reviews and stories about parenting with picture books

Guest Posts

You can find Karen Barrett (also known as Awesome Mom! at reviews archived here:


Caldecott/Barrett House Winner: This is Not My Hat

Regular contributor Karen Barrett is back, writing about this year’s Caldecott winner, This Is Not My Hat, a book that is is also a big winner in her Picture Book House with her boys and their Grandma. 

Today, my mother-in-law and her sister came by to watch Reid while I went to help in Jack’s preschool class. Nama and Aunt Gina had a great time with Reid. They played in the yard on the swing and slide, but they also read books.

Aunt Gina is also a grandmother and a lover of picture books. So Kathy, my mother-in-law (Nama), asked us to show Aunt Gina one of our favorites, so I brought out a stack of about seven. The one that caught both Aunt Gina’s and Nama’s attention is also one that my boys love.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Candlewick, 2012) is the 2013 Caldecott Medal Winner, and for good reason. It’s one of those books that if you only read the words, you miss the story.

This Is Not My Hat is the story of a little fish who steals a big fish’s hat. The words tell us the little fish’s story from his point of view. The pictures tell us what is really happening.

“This hat is not mine. I just stole it. I stole it from a big fish. He was asleep when I did it.”

The story gets good when the big fish wakes up. “And he probably won’t wake up for a long time,” Klassen writes. “He’s awake,” Jack squeals as we read it and he sees the fish’s eyes wide open on the page.

Klassen does a great job of illustrating the big fish’s thoughts and feelings through its eyes. No matter how many times we read this book, I still find myself giggling as I watch the big fish realize what happened to his hat.

Then the chase is on. Will the little fish get away with the hat? Obviously, I can’t tell you that. In fact, I’m finding it hard to tell you everything we love about this book without giving away the ending.

We definitely love the illustrations. Jack loves to look at them and tell me what is really happening, especially when the words contradict the illustrations. You can’t help but add your own narration of what you see happening. I enjoyed watching Nama do this today when she read it for the first time.

I love the subtle humor in the expressions of the animals. Aunt Gina loved the plants, and I agreed. We thought they would make a beautiful wallpaper.

The words are no less amazing. The little fish tries to rationalize his theft in such simple terms. “I know it’s wrong to steal a hat. I know it does not belong to me. But I am going to keep it. It was too small for him anyway. It fits me just right.” Even my 5-year-old recognizes the flawed logic. And it opens a nice conversation about right and wrong.

One of our favorite parts is the ending. And I can tell you this without giving anything away: you will need your imagination. Klassen won’t tell you what happens; you will have to put on your detective hat and figure it out.

We have loved this book since the moment it entered our house (as a Christmas present from my sister Susie). Susie said that as soon as she saw it, she knew Jack would love it. And she was right. Now, we know that Nama and Aunt Gina love it too.

Teacher Appreciated with Barrett Book, Difficultly Donated

Regular contributor Karen Barrett tells a story about how hard it was for her son to pick a book to donate to his classroom because all of his “…books are so good though.” Enjoy! 

It’s teacher appreciation week, and we are participating in the Barrett household. My oldest son is finishing up pre-kindergarten at a local elementary school, and we definitely appreciate his teachers.

His school does a pretty neat thing for teacher appreciation week. The PTA sends out a note the week before with suggestions for a gift each day that doesn’t have to cost a thing. It’s the second day that got me writing this post: donate a gently used game or book that is age appropriate for your teacher’s classroom. Of course, we went directly for the book option. Then it got hard.

Last year this was a bit easier. We had three copies of Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. So giving up one of those, no problem. Jack was happy to share one of his favorite stories. This year though, no doubles.

“All of my books are so good though,” Jack said as we sifted through the stacks trying to find one that he doesn’t really read anymore. I found about four that were age appropriate and that he hadn’t picked up in at least the last six months. As soon as he saw the pile, he had a reason why he loved each one.

The first one I brought out was Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz (Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2006). We used to read this one a ton. I’m sure you’ve already read Abby’s review of another Katz book, In Grandma’s Arms, so you know how playful her illustrations are. In Can You Say Peace? she writes specifically for Peace Day (which is September 21) and teaches us how to say peace in 11 languages. We used to have lots of fun trying to pronounce the words. But I can’t remember the last time Jack picked this book for a bedtime read. He vetoed this donation because he liked the pictures.

