A patient spadefoot toad waits in her desert burrow, listening for rain so she can come forth to mate. Sayre’s (Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out!, 2000, etc.) onomatopoetic text, aided by energetic typeface shifts, presents the many sounds the toad would hear, from the “skitter, skitter, scratch” of a scorpion, to the “tap, tap, tap” of a gila woodpecker on a cactus, to—at last!—the “plop thunk, plop thunk, plop thunk gussssshhhhhhh!” of a sudden desert rain. The simple question-and-answer format (“What’s that sound now? Is this the rain at last? No, it’s a rat . . . ”) builds tension and involves readers directly in the toad’s experience. Bash’s (Phantom of the Prairie, 1998, etc.) expressive pencil, pen-and-ink, and watercolor illustrations shift back and forth from the toad’s burrow to the action above, occasionally layering the two views until the rain brings the toad’s confinement to an end and she is out in the blessed, drenched open. The text and illustrations describe the lifecycle of the spadefoot toad in detail (including toad sex), the tadpoles’ swift metamorphosis in the drying puddles leading to a retreat to their burrows to wait for the next rain. Finely detailed illustrations capture the desert’s denizens in motion, complementing the aurality of the text and contrasting with the ever-patient toad, which they invest with a remarkable amount of personality. This is top-notch nonfiction for the very young, introducing readers to desert wildlife in general and in particular to the remarkable spadefoot toad, who may wait in her burrow for up to 11 months for the next rain. (author’s note, additional facts on desert neighbors) (Picture book/nonfiction. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 31, 2001

ISBN: 0-688-16614-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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