Kid Lit Dish

Kim's Magical Journey Into the World of Children's Picture Books

Nurture Your Goodness

I would argue that lovers (especially WRITERS) of children’s literature are ALL good and kind people… with big, compassionate hearts.  Just a guess.

Of course, I am a Pollyanna, of sorts, and believe that MOST people (save a few) are good at their core… no matter how dastardly their deeds may be.

But kidlit people– REAL kidlit folks… well, to me, they (we) are a special breed.   I don’t think it’s possible to feel true joy when creating stories for young people if you have a bad bone in your body.  In fact, I would argue, that the MORE you embrace– and nurture– that sweet, unselfish, good-hearted side of yourself, the better your stories will be.

Very recently, a friend passed away.  He was really more of what I’d call a “solid” or “good” acquaintance– our boys are the same age, they played on the same football team last year, we’d see each other at school every other day…

But I cried buckets when I heard the news.  I was absolutely devastated.  Why?  Well, he was relatively young at  53 years old and his passing was sudden and completely unexpected.  He left behind an ailing wife and three children.  And he was truly one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met in my entire life.

This happened in early October and I haven’t been able to write about him until now.  He was the kind of person who, even if you didn’t “run into him” in the school hallway for a few weeks, he’d remember EXACTLY where you left off in your last conversation… and he’d follow up with you on those things.  He always had a big smile on his face… for everyone, friend or stranger.  He was the kind of person who would just lift a person up when you saw him.  His goodness flowed out of him like a river and EVERYONE felt it.  He had just about the whole community attend his funeral.  His loss stung more than words can say.  Everyone felt it– like the world was not quite as good a place without him in it.  That’s no exaggeration.

At his funeral, one of his sisters said that when he was a kid, he made it his life’s goal to make at least ONE person happy every single day.  I’m sure he accomplished that… and then some.

My point in all this is to pay homage to this wonderful man… and to say that he would have made a helluva children’s writer, I would bet.

Nurture your goodness.  Focus on others.  Make one person happy every day.

Rest in peace, Kevin.

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FINALLY… On Loosening Up

Well, here it is “tomorrow” and I’ve actually got another post!  Wow, two days in a row after two weeks of nada… from the sublime to the ridiculous.  (THAT one’s for my hubby, who can’t stand that phrase!) 😉

Those who know me know I love tennis.  Well, I may not be AS passionate about it as I used to be, but I do think it’s a great sport and when I’m feeling “on,” I love to play.

And those who love this game can always come up with comparisons of how tennis is a lot like life.  (Probably a lot of sports can say that, but tennis is one of those unique games in that it ultimately IS about you and you alone.  Unless you’re playing doubles, you’re really all alone out there… a team of one.)  There are a myriad of analogies out there.  Just Google “Tennis and Life” and see for yourself.

And there are other little nuances of the game that can be analogous to the real world, such as the fact that you can be the best in the world, but if you lack confidence in your abilities, you probably won’t be successful.  And one subtle change in your thinking out there on the court can shift momentum from your side to the other, or vice versa.  It’s truly 80% mental.  Again,  just like life.  Believe in yourself.  Set goals.  Work hard.  Success!

But it drills down from there.  And that gets me (finally!) to my point for today and that is that when you’re nervous playing a real match, you’re going to play what the pros call “tight”– meaning your forearm (your whole body, really) will be stiff.  If your arm is tense and not loose, it’ll react against the ball in a completely different (read: not good) way.  It’s an almost guaranteed error or fault most of the time when you’re hitting.  And that’s how matches are lost.

I was thinking about this today when I was thinking about writing and drawing.  I know when I started this whole process, I wanted to be so precise with everything.  So I wouldn’t even write down one word until I had the entire story outlined.  And I wouldn’t draw a picture without making sure my lines were smooth and straight.  But that was doing nothing to improve either my writing OR my drawing.

