Getting Ready for Spring with Some Favorite Picture Books

This week in the Northeast US, we have had multiple days of above average temperatures, including one day in the high 70’s. We were able to get outside, play, complete some yard work, and generally enjoy pretending that Spring was already here. Even after a relatively mild winter here, we are ready for the flowers to begin blooming, the grass to peek up, and to wear much thinner coats.

So in preparation for actual Spring (in just 10 days!), today I am sharing some of our favorite books inspired by and about Spring. These books feature gardens, the sun, the outdoors, rain showers, rainbows, and Spring sports.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green- Lane Smith

A sweet tale of a man’s life told through the eyes of his great grandson throughout his lush and creative topiary garden. Check out our author profile of Lane Smith.


My GardenMy Garden – Kevin Henkes

A girl grows all kinds of unusual things in her garden.





Gossie (and the other books in the Gossie series) – Oliver Dunrea

A totally adorable gosling has adventures (and sloshes around in his rain boots) with the other animals in his barnyard.



The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

This classic reminds us each Spring of the miracle of metamorphosis.


Hooray for Spring!Hurray for Spring! – Patricia Hubbell

A fun rhyming book about Spring.




Where Butterflies GrowWhere Butterflies Grow – Joanne Ryder

This beautifully illustrated book gives you a bugs-eye view into a garden where butterflies grow. Interested in more books about nature? Check out our previous blog post with other nature favorites.


Joy in MudvilleJoy in Mudville – Bob Raczyka

We learn what might have happened after the Mighty Casey struck out, and a unique girl named Joy is put in to pitch and save the day. We reviewed this book previously.


Some other Spring books we are looking forward to reading: Maple Syrup Season by Ann Purmell; Mud by Mary Lyn Ray and Lauren Stringer; and Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and James Endicott.

What other Spring books are your favorites? Please share in the comments.

Author Profile: Lane Smith

Today, we are taking a deeper dive into the world of author and illustrator, Lane Smith. He has won the Caldecott Award for Grandpa Green and The Stinky Cheese Man. Several of his books have won the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award.

You may know Mr. Lane from his frequent collaboration with Jon Scieszka. I am also proud to say he lives in my lovely state of Connecticut.

His picture book illustrations have a distinct style, ranging from cute to creepy to inspired. His illustrations are often rich, and reward the careful reader with creative details. Each time my kids and I re-read his illustrated books, we discover new details. He seems to be able to really capture the essence of the text he is illustrating, whether it be for Jon Scieszka’s twisted humor or Bob Shea’s purity of story. He also brings a combination of beautiful illustrations and simple text to the books he both authors and illustrates.

Our favorite Lane Smith books are:
Grandpa GreenScience VerseThe Stinky Cheese ManSquids Will Be SquidsThe True Story of the Three Little Pigs

Our family reads Mr. Smith’s books over and over, and we each have a favorite. My son loves the humor of Science Verse, and how it creatively describes science concepts. My daughter enjoys The Stinky Cheese Man (it cracks both my kids up every time), and I am drawn to the sweetness of Grandpa Green.

Some other books from this author that I have not yet read: The Big Elephant in the Room, Math Verse, Princess Hyacinth, and John, Paul, George, and Ben. We’ll be adding them to our library queue soon!

What is your favorite Lane Smith book? Please share in the comments!

Author Profile: Jon Scieszka

Today, I am featuring Jon Scieszka, an author who started his career as a teacher before finding success with his own unique sense of humor. He has written a wide range of books, from the Trucktown preschool series to multiple fractured fairy tales. You probably know him best for his frequent collaborations with illustrator Lane Smith, with whom he worked on The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Time Warp Trio Series, Science Verse, Squids Will Be Squids, Cowboy and Octopus, and others.

Mr. Scieszka has a very unique sense of humor that is silly and multilevel. Both parents and children will enjoy different things about his books, and parents might even enjoy the repeated readings (gasp!). For his fairy tale-based books, he takes a slightly different perspective on what we think we know about characters and their stories. I can almost hear him starting a book writing session by saying, “What if?…”

He has won a long list of awards for his books, including the Caldecott Honor for The Stinky Cheese Man, the Golden Duck Award for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction Literature (Science Verse), and multiple citations by the ALA, New York Times, and National Education Association. Mr. Scieszka previously served as as the US National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and is dedicated to increasing literacy and making reading fun.

