TACKY AND THE EMPEROR

Tacky, the delightful penguin who marches (or is it waddles?) to a different drummer is back in another funny and charming tale—this time involving a royal visit from the emperor. When Tacky and his five iceberg-mates learn that the emperor is coming to visit, they enter into frenzied preparations. A feast of fish-flavored food is prepared, entertainment is rehearsed, and Tacky is put in charge of the balloons. But when he blows up a really big balloon, he takes an unplanned ride and ends up on a neighboring iceberg, which, unbeknownst to Tacky, is the emperor’s home. Seeing a set of very fancy clothes lying unattended and unclaimed on the ice, he puts them on and waddles back to his own iceberg. To his amazement, his five friends make a huge fuss over him, plying him with food and making sure he’s amused and happy. Although Tacky doesn’t realize it, his friends have mistaken him for the emperor. When the real emperor arrives, the five others are mortified that there is nothing left with which to impress him, and are exasperated with Tacky. The emperor, who turns out to be sick to death of the stuffy and formal visits most of his subjects make him sit through, has a great time with Tacky and his improvisations. Instead of the fish-flavored food that the emperor is usually offered, they have snowball cones; instead of a boring dance recital, Tacky sings his favorite silly song; and they all (even his royal highness) tell penguin jokes. The watercolor illustrations are adorable and full of humor—note especially the fish-flavored ice cream, the emperor’s twinkle-toed shoes, and the double-page spread on which the penguins learn about the mistake that’s been made. Children will think this book is a riot and won’t even realize that a message is being delivered—a charming one about the joys of non-conformity. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-395-98120-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn.

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KNIGHT OWL

A young owl achieves his grand ambition.

Owl, an adorably earnest and gallant little owlet, dreams of being a knight. He imagines himself defeating dragons and winning favor far and wide through his brave exploits. When a record number of knights go missing, Owl applies to Knight School and is surprisingly accepted. He is much smaller than the other knights-in-training, struggles to wield weapons, and has “a habit of nodding off during the day.” Nevertheless, he graduates and is assigned to the Knight Night Watch. While patrolling the castle walls one night, a hungry dragon shows up and Owl must use his wits to avoid meeting a terrible end. The result is both humorous and heartwarming, offering an affirmation of courage and clear thinking no matter one’s size…and demonstrating the power of a midnight snack. The story never directly addresses the question of the missing knights, but it is hinted that they became the dragon’s fodder, leaving readers to question Owl’s decision to befriend the beast. Humor is supplied by the characters’ facial expressions and accented by the fact that Owl is the only animal in his order of big, burly human knights. Denise’s accomplished digital illustrations—many of which are full bleeds—often use a warm sepia palette that evokes a feeling of antiquity, and some spreads feature a pleasing play of chiaroscuro that creates suspense and drama.

A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-31062-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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