A fresh inversion of expectations told in vivid art and idiom.

WE BECAME JAGUARS

Left alone together, a small child and their grandmother transform into jaguars, walking on all fours on the carpet and then out into the night.

The grandmother, with her “very, very long” white hair, dark brows, crimson nails, and spotted cardigan, appears game for anything wild. The child has met her only once, and her bold demeanor will intrigue children used to benign literary grandmothers who dole out cookies and cuddles. This grandmother directs the child to look “leaner” and “fiercer” as they make the shape of a jaguar on the floor alongside her. “Now we go,” she states flatly. A clever gatefold shows the pair’s metamorphosis from white-skinned humans to furry felines stalking through night grasses. Transfixing painterly illustrations offer nocturnal purples and blues along with bioluminescent pinks and greens, creating a woozy, otherworldly habitat. The little jaguar seems a bit scared at first, tremulous, turning down raw rabbit by claiming an allergy. Young people will find humor in the child’s narration, perhaps especially when they relate that “we were somewhere in the Himalayas when I remembered that I had school.” The phrase “we jaguared on” repeats again and again as they cross varying landscapes, and it perfectly captures the fluidity of jaguar movement in its languid articulation. Children will relish this book’s blurred ambiguities; what’s real and what’s imagined are as hard to distinguish as a jaguar in the shadows.

A fresh inversion of expectations told in vivid art and idiom. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4521-8393-0

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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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Well-meaning and with a lovely presentation, this sentimental effort may be aimed more at adults than kids.

MY LITTLE BRAVE GIRL

Little girls are given encouragement and assurance so they can meet the challenges of life as they move through the big, wide world.

Delicately soft watercolor-style art depicts naturalistic scenes with a diverse quintet of little girls portraying potential situations they will encounter, as noted by a narrative heavily dependent on a series of clichés. “The stars are high, and you can reach them,” it promises as three of the girls chase fireflies under a star-filled night sky. “Oceans run deep, and you will learn to swim,” it intones as one girl treads water and another leans over the edge of a boat to observe life on the ocean floor. “Your feet will take many steps, my brave little girl. / Let your heart lead the way.” Girls gingerly step across a brook before making their way through a meadow. The point of all these nebulous metaphors seems to be to inculcate in girls the independence, strength, and confidence they’ll need to succeed in their pursuits. Trying new things, such as foods, is a “delicious new adventure.” Though the quiet, gentle text is filled with uplifting words that parents will intuitively relate to or comprehend, the esoteric messages may be a bit sentimental and ambiguous for kids to understand or even connect to. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.5-by-19-inch double-page spreads viewed at 50% of actual size.)

Well-meaning and with a lovely presentation, this sentimental effort may be aimed more at adults than kids. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30072-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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