The fairy tales asides, there’s plenty of cozy warmth in Fern and Otto’s friendship itself.




A cat and a bear working on a picture book find familiar stories in the forest.

Fern, a bear, and Otto, a cat, have a busy and full life together in a cozy seaside treehouse they share as best friends. When Fern tries to write and illustrate a book about their friendship, Otto suggests they go out into the forest for more exciting material, such as unicorns, dragons, or wish-granting genies. Instead, the pair come across stories in progress that’ll be familiar to most young readers, such as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Three Bears,” and, most frightening, the witch from “Hansel and Gretel.” It’s all a “little too exciting for me,” Otto finally admits, “I really would love a story about two friends who live in a cozy house on a hill, far away from wolves and witches.” Graegin’s follow-up to her first authored picture book, Little Fox in the Forest (2017), trades that wordless experience for a more convoluted story that seems a little beside the point, as Fern and Otto neither affect the fairy tales nor are much affected by them until the final fright. But the soft illustrations of the forest adventure, with dozens of beautifully rendered critters and kids (many of color) and a rapturous depiction of the duo’s treehouse in the moonlight, make up for any narrative missteps. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-22.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

The fairy tales asides, there’s plenty of cozy warmth in Fern and Otto’s friendship itself. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12130-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle...


Making things is difficult work. Readers will recognize the stages of this young heroine’s experience as she struggles to realize her vision.

First comes anticipation. The artist/engineer is spotted jauntily pulling a wagonload of junkyard treasures. Accompanied by her trusty canine companion, she begins drawing plans and building an assemblage. The narration has a breezy tone: “[S]he makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” The colorful caricatures and creations contrast with the digital black outlines on a white background that depict an urban neighborhood. Intermittent blue-gray panels break up the white expanses on selected pages showing sequential actions. When the first piece doesn’t turn out as desired, the protagonist tries again, hoping to achieve magnificence. A model of persistence, she tries many adjustments; the vocabulary alone offers constructive behaviors: she “tinkers,” “wrenches,” “fiddles,” “examines,” “stares” and “tweaks.” Such hard work, however, combines with disappointing results, eventually leading to frustration, anger and injury. Explosive emotions are followed by defeat, portrayed with a small font and scaled-down figures. When the dog, whose expressions have humorously mirrored his owner’s through each phase, retrieves his leash, the resulting stroll serves them well. A fresh perspective brings renewed enthusiasm and—spoiler alert—a most magnificent scooter sidecar for a loyal assistant.

Spires’ understanding of the fragility and power of the artistic impulse mixes with expert pacing and subtle characterization for maximum delight. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55453-704-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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