Perfect Picture Book Friday looks at the lovely poetry of Elaine Magliaro

My love of writing poems goes clear back to my childhood. And one of my favorite times to write poems was when I vacationed with my family. While my friends flew toward their summer destinations to relax at the beach or pool, my family traveled by car. I’m recalling the 70’s when air conditioning was optional and my parents never saw the need to spend money for something they could get for free by cranking down a window. Mom mapped out our itinerary, noting the places and attractions she and Dad wanted to see like caves, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, and statues. We’d load up our jeep, lay a scratchy wool blanket down to keep our legs from sticking to the vinyl seats, and head across the country for two weeks.

Mom encouraged me to journal about the sites on our vacations. Often, I wrote about our travels in rhyme. Every little thing along the way that caught my attention became immortalized in a poem: a rosy sunset, prairie dogs popping up in a field, a bird nesting in a cactus, tumbleweed moseying along the road…  This is why I was drawn to the picture book, THINGS TO DO. Elaine Magliaro chose a variety of simple topics for her poetry and, like the Orb Spider in her book, she wove a series of startling, surprising, and lovely poems for children to help them see the world in a fresh light.

Title – Things To Do

Written by – Elaine Magliaro

and illustrated by – Catia Chien

Published by – Chronicle Books – 2016

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – Poetry on a broad range of subjects.

Opening – Things to do if you are DAWN. Shoo away night. Wash the eastern sky with light. Wake the sleeping sun: Rise and shine!

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. With playful prose and vivid art, Things to Do brings to life the small moments and secret joys of a child’s day. There are wonders everywhere. In the sky and on the ground—blooming in a flower bed, dangling from a silken thread, buzzing through the summer air—waiting …waiting to be found. In this thoughtful and ingenious collection of poems, Elaine Magliaro, an elementary school teacher for more than three decades and a school librarian for three years, and illustrator Catia Chien provide a luminous glimpse of the ordinary wonders all around us.

Why do I like this book? The poems are light, inventive, and fresh. I found myself smiling at the gentle humor and thoughtful word choices. Catia Chien’s illustrations reminded me of the simple illustrations in the picture books I loved as a child. Bursting with color and simplicity, her style will greatly appeal to children.

Learn more about Elaine Magliaro HERE.

Learn more about Catia Chien HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

An exercise in writing poetry with children: Bring paper and pencils along on a walk and make a list of five or more things you see when you look up and five or more things you see when you look down.

Close your eyes and make a list of what you hear.

make a list of what you smell.

From your lists, select the one thing that interests you most.

write down words to describe it. (Color, texture, sound, movement…)

To find more descriptive words, imagine you are describing the item to someone who has never seen it before. What does it remind you of? What does it look similar to? What does it sound similar to? Can you compare its size to something else?

Using your new list of words, play at writing a poem.

Valentiny Contest Entry – Showing Love

Once again, Susanna Hill is hosting her Valentiny Story Contest! (Loud applause accompanied by stellar cheers, please.)

THE RULES: Write a Valentine story appropriate for children ages 12 and under with a maximum of 214 words in which someone is confused!  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone confused. (It can be the main character but doesn’t have to be.) You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.)

I admit I struggled to write this story, and my struggle had nothing to do with keeping my word count to 214 words. Instead, I felt confused as to how I should incorporate confusion into my story. After all, what is confusing about Valentine’s Day?  You like him. He likes you. You give him a card. He gives you flowers. People wear red or pink… You get the picture. Nothing much confusing here. My inspiration for this story came when I thought back to when I was so young my mother had to explain this holiday to me.

 

valentinywriting-contest2017

Coming in at 210 words…

SHOWING LOVE

By Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

     Edgar poked his head above his nest. Down below, the animals behaved strangely.

     Squirrel sneaked home, clutching wildflowers in one paw. By the stream, Frog handed

heart-shaped lily pads to his friends. Outside his den, Bear recited a poem to his wife.

     “Mama!” Chirped Edgar. “Is today special?”

     “Every day is special,” Mama said. “But today is Valentine’s Day, a day when you show

your love.”

     Edgar flitted to the forest floor and picked poppies. When Squirrel scurried close, Edgar

asked, “Are these flowers love?”

     “Flowers aren’t love,” Squirrel said, “but yours are lovely.”

     Edgar plucked a lily pad from the pond. When Frog hopped near, Edgar asked, “Is this

heart-shaped lily pad love?”

     “Heart-shaped lily pads aren’t love,” Frog said, “but yours is lovely.”

     When Bear ambled by, Edgar asked, “Is my poem love?” He cleared his throat and

recited,

     “I’m glad I hatched inside this nest.

