ALL ABOARD!

This fluid locomotive voyage starts rolling even before the title page with a “Choong. Choong. Choong. Choong,” as readers follow the journey of Mr. Barnes, a large purple-suited rabbit, and his travel mate—a young girl. Ray (Red Rubber Boot Day, 2000, etc.) calmly alternates between characters’ actions and striking descriptions: “A city slides by, strung with lights in the night, like a tug of dreams on a river.” The language is rhythmic and rich with auditory treats, but sets a leisurely pace that could lose a young reader’s attention. Fortunately, the art is captivating; oversized pages are filled with striking scenes of countryside and urban landscapes, interesting perspectives, and clever details enough to require repeated explorations. Characters (who are all animals other than the girl) and objects in fuzzy pastels are collaged together within the train cars, creating a cozy potpourri that hits a safe note for inexperienced solo travelers. They’ll watch passengers read, snooze, snack, or just look out the window. It’s the perfect depiction of train travel: everyone “has somewhere to go” and yet is luxuriously suspended in time. The ending, though the reader gets a glimpse of a stuffed rabbit in the little girl’s backpack at the beginning of the story, comes as a delightful surprise that provides a nice punctuation to an otherwise uneventful ride. Mr. Barnes isn’t a tall, dapper fellow after all, but only a stuffed animal. When the girl departs the train and is greeted lovingly by her grandparents, Mr. Barnes again pokes out of her backpack, reminding readers both young and old that a train can take you anywhere your imagination is willing to go. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-73507-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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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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Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed.

YOU DON'T WANT A DRAGON!

If you thought having a unicorn as a pet was hard, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried owning a dragon.

The young protagonist of You Don’t Want a Unicorn! (2017) is back, and they clearly haven’t learned their lesson. Now they’ve wished for a pet dragon. As the intrusive narrator is quick to point out, everything about it seems fun at the beginning. However, it’s not long before the doglike dragon starts chasing squirrels, drooling, pooping (ever wondered where charcoal comes from?), scooting its butt across the floor (leaving fire and flames behind), and more. By now, the dragon has grown too huge to keep, so the child (who appears white and also to live alone) wishes it away and settles for a cute little hamster instead. A perfect pet…until it finds a stray magical cupcake. Simple cartoon art and a surfeit of jokes about defecation suggest this book will find an appreciative audience. The dragon/dog equivalences are cute on an initial read, but they may not be strong enough to convince anyone to return. Moreover, a surprising amount of the plot hinges on having read the previous book in this series (it’s the only way readers will know that cupcakes are unicorn poop).

Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-53580-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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