PPBF: Penguin and Pinecone

Penguin and Pinecone
Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon
Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, $12.99, Ages 3 and up penguinBrief Synopsis: When a tiny penguin in a vast snowy flatland discovers an unfamiliar object, he investigates it thoroughly.  It is too brown to be a snowball, too crunchy to be food, and too prickly to be an egg.  When it shivers and utters “Brrr!” the tenderhearted Penguin quickly knits up a cozy orange scarf just like his own to keep his new friend warm.

Penguin and Pinecone become the best of friends, sledding (“Whoosh!”) and playing (“Wheee!”) and swimming (“Achoo!”).  The sneeze worries Penguin. Is Pinecone sick? When Penguin learns that his bristly buddy belongs in a forest, they embark on an journey to bring Pinecone home.  Penguin builds a soft pine needle nest for his friend, encircles him in a heart-shaped ring of stones, and spells out a special message in branches before saying goodbye.

As the years pass, Penguin thinks of Pinecone often, wondering if his friend has indeed grown big and strong.  In my favorite passage from the book, Penguin imagines being engulfed in the strong embrace of an enormous, larger than life Pinecone.

Yoon’s illustrations are thickly outlined yet crisp, and her simple but deep color palette works beautifully.  A nice mix of single plane, double spread and montage images pace the storyline perfectly through an interesting mix of perspectives. I especially love a full page spread of a  scarf-swathed pinecone,  as contrasted with a tiny Penguin approaching the large evergreen forest. Best of all, the simple yet precise text rings true with child-like emotion.  “Penguin and Pinecone may have been far apart, but they always stayed in each other’s hearts.”

Links To Resources:
Make an origami penguin

Try this fun penguin balloon craft

Stage a penguin and pinecone puppet show after creating paper bag penguin puppets

Don’t miss Joanna Marple’s marvelous interview with Salina Yoon here

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Susanna maintains a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all reviews with new books being added every Friday. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for book activities or books with a particular theme.

Portions of this review first appeared in the February 2015 issue of North Shore Children & Families. Read your copy online here!

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Book Love Blog “Hopportunity”

bunnyI’m so “hoppy” to have been tagged by writer, reader and critiquer- extraordinaire Carrie Finison for her innovative Book Love blog hop!

The idea is to help promote fabulous books that may not be receiving their due share of positive social media attention. Sure, we love WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE but it continues to sell very well in countless retail outlets under its own momentum.

There are so many fabulous books – old and new – that could use a little boost through additional reviews on social media. Positive blurbs on Amazon, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest can influence other readers and book buyers. Often the number of reviews a book has impacts the book’s ranking in search engine results, which helps increase sales.

Here’s how the BOOK LOVE blog hop works:

1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting.

2. Post reviews  – even brief ones – for those books on Amazon or another form of social media. Try Goodreads, Shelfari, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. If you want, post the reviews on your own blog as well, or link your blog reviews on social media.

3. Snag Dana Carey’s awesome BOOK LOVE badge for your blog sidebar. If you wish, link it back to Carrie’s post so your visitors know what it’s all about.

4. Tag some friends to join us through their blogs or on Facebook. That’s it! If you don’t want to wait to be tagged, you can jump right in and start reviewing and tagging yourself.

Here are the books that I’m promising to promote on the interwebs to garner a bit more book love:

pineskunkA Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk

Poetry books are often shelved together, away from picture books. But young readers will love discovering these funny, fabulous, tongue-tickling, toe-tapping forest critter poems!




DAREDare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud

An inspiring true tale of a naval pioneer and heroine who “had always felt the sea tug at her heart, strong as a full-moon tide.”



Snippet the early risersnippet

A super cute snail in a fresh story with lots of kid appeal and clever illustrations. Also a great book trailer and activities to download.





I’m passing on this Book Love Blog “Hopportunity” to four fab friends who read and review countless terrific tales on a regular basis: Stacy Jensen, Julie Rowan-ZochTeresa Robeson and Ronna Mandel from the ever-inspiring book review blog Good Reads with Ronna!

