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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Picture Books, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 7,697
26. Worst of Friends

Worst of Friends. Suzanne Jurmain. Illustrated by Larry Day. 2011. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the best of friends--even though they were completely different. John was fat. Tom was thin. Tom was tall and John was short. Tom was rich and John was not. John was fond of telling jokes. Tom liked to play the violin. And that was only the beginning. Excitable John could talk for five hours straight without stopping. Quiet Tom didn't say "three sentences together" in public.

Premise/plot: Worst of Friends by Suzanne Jurmain chronicles the friendship and feud of two founding fathers--both Presidents--John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The first eight pages focuses on their deep friendship. Fifteen pages focus on their very bitter feud. The cause of the feud? POLITICS, of course. The last six pages are perhaps the best of all, showing how the feud ended in 1812. The two remained friends the rest of their lives. They both died July 4, 1826.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved the narrative style. It was very conversational and reader-friendly. Not just simple enough for young readers to understand, but it was also actively engaging--lively even.

I also loved the illustrations by Larry Day. They were practically perfect in my opinion!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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27. Aaron and Alexander

Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History. Don Brown. 2015. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Aaron and Alexander could have been friends. They were alike in many ways. But the ways in which they were different made them the worst of enemies.

Premise/plot: Don Brown compares and contrasts the lives of two men--two patriots--Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The book does a great job in providing context for the now-more-famous-than-ever duel between Burr and Hamilton. The narrative is straight-forward and engaging.

My thoughts: I definitely liked it. I can say I like the narrative more than the illustrations. I thought the narrative was good and age-appropriate.

Is it text-heavy? Not really. I'd say it was very well balanced actually. It is still for older readers. (I don't imagine anyone reading this one out to kindergartners or first graders.) I'd say it's for the 9 to 99 crowd.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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28. Duel!

Duel: Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words. Dennis Brindell Fradin. Illustrated by Larry Day. 2008. Walker. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The two enemies had much in common, starting with difficult childhoods.

Premise/plot: A picture book biography focusing on the lives of two founding fathers, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The book slowly but surely builds its way towards the DUEL between the two men; the duel that will end the life of one and ruin the career of the other. As part of the context for understanding the duel, a little bit of American history is unpacked for readers, highlighting the roles both men had during American's war for independence and the turbulent decades afterwards as the United States of America came into existence. The book illustrates that politics always involves DRAMA.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I really do. I think it is definitely a picture book for older readers though. Not all picture books are intended as fun readalouds for preschoolers and kindergartners. The text keeps the story moving--it's quite lively at times. The author notes that both men were to blame for the duel.

I definitely liked the illustrations by Larry Day.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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29. The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson and Fred Blunt




Michelle Robinson's elevator pitch for her newest picture book The Forgetful Knight, illustrated by Fred Blunt, goes like this, "A medieval, Monty Python-esque romp that you'll never forget - unless you get bashed on the head by a dragon." To this spot on description I would also add that playful rhyming tells this clever tale, which has illustrations that equally match the silliness of the story, calling to mind the fantastic Fractured Fairy Tales as seen on the Rocky & Bullwinkle show.

The Forgetful Knight begins, "Once upon an olden day / A knight in armor rode away. / Then again . . . / He had no horse. / Did I say 'rode'? / He strode, of course."  The knight strides across the land, a sandwich in his hand. No, not a sandwich, a sword. But what is he off to do? If he could just remember! Eventually, the knight gets there - both mentally and physically, remembering that he needs to slay a dragon, the dragon who ate his best friend and faithful steed, along with a lot of people's pets. Happily, Sir Clopalot has not been digested and one good headbutt causes a cough from the dragon big enough to send all his lunches back out onto dry land, so to speak.


The Forgetful Knight doesn't end there. The knight makes further demands of the dragon, some more head bashing between the two goes on and some feelings are hurt, then mended. Then comes the big reveal - the narrator just happens to be the Forgetful Knight himself! Robinson and Blunt have created a very fun book that is a joy to read out loud and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Source: Review Copy 

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30. An Apple Pie For Dinner

An Apple Pie for Dinner. Susan VanHecke. Illustrated by Carol Baicker-McKee. 2009. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: One day, old Granny Smith wanted an apple pie for dinner. She looked around her cozy kitchen. She had flour and butter. She had sugar and spices. But there was one thing she didn't have.

Premise/plot: Granny Smith wants to make an apple pie but has no apples. What will she do? She'll take a good look at what she does have--plums, in this case, and make the most of it. She herself has no use for plums--at least not that day--but someone, somewhere will. So Granny Smith sets off to go trading...