So now instead of these precision drawings (that invariably all ended up cartoon-like), I’m drawing nothing but these rough sketches and really trying to focus on GESTURE.  And two weeks ago, I wrote a pure-prose PB manuscript that I’m really happy with… in one day.  (“Precision”-me wouldn’t have been able to do that!)  Granted, this past Saturday was spent in a first round of revisions for that sucker (I had to get away from it for two weeks… to really see it for what it is) but I do believe there may be something there.

So I leave you with this: No matter what you’re doing– if it’s a picture book, an illustration, a poem… whatever– don’t THINK about it so much. Loosen up a little.  Leave all your inhibitions in the ethers and just DO what flows from your fingers and brain.  See what comes out of that kind of freedom.  I’ll bet you anything some really good stuff awaits.

Enjoy the day, everyone!

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Catching Up (and STILL Loosening Up)

I have SO much to write about and so little time… First off, I want to mention that one of my picture book pitches will be “airing” today on author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog for her Would You Read it Wednesday (WYRIW) feature.  I’m excited to see if any of Susanna’s followers WOULD actually read the book, based on the pitch alone.  Check it out on her home page.

And I’m especially looking forward to the feedback because of something that Mary Kole told me about that very same pitch recently.  That’s right– Mary Kole.  Literary agent extraordinaire, blogger behind KidLit.com (with tens of THOUSANDS of followers) and now published author of the hit new guide for children’s writers, Writing Irresistible Kidlit.  I’ve written about her in previous posts, but have kept her somewhat anonymous.  Well, I can officially tell you that it’s Mary who has helped me tremendously with my writing.  AND she also took a look at my near-twenty PB ideas, written in synopsis and/or “pitch” format.  And one of them, dear friends, was the pitch found on WYRIW today.  That’s why I was a major PITA for Susanna… because she already had a different pitch/different book set for today… and I switched gears on her at the 11th hour.  (Sorry again, Susanna!)

I’m going to leave you in suspense about what Mary said… he he he.  More on that, along with some of the things I’ve learned from her, in a future post.  (Hey, suspense is part of good fiction writing, right?  And that INCLUDES the world of picture books, of course!  So sue me!)  🙂

Mary’s not the only one who’s been helping me.  As many of you know, I’ve been writing a lot of rhyming stories lately, and I sent the one I felt the strongest about to none other than 1 Zany Zoo author Lori Degman!  Lori is a true expert on rhyming and meter… and she gave me some great insights and advice on how I can make that particular manuscript much better.

For the record, both Mary and Lori offer freelance critiquing services–  I’d recommend both of them highly. (Check them out at MaryKole.com and LoriDegman.com.)

Something funny happened as a result of taking the advice of both Mary and Lori– I went into serious revision mode… but what I ended up with is a completely new, completely different story with an actual theme, unique (yet not) conflict, and a strong central character.  I started out by trying to flesh out the original character more… and the rest kind of wrote itself.  I’m not completely finished with this one, but I’m really happy with where this one’s going.  No, scratch that.  I’m really excited about this one!  My goal is to wrap it up and start submitting to agents at the end of this month.  (Yikes!  Is it already November 14th?  Hmmm… maybe I’ll make that deadline end of the year!)

This post is getting long– I’ll save the rest (more about loosening up) for a later post.  Maybe– gasp!– I’ll post it tomorrow!

Happy Wednesday, All!

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Halloweensie Contest!

Happy Halloween!

(Or should I say “Happy Halloweensie”??)

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Halloweensie is a contest– brought to the kidlit world by none other than author Susanna Leonard Hill.  You’ve gotta love Susanna– she does SO much for children’s writers (AND readers!) everywhere.

Anyway, I can’t resist a fun contest– so in 100 words or less (not including the title), and using the words bat, witch and Trick or Treat, we had to come up with a “teensie” story.  Of course, I can’t resist the rhyme either, so here goes my entry:

———————————————————————————-

The Loneliest Pumpkin

There once was an orphaned young pumpkin named Pete,
who perched all alone on a porch down the street.

To him, that old house was too gloomy and grim–
old cobwebs and bat nests were part of the trim.

