Friday, February 8, 2019


Written by Tammi Sauer

Illustrated by Goro Fujita

(Sterling Children’s Books, 2016)

I took an extended break from this blog and some true book gems didn’t get their due via an impassioned shout-out. One such book was Your Alien, a delightful tale of friendship and goodbye when a boy befriends an alien and everything seems perfect…until the alien becomes homesick. The book was a big hit whenever I’d read it aloud. I easily created an alien voice—a cross between Marvin the Martian and Beaker from The Muppets. 

Your Alien Returns allows the opportunity to get back into alien voice for a simple one-word utterance. On this occasion, the alien comes back and the boy ventures to the alien’s terrain with the promise to be back in time for dinner.

Now it’s the boy who must adjust to new customs, new games and a whole bunch of people—er, aliens—who are foreign to him. The connections for kids will be obvious. That time they had a sleepover at Wei Lin’s house, that birthday party for Keith on their baseball team where they didn’t know anyone else, that weekend they spent with their cousins in Tallahassee (or wherever…I just love the name Tallahassee). What do you do when excitement faces a sudden jolt of anxiety?

The book isn’t quite as fun as Your Alien. The cuteness of the alien isn’t such a novelty anymore. Still, how wonderful to take familiar characters and have them deal with, well, the unfamiliar. Track down Your Alien (Sterling Children’s Books, 2015) and follow up a week later with this book. Kids will cheer to see the alien once more.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


By Paul Schmid
(Harper, 2012)

By David Milgrim
(Henry Holt and Company, 2015)

Kids easily connect to wild animals. Running around, roaring and growling, is incredibly freeing. (Why did we ever stop?)

I’m a big fan of Paul Schmid’s Petunia. I first discovered her in the delightful A Pet for Petunia when she begged and begged her parents for a pet skunk. As a teacher and principal, I often carried the book from classroom to classroom, one of my Stack of Five. (I do a quick book talk about five picture books and then let the audience vote to determine which one I read aloud during the visit.) Sadly, the book was rarely chosen no matter how much I talked it up.

It seems Petunia is an in-between character. On the cover of each book, she wears a purple and white striped dress. Sadly, I suspect that the color and her gender caused many of the boys in class to withhold their vote. They say boys are less inclined to warm up to books with girls as the main character; I’m intent on changing that. I think many of the girls don’t vote to hear about Petunia because she’s not stereotypically girlish. She’s more Olivia (the pig) than Belle (the princess).

I often read A Pet for Petunia as a “bonus read” after the top vote getter. (“But it didn’t even come in second,” someone always says. Ah, let’s expand our horizons.)

Like it’s predecessor, Petunia Goes Wild works best as a read-aloud when you’ve read it to yourself a couple of times. You want to nail the part of Petunia. There are stereotypes to be broken, after all. Petunia has a stuffed animal that’s a lion and—no, she doesn’t want a pet lion this time around. Rather, Petunia is a lion. She roars at passersby from the front yard, she crawls and eats from the floor, she even bathes in a mud puddle. So very lion-ly.

For a parent, all this feral, feline behavior can be problematic. As in A Pet for Petunia our feisty, persistent main character eventually drives her parents to utter exasperation. There is an incredibly wordy page that is the most fun to read out loud. It’s a classic parental rant.

And, as a read-aloud, at least, kids love it. They all have parents who’ve succumbed to a rant.

Petunia is both genuinely funny and wildly imaginative.

The cover photo of David Milgrim’s Wild Feelings shows the main character—a boy this time—dressed as a lion, mouth agape in full roar. Milgrim goes through a series of familiar similes, comparing feelings to animals.

Do you ever feel...
as stubborn as a mule?

Or as chicken
as a chicken?

This is a book for kids—especially boys—to connect with a range of often negatively viewed feelings. It’s a springboard for talking about them and normalizing them.

So what’s an acceptable thing to do when you’re “rrrrrreally mad”? How do you recover when it’s all over, when perhaps things didn’t go so smoothly while you were in the midst of the mood?

Picture books like this not only entertain, but they open the door for talking about more difficult things. They can be reference points after the fact as well. (Remember that book we read about...?) If kids can name their feelings and talk about them, the “bad” feelings won’t go away but they’ll learn how to work through them (more appropriately over a period of time). They’ll also give their temperamental friends some support and/or space when they’re in such a mood.

I’m wild about both these books. Track them down and have a roaring good time sharing them with the kids closest to you.

Friday, February 1, 2019

AFTER THE FALL: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

By Dan Santat

Roaring Brook Press (2017)

In After the Fall, Dan Santat takes classic nursery rhyme character Humpty Dumpty and imagines that all the king’s men managed to put him back together again. Give or take a few bits and pieces.
In truth, poor Humpty, who loved sitting atop walls—to be closer to the birds—is a little broken. There’s a heartbreaking image of the bandaged egg sleeping on the floor in his room. Seems he’s too scared to climb the ladder to his bunk. Moreover, he dares not reach for the upper shelves in grocery stores where the truly tasty cereals like Just Marshmallow and Sugar Elf are stocked. Sadly, that leaves him to the bland brands on the lowest shelf—cereals with names like Fiber Flakes and Grown-Up Food. (Poor Humpty, indeed!)
Santat’s lovely, whimsical illustrations are cast in darker, muted colors with a range of perspectives from over-the-shoulder shots to aerial views. Every page invites the viewer to pause and study the images.
In time, Humpty Dumpty makes do, making paper airplanes. If he can’t reach higher altitudes, at least his creations can. And then one day, dear Humpty must face his fears. Something precious forces him to consider ascending a ladder and being atop the fateful wall once more. Can he do it? And will nursery rhyme history repeat itself?
This is a wonderfully endearing tale of resilience with a surprise ending that makes the reader want to immediately reread the story now that he is in on some nuances of the story that should have been (but weren’t) obvious. By golly, Santat manages to shed light on both the classic story and his reworked sequel of sorts. The result is absolutely delightful!