Sunday, December 10, 2017

Little Iffy Learns to Fly: An Interview with Iffy!

This September we had the pleasure of hosting Aaron Zenz at our school.  Aaron has a special place at our school and in our school district and we were so excited that he was returning.  Aaron was coming back to share some updates on a current project with which we had helped.

During the visit we were fortunate to get a sneak peek at the next book that Aaron would have coming out: Little Iffy Learns to Fly.

Students were delighted to meet Iffy!  I thought you might also like getting the opportunity to meet Iffy and his friends.  I'm so happy that Iffy agreed to a short interview!  Enjoy!


Me:  Hi Iffy... Thank you for stopping by my blog today.

Me:  I'm so glad that you took the time to visit.  Could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

Me:  Everybody has things that frighten them.  What are you afraid of?

Me:  You have some pretty exciting friends.  Can you introduce them to us?

Me:  You were created by Aaron Zenz.  He seems like a great guy.  How did he come up with his idea for you?

Me:  Thanks, Iffy, for your time.  I can't wait to share your book!

Me:  Iffy?

Me:  You can read more about Little Iffy on his blog tour here:

Mon Dec 4  :  
Mile High Reading  :

Tue Dec 5  :   
Seven Impossible Things  :

Wed Dec 6  :  
100 Scope Notes  :

Thu Dec 7  :   

Fri Dec 8  :     
Librarian's Quest  :

Sat Dec 9  :    
Amanda's Pile of Books  :

Sun Dec 10 :  
Kids Talk Kid Lit  :

Tue Dec 19:   
Nerdy Book Club  :

Mon Jan 1:    

Friday, December 8, 2017

If Picasso Painted a Snowman...Guest post by Amy and Greg Newbold

I had the privilege of receiving a copy of If Picasso Painted a Snowman a while ago.  I immediately had to share it with all the art teachers that I know....and I sent it to school with my wife to share it with her art teacher.  Of course, they all had to have a copy!  Besides being a great art resource, this is also a great story to just enjoy.  I was delighted when Amy and Greg asked if they could write for my blog.  I hope that you enjoy!


Thanks to Kids Talk Kid Lit for the opportunity to share our picture book with you! We are Amy and Greg Newbold, author and illustrator of If Picasso Painted a Snowman. We are both huge fans of picture books, and still read them even now that our kids are grown. Our new book begins “If someone asked you to paint a snowman, you would probably start with three white circles stacked one upon another. Then you would add black dots for eyes, an orange triangle for a nose, and a black dotted smile. But if Pablo Picasso painted a snowman, it would look like…THIS!”  What follows is a brightly colored, playful introduction to seventeen important painters and how they may have painted snowmen. This book is suitable for ages 4 and up. Here is a little bit about our process and the making of a picture book.

Could we pull it off? Create a book about art and artists that taught kids about styles and encouraged creativity and read like a bedtime story? It was a challenge, but one we embraced, and one we hope we’ve accomplished in If Picasso Painted a Snowman.

Picture books are so deceptively simple it seems anyone could write one, yet the journey to take an idea to a completed book is so beautifully complex that not everyone tries it. We tell people the idea for this book came in a museum in Paris, which is true, but the idea for this book also began long before that. It began after taking our three young children to countless museum exhibits and working to keep them entertained while Greg spent longer looking at the art than they wanted. It began in gift shops, where we couldn’t find the book we wanted to bring home, to keep museum memories and art alive. It began in a preschool classroom where a child rebelled against the pre-cut, strict assembly instructions of art projects. All of that combined in a moment in a Paris museum where I stood looking at the art by Pablo Picasso and wondered what his snowman would look like.

I knew right from the beginning several artists that I wanted to include in the book – Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Georges Seurat, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian. Greg introduced me to some other artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Paul Klee who were great additions to the book. We had many conversations about the artists, as Greg was the one who would have to produce all the paintings and imitate so many styles.

Since I was young, I have enjoyed the challenge of learning new styles or techniques. Like most budding artists, I started by trying to copy other artists’ work. In high school I did Prismacolor replicas of album covers and copied drawings from guys like Frank Frazetta and the Hildebrandt brothers. I sold some of them for ten or twenty bucks. Once in college I had the legitimate option of creating an old master copy painting instead of writing a paper. My professor told me my Van Gogh was the best copy she had ever seen because I tried so hard to get the materials and surface texture correct.      
Because I like to experiment with new materials and processes, I also find it very instructive to paint these master copies. Studying and trying to recreate the works of great artists allows you to deconstruct and learn from the masters and it’s something I have done on and off over the years. This book gave me the opportunity to learn about the materials and processes of seventeen different artists. Some of those chosen for the book were quite familiar, as I had studied the likes of Grant Wood and Van Gogh. Others Like Jacob Lawrence and Sonia Delaunay were previously unknown to me.

