Monthly Archives: October 2016

Another Halloweensie Tale & Halloween Treats

At long last,  it’s time for the one and only, sixth-annual (and counting), 

Great Halloweensie Contest

(crowds of little people, and little-people lovers, cheer)

to wit, to write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words, children here defined as 12 and under), using the words spider, ghost, and moon.   And if you visit Susanna Hill’s blog, you’ll find more entries like the ones below (and many, many more that are better!).

Wait! “Ones below?”

Yep – I wrote two this year. After I learned on Sunday that *gasp* trick-or-treating is cancelled due to the outbreak of a rather nasty stomach bug in our school community, I was inspired to write the second story. Enjoy!



Another Halloweensie Tale

(97 words)

“Another Halloweensie tale, please?”

“Just one, then bedtime…”

“Little Miss Muffet”

“So last century.”

“Sat on a Tuffet;”

“A tough-what?”

“Eating her curds and whey.”

“No way! Why not a Halloween treat?”

“A Milky Way, Mars Bar or Moon Pie!”

“Along came a spider…”

“The HERO!“

“Who sat down beside her…”

“SAT? We creep, climb, spin, but NEVER sit.”

“And frightened Miss Muffet a…”

“WAIT! One itsy, bitsy spider scared that curd-chewing, tuffet-sitting Hag?”

LOOK! That moonbeam shines right through her.  She’s pale as a


“Creep! Climb! Spin! Up the Water Spout! Onto the Web!”



Halloween Treats

(99 words)

Ghost clicked off the light and stacked her sheets. Spider unsnapped his web from the porch and rolled it into a ball. Witch doused the flames under her simmering brew as a cloud of bats blanketed the Moon.

“Another Halloween, and no trick-or-treaters braved our door,” Ghost sighed.

“We had tasty treats ready,” squeaked Spider.

“I guess we’ll have to wait another year,” Witch sniffled.

Moon struggled free from the bat wrappings. She lit a path towards town.

“Follow me!” Ghost exclaimed.

“Trick or treat,” the trio proclaimed. They delivered the tasty treats to costumed kids throughout the town.









PPBF – The Darkest Dark

As nights become longer and Halloween looms, my thoughts turn to things-that-go-bump in the night. Who can say that they’ve never been afraid of the dark? Whether down in a cobweb-covered basement, along a deserted sidewalk, or even in your own bedroom (true confession: to this day, I can’t sleep with a closet door open), I think it’s safe to say that everyone, at some point in her or his life, has been afraid of the dark.  Which is why I’ve chosen to feature Today’s Perfect Picture Book:


9780316394727_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Darkest Dark

Written By: Chris Hadfield & Kate Fillion

Illustrated By: The Fan Brothers

Publisher/date:  Little Brown and Company/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: darkness, fears, dreams, space exploration, history, first steps on the moon

Opening: “Chris was an astronaut. An important and very busy astronaut. When it was time to take a bath, he told his mother, “I’d love to, but I’m saving the planet from aliens.”

Brief Synopsis: Based on a true story, astronaut Chris Hadfield shares incidents from his childhood when he was afraid of the dark, and how he overcame that fear to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon;
  • Ask an adult to share recollections of that first moon walk, or another historical event

Why I Like this Book:

I well remember Apollo 11 and those first steps on the moon (am I dating myself?). In an era when many of us worry about children watching newscasts, and in an era when we often view news instantaneously, alone on individual phones, tablets or computer screens, I loved reliving the moonwalk and experiencing it through the eyes of a space-loving child surrounded by family and friends huddled in front of one black and white television. And while I’ve never dreamed about becoming an astronaut, I love books that show kids how someone can achieve his or her dreams when they overcome fear or other obstacles.

With their blue-gray, moody palette, the Fan Brothers are the perfect choice to illustrate this story. The illustrations combine fantasy, including the dark-loving aliens of Chris’ imagination, and more realistic, almost photographic, images. Befitting a book about darkness, the palette is understandably dark. As befitting a book about an historical occurrence, the illustrations at times are granular, much like the 1960s television images of the first steps on the moon.

