Winning Reads – My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee

20 Dec

Aspiring picture book writers are repeatedly told “no more than 500.” Meaning, your manuscript better have a marketable, visual kid-friendly story crammed into 500 words or less. For most, their first few manuscripts tower well above a thousand. If anyone wants to be schooled on the brilliance of brevity, pour your eyes into Jon Agee‘s “My Rhinoceros.” 


Published in 2011 by Michael Di Capula Books, an imprint of Scholastic, “My Rhinoceros” clocks in at a mere 367 words simplistically spread across 32 pages. It’s the classic tale of a child who needs to be careful what they wish for when the exotic pet he purchases turns out to be a major let down. In the end, the rhinoceros redeems himself and puts his limited abilities to work dazzling readers with delight.

While presented as a picture book, “My Rhinoceros” can function not only as a read aloud but also as an easy reader. Children may at first struggle with words like “rhinoceros” and “hippopotamus,” but repetition gives them a chance to remember and practice. The vocabulary is geared towards the early grades and even advanced words such as “clunker” are easy for beginning readers to phonetically handle. This is the kind of the book that will immediately be checked out by a child seconds after the librarian reads it at story-time.

At first I felt the language was too simple and thought Agee let his imagination take a rest on this one. When I closed the book I realized how wrong I had been.

“I never knew words could be so confusing,” Milo said.

“Only when you use a lot to say a little,” answered Tok” (from The Phantom Tollbooth)

Agee ignored all rules of logic. His imagination, unlike the book’s title rhinoceros character, ran wild. The only difference between this story and a beginning writer’s, was he had discipline. Agee penned the smallest amount of words possible to convey this simple yet original and fun tale. Though it must be noted that Agee is both the writer and illustrator. Those who dabble in both have an advantage of those who exclusively write. A closer look at the text though reveals a solid story sans visuals and can hold its own as test alone.

Whether you’re a child, librarian, or children’s writer, Jon Agee’s “My Rhinoceros” is worth a quarter of your eye’s pocket change.

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