House Held Up By Trees


by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klaassen (Candlewick, 2012)


Above, the endpapers. A subtle hint at the both the hope and the loss inside: the green, the growth, the time.

House Held Up By Trees is one of my most treasured books. It was published around the time that Jon Klassen was racking up accolades (well-deserved!) for I Want My Hat Back and Extra Yarn, and it was written by a Ted Kooser, a Poet Laureate from about a decade ago.

That is a powerful team. And they captured a quietly powerful story.

There’s a house. It doesn’t look like much. But a dad lives there. Two kids. The dad is particular about his lawn and the kids run off to play in the trees and scraggly underbrush on either side of the house. Their yard, after all, has no secret spots or shade.

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These opening spreads are beautifully cinematic. Sweeping and grand. We are spinning around this house, this focal point, seeing it from the perspective of a homecoming, a hiding spot, and a thing with fur.

If you are a picture book author of text only, you’ve probably heard the advice to make sure you have x number of illustratable settings. Well. This book has a house. And a lawn. And characters that come and go. It breaks some of the ‘rules,’ but to heck with those things. Write something beautiful. 

Something important. Something that has to be told and illustrated or else it will be scattered away with those twirly-whirly seeds.

The words are not spare in this text. In fact, there are many. But because of Kooser’s text, lyrically floating around a solid foundation, Klassen gets to explore all angles of this environment.

Page after page after page. It’s a case study in composition. And it is beautiful and important and elusive.

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The children leave. The father leaves. The house stays.

It is bittersweet. Time goes on, but trees do too.

What once was vast and open and contained is now crowded by branches and forceful new life. And again, Klassen’s compositions tell the story of an unbridled wildness.

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First there was a crack of light beneath it, and then . . . 


PS: Do you know this blog, 32 Pages? Here’s a look at House Held Up By Trees that is beyond beautiful, and in a funny twist of small-world-ness, I worked on the television show she mentions in her post. 

Over the Ocean


by Taro Gomi (Chronicle Books, 2016)

There’s no better time to stand face to face with the ocean than summer, and I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that.

It asks you to feel small.

It asks you to watch with wide eyes.

It asks you to hope.


And that’s what Taro Gomi does in this book. The original text is from Japan, from 1979, and yet it is timeless. Wishful. Dreamy.

Of course it is. Isn’t that what oceans are all about? And isn’t that what big questions are about too?

What is over the ocean?

She wonders. That small she. I imagine she’s watching with wide eyes. And we hope with her, right here at the edge of the sea.

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The passage of time over these pages is marked by the big ship, making its way from right to left on the horizon. It’s always in sight, bridging the physical and metaphysical worlds of this story. Interesting that it moves opposite the page turn, right? As a reader, this slowed me down. Swayed and bobbled my eye from left to right, balancing somewhere between the question and the answer.

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And visually, the lower third of each spread is anchored by that ship and the wide blue ocean, leaving more room for hope above. I like that.

A lot.


And let’s talk about the trim size of this book–how it opens to a rectangle to represent the seas, but closes small enough to feel like something you can grasp and tuck tightly into your pocket. A perfect visual representation of the concept of the book itself. Perfect for the picture book’s form.


I love how this book ends without an answer. Our heroine doesn’t move from her spot by the shore. Her heart, though? Her imagination? Her questions? Big and beautiful and open.

Let’s all be like this girl. Windswept, but not weary.


PS: The team at All The Wonders is proud to spearhead the #BooksForBetter initiative, whose goal is to give families and teachers a resource to find great read aloud books that celebrate diversity, compassion and inclusiveness. We envision a movement that will grow well beyond our efforts, but we’re getting it started with a monthly Twitter chat and Instagram campaign. 

Join us the first Monday of each month (beginning August 1, 2016) at 8pm EST for an #ATWchat about children’s books that showcase the human potential for goodness. Then post your favorite books on this topic on social media under the hashtag #booksforbetter. We’ll be compiling and sharing your ideas, making it simple for every family to find #booksforbetter.

More here.

I love Over the Ocean as a #booksforbetter selection. Let’s take a long look at what might be on the other side of the ocean. Or our neighborhood. Let’s wish them closer. Let’s hope for our world together. 




by Esmé Shapiro (Tundra Books, 2016 [out today!])

One of the best things about being in so many overlapping circles of the kids’ book community is that I often get a look at a book early. And this is one that has caused me to watch the calendar day after day after day after day to make sure I don’t miss telling the rest of the world when it’s ready. And people, it’s ready.

Meet Ooko.

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Oh, how his face changes from happy to hope. Hope mixed up with some sadness, that is. Look how he’s got a fierce grip on those things he loves–his stick, his leaf, his rock. But look at where his eyes land–on happy hedgehogs, two by two.