On Halloween night, a kind witch stopped to play.
She screeched “Trick or Treat!” but she paused then to say:

“Dear pumpkin, so sad—can I please take you home?
My house is ALIVE so you won’t be alone!”

So Pete moved away and discovered new friends…
For him, life’s beginning. For you, it’s

THE END.

——————————————————————————–

Keep in mind the entry ABOVE is the real deal.  But I thought it might be fun to share my quick notes/very early first draft from when Susannah first announced the contest last week… (This is how I usually start a blog post– by putting notes in first and then fleshing it out to evolve into the “final.”)  So the notes below include a quick “first take” at a rhyming story.  Ye-gads, but it looks awful in hindsight.  Remember… this is just top-of-mind scribbles!  ! 😉  Anyway, here goes nuthin’ (I can’t believe I’m sharing this):

100 words or less, using words:

witchbat, and “trick-or-treat.

There once was a pumpkin names Sweet

Who lived in a dark house on my street

His passion was candy, and he thought it so dandy

When the kids came to call “trick or treat!”

One night an old witch came a-knockin’

With her bat on her back that was hoppin’… [Hey!  That’s not even a rhyme!]

Okay, that’s enough of THAT now.  Yikes.  I’m probably going to regret this!  Ah well, all part of what I call the process.  (Yes, that’s right– throwing up first passes… uh, part of the process.  Yay!)

Now back to revising my book-in-progress, a.k.a. manuscript-from-purgatory.
(Can’t say the other word– I AM writing for children, after all!)

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Perfect Picture Book Friday: Stellaluna

I am in revision and editing purgatory this week.  As most of you know, it is hard!  Much harder than the actual writing.  But I have some amazing and incredibly helpful feedback from a professional (and highly-regarded) kidlit expert on two of my manuscripts so my focus has been to polish those up and start getting them submitted in November.  But I couldn’t miss Perfect Picture Book Friday, since I missed it last week for our regional SCBWI conference, which was good.  I hope to update about it later!

Anyhoo, back to PPBF… I’m surprised this little gem hasn’t been reviewed before– it’s a wonderful award-winning tale full of meaningful (but not overt, in-your-face) messages… and the illustrations are beautiful and packed with emotion.  5– no, 6!– stars on a 5-star scale!

Stellaluna

Written and Illustrated by: Janell Cannon
Sandpiper, 1993

Awards/Recognition:
American Booksellers Book of the Year, 1994; ABBY Award; California Young Reader Medal; Keystone to Reading Book Award; Reading Rainbow Feature Book; Southern California Council on Literature for Young People Award

Themes/Topics:  Acceptance, family and friendship, learning to adapt.

Suitable for:  4 and up, but in reading the reviews on Amazon, even toddlers love this book because of the pictures and the universal message of family and friendship bonds.

Opening Lines:
In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby.

Oh, how Mother Bat loved her soft, tiny baby.  “I’ll name you Stellaluna,” she crooned.

Each night, Mother Bat would carry Stellaluna clutched to her breast as she flew out to search for food.

Brief Synopsis:  (From Kirkus)— Attacked by an owl, Stellaluna (a fruit bat) is separated from her mother and taken in by a bird and her nestlings. Dutifully, she tries to accommodate–she eats insects, hangs head up, and sleeps at night, as Mama Bird says she must–but once Stellaluna learns to fly, it’s a huge relief when her own mother finds her and explains that the behavior that comes naturally is appropriate to her species. With a warm, nicely honed narration, Cannon strikes just the right balance between accurate portrayal of the bats and the fantasy that dramatizes their characteristics. Her illustrations, in luminous acrylics and color pencils, are exquisite. The appealingly furry, wide-eyed, fawn-colored bats have both scientific precision and real character; they’re displayed against intense skies or the soft browns and greens of the woodland in spare, beautifully constructed (occasionally even humorous) compositions. Delightful and informative but never didactic: a splendid debut.

