Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE FRIEND SHIP


the friend ship

This week for Perfect Picture Book Friday I’m featuring the deceptively simple THE FRIEND SHIP.

Title: The Friend Ship

Written by: Kat Yeh

Illustrated by: Chuck Groenink

Disney Hyperion, 2016, fiction

For ages: 3 and up

Themes/topics: friendship, hedgehogs, ships, adventure/quest

First spread:

Hedgehog was curled up in a prickly little ball in the lonely nook of a lonely little tree when she heard someone say her name.

“Poor Hedgehog seems so lonely!”

“I know, but it will get better. Friendship is out there—all she has to do is look.”

Summary (from the copyright page):

“A lonely hedgehog sets out on an adventure to find friendship.”

Why I like this book:

As a kid, I was constantly taking things “too literally.” And so I totally related when Hedgehog thought “friendship” meant a literal “Friend Ship” she could sail “the seas in search of.”

The story follows a simple and predictable pattern. As Hedgehog searches (by ship), she asks animals along the way, “Have you seen The Friend Ship?” They answer “no,” but beg to come along. Soon Hedgehog’s ship is full of animals in search of The Friend Ship. But as they continue searching, Hedgehog grows sad.

I think kids will get a kick out of finding the solution well before Hedgehog does, and there’s a sweet twist at the end (I won’t give it away!) that will surprise the adults, too.

Groenink’s charming illustrations convey a great deal of emotion and his animals radiate warmth.

This story is a sweet ode to the joys — expected and unexpected — of friendship.

(For a collection of picture book reviews, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:



Perfect Picture Book Friday: HELLO LIGHTHOUSE


Hello Lighthouse

This week for Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m featuring the lovely and lyrical HELLO LIGHTHOUSE.

Title: Hello Lighthouse

Written and illustrated by: Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown and Company, 2018, fiction

For ages: 4 and up

Themes/topics: lighthouses, family life, nostalgia

First spread:

On the highest rock of a tiny island

at the edge of the world stand a lighthouse.

It is built to last forever.

Sending its light out to sea,

Guiding the ships on their way.


From dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams.




                               Hello, Lighthouse!


Summary (from the copyright page):

“Explores the life of one lighthouse as it beams its message out to sea through shifting seasons, changeable weather, and the tenure of its final keeper.”

Why I LOVE this book:

I’ve long been fascinated by lighthouses. We have some beauties here in Oregon. So the gorgeous cover of HELLO LIGHTHOUSE immediately caught my eye. With lyrical prose and exquisite and tender illustrations, Sophie Blackall captures both the drama and the everyday that were part of a keeper’s life.

She depicts the solitude of the keeper’s life and how “throughout the night, he winds the clockwork and keeps the lamp in motion.”  And “Every few days he writes her a letter and throws it into the waves.” That’s right! So infrequently did the tender (supply ship) come by, that it was faster to send a message in a bottle to loved ones on land.

And then, when the keeper marries, we see how everyday life took place in those small round rooms and how isolated the lighthouse was during times of illness and childbirth. Blackall also captures exquisite scenes of beauty from this tiny island—from icebergs to whales to the Northern Lights.

So when “a brand-new light” arrives and the “keeper’s work is done,” there is a deep sense of melancholy and nostalgia.

Additional resources:

Be sure to read the back matter for many fascinating details. We learn, for example, that “hundreds of women served as lighthouse keepers. Some replaced a husband or father, but many were appointed for the job.”

Writers and teachers might also enjoy this interview with Sophie Blackall in which she discusses the inspiration for the book and her research:

About women who worked in lighthouses: “But when they were there alongside their husbands or fathers, they did all of the same work as the male keeper, but they also cooked and cleaned and bore children,” Blackall says. “I had long wanted to put childbirth into a picture book, and that’s not a terribly easy thing to do. I was so happy that I finally figured out how to do it in this one.”


(For a collection of picture book reviews please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Perfect Picture Book Fridays: A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS


a house that once was

After a summer hiatus, I’m happy to be back to Perfect Picture Book Friday. I found this week’s story – or it found me – at Grassroots Bookstore. The title, A House That Once Was, manages to be both inviting and a little spooky. The same is true of the cover image. In the foreground, we see the legs and feet of two kids facing a once-grand but now clearly abandoned house. It’s a little bit spooky; check out those boarded-up windows. But that whale-topped weather vane? Inviting! What kid (or adult) could resist a look around?

