November 25, 2013

Best Picture Books of 2013

Hello everyone. Thanks for stopping by to read this year’s picture book round-up. I think this was  the year of the “wordless” or nearly wordless picture books. So many great titles, three titles made it on to my best of list for this year.

If you would like a printable version of this year’s list click here. In keeping with the tradition of last year’s listI have placed books in “Best of ..” categories. Have a favorite book not on the list, please share the title in the comments along with a best of category title. The zanier the better! Hope you all have a safe and happy holidays!


To read an in-depth book reviews click on the book title.

Best Non-Fiction Book:
Author & Illustrator: Brian Floca – Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
Ages 4-10. The new transcontinental railroad in 1869 comes alive as readers take in the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives and the American countryside. Kids and adults will be engrossed in the myriad of details in the wonderful narrative non-fiction title.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate
Author: Melissa Sweet, Allen Young – Illustrator: Nicole Wong – Publisher: Charlesbridge
Ages 4-8. Learn about the ecosystem of the rain forest as it relates to the life-cycle of the cocoa tree and why monkeys are so important in making chocolate. Kids will also love the two silly bookworms giving commentary on the non-fiction text at each page spread.


from JOURNEY by Aaron Becker

Best Wordless Book:
Flora and the Flamingo
Author & Illustrator: Molly Idle – Publisher: Chronicle Books
Ages 3-6. A charming, deceptively simple book about a young girl and her flamingo friend exploring the ups and downs of friendship through dance. The interactive flaps are a lovely touch and heighten the emotion at every turn.

Author & Illustrator: Aaron Becker – Publisher: Candlewick
Ages 4-8. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Be transported onto a magical journey full of adventure and danger. Where a lonely girl with a red chalk has the power to create, explore, and eventually finds what she is looking for.

Best Friends Book:
Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever — or Snack Time?
Author: Tammi Sauer – Illustrator: Michael Slack  - Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-8. A comical tale about the lengths shark will go to for preserving his friendship with minnow.

Best Sibling Book:
The Big Wet Balloon
Author & Illustrator:  Liniers – Publisher: Toon Books
Ages 3-6. Sweet tale of two sisters, Mathilda and Clemmie on a wet Saturday afternoon. It was the little things is this book that made it so real – Mathilda trying to convince the younger Clemmie of all the wonderful things to do on a Saturday, older one telling Clemmie to get her boots and Clemmie bringing her balloon and then a rubber duckie. These two girls could be any pair of sisters. Story is told in comic strip format.


Best Classic Feel Book:
Miss Maple’s Seeds
Author & Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler – Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Ages 4-8.  Fans of Miss Rumphius will adore this gorgeous picture book which introduces the kind, nature-loving Miss Maple, who celebrates the miracle in each seed.

Best Historical Fiction Book:
The Matchbox Diary
Author: Paul Fleischman – Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline – Publisher: Candlewick
Ages 5-9. A girl learns of her granddad’s immigration story to America through special objects in a collection of matchboxes. Wonderful way to learn history.


from THE STORY OF FISH AND SNAIL by Deborah Freedman

Best Eye-Popping Art in a Book:
Story of Fish and Snail
Author & Illustrator: Deborah Freedman – Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Ages 4-6. A story about courage in the name of friendship as snail ultimately takes a giant leap and follows fish on an adventure. The art for this work is eye-popping and pushes the boundaries of traditional picture book illustrations to create something truly captivating.

Hank Finds and Egg
Author & Illustrator: Rebecca Dudley – Publisher: Peter Pauper Press,
Ages 2-6. A simple, wordless tale of kindness brought to life  in a wholly original fresh new way of photographing hand-crafted dioramas.

Best Post-Modern Feel Book:
The Day the Crayons Quit
Author:  Drew Daywalt – Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers – Publisher: Philomel
Ages 3-7. Wacky, hilarious tale of a box of crayons going on strike. Fun for all ages.

Best Surprise Ending:
The Brief Thief
Author:  Michael Escoffier – Illustrator:  Kris Di Giacomo – Publisher:  Enchanted Lion Books
Ages 4-8. A lizard uses a pair of old underpants when he runs out of toilet paper. Not a problem until his conscience starts speaking to him. The best part is the ending and I’m not even going to give you a hint. It is PRICELESS!

