A bittersweet exploration of the enduring bond between a growing boy and his aging companion.

NO-MATTER-WHAT FRIEND

A touching, understated story in which a boy looks back at growing up with his faithful dog, Bud.

The huge, tan dog of indeterminate breed has floppy ears, a large nose and drooping, old eyes, as shown in the poignant illustration on the cover. The boy who narrates the rhyming story wonders how much Bud remembers of all their years together, with flashback views of the pair playing ball, skiing, chasing the family truck and getting covered with mud at a nearby pond. Now the faithful dog is too old to play fetch with his owner, who is also growing older and perhaps feeling his childhood coming to an end. The final pages unfold in a powerful conclusion as the boy realizes his dog is having trouble getting up. His one-word commands on successive pages (“Stop. / Sit. / Stay”) are tremendously affecting, helping readers realize the dog will not be able to stay with his beloved boy too much longer. The sun is setting in glowing shades of pink and orange in the last spread as the boy hugs his dog and promises to be his friend always, no matter what. Soft-focus, impressionistic illustrations with oddly adult children and the saggy, sad-eyed dog create a dreamlike world with a misty quality suggestive of hazy memories.

A bittersweet exploration of the enduring bond between a growing boy and his aging companion. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-896580-83-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tradewind Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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