GORKY RISES

This might not be the most psychologically resonant of Steig's picture books, but who can resist his unlikely transformations, flatly related marvels, and dabs of elementary humor? Here Gorky, a dumpy frog, mixes a magic potion. "Ravished by the scent of roses, he recklessly poured in all there was" of his mother's best perfume. That seems to do it. Later, holding the bottled mixture, his slumbering body rises into the air "like a bubble rising in water." He wakens unafraid and sails through the air, to onlookers' amazement. He floats past two rabbits in a balloon (leaving them "flabbergasted" and "electrified from ears to scuts"), ascends through a storm until he is "suspended in the heavens like a coat on a hanger," and finally lets himself down by sprinkling out the magic liquid in discrete drops. There's no telling how Steig arrived at Gorky's name—or that of his cousin Gogol, who is "goggle-eyed" as Gorky comes rolling by. "He tore after his cousin yelling 'Gorky! Gorky! What's up?'" To which Gorky, of course, replies "I am," and laughs at his cousin's "look of stupid wonder." There are more wonders when Gorky lands, and more puns, with no need for questions and answers. Like Gorky, who seems to float inertly through the clouds, Steig treats the most remarkable events with aplomb, tossing them off as all in a day's dreamwork.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 1981

ISBN: 0374427844

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981

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A forgettable tale.

THE LITTLEST REINDEER

Dot, the smallest reindeer at the North Pole, is too little to fly with the reindeer team on Christmas Eve, but she helps Santa in a different, unexpected way.

Dot is distressed because she can’t jump and fly like the other, bigger reindeer. Her family members encourage her and help her practice her skills, and her mother tells her, “There’s always next year.” Dot’s elf friend, Oliver, encourages her and spends time playing with her, doing things that Dot can do well, such as building a snowman and chasing their friend Yeti (who looks like a fuzzy, white gumdrop). On Christmas Eve, Santa and the reindeer team take off with their overloaded sleigh. Only Dot notices one small present that’s fallen in the snow, and she successfully leaps into the departing sleigh with the gift. This climactic flying leap into the sleigh is not adequately illustrated, as Dot is shown just starting to leap and then already in the sleigh. A saccharine conclusion notes that being little can sometimes be great and that “having a friend by your side makes anything possible.” The story is pleasant but predictable, with an improbably easy solution to Dot’s problem. Illustrations in a muted palette are similarly pleasant but predictable, with a greeting-card flavor that lacks originality. The elf characters include boys, girls, and adults; all the elves and Santa and Mrs. Claus are white.

A forgettable tale. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-338-15738-3

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Cartwheel/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Hee haw.

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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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