Perfect Picture Book Friday Visits a “Home in the Woods”

Welcome to Perfect Picture Book Friday.

Thinking back to my childhood, it seemed any random moment or activity reminded my parents, grandmother, or other relatives of a story from long ago. Cooking raspberries for jam brought back memories of living in Germany, during the time of Hitler.

“You don’t know how good you have it, Leslie. When I was your age, I was sent to a youth labor camp. When the berries were ripe, I was ordered to pick them but was forbidden to eat any. Tasting even one was punishable because the berries were only meant for the people who ran the camp.” 

For the first time, I truly savored a raspberry while I wondered what “punishable” meant.

A comment of having to wait in the cold snow for the school bus brought stories of the days when getting to school meant trudging through deep snow for a mile or more in itchy long underwear and itchy wool socks. My dad used to say,  “Back then, we were too busy scratching to get into any trouble.”

I keep many of these stories with me–some make me smile while others leave me grateful I live now and not then. Although to hear my relatives share their stories, it seemed like growing up without money for toys and other little luxuries gave them the gift of imagination to create their own games and fun. And this leads me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday Review of Eliza Wheeler’s beautiful book, Home in the Woods.

Title – Home in the Woods

Author – Eliza Wheeler

Illustrator – Eliza Wheeler

Published by – Nancy Paulsen Books – 2019

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics – Single-parent families, Depression time

Opening – This is my family. Dad lives with the angels now, and we need to find a new home.    SUMMER    Deep in these woods, we find a shack all wrapped in tar paper. It’s hot outside, but the shack looks cold and empty, like I feel inside.

Amazon Review  HERE. Eliza Wheeler’s gorgeously illustrated book tells the story of what happens when six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their mom must start all over again after their father has died. Deep in the woods of Wisconsin, they find a tar-paper shack. It doesn’t seem like much of a home, but they soon start seeing what it could be. During their first year, it’s a struggle to maintain the shack and make sure they have enough to eat. But each season also brings its own delights and blessings–and the children always find a way to have fun. Most importantly, the family finds immense joy in being together, surrounded by nature. And slowly, their little shack starts feeling like a true home–warm, bright and filled up with love.

Why I like this book— One of the best presents anyone can give me is a story. And if the story is from their “way back when” years, the more details they sprinkle in, to bring me into their memory, the better. This is exactly what Eliza Wheeler gives readers in her touching and beautifully-written story inspired by her grandmother’s childhood. We are taken on a tour of the abandoned tar paper shack the family moves into and shown the previous owner’s possessions: a rusty oven, a potbelly stove, empty crates, box springs, old glass jars, and rags. Despite starting over in this dark and dilapidated place, the family slowly turns the broken shack into a home filled with love. The illustrations can only be described as enchanting.

Q and A with Eliza Wheeler HERE.

Until next Friday.

“The Monstore” Meets Perfect Picture Book Friday

Did you ever buy something that didn’t work EXACTLY like it did in a TV commercial? Did you ever save up your allowances, as a kid, to buy the toy all of your friends had or desperately wanted?

Like me, you probably emptied your piggy bank and scrounged between sofa cushions for pennies. You probably didn’t even splurge on a pack of gum. Finally, the day arrived when you had enough money.

You plunked down a fistful of noisy coins and hurried home with your new toy to play. But disappoint followed when the toy didn’t work EXACTLY like it did on TV. The slinky snagged on the shag carpet on the second step. The pet rock spent all of its time playing dead. The spinner on the game of LIFE jammed and stopped making that amazing, whirring sound.

After you pouted, kicked the toy across the room, and complained about the money you wasted, you tried to return the toy and GET YOUR MONEY BACK!

“I’m sorry, but we can’t accept opened or used toys.”

“No returns or refunds.”


Like me, you probably brought home your disappointment and shoved the toy under your bed.

If this scenario is even the teensiest bit familiar, you’ll find yourself relating to today’s incredibly fun Perfect Picture Book.

Title – The Monstore

Author – Tara Lazar

Illustrator – James Burks

Published by – Aladan – 2013

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme – Monsters and siblings

Opening – At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gum balls, there’s a trapdoor. Knock five times fast, hand over a bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside… THE MONSTORE.

Amazon Review HERE. The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door–the one he has made especially for her.

But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions.

Learn more about Tara Lazar HERE.

Learn more about James Burks HERE.

Find some Monsterly-fun art projects for kids HERE, like these super adorable glove monsters!

glove monsters

Image credit –

Until next Friday!

Perfect Picture Book Friday Meets the Gift of Renewal.

When I read today’s picture book, The Branch, something in the story reminded me of my childhood. (Anyone surprised by this?) Maybe it was the remembrance of sadness when a favorite toy broke. Maybe it was the relief of having a special somebody in my life (my dad) who could always make things better with his magical know-how for fixing any broken object I set before him–and not just toys… Dad surprised me when he mended my mother’s favorite floor vase that I sort of, kind of, unintentionally skateboarded into when I was ten. I vaguely remember him reassuring me that Mom would laugh about the incident in ten years. He was mistaken. On the bright side, my sister is able to recapture the desperation in my voice when I called out to her after the, umm… incident.  Her uncanny imitation brings us both a smile.