In all the world, Mom you’re the best.”

     “Poems aren’t love, Bear said, “but yours is lovely.”

     Edgar thought a moment. Then, he flitted and fluttered. “I know how to show Mama my

love!” he said.

     Up, up, up. Edgar flew to his nest. He wrapped his wings around his mother.

     “I love you so much,” Edgar said. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mama.”

A Beige Childhood + Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match for Perfect Picture Book Friday

Go ahead and settle back while I first tell my story. Then, I’ll share my picture book review of Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

I would describe my mother as an old-world, German woman. Mom preferred sensible over sensational, blending in over inviting attention to, and beige and brown over all the happy colors in the world. I sometimes felt I looked more like a miniature version of her instead of a typical kid. My friends got to wear jeans, (Lucky!!!) they owned colorful shirts, blouses, and sweaters, their shoes were equally colorful, and they wore fun headbands or bright ribbons tied in their hair.

Then, there was me… boarding the school bus in my sensible, brown, walking shoes with beige socks, brown pants, and beige sweater. I might have been a child, but I looked like someone’s granny with a decent face lift.

Mom wouldn’t always take me with her when she shopped. Sometimes, I came home from school to some unfashionable surprises.

“Didn’t this dress come in blue or green?”

“Beige is better. You don’t want to bring attention to yourself.”

“If I have to wear a beige dress, can I pleeeease get red sandals?”

“What are you thinking? Did someone hit you in the head? As long as I’m paying for your clothes, you’ll dress sensibly. Honestly, if I didn’t put my foot down, you’d leave this house naked!”

“At least I’d still be wearing beige.”

“Go to your room.”

My childhood was filled with envy for the colorful clothes my friends wore. Many years later, when I married and had a daughter, I swore she would dress in every color that filled a box of crayons which brings me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

Title – Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match

Written by  – Monica Brown

Illustrated by – Sara Palacios

Published by – Children’s Book Press – 2011

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – To feel happiest, be yourself no matter the opinions of others.

Opening – My name is Marisol McDonald, and I don’t match. At least, that’s what everyone tells me.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polka dots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunch box. And don’t even think of asking her to choose one or the other activity at recess—she ll just be a soccer playing pirate princess. To Marisol McDonald, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together.

Unfortunately, they don t always make sense to everyone else. Other people wrinkle their nose in confusion at Marisol—can’t she just be one or the other? Try as she might, in a world where everyone tries to put this biracial, Peruvian-Scottish-American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn’t match. And that s just fine with her.

Why do I like this book? What’s not to love about a strong main character who knows what she likes, and despite the comments of others, stays true to herself. Although, for one day, Marisol decides, against her better judgement, to match and behave as others do, but that day, as you might imagine, is her worst day. Marisol is a bilingual, Peruvian-Scottish – American girl in a multiracial family with her father’s red hair, her mother’s brown skin, and a whole lot of spunk and creativity that, when brought together, equal one terrific main character. The illustrations by Sara Palacios add loads of rich, playful colors and patterns, creating one super, happy book.

Learn more about Monica Brown HERE.

Learn more about Sara Palacios HERE.

Play idea – It’s fashion show time! Have fun with your children, creating the most outlandish outfits you can put together. The only rule…no beige. Then, take funny pictures. For a snack, put together some totally mismatched foods like Marisol does. Maybe you’ll discover a combination of items that’s utterly scrumptious!

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

When you were a kid, do you remember a student or friend in your class who marched to his/her own beat like Marisol? Please feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

Creating “Ish” Art for Perfect Picture Book Friday.

Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) Looks at Creating “Ish” Art.

Creating art as a child should be fun. After all, children are discovering the world and interpreting the many marvels around them with a box of crayons, a small paint pallet, a stubby brush, and a pad of paper. Yes, this blissful childhood experience should be freeing, but for me, it was stressful. My mother was an artist for the Field Museum in Chicago. Because of her years of education in botany and scientific illustration in Germany, she never looked at my artistic endeavors through the eyes of a mom armed with a magnet and free space on the fridge, but rather through her analytical eyes and vast knowledge of the scientific world.

She once held my picture of a grassy meadow sprinkled with flowers, two trees, one bunny, and a bright yellow ball of sunshine and gave it a sideways glance. I could see the gears turning in her head as I awaited, not praise, but her criticism.

“Leslie.” She wrinkled her brow at my masterpiece. “If the sun is just above the horizon, as you’ve drawn it, then the shadows must be longer. And if this is a picture of a field around our house, you would never see a Crocustommasinianus growing in the same season with an Iris Reticulata.”

