Tag Archives: writing

Picture Book Biographies of Literary Giants

One of my favorite books when I was younger was Little Women. I still have my beloved copy for my daughters to be able to read. J has read an abridged version, but hasn’t yet delved into the meaty version of the classic yet. So finding a beautiful biography of Louisa May Alcott was like reading about an old friend.

louisaYona Zeldis McDonough’s wonderful book, Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott, is a joy. Louisa’s early life is reminiscent of Little Women, which is not surprising since she based that book on her own experiences. Louisa became who she was due to her parents’ unusual, at the time, beliefs, which are explained fabulously. She had a challenging upbringing and knew that she would find a way to contribute.

I loved reading about how her writing came about and her sheer determination. Her family and experiences shaped who she was and the work that she created. The back of the book also has some great quotes from Louisa May Alcott and samples of her poetry. Continue reading →

Dear Dragon

dragon coverWe have recently started encouraging our daughters to get into the “old fashioned” concept of writing letters to pen-pals. J has started writing to a cousin and some of E’s closest friends will be moving away this summer. With that in mind, finding Josh Funk’s new book, dear Dragon, has been an absolute delight.

The story is that two young boys, George Slair and Blaise Dragomir, go to two different schools and have been assigned to be each other’s pen pals. Their entire classes have teamed up as a class project and their letters have to be written in rhyme as it is also for their poetry project. What they don’t know is that one school is for dragons and one school is for humans. Much hilarity ensues. Continue reading →

10 Picture Books about the Writing Process

One of the most wonderful things you can do for a child is to teach them a love of books and writing. For some, one comes easier than the other. Sometimes it is a matter of age – you can tell a story before you can actually read or write the words. Sometimes it is mind over matter or simply trusting your voice. I definitely see both sides of the spectrum with my two girls. J is 10 and while she loves to read, she isn’t as comfortable creating stories. E is 6, and she could tell stories and create worlds of her own all day if you let her. So when I come across books that encourage the writing process and story writing confidence I definitely feel the need to share them.

10 Books Aboutthe Writing Process

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A Culinary Adventure with All Four Stars

It is wonderful when a book can encourage a child to see outside of their personal bubble. In the charming series, All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman, J’s eyes were opened to a variety of foods and ingredients that she had never come across. At 9, she has started to be more willing to expand her culinary horizons and books like All Four Stars are a great way to entice her palate.


I first read All Four Stars and thought that it was super fun. I had been enticed as a foodie and also because it was about a child who loved both food and writing. I inhaled the book and then encourage J to read it. It sat on her massive “to read” shelf for a little while, but once she finally cracked open the pages, she was caught under its spell as well. She enjoyed the first book so much that we immediately purchased book 2, The Stars of Summer, and now we are eagerly anticipating book 3 to arrive on our doorstep.

all-four-coverIn All Four Stars, eleven year old Gladys Gatsby loves all things food, but comically her parents are the ones who prefer take-out and are less likely to try new things. Because of this, all of her food explorations are done in secret. When she accidentally sets the kitchen curtains on fire making creme brulee, her cooking days are over, at least for the next six months. At school, her new teacher assigns the 6th graders a writing assignment for a contest held by the New York Standard newspaper in which they are supposed to write about their future. Gladys’s first go lacks passion and her teacher tells her so. Her newest friend, Sandy, would agree that her writing about wanting to be a vet seems far fetched when he thinks she has a future in food writing (having been the only person let in on her secret of the fact that she reviews all of the food she eats and has been for the past 4 years). But when her essay for the contest gets mistaken for an actual cover letter for a food writer, she and her new friends test how far she will go to get a real review.

