Two creative playmates explore the wonderful ups and downs of imaginary co-play through art



Painting a playscape can be unexpectedly adventurous when you begin with a big yellow lion!

Little Golden Books’ Tawny Scrawny Lion meets Harold and the Purple Crayon in this innovative addition to the “story comes to life” picture-book genre. Martha, a white girl, loves to draw. Her painting of the male lion narrator steps out of the frame and joins her on immersive adventures across an ocean, through a jungle, and into a rollicking water fight—recalling the nonlinearity of children’s imaginary play. As the play accelerates, eventually the tawny playmate goes too far with a climactic SNAP! He meets his match with Martha’s gigantic ROAR! A brief détente leads to reconciliation, and the two set off on a new adventure to a park. Suddenly, the lion leaps away into the sky, and Martha reappears in her room, surrounded by her artwork and paints, to discover a new artistic subject. Playtime has come to an end…or has it? Deceptively simple line drawings complement dramatic paintings and bright splotches stylistically reminiscent of Jackson Pollack. The primary palette—heavy on the yellow—lends to the action and rising tension. Details big and small will leap out to sharp-eyed pre-readers, and simple rhyming couplets offer children opportunities to join in a read-aloud. Doled out one line per double-page spread, they keep the pacing of this extra-long picture book sprightly.

Two creative playmates explore the wonderful ups and downs of imaginary co-play through art . (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-500-65142-1

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A sweet cetacean story.


The flora and fauna of the ocean respond to a lonely whale’s beautiful music by helping him find another whale.

“Whale’s song was so beautiful it could reach the farthest of faraways.” Over a double-page spread, a simply drawn white whale—detailed with a large eye, a small mouth and fins, and a small lavender heart—swims past a variety of pastel-hued sea denizens. The lyrical text is set in type that emulates hand-lettering. Watercolors are the appropriate choice for a tale that occurs in a sea full of creatures—with an occasional glimpse of land and sky as well as a cheerfully colored sailboat and lighthouse. Collage, pencil sketching, and washes produce a dreamlike effect that also feels sweetly humorous. A double-page spread of sea horses lounging atop spirited jellyfish is especially whimsical. Musical terms are cleverly used to describe the singing whale’s positive effects on others (“a cheerful symphony for a sad urchin”). After several pages of poetic lines about the talented singer, readers learn that his heart feels “empty.” The ocean carries his sighing wish across miles of lovingly rendered sea habitats until the solo becomes a duet. Although the flap copy speaks of friendship, even the youngest of readers will sense that this is a whale of a romance. Beneath its warmth is a poignant reminder of the loss to all if whale songs become history.

A sweet cetacean story. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984-83627-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Watching unlikely friends finally be as “happy as two someones can be” feels like being enveloped in your very own hug.


What to do when you’re a prickly animal hankering for a hug? Why, find another misfit animal also searching for an embrace!

Sweet but “tricky to hug” little Hedgehog is down in the dumps. Wandering the forest, Hedgehog begs different animals for hugs, but each rejects them. Readers will giggle at their panicked excuses—an evasive squirrel must suddenly count its three measly acorns; a magpie begins a drawn-out song—but will also be indignant on poor hedgehog’s behalf. Hedgehog has the appealingly pink-cheeked softness typical of Dunbar’s art, and the gentle watercolors are nonthreatening, though she also captures the animals’ genuine concern about being poked. A wise owl counsels the dejected hedgehog that while the prickles may frighten some, “there’s someone for everyone.” That’s when Hedgehog spots a similarly lonely tortoise, rejected due to its “very hard” shell but perfectly matched for a spiky new friend. They race toward each other until the glorious meeting, marked with swoony peach swirls and overjoyed grins. At this point, readers flip the book to hear the same gloomy tale from the tortoise’s perspective until it again culminates in that joyous hug, a book turn that’s made a pleasure with thick creamy paper and solid binding.

Watching unlikely friends finally be as “happy as two someones can be” feels like being enveloped in your very own hug. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-571-34875-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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