A perceptive how-to for beginner storytellers.

ALSO AN OCTOPUS

OR, A LITTLE BIT OF NOTHING

Debut author Tokuda-Hall and veteran illustrator Davies deconstruct the art of storytelling in this insightful, playful primer.

What does every story need? A character, first of all. In this story, readers meet a ukulele-playing octopus. The octopus must desire something “for it to be a story,” suggests the narrator. And what’s better than wanting a “totally awesome shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel”? The octopus must earn the spaceship, though—by building it out of stuff like glue, soda cans, and waffles. It’s hard to build a spaceship, and even if the octopus receives help from an adorable bunny, it may not quite end up working out. “By now, the octopus is starting to give up.” Mixing deadpan humor with whimsical, endearing characters, Tokuda-Hall spins a reader-friendly metanarrative out of a wickedly absurd premise. Filled with numerous shades of purple, yellow, and blue, Davies’ inspired digital artwork springs from the page, like bursts of an overactive imagination. Exaggerated facial expressions also incite laughs, including a spread of the octopus in a “despondent” swoon. Yet this story wraps up a little too neatly, throwing in a contrived, feel-good resolution. Incapable of building a spaceship, the discouraged octopus plays the ukulele, attracting a racially diverse crowd of music-loving rocket scientists. Too easy? Perhaps, but maybe that’s the point.

A perceptive how-to for beginner storytellers. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7084-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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A forgettable tale.

THE LITTLEST REINDEER

Dot, the smallest reindeer at the North Pole, is too little to fly with the reindeer team on Christmas Eve, but she helps Santa in a different, unexpected way.

Dot is distressed because she can’t jump and fly like the other, bigger reindeer. Her family members encourage her and help her practice her skills, and her mother tells her, “There’s always next year.” Dot’s elf friend, Oliver, encourages her and spends time playing with her, doing things that Dot can do well, such as building a snowman and chasing their friend Yeti (who looks like a fuzzy, white gumdrop). On Christmas Eve, Santa and the reindeer team take off with their overloaded sleigh. Only Dot notices one small present that’s fallen in the snow, and she successfully leaps into the departing sleigh with the gift. This climactic flying leap into the sleigh is not adequately illustrated, as Dot is shown just starting to leap and then already in the sleigh. A saccharine conclusion notes that being little can sometimes be great and that “having a friend by your side makes anything possible.” The story is pleasant but predictable, with an improbably easy solution to Dot’s problem. Illustrations in a muted palette are similarly pleasant but predictable, with a greeting-card flavor that lacks originality. The elf characters include boys, girls, and adults; all the elves and Santa and Mrs. Claus are white.

A forgettable tale. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-338-15738-3

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Cartwheel/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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