Come aboard a massive container ship as it pulls into port, loads up with cargo, and heads out to the open ocean. The ship’s voyage includes starry skies and stormy seas, swift currents and unforeseen delays. Through it all, the crew keeps working—with goods to keep the world going, they must carry on.
Rhythmic text from Kelly Rice Schmitt and delightfully detailed illustrations from Jam Dong provide a riveting look at the journey of one mighty ship.
Shannon Anderson:Congratulations on your new book, I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY. This is even more exciting because it’s your debut! This is a story about a ship’s journey, but what was the journey of this manuscript? How did it get acquired?
Kelly Rice Schmitt: It’s fun to think of my writing journey paralleling the journey of Ship. Just like a container ship, it takes a lot of people and a lot of preparation to launch a book. I SHIP’s publication journey began with an amazing online retreat put on my SCBWI Ohio-North called the Triple Scoop ReTreat. I highly recommend this conference if they ever do it again. Attendees met with a published author mentor in small groups (created by the hosts according to MS style/ appeal, etc) for 2 Saturdays in a row, getting live feedback on an MS and then having time to revise in between in order to prepare the story for a live reading and feedback with an editor. My editor, Carol Hinz, loved the first version of I SHIP, which was originally focused specifically on the 2021 Suez Canal Crisis, where the Ever Given container ship was stuck in the canal and halted global trade for weeks. She thought the story would be more timeless if it were a general shipping book. The final option of the conference was the chance to add on a paid critique follow-up with the editor after you have revised with their notes. Carol had a few more suggestions and invited me to revise and then submit it to her! I did, and she acquired I SHIP. It was very exciting!
SA: What inspired you to write about a container ship?
KRS: After having multiple jobs related to energy ships in my energy trading and supply career, I knew I just HAD to write something about shipping for kids. I loved the idea of a shipping process book, but it took many years to find the right way to tell that story. It wasn’t until a critique partner, Christine Abely, suggested writing about a container ship getting stuck, like what happened in the 2021 Suez Crisis with the Ever Given, that I had a path forward with specifically writing about a container ship.
SA:This story is told from the ship’s first-person point of view. What caused you to choose this perspective?
KRS: I was inspired to use a first-person point of view while participating in Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords challenge, in which writers must tell a compelling story using only 50 words. While writing what is now going to be a follow-up to I SHIP (yay!) I was pushing myself to distill a very complex topic for kids into something simple and relatable. With only 50 words, I realized I could be both brief and emotional by telling the story through the eyes of the subject matter! I felt it also added a connection point for kids, bringing them more directly into that world.
SA:There is SO much to learn from this book. Readers can not only learn throughout the pages of the story but also through your glossary of shipping terms and STEM back matter information. What was your research process like for this book?
KRS: In addition to reading many adult books and watching media on the history and technology of container shipping, I also consulted with Youtuber Bryan Boyle to help us with accuracy. I loved his content (Youtube: @bryanboyle) following his journeys at sea as a U.S. Merchant Marine and thought he could help us convey this story with details that would resonate with people like him who work on these gigantic ships and, also, in the land-based jobs that support them. Bryan helped us make changes to both the text and art to better reflect real-life shipping. He was extremely helpful, and I hope we achieved that goal. I love back matter, and I had a lot of fun creating it for I SHIP. I hope everyone checks it out! There is also an activity guide that can be found here (https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/804) with more fun activities, experiments, and coloring pages for PREK-5th graders to interact with the book.
SA: What do you hope readers will learn or take away from reading this?
KRS: I hope readers of all ages discover details about the amazing shipping process that enables 80 to 90% of global trade. Container ships, their ports, and the incredible teams that run them are the backbone of the global economy, and we can see the ripple effects in the supply chain when elements of their journey are interrupted. Urgent medication and vaccines may be delayed, toys may not arrive for a holiday, certain produce may not be available due to weather conditions on the journey at sea, in publishing—books due for a release date are delayed. Surprisingly, many of us know little about an industry that fundamentally impacts our daily lives.
SA:Do you have other projects ready to deliver to the world?
KRS:You have such great puns today, Shannon! I’m excited to share that I SHIP is the first in what will be a series of STEM books, all told in first person tense. The second book will be released in Fall 2024 and hopefully will be announced soon! I also have an unannounced forthcoming fiction picture book in progress with Knopf Books for Young Readers (a PRH imprint).
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Kelly Rice Schmitt is a former energy trader and children’s writer who loves getting small humans excited about big ideas . . . like container shipping! Although she has scheduled ship logistics and tracked energy shipments around the world, she has never worked on a container ship. Kelly lives in North Carolina with her husband, young children, and many stacks of books. I Ship is her debut book. Keep up with Kelly at www.kellyriceschmitt.com or follow her on social media.
This shoe lover’s paradise reveals that a city’s feet are as varied as the people and animals who live there.
Susi Schaefer: Congrats on your picture book, CITY FEET. How did you get into creating books for young readers?