Honestly, this entire project was a dream to work on. It was just so fun to try new things. I learned how to make a direct drawing monoprint for the Paul Klee piece, played with gold leafing for the Gustav Klimt painting but the most fun was probably the Jackson Pollock painting. As a young artist I scoffed at Pollock thinking that it was just a bunch of random drips on canvas, but as I dug deeper, I began to understand what his “action paintings” were all about. 

                We hope this book finds its way into the hands of kids, families, teachers, classrooms, and anyone who likes to draw or paint. I chose a snowman because that is a simple shape most of us feel like we can draw. Also, to my knowledge, none of the artists represented in the book actually painted a snowman. Working on this project made me want to pick up a paintbrush myself. I think I will paint a snowman dot upon dot upon dot like Georges Seurat this winter, and after watching Greg have so much fun imitating Jackson Pollock, I am eager to try that in our back yard. Greg came up with the hamster as a visual guide through the book. If you look at him he has characteristics of some of the artists on different pages. This book is meant to be an introduction, and I hope it encourages kids and parents to explore art together. In high school, my art teacher had us choose an artist and copy one of their paintings. I think that type of art project can be done at any age. Have Picasso day in your classroom. See how many ways your kids can draw snowmen. Have some fun!

This is the type of book we wished we could have found for our kids at one of the many museums we dragged them to. We wanted to put across the idea that the possibilities are endless when creating art and that you should not be intimidated or limited by what some people perceive as “rules”. There is no right or wrong way to make art, simply techniques that either help you to create or prevent you from achieving the vision you have for your art.

We have tried hard to make this book more than just an overview of different art styles. With its simple text, it also reads as a nice bedtime story, hopefully appealing to fans of snowman books, gift books, or art books in general. There are enough inside jokes to appeal to adults as well. At the end of the book we have also included expanded bios and art making tips. We hope that parents, teachers and children embrace this book as permission to explore art with freedom and joy.


Greg Newbold is an award winning illustrator. His picture books include If Picasso Painted a Snowman by Amy Newbold,  Winter Lullaby and Spring Song, both by Barbara Seuling, The Touch of the Master’s Hand by Myra Brooks Welch, The Barnyard Night Before Christmas by Beth Terrill, and The Little Match Girl by David Warner. He loves painting landscapes in his free time. Follow Greg on Facebook and Instagram at gregnewboldart.

Amy Newbold lives in Utah with her artist husband, Greg. Together they enjoy hiking, camping, taking road trips, and visiting art museums. Amy learned to read at the age of four and has been seeking treasures in bookstores and libraries ever since. If Picasso Painted a Snowman is her first book. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Power of the Picture Book: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

While I was growing up, my family didn't have the money to buy many books. Every week, my parents would take us to the library. My brother, sister and I would load up with books -- I still remember the secret joy of finding a book I couldn't wait to start reading. For me, the best picture books were ones that pulled me in, made me feel deeply, made me think.

I was fascinated by the imaginative problem-solving in Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel:

I was both horrified and delighted by Sal's mischievous inclination to disobey her mother in Blueberries For Sal. I also remember imagining how scary it must be for Sal to suddenly realize she had been following the wrong mother.

Swimmy was another favorite, not just because of the art (which I studied again before illustrating Sea Monkey & Bob), but because I was drawn to the spreads that made me feel scared and vulnerable. Even now, many years later, I look at those images and feel a delicious flutter of unease of somewhere deep down.

As an adult, I still enjoy reading picture books. And I'm still drawn to the books that pull me in, make me feel deeply, make me think. As a children's book creator, I want to help make these kinds of stories.

It's one reason I felt so lucky to be invited to illustrate Michael Ian Black's story, I'm Bored (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers):

This was my first picture book, and I was overwhelmed by the response from young readers. This letter, featuring a drawing of the Potato character from I'm Bored, remains my all-time favorite:

When I was asked to illustrate the next book in the series, I'm Sad, I cried the first time I read Michael Ian Black's text. I also laughed. I think this story will affect adult readers in different ways, depending on their own life experience.

Click here to see a bigger version of the above sample image from I'm Sad.

Mr. Schu asked Michael Ian Black what inspired him to write I'm Sad, and Michael said:
 "So often, when our kids (or our friends or co-workers or whomever) are sad, our instinct is to try to make them feel better instead of just being there for them in a supportive way without necessarily trying to 'solve' their sadness. We all feel sad sometimes, and when we do, it’s good to know we have people (or potatoes) in our lives who won’t think any less of us for feeling the way we feel and who will still love us no matter what."
So many of the picture books I read as a child had a profound effect on me as I grew up, helping me become the person I am today. I'm so aware of this as I create picture books for younger generations, and I feel tremendous responsibility.

