A bit too straightforward with its lesson, but this British import has both a heart and a spirited lead.


What will Num-Num’s Elephant Name be?

Elephant tradition demands that every young elephant perform for Elephant Mighty to show they are best at something. Elephant Mighty, depicted in the illustrations as a tusked, enthroned bull with crown and ermine-trimmed robe, will then reward them with an Elephant Name. When Nina pulls a tree from the ground with her trunk, Elephant Mighty says, “Your trunk is so splendid and long! / I never imagined that tree would come loose. / I’m calling you ELEPHANT STRONG!” But Num-Num doesn’t have a talent. Though he tries a few tricks when forced to, the elephants laugh at him, and Elephant Mighty dubs him Elephant Nothing. Num-Num moves far away to his own watering hole, where, because he is such a sweet elephant, he makes a lot of new friends of many different species. When they hear his story, they’re shocked. The group treks back to tell Elephant Mighty how wrong he was. Num-Num tells a skeptical ruler that he wants to be Elephant Me. “I may not be noisy or tough, / But the hardest thing sometimes is just to be YOU, / And to know being YOU is ENOUGH.” Elephant Mighty has a surprising response, and everything ends with a dance. Andreae’s signature perky, rhymed verse (here set in abcb quatrains) pairs nicely with Parker-Rees’ sunny cartoon illustrations.

A bit too straightforward with its lesson, but this British import has both a heart and a spirited lead. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-73427-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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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As insubstantial as hot air.


A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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