Posts tagged Picture books

The Horn Book: Design Matters, by Jon Scieszka

For some time I had been working on a post about the importance of design in books, an element that is often overlooked but plays a decidedly essential role in the creation of a good book. Skillful design can make an otherwise deficient book seem superior; a poorly designed book, that is in all other respects a worthy book, may be quickly overlooked. But a masterfully designed book that contains a captivating story and engaging illustrations is a work of art. Ironically, exceptional design may go unnoticed, as all the reader remembers is having experienced a wonderful book.

Then I read the below article by Jon Scieszka from the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book in which he perfectly articulates why book design matters, with a much more funny and entertaining approach. 

Scieszka was the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and is the creator of Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. He has written many books for children including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Cowboy and Octopus and Robot Zot.

The supremely talented Lane Smith illustrates many of Scieszka’s books. Smith, an author as well as an illustrator, has written many books, including It’s a Book, Grandpa Green and John, Paul, George and Ben.

The consummate designer Molly Leach, who is also Smith’s wife, designs all of his books. (Check out this great video of the two of them discussing the book making process.) Leach makes every book she puts her name to spring to life.

Together, Scieszka, Smith and Leach have created some of the most ground breaking and memorably funny best-selling picutre books of the last twenty-five years.

Read the article.

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Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always—a story of friendship in four parts.

Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always

DSC01748Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Tao Nyeu

40 pages





Tao Nyeu’s two previous picture books—Wonder Bear (2008) and Bunny Days (2010)—were very well received. I first learned of her work through Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always and it was love at first sight. She’s created a rich, underwater world full of lovable characters, including those only briefly encountered. (The book is full of little asides by a peanut gallery of sea creatures commenting on the action currently taking place.)

Her art is richly detailed and immensely appealing. She uses bold lines, white backgrounds and a limited palette of deep pastels, achieving texture with dashes and dots: these beautiful scenes are reminiscent of “paint with water” activity books.

Her text is simple and straightforward; her stories of friendship belong along side such classics as George and Martha, and Frog and Toad are Friends. And like those favorites, Squid and Octopus contains several different stories as opposed to one continuous tale.


Squid and Octopus are having trouble coming to an agreement in “The Quarrel.” Squid has knitted some lovely socks to keep his tentacles warm and he cannot wait to show Octopus. But Octopus teases Squid, “Don’t you know we wear mittens?”


The two cannot seem to agree so they ask Wise Old Turtle. He takes a different approach altogether and wears a scarf and earmuffs, prompting the two friends to compare their preferred knitwear. “A splendid exchange of socks and mittens followed.”



In “The Dream” Squid is sad when he wakes to realize that his amazing dream, of being a Super Squid with super powers, was just that—a dream.


Now he feels so ordinary. Then Octopus reminds Squid of all the amazing things he’s done, coming up with Tickle Mondays for instance, and Squid feels super once again.



Octopus mistakes a cowboy boot for a hat in “The Hat.”


His friend Carl, a wee fish, asks the mollusk why he is wearing a flowerpot on his head. Just as Octopus is correcting his supposed gaff, Margot, a lovely starfish, asks the cephalopod why he’s filling a soup bowl with flowers.

Octopus is feeling hungry so he dumps the flowers and takes his new soup bowl to Yum Yum’s soup stand. With the boot full of soup, Octopus sits down to eat and is joined by Arnold, a bowler-wearing hermit crab. Arnold questions why Octopus would be eating soup out of a doorstop. ‘“A doorstop?!” wailed Octopus. He felt completely ridiculous.”

Back at home, Octopus is trying out his new doorstop when Squid arrives, wearing the matching cowboy boot as a hat! ‘“I like your style,” said Octopus.”’



“The Fortune Cookie,” the final chapter, finds the two friends speculating on what fate the fortune may predict for them; will it be good, or bad?


The mere mention of a bad fortune causes Squid enough fear to squirt ink. Squid and Octopus decide to open the cookie together and the fortune it contains couldn’t be more appropriate, or true.


“True friends are friends for always.”


Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always is a splendid story of friendship abounding in humor and kindness. It teaches (or reminds) children that sometimes even best friends can have their difficulties but the pleasures and comforts provided by a good pal are unmatched.


Buy the book!

IndieBound / Powell’s / Amazon

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TurtleAndRobot’s Top 20 (plus one) Books about Snow

The Mole Sisters and the Way HomeWayHome

Picture Book

Ages 2-5

By Roslyn Schwartz

32 pages

Annick Press



The Mole Sisters are two of my favorite characters in children’s books. They’re sweet, funny, playful and irresistibly adorable. See my review of the whole series here.

