This fish tail is amusing, though it won’t help kids who find themselves in Bertie’s shoes.

CODZILLA

A big cod’s struggles with bullying come to an end when he saves the school from a shark.

Bertie is one huge cod, towering over every other student in his school. Because they fear him and his strength, they side with Maxwell in his bullying of Bertie, chiming in when Maxwell asks, “Hey guys, what’s this beast’s name again?” “CODZILLA!” Bertie might be a bit clumsy, but he is a gentle cod who loves to read about sharks in the school library. But even mild-mannered fish can get pushed too far, and when running, hiding, and playing dead don’t alleviate the bullying, Bertie takes care of Maxwell by eating him…and all the witnesses. Their racket drives Bertie to sneeze them out again, but the bullying gets worse until the day Bertie turns hero by putting all his shark knowledge (and his huge stomach capacity) to good use. While it’s refreshing to see the reversal of size stereotypes, with a small bully and a large target, it’s unfortunate that the bullying only ends when Bertie becomes useful. The fish in Chapman’s Photoshop illustrations are shaped like bullets with various colored and shaped fins and remarkably expressive, rather goofy faces. All “walk” upright on their fins, and the atmosphere is extremely dry despite the presence of watery plants and the occasional bubble. Don’t miss the titles of the library books.

This fish tail is amusing, though it won’t help kids who find themselves in Bertie’s shoes. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-257067-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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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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A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn.

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KNIGHT OWL

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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