Finding a Fur-ever Home

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat is the perfect picture book for young cat lovers. The main character is a cat who lives a very busy life. Each day he makes his rounds, visiting the different homes up and down Blossom Street.

Each person he visits has a different name for him, hence the long title of the book. There is, however, one house he does not visit. Number eleven. Mrs. Murray, an elderly woman, lives along in her house, she spends her days knitting and watching television. Until one day Mrs. Murray receives a package and an unexpected surprise!

Days go by and nobody has seen the cat. Take a closer look at the beautiful illustrations to see how each person misses him in their own way! Mr. Green has a spare fish for him. Miss Fernandez lacks inspiration for her painting.

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat has the perfect ending. One that brings together people of all ages and celebrates friendship and finding a forever home.

This is a delightful picture book for kids ages. Click here to purchase a copy of Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Teaching the Power of Positive Thinking and Acceptance

From a young age we are taught not to judge a book by it’s cover. When it comes to picking picture books, often times I do just that. I pick books to read because the title and/or the cover captures my attention. Abigail the Whale* by Davide Cali did just that.

As grown ups, we all know that kids can sometimes be cruel. We have all either had direct experiences with name calling ourselves or seen it happening around us. Abigail the Whale tackles this issue in a way that promotes resilience in the person who is experiencing the unkind behavior. It does so in a very powerful and thoughtful way, that will inspire readers of all ages.

When Abigail dives into the pool, she makes an enormous wave and the kids shout out, “Abigail is a whale!” She feels very self-conscious about the size of her body and the negative attention she receives because of it.

Abigail’s swim teacher takes the time to notice and check in with her about swimming. She confides in him that she is too big and heavy to be a good swimmer. That’s when he teaches her about the power of our thinking. If Abigail wants to swim fast, she should think light. Envision how you want to be and that will become your reality.

With this new perspective, things begin to change for Abigail. It is only once Abigail sees herself in a new light that the kids also begin to see her in this way. Abigail the Whale is an important read for all young readers because it not only teaches about empathy but also self-worth.

This picture book is ideal for sparking conversations about difference and teaching inclusion, but it also empowers kids to love themselves for who they are. Abigail the Whale is simply a must-have picture book in every classroom library.

Click here to purchase a copy of Abigail the Whale (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of Abigail the Whale in exchange for my honest review.

 

Dustin Hansen and his Microsaurs

Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl is the first book in a series about tiny dinosaurs living in a top-secret laboratory. The main characters are best friends Danny and Lin who stumble upon the existence of the Microsaurs when they follow a tiny pterodactyl home from a skateboarding competition. They track it back to a mysterious house that reveals a fascination with these prehistoric creatures. The reader learns quickly that Danny is brave and Lin is braver, so the duo decides to dig deeper and find out more about the mysterious creature.

Throughout the story the characters learn the importance of teamwork and making sacrifices for friendship. This is a fast-paced story that is engaging for readers ages 7-10 with an interest in science, dinosaurs and adventure.

The Caterpillar corner had the awesome opportunity to interview Dustin Hansen about his writing process for Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl.  We hope you find Dustin Hansen’s responses to our questions as delightful as we did!

How did you come up with the idea for Microsaurs? 

Ideas are magic.

They arrive in the most random, strange, unexpected ways imaginable. For example, I’ve had ideas come to me while eating Fruit Loops. Once I was on the phone with my boss and BLAMO, right there in the middle of the conversation a totally unrelated idea blipped into my brainbox. (Thanks brainbox, could you pick a better time?). They show up while mowing the lawn, watching TV, sleeping – seriously, it is the most unpredictable thing in the world for me, and I’m probably not alone in this experience.

For Microsaurs, I was in the hospital and I’d been there for nearly a week. Long story, I’ll keep the details to myself. But I was BORED TO TEARS and I started daydreaming. No TV, no books, nothing else there to distract me. I was minding my own bored business, when a little question pop into my thought-noggin. What if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct? What if they shrunk so small that we sort of forgot about them? What if they were still alive today? Then the title Microsaurs drifted by and I GRABBED IT!

I guess what all of these idea things have in common is that they are present a lot in our mind-melons. We just need to know when to listen and recognize when a good one floats by so we can be ready to snatch up the good ones.

What kind of research did you have to do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning this book?

 

I love research. I do it all the time. Sure, some people might think it’s just me buzzing through YouTube watching “Who Would Win Animal Battle” videos and “How To Cook With Peanut Butter” clips, but there is something great about filling the idea vault with loads of cool stuff. I call this filling the well, and it really is an important part of my writing process.

