Enjoy Pure Silliness and Some Math with The Donkey Egg


The Donkey Egg by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) is indeed pure silliness. Young readers will delight in knowing that Bear has been duped as they follow along to see when he’ll ‘get it’. The summary from the book: “After fast-talking Fox leaves him with a large, green egg, Bear spends minutes, hours, days and weeks caring for it with the help of his neighbor Hare.”

All those minutes, hours, days and weeks is where some math comes in, and it’s anything but boring. The authors put just a few Did you Know? boxes where they are relevant to Bear’s time with his green egg. Each box has facts about how long it takes for things to happen in that amount of time. For example, how long bamboo grows in a day or how many times a hummingbird’s wings beat in a second. The facts are marvelous and sure to inspire contemplation and hopefully a desire to know more. I love the mix of story and concept in one book.

I won’t spoil about the green egg or how Bear gets what he was initially promised by Fox. The ending is as delightful as the whole book. I think it would be fun to use all summer, taking questions a child or parent has about nature – how long until the chickadees fledge? – and learn the length of time in minutes, hours, days instead of just weeks. But don’t wait too long. The typical summer vacation is only 8 weeks. So you’ll only have 56 days or 1,344 hours, or 80,640 minutes to play with The Donkey Egg and its ideas. Have fun!


Best Picture Book I’ve Read in Months: a Letter to my Teacher

letter to teacher

a Letter to my Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (schwartz & wade books, 2017) is enchanting. It is a tribute to a teacher who brought out the best in her student, the narrator. I was moved to tears the first time I read it, and my eyes still water with each rereading. Maybe I love it because I had a second grade teacher who was as wise and caring as the teacher depicted in this story. Or maybe because as a teacher, I had a student whom I still think about, whom I grew to love and who could be exasperating. I wonder if I had enough patience, wisdom and caring for her fourth grade year.

Hopkinson’s words take us through a second grader’s year at school, beautifully expressing the strong bond that developed between her and her teacher. Carpenter’s illustrations – rendered in pen and ink and digital media – keep drawing me back to study each page. Her use of color is fascinating in that she doesn’t color every page completely. In some pages she does, but other times just the student and the teacher are in color or a few extra items like umbrellas. Others are in muted tones of color or simply gray and white. It adds a layer to how the narrator feels that is visceral to me.

While written as a tribute to a specific teacher, a Letter to my Teacher is a tribute to all teachers who try their best for their students. It could also be a valuable tool in teacher training to express exasperating behaviors from the viewpoint of the child and not necessarily what is deemed expected proper behavior. It could be a special gift to one of your child’s favorite teachers. It could be an empowering story for a young reader who is anxious about school – to see how a relationship builds over the course of a year. Of course, a Letter to my Teacher doesn’t have to be any of those things. It is a well-designed beautiful story that is special to read in its own right. I borrowed a Letter to my Teacher from my library, but I will be buying a copy. It belongs in my picture book collection.


Three Cheers for Oliver!


Really I am celebrating Oliver’s Otter Phase, my picture book illustrated by Karen Jones and published by Arbordale Publishing. It is one of three finalists in the 31 Annual IBPA-Ben Franklin Awards for the New Voices in Children’s Books Category. I have known for a few weeks and have waited to publish this blog post once I knew the final outcome. I am thrilled at this news. Since librarians and book designers choose the finalists, I am hopeful that more librarians will order the book for their libraries enabling more students a chance to read it and imagine being a sea otter for a day, just like Oliver.

From the IBPA website: “This year, over 160 librarians, booksellers, and design and editorial experts – most of whom have decades of book industry experience – judged the books submitted to the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award™ program. The judging process took seven months, beginning in September 2018 and continuing into March 2019. At the end of the process, over 1,500 unique entrants will receive a written critique from each of the three judges who reviewed their book. The critiques include constructive feedback to help each publisher understand how their book is being perceived by industry professionals, upholding part of IBPA’s mission to serve the independent publishing community through education.”

