Tag: picture books (Page 1 of 2)

Let Me first Embarrass Myself. Plus Perfect Picture Book Friday Review of The Purple Coat

As you’ve come to expect, and hopefully look forward to, I have a little memory to go along with today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review of The Purple Coat by Amy Hest. And yes, it’s embarrassing.

Back when I was in Jr. High, I saw a fashion magazine at the dentist with page after page of svelte women wearing culottes. Culottes, for those of you unfamiliar with this fashion statement, are split skirts or wide-legged, knee-length shorts. Back in the 80’s, the only place I looked svelte was deep in my imagination. To the outside world, I was a five-foot, scrawny girl, weighing in at 90 pounds who owned three pairs of shoes, none of which looked trendy under any circumstances. One pair were my fuzzy house slippers, the second were my scuffed sneakers, and the third pair were clunky, brown, lace-up, walking shoes my mother bought in a women’s shoe shop. (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

I bought a copy of the magazine and raced home, hopeful my aunt, who sewed all my clothes, could duplicate those super cool culottes for me. I showed her the magazine.

“Are you sure about this?” She looked me up and down, wrinkled her nose at the picture, and shook her head.

“Oh, yes!” I said. “I LOVE these! Can you make me a pair?”

My aunt reluctantly took me to the fabric store where I found the perfect pattern and a bolt of electric, mint-green polyester that screamed, “Make your culottes out of me!!!” (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)


My aunt gaped at the bolt of fabric clutched in my arms. “Are you sure about this?” She looked me up and down, wrinkled her nose at the fabric, and shook her head.

“Oh, yes!” I said. “I LOVE it! Can you please make my culottes out of this?”

When those fabulous, mint-green culottes were sewn, I teamed them with a frilly blouse, a pair of white knee socks and my brown, lace-up, clunky, walking shoes my mother bought in a women’s shoe shop. (Please, no comments, I feel bad enough.)

My friends couldn’t bottle their laughter. Kids at school I didn’t know slapped hands over their mouths and swiped at their tears. Cute boys rolled up their pant legs and mocked me. And those culottes? Strangely and most mysteriously disappeared after I came home.

So…what does my memory have to do with my picture book review? The Purple Coat is the story of a girl who, despite her mother’s opinion, wants a coat that looks different than the one she gets year after year.Except in her case, everything turned out better. Lucky…

Title – The Purple Coat

Written by  – Amy Hest

and illustrated by – Amy Schwartz

Published by – Aladdin – 1992

Suitable for ages – 3-8

Theme – Knowing what you want and compromise.

Opening –  Every fall, when the leaves start melting into pretty purples and reds and those bright golden shades of pumpkin, Mama says, “Coat time, Gabrielle!”

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  Every year, in the fall, Gabrielle gets a new coat. And every year her coat looks the same — navy blue with two rows of buttons and a half belt in the back. But this year Gabrielle wants something different — a purple coat.
“Purple?” Mama laughs. But Gabrielle is quite serious.

Alone with Grampa in his cozy tailor shop, Gabrielle does some fast talking. Still, even Grampa is dubious. His solution makes The Purple Coat a very special book, just right for every child who has ever wanted to try something different.

Why do I like this book? Because I was a child much like Gabrielle who wanted something different. Except in my case, the culottes flopped. But back to the book. Gabrielle is a little girl with gumption. She has a vision of what she wants, and she’s not about to back down. And, because I like books with strong main characters, I loved this one. The illustrations by Amy Schwartz brought back sweet memories of the days when my aunt measured me for the clothes she made. The colorful, well-researched pictures capture the time this story takes place in. All around, this book won me over.
Learn more about Amy Hest HERE.
Learn more about Amy Schwartz HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

PPBF Looks at Vincent's Colors

PPBF Looks at Vincent’s Colors, a picture book created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, using only the words and pictures of Vincent Van Gogh.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for an evening of painting at a local shop. The painting the students and I came to copy was the well-known Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Admittedly, not an easy painting to tackle. But with the instructor giving us the order in which to add each element, along with her permission to use Vincent’s painting as a jump off point from which we could freely interpret to our heart’s desire, the task wasn’t nearly as daunting.

