Tag Archives: children’s books

Brief Thief – Perfect Picture Book Friday

7 Apr

Made it through Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo), the picture book marathon of reading and studying various picture book attributes, so now it’s time to recommend perhaps a book or two from my reading that were not on the prescribed reading list.

While I was combing the stacks of the San Francisco Public Library’s children’s picture book section, one book beckoned me from the top of a display. Librarians are so adept at fostering temptation. Who could resist this cover? 

The story starts innocently enough with Leon the lizard enjoying his breakfast, a tasty fly:

Then he does what every other lizard does after filling his belly, suns himself on a big rock. Granted, this lizard is a little more civilized than most what with his use of utensils for dining and a beach chair for sunning.

On page three, things take a—ah—darker turn:


Leon, the lizard has to go poo. Hmmm. What would you expect to happen, considering what we already know about Leon?

Yes, he uses toilet paper. But—oh, no! The roll is empty! What’s a fastidious lizard to do?

The cover provides a hint.

From here on, all bets are off. Leon finds something else to use, something that comes back to haunt him in the voice of his conscience. But is it just his conscience? One must read the story to find out.

Folks, this book’s unusual premise and twist of an ending reminds me of something that the dynamic duo of Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen would dream up and pull off with aplomb. It’s a story of double mistaken identity as it’s applied to characters and objects. Something that kids will LOVE. I will say no more lest I spill the beans.

Originally written in French by Michaël Escoffier and published in 2009, this 2013 edition is translated into English by Kris Di Giacomo, the book’s illustrator. 

Although there are no illustrator notes, the images appear to be a marvelous mixture of pencil, ink, watercolor, markers, and a couple snippets of newspaper.

Find it at your bookstore, the library, or on Youtube (if you can’t find it anywhere else). If you find a hard copy, you’ll discover that the pages are as thick as card stock, a benefit for a book that is destined to be read many times over.

TITLE: Brief Thief

Author: Michaël Escoffier

Illustrator/translator: Kris Di Giacomo

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Press

Year: 2013

Themes: listening to your conscience, not messing with things that are not yours to mess with, mistaken identity/assumptions, lateral thinking

Target age group: pre-K through 2nd grade


Dental Hygiene Halloween – Halloweensie Story Contest

26 Oct

I stopped packing boxes long enough to write this teensy-weensy story for Susanna Leonard Hills’ Halloweensie story contest. Here are the rules:

Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words costumedark, and haunt.   Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!) Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. haunt, haunts, haunted, darkness, darkening, costumed, whathaveyou 🙂  No illustration notes please!

Soooooooo here’s my entry:


Dental Hygiene Halloween

by Jilanne Hoffmann


Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy trick or treated in their usual costumes.

At one dark house, Santa’s knock went unanswered, so he dropped a present down the chimney.




“That’s not how it works,” Easter Bunny scoffed.

At the next house, Easter Bunny rang the doorbell and hopped away, leaving an egg on the doorstep.




“That’s not how it works,” Tooth Fairy fussed.

At the next house, Tooth Fairy rang the bell—and waited.



The door opened.

“I’m a dentist in disguise!” Tooth Fairy exclaimed. She scooped up the candy, replaced it with coins, and skedaddled.

Haunting, isn’t it?




Now back to packing…..

Mama Seeton’s Whistle – Perfect Picture Book Friday

18 Sep

Hello everyone! Back for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Extravaganza.

My entry is the hot-off-the-press:

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 11.28.15 AM

Mama Seeton’s Whistle by Jerry Spinelli (yes, THAT Jerry Spinelli).

It has an old-fashioned look because it’s an old-fashioned memory. And it’s based on Spinelli’s next door neighbor that he knew as a child. I dare say there won’t be a dry adult eye by the end of the book.

So what’s the story?


