Wry wit, unusual choices, and pleasing images make this an enjoyable, all-ages ABC work.



This debut illustrated abecedarian book aims to make reading aloud fun for adults as well as children.

Among the plethora of ABC books on the market, many offerings make animals their focus, and some creatures show up time and time again. This is especially so for less frequently used letters; for example, Q is usually for "Quail," and Z is almost always for "Zebra." Though children love familiarity and the repetition of their favorites, the grown-ups who read to them may feel jaded by the same old, same old. To address this problem, author and illustrator Crowder speaks to both audiences in his book. Though he does sometimes use well-known examples, like “A is for Alligator,” he often provides some uncommon alternatives, as when readers are told that A also stands for “aardvark, airedale, and akita.” And when a usual suspect shows up—Q is indeed for "Quail"—the author makes the entry amusing, acknowledging that “there are only about six animals that begin with Q. This is one.” For each spread, the left-hand page displays its animal exemplar in the shape of the appropriate capital letter, as with the toucan, whose long, large beak makes the horizontal crosspiece of a T, its body forming the upright. Each right-hand page shows the letter again in regular typography, both uppercase and lowercase, which is a useful touch that not all ABC books include.

For each letter of the alphabet, Crowder supplies some intriguing animal observations peppered with emphatic exclamations. “S is for Salamander,” for example, features the comment that the creature “can regrow lost limbs, parts of its heart, and even parts of its brain…its brain!” It’s easy to imagine reading this aloud with gusto. Many entries include quirky, humorous asides with references that will go over the heads of most children but will be entertaining for adults. For example, readers are warned that the gecko isn’t “cuddly” and “can’t talk either, so don’t let those commercials fool you.” Similarly, under K (somewhat unsurprisingly, for "Kangaroo"), the author notes that “a group of kangaroos is called a mob. It’s not a flash mob. Calm down.” The images are attractively colored, shaded, and proportioned. It’s a plus that the animals aren’t anthropomorphized or cartoony but instead are depicted fairly realistically in ways that convey their particular characteristics. For example, the dolphin’s lines flow aquatically, the fennec fox tilts its head in curious inquiry, and the raccoon washes its hands. The final pages present illustrations for animals mentioned but not portrayed in the main text, such as C for "Coelacanth." A pronunciation guide is included, more useful for adults than for pre-readers, but no glossary. This could have come in handy for terms the book uses but doesn’t define, such as the differences between monkeys, apes, and lemurs—something adults could find challenging to explain to kids.

Wry wit, unusual choices, and pleasing images make this an enjoyable, all-ages ABC work.

Pub Date: April 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-331811-1

Page Count: 60

Publisher: Mascot Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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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 sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.


Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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