Fear of the unknown, neighborliness, and an attentive dog are just the start of conversational possibilities.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FOREST

This French Canadian import features a single father and son who undertake an ambitious project.

The two brown rabbits live with their dog on a farm in a village surrounded by evergreen forest: A wordless spread captures its density with distinct trunks visible at the silhouetted composition’s base, spires stretching to the tops of the pages, and the merest hints of light in the center. With young Arthur narrating, a minimalist text builds suspense: “People say that wolves live in the forest, and ogres, and giant badgers. No one ever goes in there!” His father, however, wants to know what’s on the other side, and a “magnificent” idea forms. Baking mounds of bread, he arouses curiosity in the villagers (and readers). Neighbors follow their noses and soon find themselves exchanging large stones for loaves; the construction of a tall tower will provide a vista. Selected details—clothing, wheat, the wagon—are rendered in red, yellow, and turquoise, contrasting with the setting’s earth tones and cream-colored pages. This orderly world turns into a scene out of a Brueghel painting when the villagers celebrate with games after a storm delays—but does not derail—the dream. The premise is not new, but the family structure, the cooperative community, and the quality of the precisely inked and colored art combine for a riveting read.

Fear of the unknown, neighborliness, and an attentive dog are just the start of conversational possibilities. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77164-796-0

Page Count: 72

Publisher: Greystone Kids

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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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 sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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