Aixa Pérez-Prado: Thank you very much! I feel like I have been a writer and illustrator since I was a little girl. I was born in Argentina and raised between there and the USA. I later lived in several other countries, including Costa Rica and Morocco. I believe that being multilingual, being a child immigrant, and having lived in many different places are all strong influences on the stories and the illustrations that I create today.
I am a former bilingual kindergarten teacher, a current university professor specializing in diversity education, and, most importantly, a mother of six. All of those experiences led me to read many children’s books over the years and create my own stories for my students and my children. A few years ago, I decided to try to publish some of those stories and started my education in writing picture books.
Part of my education included taking a number of kidlit writing courses, entering online contests, and joining SCBWI. In addition to writing, I started drawing again and creating a few dummies for my stories. CITY FEET is my debut picture book.
SS: Tell us what inspired this book.
APP: I am a city girl at heart, and I love to explore the cities of the world. A few years ago, when I decided I wanted to try to publish in kidlit, I started entering online writing contests, and an earlier version of CITY FEET was a story I wrote for one of those contests, the Early Childhood Book Challenge. The idea was to write a story of 250 words or less, use rhyme, and have the story take place in an urban setting. I came up with about six stories for the contest and was a finalist with a different story, but the beat and rhythm of CITY FEET stuck in my head.
Two years later, I pitched it in Latinx Pitch on Twitter, and Winsome Bingham of Reycraft Books liked my pitch and made an offer. I was not meant to illustrate the book, but when she found out I was also an illustrator (or want-to-be illustrator), she and my agent, Joyce Sweeney, encouraged me to make a dummy. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the book to look, with all characters appearing only from the waist down, as seen from the point of view of a baby in a stroller. I made the dummy and soon after received the offer to be the illustrator. I was thrilled!
SS: Can you share your process?
APP: I started by revising the original story and adding an additional stanza to reach the appropriate amount of spreads for a picture book. I then started trying to create the first spread, but the vision in my head wasn’t really working on paper. I went to an illustrator friend, Cristina Keller, and explained what I wanted to do to her. She invited me to her studio, and after showing her some of my sketches, she helped me to map out the first spread. After that, I knew exactly what to do.
My illustration process for CITY FEET is mainly collage created by cutting up different kinds of textured papers that I create and others that I find. I also use fabrics, leaves, petals, and other materials – including banana peels – in my collages. Once I make the collages, I scan them and bring them into Photoshop in different layers to combine and rearrange. I also do some digital collage in Photoshop.
SS: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?
APP: Yes, I am the author and also the illustrator for a nonfiction picture book that will come out in the Fall of 2024, Mercedes Sosa: Voice of the People, published by Lee & Low. It is a very different kind of story than CITY FEET, with a different feel and somewhat different style. However, my illustration technique will continue to be the use of collage with a variety of materials as well as digital collage for the majority of the artwork.
Aixa Pérez-Prado, the author/illustrator of CITY FEET is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. In addition to writing and illustrating, Aixa is a translator, sensitivity reader, and university professor. Aixa has lived in several different countries and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented with heart and humor. She writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a multimedia whimsical style.
Aixa’s upcoming picture books are OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books, 2023) and MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low 2024). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.
Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com
With a nod to Richard Scarry, this inventive picture book surprises readers with every turn of the page!
Hiss! Screech! Roar! It’s a noisy day in Bumperville! But are the sounds what you think they are? That Honk! must surely be a goose. But turn the page and it’s the taxi that a goose is driving! Using cleverly placed die-cuts, this inventive book hints at what is making the sound, but with each turn of the page, it’s an eye-opening surprise and part of an unfolding story that is part guessing game and part giggle-inducing caper. Abi Cushman is the master of surprise and silliness in this absolutely delightful picture book.
Colleen Paeff:Happy book birthday and congratulations on the release of your second picture book, Animals Go Vroom! Kids are going to love all the unexpected surprises in this book. The way you use die-cuts is so clever. Were they a key element of the story from the start or did they evolve over time?
Abi Cushman: Thank you, Colleen! I am so thrilled to be here. And congratulations to YOU on your wonderful upcoming debut picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem. It is so wonderfully told, and the illustrations by Nancy Carpenter are fantastic.
CP:Thank you! I love Nancy’s illustrations, too!
AC: To answer your question, yes! I always envisioned die-cuts in the book. My initial thought was about how animal sounds and vehicle sounds sometimes overlap. And so I wanted the book to be a guessing game where readers had to guess who or what was making the sound.
Die-cut windows are a wonderful device for guessing game type books because they give a little peek at the next spread, and then the page turn offers the reveal.
CP: I love the way even the background characters in Animals Go Vroom!have their own stories that play out over the course of the book. That must have been so much fun to illustrate! Can you tell me about coming up with those stories?
AC: Some of the background characters are inspired by family members. The sloth using the walker is based off of my grandmother who would cover great distances at the mall using her walker. She had a cap she’d wear whenever she’d go out. The two bunnies in the background of the bus scene are a tribute to my two house rabbits, Cosette and Coco.
