Perfect Picture Book Friday: I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG


As a writer, I’m interested in exploring and challenging stereotypes and pigeonholing. So as a reader I seek out books about those who question stereotypes and push against boundaries. But in tandem with shooting for the moon and not letting yourself be limited by what others expect or don’t expect from you, it’s also important to recognize and accept who you are. That’s where I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG comes in. This funny story about a wee frog who wants to be anything but a frog packs a powerful message of self-acceptance without being didactic.


Written by: Dev Petty

Illustrated by: Mike Boldt

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2015, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: identity, self-acceptance, gratitude, parent-child relationship

First spread:

Young frog: I want to be a CAT.

Dad frog: You can’t be a CAT.

Young frog: Why not?

Summary (from publisher): A frog who yearns to be any animal that is cute and warm discovers that being wet, slimy, and full of bugs has its advantages.

Why I LOVE This Book: Dev Petty uses wry humor and repetition to subtly convey the message of self-acceptance. And the humor gets me giggling aloud on every read. Here’s my favorite laugh-out-loud exchange:

Dad frog: You can’t be a Pig.

Young frog: Why not?

Dad frog: Most of all because you’re a Frog. But also because you don’t have a curly tail or eat garbage.

Young frog: I can eat garbage.

Dad frog: Everyone says that until they eat garbage. Sorry, you can’t be a Pig.

The entire story is told very effectively through snappy dialogue conveyed with colored speech bubbles. And Mike Boldt’s vivid illustrations perfectly express the emotions of both the wide-eyed young frog and the down-to-earth dad frog.

Ideas for Teachers:  Teachers might read this book as part of a larger unit on self-acceptance, self-compassion, and/or gratitude. Students could create and share lists about what they DO like about themselves.

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY


This time of year, I’m always on the prowl for Halloween stories to devour with my kids. We love spooky Halloween stories and we love sweet Halloween stories. Most of all, we love Halloween stories that evoke the magic of the season. And there’s something particularly enchanting about witches and full moons and black cats. That’s why I’ve chosen the charming ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY for my Perfect Picture Book pick of the week.


Written by: Alison McGhee

Illustrated by: Taeeun Yoo

Square Fist, 2009, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: Halloween, magic, witches, imagination, longing, persistence

First stanza:

If you were a young witch, who had not yet flown,

and the dark night sky held a round yellow moon

and the moon shone light on the silent broom

and the dark Cat beside you purred, Soar,

would you too, begin to cry,

because of your longing to fly?

Brief Synopsis (from publisher):

Only a witch can fly.

But one little girl wants to fly—more than anything. So on a special night, with the moon shining bright and her cat by her side, she gathers herself up, she grips her broom tight, and she tries. And she fails. And she’s brave. And she tries again. Until . . .

Utterly enchanting, New York Times–bestselling author Alison McGhee’s lyrical language and Taeeun Yoo’s transcendent linoleum block prints create a bewitching tale about finding one’s own path that will send your heart soaring.

Only a Witch Can Fly is a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Why I Admire This Book: Take a lyrical story about a girl who longs to fly, set it under the full moon of Halloween night, and add breathtaking, evocative woodcuts, and what do you get? Magic! I think readers will identify with this girl in a witch costume (striped socks and pointy black hat, no less) who longs to fly like a real witch. They’ll also see themselves in her frustration when her first attempts at flying fail. This tale is also about the value of perseverance. And magic, of course.

(Amazingly, this story is written as a sestina – a form of poetry that started with the French troubadours in the 12th century!)

Ideas for Teachers: In addition to being a fun seasonal read, this book also works beautifully to start a discussion regarding the importance of perseverance. During a unit covering forms of poetry, ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY might also serve as a lovely model of a sestina. Older students (3rd to 5th graders) might also enjoy creating their own block prints after reading this story. For instructions on making block prints with kids, please see

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES


Here in Corvallis (which means “heart of the valley” – isn’t that lovely?) we’ve had a gorgeous week of crisp sunny mornings and warm afternoons. Perfect for long hikes to admire the autumn foliage and gather a few wild apples or late blackberries. So for my Perfect Picture Book Friday selection I chose Julie Fogliano’s exquisite ode to nature, WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: Poems for All Seasons.

