Captivating and charming both as animal story and as a glimpse of historical East/West relations. (Picture book. 4-10)


Holmes, Harris and Cannel (A Giraffe Goes to Paris, 2010) again team up to tell a tale about a large exotic animal who historically ventured into European/Western territory.

This time they reach back into the first millennium to look at a cross-cultural bridge constructed in the 9th century, when Charlemagne was emperor of most of Europe. The first-person narrative in the voice of the chronicling monk of St. Gall, Notker the Stammerer, tells how the emperor was interested in Harun al-Rashid, the famed caliph of Baghdad. Charlemagne dispatches some of his men to travel to Baghdad to meet with Harun. Charlemagne’s emissaries to Harun’s beautiful city are treated with interest and respect, introduced to “artists, musicians, scholars, mathematicians, architects, and poets” and sent home with extraordinary gifts. These include a wondrous mechanical clock, multiple treasures and an albino elephant named Abu and his Jewish caretaker, Isaac. They journey westward, following the same route across the Alps taken by Hannibal 500 years earlier. Cannel’s ink-and-watercolor illustration is endearingly old-fashioned: simple, whimsical and sophisticated at the same time, reminiscent of Virginia Kahl and Laurent de Brunhoff in its expressive cartoon lines and lively scenes. An authors’ note provides more information on the historical Notker the Stammerer and the famous clock, as well as providing sources for their story.

Captivating and charming both as animal story and as a glimpse of historical East/West relations. (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7614-6111-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends


From the Elephant & Piggie series

Gerald the elephant learns a truth familiar to every preschooler—heck, every human: “Waiting is not easy!”

When Piggie cartwheels up to Gerald announcing that she has a surprise for him, Gerald is less than pleased to learn that the “surprise is a surprise.” Gerald pumps Piggie for information (it’s big, it’s pretty, and they can share it), but Piggie holds fast on this basic principle: Gerald will have to wait. Gerald lets out an almighty “GROAN!” Variations on this basic exchange occur throughout the day; Gerald pleads, Piggie insists they must wait; Gerald groans. As the day turns to twilight (signaled by the backgrounds that darken from mauve to gray to charcoal), Gerald gets grumpy. “WE HAVE WASTED THE WHOLE DAY!…And for WHAT!?” Piggie then gestures up to the Milky Way, which an awed Gerald acknowledges “was worth the wait.” Willems relies even more than usual on the slightest of changes in posture, layout and typography, as two waiting figures can’t help but be pretty static. At one point, Piggie assumes the lotus position, infuriating Gerald. Most amusingly, Gerald’s elephantine groans assume weighty physicality in spread-filling speech bubbles that knock Piggie to the ground. And the spectacular, photo-collaged images of the Milky Way that dwarf the two friends makes it clear that it was indeed worth the wait.

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends . (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9957-1

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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