ELWOOD AND THE WITCH

Elwood the pig’s chance encounter with a witch’s broom sets magic in motion. Shuffling through the woods one moonlit evening, he comes across a broomstick. “This will do nicely to keep my front step swept,” he figures. But when he grabs the broomstick and it begins to shimmy and shake and drag him across the mossy ground, he gets an intimation that all is not what it seems. When it flies off into the night sky with Elwood aboard, and a witch comes crashing out of the underbrush—“She had been in the woods collecting bitter roots and poisonous toadstools when she saw Elwood go sailing past”—he knows just what he has gotten himself into. The witch demands the broom’s return; Elwood would be only too happy but he can’t—“I don’t know how!” The witch isn’t listening. She threatens and then hurls a spell at Elwood. It misses, hits an unsuspecting bat, which is turned into a trout. Then a cloud is transformed into a giant toad when the spell skirts past Elwood. All the while Elwood is shouting that he can’t control the broomstick, but the witch, raving with imprecations, is deaf to Elwood’s pleas. Only when she turns the Moon into a great bumblebee with another wayward spell, and the bee says she’ll give the witch a good stinging unless she is turned back into the moon, does the witch pipe down. She directs Elwood to earth, and considers turning him into a worm, but the Moon is now guarding Elwood, who continues on his night stroll. A pleasing enough tale, simply written with sly, subtle humor, though mostly a platform for the illustrations, which are grand spreads of emotion and activity and deep color. Capturing the bright clueless look in Elwood’s eyes and a touch of the sinister in the witch’s raging expression, Smith creates exactly the right amount of hysteria to put the story over the top. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2000

ISBN: 0-688-16945-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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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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JOHN PHILIP DUCK

Edward and his father work for the Peabody Hotel in Memphis since the Depression has brought hard times for so many. On weekends they return to their farm in the hills and it’s there Edward finds John Philip Duck, named for the composer whose marches Edward listens to on the radio. Edward has to look after the scrawny duckling during the week, so he risks the ire of the hotel manager by taking John Philip with him. The expected occurs when Mr. Shutt finds the duckling. The blustery manager makes Edward a deal. If Edward can train John Philip to swim in the hotel fountain all day (and lure in more customers), Edward and the duck can stay. After much hard work, John Philip learns to stay put and Edward becomes the first Duck Master at the hotel. This half-imagined story of the first of the famous Peabody Hotel ducks is one of Polacco’s most charming efforts to date. Her signature illustrations are a bit brighter and full of the music of the march. An excellent read aloud for older crowds, but the ever-so-slightly anthropomorphic ducks will come across best shared one-on-one. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-399-24262-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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