This Picture Book Life is three years old this month. Woo hoo!
The Importance of Being Three by Lindsay Ward (2016) is a joyfully good book to celebrate threes. And while a perfect toddler birthday gift, I think it works pretty well for a picture book blog third birthday too.
“Three bears, three pigs. Three kittens, too!
Three primary colors—red, yellow, and blue…
I’ve learned so much since I was two.”
To thank you for reading along here, I’m giving away a copy of The Importance of Being Three. Just leave a comment below for a chance to win.
(Open to N. America only; ends Saturday, July 23 at midnight PST.)
And cheers to the next year of picture books brought to life! I hope you’ll join me.
This book reads like an old-timey movie, in a very good way. Spotlighted moments. Text that accompanies the illustrations, but feels like captions, almost like the title cards of silent films. Just look at that lamppost on the cover and the illustrations—grainy black and white.
And then there are threes. A girl. A stray dog who was not always a stray. A juggling father. Three mornings. Three flashbacks to life before. Three times on stage. Three characters who come together in the end in the most wonderful way.
“About six years ago I adopted a little dog I named Lucy. I soon found that she was funnier, more energetic, and more mischievous than just about any dog I had ever known.”
(click image(s) to enlarge)
First, we follow Lucy the dog through town, all the way to the girl, Eleanor Wische’s house. Eleanor attaches sausage to a piece of string and lowers it through the window to where Lucy waits. This feels like a magic trick and relates to the father, Sam, who is a juggler, its own kind of magic. The dog is the girl’s secret. Juggling is the father’s—every time he unveils it, his hands don’t work. Lucy the dog has secrets too: her sneaks into the butcher shop to steal a snack, her untold memories of her former life.
As for how juggling made its way into the book, it definitely has nothing to do with my ability to juggle, because I can’t juggle at all.
I probably had the idea of a vaudeville environment first, because I thought it would be visually interesting, and because of all the fun acts I could potentially come up with. So I wanted a character that aspired to be a part of that world.
And I naturally have a lot of empathy for anyone trying to make a career in the arts, and felt very comfortable writing about that. Juggling is just a lot more fun to look at than images of someone writing or drawing!
There is also a great deal of searching in this book. A dog searches for a girl. A girl searches for a dog. Sam searches for a way to perform in front of people without fright. And in the end, they find what they are looking for at The Palace Theater in a show that brings all the story strands together. And then they all go home. They find home.
I thought it would be fun to watch some juggling in the spirit of Cecil’s Lucy and then, perhaps to try some ourselves. Sounds like a pretty good summer activity for kids.
Francis Brunn was a regular on the Ed Sullivan show and his performance incorporates dazzling gymnastics and dance and other feats of marvel and precision. (This clip has a whole lot of humor as well.) Adequately describing his juggling has been compared to “trying to describe the flight of a swallow.”
Francis Brunn’s sister Lottie was also a wonderful juggler (as showcased in this dreamy video)! I find this one mesmerizing.
I’ve known Hannah DeCamp on social media for a while and so I knew she had lots of picture book wisdom to share. And she’s agreed to share some! Gather round to find out her five elements of a successful read-aloud.
Every week, I read a few books to a fantastic crowd of tiny bookshop patrons. Along the way, I’ve learned a few aspects that make a book really work for toddler/preschool storytime—when I read books that have these characteristics, I notice the kids’ eyes shine with alertness, they spout questions and comments, and I can tell they are really, deeply engaged in the book.
Rhythm is key for a fun, engaging read aloud. The more musical, the better, as kids will catch on to the repetition and rhyme and be encouraged to join in as the story progresses.
Bernstrom’s One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree has the perfect cumulative rhythm for storytime. A take on the “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” song, Eucalyptus Tree features a little boy and his “whirly-twirly toy” that are immediately swallowed by a hungry snake. Hilarity (and an overstretched stomach) ensue as the clever boy encourages the snake to swallow more and more and more, until out everyone goes, in reverse order. There is something magical about the way Bernstrom combines descriptive, action-filled words to create an infectious, irresistible cadence for reading aloud.
My favorite line? “Sneaky-slidey zipped the snake.” See what I mean?
One key for kids’ storytime enjoyment: Seeing the pictures. A book can read aloud like a dream, but if those little ones sitting in the back of the group cannot see the illustrations, it will take them out of the story. Bold and bright art in a picture book will bring the visual story to your listeners most effectively.
Morales’s illustrations in Alexie’s Thunder Boy Jr. are perfect for storytime sharing. They are brimming with energy and vibrant in color, and the thick outlines around each character and object make them pop off the page. The word bubbles are a great addition as well, helping to highlight each potential name the boy bestows upon himself, and the bright bursts of color add visual interest and intensify the action in many of the spreads.
Speaking of spreads, that’s my favorite one pictured.
One of my favorite things about storytime is how kids often notice visual cues that are not explained in the text. Picture books with dramatic irony (the audience knows/sees what the character does not) make this even more hilarious, as the audience tries and tries in vain to get the character to notice what they see. The bonus? It makes even the youngest of readers feel a bit more confident—here is a book that acknowledges their smarts and their attention to detail.
I adore Pizzoli’s Good Night Owl for its genius use of dramatic irony—as the owl tears his house to bits (literally), my listeners yell out, “It’s the mouse!” and, “It’s right there!” and, “Oh, Owl!”
The invitation to interact with the story is a powerful one for little readers, and Pizzoli cleverly invites them in as Owl talks to himself and the mouse gradually becomes more obvious in the illustrations. SQUEEK!