“Really?”

Eventually, I learned to throw myself over my drawings whenever my mom came into view. “It’s not done yet,” I’d blurt. Mom would head out to tend the garden while I finished my drawing and stashed it away before she returned.

The book I’m reviewing today (Ish by Peter H. Reynolds) looks at art in a unique way. I can’t tell you how often I’ve read this marvelous, little treasure. Maybe I return to it often because I wish I owned it when I was a child. I have a feeling I wouldn’t have looked at my art as being “not right” but rather as being marvelously ish.

Title – Ish

Written and illustrated by  – Peter H. Reynolds

Published by – Candlewick Press – 2004

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – One person’s viewpoint isn’t always right. Being true to one’s self, exploration, and creativity.

Opening –

Raymond loved to draw. Anytime. Anything. Anywhere.

One day, Ramon was drawing a vase of flowers. His brother, Leon, leaned over his shoulder. Leon burst out laughing. “WHAT is THAT?” he asked.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  A creative spirit learns that thinking “ish-ly” is far more wonderful than “getting it right” in this gentle new fable from the creator of the award-winning picture book THE DOT.

Ramon loved to draw. Anytime. Anything. Anywhere.

Drawing is what Ramon does. It¹s what makes him happy. But in one split second, all that changes. A single reckless remark by Ramon’s older brother, Leon, turns Ramon’s carefree sketches into joyless struggles. Luckily for Ramon, though, his little sister, Marisol, sees the world differently. She opens his eyes to something a lot more valuable than getting things just “right.” Combining the spareness of fable with the potency of parable, Peter Reynolds shines a bright beam of light on the need to kindle and tend our creative flames with care.

Why do I like this book? Most obviously, because I would have loved to label my art as being “ish” when I was a child. I believe the term frees up the inner artist and gives permission to play. Peter Reynolds inspiring story teamed with his simple and emotion-packed illustrations tells a necessary story the artist in all of us can cling to. One of my favorite pages shows labeled art from Raymond’s journal with such descriptive titles as tree-ish, house-ish, afternoon-ish, and fish-ish. To me, this book is the best-ish, most perfect-ish picture book to read to budding, young artists.

Learn more about Peter H. Reynolds HERE.

Art idea – After reading ISH, encourage children to draw “ishly”. Set out a table full of art supplies, and let them freely interpret their world. Art supplies to include are colored pencils, colored paper, crayons, scissors, glue, pipe cleaners, paper plates, markers, yarn, beads, tissue paper, and more.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

What are your childhood memories of the art you created?

 

Searching For What You Have + Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at The Friend Ship.

Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) Looks at The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh.

My father never cared to spend more than a few minutes searching for something. Often, when he couldn’t find what he was looking for, he’d go out and buy another, come home, and promptly find the misplaced item. My father might have been the only man who owned more than ten dremels, (a super cool tool that can do a bazillion home repair fixes and so much more) thousands of nails, screws, nuts, and bolts, more than twenty-five hammers, around four dozen screwdrivers in varying sizes, two bandsaws, eight drills, and I’ll stop here before I feel compelled tweak this list to fit The Twelve Days of Christmas. So… what does having what you’re looking for and going out to find it have to do with today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review?

Everything.

Title – The Friend Ship

Written by  – Kat Yeh

and illustrated by – Chuck Groenink

Published by – Disney Hyperion – 2016

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – Sometimes what you search for is already yours. Loyalty and friendship.

Opening – Hedgehog was curled up in a prickly little ball in the lonely little nook of a lonely little tree when she heard someone say her name.

“Poor Hedgehog seems so lonely!”

“I know, but it will get better. Friendship is out there–all she has to do is look.”

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. Little Hedgehog is very lonely. But then she overhears passersby talking about something that gives her hope–something called a Friend Ship!

Hedgehog imagines a ship filled with friends of all kinds, and soon she’s ready to hit the open seas in a boat of her own to track it down. Along the way, she meets other lonely animals eager to join her quest.

They search north. They search south. They search east. But Hedgehog and her new friends can’t find the Ship anywhere! Until she realizes she knows just where the Friend Ship is. . .

This heartwarming tale by Kat Yeh, with charming illustrations by Chuck Groenink, proves that sometimes, what you’re searching for is right in front of you.

Why do I like this book? Every once in a while I come across a picture book that has me saying, “I wish I had written this book. It’s brilliant!” For me, The Friend Ship is that book. The author, Kat Yeh, has taken the word friendship and turned it into a marvelous misunderstanding of friend ship. Then, she added a crew of helpful and understanding animal characters, gave them a boat, and set sail to this timeless treasure of a story.