A framed print of the famous painting rested on a large easel. We each took many turns, viewing the print up close to help with our interpretations. At the end of the evening, we each had a painting we were pleased with. Pleased with until I came home, looked in my art book at the original, and noticed the instructor’s poster had faded in her window display and overall, her reproduction appeared strangely contrasty. I still had a fabulous evening, painting my version of Starry Night by an artist whose work I have long admired.


Now, on to my Perfect Picture Book Friday review of Vincent’s Colors.

Words and pictures by Vincent van Gogh.

This book was created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Published by – Chronicle Books – 2005

Suitable for – 3-7

Topic – An art book for young children to acquaint them with Vincent van Gogh’s art.

Opening –  (These are the first four pages to show how the book is set up to rhyme.)

A yellow sky with yellow sun,

a jug in squares of blue and white,

a reddish cap and orange bricks,

twelve flowers that are light on light.

Synopsis from Amazon – Vincent van Gogh is one of the world’s most famous artists. Throughout his life, he wrote to his younger brother, Theo, about his colorful, dynamic paintings. This book pairs the artist’s paintings with his own words.

Van Gogh’s descriptions, arranged as a simple rhyme, introduce young readers to all the colors of the rainbow and beyond. The descriptive words combine with spectacular reproductions of many of the artist’s most beloved and important works to create a perfect art book for young and old alike.

Why I like this book – Instead of showing each painting in its entirety, a close up section was selected to better illustrate Vincent van Gogh’s impasto style of painting.

(Definition: impasto is a thick application of paint (usually oil) that makes no attempt to look smooth. Instead, impasto is unabashedly proud to be textured, and exists to show off brush and palette knife marks.)

A simple description, taken from Vincent’s letters to his brother, Theo, accompanies each painting, and the paintings are organized so the descriptions form a rhyming pattern, children will enjoy hearing.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art – website.

Learn more about Vincent van Gogh – here.

To find other perfect picture books please visit Susanna Hill’s Blog.

Over twenty Starry Night Art Project for kids here.

drywall plaster sunflowers

Vincent van Gogh-inspired art project from www.playideas.com

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll share it.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Diversity and Friendship in 'My Two Blankets'

For today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m looking at My Two Blankets, a book that combines diversity with friendship and understanding.

But to begin…a little story from my childhood that ties into my book review.

Having grown up with a mother who spoke only German and a father who spoke only English, I learned both at once and somehow managed to keep the two languages apart. And, in answer to your question, no matter which parent spoke to me, I always answered in English.

It wasn’t until I was four, traveling to visit my grandmother in Germany with my mother and older sister, that speaking English became a problem. The children in my grandmother’s neighborhood didn’t want to play with me because they didn’t understand English. I ran inside, miserable because I couldn’t make friends. My mother reminded me that I could understand her and therefore, must be able to speak German. “Go back out there,” she said, “and speak German with the children.”

Needless to say, the kids at the playground couldn’t understand how I learned their language so quickly. But from that moment on, the German children and I were able to share our stories and cultural differences (clothes, games, favorite meals, holidays, etc…), and friendships were quickly made.

For quite a while, I spoke only German. According to my parents, it took three months before I started speaking English again.

A language barrier can get in the way of making friends, the solution is to find a way to bridge that gap, and that is the main theme for my perfect picture book Friday review.

Title – My Two Blankets – view on Amazon HERE.

Written by – Irena Kobald

Illustrated by – Freya Blackwood

Published by – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – 2014

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme –  Diversity, understanding, and friendship.

Opening – Auntie used to call me Cartwheel. Then came the war. Auntie didn’t call me Cartwheel anymore. We came to this country to be safe. Everything was strange. The people were strange. The food was strange. The animals and the plants were strange. Even the wind felt strange.

Amazon Review – Cartwheel moves to a new country with her auntie, and everything is strange: the animals, the plants—even the wind. An old blanket gives Cartwheel comfort when she’s sad—and a new blanket just might change her world.

