When New York socialite Ruth Harkness set off in 1936 to fulfill her deceased husband’s goal of finding and capturing a...


An unlikely American explorer brings the first panda to the West.

When New York socialite Ruth Harkness set off in 1936 to fulfill her deceased husband’s goal of finding and capturing a panda in China, her friends tried in vain to discourage her. Potter’s frugal narrative focuses on Harkness’ apparently fearless embrace of the adventure—including meeting her guide, the young explorer Quentin Young, outfitting her expedition and tailoring her husband’s equipment (including boots) for her use and journeying up the Yangtze River. The expedition was fairly short, as Harkness found an unattended baby panda just a few weeks into the journey. Her return to the United States with the cuddly-looking Su Lin made the headlines for days. Sweet’s rich colors and collages incorporating reproduced photos, maps and postcards add humor, dimension and nuance to the story. Delicate Chinese-watercolor–style illustrations depict the expedition’s progress. Potter eliminates details that might have intrigued readers, including Young’s Chinese-American connection and the fact that Su Lin may have been named for Young’s sister-in-law, an explorer in her own right. But she deals diplomatically with Harkness’ relationship with Young, saying only that Harkness bestowed her wedding band on him “for his fiancée,” as she departed from China. A timeline reveals that Su Lin lived only 14 months after coming to live at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-375-84448-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.


An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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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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