A celebration of beauty—in a city, in its people, and in an extraordinary avian visitor.



In 2018, New Yorkers had an all-too-brief but oh-so-passionate love affair with a rara avis (literally).

In the fall of 2018, a mandarin duck was spotted in New York City’s Central Park. Native to East Asia, the duck was an ornithological surprise that immediately captivated urban dwellers. People flocked to the park to take photos on their cellphones. In this retelling of the incident, a girl of color stands up on a rock and proclaims that she will gaze upon the beautiful bird directly “with [her] own two eyes.” Her words catch on, and soon everyone follows suit. Some months later the bird disappears, but lingering on is an appreciation of beauty all around that can be viewed directly, not through a device. Midler has crafted a loving ode to the people of New York, to the errant bird, and to the art of direct communication, something at which the star of stage and screen excels. Stunning full-page color photographs present the duck in all its magnificently colored feathered panoply. Grayscale sketches that fill many pages present a dizzying array of city folk in all their robust diversity. Adults and children wistfully remembering a socially close NYC will appreciate this moment from a past time. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-20-inch double-page spreads viewed at 42.5% of actual size.)

A celebration of beauty—in a city, in its people, and in an extraordinary avian visitor. (photographer’s note) (Picture book. 4-10)

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-17676-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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As insubstantial as hot air.


A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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