Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hypnosis Harry

Do you remember, as a kid, your parents saying no to everything? Or, as a parent, do you get in arguments with your children about things they can and cannot do? (I vividly remember morning arguments when my oldest was a kindergartener and I insisted she couldn't wear dresses but needed to wear pants on gym days. Oh, the drama!)

Well, today's book examines what might happen if parents would just loosen up and start saying YES:

Hypnosis Harry by Catherine Bailey (author of Mind Your Monsters), illustrated by Sarita Rich (Sky Pony Press, 2016), tells the story of young Harry, who hypnotizes his parents into saying yes to his every whim. Cupcakes for dinner? Yes! Pet monkeys? Sure! No more broccoli -- ever? Absolutely!

However, getting his every desire isn't always satisfying, and things are kind of a mess. Harry soon realizes that when his parents would say no, it was truly for his own good. But wait -- what happened to grandfather's pocket watch?

Bailey's story is truly delightful. You can imagine all of the fun and messy ideas that a child might cook up, but then she examines the unintended consequences of some of those choices. She gently but clearly shows the loving boundaries that parents provide when they don't give their children everything they want. And the ending is just perfect -- satisfying and humorous all at once. :)

And Rich's illustrations do what illustrations ought -- they add another layer to the story. Her colorful and playful pictures show heaps of child-like wishes come true, and they build upon the author's words. I love that a child can listen to this story being read, while their eyes perceive new levels of meaning through the illustrations.

This author-illustrator pairing has produced a fun and meaningful book that children and adults will enjoy reading over and over again.

For further reading:



Thursday, April 21, 2016

One Special Book

I don't want to say too much about today's book because, well, it doesn't "say" anything at all! It is a wordless picture book that is both visually exhilarating and emotionally powerful:

The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche (Enchanted Lion Books, 2015) uses only illustrations to tell the story of two sisters. It opens with the sisters looking out of a window of a cabin in a snowy wood. One sister finds a rabbit in the snow, and an adventure ensues. Beyond that, I don't want to say too much about the plot, except to say that there is one page-turn in particular that is incredibly powerful.

How the artist is able to tell such a moving story without any words is fascinating, but Garoche nails it. As you can tell by the cover, the artwork is spectacular, and the pages are filled with dreamy scenes that seem to move beyond the page.

The dimensions of the illustrations give a 3-D appearance, and you feel like you are in the snowy scenes. Children can enjoy this book with a caregiver or on their own, and each page turn keeps the reader guessing at what is going on. It is certainly a unique reading experience.

I hope you enjoyed the brief glimpse into this story today. I encourage you to acquire this book and have your heart moved by this touching story!


Friday, April 15, 2016

Absolutely Aggie

 Use what talents you possess;
the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang best.
~Henry Van Dyke

When reading picture books, some are pure fun, some are touching, and some are educational. And they all have an important role in boosting an early love of reading. Add in a positive and affirming message of self-worth, and the picture book takes on another level of meaning.

Dust Fairy Tales: Absolutely Aggie (2015) is the second book from author-illustrator team Michelle Eastman and Kevin Richter. It tells the story of Aggie -- a loud, brassy, disheveled dust fairy who loves to play the bagpipes. But she doesn't fit in with the other fairies. They are graceful; she is not. Their wings shine; hers -- well, perhaps they manage to hide her slouching socks. No matter how Aggie tries, she just can't change, and it is defeating.

She takes to hiding away at night, sad and alone. But, she still plays her bagpipes -- she loves her music, even if it isn't perfect.

One night, her music catches the ear of another fairy (and his companion snail -- so cute!), who invites her to join his band. They love her. And even though they don't hit every note, Aggie absolutely gets to be herself. It's a perfect fit.

This book has such an important message to share with children. Aggie wasn't happy when she was trying to be anything other than herself -- and I want my kids to know that their true happiness and meaning will come when they are being who they are meant to be. People will come into our lives who complement our true selves, and that is true friendship.

In addition to this big message of self-worth, Eastman has created a mythical fairy world that is enchanting. She urges young listeners to pay attention at night to see if they can hear Aggie and her band, which adds to the magical ambience of the book. Her rhyming, lyrical meter paired with Richter's vibrant and detailed illustrations create a world that children will want to visit again and again.