The next book was Rainbow Fish to the Rescue! by Marcus Pfister (North-South Books, 1995). Another great book with a great story about being a good friend and doing what’s right. The illustrations are fantastic too. Lots of fish with sparkly scales. But this one is a sequel to a book we have never read. And again, Jack hasn’t asked to read this one in over a year. He vetoed this donation because “I really like this one, Mommy”.

Next up was The Cat in the Hat’s Great Big Flap Book by Dr. Suess (Dr. Suess Enterprises, 1999). Now, I’m as big a fan of Dr. Suess as anyone who likes to laugh, but if I’m going to be honest, this is one of my least favorite books to read. There are just too many flaps. But back when Jack loved flap books, I’d work through it and act surprised every time we found a silly word behind a flap. I was secretly grateful when this book went out of rotation a while ago. But as soon as I brought it out for possible donation, Jack remembered how much fun he had reading this one and immediately started opening flaps.

That brought us to The Twins have a Fight by Ellen Weiss and illustrated by Sam Williams (Aladdin, 2004). We used to love reading this early reader before bed. Jack loved the balloon that caused the fight. He loved watching the twins work through the problem of sharing. But Jack hasn’t shown interest in this book in a very long time, and we have another book about the twins by the same author and illustrator, so I thought this would be a sure bet.

Nope, he really liked this story, too. I tried to remind him that he had to pick something and that whatever book he chose would be read a lot more at school. That’s when Jack said, “All of my books are so good though.” I was so proud. I’m so happy that he has come to love books as much as I do. And that even though he doesn’t read them all of the time, he remembers something worthwhile about each one.

In the end, he decided to donate The Twins Have a Fight. I think my winning argument was that by choosing to donate books we don’t read much anymore, we can make room on our shelves for new books, like Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems.

I hope the kids in Mrs. Thoren’s class love this book as much as Jack did. And I wonder how long it will take him to ask me to go to the bookstore?

Thank you teachers, for all that you do, especially those that I have had the honor of working with at Wheeling High School, DeForest High School, Broadway and Pewaukee. Happy Teacher’s Appreciation Week. –Abby


Otis Loves to Play, Especially as a Bedtime Book that Walks Backward

Regular contributor Karen Barrett is back, with a story about Loren Long’s Otis Loves to Play that is going to make it impossible for me not to run to the bookstore and buy this book…today. The way she describes her 17-month-old engaging with Otis makes me feel guilty for depriving my 19-month-old of it for so long. It’s not that I haven’t seen it around. In fact, all of Long’s books have been on prominent display at Books and Company here in Oconomowoc  because Long visited a few months back.

Sadly, I had to miss it. 

But we’re not going to miss out on this series any longer…

Enjoy Karen’s review and then go out and enjoy this book! I know we will. 

We are in the midst of a sleeptime routine shift at our house. My youngest has just turned 17 months old, and apparently the 17-month milestone is “to decide I don’t like the current sleep routine so please try something new.” Reid has shunned what used to be a simple 5-minute routine for some extended reading and waving goodnight to a myriad of animals.

Our new sleeptime routine is to read three books (chosen by Reid), turn on the music, say goodnight to all of our animals and pictures, and then go to sleep. Despite its length, I have found a reason to enjoy the new routine. Reid picks a book from the bookshelf or the basket and then walks backward to sit in my lap for the reading. If you haven’t seen a toddler try to back up and sit in someone’s lap, well, you should find a toddler to watch because it’s pretty darn cute.

Reid is definitely developing a taste for picture books. He has a few favorites already: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon and Otis Loves to Play. Of his favorites, mine is definitely Otis Loves to Play (Grosset & Dunlap, 2012) by Loren Long.

Otis Loves to Play is a board book based on Long’s picture book series about a tractor named Otis. In this version, Otis plays with his farm friends until he’s tuckered out and ready for bed. Reid loves to point out the animals as they play follow the leader and ring-around-the-rosy. In fact, he likes to use his finger to trace the path Otis takes for ring-around-the-rosy while I sing the song.

Reid quacks at the ducks when Otis chases them. He tries to moo at the calf when Otis and the calf do a handstand. And of course, he says “night-night” to Otis and the calf as they fall asleep at the end of the book.

Reid is just learning how to make animal noises and such, so this is a good book to practice. He thinks Otis is a train though, so every time Otis is pictured, he points and says “choo choo.” His “choo choo” is just too cute to correct.

I can’t blame Reid for becoming so engaged with the pictures in this book. Long’s illustrations are amazing. They jump off the page with details that make them feel like a warm, old photograph. Long sticks to a neutral pallet with the exception of a beautiful red that he uses for Otis. I’m captivated by these illustrations every time we read the book, and I’m pretty sure Reid is as well.