My thoughts: I really LOVE this one. It's based on an English folktale. I'm not sure how familiar that original folk tale is today, but, it felt vaguely almost familiar to me. It was a relief to learn that it was inspired by a folk tale. I liked Granny Smith very much. I liked how she set about to do things and actually got things done. I liked all the people she met along the way. I liked how she included them in the ending and asked them to share the pie! The illustrations are very unique and handcrafted.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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31. Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole


Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet is a rhyming cautionary tale about getting to know a pet before you interact with it. Just hearing the title of this new book by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole and you know you are in for a good laugh. And, even though I knew what was coming, I still laughed out loud and had to put the book down for a minute when it happened. 



What knocks Ferocious Fluffity out of the park are Perl's perfectly paced rhymes and Cole's expressively hilarious illustrations. Even though Mr. Drake, the teacher cautions the class, "Look -don't touch. She's too little. It's too much," the one morning he is late to school and the class can't wait to get their hands on Fluffity. They find out very quickly that Fluffity can't wait to get her teeth in them...  Cole's illustrations of the ferocious hamster lunging, teeth bared, are fantastic. Once things settle down and Fluffity is back in her cage, the class figures out how to meet her needs (with more hilarious illustrations) and they even feel ready for a second class pet. I'll give you a clue - this pet's name (and species) rhymes with cake.

Source: Review Copy



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32. Strictly No Elephants

Strictly No Elephants. Lisa Mantchev. Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The trouble with having a tiny elephant for a pet is that you never quite fit in.

Premise/plot: Readers meet a boy and his pet elephant in Lisa Mantchev's Strictly No Elephants. The book recognizes loneliness and celebrates friendship. One day the boy and his elephant want to go to a pet club meeting, but neither is allowed inside because of a sign that states: strictly no elephants. He's sad, but, hope is not lost for he soon meets a girl with a pet skunk. Together the two decide to form a club of their own where ALL are welcome.

My thoughts: I really, really liked this one. I read it several times, and liked it more each time. I liked the text. I liked the message. The text incorporates little lessons about friendship into the text. It isn't completely seamless, but, it works for me just fine. The illustrations are practically perfect. Loved them!!!

Watch the Emily Arrow video.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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33. Be A Friend

Be A Friend. Salina Yoon. 2016. Bloomsbury. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Dennis was an ordinary boy...who expressed himself in extraordinary ways.

Premise/plot: Dennis (aka "Mime Boy") is lonely until he finds someone who really, truly gets him. Her name is Joy. And they can be friends without saying a single word. So long as they can use jazz hands to laugh together!

My thoughts: I love this one. I do. It is cute, sweet, and true. What a celebration of friendship...and imagination...and being true to yourself. My favorite line: There was no wall between Dennis and Joy. It was more like a mirror.

Do watch the Emily Arrow song.

Text: 4.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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34. Aloha

A small friend is turning 6 in two weeks.
She lives across the country,  
and we can't make it to the luau party.
We can't come for cake and balloons and birthday hugs,
but we can send pineapples
and kitties
and fancy toothpicks.
 They're like tiny, paper aloha hugs.
 

So, in shuttling wildebeests to soccer camp lately, 
I have discovered a few good surprises 
in being the carpool soccer mom.

 Books on CD. 
Car-goofy kids.
And sketchbook time
 while all my soccer players 
do their runs and drills.
Big chunks of sketchbook time 
help when working out new ideas.

 It's funny that I can sketch happy around a crowd, 
but I can't write a drop.
My thoughts turn to stone and my stories sink.
 But then, that's kind of a theme for me with words anytime lately.

I know some writers who scribble serious magic 
in coffee shops and airplanes. 

What about you?

When do you do your deep story work?
Can you create masterpieces with everyone there?
Do you thrive with hum and buzz?
Or do you like a hush when you create?

 


Wherever you find yourself this week,
I wish you peaceful breezes, sweet surprises, and
aloha.


Books {and CD books} we're enjoying this week:

Captain Cat by Inga Moore
Dream Friends by You Byun
Ling and Ting Share a Birthday by Grace Lin
Ling and Ting: Together in All Weather by Grace Lin
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, ill. by Catia Chien
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin 
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko
The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof by Annie M. G. Schmidt 
 
 







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35. Picture Book Monday with a review of Bob the artist

Most of us have something about our bodies that we don't like, that we wish we could change. Our hair is too straight/curly. Our legs are too fat/skinny. Our lips are too plump/thin. In this book you will meet a bird who, thanks to the remarks of others, thinks his legs are too thin. You will also see how, thanks to a fortuitous visit to an art gallery, the bird finds a very unique solution to his problem.