In today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review, the broken item that brings sadness isn’t a toy or a vase, the beloved item is a tree branch. With a measure of love, imagination, and knowhow from a kind-hearted neighbor, that branch becomes a marvelous, new treasure.

Title – The Branch

Author – Mireille Messier

Illustrator – Pierre Pratt

Published by – Kids Can Press – 2016

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme – loss, imagination, upcycling

Opening – It’s past my bedtime, but I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s because I’m too excited about the holidays. Maybe it’s because of the sound of the icy rain hitting my window. Tik! Tik! Tik Ti!k!

Amazon Review HERE — When an ice storm snaps a small girl’s favorite branch from a tree in her yard, she’s crestfallen. The girl’s mom says it’s just a branch. But not to her! That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under. It was my castle, my spy base, my ship… Luckily, her neighbor, Mr. Frank, understands. He says the branch has potential. “What’s potential?” she asks.  It means it’s worth keeping. And so, with imagination and spirit, and Mr. Frank’s guidance and tools, The girl transforms the branch into something whole and new, giving it another purpose, and her, another place to treasure.

Learn more about Mireille Messier HERE.

Learn more about Pierre Pratt HERE.

Find some kid-friendly, upcycled, STEM craft ideas HERE.

Until next Friday!

Christmas Comes to Perfect Picture Book Friday!

From reading the stories I share each week that tie into my Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews, you’ve probably gathered that I look upon my childhood as a sweet place bathed in golden light. When I remember Christmas, I’m flooded with so many memories that the visual would resemble miles of Christmas lights. Here’s a look inside my thoughts.

I’m standing in my childhood kitchen, wearing a thin layer of flour, kneading the buttery dough that my sister, mother, and I will soon roll out. From our drawer of cookie cutters, we choose our favorites: an angel with wings spread wide, Santa carrying a sack of toys on his back, a hat-topped snowman, an assortment of trees, and hearts. Yes, hearts because Christmas delivers a bushel of love to our home that deserves heart-shaped cookies.

A second later, I’m crunching through knee-deep snow with my sister and Dad at the Christmas tree farm. Our noses are rosy, we can’t feel our fingers or cheeks, but we’re too happy to mind. We climb up on a horse-drawn hayride that brings us through a frozen field. We stroll through a forest of pines and choose the one fragrant tree that will hold our favorite ornaments. After Dad cuts down the tree, we return to the red barn for hot-spiced apple cider and warm doughnuts.

And then I’m grown up, a mom, sneaking downstairs at three in the morning to fill up stockings with tiny gifts and sweets, hide an elf, pen a tiny letter in even tinier text from the elf, sneak a bite of a cookie meant for Santa, (shhh, that’s supposed to be a secret) and climb back into bed to catch a couple of hours of sleep before I hear a small, eager voice call, “Get up! Get up! Santa came! Santa came!”

In addition to my Christmastime memories, I love the books that speak to this holiday. So, as my gift to you, I’m sharing a stack of some of my favorite literary treasures for little ones.

The Twelve Days of ChristmasThe Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Anna Wright. 

To me, this book is truly a treasure to page slowly through. You’ll be met with lovingly created illustrations as well as many surprises. Get ready, because this book delivers the gift of holiday magic straight into your heart.

Link to Amazon HERE.


Christmas in the Big Woods (Little House Picture Book)Christmas In The Big Woods, adapted from the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I grew up reading the entire collection of Little House on the Prairie books and have a soft spot for the family that grew up and lived in the cozy cabin nestled deep in the woods. This little book brims with molasses candy, the jangle of sleigh bells, flannel nightgowns, peppermint candy, red mittens, and a Christmas breakfast served up with gingerbread men-shaped pancakes. Yum!

Link to Amazon HERE.


Allie, the Christmas Spider, written by Shirley Menendez and illustrated by Maggie Kneen.

I can only describe this story as captivating, enchanting, and lovingly-written. Even if you aren’t a fan of spiders, this story will not only have you rooting for eight-legged, little Allie, but it might bring up a tear of happiness when you discover the gift she gives a special family for Christmas.

Link to Amazon Here.


The Night Before Christmas, words by Clement Clarke Moore, Uniquely illustrated by Raquel Jaramillo aka R.J. Palacio (author of Wonder).

Sure, the old-time, sepia-tinted photograph of Santa grabbed up my attention, but it was the letter to the reader, written by the illustrator, that captured my full attention. Apparently, Ms. Jaramillo, also known as R.J. Palacio, discovered an album of photographs under the floorboards of her home taken in 1901 on Christmas Eve. The photographs, she shares inside this book, inspired her to recreate photographs of her own to illustrate the beloved poem by Clement C. Moore.

You truly won’t want to miss this visual feast!

Link to Amazon HERE.

To each of you and your families, I wish you peace and love during this holiday season.