Month: May 2016

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at City Dog, Country Frog

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at City dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems.

For once, I don’t have a personal story to tell you that relates to the picture book I’m reviewing. So, why am I reviewing this book, you might ask? Because it’s about friendship, and friends are precious to me.

I thought I had a lot of friends when I was a child until my mother told me what a true friend is.

“A true friend,” she said, “is someone who will always be there for you no matter what. A true friend is someone who won’t make you feel bad for your choices and will support you in your decisions.” Then Mom added, “If you think about all the people you call a friend and really look closely at the relationship you have with them, you’ll only have enough true friends to count on one hand. The rest,” she said, “are acquaintances.”

That seemed a little harsh, so I softened it by renaming the two categories: True friends and friends.

We all have at least one friend we especially like being around. That person is someone who brings out the best version of ourselves. This leads me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, City Dog, Country Frog. A story of two unlikely friends who discover a great joy when they are together.

Title – City Dog, Country Frog – view on Amazon HERE.

Written by – Mo Willems

Illustrated by – Jon J Muth

Published by – Hyperion Books for Children 2010

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme –  Friendship and loss

Opening – Spring.

City dog didn’t stop on that first day in the country; he ran as far and as fast as he could and all without a leash!

Amazon Review – In spring, when City Dog runs free in the country for the first time, he spots Country Frog sitting on a rock, waiting for a friend. “You’ll do,” Frog says, and together they play Country Frog games. In summer, they meet again and play City Dog games. Through the seasons, whenever City Dog visits the country he runs straight for Country Frog’s rock. In winter, things change for City Dog and Country Frog. Come spring, friendship blooms again, a little different this time.

Mo Willems’ spare, poignant text and Jon J. Muth’s expressive watercolors team up to tell a story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Why do I like this book? The reader is taken along on a friendship between two unlikely characters – a city dog and a country frog. Through words and tender, watercolor illustrations, we feel the dog’s excitement each time he bounds outside through the changing seasons to be with country frog. This is the story of a friendship, how it began, how it grew in strength, and how all this changed…ended…when winter came. When spring arrives, a new friend comes into dog’s life. Yes, this is the story of loss, and Mo Willems handles this delicate subject with great care, ending not with a feeling of sorrow, but instead, with a feeling of hopefulness.

Learn about Mo Willems HERE.

Learn about Jon J Muth HERE.

Find more picture book reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Activities to do with children –  Have children think of two very different animals such as the dog and frog in today’s picture book. Then, have them think up some games like hopscotch, jump rope, or twister. Ask them which animal would have the easiest time playing that game and why. Ask  what would make it challenging for the other animal and why? Maybe brainstorm ideas on what each animal could do to play that game.

Grab a glass of wine or cup of coffee and let’s have a toast to friendship.


Perfect Picture Book Friday laughs with Help Me, Mr. Mutt!

A few years ago, the dinner I was preparing was put on hold when my daughter said, “Mommy, you’ve had that bag of clothing donations sitting in the hall for a week. Why don’t we drive over to the thrift store and donate it before Daddy gets home from work? It’ll only take ten minutes.”

(Nothing takes ten minutes, and what was about to happen next, took hours.)

As a note, the thrift store my daughter was referring to is more than a thrift store. The money the store generates from clothing and household items supports the animal rescue shelter at the back of their building. (Can you see where I’m going with this story?…)

When we pulled into the back parking lot, we were greeted by twenty or more dogs and the staff. My daughter asked someone why the dogs were outside and was told the thrift store needed to sell the dogs that evening because it was the dogs’ last day… My daughter, being six at the time, didn’t understand what that meant and despite my gentle explanation, she cried. It was then that Max entered our lives, or rather my daughter’s quick clutches. “He’s so cute, Mommy! Don’t you think he’s cute? Doesn’t it bother you that tomorrow he’ll be gone?  These people are going to kill him! We HAVE to save him! We have to save them all!” At this point, she was sobbing. I took Max (a seriously adorable rat terrier) into my arms before his coat got too soaked by tears. He quickly flipped on his back and snuggled into me like a baby, eager for love.

“How much is the adoption fee for this dog?” I asked.