As I said earlier, this board book is based on the longer book, Otis. Long has also written two other Otis books, Otis and the Tornado and Otis and the Puppy. The illustrations in Otis Loves to Play come from the original Otis and Otis and the Tornado. The “story” is excerpts of the play Otis does in both books too. So if you are looking for a more developed story, as my older son usually is, then you need to check out the other Otis books. Jack is a pretty big fan of Otis and the Tornado.

So these days, as we get ready to go to sleep, I secretly cross my fingers and hope that Reid is in an “Otis” mood so we can both enjoy some quality reading time.


Kids Love…Dragons Who Love…Tacos

Thanks to Karen Barrett for another great review! 

By nature, I am not a very good performance artist. When I was younger, I tried my hand at theater and was given the job of prompter for the other actors. I’m okay with it though. Thanks to picture books and my job as a parent, I get the chance to perform for a very enthusiastic audience who laughs no matter how badly I botch the lines.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012) is the newest book I like to “perform.” We’ve only had it a week (the Easter Bunny brought it), but I think we’ve read it at least a dozen times.

Brief intermission: This is not Rubin and Salmieri’s first book together. We first found them at the library in the book Those Darn Squirrels Fly South. We loved the funny combination of Rubin’s writing and Salmieri’s illustrations from first reading. So when the Easter Bunny saw they had a more recent release, well, she just had to get it. Perhaps in another post, I can tell you more about Those Darn Squirrels.

Back to the performance. With Dragons Love Tacos, I can start out loud and strong with the first lines, “Hey Kid! / Did you know that dragons love tacos?” This usually elicits a little smile from Jack, the 5-year-old, and grabs the attention of Reid, the 16-month-old.  And so begins the question/answer pattern of the book.

As a “performer,” I love the Q/A format because it turns into call and response. Jack loves to answer the questions, and I know in another week or two, he’ll be reciting the answers written by Rubin.

Rubin writes for a performance. He abides by the “rule of threes,” which allows me to build enthusiasm with each answer. “Why do dragons love tacos? Maybe it’s the smell from the sizzling pan. Maybe it’s the crunch of the crispy tortillas. Maybe it’s a secret.” I love to emphasize the “maybes.” It makes Jack lean in a little closer and then let out a nice giggle by the time I get to the third one.

The writing and performing is only half the story with this picture book. Daniel Salmieri’s illustrations are entertaining even without Rubin’s words. I know this because I’ve caught Jack looking through the book and giggling at the pictures. How can you not giggle at a dragon lying on his back with his tongue hanging out? or maybe a pantload of tacos? Jack also loves to point out the Taco Cave, where the dragons like to buy their tacos.

The only thing missing in this book is the compelling character. Unfortunately, we never really get to know the kid or the dragons even though we see the funny result when they meet at a taco party. Instead of developing the characters, the writing focuses more on informing the reader about what dragons love and do not love about tacos and what can happen at a taco party. Very funny, it just doesn’t pull the reader into the story.

We love to laugh in our picture book house, so Dragons Love Tacos has been well received. Even my husband likes the book. “If you asked me what book I’d like, of course I’d like Dragons and Tacos,” he said.

PBH Rating: Read it again, Mommy!


Simple Book, Special Moment: Awesome Mom’s Story about Five Silly Monkeys

Karen Barrett is back! Here is a delightful story about how her older son “read” his first book to his younger brother. 

Both of our sons, 16 months old and 5 years old, are morning people. They love to wake up and get going right away. So the other morning after breakfast, the two boys ran off into the younger one’s bedroom and shut the door. Since I am not a morning person, I decided I would just sit down in the hallway outside of the door and listen for anything “dangerous.”

Instead of dangerous, I heard the most amazing sound. Jack, the 5-year-old, was reading Five Silly Monkeys to Reid, the 16-month-old. Reid was giggling. Jack was reciting every page quite accurately.

Five Silly Monkeys, illustrated by Steve Haskamp (Piggy Toes Press, 2003), is a variation on the popular children’s song about monkeys jumping on beds. However, in Silly Monkeys, the monkeys also spin and swing and so on. This picture book’s appeal is not in original writing or illustrations though. The appeal is in how my boys react to the simplicity of the book itself.

When I read it to the boys, I can’t help but sing it. I think that’s why Jack remembers every word on each page. He recognizes letters, but he hasn’t started reading words yet.

