PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Miguel's Brave Knight/ Polly and Her Duck Costume/Rapunzel/Dangerous Jane


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra finds refuge from his difficult childhood by imagining the adventures of a brave but clumsy knight.

This fictionalized first-person biography in verse of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra follows the early years of the child who grows up to pen Don Quixote, the first modern novel. The son of a gambling, vagabond barber-surgeon, Miguel looks to his own imagination for an escape from his familys troubles and finds comfort in his colorful daydreams. At a time when access to books is limited and imaginative books are considered evil, Miguel is inspired by storytellers and wandering actors who perform during festivals. He longs to tell stories of his own. When Miguel is nineteen, four of his poems are published, launching the career of one of the greatest writers in the Spanish language.


This beautiful book combines the writing talents of the amazing Margarita Engle, and the gorgeous illustrations of Raul Colon.  Each poem and illustration highlights some of the experiences of Miguel de Cervantes Saayedra as a boy.  His families struggles with poverty, his father's gambling, and moving regularly caused Miguel a great deal of sorrow.  But despite the difficulties, Miguel still managed to get an education and hold on to his dreams.  When things looked particularly dark, Miguel liked to imagine a knight on horseback who went around trying to fix the world's wrongs.  The author's and illustrator's notes at the end give insight into the Cervantes and their efforts to portray him and his famous Don Quixote.  Short historical and biographical notes give added information about the man.  This is a stunning book about the power of the imagination and the value of stories in helping people face the challenges around them.

The True Story of a Little Blind Rescue Goat
by Leanne Lauricella, illustrated by Jill Howarth
Walter Foster, Jr., 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63322-418-6
Source: publisher for review
Ages 4-8
All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Polly and Her Duck Costume tells the true story of Polly, a little blind goat who was rescued by Leanne Lauricella, rescuer of farmyard animals and founder of the immensely popular Instagram account The Goats of Anarchy. Polly has some trouble adapting to her new life until her new mom gives her a warm and fuzzy duck costume, which turns out to be the perfect fit! Follow along with Polly as she finds love with her new family, gains confidence, and makes new friends.


This is a sweet story about a small, blind goat rescued by the author and given a good home.  Because she couldn't see, Polly tended to be easily confused and scared.  She liked to cuddle up with a blanket. But she couldn't take the blanket with her everywhere she went, so Leanne presents her with a bright yellow, very warm duck costume for her to wear.  This does the trick and now Polly does just fine going with Leanne anywhere.  The costume even helped her make friends with a new rescued friend, Pippa.  Slowly as Polly adapted to her new home and her new friend, Pippa, she grew out of the need for the costume. The soft pastels make a gentle complement to this sweet story of love and friendship.


The wicked witch has Rapunzel trapped - but not for long! 

Rapunzel lives all alone in a tall, dark tower. Under the threat of a witch's fearsome curse, the poor girl seems doomed to a life in captivity. But is Rapunzel frightened? Oh no, not she!


Fractured fairy tales have become a genre all there own in recent years.  And I love it.  There are no shortage of different ways to change the original stories to suit a wide variety of different tastes.  This fractured version of Rapunzel is bound to capture the attention of readers who prefer action-oriented heroines rather than the original 'sit-back-and-wait-to-be-rescued' type.  The touch of violence also makes this a version more similar in tone to the violence found in many of the original fairy tales (especially the Grimm brothers versions).  The story does follow the original, at least at first.  There is a young lady locked in a tower by a witch who lets down her hair to allow the witch to visit her.  The witch cuts some of Rapunzel's hair to sell.  Despite the witches threats to curse her if she tries to escape, Rapunzel uses her beautiful golden hair to escape.  And while she spends her alone time exploring the surrounding forest, she seeks a permanent solution. And eventually she puts her plan into action.  The witch is permanently disposed of and Rapunzel becomes a witch hunter.  The black and white illustrations stand in stark contrast to the bright yellow of Rapunzel's hair, but it creates an interesting dynamic with the reader immediately drawn to the hair on every page.  An interesting take on a traditional tale with an old-fashioned evil gets punished and good gets rewarded ending.  The idea that the way we are raised has a tremendous impact on who we become certainly plays out in a powerful way in this story as well. 


Jane's heart ached for the world, but what could she do to stop a war? This energetic and inspiring picture book biography of activist Jane Addams focuses on the peace work that won her the Nobel Peace Prize. From the time she was a child, Jane's heart ached for others. At first the focus of her efforts was on poverty, and lead to the creation of Hull House, the settlement house she built in Chicago. For twenty-five years, shed helped people from different countries live in peace at Hull House. But when war broke out, Jane decided to take on the world and become a dangerous woman for the sake of peace. Suzanne Slade's powerful text written in free verse illuminates the life of this inspiring figure while Alice Ratterree's stunning illustrations bring Jane Addams and her world to life.


I am a big fan of the increasing number of well-written picture book biographies about women.  I can't resist them.  This is one that I'm delighted to add to my collection.  Jane Addams grew up in a fairly well-to-do family and despite losing her mother at a young age, she grew into a lovely and caring young lady.  Her kind heart lead her down a difficult road, one she spent most of her adult life walking down.  Helping others became her mantra.  At first she ran Hull House, a settlement house from which she worked to help immigrants find a better life for themselves.  When World War I broke out though she expanded her efforts into encouraging women to seek peace.  After the war, she reached out to the suffering through out Europe, including former enemies.  Unfortunately, this lead to opposition from those who thought her efforts should have been focused only on Americans.  These efforts lead to nasty rumors and attacks with even the FBI labeling her "the most Dangerous Woman in America".  But Jane never let this stop her and it lead to her being the first American women to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  This book provides a glimpse into the heart of a woman who was determined to help those less fortunate than herself, despite the sometimes high cost of doing so.  Ratterree's soft illustrations match the tone of the book perfectly, creating a beautiful look at a admirable woman.


  1. I loved the unexpected focus in Dangerous Jane, especially after the more traditional biography The House that Jane Built, by Tanya Lee Stone. Together, they create a fascinating portrait of a remarkable woman.


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