TITLE: THE WATERMELON SEED
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Greg Pizzoli
PUBLISHER: Disney Hyperion Books/2013
OPENING LINES: I love watermelon! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! It’s the best
Crocodile sure loves watermelon. Every meal of the day. But . . . when he accidentally swallows a seed, he worries about all the things that will happen to him. Will a watermelon patch grow inside his tummy? Will he turn pink? You’ll have to read to find out! I will tell you that I can’t get enough of this book. I love looking at the bright illustrations (including seed-dotted end papers and – bonus - peek under the jacket cover to reveal a watermelon rind!). Croc’s expressions perfectly convey his rollercoaster emotions. Pizolli’s use of humor, suspense, lovable character voice, relatable topic and large, bright illustrations make this a great read-aloud. No wonder it won a Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) award! If you are lucky enough to meet the author (as I have), and ask him to sign your copy, he might even draw Croc eating a slice of watermelon on the title page. Thanks, Greg!
This is a very important day, indeed. Let’s celebrate by eating a big, juicy slice of watermelon while reading a book! Just be careful not to drip on the pages. What book, you ask? THE WATERMELON SEED, of course!
Who can’t relate to a young child wanting “just one more” of something? Or everything, for that matter! That seems to be sweet Ruby’s mantra - one more of this and one more of that. But sometimes a little bit goes a long way, and one is just enough. Or is it? Jennifer’s Rolli’s illustrations and color palette are beautiful (I dare you to look into Ruby’s eyes and not feel her emotions!), and her simple text convey a story relatable to many young children and their caregivers. Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes one is not enough, especially when it comes to books! This one sure made it to my shelf in a hurry.
Many believe that you are either a cat or a dog person. Can you be both? Something to ponder . . . in the meantime, today is all about hugging your cat! So, without further ado, I bring you:
TITLE: MAX THE BRAVE
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Ed Vere
PUBLISHER: Puffin Books/2014
OPENING LINES: This is Max. Doesn’t Max look sweet? Max looks so sweet that sometimes people dress him up with bows. Max does not like being dressed up with bows. Because Max is a fearless kitten. Max is a brave kitten. Max is a kitten who chases mice. Max the Brave just needs to find out what a mouse looks like . . . and then he will chase it.
So, brave Max sets off on a journey to find a mouse to chase. This book reminds me a little of ARE YOU MY MOTHER by P.D. Eastman (a childhood all-time favorite) – the simple text, the protagonist’s encounters with others as he sets out on his journey to find a mouse, and the art! I love the way Max stands out against the solid backgrounds and his expressions are perfect! His eyes say it all. You won’t be disappointed by the end and will want to read this one again and again.
In honor of this day, I have a special tree for you to love.
TITLE: LITTLE TREE
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Loren Long
PUBLISHER: Philomel Books/2015
OPENING LINES: Once there was a little tree filled with little leaves . . . who was surrounded by other little trees who had little leaves of their own. In the heat of long summer days, Little Tree’s leaves kept him cool.
Little Tree likes life just the way it is. But the seasons change and life moves on. For everyone but Little Tree, that is. Little Tree hugs his leaves tightly and refuses to change, despite words of encouragement from his forest friends. As the rest of the forest grows around him, Little Tree is faced with an important decision. You’ll have to read this yourself to see if and how Little Tree comes to terms with change. Loren Long’s beautiful illustrations capture the beauty of the seasons and match the text perfectly and the ending will leave you sighing, "Aw!"
Who doesn’t love a PB & J? Actually, my roommate in college had never even tried a PB & J sandwich. We tried to convince her to eat one, but she just couldn’t do it! I wonder if she’s dared to try since . . . Anyway, in honor of this very special day, I would like to introduce you to a picture book that highlights PB & J with a bit of a twist. So, without further ado, I introduce:
TITLE: PEANUT BUTTER & JELLY BRAINS: A Zombie Culinary Tale
AUTHOR: Joe McGee
ILLUSTRATOR: Charles Santoso
PUBLISHER: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2015
OPENING LINES: Reginald was not like the other zombies. The other zombies wanted brains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But not Reginald.
I bet you can guess what Reginald wants to eat! But, naturally, he has a little trouble obtaining his heart’s desire. His fellow zombies don’t understand him, and he has even more trouble with the humans. But, Reginald is determined to convince his zombie friends that a good PB & J is even better than brains. I love Joe McGee’s clever twist on a “going against the crowd to achieve your heart’s desire” tale and Charles Santoso’s illustrations are a perfect match. Read the book to see what leads Reginald to a sweet & sticky ending! And – bonus - be sure to peek at the end papers and under the book jacket. I love details like this!
,In honor of this very special day, I would like to introduce you to PEDDLES! I was drawn first to the cover art (I mean, just look at that cutie!), but then I peeked inside and was hooked.
AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Elizabeth Rose Stanton
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2016
OPENING LINES: Peddles was just a pig. He lived on a farm with the other pigs, doing all the usual pig things: eating and sleeping and oinking and rooting and wallowing and . . . . But Peddles thought about the usual pig things differently.
I am a sucker for a character who isn’t afraid to stand out, despite what others might think, and for a character who dreams big. This describes Peddles perfectly. He has his setbacks, of course, but in the end he makes his dreams come true and wins over his friends to boot (you’ll understand my terrible joke if you read it). Pick up this book and Peddles will win you over too!
In honor of this very special day, I would like to highlight two of my favorite books published recently.
First up: IDA, ALWAYS.
Warning – this one is a real tear-jerker. I was warned. I still cried while reading it to my youngest son. The next day I read it to myself, and I cried again! But it is sooooo good!
