Picture Book Revising and Re-imagining

When I got word of a full day SCBWI picture book revision workshop, I couldn’t sign up fast enough! Last week we gathered at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art with the fabulous Harold Underdown and amazing Eileen Robinson of Kid’s Book Revisions for morning and afternoon workshop sessions, creativity exercises, manuscript critiques, and time to write, revise, and network.

The red Mo Willems elephant sculpture greeted us with a grin, despite the chilly weather.

The Carle was filled with many temptations: the stunning gallery (don’t miss Barbara McClintock’s special exhibit from Leave Your Sleep), the bookshop packed with favorite classics and new releases, and the cozy library. Even the craft room was freshly stocked with paint, paper, brushes and glue!

carle workshop 5

Photo credit: Harold Underdown

I can’t reveal specific workshop content, although it’s fair to say that Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books was kept close at hand. Chatting with like-minded picture book writers was a definite highlight from the day. To give you a glimpse of the terrific people I met, visit the PB writing blogs of Papa J Josh Funk, Ninja Woman Julie Phillips, and Carol Gordon Ekster from the mighty group blog Writers’ Rumpus.

Finally, a big thank you to SCBWI for financial support underwriting workshop costs, to Carol Munro for organizing a fabulous day, and to fellow 12X12 friends Melanie Ellsworth and Carrie Finison for their insightful critiques on my latest picture book draft!

Carle workshop (2A)

Photo credit: Carol Munro

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PPBF: Penguin in Peril by Helen Hancocks


Penguin in Peril
Written and Illustrated by: Helen Hancocks
Templar/Candlewick Books, 2013

Suitable For Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: scheming cats, wily penguin, crazy caper

Opening: “One afternoon, three hungry cats ran out of food. They searched the house high and low and found three gold coins. They set off for the grocery store.”

Brief Synopsis: Well, those foolish cats don’t get to the store – they spend their coins on movie tickets. Still hungry but now inspired, they hatch a plot to kidnap a penguin from the zoo to serve as their fishy meal catcher. The penguin balks and manages to escape, leading to a hilarious cross-city chase.

darn penguin

How does a penguin hide in the city? By ducking past nuns, men in black bowler hats, and bow-tied waiters of course. Each new scene made us howl with laughter as we searched for the cats, hats and habits. But will the penguin make it safely back to the zoo?

Links To Resources:

Make an origami penguin

Try this fun penguin balloon craft

Stage a penguin puppet show after creating paper bag penguin puppets

Ranger Rick from the  National Wildlife Federation has a good article on Adelie penguins

Why I Like This Book:

It’s an multi-award nominee!
In December 2013 Penguin in Peril was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal, Peters Books & Furniture Book of the Year, the Oxfordshire Book Awards and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book prize.

Its just plain fun!
There is no moral or message to be discerned, beyond perhaps “Crime does not pay.” This is a perfect silly book to share with a TV-cartoon obsessed reluctant reader and show them just how fun books can truly be. Plus they will learn some great new vocabulary words. Gruel anyone?

April 25 is World Penguin Day!
With this much of a headstart, we can plan a penguin-tacular celebration!

For a complete list of great books with resources, please visit Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Or if you prefer robins to penguins (and who doesn’t need a sign of spring right about now?) check out my recent review of NEST by Jorey Hurley at Good Reads with Ronna.

nest 1


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Celebrating at Good Reads with Ronna – Win books!

I hope many of you have been following my reviews on the best of the best new children’s books at Good Reads with Ronna.  My last post featured the incredibly beautiful picture book Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska.

once (image from Amazon)

Good Reads with Ronna  is currently celebrating a major milestone – over 1000+ Twitter followers – by giving away three sets of award-winning books, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (2014 Newbery Medalist) with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, together with Journey, a wordless picture book (2014 Caldecott Honor Book) by Aaron Becker. Click here for all the details and enter by February 18, 2014!

N.B. – The giveaway has ended.  Congratulations to the winners Lauri Meyers and Danielle Davis! Click on their names to reach their fabulous book blogs!

It’s my privilege to offer you a glimpse into the brains behind this wonderful website, the marvelous Ronna Mandel!  Ronna agreed to answer my questions – serious and silly – for Bildebok readers!  Without further ado… Ronna!
Ronna Mandel

Ronna Mandel

You’ve been blogging about fabulous children’s books since 2009.  How did you develop your passion for kid lit?

I think there’s a part of me that hasn’t completely grown up. I was not a big reader as a child until a very helpful librarian found me some special books. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina was one of the books she recommended. When I got a little older, the same librarian recommended Family Sabbatical by Carol Ryrie BrinkSusan Foster and Caddie Woodlawn.  I was hooked. Having kids was just the icing on the cake. I could buy kids’ books to my heart’s content. Books fired my imagination as a child and still do.

If you could put one book from your childhood into every public library, what book would you choose and why?

