Low (apparently) of budget and bland (certainly) of content, this digital tale follows a child on an imaginary voyage to an island where she and her companions dig up a treasure chest, take a few glittery souvenirs and sail home to bed. Her pals include a trio of animals with piratical disabilities: a dolphin with an eye patch, a turtle with a peg, er, flipper and an octopus with a hook on one of its tentacles. The art is utterly free of animation beyond occasional sparkles and features flat cartoon views of the fixedly smiling Penelope (and her animal shipmates) in static poses. The optional voice track, read by a child, is as wooden as the writing—which runs to lines like, “‘Let’s just take a few goodies,’ says Penelope ‘and leave the rest for the next adventurous pirate.’” The sparse assortment of less-than-exciting touch-activated sound effects range from sand being shoveled or a tiny splash to a very brief dolphin chirp and a cheery “Ahoy!” It's glitchy, too: When the word-highlighting feature is turned off, some of the text disappears even though it's still read aloud. Supplementary material includes review questions, activities and facts about octopi, sea turtles and dolphins. After even casual exposure to the plethora of better-designed, more feature-rich apps currently available, children will likely greet this effort with a (to quote Penelope) “Yaaawwn.” (iPad storybook app. 5-7)

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: PicPocket Books

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2011

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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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Accessible, reassuring and hopeful.


This endearing picture book about a timid boy who longs to belong has an agenda but delivers its message with great sensitivity.

Brian wants to join in but is overlooked, even ostracized, by his classmates. Readers first see him alone on the front endpapers, drawing in chalk on the ground. The school scenarios are uncomfortably familiar: High-maintenance children get the teacher’s attention; team captains choose kickball players by popularity and athletic ability; chatter about birthday parties indicates they are not inclusive events. Tender illustrations rendered in glowing hues capture Brian’s isolation deftly; compared to the others and his surroundings, he appears in black and white. What saves Brian is his creativity. As he draws, Brian imagines amazing stories, including a poignant one about a superhero with the power to make friends. When a new boy takes some ribbing, it is Brian who leaves an illustrated note to make him feel better. The boy does not forget this gesture. It only takes one person noticing Brian for the others to see his talents have value; that he has something to contribute. Brian’s colors pop. In the closing endpapers, Brian’s classmates are spread around him on the ground, “wearing” his chalk-drawn wings and capes. Use this to start a discussion: The author includes suggested questions and recommended reading lists for adults and children.

Accessible, reassuring and hopeful. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-582-46450-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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