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.

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.


A Loving Father + A Pickle-Loving Boy This Perfect Picture Book Friday.

If I could describe the ideal dad, he would be quick-witted, knowledgable on countless subjects, ready with a helpful answer, have an out-of-this-world imagination, love good conversations, have a few good jokes up his sleeve, show a genuine interest in my life, offer a safe place to turn to, and adore hugs as much as I do. Thankfully, this describes my dad. And I miss him beyond belief. This brings me to today’s Perfect Picture Book review about a boy who loves pickles.

You’re doubtlessly wondering how a pickle could tie into the description of my dad, but believe me – IT DOES!

Years ago, Dad and I were out grocery shopping. He called out each item on the list as I steered the cart down the aisles, finding what he needed. As we scanned the olives, a little boy, sitting in a nearby grocery cart, reached his fingers out to a jar of pickles. “No!” his mother scolded. “I’m not buying those. We don’t need them.”

My dad watched the little boy’s face cloud up. And as tears pooled in the child’s eyes, I could feel my dad hold back a sea of his own tears. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed the mother a few dollars. “Please let me buy your little boy his pickles.”

A quiet moment passed between the mother and my dad. Finally, she accepted the dollars and placed the jar of pickles into her child’s hands. The hug that pickle jar received was greater thanks than my dad could have ever wished for.

Years have passed. I’m a mom now. And thanks to my dad, I learned many valuable lessons–the most important is knowing when to buy the pickles.

Pickles, Please! is written and illustrated by Andy Myer. I hope you’ll get a copy and enjoy this fun(ny) story as much as I do. And while you’re at it, pick up a jar of pickles to nosh on!


Title – Pickles, Please

A dilly of a book by author and illustrator – Andy Myer.

Published by – Running Press Kids – 2011

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme – A favorite snack

Opening – Alec Smart loved pickles. Big pickles, small pickles, round pickles, sliced pickles. He loved sweet ones, sour ones, salty ones, and spicy ones. He liked them made from cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, and onions. Even watermelon!

Amazon Review HERE– If you ask a kid what their favorite snack is, most will say pizza, cupcakes, or ice cream. But not Alec Smart—he loves pickles! None of his friends at school understand his taste for pickled treats, nor do his parents. However, one day, just when Alec is pondering how lonely it is to be the only pickle enthusiast around, he comes across a pickle delivery truck and decides to jump in! What will happen when he arrives at the pickle factory? And who will he meet? The lesson learned in this humorous, pickle-filled adventure is that embracing your true colors brings with it special and tasty rewards!

Learn more about Andy Myer HERE.

Get a recipe to make your own tasty pickles HERE!

Until next Friday!