But if you are feeling inspired, don’t wait to be tagged, just *jump* on in!

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PPBF: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Written by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
Dutton Children’s Books, $16.99, Ages 3 and up

2014 nov 007For many of us in New England, early November brought the first snowfall of the season. A wind-whipped, blustery Nor’easter took down power lines and whipped dry autumn leaves into frenzied, frosted piles. Just a brief preview of the weather headed our way! For a gentler, wonder-filled exploration of winter delights, pick up this beautifully illustrated excerpt from the classic poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

A farmer, bearded and wearing heavy cold-weather garb, greets his barn animals and loads his sleigh. Through the snowy countryside he glides, passing foxes, owls, and rabbits. Pausing to “watch his woods fill up with snow,” he spontaneously flops down and creates a snow angel, much to the animals’ surprise, before leaving a gift of seeds and hay in the midst of the forest.2014 nov 006

Delicately etched downy snowflakes begin to fall, turning the woods “…lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep…”  The grateful animals, hidden among the snow-covered boughs, watch him cover his horse with a cozy blanket. He sleds away to a New England farmhouse where eager children await.

Author Robert Frost, four time Pulitzer Prize winner and Poet Laureate, was once a farmer in Derry, NH. By capturing images of rural New England in plainspoken verse, he became one of the most popular 20th century poets. Rare is the graduation speech that does not reference his most famous work, The Road Not Taken (“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– / I took the one less traveled by”). This poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, was first published in 1923.

Illustrator Susan Jeffers brings Frost’s memorable words to life for children by including an abundance of creatures throughout the book’s pages. Bright pops of rich red, yellow, blue and green add warmth and dimension to the snowy, serene landscapes done in pencil, pen and ink. She masterfully captures a wintry scene in grey, white and brown tones, and shows the gusty movements of wind, the twirling dance of falling snowflakes, and soft, deep hush of a thick forest. Tucked into the snow are squirrels and deer, a silent audience for the narrator and his horse.
2014 nov 008This is a short book to read slowly and savor while snuggled inside on a snowy day. It is a lovely way to introduce young readers to a snippet of classic American poetry, and children will enjoy counting and naming all the animals. Also take note of the wide variety of native New England trees, plants and birds that are depicted with elegant but simple detail. This is an enchanting story that will surely grow richer with repeated readings.
Resources/ Activities

  • Go out and play in the snow! Look for animal tracks. Build a snowman.
  • In warmer climates, make some artificial snow and turn up the air conditioning. :-)
  • Read more about Robert Frost in Natalie Bober’s picture book biography Papa Is a Poet

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Portions of this review appeared in the December-January edition of North Shore Children & Families.  Read your copy online here.

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PPBF: Sophie’s Squash

Sophie’s Squash

Written by by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 3-7

Image courtesy of Amazon
Image courtesy of Random House Kids



Big, bright orange pumpkins are definitely the vegetable celebrities on Halloween. I’d like to nominate the humble butternut to take center stage during Thanksgiving, a time for celebrating the harvest with family and friends. And there’s no better book to promote butternut devotion than the sweet, seasonal friendship story of Sophie’s Squash.

“Bernice was just the right size to love,” reads the blurb on the back cover. Chosen at the farmer’s market and destined for the dinner table, Sophie decides that her squash is perfect to hold, cuddle and rock to sleep.  She adds a simple smiling face and wraps it in a blanket.  “I call her Bernice,” Sophie announces proudly as her mother leafs through a recipe book, preparing for dinner.  “I’ll call for a pizza,” her mother wisely replies.

Girl and gourd become inseparable, somersaulting and playing as best friends do. “Well, we did hope she’d love vegetables,” Sophie’s parents say. But time is not on Bernice’s side.  She becomes splotchy, spotty and even soft as winter approaches.  Loyal Sophie will not give up on her friend, no matter how she changes.  How will Sophie reconcile her deep butternut bond with Bernice’s inevitable decline? Even though there is a small sad moment, all ends well in springtime.

