Crafty is one word with many meanings, yet I can always apply it somehow to the wonderful books written by Maria Gianferrari. Penny, the young heroine starring in Maria’s Penny & Jelly series, is very crafty in the artistic sense. She manipulates yarn, clay, paper, paint, tape, even shaving cream to find her talent or create an imitation Jelly dog. The determined mother in Coyote Moon is a crafty hunter, scouring her suburban neighborhood for a meal to give her hungry pups.

In Maria’s newest book, Officer Katz and Houndini, we meet not one but two crafty characters. Houndini is an illusionary performer extraordinaire, escaping from handcuffs, stockades, ropes and boxes with ease. The crowd ooh’s and aah’s as he tips his stovepipe hat and bows modestly. But he’s a prankster as well, annually defacing the official portrait of the town’s feline founder with a large swooping Houndini-like mustache. The cocky dog’s disrespect bugs crafty Officer Katz to no end, inspiring him to invent elaborate contraptions to catch Houndini once and for all.

Q: Officer Katz is a careful, methodical inventor. He’s drawn fancy blueprints before building each of his clever contraptions. When it comes to writing picture books, are you are plotter that carefully outlines how your story will begin and end, or a pantser that goes with the flow of the story?

I’m not really either—I’m somewhat in the middle. Because of the research involved, I tend to do more plotting and outlining with my nonfiction picture books, mostly because there are cool animal facts that I try to weave into the narrative.

For fiction, I don’t usually outline to get started with a draft, though I may have a vague ending in mind—some kind of general arc. Other times I have a clearer idea of the ending, and work out the best way to get there though the drafting process. I often have to let things marinate quite a bit, thinking both consciously (and subconsciously) before I dive in. So it’s a bit of both I guess.

Q: Houndini has practiced and polished his elusionary arts to perfection, dazzling the audience with his incredible feats. What writerly arts do you practice regularly that hone your skills to produce picture book perfection?

The magical arts of reading and revising. I read and re-read tons of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, all kinds of genres, studying them for voice, use of white space, emotional arcs, especially the ones that make me cry.

And of course revision—re-envisioning the story so that all of these elements come together. Luckily I have wonderful critique partners to help me with this.

Q: Maria, there’s no question that you have “crafty” talent with words and picture books. Are you also “crafty” with artful activities that inspire your work? (aka sewing, sculpting, welding, leather tooling :D) 

Not really, though I am a crazy plant lady and have a “green thumb.” I don’t have a much of a garden, but I have a lot of potted flowers on our deck. Here are two of my favorites.

catplanter feeder-flowers








And here’s a photo of an avocado plant that I grew from seed. It’s about a year old.


From the publisher’s website:  Officer Katz is looking forward to a nice retirement until his arch-nemesis, Houndini, reappears one final time to challenge Katz to a showdown. If Katz manages to catch Houndini after three tries, Houndini will stay out of Kitty City forever. But if Houndini manages to escape, the town will be renamed…Houndiniville. And Katz isn’t about to let his town go to the dogs.

For our final act, we’re pleased to offer one dazzling, crafty copy of Officer Katz and Houndini.  No need to be blindfolded or come up on stage. Just leave a comment – maybe tell us what magic act you’d like to perform? – to be entered in the drawing. (Sorry – U.S. residents only) In  2 weeks you’ll learn whether this was your lucky day!

Maria Gianferrari Courtesy Monogram Arts

Maria Gianferrari
Courtesy Monogram Arts

Hot diggety dog! Maria Gianferrari’s a lucky dog—she gets to write stories about cats and dogs, and when she’s dog-tired, she can catnap in her office. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her cat’s meow of a family: her scientist husband, artist daughter, and top dog, Becca. She is the author of the Penny & Jelly books as well as Coyote Moon and the forthcoming Hello Goodbye Dog. To learn more about Maria, please visit her website at, Facebook or Instagram.


Monday, Oct. 17th: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) 3 GIVEAWAYS: a query pass from Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary; picture book critique from me, and a copy of Officer Katz & Houndini!!

Tuesday, Oct. 18th:                 Librarian’s Quest

Wednesday, Oct. 19th:           Bildebok

Thursday, Oct. 20th:               Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

Friday, Oct. 21st:                     Pragmaticmom +  book giveaway

Monday, Oct. 24th:                 Homemade City

Tuesday, Oct. 25th:                 ReFoReMo THINK QUICK  with Carrie Charley Brown


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Title Trends: SHOUTING

Friction. Tension. Our adult world is rife with stress and conflict lately, and I’ve noticed it has somehow trickled into new picture book releases as well. I’m neither praising nor condemning the trend, just commenting.

I live in a neighborhood filled with kids.  In fact, there’s a daycare center right next door. While that provides marvelous fodder for picture book inspiration, it’s also a window into the reality that little ones do shout, yell, argue and get passionately LOUD on a regular basis.

