Category Archives: picture books

Books for Booklovers

Every once in a while you pick up a book that – like an arrow – goes straight to your heart. Here are two books that recently did that for me. The first one is a brand-new book. A monument in itself, a tribute to booklovers and wordlovers in the broadest sense of the word: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.



The text is a poetic description of   26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way.   Rather than a summation of biographiesthe author chose to use the voice of acircus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates Europeanwriters and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Bairdwho singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.

Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover.

Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663

Another book I recently fell in love with, but which was published a few years ago, is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, The Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.

Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9

The ABC of Poetry Books

Poetry is one of my favourite genres.
Poetry can be rhyming but it doesn’t need to be! Alliteration is one of the oldest forms of poetry and gives stories and songs its rhythmic flow. Poetry is perhaps the best form of story to read aloud, to share at bedtime or any time. Poetry can instil a life long love of language in a child, so use it often regardless of which language you speak.

Here is a list of some of my favourites. As always, the hardest thing is to limit it! There are so many wonderful poets, so many beautiful, funny, touching books! Enjoy sharing these with your favourite reader, or curled up by yourself:

African Acrostics, Avis Harley and Deborah Noyes
Barn Dance, Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault
Canoe Days, Gary Paulsen 
Dinosaurs, Lee Bennett Hopkins
Edward The Emu, Sheena Knowles
Falling Up, Shel Silverstein
Good Night, Sweet Pig, Linda Bailey 
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, Dr. Seuss + Jack Prelutsky
I Did It Because, How A Poem Happens, Loris Lesynski
(The) Jolly Postman, Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Keep A Poem in Your Pocket, collected by J. Patrick Lewis
(The) Little Blue Truck, Alice Schertle
Mabel Murple, Sheree Fitch
North Country Night, Daniel San Souci
Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse
Pearl Versus The World, Sally Murphy 
Quiet as a Cricket, Audrey and Don Wood
In the Red Canoe, Leslie A. Davidson
Sleeping Dragons All Around, Sheree Fitch 
There’s A Wocket in My Pocket, Dr. Seuss
yoU Nest Here With Me, Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple
Valentine Hearts, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
(The) Waterhole, Graeme Base
eXtra Innings, Baseball Poems, Lee Bennett Hopkins
Yertle The Turtle and Other Stories, Dr. Seuss
Zombies! Evacuate The School, Sara Holbrook

Books – Free Christmas Fun from your Local Library!

So what is it about some of these Christmas songs that we happily belt out each year?
While Thomas’ Snowsuit (Robert Munsch) gets banned because the kid says no-no-no to his teacher, we keep cheering on those two-faced reindeer who exclude one of their own….
Why didn’t Santa or Mrs. Claus call those reindeer on their behaviour when they didn’t let poor Rudolph join in any of their games, just because he looked different?
And then, suddenly, when Santa finds a use for him, they all want to be friends. Well, I would have said ‘tough gingerbread, where were you when I needed a friend?’

And that fun sleigh ride through the snow is debatable too, when you actually listen to the words:
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
We got into a drifted bank,
And then we got upsot.

Oh, what fun… And what is ‘upsot’anyway? Is it just ‘upset’ that didn’t rhyme? Or some old word like ‘hark’? I had to google that one. It means ‘listen’, as in ‘hark, children!’

So, in this hap-happiest time of the year, when we’re finally all gay, I’d recommend curling up with a well written book rather than a questionable song. Picture books, of course, are the best. Not just to read for yourself but to share with loved ones by the fire when you watch those chestnuts pop.

Why not make a trip to the library, just before it closes for Christmas – it’s still the best free thing around – and check out these wonderful, timeless stories:

I Stood Upon A Mountain, Aileen Fisher, ISBN 0-690-03977-8
This gentle story puts to rest the debate of where we all came from. Creation? Explosion? It incorporates first nations ideas and other explanations of life on earth in a beautiful, simple and totally acceptable manner.

Another simple, timeless story is The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna, ISBN 0-416-24170-0. Likely it is out of print but try to find one in the library. We all know Bruna from the Miffy books. His Christmas story is plain and simple: a star, some shepards, a manger, a mother, a baby. The essence of a birth in Bethlehem.

The Christmas Candle, Richard Paul Evans, ISBN 0-439-15837-0, with unbelievably beautiful paintings by Jacob Collins. This story reads like an old folk tale. It is about the magic of seeing every day things in a new light, enriching not only the lives of those around you, but your own at the same time.

Island Santa, Sheryl McFarlane, Sheena Lott, ISBN 9-780988-053601 is a beautiful story based on the real Santa Ship that visits the Gulf Islands in BC where I live. McFarlane combined this with the real story of Jeneece Edroff who fundraised to make a home for families of sick children a reality near Victoria’s General Hospital. 
Check out:

When Santa Was a Baby, Linda Bailey, ISBN 978-1770495562
What kind of baby was Santa? And what was he like as a child and a teenager? In this story it becomes clear that Santa knew his own mind from a very young age. From his fondness for the colour red, to his interest in chimneys, to his habit of giving his toys away . . . Santa was unusual right from the start. Luckily he had doting parents who supported him through every eccentricity, whether they understood or not. A warm, funny story about an odd boy who succeeds. 

Thank You, Santa by Margaret Wild, ISBN 0-590-45806-X
A correspondence between Samantha and Santa, throughout the year. Santa is thrilled when someone actually writes him a thank you card after Christmas, rather than just always letters of what everyone wants before Christmas. A nice twist.

