Category Archives: picture books for pairing

picture book wordplay: you are (not) small & look!



Why am I pairing these two (excellent) picture books? They both have language concepts that really shine while not outshining their spirit and heart! Both are excellent examples of a successful contemporary picture book—spare, clever, funny, AND touching. All that in so few words!

LOOK! has only two words! Two words! & You Are (Not) Small has spare language and plays with two words in the little mix: BIG and SMALL.

In small packages, both books accomplish a lot. Come see!


You are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant.

There is a small creature and a big creature. But neither creature believes herself to be respectively small or big. There is evidence given. Arguments break out. Until…other creatures arrive to put everybody’s perspective in perspective.



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The conclusion is that nobody is small or big. Everybody is small AND big. Which is pretty profound, no?


But most of all, for me, the magic I want to point out today is the words. Those two words, amidst the others, are omnipresent, played-around-with opposites. Small. Big. Kang’s experimentation with those words (and Weyant’s visual play) is what makes this one sing for big readers and small ones.


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Look! by Jeff Mack.



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This book plays with two words too. The only two words in its pages! LOOK and OUT.

There are two characters, too. A boy and a gorilla. For me, the gorilla is the one that anchors the book, the one we care about and feel for. (I cared so much I almost cried.)

Ostensibly, this is a book about how reading is better than watching TV. But it’s also about friendship and kindness and giving others attention. (And then, it’s a bedtime book too. You’ll see.)

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But that masterful language makes it. The gorilla says, LOOK. He wants the boy to look, to see his tricks, to spend time with him. But every time the boy looks, there’s a mishap and the gorilla’s pleas and ploys fail. So the boy says, OUT. As in, go. Leave me alone, with my TV show.


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In the end though, don’t worry, gorilla and boy come together, united by something novel to look at together—a book. And that’s when the boy changes and the conclusion is sweet, sweet, sweet.

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But I used all those words to tell you about it when the book is only two words and a few pictures. That’s the amazing thing about picture books.

 Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for Look! images!


Any other picture books that play with words like this? 

17 spectacular picture book sequels + zombie in love sequel giveaway

What must a sequel do to gain our affection?

I think it needs to have the stuff we loved about the first, but then a new spin that makes it fresh. It should also be a good book in its own right. For whatever reason, that can be tough to pull off (in any genre). But I think these picture book sequels (or quasi-sequels) do just that.

zombie-in-love-sequelIn the first installment by Kelly DiPucchio with pictures by Scott Campbell, Mortimer is alone until he finally finds true love.

In just out Zombie in Love 2+ 1, Mortimer and Mildred are new parents. Of course! Only having a non-zombie baby is pretty baffling. Until he starts to act more like them (aka shrieking and staying up all night). And then the whole family smiles, like this! (Remember that gag?!)


In honor of this brand new sequel, I give you 16 more spectacular picture book sequels!


It’s astounding how Molly Idle followed up one stunner with another. And Flora and the Penguin is just that. (I guess the only explanation is Idle’s brilliance!)



There have been a lot of Scaredy Squirrel follow-ups and let’s face it: they’re all awesome! Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend is a personal favorite.


blackout-sequel-blizzardI adore the first and admire the second. Yin and Yang, that’s Blackout and Blizzard by John Rocco.



Mix It Up is proof that genius begets genius!



Not an exact sequel, but hats, right?! Also, the same ironic humor, the same visual clues.
This is Not My Hat is a favorite.


pomelo-sequelPomelo Explores Color is just as fun-loving and sometimes hilariously awkward as the first.



I’m breaking some rules here. While these two aren’t related by character or much else necessarily, they’re just begging to be read side by side! If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead.



The Loud Book is a perfect complement to the first magical installment. It naturally flows from it and relates to in strategy, specificity, and even the way some loud things are only loud when quiet surrounds them. Just perfect.


rosie-revere-engineer-sequelSame team, similar theme, and look at those covers. I’m gonna call sequel on fabulous Rosie Revere, Engineer.



Betty Bunny has had a number of installments, but this one might be my favorite. In Betty Bunny Wants a Goal, we get the great stuff about the original—Betty herself, the family characters, the laughs—in a new, inventive situation.


spoon-sequel-chopsticksAgain, more of a follow-up than a direct sequel, but Chopsticks wouldn’t exist without Spoon. How I love these utensils.


garmann-stian-hole-sequelsThere are three in Stian Hole’s Garmann series and all as engagingly rendered in story and illustrations as one another. Garmann’s Street follows Garmann’s Summer perfectly going from first day of school fears to bullies and people who aren’t what they seem.


rocket-picture-book-sequelSweetness for word-lovers times two. Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills.



All three in the Henry series by Saro O’Leary and Julie Morstad are charmers. When I Was Small is a wonderful denouement!


bats-at-the-library-sequelThere’ve been a few bat books by Brian Lies, but Bats at the Ball Game, in my view, hits a home run.



This boy/penguin pair is charming in any story. It’s hard to follow such a perfect first book, but  Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers satisfies.



I’m giving away a copy of ZOMBIE IN LOVE 2 + 1

over on twitter, courtesy of Atheneum.

Come see!




