Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Biggest Story is all up to YOU!

The Biggest Story, by Sarah Coye/Illustrated by Dan Taylor, (March 2020, Kane Miller). $12.99, ISBN: 9781684640454

Ages 3-7

What do you do when you’re in the mood to hear a story, but Mom is just too busy to tell you one? Errol is a little boy who finds himself with that very dilemma – until Mom tells him to make up one on his own! But where to start? Errol is stumped, until an ant in his garden suggests he puts some ants in his story. That gets Errol’s wheels turning… and then the cats weigh in! As Errol’s story comes together, it seems like all sorts of animals within earshot – and then some – want a piece of the action! Mom finally sits down with her tea and is ready to hear Errol’s story… are you?

How much fun is this story? (Hint: SO much fun!) Errol is a little boy who just needs a little guidance in unleashing his imagination, and gets it from his mom and a big bunch of new friends. The ending begs for a sequel, and so will readers. In fact, after storytime, ask your kiddos how they’d continue the story and be prepared for some great answers. The Biggest Story is here to help, too: there’s a story generator at the end of book to guide kids into thinking up their own adventure. The digital artwork is bright and cartoony, with comic book panels and word bubbles used during Errol’s story to set it off from the overall book. The animals are all friendly and chatty, ready to help and get their 15 seconds of fame.

Publisher Kane Miller has a downloadable word search (and answer sheet) for readers. If you’re interested in storytelling activities, The Imagination Tree has some really good ideas.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

The Worst Book Ever is hilarious!

The Worst Book Ever, by Elise Gravel, (May 2019. Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 9781770463639

Ages 5-10

Elise Gravel’s work always makes me smile, and her newest book, The Worst Book Ever, made me laugh out loud. Three characters come together to comment on the worst fairy tale ever as it unfolds. They’re annoyed by standard fairy tale tropes, like the “beautiful prinsess and brave prinse”; they criticize typos, illustration, and writing style, all for laughs. The commentary is laugh-out-loud funny, and the visuals are bold, bright, and wonderfully odd. The fourth wall is more than broken; it’s demolished as coffee stains and cookie crumbs dot the pages and our main characters call out lack of diversity, literary clichés, and weak female characters. One character makes a list of all the spelling mistakes found in the book always good for a prize for anyone who can catch them all. As the story descends into madness, the characters become more confused, and your readers will laugh even harder.

The Worst Book Ever can be a good companion when talking about short story writing. Point out issues the characters have with the story as it develops, and see what your readers chime in with. Can they fix the narrative?

Lest I leave out the most important part: there’s bathroom humor. I quote: “Poopie Peepee Fart Booger”. So this is basically kid gold.

Add this to your graphic novel shelves and watch it fly.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Interrupting Chicken discovers The Elephant of Surprise!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688424

Ages 4-8

The current storytime favorite in my home is the newest one from David Ezra Stein! Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is the follow-up to 2011’s Caldecott Medal winner, Interrupting Chicken, and reunites readers with the dynamic duo of Chicken and his dad. In this outing, Chicken has learned about a valuable literary tool: the elephant of surprise. Papa tries to correct him, telling him that he must be referring to the element of surprise, but Chicken knows what he heard. He and Papa turn to the books for proof, and sure enough, through three classic fairy tales and one of Papa’s own stories – drawn by Chicken, naturally – darned if that elephant doesn’t show up at the most hilarious moments!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is laugh-out-loud hilarious. My 6-year-old and I cackle through each reading, especially when the delicious moment of suspense arises. We read the fairy tale excerpt. I give him the side eye as I linger over the page. He giggles uncontrollably, turns the page with me, and…

Just like that.


There’s everything to love about this story: the so-familiar feel of the dialogue between caregiver and child (especially when that child is convinced they are right), the fun of playing with language and following a kid’s thought pattern through storytelling, and the vibrant, fun artwork throughout the book, especially the handwriting dialogue fonts and the drawn-in, colorful elephant inserting itself right into those fusty, bland-colored classics.