This multicultural story of friendship is about leaving home, moving to a foreign and strange place, and finding a new friend. It’s a story for all who have experienced change. Irena Kobald’s poetic text, paired with Kate Greenaway medalist Freya Blackwood’s powerful paintings, renders an emotional and heart-warming story about two children from diverse backgrounds coming together to become new friends.
Why do I like this book? I like that the story doesn’t  begin with Cartwheel’s new life in America. Instead, the book offers readers a look at how different Cartwheel’s world was. In a double-page spread, we are greeted with a warm illustration, depicting a region where the days are all seemingly hot. This is a place where villagers in draped, cotton clothes carry pots on their heads, tend livestock, and live in sand-colored huts. Clearly, Cartwheel’s world has been turned upside down. Not understanding what people are saying, Cartwheel wraps herself in a metaphorical blanket of familiar words and sounds. One day, a girl at the park teaches Cartwheel English words, thus closing the language gap and opening up the start of a wonderful friendship. As a result, Cartwheel forms a new metaphorical blanket made from the new words and sounds in America.

Learn about Irena Kobald HERE.

Learn about Freya Blackwood HERE. Please note, this link takes you to a marvelous blog post in which the very talented illustrator talks about the pictures she created for this book.

Find more Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Activities to do with children – With paper, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, and glue, children can make their own blanket of words and images that define them, the country they live in, and their home. Cut 4-inch squares from colored or plain paper. On each square, have children write a word or draw a picture of something meaningful: a picture of their family, the house they live in, their pets, and words that describe them and their interests. Cutting pictures out of (parentally approved) magazines and gluing them to the squares is another option. Paste the pictures to a  poster board to form a quilt.

PPBF Looks at Marcel Marceau Master of Mime

Most of us, at one time or another, have silently acted something out. Maybe when you were a child or as an adult you pretended with friends or played charades. For most of us, this fun activity lasts only a short time, but for one man, pantomime became his life.

Title – Marcel Marceau Master of Mime – view on Amazon here.

Written by – Gloria Spielman

Illustrated by – Manon Gauthier

Published by – Kar-Ben Publishing 2011

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/theme  following one’s dream

Opening – Little Marcel searched for a jacket. Father would have one. Pants, too…and shoes. A hat, and Marcel’s outfit was complete.

Jacket copy  – From the age of five, little Marcel Marceau knew he wanted to be a silent actor, just like Charlie Chaplin. World WarII came, changing Marcel’s life. But it didn’t stop his dream of becoming a mime artist and entertaining the world.

Amazon Review – From the age of five, Marcel Marceau knew he wanted to be a silent actor, just like Charlie Chaplain. When World War II intervened, he joined the resistance, helping to get young Jews to safety during this dangerous time. But Marcel never forgot his dream of being a mime artist and entertaining the world.

Why do I like this book? What I learned stunned me. Honestly, all I knew of Marcel Marceau, before reading this book, was that he was a  French mime and performed on stage in white face makeup with a striped shirt and funny hat. As it turns out, Marcel was not French at all- only his last name, which he adopted later in life, was French. When Marcel was a boy he had a big, compassionate heart. During the time of Hitler, he helped to save many children from being sent to labor camps as well as helping to bring a number of Jewish children safely to the Swiss border (a dangerous task which he creatively and successfully carried out). More than an entertaining story of one man’s life, this biography opened my eyes to what can be accomplished when you don’t lose sight of your dream.

Author – Visit the Gloria Spielman’s blog here.

Illustrator – Visit Manon Gauthier’s blog here.

Would you like to watch Marcel Marceau perform? View a video here.

Pantomiming with Children – Cut slips of paper and write animal names and activities on some: flying bird, hungry mouse, chattering monkey, stretching cat, a giraffe with an itch, etc… On other slips write activities: opening a birthday present, baking cookies, writing a letter, brushing teeth. On other slips write emotions: happy, sad, angry, confused, frustrated, and excited. Shuffle the slips of paper and each take turns drawing a slip and seeing if, through pantomime, you can get others to guess what you are pretending.