The illustrator, Chuck Groenink, with a loving hand, created a sea-worthy, child-friendly crew, eager to lend a hoof or paw. Each page offers variety to the reader through interesting angles, bubble art, and creative close-ups. When I saw this treasure at the bookstore, I knew I needed to add it to my picture book collection. It’s the sort of story that, after reading it, I returned to page one and read again. And again…

Learn more about Kat Yeh HERE

Learn more about Chuck Groenink HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Let Me first Embarrass Myself. Plus Perfect Picture Book Friday Review of The Purple Coat

As you’ve come to expect, and hopefully look forward to, I have a little memory to go along with today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review of The Purple Coat by Amy Hest. And yes, it’s embarrassing.

Back when I was in Jr. High, I saw a fashion magazine at the dentist with page after page of svelte women wearing culottes. Culottes, for those of you unfamiliar with this fashion statement, are split skirts or wide-legged, knee-length shorts. Back in the 80’s, the only place I looked svelte was deep in my imagination. To the outside world, I was a five-foot, scrawny girl, weighing in at 90 pounds who owned three pairs of shoes, none of which looked trendy under any circumstances. One pair were my fuzzy house slippers, the second were my scuffed sneakers, and the third pair were clunky, brown, lace-up, walking shoes my mother bought in a women’s shoe shop. (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

I bought a copy of the magazine and raced home, hopeful my aunt, who sewed all my clothes, could duplicate those super cool culottes for me. I showed her the magazine.

“Are you sure about this?” She looked me up and down, wrinkled her nose at the picture, and shook her head.

“Oh, yes!” I said. “I LOVE these! Can you make me a pair?”

My aunt reluctantly took me to the fabric store where I found the perfect pattern and a bolt of electric, mint-green polyester that screamed, “Make your culottes out of me!!!” (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

kulottes

My aunt gaped at the bolt of fabric clutched in my arms. “Are you sure about this?” She looked me up and down, wrinkled her nose at the fabric, and shook her head.

“Oh, yes!” I said. “I LOVE it! Can you please make my culottes out of this?”

When those fabulous, mint-green culottes were sewn, I teamed them with a frilly blouse, a pair of white knee socks and my brown, lace-up, clunky, walking shoes my mother bought in a women’s shoe shop. (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

My friends couldn’t bottle their laughter. Kids at school I didn’t know slapped hands over their mouths and swiped at their tears. Cute boys rolled up their pant legs and mocked me. And those culottes? Strangely and most mysteriously disappeared after I came home.

So…what does my memory have to do with my picture book review? The Purple Coat is the story of a girl who, despite her mother’s opinion, wants a coat that looks different than the one she gets year after year.Except in her case, everything turned out better. Lucky…

Title – The Purple Coat

Written by  – Amy Hest

and illustrated by – Amy Schwartz

Published by – Aladdin – 1992

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – Knowing what you want and compromise.

Opening –  Every fall, when the leaves start melting into pretty purples and reds and those bright golden shades of pumpkin, Mama says, “Coat time, Gabrielle!”

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  Every year, in the fall, Gabrielle gets a new coat. And every year her coat looks the same — navy blue with two rows of buttons and a half belt in the back. But this year Gabrielle wants something different — a purple coat.
“Purple?” Mama laughs. But Gabrielle is quite serious.

Alone with Grampa in his cozy tailor shop, Gabrielle does some fast talking. Still, even Grampa is dubious. His solution makes The Purple Coat a very special book, just right for every child who has ever wanted to try something different.

Why do I like this book? Because I was a child much like Gabrielle who wanted something different. Except in my case, the culottes flopped. But back to the book. Gabrielle is a little girl with gumption. She has a vision of what she wants, and she’s not about to back down. And, because I like books with strong main characters, I loved this one. The illustrations by Amy Schwartz brought back sweet memories of the days when my aunt measured me for the clothes she made. The colorful, well-researched pictures capture the time this story takes place in. All around, this book won me over.
Learn more about Amy Hest HERE.
Learn more about Amy Schwartz HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Speaking of Loud Voices, Perfect Picture Book Friday looks at Loud Lula.

Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) Looks at Loud Lula by Katy S. Duffield, illustrated by Mike Boldt. But first, a little story from my past that ties into this book.

Back in my college days, I called home once a week to talk to my parents and catch up with my favorite aunt who sent me care packages my friends drooled over. Tante Helen sent such delights as dangly earrings, painted jeans, and fresh baked cookies. Once, she sent a purple, suede jacket with fringe under the sleeves. (It was the late 80’s, and I was a hip art major.) I also called home to talk to my Uncle Joe. Now, Uncle Joe had a slight hearing problem at 80 years and wouldn’t admit he needed a hearing aid because, and I quote, “Those #*%@ things are for old folks!” So, when he came on the phone, I had to yell.