For Microsaurs, I did a lot of free form well filling, but I also studied about different types of dinosaurs, dinosaur anatomy (for the illustrations), the science of evolution, the concept of shrinking items in a lab. All kinds of nerdy and neat facts. But I also read a LOT of other books that were similar to Microsaurs. You know, fun, adventurous books like Mo O’Hara’s Zombie Goldfish books. Studying other writers that are super smart and funny is the best way to learn how to write a good book.

So, yeah. Hard to tell how much time I spent. Somewhere between 44 years (I don’t really remember much from my first 3 years on the planet) and 44 hours.

Are you characters Danny and Lin inspired by real people? 

 

YES! Danny, well I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t a little Marty McFly and a little bit Jerry Seinfeld. So, yeah, he’s not really based on a real person, but I like how Marty kind of falls into the right situation in the middle of a whole lot of bad situations, and how Jerry is funny, but still the most normal guy on the Seinfeld show.

But Lin, she’s totally based on my daughter, Malorie. Mal is full of whacky ideas, has no idea what fear is, and is generally good at everything she tries to do. Lin (and Malorie) both love critters of all kinds, especially critters that pack a punch, have teeth and stingers, and are probably venomous. But even spiny, scratchy, stingy creatures need love, Am I Right?

How much time did you spend writing, revising and editing Microsaurs?

More time than I did writing it, that’s for sure. I think the first draft of the Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl, took about 1 month to write. Then I threw it away and started over from scratch. The 2nd attempt was much better because I knew the characters better, but that meant it took longer, probably 2 months. Then the big revisions started. Another 2 or 3 months of back and forth with my writing group, my wife, my editor, my agent. And then another couple of weeks after the story was complete just tweaking words and fixing grammar and spelling errors. I’d say about six months total, give or take a few forgotten days.

Oh, and yeah, the illustrations went through basically the same process. It’s amazing how similar drawing is to writing when it comes down to it.

How does your experience working in the video game industry influence your writing?

Video game storytelling is VERY different than writing a book. One major difference is that in video games, the player (reader) is usually the main character in the game and they get to make a lot of choices that the game designer (or author) can’t control.

However, making video games taught me so much about writing in so many ways too. I learned how important it was to challenge your game player and put him or her in tough situations. This is exactly what you should do in writing too, put your main character in the worst possible predicament and let him or her figure their way out.

But perhaps the most important experience I gained from working in video games was how to work with a big team to make one creative project together. Sure, my name is on the cover of Microsaurs, but it takes a lot more than just me for a book to make it on the shelves. A whole puppy pile of creative minds rolled around in the land of the Microsaurs over the year it took me to put it all together, and each one brought a special voice, idea, or direction to the book.

What type of books did you enjoy reading as a kid? Did you have a favorite children’s author or book?

I loved non-fiction books about science, mechanics, cooking (I know, I’m strange), and facts. I once fell in love with a book about small engine repair so much that I pretended to lose it so I didn’t have to return it to the book-mobile. (sorry). I loved the cut away drawings of the engines and reading about how they worked. Good stuff.

But I also loved reading stories about struggle and imagination. The BFG is a great example of this kind of book. As was Robison Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I adored all of those books, but perhaps the most influential book I read when I was young was Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. Every illustration was a masterpiece and the poems were not only clever, but smart. Still to this day I consider it one of my all-time favorite books.

If you could tell your younger self anything about being a writer, what would it be?

First of all, that I’d actually be a writer. My younger self would probably be very shocked, and perhaps a little disappointed to not be a cowboy.

Reading was VERY hard for me. I’m dyslexic, so I came to reading very slowly. Probably why I loved non-fiction tech books if I’m being honest. They were step by step, good slow digesters.

But, I was always a storyteller. I loved a big grandiose tale, and if I were going to go back and have a chat with wiggly little Dustin, I guess I’d read him this poem, because it wouldn’t have been written yet, but it is exactly the kind of dreamery I wish I would have known long ago.

“The Bridge”

This bridge will only take you halfway there 
To those mysterious lands you long to see: 
Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs 
And moonlit woods where unicorns run free. 
So come and walk awhile with me and share 
The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known. 
But this bridge will only take you halfway there- 
The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.

  • Shel Silverstein – 2010

At the end of the book, Professor Penrod leaves a super secret video message for Danny and Lin, suggesting that their encounters with the Microsaurs are far from over!

Click here to purchase a copy of Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl (affiliate link). 

 

 

Little Ninjas and Their Dojo Master

The Dojo series*, which includes Dojo Daycare, Dojo Daytrip, and Dojo Surprise is bound to leave young readers giggling with delight. Written and illustrated by Chris Tougas, the series consists of a group of young ninjas who enjoy practicing their ninja skills (pulling, punching, taking and breaking).