And then I chose other background characters based on the sounds they make. The artist sea lion shouts out, “Art? Art?” and the baby crow points out the car by calling out, “Cah! Cah!”. The baby crow is actually also based on my son who would do the same thing every time he saw a car when he was younger.
CP:How fun! I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on those sounds! And for more fun, outside of the book, I noticed that you have an Animals Go Vroom! memory game on your website. (It took me 46 seconds and 13 moves to solve it.) How did you come up with that idea and did you create it yourself? If so, how did you develop such impressive skills?!
AC:I have been a web designer/developer for over 15 years, so that coding experience definitely has benefits. Although I don’t specialize in making online games, I was able to find some open source code for a memory game, and then I tweaked it to work on my website and to use the images I created for all the cards. I actually had intended to make a memory game for my first book, Soaked!, but I didn’t have enough time. But Animals Go Vroom! actually worked even better for this sort of game because there is a large cast of characters to choose from.
CP: It definitely seems perfect for a game like that. You dedicated this book to your mom “who really loves snakes.” Is that true? Did you have pet snakes in the house when you were growing up?
AC:I showed this illustration:
to my brother over a family Zoom so he could see how I made his headphone-wearing daughter into a character in the book, and my mom blurted out, “Oh no! Gross!” And we were all kind of laughing because although we all know she does NOT care for snakes or worms, we thought a cartoony-looking snake drawing might be ok.
I didn’t set out to make a book that largely featured snakes, but that’s where the story took me since they make that wonderful hissing sound. I thought, “How can I make it so that my mom HAS to read this book with a bunch of snakes?” And so I dedicated it to her, and she did say recently that the illustration of the kid snake on the dedication was okay. :)
And so to answer your second question, NO. There was absolutely no chance of us having pet snakes when I was growing up.
CP:Hahaha! I love that your family shows up in so many different ways in this book. Did you base any other characters on people you know?
AC:Oh yes. I mentioned earlier that the baby crow is my car-loving son, and the kid snake is based on my niece who wore headphones the entire time we were on a family vacation one time. The mama snake is me. Actually the bear in Soaked!is also me. I guess I follow that advice, “Write what you know.” since I apparently just put myself in all my books.
CP:For StoryStorm 2020 you advised people to keep an ugly sketchbook and said the practice freed you up to do the drawings that inspired your debut picture book Soaked!(Viking Children’s Books, 2020). Is there any correlation between the vengeful sketchbook chipmunk at the end of that post and the chipmunk car salesman in Animals Go Vroom? And did any other ugly sketchbook characters make it into this second book?
AC:Hahaha maybe this is the vengeful chipmunk’s origin story. A car salesmunk who becomes disillusioned with life after getting bonked in the head with a flat tire just hours after making his first sale.
But yes, the whole concept of the book came about from this Ugly Sketchbook character: a sea lion flying a jet going RAWRR!
This specific character didn’t end up in the final book, but another sea lion made it into the story as an artist just trying to share their beautiful art with everyone.
CP:I loved the sea lion’s paintings! And I loved the otter taxi passenger, too. I happen to know that he is a published author. I read his research project “Funny AND Female” and noticed that he didn’t ask YOU to talk about being a funny woman in kidlit. (He’s got some nerve!) So, talk to me about being funny. Where do you find inspiration for your humor? Do you have any tried and true tricks to bring humor to a scene?
AC:I find inspiration everywhere- TV, movies, books, my family. Unexpected random or absurd things are often very funny. So I like playing around with creating a pattern and then disrupting it with something ridiculous. Being specific helps create that absurd moment. For example, in Soaked!, I create a pattern in the first spread. “Not that badger. Not that bunny.” and then I disrupt it with something specific and out-of-place. “Not that hula-hooping moose.”
When I was thinking about a passenger for the taxi in Animals Go Vroom!, it was tough because really, it could be ANYONE in the backseat. So I made it fun by thinking of someone who would look glorious with a monocle (an otter, of course), and then I thought it would be pretty ridiculous if in every scene he was eating a different meal and was totally oblivious to the traffic jam. I started with tea because that would be a great contrast to the goose who was having a fit about being stuck behind the bus. And then the next spread, the otter is eating a filet of fish on a plate with a fork and knife. How did he get this fancy meal? Where did he get the utensils? In the next scene, he has an ice cream cone. Did he have the ice cream in the taxi the entire time? Why didn’t it melt? Does he have a freezer in there? I like creating scenes where the reader does a double-take and thinks, “Wait a minute- WHAT?? What’s going on there?” It’s a treat for the curious kid who takes a closer look at the pictures and sees that secondary storyline happening in the background.
CP:You teach a couple of classes at Storyteller Academy. What do you enjoy most about teaching other picture book creators?
AC:Most people enrolled at Storyteller Academy have committed to making a real go at improving their craft. So it is incredibly satisfying to see them put in the work every week and make huge gains in their stories. I really believe that if you put in the work- which is to read and analyze current picture books, think about a compelling concept or character, and then just keep plugging away, that you can become a published author. But a lot of people give up. So it is wonderful to see the dedication from Storyteller Academy students. And I can’t wait to see the manuscripts I’ve critiqued become published books in a couple of years.