Haskamp does a nice job of illustrating the “story.” His monkeys get some pretty large bumps on their heads. Reid, my little guy, has recently taken to pointing to the injured monkey on each page and saying “bump.”

The illustrations also include plastic monkey heads that stick out through die cuts on the pages, so we can actually touch the monkey faces on each page. As we progress through the book, the monkey heads “disappear.” Both of my boys enjoyed flipping pages back and forth looking for the monkeys as they learned about object permanence.

I don’t really remember how Five Silly Monkeys entered our home, but it has been around at least since my 5-year-old was a toddler. It has come and gone from our reading pile over the years. But over the last couple of weeks, it has made a triumphant return in a way no other book has.

Reid now picks the book out of the shelf or off of the floor, brings it to me, signs “please” and sits in my lap to listen. And since that nice morning a few days ago, Jack now offers to read it for me, and Reid smiles gratefully at his big brother. For the first time in our house, Jack is the proud “reader.”


Awesome Mom Karen Barrett Reviews Awesome Man

Karen Barrett is an awesome Mom, and for eleven years she was an awesome high school English teacher and award-winning journalism adviser. Awesomely for me, from my first day as a student teacher back in 2003, Karen has been a mentor and a friend.

Thank you Karen, for this review of one of the favorites in your Picture Book House:

Some days, we just need a little Awesome around our house. My oldest guy is 5 now, and while we are clearly beyond the terrible twos, there are still some days that make me wonder. I am frequently amazed at the negotiating and stalling tactics a 5-year-old can employ.

Lucky for us, we can read The ASTONISHING SECRET of AWESOME MAN by Michael Chabon and illustrated by Jake Parker (Balzer + Bray, 2011) on those days.

Jack still loves picture books, but he definitely looks for a more developed story than many of our old favorites deliver. He also loves super heroes, mysteries, and anything that makes him laugh. Awesome Man delivers on all of these requirements.

Chabon starts out directly and simply “Hi! I’m a superhero. My name is Awesome Man… I’m just basically Awesome.” In fact, the book starts out so easily that Jack had most of it memorized within days of it entering our house.

Chabon’s writing style is also fun for me to read. Awesome Man narrates his own story, so as I read it, I feel like I’m just talking to Jack as a superhero. “I can shoot positronic rays out of my eyeballs. And can I tell you something? Giant killer robots just hate that stuff.”

Besides the positronic rays, Awesome Man goes on to do many awesome things such as using his “trademark Awesome Power Grip” on many a bad guy, including his arch nemesis, the Flaming Eyeball. Awesome Man even has a sidekick, Moskowitz the Awesome Dog.

But all of his hard superhero work wears him down. In fact, he gets “pooped” and he loves “saying pooped.” Of course, Jack and I both giggle and love saying “pooped” too. Welcome to life with boys.

And here is what I love about this book. As a mom, I’m always looking for good examples of people getting themselves back together after “losing it” (Unfortunately, I’m not always the best example!). Chabon gives us a superhero who has to control his anger and deal with being over-tired. Awesome!

The fun of this book doesn’t stop with the story and fun details. It continues on in the beautiful comic-book-like illustrations by Jake Parker. While the illustrations are cartoon-like, the bright colors and attention to detail definitely take it to the next level. In fact, if you look closely, you might figure out Awesome Man’s secret before the end of the book. It took me a couple of readings to see all of the clues though.

Now I don’t want to spoil the astonishing secret or anything, but I can tell you that we always end our reading of Awesome Man with a nice hug. I am forever grateful to one of my husband’s co-workers who gave this book to Jack when our youngest son was born. Not only did Jack feel special for receiving a gift, but this book has become a favorite in our home library.

Our Picture Book House Rating: Read it again, Mommy!

You can find other guest reviews that are two months or older archived here:


Melinda Stanley Bonnett Reviews Are you there, Baby Bear?

My best friend’s sister-in-law has been supporting Picture Book House from its beginning back in February, and I know why.

She lives in a Picture Book House, too. When you live in a picture book house, it is so incredibly fun to read and write about books. 

Melinda Stanley Bonnett is a stay-at-home mom to four kids (ages 12, 6, 4, and 2). She has, “a passion for photography that has developed from the desire to capture and preserve the details of my children and their evolving personalities.” She agreed to let me share a link to her work:

I’ve seen her pictures and they are beautiful, as is her review that tells stories about how all of her kids have, at one time or another, loved (and lovingly tried to destroy) Are you there, Baby Bear. Enjoy! 

