Perfect Picture Book Friday: A RIVER OF WORDS

A river of words

My Perfect Picture Book pick this week is not a new book; it came out in 2008. But it is new to me and I hope this post will introduce some of you to this beauty, which was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

After reading the brilliantly written and illustrated ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS, I thought of Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet as a kidlit “dream team.” I didn’t realize they’d collaborated earlier on A RIVER OF WORDS: The Story of William Carlos Williams. (A Google search tells me they also collaborated on A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. If you haven’t checked out their other collaborations, do!)

Title: A RIVER OF WORDS: The Story of William Carlos Williams

Written by: Jen Bryant

Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008, Nonfiction

For Ages: 5 and UP

Themes/Topics: William Carlos Williams, poetry, nature, writing process, poetry in the everyday

First spread:

“Like the other boys in Rutherford, New Jersey,

Willie Williams loved to play baseball

and to race his friends up and down the street.

But when the other boys went inside,


Willie stayed outside. Climbing over the fence

in his backyard, he wandered alone

through the woods and fields.”


Summary (from publisher):

This picture book biography of William Carlos Williams traces childhood events that lead him to become a doctor and a poet.


Why I Like This Book: Poetry can seem inaccessible and irrelevant to kids – and to adults. Several of my friends have told me that they don’t “get” poetry and they don’t feel that it has anything to offer them. But as Jen Bryant points out, William Carlos Williams wanted “to write about ordinary things—plums, wheelbarrows, and weeds, fire engines, children, and trees—things I see when I walk down my street or look out my window.” Poetry doesn’t have to be inscrutable. It can be about everyday things and, as Williams discovered, each poem can “find its own special shape on the page.”

The book also points out that “no one paid much money for poetry.” William Carlos Williams needed to earn a living so he became a doctor. He worked full time caring for people in his community but continued to write poems. He jotted down notes on prescription pads, and in the evenings, he collected his notes and “shaped them into poems.” I think it’s important that books model the many ways there are of creating art and being an artist. Being an artist is, in part, a way of viewing the world. William Carlos Williams went through his days seeing the world through poet’s eyes—he saw the beautiful and the transcendent in the everyday and, when he was inspired, he jotted down notes.

Something of an aside: For many years, I believed that “real writers” had to have a consecrated time and space set aside to write. But I’ve belatedly realized through experience that some of my best observations and ideas occur when it’s not “writing time.” When I’m in the shower, watching swim lessons, walking the dog, baking bread, falling asleep at night, ideas and solutions sometimes seem to just “pop” into my head. I’ve become vigilant about keeping a tiny notebook on hand to capture those fleeting inspirations. And, I’m happy to report, my 7-year-old daughter has taken to carrying her own tiny notebook as well. While her notebook has more drawings and fewer notes, I see her using it as an artist’s notebook and I’m proud to have modeled that habit for her!


I also LOVE Melissa Sweet’s multi-layered pencil and watercolor collages which depict some of Williams’ inspirations, especially scenes from nature, along with samples of some of his scribbled his notes. The end papers include some of the Williams poems.

Ideas for Teachers: After reading this book and several of Williams’ poems aloud, teachers might ask students to write poems “in the style of” Williams. Teachers might also read Sharon Creech’s fabulous Love That Dog with students. Love That Dog is written in free verse and follows the diary entries of a boy who initially resists his teacher’s poetry assignments.


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



#50PreciousWords Writing Challenge

It’s time for the 2nd annual #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge! Concocted by the talented and generous Vivian Kirkfield, this writing challenge is…challenging! As the name suggests, the contest involves writing  a story for children using no more than 50 words. After you check out my entry below, you can read all the rules and find all the fab entries here:



by Gabi Snyder

Plodding past the swimming pool.




“Who’s there?!?”


Alligators? Basking and BELLOWING.

Capering, vaulting, CANNONBALLING.

Lifeguard gator beckons, flings fins my way.

I yank off shoes, pull on fins.

Gators bare pointy teeth.

Will they crunch my bones?


Gators grin.

Deep breath.


