Mirabel’s Missing Valentine by Janet Lawler and Olivia Chin Mueller

Christmas just ended, you say? It’s too soon for Valentine’s Day, you say?

It’s never too soon for a good book. This week’s picture book of the week Mirabel’s Missing Valentine’s, is a fantastic rhyming story about a shy little cat.

About the Book:

Mirabel’s Missing Valentine’s is about a shy little girl cat who is nervous about putting herself out there by passing out valentines at school the next day. She makes the valentines anyway and bravely heads off to school the next day prepared to face her fears. On her walk to school, some of her valentines fall out of her sack and end up brightening the day of characters Mirabel has never even met before. When Mirabel and the other characters realize the mistake, Mirabel learns a new lesson about love and friendship.

Writing Exercise:

The narrator tells us that Mirabel is shy, she is nervous about passing out valentines at school the next day. The writing challenge for this week is for your 3-5 grader to write a story about being shy. It can be about their own experience being shy or about not being shy at all and not understanding what it is like to be shy. It can also be a completely fictional story with animals, people, or any types of characters they wish.

Happy Writing!

The Tree That’s Meant to Be by Zommer

Doesn’t everyone feel a little different sometimes? It doesn’t always have to mean rejection. Sometimes it can mean something unexpected.

The picture book selection this week is The Tree That’s Meant to Be, written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer.

About the Book:

The Tree That’s Meant to Be is a story told from the perspective of an imperfect fir tree. The tree is a little too crooked and a little too short to be chosen as the perfect Christmas tree. When it ends up alone after all of the other trees are selected by humans, the tree wonders what will become of it. Will it never get to celebrate Christmas? Can anybody hear it’s call? Next comes the unexpected part: new friends, new confidence, and of course, Christmas!

Writing Exercise:

The Tree That’s Meant to Be is written in first person. The first person POV allows the reader to feel the main character’s emotions and experience the events in the main character’s life with immediacy. It brings the reader closer to the tree. The writing challenge this week is for your 3-5 grader to write a story about a time they felt alone in first person.

Happy writing!

If You Come To Earth by Sophie Blackall

In these days of email and texts, letter-writing can seem like an ancient custom or a lost art form. It might seem that way, but letter-writing is actually a handy skill for kids to have, one that they will inevitably use later in life even if it’s only for practical matters.

The picture book I picked for this week is If You Come to Earth, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

About the Book:

If You Come to Earth is about a child who writes a letter to anyone visiting from outer space. He wants visitors to know a few important facts about Earth and earthlings that might help them be more comfortable. The letter explains our location in the solar system and about the things we have in common. It also shows what makes us stand out from the crowd, how we move around, and the music that is a part of our lives.

You don’t have to be a visitor from outer space to enjoy If You Come to Earth. Anyone who is new here, like young kids, will appreciate this simple and sweet orientation of life on Earth.

Writing Exercise:

Have your child write a letter to someone that explains a topic they don’t know about or are learning about. It can be about anything your child knows about or can do research on and learn about.

Happy writing!

Looking for Smile by Ellen Tarlow and Lauren Stringer

The picture book for this week is Looking for Smile, written by Ellen Tarlow and illustrated by Lauren Stringer.

About the book:

This week’s story is about Bear and Smile, who are always together enjoying everything from the simple to the exciting. One day, Smile is gone, and Bear is not the same. Bear looks everywhere for Smile but cannot find his friend. Sitting beneath a tree, Bear stops looking, then the unexpected happens.

Looking for Smile deals with the topic of sadness or depression, by creating characters that make the topic more relatable. Bear is an animal, which removes some of the heaviness that might be attached to a human character.

Writing Exercise

This week’s story uses animal characters instead of humans. Your challenge is to write a story using animals as characters.

The Very Last Leaf by Stef Wade and Jennifer Davison

The great thing about picture books is that they can communicate universal truths by crafting imaginative characters and putting them in familiar situations. The situations automatically become less threatening, even funny, allowing kids to laugh at some otherwise serious circumstances.