A Note about Craft:

Chris Hadfield is a real-life astronaut who has teamed with collaborator Kate Fillion to highlight a problem of his childhood, fear of the dark, and the incident/realization that helped him overcome his fear. The story follows a typical arc: MC wants something, overcomes a problem, and changes. In order, The Darkest Dark presents Chris’ dream, to become an astronaut (see Opening, above, which shows young Chris playing at being an astronaut), explores his fear of the dark and the problems it causes, and offers the solution via the incident that changed everything for him, in this case one of the most momentous events in history. By focusing on this one childhood weakness and showing how he overcame it, Chris offers a way for children to think about overcoming their own fears and realizing their dreams. I think this broadens the scope, and market, of the book beyond the particulars of an astronaut and space, to encompass all dreaming children who overcome fear to realize their dreams.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list.

PPBF – Little Red Cuttlefish

Those of you who know me know that I love fairy tales. Something about the survival of a story through multiple generations of kids, and parents, fascinates me. When a new story appears that retells an old story with one or more fresh twists, I have to share it, as it is, in my view, a Perfect Picture Book:

9781455621460_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Little Red Cuttlefish

Written By: Henry, Josh & Harrison Herz

Illustrated By: Kate Gotfredson

Publisher/date: Pelican Publishing/September 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: fractured fairy tale, cuttlefish, sea creatures

Brief Synopsis: On her way to Grandma’s house, Little Red must outwit a tiger shark or risk losing the crab cakes she’s trying to deliver –  or perhaps even her life.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Like craving comfort foods, kids crave familiar storylines, which helps explain why age-old fairy tales endure. But as evidenced by the popularity of fractured fairy tales, kids, and adult readers, also appreciate new twists to these familiar tales.

Little Red Cuttlefish combines the best of the original story with the twist of a new setting, under the sea, and a new Little Red – a cuttlefish, who uses her natural talents to evade the wolf-like shark.

If, like me, you don’t know what a cuttlefish is, no worries. There’s an afterword that identifies this curious sea creature – a boon for teachers looking to teach a science unit about squid, octopi and cuttlefish (they’re all related – who knew!). The illustrations are a wonderful introduction to the undersea world, too, making this a great picture book addition to the home or classroom with a non-fiction component, too.

A Note about Craft:

For an author wishing to add a twist to a popular fairy tale, the question arises: what to keep and what to change. Is it something as drastic as a plot change – perhaps the main conflict or outcome/resolution? Or do you change the main character or other characters – perhaps the villain? Or perhaps you tinker with the setting – time, place or both? Some of these changes may necessitate others, so a combination of changes result.

Regardless of the number and types of changes made, one thing is clear: enough of the original story must remain to keep the story familiar, and sufficiently believable changes must be made to render it fresh and appealing. I think Henry Hertz and his sons have managed this combination well, making Little Red Cuttlefish a helpful mentor text for those authors wishing to adapt, or fracture, fairy tales. For a helpful Q&A with Henry about fracturing fairy tales, including a list of other mentor texts, see a recent blog post.

As authors think, too, about marketability, the inclusion of a main character from a little-known species is a smart addition, as is the inclusion of back matter that enables the reader to dive further into the subject. See a blog post by Henry Herz that discusses the use of fiction to spur interest in a non-fiction subject. 

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Water Princess

This past Tuesday was International Day of the Girl.   To help celebrate, two Perfect Picture Book Friday bloggers, Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal and Vivian Kirkfield at Picture Books Help Kids Soar, highlighted two wonderful books about Mighty Girls. These reviews, and my recent purchase of an autographed copy of today’s book, spurred me to feature it as a Perfect Picture Book.

9780399172588_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Water Princess: Based on the Childhood Experience of Georgie Badiel

Written By: Susan Verde

Illustrated By: Peter H. Reynolds

Publisher/date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group)/ 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Africa, drinking water, women’s work

Opening: “I am Princess Gie Gie. My kingdom…the African sky, so wide and so close.”

Brief Synopsis: Inspired by the childhood of model Georgie Badiel in Burkina Faso, The Water Princess follows Princess Gie Gie as she trudges on a long journey to obtain clean drinking water.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about access to water and water-related issues, including how a school, classroom or family can help provide clean water for communities that lack it. 
  • Describe your typical day; describe Gie Gie’s day. Compare and contrast your day with Gie Gie’s day: what does she do that you don’t? what is the same?
  • Discuss why you think Gie Gie is a princess.

