From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 2—A competent translation and soft, minimalist paintings recount this oft-told tale. Many of the framed text pages carry a small portrait of a figure featured in the larger facing scene. This story is built around dialogue among a donkey, cat, dog, and rooster and rises to a bit of action in the two scaring-the-robbers scenes. The illustrations keep the speakers in the foreground with almost no details in the colored backgrounds except for very small, wispy overhead vignettes echoing story elements. These small, almost indistinct figures are vague and dreamy, and the soft forms and gentle tone of the pictures never build the humor usually associated with the plucky "musicians" and the villains. It's a pleasant introduction to the story, but the renditions by Hans Wilhelm (Scholastic, 1992), Janet Stevens (Holiday House, 1992), Ilse Plume (Yearling, 1998), and Paul Galdone (McGraw-Hill, 1968; o.p.) are stronger.—Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
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This version of the familiar story about the animal runaways that join together to form a band has plenty of energy and humor. Bell's spare text, faithful to the tale's traditional plot and oral heritage, lends itself easily to reading or telling aloud. Zwerger's subdued watercolors are as simple as the text, the images infused with a sophisticated naivete that lends them an air of gravitas even as they illustrate the story's slapstick episodes. Nearly all of the spreads have a similar layout: a full-page illustration on the recto and a text box on the verso, with the occasional spot art on the text page to enliven the clean, white space. The palette is primarily cool and crisp; almost every image, however, contains sparks of red and orange that help focus the eye. Comparative folktale collections will welcome this variant for its original visual interpretation of the classic tale. Janice Del Negro
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