I hope you will read this one with your kiddos soon!

For more on Michelle and Kevin, click the links below:

Happy Friday!


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On Running and Writing

Have you ever heard someone say, "I'm just going out for a quick two-mile run"? I used to hear people say that sort of thing, and I'd marvel. A quick two-mile run? That sounds so easy and effortless! But when I would attempt any sort of run, I'd get to the end of the block and already want to quit.

But something about running was so appealing to me. I aspired to be the sort of person who looked at a beautiful day or some natural trail and felt compelled to -- literally -- run out and enjoy it, pushing myself, growing stronger, breathing it in. But, it was so daunting, and I felt like an imposter if I quit after half a mile. Why couldn't I go out and do the effortless two-mile run?

About a year ago, I committed to a team trail race called the KT82. Teams of six run a relay along 82 miles of the Katy Trail near the Missouri river. I procrastinated training as long as I could, but then, not wanting to let the team down, I got serious. At first, it was horrible. I did not enjoy it. Even when the training runs were over, I felt discouraged. But I kept getting out there because the team was counting on my contribution. And something happened: I got better. I got faster. And I started to enjoy it.

I've been running ever since, and now, I proudly call myself a runner. (confetti emoji!)

I'm wondering if writing has some parallels to running. As I always wanted to be a real runner, I've also always dreamed of being a real writer. But I'm at the place where I'm just starting out -- where I've committed to this race and need to do the training -- but it's daunting. The end goal seems so far off, and I'm often discouraged.

But then I remember that becoming a runner took time and effort. It took showing up and, sometimes, baby steps. It was often slow, and I was embarrassed when people would see me bumbling along. But I'm going to keep showing up in hopes of growing stronger with each effort.

I had a motivating exchange with author Josh Funk on my Instagram account, when I said something about wishing I could write as dynamically as he. He said, "It just takes practice." So simple, and can that really be true? Well, I'm taking it to heart and trying.

Finally, I also adore the words of author Kate Dicamillo, who's quoting Dorothy Parker, when she says, "I hate writing. I love having written." Yep, even as it is so very difficult to make yourself get out of bed to run in the morning, you never regret having done it. You only regret not making the effort.

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Back to regularly-scheduled programming tomorrow -- I have a review of a wonderful book!

Happy Wednesday,

Monday, April 11, 2016

I Loathe You (and a podcast)

We all know the story of Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare from Guess How Much I Love You. Their story of one-upping the expanse of their love for each other is a classic. Well, have you ever considered how monsters express their love for one another? You haven't? Then run out and grab this book immediately:

I Loathe You, written and illustrated by David Slonim (Aladdin, 2012), tells the heart-warming story of Big Monster and Little Monster and the expanse of their loathing. With the typical pre-bedtime "I loathe you" uttered, Little Monster begins a series of questions about how much Big Monster loathes him. Big Monster has plenty of answers ready:

More than fuzzy mold on cheese,
more than fever or disease!
Picture lobsters pinching me...
I loathe you more -- now do you see?

Little Monster is reassured. But wait -- now he's worried that he might do something to diminish his father's loathing for him!

If I blurt out "THANKS," or "PLEASE"?
Or take a bath and kill my fleas?
If I should slip and just obey
then would your loathing go away?
Big Monster once again calms Little Monster's worries and assures him that his loathing will never go away.

What a hoot! I love a book with a twist, and this once certainly makes you feel warm and fuzzy about family loathing. :) Slonim's storytelling in rhyme is fun and well-paced, and he employs just the right amount of monsterly description to make you say "ew..." And his illustrations are equally important to the story: you feel for Little Monster with his snaggle-toothed lovey, and the colorful scenes have action and comedy and excellent framing.

I hope you enjoy!

* * *

In other news, I have really been enjoying the treasure trove of ideas and wisdom that I've found in the newly-launched All the Wonders podcast (previously named the "Let's Get Busy" podcast).

I'm training for a trail run at the beginning of June, and, rather than listening to music while I run, I love listening to podcasts. It's killing two birds with one stone to be training AND absorbing information and inspiration. I know it won't all stick, but certain nuggets will. So thankful for this resource!

