Tag Archives: picture books

Cricket in the Thicket – Perfect Picture Book Friday

19 May

This week’s addition to Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays comes to us from the heart of bug country, the Great Plains. What do you think of when you think of Kansas?

You’re not in Kansas, anymore, Toto….

Well, that’s what I used to think until I spent the week with Carol Murray at Highlights Summer Camp last July. When not writing/revising and attending workshop sessions, we rambled through the bug-filled countryside of Pennsylvania, discussing all things kidlit. And that’s how I found out she’s from Kansas. Now, whenever the Sunflower State (and wind) comes up in casual conversation (it happens daily, trust me), I immediately think of Carol. 

Seriously, though, I’ve been eagerly anticipating her book for nearly a year, and I’m sure that she has been waiting far longer than that while Melissa Sweet finished those luscious illustrations. So here it is!

The cover immediately lets readers know they’re in good, buggy company. And the whimsical dedication page 

also sets the tone with playful humor. The first poem I read wasn’t the first in the book. I just opened it to a random page and was treated to the following:

 

Spinning Spiny-Back

I spin,

and spin, 

and when I need

a peppy picker-upper,

I spin a little more,

and then

I eat my web for supper. 

In the text box in the lower right hand corner of the page we learn: “Spiny-backs are orb weavers. When they build a new web, they take down the old one and eat the discarded silk, which is a great source of protein. Spiny-backs are champion recyclers.”

I flipped to another page to find one of the more unsavory-named critters, the dung beetle:

 

Let’s Hear It for Dung Beetle!

I don’t get much respect, and I suspect you didn’t know

that I was very popular in Egypt long ago.

A sacred bug. Oh yes, indeed! A charm with magic power.

Too bad you didn’t know me in my former, finest hour.

 

Don’t you just love the internal rhyme in the first line? And the hard “c” and “ch” sounds in the third line. (Can’t you just hear that crusty scarab scrabbling through the dung?) And the alliterative “efs” that lead softly into the lingering “hour”? This poet has chops!

Each poem is beautifully rendered via mixed media illustrations and accompanied by fascinating tidbits about the featured bug. I can imagine any number of children who will delight in memorizing these poems and reciting them whenever they find a ladybug, damsel fly, dung beetle, jumping spider, walking stick, preying mantis, or even the lowly common fly. The book features 27 bugs in all and includes three pages of back matter that provide even more cool facts about each one. 

Want to know something amazing about the Monarch caterpillar and butterfly? Well, I’m not going to spill the bugs. You’ll have to read the book to find out! Happy reading!

TITLE: Cricket in the Thicket

AUTHOR: Carol Murray

ILLUSTRATOR: Melissa Sweet 

PUBLISHER: Henry Holt, May 2017

TARGET AGE: Preschool-Adult (yes, adults will love them, too)

 

 

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

 

Parts and Even More Parts – Perfect Picture Book Friday

22 Apr

So you’re looking for a couple of books from a brilliant author/illustrator? Ones that will make kids say “ewwww” page after page, all while laughing uproariously? Ones that kids will want to read again and again and again because each little twist is ingenious?

Tedd Arnold’s will do the trick:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.00.20 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.00.34 PM

For the most part, his rhyme is spot on,

“I just don’t know what’s going on

or why it has to be.

But every day it’s something worse.

What’s happening to me?”

 

but purists will note that the rhyme on the second spread is—inverted! **!!Gasp!!**

“I think it was three days ago

I first became aware—

That in my comb were caught a couple

pieces of my hair.”

 

Now, one could argue that this book was published in 1997 and the rhyme police have gotten much more strict in recent years. But I will tell you that if you’re an author-illustrator and you come up with something as original as:

IMG_5848

“Then later on (I don’t recall

exactly when it was)

I lifted up my shirt and found

this little piece of fuzz.”

IMG_5849

“I stared at it, amazed, and wondered,

What’s this all about?

But then I understood. It was

my stuffing coming out!”

Editors may give you a “Get Out of Rhyme Jail Free” pass. Page after page of inspired body part distress.

