Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend

The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend
Dan Santat
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Caldecott Medal Winner

He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created.  Here, they lived and played, each eagerly waiting to be imagined by a real child.”  How creative!  These opening lines of Beekle open wide a child’s imagination of what could be.

But alas, after waiting and waiting, no one imagines Beekle.  Beekle, ready to find his child, does the unimaginable—he journeys to the real world!  Things are indeed strange in the real world, but he soon finds a place where other imaginary friends visit and feels comfortable.  But still, no one takes him as an imaginary friend.  He sits at the top of an autumn tree, until a little girl calls out to him; the wind blew her drawing into the tree.  Beekle returns the picture to the little girl—and there in her picture was Beekle!  Very shy at first, they get to know each other, until one day they do the unimaginable….

Extraordinarily wonderful!  I love how this books opens one’s imagination.  Beautifully rendered in pencil, crayon, watercolor, ink and Adobe Photoshop, with hand-lettered text.

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Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog 
by Margarita Engle, illustrations by Aleksky and Olga Ivanov
Henry Holt and Company, 2013

Written in poem, told in two voices, 11 year old Tony, and his rescue dog Gabe captured me and lifted me to a new understanding of healing after living in an abusive home. Deftly written, readers glimpse into a boys transition in life dealing with an abusive lifestyle, foster care, search and rescue dogs, and learning love and respect. A compelling, change-of-life story.

Tony’s mother goes to prison for illegally running pit-bulls fights and Tony falls into the foster system.  Fortunately, a relative is found and Tony goes to live with his loving and respectful Uncle Tio who volunteers on rescue missions with his dog.  In this environment, wary Tony discovers and adjusts to a new life.  Throughout the story Tony struggles to visit his mom in prison, but in the end gives up and chooses to live his own life.

Seeing the world from a dog’s perspective—the second voice in the story—is also fascinating and held my attention, curious on what a dog might be really thinking.  The story is rich with ideas to ponder.

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I support the claim that “Kids Need Monstrous Words!”

I cheered when reading “Kids Need Monstrous Words!” an April 15 blog by Paul Czajak.  He promotes the use of ‘monstrous’ words in picture books and I concur.  How else is a child to expand their vocabulary?  I think writers need to be cognizant that complex words need to be used sparingly and, used where the content sheds light on what it means.  As picture books are designed to be read by an adult, kids have an immediate resource for a definition—or a suggestion to look it up in the dictionary.

As a child, I don’t remember looking up words in the dictionary, but when I started writing, words I didn’t use verbally appeared on my page.  I looked them up and was surprised I was using them appropriately.   We absorb what we are exposed to.

Let there be “Monstrous” words in picture books!

Read the entire blog: Kids Need Monstrous Words


Winnie, The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

Winnie, The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh
by Sally M. Walker,  illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt and Company 2015

A must have book for Winnie-the-Pooh lovers!  This book tells of how Winnie-the-Pooh came to be!

In the early 1900’s, Harry Coleman, a service veterinarian (for horses), discovered a small bear cub at a train station.  He learned the bear’s mother had died, and the old man sitting with her was wanting to sell the bear.  $20 later the bear boarded the train with the vet!  Harry immediately named the bear Winnipeg, where the vet was stationed.  When he was transferred to London, for World War I, Winnie went with him.  When he was transferred to the front lines, Winnie was housed in the London Zoo.  Because the bear was so friendly, people often joined the bear in his quarters.  One day a special boy visited him—Christopher Robin!  His dad watched the boy’s fascination with the bear, and began making up bedtime stories for his son.  Those eventually became the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

The art and the story are beautiful.  The book includes old photos of the real Winnie, Christopher Robin and author A.A. Milne.

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by Pam Munoz Ryan
Scholastic Press, 2015

From its very first page, I could feel myself being drawn into this story.  Before cracking its covers, I assumed the 561 page book would take three weeks to complete, but I savored every last word on day nine—and, of course, ordered another Pam Munoz Ryan novel!

Echo weaves five stories around a harmonica cast with a witch’s spell.  After the witch does her magic, we experience four stories, as distinct and different as they can be, except they all evolve around music and this special harmonica.  From Germany to both coasts in the US, we follow intriguing young characters re-shaped by the harmonica’s spell.  And the ending is to live for.  Shock.  High emotions. Unexpected.  Satisfying.

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Can Picture Books Change the Way We Think About Mental Health?!

It appears Australians allow for discussions of depression and death, unlike mainstream Americans.  Cheers, that they bravely publish picture books for the young to open doors to these life experiences.    Read reviews on The Red Tree and Duck, Death and the Tulip and change your perspectives on depression and death during May is National Mental Health Month.

The Red Tree 
Shaun Tan
Simply Read Books, 2003 (Canada)
Originally published in Australia

If a child experiences depression, or observes a friend or family member with depression, this book can, perhaps, help them understand it on an intuitive level.