November 18, 2013

Teeny Tiny Trucks

TTTrucksTitle: Teeny Tiny Trucks (book, app)

Author: Tim McCanna
Illustrator: Keith Frawley
Publisher: Little Bahalia, 2013
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 3-6
Themes: Trucks, Insects

Opening Lines:
“Teeny tiny trucks. Smaller than a dime.
So much to deliver, in very little time.”

Synopsis (from Amazon website):

Slugs in traffic jams, busy bees and caterpillar bridges you never know what you’ll encounter with Teeny Tiny Trucks! Teeny Tiny Trucks hits the road with a convoy of micro-sized rigs as they trek through a treacherous garden, down a grassy landscape, across a wide stretch of sidewalk and into the great beyond. Will they deliver their teeny tiny cargo on time?


  • Downloadable coloring sheets of the Teeny Tiny Trucks.
  • Grab some building sets, some trucks/cars, and whatever else you have and make your own truck route.

Why I Like This Book:

Breaker .. Breaker. We have got a new truck that is sure to delight all kids and will have them speaking like veteran trucker in no time. This colorful, rhyming book from debut author Tim McCanna is wonderful. I enjoyed the microcosm aspect of the book, teaching kids to see ordinary things in a new way. For example, a water hose is like a tunnel and a garden is like a jungle to teeny tiny truck.

Best of all kids can enjoy it in print form or as an interactive app. The two formats complement each other well. The print version has the bonus trucker glossary in the back. The app version has interactive elements at each spread, where kids can help the teeny tiny trucks by loading stuff onto the truck or moving obstacles out of the way. My 5yr-old daughter’s favorite part wasn’t the “helping” actions … nope, it was making the snails run into each other for the “fender bender” scene. So yes there is something for every child in this app.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the author. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

November 13, 2013

Picture Book Month: “Ask the Education Consultant” Blog Hop

Picture Book MonthIt’s Picture Book Month! Today we have a special guest, Marcie Collen. I met her via the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. She is a former teacher and totally gets what picture books should/should not be to engage children. She is currently the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month and has created an excellent teacher’s guide called Why Picture Books Belong in the Classroom. I highly recommend reading it and passing it along to others.

Enjoy the interview!

Q1. What type of picture books do you recommend for use in classrooms where English is second language?

Picture books are actually a wonderful tool for the ESL classroom or foreign language classroom because the illustrations aid in comprehension. Look for books that have vivid illustrations and minimal text. And building visual literacy does not end there. When a picture book includes a word that kids might be unfamiliar with, I always ask them to look at the illustration in addition to the textual context to help determine the meaning.

Q2. How can 3rd to 5th grade teachers use picture books in the classroom?

When choosing picture books for the 3rd to 5th grade classroom, teachers should look for themes and issues within the book that fit into their curriculum. Although picture books are considered suitable for younger grades, many are layered with meaning and universal truths for all ages.

Additionally, picture books can serve as “mentor texts” for teaching writing. With concise plot lines, fully developed characters, intriguing conflict and satisfying resolutions, picture books are complete stories in compact form. For further information about mentor text, see Marcie Atkin’s website.

Do you have any favorites or book recommendations for this age range?

THE CATS OF KRASINSKI SQUARE by Karen Hesse or THE OTHER SIDE by Jacqueline Woodson.

Q3. As writers we understand story is the most important. But what additional value-add items can a writer put in making it more appealing for use in a KG & 1st grade classroom?

Tell your story. Do not worry about adding elements that will make your story classroom-applicable. A good teacher will be able to pull educational value out of your book. A School and Library Promotions Department at your publishing house will be able to market your book to schools. A good Teacher’s Guide can provide teachers with validation to introduce your book to their classroom. However, all of that comes after your book is written. Focus on being the best writer you can be. Let the teachers teach.

Q4. What types of books are most appealing for pre-school classrooms?

Books that are highly visual, low word count, and even silly are very popular in the preschool classroom. But do not be deceived by the simple nature of these books. A whole unit can be developed around The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and focusing on Science and Nutrition.

Q5. Books for toddlers are highly visual and low on wordcount. Any tips for writers who do not illustrate that are trying to write for this age range?