Valentiny Writing Contest: MYSTERY VALENTINE


crowIt’s time for the Second Annual Valentiny Writing Contest, hosted by the talented and generous Susanna Leonard Hill. This year’s challenge is to write a Valentine’s story for kids, featuring someone who is confused, in 214 words or less. You can peruse all the contest rules and enter your own story (and read all the other fabulous entries!) here:

My entry for 2017 comes in at exactly 214 words:


Sonia stared out the window. Three days until Valentine’s Day.

She missed Texas.

She missed sunshine and mockingbird songs.

In Portland, the sky poured rain and crows cawed.

Sonia dreaded Valentine’s Day in this wet and lonely place.

“Why don’t you play outside, Noodlebug?” asked Mom.

On the porch, a silvery button shone.

A Valentine’s gift? Who is it from?

“Is this from you, Mom?”

“No, Doodlebug.”

“From you, Dad?”



Sonia stared up at a crow staring back at her.

The next day, rain sprinkled.

On the porch, a copper coin sparkled.

Another Valentine’s gift? Who is it from?

“Is this from you, Mom?”

“No, Poodlebug.”

“From you, Dad?”



The same crow in the same tree stared at Sonia.

“What do you want?” asked Sonia.


“Sunflower seeds?” Sonia tossed a handful.

“Caw.” The crow flew down, pecked up the seeds, and blinked at Sonia.

“More tomorrow.”

The next day, rain showered.

Sonia fed the crow.

On Valentine’s Day, a line of sunlight fell across Sonia’s pillow.

Outside, green grass shimmered.

On the porch, something glimmered – a tiny golden heart.

“A Valentine! Mom, is this from you?”

“No, Froodlebug.”

“Dad, is it from you?”



“Are the gifts…from you?” asked Sonia.

“Caw,” said the crow.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, crow!”



Perfect Picture Book Friday: BITTY BOT




Look at this cover! Who knew robots could be so adorable?


Written by: Tim McCanna

Illustrated by: Tad Carpenter

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016, Fiction

For Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: robots, bedtime, adventure, space travel

First page:

“In a busy robot town,

bots begin to power down—

all except for Bitty Bot.

Feeling sleepy? Maybe not.”

Summary (from publisher):

A little robot would rather go on an intergalactic adventure than go to sleep in this rhyming romp that breaks all the bedtime rules.

Why I Like This Book: I’m a big fan of anything robot-related, especially robot books. And Bitty Bot has got to be the cutest robot ever. I’m completely smitten with the way Tad Carpenter has powered up this wee robot. And the color palette he’s chosen is out-of-this-world! The purples, greens, pinks, and blue used for Earth at night have an appealing, Eighties sci-fi quality. On the moon, Tad switches to a warm, more manic, palette.

Tim McCanna’s fun rhyming text pulls us into Bitty Bot’s whimsical robot world where not-so-sleepy Bitty Bot doesn’t just stay up late, he pulls out the power tools, welds a space ship, and blasts off! But, not to worry, after his adventures on the moon Bitty Bot ends up “sound asleep and softly snoring.” Oh, and read this in your best robot voice to add extra fun!

Ideas for Teachers: Did you know that there’s a website devoted entirely to reading about robots? Well, there is! Check out to read interviews with several authors and illustrators and find a variety of kid activities. You can also find out how to participate with your class in Read About Robots Day (October 11)!

Author Tim McCanna has several fun videos ( on his website that you might want to share with your class. Watching the rhyming song might be a fun way to kick off a unit on writing in rhyme.

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: SHY


I first heard about SHY very recently, on day 13 of Tara Lazar’s Storystorm: If you aren’t familiar with Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo), please do yourself a favor and check it out. While it’s geared especially to writers and illustrators, anyone who’s interested in the creative process will benefit from this month of idea generation with inspiration from daily blog posts.

Storystorm day 13 featured a post by teacher Colby Sharp who detailed his experience running a “Mock Caldecott Awards” with his class of third graders. His post made me 1.) wish I’d had Colby Sharp as my third grade teacher, and 2.) really want to read Deborah Freedman’s SHY, the winner of his “Mock Caldecott Awards” against some super stiff competition including THE NIGHT GARDENER, THEY ALL SAW A CAT, FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE, and WE FOUND A HAT.

Title: SHY

Written and illustrated by: Deborah Freedman

Viking, 2016, Fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: shyness, bravery, books, bookworms, birds, nature, adventure, friendship

First page:

“Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.”