I can’t answer this question relating to my childhood. I can, however, tell you that Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton is one of my family’s all time faves. It’s got math, humor, a wild party scene, great Boynton artwork and of course, it’s also hysterical (and I mean that in the best possible way) hippos. As with so many Boynton books, Hippos Goes Berserk is great for practicing memorization skills! It’s one of those books that will instantly bring a smile to a child’s face (okay, and parents’ faces, too) when they’re feeling down. I want all libraries to have this book on their shelves. It just shouts out “We’ve got a great sense of humor!”
If you could wave a magic book wand, for what book would you create a sequel?

How about a book #8 in the Harry Potter series?

Hardcover, paperback, Nook or Kindle.  How you do prefer to read?

I have remained steadfast in avoiding an eReader.  I can read PDFs publishers send me online although I am old-fashioned and do prefer to hold a book in my hand. I love taking baths so I’d be scared to bring anything electronic into the tub, another reason why I stick to hardcover or paperback. I like the bulkiness of a hardcover, the smell, the cover art and all the info that can be included when there’s a book jacket.

Ronna, you are granted a superpower for one day.  Do you want to fly or be invisible?

Easy. Fly. I wanted to be Gidget as a child and travel the world. I had the good fortune to do so in a previous travel industry career and also living abroad in Europe for 10 years. I’ve traveled to Russia, India, Nepal, Israel and Morocco so, if I cannot fly on a plane, reading books is the next best thing.  I’ve even visited the Pyramids in my dreams or maybe I was really flying?

Ronna Mandel writes from the San Gabriel Valley in CA where she lives with her family after spending ten years in Frankfurt and London. Her blog, Good Reads with Ronna, features author interviews, literacy related events and giveaways, and reviews children’s books and educational products.  Good Reads With Ronna also appears weekly in www.parenthood.com’s Practical Parenting newsletter.

Ronna is a member of SCBWI and writes her own stories for children. Contact Ronna directly at Ronna.L.Mandel@gmail.com, on Twitter @goodreadsronna, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/goodreadswithronna and on Pinterest at http://www.pinterest.com/ronnamandel/.

Thank you Ronna!  It was a pleasure to have you visit.  I hope everyone will head over to her website and enter the giveaway.  Wouldn’t you love to own or share these two incredible books?

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Festive Feeding Frenzy – Holiday Contest

Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is a cornucopia of fun, festive, sweet, silly and  serious stories for children about holiday mishaps and mistakes at Susanna Hill’s website.  Writers are posting 350 word (or less!) stories for the 3rd annual Holiday Contest! Come celebrate the season!


Alex carefully squeezed the last glob of frosting onto the roof.

There! Her gingerbread house was finished. The pretty cookie cottage featured a pretzel stick fence, red brick licorice chimney, and ribbon candy shingles.

Alex imagined her photo on the front page of the Tiptown News, holding her prize-winning masterpiece.

Daisy sniffed, and wagged her tail.

“Uh-uh! No licks or nibbles, Daisy!” warned Alex. “I’m bringing this to school tomorrow.” She climbed on a stool and carefully slid her project on top of the fridge.

Early the next morning, Alex’s dad shuffled into the kitchen for coffee.

“Woof!” barked Daisy, waiting for her walk. She whined and stared above the fridge.

“Want a biscuit?” Dad reached for the treat jar. “Oh – a new bird feeder. Let’s put this up!”

As Daisy played outside, Dad wedged the gingerbread house between two branches.

“Mmm… I must be hungry. That bird house smells pretty good!” he said.

Soon Alex came down for breakfast. Chirp! Chirp! Tweet-tweet! Chunk! Chunk! What was going on?

Alex looked out the window. Birds, squirrels and chipmunks swarmed around her gingerbread house, picking and pecking.

“NOOOO!” she shouted, dashing outside.

The birds flew away. The squirrels scooted off. One tiny chipmunk sat frozen with fear, a licorice rope dangling from his mouth.

“Put that back!” said Alex, stomping the snow.

The chipmunk flinched. He stuffed the licorice in his cheek and turned to run.

Then his eyes bulged.

His shoulders bunched.

His tail went straight and stiff.

He fell – WHUMP! – onto the ground.

Alex stared in disbelief, then she knew just what to do. She ran inside, grabbed the phone and dialed 9-1-1.

“He’s choking…on candy…he’s so little…Help!” she sputtered.

The operator spoke calmly. Alex followed her instructions step by step.

“The ambulance is coming. Is your baby brother OK now?” asked the operator.

“Uh, well. He’s actually… ummm… a chipmunk?” Alex replied sheepishly as the EMT’s rushed in with a giant stretcher.

And that’s how Alex’s photo, with her gingerbread house and a chipmunk, made the Tiptown News front page after all!

Suggested Additional Activities:

A WordPress glitch temporarily swallowed my comment box when this post went live. Early comments – much appreciated! -  went directly to my email and I have posted them below. 

You should now be able to comment without any trouble. Thank you for visiting!

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Spilled Paint – deCordova Series

Spilled Paint Aaron Stephan, 2013

Spilled Paint
Aaron Stephan, 2013


Thick, gluey
, gooey
Paint rolls down the hill.

Gushing, rushing
Flowing, slowing
Sticky latex spill.