Bob the ArtistBob the artist
Marion Denchars
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Laurence King, 2016, 978-1-78067-767-5
One day Bob the bird decides to go for a walk. It is a beautiful day and he sets off in good humor on his “fine legs.” Unfortunately, Bob seems to be the only animal who thinks his legs are fine. Cat thinks that they are skinny, and Owl thinks that Bob has a “funny stick walk.” Worse still the other birds all make comments about how “puny” Bob’s legs are. Not surprisingly, all this teasing makes Bob feel rather blue. He decides that what he needs to do is to do lots of exercise to make his legs bigger.
   Bob goes to the gym and he diligently lifts weights, runs, and does yoga poses. When that does not work, he tries eating a lot to gain weight, but, as so often happens, the weight ends up all around his middle and none of it goes into his thin legs.
   Bob finally determines that the only thing to do is to hide his legs under clothes, but the leg warmers, skirts, and coats just make him feel “ridiculous.”
   Bob then visits an art gallery. The colors and designs that he sees on the canvasses inspire him to do something unique and creative about his leg problem.
   Children are going to love seeing how Bob finds a wonderful, and colorful, solution to a problem that makes him very unhappy. Art therapy comes in many forms and this one is truly unique.

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36. Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator

Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator. Mo Willems. 2011. HarperCollins. 72 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence of the first story: Amanda was at the library getting her books for the week. Her alligator was not. He was waiting for Amanda to get back.
Want to read 6 1/2 surprising stories about 2 surprising friends? What if those stories are written by Mo Willems?!

I am a BIG, BIG fan of Mo Willems. I am. So I was so excited to read Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator. I was happy to discover six (and a half) stories about a little girl, Amanda, and her best friend, a stuffed toy alligator. It was wonderful to see how many stories highlight Amanda's love for reading. Willems' shares with readers the titles of Amanda's library books: How to Raise a Tiger, Whale Songs for Beginners, Climbing Things for Fun and Profit, and You Can Make It Yourself: Jet Packs! (I thought the titles were clever--my favorites being Climbing Things for Fun and Profit and You Can Make It Yourself: Jet Packs!) The stories are just fun and imaginative and--at times--sweet.

For example, in "A Surprising Value," Alligator is worried--and a bit sad--to discover that he's only "worth" seven cents. That he, in fact, came from the sale bucket. But Amanda reassures her dear friend that there was a very good reason no one else wanted to buy him,
"No one wanted to buy you because they knew you were meant to be my best friend." After that, Alligator felt better. (And that's the truth.) (44-45)
I also enjoyed the last story, "A Surprising Discovery." In that story, Alligator is again worried. This time he's worried because Amanda has brought home 'a surprise' from her day at the zoo. She's brought home a new toy, a stuffed panda. This panda does NOT look like it was from the sale bucket. No, the panda definitely cost more than seven cents. So Alligator isn't all that happy about this new friend. Not until he realizes that Panda is great fun. Alligator used to spend his time waiting for Amanda; spent his time being bored, bored, bored. But with Panda around? Well, it's fun to "wait" for Amanda! Here's one of my favorite quotes from that story:
When Amanda comes home, we will have fun, thought Alligator.
We will sing songs!
We will dress up!
We will make discoveries!
Maybe Amanda will have another surprise for me!
Alligator smiled.
"Surprise!" yelled Amanda, swinging open the door. "Look what Grandpa got for me at the zoo!"
It was a panda.
The panda was huge.
The panda was fluffy.
The panda did not look like it came from the sale bucket.
Alligator did not like Amanda's surprise. (58-60)
I enjoyed all the stories. I did. And I would definitely recommend this one.


Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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37. Take me too - Illustration process


Another new video showing more of my illustration process from the picture book Take Ted Instead (written by Cassandra Webb).

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38. Babl Books at ALA

I am excited that Babl Books, whose mission is to offer bilingual picture books, including mine, to kids everywhere,  will be at ALA this weekend. They are sharing a booth with We Need Diverse Books. Check them out if you go! BABL BOOKS will exhibiting at the  ALA Conference in Orlando – Jun 24-27 Find […]

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39. IBBY Review: Freddie and the Fairy by Julia Donaldson and Karen George

Freddie and the Fairy, written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Karen George (Macmillan Children's Books, 2015) - IBBY Outstanding Books For and About Young People with Disabilities

I Am Not My Disability: Outstanding Books For and About Young People with Disabilities

Every two … Continue reading ...

