Monthly Archives: May 2023

It’s the Not-So-Little Things: Six Picture Books with Big Feelings

I have big feelings about joining this wonderful group of children’s authors, illustrators, and multimedia artists responsible for Books Around the Table. My heart is full. Though I am none of the above, as a retired children’s librarian, I admire all of the work that goes into creating books for children that delight, inspire, spark curiosity, and awaken a sense of wonder about oneself and the world. Good picture books do that. I’m tickled to have a reason to open my eyes and ears again for the look and sound of what’s new. I look forward to reconnecting with old favorites that still pass muster and can be found on library shelves today. I imagine creating posts much like I put together story times back in the day…with a feeling, an event, an observation, and then a search for what’s out there to enlarge upon it…to cast a wide net and see what comes up! I promise there will be feelings…lots of feelings.

Kunoichi Bunny

Cassidy, Sara.   Illus. by Brayden Sato.  2022

Knuffle Bunny meet Kunoichi Bunny! This wordless delight features Saya and her stuffed ninja-bunny, Kunoichi, on a day of adventure with Dad. He sees only the aftermath of the duo’s good deeds when Kunoichi lies on the floor of the bus having cushioned a rolling stroller, is soggy from saving a duckling, and is mysteriously stuck in a blackberry bush far from his daughter but close to a ball field. It makes perfect sense that a story about a toddler and her ninja-bunny relies heavily on pictures, not words, so look carefully at Brayden Sato’s manga-style digital illustrations to get the full effect.

Milo Imagines the World

De la Pena, Matt.  Illus. by Christian Robinson.  2021

I love this collaboration between Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson so much! It hits all the right notes for me with its text and illustrations in perfect tune. Milo, our young storyteller, rides the subway with his sister to an unknown destination. As the train fills with passengers, he fills his notebook with observations and fantasies about each one. The whiskered man with the crossword puzzle must live in a cluttered apartment full of cats and rats. The woman in the wedding dress is surely on her way to a grand cathedral to marry the man of her dreams. And the boy in a suit and tie with spotless white sneakers is, no doubt, a prince. Milo wonders what people imagine about him from his face.

Their journey ends with Milo and his sister visiting their mother in a detention facility. In a masterful coincidence, the boy in the suit is there to visit with his mother, too. Our precocious narrator realizes that maybe one can’t really know people by just seeing their faces. He revises his assumptions of all the people he’s seen in fresh and inclusive ways.

What’s My Superpower?

Johnston, Aviaq.  Illus. by Tim Mack.  2017

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, a day to honor and celebrate the unique heritage, cultures, and contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. I saw this gem of a picture book by Inuk author, Johnston, in the Canmore Library along with others by Indigenous authors and illustrators. To my delight it’s available in Seattle, too.

Nalvana lives with her mother in a small house in a small town in the northernmost Canadian territory of Nunavut. She appears in true superhero fashion, peddling her bike uphill, yellow cape flying and snowmobile goggles resting on her forehead. But she laments not having a superpower to go along with her super costume. Her friends all have them. One runs fast. Another holds his breath underwater for a long time.  A third sculpts perfect Arctic animals in the snow. Nalvana celebrates their special talents but wonders if she’ll ever find her very own. It’s her mother who lovingly suggests that making people feel good about themselves, like she does her friends, is a superpower, too…a very special one. A short glossary of Inuktitut words used in the story is included.

In a Jar

Marcero, Deborah.  2020

Llewellyn is a collector of things soft as a feather and small as a stone. He puts his treasures in glass jars so he can always remember the special places he’s been and the wonderous things he’s seen. One evening he meets Evelyn, and together they begin collecting—sounds, smells, seasons—things they didn’t imagine could fit in jars, but somehow, they do. When Evelyn moves away at summer’s end, Llewellyn’s sadness fills an empty jar. Not for long, though, as he spies shooting stars from his bedroom window and rushes outside to collect and then send them onto Evelyn at her new home in the city. She sends Llewelyn a jar of bright city lights and sounds in return. (Out of a Jar, published in 2022is a tender sequel about Llewelyn and his emotions.)

Still This Love Goes On

Sainte-Marie, Buffy.  Illus. by Julie Flett.  2022

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Cree folksinger-songwriter, pacifist, Indigenous Canadian and American human rights activist; and Julie Flett, Cree-Metis author-illustrator of children’s books that celebrate the life and cultures of Indigenous Canadians are mighty, hyphenated collaborators. Flett’s pastel and pencil illustrations capture the promise of boundless love across seasons and Indigenous communities. Sainte-Marie dedicates her song to all of us who are adopted, and those who have left space in their hearts to adopt us back into Indigenous communities. Share the book. Sing the song. Pass on the love with those near and dear to you.

A Way with Wild Things

Theule, Larissa.   Illus. by Sara Palacios.  2020

Poppy Ann Fields is a little girl with great big glasses and a special fondness for bugs. She knows their names, their ways, and most of all appreciates their quiet friendship. She’s less comfortable with people and tends to disappear into the background when they’re nearby. But when a dragonfly lands on 100-year-old Grandma Phyllis’s birthday cake at her backyard garden party, Poppy Ann comes out of the shadows and into the light to express her delight. She’s not a wallflower, as Uncle Dan suggests, but a wildflower, says Grandma, when the insect finds safety in Poppy Ann’s hands. She has a way with wild things. Palacios’s lively illustrations portray an extended Mexican American family celebrating their matriarch with gusto.

by Ann Dalton


Earlier this week I caught a feature on NPR about how five rules from improv can make you funnier AND more confident. As I listened, I realized at least two of the five ideas could be especially helpful to writers when drafting new work. They create an atmosphere of discovery.


As you probably know, the foremost, much-heralded, rule of improv is: “Yes, and…”

Were we in an improv group, whatever a troupe member suggested would be folded immediately into our ever-developing bit. We’d listen carefully to each other’s input and go with the flow, working as a group to grow and develop the sketch on the spot in real time.

Which is something like what I experienced with my grandson when he was three. We were sailing down a “river” (his bedroom floor) on a “boat” (blow up raft) at “night.”

Me: Look at the stars!

E: Look at the moon!

Me: I love the crescent moon.

(We pause and look at the ceiling.)

E: It’s a full moon.

I realize that last line is not a “Yes, and..”  But he was listening and responding to my input and it cracked me up.

The NPR story suggests that saying “Yes, and…” to life means making the effort to listen and understand what people are saying so you can build on it, thus building empathy and connection.

In writing, especially in drafting, “Yes, and…” means going down the bunny holes as your brain suggests them;  really paying attention and embracing whatever your imagination brings to the table. Where would your story go if you let it get wild? Revision is the time for shaping and cutting. Let drafting be a time of expansion, discovery. “Yes, and…”


The other improv rule from the NPR story that particularly applies to crafting a story is: Make room for play.  In improv this means generating lots of pretend characters and scenarios and letting loose.

How can this impact your real life? The story cites research that shows play reduces stress and contributes to overall well-being. “Tap into your inner child!” it suggests. “When we play, we create our own world and the space to imagine how the world might look…and the hope is that this feeling of agency, power and autonomy can translate to other parts of our lives.”

This could be a description of the process and benefits of creating a story. We get to conjure up the whole shebang, to play around with the world and the characters we are creating right down to the detail of the moon.

As I think about it more, maybe it was a full moon.

• • • • • • • •

Thanks to my sister Kate Harvey McGee for the beautiful colors she painted the moons featured above — from our books Island Lullaby (crescent moon) and Little Wolf’s First Howling (full moon).

The NPR story about improv and life can be heard here.

– Laura McGee Kvasnosky