Mama Seeton’s two-year-old boy, Skippy, isn’t in the back yard when she calls for him. Instead of panicking, she whistles a “simple two-note whistle.” Of course, he’s only two, so it turns out he’s been hiding in the house, eating and sharing cookies from the cookie jar with the family dog. But he just can’t resist the whistle and surprising her, saying he’d been standing behind her all along. Know any kids who’ve done that?

From then on, with Skippy and each subsequent child (there are four), Mama Seeton uses her whistle to call them home. When they hear it, no matter where they are, they head home for dinner—and chocolate cake, of course. Well, these kids get older, and as they roam farther and farther away in the town, they still come home when she whistles.


Because those whistles represent love, a sense of home, and comfort food—especially the love part, because it’s one that travels with them and brings them back no matter where in town they go.

But then those kids really grow up, have careers (fun ones, of course) of their own, and Mama Seeton misses the old days. She still bakes a chocolate cake, but only once a week. And she doesn’t whistle because her children are too far away to come home for dinner.

Mama Seeton gets sadder and sadder, until she finally takes action. 

On the surface, the focus is on Mama Seeton’s feelings and her whistle. But underneath, this story will engage and mean so much more to kids. A physical representation of an unending, unconditional love. That no matter where they go, love (and comfort food) will always be waiting for them at home.

The illustrations of the kids, their adventures, and the family dog as an active but silent presence, will keep kids engaged in a story that will also appeal to parents and grandparents. Sniffle. Sniffle….

Happy reading!

Title:Mama Seeton’s Whistle

Author/Illustrator: Jerry Spinelli/LeUyen Pham

Publisher: Little Brown

Pub Date: 2015

Ages: 2-6

Illustrator Influence

17 Apr

My 11-yr-old son has discovered Russ Cox, a wonderful illustrator. You can see his work at Smiling Otis Studio. 

[Yes, Mike Allegra (HeyLookAWriterFellow), Otis was one of Russ’s cats. They’re everywhere! And BTW, a mouse snuck into our pantry and tore into the brown sugar, dried beans, and pancake mix. I’m thinking we’ve got a diabetic mouse on our hands. Otis, where are you? We need you! Seriously, we’ll be getting out the live-trapper to capture this critter and let him loose in a neighborhood park.]

Anyway, I digress. My son wasn’t consciously thinking about one of Russ’s drawings  when he drew this on a paper tablecloth at a restaurant last week:


Organic meets inorganic

If you look at Russ’s black and white work, you may find something that looks a bit like this guy. 

Happy Illustrator Day! (just thought I’d make up a new holiday)


Shoe Dog – Perfect Picture Book Friday

6 Feb

Time once again to add to Susanna Leonard Hill’s growing list of recommended picture books. 

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As I passed the “new” shelf in our library, the cover illustration of Shoe Dog caught my eye. Katherine Tillotson, magically transforms a handful of brown scribbles into a sniffing, chewing, boisterous puppy. And when I opened it up for a quick read, Megan McDonald’s playful text kept me laughing and turning the pages to see what mischief Shoe Dog was going to cause next. 

In the first spread, the shadow of a woman enters an animal shelter. Shoe Dog bounces frantically inside. 

“Ooh, look at the puppy!

Who’s a good boy?

You’re so cute. Yes, you are!”

He perked up an ear at the kitchee-coo words.

In the next spread, we see “Shoe Dog” snuggled in the woman’s arms, but he does not yet have his name.

Dog wanted a home.

A real home.

A place full of

hundreds of nose kisses,

dozens of tummy rubs.

A place warm as soup

and cozy as pie.


But we soon find out that Shoe Dog is in for trouble. He doesn’t chew boring old dog toys. He chews…SHOES! (Oh, you are so smart to figure this out.)

As shoe after shoe turns into Shoe Dog fodder, he finds himself banished from “The Land of Upstairs,” and sleeping on the downstairs cold, cold floor. In the darkness, he ponders his uncertain future:


Shoe Dog did not want to go back

to the Land of Sad Puppies

and Scratched-Up Cats

and One-Eared Bunnies.