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40. Picture Book Monday with a review of Mr. Hulot at the beach

When I was growing up on the island of Cyprus, summer was all about going to the beach. Here in Oregon we have lots of beaches, but only nutters venture into the water because it is so cold. Sunbathing isn't really an option either much of the time because it is too chilly. Still, the beaches are beautiful and we all enjoy walking and tide pooling, and my husband spends hours looking for rocks.

Since summer is now officially here, I thought I would kick things off with a beach book. Enjoy!

Mr. Hulot at the BeachMr. Hulot at the beach
David Merveille
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
NorthSouth, 2016, 978-0-7358-4254-0
It is a sunny day at the seaside and Mr. Hulot is going to spend some time on the beach. He has a deck chair, an umbrella, a tennis racket and everything else a gentleman might need for such an expedition. He buys a newspaper and then heads for the sands, where he fights with the deck chair for a while trying to get it to cooperate. Which it does. Sort of.
   As he reads his newspaper, an inflated beach ball lands on Mr. Hulot. Some people might get upset by a disturbance of this sort, but Mr. Hulot does not mind. He kicks the ball to the little boy it belongs to and, in the process, Mr. Hulot’s shoe comes flying off and lands in the water. He manages to rescue the shoe (using his shrimping net) and then puts it on top of his umbrella to dry.
   A passing seagull sees the shoe and decides that it is just what it needs. It swoops down and carries off the shoe, with Mr. Hulot in hot pursuit. Causing a great disruption at the hotel, Mr. Hulot climbs up onto the roof of the building to retrieve the shoe, only to find that the seagull has laid some eggs in it. There is nothing for it. Mr. Hulot returns to the ground shoe-less.
   One would think that this escaped would be more than enough of an adventure for one man to have during a sojourn at the seaside, but Mr. Hulot is not your average man and so more misadventures lie in wait for him after he returns to the beach.
   Inspired by the work of the French comic actor and filmmaker, Jacques Tati, David Merveille brings Tati’s wonderful Mr. Hulot character to life in this, his second, Mr. Hulot book. The story is wordless and takes readers on a wonderful series of mishaps that are sweetly funny.

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41. Review: Kangaroo Kisses by Nandana Dev Sen and Pippa Curnick

Kangaroo Kisses, written by Nandana Dev Sen, illustrated by Pippa Curnick (Otter-Barry Books, 2016) - great bedtime story

 

Kangaroo Kisses
written by Nandana Dev Sen, illustrated by Pippa Curnick
(Otter-Barry Books, 2016)

 
Children and parents alike may … Continue reading ...

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42. Hiding with Ted - Illustration process


This video shows my illustration process in fast forward. I scanned my pencil drawing and greyscale watercolour washes, then coloured in photoshop.

I originally illustrated this for the cover of, Take Ted Instead, a picture book written by Cassandra Webb (New Frontier Publishing, 2016). However, I had to change the orientation layout of the boy and Ted to standing position, so the illustration would fit nicely around the words. 

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43. Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke



Ben Hatke is a gifted graphic novelist who creates stories perfectly balance themes of family, bravery, and belonging with wonderfully detailed illustrations and characters you won't forget. For his second picture book, Nobody Likes a Goblin, Hatke visits a medieval world where even a goblin needs a friend.


Goblin has a daily routine, and his best friend, Skeleton, is part of it. Skeleton lives in the Treasure Room and one day while  he and Goblin are goofing around with the treasures, the room is raided! Goblin decides to abandon the safety of his routine and head out into the world to find his friend. He stops to as a hill troll if he has seen anything and in the process agrees to find the troll's "Honk-Honk," which was also plundered. The troll's parting words warn Goblin to be careful because, "Nobody like a Goblin." Across the fields and through the village, with an angry horde (that includes a few warrior women) on his little green tail, Goblin searches and rescues. The two hide out in a cave where Goblin finds his tribe. Together, with a ghost and one of the warrior women, the new tribe delivers Honk-Honk to his owner and settles down in the dungeon for a fine feast.


This adventurous and rollicking story might sound simple, but Hatke's magnificent watercolor and ink illustrations add an an almost cinematic layer to the text. There are many little details to be pored over and humans and creatures alike to be examined. The palette is gently pastoral, making the creatures and the action less than scary, despite the caves, bats, rats and skeletons. Nobody Likes a Goblin is enchanting, entertaining and timeless.



