Gorgeous illustrations make this one sure to fly off shelves “like the down of a thistle.” (Picture book. 3-8)

DASHER

HOW A BRAVE LITTLE DOE CHANGED CHRISTMAS FOREVER

An origin story for Santa’s “eight tiny reindeer.”

Nearly two centuries after “A Visit From St. Nicholas” originated Santa Claus’ “coursers” and “called them by name,” Tavares offers readers their backstory, centered on “a brave young doe named Dasher.” First, the frontmatter notes “a time…when Santa’s sleigh was pulled…by a single horse, named Silverbell.” Ensuing pages depict not a wintry scene of Santa and Silverbell but a parched landscape with a crowd of people peering at penned reindeer as part of the cruel J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie. Illustrated details in clothing and material culture suggest a 19th-century American setting, but the focus is on the animals’ cramped misery. Though kind children provide solace through carrots and smiles, Dasher’s main comfort comes from her mother’s stories of a northern homeland with “crisp, cold air and cool blankets of white snow.” One windy night, the pen’s gate blows open and Dasher escapes. While following the North Star, she encounters Santa (depicted as a white-bearded white man) and a weary Silverbell and offers to help pull the sleigh. Tavares’ art is at its best in such magical scenes, which fairly beg to be made into Christmas cards, but the storytelling falters due to the ease with which the other reindeer escape when Santa grants Dasher her “best wish yet” and rescues her family.

Gorgeous illustrations make this one sure to fly off shelves “like the down of a thistle.” (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0137-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A sweet gift to praise spirited individuality, this choice encourages readers to dream big. Let those sparkles fly! (Picture...

HAPPY DREAMER

Displaying his distinctive voice and images, Reynolds celebrates the joys and challenges of being a creative spirit.

“I am a HAPPY DREAMER,” cheers a thin, spiky-haired white boy as he flies skyward, streaming yellow swirls of sparkles. This little “dreamer maximus” piles on the energy with colors and noise and the joy-filled exuberance he has for life. “Wish you could HEAR inside my head / TRUMPETY, ZIGZAG JAZZ!” With clear honesty, he shares that the world tells him to be quiet, to focus and pay attention. Like a roller-coaster ride, Reynolds’ text and illustrations capture the energetic side of creativity and the gloom of cleaning up the messes that come with it while providing a wide vocabulary to describe emotional brilliance and resilience. The protagonist makes no apologies for expressing his feelings and embracing his distinct view of the world. This makes him happy. The book finishes with a question to readers: “What kind of dreamer are you?” Hinging outward, the double-page spread opens to four panels, each with a dozen examples of multiracial children being happy and being dreamers, showing inspiring possibilities for exploration. The best way, of course, is to “just BE YOU.”

A sweet gift to praise spirited individuality, this choice encourages readers to dream big. Let those sparkles fly! (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-86501-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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