SPARROW GIRL

In this sober tale based on Mao Zedong’s 1958 edict to eradicate China’s sparrows to prevent crop damage, a compassionate little girl follows her heart instead of her Leader. When Ming-Li learns of Mao’s plan to eliminate the sparrows by creating noise for three consecutive days, she prophetically fears the terrible din will kill all birds. As mindless mobs beat drums, clang gongs, crash cymbals and explode firecrackers, Ming-Li’s worst fears are realized, but not before she hides seven sparrows, which she feeds and tends in secret. When spring arrives and shocked farmers watch helplessly as locusts decimate their crops, Ming-Li reveals her secret and saves her village from famine. Tanaka’s quiet, simple illustrations in subdued tones match the somber mood. In her red suit, Ming-Li’s solitary figure stands out from the villagers in their uniform blue jackets, reinforcing her individuality. Moving images, such as a double-page spread of dead sparrows falling like “teardrops” while a weeping Ming-Li cradles a limp bird, send a powerful message that one small person can make a big difference. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4231-1187-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE

Like an ocean-going “Lion and the Mouse,” a humpback whale and a snail “with an itchy foot” help each other out in this cheery travelogue. Responding to a plaintive “Ride wanted around the world,” scrawled in slime on a coastal rock, whale picks up snail, then sails off to visit waters tropical and polar, stormy and serene before inadvertently beaching himself. Off hustles the snail, to spur a nearby community to action with another slimy message: “SAVE THE WHALE.” Donaldson’s rhyme, though not cumulative, sounds like “The house that Jack built”—“This is the tide coming into the bay, / And these are the villagers shouting, ‘HOORAY!’ / As the whale and the snail travel safely away. . . .” Looking in turn hopeful, delighted, anxious, awed, and determined, Scheffler’s snail, though tiny next to her gargantuan companion, steals the show in each picturesque seascape—and upon returning home, provides so enticing an account of her adventures that her fellow mollusks all climb on board the whale’s tail for a repeat voyage. Young readers will clamor to ride along. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: March 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8037-2922-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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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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