Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Embracing Kitchen Creativity

     I would like to say that every day is an explosion of new ideas at the keyboard.
     I would like to say that, but I can't. Some days it feels like the right ideas, or the words to express those ideas, are written in an ancient language that scholars have yet to translate. I know myself, and I know that sitting BIC isn't going to help. I need to do something else that will shift my mind into a different gear.
     Today, the "something else" was making cookies. The oven kept the kitchen toasty on a dreary almost- winter day. I am ready to go back to work. And my neighbors will have yummy holiday treats! I'd say this is a winning solution for everyone.

Wishing you all the best as 2013 draws to a close. I hope you can follow your own creative impulses wherever they take you.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Susanna Leonard Hill's 350-word holiday story challenge

     Story ideas are always popping into my head. I try to write them down, but sometimes the slips of paper get lost, put through the washer, buried under the papers on the embarrassment I call my desk. You get the idea.
     Still, I was surprised to realize that I hadn't written down a single idea that would fit the requirements for Susanna Hill's holiday story contest--a story under 350 words featuring a holiday mishap.
     When I saw down to brainstorm, I ended up with multiple ideas. Way too many ideas. Maybe this is the result of the creative juices generated during the month of November in Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo? The problem was choosing which idea to run with.
     I hope you enjoy the story below. I'll be second guessing myself (maybe it should have been the
extremely short funny one about the mixed up deliveries!) It's all good. I know it got me in the holiday spirit! If you were expecting a Perfect Picture Book Friday post, Susanna has put that on hold until the New Year. Hope to see you then!

Joe's Merry Techmas   by Wendy Greenley 

      Joe dodged the busy workers. Sweeping up scraps of paper and ribbon wasn’t very exciting, but he was just a first-year elf in Santa’s workshop. With luck, someday he might be part of Santa’s toy-making team.
     “Ho, ho, ho!” Santa strode to his new computer control center. He had posted the gift list and wanted to make sure the elves checked it twice before they wrapped and labeled each present.
     By lunchtime on Christmas Eve the sleigh was halfway packed—ahead of schedule for once!
     Then with one clap of thunder-snow—Santa’s computer screen went blank. 

     No one knew which of the remaining gifts went to which child.
     “We can guess,” one elf suggested.
     “Ho, ho, whoa!” said Santa. “They’re all great gifts. But an easel won’t do if you want a catcher’s mitt.”
     “We still have their letters,” another elf pointed to the overflowing mail bags. 

     "Ho, ho, too slow!” There’s no time to read them again,” said Santa. “We need the list.”
     Santa called repairman after repairman. No one was at work on Christmas Eve.
     The toy-making elves tried to restart the computer. The screen flickered—then went blank again.
     “Can we postpone Christmas?” one elf asked.
     “Ho, Ho, NO!” said Santa. “Help me find a solution!”
     “Maybe I can help,” Joe piped up.
     “How could a first year-elf help?” the oldest elf asked.
     Joe shrugged. “The computer system went haywire while Rudolph and I were playing Candy Cane Crunch. I fooled around with it, and got it to work again.”
     “Ho, ho, give it a go!” said Santa.
     Joe’s fingers flew over the keys. The screen flickered again, and again—and finally came back on.
     “If I was you, I’d print a copy of that list,” said Joe.
     And so they did. Then they finished all the wrapping, labeling and packing.
     Christmas was back on schedule.
     “If I teach you about the computer, would you teach me toy-making?” said Joe.
     “Deal!” everyone chorused.
     “Ho, ho, ho, three cheers for Joe! Welcome to the team!” Santa shouted as he headed skyward.

THE END (343 words!)

     Everyone's stories for the contest will be linked to Susanna's blog (or posted in the comments). I haven't read any of them yet, but I'm sure I'll find some gems to enjoy!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thank you, Tara Lazar

