Favorite Picture Books

A Picture Book & A Project: A Sick Day For Amos McGee and Feel Better Balloons

A Picture Book & A Project: A Sick Day for Amos McGee (written by Philip C. Stead, Illustrated by Erin E. Stead) and making Feel Better Balloons!

A Picture Book & A Project: A Sick Day for Amos McGee (written by Philip C. Stead, Illustrated by Erin E. Stead) and making Feel Better Balloons!

Amos McGee was a very reliable and busy zookeeper, but he always made time for his friends: the elephant, tortoise, penguin, rhinoceros, and owl. One day, Amos did not feel well and stayed home, but don’t worry- his friends made time to help him feel better!

A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. ROARING BROOK PRESS, 2010

A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

SHANDA: I noticed this book in a bookstore several years ago, because the beautiful illustrations caught my eye! Then I noticed it was a Caldecott winner! The pictures are realistic, yet cute, sweet, and expressive with simple backgrounds. The printed textures and colors are lovely. I picked it up and read it. It touched my heart and made me all warm inside.

This is another husband and wife author-illustrator combo! I love that! They now have a few more books out together since this one.

This is a nice bedtime book as it is calm and comfy. Let your little one look for the bird, mouse, and red balloon throughout the book! We have probably read this book together 100 times :)

HJ: I like the elephant on the bus. And Amos McGee!

Now, on to the Project! Let’s make time (like Amos’s friends did) for someone feeling under the weather… We can take or send a Feel Better Balloon to them!

What you'll need to make a Feel Better Balloon

Ballon Step 1

Balloon Step 2

Balloon Step 3

Balloon Step 4Balloon Step 5

We hope you’ll help somebody feel better this week :) Also, I’d love to see the art you create from this post- email me if you like, and I’ll show it on the blog!

Love, Shanda & HJ!

A Picture Book & A Project: Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad (by David Soman and Jacky Davis) and painting rocks like bugs!


A Picture Book & A Project: Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad (by David Soman and Jacky Davis) and painting rocks like bugs!

A Picture Book & A Project: Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad (by David Soman and Jacky Davis) and painting rocks like bugs!

Ladybug Girl is so excited to have the perfect playdate planned with her friends (the bug squad). She wants everything to be just the way she imagined! But when an unexpected catastrophe arises, Ladybug Girl has to deal with it like a hero.

Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad by David Soman and Jacky Davis DIAL BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS, 2011

Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad by David Soman and Jacky Davis

SHANDA: I like this book because it has a female super hero, and it shows that even good girls make mistakes, and heros don’t run away when things get hard. Lots of character building built into this fun adventure!

David Soman and Jacky Davis (husband/wife team) hit a home run with introducing the Bug Squad characters! These characters have the potential for many different adventures (and still room to maybe meet new friends/squad members in the future.)

I am awed by the beauty of the artwork! The painted/fine art-like backgrounds with the comic/inky characters on top is a lovely and exciting combination throughout all the Ladybug Girl books. It meshes painting and illustration in a new way for me.

This book is longer than most modern picture books, but it absolutely works. HJ (3 yr old) is captivated all the way through! She asks to read Ladybug Girl series books more than any other books these days.

HJ: My favorite part is when Kiki gets mad.
HJ: Because I like her!

Well there you have it! Our project is a scene right from the story…

Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad





We hope you enjoyed this very first “A Picture Book & A Project”! Now go have a blast reading and creating with your sweet peas :) Also, I’d love to see the art you create from this post- email me if you like, and I’ll them on the blog!

Love, Shanda & HJ!

Lesson #3: Give Your Blog Readers Good Free Content (& they’ll probably be excited about your books too :)

This lesson I learned from my Southern Breeze Illustrator Coordinator, Elizabeth O. Dulemba. About 5 years ago, she started offerring a FREE coloring page every Tuesday on her blog. Every Tuesday. For 5 years (and still going). Wow!