The author’s young daughter, clutching a squash at the grocery store and claiming it for her own, inspired the original story. It is expanded nicely in the book to touch on nurturing, companionship and the science of seed, soil and sun.  But readers will undoubtedly understand and identify with Sophie’s steadfast devotion to her special friend whom she loves, protects and defends no matter the cost.

The hilarious, quirky illustrations pair well with Miller’s smooth, comic text. Wilsdorf adds wry humor through the antics of an inquisitive calico cat, wild patterned outfits, and Sophie’s beribboned spiky pigtails.  There are just enough carefully placed details in each image to convey the unique comforts of home and the slow changes of season.

Parents will recognize and appreciate the humorous challenges that occur when a child latches onto an unusual favorite object like a certain sock or special spoon. And the enduring message here, that everything – even something as simple as a squash – is worthy of love, is certainly one to savor during this season of sharing.


Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Portions of this review first appeared in North Shore Children & Families, November 2014. Read your issue online here.

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No Brew For You! Halloweensie Contest


Free clip art image courtesy of Graphics Factory

It’s time for tricks, treats and tiny tales called Halloweensies! This happy holiday hoo-haa is brought to you by the lovely and talented Susanna Leonard Hill, and you are invited to join the fun! All you have to do is follow these simple rules from Susanna’s website:

Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak.   Your story can be poetry or prose, scary, funny or anything in between, 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!)  Get it?  Halloweensie – because it’s not very long and it’s for little people :)  (And yes, I know 100 words is short but that’s part of the fun and the challenge!  We got nearly 80 fantastic entries last year so I know you can do it!)  Also, you may use the words in any form – e.g. creak, creaky, creaks, creaking, creaked.  No illustration notes please!

All the details are HERE on Susanna’s website where you will also find links to all the fabulous Halloweensie stories.

My entry comes in at 100 words, exactamundo.

No Brew For You

Pumpkin soup!
Sweet and hot!
Come and get it from my pot!

 Witchy hag,
Bent and black,
Stands beside a crooked shack.

 Creeping near
Steaming brew
Fizzes, bubbles, crackles too.

Smells like dirt,
Lumpy, thick.
Stirred with creaky worn broomstick.

 “Take a sip,
Won’t you please?”
“Sorry, no. My allergies!

 I’m vegan,
Gluten, peanut-free,
As tempting as it looks to me.”

 Witchy frowned,
Grabbed a cup.
Glub! Glub! Glub! She drank it up.

There’s smoke, and then
She turns into my Mom again.

 “Wait and see,
This I bet:
I’ll trick you to eat veggies yet!”

Wishing you all a spooktacular Halloween! May your costumes be colorful and your trick-or treat bags filled with chocolate. I’m happy to take any surplus Reese’s Peanut Butter cups off your hands…

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PPBF: Monster Needs A Costume

Monster Needs a Costume
Written by Paul Czajak, illustrated by Wendy Grieb
Scarletta Kids Press, $16.95, Ages 3-6
Themes: Making choices, Halloween, dress up

Sept 2014 end 004

As soon as back-to-school shoppers emptied stores of pencils, notebooks and glue sticks, the shelves were replenished with pumpkins, candy corn and costumes. For many parents, this becomes a trying season. Trying to ignore those jumbo bags of candy until Halloween. Trying to allay fears of scary sights and sounds. Trying to be patient as children mull their costume options before the big night!

Opening/synopsis:  A delightfully indecisive oversized beastie tries on a variety of outfits and personas to find the perfect apparel for trick-or-treating.  Told in rollicking rhyme, a boy offers a series of helpful and comical suggestions: “I said to Monster, ‘Do you know what kind you’d want to wear?’ / An astronaut? A fireman? / A giant Bartlett pear?” 

