Posts Tagged ‘Picture Book Spotlight’


November 12, 2012 @ 7:10 pm | Filed under: ,

I’ve fallen behind with the reading logs again—it’s inevitable that I will, from time to time—but I can report that my Rilla-read-aloud time has taken a leap forward into snuggling in with long, text-heavy books of the sort she wasn’t terribly interested in a month or two ago. Brambly Hedge, crammed with all those detailed, pore-overable drawings, hooked her on tales of small, industrious, quaintly dressed animals with British accents (she was already a Potter fan); we’re now well into Tumtum and Nutmeg, and she hasn’t seemed to notice or mind that there are far fewer illustrations, and only black-and-white, at that. There are bustling, clever mice and I get to unleash my best Monty Python impressions on the dialogue. (Tumtum is Michael Palin, of course, and who else is Baron Toymouse but Cleese’s Black Night? My Nutmeg, on the other hand, seems to want to be the cook from the current Upstairs, Downstairs series.)

As for picture books, recent hits with my younger three include:

Rachel Fister’s Blister by Amy MacDonald, art by Marjorie Priceman.

Rachel Fister has a blister, and everyone around her has a cure. Silly, satisfying rhyming text; Rilla in particular enjoys this kind of linguistic fun.

Good New, Bad News by Jeff Mack.

This one’s a great pick for the 3-6-year-old set, all ye aunties and uncles and godparents out there. A rabbit and a mouse and a picnic gone bad. No, good! No, bad! No, good…The kind of bright, bold, funny drawings my littles are especially drawn to, and unpredictable twists within a highly predictable (ergo comfortable and appealing to preschoolers) structure.

It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by the wonderful Jeremy Tankard.

You know how much we love Tankard’s work. Gorgeous coloring in this book and so much humor and excitement in the drawings. I love that heavy outline on the tiger; Jeremy was an inspired choice to illustrate David LaRochelle’s delightful tale. It’s a rollicking jungle adventure of the best kind, with a suitably ferocious tiger lurking in all sorts of unexpected places, and a kind of “We’re going on a bear hunt” vibe to the text. Huck loves it, and not just because you get to shout “IT’S A TIGER! RUN!” every few pages.

Picture Book Spotlight: My Name Is Elizabeth

February 22, 2012 @ 5:18 pm | Filed under: ,

My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.

A frequent request from Miss Rilla these days. The young heroine’s righteous indignation—her friends and neighbors will keep calling her nicknames—speaks to my five-year-old’s little-sister heart. There’s a hint of imperious Eloise in Elizabeth’s not-entirely-polite exasperation with the folks who insist on greeting her as Liz, Lizzy, Betsy, or Beth—and we all know how much small girls adore Eloise. 🙂

At last Elizabeth can bear it no longer: her full name bursts out, a bellowed plea to the neighborhood. The message gets through. No more Lizzy, no more Beth. Elizabeth she is, and Elizabeth she shall be. Well—except to a certain baby brother who can’t quite wrap his mouth around that grand name. But that’s all right. Like my Rilla, who belly-chuckles at this part of the book every time, Elizabeth makes allowances for little brothers. That’s my favorite part of the book, too, an affectionate twist that leaves you with a grin.

I haven’t road-tested this one on my boys yet. Wonderboy’s an Elephant-and-Piggie man all the way, and Huck, well, he’s still busy counting the trucks and trains in The Little House.

Picture Book Spotlight: A Dog Is a Dog

November 2, 2011 @ 6:25 pm | Filed under: ,

A Dog Is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan, published by Chronicle Books.

The cover of this delightful picture book grabbed my kids’ attention immediately with its bright orange and turquoise palette; the big grinning doggy face made them giggle.

Those giggles never stopped: this is art that goes straight to a little kid’s funny bone.

In whimsical rhymes and big, comical images, we learn that a dog is a dog no matter what it’s doing—“Whether it suns on the beach, or glides on the ice.” “A dog is a dog, if it’s skinny or fat. A dog is a dog, unless it’s a…CAT!”

Would you believe that grinning doggy unzips his dog suit, and there’s a plump ginger cat inside? This is the point when Rilla’s giggles turned to shrieks of laughter. But the surprises don’t stop there…It seems a cat is a cat unless it’s a…

Oh, no, I’m not telling. But we all howled. I did not see that coming. Nor the next twist, nor the next! One of the things I love about this book is that it manages the near-impossible feat of employing the sort of rhythmic pattern that young children delight in, while simultaneously making unpredictable turns. And this while delivering art that bubbles over with humor and energy. I’ve become a huge Stephen Shaskan fan in one fell swoop. You remember last year when I went nuts over Jeremy Tankard and Tom Lichtenheld? Yeah, Shaskan is on that list. I’m officially (and totally on the spur of the moment) dubbing it the Mo Willems List: storyteller-illustrators whose art has won my heart with its bold black outlines and lively antics and hilarious facial expressions (often on creatures you wouldn’t think would be terribly expressive, like a dump truck or a pigeon or a woolly mammoth or…the thing inside Shaskan’s cat suit). [I’ve recently encountered another artist who belongs on this list, but I’m not allowed to tell you his name yet. And that, my friends, is what you might call a hint.]

