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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A Thanksgiving Reprise for Hand Turkeys

As many of us begin preparations for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’m offering a look back at one of my favorite poetry picture books, Deborah Ruddell’s brilliant A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk.  Visit my original #PPBF post with resources by clicking this link.


I find it most insulting
that you traced around your hand
and colored all my feathers
either plain old brown or tan.

Where’s the copper? Where’s the gold
that a turkey should expect?
Where on earth is raw sienna,
and where is the respect?


Finally, I’m baffledpineskunk
that you’ve made me look so dumb.
My head is quite distinguished
and it’s nothing like your thumb.

Used by permission of the author, Deborah Ruddell, 2009.

Wishing those who celebrate a pumpkin pie-perfect kind of day gathered with family and friends to express gratitude for health, happiness, and one another.

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Crafty is one word with many meanings, yet I can always apply it somehow to the wonderful books written by Maria Gianferrari. Penny, the young heroine starring in Maria’s Penny & Jelly series, is very crafty in the artistic sense. She manipulates yarn, clay, paper, paint, tape, even shaving cream to find her talent or create an imitation Jelly dog. The determined mother in Coyote Moon is a crafty hunter, scouring her suburban neighborhood for a meal to give her hungry pups.

In Maria’s newest book, Officer Katz and Houndini, we meet not one but two crafty characters. Houndini is an illusionary performer extraordinaire, escaping from handcuffs, stockades, ropes and boxes with ease. The crowd ooh’s and aah’s as he tips his stovepipe hat and bows modestly. But he’s a prankster as well, annually defacing the official portrait of the town’s feline founder with a large swooping Houndini-like mustache. The cocky dog’s disrespect bugs crafty Officer Katz to no end, inspiring him to invent elaborate contraptions to catch Houndini once and for all.

Q: Officer Katz is a careful, methodical inventor. He’s drawn fancy blueprints before building each of his clever contraptions. When it comes to writing picture books, are you are plotter that carefully outlines how your story will begin and end, or a pantser that goes with the flow of the story?

I’m not really either—I’m somewhat in the middle. Because of the research involved, I tend to do more plotting and outlining with my nonfiction picture books, mostly because there are cool animal facts that I try to weave into the narrative.

For fiction, I don’t usually outline to get started with a draft, though I may have a vague ending in mind—some kind of general arc. Other times I have a clearer idea of the ending, and work out the best way to get there though the drafting process. I often have to let things marinate quite a bit, thinking both consciously (and subconsciously) before I dive in. So it’s a bit of both I guess.

Q: Houndini has practiced and polished his elusionary arts to perfection, dazzling the audience with his incredible feats. What writerly arts do you practice regularly that hone your skills to produce picture book perfection?

The magical arts of reading and revising. I read and re-read tons of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, all kinds of genres, studying them for voice, use of white space, emotional arcs, especially the ones that make me cry.

And of course revision—re-envisioning the story so that all of these elements come together. Luckily I have wonderful critique partners to help me with this.

Q: Maria, there’s no question that you have “crafty” talent with words and picture books. Are you also “crafty” with artful activities that inspire your work? (aka sewing, sculpting, welding, leather tooling :D) 

Not really, though I am a crazy plant lady and have a “green thumb.” I don’t have a much of a garden, but I have a lot of potted flowers on our deck. Here are two of my favorites.

catplanter feeder-flowers








And here’s a photo of an avocado plant that I grew from seed. It’s about a year old.


From the publisher’s website:  Officer Katz is looking forward to a nice retirement until his arch-nemesis, Houndini, reappears one final time to challenge Katz to a showdown. If Katz manages to catch Houndini after three tries, Houndini will stay out of Kitty City forever. But if Houndini manages to escape, the town will be renamed…Houndiniville. And Katz isn’t about to let his town go to the dogs.

For our final act, we’re pleased to offer one dazzling, crafty copy of Officer Katz and Houndini.  No need to be blindfolded or come up on stage. Just leave a comment – maybe tell us what magic act you’d like to perform? – to be entered in the drawing. (Sorry – U.S. residents only) In  2 weeks you’ll learn whether this was your lucky day!

Maria Gianferrari Courtesy Monogram Arts

Maria Gianferrari
Courtesy Monogram Arts

Hot diggety dog! Maria Gianferrari’s a lucky dog—she gets to write stories about cats and dogs, and when she’s dog-tired, she can catnap in her office. Maria lives in northern Virginia with her cat’s meow of a family: her scientist husband, artist daughter, and top dog, Becca. She is the author of the Penny & Jelly books as well as Coyote Moon and the forthcoming Hello Goodbye Dog. To learn more about Maria, please visit her website at mariagianferrari.com, Facebook or Instagram.


Monday, Oct. 17th: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) 3 GIVEAWAYS: a query pass from Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary; picture book critique from me, and a copy of Officer Katz & Houndini!!

Tuesday, Oct. 18th:                 Librarian’s Quest

Wednesday, Oct. 19th:           Bildebok

Thursday, Oct. 20th:               Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

Friday, Oct. 21st:                     Pragmaticmom +  book giveaway

Monday, Oct. 24th:                 Homemade City

Tuesday, Oct. 25th:                 ReFoReMo THINK QUICK  with Carrie Charley Brown

Update:  Congratulations ROSI HOLLINBECK!
You are the lucky winner of the Officer Katz and Houndini giveaway.
We will contact you for information on where to send your book!

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