Sometimes at the library, I go directly to the "new picture book" shelf and check out whatever seems interesting. Among the stack I brought home the other day, one stood out: The Little Red Stroller.
It's a delightful story about diversity told through the journey of a little red stroller. At first, the stroller belongs to Luna, who's just a baby on the first page. As she grows, she has adventures in the stroller: to school, the playground, the pizza place.
One day, Luna's neighbor expresses a wish for a stroller like Luna's. Luna realizes she's too big for the little red stroller and hands it down to Ernie, who goes on his own adventures.
As each stroller occupant grows, he or she passes along the stroller to another family. Kids will love following the stroller as it goes from a Japanese garden to a pirate treasure hunt to a farm, a Halloween parade and many other places.
What I love most about this book is the way it subtly handles diversity. The stroller is loved by a family with two mommies, a Muslim family and a single mother, among others. Each family looks different and takes the stroller different places, but they all use it to travel to fun places with their children.
The little red stroller also has a fantastic ending, which I'm not going to give away in the hopes that you'll pick up this heartwarming book for yourself!
Noodle.com has some interesting activities for teaching young children about diversity.
For more perfect picture books, check out Susanna Hill's blog.
This week, I've decided to review a book from a few years ago as the topic seems especially important. Super Manny Stands Up! is an accessible, humorous and heartwarming look at bullying.
"Every day Manny put on a different cape after school" begins this story, which talks about how Manny likes to pretend he's a superhero with color-coded capes to match his activities. Manny saves the ocean, soars through the skies and battles alien robots.
Manny's biggest challenge comes at school, where he wears his invisible cape. One day, Manny notices "Tall One" acting like a bully to "Small One." Gathering up the courage inspired by his invisible cape, Manny says, "Stop." The bully is surprised, but Manny stands his ground...and is soon joined by a chorus of all the other kids in the classroom demanding an end to the bullying.
Author Kelly DiPucchio does a great job of handling this important topic in a non-didactic way and Stephanie Graegin's illustrations add to the book's appeal.
Here are some worksheets based on the book that kids can used to discuss being a superhero and standing up to bullies.
Super Manny Stands Up!
Author: Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: Stephanie Graegin
Age range: 4-8
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017
This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday, hosted by author Susanna Hill. Please see her website for more perfect picture books.
I spent the past weekend in the Chicago suburbs at the SCBWI Marvelous Midwest Conference, which truly was a marvelous experience. I connected and re-connected with writer friends; learned more about the writing industry and took home some great ideas that I can apply to my manuscripts.
Additionally, I came home with some unexpected take-aways:
1. A feeling of hope: Agent Stephen Fraser delivered an inspiring keynote discussing the role of children's books in overcoming the "toxic negativity" found in today's world. He spoke of the rights of children to feel hopeful and to see the world as a beautiful place. He challenged writers to see the beauty of the world so that we can give children the books they deserve...the books that will help them make the world a better place. I wasn't expecting to feel so inspired and moved by this discussion, and the idea that I could truly make the difference in the lives of children (if only I can manage to get published!)
2. The realization that published writers are just like me: This may sound silly, especially as I've obviously interacted with many published writers throughout my path to publication. But, something about the conversations I had this weekend with people who have books on the market made me realize that published writers truly are "regular people," just like me. To me, this means that if I continue to put in the work, I will one day be on of those regular people who just happens to be a published writer.
3. Some out-of-the-box story ideas: Author Julie Berry gave a great breakout session about "writing what you don't know," the opposite of the maxim that we writers typically hear. This gave me some ideas of how to push myself to think - and write - in a different way than my default...
...which is what I plan to do now. Happy writing!
I used to think of the path to being a published picture book author as an uphill climb. I figured that if I kept trudging, I'd eventually reach the summit: seeing my books in print.
Now, after years as a "pre-published author," I realize that the road isn't as straightforward as I'd thought. It now feels more like "two steps forward, one step back" or sometimes, "one step forward, two steps back."
For example, I might submit to an agent and hear...absolutely nothing, not even a generic rejection. That's a giant step backwards. But then, after submitting to agent #2, I get a lovely rejection that gives me hope to keep going. Moving forward.
Next, I submit my work to a writing contest where I feel I have a good chance of at least making it to the finals. But, alas, this doesn't happen. Just as I'm feeling that I'm tumbling down the mountain, I get great news: agent #3 wants to see more work!
Whoo-hoo! I am on my way up!
I'm ecstatic, perhaps overly so. I try to rein in my enthusiasm, knowing that this contact is not likely to end in a contract. It doesn't...and I'm crushed, although I tell myself this is still a step forward on my path.
I don't know when, where or exactly how I'll get to the point where I am finally published. All I know is that I'll keep moving and taking steps toward my goal.
The extreme sweetness hits me with the first nibble. How did I ever like these? As the chocolate-peanut butter concoction melts in my mouth, I vow to remember next Easter: I no longer like Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. I'm too mature, too much of a chocolate snob.
Or, am I?
Somehow, I find that I've gobbled the whole egg down. Somehow, the flavor that remains in my mouth is pleasurable. It reminds me of Halloween when I dressed up as a garbage can, of special treats, of earlier Easters before I'd discovered dark chocolate.
I'm not going to say that Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs compare to a single origin, artisanal dark chocolate. They don't, in the same way that an episode of the Real Housewives doesn't live up to an episode of the Crown. But, sometimes, you've got to go for the simple pleasures like Reese's.
"Sweety was awkward, even for a naked mole rat."
Now that's a great first line!