Links to Resources:
There is much information to be found on fruit bats!  Here are just a few resources, but they can enhance your child’s learning about these adorable (did I just say that about bats?) little creatures.

http://www.about-bats.com/fruit-bats.html

http://www.batrescue.org/batfacts/batfacts.html

http://www.ehow.com/about_5415239_fruit-bat.html

Why I Like This Book:
Oh my goodness, what’s not to like?  First of all, this book was apparently Janell Canon’s debut picture book, which is incredible considering its strength.  (I’m not saying debuts can’t be strong, but they don’t usually become classics, and this one is definitely a classic– if not a classic-in-the-making!)

And at the end of the book, there are two pages of fun facts on fruit bats.

And how can you not fall in love with this little fruit bat? She looks up at the mama bird with these big (albeit glassy) and almost tearful eyes… her face is like a tiny chihuahua,  and her little feet hang so adorably off those tree limbs!  She is the heart of the story, and her plight and journey from being orphaned (or so it seems) to adapting to her new home with similar (winged) yet very different creatures is a tale of courage, determination, and strength of character.  It is a gorgeous tale and one that children can not only enjoy immensely, but learn from.  Again, what’s not to like?

PPBF is a fantastic resource brought to the world by author Susanna Leonard Hill— if you’re struggling with finding truly outstanding picture books for your children, your classroom, your library, etc., then don’t miss this wonderful and comprehensive listing with links to reviews by picture book lovers the world over.  You won’t be disappointed!

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Loosening Up

Big week as far as “creating” goes… I’ve been writing and editing up a storm, thanks to the incredibly helpful and positive feedback I’ve received from the kid lit pro I recently hired to critique two of my manuscripts.  ALSO, I’ve had this insatiable need to draw this week…  and I’ve been drawing things I don’t usually, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.  Yes, that’s right– the one with all the colorful “onion tops.”  (I’ll post it once I’m done with it– it started in my art class yesterday and I’ll finish it up in watercolor next week.)  So far, so good… but I am sure that my “watercoloring” (which has never been my strength) will ruin it.

Something about sketching that beautiful building, though, really flexed the old drawing muscles because I spent the better part of last night rough sketching characters in various poses– from old men to children to… hippos?  Oh yeah, and chickens.  (Scratch the chicken to the left, though– I’m not too happy with her.)

And this week will end in such a fantastic way– it’s the Southern Breeze children’s writer and illustrator conference in Birmingham!  I head out in just a few minutes and get back Saturday night.  My new illustrator friend, Shanda (who is an incredibly talented illustrator, by the way) is riding with me.  It’s going to be amazing… I just know it.  I feel like all cylinders are firing flawlessly right now…

I may miss Perfect Picture Book Friday, though… after a 3-hour drive and an evening networking event tonight, I don’t think I’ll have time to pull it together!

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Perfect Picture Book Friday: December

This book caught my eye on a recent library quest.  The artwork on the cover (and within, as I was to discover) is absolutely beautiful.  I can’t quite put it into words– it looks almost otherworldly, with unique colors and design with almost a stained glass treatment.

Before I even checked out the book, I read it right there in the library.  I simply couldn’t help myself.  I’ve noted why below…

December

Written by:  Eve Bunting

Illustrated by: David Diaz

Publisher: Harcourt Brace, October 2000

Suitable for: Kids 6 and up

Themes/Topics:  Kindness, selflessness, personal sacrifice.  Also homelessness, spiritual beliefs, miracles.

Opening Lines: Rather than type out the opening words, I thought it was necessary to show how the text is laid out within a unique beautiful design.  This treatment is carried through on every page:

Synopsis (from Amazon description):  Simon and his mom don’t have much–the cardboard house they built for themselves, a tiny Christmas tree, and a picture of an angel pinned to one wall. On Christmas Eve they take in a frail stranger who needs a place to keep warm, and the next morning Simon wakes early to find that the woman has vanished. Instead, he sees December, the angel from the picture, with her wings fanned out over their cardboard house. Could she be real?

Resources:  There’s a great Teacher’s Guide to Eve Bunting’s books (though December is not in here). And here’s an interview with Eve Bunting, who is now 83 years old!  Over and above that, this book would be amazing to read with the kids before the holidays… with plenty of discussion afterward about giving of oneself, sacrificing things that you might want for yourself for the good of someone else, staying positive and happy in the face of adversity, importance of family, etc.  

