off Jasper Rabbit, an interloper at Crackenhopper Field.

Jasper loves carrots, especially those “free for the taking.” He pulls some in the morning, yanks out a few in the afternoon, and comes again at night to rip out more. Reynolds builds delicious suspense with succinct language that allows understatements to be fully exploited in Brown’s hilarious illustrations. The cartoon pictures, executed in pencil and then digitally colored, are in various shades of gray and serve as a perfectly gloomy backdrop for the vegetables’ eerie orange on each page. “Jasper couldn’t get enough carrots … / … until they started following him.” The plot intensifies as Jasper not only begins to hear the veggies nearby, but also begins to see them everywhere. Initially, young readers will wonder if this is all a product of Jasper’s imagination. Was it a few snarling carrots or just some bathing items peeking out from behind the shower curtain? The ending truly satisfies both readers and the book’s characters alike. And a lesson on greed goes down like honey instead of a forkful of spinach.

Serve this superbly designed title to all who relish slightly scary stories. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-0297-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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