Next: WHERE BEAR? -- no tissues necessary!
In honor of this very special day, I would like to highlight one of my favorite books published recently -- FINDING WINNIE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS BEAR.
One of my earliest story-memories is of the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne. Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and all the critters from the Hundred Acre Wood were always a part of my life. And even part of my children’s lives. In fact, my oldest daughter’s first word was “Pooh.” So, when I heard someone wrote a book about the bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, I had to read it. And this book did not disappoint.
TITLE: FINDING WINNIE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS BEAR
AUTHOR: Lindsay Mattick
ILLUSTRATOR: Sophie Blackall
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company/2015
“Could you tell me a story?” asked Cole
“It’s awfully late.” It was long past dark, and time to be asleep. “What kind of story?”
“You know. A true story. One about a Bear.”
These lines just beg you to turn the page. And so I did. In this book, I found a story within a story about a veterinarian named Harry Colebourn (notice the similarity between this character and the name of the character who speaks first?) who left his hometown of Winnipeg (notice the name of the town?) in 1914 to help the war effort as a horse doctor. On his way, he encounters a man on the train platform with a baby (you guessed it) bear! I won’t say more because I urge you to read this for yourself -- follow Winnie’s journey from train platform to storybook. But I will say that the clever plot structure and flowing text and gorgeous illustrations (Did I mention this won the Caldecott in 2016?) are sure to draw you in and maybe even shout, “Buy me!” like they did to me.
I have a soft spot for the "newbie." I still remember the tummy flutters, the flushed cheeks, the anxiety of being in a new situation -- not quite sure of the unwritten "rules." Do kids buy or bring lunch to this school? Am I wearing the "right" kind of sneakers to gym class? For some, this is an exciting time; a time of adventure. For others it’s a nerve-wracking, teeth chattering experience.
Guess what, kiddos? You don't have to be a "kid" to be the newbie. Some adults (kids too, but I was never one of those) seem to slip into new situations seamlessly, taking it all in stride. But some become flustered in unfamiliar territory. I find it helpful to be prepared before diving into something new, but there isn’t always an instruction manual available. I’m a huge proponent of asking questions, but sometimes it’s difficult to even know what questions to ask.
Are you a new writer or illustrator who wants to know some of the “unwritten rules” before you submit to publishers or attend your first conference? Or would you like to hear about some mistakes some writers/illustrators made (some funny ones, too!) when they first started out? My friend, Virginia Law Manning, and I wrote a blog post for the Eastern PA Chapter of SCBWI called “The Unwritten Rules: Rookie Mistakes and What We Learned” that you can view here.
I welcome you to comment here or on the EPA SCBWI blog if you’d like to share a rookie mistake you made or ask a question. We were all new once!
I had intended to post something in September to coincide with International Dot Day, but life had other plans (most notably, a fried computer -- note to all: BACK UP YOUR FILES!). I spent much of October figuring out how to use a new computer and catching up on missed writing-related stuff. Now it’s November already! Sometimes when I’m hit with curve balls like this, I can fall into a rut. Luckily, life can also provide inspiration, even in trying times. Here are some ways I became inspired this fall, thanks to help from a few friends:
I discovered this picture book in 2011 and it immediately struck a chord. If you read my earlier journal entries, you will know that I have been hearing little whispers for a long time urging me to write picture books AND about my Christmas book-giving tradition. It wasn’t until 2011 that I began to pursue my dream seriously, so when I found this book I knew it was the one that my husband would receive for Christmas that year. I wanted to thank him for supporting me while I saw where my dot took me. Some days my dot turns into a line or a squiggle or a word, sometimes a character name or book title, sometimes a line of dialogue or scene. Though sparks of creativity strike me on any given day, I love the idea of one special day celebrated annually around the world to celebrate inspiration, creativity and courage. So, International Dot Day helped give me a little boost of inspiration even without a functioning computer. Thank goodness for the good ole pen and paper!
November: In 2009 Tara Lazar hosted a blog challenge called Picture Book Idea Month with the idea that participants come up with one picture book idea for each day in November, and she ‘s been hosting it annually ever since. I first heard about PiBoIdMo last year and thought it sounded like fun. Coming up with new ideas is not what I would call my weakness, but I like a good challenge and I wanted to see if I could come up with 30 in a month. I was also hoping I could come up with a better way of organizing my ideas so I could actually find them and do something with them (like actually turn them into stories – THAT is my weakness!). Not only did I meet my goals, I was inspired in new ways. At the end of November, I had a pretty notebook (my craftiness strikes again – any excuse to use a pretty piece of fabric!), filled with 30 picture book ideas plus a chapter book idea, all organized and ready to (potentially) be turned into books. Every day Tara had kid lit folks post blogs that inspired me to think out of the box, write a fractured fairy tale, come up with a mash-up title, jog my memory, access my inner child, sit down and write, color, doodle, brainstorm, create an “idea generator,” make a story board, observe children at play, eavesdrop, go for a walk, and play, among other things. I learned that not all of these ideas will necessarily become books, but they could. I learned about other challenges to help turn these ideas into stories and that would help me become a better reader and writer. I learned about other kid lit groups, classes, workshops, and more.
Now it’s November again and I’m armed with a new pretty notebook, ready to be inspired with at least 30 new picture book ideas for PiBoIdMo 2015. I'm not sure where the marks in my notebook will take me, but I'm excited to find out!
Heather is a busy wife and mom of five rambunctious children and one lovable pup They all provide lots of distractions, but oodles of inspiration. Sometimes the pictures and ideas in her head turn into children's stories. Sometimes her daydreams end up here.