Readers loved it. Teachers loved it. Librarians loved it. Kids loved it! Her blog blew up! Coloring Page Tuesdays are hotter than hotcakes! Now she has a super nice platform of readers to tell about her new books when they come out! Genius! And she did this by GIVING!

So, the lesson here is the title above: Give your blog readers good, free content, and they’ll probably be excited about your books too! At this point, they would probably be willing to buy your books for their kids, kid’s friends gifts, nieces, nephews, classrooms, or themselves.

Well then, what can I do on my blog that could serve a similar purpose? Of course, I would not copy Elizabeth’s coloring page idea, so I thought about my own strengths, experiences, and what I enjoy. At this point in my journey, I like to experience lots of books and learn from them. Especially picture books. Reading with my daughter is my favorite way to spend time with her. We are both into books, and can have a lot of fun together. I’m not the best to get on the floor and play each day, but reading is different. We read together just about every day.

Our Reading Chair

Our Reading Chair

I love to see what books she asks for again and again. Reading together is such a great way to learn what kids respond to, and the breadth of their understanding of a story. It’s that stuff and so much more! Here’s a great quote from The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books:

A picture book may seem like a simple proposition- a decorated story. In fact, a picture book contains several modes of expression and can contain multiple layers of meaning. What a picture book “means” to a child is more than just a story with illustrations. From an early age, children learn what a book is, how to hold it the right way up, the order in which to turn the pages, and how to read- first the images and then later the words. The imagery may be “realistic” or entirely graphic. Imagery and colors may form patterns throughout the book, accruing meaning as motif; white space may imply content and demand that the child mentally “fill in the gaps”; and the illustrations may expand on and extend the information in the text. Sometimes, the illustrations may even tell a different story. This tension between what is said and what is shown makes picture books a unique and exciting form of graphic expression.

So I’ve decided to offer up picture book suggestions that my daughter and I both enjoy and why. I’ll share my point of view, and then she’ll share hers :) But I’m also going to add an art element to it, and we’ll demonstrate a project to do with your little ones that expand on the book and are fun! And there you have it! I think I’ll call it “A Picture Book & A Project”.

I try to do it once a week, and my projects will be suited for young kids for now, My daughter is just about to turn 3. But as she grows, so will the complexity of the projects.


Which books will she pick??

Be on the lookout for “A Picture Book & A Project”. Coming soon!


P.S.- Notice anything different about the look of my site? It’s nice to change things up every so often :)

Look at a Book: The Princess and the Pig

Filed under: Favorite Picture Books | January 25, 2013


I happened upon The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett and Poly Bernatene (published by Walker and Company, a division of Bloomsbury. Originally published in Great Britain by Macmillan 2011) at my local bookstore. I was browsing for some inspiration and I found some with this book! I was so impressed by this very strong story paired with these very strong illustrations… Together they made MAGIC for me! (That’s the sweet spot all of us illustrators and writers strive for).

This is a story of switched fates blamed on good AND bad fairies (although there are no fairies in this book at all). As events unfold, the characters come to conclusions based on books like Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, The Prince and the Pauper, The Frog Prince, and Puss in Boots. This book is funny and serious with a large theme of fate and things working out for the better even if by accident or not.


This book (which is now on my favorites list) is unusually long for a modern picture book. I only noticed because I counted about 800-900 words. But I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It flows so seamlessly with perfect exciting pace, and didn’t once feel long. With that being said, my 2-year-old got antsy, but I was glued! The length and the humor is probably best for 4-5 year-olds.


I like to compare stories I like to the “picture book structure guidelines” I learned from a webinar instructed by literary agent, Mary Kole. These guidelines seem strict to me, but more often than not, I see that she is usually correct. This story doesn’t follow her formula perfectly until spreads 9-11 where the stakes rise, then climax at spread 12, and spreads 13 and 14 are the resolution pages. This book also is dead on with Mary’s statement that a picture book is usually 14.5 spreads.


