The joyful clarity of both vision and execution thrills.


Who needs a cookie? Give a mouse a paintbrush!

Janson lives in a museum, in a cozy corner with a pillow and a rose-speckled blanket. One day, she stumbles upon something new, “and her little world opened.” Striding across a gray page, with a soft white glow around her figure to show energy, Janson emerges into a white background and finds—art! Immediately entranced, this self-possessed, humble rodent sets to work copying the masters. A grid of pop-art self-portraits (Janson’s face, with her tenderly expressive eyebrow angle) pays homage to Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series; Janson reclining in a jungle recalls Rousseau; Janson’s snout, elongated and triangulated into cubism, echoes Picasso. Each clean, white page centers Janson at work; an occasional wall angle, easel or dropcloth nimbly enhances the minimal composition. Janson’s gray body and striped skirt are warm hues of low saturation, sending focus to the colors within her artwork: Campbell’s red soup can with mouse face, à la Warhol; blues and yellows for van Gogh’s Starry Night; primaries for a geometric Mondrian mouse and a Munch mouse Scream. When museum renovation bars Janson from the art wing, she weeps, truly bereft, then forges ahead, painting from memory and defining her own style. Discovery and an exhibit follow. Janson’s climactic mousterpiece features canvas texture showing through the paint, honoring her beloved medium.

The joyful clarity of both vision and execution thrills. (notes on 22 artists referenced) (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59643-549-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story.


A home-renovation project is interrupted by a family of wrens, allowing a young girl an up-close glimpse of nature.

Renata and her father enjoy working on upgrading their bathroom, installing a clawfoot bathtub, and cutting a space for a new window. One warm night, after Papi leaves the window space open, two wrens begin making a nest in the bathroom. Rather than seeing it as an unfortunate delay of their project, Renata and Papi decide to let the avian carpenters continue their work. Renata witnesses the birth of four chicks as their rosy eggs split open “like coats that are suddenly too small.” Renata finds at a crucial moment that she can help the chicks learn to fly, even with the bittersweet knowledge that it will only hasten their exits from her life. Rosen uses lively language and well-chosen details to move the story of the baby birds forward. The text suggests the strong bond built by this Afro-Latinx father and daughter with their ongoing project without needing to point it out explicitly, a light touch in a picture book full of delicate, well-drawn moments and precise wording. Garoche’s drawings are impressively detailed, from the nest’s many small bits to the developing first feathers on the chicks and the wall smudges and exposed wiring of the renovation. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Renata’s wren encounter proves magical, one most children could only wish to experience outside of this lovely story. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-12320-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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. 28, 2018

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