Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloweensie Contest Entry

Happy Halloween! 

In honor of this fun and unique holiday, I have composed an entry for Susanna Leonard Hill's "Halloweensie Contest". 

The Challenge:
Write a Halloween story for children, 100 words or less, using the words spooky, black cat, and cackle.

Here goes!


October chill.
Argyle night.
Spooky shadows.
Black Cat’s delight.

Freeze in a crouch.
Whiskers twitch.
Ready to pounce.

Leaves crunch.
Beginning to doubt.
About to bolt…
A cackle rings out.

A pointed hat.
A wide, black brim.
Gnarled hands.
A sharp, warty chin.

A hiss. An arch.
Fur stands on end.
A reach. A pat.
A new-found friend?

“It’s only me.”
A whisper is heard.
“Do you like my costume?”
Black Cat just purred.

(75 words)

Friday, October 25, 2013

PPBF: Even Monsters Need Haircuts

TitleEven Monsters Need Haircuts
Author/Illustrator: Matthew McElligott
Publisher/DateWalker Childrens /2012
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 4-8
Themes: monsters, barbershops, mythological creatures

Opening: "My dad is a barber. I like to watch him work. I'm a barber too. Tonight will be a full moon. I'll need to get to bed early."

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal)

"The young narrator learns a lot from watching his barber dad in action–how to give a good haircut or trim, treat his clientele with respect, and give them what they want–even if the "regulars" are monsters. Literally. Once a month, Frankenstein, Cyclops, Vlad, Medusa, and others fill the barbershop chairs after midnight strikes, and the boy (who never breaks the rules and NEVER leaves the house alone) stands atop a ladder or chair, and–clad in monster slippers, pj's, and "shamp-ewww"-filled pockets–competently gives each customer a new do. With a jewel-toned palette in ink, pencil, and digital art, the shadows of night brighten in the barbershop to bring out the personalities of a lighthearted collection of monster-inspired characters. The art invites both inspection of humorous details for individual readers and an opportunity for exploration of voice and mood in a read-aloud. Fears of the unknown are faced as a human arrives at the shop during the wee hours, yet the boy ("More nervous than I have ever been") never backs down and takes care of business. Narrated in the voice of a child, this offering is perfect for young readers facing a bit of personal anxiety." Mary Elam, Learning Media Services Plano ISD, TX

Why I Love This Book
This story is such a unique take on monsters. Amid the silliness, readers are exposed to a wide variety of creatures ranging from literary characters, such as Frankenstein's monster, to mythological bad-guys. (The boy wears a blind-fold to do Medusa's hair.) Perfect for Halloween, yet without a hint of the holiday, this colorfully illustrated book is sure to impress.

Invent a monster. Decide what kind of haircut it will have. Build your creature out of recycled materials.

Do some research at the library to learn more about Cyclops, Medusa, and other mythological villains.

Use the title as a writing prompt. Replace "haircuts" with another ordinary thing that humans need and write how it plays out for monsters. "Even Monsters Need _______." (breakfast, baths, hugs, ...)

Imagine doing your mom or dad's job with monsters as clients. Create a skit and perform it.

Monster Machine at the author's website

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

PPBF: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Title: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Author/Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg
Publisher/DateHMH Books for Young Readers /1984
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 4+
Themes: mystery, imagination, story starters (writing)

Opening: "I first saw the drawings in this book a year ago, in the home of a man named Peter Wenders."


In his introduction, Chris Van Allsburg gives the reader some background on Harris Burdick, a man who brought 14 drawings to a children's book publisher and then disappeared. The drawings are mysterious, each with a title and caption, all with a fantastic, dramatic, otherworldly quality. 

Why I Love This Book

There is no children's book that is more alluring. It immediately taps into the reader's imagination and invites storytelling. I loved using this book in my third grade classroom. The Portfolio Edition (1995) with large, loose-leaf posters of each drawing, is perfect for teachers. Kids can tell the stories they create from an early age, begin to write them down in elementary school, and continue to use the drawings as inspiration in writing classes through high school. (Check out the collaborative stories link below!) Even well-known authors are fascinated enough to try their hand at the stories. I can't wait to read The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales (2011), which I recently discovered at the library, and which inspired this post.


Choose an intriguing drawing from the collection and write a story or tell a story with a friend.

Who is Harris Burdick? Website with resources and stories

Lesson Plan (grades 5-9): Using Illustrations to Guide Writing

Collaborative stories written by students from around the world

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Friday, October 11, 2013

PPBF: Beautiful Oops!

TitleBeautiful Oops!
Author/Illustrator: Barney Saltzberg
Publisher/Date: Workman Publishing/2010
Genre/Audience: Interactive Concept Book/Ages 3+
Themes: making mistakes, creativity, imagination

Opening: "Oops! A torn piece of paper... is just the beginning!"

Synopsis: (from 

A life lesson that all parents want their children to learn: It’s OK to make a mistake. In fact, hooray for mistakes! A mistake is an adventure in creativity, a portal of discovery. A spill doesn’t ruin a drawing—not when it becomes the shape of a goofy animal. And an accidental tear in your paper? Don’t be upset about it when you can turn it into the roaring mouth of an alligator.

