King of the Birds

HarperAlley. (Arlo & Pips: Bk. 1). Oct. 2020. 64p. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062982216; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780062982223.
Gr 1-4–When Arlo the crow claims that crows are the greatest birds in the world, his diminutive bird buddy Pips is skeptical—there are much prettier birds out there, after all—but Arlo is loaded with information about crows’ talents, such as their ability to count and use tools. A red star appears in dialogue bubbles to lead readers to footnotes explaining how Arlo’s claims are based in truth (a caption stating that crows are thought to be as intelligent as a seven-year-old child is likely to stir readers at or approaching that age to draw comparisons). Arlo pretends to keel over to dissuade another crow from eating his fries (“Some crows have been seen playing dead to fool other crows and keep food for themselves”), and he becomes elated when he discovers a sharp nail, grabbing it in his beak and flying off (“Crows have a reputation for liking and collecting shiny objects”). Gravel’s simple, thick-lined cartoons have a childlike appeal. Panel layouts range from page-filling images to three wide panels stacked together to a six-panel grid. Bright background colors—mostly yellow, red, and blue—provide variety during prolonged exchanges. Though Arlo loves to boast, he’s not mean-spirited so much as exuberantly confident; he’s also appreciative of Pips’s friendship, and the book concludes with the crow offering the little bird a gift.
VERDICT Crows get their day in the sun, both as protagonist and subject. Give this to readers who enjoy animal friendships and learning a thing or two along the way.

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