A promising start dissolves to an undetermined, unsatisfying conclusion.

LITTLE BROWN

A cranky dog faces the consequences of his crankiness in this picture book.

Author/illustrator Frazee’s pencil and gouache illustrations show a cranky, scowling brown dog—Little Brown—sitting alone against the chain-link fence of a bare-bones dog park. The hand-lettered text is a subtle touch, infusing a friendly warmth into the physical look of the words, and the illustrations are done in a warm, muted palette, and readers may subconsciously begin to hope that with all this visual warmth, Little Brown will find playmates at last. It’s not that he doesn’t have plenty of opportunity—there are many other dogs in the park. So when a ball rolls his way and Little Brown grabs it, this looks like the beginning of the end of Little Brown’s isolation and crankiness. But he then decides to grab the other toys, and in a jiffy, he’s collected a whole pile and stands on top of them, like a dragon hoarding treasure. Now there is a “dilemma.” The dogs wonder if they should play with Little Brown in order to get their toys back (or would that make them cranky too?), and Little Brown wonders if he gives it all back, will they play with him, and what if they don’t? Weirdly, this dilemma remains unresolved, leaving readers to continue the pondering: It becomes time to go and “maybe tomorrow / they would know what to do.”

A promising start dissolves to an undetermined, unsatisfying conclusion. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2522-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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