     If you write picture books and you don't know about Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo, check it out here.
Open source image courtesy of PippaDust
       PiBoIdMo is just one example of the amazing kindness and generosity of the writing community. Tara could be holed up at home, working on her own manuscripts and enjoying the holiday season. Instead, Tara chooses to spend the month of November bringing inspiration and craft tips to other writers. By sharing daily posts from published picture book writers and illustrators on her blog, her followers get a glimpse into a variety of working methods. And the enthusiasm for the work is palpable and infectious.
        This was my second year participating in PiBoIdMo. I think I got even more out of it the second time around. And just a disclaimer: I didn't win any of the agent/editor/critique prizes last year, and Tara hasn't announced winners this year, so I'm not feeling any love that wasn't given to the whole group. It's all that good.
     I have been fortunate to meet Tara in person and share a "real" hug. This post, while a virtual hug, is no less heartfelt.
     Kidlit writers are a wonderful, welcoming group. And Tara is a gem among them.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No #PPBF today

     For those of you expecting to see my new perfect picture book Friday post today, I apologize. It's not that I couldn't find a perfect book this week, but because of a family illness I simply can't post and visit everyone else's posts this week. Next week Susanna Hill has declared a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday so I hope to "see" you in two weeks.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     No long introduction this week. For Perfect Picture Book Friday I often pick a book that I love that may not have gotten the attention I think it deserves. But when I saw that this book wasn't on the PPBF list yet, I had to add my review. I'm sure teachers will have heard of this one, but parents and grandparents may not and it would be a great gift book. Yes, November is here so start thinking about holiday shopping by making a book list!
     And for fellow writers, today is the first day of PiBoIdMo. Don't know what that is? Go here to meet the amazing Tara Lazar, author of The Monstore. The book I picked this week is a hands-on example of the idea-bending PiBoIdMo celebrates. When you get to my photo of the endpapers below, you'll see what I mean. 

     Run to get a copy of the book I selected this week. I mean run! Pick up the pace!

     Title: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

     Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems

     Publisher: HarperCollins Balzer + Bray, 2012

     Themes: Fractured fairy-tales, HUMOR

     Audience: 5-8 years 

     Opening:  ONCE UPON A TIME, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.

     Synopsis: Mo Willems turns Goldilocks into a laugh out loud riot. Inserting dinosaurs for bears, he shines a spotlight on the absurdities of the classic tale while adding the twist that perhaps the bear/dinosaurs were acting intentionally, setting a trap for the unwary and unsupervised Goldilocks. Delicious chocolate-filled-little-girl bonbons, anyone?

     What I liked about this Book: Everything! I couldn't say it better than The Boston Globe which said that Mo Willems books "are simple, not simplistic." If you haven't read all of Mr. Willems' books, find one of his Pigeon books, then grab this one (I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of his "This Is Not A Good Idea") There are scads of jokes in the illustrations for an adult to enjoy as they read and re-read this book. Norway is "the Gateway to Sweden," a smiling dinosaur in a hard hat proclaims "We Are Natural Gas." For the littlest kids, look for THE pigeon hiding around the dinosaurs' house. Bigger kids can enjoy the punny word-play and slapstick humor of the plot. The book is 40 pages long, but it reads quickly and the simple bold cartoon-like illustrations make this a perfect read-aloud storytime choice.

     Activities and Resources: The book is silly, but the story extensions are not! HarperCollins has a 4-page activity guide with great ideas. Miss Lee shares the book as a read-aloud on Youtube which I embedded below. And to get an idea of Mo Willems energy and the enthusiasm he has for his books, click on the video to the left in which he presents Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.
The activity guides at The Teaching Books site are the same as those I give the link for above, but there are a list of Mo Willems interviews for the fans who want to learn more about the author.

I'll leave you with a look at the endpapers for the book, and you'll see what Mr. Willems is talking about.

Thanks for stopping by! Let me know, have you read this book already? When a book is popular at my library, sometimes I'm the last one to read it! (The book budget is only so big and I can't bring myself to put holds on the childrens books, the kids should be the ones reading them after all!)

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.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Day Louis Got Eaten - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Don't let this cover scare you off! This non-Halloween monster story will fascinate kids.

Title: The Day Louis Got Eaten

Author/Illustrator: John Fardell

Publisher: Anderson Press USA, 2012

Audience: 2-7

Themes: Sibling love, Monsters

Opening: Louis and his big sister Sarah were out in the woods one day . . .
                 . . .when , unfortunately. . .
                . . .Louis was eaten up by a Gulper.

