A neatly pitched lesson for the middle child.

MIDDLE BEAR

A little bear discovers the benefits of being the middle one when his medium size works to his advantage.

The “second of three brothers,” middle bear’s neither largest nor smallest, tallest nor shortest, strongest nor weakest. Even his clothes and toys are “middle-sized.” He eats and drinks middle-sized portions and goes to bed “before his older brother and after his younger.” Often sad, the middle bear does not “want to be the middle one” until the day his sick parents send their three sons on a quest to a high mountain for willow bark. Reaching a partially frozen river, the oldest brother’s too heavy and the youngest brother’s too little to cross the ice. Just the right size, the middle bear successfully traverses the river, scales the mountain, and returns with the willow bark. Repeated use of “middle-sized” emphasizes the disadvantages as well as the advantages of being a middle child. Cut-paper collage, pencil, and mixed-media illustrations rely on a subdued palette of black, gray, and tan to convey the blandness of the middle bear’s life. Drawn with childlike simplicity, the brother bears seem visually identical (except for size) and usually appear together until the middle bear happily takes center page alone, suddenly aware “he could do all sorts of things.”

A neatly pitched lesson for the middle child. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77138-842-9

Page Count: 34

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking.

I'M NOT SCARED, YOU'RE SCARED

Unlikely friends Bear and Rabbit face fears together.

The anthropomorphic creatures set out on an adventure. Graphic-based illustrations give the book a Pixar movie feel, with a variety of page layouts that keep the story moving. Large blocks of black text are heavy on dialogue patterns as timid Bear and bold Rabbit encounter obstacles. Bear fears every one of them, from the stream to the mountain. He’ll do anything to avoid the objects of terror: taking a bus, a train, and even a helicopter. As Rabbit asks Bear if he’s frightened, Bear repeatedly responds, “I’m not scared, you’re scared!” and children will delight in the call-and-response opportunities. Adults may tire of the refrain, but attempts to keep everyone entertained are evident in asides about Bear's inability to brush food from his teeth (he’s too afraid to look at himself in the mirror) and Rabbit's superstrong ears (which do come in handy later). When Rabbit finds herself in danger after Bear defects on the adventure, Bear retraces the trip. Along the way, he notes that the stream wasn't as deep, nor the mountain as high, as he thought when he was scared. While picture-book shelves may not be screaming for another comedically sweet bear story, especially one that treads such familiar territory, many readers will appreciate this tale of overcoming fears. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35237-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Flamingo Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

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