The sisters are headed home when it starts to snow. And snow. And snow. Making their way through the drifts, they are diverted into a wonderful, magical cave, where they add themselves to some prehistoric cave paintings.

Not to fret, the sisters make it home safely and warm themselves by a cozy fire.


The Snowy Day SnowyDay-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Ezra Jack Keats

32 pages



1963 Caldecott Medal Winner


This timeless classic is a simple story about a young boy as he plays and experiments with the snow that has covered his world overnight. Follow the boy in his trademark red suit as he experiences the wonder and possibility of freshly fallen snow.

An interesting and important note: The Snowy Day was the very first full-color picture book to feature a black child protagonist.


Tracks in the Snow Tracks-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Wong Herbert Yee

32 pages

Square Fish

Reprint 2007


A young girl heads out into the snow when she notices some mysterious tracks. As she follows the prints over a bridge, across a pond, through some woods and right back to her home she realizes that the footprints are hers from the day before. She settles in at home for some cookies and tea.

Tracks in the Snow celebrates one of the best parts about playing in the snow, coming back to a warm house for some delicious treats.


Over and Under the Snow OverUnderSnw

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Kate Messner

Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

44 pages




While out cross-country skiing, a young girl and her father discuss the world of activity under the snow. There’s voles running through tunnels, frogs sleeping in the mud and black bears hibernating.

Simple cut paper illustrations perfectly highlight the contrast between the frozen white world above and the living earthen world below.

For those that are curious, the back of the book offers facts about all the animals and their winter activities. Interestingly, the area between the packed snow and the ground is called the subnivean zone.


Red Sled RedSled

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Lita Judge

40 pages




Pure joy fills this mostly wordless picture book. The only text is reserved for the sound effects made by the happy animals and their new-found toy.

A small red sled has been left outside and various woodland creatures take turns going for rides, until the owner of the sled finally returns.


The Happy Day HappyDay-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Ruth Krauss

Illustrated by Marc Simont

36 pages



1950 Caldecott Honor Book


Though technically a book about spring, the book begins under the cover of snow with all the animals sleeping. Soon they are waking up and sniffing. What is it they smell?

They emerge from their burrows and start running and sniffing. They stop, and laugh, and dance! There, in the midst of all the snow and white and cold, a burst of color appears in the form of a beautiful yellow flower.

The delicious, buttery yellow of the flower is the only bit of color in an otherwise black and white picture book.


Bear Has a Story to TellBear Has Story to Tell - Cover

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Philip C. Stead

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press



This is not only one of my favorite books from 2012 but it’s also turning out to be one of my favorite picture books of all time. See my full review here.


Stella, Queen of the Snow stella-queen-of-the-snow

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

by Marie Louise-Gay

32 pages

Groundwood Books


Gay’s watercolor illustrations are active, unrestrained and bursting with color.


It’s Sam’s first snowstorm! He and his big sister Stella head outside to play and explore. Sam, ever full of questions, wants to know what snowmen eat and how many snowflakes are in a snowball. Stella, the helpful big sister, always responds with clever and ever so slightly true answers.


Snow SnowC

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Uri Shulevitz

36 pages



1999 Caldecott Honor Book


One of my favorite picture books ever! See my full review here.


Snow PDsnow

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By P.D. Eastman and Roy McKie

61 pages

Random House


“Snow is good for making tracks…And making pictures with your backs.”


A simple story, told in rhyme, joyfully relating some of the many pleasures of snow. P.D. Eastman is also the author of Go, Dog. Go!, Are You My Mother? and many other Cat in the Hat Beginner Books.


Is That You, Winter?IsThatYouWinter

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Stephen Gammel

32 pages

Silver Whistle/Harcourt Brace



Gammel’s incredible illustrations make this a stand-out picture book. Colorful washes in every shade of blue are soon obscured by blowing white snow that seems to drip from the page.

Old Man Winter has woken up in a bad mood; he hates going to work. He jumps in his truck, flies through the sky, and spreads the ice and snow all morning long.

As he heads home for lunch, he falls into the deep snow and is rescued by a little girl.

“You make it snow for me,” the young girl tells him. Reminded that his work does have a positive influence in the world, Old Man Winter’s mood shifts and he’s happy again.

She picks him up to make sure he’s ok and readers learn that Old Man Winter is a small, wooden doll.