Synopsis: Without hesitation, big sister Sarah chases on her bicycle after her brother who has been swallowed whole by a Gulper, which is then swallowed by successively bigger and bigger crazily named creatures. Neither mountains or valleys or oceans can stop her bicycle chase!And somehow, she knows about the Hiccup Frog that frees Louis. Unfortunately, this places Sarah on the now empty-bellied, hungry creatures' menu, but this is a picture book folks, so you know a happy ending ensues!

What I like about this book: I was nervous when I picked up this book. The combination of the scary title and the bright orange monster leering over the children on the cover seemed like it might be too much for youngsters. But I was pleasantly surprised!
     In cumulative fashion the story builds from scene to scene, at each page turn leaving the reader to wonder - is this it? What more can there be? The creatures are fantastic. Equal parts scary and alluring fantasy adventure. Sarah's amazing bike ride over makeshift bridges, underwater and pulled by a wind-sail is similarly compelling. And there's still the text to consider! Reading the words aloud, the creatures names are fun to say! The Undersnatch and the Spiney-backed Guzzler are just two of the gobblers along the way. With a sparse text, the author moves the story masterfully until Louis speaks his only line of dialogue to punctuate the climax. This photo shows the intrepid Sarah climbing inside layers of creatures to reach her Louis. Charming and fascinating! I'm betting kids want to get close up with this book and trace Sarah's path with their fingers.

Activities and Resources: Anderson Press has a two page activity sheet for this book. The book can be used to discuss onomatopoeia. It has great words like "raar" and "splosh." You can hear the author read the book in a Youtube video. Blogger wouldn't let me embed it in this post (who knows why?!) but it did let me put it in a separate post. So scroll below if you want to see that, I'll post that first. I know I enjoyed John Fardell's Scottish accent! (And if you scroll down one post beyond the video you can learn who I've tagged for the next posts in the Liebster award!)

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.

Thanks for stopping by! Will you be dressing up for Halloween this year? My life-size dog suit is always a hit with the trick or treaters who come to our door!

Scottish Children's Book Awards 2012 Nominee John Fardell: The Day Louis...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Liebster Award - My turn!

 About a week ago, I was nominated by Sue Frye for --drum roll, please:
 The Liebster Award. 

Okay, hold the applause. The beautiful Liebster award is given to blogs with under 200 followers. In accepting this award, I am now obligated to answer 10 questions of Sue's choosing, and then ask/beg 5-10 other people to answer my similarly worded questions.  
But seriously, it's a fast, easy way for bloggers to connect with each other. And there is no time limit. If you want to participate, you get to it when you can.  So now, here are my answers!
·         1.  Who are your favorite published authors? William Steig, Lois Lowry, Robert Heinlein, Mo Willems, Oliver Jeffers and Dr. Seuss. (I had to stop myself---thinking about the books I love gets my heart racing!)

·         2.  Name three of your favorite picture book titles: Doctor Desoto, Harry the Dirty Dog, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.

·         3.  Write like a . . . ? Honey badger. Except one with manners who could write for kids. :)

·         4.  If you could write a winning book tomorrow, what genre would it be? 
           Picture book or middle grade. I'll take the awards for either!

·         5.  What do you do while waiting to write?
          Like good tea, I let my ideas steep. When it isn't about writing I'm probably outside in jeans doing
          something that involves getting dirty.

·         6.  If you could write like anyone, who would you write like?
          I want to write like ME! But for prolific production, Debbie Dadey, Donna Jo Napoli and Joyce     
          Carol Oates are good role models.

·         7.  Hot or cold?
           Hot tea, hot cocoa, warm apple pie with COLD ice cream.

·         8.  Sweet or sour?
          All sweet.

·         9.  Your fuel for thought.
           Green tea with lemon (I'm beginning to see a pattern. . .)

·         10.What sparks your creativity?
          Off-hand comments, stories in the newspaper. Go outside and get dirty then take a hot shower and let it all steep. 

NOW, I'm supposed to tag other bloggers and ask them 10 questions similar to these. Let's go worldwide and extend to new genres. Here goes!
Deborah Holt Williams:
Jacque Duffy:
Your questions:
1.  If you go go anywhere to research your next book, where would that be?
2. List three books that made you laugh or cry:
3. Dresses or slacks?
4.  Favorite book from childhood?
5. "I get my best writing done___________"
6. Your writing goal for the next month is_________"
7. Share a tidbit of writing advice.
8. What fuels your writing?
9. What did you think you would be when you were growing up?
10. Why did you decide to become a writer?
That's it! If I tagged you and you want to participate:
 1) copy and paste these questions into your blog
2) link back to mine and 
3) tag five or more bloggers for the next round with 10 questions of your own (previously used questions are acceptable!). 
Easy peasy right? 
I had fun reading Sue Frye's answers and checking the blogs she linked to (if I wasn't subscribed already :) ) Go meet your fellow bloggers!