And finally The True Story of Santa Claus, by Eric Walters and his daughter Christina, ISBN 1-894601-11-4 This is the account of how Mrs. Claus is the real hero behind all the hard work at the North Pole. While her husband gained weight and was down to one day per year of work, it was her slaving away making toys and meals, that kept the whole Santa thing going. A fun read for the whole family, especially exhausted moms.

Happy reading this Christmas season!

The Girl Who Writes

The Girl Who Writes, a picture book  by Richard Cole and K. Jane Watt.

My new favourite picture book is a delicate, powerful story of a girl who uses her imagination.
She reads every book she can get her hands on but soon realizes that she need to tell her own stories.
“I know that with a bit of ink and 26 letters, I can make new worlds,” she says.
With her head full of images of kings and dragons and far-away places, but also with the splash of salmon and beaver in a nearby eddy, she writes. Her teacher and a writing contest encourage her to keep writing, even if her father says that she needs to get her head out of the clouds.

Perhaps this is how writers are made. I know this could be my personal story.
But it definitely is a story that will resonate with all those who love to use their imagination and dream of new world. A great gift for your favourite writer-friend!

ISBN 978-0-9917146-1-2

Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell

            This is simply the very best biography I have ever read.
Try writing a biography of a famous person who has led a long life, rich in a wide variety experiences. Chances are this will turn into a lengthy book.
But you are writing for children. 
A picture book is only 32 pages. Still, most biographies have dense text and many information boxes to cramp in the facts.
Me, Jane 
is a very short, simple story with lovely illustrations. 
It focuses on a very small girl with big dreams. Jane’s favourite companion is a toy chimpanzee. 
Jane watches a chicken hatch an egg and is enamoured by nature. She sketches birds and other animals in her diary. And Jane dreams of, one day, traveling to Africa.
Jane grows up to become one of the world’s most well known primatologists, Dr. Jane Goodall.

The story is told in such a way that degrees and accolades are not important. What is important is for a child to dream and to follow that dream. It’s a beautifully told story.

Backpages do give more information on Jane Goodall, on all she accomplished and on her Foundation which enables many young people to follow in her footsteps and become environmentalists.

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Judging by this list of recognitions I am not the only one who loves this book:

A Charlotte Zolotow Award WinnerHorn Book Fanfare BookNew York Times Best Illustrated Children’s BookNew York Times Notable Children’s BookBooklist Editor’s Choice BookKirkus Reviews Best BookA Kids’ Indie Next List BookA 2011 Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee Outstanding BookA National Parenting Publications Awards Gold Winner
A Booklinks Lasting Connections Book
A 2014 Illinois Monarch Children’s Choice Award Winner
A 2014 Iowa Goldfinch Book Award Winner”

A 2012 Caldecott Honor Book

A University of Wisconsin-Madison CCBC 2012 Children’s Choices Book
A Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Book

Walking Home, by Eric Walters

Walking Home

  • Age Range: 10 and up 
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada; 1St Edition edition (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385681577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385681575

Eric Walters has written over 90 books for children, many of them award winning titles. I have read most of them. But his latest book, Walking Home, did something none of his other books ever had: it made me cry at the end. I found it to be touching, interesting, heart warming and a well written story.

Walking Home is the story of a young brother and sister who become orphaned in a troubled, violent time and region of Kenya. The two decide to walk to the region where their mother grew up, in hopes of finding relatives who will take them in. Rather than be separated by government officials who will place them in different homes, they walk over 200 KM, through Nairobi, through villages and deserted stretches.

Eric Walters did his research for this book. To the extreme.
Not only has he build an orphanage in Kenya, and continues to support it financially as well be involved in many day to day operational decisions. He also took a group of children and walked the entire track described in his book. Putting his own feet in the dust of African roads, eating oranges from roadside stalls and hoping to find water from wells, he was able to make this a story that takes the reader right along. It introduces us to Kenyan customs and beliefs. It shows the landscape and the fabric of African life.

The margins of the book have symbols throughout. These symbols seamlessly combine the paper pages (or the e-book) with additional information online. Videos, interviews, maps and other details all add information to the story.

A portion of the cost of this book will be donated, by the publisher to Creation of Hope, Walters’ orphanage in Kenya.

This title can be complemented in the classroom by Eric Walters’ African picture books: The Matatu, My Name is Blessing and Hope Springs. The latter two stories come directly from the orphanage and are based on the true stories of children living there. Both are heartwarming tales, complemented by back pages with information.


Something from Nothing, Phoebe Gilman

Something from Nothing, Phoebe Gilman

When Joseph was a baby, his grandfather made him a shimmering blue blanket adorned with the moon and stars.
As the boy grows and the blanket wears out, the old tailor recycles it, in succession fashioning a jacket, a vest, a tie and, finally, a cloth-covered button.
But when Joseph loses the button, even his grandfather cannot make something from nothing.

With lovely repetition and internal rhyme, this thoughtfully presented Jewish folktale will captivate readers right through the ending, in which the boy discovers one last way of using what he has.

I especially love the art in this book, which shows a whole new layer of story that is not in the text, as the snippets of fabric fall through the cracks of the floor, helping the family of mice that live below.

This is a wonderful tale to read together, to give as a gift for a newborn and to share with older students as a Jewish fairytale.

  • ISBN-10: 1443119466
  • ISBN-13: 978-1443119467

 Ages 5-11.