It’s Snowing ItsSnowing

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Olivier Dunrea

32 pages

Square Fish



Just before publishing the magic that is Gossie (see my review here), Dunrea created It’s Snowing.

Baby is fast asleep when mama sees snowflakes falling outside. She wakes baby and bundles him up. The two go outside to see, touch, taste and smell the snow, and share some of the magic and natural beauty life has to offer.


The Snowman thesnowman

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

by Raymond Briggs

32 pages

Dragonfly Books



In this wordless picture book, a young boy wakes up to a snowy day and heads outside to build a snowman. Later that night, when the boy cannot sleep, he heads outside to find the snowman has come to life. The two have a night filled with adventure.

Beautifully soft watercolor panels fill this book with the frosty feeling of snow and cold.


The Mitten The Mitten-001

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

by Jan Brett

32 pages




When a young boy asks his grandmother to knit him white mittens, she warns him that they will be hard to find if he drops them in the snow. As he goes out to play in the snow he immediately drops one of his new white mittens. Before long it becomes a cozy home to some woodland creatures seeking shelter.


Brave Irene brave-irene-1

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By William Steig

32 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Young Irene braves the wind, cold and blowing snow in this story of perseverance.

The dressmaker has finished the duchess’s gown for tonight’s ball but is not feeling well enough to deliver it. Though a big snowstorm is brewing, the dressmaker’s daughter Irene offers to bring the dress to the palace. Her mother is concerned but cannot make the trip herself and, reluctantly, allows her daughter to leave.

It’s tough going, but Irene is tougher and she completes her task despite the difficulties she faces on the way.

By the beloved author and illustrator of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, the 1970 Caldecott Medal Winner.


Poppleton in Winter PoppletonInWinter-001

Early Reader

Ages 4-8

by Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated by Mark Teague

48 pages

Blue Sky Press



In the first chapter of this early reader, Poppleton and his new friend Patrick (a bird) make a fence out of icicles.

Next, Poppleton makes a clay bust of his good friend Cherry Sue.

In the final chapter Poppleton has forgotten his own birthday, but his friends have not. They all surprise Poppleton with home-baked goodies and a nighttime sleigh ride.

See my review of Poppleton here.


Katy and the Big Snow Katy_and_the_Big_Snow

Picture Book

Ages 4-9

By Virgina Lee Burton

40 pages

Houghton Mifflin



By the author and illustrator of the notable classics Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939) and The Little House (1943 Caldecott Medal Winner).

Katy the red crawler tractor was a bulldozer in summer and a snowplow in winter. When a blizzard hits her hometown, all the people are depending on Katy to save the day, and she relishes the opportunity to show that she can do just that.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening StoppingByWoods-001

Picture Book

Ages 4 and up

By Robert Frost

Illustrated by Susan Jeffers

32 pages

Dutton Juvenile

Originally published in 1978

Revised edition 2001


Susan Jeffers beautiful illustrations of frosty New England scenes perfectly complement this famous wintry poem by Robert Frost. Capturing the silent beauty of a snowy night, her art offers answers to some of the questions raised in this well-known poem.


For readers interested in the science of snow, a few Non-fiction options.


The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder StoryofSnow


Ages 4-10

By Mark Cassino

36 pages




This excellent non-fiction picture book features illustrations as well as photographs of snowflakes and answers the questions about where snow comes from and how it’s formed.


Snowflakes in Photographssnowflakes-in-photographs-001


By W.A. Bentley

Ages 5 and up

80 pages




This book features over eight hundred and fifty photographs of snowflakes taken by American photographer W.A. Bentley (1865-1931) during a fifty year period.

Though it’s common knowledge now that no two snowflakes are alike, this was not the case when Bently began his ambitious project. In 1865 he attached a bellows camera to a compound microscope and photographed what he referred to as “tiny miracles of beauty.”

It is because of his work that we can know of and experience the wonder, magic and uniqueness contained in each miniature frozen sculpture.

(See also Snowflake Bentley, the 1999 Caldecott Winner, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Mary Azarian.)


The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes

Non-FictionSecret LifeofSnowflake

Ages 8 and up

by Kenneth Libbrecht

48 pages

Voyageur Press



The title says it all. Full of extraordinary photographs and detailed information about the cycle of a snowflake, this book is written by a scientist who studies snowflakes.

The universal love that children have for snow can be harnessed and redirected to foster a fascination for the fate of small frozen bits of water, crystals, and other scientific wonders.

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The Mole Sisters: Prepare to fall in love.

Note: I will not normally review all the books in a series, but this series is an exception. These books are just so unbelievably adorable, and I really do think you need them all.