The game of hide-and-seek has been a favorite of ours in one form or another for over a decade.  We begin with peek-a-boo when our babies are barely old enough to appreciate it.  Then we move on to teaching them how to “hide” from us behind a toy, a towel or their own pudgy little hands.

“Where’s Lucas?”  “There he is!”

Before long they begin to parrot us.  In toddler years we try to pretend we can’t see them under that blanket on their bed or behind the throw pillow.  We sit on them and suddenly discover their hiding place.  Then one day we realize that they are hiding all on their own and we truly can’t find them… after several  years of this game they have finally become masters…

This isn’t quite the case with Baby Bear in Debi Gliori’s book Are you there, Baby Bear?   We know from the very first page that Mama Bear is giving Baby a little assistance in hiding while Mr. Bear’s head is buried in a newspaper.  I’m not sure how many fathers still read (or nap) behind newspapers these days, but I do have fond memories of my own father’s black hair peeking up over the top of the paper on Sunday afternoons.

Mr. Bear looks to have been the one entertaining baby before Mrs. Bear intercepted.  A rattle, Sippy cup and baby toys are scattered about his feet.  Maybe he fell asleep on the job and Mrs. Bear is trying to teach him a lesson.  We see a little bunny snickering behind a tree…

As he walks about looking for Baby Bear in the most unlikely places, Mr. Bear asks, “Are you there baby bear, up in that tree?” “There’s nobody here but baby and me,” answers owl.

It may seem silly for Mr. Bear to look for Baby Bear (carriage and all) up in a tree.  But then again, it should be equally silly for me to find my two-year-old hidden in the back seat of our van with a extra large umbrella fully opened and wedged between the seats.  Maybe Mr. Bear knows just how tricky little ones can be…or maybe he is just very new to this whole game.

“Are you there, Baby Bear, deep underground?”  As we open the little red door to the multi-level bunny home, Mama Bunny answers, “My babies are sleeping so don’t make a sound.” My children religiously chime in with sighs and “awwws” at the site of the sleeping bunnies.

This was my daughter’s favorite book for a long stretch during her toddler years and though it had been a long two years since I’ve read it I easily recall the sing-song verses as we continue.   “Is that you, Baby Bear, shaking the leaves?”  “No, it’s just us, the buzzy busy bees,”  are the words behind the bonus double lift-a-flap.

I admit I’ve kept this book hidden from my 2-year-old book-ripper who prefers to tear flaps off one by one rather than lift them to see what is inside.  At least he brings the flaps to me so I can tape them on… over and over again… this is the condition of most of our lift-a-flap books (other than the ones I have stored away until he outgrows this phase). This is too sweet of a book to let “Mr. Destructo” get a hold.

Each time Mr. Bear asks, “are you there baby bear…” My two and four year old boys say “No!” in unison and as they take turns lifting the flaps.  My daughter then reads the words behind each flap and I am struck with the irony of my baby girl reading about this silly game of hide-n-seek.  When she hides these days it is from her three brothers and she truly hopes it will take them more than 2 minutes to find her!

One of the most endearing elements in this book is the animal friends you see along the way as Mr. Bear searches for his baby.  The illustrations are simple yet sweet and I know my children would be thrilled with “stuffies” of any of these furry friends!  You can’t help but love every single little animal, including the mole and earthworms!

Finally, Mr. Bear comes in to Mrs. Bear who is in the kitchen holding a tray of tea prepared for a picnic, “Oh Where, oh where, is our Baby bear?” he says.  Mrs. Bear motions to the window and replies, “look outside and over there.” Under the flap, you can see Baby Bear, snug in the stroller, right where Mrs. Bear parked it.  Mr. Bear’s enthusiasm is evident as he picks up Baby Bear and professes, “Here’s Baby Bear, dear baby of mine!”  And on the next page, “Of course I knew where you were all the time!”  Interested animals look on with various expressions while Mrs. Bear simply puts her hand on her nose as if to say, of course he did.


Desarae Griffin Reviews A Chair for My Mother

Thanks to Broadway High School student Desarae Griffin, who writes a moving review of the Caldecott Honor Book A Chair For My Mother. Desarae describes how she loved to read the book as a child, and how her daughter, who is just 9 months, enjoyed it too, mostly by eating it!

Vera B. Williams’ More, More, More is one of our favorites, and after reading this review we will definitely be checking out A Chair for My Mother

Thanks again, Desarae.

I read recently A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams published by Greenwillow Books in New York to my 9-month-old daughter Alaysia. I thought this would be a good book to read to her because I used to read this book when I was younger. I used to love to read the book and look at all the wonderful pictures. I thought she would love it.

