my six favorite picture books of 2014

I give you, my six very favorite books of 2014 and why.

(Please remember I haven’t read every book published this year—how I wish Viva Frida and The Farmer and the Clown were at my library—sigh.  So do tell me your favorites in the comments for us all to check out when we can!)

(Please also remember that I was selective. Hugely, massively, almost impossibly selective.)

I’m choosing just the books that really wowed me. Me as a particular reader. And me as a particular writer who took inspiration from these, some because they’re exactly what I’d like to create and some because they’re exactly the wonderful kind of thing I never ever could.

Here goes.


Sparky by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans.

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this book. I was being selfish with it, it’s true. (Though the main character did once get a fashion shootout for best homemade costume!) The girl’s narration is pitch-perfect. Hilarious. Insightful. Childlike and sophisticated, that coveted combination. It will make you laugh and then melt your heart at the end.




Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo.

What is this book honest about? It’s honest about Felipe the Cactus’s prickly family. Of course all families aren’t prickly, but to portray one that is that way, I find truthful and daring. Authentic and helpful. And yet, it’s fun!  Not mention how adorable Felipe is or the way he journeys to finally find kinship.



Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam.

This picture book really packs a punch. Incredibly beautiful cut-paper scenes and then the quiet, touching heart of the story: A little boy who is kind to a fox. And the fox’s gift in return. A story for winter and kindness and slowing down to look.


THE-RULES-OF-SUMMER-2014Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan.

It’s impossible for me not to like one of Tan’s books. This one showcases his bizarreness at its finest. Not only that, it’s a portrait of a complicated sibling relationship between two brothers. There are layers to look at and puzzles to contemplate. All in the most enjoyable, poignant way.




Beekle by Dan Santat.

Beekle is so adorable that I had to craft him out of marshmallows. I think this is a character that will stick around. He’s brave and good and you just want to give him a squeeze. Plus, he’s the charming star of a magical story of imagination and friendship. There’s a friend out there for everyone, if you just believe. This picture book reminds me a whole lot of a couple of my very favorite books ever.



Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.

This book is beautiful and stylish and heartwarming. But what sticks out most to me is what a fabulous example of writer and artist collaboration it is. Beaty and Robertst are so clearly a team and they’ve created a collaborated quilt of loveliness and detail and surprise.



Cheers to another year of exuberantly wonderful picture books and another yet to come!

(p.s. Here are 10 that took my breath away last year.)


reading to kids in los angeles


Since my birthday was over the weekend, I had a chance to reflect on the year behind me (and one ahead!). One of the best things about the last year for me has been that Saturday morning each month when I volunteer with Reading to Kids. It’s something I’m excited to continue with this year.

Why? Because I get to read to kids. And then craft with kids. And, with the other volunteers, make an impact on children in Los Angeles. It’s a privilege to be a small part of what this incredible organization is doing.



Last Saturday I recruited my dude to join me, reading and crafting Creepy Carrots! with second graders. We had a group of four sweet kids and it was a blast!


creepycarrots_googlyeyesThere were googly eyes galore, good conversations about the story and illustrations, and at the end of the morning, all the kids who attended got to see a magic show!


creepycarrots_craftEvery single Saturday morning is a meaningful experience. Sometimes, you get to see a glimmer of understanding. Sometimes you get to affirm a child’s talents. Sometimes you have a breakthrough with a kid who needs some extra attention.


R2K started in 1999 and now averages over 800 kids attending each month at a handful of elementary schools around LA. That’s parents bringing their kids, not because they have to, but because they value the reading clubs. And while the kids are being read to by pairs of volunteers, their parents receive encouragement about the importance of reading to children at home.

Each kid also gets a prize book to take with them, which is pretty cool and something they get super excited about! (And for some of them, these are the only books they own.) That’s 800 books given out every month for each and every one of them to start or add to a library at home.



Let’s just say a Kindergartner comes to the program and keeps coming most of the time until she graduates fifth grade. That child could be read to and crafted with over 50 times! 50 books, 50 crafts, 50 Saturday mornings focused on literacy, learning, art-making, communicating, and building self-esteem. Pretty cool, right?


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I typically choose which grade to work with based on the book they’re reading. And since teachers at participating schools pick, there are some really great choices!

I’ve read Cats’ Night Out, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, A Home for Bird, and The Year of Billy Miller over my Saturdays reading to kids so far.




Not everyone has space in their lives for volunteering, but if you’re in L.A., I highly recommend Reading to Kids, even if you only sign up once or organize a volunteer opportunity with your school or business or other group as a special activity.

Plus, October is the Reading to Kids annual fund drive.

And if you’re not in L.A., maybe there’s a similar literacy organization in your area. It’s an everybody wins kind of thing.


Thanks to Todd Davis for first 4 images and Reading to Kids for the rest!



newsflash: my picture book critique services


I offer

picture book

manuscript critiques!

Picture books are my favorite:

1. Celebrating their special art form here on This Picture Book Life.

2. Reading them.

3. Writing them. (Have I told you guys I’m a children’s book writer represented by Danielle Smith at Red Fox Literary?)

4. Helping other picture book writers make their manuscripts the best they can be while staying true to their own style and vision.


Here’s what a couple of very kind, very talented people have to say about my critiques:   


Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 4.16.59 PM                              Carter Higgins, author

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 4.18.45 PMJenn Bower, author and illustrator

Want me to take a look at your work in progress?

Please EMAIL for details. I’d be delighted to hear from you!  



(See more on my website.)



five favorite blogs right now

BLOG #1: Fine Fine Books


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Saskia Nickles’s Fine Fine Books is a German-based picture book blog with a focus on gorgeous illustration. It’s an absolute treasure of very fine international books. They’re always beautiful. They’re always unusual.


“I always prefer the weird and off beat books to the mainstream brand named ones.”





BLOG #2: Mr. Printables



Mr. Printables is THE place to find free, printable templates for personal or small classroom use. Printables of what? Amazing crafts, toys, puzzles, and other stuff like that. That doesn’t describe them well enough though—they’re modern, colorful, fun, and define the world playful.





BLOG #3: Thirsty for Tea

My friend Bonnie is also an amazing food blogger at Thirsty for Tea. She made an incredible The Little Prince cake that’s a must see along with miniature quilted petit fours to go along with it. If you like food or tea (yes, please!), this is one classy, creative place to visit. (Have I ever mentioned that as a general rule I always drink tea when at my computer?)





BLOG #4: Handmade Charlotte



This blog’s all about kids and crafts and DIY. It’s where you go for how to turn a cereal box into a constellation light box. Or cool stuff to do with ice. See what I mean?





BLOG #5: Yummy Books: Recipes for Literature


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A classic literature and culinary education by Cara Nicoletti who is a butcher (expect some meaty recipes), blogger, writer, and cook. She’s made a Harriet the Spy tomato sandwich. And whipped up Where the Red Fern Grows cornbread. (That book. Oh, that book.)



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Check em out!

And here’s my first installment of blogs I like from last October.

Feel free to share any of your must read blogs in the comments!

it’s been one year!!



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