Tag Archive: writing

poem in your pocket

A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

The third in the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, this book focuses on Elinor, a girl who just wants everything to be perfect.  Unfortunately though, poetry and perfection really don’t work together no matter whether you are talking haikus, concrete poems or rhyming stanzas.  A poet is going to be visiting their school and Elinor desperately wants to impress her with her poetry.  But as the time goes by, the pressure builds and Elinor becomes less and less able to write poetry.  When she finally does start writing, she’s not happy with any of the poems she has written.  Can the kind teacher Mr. Tiffin find a way to let Elinor know that it’s OK to make mistakes?  Maybe this is a job for a poet!

This is a wonderful addition to an already strong series.  McNamara “perfectly” captures the trap of perfectionism for students and the pressure that it builds in a person.  Tying it to poetry was inspired, something that doesn’t work with tension or pressure but instead relies on inspiration and creativity.  Elementary students will see themselves in both Elinor and her classmates who are more relaxed about the entire thing.  Watch for the poem that ties to How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? for fans of the series. 

Karas’ illustrations continue in his signature style that is playful and friendly.  His drawings add to the accessibility of the entire book and the series as a whole. 

A winning addition to a popular series, this third book will delight during poetry units and may inspire a more relaxed approach to writing too.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

any questions

Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay

Where do stories come from?  How are books made?  These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books.  Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader.  They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page.  They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story.  Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive.  And then something happens, and it starts to become a story!  The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn.  Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods.  This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.

Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book.  She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way.  The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly.  All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity. 

Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text.  They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book.  It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.

Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this!  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Two by Tullet

Herve Tullet is one of the most innovative picture book authors around today.  I look forward to his books to see what he will come up with.  This year, we have two new books by him.

help we need a title

Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet

This first book is not quite ready to be read yet.  In fact, the characters inside are still getting ready.  There isn’t really a story, though they are looking for one.  And the characters themselves are rough sketches rather than lovely images.  In fact, the entire inside of the book is a mess.  Perhaps if we found an author?  But even that doesn’t help much, especially when the characters are disappointed in the story he creates for them.  Yet in the end, it is a book, with a story, some funny moments, and it even manages to tell readers how a book is created and what its elements are.

Quite clever, once you get past the rough illustrations and embrace them as part of the concept.  Tullet himself appears in the book, his photographed head and shoulders plunked onto a drawn body.  The entire book feel unfinished, but that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to feel.  This is a clever way to introduce young children to authors, writing, and how stories are crafted.

mix it up

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet

Released September 16, 2014.

Following his clever Press Here, this book invites readers to touch the pages once again.  Except in this book, readers are mixing colors, mashing things together, combining things, and having a marvelous messy time.  Tullet excels at creating books that are immensely participatory despite having no flaps or pop ups.  It’s all in the readers’ imaginations and that’s such a wonderful thing.

I consider this one of the best picture books about color that I have ever seen.  Thanks to the feel of mixing the paints yourself, readers are left with a deeper understanding of color.  They will get to add white to colors and see what happens, and black as well.  They create secondary colors from primary ones and leave their own hands on the page too.  Clever, interactive and wildly imaginative, this is another winner from Tullet.

Both books are appropriate for ages 3-5 and both will be embraced by readers of all ages.

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AFTER THE BOOK DEAL – Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier

The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog.

Jonthan Auxier Headshot - web square

Can You Hear Me Now?: Skype Visits

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about one valuable tool way to connect with readers: Skype visits! Below are a few things I’ve picked up from numerous Skype visits …

Get a “Studio”

This is actually one of my biggest challenges right now. If you plan on doing a lot of Skype visits, you will save a lot of time by having a set space with lights and an appropriate background—that way you don’t have to fiddle around framing the shot beforehand. Unfortunately, since having baby #2, my office has been relocated to our unfinished basement. It’s actually a good place for me to work, but it has a definite “dungeon” vibe. One of my goals after The Night Gardener comes out is to spend a little time putting up some lights, so at least the dungeon looks cheerful!

NightGardener Cover

Use Skype as an Incentive

The first thing I like do with Skype visits is use them as a way to incentivize teachers and librarians. I usually do not charge for visits, but I do require that the entire class has read my book. This has value for two reasons. First, it motivates teachers to actually read my book aloud—assuring greater exposure and (I’m hoping) a bigger fan base for subsequent books. Second, it’s much easier to answer direct/specific questions from students—video is a pretty stilted medium, and it goes better if the kids already feel like they know me through my work.

Encourage Preparation

While kids can be awesomely creative, they are not always fast on their feet. Many times a kid will start asking a question only to forget what they were saying halfway through. In order to cut down on this, I ask teachers to work with kids to develop questions before hand an write them on cards (which they can consult). This has the added bonus on cutting down on repeated questions.

