Posts tagged ‘National Picture Book Month’


November Picture Book MonthNovember is Picture Book Month! I participated in it’s inaugural year in 2012, skipped it in 2013, but now I’m back and hopefully staying ahead and on top of all the themes, discussions, and promotions regarding picture books. You can find a calendar of suggested themes and author/illustrators for the entire month. First up today is a look at Aaron Becker’s newest picture book. Some of you might remember my look at his Caldecott Honor debut. Quest continues the story and the wordless format that got him previously recognized. Stay tuned for more picture books as we celebrate.

Quest BeckerTitle: Quest
Series: Journey Trilogy #2
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
ISBN: 9780763665951
Pages: unnumbered
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2014.

The boy and girl from the Caldecott Honor winning book Journey are back in the second wordless book in the trilogy. This time, they are approached by a mysterious man, who has only enough time to thrust an orange crayon and a map at them before whisked back into the world he came from. Following his capture, the duo discover themselves on a quest to claim the rainbow and save the king. From the depths of the sea to the forests and mountains, they have to be careful to avoid the king’s captors who are pursuing their every move.

The panoramic views of the lands are stunning, with the castles and temples reminding me of David Macaulay’s work. However, the pictures of the kids working together and drawing escape plans are jarring when not placed in context with the beautiful background landscapes that capture the readers imagination through the rest of the story. The first time it happens it at least can be justified because it’s focusing on them. The subsequent times however you can’t see what they are drawing on and it pulled me out of the story as if the artist ran out of time instead of what I can only assume was an intentional decision. It looks like the characters stumbled into some free fall and are drawing things out of thin air (pardon the pun).

Readers also don’t witness any rationale behind the other locations where the other items are searching for are being kept. The plot seems a little sketchy. There’s the captured king and his subjects, the evil guy from the first book and his minions, and the two kids. These items they’re recovering seem to have some significance for the various cultures they are found in, but we don’t see the people the items should be attached to. The ending also goes unexplained, and while older kids might be interested in narrating and forming their own conclusions, some others might feel just as confused as I am when asked “What happened?” Obviously this book is too abstract for my personal tastes. Does anyone else prefer Journey over Quest?


The Picture Book Month calendar included Bears as a theme on Nov. 7th. I do at least one bear themed storytime around this time every year. Sometimes, I do more than one, first pairing them with hibernation/sleeping themes, while other times it’s just bears. There are so many great books about bears out there, but the ones I’m featuring today are the ones I used just recently for an outreach visit to several classrooms of preschool and kindergarten kids.

Title: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Author: Michael Rosen
Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury

If you work with young children and you don’t know this book and/or song, SHAME ON YOU! Go out and pick up a copy and learn it right now. And then, check out Michael Rosen’s rendition of the song on Youtube. And then, if you still can, pick up a copy of the pop-up book. Yes, there is a pop-up book floating around out there. It’s absolutely beautiful, simply done but with very sturdy construction for multiple story times. The kids are fascinated by it and I always get questions and comments like “The dog’s going the wrong way” and “The baby’s on the dad’s shoulders” and “Where’s the mom?” and “What does that tab do?” Yes there is no skipping any of the pull-tabs on this one, because your eagle-eyed audience will notice and make you go back and demonstrate what each one does again and again. You need this book, but if you can still track it down, splurge and get the pop-up version, with the swirling snow and the tripping children. You’ll thank me later.

Title: A Visitor for Bear
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton

No wonder it got an E.B. White Read Aloud Award. This book begs to be enthusiastically read aloud, although I will warn you that it’s my longest book on this list and it takes a full fifteen minutes sometimes to get through. But the kids will be intrigued by how the mouse keeps getting into the house of this reclusive bear who just wants to eat his breakfast. There are a few repetitive lines that the older kids will pick up immediately and will help you fill in the blanks if you let them. This is another book where kids pipe up with their opinions chastising the bear for turning the mouse away in the beginning and remarking on the “hanging thing” from the bears mouth when he shouts to the mouse to “BEGONE!” And a great vocabulary lesson awaits for readers wondering what “impossible! Intolerable! Insufferable” mean.