Summary (from publisher):

Shy loves birds. He’d love to watch them fly and hear them sing, but he’s only ever read about them in books. . .until a real bird comes along.  He’s dying to meet her, but there’s just one problem:  Shy is, well, shy–so shy, in fact, that he’s afraid to leave the gutter of the book.  Can Shy overcome his fears and venture out onto the page?

Why I Like This Book: Like the title character in SHY, I was bashful growing up. And, like the title character, I often hid away in books. But Shy doesn’t just hide himself metaphorically in books—a small arrow on the first spread suggests he’s literally hiding in the book’s spine. On a first read, we don’t know what he looks like. We don’t know if he’s human or animal.

Because Shy also loves birds, when “a REAL bird trilled by,” he is inspired to follow the vivid yellow songbird to “a land far away.” I won’t give away what happens when he finds the bird or who Shy is because the mystery is part of what makes the story so fun. That said, the story stands up to repeat readings because of its lyrical text, moving depiction of bravery, and gentle watercolor and pencil illustrations.

Ideas for Teachers: Teachers might ask each student to write about a time when he or she showed bravery, perhaps overcoming shyness or fear. (And, unrelated to SHY, next time the Caldecott Awards are approaching, take a cue from Colby Sharp and complete a Mock Caldecott Awards unit with your students.)

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: WOLVES


I can’t recall who recommended Emily Gravett’s WOLVES to me. Once I had my hands on it, I devoured it before looking at the copyright date. I was flabbergasted when I discovered that WOLVES came out in 2005. I would’ve guessed it was hot off the presses. What makes this book ahead of its time?

It’s got spot-on dark humor in the vein of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back.

It’s meta like Mo Willems’s We Are in a Book.

And it’s subversive (subverts our picture book expectations) like Mac Barnett’s Guess Again!


Written and illustrated by: Emily Gravett

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005, Fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: predator/prey relationship; thwarting reader expectations; imagination, meta books (book within a book)

First page text:

Shh! {placard hanging in library}

Rabbit went to the library.

He chose a book about…

WOLVES {title of book Rabbit is holding}

Summary (from publisher):

What do wolves really like to eat? It isn’t little girls in red hoods.
Rabbits shouldn’t believe what they read in fairy tales, but this book has the facts.

(This book follows the National Carroticulum.)

Why I Like This Book: A cute rabbit checks out a book titled WOLVES from the library. Rabbit reads facts about wolves and we read with him. But as he reads, he becomes more and more absorbed in the book until he is completely inside the rather dangerous red book within the book. If you think things do not end well for Rabbit, you’re right. But, fear not, the author provides an alternative ending “for more sensitive readers.”

The illustrations are handled brilliantly throughout and I love the clever library card from the “West Bucks Public Burrowing Library” at the start of the book and the growing pile of mail, including an overdue notice from the library, at the end.

Ideas for Teachers: I think upper elementary students would enjoy reading how Emily Gravett created this groundbreaking debut picture book. This article includes sketches and a chronological detailing of her artistic process. It’s worth noting that Ms. Gravett did not know how things would end for her little Rabbit until she had nearly completed the writing and illustration process.

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

Storystorm Day 1: “The Calm Before the Storm” by Deb Lund

Take 2017 by storm! If you’re in need of inspiration for your writing, check out StoryStorm.

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

by Deb Lund

I’ve been restless lately. Uncertain. Wondering what to work on next, but not taking action. Growing up in northern Minnesota, the outward version of that was an approaching storm—a blizzard, a tornado, torrential rains… It starts out in stillness and quickly gets dark.


There’s something in the air that you can’t quite identify, and then it whooshes in…


Energy builds. Everything whirls around you. There’s nothing to hang on to. It all feels impossible and there’s nothing you can do about it—except face it. Be brave! Lean into the wind! You got this!

Creativity needs chaos. It needs a storm. Once in a while we need to be shaken out of our pitiful patterns and hideous habits. You know what I mean. Those crazy excuses—I’m too old/young/busy/whatever. Or… just another game of Solitaire, or another snack. Yeah! That’s what I need!