While that might be the look of despair, let’s not forget his fierce grip. Ooko goes friend-hunting.

There’s a hole, a tree, and a moose. But no friends.



A page prior, Ooko spotted this Debbie playing with a funny-looking fox. The kind of fox you might have at home. The kind that starts as a puppy.

But then again, Ooko is the kind of fox that looked for a friend under a moose, and Ooko is stumped.

But then again again, Ooko is resolute. Adamant. Single-minded. Debbie-minded.


Debbie-minded enough to stick cotton candy on her head. Easy-peasy.

And it’s dear and sweet and heartbreaking to watch Ooko try so hard. And then, thanks to some smeared or shattered glasses, Ooko turns into Ruthie. A funny-looking fox, fit for a Debbie.


(Side note: best leg hair in a picture book this year? Or ever? Not to mention that sock bun.)

It doesn’t take Ooko long to get completely over this Debbie’s games.


This picture–OOOF. Right? Prim and proper and blow-dried and dressed up and despite wanting to be loved, this was not the kind he was looking for. According to the hairy-legged-lady’s gallery wall, Ruthie was all of those things that a fox is not.

And isn’t that the best news?

Because maybe, maybe, when you hightail it from the house that fits you wrong, you run into someone on the outside. Someone who likes sticks. Someone who wants to play.

Oh my crickets, this book. Be a Debbie and track it down, will you?

For more Ooko fun, click here for an Ooko Storytime Kit.

And don’t miss the grunts and squeals of our hero in his very own book trailer.

For friends who took a while. For Debbies who turn out to not be.


Thank you to Tundra Books for the images in this post. Be sure to click to enlarge!

The Little Gardener + an interview with Emily Hughes (part i)

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

Friends, I am beyond awe with this conversation with Emily Hughes. If you aren’t familiar with her work yet, I guarantee you will fall in love with it, with her, with a storytelling brilliance that is out of this world. Here, she lets us know both where stories come from and why they do.

And a note, you’ll definitely want to click on all of these images to enjoy them at their full resolution.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes Can you talk about where this book came from? And what the process was like for its creation?

Lots of things were swimming around in my head when The Little Gardener was being made. 
I was back home rereading a book I love, The Growth of the Soil, about a simple self-sufficient man dealing with societal pressures that seem unnecessary. He was the symbol of The Little Gardener, he’s not the personality powerhouse Wild is, he is really just a symbol for the everyman, the underdog, you, me, (my brother thinks the 3rd world) our place as a human. It’s not about him, it’s about his vision, his hopes.

There are a lot more nuances to that, but that is what it is in a very small nutshell. 
The process for Gardener was an outpouring, I drew and drew and drew. Because the images are so dense it was a meditative book to make- almost like making a mandala. The story process took a while, but with the images I worked on steadily through, and luckily they worked out with little drafting. That isn’t the usual, but this one felt natural to make, intuitive.

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Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture book? What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

If you look at my bedroom, my backpack, my email inbox, my general manner, you would be able to figure out a good deal about me. Totally scatter-brained.

It is an affliction that makes it tricky to get work done in general.  What makes children’s books an appealing medium for me is that there is text to dance with. There is the written skeleton to adhere to- oftentimes my stories have layers that I have built up depending on where I am or what I’ve been thinking of while I work. There is not just one story being told in The Little Gardener. Having text keeps my brain focused when there are other ideas floating about. Because I also draw, I am able to tell the other story lines as well- they are quieter, but are still present for others to interpret if they have patience. It is a good compromise for me.

Narrative has always been an interest, I think telling stories is what I like to do- so the things I’d compare it to would be film, theater, animation, etc. I like doing illustrations for picture books because it’s 2D and doesn’t move. However, if you are really invested you can move them within your head and expand it’s boundaries to a world you truly are interacting with. The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

One of my favorite things is the cola can that says MADE IN HILO, HI on it. I know that’s where your roots are, and I wonder how that home has shown up in the work that you do? Or if there are other easter-egg-y things that you stick in your work?

Good spotting! Hawaii is always present in my work. I left home for university in England when I was 17, and at that time I was eager for new experiences. Nevertheless, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I miss the Big Island always. Drawing things from home is indulgent for me- it is time spent reminiscing, it is a means for me to keep connected, grounded.

The cola can was initially modelled after a local company- Hawaiian Sun. The label looks nothing like the original (and I used the non-existent ‘cola’ because I thought it would be easier to translate), but the sun made a symbolic appearance. Those cans are always around- refreshments after soccer games, trips to the beach, the park with cousins. It reminds me of happy outings. I’ll add this bit to my advertising resume…

The house that the humans live in is based on my family home. It’s a plantation-style house that my Grandmother grew up in, as my siblings and I have also done. It’s a special place.