Friday, October 18, 2013

READY FOR PUMPKINS - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     Tis the season - for ghosts, scarecrows and PUMPKINS!
     Even though some elementary and pre-schools have done away with Halloween celebrations, the fact is that we have passed the autumnal equinox and no one can deny the harvest season is here. My review this week is a great seasonal choice for the classroom as well as reading at home.


Author/Illustrator: KATE DUKE


Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

Audience: 5-8 (If you are looking for read-alouds, note that this is a 40-page book- 36 pages of text - with 728 words)

Themes: Classroom pets, Gardens

Opening: " I am Hercules.
               I live in Miss MacGuffey's first-grade classroom.
               It's a good life."

Synopsis: A classroom guinea pig learns about gardening by growing his own pumpkin. He needs some help from Daisy, the rabbit friend he makes during summer vacation, and a lot of patience.

Why I like this book: I picked this book up because of its beautiful cover. As my friend Carter Higgins taught me, the juxtaposition of blues and oranges are a winning combination. (See Carter, I'm paying attention! If you haven't read Carter's Design of the Picture Book blog, put it on your to-do list.) Growing up, I had guinea pigs as pets and I'll admit to an additional fondness for the friendly little rodents. Ms. Duke must love them, too. Her first book was "The Guinea Pig ABC" (which I have not read) and "One Guinea Pig is not Enough" (which I read and enjoyed). But beyond my own personal predilections, this book is a multi-layered delight. It would be great to use in a discussion of classroom pets, a spring gardening unit, a discussion of cooperation and friendship, the importance of patience, and the obvious, pumpkin harvest time read. I had to share my favorite spread:
Text reads: A garden is not a place to be angry in.

Activities/Resources: If you have the RealOne video player you can watch a four-minute video of Katie discussing her work with a group of kids.In my research I discovered that blogger Amy Seto Musser reviewed this book when it came out last year and includes a whole list of activities including paper bag pumpkins and pumpkin seed crafts on her blog.  
Teachers could also use this book in a discussion about classroom pets and their needs - including that the pet has to be taken care of on weekends and during holidays and the long summer vacation.
If you've been thinking about getting a small pet, visit or your local rescue- yes, it isn't just dogs and cats who are waiting for a good home.
Finally, this would be a good read before you make a jack -o'-lantern. Explore the textures inside and out. There's a lot of slime to clean out before you could let a guinea pig play inside!

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bye-Bye Baby Brother! - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     Today is the International Day of the Girl.
     I'm not sure how I feel about that. While I know that it is intended to bring attention to the needs of girls worldwide, for me, the act of naming a single day almost trivializes the issue, putting it in the same category as Talk Like a Pirate Day.
     My book selection last week was a perfect selection for the issue of girls' education. If you missed it, click here for the link.
     Last week's selection spoke to a time in history. Other great picture books sweep readers away by their silly or fantastic elements. The book I highlight today speaks to the everyday. It is a charming, non-didactic book addressing the issue of sibling jealousy.

Title: Bye-Bye Baby Brother

Author/Illustrator: Sheena Dempsey

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013
In the UK - Walker Books

Theme: Siblings - FICTION

Audience: Preschool - 2 (I think up to 5)

Opening: "What will we do now, Rory?" asked Ruby. "I can't think of any more games to play."

Rory couldn't either.
He was feeling a bit sleepy.

"Maybe Mom will know one. Let's go find her!"

Synopsis: After her little brother arrives, big sister Ruby craves attention from her mother. She amuses herself, playing with her dog Rory (the illustration of Ruby dressing Rory in "a lovely blue sweater" is one of my favorites!)  but when Mom says "In a minute" one time too many, Ruby begins to fantasize about life without baby Oliver. Can she make her brother disappear in a mound of cabbages?

