OSTRICH AND LARK

When does an ostrich come into his own?

Ostrich and Lark, two bosom buddies, travel through the Kalahari Desert, interacting with the birds, insects and animals of the southern African veld. Each one makes its individual sound, together singing “their rain-shower jazz.” That is, everyone except Ostrich. But as the minimal story ends, Ostrich finally booms out a “TWOO-WOO-WOOOT.” It is a sound “part lion’s roar, / part foghorn, / part old man trumpeting into his handkerchief.” The language is spare, like the land it describes. It has the flavor of folklore, but this is an original story that Nelson has created to complement the paintings made by !Kung San people participating in the Kuru Art Project of Botswana. The San people were traditional hunter-gatherers, but development has forced them into the modern economy. The author’s royalties will go to the Project, part of an income-generating group of programs. The cause is worthy, and the vibrantly colored, naive oil paintings, bordered uniformly with a broad stripe with a zigzag line in a contrasting hue, are bold and attractive. The message is clear: Ostrich finds “his voice at last, / his own beauty, / his big, terrific self.” However, there is no precipitating reason for this change. Does his voice come to him as a matter of maturity? While the story is not fully satisfying, the book deserves an audience for its successful portrayal of the natural world of the Kalahari.

Eye-catching and lyrical. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59078-702-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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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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