The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

In the scene where the gardener is chasing away the snails, there’s a ‘rubber slipper’ (you guys would call it ‘flip flop’- Hawaii’s preferred footwear of choice) strewn about. It even has the ‘Locals’ tag on it which is the same kind you get at the grocery store. There’s lots of little things from home hidden. I like having the sentimentality there, even if it’s for my own benefit.

It seems like the girl in Wild and this little gardener have some sensibilities in common, like the hope and comfort in this un-tapped-into nature. Are there big-picture-stories you are drawn to creating, both in text and in art?

There are a lot of stories I’d like to tell. I think I start off with a general character and theme and it evolves- the writing is the last part, I think the feeling needs to be understood first. 
In my journal these are a few themes I’d written that I want to explore:

Does ‘evil’ exist? Really?

You can, will, should feel every horrible emotion and that’s fine

Kindness trumps all

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It’s all chance for me I think- I might read something, or watch something, or sit blankly staring at the wall even, and most times it is nothing but a murmur. But once in a good while something speaks up.

As for Wild and Gardener, nature serves as a backdrop because it is an ideal to be in sync within our most natural of habitats. Something we all still strive for- a place where we’re needed.  Wild is about acceptance and tolerance, issues I was trying to practice myself. Gardener was about keeping hope alive when I was faltering with my own.

They are stories coming from a place of trying to understand, rather than a place where it is understood.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

Carter, here.

You guys. I keep reading these answers over and over and feel like it’s such a gift to get this glimpse into a storyteller’s heart. Because Emily is fascinating and brilliant and our conversation gave me so much to wrestle with and enjoy, there’s more! Come back tomorrow for the second part. More pictures, more process, more book love.

Whatever you do, get your hands on this book as soon as you can, for hope and home and heart.

Huge thanks to both Emily and Tucker Stone at Flying Eye Books for the images in this post!


Everything Under a Mushroom

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes (Four Winds Press, 1973)

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

I’m not a real wild-and-crazy kind of person.

Last Saturday I took a Pilates class at 3:30, and the teacher said it’s always such a weird time because most people like to spend their afternoons at the beach or the ballpark. Or perhaps they have to get ready for their evening cocktail hour, and finishing close to 5:00 doesn’t work. But I told her that it’s my favorite time, because then I can be home in pajamas having sort-of-flat champagne before it’s even dark out.

She looked at me funny.

But on some of those pajamas and champagne Saturday nights, I go vintage book shopping online and find things like this.

I love this book.

I love Ruth Krauss.

I love the way her words describe the bizarre and complex world of kids’ heads. And their perfectly simple and sensible world. It’s kind of all wrapped up together for kids anyway, which is strange and endearing and other-worldly.

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Each spread has one line, a bright orange to the illustrations’ muted browns. The only other color is the blue on the cover.

And the page turn acts as a sort of puzzle: the last bit from the page before starts the new thought.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

Each thing is little. Each thing snuggles up right under the towering mushroom. Each thing is so firmly kid.

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

The tiny stories ramble on underneath, in those playful monologues that might seem like nonsense. This is where kids are experts.

Grownups, consider this. You might not understand. You might not have any use for a little potato. But, as the girl with the bow in her hair promises, “Little potatoes are especially nice.”

Everything Under a Mushroom by Ruth Krauss and Margot Tomes

It’s weird. It’s wonderful. And if it fits under a mushroom, it’s fair game.



Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014)

You know Mac and Jon. You love Mac and Jon. Now meet Sam and Dave. You’ll love Sam and Dave.

Don’t rush into the pages just yet. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long while. If we weren’t so aware that Jon Klassen (that insta-recognizable style!) is a contemporary illustrator, I would wholeheartedly presume that it was some vintage thing in a used bookstore. A find to gloat about, a find that makes you wonder just how you got so lucky.

The hole. The space left over. The words, stacked deeper and deeper. The apple tree whose tippy top is hidden. Two chaps, two caps, two shovels. One understanding dog.

Speaking of two chaps, two caps, and two shovels, check out the trailer.

(I’ll wait if you need to watch that about five more times.)

The start of their hole is shallow, and they are proud. But they have only just started. Sam asks Dave when they should stop, and this is Dave’s reply:

“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

Dave’s voice of reason is so comforting to any young adventurer. It’s validating that your goal is something spectacular. (Do we forget this as grownups? To search for somthing spectacular? I think we do.)

Perhaps the pooch is the true voice of reason here, though he doesn’t ever let out a bark or a grumble. Those eyes, the scent, the hunt. He knows.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And this is where Sam and Dave Dig a Hole treads the waters of picture book perfection. The treasure, this spectacular something, is just beyond the Sam and Dave’s reality. The reader gets the treat where Sam and Dave are stumped. Do you want to sit back and sigh about their unfortunate luck? Do you want to holler at them to just go this way or that way or pay attention to your brilliant dog? Do you root for them? Do you keep your secret?

