Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness.



How identifiable is an individual goldfish, anyway?

Jeffrey’s goldfish, Splotch, is fine when the dark-haired, pale-skinned boy bids it goodbye as he leaves for school, but by noon, it’s floating upside-down and has X’s for eyes. Dialogue and time notations offer readers a sparse, clever aid to decoding this mostly-visually-told plot. At noon, Mom (who shares Jeffrey’s coloring) exits the bathroom holding a dripping net while a curious black cat looks on. Heartbreak-avoidance techniques involve Frank’s Fish World (clued by telltale bags), benevolent deception, and the grand question of how important the exact shape of a fish’s white splotch is. At midnight, Jeffrey sits bolt upright, realizing that a certain new fish isn’t his old fish; the epiphany shows up on the page as Jeffrey’s eyes open wide in horror, his mental images of two fish (old and new) separated by a “not-equal” sign and three huge red exclamation marks. Can fish run away? Has old Splotch been changed by aliens? When exactly does Jeffrey realize what’s going on, and when does he decide to reverse emotional roles with his mother? Marino uses fine pencil lines, half-cartoony faces that blend wryness and sincerity, water-textured gouache on watercolor paper, and easygoing visual patterns to make illustrations that highlight the plot but are visually friendly.

Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-46957-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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The buoyant uplift seems a bit pre-packaged but spot-on nonetheless.


A monohued tally of positive character traits.

Purple is a “magic color,” affirm the authors (both actors, though Hart’s name recognition is nowhere near the level of Bell’s), and “purple people” are the sort who ask questions, laugh wholeheartedly, work hard, freely voice feelings and opinions, help those who might “lose” their own voices in the face of unkindness, and, in sum, can “JUST BE (the real) YOU.” Unlike the obsessive protagonist of Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious franchise, being a purple person has “nothing to do with what you look like”—a point that Wiseman underscores with scenes of exuberantly posed cartoon figures (including versions of the authors) in casual North American attire but sporting a wide range of ages, skin hues, and body types. A crowded playground at the close (no social distancing here) displays all this wholesome behavior in action. Plenty of purple highlights, plus a plethora of broad smiles and wide-open mouths, crank up the visual energy—and if the earnest overall tone doesn’t snag the attention of young audiences, a grossly literal view of the young narrator and a grandparent “snot-out-our-nose laughing” should do the trick. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.4-by-20.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 22.2% of actual size.)

The buoyant uplift seems a bit pre-packaged but spot-on nonetheless. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12196-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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