Despite visual hiccups, this much-needed tale of cooperation and inclusivity will be welcomed by readers of all ages.

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THE BELONGING TREE

In the big oak tree, life couldn’t be better—there are squirrels everywhere. But with summer comes discord.

Who invited the noisy blue jays? And why are there so many chipmunks? Hey, where did those beavers come from? Pa and Ma are not amused. Archie Bunker–like proclamations issue forth from disgruntled Pa. “Blue jays don’t belong here!” Pa grumps. And: “Beavers are the worst neighbors of all!” When they pack up and move across the river, Ma tells her son, “Look, Zeke! There are lots of squirrels here, just like you.” But Zeke misses his friends. On his way to visit them, a sudden storm wreaks havoc. He is stranded on a branch, dangling over the river, when his family’s maple tree comes crashing down. The former neighbors come to the rescue and return the squirrel family to the oak tree, where they all truly belong—together. Cocca-Leffler’s message-driven story is easily accessible, with concise, clear sentences, and Lombardi’s bright, humorous, and inviting illustrations of the forest setting are eye-catching. However, there’s a jarring disconnect between the anthropomorphized squirrels and beavers and the realistically rendered chipmunks. Also, one sequence of spreads, in which the squirrels move from the left bank to the right but Zeke’s old friends wave at him from the right bank, is visually confusing. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

Despite visual hiccups, this much-needed tale of cooperation and inclusivity will be welcomed by readers of all ages. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30513-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

LOVE MONSTER

Monster lives in Cutesville, where he feels his googly eyes make him unlovable, especially compared to all the “cute, fluffy” kittens, puppies and bunnies. He goes off to find someone who will appreciate him just the way he is…with funny and heartwarming results.

A red, scraggly, pointy-eared, arm-dragging monster with a pronounced underbite clutches his monster doll to one side of his chest, exposing a purplish blue heart on the other. His oversized eyes express his loneliness. Bright could not have created a more sympathetic and adorable character. But she further impresses with the telling of this poor chap’s journey. Since Monster is not the “moping-around sort,” he strikes out on his own to find someone who will love him. “He look[s] high” from on top of a hill, and “he look[s] low” at the bottom of the same hill. The page turn reveals a rolling (and labeled) tumbleweed on a flat stretch. Here “he look[s] middle-ish.” Careful pacing combines with dramatic design and the deadpan text to make this sad search a very funny one. When it gets dark and scary, he decides to head back home. A bus’s headlights shine on his bent figure. All seems hopeless—until the next page surprises, with a smiling, orange monster with long eyelashes and a pink heart on her chest depicted at the wheel. And “in the blink of a googly eye / everything change[s].”

This seemingly simple tale packs a satisfying emotional punch. Scarily good! (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-34646-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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