The picture book as a whole isn’t quite all there, but the pictures are sublime.

THE BEAR WHO WASN'T THERE

AND THE FABULOUS FOREST

A text-heavy picture book presents an existential quandary…

…but it can’t seem to decide whether or not it would really rather be a nonsensical one. As this book was originally published in German, perhaps something was lost in (the uncredited) translation? The titular Bear who wasn’t there suddenly is there after an Itch scratches itself on a tree and becomes a bear. The Bear then discovers a pocket in its fur and a list of clues below the question “ARE YOU ME?” and ventures off to see if it is indeed “A VERY NICE BEAR…A HAPPY BEAR…VERY HANDSOME TOO.” Encounters with various animals in the Fabulous Forest eventually lead the Bear to conclude that he is both very nice and happy, but he's still not sure about the handsome part. Eventually he ends up at a house with a sign on the door reading “HOME OF THE BEAR WHO WASN’T THERE (please enter quietly, he may be asleep).” Once inside, the Bear sees his reflection in the mirror and decides that, yes, he is handsome too. Throughout, Erlbruch’s playful, distinctive illustrations outshine the text and offer ample visual interest, which may help readers sustain interest despite the rambling and often confusing text.

The picture book as a whole isn’t quite all there, but the pictures are sublime. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61775-490-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Black Sheep/Akashic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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Though Jim may have been grumpy because a chimp’s an ape and not a monkey, readers will enjoy and maybe learn from his...

GRUMPY MONKEY

It’s a wonderful day in the jungle, so why’s Jim Panzee so grumpy?

When Jim woke up, nothing was right: "The sun was too bright, the sky was too blue, and bananas were too sweet." Norman the gorilla asks Jim why he’s so grumpy, and Jim insists he’s not. They meet Marabou, to whom Norman confides that Jim’s grumpy. When Jim denies it again, Marabou points out that Jim’s shoulders are hunched; Jim stands up. When they meet Lemur, Lemur points out Jim’s bunchy eyebrows; Jim unbunches them. When he trips over Snake, Snake points out Jim’s frown…so Jim puts on a grimacelike smile. Everyone has suggestions to brighten his mood: dancing, singing, swinging, swimming…but Jim doesn’t feel like any of that. He gets so fed up, he yells at his animal friends and stomps off…then he feels sad about yelling. He and Norman (who regrets dancing with that porcupine) finally just have a sit and decide it’s a wonderful day to be grumpy—which, of course, makes them both feel a little better. Suzanne Lang’s encouragement to sit with your emotions (thus allowing them to pass) is nearly Buddhist in its take, and it will be great bibliotherapy for the crabby, cranky, and cross. Oscar-nominated animator Max Lang’s cartoony illustrations lighten the mood without making light of Jim’s mood; Jim has comically long arms, and his facial expressions are quite funny.

Though Jim may have been grumpy because a chimp’s an ape and not a monkey, readers will enjoy and maybe learn from his journey. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-553-53786-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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