Title: WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: Poems for All Seasons

Written by: Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by: Julie Morstad

Roaring Brook Press, 2016, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: seasons, nature, poetry, wonder, beauty, contemplation/reflection

First poem:

march 20

from a snow-covered tree

one bird singing

each tweet poking

a tiny hole

through the edge of winter

and landing carefully

balancing gently

on the tip of spring


Brief Synopsis (from publisher):

december 29
and i woke to a morning
that was quiet and white
the first snow
(just like magic) came on tip toes

“Flowers blooming in sheets of snow make way for happy frogs dancing in the rain. Summer swims move over for autumn sweaters until the snow comes back again. In Julie Fogliano’s skilled hand and illustrated by Julie Morstad’s charming pictures, the seasons come to life in this gorgeous and comprehensive book of poetry.”

Why I ADORE This Book: Fogliano’s 48 poems capture not just the imagery and sensory details of each season but also how those details evoke a vast range of emotions in us. She presents the brokenheartedness of gray days, exasperation of too much rain, and, of course, the magic of a first snow. Starting with spring and taking us through winter, she comes full circle ending the collection “on the tip of spring.”

I first fell in love with Fogliano’s distinctive writing style when I read IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE. She taps into childlike wonder and curiosity. She brilliantly uses personification in a way that matches a child’s experience of nature (“I know enough/ to wonder/ what the trees would say/ if they could”).

Julie Morstad’s gorgeous gouache-and–pencil-crayon art sweetly complements the poetry. She features a diverse cast of children experiencing the many moods of nature.

I have a copy of this treasure out from the library, but when I run out of renewals, I’ll be heading to the bookstore to buy this book. I know I’ll be rereading this collection often both as a writer marveling at Fogliano’s craft and as a human who marvels at nature.

Ideas for Teachers: A breathtaking read aloud, I imagine teachers reading poems from this book year-round to mark the changing seasons. Students could also write their own free-verse season poems as part of a larger study of a particular season or as part of a poetry unit. Younger students might be asked to illustrate one of the poems in Fogliano’s collection or to illustrate their own nature poem. Teachers could point out instances in which Fogliano’s employs particular poetic devices, such as personification. After discussing examples, students could write their own poem using the discussed poetic devices.

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

Perfect Picture Book Friday: I AM YOGA


This week my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday comes from my first-grade daughter. On Tuesday, she happily unpacked I AM YOGA from her bag and begged me to read it with her. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

(For a supersized list of links to picture book reviews, check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:

Title: I AM YOGA

Written by: Susan Verde

Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: Finding calm in a chaotic world; mind-body connection; imagination; creativity

First line: “When I feel small in a world so big, when I wonder how I fit in, when the world is spinning so fast…I tell my wiggling body: be still.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): “An eagle soaring among the clouds or a star twinkling in the night sky . . . a camel in the desert or a boat sailing across the sea—yoga has the power of transformation. Not only does it strengthen bodies and calm minds, but with a little imagination, it can show us that anything is possible.

New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds and author and certified yoga instructor Susan Verde team up again in this book about creativity and the power of self-expression. I Am Yoga encourages children to explore the world of yoga and make room in their hearts for the world beyond it. A kid-friendly guide to 16 yoga poses is included.”

Why I Like This Book: With language that is both lyrical and relatable to kids, I AM YOGA illustrates the calming power of yoga poses as well as the power of yoga movements to foster our imagination and creativity. Reynolds’ soft watercolors depict the girl’s transformations as she first calms herself through mountain pose and then moves through poses that set her imagination aloft, allowing her to “touch the sky,” “soar among the clouds,” and “dance with the moon.” As I was reading this story to my daughter, she wanted to try the poses. So I’m happy the back matter includes kid-friendly instructions for striking each pose!

Ideas for Teachers: Last year my daughter’s kindergarten teacher introduced some yoga breathing techniques and restful poses and invited her students to turn to these strategies when they needed to calm themselves. I’ve seen my daughter continue to use these techniques at home. I think teachers could use this book to introduce strategies for finding calm or focus.

Kids might also enjoy learning the adorable Emily Arrow’s I Am Yoga song. You can find the music video by scrolling to the bottom of Susan Verde’s I Am Yoga page:

Picture Perfect Friday: BLACK DOG


A picture book that can help a child face fear is a thing of beauty. Last week I reviewed THE LITTLE BIT SCARY PEOPLE. This week for Picture Perfect Friday I present another book about facing fear, BLACK DOG.

(For a humungous list of links to picture book reviews, check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Written and illustrated by: Levi Pinfold

Templar Books, 2012, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: conquering fears; imagination; bravery

First line: “One day, a black dog came to visit the Hope family.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): “An enormous black dog and a very tiny little girl star in this offbeat tale about confronting one’s fears.

When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog, who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.”

Why I Love This Book: The cover juxtaposes a Gothic red house set alone in the snowy woods with a tiny child in a yellow snowsuit. Before we even open the book, we’re intrigued. Is this a dark fable or a flight of whimsy?

