A Frightening Contest

Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting a contest of “Halloweensie” stories — tiny stories for tiny people, about Halloween. The parameters: the story must be 100 words or less, and must contain the words ‘bat,’ ‘witch,’ and ‘trick-or-treat.’ Below, in exactly 100 words, is my entry. Read more entries at her website. Happy Halloween!

A Frightening Contest

By Carrie Finison

A witch and a bat had a battle of wits,

To see who could best scare the neighbors to bits.

The witch dyed her cat black and practiced her cackle.

She littered her walkway with bones that would crackle.

Meanwhile the bat was festooning his attic

With lawn signs – Republican and Democratic.

The parents would flee his political speeches.

The kids would want candy…but he’d hand out leeches.

That scheming pair worked until both fell asleep.

While kids trick-or-treated, those two counted sheep.

And so, a day late, they gave neighbors a fright—

Screaming because they’d missed Halloween night.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Oliver

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: Oliver

Author/Illustrator: Judith Rossell

Publisher: HarperCollins

Year: 2012

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 3+

Themes: Curiosity; imagination; mothers/sons

Opening: “How do planes stay up in the sky?” Oliver asked. Oliver liked finding things out.

“Wings,” said his mom with her mouth full of clothespins.


Oliver found out everything he could about wings.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) “How do planes fly?”

“How does our fridge work?”

“Can I breathe underwater like a fish?”

Oliver is a curious explorer, so he asks a lot of questions.

Then, one day in the bathtub, he hears a strange gurgle. “What lives down the drain?” he wonders. Soon Oliver is headed down the drain in his homemade submarine on a spectacular mission. But will this clever inventor be able to discover a way back?

What makes it great: The book begins as a true-to-life story of a little boy who loves exploring the world and making things. It later launches, fabulously, into a fantasy where Oliver has the “best fun ever” down the bathtub drain – but returns him safely home and reconnecting with his mother, à la Where the Wild Things Are.

What readers notice: Both kids loved the fact that Oliver threatens to poke a banana down the drain only to be stopped by his mother. He then says, “You never let me do anything!” which for some reason elicits giggles from both of them. They also love the spreads that show Oliver’s winding path down the drain, and then back up again.

What a writer notices: There are so many wonderful things about the way this story is put together, but what I love most is that every single element is purposeful and plays a part in both the beginning and the end of the story.

In the beginning, Oliver explores wings and flying, asks about penguins, and gets scolded for bubbling his milk through a straw. In his journey down the drain, Oliver finds that the gurgling noise he heard was made by a ship full of vacationing penguins, all slurping their drinks. They invite Oliver to fly with them and he solemnly informs them, “Penguins can’t fly. It takes more than just wings, you know.” His journey down the drain is surprising and fantastical, but at the same time, because of the elements the author introduced early in the story, makes complete sense within the story context.

Links to Resources: 

After reading this book, kids may be curious about where bathtub water actually goes. These sites have lesson plans and other resources about water systems:



Likewise, children might also be curious about penguins and why they can’t fly. This site has a wealth of penguin-related lesson plans and activities:


Perfect Picture Book Friday – Piggy Pie Po

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: Piggy Pie Po: 3 Little Stories

Author/Illustrator: Audrey & Don Wood

Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books

Year: 2010

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 2+

Themes: (Loosely) Clothing, mastering skills, trying new foods

Opening: Piggy Pie Po likes to dance/When he wears his party pants. If he wears his rubber fins,/Piggy Pie Po swims and swims.

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) Who is Piggy Pie Po? Just the smartest (maybe), messiest (probably), silliest (definitely) piggy you’ll ever meet. In these three small and playful stories, he’s sure to become every child’s most unforgettable new friend.

What makes it great: The silliness of the character and the uncluttered illustrations of his actions, with great facial expressions.

What readers notice: This was one of my daughter’s favorites when she was around 2 years old. She loved the silly character, even his name made her laugh. She especially loved the third little story about Piggy Pie Po eating a feast — He spilled the soup! He didn’t care./He got it in his piggy hair. Gales of laughter over that scene.

What a writer notices: The silliness of this story begins at the beginning — with the character’s name. The book is really more of a character study than a story, but what a character! It’s amazing that this book tells not one, not two, but THREE little stories about this character, in 200 words, total.

Links to Resources: 

Audrey Wood offers some coloring pages on her website for Piggy Pie Po.


There’s also an interesting background story of the making of the book.



