Mo Willem’s Motivation to Write

Goldilock and the Three Dinosaurs

In picture books, absolutely brilliant writing will help me overlook simplistic illustrations. (The opposite is rarely true.) Apparently I’m not alone, because Mo Willems‘ smash hit picture book career has consisted of an entire collection of such books.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is another fantastically funny addition to Willems’ collection.

In this spin-off, the “poorly supervised” Goldilocks ignores all common sense and trespasses onto the Dinosaurs’ residence. There she scarfs down all three bowls of chocolate pudding regardless of their temperature because IT”S CHOCOLATE!!! (Personally, I’d do the same.) Eventually she grows suspicious of the noises outside the house that sound like dinosaurs (who  want to eat her) and she escapes their trap just in time.

A few years ago a child asked Willems’ where he gets his inspiration to write such creative stories. He said, “I’m lucky. My motivation comes in the mail. It’s called bills!” Whatever the source, it’s working. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs is another great read aloud.



Invisible People

The Can Man

I never saw the “invisible people” at the library. They were not the quintessential smelly, sleeping in public with tattered clothing variety. Security moved “those people” out like they might infect the masses.

No, the invisible people knew how to blend in.  In retrospect, they were definitely there. But, I didn’t have the eyes to see them. After working with a couple of groups that aid the homeless, I know what to look for. But prior to this, they didn’t even exist in my world.

Not so long ago the homeless were invisible in picture books too. It took the efforts of a giant (Eve Bunting) to break that barrier. Her masterwork, Fly Away Home, remains the most balanced representation of homelessness to grace the market.

The Can Man is about more than just one invisible population. Oddly enough, biracial families are virtually nonexistent in picture books, and I’ve never seen a Black/Asian couple and their kids in a picture book before. So when I saw that “Tim”, the boy who befriends The Can Man, came from a biracial family I couldn’t believe it! I literally turned the pages back just to double check. Is this real?! Gratefully, yes. Yes it is, and it’s about time!

So what is the book about?

The Can Man is a heartwarming – if somewhat romanticized – story of homelessness and hope, minus the common issues that often  parallel homelessness: mental illness and drug  addiction.

What Laura E. Williams doesn’t deliver in hard realities, she makes up for by bringing invisible people to the printed page. While most students are not homeless, a growing percentage are biracial. The presence of positive representations of  lived experiences of these families within schools is a critical step in embracing and welcoming populations that often receive neither.

For the hard realities of homelessness, check Invisible People‘s videos and Dennis Cardiff’s chronicling at Gotta Find a Home.

Move Over Olaf! There’s a New Suicidal Snowman in Town

Sneezy the Snowman

Like Olaf, Sneezy is interested in warming up. In fact he tries cocoa, and a fire and a hot tub. This doesn’t exactly turn out the way he planned. But the children keep rebuilding him, and eventually they teach him to strike a balance between the temperate extremes.

Maureen Wright penned the kind of repeated text that my students love to read with me. So, when I classroom tested Sneezy the Snowman, the read aloud gradually morphed into a whole group participatory experience. Thus, there were smiles all around. Mission accomplished!

Sneezy will be back next winter, and the next, and the next…

Abe’s Honest Words

Abe's Honest Words

There are over 15,000 books about Abraham Lincoln.

So, is there anything left that hasn’t already been said?

Probably not. But his is a story that bears repeating to the next generation.

From the cover to the story, Abe’s Honest Words is graphically and textually set up like Martin’s Big Words.

Doreen Rappapor chose to make this picture book about Lincoln’s quest to end slavery. She takes us from his formative years through his presidency to his assassination, with quotes from the legend interspersed. It’s sad and moving, but Kadir Nelson‘s impeccable illustrations offer a less somber tone than Martin’s Big Words.

With so many books on Lincoln it’s about time that a fitting story for young readers hit the market. Lincoln was (and is) too important in the US to be relegated to the picture book cheap seats!

A Slave Named Dave

Dave the Potter

The historic record doesn’t tell us much about Dave: which is not uncommon for those whose rights are trampled in the name of profit. What little we do know comes largely from the poems he wrote on the pottery he created: both of which make Dave remarkable.

I like this book. But, I almost panned it because it’s not  representative of the overwhelming majority of the historic American slave experience. Laban Carrick Hill leans heavily toward the romanticized side of slavery to tell the story of Dave’s extraordinary gifts. Thus his owner – and any signs of oppression – are completely absent.  However, because I’m balancing this account with other books depicting the horrors of slavery, Dave the Potter has a place in my classroom. But it couldn’t possibly stand alone.

As is often the case with Bryan Collier‘s work, his moving, well-researched illustrations alone were enough to make this book worth my time.

Under the Quilt of Night

Under the Quilt of Night

If you told me, “Hey! Check this out! I’ve got an awesome POETIC picture book on the underground railroad!” My reaction would be something like, “Hmm, you want me to bore my students death?!”

Don’t get me wrong. I legitimately enjoy poetry. As in, I’ve written a couple hundred poems. But few authors seem capable of producing poems that work well in the picture book market. Call me a doubter… because I am.

But forget about that for now; because Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome delivered the exception to the rule. Under the Quilt of Night is historical fiction told from the perspective of a young girl as her family escapes slavery on the Underground Railroad.

Hopkinson and Ransome give us a sense of real danger as “the master” peruses her family with hounds and guns. But they balance this looming threat with the kindness of strangers, as good prevails and the family finds their way into the arms of freedom.

Honoring The Greensboro Four


On February 1, 1960 four Black friends took Martin Luther King‘s, “We must meet hate with love” to Woolworth’s “WHITE ONLY” lunch counter.

Thus ignited the spark that set off sit-ins in over 60 cities. Six months later, the Woolworth’s lunch counter was desegregated.

Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney masterfully deliver the story of the Greensboro North Carolina sit in with a sprinkling of quotes from King and illustrations worthy of this pivotal moment in US history.

This seemed like a timely selection with Black History Month right around the corner and the passing of Franklin McCain: one of the four friends who started the sit in.