Monday, January 26, 2015

Put Your Hands in the air for Punxsutawney Phyllis' 10th Birthday celebration!

     I missed the Christmas story event (ah, but the vacation was wonderful!) but can not, will not let the tenth anniversary of Punxsutawney Phyllis pass without participating in Susanna Leonard Hill's book birthday poetry extravaganza.

     Now, what to write?
     The ode idea sounded too dark.
     And the video? Well, my phone predates that option.
     So I thought, how can I get ya'll in the party mood without the audio?
    Weird Al Yankovic knows.
     I picked a song I think most of you will know.
     If you've been under a log and don't know Meghan Trainor's tribute to her butt, you can see her sing it with Miranda Lambert at the CMA awards or with Jimmy Fallon.
     Feel free to sing along as you read my poetic contribution to mankind below. "Cause Phyllis' book birthday is THAT important.
    It is an ironic choice of music since the original song is hardly an anthem of female empowerment, mixing a message of self-acceptance with the need for booty-shaking attention. And the original lyrics have a few words not suitable for younger listeners, which doesn't match the demographic for the book celebration. But there you have it. We all need a bit of iron in our diets, n'est ce pas?
     [Note: apologies to Meghan Trainor and Susanna Leonard Hill for this piece of insanity]


Because you know that,
It's all about the rodent
'Bout the rodent named Phyllis
It's all about her brains
'Bout that furry fem'nist
It's all about her brains
'Been ten years, no kidding!
It's all about the rodent
'Bout her brains
'Bout her brains
Hey, hey, ooh
You know you like that rodent.

HAPPY 10th Book Birthday, Phyllis. :)

If you want to join the fun, you can read more about the celebration on Susanna's blog. I don't recall that there were prizes but it's all about the fun (oops, here I go again!)

Friday, January 23, 2015

BEFORE WE EAT - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

 It has been several weeks since I posted. Partly because of the holiday and family vacation to places without internet (ahhhh), partly because I wasn't reading books that zinged enough to make me want to recommend them. But drum roll--a book I read this week is fist-pump worthy..

TITLE: Before We Eat
AUTHOR: Pat Brisson
Publisher: Tilbury House, 2014
Intended Age: 2-5 (publisher says 4-8)
Themes: Gratitude, Food, Farms

Opening lines: As we sit around this table
                        let's give thanks as we are able
                       to all the folks we'll never meet
                       who helped provide this food we eat.

Synopsis: A lyrical look at where our food comes from, for the very young. 

What I like about this book: As the jacket flap says--"Milk doesn't just appear in your refrigerator." It is easy to believe that grocery stores are magical places where food 'appears.' But farming is hard work, involving a lot of people. I like that this book shows a variety of ages, races and genders participating in the process. It is a simple, romanticized, view of the industry, focusing on small farms where fathers (or grandfathers) hand eggs to their young son who carries them in a basket while chicks stroll around their feet. And this may not be an entirely accurate portrait of how the majority of our food gets to the table but it is age appropriate and a wonderful start to the discussion of the origin of the food we eat. Kirkus succinctly described the book as a "secular grace." Mary Azarian's distinctive vibrant wood-cut ink-printed illustrations keep a gentle focus on the people doing the work. My favorite illustration captures the rolling seas around the fisherman. On her website Mary says that this will "probably be my last picture book." Say it ain't so!

Resources: Read the entire Kirkus review for Before We Eat here.
 A Youtube post that I hoped would show you more inside the book was a static image. Skip that.

The Carle museum includes this book in a list of ten wonderful books about food and farms.
I feel lucky that I grew up in a family that grew food in a garden. If you have room outside or in a window box, winter is the time to plan what you want to plant! I have had good luck with lettuce and herbs indoors. If you don't have the space for that, come fall you can go Pick Your Own at a farm in your area.

The treatment of farm animals engenders strong opinions, so be careful what links you let your kids click on. Kenyon College provides an analytic, non-judgmental, view of the milk cow industry.
Many zoos have "petting zoo" areas that feature farm animals like sheep and goats. Be ready to discuss how they get to your plate if you eat these creatures and go for a visit!
If you google "farm themed activities for kids" you are going to get hundreds of results! I'm not a Pinterest person but I was in 4-H (sheep club, cooking and sewing) and I want to make the paper plate and painted cotton sheep shown here.