Why I Like This Book:  This duo ( Eve Bunting and David Diaz) has teamed up with other books (Going Home and Smoky Night)– neither of which I have read but now desperately want to.  Between Ms. Bunting’s beautifully lyrical prose and Mr. Diaz’s incredible illustrations (that he hand-painted in a combination of arcylic, watercolor and gouache)… not to mention his own handcrafted font… I just have to read more by these two.  I have now read this book about three times, and I can’t get enough of it.  Sure, it’s moving with a wonderful holiday giving message.  But it’s really a joy to read lovingly crafted words alongside such beautiful paintings.  I absolutely adore this book– holiday season or not!

Speaking of the holidays, if you’re looking for a “perfect picture book” to give to a loved one, don’t miss author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page on her web site— I believe there are more than 700 books listed (as of this writing) and she updates it regularly with new entries.  For Susanna’s own pick for today, visit this link.

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Perfect Picture Book Friday: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

I’m late!  I’m late!  For a VERY important date!

It’s my favorite day of the week– Perfect Picture Book Friday, where I get to review my pick for the week.  Once again, I’m tardy because it’s been a manic week… what with a copywriting assignment, some good networking and fellowship events, and tons of school activities… oh, and plus tennis, which has once again been taking up a lot of my time.  Boo!  (Well, it’s only “boo!” when I lose.  If I win, tennis is the Best. Sport. EVER!) 😉

So here’s my selection for this week, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes written by the legendary Mem Fox (and beautifully illustrated by Helen Oxenbury).  I was surprised that no one has reviewed this for PPBF before.  Yes, it’s simple and light with a grand total of 184 words.  But it’s charming and, I think, quite brilliant with its simple rhyme and soothing repetition.  It reminds me of the lullaby-like quality of Goodnight Moon (another favorite, of course!)  I didn’t discover it until after Ian was too old for such books, but had I known about it when he was a baby and toddler, I’m sure this would have been a bedtime favorite.  It’s gorgeous!

Here are the details:

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Written by: Mem Fox
Illustrated by: Helen Oxenbury

Suitable for: Babies and toddlers (and even older children who love rhyming books and babies!)

Themes/Topics:  Simply put, this is a soothing book for little ones.  It’s essentially a book about babies… for babies.  The rhyme and rhythm and repetition make it great for bedtime.  However, on a secondary level, it can also be seen as a book about tolerance and multiculturalism… though this is understated.

Opening Lines: 

There was one little baby

who was born far away.

And another who was born

on the very next day

And both of these babies,

as everyone knows,

had ten little fingers,

and ten little toes

Synopsis:  There’s really no “story” here– it’s simply a global look at babies of all colors, shapes and sizes.  We (the reader) see the babies when they first come to this world, and ultimately we see them all interacting with each other playfully.  It seems to have an underlying message of “Let’s all get along.  After all, babies DO!”  This one has 42 five-star reviews on Amazon.  The phrasing is wonderful and the watercolor illustrations draw you in, “oohing” and “aahhing” at the adorable cherubs with their tiny fingers and toes.  For older children (read: toddlers), each page offers up an opportunity to learn to count.   Bottom line: If it isn’t hailed as one already, this one is destined to be a classic.

Resources: Mem Fox has an entire page of her web site devoted to this book– you can see it here.  She also reads the book aloud on YouTube.  I LOVE Mem Fox!  I want to grow up to BE her!

Why I Like This Book:   For the reasons stated above– brilliant, lyrical rhyme and sublime underlying message… wonderful watercolor illustrations showing babies with the most adorable expressions… and, of course, it’s by my hero(ine), Mem!   I’d highly recommend this as a gift for ALL new moms and dads.  I wish I had this around when Ian was a wee one.

