PPBF – Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton

Big Machines: The Story of
Virginia Lee Burton 

Written by: Sherri Duskey Rinker

Illustrated by: John Rocco

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics:   biography, storytelling, heavy equipment

Opening:   This is Virginia Lee, but everyone in seaside Folly Cove simply calls her Jinnee. Anyone who meets Jinnee will tell you that she is quite magical.

Brief Synopsis:

Virginia Lee Burton created much beloved, classic picture books starring the big machines that her sons, Aris and Michael, adored. From a steam shovel named Mary Anne to Katy the brave tractor, and Maybelle the cable car, Jinnee Burton wove endearing stories around the rumbling, chugging, heavy-hauling BIG equipment that fascinated her sons.

Links To Resources:

Read Virginia Burton’s books!  Here is a list of her HMH titles.

Activity pages! Try these printable pages for Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel

Watch a movie! Preview a movie about Jinnee’s life in this trailer.

Visit Cape Ann MuseumLots of Jinnee’s work is on display.

Why I Like This Book:

I’ve been crazy about Jinnee Burton’s work since my first visit to the Cape Ann Museum in 2013. You may remember reading my blog post Follow Me to Folly Cove in which I gushed about seeing her books, tools and samples of her work on display.

Aris Demetrios (c.) shares the Burton archives with Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco in Santa Barbara, September 2015

When I learned that Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco were teaming up to create a tribute book about Jinnee in preparation for the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott-winning The Little House, I was really excited to see their work.  In August, Publishers Weekly offered a sneak-peek into their collaboration. Sherri and John worked closely with members of Burton’s family, which including digging through the vast archives stored in her son’s garage!

The Cape Ann Museum hosted one stop on the national tour for BIG MACHINES, an event I could not, would not miss. Sherri and John gave an engaging, entertaining presentation to an audience that knew, worked and lived with Jinnee in her heydays.  Their loving tribute to Burton echoes throughout the book’s pages in carefully-chosen words, rhythm and iconic patterns  of swirling, swooshing text and image pairings. For the adults who love Jinnee’s books and the new generation of young readers that will be introduced to them for the first time, BIG MACHINES is a big winner!

For a complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books hosted by the incomparable Susanna Leonard Hill.

Sherri and John signed lots of books!

Love my Mary Anne illo!


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Hello Goodbye Dog and Giveaway!

Hello Goodbye Dog introduces us to an affectionate, bouncy pooch named Moose who thinks saying “goodbye” to his girl Zara as she heads to school is as awful as “an itch that couldn’t be scratched.” Can Zara find a way to make Moose a welcome presence in the classroom? Yes!

Maria Gianferrari is no stranger to Bildebok readers as I’ve featured three of her picture books, Penny and Jelly: The School Show, Penny and Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars, and Officer Katz and Houndini. Since we’ve met Maria, for Hello Goodbye Dog I thought we might learn more about her own beloved canine companion, Becca!

Becca, Maria has just said “goodbye” but the door isn’t shut tight. If you follow her, where are you hoping she is headed?

To Granite Lake in NH, so I can go for a long walk and a swim.

Becca, you sniff something delicious and slip into the school cafeteria. What are three things can Maria say or do to make it easier to leave when it is time for “goodbye”?

1) Ask me if I want to go for a ride in the car—I love that!

2) Get out my leash, and take me for a walk.

3) Give me a Kong with a treat, that’s what she always does before she leaves, and I know she’ll come back.

Library reading dog enjoying “The Four Puppies” with my kiddo and her favorite librarian, Fifi Abu,, circa 2007.

Becca, Maria is helping you with homework for therapy dog school. What books do you hope she chooses to read with you?

For picture books: Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (illustrations by Christian Robinson), Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy and My Father the Dog by Elizabeth Bluemle (illustrations by Randy Cecil).

For longer books: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Thank you Becca for your woof-ully wonderfully delightful answers! Readers (sorry – USA only, as it will be shipped by the publisher) who would like to win their very own copy of Hello Goodbye Dog can comment below. One lucky winner’s name will be drawn and they will be notified in the next 10-14 days.


Congratulations Danielle Hanmelef – you are the lucky winner! Please forward your mailing address to me at cmealey (at) post.harvard.edu so we can send your book!


Please visit all the stops on the Hello Goodbye Dog Blog Tour for more fun and giveaways with Maria, talented illustrator Patrice Barton, and perhaps even some furry friends! Here are the links you want to follow:

*Monday, July 24th:                            Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!

Two for Tuesday, July 25th:            Librarian’s Quest and Reading for Research

Wednesday, July 26th:                     Homemade City

Thursday, July 27th:                           Kid Lit Frenzy

Friday, July 28th:                                Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook

Monday, July 31st:                             Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Wednesday, August 2nd:                   The Loud Library Lady

Thursday, August 3rd:                       DEBtastic Reads!