HEAPS O’ HUMOR
When all else fails, make ‘em laugh. Some of my best storytime experiences have had both the audience and me in tears from laughter—luckily, there are tons of hilarious books out there (case in point: all of the books on this list are giggle-inducing), so many that it’s hard to pick just one to highlight. But I must pick one!
Big Bad Bubble is the perfect combination of weird and silly that hits all the right notes in a read aloud.
Number one: Things disappear in our world and reappear in a place called “La La Land.” Number two: The hilarious notion that giant, scary monsters would be terrified of… bubbles. Number three: The way these giant, “scary” monsters look (a comic genius, that Daniel Salmieri). Number four: The narrator encourages audience participation, usually as a means to encourage or scold said giant, “scary” monsters—I can tell you from experience this leads to some very funny outbursts. Number five: Say the names Yerbert, Froofle, Wumpus, and Mogo Pogo. ‘Nuff said.
A good storytime book has well-timed page turns to keep readers engaged in the story, making them excited about what comes next. A little drama is always fun, and so are surprises.
BUT there are a couple of twists that will take even the most clever of readers by surprise, creating a read aloud that is So. Much. Fun. Wide eyes and gasps abound. I love how Cummins gives her narrator a familiar tone with interjections of “Hold on,” and “Wait a second,” and “Hmm,” allowing the story to pause, catalog the ever-shortening list of animals, and slowly build on the suspense. She also utilizes wordless spreads—zooming in on a character in one, turning out the lights in the other—as another way to keep the tension perfectly pitched. Who will be the last animal standing? You’ll just have to read to find out.
Hannah lives in Athens, GA, where she works as the school engagement specialist at Avid Bookshop by day and blogs about children’s books at The Bimulous Bookshelf by night. She often daydreams about living a calm and peaceful life in Moominvalley or traipsing the Maine coast with Miss Rumphius. A librarian at heart (and in training), Hannah loves the look on a kid’s face when they find a book they truly love.
Big thanks to Hannah for stopping by and sharing her storytime smarts! Such a pleasure to have her. Check out her blog or follow her on twitter!
Louise Lockhart is the illustrator behind The Printed Peanut. Her style is retro, lively, and joyful and she brings all those qualities to this super fun activity book.
It’s the kind of thing that would’ve kept me occupied for weeks as a kid and thus, it’s perfect for summertime.
There are prompts for writing, for drawing, for experimenting.
Spot the difference on grocery shelves! Cut out and play a food memory game (yesss)! Learn about the types of pasta and follow a spaghetti maze! Tell food-related jokes to your friends! Draw faces on vegetables! Bake easy no-yeast bread! Design a bento box!
It goes on and on like that!
Draw toppings on pizza, one for you and one for your mom.
Color in ice cream and popsicles and design your own perfect lolly.
Learn about breads eaten in different parts of the world.
Write poems about eats using descriptive details.
Think of foods that start with each letter in the alphabet.
Experiment with eggs.
See what I mean? Food fun to sustain hours of exploration and entertainment.
I’m absolutely delighted to have artist, author, and educator Emily Neuburger on This Picture Book Life. She’s here to play with food!
Emily will take it from here:
When Danielle asked me to collaborate with her on a book review for this super fun book, it was an immediate yes, yes, yes! And, of course, I chose the project with the potatoes.
Oh, I love printing with vegetables. I really do. It is a perfect way to play with color and experiment with form and shape. Potato printing is one of my favorite kinds of vegetable printing. There is something so magical about turning a brown lump into a bright, colorful bit of art. I am always captivated by the way in which the print contains echoes of the original form, but with its own new, mysterious botanical shape.
What you need:
Small circular biscuit cutter (optional)
Paper (trimmed cardstock)
Slice the potatoes in half. This is a nice way for older children to practice using a knife. Of course, adult supervision is important as is teaching children proper knife safety.
Leave some potatoes as is because you can print with the halved potatoes just as they are. In fact, this is one of my favorite kinds of vegetable printing! I love when my paper is filled with imperfect, textured, colorful, wonky potato rounds.
Find a tiny biscuit cutter, and press it into one of the potato halves. This will create a perfectly round circle. Use your knife to trim away the excess potato.
Use your Sharpie to draw shapes on the potato halves – diamonds, squares, and triangles were fun to experiment with! Once the lines are drawn, use the knife to cut out the shape. Be sure to carefully trim away the excess potato. This will leave nice, clean lines.
Mix-up some punchy, fun paint colors. I like to experiment with adding white and black to my chosen colors. This creates lots of different shades of the same hue.
Use the paintbrush to coat the potato with a thin layer of paint. Then, place the potato down on the paper, and press firmly and evenly. The wobbly lines and grainy texture is what that makes it interesting to look at, so don’t feel the need to be exact when you cut and press and print.
Experiment with pressing very firmly and also very lightly. Try coating the potato with lots of paint, and then make repetitive prints until the print disappears. This will create a series of ghost prints.
Make Potato Kebabs in Playing with Food because this is outrageously fun and satisfying!
Print on small squares of cardstock, and you will have a new stash of gorgeous, curious gift tags and note cards.
Print, print, print everywhere.
Box up your potatoes, and share them with a neighbor or friend.
Many thanks to Emily for stopping by to make geometric, colorful potato kebabs! You can visit her full post here.
Emily Neuburger is a writer, artist, and freelance art and creative writing teacher. She is passionate about encouraging people to get pumped about creativity, especially when it comes to the intersection of words and art. She is the author of Show Me a Story(Storey Publishing) and an upcoming creative journaling book for kids, titled Journal Sparks (Storey Publishing). She writes regularly about creativity and unexpected treasures on her website, as well as in print magazines and around the web. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children.