Library Harvest – 10/16/12

Our latest library pile, from a few days ago. Elisa Kleven is one of my all-time favorite illustrators so I was excited to see A MONSTER IN THE HOUSE on the shelf. I hadn’t seen that one before. MOONBEAR’S PET is another one I didn’t know about. My kids have both enjoyed the Moonbear series by Frank Asch. MOONBEAR’S DREAM is one of the funniest picture books I’ve read, definitely worth a read if you haven’t seen it.

I was also excited that the library has gotten out the Halloween books, which go into deep storage off-season.

He’s reading an Oliver pig book. She’s reading A Monster in the House. What are you reading lately?

My Poem and Interview at No Water River

I’m so honored to be sharing my poem “Idunno” at Renée LaTulippe’s poetry blog, No Water River today. Please stop by and check it out. If you haven’t explored No Water River yet, you are in for a treat. Renée is collecting videos of children’s poets reading their work. The library she has created is an amazing and totally unique resource. Not only does it include a video of each poet reading his or her poem, but also an often-hilarious “Snickerview” with the poet, and for teachers, some really great extension activities that can be used with each poem. A few of my favorites are Julie Larios reading the lovely “No Strings Attached,” Amy Ludwig VanDerwater reading “Spring Sheep” (with sheep listening in), and David L. Harrison reading “Cookie,” with interview written entirely in cowpokese.

Renée has also started to put together a library of her own dramatic readings of classic children’s poems. I love her rendition of Jabberwocky, complete with crazy hat and matching dress, straight out of Alice.

On top of all that, Renée is an amazing poet herself. Her poetry collection LIZARD LOU just won the silver medal for poetry in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.

As part of my interview with Renée, she challenged me to write a rhyming couplet using the word ‘geography.’ I do love an assignment and a deadline, and right after I finished tearing my hair out, I came up with an idea. Phew, that’s done, I thought. Nope. ‘Geography’ couplets have been rattling around in my noggin ever since, so I’m posting a few of them below. Tell me which one is your favorite, and click on over to No Water River to read more.

The Effects of Global Warming

What we study today as our nation’s geography

May soon be more properly called ‘oceanography.’

Writer’s GPS

What will I write today? Something I’ll find

In the unmapped geography inside my mind.

Donner’s Downfall

Geography wasn’t his strong suit;

And so, Donner chose the wrong route.

The “Dark Night of the Soul”

This past spring, I took Anastasia Suen’s wonderful Intensive Picture Book workshop. She has a helpful approach to analyzing picture book texts and breaking down story arcs to understand how writers put stories together.

One thing that stuck with me is a phrase from Blake Snyder’s “beat sheet” – a narrative paradigm or map for movie screenplays which Anastasia uses to help dissect picture book stories. This makes a lot of sense, actually, since both are visual media for storytelling. The phrase is “the dark night of the soul.” Doesn’t that sound intense and grim and send shivers up your spine? Don’t you love the melodrama?

The “dark night of the soul” is the moment in the last third of the story when everything has fallen apart and the character is at an emotional low. It is the darkness before the dawn, the moment when the character knows without a doubt that they have failed in their quest and will never achieve their goal.

Of course, in most movies (and picture books, too) what happens next is that the character rallies to finally achieve their goal for a happy ending.

Not every story follows this narrative arc, but I recently went through some picture books looking for that “dark night of the soul” moment. Frequently, I found, this is the moment when the main character is getting almost exactly the opposite of what it is he or she truly wants (and eventually gets by the end of the story).

Where the Wild Things Are

Dark Night of the Soul: Even though he is King of the Wild things and can be as wild as he wants, Max realizes that he is lonely and just wants to be where someone loves him “best of all.”


Officer Buckle and Gloria

Dark Night of the Soul: Officer Buckle decides not to give any more safety speeches because he thinks Gloria was getting all the attention.



Caps for Sale

Dark Night of the Soul: The pedder becomes so angry at the monkeys who stole his caps that he throws his own cap off his head and walks away, giving up on getting his caps back.




Dark Night of the Soul: Unable to find his lost button, without which he may not get adopted, Corduroy gets put back on the shelf with the other toys by the store security guard.


Harold and the Purple Crayon

Dark Night of the Soul: Harold, who has been on an adventure with his purple crayon, decides he is tired and wants to be back in his own room, but instead slips over the side of the mountain he’s drawing and falls through thin air.


After taking this class, I went through some of my manuscripts to see whether a dark night of the soul occurred for my main characters and if it did, whether I could heighten the drama of that moment.

Does your story have a “dark night of the soul?” Does it need one?

I’m excited to have the opportunity to add a poem to Renée LaTulippe‘s video poetry library at No Water River on Friday. Please stop by for your Friday dose of poetry!