In Hoffman’s adult work, the intersection of fantasy and realism is sustained and the suspension of disbelief can be close to absolute (The River King, p. 585, etc.). However, her American-brand magical realism seems forced and close to ludicrous within the very real conventions of a picture book. Set at Cloud Ranch in an undisclosed Western state, a fearful girl lives with her wise grandfather. Jewel is afraid of horses (rather inconvenient on a ranch), but this changes when her grandfather gives her an abandoned undersized foal. She names him Bug, and he is dog-like in his devotion. Jewel had asserted that she would never ride a horse, but soon she begins to ride Bug with ease and enjoyment. One day she discovers that Bug is a special horse in another way—he can fly! A mean circus owner sees them fly and covets Bug for his menagerie. He and evil cohorts steal Bug; Jewel sets about to get him back. In a daring Big Top rescue, Jewel arrives on the scene (in circus costume), runs into the center ring, and jumps onto Bug’s back. It’s Happy Trails meets Happily Ever After when, at her word, he “unfurled his wings” and they dive bomb his kidnappers before they make their escape (with the other circus hoses following behind). The real high-flyers here are the well-modeled and skillful oil-painting illustrations. Johnson and Fancher (Cat, You’d Better Come Home, 1995, etc.) are marvelously adept at rendering figures in both shadowy dark interiors and dazzlingly lit fields under cloud-dappled skies. Avid riders or readers of equine fact and fiction will note that Hoffman blurs the pony/horse distinction here but if one already accepts that Bug can fly, well, can’t a pony be a baby horse? (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7868-0367-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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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 jam-packed opener sure to satisfy lovers of the princess genre.


From the Diary of an Ice Princess series

Ice princess Lina must navigate family and school in this early chapter read.

The family picnic is today. This is not a typical gathering, since Lina’s maternal relatives are a royal family of Windtamers who have power over the weather and live in castles floating on clouds. Lina herself is mixed race, with black hair and a tan complexion like her Asian-presenting mother’s; her Groundling father appears to be a white human. While making a grand entrance at the castle of her grandfather, the North Wind, she fails to successfully ride a gust of wind and crashes in front of her entire family. This prompts her stern grandfather to ask that Lina move in with him so he can teach her to control her powers. Desperate to avoid this, Lina and her friend Claudia, who is black, get Lina accepted at the Hilltop Science and Arts Academy. Lina’s parents allow her to go as long as she does lessons with grandpa on Saturdays. However, fitting in at a Groundling school is rough, especially when your powers start freak winter storms! With the story unfurling in diary format, bright-pink–highlighted grayscale illustrations help move the plot along. There are slight gaps in the storytelling and the pacing is occasionally uneven, but Lina is full of spunk and promotes self-acceptance.

A jam-packed opener sure to satisfy lovers of the princess genre. (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-35393-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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