Gracefully told and illustrated, a gentle, positive encounter with a beautiful bird in an unfamiliar world.


The rescue of a crane restores an unhappy girl as well.

Left voiceless by a recent illness, Lotus’ only companion is her reed whistle. Gathering reeds and playing her pipe on a lonely lake, the young Chinese girl sees a hunter shoot an endangered red-crowned crane. She rescues it and, with her grandfather, nurses the injured bird she calls Feather back to health. Still flightless, he follows her everywhere. When he dances to her music, her schoolmates dance along. One night, his warnings help save the villagers from a flood. In return, they work to keep hunters from the lake. By the time Feather flies free, Lotus has plenty of friends to keep her company. Downing’s finely crafted illustrations perfectly complement this reassuring story. Done with watercolor, pencil, and paint and digitally collated, they have the look of Chinese paintings, with misty backgrounds and gently bending reeds. The rosy-cheeked children wear red scarves, alluding to the author’s own childhood during the Cultural Revolution. The crane’s many graceful poses are beautifully conveyed, seasons change, and the backgrounds lighten from gray to a celebratory rose. The environmental message, Grandpa’s explanation that “greedy fishermen and hunters, and…ignorant people…took over land where animals once lived,” is slightly contradicted by the satisfying ending when the cranes return, but it may resonate.

Gracefully told and illustrated, a gentle, positive encounter with a beautiful bird in an unfamiliar world. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4231-2754-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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

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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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