Why I Like this Book:

The Water Princess is a gentle rendering of a very difficult subject: the lack of clean, drinking water in too many parts of the world, and the disproportionate burden this places on girls and women. And while adults and even many children know the reality of water scarcity in other parts of the world, as we awaken with Gie Gie and walk step by step to the well, we learn much more than the mere facts of the problem; we learn the personal costs as well.

Peter Reynolds’ earth-toned illustrations help draw us into Gie Gie’s arid world. He depicts her with corn-rowed hair, bracelets and earrings. She appears every bit like the princesses we think of when we hear that term. And like these princesses, we learn she has a kingdom and rules animals and nature in her realm. But, she cannot “make the water come closer”, or the “water run clearer.” As she rises before day break to start the journey to the distant well she is, alas, “too sleepy to put on my crown.” Instead, a pot rests on her braids. As it rests on the braids of too many girls and women today. Thankfully, the story ends with Princess Gie Gie’s dream: that someday clean drinking water will be near.

A Note about Craft:

By telling the story in first person, Ms. Verde draws the reader immediately into the story. We experience Gie Gie’s world as she walks through it, step by step.  We learn of her likes and dislikes, her powers, and that which she yearns to control. This first-person perspective brings immediacy as well as helps build empathy for the girl-child who would rather don crown than pot, would rather dance and play with friends than draw water, who dreams of “flowing, cool, crystal-clear water” nearby. “Someday…”

The collaborative team uses an Afterward to great effect as they ask readers to “imagine” life without water, share the true story of Georgie Badiel and the summers spent in her grandmother’s village hauling water, the scope of the problem, and links to the Ryan Wells Foundation  and the Georgie Badiel Foundation, both of which build and help maintain wells.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Shy

I first caught a glimpse of today’s Perfect Picture Book during the New England SCBWI conference this past Spring. One look at the title and the gorgeous cover and I was hooked – I was a shy child hiding in books (and some would argue I still am) who raised three book-loving introverts. How could I not love this book? With its stunning artwork and heart-warming story, though, I think everyone will love this Perfect Picture Book – whether you’re shy…or not!

9780451474964_p0_v1_s118x184Title: Shy

Written & Illustrated By: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/date: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), September 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: shyness, friendship, birds, overcoming fear, books

Opening: “Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.”

Brief Synopsis: Shy, a timid creature, hides in books until he hears a songbird sing. He sets out to meet her, and in so doing, faces his fears.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever felt shy? Draw or describe a time you felt shy or afraid to do something;
  • Download Shy postcards and a Shy writing page here;
  • Do you have a shy friend or sibling? Describe a time when you encouraged her or him to join an activity or go on an adventure;
  • Learn more about birds and bird songs;
  • Share a favorite book with a friend.

Why I Like this Book:

Shy is a quiet book that presents a character who has read about birds and thinks he will love them, but who has “never actually heard a bird,” and when he does, worries that he may not “know how to talk” to one and “what if” he stuttered, blushed, or…

The gentle story of overcoming one’s fear to find a friend will resonate, I think, with shy children (and adults!) as well as friends and family of shy children. 

With its pastel palette and low word count, Shy is a perfect bedtime story or read-aloud to a class simmering down after lunch or recess.  And I love how the story invites friends to share favorite books together.

To quote a starred Kirkus review, “Freedman’s fine pencil lines, graceful animals, superb compositions, and spare text are virtuosic, but the backgrounds are the soul of Shy’s tale: breathtaking watercolor washes blend hues softly from one section of the natural color spectrum to another, opaquely connoting desert, mountains, skies, dawn, and night.”

A Note about Craft:

“Show don’t tell” – a directive that picture book authors hear again and again. If you’re writing about a shy character who hides in books, how do you show this? A pile of books perhaps? A head poking out of the top of an open book perhaps? Or, perhaps, if you’re the talented Deborah Freedman, you hide the character within the book itself. And what better place to hide a character than smack in the middle of that book – the gutter.  As many shy people disappear in the middle of a classroom, party or other gathering, so Shy hides right in the middle of his own book. Brilliant!

Hiding the main character presents a problem and an opportunity. The problem, of course, is that with your main character less present in the beginning pages, the narrator and illustrations must work harder to help the readers picture and empathize with him or her. At the same time, this is an opportunity, building tension, as your readers and listeners wonder who, or what, the main character is. It’s also an opportunity to drop visual clues, so that when the first reading ends, the reader and listener will want to go back to the beginning and see who is the first to find Shy hiding in plain sight.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!