Title: The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Author: Don and Audrey Wood
Illustrator: Don Wood

I quite often joke that the title is longer than the actual book, but the Woods pair up for what has become a classic, since my copy boasts a 1984 copyright date. It’s held up remarkably well over the years, and I’m sure scores of librarians and teachers have used this in their storytimes. It tells the story of a little mouse trying to keep his strawberry (that he JUST picked) away from the big hungry bear. We never see the big hungry bear, although in a stroke of design genius we do see the bear’s shadow on the back cover. Proving that you can still look at things in a different perspective, I had one little boy remark that it was the bear who was telling the story. I’m not sure if I agree with him, but he brought up an interesting idea to talk about point of view using this book, and see how many other readers shared his opinion. Great graphics lend themselves to laughter as the mouse tries again and again to hide, disguise, and guard his strawberry, and if you look closely you’ll see relics of each attempt scattered throughout the following pages.

Title: A Splendid Friend Indeed
Author/Illustrator: Suzanne Bloom

Suzanne Blooms series about a goose and a polar bear is different from the rest in several ways. First, it features a polar bear, while most bear stories feature the traditional brown or dark-colored bear. Second, he’s paired with a goose, and the two incompatible creatures end up becoming wonderful companions. Thirdly, the story is told entirely in dialogue, which I’m always impressed by when I stumble across it. Usually the books talk to the readers with third person or first person narration, but in this one Goose and Bear talk directly to each other, without a single “he said” or “she said”. It takes a mature group of children to decipher Bear’s frustrations and Goose’s attention seeking behavior solely by the pictures, but when they do catch on it’s like magic. Due to the simple sentence structure, I usually save it for younger audiences, because although as I said some of it might go over their head, the simplistic drawings are eye-catching to all.

Title: Bear Snores On
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman

Wilson’s rhymes are longer than most picture books, but it rarely falters as Bear snores on through the slowly building gathering taking place in his cave. It’s when a stray pepper flake gets up his nose and results in a humongous sneeze that the animals freeze and are scared of what Bear’s reaction will be. No worries, since it all ends happily, but Wilson knows how to build suspense with the Bear gnashing and growling at being woken up early. Surrounded by forest creatures, Bears friendship will continue, as this debut book for Karma Wilson turned into a gold mine as she continues the series with “Bear Says Thanks,” Bear Wants More” and several others.

So what about you? What bear books can you never “bare” to be far from?

Brothers at Bat

Today’s suggested theme for Picture Book Month is heroes. Well apparently last week’s post on the creator of Batman was one week too early (hehe). However, yesterday’s theme was friendship, and these guys featured in this true story definitely showcase the meaning of friendship, playing baseball together as friends and brothers for years.

Title: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
Author: Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
ISBN: 9780547385570
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.

I have a hard time imagining what life would have been like for this unique family. The Acerra family had sixteen children, and all twelve boys played baseball. If they grew up in today’s world, they would be featured in a reality television show. Instead, they lived their life and played baseball as a family, and stayed together throughout it all. Eventually, the whole family/team was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame!

While we don’t get a lot of factual or enumerated statistics, what do we get is a nice story that emphasizes the family. It’s written in a tone that mimics the oral tradition quality, making readers feel as if they are sitting around a dinner table hearing the stories from someone who was there, either growing up with the family or watching from the sidelines. That feeling probably comes from the fact that the author sat down to dinner with two of the surviving brothers to talk about their past. There’s a real connection made, and I know I was relieved to find out that all six brothers who went of to fight in World War II made it home alive. Vernick brings that emotion home by saying “Mama Acerra cried each time a boy walked in that door.” The artwork lends itself to that old-time feel as well. You can get a really good glimpse inside Steven Salerno’s thought process by checking out his blog, where almost exactly a year ago he gave us a glimpse at this book pre-publication.

As the snow flurries start falling and families start gathering for the holidays, you might want to take this book home and spark discussion of what family life was like for previous generations. Or maybe just use it to remind yourself that winter only lasts so long, and eventually thoughts will turn again to spring and baseball.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Perogyo over at Perogies and Gyoza.

Tom Lichtenheld

I’m backtracking a little bit here with my post on Tom Lichtenheld, one of the artists/illustrators featured on the Picture Book Month calendar. I missed out on talking about his work on the actual day devoted to him earlier this month, but I was surprised to discover that he’s illustrated close to two dozen different titles. Quite a number of them were with Amy Krouse Rosenthal, such as Duck! Rabbit! but he was also responsible for the runaway hits Shark vs. Train which he worked on with Chris Barton, and Sherri Duskey Rinker’s Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. I’ve chosen just a few of his books to review here, but I’m going to have to add him to the list of illustrators to watch for when new stuff is coming out.