“$250.00,” the owner said.

“Pleased, Mommy? You like Max. I can tell. And you’re always saying how growing up with a pet is a good thing. I’ll even give you my allowance to help pay for Max. Pleeeeeeease!”

“He’s $250.00, sweetie,” I said.

“We can eat beans and rice for a month to save money,” my daughter said, “and I won’t complain. Oh, Pleeeeeeease, Mommy, let’s save Max’s life!” 

Yes, Max came home with us and has been the most amazing addition to our family. He curls behind me on my chair when I’m writing, curls over my legs when I’m reading on the sofa, flops over me when I’m sleeping, and gives a million pounds of unconditional love daily. We often wonder what Max is thinking and have invented humorous conversations for his many situations which is why I like my PERFECT PICTURE BOOK FRIDAY selection for this week, Help Me, Mr. Mutt!

Title – Help Me, Mr. Mutt! – view on Amazon HERE.

Written and illustrated by – Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Published by – Harcourt Inc. 2008

Suitable for ages – 4-8 with loads of adult-appreciating humor.

Topics/Theme –  pet dilemmas

Opening – Dear Mr. Mutt, Do I look fat? My people put me on a diet! They’re starving me! I’m so hungry my stomach growls louder than I growl. I’m wasting away. Soon there will be nothing left of me. I’m so weak, I don’t think I can finish writing this letter…. – Famished in Florida

P.S. My people give the fat cat fancy food from a tiny can. All I get is tasteless gravel from a giant sack. Is that fair?

Amazon Review – Responding to disgruntled dogs nationwide, Mr. Mutt, Canine Counselor, has solutions to the most sticky dilemmas. But Mr. Mutt has his own problem to solve: the cat (aka The Queen), who has her own idea of who’s in charge. Now Mr. Mutt is the one who needs help–quick!

Through letters and newspaper clippings–and with plenty of their trademark humor–Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel give voice to despairing dogs everywhere.
Why do I like this book? 
It’s funny to imagine that the dogs (and cat) in this story actually feel the way they do. While reading the letters, I felt sorry for my own dog. Gads! I thought. I just switched dog food brands and chose a low-fat variety for aging (fat) dogs. What must my poor, little darling be thinking? Well… after reading this book, I knew! Immediately, I offered a few, tasty treats and a belly rub. Letter after letter in this marvelously illustrated book had me laughing. Anyone who has a dog will enjoy the advice the dogs in this book receive in response to their letters of complaint.

Learn about Janet Stevens HERE.

Learn about Susan Stevens Crummel HERE.

Find more picture book reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Activities with children – Play act with your children. Have them pretend to be thier dog or cat and see what they think their pet would say if he could communicate like us.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at The Room of Wonders

Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) looks at The Room of Wonders by Sergio Ruzzier.

Writing or editing one of my picture book stories is my favorite way to spend a day. And although I am still anxiously waiting for one of my submissions to attract the attention of an agent, I never let a written or silent rejection dampen my spirits. “Okay,” I say, “so Ms. Dream Agent didn’t connect with my humorous story about the dog with the poorly timed hiccups, maybe I’ll submit again and see if she prefers my Candy Land meets Willy Wonka counting book.” My point is that I keep trying. However…

a number of years ago, I let the words of one person turn me away from what I love.

I decided to send one of my manuscripts to a professional editor for a sizable fee. The story was close to my heart and took the better part of two years to complete. When the critique came back, I was devastated. The editor began her letter briefly telling me how much she enjoyed reading my story. She followed this with pages of the harshest criticism I ever read. Some comments mocked my work. What’s the point, I thought. Maybe she’s right. That story file stayed closed on my computer because I let the editor’s harsh words fill me with doubt.

In the years that followed, I took many writing seminars, attended writing conferences, joined a critique group, and kept writing. One morning, I thought about the characters from that story. I remembered how much I enjoyed being with them. I opened the file with a fresh heart, once again believing in myself, ready to put my years of gained knowledge to work. This brings me to the touching and sensitively illustrated picture book, The Room of Wonders.

Title – The Room of Wonders – view on Amazon HERE.

