A slight story coupled with puzzling illustrations, this doesn’t quite hit the mark.

ALMOND

Sometimes it takes meeting someone new to help us learn what we can really achieve.

Almond, a young pale-skinned girl with dark hair, encounters another, similarly complexioned young girl at school. The New Girl can play violin beautifully, evoking visions for Almond as she listens. Almond, though, is facing anxiety about being in a play and having to read lines; she is convinced that she has no talent. Her insecurities lead her to feel inferior to the New Girl and thus diminish her own abilities, though Almond’s mother assures her that she will find her way. It takes an encouraging teacher, a unique moment during the play, some crows, and, perhaps, a bit of the supernatural for Almond to discover her true talent. The story’s themes—self-confidence, believing in oneself—are universal and should resonate with young readers, yet the characters feel overly specific. The New Girl’s sudden appearance in and then disappearance from Almond's life opens up multiple interpretations that young readers may find hard to pin down. The narrative seems to jump in places, lacking smooth transitions to carry young readers through Almond’s inner, and outer, journey. Say’s unusual approach here mixes realistic photographs with often blurry charcoal and pastel techniques, leading to slightly unsettling translucency in places, with repetitive vignettes of Almond’s not-always-expressive face and enigmatic views of windows and hallways.

A slight story coupled with puzzling illustrations, this doesn’t quite hit the mark. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-30037-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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Serve this superbly designed title to all who relish slightly scary stories.

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CREEPY CARROTS!

Kids know vegetables can be scary, but rarely are edible roots out to get someone. In this whimsical mock-horror tale, carrots nearly frighten the whiskers off Jasper Rabbit, an interloper at Crackenhopper Field.

Jasper loves carrots, especially those “free for the taking.” He pulls some in the morning, yanks out a few in the afternoon, and comes again at night to rip out more. Reynolds builds delicious suspense with succinct language that allows understatements to be fully exploited in Brown’s hilarious illustrations. The cartoon pictures, executed in pencil and then digitally colored, are in various shades of gray and serve as a perfectly gloomy backdrop for the vegetables’ eerie orange on each page. “Jasper couldn’t get enough carrots … / … until they started following him.” The plot intensifies as Jasper not only begins to hear the veggies nearby, but also begins to see them everywhere. Initially, young readers will wonder if this is all a product of Jasper’s imagination. Was it a few snarling carrots or just some bathing items peeking out from behind the shower curtain? The ending truly satisfies both readers and the book’s characters alike. And a lesson on greed goes down like honey instead of a forkful of spinach.

Serve this superbly designed title to all who relish slightly scary stories. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-0297-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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