Visit Susanna Hill’s blog for more ‘Perfect Picture Book Friday’ reviews here.

PPBF Looks at Star Stuff

When you were a child, did you discover anything that made you curious? And when a grownup gave you an explanation, did their answer send you searching for more answers to your new questions? This is what happened to Carl Sagan when, as a child, he wondered what the stars were. Today, for Perfect Picture Book Friday, I want to share a wonderful book about one boy’s curiosity and how furthering his knowledge brought him to his life’s passion and career.

Title – Star Stuff – Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos – view on Amazon here.

Written and Illustrated by – Stephanie Roth Sisson

Published by – Roaring Book Press -2014

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/theme  curiosity – astronomy

Opening – In the Milky Way galaxy… In a neighborhood of stars… On the third planet from our sun… In a big city… In a small apartment… Lived a boy named Carl.

Jacket copy  – Once a young boy looked up at the sky and wondered about stars. He wanted to know where they come from and what they are made of. So he went to the library and read books about space and the solar system. He imagined going to far away planets and learning what they are like. And when he grew up he made it his life’s work to tell everyone all the wonderful things he had learned about star stuff. This the story of Carl Sagan, the beloved scientist who taught the world to marvel at the mysteries of the cosmos and continues to inspire generations of dreamers and stargazers.

Amazon Review – For every child who has ever looked up at the stars and asked, “What are they?” comes the story of a curious boy who never stopped wondering: Carl Sagan.

When Carl Sagan was a young boy he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and his life was changed forever. From that day on he never stopped marveling at the universe and seeking to understand it better. Star Stuff follows Carl from his days star gazing from the bedroom window of his Brooklyn apartment, through his love of speculative science fiction novels, to his work as an internationally renowned scientist who worked on the Voyager missions exploring the farthest reaches of space. This book introduces the beloved man who brought the mystery of the cosmos into homes across America to a new generation of dreamers and star gazers.

Why do I like this book? Having a dad who was an astrophysicist, discussions of space travel, stars, and planets was a typical and favorite topic of discussion at the dinner table. When Carl Sagan Broadcast his TV show in 1980, The Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, my family gathered in the living room each week to watch the entire series. And now this picture book is available to inspire a new generation of star gazers and it is sure to whet their appetites about our marvelous galaxy. Or perhaps a young reader will follow the great example of Carl Sagan and take something that interests them, learn as much as they can on the subject, and see where their dream takes them.

Author – Visit the author’s blog here.

Learn more about Carl Sagan here. This website includes the beautiful music from the TV Program he presented in 1980.

PPBF looks at Punctuation Celebration

Today on Perfect Picture Book Friday, I would like to share a book that doubles as one of the most entertaining reference books I have ever come across for punctuation. From this day forth, learning the rules for using commas, a semicolons, periods, or ellipses will never leave a child stumped, stymied, or brain-strained. Between Elsa Knight Bruno’s clever explanations and examples and Jenny Whitehead’s colorful and whimsical illustrations, learning about a topic that many children find dull is now a celebration of pure fun!

Title – Punctuation Celebration – view on Amazon here.

Written by – Elsa Knight Bruno

Illustrated by – Jenny Whitehead

Published by – Christy Ottaviano Books – Henry Holt and Company – 2009

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/theme  learning punctuation rules

Opening – On your marks! Get set! Let’s go! To a sporty exploration into words and punctuation. We’ll meet the players, learn each name, and celebrate this special game.

Jacket copy  – Punctuation marks come alive in this clever picture book featuring fourteen playful poems. Periods stop sentences in a baker’s shop, commas help a train slow down, quotation marks tell people what to do, and colons stubbornly introduce lists. So come take part in the punctuation celebration!

Amazon Review – Punctuation marks come alive in this clever picture book featuring fourteen playful poems. Periods stop sentences in a baker’s shop, commas help a train slow down, quotation marks tell people what to do, and colons stubbornly introduce lists. This appealing primer is a surefire way to make punctuation both accessible and fun for kids.

