Beautifully executed art, expressive bugs, and spare but pointed—arguably Marxist—text create a tale for all ages.


The smallest bug’s contribution to the demands of the grasshopper king is at first spurned, but the little bug eventually prevails in more ways than one.

The initial double-page spread consists of a bright yellow wash of sky, translucent layers of green plants, and a foreground of brown dirt dappled with sunlight. On the left, atop a single small stone, sits a green-and-orange grasshopper, his head topped by a crown. In bold, capital letters, he commands a cluster of bug subjects: “BRING ME A ROCK!” The grasshopper soon makes it clear that he “will have a majestic pedestal fit for a king.” The king shows his sense of entitlement as each peon bug struggles to add a rock to the pile being created for his majesty. Each insect is rendered with an eye for varietal accuracy, yet each also sports a delightful spark of anthropomorphism. Humor and artistry combine, especially in an aerial view of the king atop his new throne, sipping a paper-umbrella–adorned drink—before his tower begins to topple. After the littlest bug manages to save the king with a pebble, the king asks how he can repay this now-invaluable subject. The little bug’s cleverness literally elevates the status of all the workers to that of the king.

Beautifully executed art, expressive bugs, and spare but pointed—arguably Marxist—text create a tale for all ages. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-4602-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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A pro-girl book with illustrations that far outshine the text. (Picture book. 3-7)


A feel-good book about self-acceptance.

Empire star Byers and Bobo offer a beautifully illustrated, rhyming picture book detailing what one brown-skinned little girl with an impressive Afro appreciates about herself. Relying on similes, the text establishes a pattern with the opening sentence, “Like the sun, I’m here to shine,” and follows it through most of the book. Some of them work well, while others fall flat: “Like the rain, I’m here to pour / and drip and fall until I’m full.” In some vignettes she’s by herself; and in others, pictured along with children of other races. While the book’s pro-diversity message comes through, the didactic and even prideful expressions of self-acceptance make the book exasperatingly preachy—a common pitfall for books by celebrity authors. In contrast, Bobo’s illustrations are visually stunning. After painting the children and the objects with which they interact, such as flowers, books, and a red wagon, in acrylic on board for a traditional look, she scanned the images into Adobe Photoshop and added the backgrounds digitally in chalk. This lends a whimsical feel to such details as a rainbow, a window, wind, and rain—all reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. Bobo creates an inclusive world of girls in which wearing glasses, using a wheelchair, wearing a head scarf, and having a big Afro are unconditionally accepted rather than markers for othering.

A pro-girl book with illustrations that far outshine the text. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266712-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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