Title: A House That Once Was

Written by: Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by: Lane Smith

Roaring Brook Press, 2018, fiction

For ages: 3 and up

Themes/topics: imagination, past/present, homes/houses

First spread:

Deep in the woods
is a house
just a house
that once was
but now isn’t 
a home.

Summary (from the publisher):

“The dynamic duo of Ezra Jack Keats Award–winning author Julie Fogliano and Caldecott Award–winning illustrator Lane Smith team up to tell a delightful story about a boy and a girl who explore an abandoned house and imagine who might have lived there in A House That Once Was.”

Why I LOVE this book:

I’m a huge fan of Julie Fogliano’s lyrical writing. If you haven’t already, please read her other picture books, especially If You Want to See a Whale. And check out her gorgeous poetry collection, When Green Becomes Tomatoes.

As with all of Julie’s work, it’s best to read A House That Once Was aloud. She is a master of poetry and she draws us, along with the two characters, into this house that once was. I especially love how she describes the front door:

There’s a door that is not really open

but barely. A door that is closed

but not quite. A door that is stuck between coming and going.

A door that was once painted white.

I find this text manages to beautifully straddle the line between spooky and enticing and between a sense of coming/going and past/present. And when the text is melancholy, as in “The someone who once was is someone who isn’t. The someone who once was is gone,” we have Lane Smith’s gorgeous India ink and oil illustrations to temper the effect. Throughout the story, we see glorious flowers, some spilling into the house through cracks and open windows. And flowers aren’t the only living things in and around the house. Can you find the sweet blue bird on nearly every “present day” page?

The house and the many compelling objects left behind set the children’s imaginations on fire. They ask a flurry of questions about “this someone who ate beans for dinner….” And then they imagine different scenarios and we go back in time to intriguing possibilities like “a woman who painted all day in the garden portraits of squirrels while sipping iced tea.” They also wonder about the house itself. Is it waiting for its occupants to return or is it happy to sit and remember “with the trees coming in where the roof used to go”?

a house that once was_2

Kids – and adults – will delight in this lyrical and imaginative story.


(For a collection of picture book reviews please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Perfect Picture Book Friday: Julián Is a Mermaid


A few months ago, I had the good fortune of hearing Betsy Bird speak about her favorite newly-released and soon-to-be released picture books. When she described the mesmerizing illustrations in Julián Is a Mermaid, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Title: Julián Is a Mermaid

Written and illustrated by: Jessica Love

Candlewick Press, 2018, fiction

For ages: 4 and up

Themes/topics: individuality; embracing differences; self-love; unconditional love; mermaids; parades; gender fluidity/nonconformity

First spread:

This is a boy named Julián. And this is his abuela. And those are some mermaids.

Julián LOVES mermaids.

Summary (from the publisher): “While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself?”

Why I LOVE this book: Let’s start with the end papers. The front endpapers show some older women, with very real and individual and solid bodies, floating in a pool. A little boy, Julián, swims underwater, his eyes trained on something only he can see. The title page shows Julián and his abuela walking from the pool to the subway tailed by three glorious mermaids. They share the subway car with Julián and his abuela. We leave the subway car behind for three dreamy wordless spreads in which Julián sheds his street clothes, grows his hair into cascading curls, and transforms into a mermaid with a vivid tail. A large blue-patterned fish even gives him a necklace. At home, while abuela takes a bath, Julián uses what he finds in the apartment to transform for real. When his abuela emerges from the bath and sees him, her look is unreadable, and the text says simply “Oh!” and then Uh-oh. Julián has a moment of doubt, his shoulders sagging as he gazes in the mirror. But when she comes back in a blue-patterned dress, she gives him a necklace and they head out the door and to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. And it’s glorious. (And be sure to check out the back endpapers!)

Additional resources: You should absolutely read Betsy Bird’s review of this book. In her hands, book reviews are an art form. And because Julián Is a Mermaid captivated Betsy, her review of this title is especially captivating:

(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:



PPBF: Two Speckled Eggs

Two Speckled Eggs


Written and illustrated by: Jennifer K. Mann

Candlewick Press, 2014, fiction

For Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: friendship, cliques, outsiders, being different/unique

First spread:

Ginger’s birthday party was in two weeks, and she wanted to invite all the girls in her class…

except Lyla Browning.

