Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +

stack the cats + clay cat craft

Stack the Cats! by Susie Ghahremani (2017).

One look and I was smitten with this one. Cats! That vibrant color palette! But there’s more. Stacking cats to do math—yes!





This picture book counts cats. And stacks cats. And adds cats. And then subtracts them from the big stack they’ve tumbled out of when they do cat-like things: napping, climbing, and playing hide and seek.

Full of the cutest cats and and tons of playfulness, this one charmed me with its style, simplicity, and STEAM education applications.

BoyGirlParty is the home of Susie Ghahremani’s adorable shop full of pins and onesies and more. She’s also got a great portfolio of art and illustration as well. And now, her very own picture book.
(You can even buy a onesie with a stack of cats by Susie!)



Images above are from Buy Olympia.


Stack the Cats has craft written all over it. And math craft at that! Plus, the last line is: “How will you stack the cats?” That calls for clay cats to stack in order to answer.

Stack them, add them, subtract them, try to make the biggest stack you can without it toppling over—so much fun stuff to do with these clay cats, including crafting them to start.

What you need:

Clay! I used the kind that doesn’t need to harden in the oven—plastalina modeling clay.

Wax paper to make sure the surface you work on doesn’t get messy.

A butter knife (I used it to portion out the clay; take care with kids.)

That’s it!

There are no set instructions here. I typically started by sculpting the body. I took a portion of the clay in the size I wanted and rolled it into a ball, then squashed it flatter and kind of squared off the head a bit.

Next, the tail! Take a smaller portion of clay and roll it into a cylinder shape. Then affix it to the tail end of the body.

Next, ears. I took a small bit of clay and pinched one end to make the triangle shape, flattening out the whole piece. Time for eyes. I rolled tiny balls of clay in my hand and then pushed each onto the cat’s face until it was a disk. You can make whiskers or little noses or add embellishments to the ears and body or tail, too.

One cool effect I liked was combining two clay colors by rolling them together, then making the cat from that clay mixture (see the cat on the top of the middle stack and the middle of the far right stack).


You might also be interested in this clay Your Alien craft I made for All The Wonders a while back!

picture books that bring imagination to life

My favorite picture book as a child was Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel. Benjamin Dilley had a “wonderful imagination.” So wonderful he could dream up anything, including a thirsty camel to drink up the flood in his parent’s basement.

I’ve noticed some recent picture books that follow that inclination, affirming a child’s imagination, making it manifest and palpable. Here are a number that bring imagination to life:


The Storm by Akiko Miyakoshi.

A child worries a storm will cancel a trip to the beach, so he makes a wish for a ship to drive the storm away. And in the morning after a fantastic dream—or wish come true—the sun shines again in this quietly captivating picture book.


Akiko Miyakoshi is especially good at making the imaginative feel (or be) real, and the next book in this list is hers as well.


The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi.

A girl walks through the woods to deliver a pie. It sounds like a set up for Little Red Riding Hood, but while there are surprises that await, there is no danger. A gentle fairy tale about a tea party with animals (and lots of pie), something a child might easily imagine and want to be as real as it feels in this story.










A River by Marc Martin.

“There is a river outside my window,” a girl says from her drawing table. She imagines herself traveling that river in a boat. Out of the city, through the fields, down a waterfall and into a jungle. It is a wonderful voyage and the illustrations transport the reader right along with the character.



Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho.

This is a wordless and intriguing story. A man. A boy. Drawings sent across the ocean. A spectacular journey and a dream come true.




Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski.

This gorgeous book demonstrates how real a favorite stuffed animal (friend) can feel, and goes so far as to make that real. Pamela Zagarenski always captures the stuff of childhood magic.








Good Night Tiger by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Laura Hughes.

Emma’s wallpaper has animals on it, and they’re making a lot of noise. So Emma enters the world of the wallpaper and helps the animals quiet down and go to sleep.







Monster Trouble by Lane Fredrickson, illustrations by Michael Robertson.

In this one, Winifred Schnitzel isn’t afraid of monsters, but they are ruining her sleep every night. So this fearless, creative main character figures out an inventive way to make them go away. This story assumes that the monsters are real, and why wouldn’t they be?





