Tag Archives: picture book

Buddhist Teachings in a Lovely Picture Book

The Sun in My Belly by Sister Susan; illustrations by Sister Rain

Jenny and Molly are two young girls playing ball in a field. They begin to argue and finally walk away from one another, both angry and sad. Jenny cries, but the warmth of the sun on her head gives her comfort, and she begins to realize that everything is connected and thus inside of her. As she reflects on the beauty of the natural world around her—and subsequently the beauty in herself—she is happy and no longer feels alone. When Jenny encounters Molly again, they both apologize for their behavior and begin to share their thoughts on the world and its many wonders.

Inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun in My Belly introduces readers to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and connectedness. Sister Susan and Sister Rain, both ordained nuns in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote this book to share a philosophical concept: we are never alone because everything is a part of us, from the rain and sun to the plants and animals with which we share our world. Continue reading Buddhist Teachings in a Lovely Picture Book

Planet Earth Is Home

What’s So Special About Planet Earth? by Robert E. Wells

Sometimes Earth can be uncomfortable with weather that’s either too hot or too cold, and huge storms seem to come out of nowhere. In this introductory book about the planets, author Wells invites kids to pretend they’re visiting each of the planets in our solar system to find a new place to live. (As he says, “If you’re thinking about moving, you’d want to visit first, to see if the planet was right for you.”) The journey brings us to all eight planets in our solar system, Earth included, and at each we learn about distance from the sun, planet diameter, orbit time, number of moons, temperatures, and more. Each planet is interesting, but none seem to quite fit the bill for what humans, plants, and animals need in a home. When we finally travel back home to “our” planet, Wells explains why Earth is just right for us and the animals and plants we live with. He also tells us that we haven’t always taken good care of our home (pollution, etc.) and there are ways to make it better. He talks about recycling, reducing use of resources, and reusable energy. After all, planet Earth is pretty special–we’d better take care of it!

Bright, cartoon-like illustrations make the book fun, and some pages are written and drawn at different angles so readers have to rotate the book, which makes it interesting. In some ways, What’s So Special reminds me of The Magic School Bus series Continue reading Planet Earth Is Home

Love as Playful Poetry

I Haiku You written and illustrated by Betsy Snyder

you be my jelly,


i’ll be your peanut butter–


let’s stick together!

This, as you might expect, is a very sweet book. Readers will find a fun and poignant haiku on each page paired with cute illustrations of bold lines, smooth watercolors, and characters reminiscent of illustrator Gyo Fujikawa (one of our favorites). The characters express their love for everything from bikes and lemonade to parents, friends, and pets. Children and adults will both love the silly but apt comparisons in each poem. Snyder finds a way to boil down sentiment to basic ideas, and she does so very effectively without being condescending.

The book jacket says that “both the young and the young at heart will enjoy sharing these simple poems of affection and appreciation,” and I think that is absolutely true. Continue reading Love as Playful Poetry

No Matter What, “Wolf Won’t Bite!”

Wolf Won’t Bite! written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

In a seeming role reversal from the original fairy tale, three little pigs capture a big, toothy wolf and put him on display in their very own circus where, no matter what they do, “wolf won’t bite!”

Sure of their safety despite their antics, the three little pigs (dressed in a strongman leotard, ringmaster suit, and frilly tutu) continue to up the ante in their circus acts, rejoicing in the knowledge that they are safe no matter what. Kids will delight in going from one page to the next as the pigs lift Wolf in the air, make him jump through hoops, and even shoot him from a cannon. While the pigs twirl in excitement, safe and sound, wolf looks confused at his predicament, and kids will laugh at the ridiculous pictures and, in a twist from the original story, perhaps even feel sorry for the poor wolf as he’s dressed up and put on display. In the end, predictably, wolf is tested to his limit and the three little pigs… Well, let’s just say things don’t go according to plan! Continue reading No Matter What, “Wolf Won’t Bite!”

A Beautiful & Authentic Midwestern Picture Book

It’s Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should tell you something: I fell in love with It’s Milking Time before I opened it.

Based on author Phyllis Alsdurf’s own childhood on a Midwestern dairy farm, this book has a lyrical story, a description of the daily chores a daughter shares with her father each evening as they milk and take care of their cows. Each two-page spread is a beautiful illustration that supports Alsdurf’s simple, straightforward narrative, a step-by-step introduction to evening tasks on a small family dairy farm. The story goes beyond that, though, sharing not only chores but the loving relationship between a father and daughter as well as the relationship between humans and animals.

So you won’t think I’m overly infatuated with this book (and maybe I am), I’ll let you in on a secret: I showed this book to an authentic dairy farm girl, and she loved it too. My soon-to-be Mother in Law grew up on her father’s Wisconsin dairy farm, and she gave It’s Milking Time her official seal of approval and accuracy. Continue reading A Beautiful & Authentic Midwestern Picture Book

A Home for Every Creature on Earth

Even an Octopus Needs a Home by Irene Kelly

In this charming picture book, Irene Kelly offers diverse coverage of the habitats of animals and insects world-wide. How do bees build the honeycombs they live in? What does a parakeet nest look like? How many paper wasps can live in one hive? Where does a polar bear raise its cubs? Kelly’s colorful and detailed picture book will answer these questions and more. Describing the homes and their rationale for everything from termites and badgers to coral reefs and chimpanzees, Kelly covers a lot of ground.