This is a great honor for Arbordale Publishing and for Karen Jones, the illustrator. They took my idea, my words, and had a vision for what the book could become and they did a great job – far beyond what one person could do. That is some of the magic of picture book creation. Though it feels like there’s a little bit of magic all along the way – getting your idea out of your head and on the paper, finding a publisher, alignment with a good illustrator, etc. – in reality publishing a book is a lot of hard work. The right combination of ideas, words, pictures, design, and marketing must come together to create a book that lives and breathes in the world. Indeed it takes work, persistence, creativity and patience, but at least today, it feels like some magic is sprinkled in there too.


So what was the outcome? I just found out on April 9. Oliver’s Otter Phase earned a Silver Ben Franklin Award! You can check it out along with the other winners here.


BLOOM BOOM! A Book to Read Soon!

Bloom Boom!


If any book will have you pining for spring, it’s April Pulley Sayre’s new book Bloom Boom! (Beach Lane Books, 2019). Every page makes me want to pack the car with camping gear and take off. Written with sparse and lyrical words and illustrated with stunningly bold photographs, I feel as if I’m in the scene. It’s peaceful and inspiring and with such close-up photos, young readers can hone in on details they might not normally notice: dew on a leaf; veins on a lady’s slipper; or clubs on a moth’s antennae.

The back matter is broken into two sections. The Bloom Boom talks about the ecosystems in which the blooms are found, from deserts to meadows and woodlands. The second section titled A Bit More About the Blooms, shows each page or page spread along with some science facts about the particular plant species.

I’m glad as I write this, that spring is here (for me in Virginia) because I am itching to get my hands in the dirt. Bloom Boom! is a magnificent tribute to the wondrous spectacle of spring.


Salmon Matters is a Winner!


I entered my latest picture book, Salmon Matters: How a Fish Feeds a Forest, in the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association Excellence in Craft Award for 2019 and found out last week that it won an award. I needed to wait for the award ceremony, which was yesterday to find out what it won. Salmon Matters got first place in their book category!

I could not attend the ceremony, but my illustrator did and sent me a photo of the award. I am thrilled and honored that Salmon Matters can have recognition as a worthy book for young readers to learn about life and nutrient cycles, and the intricate ways that nature is interconnected. I remember learning, not too long ago, how salmon, trees, bears, birds and many other mammals and scavengers are linked in ways where the nutrients passed along create the beautiful web of life we know as the Pacific rainforest. And how, when humans treated bears as a threat to salmon resources and removed them from areas, the trees suffered. Evolutionary connections matter. I want young readers to feel this awe and know these facts sooner than I did, so they will seek out more awe and more knowledge. I believe such understanding is the only way to respect and care for the places we call home. It’s why I write for children.

Salman Matters Award


A Ladybug’s Life is Perfect for Spring

A Ladybug's Life

I picked up A Ladybug’s Life by John Himmelman (Children’s Press, 1998) at the library because the small beetles had been on my mind this winter. I tried growing some kale indoors in a pot and it germinated nicely, got a few inches tall and then suddenly was infested with aphids. But this was not a problem I thought, as there are always a few ladybugs on the upstairs bathroom window. I placed several ladybug beetles in my kale plant, but the aphids persisted.

Days later I caught two ladybugs mating! I had seen them in mating position outdoors on milkweed leaves often, but this time there was some active wiggling. Over the next few days I found (ahem, walked in on) several pairs that were mating. I was excited to get to see some larvae, which I think are fascinating looking. Long story short, I missed the eggs, but got to see the larvae. They ate lots and lots of aphids and saved the kale, which is slowly starting to rebound.

ladybug larva

Ladybug larva sometimes called an ant lion

A Ladybug’s Life is wonderful because the illustrations are big and bold and we the reader feel shrunken down to get a bug’s-eye view of the ladybugs world. It is informative without being dry, telling us of the ladybug life cycle and its struggles through the seasons, all with the large detailed illustrations. I think it will delight any young reader who loves insects and any adult reader who’s never seen a ladybug larva.

A Ladybug’s Life is a perfect book to start a spring season of exploring. Enjoy.