Category Archives: PICTURE BOOKS +

thank you, omu! + collage card craft

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora (2018).

This picture book is a celebration of generosity and community with striking, vibrant collage artwork. (And it just received a Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award for those engaging illustrations.)

According to Oge Mora in the afterword, “omu” means “queen” in Nigerian, and it’s what she called her grandma. She remembers: “When my grandmother cooked, she danced and swayed her hips to the radio as she stirred what was often a large pot of stew.” 


Omu in this story is cooking too: a thick red stew for dinner.






The stew smells so good that it attracts visitors. Visitors from all over the neighborhood. Visitors who Omu shares her stew with. First, a little neighbor boy, then a police officer, then a hot dog vendor, and so on.


“KNOCK, KNOCK!” Each one is drawn to Omu’s door by the delicious smell.



“THANK YOU, OMU.” Each one says thank you after eating. 


We as readers know that the stew cannot last forever, and it doesn’t. Omu has nothing left for herself. Instead of being a story in which the stew is magic and grows to meet the need, it indeed runs out. We are left feeling badly that Omu has doled out all her dinner. 

But not to worry. Each visitor from earlier in the day returns, the whole lot of them, with gifts of food and company. Omu’s giving has not gone unreciprocated. In fact, they all have something to give her in return.

This beautiful tribute to Omu’s heart (and her cooking) ends with more giving. Giving back. 


Big thanks to Little, Brown Young Readers for images!




I immediately wanted to do a collage paper craft when I read this book, and so in the spirit of the book and just in time for Valentine’s Day, I thought a thank you card would be perfect. Yours can say whatever you like, of course, but “thank you” or “I love you” seem fitting.



What you’ll need:

Paper of all kinds



Glue stick (or Modge Podge)


Start with a piece of construction paper or cardstock and fold it in half. The front will be the front of the card.

I began with the letters, choosing colors that matched the book cover, drawing them with pencil and then cutting them out. After that, from an assortment of papers, I chose the ones I liked or that corresponded to the book and started drawing shapes, cutting them, arranging them, and gluing them down. Hearts seemed in order for this craft, as did a skyline, a bowl of stew, and a home. Make whatever seems right to you!

Finally, write a note inside and share your card with someone you love, someone who’s been generous to you and who you’d like to give back to. 



interview with the creators of Hands Up! + instagram book giveaway!


Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (2018).

I’m delighted to share my interview with both Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans with you today. They’ve created this picture book, Hands Up!, which is a brilliant, jubilant book that turns a weighty, disturbing phrase around and celebrates the way the Black main character puts her hands up in everyday, beautiful ways. 



It follows one little girl exploring all kinds of occasions on which she puts her hands up—waking, playing, learning, doing new tasks, celebrating, and being part of a family, a school, a team, and the wider community. It’s truly beautiful and the bright, textured illustrations feel seventies-inspired and radiate beams of color and joy. So many spreads, like the one below, truly remind me of music.


First, up, Breanna.


This Picture Book Life:  How did the concept of Hands Up! come to you and what were you thinking about when you were first developing it?

Breanna J. McDaniel: I was thinking about disruption when I first started writing. I thought about the many instances where violence is the only response to Black people living and mattering in the US and I wanted to disrupt ideas about who Black children are and who they’re allowed to be. The image of Black people surrendering to others with their hands upraised and their humanity in question disturbs my spirit—especially when there are so many other times I’ve experienced this action outside of protest. I pulled on those experiences to focus on the humanity of those fighting for justice and for the right to live.


TPBL: What is your hope for this book? What impact would you like it to have on its readers?

Breanna J. McDaniel: My hope is that people understand that the children who will read it, children from so many experiences, will see themselves as leaders and helpers and beloved ones. My hope is that adults who read it will see the opportunities in their everyday lives to provide support and love to these children who are our past, future and present all brought together in one. These small moments are gifts and if we treasure them, if we take them in and shower grace and love, then we show that we appreciate and care. Children are our hope.

TPBL: Please tell us about the experience of seeing the illustrations for the first time.

Breanna J. McDaniel: I cried of course. There was no way that I could’ve imagined the joy and grace that Shane was able to capture in the illustrations. It does not matter that I’ve seen and admired his other work, even though I have. What he brought together through texture and fluid movement, is a perfectly timed story and a little girl who jumps off the pages! 


TPBL: Did you originally have a vision for what the last spread (“As one we say, “Hands Up!”) would depict or was it left to the illustrator in your manuscript? What was important to you to be conveyed in that last instance of the phrase as it connects to the book as a whole?

