Well-paced, bursting with humor, and charmingly misanthropic.

PENGUIN PROBLEMS

Being a penguin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in John and Smith’s debut collaboration.

A small penguin sleeping on a snow mound reluctantly wakes up, instantly exasperated with everything. Bemoaning the cold, the snow, and other things readers might take for granted as penguin pleasures, the protagonist heads off to begin a day full of one downer after another. The fish the penguin would like to eat for breakfast are disobliging about being caught; the ocean is too salty and cold, and it is inconveniently full of predators; and even the smallest things about being a penguin (waddling, flightlessness, and looking exactly like everyone else) are intolerably irritating. Increasingly outraged by a litany of injustices worthy of Judith Viorst’s classic grump Alexander, the penguin is offered a more balanced if somewhat lofty perspective by a walrus who suggests that, difficulties notwithstanding, the penguin is surrounded by beauty and love. Smith’s singular visual characterization follows through on John’s ironic humor throughout the narrative, and though both the visual and textual fall momentarily and appropriately flat when the walrus’ speech takes over an entire page, the penguin, who concedes the walrus’ point, nevertheless gets the last word in an admirable and important validation of personal feelings, grumbles and all.

Well-paced, bursting with humor, and charmingly misanthropic. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-553-51337-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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

I AM ENOUGH

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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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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