Author Profile: Cressida Cowell

Today I am featuring another of our favorite authors, Cressida Cowell. She is a British writer/illustrator who write picture books and chapter books. Her wonderful sense of humor and whimsy have earned her books (and the movies made from them!) international recognition. While her wry sense of humor shines through each of her books, I find them quite diverse.

You may know Ms. Cowell from the Hiccup the Viking series, most notably How to Train Your Dragon. However, she is also the author of one of my children’s (and mine) favorite characters, Emily Brown.

Her books range from board books for toddlers (What Shall We Do with the Boo-hoo Baby?) to picture books for the 3-8 year old range. Her Dragon books are longer and more complex, and therefore may appeal to the 7-9 year old target audience.

Our favorite Cressida Cowell books are:
Cressida Cowell BooksThat Rabbit Belongs to Emily BrownEmily Brown and the ThingEmily Brown and the Elephant Emergency

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown is the clear favorite, but we have read all of the Emily Brown books multiple times. Read my previous reviews here and here. In the case of How to Train Your Dragon, we did the reverse of our normal approach and discovered the book after enjoying the movie. I also found a copy of How to Be a Viking (a picture book introduction to Hiccup) at our library, which also came with an audio companion CD with extra story elements read in a lovely Scottish brogue. Check it out if you can find it!

Some other books from this author that I have not yet read: Claydon Was a Clingy Child, Super Sue at Super School, Little Bo Peep’s Library Book, and Don’t Do That Kitty Kilroy. I also haven’t read past the first How to Train Your Dragon book, but my kids and I may in the future!

What is your favorite Cressida Cowell book? Please share in the comments!

Review: Are You Ready to Play Outside?/ Max’s Review

Cover- Are you Ready to Play Outside?Are You Ready to Play Outside?

Written and Illustrated by: Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Friendship, Creative Problem Solving

How We Discovered This Book: I went looking for a summer themed book, and this is one of our old favorites. It is also a Theodore Geisel Award winner.

Summary: Piggie and Gerald can’t wait to play outside, but it begins to rain. Gerald helps Piggie have fun in the rain, but then it stops. What will they do now?

What I Liked: The Elephant and Piggie books are charming, simple, and funny. This book is no exception. With just simple illustrations and text, so much is expressed. My kids and I just noticed (after many years of reading these books) that the setting is just some nondescript place outside. We had never noticed!

What Did My Kids Think? My kids vie for who gets to read each of the voices. The text leaves so much room for expression. The books are short reads, so there is plenty of time to go back to the beginning and read it again!


Brainstorm with your kids/students a list of things you can do inside and outside. And then flip the list and talk about what would happen if you had to do an outside activity inside (and vice versa). What creative solutions could you come up with to make each activity work?

There are many possible Elephant and Piggie companion activities: Try these or these. Mo Willem’s Pigeon even has an Elephant and Piggie party kit!


And heeeeere’s Max! He’s back with his own review of Are You Ready to Play Outside? Max has taken a break from hanging out at the pool to give us his review this week.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

Summer Camp Memories

My kids have been in morning camp for several weeks now, and have several more weeks ahead of them. They go to a wonderful camp held at one of our local elementary schools, which combines learning something new with general outdoor fun and arts/crafts.

I have fond memories of my own camp experiences. I had a pretty diverse experience – I attended a playground camp, Girl Scout camp, and a intense camp at the local college where I took courses in programming and mime. And I loved every minute of each of them.

I think summer camps should be somewhere that provides a change of pace, and an opportunity to look at your world a little differently. There isn’t the daily pressure of homework or other lessons – just a relaxed environment where you can try some new things, have fun, and perhaps learn something about yourself. You might find you really like the arts, or that tennis really isn’t your thing. It’s all about self-exploration.

So how do we capture that in our adult lives? We can certainly try new things – a new skill, a new project, a new sport. We can also try to look at things with a new perspective. In the spirit of summer, I am trying to take a more relaxed approach to the summer. There may be some changes and transitions to my life in the fall (more to come on that later), so this may be my last fully engaged summer with my kids. I am taking it one day at a time versus making structured plans for each day. As long as we have a good mix of fun, quiet play, reading, and time together, I consider the day a success.

So for this summer, I am narrowing the focus down to the bare essentials. Time with my family, time with some books, time to work on my novel, and time for the outdoors.

I hope your summer is going as you have planned (or not planned, as the case may be!)

Happy 4th of July!

I hope all of our U.S. readers are enjoying the long Independence Day weekend. In addition to all of the BBQ, beach, and outdoor activities you have planned, I thought I’d take a minute to share some of our favorite books about America.

This list is by no means comprehensive – it is just reflective of what we enjoy that is on our shelf. Perhaps there are one or two here that might be a new discovery for you. Also, a thank you to family friends of ours who have a wonderful taste in books, and are responsible for giving us many of these books about America (you know who you are!)

Many of these books capture the spirit of what it means to be American, captured in the stories of famous people and places. Some of our favorites:

  • Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America, Lynne Cheney
  • American Symbols and Their Meanings Series – Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, The American Flag (Joseph Ferry), The Liberty Bell, and The White House (all others by Hal Marcovitz)
  • Meet George Washington, Joan Heilbroner
  • The People Pick a President, Tamara Henneman
  • Benjamin Franklin: Amazing American, Margaret Davidson
  • Childhood of Famous Americans Series – Helen Keller (Katherine Wilkie), Thomas A. Edison (Sue Guthridge), Crazy Horse (George E. Stanley), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kathleen Kudlinski), and Abraham Lincoln (Augusta Stevenson)
  • A Book About Benjamin Franklin, Ruth Belov Gross

The last book is one from my childhood, published in 1975. I still enjoy reading it. The illustrations were done by J.B. Handelsman, a cartoonist for Punch in England and The New Yorker in the US. These cartoonish illustrations pair with the text to make Benjamin Franklin’s life very engaging to children.

Best wishes for a lovely weekend! If you have any other favorites about America, please share in the comments.american-flag-1280