The Picture Book I picked for the week is The Very Last Leaf, written by Stef Wade and illustrated by Jennifer Davison.

About the Book:

The book is about a leaf that is afraid to fall. The setting is literally Fall, and the leaves on deciduous trees are meant to fall to ground. It is part of their life cycle. Lance Cottonwood, the leaf in question, imagines horrible things will happen to him if he falls and he keeps avoiding the inevitable.

Fear of the unknown is universal. Every kid faces it. Every kid reader will probably understand why Lance doesn’t want to fall. How Lance finds the courage to do what he must might help a kid or two learn to face his/her fear.

Writing Exercise

In this book, the author uses dialogue to advance the story. The other leaves make comments about Lance’s inability to fall. Lance talks to the evergreen, Doug. Lance’s teacher tries to comfort him. This week’s writing challenge is to write a story that uses dialogue, or talking, to communicate the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

What do you learn about the characters?

Happy Writing!

A Thousand No’s by DJ Corchin and Dan Dougherty

The beauty of picture books is that they distill a universal theme down to about 500 or so words. When the goal is for the writer to communicate a familiar but unspoken truth with power and heart, this turns out to be no easy feat.

The Picture Book of the Week is A Thousand No’s, written by DJ Corchin and illustrated by Dan Dougherty.

About the Book:

The book is simple. It starts with a girl who has a bright, shiny new idea. She shares it with other people, who begin to see flaws in her idea. “No,” they said. The no’s trickle in and then they become an avalanche. She tries to stop the no’s from getting in her idea, but they do. So, she has to figure out what to do. She could either be buried under the heavy no’s or see them as a challenge.

Writing Exercise:

Write two paragraphs. In the first one, write (fiction or nonfiction) about a person/character who has an idea, gets lots of no’s, and is buried under the heaviness of the no’s.

In the second paragraph, write about a person/character who has an idea, gets lots of no’s, and sees the no’s a challenge.

How is the outcome different?

Happy Writing!

On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex

Everyone has to write at some point in their lives. You might not write a novel or a poem, but you will probably have to write a letter or an email, or a report for work. It doesn’t have to be a chore for you or for your kids either. I teach kids to fall in love with the process of writing and step number one towards that end is reading. There is a quote attributed to Einstein that goes “if you want you want your kids to be intelligent, read them fairy tales, if you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I’ll go one step further and say that if you want your kids to be good writers, read them funny tales, and silly tales, and scary tales, whatever they like, just read.

This blog is about books. Each week will showcase a different picture book along with a technique used in the book that your child can use to practice writing.

About the Book

This week’s Book of the Week is On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex. It’s a fun, rolicking ride of a book about a little girl (or boy, I’m not sure) who gets gum in her hair and all of the ways her relatives try to get it out. Adults will remember the time they got gum in their hair and the old wives’ method their parent used to get it out. Kids will enjoy the mounting absurdity and the look on the child’s face as her adults try their best to help her.

Writing Exercise

In this book, the author takes a simple, relatable childhood problem and makes the problem worse and worse each time someone new tries to help, leaving the best for last. This is a great exercise for kids in 3rd though 5th grade to stretch their imaginations and build the tension in their story by going bigger with every page, paragraph, or problem.

Happy Writing! 

The Staring Contest by Nicholas Solis

I study picture books to improve my craft, but I also love picture books. They are funny, and poignant, and most important, true. In a few words, they get to the heart of pain, love, or absurdity.

This week, I ran across The Staring Contest by Nicholas Solis (full disclosure: I know the author and I’m not dropping names), and interactive picture book that challenges the reader to, of course, a staring contest. Kids will love trying to beat the cocky narrator and they will relate to the narrator at the unexpected ending.

Sometimes a staring contest isn’t just a silly game. Sometimes it’s about confidence, perseverance, and heart.