Happy Monday!


Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Thing About Jellyfish

Have you ever read a book that, besides the compelling plot and characters, employs a tone which just pulls you in? To Kill a Mockingbird is one such book for me, but so is today's featured book: The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin (Little, Brown and Company, 2015).

When I cracked open this book, my kids were up and running around post-dinner, and I still managed to read half of it in one sitting. It is that much of a smooth page-turner!

The premise is that Suzy loses her once-best-friend to tragedy, and has decided to stop speaking as she works through her grief. She cannot understand how people are satisfied with saying "Sometimes things just happen," and seeks a better explanation for her friend's death. While on a school field trip, she becomes convinced that a rare jellyfish sting is what caused her friend to drown, and sets out to prove it. 

Divided into sections based on the Scientific Method, the book follows Suzy as she makes a hypothesis and plans a procedure for proving her theory. But it is the Background of her story that has her consumed: she is plagued with confusion and regret. Through her whole-hearted focus on her investigation, she hopes to makes sense of it all.

This book is inspiring and heart-breaking all at the same time. Suzy's family is incredibly supportive and give her the space she needs to grieve in her own way. I found myself taking notes from these fictional characters on how to love someone where they are. But it also evokes thoughts and emotions of past friendships, broken relationships, regret, and loss. It is powerfully moving.

Written in a graceful and honest tone, with fascinating information about jellyfish and their world, and themes of love, loss, and belonging, it is truly a book you won't want to put down. And it has garnered much praise: it is a New York Times Bestseller, a National Book Award Finalist, and has also been applauded for encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Ali Benjamin has said that this book was born out of a failed attempt to write a nonfiction book on jellyfish. Well, I'm sure glad she pursued this story from a different angle. Enjoy.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast

I have been reading quite a few rhyming picture books for RhyPiBoMo, but my very favorite so far has got to be Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; illustrated by Brendan Kearney (Sterling Children's Books, 2015).

I mean, the title alone is ridiculously irresistible!

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are hanging out in the back of the fridge when they are alerted by Miss Brie that the maple syrup is almost gone. There begins a frantic footrace past all of the refrigerator residents. There is some mocking -- and some gloating -- until finally, covered in goo, they realize that yet another breakfast royalty has beaten them to the bottle.

This could very well be considered a book on manners and/or sibling rivalry, for the foods realize that, had they not been bickering, they probably could have attained the syrup themselves. But the book is not at all preachy; it is delightful to read. Funk's descriptions of the various food zones in the fridge are creative and clever, and his use of rhyme is impeccable, employing multisyllabic rhyming words to tell a story that is not at all forced.

In perfect complement to the text are Kearney's playful and amusing illustrations. With colorful pages filled with smiling broccoli, skiing toast, and a triumphant Lady sailing on a loaf of French bread, the book holds much to engage a child.

I highly recommend reading this one with your kiddos soon!

One more note: Take a look around Josh Funk's website. Not only will you learn more about his other books set to be published, but you will also find a Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast activity pack and a tab of resources for writers. Lots of great gems to learn from there!

Happy reading!


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Come in!

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

~from Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

In honor of National Poetry Month and Rhyming Picture Book Month, I wanted to share a short but dynamic poem by the beloved Shel Silverstein. I remember laying on the floor for hours as a child with Where the Sidewalk Ends or The Light in the Attic -- books that my mom had brought home from her 2nd grade classroom -- and reading the poems over and over. I had many favorites, and they still have such value to this day.

Happy Sunday!


Friday, April 1, 2016


Well, it's April 1st, which means it is

Rhyming Picture Book Month!

And that ain't no joke.

I'm very excited to improve my craft while making new connections. I entered a little rhyming ditty to Vivian Kirkfield's "50 Precious Words Contest" last month, and I've got the beginnings of another poem and manuscript. I really enjoy writing in verse, and I'm excited for what I'll learn.

If you are a writer or lover of children's picture books, registration is still open through April 8. Just click the RhyPiBoMo badge to the right and it will take you to Angie's blog.

Rhyming picture books that I have blogged about thus far:

Happy Friday!