Sweety is the adorable story of a young mole rat whom her grandma describes as a "little square peg." She collects fungi as a hobby and does an interpretive dance to deliver her book report. Everyone thinks Sweety is odd, except her Aunt Ruth, who also "marches to the beat of her own drum."
Aunt Ruth convinces Sweety that "her people" must be out there, so she sets off to find them...without success. Only when she truly accepts herself does Sweety have the good luck of meeting another mushroom-loving mole rat.
While the topic of being true to yourself is tried-and-true, author/illustrator Andrea Zuill's treatment of it is certainly unique. This book will appeal to kids ages 4 and up who worry that they don't fit in. And who among us hasn't had that thought?
Education World has a good activity called "Everybody is Unique." While it's designed to teach acceptance of others' differences, it can also be used to cultivate self-acceptance.
- Author/illustrator: Andrea Zuill
- Swartz Wade Books, 2019
When I see a book by the talented author-illustrator Ross Burach, I know it's going to be hilarious. His latest, The Very Impatient Caterpillar, is no exception. This book drew me in and made me chuckle from the first lines of dialogue between two caterpillars: "Hey, what are you guys doing?" "We're going to metamorphosize."
This charming book cleverly takes a topic that every preschooler studies - the stages of a butterfly - and marries it with an emotion that every child feels: impatience. The bold, colorful illustrations are delightful and the text is hilarious. Any kid who's every said "Are we there yet?" will crack up at lines like "Am I a butterfly yet?"
The premise of this book is that the main character, the very impatient caterpillar, isn't aware that he can transform into a butterfly and doesn't know how the process works. So, the caterpillar essentially learns about metamorphosis (and the value of patience) along with the reader.
I'd highly recommend this book for kids ages 4 to 8 and for teachers and parents looking for a fun way to cover the (seemingly unrelated) topics of impatience and butterflies.
Education.con contains a comprehensive plan for teaching the butterfly lifecycle.
This article from First Cry Parenting has some suggestions for parents on how to teach patience to young children.
About the Book
The Very Impatient Caterpillar
Russ Burach - Author/illustrator
For ages 4 to 8
For more reviews of Perfect Picture Books, please see author Susanna Hill's website.
I choose the latter, and it turned out to be a great choice!
Before I even opened the grocery bag-type paper wrapper, I was intrigued. The back of the wrapper explained that the bar is a Chocolate University Project -- an opportunity for high school students from Missouri (where Askinosie is based) to get involved in the operations of this fair trade company, even traveling to Tanzania! I learned that the woman on the wrapper is the head of the farmer group with whom the company partners. How cool is that!
Fortunately, the single-origin chocolate inside lives up to the packaging. It's deep, dark and delicious. It's crisp and robust. To me, it's really the perfect chocolate.
I can't wait to try all the other Askinosie varieties!
My family recently returned from a fabulous spring break vacation in the beautiful red rocks of southeastern Utah. We hiked, visited national parks and saw dinosaur bones. All of it was wonderful. But, everyone's favorite part was a challenging activity we all did for the first time: a guided hike that involved scrambling up the sides of cliffs and then rappelling down them!
In addition to being a real "conquer your fear" moment for me, this adventure reminded me a lot of my path toward being published. Let me explain:
1. The key to climbing up a vertical wall of rock is taking slow steps and looking for small places you can put a foot or hand. The same is true of getting published. I need to keep taking small steps and looking for opportunities, no matter how tiny. As long as I keep moving upward, I'm making progress!
2. When climbing, sometimes you need a bit of help. As I have an injured rotator cuff, I was very cognizant of not putting too much weight on my right hand. Because of this (and because I was scared!), our very patient guide had to help me up a few times by gently tugging on the rope attached to my harness. Likewise, I need writing friends: critique partners, online communities, colleagues through groups like SCBWI. Although writing is a solitary activity, I've learned that nobody gets published all alone.
3. Act confident, even when you're not. While climbing up and rappelling down, I vacillated between having an attitude of "I've got this" to thinking "What the blank am I doing?" If you're a writer like me, this sounds familiar. Of course, I know that I make more progress - in climbing and in writing - when I feel confident, even while recognizing that doubts are part of the process.
So, onward and upward on the path to publication!
"Evan and his dog did everything together." The first line of THE ROUGH PATCH by Brian Lies sets up the deep friendship between Evan, a fox, and his dog.
In this book, Evan especially enjoys sharing his love of gardening with his canine friend. The two friends did everything together, until..."
one day the unthinkable happened."
The author doesn't come out and say that the dog died. Instead, an artful two-page spread explains that "Evan laid his dog to rest" and shows the fox, dejected, digging a hole in his garden. The art on the right-hand page shows a swirling cloud with the text "and nothing was the same" surrounded by moody, dark colors. Any child (or adult) who has lost a pet would be familiar with the emotions elicited by this powerful combination of words and images.
This book depicts Evan angry and sad about the loss of his friend, until gardening eventually is his salvation...and the path to a new canine friend. I love how this book shows that getting over grief takes time and that it ends on a hopeful note.
It's not easy to write about death in a way that's both moving and accessible to children. New York Times-bestselling author/author Brian Lies has done a fabulous job with this book, which I'd recommend to any child who's ever lost a pet.
The Rainbow Bridge has a worksheet that kids can complete to help them work through the grief of losing a pet. Younger kids can be helped by a parent or teacher or can only complete the appropriate parts.
This article from Psychology Today also has some tips, including the idea of creating a "Bowl of Memories" with scraps of paper with memories (written or drawn) about the pet.
The Rough Patch
by Brian Lies
Published by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2018
Ages: 4 and above
For more Perfect Picture Books, please see Susanna Hill's blog.