Perfect Picture Book Friday – Earth to Clunk

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

Title: Earth to Clunk

Author/Illustrator: Pam Smallcomb/Joe Berger

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Year: 2011

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 4+

Themes: Making friends; differences; siblings


Today Mr. Zookian said I have to write to my pen pal. His name is Clunk.

“He lives on the planet Quazar,” said Mr. Zookian.

“Write him a letter and sent him something from Earth.”

I don’t want a pen pal named Clunk from the planet Quazar. I’m not writing a letter.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) What do you send your alien pen pal Clunk to make it clear you do not want an alien pen pal? You send him your big sister. That’ll teach Clunk to have a pen pal from Earth-or so our intrepid narrator thinks. But then Clunk sends him a Zoid, an exasperating Zoid that follows him everywhere. After swapping dirty socks, three Forps, some old lasagna, a weird glob, and a string of Christmas lights, our hero seems to be having…could it be…fun? But then: Clunk stops sending stuff. Oh no! Earth to Clunk . . . ? Is he too busy being bossed around by our hero’s big sister? Will her ever send another package again? Maybe-or maybe not. More hilarious surprises await!

Deadpan comedy, vibrant artwork (a bit Calvin & Hobbes, a bit Eloise), a warm friendship theme, and an extraordinary surprise ending will have kids laughing all the way back to the first page of this sweet-in-spite-of-itself story.

What makes it great: The quite unique alien pen-pal premise is fun, and the voice of the main character is deadpan wonderful. It’s refreshing once in a while to find a main character with what can only be described as a bad attitude. This kid reminds me a bit of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

What readers notice: My 7-year-old absolutely loves this book. We’ve checked it out from the library 3 or 4 times now (I know – we should just go ahead and buy the thing) and he keeps asking for it. He thinks it’s very funny. He also likes the fact that the main character sends his sister off to another planet. I can’t imagine why that’s appealing…

What a writer notices: While the premise is sort of whacky, the author brings us into the world by mentioning planet Quazar right on page one. She keeps the world realistic – it’s basically just like our world today, but with aliens. So it’s easy to accept this altered reality. Also, she does a great job of letting kids play out a fantasy (getting rid of a sibling for a while) and since it is within the whackiness of the story we know it’s not “real.” I also appreciated how she carefully layered in the change in the main character’s attitude. For example, the main character at first hates the lovable Zoid that Clunk sends him, but a bit later in the story ends up sleeping with it, as a stuffed animal, signaling the beginning of the shift in his attitude.

I also noticed that of the four books I’ve reviewed so far for PPBF, three of them are published by Dial BFYR. Coincidence? Maybe…

Links to Resources: I did not find any specific resources for this book, but it would be wonderful to use as an introduction to a pen pal project in school.

Here’s a great interview with Pam Smallcomb

Library Harvest – 9/25/12

Another batch of books…

I made a quick whip through the library recently and grabbed some books I thought the kids might like. After reading the first Bad Kitty book a few weeks ago, my 7 year old is now interested in more so I got Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty, and Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray. (Secretly hoping to read these myself when he’s done since the first book was so funny!) Have you read and enjoyed any of these? What have you read recently that you or your kids liked?

Perfect Picture Book Friday – King Jack and the Dragon

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

Title: King Jack and the Dragon

Author/Illustrator: Peter Bently/Helen Oxenbury

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Year: 2011

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 3+

Themes: Imagination; courage; fears; siblings


Jack, Zack, and Caspar were making a den—

a mighty great fort for King Jack and his men.

a big cardboard box, an old sheet and some sticks,

a couple of trash bags, a few broken bricks,

a fine royal throne from a ragged old quilt,

a drawbridge, a flag—and the castle was built.

Synopsis: (from book jacket) Night is falling…playtime is nearly over…but brave King Jack and his band of faithful knights are still protecting the castle from fierce dragons and terrible beasts! This captivating, joyful tale of make-believe is just perfect for brave children everywhere.

What makes it great: I’m always a sucker for a good rhyming story and this book grabbed me from the opening lines. The illustrations by Helen Oxenbury are fabulous, and her illustration of the dragons and beasts the boys fight is right up there with Sendak’s Wild Things. We’ve had this checked out 3 times from the library already – I should probably go ahead and buy a copy!

