cover image The Ugly Five

The Ugly Five

Julia Donaldson, illus. by Axel Scheffler. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-338-24953-8

Certain animals seem to be the work of Mother Nature on an off day. Here, frequent collaborators Donaldson and Scheffler (The Gruffalo) showcase the wildebeest, the spotted hyena, the lappet-faced vulture, the warthog, and the marabou stork. One by one, they come together for a stroll on a savannah, owning the word ugly with pride. “My legs, long and skinny, are covered in poo,” the stork says. “And I’ll eat almost anything, even a shoe.” Scheffler, in a departure from his usual anthropomorphized characters, clearly had fun with these more realistic, warts-and-all portrayals: his hyena, for example, talks to readers with a mouth full of bloody bones from a fresh kill. Still, there’s something endearingly human about the characters’ confident self-awareness and easy camaraderie, a winning liveliness in their eyes. Readers won’t be totally surprised when the final pages reveal that the Ugly Five have some very big fans: their own very cute babies (“You give us our food/ And help cheer us up when we’re in a bad mood”). It’s a welcome twist on the expression “a face only a mother could love,” and a heartwarming tribute to the child side of the parent-child bond. Ages 4–8. [em](July) [/em]