Bruce may not be having a “BIG FUN DAY,” but new readers sure will.



Bruce the bear (Bruce’s Big Move, 2017, etc.) is back for another grumpy day, this time in early-reader form.

Fans of Bruce can rejoice as their favorite character advances alongside his audience. The well-known grouch appears with his signature skeptical expression and mouse frenemy Nibbs. Nibbs arranges a “BIG FUN DAY” for the pair, but as per usual, it’s laced with disaster. Youngsters will giggle at and groan alongside Bruce as he recovers from a syrup-doused breakfast in bed, runs from an ant-infested picnic gone awry, and endures an extremely wet boat ride. The sight of oblivious Nibbs leading Bruce through the challenges, constantly beaming, adds to the laughs. The twist ending—that Bruce “likes being grumpy” and secretly enjoyed his harrowing day—is a smidge disappointing after such a fresh-feeling story, but no one will complain after all the fun. Higgins’ droll narrative style uses predictable and repetitive vocabulary and plenty of clear visual cues to help newly independent readers navigate the book themselves. There are enough meaty words like “afternoon” and “fancy” and “supper” interwoven to keep youngsters on their toes, but the narrative is so engaging and the art so crisp and colorfully textured that they’ll be eager to read on.

Bruce may not be having a “BIG FUN DAY,” but new readers sure will. (Early reader. 4-7)

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-01577-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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Aims high but falls flat.


Through 20 short poems, Maestro Mouse invites readers to meet a series of animals who have lessons to impart and a symphony to perform.

Brown, author of The DaVinci Code (2003) and other wildly popular titles for adults, here offers young listeners a poetry collection accompanied by music: a “symphony” performed, for readers equipped with an audio device and an internet connection, by the Zagreb Festival Orchestra. From the introduction of the conductor and the opening “Woodbird Welcome” to the closing “Cricket Lullaby,” the writer/composer uses poems made of three to eight rhyming couplets, each line with four strong beats, to introduce the animals who will be revealed in the final double gatefold as the players in an all-animal orchestra. Each poem also contains a lesson, reinforced by a short message (often on a banner or signpost). Thus, “When life trips them up a bit, / Cats just make the best of it” concludes the poem “Clumsy Kittens,” which is encapsulated by “Falling down is part of life. The best thing to do is get back on your feet!” The individual songs and poems may appeal to the intended audience, but collectively they don’t have enough variety to be read aloud straight through. Nor does the gathering of the orchestra provide a narrative arc. Batori’s cartoon illustrations are whimsically engaging, however. They include puzzles: hard-to-find letters that are said to form anagrams of instrument names and a bee who turns up somewhere in every scene.

Aims high but falls flat. (Complete composition not available for review.) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12384-3

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Rodale Kids

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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