Why I Like this Book: Moments of sibling rivalry don't always manifest themselves in temper tantrums. Sometimes it arises in the quiet moments, like those shown in this book. I particularly like the continued calm of the resolution and the open-endedness of the book's close. While the main character is dealing with a sibling, I think any child will identify with the emotions felt in the moments when Mom (or Dad) is busy. On Ms. Dempsey's blog you can see her new and upcoming projects. After viewing her charming illustrations in this book, I see why she is in demand!

Activities/Resources: I couldn't find a guide or activity book directly linked to this book. I believe this book is intended for some of the youngest siblings who perhaps don't have full-blown cases of sibling rivalry but are just feeling left out or ignored. With that in mind, perhaps families can brainstorm activities that EVERYONE can be a part of. Visiting a farm, dancing (Mom wearing baby in a snug sac),and  setting aside special time while baby naps for "big kid" activities are just a few ideas. The University of Michigan Health Care System has a post about sibling rivalry that includes suggested books and activities if true rivalry develops.

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.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Light in the Darkness - Perfect Picture Book Friday

What's my only beef with the title I chose this week? The title itself. If you search the words online without the author’s name, you come up with horror films, a Star Wars tribute flic, a Bruce Springsteen book, the list goes on, and on. I’ve made it easy for you by embedding the links below. Maybe if enough of us click on them we can get the search engine to find the book first!
This is a meaty 40 page picture book. It won’t be a quick bedtime read. I hope that won’t keep readers from enjoying the Ransomes’ beautiful work.

Title: Light in the Darkness

Historical Fiction

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome 
     (her author photo with her HUGE St. Bernard is lovely)

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher: Disney, Jump at the Sun, 2013

Audience: 5-9

Themes: Slavery, Education, Resilience

Opening:  “Rosa.”
            In the dark of our cabin I can’t see my mama, but I can feel her breath on my face in whispers.
            “It’s time.”

Synopsis: Although slaves are forbidden to learn to read or write, Rosa and her mother risk their lives to attend a pit school, a large hole dug in the ground and covered with branches to avoid detection..

What I Liked about this Book: I believe that an education is the greatest gift one generation can give the next, and I felt Rosa and her mother’s passion to learn in these pages. At the price of being whipped and going without sleep, slaves struggled to get the barest education that children today take for granted. It took my breath away.  Without pens or paper, the students studied and learned. Apart from the story itself, the illustrator’s dedication "to the light of his life," his wife (the author), gives a hint of the passion they brought to this project.

Activities/Resources: Watch the demo video about the artwork for this book. Starting with a blank page James Ransome shows each step in his watercolor technique, from pencil drawing, washing off sizing to final drawing. Watching the faces come alive was amazing for a non-artist  like myself. The video is 14 mins in length. Make letters and numbers with twigs and leaves . Draw words in a sandbox or garden. (if you take a photo of these you could make greeting cards from this!).       
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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Picture Book Word Smackdown Workshop

Recently, I was fortunate to attend two helpful events for writers.
The first was an in-person event held by the NJ SCBWI specifically for picture book writers. It’s hard to believe the next bit. 
It was led by the uber-talented Ame Dyckman, the author of Boy + Bot, and it was free!
Honestly, if you want to write kid lit and you aren’t already a member of the SCBWI, stop reading my blog post for a minute. I'll wait. Join the SCBWI. You can do it online. No, it isn’t free, but if you make the commitment to attend their events, you will get more than your money’s worth. I live in Pennsylvania and belong to the SCBWI of eastern PA but find that the events in New Jersey fit my schedule more often. I have friends with budgets that permit them to fly across the country or even to chapters on other continents, visiting SCBWI conferences to meet particular agents and editors. Doesn't that sound lovely? In the SCBWI, the world really is your oyster.

The subject of Ame’s ninety minute workshop was writing shorter. Now, I’m only five foot three inches tall so you might think I have an advantage here but durn, it wasn't that kind of shorter. The workshop pushed writers to cut their picture book word count; to make the work more marketable and also to make better picture books.
Now, I’ve heard these general words before. Several times. But that’s the beauty of going to workshop events. You never know which is going to be the one where things click for you. 
This one clicked!
The day after listening to Ame, I took a 511-word story that I hadn’t been able to make “zingy” enough and, without losing the heart of the story I wanted to tell, I revised (again!) and created a 349-word manuscript I was really proud of. I got that tingly feeling when the words are working and the story plays visually in my head. Is Ame magic? I guess you’d have to poll everyone else who attended to say for sure. I wouldn't bet against it.