Each book includes a different adventure, from attending daycare and planning a special surprise to going on a field trip. In each scenario, the Dojo Master tries to control the ninja kids, pleading with them to take time to reflect and to help those in need. In each book all hope is almost completely lost that the little ninjas will ever comply with his requests.

The poor Dojo Master repeats a different set of hysterical phrases in each book that children will love reading too! For example in the Dojo Daytrip it is “YIKES! YEE-OW!”

At the very end of each adventure, the little ninjas pull it together and order is restored. Ultimately it shows that the ninjas do have respect for their Master.

This series is wonderful because it is playful and fun. It is written in rhyme and jam-packed with illustrations that jump off each page. Young readers will be engaged from the first  page and will be requesting to read these books over and over again.

The Dojo books are great for readers ages 3-7.

Click here to purchase Dojo DaycareDojo Daytrip or Dojo Surprise (affiliate links).

*I received complimentary copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.

A Unique and Imaginative Picture Book

Two damselflies discover a tiny green shoot one day and wonder du iz tak? What is that? The shoot begins to grow little by little and a pair of beetles arrive. Together they climb the stem and the budding leaves and decide they’d love to build a fort!

The different creatures work together to build the tree fort of their dreams. But, as in all great stories, they face their share of obstacles.

Du Iz Tak?* is written in a completely invented language, but the illustrations and repetition of words makes it easy to follow along. The body language of the characters along with the different punctuation and capital letters, helps convey the emotional setting. After rereading the story and pay close attention to the details, young readers may begin to solve the meaning of some of the different words.

Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? is a must-have for every home library. It is beyond imaginative, it opens the door to a world filled with magic and wonder in the most simple of places, a backyard. His use of space in the illustrations is amazing, preserving the small scale of the different insect-like creatures, while allowing ample room for the plant to grow.

Du Iz Tak? won a Caldecott Honor and this book is perfect for readers age 3-8. This book would also be fantastic for students who are English Language Learners as well as struggling readers as it has multiple points of access and support. 

Click here to purchase a copy of Du Iz Tak? (affiliate link)

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Humorous Valentine’s Day Reads

XO, OX A Love Story* is a hilarious story about an ox who is in love with a gazelle. It consists of a series of back and forth correspondence between the two characters, revealing Ox’s complete devotion and admiration of Gazelle and Gazelle’s gradual but undeniably growing fondness for Ox.

The story begins with Ox penning a letter to Gazelle declaring his love for her. Ox receives a standard response letter with his name hand written in. When he responds to that letter, he receives the exact same letter once again. Ox writes back pointing this out to Gazelle, which elicits a real response from Gazelle.

XO, OX is a hilarious picture book, which will have young readers laughing in no time!

 

Hug It Out!* by Louis Thomas is a must have for parents with two or more children. Woody and Annie are experts when it comes to fighting with one another. Mother grows tired of constantly reminding them to share or to be kind to one another, so she comes up with a new strategy, every time they argue, they will have to hug.

At first, Woody and Annie have a hard time remembering the punishment, but after hugging so many times they grow tired of hugging and want to avoid having to do it anymore.

The story along with the illustrations, which includes a sneaky cat, capture the tension that may arise in a typical sibling relationship on a daily basis.

XO, OX is a great book for kids ages 4-8. Click here to purchase a copy of XO, OX (affiliate link).

Hug it Out! is perfect for readers ages 3-7. Click here to purchase a copy of Hug it Out! (affiliate link).

*I received complimentary copies of XO, OX and Hug it Out! in exchange for my honest review.

 

Valentine’s Day Board Books

Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar is the second board book about two hedgehog friends, Hattie and Horace. They love doing everything together from trying to catch the moon to playing hide and seek. They also spend time together, but each doing what they like independently. One day, they discover a caterpillar egg underneath a leaf.

Hattie and Horace witness a wriggly, stripy thing (also known as a caterpillar) emerge from the egg. They watch as it eats and eats and then goes to sleep. They are amazed when one day something beautiful emerges from the bed and flies away.

The friends begin to wonder, if they eat a lot and sleep in a special bed, will they also turn into something wonderful and colorful too?

 

 

Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar is a fantastic board book about friendship and embracing a playful spirit. This book would be a terrific addition to any home library along with Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 

This adorable board book is perfect for young readers ages 2-5. Lucy Tapper’s beautiful, colorful illustrations help get the reader thinking about spring and the changing of seasons.

Shiny Shapes: Love You Always by Roger Priddy reads either as a series of short four-line poems or as a complete story written in rhyme.

Each page is dedicated to a celebration of friendship or the love of family. The series of hearts cut out of the pages are captivating and help the reader get into the Valentine’s Day spirit.

Love You Always is the perfect book for the holiday, ideal for readers ages 2-5.

Click here to purchase a copy of Shiny Shapes: Love You Always and Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar (affiliate links). 

*I received a complimentary copy of these books in exchange for my honest review.

 

Valentine’s Day Reads

Valentine’s Day by Annie Rockwell is a great story about a class preparing cards for a a special friend. Each student creates a card capturing a favorite memory of a time spent with their friend Michiko who now lives in Japan. Even though she is thousands of miles away, the cards provide them with a connection to their friend.

Once the cards are ready, the class takes a trip to the local post office to buy the stamps needed to send the package to Japan.

Valentine’s Day is a really great story for getting kids into the spirit of the day, putting a focus on friendship and kindness. At the end of this book, students place one valentine card in a secret box and then pick one from it as their card. As a teacher, I thought this was a great, inclusive idea.

Valentine Hearts Holiday Poetry is a collection of poems about Valentine’s Day selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins. This is the perfect introduction to poetry books for young readers as the poems are simple and sweet, some are serious while others are funny. There are poems about the relationship between mother and child, friends, secret admirers, and even the between child and pet.

Both Valentine’s Day and Valentine Hearts Holiday Poetry are terrific additions to a classroom or home library. They celebrate friendship and being kind to one another. They are easy to read and engaging. They are both great for readers ages 5-8.

Click here to purchase copies of Valentine’s Day and Valentine Hearts Holiday Poetry.

 

 

The Perfect Picture Book for Adjusting to a New Sibling

Alphonse, That is Not Ok to Do by Daisy Hirst is the perfect picture book for an older sibling. Natalie remembers when she used to be an only child. Then, one day, Alphonse arrived. For the most part Natalie didn’t mind. They enjoyed a lot of the same activities, including naming the pigeons!

But siblings don’t always get along. From time to time they are bound to get on one another’s nerves. For example, sometimes Alphonse draws on Natalie’s things. Other times he eats them.

Natalie and Alphonse each have their own ways of overcoming their feelings of frustration and guilt respectively. They both take the time they need to think things through before acting.

Daisy Hirst captures beautifully the current of a sibling relationship in this picture book. The simple illustrations are prefect, including only details that are crucial to each scene. The use of empty white space makes the characters the central focus of each page.

Alphonse, That is Not Ok to Do! is great for readers ages 2-6. Readers on the younger side of this range will enjoy looking at the pictures and the silliness of the story.

Click here to purchase a copy of Alphonse, That is Not Ok to Do! (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Picture Books About Groundhog Day

Growing up in Southern California, Groundhog Day never had any real significance in our lives. What would the weather be like in February? The same as in January and November, mild and sunny, windy on a bad day. Groundhog Day could come and go, and quite frankly it made no difference to us.

Over a decade ago, I made the move the New York City, and all I can say is by the time Groundhog Day arrives I hope there is no shadow in sight for Staten Island Chuck. If I can’t watch the news live, I’ll keep refreshing my phone or computer hoping for word that spring is coming.

Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub is such a funny kid’s book. It begins with a rabbit watching the news in its pajamas on Groundhog Day. He finds out that it is spring, so he gets dressed accordingly and pokes his head out of his rabbit hole to discover that it is snowing. Distraught, he writes a letter to the Weather Groundhog advising him to recruit additional groundhogs so that they can report accurate weather forecasts for multiple locations. Weather Groundhog agrees, so he takes out an ad in the local paper. (See below).

The advertisement alone is bound to have young readers giggling. The rest of the story follows the class of groundhogs, and one distinct “exchange student” as they attend weather school and prepare for their first official Groundhog Day.

Throughout the story Joan Holub includes details about Groundhog Day, from the science behind changing of the seasons and shadows, it to famous Groundhogs around the country. The illustrations by Kristin Sorra are comical and make even the information rich pages interesting and easy to follow. The use of diagrams breaks it down in a clear way that makes it accessible to readers.

Groundhog Weather School is great for kids ages 5-9.

Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day! by Abby Levine is a very sweet story about a young, shy groundhog who is given the great responsibility of predicting the weather. For years and years, Great-Uncle Gus searched for his shadow, but now it’s time for him to retire and for Gretchen to take over. Gretchen is overwhelmed and decides that there is no way she will go out in front of the crowd.

It’s only when Hester, the town historian’s daughter, brings Gretchen a special box filled with letters from her groundhog predecessors also expressing their anxiety and nervousness leading up to their first Groundhog Day that she realizes that how she is feeling is normal and she works up the courage to face her fears.

Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day is a wonderful book because it also teaches an importance about overcoming obstacles. It provides an opportunity for young learners to talk about feelings and healthy ways to express them. This book is terrific for readers ages 5-8.

Click here to purchase copies of Groundhog Weather School and Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day! (affiliate links).