The famous name will garner attention, but stick with worthier books about self-improvement and self-affirmation.

LITTLE ELLEN

Another celebrity makes her children’s-book debut.

Comedian DeGeneres, host of the popular, long-running, multi-Emmy-award–winning eponymous daytime talk show known for its star’s hip dance moves, audience giveaways, and A-list guests, delivers a picture book based on the animated series of the same name about her childhood in New Orleans. The author attempts to convey to children the importance of being oneself, describing what she likes about herself—for instance, her big heart—and, ostensibly, encouraging readers to follow suit: e.g., putting others’ needs ahead of their own, being generous and kind—all while no one notices. Certainly, these are great messages to convey to readers, but, as narrated here in clunky verse, the unclear text doesn’t quite hit its mark and comes across as rather egocentric; only occasionally do readers get a sense that Little Ellen is boosting them more than herself. The illustrations fare better than the narrative. Colorful, lively, though generic, the digital art features light-skinned, blond, wide-eyed 7-year-old Ellen frolicking with her light-skinned, gray-haired Gramsy and racially diverse friends against some picturesque French Quarter and Louisiana parkland landscapes. Some text is set in colored type, adding to the visual appeal. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

The famous name will garner attention, but stick with worthier books about self-improvement and self-affirmation. (Autobiographical picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-37860-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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