A pet duck throws previously neighborly neighbors into discord, provoking all manner of wild imaginings by the children involved. Vicki Jones, her brother Ben, and their parents live on the edge of an English town. Everything is hunky-dory when Mrs. Spikes moves in next door—they enjoy chatting over the hedge, and Mrs. Spikes invites the children over for a glass of her secret red cordial—but when Mrs. Spikes brings home a duck for her garden pond, things delaminate. The duck won’t stop quacking; Mrs. Spikes pooh-poohs Mr. Jones’s suggestion that the duck is noisy; Mr. Jones finally blows a fuse; the neighbors stop talking to one another; and the children start to see dark doings at Mrs. Spikes’s house. They decide she is a witch who reads from a spell book (“What about that horrible syrup she made us drink,” asks Vicki about the heretofore tasty cordial) and keeps bats. When in an act of revenge, Mr. Jones gets his own duck to out-quack Mrs. Spikes’s, all goes strangely quiet. The tranquillity prompts neighbor to start talking to neighbor again, so much so that they even join yards to give the ducks access to each other. Some problems get solved in spite of themselves, the author seems to be suggesting, for there are no tactics to resolving neighborly spats being tendered here. But his expressive, comical paintings and the gentleness of the narrative put spats between neighbors in context. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2002

ISBN: 1-84270-015-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Andersen/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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The wriggly narrator of Diary of a Worm (2003) puts in occasional appearances, but it’s his arachnid buddy who takes center stage here, with terse, tongue-in-cheek comments on his likes (his close friend Fly, Charlotte’s Web), his dislikes (vacuums, people with big feet), nervous encounters with a huge Daddy Longlegs, his extended family—which includes a Grandpa more than willing to share hard-won wisdom (The secret to a long, happy life: “Never fall asleep in a shoe.”)—and mishaps both at spider school and on the human playground. Bliss endows his garden-dwellers with faces and the odd hat or other accessory, and creates cozy webs or burrows colorfully decorated with corks, scraps, plastic toys and other human detritus. Spider closes with the notion that we could all get along, “just like me and Fly,” if we but got to know one another. Once again, brilliantly hilarious. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-000153-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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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. 28, 2018

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