A true picture book, half the story is told through its exquisite illustrations.  The opening line, “sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to” shows a girl sitting in bed in a rather drab room.  The next line “darkness overcomes you” shows a girl walking down the sidewalk in a large, faceless city, with a giant fish hovering above her, diminishing her in size.The Red Tree 200x301

Anyone who has experienced depression, understands these words and pictures.  If a child knows someone who has depression, it can give them insights into that person’s experience. Quiet and reflective, the story goes on to describe the feelings one typically has with depression.  At the end of her day, the girl returns to her room to find a small red leaf standing in the middle of her room.  And as she enters, it transforms into a bright, brilliant red leafed tree, with the words, “just as you imagined it would be,” reassuring the reader that a depressed person’s thoughts of hope will come true, in time.  This book is more appropriate for the older reader, ages 6-12.

Duck, Death and the Tulip
By Wolf Erlbruch
Gecko Press, 2011
Originally published in New Zealand and Australia

Another picture book where the illustrations tell at least half the story, we meet the duck and a hollow-eyed character who introduces himself as death.

Duck Death 200x283After Duck and Death meet, the duck decides Death is a really ‘quite nice’.  When Duck suggests they go to the pond, we learn, “Death had been dreading that.”  The reader quietly learns something is about to happen.  They swim for a while, and Duck offers to cover and warm Death, as water for Death is not agreeable.  When they wake the next morning, Duck is surprised she is not dead.  Duck discusses Angels and a place in earth where ducks could be roasted, but Death makes no comments on her chatter.  They choose to spend their day in a tree, and Duck thinks, “That’s what it will be like when I’m dead.  The pond alone, without me.”  As we get closer to the time, the reader is gently told death is coming.  They spend the summer together, but when cold starts coming in, death lies down, and that is the end for her.  Death carries her to the water and watches her float away.  Death is a part of life.

Read more reviews on Amazon: The Red Tree and Duck, Death, and the Tulip

Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish

Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by David Walker
Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2014

A tiny rabbit shares the dreams of the small child, of growing bigger.  Author Margarita Engle captures, in a poetic voice, a small child’s frustration of thinking, wishing and dreaming of growing bigger, “but he grew only to the height of a slightly taller small rabbit.”  And illustrator David Walker portrays the innocence of the very youngest in colorful, simple illustrations.  But there are some times when the tiny rabbit is “ENORMOUSLY” happy he is small.

Playful, full of innocence, a heartfelt book for some children’s very biggest concern; a delight to read.

See more reviews on Amazon.

Tags: Margarita Engle, David Walker, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, picture book, rabbit, being small

Dare to Dream… Change the World

Dare to Dream… Change the World
Edited by Jill Corcoran, illustrated by J. Beth Jepson
Kane Miller, 2012

While on a work assignment, I walked by our downtown library, and, of course, HAD to go in!  Lucky for me I came upon a display of children’s poetry books.  Here I discovered Dare to Dream… Change the World.

It includes poems about great people in history one doesn’t always think about, including Jonas Salk (inventor of polio vaccination), Martha Graham (master of contemporary dance, who, I learned, started dance later in life), Stephen Spielberg, and more.    Each poem opens the imagination to reach toward new horizons, regardless of what others may think.  So many humble beginnings have resulted in greatness.  When I finished reading the book, I felt like I had just visited all these great people and my imagination was swirling.  Some suggest it’s a great book for graduation.

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Reading 350 picture books and writing 80 reviews transformed my writing skills!

Reading 350 picture books and writing 80 reviews transformed my writing skills!

In launching my blog, I feel like I’ve completed a three-month intensive.  I read more than 350 picture books and wrote more than 80 reviews.  I read the best sellers, award winners, and classics—the best of the best—and chose my favorites from those.children-s-book-clip-art-Childrens-Books (1)

Writing the reviews forced me to identify—in words—what appealed to me.  Was it the art?  The poetry?  The cleverness?  The originality? The voice?  And how—exactly—did the words or art express its outstanding qualities?

Needless to say I did very little creative writing during the marathon.  Returning to my manuscripts after the launch, I wondered if I would see what needed improving—and did I see plenty!  What “needed to go” jumped out at me.  Words counts reduced, point of views jumped to attention, and my stories began to sound like the ones I had been reading.  Lean.  Focused.  Poetic.  Publishable!

Starting the blog was the best writing training I’ve ever undertaken.  I would recommend anyone serious about picture book writing to challenge themselves to marathon-read 20-25 award-winning books a week and write 4-6 reviews a week for a month.  It’s worth it!

Backhoe Joe

Backhoe Joe
By Lori Alexander, illustrated by Craig Cameron
HarperCollins, 2014

In Backhoe Joe, Nolan finds a ‘stray’ backhoe and takes him home to be his new pet.  His parents are a bit skeptical.  Nolan tries to show he can train his pet to “Come!”, “Stay!”, and “Leave it!”  But Backhoe Joe has a lot of energy and humorously makes messes—just like a real pet!  Finally Nolan finds a way to teach Joe commands.  Then Nolan sees a sign saying Joe is lost and if found, to call for a reward.  Nolan struggles with wanting to keep the backhoe as a pet and knowing he should return it to its owners.  He chooses to do the right thing.  His reward is visiting Joe at his real worksite.  And there’s a delightful twist at the end when Nolan gets his next pet.

Backhoe Joe is a perfect, heartfelt book for boys and girls who like trucks and construction things.  The illustrations are friendly and give Backhoe Joe a personality that complements Nolan’s.  The combined story and illustrations have the potential to become a classic.  A fun book about a different kind of “pet”!

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