Summary (from the publisher): “It’s Ginger’s birthday, and she has to invite all the girls in her class to her party, including Lyla Browning. Lyla isn’t like the other girls: she smells like old leaves, doesn’t talk much, and once brought a tarantula to school for show-and-tell. On the day of the party, Lyla is much earlier than everyone else. But even after the others arrive, Ginger’s party doesn’t go quite the way she’d hoped: some of the girls change the rules to the games, and no one likes her silver and gold birthday cake — except Lyla. By the time Lyla gives Ginger her present — a tiny homemade nest with two delicious malted-milk eggs — Ginger begins to wonder: is being different really such a bad thing?”

Why I Like This Book: I wish this book had been around when I was in elementary school. As a kid who often felt a bit “odd” or “different,” and who spent way too much energy trying to minimize my differences, this story would’ve meant a lot to me.

The story feels authentic. It doesn’t try to sugarcoat Ginger’s initial feelings about Lyla. And her change of heart feels authentic, too. The two girls may be different in many ways, but they have some compelling similarities – most notably, a strong sense of curiosity – that make all the difference.

From a writerly perspective, I appreciate how this story is framed around a birthday party. It lends the story the structure inherent in the event – the invitations, anticipation, and the event itself with its unexpected bumps and pleasant surprises.


(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:



#50PreciousWords and Madness! Poetry



It’s time for brave brevity. It’s time for Vivian Kirkfield’s #50PreciousWords writing challenge. Coming in at exactly 50 words, here’s my entry:


Moose Wants to Play!



“Moose!” screeched Owl. “Vamoose! You’re too big for Duck, Duck, Goose.”

Moose clumped on.

Rabbit and Hedgehog twirled a rope.

“Little white rabbit, hop…”

“Moose! Stop! You can’t hop!”

Moose stumped on.

Porcupine tossed a ring.



Moose slumped…

“Wait! Your antlers CAUGHT the ring!”




Also, this week I’ll be participating in Madness! Poetry. That’s right, it’s the March Madness of children’s poetry! Created by Ed DeCaria, it really is “the greatest kids’ poetry tournament on earth.” This will be my first year competing as an “authlete.” I hope you’ll check it out!

2018 Valentiny Contest: The Valentine’s Rooster

music 2 “I love you, a bushel and a peck….”

Hello, there. And Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s time once again for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny kidlit writing contest. This year, entries must feature someone “hopeful.” And, as always, the story must contain no more than 214 words.

After reading The Valentine’s Rooster, please check out all the fabulous Valentiny stories on Susanna’s blog.


The Valentine’s Rooster (214 words)

By Gabi Snyder

At the animal shelter, Rooster trembled.

His Valentine’s wish was for someone to take him home and love him.

On the inside, Rooster was as soft and cuddly as a chick.

But when people stopped at Rooster’s cage, they only saw his outside.

“He was a fighting rooster.”

“Looks mean.”


Rooster’s heart sank. Maybe he was unlovable.

The day before Valentine’s Day, a girl stopped at Rooster’s cage. “He’s trembling. Why is he all alone?”

“He’d peck another animal,” answered a man.

Rooster slumped. He would always be alone.

“Could a person hold him?” she asked.

Maybe I can be loveable. I’ll show her!

Rooster cocked his head and cooed.

Only his coo came out as “BAWK!”

“See?” said the man. “Ornery.”

“I’m not sure…” said the girl.

Then the girl went away, and night came.

Long. Dark. Lonely.

But a peck of hope had lodged in Rooster’s heart.

In the morning, the girl returned. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rooster!”

The girl stroked his neck, and Rooster almost stopped trembling.

“Ahh,” she said. “You’re a lover, not a fighter.”

Rooster snuggled into the girl’s arms.

She rocked him and sang, “Rock-a-bye Rooster…”

He trilled softly and closed his eyes.

“You’re going home with me,” she whispered.

And Rooster lived happily, and cuddly, ever after.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: LOVE



Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday selection is from one of my favorite authors, Newbery Medal winner, Matt de La Peña. And what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than a celebration of love in its many forms.

Title: LOVE

Written by: Matt de La Peña

Illustrated by: Loren Long

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018, fiction

For Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: love, family, emotions, connection

First spread:

In the beginning there is light

and two wide-eyed figures standing

near the foot of your bed,

and the sound of their voices is love.

Summary (from the publisher): “In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.”

Why I LOVE This Book: The lyrical language carries us beautifully from one instance of “love” to the next. We find love in expected and unexpected places. The book doesn’t shy away from the fact that life can be challenging and painful at times. Love helps, but it can’t fix everything.