As for exploring new foods, while Gladys’s parents are not adventurous, Gladys learns about food from her aunt who takes her on culinary tours of NYC. Gladys is also fortunate in that one of her few friends is Indian with parents who cook classic foods from their homeland. Gladys has also befriended the owner of a the local gourmet food shop and her friend Sandy’s mom likes to experiment with desserts. J is now all for making a traditional Indian dessert called Gajar ka halwa thanks to this book (recipe included in the book). It was also comical to read it with J because she would ask me what an ingredient was, I would explain it, and then the book would use similar terms to explain it in the very next sentence.

stars-of-summerThe second book, The Stars of Summer, has Gladys having successfully completed her first restaurant review for the newspaper. The paper still doesn’t know that she is only eleven and her parents have no idea that she is writing reviews. While Gladys was looking forward to a quiet summer, her friend Charissa has other plans and gives Gladys a free summer as the kitchen assistant at her family’s camp. Throughout the high-jinx that the camp backdrop provides, there is still food to be reviewed. This book starts at a tapas restaurant and then moves into a madcap attempt to find the best hot dog in NYC. A nice part of this book is that Gladys starts to share her love of food a little more with her parents, turning the tables and having them try some new foods.

This book took Gladys a bit further out of her comfort zone. Book one had her making new friends for the first time and letting people in on her secret love of cooking. Book two has her making a few more friends, try things that have always scared her (swimming anyone?), and improving her relationship with her parents. As for the culinary adventure, Gladys finds some of the most unique hot dogs possible – Chilean Hot Dogs with avocados, tomatoes and mayonnaise and South African Hot Dog Sandwich with french fries, lettuce and Indian curried pickle to name two.

stars-so-sweet-cover-1The final book in the series, Stars So Sweet, should be arriving at our house any day. That said, here is the summary available online:

As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

From other reviews that I have read, this final installment is less about food and more about finding yourself, but we are still looking forward to enjoying it. A very fun series!

Picture books for Young Writers

These days, schools focus so much on reading that it seems like they are not paying as much attention to the importance of creative writing. That kind of makes me sad. I remember being allowed to just draw pictures and then write the stories or dictate them to a teacher when I was younger. It is a vital part of the education process that I wish we could nurture more. So when I found one book that was about the writing process, it got my mind churning about the others out there.


Our library is somewhat limited in availability, so while I was in California I used the public library there to get a number of these books. What was even more fabulous than reading the books with J was that afterwards, she wanted to write a story of her own!

plot chickensThe Plot Chickens, by Mary Jane Auch. This was a very cute book about a hen who loves reading and decides to try her hand at writing a book. She checks some books out of the library about writing and the follows the rules that they set forth. Henrietta the hen is assisted by her many aunts who at time need to have terms explained, like that a plot isn’t a piece of land, but what happens in a story. After finishing her story, she sends it to a publisher, gets rejected, publishes it herself, get a bad review and then discovers that all of the children at the library love it. The book is a wonderful telling of the writing and publishing process. As someone who worked in publishing, I loved seeing the chickens using CMYK plates (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). It was also useful to explain to J how different people enjoy different stories and how we can’t always trust the reviews that are out there – we need to make decisions for ourselves.

little red writingLittle Red Writing, by Joan Holub. In another take on the classic Little Red Riding Hood story, this version follows a brave little red pencil as she goes on a journey to write a story. Her teacher has given her a story path to follow and she dutifully goes along. As she goes on her quest, she comes across aspects of the writing process. She tries out verbs to make her story exciting and then wanders into the adjective forest. In the forest she learns that while adjectives add wonderful description, too many can bog down a story. Stories also need movement and for “something exciting” (aka a growling sound) happens to little red in the middle, right where it apparently should. Who should it be but the ravenous Wolf 3000 pencil sharpener who has attacked Principal Granny and is now pretending to be her. Luckily, her trusty word basket contained dynomite, so she “took aim and threw.” It is a fun way to see how a story can develop while also showing that classic tales can inspire us.

fanny and annabelleFanny & Annabella, by Hollie Hobbie .We loved reading Fanny, a book about a little girl who makes her own doll when her mother refuses to buy the expensive doll that all of the other little girls have. In this edition, Fanny has decided to write her own picture book one rainy day. One thing that is awesome about this book is that on the page that are supposed to be Fanny’s story, the words are in a font that looks like a child’s hand-writing and the pictures are more childishly drawn. Fanny realizes that starting a story is easy and fun, but after a few pages her story gets stuck. She asks people what they would do in a situation similar to what Annabella, her main character, is in. This is a fun way to see how a story develops as well as the wonders of having a finished product.