Throughout the story, Pinfold’s rich and imaginative paintings transport us to the magical world of the Hope family home and its surroundings.

The story defies our expectations in a satisfying way. We see each member of the Hope family peer outside and then cower from the enormous black dog (they even build a barricade). Only Small Hope has the courage to step outside and face the dog. We expect Small to see the dog as normal-sized. Instead, she too sees the dog as gigantic but faces him bravely anyway. She entreats him to chase her. To follow where she leads he must shrink. In the end, the dog joins the family in the house and Mrs. Hope commends Small’s courage.

“’There was nothing to be scared of, you know,’ replied Small Hope as she went to sit by the fire.

And the black dog followed.”

Ideas for Teachers: At my kid’s elementary school, COURAGE is one of the school-wide themes the students focus on for one month each year. They discuss what courage looks like, how to cultivate it, and then watch for acts of courage at the school. I think BLACK DOG would be a great addition to any teacher’s discussion of courage. Students might think back on a time that something they were afraid of turned out to be not so frightening after all once they had the courage to face it. Students might also enjoy drawing or painting what their original fear looked like in their imagination and then what it looked like once faced.




Here in Oregon, the leaves on the blueberry bushes blush crimson. The pumpkins in my patch glow orange. And I’m feeling a little blue because the kids returned to school this week. After a long summer hiatus, I am finally back to blogging.

This week for Picture Perfect Fridays I selected THE LITTLE BIT SCARY PEOPLE. With humor, writer Emily Jenkins explores the idea that there’s more than one side to all of us.

(For a mammoth list of links to picture book reviews, check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Written by: Emily Jenkins

illustrated by: Alexandra Boiger

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: empathy, facing fears, multiple perspectives, don’t judge a book by its cover

First line: “The big boy with thick eyebrows rides his skateboard on the sidewalk and cranks the radio so loud, my dad yells out the window for him to turn it down.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): “Some people are a little bit STRANGE or a little too LOUD, and just a little bit SCARY. But I bet, if you knew them, and knew their favorite things, you’d think that maybe, (probably) most people aren’t so scary after all.”

Why I Love This Book: This story shows us a variety of potentially scary characters and then, with each page turn, invites us to imagine along with our wise-beyond-her-years narrator what that character might be like in a different scenario. On the second page, the big boy with thick eyebrows is curled up in bed with his cat. Maybe he’s not so scary after all.

Fear can be crippling for some children. This book helps readers see that there is more than one side to each person and maybe, just maybe, the “scary” people they fear aren’t so scary after all. I think the story also encourages empathy. It reminds us to withhold judgments until we get to know a person.

Finally, Alexandra Boiger’s inviting illustrations depict the multiple perspectives with humor and kid appeal.

Ideas for Teachers: This book is a natural fit for a lesson concerning empathy. After reading the book with the class, the teacher could invite students to think about someone in their life who seems “a little bit scary.” Students would be asked to imagine that person in a different setting or situation and then draw a picture of and/or write about the “scary person” reimagined in a less scary scenario. Might the mail carrier who never smiles be less scary when she’s walking through the woods with her dog?





This week for Picture Perfect Fridays I chose Lucy Ruth Cummins’ dark and funny A HUNGRY LION OR A DWINDLING ASSORTMENT OF ANIMALS. Writer-illustrator Cummins is a writer’s writer. By that I mean she shows us how to play and break rules in the best possible way. Read on to see what I mean.

(For a super long list of links to picture book reviews, see Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Written and illustrated by: Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: Animals, Predators, Surprise

First line: “Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears and a bunny with un-floppy ears, a frog, a bat, a pig, a slightly bigger pig, a woolly sheep, a koala, and also a hen.”

Brief Synopsis (“Summary” from title page): “Members of a large group of animals, including a penguin, two rabbits, and a koala, disappear at an alarming rate but the hungry lion remains.”

Why I Love This Book:  Cute animals! Surprises! Reversals of fortune! You’re reading along and you think you have a handle on what’s going to happen. After all, the title tells you the lion is hungry and the animals are dwindling. But wait! You’re in for some surprises. And just when you say, “aha, now I’ve totally got it,” you find that you really don’t.

And back to what I said about Ms. Cummins being a “writer’s writer.” Look at that first line: so, so long! Isn’t that against the picture book writer’s rules? Well, yes, but it works beautifully to set the scene and the tone.

And what about her use of words and phrases like “um,” “well,” “I guess,” and “it seems”? Aren’t those no-nos? Yes, but they help deliver a clear and distinctive and funny voice for our narrator. I sense that Ms. Cummins had fun writing this story. She played, she broke rules, and she let the story be both adorable and oh, so, dark. Perfection!

