An absolutely wonderful fantasy tale.

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GUSTO & GECKO TRAVEL TO CHINA

Two friends help a giant panda challenge Chinese zodiac animals for a spot on the calendar in this latest picture book in a series.

Dinosaurs Gusto and Gecko are best friends who have a time machine. Their random destination: China, where they meet a giant panda who tells them of an upcoming contest featuring the 12 creatures of the Chinese zodiac and newcomers who want to take their spots. Panda decides to try after encouragement from Gusto and Gecko. The challenge takes them around China, where they compete by making Shanghai dumplings and performing Chinese opera, among other things. The final task: climbing a tower to light up the ice sculpture park in Harbin. No single animal can do it, but Panda decides they should cooperate. In the end, Panda gets a prize for “exceptional courage, friendship, and teamwork.” Han (Gusto & Gecko Travel to New Orleans, 2016, etc.) encourages cooperation in a way that’s fun but never preachy, and children may also learn about Chinese culture at the same time. The cast is sweet and amusing and shows real character; although Panda is no warrior, he still bravely protects everyone. Returning artist Hägg’s double-page illustration of a lighthouse is printed on coated paper that sparkles, and the effect is magic.

An absolutely wonderful fantasy tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9943413-2-7

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Pandasaur Pty. Ltd.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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 sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.

GOOD NIGHT, LITTLE BLUE TRUCK

Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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