The main characters are the little girl, the mother and the grandmother. The little girl is saving money she makes, her mom’s tips and money her grandma gives to her in a big jar. The money is being saved to get a big chair for her mother because she doesn’t have a comfortable place to come home to and sit in after work.

The reason why they don’t have any comfy furniture is because their house caught on fire and everything was destroyed. Everything was “charcoal and ashes” after the fire. Family and friends gave them what they could but there still wasn’t anything comfortable.

Finally the jar was filled.

The family brought the money to the bank and traded the change in for dollars. They took the money, went to the furniture store, and found “a wonderful, beautiful, fat, soft armchair” that was “covered in velvet with roses all over it.” When they brought it home the family members each had a time of the day where they sat in it.

The pictures in the book are colorful. They show almost everything that is being told in the book. They show the “wonderful, beautiful, fat, armchair covered in velvet with roses all over it.” They have wonderful borders on each picture. The illustrator did a very good job at making it seem like you were there when the story was being told.

I think the book would be a great book to read to a younger person around five or six years old. I think that they would learn that if you want something you have to work for it and save your money. They probably would be able to sit down and listen to it, unlike a toddler or baby.

I don’t think it would be good to read to a baby or toddler because my daughter, who is less than a year old, was trying to eat the book.

She did enjoy kissing all the people in the book though!

She also wasn’t paying attention to the story because it was too long. Maybe if it was just a little bit shorter younger kids could sit down and listen.

This book relates to economics because it has to do with money. It says you have to work for what you want. You have to save money for the things you need. The books leaves us with the idea that if you want something you have to put forth effort, nothing will just come to you.

For more information about the Broadway High School financial literacy project, click here:

Welcome to the Picture Book House, Broadway High School in Minneapolis!

The semester I spent teaching at Broadway was one of my favorite semesters of teaching, ever. I am so thankful that I have been able to keep in touch with some of the amazing teachers and students I met during that time, and I look forward to getting to know all of you!

I am so excited about your book review project, and I am honored that you are reading posts on my blog as examples!

I LOVE picture books, and I LOVE reading them out loud to my kids, who are one-and-a-half (my son) and three (my daughter). I also know that it is such an important part of their development as readers and as people! 😉

When I write a review I make sure to:

1)   List the title, author and publisher.

2)   Describe the main characters in the book.

3)   Give an overview of the plot, or explain (briefly) what happens in the book.

4)   Include several quotes from the book so that readers get a feel for what it would be like to read the book.

5)   Explain what the pictures are like (Bright? Emotional? Funny? Etc.).

6)   Tell a story about how kids engage with the book. To do this, you will need read the book to your child over and over AND OVER again and see how he/she reacts. 😉

Do they laugh? Look worried? Do they ask questions? What things do they point to? What words or pages do they ask you to read again, and again? What pictures do they like best? What characters? Try to really notice these tings and think about WHY your child is doing these things.

Remember, you have to read the story in a really exciting way if you want your child to “get into” the book. Remember to point to pictures, ask your child to repeat something that you read, ask your child questions, etc. Have fun together really getting into the book!

7)   Finally, give an overall recommendation or “rating” of the book. Do you give it 5 stars (the best) or 1 star (the worst) or something in the middle? In other words, would you suggest other people read this book to their children? Why or why not.

A few more thoughts:

  • I can’t wait to post final versions of your reviews on The Picture Book House Blog!
  • I will highlight several of the strongest reviews with their own individual posts and pictures.
  • I am happy to help you along the way, so if anybody would like to send me an e-mail with a question please do! I am also happy to read your drafts as you write them.

My e-mail is

Best of luck with this project! And thanks again to your awesome teacher Opal Ehalt for letting me be a part of it!


Abby Nies

Here is a link to Broadway High School’s website:, where you can find a description of this project under the heading “Financial Literacy Project.” Congratulations on the grant!


What Do You Say? Renee Nies Reviews a Family Favorite

My sister-in-law and I tend to do things at the same time…get married, have babies, buy houses and turn these houses into Picture Book Houses. Renee is a former special education teacher and rock star mother of two. I am excited to welcome her with a guest review of one of her family favorites (that of course has now become one of our favorites, too)…Thanks, Renee!

Renee Nies Reviews What Do You Say?

