A charming introduction to creatures native to Australia and a wake-up call to care for our planet.



An Australian bushfire wreaks havoc on wildlife.

The plight of creatures native to Australia—a wombat, a skink, a wallaby, and an echidna—is dramatically told in this story of a raging fire. Ignited by a lightning flash, the fire endangers the animals’ lives and their habitats. Expressed through richly poetic language, the story captures the ways in which the blaze upends the animals’ lives, forcing them to flee and seek shelter. This is a tale rooted in fact, and children will learn some basic information about the animals’ habits and the climatic factors that generate life-threatening flames, emphasized by a tempestuous spread featuring the “Ka-Boom!” of the lightning strike. A gentle fictional component, arising from Wombat’s digging prowess and the cozy burrow it digs for itself, leads to a sweet denouement in which its neighbors find a safe haven. Thus, readers will also discover a welcome message about kindness. The warmly colored illustrations are splendid, providing realistic depictions of the animals and the landscapes surrounding them. Wombat is presented as a cuddly, endearing animal; throughout, the artwork focuses readers’ close attention on how Wombat shelters inside its underground lair. An author’s note explains that Australia has an annual fire season and references the particularly calamitous bushfires that occurred there in 2019-2020, exacerbated by global warming and drought. Additional facts about the animals are included. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A charming introduction to creatures native to Australia and a wake-up call to care for our planet. (bibliography, including websites) (Informational picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-70706-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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Charming characters, a clever plot and a quiet message tucked inside a humorous tale.


From the You Are (Not) Small series

Fuzzy, bearlike creatures of different sizes relate to one another in an amusing story that explores the relative nature of size.

A small purple creature meets a similarly shaped but much larger orange critter. The purple creature maintains that the orange creature is “big”; the orange one counters by calling the purple one “small.” This continues, devolving into a very funny shouting match, pages full of each type of creature hollering across the gutter. This is followed by a show-stopping double-page spread depicting two huge, blue legs and the single word “Boom!” in huge display type. Tiny, pink critters then float down by parachute, further complicating the size comparisons. Eventually, these brightly colored animals learn to see things in a different way. In the end, they decide they are all hungry and trudge off to eat together. The story is told effectively with just a few words per page, though younger readers might need help understanding the size and perspective concepts. Cartoon-style illustrations in ink and watercolor use simple shapes with heavy black outlines set off by lots of white space, with an oversized format and large typeface adding to the spare but polished design. While the story itself seems simple, the concepts are pertinent to several important social issues such as bullying and racism, as well as understanding point of view.

Charming characters, a clever plot and a quiet message tucked inside a humorous tale. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4778-4772-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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