cover image A Unicorn, a Dinosaur, and a Shark Walk into a Book

A Unicorn, a Dinosaur, and a Shark Walk into a Book

Jonathan Fenske. Penguin Workshop, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-51947-9

Young readers may not be familiar with the classic joke setup echoed in the title, but this meta take on the pains of crafting an engaging story will have them smiling all the same. Things get off to a rocky start when an unseen narrator delivers the titular opening line, only to find that the trio of characters—boldly outlined against spare backgrounds—doesn’t comply. “Sharks can’t walk!/ And dinosaurs stomp!/ I don’t walk. I prance,” they variously protest, requiring a tweak to the initial text. And when the narrator subsequently suggests that “this just might be the best book ever!” the unwieldy protagonists take their creator down a peg, responding, “It’s okay, I guess./ Where’s the food?/ Meh. I have been in better books.” The plot threatens to lag (“Soooo... what’s next?”) until the inspired introduction of a fourth character—a kitten sporting a T-shirt—provides a spark of excitement among the original three while creating a dramatic denouement that breaks the fourth wall. Alongside a now-familiar cartoon art style that holds much appeal for early readers, all-dialogue text by Fenske (When Carrot Met Cookie) drives the pace quickly. Ages 4–8. Agent: Carrie Hannigan, HG Literary. (Mar.)