Barney Saltzberg, the effervescent spirit behind Good Egg, offers a one-of-a-kind interactive book that shows young readers how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. A singular work of imagination, creativity, and paper engineering, Beautiful Oops! is filled with pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope”—each demonstrating the magical transformation from blunder to wonder.

Why I Love This Book

I was so excited when my sister-in-law shared this book with me this summer. This is a completely unique example of paper engineering. Much more than lift-the-flaps, this book uses the tears, flaps, holes, etc., to draw the reader deeper into the book's theme: that mistakes are opportunities for creativity. What human doesn't need that message? This book teaches an important life lesson without preaching and is delightful for children and adults.


Grab some markers or paint, paper, and scraps and let the artist in you OUT! And, of course, don't be afraid to make mistakes :) 

Book Trailer

A Creativity Sketchbook available from MoMA

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Are You Ready For Halloween?

Do you ever feel like the month of October is one big build-up to Halloween? More and more people go to extravagant decorating measures, complete with orange lights and animated, inflatable spooks. I suppose that Halloween is one of our more secular holidays (even though it has its roots in religion) and, as such, it is becoming more and more commercial.

Even though I strongly dislike haunted houses and horror movies, I've always liked Halloween. It is the one day of the year where everyone is encouraged to use their imagination. Whether you decide to play a supernatural creature, dream you are your favorite animal, or imagine yourself in your dream career, is up to you. Playing, dreaming, and imagining are cornerstones of childhood, but adults are given a reminder every October 31st that those qualities are important in life.

And who knows that better than children's authors and illustrators? Here are some quotes from fabulous books to get you and the kiddos in the Halloween spirit! BOO!

The Monstore by Tara Lazar; Illustrated by James Burks

"The Monstore sells only the most useful monsters, just right for doing tricky things around the house."

In the Haunted House by Eve Bunting; Illustrated by Susan Meddaugh

"And who's in the closet, dark as a tomb,/ Rattling his bones in the gloom-gloomy-gloom?"

Pumpkin Day! Written and illustrated by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

"Jack patted the pumpkins. They made a thump sound."

Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott

"I tuck the moon powder into my pocket, right next to my tangling brush."

Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise by Kate DiCamillo; Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

"In my opinion," said Eugenia, "pigs should not go trick-or-treating. In my opinion, pigs should not pose as princesses."

Jack the Tripper by Gene Barretta

"Polly was the first student at Benjamin Dizzie Elementary to go down. "I got tripped!" she cried as she stumble into the classroom."

Friday, October 4, 2013

PPBF: Phoebe & Digger

TitlePhoebe & Digger
Author/Illustrator: Tricia Springstubb/ Jeff Newman
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013
Genre/Audience: Fiction/Ages 3-7
Themes: New baby, problem solving, bullies

Opening: "When Mama got a new baby... Phoebe got a new digger."

Synopsis: (from Booklist)
Furious and feeling displaced by her new baby brother, Phoebe is thrilled with her new gift of a digger truck toy, and she has fun with it, shoveling at home, in the park, and even, finally, with the baby. With just a few spare words on each page, this story is told mostly in the characters’ body language, and the digitally touched images, created with watercolor, ink, gouache, and marker, show Phoebe first scowling as Mama plays with the baby, and then smiling with her new “pet” digger. She is scared when a bully grabs the digger, but Mama steps in, and finally, Phoebe, with her toy, reaches out to stroke her brother and comfort him when he cries. The sibling rivalry adds a new lively twist for fans of Virginia Lee Burton’s classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939). Preschool. --Hazel Rochman

Why I Love This Book

When I picked up this book at the library, I assumed this was an old book. The illustrations are reminiscent of the classic Little Golden Books. But the cover also has three elements that defy that era of children's books: the protagonist is female, she is not caucasian, and she wants to play with a "boy toy". I was intrigued.

Phoebe is jealous. Her baby brother is taking all of her mama's attention. She tries to get her mama's attention by acting out with Digger. What child (and parent) can't relate to that? The book goes deeper than sibling jealousy, though, when Phoebe has to learn how to be a considerate playmate and how to deal with a bully. Ultimately, she learns that her mama is always there for her.

The story is simple, timeless, and incredibly accessible. It is a new favorite in our house!

Preschool Story Hour Kit from Candlewick Press

TinyDiggers App: Game lets kids drive diggers and learn basic concepts, like shapes, colors, and numbers.

About Bullying: Videos and games for kids

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

ZERO by Kathryn Otoshi

Last week, I raved about Kathryn Otoshi's ONE.

This week, I'm going to rave about her book ZERO.

ZERO is another book that tackles a difficult topic in a unique way, using the number characters from ONE. In this story, Zero wonders, " can a number worth nothing become something?" Value and worth are more than mathematical terms in this endearing followup.

Don't forget the lesson from ONE: "Everyone counts!"