One of a kind—an intriguing, sophisticated study in contrasts that reimagines the potential of picture-book art.


A solitary journey in pursuit of an idyllic vision transforms the life of a butterfly.

From the outset, this read-aloud presents dynamic text-illustration interplay that defies a singular or straightforward narrative. As the words introduce the protagonist’s “vivid colors,” the picture shows only the lemon butterfly’s silhouette, cut out in paper white against a vermilion background. The use of negative space continues throughout the book, suggesting other dimensions—perhaps expansive, possibly emotive—into which viewers have a peek. Wildly divergent illustrations tantalize: A feast of colors, shapes, styles, abstractions, and perspectives invites viewers to linger over each double-page spread as a unique composition and ponder the visual narrative belying the printed text. What compels the protagonist to leave lush, verdant surroundings and the company of other butterflies for some other “field of flowers”? Does the lemon butterfly feel a pang of regret when encountering the “barren wilds,” depicted as powerful, interlocking black lines angled against a stark white background? Why are hints of human presence visible in the absence of textual reference to people? Is the white horse significant beyond its role as messenger and guide? What is the message? This edition is translated from a Chinese text, and the twist at the end of this tale appears added for the English version, satisfying Western story-arc conventions through a creative reinterpretation and altogether surprising conclusion. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.375-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

One of a kind—an intriguing, sophisticated study in contrasts that reimagines the potential of picture-book art. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4788-6975-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Reycraft Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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