Natural history sometimes mixes uncomfortably with tall tales in these moralistic stories.



This illustrated book for children offers nine stories about animals that combine fact, fancy, and life lessons.

An elderly tortoise (“at least 130 years old”) named Ezra tells Sally Scott, a young girl, several stories, beginning with his own. He offers facts about his shell and how he wound up in the Virginia area when “White humans were just beginning to build their many towns.” (If the book is set in the present day, this would make him much older than 130.) The tales that follow often teach a moral or underscore virtues, such as cooperation and courage. In “The Funky Monkey,” for example, Melton, a monkey, is called “Smelly Melly” by his troop because he hates keeping clean; the smell isn’t just unpleasant, it also creates a potential target for predators, so his troop exiles him. Melton falls into the river, which cleanses him, and then he saves his troop by pelting a stalking jaguar with mangoes. He’s welcomed back with open arms. A similar tale about Stinky, a goat, is resolved the same way: Stinky rescues friends, granting him social acceptance. These are presented as happy endings, but the message that one must be heroic to escape bullying and ostracism is a questionable one for kids. Each story is followed by a list of animal facts, including definitions of terms, and a final section includes discussion questions for each story with possible answers. In her debut, Guynn combines humorous shenanigans; an approachable, contemporary voice; and intriguing information about animals, informed by her career in wildlife conservation (she’s a former executive director of the National Conservation Leadership Institute). Her own illustrations, featuring soft black-and-white washes, are attractive and capture the animals’ personalities well. However, the stories’ anthropomorphism and selective sympathies can be misleading; although Guynn mentions the food chain, she also presents essential predators (such as jaguars or hawks) as unalloyed villains. Some of the book’s facts are also hazy—a rite of passage described as having been “recorded in history,” for example, overstates the case. The book could also have used a punctuation cleanup.

Natural history sometimes mixes uncomfortably with tall tales in these moralistic stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4808-5072-9

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

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Beloved Little Blue takes a bit of the mystery—and fear—out of Halloween costumes.


A lift-the-flap book gives the littlest trick-or-treaters some practice identifying partygoers under their costumes.

Little Blue Truck and his buddy Toad are off to a party, and they invite readers (and a black cat) along for the ride: “ ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!’ / says Little Blue. / ‘It’s Halloween!’ / You come, too.” As they drive, they are surprised (and joined) by many of their friends in costume. “Who’s that in a tutu / striking a pose / up on the tiniest / tips of her toes? / Under the mask / who do you see?” Lifting the flap unmasks a friend: “ ‘Quack!’ says the duck. / ‘It’s me! It’s me!’ ” The sheep is disguised as a clown, the cow’s a queen, the pig’s a witch, the hen and her chick are pirates, and the horse is a dragon. Not to be left out, Little Blue has a costume, too. The flaps are large and sturdy, and enough of the animals’ characteristic features are visible under and around the costumes that little ones will be able to make successful guesses even on the first reading. Lovely curvy shapes and autumn colors fade to dusky blues as night falls, and children are sure to notice the traditional elements of a Halloween party: apple bobbing, lit jack-o’-lanterns, and punch and treats.

Beloved Little Blue takes a bit of the mystery—and fear—out of Halloween costumes. (Board book. 2-4)

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-77253-3

Page Count: 16

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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