Anyway, my dears…A Dog Is a Dog gets high marks from Wonderboy, Rilla, and Huck (not to mention their daddy and some amused big sisters). Enjoy.

Review copy received from publisher, but you know I don’t write about them unless they’re a hit with my own personal focus group.

P.S. Did you know November is Picture Book Month?

Picture Book Spotlight: Jumpy Jack & Googily

November 11, 2008 @ 8:41 am | Filed under: , ,

Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall. Henry Holt & Co.

What a charmer this picture book is. Scores very high on the giggle-meter with my gang. Jumpy Jack is a snail of the most nervous sort. As lovably neurotic anthropo-morphizations go, Jack’s right up there with Piglet, friend of Pooh. Fortunately, Jumpy Jack has his best friend Googily to put his mind to rest when the monster-worries creep in. Jack fears monsters are lurking at every turn—monsters with big round eyes and sharp teeth and lolling tongues and possibly even creepy bowler hats. Googily—he’s the amiable fellow in blue you see there—is a little puzzled by Jack’s boogieman complex, but he’s always happy to help soothe his pal’s fears by taking a peek into the corners Jack’s sure are hiding fearsome monsters.

In the end, we find that Googily has a fear of his own—and apparently with better reason than Jumpy Jack! The surprise ending elicited belly laughs from my seven- and two-year-olds.

I really love this sweet and simple picture book. It’s fresh and funny, and the art is enchanting, and the text holds up well to numerous re-readings, which is a quality I very much watch for in a young picture book. If I’m going to have to read it aloud five times a day, it’s got to be readable.

But beyond that, I appreciate the way the plot plays with the idea that people can create monsters in their minds, terrifying specters composed of stereotypes, while being oblivious to the fact that the generalizations they are throwing around so carelessly might very well include real people they know and love.

Picture Book Spotlight: Grace for President

November 4, 2008 @ 8:06 am | Filed under: , ,

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Hyperion.

We pulled this from our Cybils to-be-read stack yesterday because of the title, and I wish I’d read it a little sooner so I could have shared it with you in time for you to hit the library before Election Day. Grace for President is an appealing story about young Grace’s presidential race—in which votes are counted Electoral College-style. The book offers a simple and easy-to-understand look at the Electoral College in action.

The race begins when Grace learns, to her astonishment, that there has never been a “girl president.” Her classmates snicker when she declares that she shall be the first, but her teacher takes her seriously and suggests a campaign for class president. Two classes, actually: her opponent is a charismatic boy from the room next door.

Their campaign is lively and, paralleling real life, somewhat all-consuming for a time. As voting day approaches, it becomes clear that the boys have an edge on the electoral map, and Grace’s rival, Thomas, seems assured of victory…but could it be that the young man representing Wyoming is a swing state?

All three of my big girls enjoyed the book—Jane and Rose for its look at how the Electoral College works, Beanie for the fun story and the charming art, especially the surprise addition to Mount Rushmore at the end.

It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma

August 25, 2008 @ 6:34 am | Filed under: ,

Is that not the best title ever? I originally posted this picture book review in February, 2005. I’m reposting it now because this book is no longer in print, and I want you to grab it if you ever spot it in a library sale. (I believe you can still get it through the author’s website, too, and there’s even a version on CD which includes other stories and music. Note to self: remember this at Christmastime.)

It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma by April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by George Booth. George Booth!

Grandma3Dawn was just cracking over the hills. Ma was splitting kindling on the back porch.

“Woolie!” she called out. “Where in the hickory stick is Grandma?”

“Dunno,” said Woolie. “It’s not my turn to look for Grandma!”

I’ve been reading this book to my kids for eight or nine eleven or twelve years, and it still makes us all giggle. April Halprin Wayland (author of another of our family favorites, the quiet and lovely To Rabbittown), depicts this quirky backwoods family with wit and warmth, and George Booth’s illustrations are a hoot. Ma, a hardworking backwoods mother, needs Grandma’s help and keeps sending the kids to fetch her—but Grandma’s too busy sliding down the haystack with her dirty old dog, or doing something similarly outlandish. She’s never too busy, however, for a banjo band…

The rollicking text is a joy to read aloud. The writing is fresh and lively, and the characters are pure originals—especially that dirty old dog and a pair of disreputable porcupines. George Booth’s art, which would be hilarious even without the words, captures them perfectly. If I had to narrow down our picture book collection to ten titles (horrific thought!), this one would make the cut for its never-fail ability to invoke the belly-laughs I love.

Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned from Cookies

March 21, 2007 @ 9:02 pm | Filed under: ,

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jane Dyer.

Credit for discovering this scrumptious morsel of a book goes to my pal Lisa, who read it, loved it, and knew my kids and I would eat it up. And right she was. This charming picture book is an exploration of virtues (and a few vices) as demonstrated by one’s relationship to cookies.

TRUSTWORTHY means, If you ask me to hold your cookie until you come back, when you come back, I will still be holding your cookie.”

“COMPASSIONATE means, Don’t worry, it’s okay, you can have part of my cookie.”

“ENVY means, I can’t stop looking at your cookie out of the corner of my eye—it looks so much better than my cookie. Boy, I wish it were mine and not yours.”

“LOYAL means that even though the new person has a much bigger cookie, I’m sticking by you and your little cookies because you’re my very best friend.”

Sweet, simple, and nourishing: this is the perfect recipe for a picture book. There is much food for discussion here. Really it’s quite an ingenious concept: Beanie, my resident six-year-old, was captivated by this illustration of qualities worth cultivating. We have often talked about ‘cultivating the virtues,’ and I think Cookies made the abstract concepts crystal clear. It also made us hungry. If you’ve given up sweets for Lent, you might want to save this one for the Easter basket.

Oh My Goodness!

January 4, 2007 @ 1:46 pm | Filed under: ,

I’m so excited! I just learned from Fuse #8 that the most beloved picture book of my childhood has been reissued—and the icing on this cake? The new illustrations are by George Booth. So! Excited!

The book: Never Tease a Weasel by Jean Conder Soule. Did you hear that, father of mine? The very one, the book we quoted a dozen times a day when my sisters and I were tiny. I remember standing in my grandma’s kitchen chanting, “Never tease a weasel, Daddy! Not even once or twice…” (The Daddy part was a bit of preschooler editorializing.)

I have hunted for this book to no avail on Abebooks and other bookfinder sources. And now, finally, FINALLY, someone at Random House has gotten smart and brought it back.  Who was the brilliant editor, I wonder? I shall have to investigate and send flowers or something. I am that thrilled.

And getting George Booth to do the art! GENIUS! George is a New Yorker cartoonist, but far more important, he was the illustrator of April Halprin Wayland’s It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma—which Bonny Glen regulars might recognize as another one of my favorite picture books ever. Nobody, nobody, does whimsy-with-an-edge like George Booth. He was the perfect choice, an inspired choice, for Never Tease a Weasel, and Fuse#8 seems to agree.

Another illustrator might have gone the ootsy-cutesy route and
sacchrined this puppy up by the end. Not Booth. The final image is
heartwarming without ever becoming too overtly adorable. It’s nice.
That’s what Booth brings to the book. The rhymes are exceedingly clever
at times, but it’s the illustrator that has to compliment the action in
just the right way. For example, the rabbit in the riding habit, then,
hops along in his picture, losing various accouterments as he goes
“plop ploppity plop plop.” Booth gets how to do “awkward”. If the
thought of a possum in an Easter Sunday hat is silly then Booth knows
how to make such an image doubly so. Plus, he never makes the mistake
of having these ridiculous combinations make any sense. So the goat in
a coat “with a collar trimmed in mink”, looks simultaneously goatish
AND pissed off. The mule in swimming trunks (blinders still on) leaps
from the diving board in pretty much the most peculiar position
possible. And even as these various critters do their thing, they’re
enticing enough to hold a squirmy child’s attention for long periods of

I was an editorial staffer at Random House Children’s when Mr. Booth was finishing up the art for Not My Turn to Look for Grandma. As I recall, he had been working on that book for a long, long time, and in the end he began coming into the RH offices to work: his idea, I believe, to get himself past the final hurdles. I was a young coffee-fetcher perched in a cubicle at the end of a long corridor, and I loved to see Mr. Booth amble down the hall in his quiet, courteous, gentle-giant way. I don’t believe we ever spoke, unless perhaps he asked once or twice if my boss, his editor, was in her office. Usually my boss was the one who went in search of him, peeking into the room down the hall and around the corner where George had set up camp. Inevitably I would hear her peal of laughter ringing down the corridor within seconds of her arrival in George’s office. He cracked her up, every time.

When the finished boards for each page would mosey past my desk, I too would dissolve into helpless giggles: George Booth’s art is quietly, deliciously killing. That sneaky old porcupine in the Grandma book! The dirty old dogs! Grandma herself, the hillbilly queen, with her knobby bun and toothless smirk, toes upspread as she slides down a haystack: children’s book art doesn’t get better than this.

And now, and now! This perfect marriage! I cannot WAIT to get my hands on a copy. Thank you, Betsy, for the heads-up!

Hanna and Me

December 1, 2006 @ 1:43 pm | Filed under: , ,

Around this time of year I begin to get lots of inquiries about my little picture book, Hanna’s Christmas. Since you can’t even find a copy on Amazon this year, I thought I’d better post about it.  It was published in 2001 as a joint effort by HarperFestival (an imprint of HarperCollins) and Hanna Andersson, the clothing retailer. (I used my married name, Peterson, not my pen name, Wiley.) The Hanna folks carried it in their catalog for a season or two, but the print run was small and it was not expected to live much longer than that.

I was commissioned to write the book as a work-for-hire, which means there’s no royalty—the writer gets a flat fee and that’s that, no matter how well the book sells. Most books involving licensed characters or merchandise tie-ins are work-for-hire projects. I don’t do work-for-hire anymore, but it was a good way to hone my craft when I was young and hungry. It was also a good way to pay scary medical bills when we were self-employed and under-insured.

I’m fond of the Hanna book, although it was a bear to write. Like every other work-for-hire I’ve done, there were too many editors involved, each of them contradicting the others. There was a Harper senior editor, a Harper junior editor, the Harper merch director, and an editor who worked for the packager (a kind of middleman publishing company that put together the deal between Harper and Hanna Andersson). I was hired by the Harper folks to write “a picture book about a little Swedish girl named Hanna who moves to America and is homesick, and it’s Christmas. Oh, and also we’d like there to be a tomten in it.”

They already had sketches of Hanna and the tomten—adorably and whimsically drawn by artist Melissa Iwai. From there it was all up to me, sort of. I came up with the storyline, which had to be approved by all the aforementioned folks plus someone at Hanna Andersson itself. Then I wrote a draft, which got bumped back and forth a zillion times as every editor weighed in with contradictory remarks.

Like this. In the first draft, I described the tomten’s hat as “red as a rowanberry.” One of the editors bounced it back with a strikethrough.

“Change to ‘his hat was bright red,’ ” read the note in the margin. “American readers won’t know what rowanberries are.”

Sigh. I argued that “bright red” was flat and boring. Okay, I wasn’t that blunt, but that was the gist. I pointed out that we’d be better off cutting the whole sentence, since the artwork would clearly show that the tomten’s hat was red anyway.

Nope, said the editor, go with “his hat was bright red.” So I did, growling at the screen. That’s just dumb writing. When you’re reading a book to your kids, you don’t want to get stuck dragging through pedestrian sentences like “his hat was bright red.” Bleh.

And then the next person up the line—the merch director, whom I’d worked with before and who happens to be a first-rate editor—read the manuscript. She sent it back with her comments. There was a note by “his hat was bright red.”

“Flat. Can you punch up?”


I changed it to “red as a hollyberry” and that’s the line that made it into the book. I still think rowanberry was better.

But I digress. Anyway, I loved the story and am really very fond of my slightly grumpy Hanna and her even grumpier tomten friend. I was quite pleased that I got to work in the St. Lucia feast day tradition, since that was already such a happy tradition in our little family. I got a kick out of having Hanna and the tomten make a construction paper crown, because that was what I had done for Jane the December before. I loved the artwork—I have never met or even spoken to Melissa Iwai, but I thought her work was gorgeous. (I keep meaning to check out her other books. Looks like she has a lot of them! Her website is cool, too, especially the process section.)

In the end, I was really happy with the book and was a little bummed it was a merch tie-in, because of course that put it in a different category of book and I knew it would never be reviewed by the critics. To my surprise, it did get a nice little review in School Library Journal, but still, it was a merch property, not intended for a long and dignified life on library shelves. After all, the characters are all wearing Hanna Andersson clothing. Even the endpapers are Hanna prints. (We actually have a baby outfit in the same pattern.) Is it a book or a commercial?

That’s the trouble with work-for-hire, and that’s why I’m glad I don’t have to take on that kind of project anymore.

But in the end, I’m glad I took on the Hanna project. I liked the challenge of trying to tell an engaging and well-crafted story within the confines placed upon me by the various bosses. There’s a certain satisfaction in trying to make art out of something so commercial.

Last year I was amused to discover that the book had taken on a new life in the resale market. People were actually hunting for it, trying to land a copy. This year it seems there are no copies on the market at all. I guess everyone who bought it last year decided to hold on to it, which is nice to think about.

Over the years, I gave away almost all of my author comps. The book really is going to disappear for good soon, save for a few scattered copies on people’s Christmas shelves. So to the very nice folks who have written me in recent weeks, asking if I know where you can find copies, I’m afraid I have to tell you I’m unable to help you out. But I deeply appreciate your interest!