Why do I like this book? Through whimsical, clever poetry, children are introduced in a painless, playful way to punctuation.  Each punctuation mark is given a clear explanation of where it should be used followed by a humorous poem that illustrates multiple examples of that punctuation mark in use. Even if a child understands punctuation, when reaching for a reference book on the topic, this is as fun and clear as I’ve ever heard it explained!

Author – YouTube video with the author here.

Illustrator – Visit Jenny Whitehead here.

PPBF Looks at What Does It Mean To Be Kind?

Yesterday when I was at the grocery store, the closest parking spot opened up, but I didn’t take it. I left it for someone else and parked further down. The exercise will do me good, (I’m still working off Christmas dinner…) and someone who really needs the closer spot will appreciate it.

Then, as I was waiting in line to pay for my groceries, a gentleman with two items in his arms stood behind me. So, I let him go ahead of me and my towering cart.

Last week when my daughter was practicing her guitar, I complimented her on all the notes and chords she played in tune and encouraged her to keep practicing, pointing out how far she has come in the few short months since she started lessons.

What do all these random acts of kindness have to do with writing?

They are further examples of ways we can all be kind, illustrated through text and pictures in today’s PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) review.

Title – What Does It Mean To Be Kind

Written by – Rana DiOrio

Illustrated by – Stephane Jorisch

Published by – Little Pickle Press , San Francisco, CA – 2015

Suitable for ages – 3  – 7

Topics/theme – kindness, friendship

Opening – What does it mean to be kind?

Amazon Review –  A girl in a red hat finds the courage to be kind to the new student in class. Her kindness spreads, kind act by kind act, until her whole community experiences the magical shift that happens when everyone understands―and acts on―what it means to be kind. The fifth book in Rana DiOrio’s award-winning What Does It Mean To Be …?® series, What Does It Mean To Be Kind? was named a 2015 Moonbeam Gold Medalist and won a Mom’s Choice Gold Award.

Why do I like this book?  Through sparse text and clear examples of acts of kindness, both children and adults can find, or be reminded of, simple, and much appreciated, ways to spread kindness. I also love the happy, uplifting illustrations created by the playful hand of Stephane Jorisch.

Author –Learn more about Rana DiOrio here.

Illustrator – Learn more about Stephane Jorisch here.

For more picture book reviews and recommendations, visit author Susanna Leonard Hills blog here.

START A CONVERSATION WITH A CHILD.  After sharing this book with a child (or with children) ask them to think of other ways they can be kind: at home, to their parents, to their siblings, to their pets, at school, to their teachers and friends, and also ways to be kind to our environment.

Why Do I Write For Children?

Earlier today I visited a blog that invited writers to answer a question: Why do I write for children? I didn’t have to take the time to consider this question. I only had to picture my daughter’s face and I had my answer.

Why do I write for children?

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

I never imagined I would write picture books until my daughter turned two. Night after night she would tell me NOT to read her a book. Instead, she asked me to tell a story I made up–just for her. She’d lead off with a character and a situation, (a princess with the sniffles or a dragon with a loose tooth) and then say, “Go!” And I’d have zero seconds to brainstorm a possible plot. No, not every story was good, and frankly, some of them were downright lousy, but still, she liked bedtime so much more because of this game we played. I loved seeing her eyes widen, her smile grow, and hear her wild applause when I finished.


I write for children because they openly love any amount of silliness in a story, they accept the improbable and impossible, they thrive on magical, and they believe with all their heart in happily ever after.

I write for children because I had a happy childhood filled with memories I never want to forget. Turning those memories into stories keeps them alive.

I write for children because their world keeps inspiring me. Yes, you read that right. their world. My world, the world adults live in, is a serious, rule-filled world with loads of responsibilities. But a child’s world is lived fully. Children live in the moment without thought or care if the dishes are washed and put away.

I write for children because the monster that lives under a child’s bed is as real to them as bills on our desk are to us.

