THE SPECKLED FEATHER

Three birds living on the back of an elephant find their lives disrupted when they come across a speckled feather.

Beginning her story with “Once upon a time,” Ries introduces three birds named Ade, Emem, and Nuru that live on the back of an elephant on the African savanna. Theirs is a tranquil, symbiotic relationship. Sitting high up, the birds are safe from predators, and in return they feed off the insects on the elephant’s skin. One day, a gust of wind blows in a bright, speckled feather that ends their peaceful existence. The birds squabble, as each one wants the feather for itself. Upset, the elephant demands the bickering end before they are allowed back on his back. Only when their lives are in danger do they finally understand their friendship is more valuable than the feather. This is an old story that has been told many times before. The setting may change, the characters may change, the intruding object may change, but the underlying story arc remains the same. What is truly special here is the beauty of the soft artwork, which has the feel of watercolor. In this translation from German (Die Fleckenfeder), debut author/illustrator Ries plays with color and perspective to great effect. Yellows and flecks of gold evoke the heat of the savanna. Close-ups make the squabbling feel immediate. And two double-page spreads in which a wild dog attacks the birds are outright gripping.

A visual delight. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7358-4447-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: NorthSouth

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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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As insubstantial as hot air.

THE WORLD NEEDS WHO YOU WERE MADE TO BE

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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