Long before I started to dream of having my own family, What Do You Say? by Mandy Stanley (Little Simon, 2002) was in my thoughts. My sister, then an early childhood daycare teacher, bought it as a shower gift for my cousin’s baby girl. It looked cute (a word I’ve learned from PBH should NEVER be used to describe a picture book,) and colorful. However, once attention turned from the book to the next shower gift, I didn’t give it a second thought.

That is until two years later, when I had a daughter of my own. We spent a morning playing with my cousins and their children. Too young to really interact, my little girl was perched in a bouncy seat or rolling around on the floor watching the big kids play. It wasn’t long, though, before my cousin’s daughter, who was now 2-years-old, grabbed What Do You Say? and plopped down on the floor to “read” it to my daughter. As my cousin began each page, her daughter followed suit with the most perfect animal sounds I had ever heard.

“What do you say to a bee?” “Buzzzzzzzzzzz” and “What do you say to a dog?” “Woof! Woof! Woof!” On and on they went until, “What do you say to a donkey?” “Hee haaaaw!” she yelled, dropping her voice and octave and blurting out a very nasally but very accurate impression of a donkey.

I couldn’t help myself. I lost it! It was the silliest sound but so unbelievably realistic. She was two! That was it. It sealed the deal.

That year for Christmas, I requested What Do You Say? for my daughter and wouldn’t let my sister off the hook until I knew it was wrapped and under the tree!

The book quickly became a mainstay in our house, traveling from the first floor for playtime to the second floor for bedtime and back down again. I loved the simplicity of the book. A single question and sound on each page along with a brightly colored picture made it possible to move through the book quickly, a necessity when dealing with the attention span of a 9-month-old. Beyond that, it allowed us to be silly and to really involve her with the reading. We would trace the snake as we let out a “hisssssssss” and throw our arms up to “rrrrooooar” with the lion.

My husband’s personal favorite is the very last spread. “And what do you say to a little fish?” “Hello little fish!” Because truly, what else do you say when you see a little fish swimming in his tank? The author nailed that one perfectly.

Two and a half years later, the book has come full circle in our house. At-eighteen-months-old, my second daughter obsesses over this book and pronounces the sounds with the same perfection I once admired in my cousin’s child. And no longer is my almost 3-year-old the one sitting and listening to the story. SHE is the reader. The one who asks the questions and waits for her younger sister to answer, which almost always ends in a fit of laughter. I don’t blame her. It’s hard to resist when the room is filled with the bleating of a sheep, snorts of a pig, and “eek eek eeks”of a mouse!

Our own Picture Book House rating: Read it again, sissy! (or mommy!)


Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: An Interview with Katie Montalbano

My friends and family live in picture books, too, and so I will periodically be posting interviews and guest reviews starring…them!

My first interview is with rock-star former teacher and mom, Katie Montalbano. As we sat down at Starbucks over our skim vanilla lattes…hang on now. This isn’t Rolling Stone, it’s the Picture Book House. Katie doesn’t even drink coffee, and the last time I went to Starbucks I called my order in ahead of time so that the kids’ wait time in the car would be under a minute.

But Katie did, thankfully, e-mail me answers to some questions I had about her Picture Book House. Let me set the scene for real this time: When Katie hosts a play date, her daughter sits on the arm of the sofa pretending to be a librarian at story hour, while the rest of the kids sit on the floor, looking up and listening to her read…

Read on, and thanks, Katie.

What is your education and teaching background?

I attended University of Wisconsin-Madison for undergrad and received my Elementary Education teaching license (PK-3) in 2000.   I have a Masters in Education from University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse (2003).  I taught Kindergarten for a total of 10 years at two different schools in WI.  Now I stay home with our two daughters.

What was your favorite book to use in the classroom?

This is a tough question!  Kindergarten is such a special grade to be a part of.  There are dozens of fabulous books for young children (picture books, song books, rhyming books, non-fiction stories, etc).  If I had to choose one, it would be the Big Book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault with illustrations by Lois Ehlert. Big Books invite all children to read together with fabulous pictures and bigger, bolder text.

Why was this one your favorite?

Every year, this would be one of the very first stories we would read (mostly because it’s usually a familiar read for entering Kindergartners).  Students could feel successful “sharing the reading” as a group right off the bat.  I love the pattern, rhyme, and repetition this story provides.  I love seeing children “move to the beat” while reading this particular story.  My students would look forward to coming to the carpet first thing in the morning and reading this book as a class.  We would bring this story out many times throughout the year!  Some of my fondest memories of teaching are watching children put on “fun reading glasses,” choosing a “pointer” to help read, and laying on the floor in a group reading Chicka Chicka together!