Even an Octopus Needs a Home is loosely organized into house types to offer clear transitions between very different animals. (Categories include tree houses, towers, lodges, burrows, floating homes, mobile homes, and bubbles.) At times the paragraphs themselves aren’t visually linear, which might confuse some kids, but the integration of the text in the illustrations—including some close-up pictures with labels—will help to keep the books’ subject matter interesting for most. The illustrations are a mix of ink and watercolor, and best of all, they’re accurate depictions of the animals she describes. Continue reading A Home for Every Creature on Earth

A Multi-Cultural Cinderella

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman; illustrated by Julie Paschkis

In Fleischman’s book, stories from countries world-wide are pieced together to create the single story of Cinderella, told from beginning to end despite the sometimes incongruous pieces. A sweet, beautiful girl who is mistreated but makes her way to meet the prince, falls in love, and lives happily ever after, albeit sometimes with golden sandals and sometimes with diamond anklets.

Paschkis’ illustrations are reminiscent of wood block prints alternating between descriptive narrative illustrations and background images of ethnic food, clothing, and creatures. Bright, bold pictures pop off the page, and each ethnic section is stacked on others, appearing almost quilt-like in its narrative arc. Paschkis did a good job of keeping images relevant to the text and bringing up cultural differences that children will delight in pointing out. Continue reading A Multi-Cultural Cinderella

A Creative and Refreshing Picture Book

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrations by Jon Klassen

Annabelle lives “where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys,” so when she finds a small, ordinary-looking box filled with bright, rainbow-hued yarn, she knits herself a sweater. The funny thing is that there’s still yarn left, so she knits a sweater for her dog… and still has extra yarn. Annabelle then knits a sweater for a jealous bully, a classroom full of students and teachers, and all the animals. When she has knitted sweaters (and a single hat) for everyone in town, she still has yarn left, so she gets creative: she knits sweaters for the houses and trees too.

Word of her beautiful, colorful creations starts to travel, and people flock to admire the now vivid landscape where she lives. One of them, a wealthy and arrogant archduke, offers to buy Annabelle’s magical box, and when she rejects him, he steals it and sails away, only to find that this endless box of yarn is now suddenly empty. With the help of the ocean waves (and a bit of imagination), the box finds its way back to Annabelle where she happily continues her work in her now bright and appreciative town. Continue reading A Creative and Refreshing Picture Book

Author Spotlight: Interview with Erik Korhel

When you first meet author Erik Korhel, he comes across as quiet, subdued. When you open up one of his collections of poems, though, you realize he’s anything but.

When we met Erik, he was doing a story-time event at the store, reading from his books with the help of an actor to bring the pages to life. (His books, as mentioned in the review of The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache I wrote a couple of months back, have also been turned into plays that are performed across the state in theaters, schools, and libraries.) Afterward I got the chance to interview him–here’s what he had to say!


You said that The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache was written and illustrated after your own childhood experiences. What is your favorite story that you incorporated into a poem from childhood?

I think my favorite is called “Sizzle”, which is about using your imagination as a child [for example] playing the hot lava game. That really sums up how I was as a kid.

I definitely played the hot lava game as a kid. There were though alligators in the lava. They were mutant alligators.

Yeah, hot lava was enough for us!

What inspired you to start writing for kids?

I think it had a lot to do with my childhood just being so wonderful. I had a fantastic childhood, and as I started to get older, I started to become more nostalgic for those times when it was easier and we weren’t paying bills and didn’t have to work. Continue reading Author Spotlight: Interview with Erik Korhel

Guest Review: Marin

A warm welcome to our friend Marin, a fellow kids’ and teen book enthusiast! Marin is currently a grad student in library school and loves reviewing books as much as we do. Here’s her latest review of the Caldecott Award winning book by Brian Selznick, soon to be released as a movie in theaters.


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

A unique portrayal with equal amounts narrative and wordless illustrations of a 12-year-old orphan who is trying to survive on his own in 1930s Paris.

A grumpy man, a brash girl, a broken automaton, filmmaking and Paris; what do these things have in common? Selznick combines them in descriptive prose and emotive illustrations to construct a unique reading experience. A young orphan living in a hidden room in a Parisian train station in 1931 is skilled at fixing things but has to shoplift to survive. One day he is caught stealing and the fast-paced adventure begins.

Going back and forth seamlessly between series of wordless images and more traditional text the narrative describes what happens when Hugo becomes an apprentice to a mysterious grumpy toy booth owner and meets his god-daughter. The two children set out to unravel a mystery that changes all of their lives.

Pencil sketches combine with historical photographs of Paris and stills from black and white movies to create a distinctive setting and mood for the characters’ adventures. A fun way to introduce readers to silent films, the study and practice of magic, and the creativity and variety of possibility in invention.

2008 Caldecott Award Winner

Age 9-12

Copyright January 2007

ISBN: 9780439813785


Also be sure to check out Brian Selznick’s newest book in the same mixed style of beautiful images and text, Wonderstruck, released just last week to critical acclaim (see what the New York Times has to say here). And thanks to Marin for sharing her review and love of awesome books!