CP:That’s definitely something to look forward to. Speaking of craft, what are three tools of the illustrator’s craft that you wouldn’t want to be without?
AC: 1. My Bic mechanical pencil. I use a mechanical pencil to draw all the characters in my books. I like that the pencil always stays sharp.
My Wacom Cintiq tablet. I color all my illustrations digitally using Photoshop and my tablet. I like to apply the color this way because it is easy to correct mistakes, experiment with color, and keep the color palette consistent across spreads. I can also zoom in to apply details. e
Google image search. Even though my books feature anthropomorphic animals, I still use a lot of reference photos. When thinking about a mouse riding a unicycle, I’ll look at photos of mice to imagine what one would look like sitting upright on a seat. How would its leg look while pedaling? Then I’ll look at photos of unicycles. How can I modify this unicycle if the rider had short (mouse) legs? And now what would it look like if that mouse was not only riding a unicycle but also holding a large cupcake? I have to use my imagination, but I still try to base parts of it on real-life so the illustration looks plausible.
CP:That’s fascinating. So, when you’re working on a story, do the pictures usually come first or is it the words? Do you find one is easier than the other?
AC: I usually think of a very general concept first. For Soaked!, I thought about how when you’re stuck in the rain, it actually becomes pleasant after you become thoroughly soaked. The idea of changing your perspective despite the situation staying the same was intriguing to me. Then for a couple months after that, I kept drawing a bedraggled soggy bear looking very disgruntled in the rain. But the whole thing flew together once I thought of the voice of Bear, the main character. The voice drove the story and the words came pouring out.
For Animals Go Vroom!, I again thought of the concept first: sounds that both animals and vehicles make. After brainstorming sounds and animals, I started to see a chain of events forming, so I made a book dummy to see how it would all work with the die-cuts. I started with a small dummy and gradually increased the size with each revision. From there, I was able to draw in a lot more details as it got closer to its final size, and secondary storylines started forming through the illustrations.
When I’m working on a story, I often see images in my head, and I’ll quickly jot them down as very ugly doodles. I’ll also write down little snippets of text. So in terms of what’s easier for me, I think it’s easy for me to picture little moments in a story. But what is hard is actually rendering those imagined scenes and characters properly in the final art. It’s tough to match the idealized images in my head. Plus, doing the final art is so labor-intensive, and there’s also a deadline. But that being said, it is AMAZING when the art director shows you a PDF of the book with the text properly typeset over the full-color art. It makes all those long hours worth it.
CP:I bet! What’s next for you?
AC: I have an unannounced picture book in the works that I’m very excited about. It’s an informational picture book that I would have LOVED as a kid. It’s a book where hopefully kids will be laughing and learning at the same time.
CP:That sounds wonderful, Abi. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. And congratulations, again, on your terrific new book!
All artwork and photos courtesy of Abi Cushman.
Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of Soaked!(Viking, 2020) and Animals Go Vroom! (Viking, 2021). She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, creating websites for libraries, towns, and local businesses. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care resource, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.
Turtles and birds peacefully roam the bright orange sand, hiding behind green cacti, until two mischievous trucks decide to race each other after school. “The sand kicked up dust / as they passed an old mine, / and neither one noticed / the bright yellow sign.” (Of course, the reader sees the arrow sign showing the split in the road, and this is unknowingly where our trucks’ problem begins).
Leung’s warm and pleasing watercolor-like graphics of red truck Mack, with his yellow baseball cap, dashing ahead of his friend Rig, the blue truck with a tough guy green bandana wrapped around his head (or front window, since he is a truck) take the reader through the Southwest desert landscape.
Schwartz and Gomez share spot-on, read-aloud rhyme, “Through canyons and quarries / they zigzagged and crossed. / “‘The sun’s going down!'”/ “’I’m hopelessly lost.’” The bright yellow sun sets behind the hills and slowly lowers to dusk as even the face of a cactus shows concern. “One Rig, all alone / off-track in the park. / “’I’ve got to find Mack. / He’s afraid of the dark!’”
When Rig’s plan of a “flickering flare” reunites the pair, the reader sees the adventure continue as the friends figure out how to find their way out of the park. We feel a strong bond between these risk-taking friends, as they realize their folks must really be worried. The reader observes the pair teaming up to find familiar landmarks.
Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!, an uplifting and entertaining story of friendship and working together, is a wonderful read-aloud filled with both suspense and compassion. The adorable trucks are so sweet you forget they are tough. And you don’t even need to be a “things that go” fan to appreciate the good story-telling. Pre-school and Kindergarten-aged children will enjoy this heartwarming story that can be read with family or friends. Kids learn why it’s important to stay by their parents’ side and the implications of wandering off. But if they do, looking for familiar surroundings is a great way to find their way home. It’s clear these trucks may seem tough on the outside but it’s what’s on the inside that makes us care about them.
Click here to order a copy of Two Tough Trucks Get Lost! e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks! e Recommended Reads for the Week of 11/2/20
After a third and fourth reading of Boats Will Float by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum with illustrations by Brett Curzon, I still found myself smiling as if I were reading it for the first time. There is so much to enjoy in this picture book highlighting a bevy of brightly colored boats both big and small.
Rosenbaum’s descriptive rhyme invites reading aloud and the full page spreads beg to be explored in order to find humorous details that Curzon’s included (hint: check out the front of the cruise ship). Readers learn about a variety of vessels that travel on bays, rivers, and oceans as they’re presented at work and play from early morning until night.
The timeless appeal of watercraft for kids cannot be denied and Boats Will Float celebrates that by introducing over a dozen kinds. There are fishing boats, motor boats, tug boats, submarines, freighters, sailboats and canoes. There’s even a welcoming houseboat that bookends the story. First, a child and her dad greet the new day, watching the boat activity from their deck, “Boats are bobbing in the bay/Waiting to be on their way.” Then at the end, the entire family settles down for the night, “Safely moored in dreams all night-/Boats will float … toward morning light.”
I love how there are even nautical flags cleverly incorporated into the book. At story time youngsters can spell out their own name using the alphabet provided. Be on the lookout for a special treat in the mast art of the sailboat spread to point out to curious children. I won’t say anymore than that.
The structure of this picture book, with its vibrant scenes moving to more tranquil ones, makes it ideal for a bedtime read. The art, beautifully complementing the prose, shifts from bolder colors to calmer ones as nighttime approaches. A glossary in the back matter with pictures pulled from the pages that children will recognize provides additional info for your things-that-float fans. What a fun way to have them drift off to sleep!
GO, GIRLS, GO!
Written by Frances Gilbert
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 3-6)
Who said transportation stories are just for boys? Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief Frances Gilbert never did, and her new picture book, Go, Girls, Go! proves it. This energetic rhyming story with its bold and bright artwork puts girls behind a wealth of wheels to inspire future Danica Patricks, Sally Rides and Molly Williamses.
A dozen diverse and spirited drivers, pilots, motorcyclists and more demonstrate that girls get a kick out of things that go Wooo!, Whirr! and Toot! just the same as boys do. And who knows what future vehicles might strike their fancy when they see themselves positively depicted on the pages of this picture book? Gilbert’s written about girls conducting trains, operating giant cranes and flying planes because anything and everything is possible, especially when powered by girls.
What I especially enjoyed about Go, Girls, Go! was the anticipatory page turns that had me wondering what would come next in terms of rhyme, sound effects—Vroom! Hoot! Clank!—types of transportation and of course, the illustrations. I immediately found myself repeating “Go, Girls, Go!” with as much enthusiasm as a preschooler. In other words, be prepared for multiple, lively read-alouds because this is not a quiet book. It’s also a celebration of girls moving over from the more passive passenger seat and taking control, and that’s something to shout about.
Allison Black’s cheerful, graphic-style illustrations complement Gilbert’s entertaining and fast-paced rhyming prose. Youngsters will happily follow the visuals while learning the words because the modes of transportation are easily identifiable and the rhythmic language is easy to memorize. What a fun way to get excited about things that go Roar! Honk! and Crunch! So make tracks to your local bookseller and get a copy to help your child’s imagination soar.
Today I’m happy to share an enlightening post on craft by Doubleday Books for Young Readers Editor-in-Chief, and Go, Girls, Go! author, Frances Gilbert. Many picture book authors face a challenge when writing in rhyme. Does the meter work? Does the rhyme feel forced? Is the story best told in rhyme? Frances offers helpful insights into her approach from both sides of the editor’s desk so please read on.
ON RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS BY FRANCES GILBERT
I’ve been a children’s book editor for over 25 years and one of the most common reasons I reject picture book manuscripts is that they rhyme badly. So why, for my first foray into writing a picture book myself, would I choose to write Go, Girls, Go!in rhyme??! Rhyming, we’re so often told – by editors, by agents, by fellow writers – is not encouraged. Bound to fail, hard to translate. But I love rhyming books. I love reading them, and I love publishing them. Turns out, I love writing them too.
The number one mistake in rhyming texts is when the rhyme overwhelms the story rather than serving the story. The monotony of a 32-page story all told in the same rhythm can wear a reader down after a few pages. As an editor, I often start these submissions thinking, “Okay, let’s see if this can be sustained . . .” and after a few stanzas say, “Oh please stop. I can’t do this anymore.” The sing-song-y-ness of “dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, dah-dah” in line after line pummels a reader with sameness. It also encourages authors to make terrible word choices: odd or forced descriptions or line endings because that last word HAS. TO. RHYME. My test: Extract a line out of your rhyming text and ask yourself if you’d write it the same way if it DIDN’T have to rhyme. If the answer is no, it’s a bad line. The rhyming has to feel effortless.