“I HEARD YOU GOT A COLD, UNCLE JOE.”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s cold here. Any colder and I’ll have to double up my long underwear!”

“I DIDN’T MEAN THE WEATHER, UNCLE JOE, (which happened to be unseasonable warm for May) I WAS ASKING ABOUT YOUR COLD. HOW IS IT?”

“How is it? I told you how it is! You young kids never listen. It’s COLD here!”

After years of calling home, I developed, aside from laryngitis, a tendency to talk LOUD for the remainder of the day after yelling to Uncle Joe. Most of my friends noticed.

“HI, MICHELLE! HOW WAS LATIN CLASS?”

“Fine. How’s your uncle, Leslie?”

“HE’S GOT A COLD. WHY DO YOU ASK?”

Many years passed. My dear Uncle Joe made it to the ripe age of 90, and shortly after losing him, my loud voice left, too.

This brief story from my college years brings me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review, LOUD LULA by Katy S. Duffield.

Title – Loud Lula

Written by  – Katy S. Duffield

and illustrated by – Mike Boldt

Published by – Two Lions – 2015

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – Sometimes, what appears to be a problem can turn out to be a blessing.

Opening –  Lula was born smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest twisters Pryor County had ever seen. Winds howled. Trees snapped. It was bust-your-eardrums loud. But…

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  Since her birth, Lula’s LOUD voice has wreaked ten kinds of havoc across Pryor County, disrupting humans and animals alike. Lula’s parents are worried: What’s going to happen when Lula starts school? Will Lula ever learn to use her “inside voice”? But when Lula spots something sinister making its way toward town, it seems that she may have found just the right use for that BIG ol’ voice after all. With a text chock-full of Southern charm and silly digital illustrations that bring this tall tale to life, kids will giggle at the antics of the unforgettable LOUD Lula.

Why do I like this book? Katy S. Duffield has a gift for using better than perfect words to tell this story. Sure twisters are loud. In fact, they’re seriously loud. But to help readers understand the volume difference between the roar of the twister and Lula’s loud voice, she writes that the storm sounded like nothing more than a chicken feather hitting the henhouse floor. In addition to enjoying this truly funny, tall tale, I was drawn to Mike Boldt’s, colorful and bold illustrations. Mr. Boldt not only shows the story in a humorous way, he cranks it up a few notches. Seriously, if you’re looking for a picture book to tickle your funny bone, or as Lula says, “Got any books that’ll turn over my tickle box? read Loud Lula.
Learn more about Katy s. Duffield HERE.
Learn more about Mike Boldt HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Interrupting Chicken

My Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) review today is Interrupting Chicken, a story that, in my opinion, is beyond hysterical. Seriously. If you’re craving a belly laugh, this book delivers!

But first… a little story from my own life to tie into today’s picture book review.

About eight years ago when I took my first serious step toward becoming a writer, I enrolled in a course at The Institute of Children’s Literature. My instructor offered valuable critiques on each of my monthly assignments, and I diligently took her suggestions to heart. The story I worked on was a middle grade, adventure novel. I had painstakingly created my main character to the point where part of me believed he existed. I knew my way blindfolded around his home. I could hear his thoughts. I could anticipate his reactions to any situation. Over the course of writing his story, he had become a close friend. (Anyone who has dedicated a fair stretch time to writing a book of fiction will relate.)

I awoke early to write. I tumbled into bed late, sad not to be conscious enough to take my character into the next chapter of his perilous adventure. At year’s end, I completed my manuscript and sent it to my instructor, ready to read her glowing review.

“I can tell from reading your story,” she said, “that you care greatly about your main character. In scenes when tension rises and danger nears, you protect him from harm.”

“Wait!” I scowled at her letter. “You’re making it sound like it’s something awful. If I don’t protect my main character, something might happen to him. He might get hurt!” (I’ll wait until you’ve stopped laughing.)

“Hurt him,” my instructor ordered. Nobody will spend a dime on your book if nothing happens. Put your main character at risk. Have the tree branch he’s sitting on break! Then, figure how to keep him alive on the way down. Just don’t kill him.”

“EXCUSE ME???” I said, still scowling at her letter. “But my main character is someone I created. He’s like my child. A good mother would never intentionally hurt her child.”

“Hurt him,” she said.