Breanna J. McDaniel: I wanted there to be a march with signs that are straightforward and I wanted there to be a clear sense of community and purpose. Originally, they were going to be crossing a bridge and I had all sorts of symbolism in my mind for a spread with that image but this ending is perfect. Unity, collectiveness, connectedness, building together, these were all of the things at the forefront of my mind with that last line but I could only use a few words! “As one” I think brings it together.






Next up, Shane.

This Picture Book Life: You include in the artist’s note that in creating this book, “I stopped being afraid of raising my hands up, and stretching them high felt right.” Can you tell us more about your process creating the artwork for HANDS UP! and how that process has had an impact on you and your work?

Shane W. Evans: Process is more about trusting what it is that one sees within. The response to a word is a reaction and a response is one where one thinks, prays and feels something out. To act on impulse means that all that is around us as people brings us favor and that is and was the process for this book. To bring JOY back to the words that were once a warning yet always a joy is the essence of being and doing what one loves. The impact was getting back to the basic joy of creating, that’s a real joy.

TPBL: What was your response when you received this manuscript? 

Shane W. Evans: My response was “I get it!” Meaning I see where we needed to go again with a topic that has been long under-spoken about, how do we prepare for joy.

TPBL: For the instances where the visual might have been up for interpretation, how did you make decisions about what to depict? (I’m thinking about “Stretch high! Almost there, hands up” or “Ready for takeoff, hands up!”) Did you and Breanna collaborate around the art?

Shane W. Evans:  I meditate on it for a while then I let the pen or pencil show me ways to see it, try and try again… it usually comes, then be clear about the decision.
If I recall there was some suggestion as to what to draw although if I say “draw a red apple with hands” you will still see 10 variations if you have 10 different illustrators, so we tend to trust the process and let it be what it needs to be, that’s what collaboration is all about.

TPBL: The artwork throughout is so vibrant and joyful (even a cat jumps with its hands up in one illustration!). What inspired you as you worked on these pieces? 

Shane W. Evans: The inspiration is trusting my process and all of the years of doing this work has shown me how to get to the best work with over 50 books and likely 1000’s of drawings from since I was a 5 year old I just know what tools to pick up for what jobs.


Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your responses about your experience making this wonderful book and to Dial Books for a review copy and images!


Good news! I’m giving away one copy of Hands Up! Head over to my Instagram post for a chance to win. (U.S. only.)




a list of picture books that capture small, still moments

I thought it would be nice to round up a list of books that capture small, still moments. Moments to pay attention to. Moments to savor.


All Around Us by Xelena González, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (2017).

Alia of Read it Real Good first brought this book to my attention in her guest post. A grandparent and grandchild see the circles—both literal and figurative—in nature and life and family against a backdrop of beautiful, noteworthy illustrations.

It captures meditative moments.



The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2018).

A stunning book about the beginning of the universe, and the beginning of you and me.

It captures moments of stardust transforming. 



On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (2017).

Without their video game, a child becomes immersed in the outside world instead. “Why hadn’t I done these things before today?” they wonder as the book affirms curiosity and play and unencumbered time. 

It captures moments of exploring the outdoors.



I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (2018).

A collection of poems by Nikki Giovanni that explore many things: social justice, pride, music, quilts, and cats. But they all exude love, for self and for others.

It captures moments of love and warmth.



Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper (2018).

A child and grandparent go on a walk and discover the treasures all around them.

It captures moments of noticing.



Wild Berries by Julie Flett (2013). (See my profile of Julie Flett’s picture book life.)

A boy and his grandmother pick berries (written in English with Cree vocabulary) and thank the clearing before leaving it. Contemplative with endearing details and a recipe for blueberry jam at the back.

It captures moments of nature.



Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (2018).

A beautiful, triumphant book full of the most expressive portraits throughout. It’s, as the title suggests, about getting a haircut. But it’s about much more than that too.

“It’s the look your English teacher gives you when she hands you your last test with a bright red 97 slapped on it. It’s how your mother looks at you before she calls you beautiful. Flowers are beautiful. Sunrises are beautiful. Being viewed in your mother’s eyes as someone that matters—now that’s beautiful.”

It captures moments of pride. 



You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel (2017).

Written in both English and Plains Cree, an absolutely wonderful book embodying kindness and respect. The starting point was for “healing and Reconciliation” in response to the history of oppression of Indigenous people, particularly in regards to Residential Schools in Canada.

It captures moments of community and relationships.



The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi (2017). (See my profile of Akiko Miyakoshi’s picture book life.)

A walk home followed by bedtime in which a child wonders about all the neighbors’ own homes and bedtime routines.

It captures moments of empathy and imagination.



The Night Box by Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay (2017).

A curious book about a boy who has the key to let out the night, lyrically exploring day and dark.

It captures moments of night. 


The Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (2018).

This is a book that makes you feel like you are right there.

It captures real, true moments of a night shift.



Up The Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (2018).