Not content with one body part book, Arnold published a second called “More Parts” (not reviewed here), and a third called “Even More Parts” in 2004. Originally published under the “Dial Books for Young Readers Imprint,” they are now published by Puffin.

“Even More Parts” takes a literal look at body part idioms and their horrifying consequences.

IMG_5850

Tongue-tied, anyone?

Although each page includes small comics of several idioms for each body part, Arnold selects the funniest to fill the spreads. The end papers include mini illustrations of many more. Bonus: All of these books should engage even the most reluctant readers AND PARENTS.  

“Even More Parts” could also be used to support Common Core Curriculum in kindergarten through second grade.

Check them out!

Titles: “Parts” & “And Even More Parts”

Author/Illustrator: Tedd Arnold

Publisher: Puffin

Ages: preschool-second grade

This post is in conjunction with Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday.

This Is the Rope – Perfect Picture Book Friday

22 Jan

I loved Jacqueline Woodson’s MG/YA book, “Brown Girl Dreaming.” It was the first book I’d ever read by this fabulous writer. So I went in search of some of her picture books. And I’m happy to say that I love “This Is the Rope” just as much. So here’s my book for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday:

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 10.07.49 AM

Why I Like It: Lyrical language. Gorgeous and evocative illustrations (oil on paper) by James Ransome. A fictional story that tells a larger truth, it’s a book I could read over and over again. 

Theme: The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the United States. A short foreword to the book explains how from the 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than six million African Americans moved from the rural South to several northern cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, seeking better lives. (It’s also a story of how families and individuals within them create their personal narratives.)

At the end of the foreword Woodson states: “‘This Is the Rope’ is a work of fiction. The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope. It remains with us.”

Story: The narrative traces the journey of a rope from South Carolina to New York City, a journey that takes it from the hands of a girl (the grandmother) skipping rope under “sweet-smelling pine” in South Carolina, ties it around the luggage strapped on top of car headed toward NYC, hangs it in an apartment to dry flowers, strings it out as a line to dry laundry for freshly washed diapers for the grandmother’s first baby(the author’s mother), uses it as a cord for a pull-toy as the baby gets older, entices neighbors to play jump rope with the growing girl, gets used to tie luggage onto the car as the teenage girl goes to college, and ties up a family reunion banner as the third generation takes its place in history.

The ending circles back to the grandmother, now holding that “threadbare and greying” rope, watching her granddaughter use a new rope for jump rope games. She holds onto that rope “and her long-ago memory of sweet-smelling pine.”

One of my favorite quotes:

“This is the rope my daddy used

when he showed me the way

to tie a sailor’s knot—

‘Two times around and pull it real tight.

You want whatever you make or do

in your life,’ my daddy said, ‘to last…”

 

Title: This Is the Rope

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrator: James Ransome

Publisher: Penguin Book Group: Nancy Paulsen Books

Pub Date: 2013

Ages: K-3rd grade 

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 10.21.06 AM

Jacqueline Woodson

Biography

Jacqueline Woodson’s awards include 3 Newbery Honors, a Coretta Scott King Award and 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, 2 National Book Awards, a Margaret A. Edwards Award and an ALAN Award — both for Lifetime Achievement in YA Literature. She is the author of more than 2 dozen books for children and young adults and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York

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?

32706624_s

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.

40144359_s

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

A Crankenstein Valentine – Perfect Picture Book Friday

12 Jun

It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday! Ever get cranky on days that everyone else likes to celebrate? Looking for someone who’s simpatico with your outlook? Well, A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger (illustrated by the fabulous Dan Santat), may be right up your alley. (Yes, I know we’re nowhere near Valentine’s Day, but I saw this sitting on the “new” shelf at the library today and fell in love.) Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 12.29.12 PM Is this your average Valentine’s Day sweet book? 6349266_s End paper hearts, containing the words:

DRY HEAVE

JUST LEAVE

STAY AWAY

PUKE

Put the reader in the right mood. The opening spread shows a bedroom door covered in posters of a skull, “Keep Out,” and “Stay Away.” Mom’s hand, the sleeve of her arm covered in a cheery valentine pattern, pushes open the door. She says:

Have you seen my little sweetheart, Crankenstein? You can’t miss Crankenstein on Valentine’s Day. 