Effortless AND creative. Listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. I know it’s a high bar, but learn from how Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote an entire musical in tight, creative rhyme full of variety and rhythm changes and surprises and cleverness and word-play delights. Internal rhymes, humorous rhymes, break-outs into a different rhythm altogether. A surprise around every corner. Now imagine if all two hours and forty-five minutes of “Hamilton” had been “dah-duh dah-duh dah-duh, dah-dah.” That’s not a ticket you’d have paid $300 for.
I broke “Go, Girls, Go!” into four primary sections, each one showcasing three girls, their vehicles, and the sound of their vehicles. It starts: “Emma drives a fire engine, / Meg conducts a train, / Jayla steers a big red tractor hauling loads of grain.” Those lines alone are not breaking any creativing writing boundaries. It’s a pretty standard A-B-B rhyme scheme. Had the rest of my text been in the same rhythm and rhyme scheme, it could have gotten old quickly. But my next two scenes actually don’t rhyme at all; they introduce the sound words and, after another page turn, end in a rallying cheer: “Vroom! goes Emma. / Hoot! goes Meg. / Clank! goes Jayla! / Go, girls, go!” The break from rhyming in these scenes, while still maintaining a bouncy rhythm, gives the reader a different reading experience for a few pages before launching into the next set of girls.
This is the pattern for four sets of girls, and then for the finale we break into a different rhythm and rhyme scheme, A-A-A-B this time: “Girls can race and girls can fly. / Girls can rocket way up high. / What about you? Give it try! / Go, girl, go!” It gives the reader an indication that the book is approaching a crescendo, and then it lands on one final cheer on the last page (which doesn’t rhyme with anything).
Did I plan this structure deliberately ahead of time? No, I just wrote it. But I followed this mantra the entire time: “Don’t bore your reader. Don’t wear your reader down. Let the rhyme serve the story.”
I was grateful that reviewers picked up on this: Booklist called the rhyming “propulsive”, which is the best descriptor I could have hoped for, with the style of the rhyme matching the forward-moving vehicles in the book. And Kirkus said, “With repeated readings, pre-readers will be reciting the words on their own,” which thrilled me, because rhyming can help kids quickly get the hang of reading along if the rhythm grabs them. And that leads to repeated readings, which is the test of any good picture book.
So don’t be afraid of writing in rhyme, but please remember: “Don’t bore your reader. Don’t wear your reader down. Let the rhyme serve the story.”
A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK Written by Kate Narita
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)
FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN Written by Michelle Cusolito
Illustrated by Nicole Wong
(Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.
In100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects.Naritaemploys bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.
Kaufman’sbright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection.
InFLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolitouses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.
Digital illustrations fromWongenrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.
100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
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A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces this election season.
One hundred years ago, “On April 6, 1916, a little yellow car set out from New York City.” The car’s occupants were Nell Richardson, Alice Burke, and a little black kitten. These courageous ladies were on a mission. Together they would drive around the USA to campaign for women’s right to vote. Throughout their journey, they encountered people from all walks of life, and situations that might have derailed other less dedicated individuals. Whether facing blizzards or getting stuck in the mud held them up, these were just temporary setbacks. Nothing would curtail Richardson and Burke from cruising across the country for this important cause. Nope. Not blocked roads or getting lost for days. Onwards they drove, getting invited to fancy dinners and local schools. They joined a circus parade and attended a tea party, all the while spreading their message, “Votes for Women.” Finally, after ten thousand miles, Richardson needed a rest, but Alice felt motivated to cover more ground. This time, however, she chose to travel by train!
In the interesting back matter, Mara Rockliff shares four pages of useful information that even parents will find enlightening. She explains about the car Richardson and Burke used for their Votes for Women adventure, and how uncommon it was to travel by auto in 1916. Readers learn how, as far back as 1776, First Lady Abigail Adams urged her husband John “to remember the ladies.” We know what came of that request. Also included are sources and recommended reading on this timely topic. Rockliff has done a fabulous job of making the suffrage movement accessible to hong readers with her upbeat approach and language. The story of Richardson and Burke was one I’d never heard about so I’m glad I had a chance to step back in time with these two inspirational women. Hooper’s illustrations complemented the text and theme, allowing us to feel the exuberance of the journey along with the book’s history-making heroines.
Isabella’s back, this time visiting Washington, D.C. with her parents. But why, you may ask? She’s channeling and celebrating five trailblazing women in the U.S. government culminating with her attending the first female president’s inauguration, and she simply cannot wait. Fosberry builds up to this momentous event by highlighting women throughout our political history who were firsts in their field and who opened doors for themselves and future generations that, up until that time, had been closed to them.
You’ll meet Susanna Madora Salter, the first female mayor, in Argonia, Kansas. Incidentally, I had no idea that Kansas had given women the right to vote back in 1887, although Wyoming allowed women to vote as early as 1869. Isabella also introduces readers to Jeannette Rankin, a truly independent and colorful character who, in 1916, beat seven men to get elected as the first woman in Congress. In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross broke the glass ceiling by being elected the first female governor of Wyoming following the death of her governor husband, William, while still in office. She also was named first female Director of the Federal Mint by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Another woman to whom we owe a great debt is Frances Perkins. She, too, served under FDR, and had numerous appointments, in her lifetime, the most famous being “the first woman to serve on the Cabinet and be in line of succession to the presidency! Last, but not least is Sandra Day O’Connor who in 1981 was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court only after another first as the State Majority Leader in the Arizona State Senate. How’s that for accomplished women? Fosberry’s chosen to highlight these women with their varied backgrounds and experience to serve as role models for young girls everywhere who aspire to reach their true potential.