Picture books have the power to shape lives.

If you haven't already, do read over the wonderful Power Of The Picture Book posts so far in Kurt Stroh's blog. So inspiring!

Just a few:

Jess Keating's Mr. Blobby talks about some of his/her favorite picture books. Nancy Paulsen shared some of her favorite picture books, each offering an eye-opening slice of life. I loved the quotes from Kirsten Picone's fifth grade students about the power of picture books. Matthew Winner talked about picture books being mirrors and windows to readers, and the need for more diversity in children's books. Patrick Andrus talked about how sometimes a picture book comes along at the perfect moment, touching each and every reader. Mary Howard talked about defining moments in her book life. Don Tate shares how picture books helped him become a reader, and how he can now use picture books to tell stories that his younger self needed to hear.

Aliza Werner talks about picture books being a rehearsal for life, giving children a chance to experience different emotions in a safe space. Dev Petty points out how picture books are for grown-ups as well as kids. Travis Crowder shares how he asks students to create their own picture books, and what they learn in the process. Aaron Zenz celebrates picture books and creators that have influenced his life, and includes fan art (!). Travis Jonker shares 12 weird, wonderful things that picture books can do (that other books can't).

Deborah Freedman shares her thoughts on The Little Island and how it (like all her favorite picture books) all share something extra beneath the surface of their stories. Bridge Rieth talks about pumping up the volume in her classroom with a BookADay Challenge. Matt Tavares shares a moving moment from a school visit and its impact. Jason Lewis shares how his childhood hobby of collecting baseball cards helped prepare him for collecting picture books.

Michelle Knott talks about how the power of picture books is their ability to give voice, and how older students can benefit. Pernille Ripp talks about how how she uses picture books with her 7th-graders and how the picture books they read become who they are, a part of their story. Elly Swartz gives examples of pictures that help, comfort, guide, inspire and connect.

Thanks so much to Kurt Stroh for giving us all the chance to share about The Power Of The Picture Book!


Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author/illustrator of SAM & EVA and WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? (Simon & Schuster). Her illustrations also appear in books by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Lauren McLaughlin and Rob Sanders. Her next book is I'M SAD, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in June 2018. She posts about reading, writing and illustrating children's books at You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Power of the Picture Book: Dan Gemeinhart

There are plenty of ways I could approach talking about picture books.

I could talk about them as a teacher; I was an elementary teacher-librarian for thirteen years, so I was lucky enough to get paid to read picture books to kids five days a week. It was fantastic and joyful and a privilege...I'm sure I had at least as much fun as the kids did!

I could talk about them as a parent; as the father of three young daughters, I have so many treasured memories and present-tense experiences laughing and crying and gasping at picture books alongside my girls.

I could talk about them through the lens of my own childhood; I could share recollections of the beautiful and beloved books read to me by my teachers, librarians and parents...books that helped me become the person (and writer) I am today.

Any one of those angles could have been great. But they all have one thing in common: kids. Don't get me wrong. We should talk about kids when we talk about picture books, since kids generally are the target audience and chief enjoyers of picture books. However, if we only ever talk about kids when we talk about picture books, we're really missing out on wonderful and profound beauty of the picture book art form: picture books can be powerful and meaningful literature for grown-up readers, too. And I don't mean just grown-ups reading to a younger audience. I mean grown-ups reading and appreciating picture books themselves, on their own, as grown-ups.

A perfect example of how a picture book can be significant and important to an adult reader is one of my all-time favorite books of any genre or length: City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, brilliantly illustrated by Jon J Muth. If you don't know this one, you owe it to yourself to get to know it. It's about friendship, it's about loss, it's about death, it's about grief, it's about healing. It is, simply put, a masterpiece.

I read it once to a kindergarten class. They totally got it. Even though it is a quiet book, a thoughtful book, a deeply sad book in many ways – and even though they were, after all, wiggly-bodied kindergarteners – they totally got it. They sat in silence, they nodded along, they sighed, and more than a few of them were sniffling by the end. But their reaction, true as it was, isn't what I remember most. When I finished reading, I looked up and saw one of my fellow teachers. Passing through the library, she had stopped to listen to the understated but flawless prose. She was standing at the back of the room, tears on her cheeks. She had recently marked the anniversary of the death of her husband, and that quiet little picture book had moved her in a deep and utterly grown-up way. It didn't matter that it was “just” a picture book, that it was only 32 pages and a few dozen words. It was true, and it was important. It was beautiful.

Another staff member was once having a very hard time with the passing of her dog (who she loved more than most parents love their children). I found her at her desk, with red-rimmed eyes and a pile of Kleenex and a broken voice. Later that day, I sent her home with Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant. I knew that book – all about what dogs might do and love and feel in heaven – might just be exactly what she needed. And it was, she told me later. She didn't have to read it to a child; she read it to herself, and while it may not have taken away any of her grief, it could at least add some comfort and some peace to that grief. And it did so in a way that a three hundred page novel or two hour movie simply couldn't.