Poppy Pickle by Emma Yartlett.

One day, Poppy’s imagination comes to life. For real. And it gets her into a bit of a pickle. This one is pretty hilarious to boot.

Poppy feels like a direct descendant of Benjamin Dilley, except that in the end, her parents do believe that the stuff she dreams up is real! Yes.










The Only Child by Guojing.

A lost child follows a stag into a magical world with kind animals and fluffy clouds, and is eventually delivered home. The expressive drawings in this wordless story make it feel that much more tangible.






First Snow by Bomi Park.

This book is enchanting! At first snowfall, a little girl sneaks outside to make a snowball. Her snowball gets bigger and bigger, and she travels farther and farther. Until! A whole field of little kids making snow people in their own magical world.






Yokki and the Parno Gry by Richard O’Neill and Katharine Quarmby, illustrated by Marieke Nelissen.

This is a traditional Romani tale. In a family of Travelers, a boy named Yokki tells stories every night around the fire. When times are tough for his and other families, he tells a story from his dreams of a Parno Gry, a giant horse who can carry them to a place where they can thrive. And that is exactly what happens. His story of the horse comes true.

“To this day, generations of Yokki’s family believe that as long as they value children’s imaginations, the Parno Gry will inspire them with new ideas and possibilities—even in their darkest hours, just when they need them most.”


The Highest Mountain of Books in the World by Rocio Bonilla.

Not only does the boy in this story, Lucas, learn that he can fly in a sense through story, he also builds the highest mountain of books in the world by doing so. And when he needs to come down, all it takes is his imagination, of course!








Lenny & Lucy written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

A book about facing fear, and loneliness, and how to comfort both through friendship. It’s the visual story in this one that shows Peter’s imagination coming to life.

The image below and a wonderful feature of Lenny & Lucy can be found at the always wonderful site, Brain Pickings.





Pool by JiHyeon Lee.

In this stunner, two swimmers find a fantastic world of fish underneath the surface of a crowded pool. Whimsical and full of what might be.







The Fox Wish by Kimiko Man, illustrated by Komako Sakai.

Two children come upon a clearing of foxes playing with the jump rope they’d left there. Children and foxes jump rope together in this imaginative story of wishes and friendship.


Never Follow a Dinosaur by Alex Latimer.

A couple of kids follow footsteps, trying to piece together the mystery of who left them. They assume it’s a dinosaur. Readers might assume it’s not a dinosaur because dinosaurs are extinct. But in this case, well, let’s just say that all the facets of the footstep-leaving dinosaur these kids invent in their minds come true.






Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler.

A pond becomes a portal to an exceptional world on the other side.

My friend Carter at Design of the Picture Book did a lovely interview with Joseph Kuefler.






Please let me know in the comments if you have any books that make the imaginary feel real to add to the list!

building a bilingual library: a guest post from Chiara Arroyo of la librería

Today, I’m so pleased to have Chiara Arroyo here with a guest post! She’s co-owner of the wonderful L.A. bookstore, LA librería, which carries Spanish-language children’s books (and has a terrific online store). She’ll be sharing 11 Spanish-language books from small presses to help you build your bilingual library.


Over to Chiara! So happy to have her!


I don’t recall seeing so many beautiful books as a child as there are now.  As a book-lover and bookseller who travels seeking quality children’s books in the Spanish-language, I have noticed lately the flourishing of independent publishers in Latin America and Spain. These small presses offer a diverse and refreshing perspective into the children’s literature panorama. They opt for new authors and illustrators with unique voices and experimental styles. They seek to connect with children’s experiences and taste.

It is also encouraging to see how these small presses understand the book as a uniquely crafted and valuable object, made with care, and worthy of being part of a private collection. The visual art within these books is so powerful that they break the boundaries of language such that it has even drawn the attention of adults who are not parents or Spanish speakers.

As the Spanish-speaking population of the United States grows, as you probably already know, the offer of books originally written in Spanish, also called “authentic” literature, is finally expanding. Although LA librería is devoted to exactly that, what I find especially interesting is that several of these stories have been translated and are now available in English, reaching many more readers.