I returned to my computer. I scrolled to the first horrific encounter. With shaking hands, I dragged my main character out of the protective shadows and into harm’s way. I ducked when he ducked. I grimaced when pain inflicted his trembling body. He bled. I cried.

Enter my husband, home from a hard day at the office. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? What’s with the tears?”

“I am a terrible person!” I sobbed, drenching my laptop. “I just sat here and let my main character get hurt. It’s my fault he’s sprawled out in agony at the bottom of page 32. I am a terrible, horrible, despicable person.”

My husband offered a hug and a tissue to dry my keyboard.

My instructor applauded me. “You can call yourself a writer now,” she said.

And now for the big reveal. What does my story have to do with today’s picture book review?

In Interrupting Chicken, Chicken’s father tries to read a bedtime story, but each time he reaches the point where something bad will befall the main character, Chicken interrupts to save the main character from harm and finish the story early with a happy ever after ending. (Sound familiar?)

Title – Interrupting Chicken

Written and illustrated by  – David Ezra Stein

Published by – Candlewick Press – 2010

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Topics/Theme –  keeping the peace and humor

Opening –  

It was bedtime for the little red chicken.

“Okay, my little chicken,” said Papa. “Are you ready to go to sleep?”

“Yes, Papa! But you forgot something.”

“What’s that?” asked Papa.

“A bedtime story!”

Amazon Review –  View it HEREAwarded a 2011 Caldecott Honor!

It’s time for the little red chicken’s bedtime story —and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can’t help herself! Whether the tale is HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she jumps into the story to save its hapless characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing. Now it’s the little red chicken’s turn to tell a story, but will her yawning papa make it to the end without his own kind of interrupting? Energetically illustrated with glowing colors —and offering humorous story-within-a-story views —this all-too-familiar tale is sure to amuse (and hold the attention of ) spirited little chicks.

Why do I like this book? The interrupting chicken has her heart in the right place. She adores all things peaceful and can’t bear to see anyone hurt – not if she can help it! (Hmmm. She reminds me of someone…) And at every tense story moment, Chicken jumps in to save the day! But it’s not just any hero that comes to the rescue of Hansel and Gretel, Chicken Little, and Little Red Riding Hood… It’s Chicken who jumps into the storybook pages to restore peace!
I found a fun video/school visit for you to watch on youtube with David Ezra Stein HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Antsy Ansel.

Before I became a writer, I was a photographer. I studied at Brooks Institute of Photography in sunny, eucalyptus and ocean-scented Santa Barbara, California. I was following my life-long dream. I first knew I wanted to be a photographer when I was seven. My parents took my sister and me to the zoo, and I brought along my Kodak box camera. I photographed the lumbering brown bears, snuffling for food. I photographed the elephants, sweeping up dust clouds with their trunks in search of peanuts. I photographed the vibrant, pink flamingoes, posing on a single, spindly leg. Then, I sat on a park bench, flipped the lock up on my camera, and pulled out the film to see my pictures. Nothing. Just a long stretch of glossy, black film. Gone were the bears, the elephants, and the pretty flamingoes. Enter tears….

My father, being a scientist, explained in the simplest terms how photography works. I became intrigued. I wanted to know more about the magic that changed a strip of blank film into negatives. Then, I needed to learn how to take those negatives and change them into prints. By the time I turned fifteen, I had converted our basement bathroom into a darkroom equipped with an old, but functioning, enlarger, trays for chemicals, tongs, a paper safe, film processing canisters, the works! Through high school, I took every evening course in photography the junior college up the road offered. By my sophomore year in high school, I became the school photographer for the newspaper and yearbook. Brooks Institute of Photography, which I mentioned earlier, is where I met my husband, a wonderful man whom I married the day after graduation. We opened a studio and photographed weddings, families, children, and pets. We were living our dream. Years into our career, I over lifted a piece of heavy equipment and won myself a matched set of textbook-perfect bulged discs (the doctor’s description). We closed our studio doors. My husband turned to banking, and I turned to my love of writing.

So, why the story about my years as a photographer? Because today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) review is about Ansel Adams, one of the greatest and most beloved nature photographers of all time.

Title – Antsy Ansel – Ansel Adams, A Life In nature

Written by  – Cindy Jenson-Elliott

Illustrated by – Christy Hale

Published by – Christy Ottaviano Books – 2016

Suitable for ages – 5-9

Topics/Theme –  going after your dream, determination, and love of nature.

Opening –  Ansel was antsy. H never walked–he ran. When he sat, his feet danced. Even his thoughts flew about like a gull in a storm. Ansel noticed everything. And everyone noticed Ansel.

