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Review of I Yam a Donkey!

bell_i yam a donkeystar2 I Yam a Donkey!
by Cece Bell; illus. by the author
Primary   Clarion   32 pp.
6/15   978-0-544-08720-0   $16.99

“I yam a donkey,” declares a self-aware donkey on the title page. Not so fast. The grammar police arrive in the form of a bespectacled yam. “What did you say? ‘I yam a donkey?’ The proper way to say that is ‘I am a donkey.’” Thus begins a who’s-on-first? type routine (“You is a donkey, too? You is a funny-looking donkey”) between the dopey donkey and the increasingly indignant yam. When a turnip, a carrot, and some green beans appear on the scene, it allows the yam to bloviate on the topic of verb conjugation: “I am. You are. He is. She is. They are. We are.” Donkey: “Is you trying to tell me that I yam not the only donkey here? That you and all them other critters is donkeys, too? I need to get my eyes checked!” The wordplay is kid-pleasingly silly with a tiny whiff of sophistication: you have to know what a yam is in order to get the joke, for example, and also have a rudimentary grasp of grammar. Bell’s (Crankee Doodle, rev 5/13; El Deafo, rev. 11/14) china marker and acrylic illustrations use panels, frames, single pages, double-page spreads, and word bubbles to mix things up visually; with their simple shapes and thick outlines, they look, deceptively, like something a kid could doodle in class (Bell dedicates the book to two “real good” teachers). That dumb donkey turns the tables at the end, and children will never hear “eat your vegetables” the same way again.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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