This sweet story guides the reader along while Mrs. Badger leads Lulu the little cat up the mountain path to Sugarloaf Peak with gentle encouragement, the right tools, and wise words.

It captures moments of sharing something you love.



A Walk in the Forest by Maria Dek (2017).

This book is an invitation to walk, to follow paths, to shout, and to look in the forest.

It captures moments of play and wonder.



The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo (2016).

Yoshio is on a quest for silence in bustling Tokyo in this captivating story where the text and illustrations work together perfectly.

It captures moments of searching and silence.




H is for Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi (2018).

A joyful compendium of 26 haiku poems embodying details of New York City.

It captures moments of life lived and observed. It captures poetry.



Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, illustrated by Julie Morstad (2010).

A lullaby for coping with fears.

It captures moments of being brave.



A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (2017).

A gripping story filled with descriptive imagery and glowing illustrations of a boy and his father going fishing early one morning in order to feed their family—a story of this pond and the one the boy’s father left behind.

It captures moments of family.



Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (2016).

A story of a big day followed by bedtime. A story of twenty yawns.

It captures moments of nighttime.



That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares (2017).

A beautiful song of a book.

It captures moments of making a friend.







when a tree grows cover reveal!

When A Tree Grows written by Cathy Ballou Mealey and illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska will be published on April 2, 2019.

But today, today is the cover reveal!




Super sweet, right?

What I like best about this picture book is the original and inventive format that uses “or” for two different options at every plot turn. Let me show you what I mean (see that “or” in the corner?):


The whole story uses this format of one thing could happen OR another thing could. That’s what moves the story along. It’s a great technique for suspense and humor with a bit of a guessing element. And I could see it being used to teach storytelling to kid writers to.

At its heart, this is a kind of adventure story for Squirrel that ultimately brings Squirrel back to the character who set off the whole adventure: Squirrel’s friend Moose.

I asked Cathy Ballou Mealey, the author, about “or” situations in her own writing journey and about her debut picture book.



This Picture Book Life: Did you have a significant this “OR” that moment in your own writing journey, a fork in the road that determined your path?

Cathy Ballou Mealey: Absolutely! Joining a critique group in the metro Boston area was the fork in the road that made all the difference in my writing journey. Green as a leaf in springtime, I had already enrolled in SCBWI and written at least a dozen “not ready for prime time” picture book manuscripts. I was eager for feedback on my work, but I learned the most from actively observing the working rhythms of this cohesive, supportive and experienced group.

So if you could: 
Read, research, write and revise alone,


 Collaborate with talented, thoughtful and engaged writers and illustrators who love books.

I highly recommend that you choose the *OR*! 


TPBL: How did you come up with the idea for this story, and specifically the super inventive format?

Cathy: While our family was enjoying a woodsy hike, an unusual Crash! led us to speculate whether a tree had fallen or an animal was coming our way. We froze, listening for clues. Heart pounding, I tried to recall whether to hide, run, or confront whatever wild creature might appear. “It must have been a tree,” we reassured the kids after a long silence. As we hiked on I wondered, What if the falling tree had scared a bear, or frightened a deer? Thus the initial seeds of this story were planted in my brain.


TPBL: What was the process of developing the method of having “or” in the corner of each page as the text and illustrations were plotted out in picture book format? 

Cathy: To emphasize the *OR* and ensure that it would lead directly to a funny or surprising page turn, I inserted plenty of white space into my manuscript around the word itself. In my early drafts, I brainstormed to generate as many potential *OR* consequences as possible. That led to a door-sized diagram of sticky notes, plotting events that could lead from one thing to the next with increasing intensity! Ryan Thomann was the talented art director at Sterling who developed the curled page corner effect, which I think adds so much to the *OR* page turn!




Big thanks to Cathy for talking with me and to Sterling for images!

i am justice: sonia sotomayor + sotomayor quotes

I am  Sonia Sotoymayor by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulous (2018) is part of the “Ordinary People Change the World” series that highlights incredible individuals in a comic book biography format for kid readers.


This picture book highlights Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.




It covers her childhood in New York City, her Puerto Rican family, and the injustices she could already see around her. First, she wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew, but felt like her diabetes would hinder her. Then she wanted to be a judge like Perry Mason. She was valedictorian of her high school class and attended Princeton, a place where she took refuge in books. In 2009, after a career as a prosecutor and a federal judge in New York, she was nominated by Barack Obama and sworn into the Supreme Court, becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. 

Because Sotomayor is such an inspiration, I thought I’d share with you some inspiring photos and quotes to celebrate her as a force for justice.

Sonia Sotomayor has also written a book for kids, in her own words: Turning Pages by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (2018). I’ll leave you with quotes from that one about books and reading, the through line of her life story.