A full book bag is a happy book bag
          What did I do after the workshop that really helped? With Ame’s advice about avoiding backstory and focusing on action, I went to the library (I should get a cot there). I copied the first lines from a stack of picture books I admired. I had read these words before, but for me the act of re-writing the words on a pad of paper helped me see the structure.
When I went back to my manuscript, I was ruthless. Lovely phrases that weren’t absolutely necessary to the story? Deleted. Next, I imagined what my perceptive illustrator would be able to include. I cut more.
Is any one workshop the answer to publication? Probably not. But it's a good step in the right direction. One thing I know for sure is that the world is full of talented writers and it isn’t enough to be good. The work needs to scream “publish me!”
I’ve prattled on long enough today. My second writing event was an online webinar on plotting held by Delve Writing. Look for my post on that upcoming.
One of my talented critique partners, MarcieColleen, posted about Ame’s workshop, too, and you can read her post here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Vacation for Pooch - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     I know that I include "Why I liked this book" below as part of the review. But I had to share one reason up front. 

     You can't tell it from the cover photo, but this book is small. But not too small. This picture book is the Goldilocks equivalent of "just right." My ruler says 6 and 1/4 inches tall by 8 and 1/4 inches wide. The perfect size for little hands and laps to enjoy by themselves. Or to fit in a carry-on bag for a child's vacation. Perhaps that makes it less attractive to story-time readers who have to hold the book up for an audience but I say let them all scooch in closer and enjoy it.

The real cover is lighter blue than this image appears

Title: A Vacation for Pooch, Fiction

Author/Illustrator: Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2013

Audience: 4-7

Themes:Vacation/Travel, Separation

Opening: "Violet packed two bags. In one bag she packed her doll, Molly, crayons, drawing paper and her favorite books. And in the other, she packed a leash, dog food, a red ball , and Pooch's stuffed cat.

Synopsis: When Violet and her family fly off to a beach vacation, Violet worries that her dog will be lonely at Grandpa's farm.

Why I liked this book: First, there's that cute book size I talked about above. Next, the author captures Violet's emotions so well. The text doesn't say how old she is, but she looks 4-7 and has the swing of emotions that feel so right for this age range. First Violet worries about Pooch, then she gets caught up in her own adventure oblivious to her prior worries, then she implodes in a fit of hysteria when reminded about Pooch. And I'm no artist, so I don't even know exactly what this means but the illustrations of "gouache with fabric collage on watercolor paper" are jaunty and adorable.  The dog's favorite toy is a stuffed cat with X eyes. I also love that Ms. Cocca-Leffler says on the back flap that her inspiration for this book was her own daughter leaving for college.

Activities/Resources: The author has activity pages on her website for her older books. A Vacation for Pooch came out earlier this year, so maybe some will be in the offing for this title, too?? 
Until then. . . . children can practice their planning skills by packing for a vacation (or just brainstorm). What do you really need to take when you travel? (one college-age son went to China for three weeks using only one carry-on!) Do you need to make preparations for plants, pets, relatives left behind? 
Or, use online sites or travel books and brochures to plan the perfect holiday. Would it be somewhere your pet would enjoy or would they be happier at home or staying elsewhere? Googling the term "pet friendly vacations" brings up hundreds of places you and your pet could go together. 

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 on her blog.

Thanks for stopping by! Our family has had dogs with health issues, so they always did better being left at home with a live-in housesitter when we were away.

Where would your perfect vacation be?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Willie and the All-Stars - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Last week was wonderful. I didn’t realize how much I missed Perfect Picture Book Friday until it was back! Reading everyone’s reviews took me on a book vacation to places I might otherwise not have visited. Thanks again  to Susanna Hill for allowing me to participate.

The end of the baseball season is approaching. For those of us living in Philadelphia, it can’t come soon enough. For every winner there has to be a loser, and this year, it was our turn to come up short. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy "the game." With the World Series approaching, my pick this week is the perfect choice for any young sports fans in your house.

