If the laughs come a tad unevenly, come they do: good, absurdist fun with sly, existential winks.

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Renaissance guy O’Brien (who, in addition to penning New Yorker cartoons and illustrating prolifically for children, plays banjo and lifeguards in North Wildwood, N.J.) delivers wacky vignettes riffing on six professional tropes: farmer, chef, woodsman, knight, doorman and clown.

Throughout, double entendres and puns are made visual in titled cartoon strips composed of two to six panels each. In the group of stories about the profession of chef, a hatless pizza man rolls out and tosses dough that descends to settle on his head as a voluminous toque, and in “The Alphabet Soup,” the chef appeases an angry diner by fishing out three offending letters from his bowl: F, L and Y. A doorman’s thought bubble depicts a nearby water cooler; as he fetches a drink, the water cooler’s own thought bubble depicts the doorman. O’Brien finds particular fodder in a cartoonist’s stock trappings: A noisy snorer’s “ZZZZs” are shooed out a lobby window by the doorman, and one of the silliest bits has a dairy farmer, after looking fruitlessly for his cow’s udders, milking a word balloon that contains the cow’s “MOO!” Stippled watercolor in the muted tones of old comics underlie crosshatched ink drawings, and O’Brien’s own hand lettering appears throughout.

If the laughs come a tad unevenly, come they do: good, absurdist fun with sly, existential winks. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59078-894-3

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some...

RALPH TELLS A STORY

With a little help from his audience, a young storyteller gets over a solid case of writer’s block in this engaging debut.

Despite the (sometimes creatively spelled) examples produced by all his classmates and the teacher’s assertion that “Stories are everywhere!” Ralph can’t get past putting his name at the top of his paper. One day, lying under the desk in despair, he remembers finding an inchworm in the park. That’s all he has, though, until his classmates’ questions—“Did it feel squishy?” “Did your mom let you keep it?” “Did you name it?”—open the floodgates for a rousing yarn featuring an interloping toddler, a broad comic turn and a dramatic rescue. Hanlon illustrates the episode with childlike scenes done in transparent colors, featuring friendly-looking children with big smiles and widely spaced button eyes. The narrative text is printed in standard type, but the children’s dialogue is rendered in hand-lettered printing within speech balloons. The episode is enhanced with a page of elementary writing tips and the tantalizing titles of his many subsequent stories (“When I Ate Too Much Spaghetti,” “The Scariest Hamster,” “When the Librarian Yelled Really Loud at Me,” etc.) on the back endpapers.

An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some budding young writers off and running. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0761461807

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Teachers will certainly find themselves wishing for their own arsenal of supplies to help them with their grading, and...

THE LITTLE RED PEN

Obviously inspired by "The Little Red Hen," this goes beyond the foundation tale's basic moral about work ethic to explore problem solving, teamwork and doing one’s best.

Nighttime at school brings the Little Red Pen out of the drawer to correct papers, usually aided by other common school supplies. But not this time. Too afraid of being broken, worn out, dull, lost or, worst of all, put in the “Pit of No Return” (aka trash), they hide in the drawer despite the Little Red Pen’s insistence that the world will end if the papers do not get corrected. But even with her drive she cannot do it all herself—her efforts send her to the Pit. It takes the ingenuity and cooperation of every desk supply to accomplish her rescue and to get all the papers graded, thereby saving the world. The authors work in lots of clever wordplay that will appeal to adult readers, as will the spicy character of Chincheta, the Mexican pushpin. Stevens’ delightfully expressive desk supplies were created with paint, ink and plenty of real school supplies. Without a doubt, she has captured their true personalities: the buck-toothed stapler, bespectacled scissors and rather empty-headed eraser.

Teachers will certainly find themselves wishing for their own arsenal of supplies to help them with their grading, and students may take a second glance at that innocuous-looking red pen on the teacher’s desk. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-15-206432-7

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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