Develop “Bonus Material”

I try to think of my Skype visits like the “deluxe blu-ray” experience for my book. I try to include behind-the-scenes stories to share with kids so that they feel special. For example, when talking Peter Nimble, I read the scene from Treasure Island that first inspired me to write a blind character. I also read aloud a short chapter from Peter Nimble that my editor made me cut out because it was too gruesome—kids love it!


Make Each Visit Unique

I try to also do something that is unique to that specific class. Often this involves drawing a silly digital portrait of the teacher. Of course, there is such a thing as taking this idea too far. A few weeks ago, I wanted to make a really memorable Skype visit for an awesome, supportive teacher. I ended up playing a “game” with kids where I let them all pick a different ingredient from my fridge to mix into a bowl. Then at the end, I promised to eat it. I’m not going to say I actually puked … but I came pretty darn close! (You can read all about it here.)

That’s it for AFTER THE BOOK DEAL! Tomorrow we’ll be talking about how to craft an effective school program! In the meantime, you can catch up on previous posts (listed below), and please-oh-please!


WEEK ONE: Before Your Book Comes Out
4/21 – Finding Your Tribe: entering the publishing community

4/22 – Do I Really Need a Headshot?: crafting your public persona

4/23 – I Hate Networking: surviving social media

4/24 – A Night at the Movies: the ins and outs of book trailers

4/25 –  Giveaways! … are they worth it?

WEEK TWO: Your Book Launch
4/28 - Can I have Your Autograph?: 5 things to do before your first signing

4/29 –  Cinderella at the Ball: planning a successful book launch

5/1 – Being Heard in the Crowd: conferences and festivals

5/2 – The Loneliest Writer in the World: surviving no-show events

WEEK THREE: The Business of Being an Author
5/5 – Handling Reviews … the Good and the Bad!

5/6 – Back to the Grindstone: writing your next book

5/7 – The Root of All Evil: some thoughts on money

5/8 – The Green-Eyed Monster: some thoughts on professional jealousy

WEEK FOUR: Ongoing Promotion

5/12 – Death by 1000 Cuts: Keeping busywork at bay


JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores on May 20—why not come to his book launch party? You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children’s books old and new.

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath knows exactly what she is.  She’s a fan of Simon Snow, a magical series of books that rival Harry Potter in popularity.  She’s a twin.  She’s a college freshman.  And she does not want to go out and meet people or party.  She’s much happier in her dorm room writing fan fiction about Simon Snow and his arch nemesis Baz, where she has reworked them as a steamy gay couple.  Cath’s twin also attends the same college, but Wren does not want to be seen much together and is completely into the college party scene.  So Cath spends much of her time alone or with her prickly new roommate, eating protein bars and peanut butter because the dining hall freaks her out.  Soon Cath will be asked to choose between writing fiction and writing Simon Snow fan fiction.  She will need to figure out how to let her Dad live his own life even though he is fragile.  But most of all, she needs to figure out how to live life on her own terms and have it be a life worth living.

Rowell does it again with this second book for teens.  Her writing voice is uniquely hers, so that her books could only be written by her.  She has a wonderful sense of humor that runs through her books, often popping up in the most serious of moments like humor often does in real life.  This book is complicated, about more than one expects from the title.  While it is about fan fiction, it’s also about so much more, including being a young writer, the writing process, siblings, broken families, and even first love.

Her characters are deep and worth spending time with.  Cath is remarkable both in her own issues that she carries with her but also in the way that she survives and flourishes.  Her early days at college echo many of my own fears, though I never succumbed to eating protein bars to survive.  Many high school students will see their own thoughts reflected here too.  It’s universal and makes Cath immediately relatable and lovable.  And I must comment again about how well Rowell writes romance and sex scenes.  Sex is part of life in her novels, something to be applauded, where no young women are made to feel slutty because they are sexually active.  It is beautifully handled.

I can’t wait to see where Rowell takes us next.  She is an author who belongs on lists alongside John Green and Gayle Forman.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

little red writing

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This is a fresh version of Little Red Riding Hood.  Here Little Red is a pencil and her assignment in school is to write a story, even though it can be quite dangerous.  Her teacher gives her a basket of words to use in case of an emergency, but also warns her to stick to her basic story so that she doesn’t get lost.  Little Red starts writing but soon tries to add more excitement to her story.  Before she knows it, she has bounced right off of the page and into a forest.  It’s a forest full of description, but that’s also something that can bog down a story.  Little Red has to use a word from her basket to get free.  More perils follow with sentences that run on, abandoned punctuation, and a growling voice and twirly tail that lead right to the principal’s office.  It is up to Little Red to both be a hero and finish her story.

Holub has written a very engaging new version of Little Red Riding Hood.  She successfully ties in tips on writing, not allowing them to force her to leave the basic story path.  Her writing is entirely engaging, the format of the story writing works well and she weaves the classic elements of the tale into this one so that it is different but still recognizable. 

Sweet’s illustrations are done in her signature combination of cut paper and drawings.  Her bright colors add much to the liveliness of the book.  She uses the cut paper to good effect throughout, allowing them to set aside important parts of the book as well as using fonts of various styles to really make the book stand out. 

