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THE NEW NEIGHBORS

This story about neighborliness and community will resonate, though it doesn’t go as far as it needs to.

When some mischievous (and none-too-neat) young bunnies and their older sister, Lettuce, hear the news that rats are moving into their apartment building, they are excited, but none of the other animal tenants share their joy.

The others—a sheep, two pigs, polar bears, a couple of yaks, and Granny Goat—voice their objections to rats in terms most adult humans would use as well: “RATS! BIG, DIRTY, SMELLY, THIEVING, DANGEROUS RATS [who will] bury us alive in RAT POOP!” When the assembled tenants go to meet the titular “new neighbors” despite their escalating fears, the animals are very pleasantly surprised. Bertram and Natasha, each a “small, tidy, friendly-looking rat,” invite them all in for “homemade cake.” Bertram, the consummate host, manages to politely put his guests at ease by saying: “We know that rats aren’t everyone’s idea of the perfect neighbors!” The animals look properly abashed. This timely story about prejudice toward newcomers preceded by bad press is leavened by its comic, full-bleed, double-page illustrations that are full of action, speech balloons, and humorously dressed animals (yaks in bathrobes, Bertram in a natty bow tie and vest) as well as text that employs a cumulative effect as the animals join the parade downstairs. It is unfortunate that Bertram actually apologizes about moving in and that the two rats are so comically vanilla in their aspects—none of the animal bigots must overcome their unreasonable fear of difference.

This story about neighborliness and community will resonate, though it doesn’t go as far as it needs to. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-8996-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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THE WONKY DONKEY

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. 28, 2018

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THE INVISIBLE BOY

Accessible, reassuring and hopeful.

This endearing picture book about a timid boy who longs to belong has an agenda but delivers its message with great sensitivity.

Brian wants to join in but is overlooked, even ostracized, by his classmates. Readers first see him alone on the front endpapers, drawing in chalk on the ground. The school scenarios are uncomfortably familiar: High-maintenance children get the teacher’s attention; team captains choose kickball players by popularity and athletic ability; chatter about birthday parties indicates they are not inclusive events. Tender illustrations rendered in glowing hues capture Brian’s isolation deftly; compared to the others and his surroundings, he appears in black and white. What saves Brian is his creativity. As he draws, Brian imagines amazing stories, including a poignant one about a superhero with the power to make friends. When a new boy takes some ribbing, it is Brian who leaves an illustrated note to make him feel better. The boy does not forget this gesture. It only takes one person noticing Brian for the others to see his talents have value; that he has something to contribute. Brian’s colors pop. In the closing endpapers, Brian’s classmates are spread around him on the ground, “wearing” his chalk-drawn wings and capes. Use this to start a discussion: The author includes suggested questions and recommended reading lists for adults and children.

Accessible, reassuring and hopeful. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-582-46450-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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