Though the message is as old as time, its delivery here is fresh and sweet as August corn

IF YOU PLANT A SEED

Nelson spins a gardening metaphor about kindness.

“If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed,” that’s what will grow. A rabbit and a mouse garden together and delight in their harvest—but a mourning dove, crow, blue jay, cardinal and sparrow come begging. “If you plant a seed of selfishness”—here Nelson depicts the gardeners refusing to share—“it will grow, and grow, and grow // into a heap of trouble.” A monumental food fight leaves all the combatants splattered with tomato. Amid the debris, the mouse offers possibly the last intact fruit—and the birds respond with an airlift of seeds that sprout into an astonishing garden, proving that “the fruits of kindness // …are very, very sweet.” To this spare, fablelike text Nelson pairs stunningly cinematic oils, modulating palette and perspective to astonishing effect. The tomatoes gleam red against blue sky and green leaves, and it’s easy to see why the circling birds descend in hopes of a meal. Wordless spreads convey drama and humor; a double-page close-up of all five birds depicted from the front, each head a-tilt and silhouetted against blue sky, is hysterical. The animals are slightly anthropomorphized; they read books but wear no clothes, communicating joy, dejection, anger and contentment in every bone.

Though the message is as old as time, its delivery here is fresh and sweet as August corn . (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-229889-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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