A sweet story about falling in love with reading.


Told from the point of view of the pet cat, this story shows a reading family and the incremental ways in which a child learns to love books.

A toddler-age boy and his father, who both have beige skin and brown hair, pick out a book every night to read before bed, and the cat thrills to know it’s “Rectangle Time.” That means a “furry nuzzle” against the corners of the book as the father reads The Snowy Day aloud to his child. Time passes with the page turns, marked in the narrative by the cat’s surprise to see the boy, now a bit older, reading an Encyclopedia Brown book on his own and, after that, the even older lad reading rectangles that are “awfully small” (squinting readers will see it’s The Hobbit). The cat’s self-centered but affectionate voice is entertaining as he remarks that the boy is so engaged in reading that he momentarily dismisses his pet. The story, with its warmly colored watercolor illustrations and expressive feline, feels like a primer for adults on how to get their kids to fall in love with books: The house is filled with them; the (apparently single) dad models reading; and he regularly read aloud to the boy before his son could do so himself. (The author, currently the New York Times Book Review editor, co-authored an actual primer, How To Raise a Reader, 2019, with María Russo, that outlet’s former children’s-books editor.) It’s not a story with a climax or falling action, but the resolution—in the end, the cat merely decides that sleeping on the boy’s face will do—will still satisfy readers, especially book and cat lovers everywhere. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-16-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

A sweet story about falling in love with reading. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11511-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Hee haw.

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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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As insubstantial as hot air.


A diverse cast of children first makes a fleet of hot air balloons and then takes to the sky in them.

Lifestyle maven Gaines uses this activity as a platform to celebrate diversity in learning and working styles. Some people like to work together; others prefer a solo process. Some take pains to plan extensively; others know exactly what they want and jump right in. Some apply science; others demonstrate artistic prowess. But “see how beautiful it can be when / our differences share the same sky?” Double-page spreads leading up to this moment of liftoff are laid out such that rhyming abcb quatrains typically contain one or two opposing concepts: “Some of us are teachers / and share what we know. / But all of us are learners. / Together is how we grow!” In the accompanying illustration, a bespectacled, Asian-presenting child at a blackboard lectures the other children on “balloon safety.” Gaines’ text has the ring of sincerity, but the sentiment is hardly an original one, and her verse frequently sacrifices scansion for rhyme. Sometimes it abandons both: “We may not look / or work or think the same, / but we all have an / important part to play.” Swaney’s delicate, pastel-hued illustrations do little to expand on the text, but they are pretty. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.2-by-18.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 70.7% of actual size.)

As insubstantial as hot air. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4003-1423-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Tommy Nelson

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

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