Source: Review Copy

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44. The Biggest Little Brother book is underway...




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45. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week,Plus What I Did Last Week,Featuring Yasmeen Ismail and Qin Leng

“… but I’m sweet and sour, not a little flower!”— From Yasmeen Ismail’s I’m a Girl!(Click to enlarge spread)   “‘One of my dads is tall and one is short. They both give good hugs.'”— From Sara O’Leary’s A Family Is a Family Is a Family, illustrated by Qin Leng(Click to enlarge spread)   Today […]

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46. Sophie's Squash Go to School

Sophie is back and so are Bonnie and Baxter, the two gourds that became Sophie's friends at the end of Sophie's Squash. In her latest adventure, Sophie tests the social waters as she maneuvers the first days of school. Although her parents assure her that school will be fun, Sophie is certain that it won't be. And of course her prediction comes true, especially when some her classmates wonder if Bonnie and Baxter are edible.

Sophie's rough adjustment to school is made even harder by Steven Green. Cheerful Steven isn't a bully. He just wants to be Sophie's friend. But Sophie doesn't want friends and rebuffs his overtures. She already has friends, she tells Steven, and shows him her squash. Sophie fights the good fight against Steven's attempts to become her friend, but she finds the classroom especially lonely after she temporarily says goodbye to Bonnie and Baxter. Now friendless, stubborn Sophie still resists the ever eager Steven. Events come to a head when Steven inadvertently tears Sophie's drawing of Bonnie and Baxter. How Sophie and Steven work out their differences and become friends will delight young readers and show them that "sometimes growing a friend just takes time."

Zietlow Miller's charming story is sure to strike a chord with readers who will soon be facing their own first day of school and all the worries that big event can bring. And Wilsdorf's illustrations are crammed with whimsical details for readers to ponder. Sophie's messy yet creative bedroom alone provides valuable insight into her character.

Sophie's Squash Go to School
By Pat Zietlow
Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Schwartz & Wade  40 pages
Published: June 2016

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47. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #487: Featuring Lynn Rae Perkins

Good morning, dear Imps! I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Lynne Rae Perkins’s Frank and Lucky Get Schooled (Greenwillow, June 2016), which is such an excellent picture book. Normally, I like to link to these reviews from here at 7-Imp so that I can also show you some art from the book. But […]

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48. Picture Book Monday with a review of Tupelo Rides the Rails

Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy looking for a place that we can call home. Often what we are really looking for are the right people, the people who can make anyplace a home for us because they are there. Today's picture book tells the story of a dog who is looking for a place to call her own. It is a sweet and life affirming story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Tupelo Rides the RailsTupelo Rides the Rails
Melissa Sweet
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008, 978-0-618-71714-9
One day Tupelo’s humans dump her, and her sock toy, on the side of the road. Tupelo cannot understand why they would do such a thing, and does not know where she should go next. Not being the kind of dog who gives up, and believing that “Everyone belongs somewhere,” Tupelo picks up her toy, Mr. Bones, and she sets off to find her place.
   At first none of the animals she encounters is interested in having her join “their tribe,” but then Tupelo picks up the whiff of something wonderful. She follows the scent and comes across a pack of dogs that are taking part in a bone-burying ritual. They all make a wish to Sirius, the Dog Star, and then bury a bone as an offering to him. The dogs believe that the ritual will bring them “good luck and fortune.”
   Under the glimmer of Sirius the dogs all make their wishes and then bury their bones. All of them except Tupelo. She has no bone to bury and she cannot bear to bury Mr. Bones. Instead of wishing, Tupelo decides to follow the dog pack. The dogs are fed by a hobo called Garbage Pail Tex and then the man and all the dogs hop on a train. The hobo tells the dogs about famous dogs from history, dogs like Lassie and Toto. He sings them a bedtime song too, and Tupelo wishes that the ride will “last forever.”
  When they arrived in Hoboken, Garbage Pail Tex and some of his hobo friends set about reuniting the lost dogs with their families, and finding homes for the others. One by one the dogs go off to be with people who will love and cherish them. Finally, Tupelo is the only one left and she is alone once more with no one for company except Mr. Bones.
   In this lovely story about a dog who is looking for a home, Melissa Sweet combines her charming multimedia artwork with a narrative that readers of all ages will love. Anyone who has felt lost and alone at some point will appreciate how Tupelo feels as she tries to find her place.