Title: Duck! Rabbit!
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
ISBN: 9780811868655
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books, c2009.

Who would have thought that such a simple concept and a simple book would become a New York Times bestseller! It’s a duck! It’s a rabbit! There’s no real conclusion or consensus, but it doesn’t seem to matter. This book is all about trying to see things from someone else’s perspective, and maybe there is more than one answer to a question some times. This looks like something anybody could have put together and drawn, but the fact that they didn’t I guess means that Rosenthal and Lichtenheld were looking at the question just the right way at just the right time to realize what they had. And what they had is a timeless classic.

Title: Cloudette
Author/Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
ISBN: 9780805087765
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, c2011.

This book also gives a great message of acceptance of differences and points of view. Cloudette (which is just the first of many puns throughout the book) is a cloud who feels blue (see what I mean) because she can’t do big important cloud things like her bigger cloud friends. Lichtenheld doesn’t just write puns, he includes them in his drawings, like when Cloudette rests on the moon to think and a cow peers at her from the top of the crescent shape. You can’t help but smile when she tries to make friends with the smoke clouds appearing from a quaint log cabin. I’m amazed at how expressive a cloud can be with just two circles for eyes and a mouth, but Lichtenheld aptly showcases happiness, sadness, effort, and pride as the little cloud struggles to accomplish something that will make a difference in the world.

Title: Bridget’s Beret
Author/Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
ISBN: 9780805087758
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, c2010.

I was unaware of this book by Lichtenheld, featuring a spunky young girl named Bridget who is struggling to overcome not writer’s block but artist’s block after she loses her inspirational beret. Bridget’s sister helps her shake the block by asking for some artwork to promote her lemonade stand. What stands out with this book is the sheer variety of artistic styles that Bridget’s artwork mimics. I hope someone used it when the summer reading program was the art-based “Be Creative at your Library” theme. In the back of the book is a section titled “How to Start Your Art” that features some famous works of art in easily accessible language for kids to gain inspiration. The artwork ranges from collages by Henri Matisse to Georges Seurat’s pointillism and Rembrandt’s faces. Ironically enough, two of the featured pieces focus on clouds, so I wonder if he was working on Cloudette at the time. It’s a great story about doing what you enjoy when you enjoy it, and it’s okay to take a break sometimes.

The Spider and the Fly

Today’s author featured on the Picture Book Month calendar is Tony DiTerlizzi. I’m trying to keep pace with the calendar and blog about either the person or the theme featured each day of this month on the calendar. I’m currently reading his second book in the WondLa series (review to come soon hopefully), but since it’s picture book month I figured I should go back to his roots as a picture book illustrator.

Title: The Spider and the Fly
Author: Mary Howitt
Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
ISBN: 0439579287
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2002.

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly.

According to the author’s bio in the back of the book, DiTerlizzi of Spiderwick and now WondLa fame was a “relative newcomer to the world of children’s literature” when this book was published and won a Caldecott Honor. It’s hard to imagine that was just ten years ago. Perfect for spooky Halloween themed story times (oh wait, we’re done with those now, aren’t we?) DiTerlizzi breathes new life into a poem that is just shy of two centuries old. Although it turns didactic in the end when it cautions children “to idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed,” the beginning has a tension to it as it draws readers along with ultimately drawing the fly into the spider’s web.

DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are very well done, and I can easily see why he received a Caldecott Honor. My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann won that year, and he was in good company with two other honor titles, Hondo & Fabian by Peter McCarty and Noah’s Ark by Jerry Pinkney. Plus, that honor sticker looks so good on the cover, it matches the intended color scheme. The black and gray tones convey an appropriately eerie setting, and even though there are hints of lightness, only the font can be called pure white. The humor in this grisly tale is in the details. Spider has an extraordinarily large stove-pipe top hat, his house has a dragon-fly lightning rod (or maybe it’s a horse fly weather vane *chuckle*), and even the wallpaper is a repeating bug pattern. Fly is very prettily dressed in what resembles a flapper outfit to my uneducated eyes, with a fringed dress, a cute round hat, and a flower parasol.