A great pick for writing units, this is one of the best changed-up Red Riding Hoods that I’ve seen.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

13 story treehouse

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton

Andy and Terry live together in an amazing 13-story tree house.  It has a bowling alley, a secret laboratory, swinging vines, a see-through swimming pool and even a man-eating shark tank.  Unfortunately, all of these fun things around them are distracting them from finishing the book that is due in to the publisher!  They have barely started and it needs to be finished quickly.  But what are you supposed to do when there are flying cats, giant bananas, an evil sea monster, gangs of rampaging monkeys, and burp-filled bubblegum bubbles around you?  You will just have to read the book to find out how Andy and Terry managed to finish their book in time.

Wildly funny and perfect for children who enjoy books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The author and illustrator worked together beautifully, creating a hilarious world that is a pleasure to visit.  The book has illustrations throughout, black and white line drawings that add to the silliness of the story.  Do not read this one looking for logic, just enjoy the giggles!

A great pick for reluctant readers who will appreciate the silly storyline and funny illustrations that effectively break up the text.  Get this into the hands of your Wimpy Kid fans!  Appropriate for ages 6-10. 

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

rocket writes a story

Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills

This sequel to How Rocket Learned to Read has the same irresistible charm of the first.  While the first book inspired new readers on their way to proficiency, this book will inspire young writers to try their hand at the craft.  Rocket loved books like they were his friends.  He loved words too and used his nose to find new words to add to his collection.  Eventually, Rocket had so many words, he just had to do something with them.  So he decided to write his own story.  But when he was faced with the blank page, he couldn’t think of a thing to write.  The little yellow bird who was his teacher advised him to write about something that inspired him, that excited him.  Now Rocket just needs to find that perfect inspiration for a story.  It just might be much closer than he’d ever have expected.

Hills has taken the wonderful cheer of his original Rocket book and his Duck & Goose stories and transformed it into a book that will lead young authors through the thicket of writing their first story.  This is a shining example of a book that will inspire rather than lecture young artists as they strive to create.  Rocket has a wonderful combination of confidence and openness that makes him a great protagonist.  Children will be happy to learn to write a book alongside Rocket.

The art in the book is done in Hills’ signature style.  It is simple, bright colored, and joyful.  Hills plays with perspective, turns the idea of a classroom inside out, and rejoices in reading and writing. 

A must-have book for all public libraries, this will also find a welcome home in school libraries and classrooms.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.


Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

I love puzzle games and this book is like reading a puzzle game.  The concept is to mix numbers and words to form something entirely new.  The book cre8tes a gr8 way to interact with children, who will happily call out the answers.  My 11-year-old happily curled up with me and helped decipher the puzzles on each page.  The book is made up of a series of different situations rather than a flowing storyline, which makes the puzzles all the more enjoyable.  As the book progresses, the wumbers do get more difficult to figure out, resulting in plenty of groans of appreciation as we read the book.

This would make a 1derful writing exercise for students to a10mpt, since it’s a lot more difficult than it first appears.  It’s not a book to share with a large group, but rather one to cozily figure out together with one or two children.  Lichtenheld’s illustrations are great fun, adding context to the puzzles and a lightness too. 

Perfect for children who enjoy word puzzles or as a jumping off point for a fun writing exercise, this book is sure to el8 young readers.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

chloe and the lion

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

You know this book is going to be unique when you get introduced to the author and illustrator before the book begins.  Then you meet Chloe, a little girl, who is the main character in the book.  The story begins and Chloe is collecting loose change that she would use to ride the merry-go-round in the park as many times as she could.  When she headed home, dizzy from the ride, she got lost in the forest.  Then a huge lion jumped out at her!  Except Adam Rex, the illustrator, did not draw a lion.  He thought a dragon would be a much better choice.  Mac Barnett, the author, doesn’t like that idea at all and insists that this is HIS book because he is the author.  The fight goes on from there, until Mac feeds Adam to the lion that a new stand-in illustrator drew for him.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t really like the art of the new illustrator and also finds that he can’t draw well enough himself to fill in for Adam.  What is an author to do?!

I love books that break that fourth wall and take a look at the inner workings of the author/illustrator or involve the audience in an interesting way.  The book’s art and writing are so closely integrated together that it is almost impossible to review them separately.  The tone here is clean and clear until the fight scene where it becomes comically fraught with emotion.  There are running gags, funny comments and lots of humor throughout the story that make it all the more fun to read.

The illustrations are inventive and add real dimension to the book.  There are several elements at play.  There are the figures done in clay that represent the author and illustrator.  There are the flat drawings of Chloe and the lion.  Then there is a stage where the book story takes place.  It’s a wonderful mix of theater, reading, and art.

The silliness doesn’t stop at the end of the book, make sure to check out the author blurb at the back, along with the very short illustrator blurb.  This book will thrill children with its silliness, dynamic illustrations, and its clever look behind the curtain of making a picture book.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.


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