What readers notice: My 3-year-old loved seeing the baby brother fighting his own baby-sized beasts and dragons. She’s fond of the scary moment at the end when King Jack, all alone, thinks a monster is approaching – it turns out to be his parents coming to bring him home to bed.

What a writer notices: The simple storyline was so true to children’s actual play. It’s a great reminder that stories don’t have to be – really shouldn’t be – complicated. I loved how completely immersed the story is in the pretend play of the children. When King Jack’s friend has to go home, the line reads: “Then a giant came by and went home with Sir Zack.” Perfect. We also hear so much about how the “problem” has to be introduced very early in a picture book, and it was refreshing to read this satisfying story that doesn’t rigidly adhere to that structure.

Links to Resources: I couldn’t find any activities out there in cyber-land for this story, but a wonderful project would be to work with children to build a fort, out of whatever materials you have available. Large cardboard boxes work well. I personally have fond memories of forts made of couch cushions and blankets.

Many 3-4 year olds love dress up and pretend play. If knight-and-dragon stories appeal to them, try spending a day in medieval mode. Your car becomes a coach. Clothing becomes “royal robes.” See how far you can take your imaginative descriptions of the world.

A really fun activity for slightly older kids is creating a personal coat of arms. This can be featured on your fort’s flag, or on a cardboard shield you cut out.

Are You a Last-Minute Lucy?

So here it is, the middle of the month, and a feeling of mild panic is starting to grow inside me. I know it well — it has happened every month for the last 8, and I’m sure it will continue to happen for the rest of the year.

I’ve been participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge: 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months in 2012. So far, I haven’t missed a month (yay!) but check out the dates in my folder of rough drafts:

The dreaded Blank Page

JANUARY – January 23

FEBRUARY – February 29 (lucky for me it was a leap year!)

MARCH – March 19

APRIL – April 30

MAY – May 25

JUNE – June 21

JULY – July 30

AUGUST – August 30

Notice a pattern?

Now, some of these last-minute manuscripts are complete gibberish. The February one, in particular, needs a few weeks in the ICU. But strangely enough, I’m actually pretty happy with some of these. And I started to wonder…is there something about a deadline that actually spurs creativity? I searched around on the Internet for an answer and, as often happens on the Internet, found equally compelling arguments on both sides. Some eminent scholars say that deadlines can hamper creative thinking because the time pressure prevents risk-taking. Others argue that a deadline spurs people to act and move forward in their creativity. In fact, about the only thing the eminent scholars agree on is that funding is needed for more research into the topic.

In the meantime, I will most-likely continue my last-minute ways for the foreseeable future. Fellow 12x12ers — join me here on September 30 for a last-minute panic party. (Just kidding. I’ll be too busy to throw a party.)

What about you? Does having a deadline ignite your creative spark, or stamp it out?

Perfect Picture Book Friday – When Blue Met Egg

Thank you so much to everyone who welcomed me into the blogosphere last week with my review of The Perfect Present. I had a hard time deciding which book to share this week, but finally selected When Blue Met Egg by Lindsay Ward. For even more picture book reviews, visit Susanna Leonard Hill‘s blog.

Title: When Blue Met Egg

Author/Illustrator: Lindsay Ward

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Year: 2012

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 3+

Themes: Friendship; Spring

Opening: One snowy morning, Blue was awakened by something extraordinary flying through the air…a rather strange egg.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) One morning, Blue wakes up to find something wonderful in her nest: Egg! Or rather a snowball she mistakes for an egg. Blue puts Egg in a pail and sets off to look for Egg’s mother. Along the way, she and Egg become the best of friends. But as the weather grows warmer, Blue is in for a big surprise.

What makes it great: I love books where the reader knows something the main character doesn’t know – in this case [spoiler alert] the fact that Egg is actually a snowball. That twist at the beginning, coupled with the unexpected twist at the end (which I won’t give away) makes this a wonderful and unique story. The pictures are a mix of illustration and cut paper which create dynamic, layered images that are fun to explore.

What readers notice: My 3-year-old did not realize on our first reading that Egg is really a snowball. She was intrigued by the search for Egg’s mother. Now that she knows, she says, “It’s really a snowball,” on every page. As a parent, I liked the sweet story of friendship – we do a lot of talking about what makes a good friend, and this story reinforces a lot of those ideas.