Our favorite Jon Scieszka books are:
The Stinky Cheese Man(see my previous review here)The True Story of the Three Little PigsScience Verse

All of the above books have so much humor and interesting text packed into them. We own the Stinky Cheese Man and have read it so many times the pages are worn. I will soon be buying Science Verse, as it has been read no less that a dozen times since we brought it home from the library. Science Verse not only introduces scientific concepts, but because the text is based on classic poems or songs, it has also generates an interest in the original material. Way to get kids interested in science, literature, and the arts all at once!

Some other books from this author that we have not yet read: The Time Warp Trio Series; the Frank Einstein series; Honestly, Red Riding Hood was Rotten! The Story of Red Riding Hood as Told by The Wolf; or the Guys Read series. We didn’t care for the Trucktown series, but once we discovered it my son was too old for it.

What is your favorite Jon Scieszka book? Please share in the comments!

What Beautiful Illustrations Can Do

In my personal development as a picture book writer, I fully admit that one of the first things I had to learn was to let go of what the book would look like. It is extremely tempting to include copious notes, in hopes that an illustrator will create pictures that mirror EXACTLY what the writer sees in their head. This is the writer’s story, after all, is it not?

You could take this limited view, but you would be missing out on many wondrous possibilities. What if the illustrator creates a vision of your book that is far beyond anything you imagined? What if they elevate your words, creating images that supplement, partner, or even transcend what you have written?

I was not always a believer. Then recently I read two picture books that demonstrate how an illustrator working with a writer’s words can elevate the piece to something quite special.

The first example is an author/illustrator. You may say, “Well, that doesn’t count. He’s working with his own story.” I would agree that it may guarantee that the writer’s vision is illustrated the way he sees it. However, it does not guarantee that the resulting words and pictures work together to create something that is greater than the individual pieces.

Lane Smith, is well known for illustrating for others, such as Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man. He has also illustrated his own books. My favorite of his own stories (that I have read so far) is Grandpa Green. Grandpa Green’s great-grandson tells his grandfather’s story, as he wanders through a garden. The garden is full of topiaries and other garden creations that show each of the memories that the boy shares. For example, Grandpa got chicken pox: “He had to stay home from school. So he read stories about secret gardens and wizards and a little engine that could.” These words are accompanied by a two-page spread of bushes and trees cut to resemble a lion, a scarecrow, a tin man, and a train. In the end, you discover that Grandpa is old and sometimes forgets things. “But the important stuff, the garden remembers for him.” We are treated to another two-page spread of all of the garden creations, made by Grandpa himself.

Besides the beautiful illustrations throughout the book (made all the more amazing by the fact that he uses the color green almost exclusively), the story itself is sweet. But when you combine the story and the illustrations together, it lifts up the book to make it poignant, charming, and endearing. The pictures reinforce the words, and give them so much more meaning. My son and I were so taken with the book that we immediately went back to the beginning and read it again. I was pleased to discover that Grandpa Green has earned Lane Smith the 2012 Caldecott Honor.

The second example is Two Little Trains, by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. The first item of note with this book is that it was published in 2001, 49 years after Ms. Brown’s death. More amazing still, there are many more of Margaret Wise Brown’s books that have been published posthumously with modern illustrators.

In Two Little Trains, Ms. Brown uses techniques seen in other books of hers: a repetitive, rhythmic language that compares and contrasts objects and concepts. For example:

One little train was a streamlined train,

Puff, Puff, Puff to the West.

One little train was a little old train,

Chug, Chug, Chug going West.

The words themselves are fun to read, and would be enjoyable to young children. However, the illustrators have taken the text to another level. On each left hand page is a drawing of a real train, making its journey. On each right page is a drawing of a toy train, making its own journey through the house. As the real train zooms along the metal tracks, the toy train runs along its own improvised track made from the fringe of a rug. Again, the illustrators have elevated the words to create a much bigger, more nuanced story. The illustrations ensure you want to turn the page and see what will happen next.

I apologize for not sharing more images (since I am talking about illustrations after all), but I have left them out for fear of using images that do not belong to me. All the more reason for you to go to your library or bookstore and search out these beautiful books for yourselves!

What books do you love, that combine illustration and text in a wondrous way?