When the storm hits, don’t hide…

View original post 690 more words

2017 Anti-Resolution Revolution

This is my second year participating in Julie Hedlund’s Anti-Resolution Revolution (

Julie’s approach – celebrating successes from the previous year and using them as a base to build upon – feels more hopeful and productive than writing your typical New Year’s resolutions (I failed to accomplish X this year, but next year I’ll make X happen!).

As I wrote last year, listing “successes” wasn’t my style in the past, but I think in this new-ish era of going “all in” with my writing, celebrating success, in whatever form, might be just the push I need. For those of us, especially women, who’ve been taught to be humble, not to brag, not to promote ourselves, this can seem foreign. We think people will say something like “Who does she think she is?” or “She calls those ‘successes’?” But owning that writing is vital to me and that this is where I am right now is powerful.

One of my favorite successes from this year was a critique session with Matt de la Peña at my local Oregon SCBWI conference. His feedback along with his amazing keynote helped me hone in on and articulate my “writing mission.” Articulating my personal writing mission has increased the satisfaction and joy I find in writing AND has given me one more key rubric for judging whether a piece of writing is “done.” Does it match my writing mission? If the answer is “no,” then I know I have some revising to do….



Holiday Contest: Heartsick Reindeer

This is my second entry in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Annual Holiday Contest! You can read all the stories here:


Heartsick Reindeer’s Twelve Days of Christmas (300 words)


On the first day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer stared at his hooves, wishing he wasn’t alone.

He asked, “How do I find true love?”

No one answered.

On the second day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer galloped in search of true love. Over snowy plains and icy ponds he searched.

No true love.

On the third day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer scaled a mountain. At the peak, he yodeled, “Yodelayhee-yoo-hoo. True love?”

“Yodelayhee-yoo-hoo. True love?” echoed back.

On the fourth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer trotted into town. He spotted a reindeer pair rubbing noses. He asked, “How did you find true love?”

“Our eyes met across a crowded tundra.”

On the fifth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer trekked to a jam-packed holiday market.

The other reindeer were too busy shopping to meet his eyes.

On the sixth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer ambled around town hoping for a chance encounter with true love.

But chance didn’t favor him that day.

On the seventh day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer had a good cry.

On the eight day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer dried his tears and hung a sign around his neck, “Seeking true love.”

“Good things come to those who wait,” brayed a grizzled reindeer.

On the ninth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer stood and waited.

But no good things came to him.

On the tenth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer decided to smile at everyone he met.

He didn’t meet his true love, but he did make a friend.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer and his new friend smiled at everyone they met.

They didn’t find Heartsick Reindeer’s true love, but they made three more friends.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, our Reindeer didn’t feel so heartsick anymore.

“Merry Christmas,” brayed Reindeer, “to my true friends.”


Holiday Contest: All Creatures Clinic

It’s time once again for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Annual Holiday Contest! You can read all the stories — and enter your own story — here:

This year the challenge is to use the basic format/concept of The 12 Days of Christmas. Fun, but challenging! I fear I stuck a little too close to the original song. If I get my act together, you may see another story from me. In the meantime, here’s All Creatures Clinic (226 words)!


All Creatures Clinic: Twelve Days of Christmas


On the first day of Christmas

who should limp to me?

A beagle with a bum knee


On the second day of Christmas

who should skulk to me?

Two yowling cats


On the third day of Christmas

Who should bob to me?

Three sick hens


On the fourth day of Christmas

who should lurch to me?

Four woozy mice


On the fifth day of Christmas

who should swim to me?

Five funky fish


On the sixth day of Christmas

who should flap at me?

Six peaky parrots


On the seventh day of Christmas

who should sneeze at me?

Seven snuffling schnoodles


On the eighth day of Christmas

who should howl at me?

Eight achy Airedales


On the ninth day of Christmas

who should whine to me?

Nine wobbly whippets


On the tenth day of Christmas

who should tread to me?

Ten trembling turtles


On the eleventh day of Christmas

Who should crawl to me?

Eleven lousy lizards


On the twelfth day of Christmas

my true love baked for me










On the twelfth day of Christmas

who should dance with glee?

eleven leaping lizards

ten twisting turtles

nine waltzing whippets

eight loping Airedales

seven shuffling schnoodles

six prancing parrots

five frisking fish

four romping mice

three hopping hens

two pouncing cats

and a beagle barking YIPpee.