My one complaint is regarding the layout of the book. The double page openings definitely set the tone for the story as we see first a large, possibly abandoned house, then zoom in to a smaller, doll house version that appears to have been abandoned in the attic. Then we switch back and forth from single to double page spreads as the story progresses. The single page spreads aren’t really single pages though, because they mimic the old silent movies. The illustration is on one side, and then a progressing spider web with the words is in the other side, inset into a black box with a border. I think I would have enjoyed it more if that layout had continued throughout the entire book and then ended with the last two pages being double spread, almost serving as book ends to the old movie style.

If that doesn’t make sense, I guess you’ll just have to look at the book to see what I mean, which I encourage you to do anyways. While probably not the best choice to use with story times due to the lack of color, I think it would still delight children who know how spiders and flies get along. As DiTerlizzi adds at the end; “What did you expect from a story about a spider and a fly? Happily ever after?” A great introduction to poetry too.


I’ve been trying to keep pace with the Picture Book Month celebration calendar, but I’ll admit the name for November 9th stumped me. I had never heard of Sergio Bumatay. But quite frequently I don’t recognize a name and then I have a book attached to it and I find myself nodding and realizing I’ve read and/or used for story time one of their books that I absolutely loved, so I wasn’t too concerned. Then I searched my library catalog, and we didn’t have anything by him. Okay, no sweat, expand the search to neighboring libraries. Still nothing. Search the catalogs of my previous two employers, which were by no means small libraries. Still nothing. That’s when I went back to the Picture Book Month website to find out that Sergio Bumatay is a Filipino artist. Not that I have anything against foreign artists or authors, as you’ve seen by my reviewing several books by international authors. But I’m wondering if any of his work has made its way over the waters to libraries.

So after exhausting all my options, I fell upon the theme for the day, which is imagination. Now, because I typically do story times for toddlers, I usually stick with the more concrete ideas, like animals, colors, seasons, or food. What better way to spark their imagination than with artwork?

Chalk by Bill Thomson is the first book I would choose, the one that immediately came to mind. It wordlessly tells the story of several friends who stumble across some magic chalk that brings whatever they draw to life. After the obligatory benign start of sunshine and butterflies, one child creatively draws a dinosaur, which also comes to life and attempts to eat the children before some fast thinking saves the day. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, and there is nothing benign about their mimicry of real life. Readers see the individual hairs on one of the girl’s pigtail braids. You can find samples of Thomson’s work online at his website, and some of his other work is just stunning. I would love to get his Watercolors painting as a gift and hang it on my wall somewhere, maybe in my office or den. It’s beautiful! Some of his prints, including that one in the link, are available for purchase on his website.

Another book that is ironically both wordless and the same concept of artwork coming to life is Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson. In this one, a magpie plays a game of cat and mouse with its creator after it springs off the page. Readers never see more than the creator’s hands, placing them squarely in the story where they could envision acting out the story. I love the details in the bird’s plumage, especially when you get to the surprise ending. This is more proof that I’m not completely oblivious to non-American authors/illustrators, as the author biography at the end states that April Wilson lives in England.

What do you think of when you hear the word imagination? What books would you read to encourage imaginations?

Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet

Today’s author featured on the Picture Book Month calendar is Kelly DiPucchio. I’m trying to keep pace with the calendar and blog about either the person or the theme featured each day of this month on the calendar.

Title: Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: Bob Shea
ISBN: 978080373394
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2011.

Just as the title proclaims, Gilbert Goldfish desperately wants a pet. After being subject to several trial pets in the form of a dog, a mouse, and a fly, readers glimpse the shadow of the next option, a shadow with pointy ears, a round head and whiskers. What could it possibly be? Definitely not what you think. Oh what a delightful twist to the ending of this book! You know the author, Kelly Dipucchio, has got to have something up her sleeve. Her resume includes co-writing The Sandwich Swap with Queen Rania. And she’s from Michigan (my home state!)

Having had exposure with Bob Shea’s brightly hued drawings in New Socks, I love his drawings for this book. Gilbert’s eyes are so wide, they could definitely stand in for Little Red Riding Hood’s line “What big eyes you have!” The expressive face shows the initial boredom, the joy as each prospective pet is introduced, and the following disappointment when things don’t work out as expected. His horrified face in one case is classic. It elaborates on the text very well, as readers witness the ups and downs of being a pet owner, and they will certainly cheer when Gilbert finds the perfect pet.

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