Once readers have tackled the words, this story deflates with alarming celerity.

LATE NATE IN A RACE

McCully’s beginning reader demonstrates that it takes more than words to make a story.

This is a tale of good intentions. Both the artwork, with its wobbly pen lines and disarming characterizations, and a measure of the wordplay speak volumes about welcoming new readers. The words are accessible, the rhymes provide flow and the near-rhymes—“‘Eat up, Nate,’ say Jane and Jake”—are one of those little delights that snag the reader’s ear. But there is also atonality reminiscent of Dick, Jane and Sally. “The race is today. Mom, Dad, Jake, and Jane are here. Nate is not. He is slow. / It is late. Nate is still not here.” Storywise, okay, Nate the mouse is slow, and so be it. He even has a Thoreauvian moment when, as his mother prods him to enter the race, he says, “No. I like to go slow.” But he is never allowed to beat that drum, as his mother pushes him to the starting line. Nate, who has shown not a wink of flash, blows by everyone and wins the race by yards. What gives? Did a cat unexpectedly enter the precincts? Did fear give him sudden instincts of skill? Was it steroids? No reason is forthcoming.

Once readers have tackled the words, this story deflates with alarming celerity. (Picture book/early reader. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2421-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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

YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL

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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