Gasping, laughing
Children run and play.

Grassy, sunny
Oddly funny
Perfect summer day.

+ + + + +

My third and final Artist Date this summer was a return to a favorite museum and outdoor sculpture garden, the deCordova in Lincoln, MA. There were many new works to admire as well as familiar pieces to revisit. This temporary installation by Aaron Stephan, entitled Spilled Paint, was especially appealing for the way it inspired giggles and playfulness among the preschool set.

Using the deCordova galleries’ “Atrium White,” Stephan’s sculpture brought the inside of the museum outside, a moment frozen in time. Can’t we all recall causing or cleaning similar accidental spills of paint or milk? Surely that is exactly what so delighted these children!

Stephan also re-engineered trash barrels into shiny sculptures:

August 2013 042

And caused roof boards and railings to erupt skyward:

August 2013 068

If you wish to visit the last two posts in my Artist Date series, please follow these links:

Virginia Lee Burton at the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester MA

Koala’s Lunch at the Stone Zoo, Stoneham MA

More ekphrastic poems and posts from the 2012 deCordova series are linked in the August 2012 bildebok  archives.

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Follow Me to Folly Cove: Virginia Lee Burton

Virginia Lee Burton The Little House

Virginia Lee Burton display
Mock-up for The Little House

I felt chills – actual tingles on my spine – while gazing into this plexiglass case at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts. As I child I loved the books of Virginia Lee Burton, including  The Little House, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Katy and the Big Snow. Perhaps you have read her books as well – it’s estimated that over 4.5 million copies have been sold. The Cape Ann Museum features many examples of Burton’s work, making it the perfect destination for my second Artist Date.

Virginia Lee Burton, also known as Jinnee, was a talented, vibrant artist in many creative fields. After a promising start as a ballerina, Burton came to Boston in 1928 to care for her ailing father. She met her future husband, noted sculptor George Demetrios, while taking a class at the Boston Museum School. Burton decided to try writing and illustrating children’s books as a way to earn income during the Depression.

Her first attempt, a story about a dust bunny, was a failure. It was rejected by publishers, and even her own young son fell asleep before the story ended. Burton persevered, imagining stories that would appeal to her two young boys. Her next book, Choo Choo, published in 1937, was a success. She continued to write more bright, warm-hearted books, all featuring strong female anthropomorphized characters. Burton’s The Little House was honored with the Caldecott Medal in 1943.

Sept 2013 Gloucester 003

Resourceful and energetic, Burton offered to teach drawing to a neighbor in exchange for violin lessons for her sons. The art classes quickly morphed into a sophisticated textile design collaborative, the Folly Cove Designers, composed of approximately 30 women taught by Burton. They carved highly intricate patterns on linoleum covered woodblocks and printed all manner of textiles, wallpaper, table linens, etc. Their whimsical and natural motif works attracted media attention, met with retail success, and were featured in major museum exhibitions.

Sept 2013 Gloucester 002

“Away In a Manger” block

Learning more about Burton and examining her works left me energized and rejuvenated. Her story reminded me of so many good things about the writing journey; to be collaborative with others, resourceful with time, energy and materials, to embrace ideas and inspiration across a wide range of disciplines, and above all to be joyful in one’s work.

Additional resources for more information on Virginia Lee Burton:

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An Artist Date with Milo and Thackery



This summer I treated myself to an Artist Date, a little “assigned play” per the wisdom of Julia Cameron. Julia recommends replenishing one’s well of inspiration through whimsical and festive solo exploration. What could be more fun than a day with two fuzzy visitors to Zoo New England, Milo and Thackery?

The koala brothers slept through most of my visit, but at noon a bushel of fresh eucalyptus arrived. They perked up a bit, and dined with placid, steady determination. Here is my poem about this highlight of their day:


The koala won’t holler if lunch is delayed,

He simply continues to doze.

Curled up in a lump, just a furry gray bump

Til a menthol scent tickles his nose.

Eucalyptus – your favorite! It’s time to get up

And fill your round belly with leaves.

He crunches and munches the greens in big bunches

Then stumbles back up in the trees.

Sleep well young koala! Enjoy your long nap.

May your dreaming be pleasant and sweet.

For the rest of the day you’ll be snoozing away

Til you wake up once more just to eat.



When my husband and I travelled through Australia, we saw plenty of kangaroos, emus and wallabies. We loved the fairy penguins on Kangaroo Island and the kaleidoscope of marine life on the Great Barrier Reef. Despite hiking miles of riverbank, we never saw a platypus but became intimately familiar with leeches (ick!). I spied koalas through binoculars, sleeping through the heat of the day at great shady heights. Although I did not succumb to any of the tourist-trappy “Hold a Koala for a Photo” spots, I do regret not seizing the opportunity to touch that fluffy fur!

Cool, crisp fall mornings are now upon us, and Milo and Thackery have returned to their warm San Diego home. I’ve assembled some koala links if you would like to learn more about these cuddly creatures:

What is your favorite cuddly creature? Or your favorite lunch?

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