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Linda Harkey
Desert Friends
Linda Harkey, author

Picture Book; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Animal friends in the Arizona Sonoran Desert are found in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Rodney, a Roadrunner and his best friend Quincy, a Gambel’s quail spend days racing each other through dry creek beds called arroyos. One day Rodney and Quincy meet two hunting dogs—Gator and his three-legged buddy Tripod. Danger surrounds the four friends as a thunderstorm sends tremendous amounts of muddy water down the arroyo. The force of water swept Tripod away. Who will come to his rescue? What will happen when the Great One (the dogs human hunter) arrives?
The Sonoran Desert stands as one of North America’s most fantastical landscapes, alive with sandy vistas, prickly plant life, and, in this cheerful adventure story, surprising friends. Harkey’s picture book for young readers is equal parts daring and educational, following Rodney the roadrunner and Quincy the quail as they find their courage and make some unexpected new friends. The two birds are going about their usual business finding food when they are approached by Gator and Tripod, a pair of hunting dogs on the prowl. While there’s not an immediate threat, the disparate creatures are wary of each other—and that’s when a sudden deluge floods the dry streambed where they’re standing.

While the birds escape safely, Gator ends up with a leg full of cholla cactus spikes and Tripod, who has only three legs, is washed away downstream. In their quest to save Tripod, Rodney and Quincy must be brave and think fast—and in the end, they discover the true joy of adventure. The intense river rescue scene will keep kids enthralled as they read quickly to find out what happens next. The book contains many quieter scenes as well where Rodney and Quincy ask each other questions about their feathers, habits, and diets, allowing curious kids to learn about these fascinating and unique desert creatures.

Minick’s illustrations utilize mostly muted hues of brown, gray, black, and green, rooting the story firmly in the barren desert setting and encouraging kids to see the beauty of the rough landscapes. While the background of each page shows mostly smudged representations of sand, succulents, and cacti, the main characters are clearly in focus, drawing all attention to Rodney as he munches on a blond tarantula or Quincy as he winces in disgust at the thought of eating a lizard. In the end, this entertaining tale will spark kids’ curiosity about new animals and places—along with their adventurous spirit.

Takeaway: A quail and roadrunner find their courage in a vividly evoked Sonoran Desert.

Comparable Titles: Vassiliki Tzomaka’s Hoot and Howl Across the Desert, Byrd Baylor’s The Desert Is Theirs.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-