For the next long while,

Shoe Dog was a Good Dog.

He did not chew so much

as a fleabite.

But when his human, “She, Herself,” comes home with another round of packages, the “friendly rustle-bustle of Noisy Paper” is sooooo tantalizing!

What will Shoe Dog do? The ending is surprising, but inevitable. Best to see for yourself.


TItle: Shoe Dog

Author: Megan McDonald

Illustrator: Katherine Tillotson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Pub date: 2014


16 Apr

When HeyLookAWriterFellow (Mike Allegra) sent my son a “Celebrate” stamp (see post “Celebrate Cats!”),

And it has come to this.

he didn’t know what he was getting himself into—or maybe he did. 

My son thanked Mike for the stamp by creating a new stamp, “Celebrate Falling!”

Celebrate Falling

and a comic book (see post “Alien Invasion – A Graphic Novel” and sending them as gifts.

So I was surprised when he received a new stamp from Mike in the mail last week:

Credit: Mike Allegra

Credit: Mike Allegra

and a lovely note, encouraging him to keep drawing and creating. So now young Master Hoffmann is sending a thank-you note with the following stamps to add to Mike’s “collection”:

credit: Young Master Hoffmann

Celebrate Brick Walls!! credit: Young Master Hoffmann

credit: Young Master Hoffmann

Celebrate Stunt Guys!! credit: Young Master Hoffmann

credit: Young Master Hoffmann

Celebrate Cash!! credit: Young Master Hoffmann

This last one is a “twofer,” celebrating stamps and cash (although this particular combo hasn’t worked for the always bankrupt postal service).

I don’t think my son believes that being an illustrator is a quick way to earn cash, but he plans to “make millions” by selling everything from lemonade to cookies to comic books at a stand he’s setting up with friends in a local park. We’ll see how that shakes out.

Instead, I think his “cashing out” dreams are right in line with the other tongue-in-cheek stamps he’s created to celebrate falling, diving into concrete swimming pools or crashing into brick walls. Any artist can identify with all of those calamities. There’s a certain Three Stooges meets Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner sensibility at work. 

So I would like to take this time to honor and celebrate all the great illustrators we know and love, including HeyLookAWriterFellow (who WILL one day–in the not to distant future, right Mike??– give the world a book filled with his fabulous illustrations).

Here are a handful of a few favorite illustrators:

Judy Schachner (author/illustrator) Skippyjon Jones series

David Macaulay (illustrator)  The (New) Way Things Work (author – Neil Ardley), architecture, etc. (one of my son’s favorites)

Way things work.jpg

Nina Laden – (author/illustrator) The Night I Followed the Dog

Graeme Base – (author/illustrator) Uno’s Garden

David Gardner (illustrator) Sarah Gives Thanks (Mike Allegra -author) 


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For those wanting to delve deeper into the pool of illustrators, spend a few hours at these Web sites:

Caldecott Winners List

Illustrators Online

SCBWI Illustrator’s Gallery

Happy Viewing!! 

And when you’re done with that, 101BOOKS just posted a phenomenal video-illustration of The Old Man and the Sea.

Oh, and Mike, please don’t feel pressured to continue the “Stamps Arms Race.” :o)

Humor and Tragedy for SCBWI

8 Mar

Well, folks, the SCBWI’s spring conference at Asilomar was inspiring, despite the food provided by ARAMARK. The glutinous pad thai noodles, grey prime rib, and screams for life-rings from the nicoise salad ingredients as they bobbed above the pool of nondescript salad dressing—all this failed to throttle the enthusiasm of the children’s book writers and illustrators assembled on a glorious weekend in Monterey to celebrate the HUMOR in kid’s literature. Between Daniel Handler, Lisa Brown, Jon Agee, Lin Oliver, Lisa Jahn-Clough, and Ed Briant, no joke was left unturned.

Fittingly, Handler’s talk was particularly heady. Continue reading

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