The Mole Sisters Series











Picture Books

Ages 2-4

Written and illustrated by Roslyn Schwartz

32 pages each

Published by Annick Press Ltd.

Published 1999-2003

The Mole Sister and the Rainy Day

The Mole Sisters and the Piece of Moss

The Mole Sisters and the Wavy Wheat

The Mole Sisters and the Busy Bees

The Mole Sisters and the Blue Egg

The Mole Sisters and the Moonlit Night

The Mole Sister and the Cool Breeze

The Mole Sisters and the Question

The Mole Sisters and the Fairy Ring

The Mole Sisters and the Way Home

I fell madly in love when I first laid eyes on the Mole Sisters (who are never referred to by name, they are simply “the mole sisters”) and I can’t imagine anyone not feeling the same way. Actually, I just don’t want to.

There are ten books in The Mole Sisters series and you will want them all. They’re small (6 in. x 6 in.) so they won’t take up much room on the shelf, and paperback, so they’re light, as in, easy to carry in your bag when you need books on the go.

Annick Press published a hardcover compilation, which includes all of the stories, but I recommend against purchasing it. Incidentally, this is how I feel about almost all compilations. The page layout has been adjusted to fit this format and it alters the timing of the stories. (Don’t get me started on why a publisher would do such a thing! If books are dying it’s because publishers are killing them.) But more importantly, part of the beauty of these books is their size; they’re small, light, paperback books. Hardcover compilations are large and clumsy, they do not travel well and are just not as cozy (or practical) for reading time.

The art in these books is simply perfect; small, detailed illustrations in colored pencil, with a very crayon-y feel. The books themselves are 6 inches square with the illustrations at 3.25 x 2.5 inches, surrounded by white space. The short, simple text occupies the bottom of the page and consists mainly of conversation between the sisters, with a healthy dose of onomatopoeia.

The mole sisters are all about simple pleasures, and they are always able to find something to be happy about. I think you’ll agree that their happiness is highly contagious.

In The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day, a rainstorm forces the sisters back to their home, which then begins to flood. Soon they come up with a brilliant idea. They dig a hole under the leak and turn their home into a spa like oasis, complete with towels and a potted plant.

You will wish for your own piece of moss after reading The Mole Sisters and the Piece of Moss. It’s beautiful, green fluffy moss; the kind you see on the forest floor and think, I could totally sleep on this. And, eventually, that’s just what the sisters do.

In The Mole Sisters and the Wavy Wheat, a vast wheat field is discovered when the mole sisters follow the right-hand passage coming out of their hole instead of the one on the left. Adorable adventures ensue.

On the first page of The Mole Sisters and the Busy Bees, the sisters rightly declare, “Sometimes it’s important to do nothing.” (No kidding!) Pretty soon doing nothing is interrupted by a passing bee, which they feel compelled to follow. And, after a lovely little adventure, they go right back to doing nothing.

The Mole Sisters and the Blue Egg involves the cutest swings ever conceived of, made of half of a blue eggshell and the branches of a willow tree.

The Mole Sisters and the Moonlit Night, not only features a beautiful moonlit night, but also shooting stars, wishes, and a trip to the moon!

The Mole Sisters and the Cool Breeze opens with the two divine characters lying on their backs, faces flushed.

“’Hot.’ said the mole sisters. ‘Very.’”

They are desperate for a nice, cool breeze and head out in search of relief only to realize that they must provide it themselves. So they take turns fanning each other with large leaves. Then they decide to fan the surrounding dandelion puffs. Soon the sisters are completely, and adorably, covered in fluff. Thankfully, that much needed breeze blows through and cleans the sisters up.

The mole sisters seem to be having an existential crisis in The Mole Sisters and the Question.

“What are we?”

Are they fish? No. Birds? Nope. Snails? 

They soon reveal, “We’re the mole sisters of course!”

In The Mole Sisters and the Fairy Ring the sisters discover a fairy ring (which actually is a real thing; it’s a ring of mushrooms in a field). Since there are clearly no fairies about to entertain them, they decide to be fairies themselves. Eventually they tire of pretending and become moles once again.

The sisters are headed home in The Mole Sisters and the Way Home when it starts to snow. And snow. And snow. Making their way through the drifts, they are diverted into a wonderful, magical cave, where they add themselves to some prehistoric cave paintings. Not to fret, the sisters make it home safely and warm themselves by a cozy fire.

Bonus: Mole Sisters finger puppets also exist!  They are nearly as cute as the books.

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