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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I PROMISE

The NBA star offers a poem that encourages curiosity, integrity, compassion, courage, and self-forgiveness.

James makes his debut as a children’s author with a motivational poem touting life habits that children should strive for. In the first-person narration, he provides young readers with foundational self-esteem encouragement layered within basketball descriptions: “I promise to run full court and show up each time / to get right back up and let my magic shine.” While the verse is nothing particularly artful, it is heartfelt, and in her illustrations, Mata offers attention-grabbing illustrations of a diverse and enthusiastic group of children. Scenes vary, including classrooms hung with student artwork, an asphalt playground where kids jump double Dutch, and a gym populated with pint-sized basketball players, all clearly part of one bustling neighborhood. Her artistry brings black and brown joy to the forefront of each page. These children evince equal joy in learning and in play. One particularly touching double-page spread depicts two vignettes of a pair of black children, possibly siblings; in one, they cuddle comfortably together, and in the other, the older gives the younger a playful noogie. Adults will appreciate the closing checklist of promises, which emphasize active engagement with school. A closing note very generally introduces principles that underlie the Lebron James Family Foundation’s I Promise School (in Akron, Ohio). (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 15% of actual size.)

Sincere and wholehearted. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-297106-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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