A picture book that has personally impacted me as an adult reader is the gem Each Kindness, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Its lesson about loneliness and cruelty and kindness and regret resonated deeply with me when I first read it. I didn't have to read it through the viewpoint of a schoolyard bully or troubled child; it has wisdom for me as a grown-up, as a parent, as a teacher, as a friend. Just like our children, we grown-ups are surrounded by fellow human beings; human beings who feel pain and anger and sadness and remorse and isolation. And, just like our children, we grown-ups sometimes need to be reminded to keep an eye out for those fellow human beings, to care for them and console them and comfort them. Sometimes we grown-ups need to be inspired to be the kind of person we want to be, and to be the kind of person we want our children to be when they are grown-ups. And there's nothing better than a picture book to do that reminding and inspiring.

I hope my children grow up to be grown-ups who are thoughtful. Who are kind. Who care about others. Who are decent and empathetic and big-hearted.

I hope my children grow up to be grown-ups who read picture books. 


Dan Gemeinhart is a former teacher-librarian in Washington state. He is the father of three girls and the author of four books: The Honest Truth, Some Kind of Courage, Scar Island, and Good Dog (coming out March 2018). 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Power of the Picture Book: Dr. Paul Bloomberg

The first time I heard Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco read aloud – it changed my life – literally. I was absolutely mesmerized. Patricia Polacco has this uncanny ability that gets straight to the heart.

The author shares the story that she claims has been passed down through the generations from her great-great grandfather Sheldon (Say) Curtis about his friendship with Pinkus (Pink) Aylee during the Civil War. Say is a teenaged white soldier from Ohio who is injured in battle in Georgia and discovered by Pink, an African American soldier.  Pink brings him back to his home to be tended to by his mother. While he mends, Say bonds with Pink and his family but the two young soldiers are eventually caught by Confederates and sent to the prison camp Andersonville. Pink's fate breaks your heart, but Say keeps his memory alive as he survives the war, and the book puts a human face on the devastation of this terrible time in our nation's history.

 Image result for pink and say book cover

I was finishing my graduate work in music performance at the University of Colorado and I decided to take a children’s literature course taught by Professor Shelby Wolf.  When Shelby read aloud she would become the characters; she could take us on their adventures while simultaneously sparking class dialogue about so many issues and topics. Shelby’s passion was social justice and we were always digging into books that illustrated these issues.  After leaving my first class with Shelby, I questioned my whole life’s journey as a musician. It was in that moment that I realized I wanted to explore elementary education; I wanted to make a difference. I extended my graduate studies one more year to get my elementary teaching credential. This began my journey as an educator and I have never looked back, it was the best decision I have ever made.

I will never forget the day that we read Pink and Say in class. Shelby began reading the story and then passed the book to each one of us to read a page or two.  When it was my turn to read, I got the book and my voice was quivering because I was full of emotion. As the book drew to a close Shelby read the last page.

This book serves as a written memory to Pinkus Aylee since there are no
living descendants to do this for him. When you read this, before you put this
book down, say his name out loud and vow to remember him always.

Our class was silent for a moment and then Shelby had us say his name out loud three times. Our class was transformed.

I was transformed.

I had never realized the power of a picture book and how much a book could transform a moment and create collective energy by engaging in powerful group think.  Picture books can introduce complex ideas and concepts in a safe and nurturing environment. They are more than stories, they are works of art.  No matter what the topic, concept, issue or emotion, there is most likely a picture book that addresses it. 

The authors of picture books become the best writing teachers. We look to Sandra Cisneros and her book Hairs/Pelitos learn how to write descriptively.

Image result for hairs pelitos

Picture books support us in teaching about universal theme. One of my favorites is The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor. A great reminder of how rich we all are, if we look beyond material possessions.

Image result for the table where rich people sit

When teaching about point of view and perspective you can’t go wrong with Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne.  Possibly the best book for teaching point of view – four “voices” tell their version of a walk in the park.

Image result for voices in the park

It is impossible to find a favorite picture book because there are so many that have inspired me to become a better teacher, a more empathetic person and to be a better human being. I can’t imagine teaching without them. I owe this love of picture books to Shelby Wolf – the person who inspired me to be a teacher.


Dr. Paul Bloomberg is a Corwin Press bestselling co-author of Impact Teams-Building a Culture of Efficacy and a co-author of The Empowered Learner, Student-Centered Assessment Toolkit by Schoolwide Publishing.  He is also the CEO and founder of the Core Collaborative, a professional learning network devoted to putting students at the center.