Not quite a perfect balance here—but visually delightful nonetheless

THE YIN-YANG SISTERS AND THE DRAGON FRIGHTFUL

Can two sisters conquer the dragon who terrorizes their village?

The villagers of Woo are supremely inconvenienced by an ornery dragon who takes up residence across a bridge that connects their homes to the market. That same day, the Lee twins are born, one as fierce as the other is mild. Their auntie predicts that, like yin and yang, the two will be stronger together and defeat the dragon. The prose riffs satisfyingly on folklore conventions; readers and listeners will especially appreciate the repeated refrain: “Still, they were sisters. They stuck together.” Offermann’s stirring pen-and-ink–and-watercolor illustrations create a deeply textured world, moving seamlessly from breathtaking vistas to intimate close-ups. A double-page–spread image of the two girls as infants, snuggled together in a round basket, so aptly captures the concept of yin and yang, with a smart reference to the icon. Precise harmony eludes the narrative though, which devotes much more time to the thoughtful, “oozy”-feeling Mei, who arguably could have handled the dragon alone, than to fierce Wei. And for a story so clearly informed by imperial China, missed opportunities (additional resources about yin and yang, use of Chinese characters rather than scribbles in the illustrations) and misdirection (fabricated names and spelling conventions that approximate actual places or things) leave it treading near appropriation.

Not quite a perfect balance here—but visually delightful nonetheless . (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-17115-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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A good bet for the youngest bird-watchers.

MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST

Echoing the meter of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Ward uses catchy original rhymes to describe the variety of nests birds create.

Each sweet stanza is complemented by a factual, engaging description of the nesting habits of each bird. Some of the notes are intriguing, such as the fact that the hummingbird uses flexible spider web to construct its cup-shaped nest so the nest will stretch as the chicks grow. An especially endearing nesting behavior is that of the emperor penguin, who, with unbelievable patience, incubates the egg between his tummy and his feet for up to 60 days. The author clearly feels a mission to impart her extensive knowledge of birds and bird behavior to the very young, and she’s found an appealing and attractive way to accomplish this. The simple rhymes on the left page of each spread, written from the young bird’s perspective, will appeal to younger children, and the notes on the right-hand page of each spread provide more complex factual information that will help parents answer further questions and satisfy the curiosity of older children. Jenkins’ accomplished collage illustrations of common bird species—woodpecker, hummingbird, cowbird, emperor penguin, eagle, owl, wren—as well as exotics, such as flamingoes and hornbills, are characteristically naturalistic and accurate in detail.

A good bet for the youngest bird-watchers.   (author’s note, further resources) (Informational picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2116-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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