Here are some of the recent titles that have caught my eye:

Leave Me Alone! as reviewed by Julie Rowan Zoch








Let Me Finish! as reviewed by Danielle Davis








Horrible Bear! as reviewed by Dylan Teut










Have any other picture book titles caught your attention that could be included in this category? Other interesting title trends that you’ve noticed?

Happy Friday, happy reading.

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Finding the Right Notes: WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING


Written by Arthur A. Levine
Illustrated by Katie Kath
Running Press Kids • Ages 4 to 8
$16.95 US • $21.99 CAN

Noah’s Grandpa is an energetic, operatic powerhouse of fun. He starts singing at sunrise with a booming tune to greet the day. He sings while he and Noah walk the dog, calling up songs for all weather and all occasions. There is a song for making (or burning) cinnamon French toast, and a song for tuna salad without celery. No wonder Noah adores spending time with his buoyant, upbeat Grandpa who always finds joy in the song of life.

But when Grandpa’s memories begin to fade, Noah is hurt and unsure how to respond. Grandma, ever patient and supportive, steps in to help Noah understand the nuances of his changing relationship with Grandpa. No surprise, a few simple notes provide a pathway for Noah and Grandpa to reconnect once again on the sunny side of life.

WABM 2016 006

If young readers do not know all the tunes referenced in Levine’s story, take this opportunity to introduce them to classics like “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma! (as sung by the delightful Nathaniel Hackmannor “Suppertime” from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.


Katie Kath’s lightly layered illustrations play a beautiful lilting melody with delicate watercolors that highlight the joy and energy Grandpa and Noah share in good times.  Washing color from portions of the images subtly reinforces the fading of Grandpa’s memories in a visual language that even the youngest readers will grasp. Check out the activity page on Kath’s website for three terrific craft ideas to accompany the story.

To learn more about WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, visit the stops on its virtual tour featuring these fine blogs:

8/2 Flowering Minds

8/3 MomReadIt

8/4 Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books

8/5 Stacking Books

8/6 #Kidlit Book of the Day

8/8 Enjoy Embrace Learning

8/9 Unleashing Readers

8/10 Two Writing Teachers

8/12 Geo Librarian

8/13 Randomly Reading

From the publisher: WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING is the touching story of a young boy who learns to accept his grandfather’s gradual memory loss and enjoy the fun, beautiful moments they still have together. Inspired by his relationship with his father, acclaimed publisher and editor Arthur A. Levine tackles the challenging subject of a deteriorating loved one with sensitivity, tender prose, and a powerful, uplifting message. Paired with Katie Kath’s vivid watercolor illustrations that carefully express each emotional detail, this book is a reassuring ode to how love can help us find even what we think is lost.

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A Stellar Selection! Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

9780544280052_lresPenny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars
HMH Books for Young Readers, June 2016

Written by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Thrya Heder

In this young and funny picture book companion to Penny & Jelly: The School Show, Penny is invited to go to a slumber-under-the-stars sleepover—but with no pets allowed, how can Penny enjoy the night? Readers of Pinkalicious and Ladybug Girl will swoon over best friends Penny & Jelly.

Maria graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Bildebok readers about what inspires her work and what tickles her funny bone. Read on for her terrific answers!

  • Where are you most likely to be inspired for a book idea?

Nature, especially if it’s a work of nonfiction. I often get ideas while walking my dog, Becca. The other perfect place for ideas is in the shower.

  •  If you could be any character in a children’s book, who would you be?

twig 2That’s a tough one, but I’ll go with the first one that popped in my head. One of my favorite picture books as a kid was Miss Twiggley’s Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox. I still have my childhood copy. Miss Twiggley lived in a treehouse, with her dog, Puss, and two bears. She’s quirky and a bit of a recluse. It was my introvert dream come true.

If Maria’s answer intrigues you as it did me, you can find out more about this title in a fun review from Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves by blogger Burgin Streetman. Here’s a little excerpt of the text:

Funny Miss Twiggley
Lived in a tree
With a dog named Puss
And a color TV.
She did what she liked, and she liked what she did,
But when company came
Miss Twiggley hid.

  •  Do you have any favorite jokes about stars or dogs?

 I have two!

Q: Did you hear about the dyslexic, agnostic insomniac?

A: He stayed up all night wondering if there was a dog.

Q: Why didn’t the dog star laugh at the joke?

A: It was too Sirius. (Ha-ha!)

The Mercator Globes at Harvard Map Collection. 1551

The Mercator Globes at Harvard Map Collection. 1551

I have to admit I am a little rusty on my astronomy, so here’s a fun link to Rita’s Dog Blog for those who want to brush up on Sirius and canine constellation maps.

Thank you Maria for visiting and getting us excited about the next chapter in the Penny & Jelly series! 

Author photo courtesy of Monogram Arts Photo

Author photo courtesy of Monogram Arts Photo

Maria Gianferrari hasn’t slumbered under the stars recently, but she has two favorite stars: the dog star, Sirius, like Penny and Jelly, and Betelgeuse – because it’s so fun to say! Maria stargazes from her backyard in Virginia with her husband, Niko, an amateur astrophotographer, her artist-daughter, Anya, and the dog star of her household, Becca. Visit her website, and follow Penny & Jelly at

Also available: my interview with Maria from her debut launch in July, 2015. 

Follow the P&J blog tour:2015 July 023
June 9th  Pragmatic Mom
June 10th  Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
June 13th  Little Crooked Cottage + Homemade City
June 14th  Kid Lit Frenzy
June 15th  Miss Marple’s Musings
June 16th  Bildebok
June 17th  Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

***NEWSFLASH***Special Giveaway***
To win your very own copy of Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars, please leave a comment below and I will enter you in the drawing! If you’ve already commented – your name is in the drawing!

Congrats Teresa Robeson! A copy of
Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars

will be winging its way to you soon!

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The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans (PPBF)

Updating a classic from the archives. Memorial Day 2016 will be observed on Monday, May 30th. This book is a wonderful resource for young readers who are curious about the history of the red poppy tradition. With gratitude for all those who have served, and their families…

bildebok from Cathy Ballou Mealey


The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans
Written by: Barbara Elizabeth Walsh
Illustrated by: Layne Johnson
Calkins Creek Books, 2012

Suitable For Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Memorial Day, veterans, poppies, Flanders Fields

Opening: “March 1917. German U-boats had sunk another American ship – and the nation was outraged! Would the president call for war? Would Congress agree? Moina Belle Michael prayed not…”

Watch the Book Trailer

Brief Synopsis: An earnest tribute to the dedication of Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia who was inspired by a poem to launch a national campaign establishing the red poppy as the symbol of sacrifice and courage of America’s soldiers.

While searching through her father’s WWII memorabilia, ten year old Barbara Elizabeth Walsh found a postcard addressed to her mother with a red poppy pinned to one corner. Her father explained who “The Poppy Lady” was and how kind she had been to him and…

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For Whom the Tweet Tolls


Now that I have an ‘official’ teen, she possesses a cell phone and a fledgling presence on various social media platforms. For the split millisecond that she had an account on Twitter, she checked @CatBallouMealey to decide whether my profile was worth a click to follow.

“Wow, Mom – you have over 1,000 Twitter followers?” she asked incredulously. “Who are they? And why do they follow you?”

For a moment I basked in the glow of her Twitter awe, secretly knowing that even 1,000 amazing followers is mere peanuts to most hard-core social media types.  Together, we scrolled through my feed. “Mostly book people talking about book stuff,” she concluded.

Newsflash: I did not gain a new follower.

But I’m OK with that, and here’s why.  As I scrolled down memory lane through all the tweets I had shared,”favorited” or “RT’ed” I had an epiphany.

Most of those tweets were really for me.

The cover of that book I had read and loved? I should post a Goodreads review.
That illustration I had admired? It sparked a story idea I must jot down.
The social media events I promoted (#LibraryWeek)? Gather some books to donate!

So while I might occasionally nudge bookish friends to join the Twitter bandwagon (Yes, I do mean you Jama and Maria) it is probably for my own rather selfish reasons. If you are already one of my Twitter followers, thanks for helping me share and spread the book love!

Have you ever thought about what you choose to tweet and why?

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PPBF: The Thread Soldier

2016 March B 032The Thread Soldier
Written by Anne Heathers
Illustrated by Esteban Frances
Harcourt Brace & Co NY, 1960
Ages 3 and up

Brief Synopsis (from book jacket): When a little mouse, playing with a spool of thread, discovers he has made a thread soldier, he is overjoyed. Now he will make for his new friend not only clothes, but a horse and a park to ride in. And if he can do this much himself, how much more could he make with the help of his friends?

Opening  A little mouse went out for a walk and found a spool of thread. “Whoopee!” he said. “Now I can have some fun.” He started to unwind the thread – and to pull it round and round. Suddenly he realized that he had made a flower. “Well, well,” he exclaimed. “If I can make a flower…”

Themes: Creativity/Imagination
2016 March B 034

You never know what treasure you might uncover when browsing in a used bookstore. This tiny volume – about 6×7 – popped out as I dug through the picture book stack. The yellowed dust jacket told me it was vintage, but the story is remarkably fresh! I just loved that line of jaunty mice marching across the top. And inside – look!

The mice gleefully make a fine world for the soldier, using their mousey imaginations to the max! It’s all fun and games until someone begins to reel in the spool of thread. How will they save their friend before he disappears?

2016 March B 039

2016 March B 033Links To Resources:

Try some string art for kids

Make some glued yarn pictures

Read Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) and Ellen Stoll Walsh’s Mouse Paint (1995). Compare and contrast the three books!

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.

2016 March B 037


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