Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness.

SPLOTCH

How identifiable is an individual goldfish, anyway?

Jeffrey’s goldfish, Splotch, is fine when the dark-haired, pale-skinned boy bids it goodbye as he leaves for school, but by noon, it’s floating upside-down and has X’s for eyes. Dialogue and time notations offer readers a sparse, clever aid to decoding this mostly-visually-told plot. At noon, Mom (who shares Jeffrey’s coloring) exits the bathroom holding a dripping net while a curious black cat looks on. Heartbreak-avoidance techniques involve Frank’s Fish World (clued by telltale bags), benevolent deception, and the grand question of how important the exact shape of a fish’s white splotch is. At midnight, Jeffrey sits bolt upright, realizing that a certain new fish isn’t his old fish; the epiphany shows up on the page as Jeffrey’s eyes open wide in horror, his mental images of two fish (old and new) separated by a “not-equal” sign and three huge red exclamation marks. Can fish run away? Has old Splotch been changed by aliens? When exactly does Jeffrey realize what’s going on, and when does he decide to reverse emotional roles with his mother? Marino uses fine pencil lines, half-cartoony faces that blend wryness and sincerity, water-textured gouache on watercolor paper, and easygoing visual patterns to make illustrations that highlight the plot but are visually friendly.

Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-46957-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted...

CLAYMATES

Reinvention is the name of the game for two blobs of clay.

A blue-eyed gray blob and a brown-eyed brown blob sit side by side, unsure as to what’s going to happen next. The gray anticipates an adventure, while the brown appears apprehensive. A pair of hands descends, and soon, amid a flurry of squishing and prodding and poking and sculpting, a handsome gray wolf and a stately brown owl emerge. The hands disappear, leaving the friends to their own devices. The owl is pleased, but the wolf convinces it that the best is yet to come. An ear pulled here and an extra eye placed there, and before you can shake a carving stick, a spurt of frenetic self-exploration—expressed as a tangled black scribble—reveals a succession of smug hybrid beasts. After all, the opportunity to become a “pig-e-phant” doesn’t come around every day. But the sound of approaching footsteps panics the pair of Picassos. How are they going to “fix [them]selves” on time? Soon a hippopotamus and peacock are staring bug-eyed at a returning pair of astonished hands. The creative naiveté of the “clay mates” is perfectly captured by Petty’s feisty, spot-on dialogue: “This was your idea…and it was a BAD one.” Eldridge’s endearing sculpted images are photographed against the stark white background of an artist’s work table to great effect.

The dynamic interaction between the characters invites readers to take risks, push boundaries, and have a little unscripted fun of their own . (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30311-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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