Surrounded by all of these beautiful books, I invite you to observe, get intrigued and finally delve into the magical world of children’s literature from the Spanish speaking world, as everything else around you disappears and becomes silent.


Todas las cosas / So many things. By Maya Hanisch. Published by Amanuta.

Amanuta is a renowned independent publishing house from Chile that combines traditional with contemporary literature and has an exquisite taste for illustration. This bilingual book is a clear example. Created by one of our favorite authors, Maya Hanisch, also from Chile, it invites us to explore this marvelous inventory of everyday objects represented with collage technique and a striking color treatment. Let yourself enjoy every single detail and also note the Chilean regionalisms  found throughout the book.









. By Blanca Lacasa and Gómez. Published by Nube Ocho.
This charming and funny story has a dog called Fabio as a main character. But Fabio does not want to do what other dogs do. “This is a story about being yourself and understanding others. I started Nube Ocho to give children the opportunity to talk and think about specific and important topics such as the equality of girls and boys, diversity, inclusion and self-esteem,” Luis Amavisca explains as editor and co-founder. This young and small press house from Spain is one of the few publishers that took the brave decision to offer a catalog of titles in Spanish, English and Italian, with great success so far.





Barcelona. By David Pintor. Published by Kalandraka.

This wonderful picture book captures the magic of the city where I was raised. The book takes the reader on an illustrative journey from the streets, to the balconies and rooftops in which the author discovers life behind colorful mosaics, Gaudi’s dazzling buildings, the blue Mediterranean Sea, the Gothic Quarter and calm coffee shops. As I look at the pages, I can picture clearly David Pintor on a bike, stopping time to time to draw in his dear Moleskine notebook. His travels are the inspiration of his work and this book is an invitation to encounter this unique city.




Lo que hay antes de que haya algo / What there is before there is anything there: a scary story. By Liniers. Published by Pequeño Editor.

In this story, a boy’s imagination comes to life at night when he is taken over by his fear of the dark. Creatures begin to form and surround his bed. However, the creature that scares him the most has no shape at all. The illustrations go hand in hand with the text as words and language transform into creatures of the imagination and build suspense until the very end. A story that connects with many children and adults too.




La composición/ The composition. By Antonio Skármeta and Alfonso Ruano. Published by Ekaré.

This powerful story set in Chile has a boy called Pedro as the main character. Pedro loves to play soccer and is the best amongst the other kids. Every night, when he goes home, he sits with his parents to listen to the news on the radio. One day when he is playing soccer, he scores! But, wait. Instead of being rushed at by the other kids, everyone observes how the soldiers come and take his friend Daniel’s father away. That night Pedro asks his dad, “Am I against the dictatorship?” The next day at school, Pedro and his classmates are asked to write an essay about: “What do your parents do every night?”

This timely picture book by Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta presents a situation all too familiar to children around the world. It also provides readers with food for thought about freedom, moral choices and personal responsibilities.



El día en que me convertí en pájaro/ They day I became a bird
. By Ingrid Chabbert and Guridi. Published by Tres Tigres Tristes.

The main character of this delicate story falls in love with Candela the day he starts school. Candela loves birds. So, in order to gain her attention, the little boy decides to construct a costume that would transform himself into a bird. He endures the stares and giggles of his classmates, and a great deal of discomfort, but the boy doesn’t care. What wouldn’t we all do to be noticed by the person we love? French author Ingrid Chabbert perfectly captures the emotional essence of a child’s first love. And the minimalist black and white drawings of Spanish artist Guridi picture the voices and tender emotions of this sweet and universal discovery.




Las mujeres y los hombres / Women and Men. By Equipo Plantel & Lucy Gutierrez. Published by Media Vaca.

This is a book that hasn’t been published in English yet but its powerful illustrations speak for themselves. The editors of Media Vaca decided to republish a series of 4 titles published in Spain in 1978, a few years after the dictatorship of Francisco Franco was over and the year the Spanish Constitution was in place. They thought this title would be the most outdated since many changes have taken place in almost forty years and fortunately always for the better. However, I invite you to verify how much things have really changed. Lucy Gutierrez’s sharp and questioning illustrations make this picture book a perfect vehicle to prompt discussion about gender equality.