So, as you can see, I just had to add this book to my collection! This is a great find and a great book!

Elizabeth Dulemba’s “Lula’s Brew” (a beautiful book app) now in print!

Filed under: Favorite Picture Books | September 11, 2012


“Lula’s Brew” is the book (app) that made me fall in love with Elizabeth Dulemba’s art! I happen to LOVE Halloween (more than any other holiday), so this one really hit a home run for me and my family :)

“Lula’s Brew” was one of the very first books apps to hit to the iPhone app market and then the iPad market among other digital platforms. What I really love about this book app is that it stayed true to the experience of reading a real book. There are no bells and whistles, animation or music. It’s a narrated story that is entertaining enough with any of that extra stuff. It’s just lovely, and so fun to read!

And now it’s going to be a printed book! A book I can read to my sweet pea at bedtime :) I just can’t read books to her on my iPad at bedtime. It just doesn’t jive. But now I will definitely be getting a print version- I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Fall and Halloween with my baby girl! (as well as supporting Elizabeth, a woman I admire very much.)

Click here to read more about “Lula’s Brew” and Lula activities from Elizabeth Dulemba’s site!

Special Delivery for Harvey Jane!

Filed under: Favorite Picture Books | August 8, 2012

What do you get when it’s your birthday and you have an artsy aunt and cool uncle who live in Brooklyn, New York?! You get super cool packages full of vintage books for your library- that’s what! And this little two-year-old didn’t mind one bit that some of the books were for “when she gets bigger”. She just opened them right up and proceded to “read”! This kid might love books as much as her mama :) Thanks India and Michael- you hit a homer!

For All the Teachers

Filed under: Favorite Picture Books,On My Mind | August 3, 2012

Here is a very special teacher from The Dot by Peter Reynolds. Great book! One of my all-time favorites!

Image from “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds

School is back, and I still get this nervous excitement in my gut. It’s the same feeling I always had as a kid starting a brand new school year. Even as a teacher I felt that way before meeting my new classes. But I’m not going to school and my daughter isn’t old enough either. I guess I’m just excited about a brand new season for me, my work, and Fall!

Image from “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds

Image from “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds

I’ve been thinking a lot about the teachers I’ve had and the things they taught me that still stick! Theres a lot. I’m sure there’s more, but this is who sticks out in my mind…

Mrs. Satterfield (3rd grade) was like a ray of sunshine when I was a new student.
Mrs. Raynor (4th grade) was cool to read the Wizard of Oz to us aloud- the movie was different from the book! And I can still sing the states in alphabetical order.
Mrs. Miserri (5th grade) made history pretty neat.
Mrs. Cheek (6th grade) was funny and made her own quirky worksheets.
Ms. Driver (7th grade) scared me into being organized!
Hugh McMillan (Sunday school) showed me that the Bible is a history book.
Mrs. C (high school art) saw something special in me and pushed me on to accomplish some cool things.
Robert Sherer (college painting) told me I didn’t belong in the art education program (that was his way of saying I should be a painting major) I was flattered and frustrated at the same time.
Joe Remillard (college drawing) really taught me to draw the best I’ve ever drawn before.
Monica Wellington (SVA teacher) showed me that you can be kind, simple, quiet, AND successful even in a place as harsh as New York City. Amazing illustrator/author example!
Elizabeth Dulemba (Southern Breeze SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator) is a fantastic author/illustrator to watch and learn from. She shares industry nitty gritty all the time whether it be on her website, in conversation, or email. She doesn’t know it, but she’s a mentor of mine :)

Image from “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds

Image from “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds

Vashti’s teacher never hears “thanks”, but you later see Vashti using the same encouraging technique the teacher used on her on a fellow student who claims he “can’t ” just like she did. So this post is for ALL the teachers out there. You definitely made a mark on me by daring me to make mine. Have a fabulous year!

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Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator & Author