Yes, publishers are asking for low word count, meaning less than 500 and sometimes closer to 300 words. But even with younger children, do not underestimate the value of story. Learn the tricks of the trade for strong word choice. Study other picture books for this age group. Do a search on Amazon by age level. Visit your local library and talk to the librarian about what toddlers are reading. Spend time with toddlers. Connect with your inner toddler. Remember what it is like when you were a toddler. And then write your story. Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books is a great resource for anyone interested in writing for this age group.

Learn more about writing and using picture books in the classroom at other blog tour stops!

Thurs Nov 7 - Lauri Meyers
Mon Nov 11  - Jean Reidy
Wed Nov 13 - Darshana Khiani
Wed Nov 20 - Joanne Roberts
Mon Nov 25 - Tina Cho
Wed Dec 4  - Julie Hedlund

marcieIn previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous! Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at  She lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.

October 25, 2013


peopleTitle: People
Author & Illustrator: Peter Spier

Publisher: Doubleday, 1980
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Diversity, Population, Individuality


“People around our world wear different clothes — or none at all.

All of us want to look our best. Still, what is considered beautiful or handsome in one place is considered ugly, and even ridiculous, elsewhere.”


Celebration of people everywhere around the world, reminding us that we are all unique, different from one another – each deserving respect.


There are many, many activities, classroom plans available on-line. I have listed just a few here.

Why I Like This Book:

I loved that my 7 year old poured over the pages of this book for over half an hour, looking at the myriad of detailed illustrations, and most importantly learning about the world’s people. Mr. Spier goes through all sorts of physical and cultural attributes – appearances, clothing, homes, jobs, food, religion – while constantly reminding the reader that what may appear strange to one culture is completely normal to another. As we become a tighter global community, the importance of books like this will continue to grow. This is a must have book for every classroom.

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

October 10, 2013

Miss Maple’s Seeds

Miss Maple's SeedsTitle: Miss Maple’s Seeds
Author & Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler (interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Nature, Seeds


She learns each seed by heart, all similar yet none the same. “Take care, my little ones,” Miss Maple says, “for the world is big and you are small.”

Synopsis (from Amazon website):

Fans of Miss Rumphius will adore this gorgeous picture book which introduces the kind, nature-loving Miss Maple, who celebrates the miracle in each seed.

Miss Maple gathers lost seeds that haven’t yet found a place to sprout. She takes them on field trips to explore places to grow. In her cozy maple tree house, she nurtures them; keeping them safe and warm until it’s time for them to find roots of their own, and grow into the magnificent plants they’re destined to become.

Eliza Wheeler’s luminous paintings feature gorgeous landscapes, lush foliage and charming details. Her tender story celebrates the potential found in each seed—since even the grandest tree and most brilliant flower had to grow from the smallest of seeds.

Celebrate every season with Miss Maple, from Earth Day to graduations to harvest festivals.


  • Activity sheets which include coloring sheets, filling in the missing items for Miss Maple’s house and garden, and a seed fact sheet.
  • Booklist of additional “seed” related books, fiction & non-fiction.
  • Plant something with your kids.

Why I Like This Book:

A magical, timeless book that leaves the reader with a sense of calmness that everything  will be okay and the world is as it should be. There  really is a Mother Nature and she is Miss Maple.

Miss Maple searches for lost seeds and takes them to her home. Where she cleans them up, teaches them about being a seed, reads stories to them, and eventually one day near the end of spring she sends them on their way, so they can find their own roots. Kids will enjoy the whimsicality of the story and the illustrations, such as the seeds taking a bubble bath or being snug in bed. Older readers and adults will appreciate the metaphor of the story, of nurturing, teaching young kids and then having to let them go to discover their own path. The artwork is gorgeous with its pen, ink, and watercolor drawing. Checkout Ms. Wheeler’s portfolio and be amazed.

wheeler_bathtime_2My favorite parts from the book are:

  • Near the end “take care , my little ones, for the world is big and you are small. But never forget …” (I love the next part but I’m not going to spoil it.)
  • “In bustling gardens, seeds must take care to stay clear of weedy characters.” And there is a picture of some creepy weeds.
  • The picture of all the different seeds: pine, water lily, pea, pumpkin, and more.
  • Miss Maple giving the seeds a bath and reading bedtime stories by firefly light.
  • Miss Maple’s teaching the seeds of what they will be doing next summer, traveling by air or water and learning to grow big and strong.

This book is good for storytime. It can also be used in classroom to complement science units about seeds and plants.


This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.


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