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LITTLE JOHN CROW

A skip.

A young vulture contends with prejudice and learns to embrace his identity.

This story begins in the Jamaican Blue Mountains, where willful Little John Crow (who, despite his name, is a vulture) lives with his parents. His friends (several birds and one snake) are introduced with their names and various descriptors (such as “Hummy, the hummingbird, who loved sweets” and “Chiqueen, a feisty chicken hawk”)—a lot of information for young readers to retain. Rowe’s illustrations present each friend with abundant character, infusing many of these pages with joy. While the younglings discuss what their parents do and what they want to be when they grow up, John realizes he is not aware of his parents’ occupations. After offering to help him find out and then realizing his parents are vultures, his friends flee in fear. The remainder of the story revolves around John’s learning to accept himself and value who he is. Strangely, some characters use slang, but only one speaks in anything close to Jamaican patois. Though the story is commendable in its attempt to destigmatize vultures, it is full of distracting details, arbitrary moments, questionable assertions (“Your friends will accept you for who you are as long as you accept yourself first”), casual fatphobia, and a heavy-handed message that slows the narrative. Even the levity and enjoyment that Rowe’s art brings can’t altogether save the book.

A skip. (note on vultures) (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-61775-980-2

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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CLAYMATES

The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted...

Reinvention is the name of the game for two blobs of clay.

A blue-eyed gray blob and a brown-eyed brown blob sit side by side, unsure as to what’s going to happen next. The gray anticipates an adventure, while the brown appears apprehensive. A pair of hands descends, and soon, amid a flurry of squishing and prodding and poking and sculpting, a handsome gray wolf and a stately brown owl emerge. The hands disappear, leaving the friends to their own devices. The owl is pleased, but the wolf convinces it that the best is yet to come. An ear pulled here and an extra eye placed there, and before you can shake a carving stick, a spurt of frenetic self-exploration—expressed as a tangled black scribble—reveals a succession of smug hybrid beasts. After all, the opportunity to become a “pig-e-phant” doesn’t come around every day. But the sound of approaching footsteps panics the pair of Picassos. How are they going to “fix [them]selves” on time? Soon a hippopotamus and peacock are staring bug-eyed at a returning pair of astonished hands. The creative naiveté of the “clay mates” is perfectly captured by Petty’s feisty, spot-on dialogue: “This was your idea…and it was a BAD one.” Eldridge’s endearing sculpted images are photographed against the stark white background of an artist’s work table to great effect.

The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted fun of their own . (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30311-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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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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