What made it, specifically, such a great teaching tool?

This story lends itself nicely into many areas of early literacy.  For example, while reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, we would focus on letter recognition, matching capital and lowercase letters, rhyming words, etc.  This book would carry over into our literacy centers as well.  For example, the centers would comprise of alphabet games (letter finds, alphabet stamps, alphabet matching games, ABC books).  In the computer lab, we would continue to connect this story through literacy computer games.  Then, in math, there’s always Chicka Chicka 1,2,3!

How did you get your students to love reading?

Read, Read, Read!  My goal was to read at least 5 books a day to my Kindergartners.  We would start out our morning reading a songbook, and end the day with a chapter book (and picture books in between)!  Children love to model us adults. So, I found if I was energetic about reading, they usually were too.  I tried to expose them to many different genres of books and different types of reading (shared group reading, independent reading, partner reading).  We also buddied with 2nd graders and every week we would get together with our “buddies” and read for 30 minutes.  I also tried to provide a fun environment for reading – pillows, blankets, comfy reading chairs.  We loved going outside with books too.  We also had many props to use:  reading glasses (aka sunglasses), pointers (wands), stuffed animals to read to, an authors chair, and many many books to choose from!

What do you recommend parents do at home with their kids to get them to love reading?

Just read with them!  I would encourage parents to set aside time every night to relax and enjoy reading with their child.  Even though Kindergartners are usually learning to read themselves, I would encourage parents to still read TO them also.  While reading, we would encourage parents to focus on concepts about print (do you see a capital letter?  Can you find a letter in your name?  Do you see a period?  What does the letter M say)?  Try to make a game out of it!

What is your favorite book to read to your kids? (OK, how about your top 5, given that I know if had to pick just one it would be too hard).

Another tough question!

Top 5: (my children are almost 2 and 3):

  • §  Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrations by Clement Hurd
  • §  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  • §  The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • §  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
  • §  Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton

We love board books in our house!  These are all just great classics!

What are your kids’ favorite books?

Well, right now at ages 2 and 3, my kids’ favorite books are usually my favorites too! Other contenders in our house:

  • §  Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrations by Helen Oxenbury
  • §  Grandma Loves Me by Marianne Richmond
  • §  10 Apples Up On Top by Dr. Seuss, Roy McKie
  • §  Moo Baa La La La! by Sandra Boynton
  • §  Counting Kisses by Karen Katz
  • §  Goodnight Gorilla by Pegggy Rathmann
  • §  Old MacDonaldA Hand Puppet Board Book  by Jill Ackerman, illustrations by Michelle Berg
  • §  The Napping House by Audrey Wood and Don Wood
  • §  Miss Mary Mack: A Hand-Clapping Rhyme by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrations by Bernard Wescott
  • §  Alphabet Mystery by Audrey Wood and Bruce Wood
  • §  A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman

Funny story about Corduroy.  Today, my 3 year old tucked her bear into her car seat while we were doing errands.  She told her bear, “don’t get out of your chair like Corduroy did.  I will be right back to get you!!!”

What are some special ways you have seen your kids engage with books?

My girls LOVE to read and I LOVE watching them!  Every morning when I get my 2 year old out of bed, the first thing she says is “books.” She then needs to carry one of her baskets of books down the hallway into our bedroom.  We then snuggle and read together.  It’s a special way to start the day!  My girls love to sit at a table and read book after book.  They like to take baskets of books to different rooms in our house.  Today they set up shop on our stairs!  They also like to pack books in their backpacks and go into Dad’s office and lie on blankets and read.  They like reading to their babies and stuffed animals.  They’ve also pretended to be the librarian from story hour.  It’s all just very cute!

What have you done at your home to encourage a love of reading? (I’m thinking, for example, about the awesome bookshelves in your kids’ rooms?)

I try and have books in many different areas in our house.  I found these awesome little baskets and we put board books in them.  They are perfect for little hands to carry around.  We also put up shelves in their bedrooms where they each store “special books” we read before bedtime.  We have bookshelves, books in the car, home made books, books from the library, etc.

I’ve seen some BIG BOOKS in your basement. Were these from your teaching career or did you buy them for your kids? Do your kids enjoy them? Would you recommend other parents get them?

I do have some Big Books.  Yes, these are from my teaching career.  I touched on Big Books earlier, but they are wonderful!  Like I said, it allows children to feel included in the reading because the pictures and text are so inviting!  I’m sure my 2 and 3 year old will grow into them, but right now they are enjoying smaller books that fit in their hands easier.

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