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49. Painting with Rainbows – A Michael Foreman Exhibition at Seven Stories

On Friday I finally made it up to Newcastle to catch the National Centre for Children’s Books, Seven Stories’ exhibition Painting with Rainbows – A Michael Foreman Exhibition, which closes today (sorry!). The good news is that it will be heading out on tour: so far, it’s … Continue reading ...

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50. Picture Books and All That Jazz: A Report from Honesdale, PA

NOVEL REVISION RETREAT

September 9-11!

Get more information!


A report from Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA.

On Friday, June 10, 2016, twenty picture book writers joined Leslie Helakoski and Kelly Bennett for Picture Books and All That Jazz 2016. It was a great weekend! See the Facebook album of photos.

Leslie Helakoski, author-illustrator, co-teaches the Picture Books and All that Jazz retreat. | DarcyPattison.com
Author-illustrator Leslie Helakoski, co-teacher of Picture Books and All That Jazz 2016.
Kelly Bennett joined the faculty for Picture Books and All That Jazz 2016. | Darcypattison.com
Author Kelly Bennett taught about using Mentor Texts and helped with critiques.

The writers represented all levels from raw beginners to those on the cusp of selling something. Our job was to help them move along the journey of being a children’s book author.

The first night was intense: we spent three hours talking about the basics of picture books from length of printed book to the length of manuscripts that sell well. Character, plot, language–basic topics took most of the night’s material.

Some participants said that within the first hour, they were mentally rewriting their picture books!

Focusing Statement: Start Your Picture Book with a Bang

One helpful exercise was the Focusing Statement:

This is a story about ________________
Who more than anything else wants ___________________,
But can’t because:
1)
2)
3)
UNTIL _______________________________________.

When you get an idea for a picture book, it’s helpful to focus it by working on the narrative arc like this. If you have the focusing statement right, it shapes the story as you write.

Picture Book Language

On Saturday, discussion turned to the language used in picture books. Because they are read aloud, it’s not necessary to strictly limit your vocabulary choices. However, there’s a delicate balance of interesting words and maintaining clarity for the reader and audience.

My B.A. is in Speech Pathology and my M.A. is in Audiology. My favorite college class was phonics, or how the mouth changes shape to create various sounds. This knowledge of phonics has been extremely helpful in writing children’s books because the rhythm, voice and meaning are all affected by the sounds we choose. For example, if you are writing a lullaby, you don’t want to use harsh sounds such as d, t, k, g. Instead, choose words with liquid sounds such as l, w, r. At the PB&J retreat, we spent a session exploring how phonics affects the success of a picture book manuscript.

Picture Book Dummies

I love the process of cutting up a manuscript and pasting it into a dummy book. It’s easy to see if you have enough action images for an illustrator, or if you only have talking heads. When you read the manuscript as it will be laid out in a 32-page book, you suddenly see that this section is too long, that one is too short, and this one just doesn’t advance the story. Page turns become crucial. It’s a fun part of the process.

Picture Book Round Table Critiques

One fun part of the retreat is digging into the manuscripts. Participants were divided into three groups and assigned a table chaired by Kelly, Leslie, or myself. We read through each manuscript and talked about what was working, and then turned to the author’s next step in revising. The most common recommendation was the cut or tighten the prose. Some manuscripts went from 1000 to 350 words over the course of the weekend and the three critique sessions.

First Pages with Editor

Kelsey Murphy, asst. editor at Balzer and Bray (Harpercollins) | DarcyPattison.com
Asst. Editor Kelsey Murphy talked about tightening manuscripts and did a First Pages session.

As the weekend progressed, excitement built because on Sunday afternoon, we held a First Pages session with visiting editor Kelsey Murphy of Balzer & Bray (Harpercollins). This is a common session in writing conferences wherein the editor listens to someone read aloud the first page of a manuscript. Then she makes comments. Kelsey was generous with her comments pointing out what worked, why it might or might not work for her company, and generally encouraging the writer.

That wasn’t enough excitement, though, because while Balzer & Bray is usually closed to unsolicited submissions, Kelsey will take submissions for a month from this group. That kept the excitement high as writers worked to incorporate her comments in their next revision.

This is the third year that Leslie and I have taught the PB&J session at Highlights and it was exciting for us. The enthusiasm was high, writers bonded and created critique groups and everyone made great strides in their writing. A career isn’t built on a single book; instead it takes a concentrated effort over a long period of time. But the foundation laid this weekend for writers was amazing. Look out! These writers are going to do fantastic things!

Yes, we’ll be offering PB&J next summer at Highlights again. I’ll announce it on my blog when registration is open.


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September 9-11!

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