More of an artist’s sketchbook musings than a story for children.

ALL THE ANIMALS WHERE I LIVE

A careful catalog of thoughts about living in the country.

Author/illustrator Stead tells readers he used to live in the city but now lives in the country, and this picture book is a somewhat free-association observation of that life. Nostalgic reminiscences tell readers of his “Grandma Jane,” who gave him Frederick, a stuffed bear he still has, knitted a blanket decorated with chickens, and, Stead says, would be a hummingbird if she had been an animal (a handy device for the illustrations). These thinly form the connective tissue of the rest of the narrative, as Stead shares his observations of the nature outside his door. Deer eat apples (his dog, Wednesday, chases them away), cranes rattle, an eagle drops a turtle, chipmunks live in a stump, and a coyote howls. The story’s problem is not its construction—which is careful—and certainly any attention paid to the natural world is time well spent for young readers. But nostalgia is not something many picture-book readers generally engage in, nor is neutral observation, so it’s difficult to see how effectively readers will connect. The illustrations are well-drawn and well-designed, but they are executed with a loose, sketchy technique and a thin, pale palette that, paired with the narrative’s delicate style, dilute rather than strengthen the story’s overall construction.

More of an artist’s sketchbook musings than a story for children. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62672-656-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Hee haw.

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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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Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking.

I'M NOT SCARED, YOU'RE SCARED

Unlikely friends Bear and Rabbit face fears together.

The anthropomorphic creatures set out on an adventure. Graphic-based illustrations give the book a Pixar movie feel, with a variety of page layouts that keep the story moving. Large blocks of black text are heavy on dialogue patterns as timid Bear and bold Rabbit encounter obstacles. Bear fears every one of them, from the stream to the mountain. He’ll do anything to avoid the objects of terror: taking a bus, a train, and even a helicopter. As Rabbit asks Bear if he’s frightened, Bear repeatedly responds, “I’m not scared, you’re scared!” and children will delight in the call-and-response opportunities. Adults may tire of the refrain, but attempts to keep everyone entertained are evident in asides about Bear's inability to brush food from his teeth (he’s too afraid to look at himself in the mirror) and Rabbit's superstrong ears (which do come in handy later). When Rabbit finds herself in danger after Bear defects on the adventure, Bear retraces the trip. Along the way, he notes that the stream wasn't as deep, nor the mountain as high, as he thought when he was scared. While picture-book shelves may not be screaming for another comedically sweet bear story, especially one that treads such familiar territory, many readers will appreciate this tale of overcoming fears. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Energetic and earnest but not groundbreaking. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-35237-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Flamingo Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

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