Add this one to your shelves, right next to its companion book, Interrupting Chicken. It’s essential bedtime, storytime, anytime reading for kids, and would make a fun surprise guest in a creative writing program or ELA class. I think I may have to add this one to my Mock Caldecott list for 2018.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A bedtime story that you can Whisper

whisperWhisper, by Joe Fitzpatrick/Illustrated by Marco Furlotti, (Sept. 2016, Flowerpot Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781486709465

Recommended for readers 4-7

A parent and child bear read a special bedtime story together; the little bear lovingly asks for its parent to whisper the story so he’ll listen close, cuddle in, and have more fun. This rhyming story has a quiet cadence to the text that makes for a soothing bedtime read; the little bear’s requests are great for getting little ones corralled and ready for bed. The story encourages a bedtime routine through words and loving illustrations of a caregiver and child cuddling and settling in for the night.

My 4 year-old is normally a wild man by bedtime – especially if there was no nap earlier in the day – and this helped wind him down when I read it. It’s by no means a sleep guarantee, though – we read about 4 books after this one – but it’s a nice way to introduce a nighttime routine. The illustrations are largely close-ups of the bears, heads together, snuggling, making the reader feel like they’re part of the story. Neither grownup nor child is gendered, allowing any child, any caregiver, to identify with the characters. Have your little ones whisper along with you – the word is emphasized with smaller text throughout the book – for a shared reading experience. A sweet bedtime selection.

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate

The power of stories: The Storyteller

storyteller-1The Storyteller, by Evan Turk (June 2016, Athenum), $18.99, ISBN: 9781481435185

Recommended for ages 5-10

Every now and then, you get an epic in storybook form. The Storyteller is such a tale. We sit down and listen to the storyteller: the narrator of the book, who tells us how the Kingdom of Morocco formed at the edge of the great, dry Sahara desert; how there were fountains of cool water, and storytellers to bring the people together. We also learn that as people forgot the perils of the desert, they forgot about the storytellers, too – except for a single boy, who happened upon a storyteller while in search of a drink of water. The storyteller spun tales for the boy, always leaving him thirsty for more stories.

Once a sacred duty to preserve a culture’s collective memory, the advent of television, movies, and the Internet whittled away at the practice of storytelling. What The Storyteller gives us is a beautifully complex, layered tale that illustrates the power of storytelling, an art that – according to the author’s note at the end of the book – is at long last making a comeback.

Mr. Turk’s art has an ancient feel to it, capturing the story’s spirit using a variety of instruments: water-soluble crayon, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, a heat gun, and fire. The final product made me feel like I was holding a revered story scroll, reading tale straight from history.


Evan Turk received the New Illustrator Honor from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation for Grandfather Gandhi. Find more of his artwork at his author website. The Storyteller has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

This is a picture book more for school-age kids than little ones. The publisher suggests ages 4-8, but I’d bump it up to ages 5-10, because I feel like Kindergarteners would be better able to sit through the story and lose themselves in this tale. I also feel like this would be a great book to skew a little older with; for instance, upper elementary grades that have storytelling/fairy tales units would have great success introducing this book to classrooms.




Posted in Early Reader, Graphic Novels

Written & Drawn by Henrietta: A WhatchaReading review!

I can’t say it often enough: I love TOON Books. They consistently put out fun, smart content for kids of all ages and tastes. I love having them in my home, I love having them in my libraries, I love that they exist. One of the books they’re putting out this Fall, Written and Drawn by Henrietta, by 2014 Eisner nominee, Liniers, is likely to be one of my favorite books of the year.  In fact, I’ll be using this book with my early readers (rising Kindergarten & 1st graders) next week at storytime; I’ll read the book to them, and then we’ll be working on creating our own graphic novels. I’ll make sure to report back!


Check out my full review and an 8-page preview over at WhatchaReading!