library mouseLibrary Mouse, by Daniel Kirk. This might very well be one of our favorite books. Sam is a library mouse who lives in the children’s section of a local library. When the library is open, Sam sleeps, but when the library is closed he comes out of his hole and reads all of the books. One night Sam decides to write a book of his own and leave it in the library. So starts Sam’s foray into the world of being an author. When the librarians want to meet the elusive Sam he comes up with an idea to show all of the library patrons that anyone can write a book. It is a wonderful book about the power of reading and the power of storytelling. J says that she would like to be a library mouse because it would be amazing to live in the library!

the best storyby Eileen Spinelli. This is a sweet story about finding your own voice and listening to your heart when writing.  The local library is having a contest for the best story and the quirky narrator just has to win that rollercoaster ride with her favorite author! But what makes a story the best? Her brother Tim says the best stories have lots of action. Her father thinks the best stories are the funniest. And Aunt Jane tells her the best stories have to make people cry. Every time she tries one of their suggestions, she feels like something just isn’t right. She ends up with a jumbled story that simply doesn’t feel right. Then her mother tells her that the best story is one that comes from the heart. She sits down and re-writes her story, no longer worrying about whether it will win the contest, but writing a story that she is proud of.  This is a great introduction to the creative writing process.

henryHenry’s Amazing Imagination by Nancy Carlson is about a young mouse with a giant imagination. When it came time for show and tell, he would tell outstanding stories rather than bringing in items. One day his teacher encouraged him to use his vivid imagination to write down stories rather that fibbing during show and tell. Henry’s biggest concern was “what if I can’t spell all of the words?” An understandable concern of many young authors. This story was less about the writing process than the other books, but still a nice book for the younger set about using your imagination to create stories. You can read the book at We Give Books.

As I said, while we were in CA J got to work on her own story. I love my little writer!





for my little author – the steps to writing a great story

One of J’s latest ideas for a career is to be an author. She definitely loves books enough. I’ve enjoyed watching some of her creations come to life and see her develop her stories and her illustrations. Last year for her birthday, she received a set from Illustory. I held off letting her use it because, at the time, she really wasn’t creating any stories, was unwilling to draw pictures, and it seemed like a waste of a great gift. Now that she has matured a bit and enjoys the full process, we broke out the set. She was going to sit right down and write, but I encouraged her to use their brainstorming sheet to plot her story ahead of time, and she was all over it! So when I was at the library shortly after and found the book “The Little ‘Read’ Hen,” it was as if all of the stars were aligning.

Little-Read-HenThe little red hen is a classic tale about the virtues of a strong work ethic, the value of working together and how to make bread. The story has been re-imagined many times over. There are versions that stay true to the original and those where the hen makes something other than bread (ie pizza, soup etc.). We even have The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah! Then there are a ton of books where they take the work ethic  and collaboration themes and use them for something else completely.  I had recently heard of “The Little Red Pen” from one of the other book bloggers I follow, but when I glanced at it in the library, it seemed more aimed at adults than kids – it is about a red pen with a huge pile of homework to grade asking for the other school supplies to help her. Then I happened across “The Little Read Hen.” The Little Read Hen is a cute story that aims to show kids the flow of writing a story or a research paper but is still tongue in cheek enough for parents to get a good laugh.

The story is about a little hen who loves to read and loves to write. She gets a great idea to write a story and when she sees her friends, she wants to do it together so she asks the dog, cat and pig to help her with the first step, brainstorming.


In typical little red hen fashion, they refuse. So she goes and does it herself. She proceeds to go through all of the necessary steps to write a great story with no help from her friends. As with the great “Starbawks” pun and her ordering a mocha-cocoa flappaccino, there are other cute notes like “egg pad,” “cooped up” etc.

researchBy the end of the story, she has shown kids all of the steps to writing a good book – brainstorming, researching, outlining, drafting, editing, proofing and reading.


As with other little red hen stories, the other animals want in on the finished product even though they didn’t help make it at all. Initially the hen doesn’t want to share her book with them, but then she realizes that everything is better if you can share it with friends.

This is a great take on an old tale. We are at the perfect stage to be learning about the process of writing a story or researching a topic. J of course decided to argue with me on how to pronounce “read,” but other than that, this is one that we have been reading over and over.