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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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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Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed.

YOU DON'T WANT A DRAGON!

If you thought having a unicorn as a pet was hard, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried owning a dragon.

The young protagonist of You Don’t Want a Unicorn! (2017) is back, and they clearly haven’t learned their lesson. Now they’ve wished for a pet dragon. As the intrusive narrator is quick to point out, everything about it seems fun at the beginning. However, it’s not long before the doglike dragon starts chasing squirrels, drooling, pooping (ever wondered where charcoal comes from?), scooting its butt across the floor (leaving fire and flames behind), and more. By now, the dragon has grown too huge to keep, so the child (who appears white and also to live alone) wishes it away and settles for a cute little hamster instead. A perfect pet…until it finds a stray magical cupcake. Simple cartoon art and a surfeit of jokes about defecation suggest this book will find an appreciative audience. The dragon/dog equivalences are cute on an initial read, but they may not be strong enough to convince anyone to return. Moreover, a surprising amount of the plot hinges on having read the previous book in this series (it’s the only way readers will know that cupcakes are unicorn poop).

Feels like a retread—it may be time to put this series to bed. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-53580-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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