Dos conejos blancos / Two White Rabbits. By Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng. Published by Groundwood Books.

Together, Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yocktheng, both from Colombia, combined their talent once again to create a sensitive story that gives voice to the most vulnerable: the children.

In this moving and timely story, a young child describes what it is like to be a migrant as she and her father travel north toward the US border on the roof of a train known as The Beast. The little girl doesn’t know where they are going. She counts the animals by the road, the clouds in the sky, the stars. It is through her eyes readers will understand the arduous journey thousands of people take in search of a better life.





Soy un artista /I am an artist. By Marta Altes. Published by Blackie Books.

This is the hilarious story about an innocent little boy who can’t stop creating art and his mother who isn’t quite so enthusiastic. In fact, she seems a little cross! But this boy has a plan to make his mum smile. He’s about to create his finest piece yet and on a very grand scale … I love the sharp and expressive illustration of Marta Altes and the truly inspirational message of this story that appeals to children and parents. Art is EVERYWHERE!





El monstruo de colores. The color monster. By Anna Llenas. Published by Flamboyant.

This cute monster is confused. He does not know what is going on. Fortunately, his smarty friend will teach him how to deal with emotions. Anna Llenas’ colorful and joyful illustrations help children recognize when they feel happy, angry, sad, scared and calm by equating it with a color. A final emotion is left unnamed for readers to identify, but pink hearts give it away. Don’t forget to take a picture of your child when you open the pop-up version!






Abecedario a mano / A Daytime Visions. An Alphabet. By Isol. Published by FCE.

This unique and unconventional alphabet was made from the joy of tracing letters on a paper and playing with their shapes. Every letter of the alphabet is connected to the graphically strong and intelligent illustrations by short sentences. Renown Argentinian artist Isol invites readers to think out of the box and complete the meaning of every situation with their imagination. In her acceptance speech of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2013, Isol declared: “What reader could be more demanding than a child? Children have a lot of things to discover and I’d better be on their high level in order to satisfy their huge capacity for curiosity. I get my inspiration from what’s wild, from what’s ridiculous, from that independence of culture that children enjoy.”

Chiara Arroyo has a Master’s Degree in Journalism and is the cofounder of LA librería, a Los Angeles-based bookstore and distributor specialized in children’s literature in Spanish-language. Five years ago, she and her partner Celene Navarrete decided to start this adventure to fulfill the lack and need of quality books from Latin America and Spain among families raising bilingual and multicultural children in the USA.

(photo of Chiara—on the right—and her business partner Celene Navarrete.)



Visit LA librería at 4732 ½ W Washington Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90016 or online at







Finally, you might also be interested in my first collaboration with LA librería, ISOL’s picture book life!





cover reveal! Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet by Sanae Ishida

There’s going to be a second installment in Sanae Ishida’s Little Kunoichi the Ninja Girl series! (I posted about the first book here.)

Sanae Ishida‘s watercolors are enchanting—sweet, colorful, and full of humor and whimsy. In the first book, Little Kunoichi meets Chibi Samurai while they’re both in training at ninja school and samurai school respectively. In the end, they wow the crowd at The Island Festival because they practice—not to be perfect but to have fun.

In Chibi Samurai wants a Pet, Kunoichi’s best friend Chibi Samurai indeed wants a pet, one as sweet and super-duper as Kunoichi’s pet ninja bunny. So he sets off on a quest around the island to find a companion, encountering creatures both real and mythical. He meets a giant salamander, serow, cloth-weaving crane, magical tanuki, and mythical Kappa—but none is quite right! Until he realizes his perfect pet has been close at hand the whole time, just like other things we might seek that have—sometimes—been there all along.

The ending is absolutely charming, but I won’t spoil it!

This book delights with creativity and surprise. Plus, there’s a visual glossary at the back with all the elements of Japanese culture and folklore the story mentions.


Here’s the cover!!

Chibi Samurai Wants a Pet will be out August 8, 2017!