Written and illustrated by – Sergio Ruzzier

Published by – Francis Foster Books – Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York 2006

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics/Theme –  collections, confidence, and inner-happiness.

Opening – Pius Pelosi was a pack rat, and he collected things. On long walks through the forest, he found twisted roots, interesting twigs, leaves, feathers, and sometimes a skin left behind by a snake.

Amazon Review – Pius Pelosi, a young pack rat, is a born collector who fills a
room with his marvelous findings, attracting curious visitors. His very favorite item, a plain gray pebble, is given a place of honor, which baffles everyone. They all ask why he would keep such an ordinary stone. Bowing to public opinion, Pius gets rid of it, but in doing so, he discovers he’s lost much more than just the pebble.

Why do I like this book? In picture books, the main character should change, improve, or grow in some way. Sergio Ruzzier clearly illustrates this when he presents us with a completely lovable, little critter named Pius Pelosi. Pius loves to collect treasures, but when visitors viewing his collection question why he keeps an ordinary gray pebble – the very first and most favorite treasure in his collection, Pius believes his visitors must all be right. He succumbs to their feelings and tosses out the pebble, a decision that destroys his love for the remaining treasures. Then one day… Pius discovers another gray pebble and remembers why he liked his first gray pebble. Happiness returns and he begins to collect treasures again. Children reading this story will learn to stand up for what they love, believe, or treasure. Hopefully, they will never allow the negative opinions of others to overshadow their own precious feelings.

Learn about Sergio Ruzzier HERE.

Find more picture book reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Activities with children – Ask children what items they like to collect. Can they relate to Pius Pelosi in The Room of Wonders who turns items he discovers along his path into treasures? What do they believe would make a good collection?

If the items in a child’s collection are small, you could help them make a shadow box to display their treasures. Shadow boxes can be purchased at craft stores or upcycled from shoe boxes.

Diversity, Acceptance, and Friendship are Today's PPBF Theme.

Diversity, acceptance, and friendship are the theme of today’s PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday)

“Why are your braces green and bushy?”  

That’s not a question elementary school children care to be asked, but one I often heard. My well-meaning mother believed parsley made nearly everything taste better. And while she was right about that, finely chopped parsley on a salami sandwich for lunch when you’re wearing braces doomed me to years of criticism and mockery in the cafeteria. Now, while I was chomping away at my tasty sandwich and learning how to suck parsley out of my teeth like an old man , a girl named Debbie, who sat opposite me, looked on with disgust as she ate (and I’m not kidding) a liver sausage and peanut butter sandwich with mayonnaise. Somehow, despite our low opinions of each other’s lunches, we were best friends. This brings me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday selection; a story of two best friends with vastly different taste in food, their pity on the other for having to eat something yucky, and how giving  each other’s lunches a try opens them up to more wondrous foods in the world.

Title – The Sandwich Swap – view on Amazon HERE.

Written by – Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio

Illustrated by – Tricia Tusa

Published by – Disney – Hyperion Books – 2010

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics/Theme –  friendship, tolerance, and acceptance.

Opening – It all began with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…

Amazon Review – Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things, and they always eat lunch together. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus-but what’s that between friends? It turns out, a lot. Before they know it, a food fight breaks out. Can Lily and Salma put aside their differences? Or will a sandwich come between them?

The smallest things can pull us apart – until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. In a glorious three-page gatefold at the end of the book, Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance.

Why do I like this book? My best answer is because I relate to the story. Having been in a similar situation in elementary school, I understand how differences can form a wedge between friends. The story is a timeless one which, through text and kid-friendly illustrations, offers children a fabulous example of how they can appreciate diversity and uniqueness in other cultures.

Two of my favorite illustrations are the food fight scene in which everything from carrots to pudding cups flies, and amidst the chaos, Salma and Lilly realize how out of control life can become when differences break a friendship. My second favorite illustration is the grand, three-page, fold-out spread finale when the entire class joins around a table to sample food from other cultures.

Learn about Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah HERE.

Learn about Kelly DiPucchio HERE.

Learn about Tricia Tusa HERE.

Activity with children – One night each week, prepare a meal from another country. At your library, check out a CD of music from that country to play during dinner. Look up the country in books or online to learn more about the culture of the people.