“Pay attention,” said his aunt.

“Please sit still,” begged his mother.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. You may be familiar with Adams’s iconic black-and-white nature photographs. But do you know about the artist who created these images?

As a child, Ansel Adams just couldn’t sit still. He felt trapped indoors and never walked anywhere–he ran. Even when he sat, his feet danced. But in nature, Ansel felt right at home. He fell in love with the gusting gales of the Golden Gate, the quiet whisper of Lobos Creek, the icy white of Yosemite Valley, and countless other remarkable natural sights.

From his early days in San Francisco to the height of his glory nationwide, Antsy Ansel chronicles a restless boy’s path to becoming an iconic nature photographer.

Why do I like this book? I thought I knew a great deal about Ansel Adams prior to reading this book, but what I knew was the adult life of the man and not the life and path of the boy who became a renowned nature photographer. Teamed with the traditional and digital collages of Christy Hale, Cindy Jenson-Elliott’s informative story of the life of Ansel Adams becomes a treasure to read and admire.
Learn more about Cindy Jenson-Elliott HERE.
Learn more about Christy Hale HERE.
BONUS – Read a review by Joanne Roberts of Antsy Ansel on her blog, Bookish Ambition. In addition to a wonderful review, Joanne offers many great links for added research on Ansel Adams complete with a teacher’s guide, activities, digital photography lessons, and more.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

The End of Santa Claus

When I was a child, Santa existed through illustrations in my picture books and as the mysterious, magical, stocking-stuffing man I never once met. With a Santa Clause listening to the heartfelt wishes of children in shopping malls around the globe, how is it possible I never sat on his knee? Simple.

My parents never took me to see Santa Claus. (Sniff.)

It wasn’t long before I figured out that my Mom was the maker of the magic that belongs to Christmas. I think I was seven when I noticed Santa’s wrapping paper looked exactly like ours. And let’s just overlook that his handwriting looked suspiciously like my mother’s, too…

santa

It was when I had my daughter that I decided to make up for my own childhood loss. I was determined to give my little girl more than a seat on Santa’s lap at the neighborhood mall.

Being a writer, I indulged my childhood fantasy in creating a real Santa, genuine pointy-eared elves, a cookie-baking Mrs. Clause, and a shimmering castle of ice nestled deep in the heart of the North Pole.

The bigger magic I created at Christmas began (and don’t cringe when I tell you this) when my daughter asked Santa for her very own Elf on the Shelf. While some parents sit their chid’s elf on a bookshelf on Monday, on top of the fridge on Tuesday, stuffed in the tissue box on Wednesday, etc… my writer’s imagination shifted into high gear. My daughter’s elf, Roza, would do soooo much more than the average elf! elf-of-the-shelfShe would listen to my daughter’s daily news, pay close attention when she had questions, and write letters. Nightly letters. (Picture me struggling to stay awake until my daughter lay deep asleep. Now picture me bleary eyed, padding downstairs at midnight to sit at my dining room table armed with three pairs of glasses, a pencil sharpener, and pencil.) In the tiniest handwriting possible, I answered my daughter’s daily questions about life at the North Pole, about the day to day activities of an elf, and about Santa and Mrs. Claus.

 

My daughter asked her elf questions like:

Just how old are you?  (Turns out Roza is 132 years old!)

Since you’re over one-hundred years old, did you belong to a child before me? (Turns out there were several, and the stories might amaze you.)

Are you married? (She sure is. And Roza’s husband, and fellow elf, is Santa’s head sleigh engineer.)

How many children do you have? (She has over 70.)

Do you have any pets? (This list is long and growing all the time. But I will say that Roza’s favorite pet is Mush Mush her rabbit who makes babies faster than reindeer fly.)

What’s your favorite meal? (Anything as long as it’s coated in crushed candy canes.)

How did Santa become Santa? (This answer, I’m sorry to say, could be a blog all by itself.)

Is he the only Santa we’ve ever had? Or was there a Santa before him? (Yup, another blog entry.)

How did Santa meet his wife? (She was the girl next door, of course.)

If Santa has been around back when my great, great, great, great grandfather was a little boy, what’s keeping him alive so long?  (You guessed it. This, too, could be another blog entry. )

Will Mrs. Claus live forever, too?  (Yes! Thankfully she was caught in the spell cast that turned Santa into a saint.)

Has Santa been married before? (No sirree! Santa is a one woman man.)

Do Mr. and Mrs. Claus have pets? (Their favorite pet is a polar bear that sleeps at the foot of their large bed.)