Monster chooses to be a cowboy until he tires of it after one week wearing a 20 gallon hat, bandana and sheriff-starred vest. Next he wants to be a ballerina, but dances in a tiara and pink tutu to the point of exhaustion. “He kept on dancing, day and night, until his feet were sore./ But then he didn’t want to be a dancer anymore.” His third selection, a masked stealthy ninja, also fails to be just right. Will Monster be inspired once again before Halloween night?

Czajak’s story snaps along in brilliant rhyme, incorporating fantastic and unusual vocabulary words. Monster cowboy wants to rope some “desperados” and Monster ballerina spins in “pirouette, plié and tendu.” Monster ninja throws a “shuto and some round kicks” in the air.

Grieb’s Monster is a plump, purple furry fellow with double yellow horns, floppy tail, huge feet and fang-spangled jaws. As Monster imagines himself in various costumes, the images are black and white then burst into full color as he plays out his ideas. The illustrations are well-paced, incorporating large double spreads to show details. The silliest costume choices fill single pages perfect for sharing in a story group setting.

Why I Like This Book: This clever story is mild enough for youngsters timid about trick-or-treating, and funny enough to entertain older kids struggling to find the perfect original costume idea. The satisfying ending is a brilliant mash-up celebrating creativity and individuality.  Monster Needs a Costume is definitely a delicious Halloween treat!


  • Watch the funny book trailer
  • Download Monster coloring pages
  • This is a stretch – but since Monster contemplates dressing up as a Bartlett, make these adorable Halloween pear ghosts from The Pear Dish!


Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Portions of this review first appeared in North Shore Children & Families, October 2014. Read your issue online here.

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PPBF: When Elephant met Giraffe by Paul Gude

When Elephant Met Giraffe
Written and illustrated by Paul Gude
Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 3-5
Theme: friendship

2014 September 010

For children, September is about back to school, settling into routines, and making new friends.  But how do you become friends with someone who is very different from you?  Paul Gude’s new book When Elephant Met Giraffe is a funny, upbeat collection of simple short stories that will entertain young readers while helping to answer that question.

Opening/synopsis:  Early in the morning Elephant bounces out of bed, eager to get to the water hole with her puffy pink polka-dotted floaty.  At the water hole she meets Giraffe, who doesn’t say hello or answer any of Elephant’s many, many questions.  In fact, Giraffe says nothing at all.  Elephant leaves in a huff, but then spends some time reading about giraffes.  What she learns leads her back to the water hole and paves the way to a wonderful new friendship.

Gude’s digital illustrations are cheerful and bright, thickly outlined in black with minimal detail. Clear blue sky, rolling green hills and pale tan sand provide a simple static backdrop that draws attention to the expressions on the animal’s faces.  Did you look carefully at the cover and see “Elephant” in thick blocky gray letters while “Giraffe” is written in narrow yellow and brown spotted text?  Clever!

After the two new pals paddle in the water hole, their second story is about making pretzels, and a big mess, while cooperating.  The third chapter (The Bossy Pirate) is a delightful tale of finding ways to compromise during an imaginative round of dress-up.  Each story, though brief, is humorous and well-paced while the lessons are understated and subtle.  The text is simple enough to work as an early reader for older kids as well as a funny storybook for the preschool set.

Why I Like This Book: Elephant and Giraffe are appealing and relatable in their child-like enthusiasm and sense of adventure, yet they are distinctly different characters.  Elephant is consistently bubbly and upbeat, throwing herself wholeheartedly into every activity.  Giraffe plays counterpoint as a reserved, gentle soul who will particularly appeal to shy or introverted readers.  Together, they are a dynamite duo!


  • Find out if giraffes really can make sounds by watching this video from the Myth Crew!
  • Compare the buddies in this book to Mo Willem’s popular Elephant and Piggie series.
  • Check out nonfiction books to read more about the differences between elephants and giraffes!

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Portions of this review first appeared in North Shore Children & Families, September 2014. Read your issue online here.

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