Tilbury House lists four items that may be of interest to readers. I didn't get a hold of any of these before I posted but they look like some might be a bit intense for some of the youngest readers--for example one is a free teacher's guide for a book titled Everybody's Somebody's Lunch dealing with the predator/prey concept and the death of a pet, and another is a picture book that deals with the issue of hunting.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

Thanks again for stopping by!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pete's a Pizza - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     My writing friend Julie Rowan-Zoch has an excellent series of recent posts on William Steig's books in honor of his birthday (he lived November 14, 1907 – October 3, 2003). He is one of the few authors whose entire body of work is a candidate for perfect picture books. Dr. DeSoto is a classic that ends up on many favorite picture book lists. But my favorite Steig book is a less fantastical story. And when I saw that it wasn't on the perfect picture book Friday list, I knew what my choice should be today.
     Remembering William Steig on his birthday-try saying this title out loud without smiling:

TITLE: Pete's a Pizza
Publisher: HarperCollins, 1998
Intended Age: 3-7
Themes: Imagination, Play, Family


Synopsis: When rain interrupts a boy's plan to play with his friends outside, his father plays a game with him, pretending that the boy (Pete) is a pizza.

What I like about this book: This William Steig classic was published when he was 91. 9-1. Just Wow. And look at that big pizza-shaped face on the cover! Delicious. Parents are often absent in picture books. This book goes one step further with Pete's father taking the lead to help Pete shake off his gloomy mood. But it absolutely works. The father isn't didactic or heavy-handed. He has the child-like sense of creativity to carry the story. I love the tactile nature of their play. The illustrations focus on three characters (Pete, Dad and Mom) with subtle variations in changing graphic backgrounds. This is a book to be read and re-read.

Resources: You can see the story read aloud here:

There is also a cartoon animation of the story on YouTube, but for me, the artificial laugh track of the character didn't fit the vision in my head and I found it distracting. But if you want to see it, go here:: has two lesson plans available.

Visit this Pinterest board for ideas linked to pizza. I can imagine any lesson dealing with words, colors or shapes is more fun when you make them into pizza toppings! October was National Pizza month, but I think pizza is year-round fun.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

Thanks for stopping by!Did you get snow last night?? We did. Perfect curling up with a book weather.

Monday, October 27, 2014

That Magical October Sky - Halloweensie fun!

     I'm posting on Monday because--there's no perfect picture book Friday this week.
     Why not?
     Our picture book Friday host is BUSY!
     This is the fourth year that author Susanna Leonard Hill has offered writers the opportunity to win fantastic prizes in a Halloween story contest. It's called the Halloweensie contest because the story has to be for "wee ones." I wrote my story for the elementary set. And in addition to being for children, the story itself has to be a wee 100 words or less.
     Susanna ups the ante by requiring writers to use three specific words somewhere in the story. Broomstick, creak and pumpkin (or some variant of these words) are this year's special words.
     I enjoy the challenge of writing to Susanna's guidelines, and the fun of thinking up crazy scenarios to use her required three words. This year I came up with several stories and had to decide which to post!
     I've never written in rhyme before and so I hope you enjoy (and think that kids would enjoy!) my 93-word story, "That Magical October Sky."

      That Magical October Sky       

      Momma Mouse saw harvest moon.
Public domain image from pixabay (not my house!)
      Little Mouse saw pie.
      Momma Mouse said, “Come in soon!”
      Little Mouse said, “Why?”

      “It’s time for bed,” Momma warned.
      “Back soon!” said Little Mouse,
      Running toward the broomstick
      He’d left beside the house.

      The broomstick creaked and sputtered.
      Little Mouse took flight,
      Headed for a pumpkin treat
      Before he said goodnight.

      Past the trees,
     Through the stars,
     Little Mouse rose high,
     Aiming for the scrumptious shining pumpkin in the sky.

     The voyage was untested.
     The landing pad untried.
     Dropping to the orange orb,
     Little Mouse was pie-d.

     Thanks for stopping by to read. Comments are appreciated. (maybe editorial suggestions?!)
     Writers who are entering the contest have linked their stories to Susanna's blog. Head over if you'd like to read more. Last year there were more than seventy entries! I'm betting there will be a lot of great ones again this year.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Round Trip by Ann Jonas - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     I have a secret ambition. I want to illustrate. Or maybe secret isn't the right word because I just told everyone. Unattainable ambition would be closer to the truth. I can doodle and "copy" but the individual spark of genius that I see in some illustrators' work skipped my gene pool. And that's okay. I've got plenty of other attributes. But sometimes when I see a particularly stunning book, I feel that ache.
     Prepare to feel the ache.
     This week I'm sharing an older title that stands the test of time.

Title: Round Trip
Author/Illustrator: Ann Jonas (Ann died in 2013 but you can read a profile of  her here and one obituary in the School Library Journal here)
Publisher: Scholastic, 1983
Intended age: 5-8
Themes: Travel, city/country
Opening lines: "We started out as soon as it was light.
                       Our neighborhood was quiet, the houses dark."
Synopsis: The author/illustrator uses black and white silhouettes to tell the story of a family's trip to the city and back.