I write for children because when I do, my mind is open to possibilities.  I think back to my childhood when I explored the forest with my sister. A fallen tree became a grand ship we co-captained. Squirrels scurrying under leaves were distant pirates. A bird perched high in the branches was our lookout. To our parents, we were playing on a dead tree, risking infection from a splinter or a bite from a spider. Strange how they could never see the tree for more than it was.

I write for children because it’s what I love.

Which Children's Book Character Are You Most Like? Take The Quiz.

Where The Wild Things Are

Yesterday was the first Wednesday I wasn’t able to get my prompts and Inspirations post up.

As Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch TV show said…

Gregg Brady

I know… I’m showing my age.

To make up for missing yesterday, I am posting a fun activity from BuzzFeed. Being a picture book enthusiast, writer of children’s stories, and dreamer, I couldn’t resist taking the quiz to discover which picture book character I am most like. Drum roll, please…

Which Children’s Book Character Are You?

  1. You got: Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”

    You’re a dreamer. Your escape is in your creative imagination, where you run wild with all your fantastic friends. Keep dreaming, just like Max, and the payoff will come before you know it!

  2. Maurice Sendak

After reading why I am most like Max, I smiled. So true. I spend hours each day rooting through my memories, creating characters for my stories, listening and looking for inspirations everywhere I go, over-the-top thrilled to listen when people have stories to share, and dreaming–an activity that appears as if I am staring at the walls (or napping) but is so much more involved.

I’d love for you to share which children’s book character you are most like. Here is the link. Have fun!


Vivid Writing Through Photographs – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AWe’re often told to write about what we know, and writing what we know goes hand in hand with placing our stories in locations we are intimately familiar with. After all, our goal is to bring the setting to life in a believable way. Sadly, writers of picture books (myself included) don’t have the luxury of drawing out setting details. Much of this must be left to the illustrator. The advice given to picture book writers is to take a highlighter over everything that can be illustrated. Then, read again, skipping over those (marvelous, vivid, fun-to-write, poetic) sections to see if the story still makes sense. What is crucial to the story stays as illustrator notes…everything else goes out. (sniff… ouch…)  But still, the reader needs a handful of well-chosen words to move them from their reality into the setting between the pages of your book. With the use of photographs, taken in your chosen location, you’ll have what it takes to do this.

I recently finished writing a picture book which takes place on a farm. Now, if I had chosen Peru as my setting, I wouldn’t have any first hand knowledge of life there. I wouldn’t know what the living conditions are for the poor, the middle class, or the rich. I wouldn’t know what the local food looks like, what the typical garments are made of, or what homes look like. This is where photographs come in handy. If you’re lucky enough to live near your chosen location, go there to document as much as you can with your camera (or phone camera). Does your story take place on a farm? Visit a farm, photograph the animals, their pens, the barn’s interior, the farmer at work, and take careful notes of everything surrounding you that awakens your other senses (smell comes to mind). If you aren’t fortunate to live near your chosen location, you can go online and search for images of Peru, if that’s where your story takes place. Print out the images of the surroundings at different times of day as well as during the season your story takes place in. Find images of the local food, typical animals, clothing, occupations, and faces of the people. Once you have gathered these photographs, make a scrap-book you can reference. You’ll find that your writing comes to life.

Some other places to get pictures and more of your chosen location.

Hawaii sunsetIf you plan on setting your story in Hawaii, but have never been there, maybe a friend of yours has. I can promise you, most people jump at the chance to share their vacation pictures and will, no doubt, have lots of details to share about the climate, cuisine, customs, and locals.

Check through your blog followers. You might be amazed at how many are from distant places around the world you would love your next novel to take place. What a great way, no… make that fabulous way, to learn about life in other parts of the world and make a friend, too.

Have you ever noticed how good it feels when someone wants to know about your travels and shows an interest in seeing your vacation pictures? “Really? You want to see my photographs from Italy? Over coffee? And cake?” You bubble over with excitement and spill out stories, experiences, amazing encounters, unique experiences, and more. Most people jump at the chance to share their experiences.

The process of writing is more enjoyable when we’ve researched every aspect of our story and have a stack of photographs before us.

Our writing becomes vivid.



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