A “quiet old lady” tells the “you” of the story, “Stars shine long after they’ve flamed out…and the shine they shine with is love.” In the next spread we read, “But it’s not only stars that flame out, you discover. It’s summers, too. And friendships. And people.” The illustration depicts a child and dog cowering under a piano as the child’s parents argue. This spread has been the topic of some hot debate in the kidlit community. I like what Loren Long has said about this spread: “And what I’m illustrating here is a domestic dispute. And if you’re reading this book with a child from a wonderfully stable home, great. But that’s a way of sharing empathy with that experience. And if you are that child under the piano, you exist in this book.” (

The book also calls out instances of love that might be “overlooked,” like a “love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus.” I love that a child might read this book and realize that something she sees a parent do every day, something she takes for granted, might in fact be a manifestation of love.

(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:

Perfect Picture Book Friday: EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS



I’m back with another amazing nonfiction selection for Perfect Picture Book Friday!


Written by: Stacy McAnulty

Illustrated by: David Litchfield

Henry Holt and Company, 2018, nonfiction

For Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Earth, planets, solar system, life, sharing

First spread:

“Hi! My name is Earth. Some people call me Gaia, the blue marble, the world, or the third planet from the sun. You can call me Planet Awesome.”

Summary (from publisher):

Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself! In this funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts, readers will discover key moments in Earth’s life, from her childhood more than four billion years ago all the way up to present day. Beloved children’s book author Stacy McAnulty helps Earth tell her story, and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield brings the words to life. The book includes back matter with even more interesting tidbits.

Why I Like This Book:

This book strikes a perfect balance between facts and fun. By getting the story straight from the source –smiling, brown-eyed Earth itself – we learn about Earth the same way we get to know a good friend.  Earth tells us all about its family, favorite activities, and its history. Baby Earth was “a hot mess.” And the time of the dinosaurs was one of its favorites. Earth says, “I mean, everyone loves dinosaurs!” But the story is not without drama: “ASTEROID!!” Earth also gently reminds us that while humans “have been super fun,” they also “forget to share and place nice and clean up after themselves.” But Earth is rooting for us: “I bet humans will turn out to do really great things.” And you can’t read this book without rooting for Earth, too.

My kids tell me that at 8 and 10 they’re getting “too old” for picture books. But independently they both read EARTH! cover to cover. I overheard my son laughing raucously throughout.

Resources: Check out the engaging back matter at the back of the book. You can also find curriculum guides by scrolling to the bottom of EARTH!’s Macmillan page: Stacy McAnulty’s author page also features downloadable activity pages.


(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Perfect Picture Book Friday: HOW TO BE AN ELEPHANT



Written and illustrated by: Katherine Roy

Roaring Brook Press, 2017, nonfiction

For Ages: 7 and UP

Themes/Topics: elephants, development, life cycle, learning, African animals, conservation

First page:

“WITH FLAPPING EARS and whiffling trunks, the herd quickly spreads the news. After 22 months of growing, a new baby is on her way. From walking and rumbling to drinking and dining, nothing will come easy for this giant-to-be. But like her mother before her, she’ll have to learn

…how to be an elephant.”

Summary (from publisher):

The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it’s a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what’s it like for their newborn babies?

An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom–a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she’ll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant. 

Why I Like This Book:

This book beautifully balances detailed information about what makes African elephants unique with arresting watercolors that capture the movements and emotions of the elephants and of their environment.

Roy makes clear that an elephant calf, like a human baby, is not born knowing how to be an elephant. She must learn nearly everything, and her education continues “for a lifetime.” The text details how important an elephant calf’s family is in modeling the behaviors she must learn.

Roy includes detailed information regarding elephant anatomy and the science behind how they walk, smell, and communicate. Did you know that an elephant’s trunk contains over 100,000 muscles? Kids – and adults – will find plenty of fascinating facts about African elephants here.

Roy points out that elephants need a lot of space and that humans have not been “good at sharing common ground.” This book is bound to help kids develop a deep appreciation for this amazing species. And kids who have a deep appreciation for wildlife are more likely to work to conserve it. As Roy says in her author’s note, “…ultimately, elephant conservation is a choice. Their most dangerous threat is also the source of their only hope. There’s enough space for us all. Are we willing to share it?”

Resources: Writers and educators might enjoy the excellent All the Wonders podcast featuring Roy:

(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: