Molto bene! (Picture book. 4-8)

PAOLO, EMPEROR OF ROME

A canine escapee gets his own Roman holiday.

Paolo, a dachshund, would rather explore the streets of Rome than lie around inside his hair-salon home. Every time he dares to make an escape out the door, his owner, Signora Pianostrada, blocks her “Lazy Paolo” with her foot. But one day, Signora Pianostrada starts putting curlers in a client’s hair before remembering to close the door, and off Paolo goes. The pup’s newfound freedom takes him all over Rome—for, as he says, unlike the statues he sees, “I am made of muscles, and can go wherever I please.” He stares down cats in a field full of ruins. He becomes leader of a pack of dogs. He even tries his hand at heroics. Above all else, he conquers the city, proving that he’s more imperial than lazy. Barnett’s theatrical narrator works in tandem with the hilariously pompous pooch to carry this rib-tickling romp with infectious bravado. Keane’s illustrations feature thick black outlines and an earthy, Mediterranean color palette applied with the look of oil pastels. The beautifully textured architecture and action sequences harken back to classic picture-book artists like Ludwig Bemelmans, Dr. Seuss, and H.A. Rey. A pair of wordless spreads even gives the pup a wild rumpus. Though it’s mostly an animal story, the human characters are racially diverse. Endpapers depict a small map of Rome with Italian labels.

Molto bene! (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4109-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle...

THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING

Making things is difficult work. Readers will recognize the stages of this young heroine’s experience as she struggles to realize her vision.

First comes anticipation. The artist/engineer is spotted jauntily pulling a wagonload of junkyard treasures. Accompanied by her trusty canine companion, she begins drawing plans and building an assemblage. The narration has a breezy tone: “[S]he makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” The colorful caricatures and creations contrast with the digital black outlines on a white background that depict an urban neighborhood. Intermittent blue-gray panels break up the white expanses on selected pages showing sequential actions. When the first piece doesn’t turn out as desired, the protagonist tries again, hoping to achieve magnificence. A model of persistence, she tries many adjustments; the vocabulary alone offers constructive behaviors: she “tinkers,” “wrenches,” “fiddles,” “examines,” “stares” and “tweaks.” Such hard work, however, combines with disappointing results, eventually leading to frustration, anger and injury. Explosive emotions are followed by defeat, portrayed with a small font and scaled-down figures. When the dog, whose expressions have humorously mirrored his owner’s through each phase, retrieves his leash, the resulting stroll serves them well. A fresh perspective brings renewed enthusiasm and—spoiler alert—a most magnificent scooter sidecar for a loyal assistant.

Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle characterization for maximum delight. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55453-704-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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