Now you go! What’s your favorite from this list? Or any spectacular sequels I’ve left out?





one fairy tale, two versions: the red shoes


The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Anderson (translated by Anthea Bell), illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki


This one is a strange fairy tale, as we know. Dark and dripping with remorse. But its progeny alone is iconic! The Red Shoes film. Dorothy’s ruby slippers! (Kate Bush had her Red Shoes too.)


(And lucky for us, Look At These Gems recently posted loads of pictures from the film!)


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I’ve always thought of this story as about the dangers of desire and vanity. How it can control us.

But in rereading this version, I was struck by how the main character, Karen, wore her first pair of red shoes on the day of her mother’s funeral. Then they were taken away, and when she had the chance again for new shoes, she chose red ones again. They’re the red of a princess’s shoes, so yes, they’re luxurious. But might it also be that Karen’s trying to recreate a memory of her mother? Don’t we all have something from childhood we still long for because it connects us to an important time?



Iwasaki’s watercolors almost resemble cut paper, their shifting weights and tones are so pronounced. They’re mesmerizing and this book really is about those illustrations. Sad and evocative, some spare, some blooming over a whole page. Delicate but bursting.

Aren’t they wonderful?




p.s. There’s an art museum in Tokyo dedicated to Chihiro Iwasaki and since I’ll be there in April, I just might have to visit and report back!!


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The Red Shoes illustrated by Sun Young Yoo and written by Gloria Fowler (2008).



This is a retelling . There’s still a girl, Karen. And there are still red shoes.

Other original elements appear as well—a princess, an executioner—but they’ve been weaved to tell a different tale. Not one that curses Karen (Fowler omits all of Anderson’s religious themes), but one that celebrates creativity and beauty and self-reliance. 




In Fowler’s rendering, Karen’s mother is a shoemaker who’s secretly making the girl lovely red shoes.  She makes the connection of the girl to her mother, through the shoes, the heart of the story.

That connection allows Karen to make shoes for a princess after her mother dies, and more shoes after that. She even opens her own shop: “The Red Shoes.” In this version, Karen is a creative entrepreneur! She uses needle and thread to stitch her true calling.




The illustrations are pen and ink, black and white. We must imagine that pop of red, just as Karen imagines her future.


Images via AMMO Books





You  may be interested in my post on two different picture book versions of Hansel & Gretel as well.








the power of illustrations to tell the story



Both of these picture books were created by the team of Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo. Both are awesome examples of a picture book text that is enhanced, illuminated, imbued with irony and humor by illustrations. They are quite a team indeed.

(See also Andrea Beaty and David Roberts for another wonderful author/illustrator  collaborating pair.)


BRIEF THIEF by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2013).

It’s so irreverent. It mentions poo, which kids get a huge kick out of. It’s about a chameleon and a common problem everyone can relate to. No more toilet paper!

So what does Leon the chameleon use instead?

“These old underpants here will do the trick!”


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He figures nobody cares about those old underpants with holes in them anymore.

But then, he hears a voice:

“Hey! Who do you think you are?”

It identifies itself as Leon’s conscience. It makes Leon feel pretty badl about using those abandoned underpants for his business.


So Leon washes the underpants and puts them back where he found them.

And that’s that. Except, only through pictures, the reader finds out it wasn’t Leon’s conscience after all! We find out who those underpants belonged to! Then, last and best, we see where that owner wears them! And it’s not what you’d expect.

Oh no, those aren’t dirty old underpants with holes. Oh no! They’re…







…bunny’s superhero mask!!

Hahahaha. Priceless, right?? And it’s only accomplished through visuals. That’s where the success and surprise of the joke lies.


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THE DAY I LOST MY SUPERPOWERS, also by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2014). 

This one depends on the visual story throughout. If you were to read just the text, you might think this little girl really does have superpowers. After all, she says she does so matter of factly you just might believe her. I would.



It’s only through pictures we see on the page that we know where those superpowers come from:

She flies because her father throws her in the air.

She makes things disappear by eating them (when those things are cupcakes).

She goes through walls by poking a sock puppet through a hole. And so on.







The power and enjoyment of the story depends on the reader seeing the truth about the narrator’s “powers.” If we were told in text, it wouldn’t be as satisfying.


And this is the beauty of picture books, a form that puts words and pictures together so they can mingle and tell stories and surprise us.


For another, older example of a picture book whose illustrations tell a different story than the text, see Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin.



Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for images!

10 wonderful picture books for winter


Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser (2009).

This one manages to be beautiful and hilarious at the same time.




A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis (2008).

The pop of orange amidst all that white snow!!




The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc (2014).

Ah. This book. Good in every way and about wintering with a new friend.



Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara (2009).

A boy chases Jack Frost, frolicking until the first bud of spring arrives.



The Snow Girl retold by Robert Giraud, illustrated by Hélène Muller (2014).

A favorite story, a wonderful retelling.



Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam.

An absolute favorite of 2014. Kindness warms the cold.



Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (2011).

Full of beautiful contrasts that encourage both science and imagination.



Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr (1987).

A classic (the classic?) winter picture book.




Making a Friend by Alison McGhee, illustrations by Marc Rosenthal (2011).

“What you love will always be with you.” Let the tears commence.



Red Sled by Lita Judge (2011).

A book to read over and over again, not unlike a sleigh ride.



These are my favorite wintry picture books, please tell me yours!