Perfect Picture Book Friday—LEO: A GHOST STORY



Title: LEO: A Ghost Story

Written by: Mac Barnett

Illustrated by: Christian Robinson

Chronicle Books, 2015, fiction

For Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: friendship, ghosts, imagination, loneliness, fears

First two spreads:

This is Leo.

Most people cannot see him.


But you can.

Leo is a ghost.


Summary (from publisher): “Leo is a friendly house ghost—but when a family moves into his house, and tries to get rid of him, he leaves and roams the city looking for a friend.”

Why I Like This Book: As a kid, I adored the cartoon Casper the Friendly Ghost. So I was immediately drawn to Leo who, like Casper, is quite personable. But unlike Casper, who has a very cartoon ghost look (marshmallow-y body with no clothes), Christian Robinson has brilliantly drawn Leo with a more human look—a transparent boy in old-timey bow-tie and short pants. Older elementary PB readers might feel a twinge of sadness wondering how and when sweet Leo died, but I suspect most younger PB readers won’t give it a lot of thought.

It seems that Leo has been a ghost for a long time and is used to it. The sadness comes when a family moves into his house. Leo tries to be hospitable, but he only manages to terrify the family. When they try to exorcise him, Leo says goodbye to his home.

Luckily, Leo finds Jane, a girl with a vivid imagination. Jane can see Leo and she quickly befriends and then knights him. Together, they slay a dragon and steal his loot. However, Leo soon learns that Jane believes he is one of her many imaginary friends. He fears what will happen if he tells her the truth. As a reader, I felt extremely protective of Leo. I didn’t want to see him get hurt again! I’ll leave the surprisingly perfect ending for you to discover for yourself.

Ideas for Teachers: Any unit on friendship, imagination/imaginative play, or facing fears would be enlivened by a discussion of this book. Students might be asked to consider the most important qualities of a friend – real or imagined – and create a “friend wanted” poster describing the ideal friend.


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



Perfect Picture Book Friday: MY COUSIN MOMO




Written and illustrated by: Zachariah OHora

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015, fiction

For Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: individuality, trying new things, doing things differently, acceptance, friendship, cousins, squirrels, flying squirrels

First page:

This is my cousin Momo!

He’s a flying squirrel!

Summary (from publisher): “When Momo the flying squirrel arrives for a much-anticipated visit with his cousins, they think Momo is no fun until they try doing things his way.”

Why I Like This Book: I was immediately drawn to this story because of its quirky cover. With his enormous eyes and seventies-style headband, Momo’s definitely NOT your typical flying squirrel. I had to see more!

His squirrel cousins are cute in a typical cute-squirrel way and they have been eagerly awaiting his visit. It’s immediately clear that they have one very clear expectation of Momo – that he fly.  But Momo is shy and won’t fly on command.

The cousins try to make Momo feel welcome. But they find Momo’s superhero (“MUFFIN MAN”) odd, his Acorn-Pong technique (“CRUNCH CRUNCH”) strange, and his way of playing hide-and-seek (Momo finds an interesting mushroom) “messed up.”

A cousin laments, “We should have invited stinky George instead,” and soon poor Momo is in tears. He packs his bag and sits on the curb.

Luckily, the cousins see the errors of their ways and try things “Momo’s way.” As you can imagine, it turns out that Momo is pretty fun after all.

I love how this story, with both humor and heart-tugs, authentically conveys the value of individuality and trying new things. OHora’s retro illustrations manage to be cool and heartwarming at the same time – a winning combo!

Ideas for Teachers: Teachers might invite students to write about a time they felt like an outsider and/or write about a time when someone else encouraged them to try doing things a different way.

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




I’m not the first to write a PPBF post crooning the praises of THE ROOSTER WHO WOULD NOT BE QUIET! But though it’s already been covered quite beautifully by Patricia Nozell (please check out her post from last week here), I LOVE the story so much I had to choose it for my PPBF post this week. This one is destined to be a picture book classic. It’s already one of my all-time favorites.


Written by: Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated by: Eugene Yelchin

Scholastic Press, 2017, fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: resistance, protest, dissent, freedom, noise, singing, roosters, villages, laws

First page:

Once there was a village

where the streets

rang with song

from morning

till night.

Summary (from publisher): “The mayor of the noisy village of La Paz institutes new laws forbidding all singing, but a brave little rooster decides he must sing, despite the progressively severe punishments he receives for continuing to crow. The silenced populace, invigorated by the rooster’s bravery, ousts the tyrannical mayor and returns their city to its free and clamorous state.”

Why I Love This Book: What’s not to love? This rooster story is a word-perfect read-aloud. Its message of resistance is oh-so-timely. Its hero is perfectly plucky. It’s a folktale and yet it’s fresh and modern.

From my viewpoint as a writer, I am in awe of this story’s use of repetition and predictability. When our gallito arrives in the mango tree beneath the mayor’s window and sings “kee-kee-ree-KEE,” the mayor notifies him of the no-singing law. When the rooster says “Smell this sweet mango tree! How can I keep from singing?”, the mayor asks the rooster if he will sing if he chops down the tree. The gallito replies, “I may sing a less cheerful song. But I will sing.” The rooster keeps singing even as his freedom, food, and sunlight are taken away. As readers, we know the rooster will keep singing and we can sing right along with him. But as we come to the ending, with the mayor threatening to make the rooster “into a soup,” we are both surprised and not surprised by the rooster’s effect on the townspeople.

With its message of resistance, this story runs the risk of being didactic. But because of its expert telling, it never feels preachy. There’s humor in the text and humor in Yelchin’s pitch-perfect visuals. A spoonful of humor makes the medicine go down!

Ideas for Teachers: Many upper elementary school students (and even some in the lower levels) are currently interested in and engaged in social activism. This book is a fantastic addition to any discussion of social activism and/or freedom of expression.

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE LIBRARY

The Library

While THE LIBRARY is over twenty years old, it feels timeless.

Written by: Sarah Stewart

Illustrated by: David Small

Farrar Straus Giroux, 1995, fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: reading, readers, libraries, librarians, bibliophiles, eccentrics, generosity, friendship, rhyming

First spread:

“Elizabeth Brown

Entered the world

Dropping straight down from the sky.


Elizabeth Brown

Entered the world

Skinny, nearsighted, and shy.


Summary (from publisher):

Meet an unforgettable bibliophile.

Elizabeth Brown doesn’t like to play with dolls and she doesn’t like to skate. What she does like to do is read books. Lots of books. The only problem is that her library has gotten so big she can’t even use her front door anymore. What should Elizabeth Brown do? Start her own public library, of course! With charming verse and watercolors Sarah Stewart and David Small celebrate one of America’s oldest and finest institutions.

The Library is a 1995 New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year and Outstanding Book of the Year.


Why I Like This Book: As someone who has stumbled down the street with her nose buried in a book, the cover of The Library spoke to me. Immediately I knew that Elizabeth Brown ate, drank, and breathed books. Book-crazy kids and adults alike will feel an affinity to eccentric bibliophile Elizabeth Brown. And while the book is a work of fiction, it is inspired by and dedicated “to the memory of the real Mary Elizabeth Brown—librarian, reader, friend, 1920-1971.” The warmth of this real connection and friendship shines through in Sarah Stewart’s humorous and sympathetic portrait of Elizabeth Brown.

Following Elizabeth through childhood, school, and adulthood, we see Elizabeth reading her way through life, collecting books along the way. Soon, books begin to pile up everywhere. But when “volumes climbed the parlor walls and blocked the big front door, she had to face the awful fact she could not have one more.” What she does next may’ve been inevitable but it surprised and delighted me all the same!


Ideas for Teachers: This quirky story is now available in audio and video formats as well. Teachers might point out that although this is a work of fiction, it was inspired by a real person. While some details are clearly whimsical, others seem realistic. As a writing exercise, students could think of someone they know who is “larger than life” and/or who inspires them in some way and write a fictional portrait story in which they embellish or exaggerate certain of that person’s “larger than life” traits.


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

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: