The layout and concept deserve better material.



The use of tools by nonhuman animals is explored via 11 animals, each with its own watercolor portrait, rhymed couplet and explanatory gloss.

Unfortunately, in the attempt to rhyme, most of the couplets fail to be clear or memorable. Even the prose is not always clear, as in “Elephants strip leaves from branches. They use the stripped branches to swat flies or other insects that bite them.” (Are the “other insects” attacking the flies or the elephants?) The author’s note is equally difficult to read, perhaps attempting, but failing, to adapt to beginning readers. Probably the best verse—and also the most whimsical art—is this: “Here’s a deer who’s quite well dressed, / wearing grass to look his best.” The single sentence that follows adds, anthropomorphically, “Male red deer smear their antlers with mud or grass to appear bigger and fiercer to other males and more attractive to females.” The sturdy stag is staring into the distance, its antlers interlaced with ferns and grasses. Depictions of flora and fauna show excellent composition and promising, if overworked, artistry, but at the book’s beginning and end, awkward paintings of children sadly match dismally unimaginative verses: “Tools help us everywhere, / on the earth and in the air.” Alas: Where are the limericks of yore, with the pelican whose “bill can hold more than his belican”?

The layout and concept deserve better material. (author’s note, list of animals’ habitat ranges, resources for children, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-58089-564-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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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. 29, 2018

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Charming characters, a clever plot and a quiet message tucked inside a humorous tale.


From the You Are (Not) Small series

Fuzzy, bearlike creatures of different sizes relate to one another in an amusing story that explores the relative nature of size.

A small purple creature meets a similarly shaped but much larger orange critter. The purple creature maintains that the orange creature is “big”; the orange one counters by calling the purple one “small.” This continues, devolving into a very funny shouting match, pages full of each type of creature hollering across the gutter. This is followed by a show-stopping double-page spread depicting two huge, blue legs and the single word “Boom!” in huge display type. Tiny, pink critters then float down by parachute, further complicating the size comparisons. Eventually, these brightly colored animals learn to see things in a different way. In the end, they decide they are all hungry and trudge off to eat together. The story is told effectively with just a few words per page, though younger readers might need help understanding the size and perspective concepts. Cartoon-style illustrations in ink and watercolor use simple shapes with heavy black outlines set off by lots of white space, with an oversized format and large typeface adding to the spare but polished design. While the story itself seems simple, the concepts are pertinent to several important social issues such as bullying and racism, as well as understanding point of view.

Charming characters, a clever plot and a quiet message tucked inside a humorous tale. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4778-4772-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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