Title: Willie and the ALL-STARS

Fiction/Nonfiction: Fiction

Author/:Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Note: Mr. Cooper's link above is to his Facebook page because his website is being re-worked. He says it will be back up soon at

Publisher: Philomel Books, 2008

Audience: 6-8 years (publisher’s rec)

Themes: Baseball, Hope, African-American History

Opening:  “Willie lived with his grandma in a tiny one-room apartment on the North Side of Chicago. It was 1942 and nothing came easy, not even a boy’s dreams.”

Synopsis: After hearing elders in the neighborhood scoff at his dreams, a young boy gets a gift of tickets to a game between the Negro League All-star team and the Major League All-Stars.

What I Liked about this Book: The jacket flap says that Mr. Cooper lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, not too far from where I live but that isn't the reason why I liked this book. The language is rich and the illustrations carry emotional depth. I wasn’t alive back in 1942, but the book took me there, and the hopes and dreams expressed by the young men still ring true today for people of all ages and races. Although generations have passed between 1942 and today, the book is a subtle jumping off point for a discussion between parents and children about how much has changed, and how much is still the same--in baseball as well as the world in general. Note: This book is fiction. Despite the child’s name, it is NOT a book about Willie Mays. The historical aspect of the book is about African-Americans in general, not a specific individual. Although the book was published in 2008 it is still in print, widely available through Philomel/Penguin's website (link above), Indiebound, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Activities/Resources: When the author's website is re-launched, there may be activites included there but there was nothing on Philomel's site. So perhaps make a ball with wadded up duct tape and string (or use a small soft rubber ball or tennis ball) and organize a game of stickball in your neighborhood. If you want a quiet indoor moment, read the book and then talk to children about their dreams and what obstacles they may have to overcome. Brainstorm ways to achieve their own goals.

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 PerfectPicture Books.

I attended two great writing events this week! Looking forward to adding a Tuesday post and sharing them with you next week. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scrambled Posts

I went to check on my blog in preparation for tomorrow's Perfect Picture Book Friday and somehow all the posts are scrambled up. They're all still there, but not in their previous order. If anyone is looking for something and can't find it let me know and I'll figure out where it is for you! I have no idea what is going on.

It's Useful to Have a Duck - Perfect Picture Book Friday

First, a note: If you missed my blog post on Tuesday last week, you have until May 5 to leave a comment on that post to enter the BOOK GIVEAWAY for Debbie Dadey's newest chapter book in her Mermaid Tales series with Simon & Schuster. 

    Now, on to today's "business."
    Last Friday I reviewed Isol's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winning book, Nocturne: Dream Recipes. I'm pleased to say that I didn't order just one of her books to get to know this author. The second book is just as original. And although I'm calling it the second book, because it's the second to be reviewed here, it was actually published five years earlier. So here's more charming work from Isol.

Title: It's Useful to Have a Duck
"Sleeve" on right

Author: Isol  Note: her website is NOT in English
Illustrator: Isol

Audience: ages 3 and up 

Themes: Point of View

Opening and Synopsis: I said this last week, and now I'll say it again. I can’t start with the words. The structure of the book is part of the experience. A little boy finds a rubber duck and uses him as a hat, a straw, a nose. But how does the duck use the little boy? 

By turning the book over, readers find the same story told from the duck’s point of view. This picture book/board book crossover uses the same images, shaded yellow from the boy's point of view, and shaded blue from the duck's point of view.  

While it looks like a board book, I agree with the assessment on Kirkus Reviews:
   "Do not be deceived by the simple-looking board format: This is not for babies. Rather, it      
    challenges children who have accepted the initial premise with developmentally appropriate 
    narcissism to regard the world from the opposite perspective."

The boy's opening line: I found a duck and I picked him up. 



The duck's opening line. I found a boy and he picked me up.

The book sleeve has all the publisher and copyright information. I'm probably a lot more careful than a kid would be, and the edges of the book cover are already getting that chewed up look, I assume from the effort needed to get the book back in its sleeve. Other than that, it's a winner. Note that the pages are hooked to each other accordion-style, so there's no page turning in the classic sense. It's sixteen linked pages on one side and another sixteen on the reverse. Some of the spreads are laugh out loud funny. I especially liked the duck "waxing" his bill in the boy's ear.

There's a good Youtube review of this book here. 
Sharing this book is a good opportunity to talk about the adage that there are two sides to every story! Literally two sides to this book.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.