Here’s what Sanae Ishida says about the process of creating the cover:


For the cover, I wanted to show Chibi (as I affectionately call him in my mind, a slang word for “little” or “short” in Japanese) in search mode. I presented several cover ideas, but this swamp version was my favorite because the greenery felt mysterious and dramatic and allowed me to partially hide Little Kunoichi and her pet bunny in there. The swamp is also one of the areas that Chibi actually searches in the book, so I loved the tie-in with the story too. I’m so glad that the publisher liked this version!

My general illustration process starts by painting every element by hand with watercolor and gouache paint. I don’t do a whole lot of sketching or pencil renderings and just dive in with paint. For example, I painted the helmet, the armor, body, outfit, hair, face, and expression of Chibi all separately. I then scan everything in and assemble the elements collage-style with Photoshop. Sometimes I’ll modify the colors in Photoshop or amp up the saturation or add transparency. I often have to clean up smudges and mistakes or alter the scale of different elements. Working this way has been great for me because it makes incorporating changes when I get feedback from the editors and art department so much easier.

Everything about the first Little Kunoichi book was magical for me and I will love it to pieces forever, but this time around Chibi has stolen my heart and this story resonates with me on a whole different level. I hope kids (and adults reading it to them) enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it!


And a couple of sneak peeks inside the book:

(click image(s) to enlarge)

Big thanks to Sasquatch Books for images!


Sanae Ishida grew up drawing princesses, reading Japanese comic books, and writing stories she never shared with anyone. She enjoyed stints in wide-ranging fields including illustration, education, technology, retail, and theater arts. When not creating on the page, she sews, frequents coffee shops, and overly shares stories on She lives in Seattle with her wonderful husband and fabulous daughter—inspiration for Little Kunoichi.


You can check out my feature of Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl, the first in the series as well!










cover reveal! Rosie & Crayon by Deborah Marcero

You might remember my post on Deborah Marcero‘s first picture book, Ursa’s Light, a shining debut. (There were Ursa cookies from Kellie at The Kaleidoscope!)

I’m a big fan of Deborah’s textured illustrations and the insight with which she tells and talks about stories.

Today, I’m delighted to present you with a first glimpse of the cover of her next picture book, Rosie & Crayon!


Through rich illustrations and language to match, this story of love and loss explores the way a dear pet can add every color of the seasons to your life. The way everything can seem to turn gray if you lose that pet. The way a heart, with time and just the right nudge, can open again to something new, something different but just as dear.

Look for the book’s release in early April! Just wait ’til you see the spreads inside!


Here’s what Deborah Marcero had to say about creating that sweet cover:

The idea for the cover came initially from an interior sketch. I wanted to showcase Rosie and Crayon embracing to highlight the love and connection between them. I also wanted to include a part of the setting important to the story, and decided to use the forest in the background. “R + C” carved into one of the trees also symbolizes how love can make its mark on our lives in a way that endures. The message of this story is meant to show children how when a loved one or pet is no longer with us, our lives are changed, bigger and more beautiful because of having known them. In coloring Rosie’s life, Crayon becomes part of her story. In this way, the ones we lose live on in us because of how they touched our lives and helped make us who we are.

My process initially involved lots of pencil work. I would draw and re-draw to get the proportions, scale, type, character designs, and emotional expressions just right. After those were set, I used a light table and inked over the lines with a brush and India ink onto a fresh piece of paper. I then chose a color palette using my two favorite media: watercolor and gouache. Since this book in many ways is also about color and the seasons, for the cover I wanted to focus on a spring palette – not only because the book is a spring release – but also in the end, I hope the reader is left with a renewed sense of hope and resilience.


Deborah Marcero grew up in Michigan where from a very young age drawing, writing, and reading filled her time. After teaching in Chicago Public Schools as a Literacy Specialist, Deborah realized that writing and creating books for kids was how she wanted to spend her life. So far Deborah has worked with Peter Pauper Press, Greenwillow (HarperCollins), and G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin).

To see more of what Deborah is up to, find her on Twitter or Instagram.



You might want to check out This Picture Book Life’s earlier post on Ursa’s Light by Deborah Marcero too!