The fairy tales asides, there’s plenty of cozy warmth in Fern and Otto’s friendship itself.



A cat and a bear working on a picture book find familiar stories in the forest.

Fern, a bear, and Otto, a cat, have a busy and full life together in a cozy seaside treehouse they share as best friends. When Fern tries to write and illustrate a book about their friendship, Otto suggests they go out into the forest for more exciting material, such as unicorns, dragons, or wish-granting genies. Instead, the pair come across stories in progress that’ll be familiar to most young readers, such as “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Three Bears,” and, most frightening, the witch from “Hansel and Gretel.” It’s all a “little too exciting for me,” Otto finally admits, “I really would love a story about two friends who live in a cozy house on a hill, far away from wolves and witches.” Graegin’s follow-up to her first authored picture book, Little Fox in the Forest (2017), trades that wordless experience for a more convoluted story that seems a little beside the point, as Fern and Otto neither affect the fairy tales nor are much affected by them until the final fright. But the soft illustrations of the forest adventure, with dozens of beautifully rendered critters and kids (many of color) and a rapturous depiction of the duo’s treehouse in the moonlight, make up for any narrative missteps. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10-by-22.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)

The fairy tales asides, there’s plenty of cozy warmth in Fern and Otto’s friendship itself. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12130-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.


Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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