NIGHT RUNNING

HOW JAMES ESCAPED WITH THE HELP OF HIS FAITHFUL DOG

Based on a true story the author came across while writing the historical-fiction novel Stealing Freedom (1998), this beautifully illustrated picture book tells of the attempt of a young slave boy to escape his situation and go north. James tells his friend that he will escape that evening, but he’s caught by the men to whom his friend sold the information. Sure to be severely punished, James is lucky to be rescued by his dog Zeus. James shows a real lack of faith in Zeus, continually trying to get rid of him, afraid that he will somehow foil the escape. But Zeus is the reason that James gets through a number of frightening situations. Finally, after the reader is beginning to lose patience, James realizes how loyal Zeus is and that he should be appreciated. A one-page author’s note tells the full story of James and Zeus who actually did escape slavery. Caldecott Honor–winner Lewis’s stunning watercolors, some covering the entire spread, help convey the story in ways words cannot. Zeus is lovingly drawn in all his persistence, loyalty and bravery. James’s defeatism that turns into hope is perfectly indicated by the merest change of a brush stroke as Lewis adds to his long list of truly accomplished work. An excellent way to teach history, this belongs in every library. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-82247-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

DIARY OF A SPIDER

The wriggly narrator of Diary of a Worm (2003) puts in occasional appearances, but it’s his arachnid buddy who takes center stage here, with terse, tongue-in-cheek comments on his likes (his close friend Fly, Charlotte’s Web), his dislikes (vacuums, people with big feet), nervous encounters with a huge Daddy Longlegs, his extended family—which includes a Grandpa more than willing to share hard-won wisdom (The secret to a long, happy life: “Never fall asleep in a shoe.”)—and mishaps both at spider school and on the human playground. Bliss endows his garden-dwellers with faces and the odd hat or other accessory, and creates cozy webs or burrows colorfully decorated with corks, scraps, plastic toys and other human detritus. Spider closes with the notion that we could all get along, “just like me and Fly,” if we but got to know one another. Once again, brilliantly hilarious. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-000153-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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THE WONKY DONKEY

Hee haw.

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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. 28, 2018

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