Friday, August 4th:                            Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

Monday, August 7th:                         Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

EXTRA: August 25th:                      Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton

Becca and Maria

Maria Gianferrari is a picture book reading/writing, tea-drinking, dog-loving, birdwatching author of the Penny & Jelly books, Coyote Moon, an ALA Notable Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection and Officer Katz and Houndini. Her newest picture book, Hello Goodbye Dog, is illustrated by Patrice Barton. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her scientist husband, artist daughter, and rescue mutt, Becca. She has additional titles forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press, GP Putnam’s Sons and Little Bee. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: mariagianferrari.com,  Facebook or Instagram.

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PPBF: Escargot


Written by: Dashka Slater

Illustrated by: Sydney Hanson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers (April, 2017)

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics:   friendship, picky eater, new experiences, gastropods


“Bonjour! I see you are staring at me! I don’t mind. My name is Escargot, and I am such a beautiful French snail that everybody stares at me. Right now I am traveling to the salad at the end of this book. It is a beautiful salad, with croutons and a light vinaigrette. You should come!”

Brief Synopsis:

Bonjour! Escargot is a beautiful French snail who wants only two things:

1. To be your favorite animal.
2. To get to the delicious salad at the end of the book.

But when he gets to the salad, he discovers that there’s a carrot in it. And Escargot hates carrots. But when he finally tries one—with a little help from you!—he discovers that it’s not so bad after all.

Links To Resources:

Make a salad! Here is a link to 20 kid-friendly salad suggestions from Today’s Parent.

Get a pet snail! Here is a link to keeping a pet snail safe and healthy.

Create a snail craft! Here are a dozen cute ideas for making fun snails.

Use the Escargot Activity Kit! Loads of fun ideas to pair with the book.

Why I Like This Book:

Funny, charming and interactive, ESCARGOT was utterly endearing. The illustrations are a hoot and the dry witticisms are perfectly tuned for the ears of little listeners as well as adult readers. The concept of taste-testing feared foods is so subtle and sweet that it will not strike kids as cloying or message-y. Sweet, sincere and tenderly vulnerable Escargot is the most expressive and adorable picture book snail I’ve ever met. Coincidentally, I recently finished reading The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, an incredible memoir/meditation by Elisabeth Tova Bailey ideal for sustaining or restoring your sense of wonder about the natural world. Also highly recommended!

My favorite line:

“Nobody ever says their favorite animal is the snail.”

For a complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books hosted by the incomparable Susanna Leonard Hill.

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On the Floor and Upside Down: Writing Strategies

artwork by Sarah Lynne Reul

If you ever have the great good fortune to attend a workshop with Kevin Lewis, you may want to sit in the back row. It’s his favorite spot for selecting volunteers! At the April 2017 New England SCBWI conference, Kevin invited one person to join him, stretched flat on the floor, to emphasize the importance of taking in the world from a child’s perspective. At the equivalent of toddler eye-level, she remarked with wonder at a horizon cluttered with tote bags and knees.

After the conference, I was eager to practice any and all writing tips from the maestro behind CHUGGA- CHUGGA CHOO-CHOO so I flopped right down onto my living room floor. Let’s not mention the dust bunnies, shall we? But overall, the view was fairly uninspiring. No wonder kids engage their imaginations dozens or hundreds of times during the day.

Then I flopped, stomach side down, onto the ottoman and realized “This thing would be more fun with wheels.” Wow – my inner toddler had begun to express herself! I noticed that the carved carpet was too bumpy for a floor puzzle, but could become zippy tracks for little cars or animals. Vroom, vroom!

I flipped over, stomach side up. My head and arms dangled over the ottoman’s edges. I tried to ignore a wispy cobweb framing the skylight. Some clouds, then a bird flew overhead. I remembered reading about inversion therapy – something Dan Brown advocates to combat writer’s block. There are some quirky writing habits detailed at that link that don’t involve gravity boots but may require déshabillé (I won’t be trying either). However – BOOM! Suddenly I had funny inspiration for a story that I put aside months ago.

In short, don’t forsake opportunities to change your perspective occasionally when doing creative work. Whether conceiving, writing, revising, or battling writer’s block, shaking up your orientation may be just the thing. Sit in the front row, or the last row. Flop onto the floor. Of course a rich weekend of inspiring conference presentations, engaging with friends and mentors old and new, and lugging home a tote full of shiny new books are wonderful ingredients to incorporate in the process.

I would love for you to share any other creative strategies or flashes of inspiration in the comments. Happy writing!

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So You Think You Can Write a Children’s Book…

Thank you Cheerios, because it was your “Spoonful of Stories” contest that first piqued my interest in writing for children. I clipped this tiny column from a parenting magazine and stuck it in my desk drawer almost seven years ago.

Then I began to write, to read, to revise, to conference, critique, and connect. This work is indeed a marathon, not a sprint. Clipping the Cheerios column was the first step for me, but the entire race requires miles of training (read 1,000+ books), conditioning (revise, revise, revise), and dedication (keep putting one word after the other -persist!).