Then on the page turn, the narrative makes an interesting switch to second person:

You would say, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! MY LOVE!

Crankenstein would say, YECHHHH!

Mom gives poor little Crankenstein a present:

You would say, Look who got brand-new HEART UNDIES!

Crankenstein would say, YECHHHH!

And the day goes downhill from there. Taking roses to teachers, getting smooched on the schoolbus, eating mom’s lovingly prepared heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the school cafeteria. Oh, the HORROR of the biggest, mushiest, sappiest day one must ever endure at school!  Trouble is, everyone else LOVES LOVES LOVES Valentine’s Day. 26368674_s Until— Soulmates unite.  35380713_s For anyone who suffers through celebrations, events, parties, etc…that everyone else seems to love. All you need is a kindred spirit who feels the same way you do.

Title: A Crankenstein Valentine

Author: Samantha Berger

Illustrator: Dan Santat

Publisher: Little Brown

Pub Date: 2014

Black Diamond Wisdom – Writers Take Note

24 Apr

Yesterday, at 10:59am PST, I despaired. Piles of research lay scattered about my desk, in my backpack, across the kitchen table. Papers I’d been shuttling around since last fall.

I was trying to finish a revision of a nonfiction picture book I’ve been writing since last September, but I felt scattered. And I couldn’t figure out how to end the story. The answer must be lying somewhere in those papers, but I had been avoiding organizing them for days, weeks. Dare I say—longer?

5478022_s

 

My testy ADD self thought it would take too much time to organize all that stuff, so I kept shuffling through papers, finding and losing and finding and losing and getting confused and starting over and losing and losing and forgetting what I was looking for because I’d gotten distracted with some other tidbit of info that may or may not have been important. And did I remember to mention I was in despair?

At 11:17am, I pressed the panic button:

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.38.44 PM

and let my despair pour out on a FaceBook nonfiction PB group page. Suggestions and encouragement began to flow downhill, because as you know—I was in the DEPTHS of DESPAIR.

WOW Nonfiction Archeologists pulled me from the mire and slapped me up one side and down the other. Gently. I was to stop fretting and start doing. Thank you for the tough love!

I made the historic decision to get organized. Three hours later, with folders labeled, quotes unearthed and highlighted, and background info reviewed, I had a revelation:

Brain Working at Lightning Speed

Brain Working at Lightning Speed

“Gee, that wasn’t so bad.”

Someone please kick me the next time I avoid organizing myself and my materials.

Not only did I find all the missing quotes, plus ones I hadn’t remembered to mark, I also went deeper into the sea of my story.

I had been fiddling with facts and had forgotten why I had started writing about my subjects in the first place. I reached the heart,

21927379_s

and I knew what needed to be done. Thank you WOW-ers!

But that’s not where the story ends.

Last night, my 11-yr-old son spent two hours moaning, flopping about, and moping while trying to avoid writing answers to homework essay questions. Oh, the hairy eyeballs, the pouting lips, the grumbling and growling that I endured.

28449900_s

No, this isn’t my son. Just his attitude.

 

“I can’t do it! It will take too long! It’s too hard!” (The genes don’t fall far from the tree, eh?)

Once he focused on his work, it only took him an hour. Problem is, he started his homework at 8pm. I insisted he stay up until 11pm to finish. Am I evil?

When I tucked him into bed, I asked him why he couldn’t just skip the moaning and growling and get on with it. His response:

4934406_s

“Mom, it’s the difference between standing on the upslope of a black diamond ski run and the downslope. When you’re standing up there looking down, you think there’s no way you’ll ever be able to do it. But when you’re at the bottom, you can look up and say it wasn’t so bad.”

Oh, be still my beating heart!

What are the odds we’ll both remember this tidbit of wisdom when we need to?

%d bloggers like this: