Persistence pays off seems to be the message in this bracingly un-Valentine–ish love story.



Children get their first lesson in unrequited love reading the letters between lovelorn Ox and self-centered Gazelle.

To say that Gazelle is a narcissist is putting it mildly. And Ox? Well, ever heard the saying big, dumb ox? Ox, depicted in a white shirt with trousers held up by suspenders, begins the exchange by expressing his admiration for Gazelle and her graceful movements. A turn of the page reveals his correspondent’s answer: a form letter and signed glossy stuffed in an envelope by her assistant while Gazelle, clad in a flapper-style dress, lies on a chaise longue gazing in a mirror. Ox doesn’t see it as a form letter, though, and thanks her for responding personally. Her reply? The same form letter, which Ox takes as a sign of her tidy mind. The letters degrade from there, going from a discussion of Gazelle’s faults (or lack thereof) to a letter stating outright that she could never love a “smelly thing…an animal that is…so thick and ungraceful and awful and unlovely. And unlovable.” Ox loves her even more for admitting this fault to him. This frustrates Gazelle, who rips his picture to shreds. But the next page shows the start of a letter to him; she sits under his pieced-back-together picture, her heart seemingly softened. Campbell’s watercolor-and–colored pencil artwork uses old-fashioned, muted tones, patterns, and background details. Gazelle is elegant and haughty. Ox is moony and down-to-earth.

Persistence pays off seems to be the message in this bracingly un-Valentine–ish love story. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62672-288-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn.

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A young owl achieves his grand ambition.

Owl, an adorably earnest and gallant little owlet, dreams of being a knight. He imagines himself defeating dragons and winning favor far and wide through his brave exploits. When a record number of knights go missing, Owl applies to Knight School and is surprisingly accepted. He is much smaller than the other knights-in-training, struggles to wield weapons, and has “a habit of nodding off during the day.” Nevertheless, he graduates and is assigned to the Knight Night Watch. While patrolling the castle walls one night, a hungry dragon shows up and Owl must use his wits to avoid meeting a terrible end. The result is both humorous and heartwarming, offering an affirmation of courage and clear thinking no matter one’s size…and demonstrating the power of a midnight snack. The story never directly addresses the question of the missing knights, but it is hinted that they became the dragon’s fodder, leaving readers to question Owl’s decision to befriend the beast. Humor is supplied by the characters’ facial expressions and accented by the fact that Owl is the only animal in his order of big, burly human knights. Denise’s accomplished digital illustrations—many of which are full bleeds—often use a warm sepia palette that evokes a feeling of antiquity, and some spreads feature a pleasing play of chiaroscuro that creates suspense and drama.

A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-31062-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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