I owe huge thanks to my editor, Meredith Mundy at Sterling Children’s Books, and my agent, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency, as well as to the kidlit bloggers, authors, editors, librarians, artists and fellow writers that I’ve been lucky to know along the way. Each of you have inspired me to keep plugging along with my stories. Lest this post in dry, inventoried nature, risk being played off the stage Academy Award style, let me say how delighted I am to share the news of my debut picture book, When a Tree Grows, sprouting onto shelves in Fall 2018;




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Something’s Fishy – A Valentiny Tale

Image xourtesy of Wikimedia By Elma from Reykjavík - Gullfiskur, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8566914

Image courtesy of Wikimedia
By Elma from Reykjavík – Gullfiskur, CC BY 2.0,

“It’s February 14th Trawler!”

Lucy planted a sticky, lip-balmy kiss on the outside of his bowl.

Ugh! Would he have a blurry view all day?

“Let’s give this a polish.”

Once his bowl sparkled, Trawler flicked his thanks in a quick, slick circle.

“I’ve got a special breakfast for you!” Lucy chirped.

What? Not his favorite ocean flakes? Ugh!

She sprinkled tiny red hearts on the water. Trawler sulked, but he hadn’t eaten since yesterday. He nibbled. Yum! Swooping in happy loops, he gobbled heart after heart.

“Yay! You like them!” Lucy smiled. Suddenly she plunged her soft pink hand into the bowl.

Ack! What was going on? Was he going to the vet again? Was it fin rot? Scale scum?

“It’s a new Java Fern! Isn’t it nice?”

Trawler fluttered his fin against the delicate greenery. What was going on? Why the extra attention?

“One last surprise for my special guy,” said Lucy.

A last surprise? Uh oh, thought Trawler. Maybe he had fin rot, scale scum AND gummy gills. But he didn’t feel sick.


“Meet Goldie! She’s your new bowl mate!”

Trawler’s eyes popped and his jaw dropped. Bloop! A bubble escaped his gaping mouth.

Goldie blinked. Bloop!

“Have a Fintastic Valentine’s Day!” said Lucy.

* * * * * * *

Yes, dear Readers, it’s time once again for Susanna Hill’s super sweet Valentiny Story Contest! Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people. You can savor these treats long after all the bon-bons have been consumed and the flowers have faded, because love has no season! Shovelling snow, however, does have a season – winter. And since we have had lots of snow and lots of shoveling, I was gifted with extra time to dream up a funny, finny tale for this year’s celebration!

If you haven’t written your entry yet, here are THE RULES: Write a Valentine story appropriate for children ages 12 and under with a maximum of 214 words in which someone is confused!  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone confused. (It can be the main character but doesn’t have to be.) You can go under the word count but not over! (Title is not included in the word count.) Something’s Fishy scoots under the wire at 210 words. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Mrs. Beasley, meet Woody: A Toy Tale

beasleyThis is Mrs. Beasley. She was featured in a 1970’s era TV show called Family Affair. I had my own Mrs. Beasley doll, and my favorite thing about her was that her plastic spectacles were removable. They were the perfect accessory for playing school, or putting on the cat. Needless to say, those flimsy frames broke often. My mother discovered that she could write to Mattel and, for a meager sum, purchase replacement glasses. I estimate she spent twice the doll’s price in new specs before I lost interest or got my own real glasses, whichever came first.


2016-december-b-011This is Woody, the cowboy from Pixar’s Toy Story. He’s been one of my son’s favorite characters for a long time, but he was never perfectly content with this toy. You see, the jaunty hat is really just a fabric brim sewn onto Woody’s cloth head. It simply cannot, will not come off, no matter how much you tug, pull and plead. Perhaps because of my Mrs. Beasley fixation, I felt I had to do something to address this problem.



2016-blog-xmas-003This is Woody 2. His jaunty plastic hat is removable. It fits perfectly on your big toe, or on the guinea pig. His hat, in fact, is the perfect size to disappear into the average American toilet and completely plug the plumbing. You might try removing said hat with a plunger, or a wiry toilet snake. Possibly with a ginormous wet/dry vacuum. You may find it necessary to tear out the entire toilet, then jostle and shake the slippery ceramic behemoth until the hat falls out. This may cost significantly more than the cumulative amount spent on the toy, Mrs. Beasley and all her replacement glasses.


2016-blog-xmas-006This is a DIY plastic ornament bubble from the craft store. It is the perfect size to hold one well-bleached, scrubbed and sanitized jaunty plastic cowboy hat. This makes a wonderful keepsake commemorative ornament for the tree, marked Christmas 2016.






This is Stinky Pete, a character from Toy Story 2. He is the toy my son wants for his birthday. Pete’s hat looks much bigger than Woody’s, probably too large to clog a toilet, sink or tub. That cannon, though, may have to be confiscated. Oh wait, Stinky Pete is for sale only on eBay, for $199.95! I guess we will never have the opportunity to find out just how large that hat or the cannon really is.

Hope all your holiday adventures were happy ones!

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