Ideas for Teachers:  On a first read, teachers can use this book to talk about predictions. For each spread, we can ask, “What do you think will happen next?” Students will enjoy being able to predict what’s next at the start of the story. And, even more, later in the story they’ll enjoy the surprise of thinking they know what’s coming and discovering that they never could’ve predicted the outcome. Teachers could also use this book to introduce a unit on predators.

Picture Perfect Friday: So You Want to be a Rock Star


rock star

It’s a beautiful spring FRIDAY, and time again for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Picture Perfect Fridays. You can find a GINORMOUS list of links to picture book reviews on her site:

This week, in honor of one of my all-time favorite rock stars, Prince, I chose SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR.


Written by: Audrey Vernick

Illustrated by: Kirstie Edmunds

Walker & Company, 2012, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: Music, performance, dramatic arts, song

First page: “You want to be a rock star? Let’s see if you have what it takes.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): Want to learn to play air guitar? Wear the coolest rock-star clothes? Sign your autograph for tons of fans? Then this is the book for you! Perfect for young fans of Rock Band or the Disney pop stars, So You Want to Be a Rock Star is the essential primer on everything rock ‘n’ roll. With a hilarious interactive text that encourages young readers to get up and move and perfectly retro illustrations that balance fantasies of stardom with real-world rocking out, this book has something for everyone―budding singers, musicians, and their parents, too!

Why I Love This Book: This story’s tongue-in-cheek humor (“Your voice doesn’t need to be perfect. Just really loud.”) will appeal to both kids and adults. And it has a fun interactive element. Kids (and adults) are invited to air guitar, sneer, dance, sing, and more. It may not be the best for bedtime because it gets kids movin’ and groovin’!

Ideas for Teachers:  Classroom teachers can use this book when they want to get kids moving in a fun and silly way. Music teachers can use this book to get kids pumped up about performing and to help them think through the important elements of performance. After this story, they’ll be excited to strut their stuff!

Picture Perfect Friday: YOUR ALIEN

your alien

It’s FRIDAY, and that means it’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Picture Perfect Fridays. You can find a COLOSSAL list of links to picture book reviews on her site:

My pick this week is one of my kids’ favorites – YOUR ALIEN. When you imagine an alien, do you picture something scary and green? The alien in YOUR ALIEN is green, but he’s anything but scary. In fact, he might be the cutest alien ever.


Written by: Tammi Sauer

Illustrated by: Goro Fujita

Sterling Children’s Books, 2015, Fiction

Suitable for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: friendship, family, empathy, home/homesickness, space/aliens

First two lines: “You will be looking out your window when something wonderful comes your way. You will want to keep him.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): When a little boy meets a stranded alien child, the two instantly strike up a fabulous friendship. But at bedtime, the alien suddenly grows very sad. Can the boy figure out what his new buddy needs most of all? This funny, heartwarming story proves that friends and family are the most important things in the universe . . . no matter who you are.

Why I Love This Book: The conversational second-person narration invites the reader to imagine him or herself as the child who sees a lovable alien crash-land right outside his window. The friendship that develops between the two is heartwarming. I love how the alien helps you “see ordinary things in a brand-new way” and you empathize with the little green guy who grows sad at bedtime. The illustrations, with vivid colors and light in the daytime and a warm glow at night, match the heartfelt tone of the text. It’s also fitting that light – and hugs – play a key role in the ending.

Ideas for Teachers: Teachers could use this story as a springboard for discussions about astronomy and the possibility of life beyond Earth. Or the story could be used in a discussion about empathy and what it means to be a friend. Kids might also enjoy creating their own aliens. The Sticky Buffalo site has some great ideas or kids could make their aliens out of brown paper lunch bags or even large marshmallows.

50 Precious Words Contest: Crow Girl

The talented and generous Vivian Kirkfield is hosting the 50 Precious Words Writing Contest. The challenge (and it is a challenge!) is to write a story for children (the 12 and under crowd) totaling no more than 50 words. You can read all the details and post your own story or link until Friday, March 18th on Vivian’s blog:

Here’s my entry:

Crow Girl

By Gabi Snyder

Rain soaks socks.

Rain chills cheeks.

Rain drenches.

Crow, rain slips off your slick feathers.

Rain slips off my coat and boots.

Wind blows hats off.

Wind whips hair.

Wind pushes sideways.

Wings spread, Crow soars with the wind.

Arms spreads, I soar with the wind.

             I am Crow Girl.