What a writer notices: This story offered lots of changes of scene which made for interesting illustrations, as Blue and Egg trek all over the city searching for Egg’s mother. There’s also a lot of subtle humor for adults. For example, when Egg starts to get smaller, Blue thinks she is sick and feeds her chicken soup, “but that just seemed to make things worse.” I love that understated humor. Finally, I adore the unexpected ending to this story. As I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself “how the heck is she going to write herself out of THIS?” After all, Egg is a snowball, and inevitably, snowballs melt. Just when I thought for sure she had written herself into a terrible corner, she ended it brilliantly, and in a way I never would have expected.

As a side note, earlier in 2012 I noticed on Mary Kole’s blog that she was looking for more “stories of unlikely friendships” like this one, which she repped. It’s not posted on her blog anymore, so maybe she found what she was looking for, but it does give us a little peek into what is selling in the market nowadays.

Links to Resources:

Blue and Egg have an adorable blog. Kids (or – ahem – “older” kids) can print out Blue and Egg paper dolls and post photos of them visiting a new favorite place. There’s also links to all the sites Blue and Egg visit in New York.

Interview with Lindsay Ward at 7-Imp

Library Harvest – 9/10/12

Our recent library harvest

It felt nice to get back to the library recently. We were so busy outside all summer, we didn’t go nearly as much as we do during the school year. Once again, I raided the New Books shelf. My daughter grabbed a bunch of Karma Wilson books. No arguments here! My son wanted exactly ONE book — the graphic novel version of the Tale of Desperaux. Have you read and enjoyed any of these? I’m particularly excited to read Laura Purdie Salas’s book A Leaf Can Be (hard to see due to the flash in this photo).

We also got some berries…mmm, berries.

Lots of berries

Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Perfect Present

I’m so excited that I’ve started this blog and can now participate in a Friday feature that I’ve enjoyed reading for a while now: Perfect Picture Book Fridays, brought to us by the lovely Susanna Leonard Hill. Visit her site to see many more picture book reviews. I’ve also added my own little twist to these reviews – What a Reader Notices, and What a Writer Notices. I’m always analyzing stories — what draws readers in and keeps them interested, and wanted to explore that in these reviews. And so without babbling on any further, here’s my first review…

Title: The Perfect Present

Author/Illustrator: Fiona Robertson

Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons

Year: 2011

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 3+

Themes: Friendship; sibling rivalry

Opening: Henry was too excited to sleep. He was thinking about the enormous pile of birthday presents waiting for him downstairs and trying to guess what Spot was going to give him.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) From the moment Spot answered Henry’s ad in the newspaper, the two have been inseparable. But then on Henry’s birthday, he gets a dog–the pet he’s always wanted! Feeling left out, Spot leaves for his old home, and gets caught in a terrible storm. Henry is devastated when he finds Spot missing and is quickly hot on his trail. With the help of his new dog, Henry saves him and Spot finds out that even with a new pet in his life, Henry would never let his best friend go.

What makes it great: It’s a simple story where every detail is important. I loved the unexpected plot twists.

What readers notice: Both kids, 7 and 3, were enthralled with this story. They loved the drama – when Spot leave Henry and goes out into the night. They spent a long time looking at the picture of Spot, stuck in the middle of the river with lightening striking nearby. As an arbiter of sibling disputes, I liked how this story connects, in a subtle way, to the arrival of a new sibling.

What a writer notices: The plot twists are really great – as a reader you are compelled to keep reading because you have no idea what is going to happen next. It starts off as a somewhat ordinary story: Henry is looking forward to his birthday and excitedly opens his presents, one of which turns out to be a new puppy. From there, one would never guess that Spot would run away, that it would rain, that a river would flood, that Spot would become trapped in the rising water, that the puppy would try to rescue him, and then require rescuing himself – or how that rescue would take place (which I won’t give away). It reminds me of that advice to throw out the first few ideas that come to mind when working on a story – if it’s the first thing that comes to your mind, it’s probably the first thing that comes to everyone else’s, too. Create something unexpected, instead.

Links to Resources: I didn’t find any online resources for this book. I think a great extension activity would be a creative writing or storytelling exercise. My son has a fun game called Story Cubes, where you roll dice and try to tell a story that incorporates the characters, events, and other story elements depicted on the dice. This leads to some great twists and turns in the story, just like the unexpected twists in The Perfect Present.