What I like about this book: I have read armloads of books about trips to the city or vice versa. What makes this book special? The silhouettes are cut so that you page through the book to the end--but it ISN'T the end. At page 32 you flip the open book 180 degrees and page back to the start. Reading the book upside down. With the same illustrations "working" in both directions. Yes, it's a little bit gimmicky but it's done so well that I don't care. And yes, there are a few spreads where the story feels "tweaked" to fit the illustrations. But again, I don't care. It's so much fun to read and look at how the images mesh! Like the optical illusion of the Rubin vase/lady (see the vase/lady here), your eyes see one thing at a time, even though the other image is obvious as soon as you flip the book over. And as a Kickstarter campaign participant, I love the fact that it was a Reading Rainbow book.

Resources: If you have a account you can access an author interview and teaching guide for this book. This book is used as a resource for a lesson plan integrating math and reading titled "Going on a Shape Hunt" posted by Liza Cranston on
     Although the copy I bought at a used book sale was published by Scholastic, it appears that Harper Collins also publishes it and you can see a sample of several pages here. Better to do this on a laptop where you can easily turn the images around than on a tabletop monitor! If you want to hear the whole book, head to Youtube!

    Talk with your children about a round trip-to school or to a grandparents house. Do you take the same route each direction? How is the trip each direction the same and different?
     Talk about what a silhouette is and then after dark get a flashlight and make shadow puppets. Cut out silhouette shapes and look at them from different directions.

Above all, HAVE FUN! This book ignites imagination.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

This book IS an old one. Have you read it? Let me know in your comments. :) There is no Perfect Picture Book Friday next week, but I hope you'll stop by to read my Halloweensie story!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Perfect Picture Book Friday Redux #PPBF DOG IN CHARGE

     How do you know for sure that the picture book you pick for perfect picture book Friday is indeed perfect?   
     You write the review and THEN check the list carefully and find that it's already there. Sigh. It wasn't under "humor" when I glanced quickly, but it is on the alphabetical list.
     So, you don't "need" my formal review. But I will say that if you haven't read K.L. Going's picture book DOG IN CHARGE (2012, Dial Books for Young Readers), it is one to find. I was familiar with the author's young adult Printz Honor book, but the picture book was a new one for me. Probably because it's so funny, kids are taking it out of the library (the nerve!) and it hasn't spent enough time in the bins for me to find it. It is a gem for dog lovers, cat lovers and humor lovers. Imagine the chaos that breaks out when a dog is asked by it's owners to take care of five cats while the owners are out! Dan Santat captures the good-natured doofy dog and the haughty Siamese cat perfectly in the illustrations. It reminded me of the old Pink Panther movies where Peter Sellers has moviegoers in stitches with a single eyebrow-raised closeup. Silly, silly, silly and so good.
     Spoiler alert: the official earlier review gives the ending in their synopsis. It's a short book. Just go read it!
     So, that shortens today's post considerably. Have a great weekend!
     Any NEW reviews for perfect picture book Friday are posted on Susanna's blog.
     I'll be heading over to read them soon and learn what else I've missed!

Friday, October 10, 2014


     Sometimes a book's gorgeous illustrations pull me in and  make me fall in love.
     The book I'm reviewing for Perfect Picture Book Friday has perfect illustrations. But they aren't gorgeous. Sometimes spare lines are all a masterful storyteller needs.

Title: The HUEYS in IT WASN'T ME

Author/Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Publisher: Philomel Books, 2014

Intended age: 3-5

Themes: Interpersonal relationships (arguments), humor

Opening Line: "The thing about the Hueys . . .
                      . . . was that most of the time they got along."

Synopsis: A family of jelly bean-shaped multicolored creatures is in the throngs of a disagreement when their brother arrives and settles the problem in a laugh out loud moment that mirrors reality.

Why I liked this book: Kid appeal oozes off each page. These are characters that kids can easily draw imitations of. The use of white space focuses the reader on the characters and their emotions. (Do you recognize this style from The Day the Crayons Quit? Yes, same illustrator!) And the way the initial problem morphs into a blame-shifting "It wasn't me" free-for-all is funny and relatable. Although unintentional in this instance, what parent hasn't used the tactic of distraction to tame some terrible moments? (Or was I the only one?) And, honestly, I have liked all of Oliver Jeffers' books. I reviewed The Incredible Book-eating Boy last year. Although this title is the second in a series (I believe it's now at three!) featuring these characters, I hadn't heard about them and wanted to spread the word.

Resources: Temper tantrums are a fact of life. Learning to deal with emotions is a lifelong process. Behavioral advisor, "Dr. Mac" has a page on problem resolution specially for kids (I liked the tagline "Be a thinker, not a stinker"). Other sites that deal with conflict resolution are the Women's and Children's health network (with a conflict resolution quiz), the Kids Matter site describing win-lose (sharks!), win-some (compromise) and win-win strategies (creative problem-solving) for elementary school ages and older, and teaching-guide materials at 
A cute rap video about done by kids about conflict resolution:
(under 3 mins.)

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF