Pondering Picture Book Re-Readability

refoBook challenges – as a rule I cannot resist them!

March featured a spectacular event called ReFoRevMo, the brain-child of Carrie Charley Brown.

Carrie was inspired to start ReFoReMo, the Reading for Research Month Challenge, to help picture book writers enrich and reform their writing by reading and researching mentor texts, both fiction and nonfiction.

Every  jam-packed expert post had me jotting notes and adding more titles to my maxed out library reserve list. A terrific post on re-readability from Susanna Leonard Hill really stuck in my brain. It was filled with “truthiness” about the magical qualities that cause certain books to stand out and become cherished favorites. As Susanna noted, that intangible factor that is different for every writer, every story, and every reader. 

Well worn personal copy of The Bundle Book

Well worn personal copy of The Bundle Book

But why do we choose to re-read certain books? When I was little, my mother insisted that my favorite title was The Bundle Book by Ruth Krauss. I asked her to read it over and over, but did that mean it was my favorite? No! I just didn’t “get” the story. I was worried about the mystified mother who did not recognize that the “bundle” in the bed was obviously her own child. I continued to ask for re-readings, hoping eventually I’d figure out what it was all about.

Thankfully, it is much easier to identify the reasons I choose to re-read books today. Susanna’s excellent post names them all! Today when I close the cover of a picture book, I stop and think:

 What was my favorite line?
What was my favorite image?

With some books the answers leap forward. They persist long after my last re-reading. For example:

Favorite Line  From Sophie’s Squash: “We did hope she would love vegetables.”
Favorite Image The cover of Wolfie the Bunny


Image courtesy of Schwartz & Wade



Image courtesy of Hachette







And sometimes my favorite line and illustration are paired together.

From Sparky: “I reached over and tagged him on his claw. You’re it, Sparky,” I said. And for a long, long time he was.”

book photods 002

Image from personal copy of “Sparky!”

I’d love to hear what some of your favorite picture book  lines and images are.

And just for fun, here’s a link to a recent Kirkus  article called Picture Books Parents Will Actually Want to Read Over and Over.

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PPBF: Over and Under the Snow


Image courtesy of Chronicle Bks

 Over and Under the Snow

Written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle Books, $16.99,  Ages 4 and up

Do you think you know all about snow?  In New England this winter we have certainly had many, many opportunities to watch the fine flakes fall, to slide and glide, to shovel and plow. But I guarantee that even if you feel a little weary of the ice and cold, Kate Messner’s delightful book Over and Under the Snow will restore your appreciation for the magic that takes place in nature’s secret subnivean kingdom.

A girl enjoying a day of cross-country skiing with her father narrates the story, describing where she goes and what she sees.  “Over the snow I glide.  Into woods, frosted fresh and white.  Over the snow, a flash of fur – a red squirrel disappears down a crack. ‘Where did he go?’ ‘Under the snow,’ Dad says.

As they proceed through the woods, they discover many signs of animal life, lyrically described and simply outlined. Beautiful pale blue, brown and icy gray illustrations reveal tunnels and caves below the snow surface.  Messner’s menagerie includes shrews, snow hares, bullfrogs, bears and even bumblebees, all munching, scratching, snoring or snoozing above and below the snow.  An informative author’s note profiles each animal in depth, and gives additional information about their homes, diets and behavior.

Neal’s minimalist illustrations are simple in tone and slightly retro in feel. The quality of this book is enhanced by its thick unvarnished paper, offering a satisfying heft to the feel and turn of each page.  The final image features animal constellations gleaming in the cold night sky while our heroine curls up in her snug warm bed, tying it all cozily and perfectly together.

Follow animal tracks in the snow, or mud!
Try cross country skiing on a sunny snowy day.
Bundle up and look at the stars on a cold winter night.

Image courtesy Chronicle Bks

Image courtesy Chronicle Bks

In the mood for a warmer, greener tale? Messner and Neal have just released the springy sequel Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (Chronicle Books, March 3, 2015)

I can’t wait to dig into this new book, and into the dirt!

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, March 2015. Read your issue online here.

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Put Your Characters in the Zone!

Image from Kuypers: The Zones of Regulation

Image from Kuypers: The Zones of Regulation

From time to time, our local school district offers an evening presentation for parents to keep us informed about the things our children are learning in the classroom.

Our last meeting focused on The Zones of Regulation, a behavioral awareness curriculum designed by Leah Kuypers, an occupational therapist and autism specialist.

The program is intended to help children recognize how variable states of alertness may impact their behaviors, and teach them skills to promote self-control and problem solving abilities.

Sound like a mouthful? I’ll translate.

Recognize anger, elation, or terror? Those out-of-control states describe people in the Red Zone.

Frustrated, anxious, excited and silly feelings run rampant in the Yellow Zone.

In the Green Zone, people are likely to be happy, focused, content and ready to learn.

If you are sad, tired, sick or bored, you are in the Blue Zone.

While life in the Green Zone is ideal, in reality we all fluctuate between these states for various reasons and for variable amounts of time each day. Finding suitable strategies to keep green for as often and as long as possible is the name of the game.

What does any of this have to do with writing? As I listened to the presentation, I found myself  in a Blue Zone mood – it was late, the room was warm, and the pasta I had eaten for dinner was lulling me into daydreams. I began thinking about my picture book characters, and how I could ensure they were zipping from zone to zone in my stories, just like a “real” kid.

Let’s look at the way one pro has done it:

Pigeon in the Red Zone

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Pigeon in the Yellow Zone

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Pigeon in the Green Zone

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Pigeon in the Blue Zone

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Images from Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Disney-Hyperion, 2003)

Next time you are writing or revising your picture books, try thinking about your character’s zone, and whether the words and images you’ve chosen will ring true throughout a range of physical and emotional states. I’m no expert at actually managing my own zone awareness, but teaching little ones how to practice self- awareness and self control is definitely au courant. Check it out – even Cookie Monster is on board with the trend in his latest video!

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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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