A challenging 21st-century fable sure to spark discussions.


First-time writer Lappano and illustrator Hatanaka (Work, 2014; Drive, 2015) combine to envision a built world magically giving way to an almost out-of-control natural one.

Tokyo, a small boy, lives in a small house in a crowded city with his parents, grandfather, and “a cat named Kevin.” The house, his grandfather’s childhood home, is, Little House–style, engulfed by the city, which had also “eaten up” the surrounding forests, meadows, streams, and animals. “Cities had to eat something, after all,” observes the text fatalistically. One day an old woman rides by on a bike, pulling a cart full of dirt. She stops and directs Tokyo to plant the seeds she drops into his open, only somewhat-eager hand. They will “grow into whatever you wish.” He plants the seeds in his barren backyard and wishes. Over the next days, green things sprout, flowers bloom, rivers flow, bison stamp, and more, until the city has been transformed into a wild garden. While the drama of burgeoning nature is affirming and visionary, it is a little scary too. Bright, collagelike, geometric, Japanese-inflected landscapes seem at once welcoming and hopeful and thrilling and unsettling. Tokyo and his grandfather, both pale-skinned, have no eyes, just round, blue-rimmed spectacles. While this fascinating tale pays a debt to Virginia Burton, it also gives off a strong whiff of dystopia: "Gardens have to grow somewhere, after all." 

A challenging 21st-century fable sure to spark discussions. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55498-798-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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. 29, 2018

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Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking.


Unlikely friends Bear and Rabbit face fears together.

The anthropomorphic creatures set out on an adventure. Graphic-based illustrations give the book a Pixar movie feel, with a variety of page layouts that keep the story moving. Large blocks of black text are heavy on dialogue patterns as timid Bear and bold Rabbit encounter obstacles. Bear fears every one of them, from the stream to the mountain. He’ll do anything to avoid the objects of terror: taking a bus, a train, and even a helicopter. As Rabbit asks Bear if he’s frightened, Bear repeatedly responds, “I’m not scared, you’re scared!” and children will delight in the call-and-response opportunities. Adults may tire of the refrain, but attempts to keep everyone entertained are evident in asides about Bear's inability to brush food from his teeth (he’s too afraid to look at himself in the mirror) and Rabbit's superstrong ears (which do come in handy later). When Rabbit finds herself in danger after Bear defects on the adventure, Bear retraces the trip. Along the way, he notes that the stream wasn't as deep, nor the mountain as high, as he thought when he was scared. While picture-book shelves may not be screaming for another comedically sweet bear story, especially one that treads such familiar territory, many readers will appreciate this tale of overcoming fears. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35237-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Flamingo Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

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