A sweet but somewhat-flimsy visual treat.

THE SECRET RHINO SOCIETY

Three friends learn that imitation isn’t the best way to demonstrate appreciation.

Fran, a white earthworm, Hudson, a gray hippo, and Jean, a smiling, hovering white light bulb, have “one thing in common”: Each wants to be a rhinoceros. They admire rhinoceroses for distinct reasons, which seem to reflect qualities they feel they lack themselves: For example, petite Fran appreciates rhinoceroses’ intimidating aspect. The friends form a secret rhinoceros-appreciation society, at which they all wear paper horns—but their celebration faces a challenge when they meet Ivy, a pale gray rhinoceros who doesn’t know how to charge, snort, or sharpen her horns. She’s a gardener, she explains. However, she does recognize that the group has more to offer than their perceived shortcomings, and, with her encouragement, the Secret Rhino Society transforms their clubhouse into a space—a delightful sandwich shop—that welcomes all. Cotterill’s delicate yet exuberant hand-built three-dimensional cardboard illustrations are a perfect foil to the book’s theme of navigating expectations and assumptions about others. Unfortunately, the text itself is underwhelming, and the book’s premise falls short of its potential. The abrupt shift from rhinoceros-appreciation-bordering-on-appropriation to selling sandwiches (especially to nameless characters who appear only in the final spread) makes for a less-successful narrative arc than the title and artwork have promised. Nevertheless, it could help kick-start conversations about stereotypes.

A sweet but somewhat-flimsy visual treat. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3000-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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A must-have book about the power of one’s voice and the friendships that emerge when you are yourself.

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THE DAY YOU BEGIN

School-age children encounter and overcome feelings of difference from their peers in the latest picture book from Woodson.

This nonlinear story centers on Angelina, with big curly hair and brown skin, as she begins the school year with a class share-out of summer travels. Text and illustrations effectively work together to convey her feelings of otherness as she reflects on her own summer spent at home: “What good is this / when others were flying,” she ponders while leaning out her city window forlornly watching birds fly past to seemingly faraway places. López’s incorporation of a ruler for a door, table, and tree into the illustrations creatively extends the metaphor of measuring up to others. Three other children—Rigoberto, a recent immigrant from Venezuela; a presumably Korean girl with her “too strange” lunch of kimchi, meat, and rice; and a lonely white boy in what seems to be a suburb—experience more-direct teasing for their outsider status. A bright jewel-toned palette and clever details, including a literal reflection of a better future, reveal hope and pride in spite of the taunting. This reassuring, lyrical book feels like a big hug from a wise aunt as she imparts the wisdom of the world in order to calm trepidatious young children: One of these things is not like the other, and that is actually what makes all the difference.

A must-have book about the power of one’s voice and the friendships that emerge when you are yourself. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-24653-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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