Solid rules; one wishes they were better learned and more consistently rewarded, though.

BENNY SHARK GOES TO FRIEND SCHOOL

When “Be my buddy, or I’ll bust your bones!” doesn’t work for Benny, who is the classic shark cliché of a villain’s villain, he takes Janice Jellyfish’s words of wisdom to heart and attends Friend School.

Ollie Octopus is the teacher, and he begins with Rule No. 1: “A friend is a good listener.” Unsurprisingly, no one wants to practice with Benny, so he butts in on the shrimps’ conversation about their favorite food and is reminded to listen first. Surprisingly, he manages to keep to himself the fact that shrimp is his favorite food. Rule No. 2 is “A friend always tells the truth,” but though Ollie tells Benny that “My, Janice, you’re an ugly jellyfish” is impolite, he doesn’t really explain what exactly this rule entails. Benny flat-out breaks the fourth rule and the spirit of the third—about taking turns and sharing—with no consequences. The final rule addresses good sportsmanship, and Benny finally sees the light when he refuses to take the easy win in a race and helps Janice out of a pickle instead, thereby earning his first friend. Ollie promptly declares an A-plus for Benny, and he graduates the next day (despite not really having learned all the rules) while practicing one final rule about keeping promises. Montijo’s watercolor, pen-and-ink, and digital illustrations are reminiscent of television cartoons, and characters’ expressions are over-the-top clichéd villain and victims.

Solid rules; one wishes they were better learned and more consistently rewarded, though. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4778-2803-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking.

I'M NOT SCARED, YOU'RE SCARED

Unlikely friends Bear and Rabbit face fears together.

The anthropomorphic creatures set out on an adventure. Graphic-based illustrations give the book a Pixar movie feel, with a variety of page layouts that keep the story moving. Large blocks of black text are heavy on dialogue patterns as timid Bear and bold Rabbit encounter obstacles. Bear fears every one of them, from the stream to the mountain. He’ll do anything to avoid the objects of terror: taking a bus, a train, and even a helicopter. As Rabbit asks Bear if he’s frightened, Bear repeatedly responds, “I’m not scared, you’re scared!” and children will delight in the call-and-response opportunities. Adults may tire of the refrain, but attempts to keep everyone entertained are evident in asides about Bear's inability to brush food from his teeth (he’s too afraid to look at himself in the mirror) and Rabbit's superstrong ears (which do come in handy later). When Rabbit finds herself in danger after Bear defects on the adventure, Bear retraces the trip. Along the way, he notes that the stream wasn't as deep, nor the mountain as high, as he thought when he was scared. While picture-book shelves may not be screaming for another comedically sweet bear story, especially one that treads such familiar territory, many readers will appreciate this tale of overcoming fears. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35237-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Flamingo Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

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