The text placement on each page is sublime. If Sam and Dave plant themselves at the bottom of the page, so does the text. If the hole is deep and skinny, the text block mirrors its length. This design choice is a spectacular something. It’s subtle. It’s meaningful. It’s thoughtful and inevitable all at once.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And then – then! Something spectacular. The text switches sides. The boys fall down. Through? Into? Under? Did the boys reach the other side? Are they where they started? Is this real life? Their homecoming is the same, but different. Where there was a this, now there is a that. Where there was a hmm, now there is an ahhh.

Spectacular indeed.

I like to think that the impossible journey here is a nod to Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration, A Hole is to Dig. That’s what holes are for. That’s what the dirt asks of you. It’s not something you do alone or without a plan or without hope. Sam and Dave operate in this truth. They need to dig. There’s not another choice.


(image here // a first edition, first printing!)

Sidenote: I’m pretty thrilled that these scribbles live in my ARC.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Look for this one on October 14th.

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.


Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and and interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.


The Other Side


by Istvan Banyai

{published 2005, by Chronicle Books}

I’m a big fan of another Istvan Banyai book, Zoom. Turns out, I’d been holding that book in my clutches so tight, that I completely spaced out on this one. This one that came out eight whole years ago. What?!

The Other Side is just that – a look around the bend, through the eyes of another, and into a world that will probably surprise you. The visual puzzle starts to unfold on the endpapers, where it appears that the page has already been folded for you. And on the other side? Your finger – left behind, intricately folding a paper airplane, and tossing it through an open window.  So my pictures are a little haphazard and all over the place, but I think that suits this story. The illlustrations here are devour-worthy, even if some of the time there’s no rhyme or reason for what the heck is happening. Your point of view is constantly shifting, so each new vignette is a romp and a surprise and a gut-check of whether you are up or down or in or out or just what. A flamingo casting the shadow of a palm tree?! OKAY.  I love this page flip, where this monstrous lump of something hovers over some men working. But that? It’s just a blond thing with pigtails, hopscotching her way up the page. I don’t know what’s going on here. And I love that.


Oh No, Little Dragon!


by Jim Averbeck

Remember him? When I asked him what he would be if he wasn’t an author/illustrator, he said “extraordinarily irritable.” Ha.

Oh No, Little Dragon! is an endearing little book. Just look at his eyes! So sweet. That’s a little dragon with a spark in his heart, no question about it.

This is a story about fire, love, and kisses from a mama. And Jim Averbeck’s pictures capture the magnitude of this childlike search for sparkle.




When I teach, one of my favorite things to show students is this little video. Not only does it visually define the fundamentals of design, but it is also a tiny piece of art itself. Pay close attention to the bit on line. (And also the adorable accent of the narrator!)

From the video: “Line has direction, weight, gesture, spirit, gestalt, life.”

And that’s what I think about when I look through the pages of Oh No, Little Dragon! — the life and spirit of the lines.


See how the foreground and background lines are weighted the same? They are approximately the same width and texture, but the background lines recede because they are more transparent. Similar lines in different spirit create space in the illustration.


The lines of phooooooshing on these pages have a clear direction and sense of animation across the spread. Love that. Can’t you just hear and feel Little Dragon sputtering through this book?

I won’t even tell you how much I love the soot-colored line drawings on the endpapers.



Sophie’s Fish

by A.E. Cannon (who loves Cheetos and Oreos!) and Lee White (who loves to bike, I think?!)

I really think artists might be some of the coolest people out there. (Some might say just plain ‘out there,’ but that’s neither here nor there. Nor anywhere.)

What? Where were we?!

When I saw Lee’s illustrations come through my email inbox, I seriously got whiplash from how fast my jaw hit the floor. His art has a charm that swept me off my feet and rendered me speechless for a moment or two.

Not a usual occurrence.

Sophie’s Fish explores all the things that just might happen if you get asked to babysit a fish. Hysterical. Hysterical!

The compositions are gorgeous. The textures leap off the page. The colors are snappy but soft. The whole thing? Is perfect.

Like this spread…

The sidewalk creates intersecting and interesting lines which gives such life and movement to this one still picture. And from an overhead perspective even! So cool. And those dreamy, complementary colors.

Or this one…the DING DONG page!

Don’t those layered textures make you think you could just reach out and touch it?! The crumpled rug, the splintered door, and that calm, but rough sky. I LOVE THIS SPREAD.

Did you hear me?! (One of those non-speechless moments!) This book is a gem. A winner. A beautiful piece of art.

You owe it to your imagination to sit a while with this one.