Who named the reindeer and what do the names mean? (Would you believe the elves named the reindeer? I’d go into details for each reindeer’s name, but this blog is already running long.)

How do you get down the chimney when the flu is closed? (There is an entire science to the magic behind this ability.)

How do you get into a child’s home who lives in an apartment without a chimney? (See above scientific magic.)

Okay. I guess you’re getting the idea that this mom doesn’t get much sleep in December with all these late night scribblings to invent the North Pole. And yes, there have been plenty of letters from Santa, too. (You guessed it. Those letters were written by yours truly.)

My daughter’s elf has not only written countless letters, all carefully preserved in a wooden treasure box, but Roza has made her earrings and a bracelet, baked her a batch of candy cane crunch cookies, thouroughly wrapped my writing room in yarn, toilet papered our Christmas tree, exchanged our holiday stockings at the mantel for our underwear, and made an elf-schristmas-cookiesized armchair out of marshmallows.

Year after year, my daughter has come closer and closer to questioning the magic. After all, many of her friends at school are Santa doubters.

Last week, instead of having her usual conversation with Roza, which I was always allowed to hear, my daughter decided the time had come to test the magic. When she believed I wasn’t around, she whispered something to her elf.

“What did you tell Roza?” I asked as inocently as possible.

“I asked her to do something.”

“Gee, I hope you didn’t ask her to toilet paper the house again.”

“Nothing like that,” my daughter said.

“Then what do you want her to do?”

“I’m not telling you,” she said. “This way, I’ll know for sure if Roza is a doll like my friends say she is.”

Yup, this is the moment I suffered a mild panic attack. Come morning, when my daughter awoke, Roza would not have done what she asked, and everything would clatter to the ground in a grand domino effect.

“Mommy,” she said, “you and I both know Roza is real. After all, there’s no way you would get out of bed late at night and write those letters from her. And her handwriting is so small it would take you three pairs of glasses to write them! And there’s no way you would tie up your writing room in miles of yarn. And after how mad you got when Roza toilet papered our tree… well… you just wouldn’t do something like that!” Then, she lowered the boom. “And I know you wouldn’t lie to me.”

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I welled up with tears because my little girl was growing up. Santa, Mrs. Clause, Roza, all the animals at the North Pole, (and did I mention that over summer vacation Roza had a baby and named it after my daughter?) the little elf baby, and all the magic I worked so hard to create was coming to an end.

“Mommy?” my daughter said. “Tell me the truth. Is Roza real?”

I slipped away to where Roza perched on our piano. I smiled at the careful placement of marshmallows she (okay…my husband and I) left on every key as I gently lifted the little elf. No more would I stay up late to sneak downstairs and create the magic. No more would I wear three pairs of glasses to answer my daughter’s important Chrismas questions. No more would I concoct elaborate plans of mischief for Roza to get into. I carried the little elf doll upstairs to my daughter, sad that the time had come to shatter the dreams I helped make real.

Anyone who knows about the elf on the shelf knows you Never touch your elf or the magic leaves, and she or he will be a doll forever. My daughter looked at Roza, cradled in my hands, and the floodgates blew wide open. She took me by the hand and sat me down with a pad of paper and pencil. “Prove to me that you wrote those letters from Roza, because I know your eyes aren’t good enough to write anything that little without putting on three pairs of glasses.”

I put on three pairs of glasses and wrote her the very last letter from Roza.

More tears, mine included.

“What about Santa?” she sobbed. “Are you him, too?”

“Honestly, sweetheart?” I said. “I am not Santa. I’m one of his devoted helpers. Santa is very real, and you can go on believing in him for the rest of your life.”

Then I told her the true story of the young man named Nicholas who became Santa.

Many years ago, back in the year 280, a boy named Nicholas was born in Patara, which is part of the country known today as Turkey. His parents were quite wealthy and raised Nicholas to believe that he should give what he could to help the less fortunate, the needy, the sick, and any people who were suffering. Because of his great kindnesses, when he was a young man, he was made Bishop Nicholas of Nyra and was known throughout the land for his generosity to those people in need and especially for his kindness and love for all children. On December 6th in the year 343, Nicholas was granted sainthood upon his death and named Saint Nicholas. The day he became a saint is the day many children celebrate and know as Saint Nicholas Day. The spirit of Saint Nicholas has been felt by many, especially at Christmastime. This is a time of year when people give more freely to others and open their hearts to others with kindness. Many people credit the spirit of Saint Nicholas for this magical feeling. So you see, Santa Claus was a very real and very generous man. Just because he passed away so many years ago doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. He existed and his spirit will always live on and on. And you can always believe in him.

I believe.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays.

Leslie