Alpacas may be hilarious, but they make lousy allegories.


Alfonso the alpaca is surrounded by books, and not one is about an alpaca.

Alfonso’s lawn is covered with enormous piles of titles about bears, like Be More Bear! He knows what he must do to remedy this: write a book starring a charming alpaca. Unfortunately, this storyline calls attention to one of the main problems with this picture book: The act of writing—not to mention “rewriting and correcting”—a story isn’t all that exciting to watch. Other scenes are slightly irritating. Due to his writer’s block, Alfonso spends most of the first half of the book begging his friend Colin to be his co-author. This is odd, because Colin is a bear. It also highlights the other big problem with the story: The central metaphor doesn’t work. Anyone who feels underrepresented in books—women and minorities, for example—may be frustrated to hear Colin say that “alpacas are noisy, clumsy, careless, and REALLY annoying.” They may be even more frustrated when Alfonso, rather than accepting his own self-worth, tries to impress his closed-minded friend with spectacular tricks. But that does lead to the funniest section of the story, as Alfonso hums nursery rhymes backward and performs “four-legged splits in MIDAIR!” Perry’s cartoons of a skateboarding alpaca are hysterical, and the book works just fine at surface level, as a story about an insecure writer looking for support wherever he can get it. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.5-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 38.4% of actual size.)

Alpacas may be hilarious, but they make lousy allegories. (alpaca facts) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-63570-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: David Fickling/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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


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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