NOBODY RIDES THE UNICORN

This modern fairy tale tells the story of a fearful and paranoid king who summons the gentlest girl in the kingdom to trap a unicorn in order to kill it for his own selfish purposes. The king of Joppardy, convinced that his enemies are out to poison him, follows the advice of his councilor Doctor Slythe, who tells the king that there is only one solution—the king must drink from a goblet and eat with utensils made from a unicorn’s horn. The nefarious Slythe, dressed all in black and looking thoroughly evil, also advises the king that there is only one way to catch the elusive unicorn—a quiet young girl with a gentle voice must call to it. Zoe, the quietest girl in the land, and an orphan who is considered a nobody, is sent for and unsuspectingly invites the unicorn into the open. All of a sudden, hunters and hunting dogs intrude upon the idyllic scene and capture the beautiful beast. Zoe, furious that she’s been deceived and determined to make it right, sneaks into the palace gardens and frees the animal. Incensed that the little girl has bested him, the king banishes her. But Zoe finds her way into the secret valley of the unicorns: a magical and welcoming land that certainly will be more of a home to her than Joppardy ever was. Beautiful, soft illustrations mostly in earth colors, but interjected with jewel tones and interesting design make this a visually compelling book. Details in the illustrations—an animal hidden in the bush, topiaries in the shape of whales—encourage the reader to look again and again at the enticing pictures. One jarring, anachronistic note, though—on the opening page, the illustration shows a car on the road to the medieval-looking palace, marring the timeless, otherworldly feel of the book. And the name of the kingdom ineluctably makes one think of the popular game show. Despite these minor quibbles, this will certainly please the unicorn crowd and will be a popular read-aloud. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-11204-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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 charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn.

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KNIGHT OWL

A young owl achieves his grand ambition.

Owl, an adorably earnest and gallant little owlet, dreams of being a knight. He imagines himself defeating dragons and winning favor far and wide through his brave exploits. When a record number of knights go missing, Owl applies to Knight School and is surprisingly accepted. He is much smaller than the other knights-in-training, struggles to wield weapons, and has “a habit of nodding off during the day.” Nevertheless, he graduates and is assigned to the Knight Night Watch. While patrolling the castle walls one night, a hungry dragon shows up and Owl must use his wits to avoid meeting a terrible end. The result is both humorous and heartwarming, offering an affirmation of courage and clear thinking no matter one’s size…and demonstrating the power of a midnight snack. The story never directly addresses the question of the missing knights, but it is hinted that they became the dragon’s fodder, leaving readers to question Owl’s decision to befriend the beast. Humor is supplied by the characters’ facial expressions and accented by the fact that Owl is the only animal in his order of big, burly human knights. Denise’s accomplished digital illustrations—many of which are full bleeds—often use a warm sepia palette that evokes a feeling of antiquity, and some spreads feature a pleasing play of chiaroscuro that creates suspense and drama.

A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-31062-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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