There’s lots of fun wordplay (“Let’s vote on breakfast.” “Capital idea!”) and cheerful artwork throughout this delightful, empowering picture book, ending with a time line and bios for each of these amazing women. Isabella: Girl in Charge will also be available on Put Me in The Story, the #1 personalized book platform in America.
A little race car settles down after a long, tiring day in this new going-to-bed book for little ones into all things automobile. It’s a quick read with approximately 200 words but it’s packed with cuteness! Adorable illustrations accompany the quiet rhyming text as the race car gets ready for bed and has sweet dreams. I’d highly recommend this book as a fun alternative to any animal-themed bedtime books. It’s sure to be a much requested going-to-bed story.
This is a clever, witty book written from a young boy’s perspective about when he learned how to operate several trucks and big machines. It’s hilarious how the author gets you believing that at such a young age, this boy is using a cement mixer, backhoe, 18-wheeler … you name it and this boy has probably operated it! You come to find out they are all toy trucks he’s operated and his room is like a parking lot, but when he grows up he’d love to drive a truck. Great rhyme teaches about various large trucks, and wonderfully bold and bright illustrations make this book one of my new favorites!
Duck gets on a tractor, after all he rode a bike before! After pressing a few petals and trying various things he turned a “shiny little piece of metal by the steering wheel.” Pretty soon all the farm animals are hopping on for the ride, saying their regular animals sounds by thinking something different. The animals end up going onto the main road past the diner and it’s such a sight to see that nobody can quite believe all those animals are on a tractor. Yet once the diner crowd goes outside there’s no trace of the animals. The farmer must have just left the tractor on! Another great book from David Shannon with spectacular illustrations that are sure to enthrall kids ages 4-8.
Here’s a variety of our favorite Thanksgiving books this year, some that celebrate the food or beverages of the fall season and others that shed light on an aspect of Thanksgiving we may not have thought about recently. We hope you’ll take some time out of your busy holiday preparations to read with your child or share one of these books with them to read on their own. Wishing all of you a most joyous Thanksgiving 2015. Happy reading and eating!
Thanksgiving Parade with illustrations by Melanie Matthews,
(Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up):
In this cheerful, sturdy, 12 page rhyming board book, kids get a front row seat for the famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a decades old NYC tradition chockablock with fabulous floats and brilliantly colored and shaped balloons, so many stories high. Of course no parade would be complete without marching bands and a visit from old St. Nick. This die cut board book is sure to set the countdown to Christmas in motion.
Time for CranberriesWritten by Lisl H. Detlefsen with illustrations by Jed Henry
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
We’re treated to an insider’s look at growing and harvesting cranberries which, for fans of this fruit, is not just a Thanksgiving treat, but a year round treasure. Author Detlefsen “lives on a cranberry marsh in Wisconsin” and knows her stuff. She tells the story from a young boy’s point of view. He’s finally old enough to participate in harvesttime rather than watching from the wings and takes joy in every aspect of the process. And it is a process, a time consuming one that involves booming, corralling, cleaning and a lot of other steps before the cranberries are ready for delivery at the receiving station. Henry’s illustrations perfectly complement Detlefsen’s prose and provide a good look at how involved being a cranberry grower can be. The author’s note helps readers get a good idea about the history of the industry and the back matter also includes two recipes and a handy glossary.
From Apple Trees to Cider Please Written by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with illustrations by Julia Patton
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
Chernesky takes us to an apple orchard where all kinds of apples are ripe for the plucking. There are Honeycrisp (my current fave), Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji trees and an apple picking family is filling up baskets with a nice assortment. After the family’s done they head over to the cider mill where they’re shown how the apple cider press works to extract the juice. Patton’s artwork is scrumptious and whimsical while Chernesky’s rhyme never misses a beat. “Clean the apples. Check for worms. Wash and dry them. No more germs.” This picture book is an ideal read-aloud for fall and will have you salivating for a cup of hot mulled cider by the end, if not sooner!
Lynch does a bravura job both with the execution of his evocative, muted artwork as well as with his economy of words. He embellishes little yet shares enough to put us right alongside Howland every step of the way. The story opens as Howland leaves London and heads off on the grueling journey across the Atlantic to help his master, John Carver, set up a colony in Virginia. But things don’t go quite as planned and the Mayflower ends up in New England, but not before a huge wave partway through the voyage sends Howland “flying over the side.” Fortune, as the book’s title says, seems to be with Howland everywhere on his trip as he was seen falling overboard and a rope was immediately thrown to rescue him. While half of the Pilgrims died either during the voyage or by the time the first winter had ended, Howland did not succumb to illness and survived to benefit from Squanto’s knowledge of the land. The descriptions of the three day Thanksgiving feast and Howland’s burgeoning relationship with one of the Pilgrims, Lizzy Tilley, add to the richness of this book and will no doubt spark interest in readers to dive even deeper into the history of the Pilgrims in the New World.