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

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Giddy With KidLit

I’ve been on a library tear lately–  I’m max’d out on my own county library card AND my account at Ian’s school library… I took Ian to his check-out limit yesterday… AND even checked out books on my husband’s school library account because I absolutely HAD to have these five books I saw yesterday!  This is the problem with volunteering at the school “media center”– I just can’t say no!  (Is there a 12-step program for kidlit lovers like me?)

This is my life about every two weeks now.  So I have a plethora of picture books waiting to be read, just sitting there on the guest room bed.  (For the record, the guest room is my reading room– it’s the only room in the house that is “complete,” meaning it’s decorated and furnished completely to my satisfaction.  Can’t say that for any other room in the house… after seven years of living here!  But one day, one day…)

Anyhoo, I did something exciting this week.  Since I’ve been having the darndest time finding a local kidlit critique group (or even an online one), I have hired a professional to edit my work.  
Yes indeedy.  This woman has a great resume– she’s been a literary agent at a large and well-known NYC shop and recently left there to head up the children’s book group at another NYC shop, AND she wrote a book that’s coming out next month– published by a large and well-known publisher– on writing kidlit!  This lady knows her stuff and I’m excited that she is going to critique one of my manuscripts, as well as my 18 ideas for future picture books!

That same manuscript is also now in the hands of Southern Breeze, the SCBWI’s regional chapter for the south– they have it in their hot little hands to critique during next month’s fall conference in Birmingham, which of course I am attending.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– I want to hear it all: The good, the bad AND the ugly.  And I’m sure there will be ugly.  But I don’t care… that’s how you grow– by first seeing and then acknowledging where you need help.  I am so sure I need help.  And once I get it– and apply lessons from it– I’ll embark on the next phase of this journey.

I am fastening my seat belt, ‘cuz I am SURE it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

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Perfect Picture Book Friday: How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday— one of my favorite times of the week!  Today I am a bit late because the last few days have been ridiculously busy with too many things.  And today is Ian’s school “fun run” where the kids raise money by being sponsored to run 30 laps around their field track.  I volunteered to check off laps for each child (fun!), but before that I have to finish sorting books in Ian’s classroom.  And AFTER the run, I have school library duty!  I won’t be done until Ian gets off the bus.  Then he’s got soccer practice and a tennis event tonight.  No time to write!

(Not making excuses… just sayin’.)

So in honor of the fun run, today I’m picking a FUN book.  I’ll admit I’ve been picking some wonderfully moving, tear-jerking books as of late… and it’s time to switch gears and bring a little levity to this blog!  So here’s my pick this week– it’s a winner:

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?

Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Mark Teague

Blue Sky Press
September 2005

Themes/Topics: Manners, behavior, dinner table etiquette

Opening Lines:  

How does a dinosaur
eat all his food?
Does he burp,
does he belch,
or make noises quite rude?

Synopsis:  This is part of a funny “dinosaur” series written and illustrated by the incomparable team of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.  (Other books in the series include titles such as How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Cookies, How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?)

The first half of …Eat Their Food is all about the “questions” (as shown above in the opening lines). These questions ask how a dinosaur might misbehave at the dinner table… in all different ways (“does he bubble his milk?  stick beans up his nose?”)  Each question is accompanied by an illustration of the dinosaur doing the dirty deed.

Then the second half of the book ANSWERS the questions and basically says “No!”  In other words, the dinosaurs do NOT do all of these terribly ill-mannered things… instead they say “please and thank you” and eat “all before him with smiles and good will.”  And on and on.  So the good behavior counters the bad.

Why I like this book:  This is one of my favorites of the series.  They’re all done with humor, but something about dinosaurs having bad table manners makes me chuckle inside.  The illustrations are colorful and depict goofy dinosaurs in various human-like (child-like) poses.  The cadence of the writing and the rhyme is fun to read, both outloud and to yourself.  Best of all, there’s a message that goes along with the humor– that is, if dinosaurs can have good table manners, so can YOU, dear child.

Resources/links:  Jane Yolen’s web site.    And here’s a quick little article on teaching your child good table manners.

Check out all the Perfect Picture Book picks on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, here.

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