THE HIGHWAY RAT

With a tale that shares more ground with tales of Robin Hood and the Three Billy Goats Gruff than its inspiration, Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman,” Donaldson and Scheffler deliver a lot of laughs.

With a rhyming cadence evoking the hoofbeat pattern of Noyes’ rhythmic verse, Donaldson introduces an anthropomorphic, thieving rat on horseback who steals food from all he encounters. He wants sweets but still takes clover from a passing rabbit, nuts from a squirrel and even a leaf from a line of ants. He grows fat while they starve, until a duck comes along. The rat threatens to eat her since she carries no food, but taking a cue from the Billy Goats Gruff, she sends him in search of her sister, who supposedly has a hoard of “biscuits and buns aplenty” hidden in a cave. Led there, he calls into the cave, mistaking the echo as the sister’s response with a list of goodies. When he goes to find the treats, the crafty duck channels Robin Hood to steal back his saddlebags of food for the other animals, leaving the rat to wander blindly through the dark cave. Throughout, humorous illustrations obscure any sense of danger in the story, instead provoking pleasure. In an ending that matches the entire book’s comic tone, the rat secures a job cleaning a bakery, leaving the others free of his thieving ways.

A treat. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-47758-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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