Thanksgiving Activity Book
Written by Karl Jones with illustrations by Joey Chou
(Price Stern Sloan; $9.99, Ages 3 and up)
Keep kids busy this Thanksgiving holiday with an activity book that starts off with some interesting facts then includes a bunch of Thanksgiving themed activities such as a word find, a crossword puzzle before moving onto traditional Thanksgiving recipes (pumpkin soup and corn bread) to be done with adult supervision. Best of all, there are clever craft ideas from a fall-leaf placemat to corn-husk dolls. I really liked the press-out paper crafts, in fact, I plan to make the turkey centerpiece. If that’s not enough, there’s a slew of stickers to keep kids thoroughly occupied as they create their very own Thanksgiving mini-masterpieces.
Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Other Recommended Thanksgiving books:
Turkey Time! with illustrations by Melanie Matthews
(Price Stern Sloan; $5.99, Ages 3 and up)
Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure Written by Linda Ashman with illustrations by Kim Smith
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 3-7)
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ Written by Eileen Spinelli with illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey Written by Bill Harley & Illustrated by Adam Gustavson
(Peachtree Publishing; $13.95, Ages 7-10)
The food truck phenomenon has its roots in Los Angeles, and local writer-illustrator Mark Todd pays homage to food on wheels in Food Trucks! The thirty pages feature a variety of edibles highlighted in the fourteen trucks. Short rhymes mixed with food facts provide an amusing and informative read.
Amigo (Taco Truck)
What’s up?/Surf’s up!/Hang ten and then/Head on over to the taco truck!
Carne asada and empanadas/With rice and beans/Seem to really hit the spot!
Holy moly, guacamole!/How about a hot tamale?/Bean burrito or quesadilla?/We’ve got the whole enchilada.
Dare to add the haban~ero/If you like it REALLY hot!
Better Burger Builder Bus (Hamburger Truck)
The world’s largest burger weighed 2,014 pounds and was ten feet in diameter. Before it was topped with sixty pounds of bacon and forty pounds of cheese, it took a crane to flip the patty! Americans eat an average of three hamburgers a week, which amounts to nearly fifty billion burgers per year!
Each food truck has a distinct personality. Bubba Q, the barbecue truck, sports long horns and a nose ring. The grilled cheese truck, Cheddar Chuck, has a grater ornament atop the roof and side mirrors in the shape of cheese wedges. Curry in a Hurry, the Indian food truck, is adorned with tassels, beads, and brightly colored lights. These extra touches on the details, such as the broccoli hood ornament on Mr. Cobb the salad truck and Sprinkles the cupcake truck’s license plate, SWTOOTH, make for entertaining viewing.
Whether your child is a foodie or a picky eater, s/he will find something to enjoy in this tribute to movable culinary delights.
In 1621, a group of nearly 100 people, many of whom experienced religious persecution, left England to find a place where they could worship freely. After an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean–which included violent storms and the birth of a child, they sighted land and eventually founded a settlement near Plymouth Harbor.
Their troubles were not over. Arriving late in the year, they faced a cold and difficult winter. Many were ill. However, in early spring, Squanto, a native from a local tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize the fields with fish. That fall, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, and 90 of his warriors joined the Pilgrims for a harvest celebration, our first Thanksgiving
Greenwood’s narrative in this picture book can be read aloud to young children to introduce them to the traditional Thanksgiving story. Complex issues, such as religious persecution and the Mayflower Compact, are briefly, but clearly expressed in language young children can understand. The hardships the Pilgrims faced are not overdramatized and the author weaves in interesting “kid friendly” facts about daily life aboard the ship: food, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc.
Lessac’s colorful gouache illustrations, reminiscent of folk art, enliven the narrative and create a vivid and dramatic visual of the journey and the settlement. A stunning two-page spread of a beautiful, calm night at sea, the sky full of stars sparkling around a full moon, belies the dangers the ship would soon face on its journey to the new world. Sure enough, a month later, the Mayflower and its passengers and crew sail into the stormy season, which Lessac stylistically portrays with a pinkish sky dotted with dark storm clouds. Jagged bolts of lightning and torrents of rain fall from the clouds. The image of the ship rolling in the rough sea further demonstrates the ocean’s frightening power and the hardships the crew and passengers faced on their way to the new world.
An excellent and colorful read aloud to introduce younger children to the origins of our Thanksgiving celebration.
Visit Australian author Mark Greenwood’s website for more information about his books.
Illustrator Frané Lessac’s website is a must-see for her artwork and a video about how the illustrator works.
Click here for Holiday House’s Educator’s Guide for this book.
Enjoy this dramatic book trailer for The Mayflower.