Laced with humor and, despite its minimalistic air, decipherable in more ways than one.



Even apex predators need help with their shoes sometimes.

Brannen plays a sly joke with readers’ expectations. Wandering over broad, flat Arctic scenes, a polar bear in four red sneakers, one untied, gingerly approaches in turn a herd of seals, a drove of Arctic hares, and a colony of lemmings. Understandably, all flee in panic before the bear can get out much more than “Excuse me….” On the other hand, the situation is evidently familiar to two ptarmigans who waddle up. “Shoelaces again?” “Yup.” The birds bend down—but rather than retie the loose shoe, they untie the other three. Off gambols the barefoot bear: “Thank you!” “He really needs to learn to do that himself,” remarks one. The author tells the tale in dialogue so spare that several spreads remain wordless, brushing a sometimes-deceptive sense of serenity over events by filling skies, seas, ice fields, and the big, simply drawn animal figures with subtle flushes of transparent color. Expressions are comically anthropomorphic throughout. Leaving audiences the option to read the story as metaphorical or as just a comically surreal episode, she not only makes no effort to explain the shoes, but actually trots in a likewise-shod second bear at the end. (Go figure: Maybe there was a sale.)

Laced with humor and, despite its minimalistic air, decipherable in more ways than one. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51650-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends


From the Elephant & Piggie series

Gerald the elephant learns a truth familiar to every preschooler—heck, every human: “Waiting is not easy!”

When Piggie cartwheels up to Gerald announcing that she has a surprise for him, Gerald is less than pleased to learn that the “surprise is a surprise.” Gerald pumps Piggie for information (it’s big, it’s pretty, and they can share it), but Piggie holds fast on this basic principle: Gerald will have to wait. Gerald lets out an almighty “GROAN!” Variations on this basic exchange occur throughout the day; Gerald pleads, Piggie insists they must wait; Gerald groans. As the day turns to twilight (signaled by the backgrounds that darken from mauve to gray to charcoal), Gerald gets grumpy. “WE HAVE WASTED THE WHOLE DAY!…And for WHAT!?” Piggie then gestures up to the Milky Way, which an awed Gerald acknowledges “was worth the wait.” Willems relies even more than usual on the slightest of changes in posture, layout and typography, as two waiting figures can’t help but be pretty static. At one point, Piggie assumes the lotus position, infuriating Gerald. Most amusingly, Gerald’s elephantine groans assume weighty physicality in spread-filling speech bubbles that knock Piggie to the ground. And the spectacular, photo-collaged images of the Milky Way that dwarf the two friends makes it clear that it was indeed worth the wait.

A lesson that never grows old, enacted with verve by two favorite friends . (Early reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-9957-1

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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