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.


About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Children's book author, repped by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, alumna, autism advocate, book reviewer. Reach me via email at cmealey@post.harvard.edu or Twitter @catballoumealey
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20 Responses to Pondering Picture Book Re-Readability

  1. In Sophie’s Choice: “I’ll call for pizza.”

  2. Oh, I loooove Sparky — and I am glad that I live in a world where someone would publish it.

    As a kid, my favorite re-read titles all had an implicit sense of justice. My favorite book, Danger in Dinosaur Valley, ended with a family of Diplodocus (Diplodocuses? Diplodicai?) using their new-found baseball skills (long story) to beat the living crap out of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Oh, how I loved that story!

  3. I’m glad you shared more information on ReFoReMo. I saw references, but wasn’t sure what it was about. I have many favorites that are escaping me, but I did think of a line “Everyone’s story matters” from “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” Thought of some from MG novels.

  4. Lauri Meyers says:

    I thought the event was going to end up being about heavy research for nonfiction. Boy was I wrong. It was so much more than that, and I learned lots of new ways to look at mentor texts.

  5. Now you’ve got me thinking about favorite lines and favorite images and I am hard pressed to choose one because I am fickle. I fall in love with each new book I review. Of course there are certain outstanding ones, magical in craftsmanship and evocativeness, but I won’t play favorites here! Thanks for sharing this post because, like Lauri, I thought the activities were more nonfiction related, but it’s true as writers we are doing research everyday, even it’s just walking and observing the world.

    • It was a rich month indeed, fine tuning our senses for picture book perfection. I agree – hard to choose favorites. Wolfie, Sophie’s Squash and Sparky! were mentioned in the ReFoReMo posts many times over for lots of good reasons. TY Ronna!

  6. My eldest son often has me reread a book to him until he has it memorized. This is especially true about books written in verse. Then he will look over the books by himself and recite them from memory. I tend to be more mesmerized by illustrations and just want to look back and absorb them. My youngest son tends to have me reread books with words he understands. The more words he knows in a book, the more often he asks me to repeat it. Interesting topic, I will have to think about it more. Thanks for bringing this up!

    • That’s a wonderful observation of the different ways to appreciate books! When my son was a toddler he adored THE BIG RED BARN, board book edition. He knew/learned the last word on each page, and would reach out to flip it as soon as the word came out of my mouth! Wish I could recall more of my classes with Jeanne Chall about development and literacy stages in young children! It is fascinating stuff.

  7. rnewman504 says:

    One of my favorite books is Monsters Eat Whiny Children. Lots of great lines throughout the book but I love “The monster’s wife said she couldn’t eat sweets because her bottom was too big. Everyone told her she was crazy.” And in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, I love the line about the cheese burger. Pure genius!

  8. This will prompt me to start collecting lines and images! Thanks!

  9. Hi Cathy! Thanks so much for the shout out! I am thrilled to hear that ReFoReMo inspired you to think deeply about re-readability and many other important PB elements. 🙂 If you have any other ReFoReMo discoveries you would like to share, I invite you to submit a guest post to the Revealing ReFoReMo blog series: http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/blog-submissions.html Of course, you are always welcome to share them on your own blog, too. 🙂 But, I know the ReFoRe audience would benefit from you, too. 🙂

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