SWAN IN LOVE

Bunting (A Picnic in October, 1999, etc.) pens a sweet story about a swan in love with the wooden swan figurehead on a little boat. Swan (no relation to Proust’s character of the same name) is hopelessly in love with the carved swan that adorns the front of a boat named “Dora.” The other swans in the lake and the other animals—even the fish and the frog—mock his impossible love. Instead of migrating south with the other swans in the fall, Swan stays behind to keep Dora company during the winters. At the end of one winter, both Dora and Swan are showing signs of aging—Dora is full of cracks, is more gray than white now, and when she’s put back into the water, she leaks badly; and Swan is slower and stiffer than he used to be. When Dora’s human owner announces that the boat can’t be fixed and will have to be destroyed, Swan goes crazy and attacks the man. But the love between Swan and Dora is too strong to be sundered, and both real and wooden swan are transformed into water lilies that float side by side on the lake. The pastel illustrations are absolutely exquisite and the depictions of the animals, especially the frog, are enormously appealing. But the moral this story delivers is a tad on the heavy-handed side—phrases such as “love was never wrong,” “difference makes no difference to love,” and “love makes magic” all hammer home the “love conquers all” message. While this is an agreeable story, it’s not entirely successful, never quite becoming the magical tale it strives to be and of questionable interest to children. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-82080-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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