Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: Reptilian Tales

Text © 2004, David LaRochelle
Illustrations © 2004, Hanako Wakiyama



Age Range:
3-6 years

Grade Level:
2nd Grade

a division of Penguin Young Reader’s Group

Starred Review, American
Library Association

Publisher’s Weekly,
Starred Review

“Finally my mother got angry. She stomped her foot. She told the dragon to leave this minute OR ELSE. The dragon just shook his head. He went back to eating spaghetti in the bathtub.”

How to convince a reluctant mother to adopt a dog? First get an ill-behaved dragon, of course! In The Best Pet of All, Minnesota author David LaRochelle spins a new twist on a child asking for a pet. Cool retro illustrations by Hanako Wakiyama perfectly match this classic theme.

So what author’s technique makes this book shine? In my opinion, it’s LaRochelle masterful use of patterns to pace the story events. Everything begins with a child asking for a dog on Monday, and his daily requests continue. By Thursday, however, LaRochelle throws in a twist: a dragon. To avoid predictability, he then drops the days of the week pattern and switches to using repetition instead: Four attempts to find a dragon, three attempts to lure the dragon home, five dragon misbehaviors, and three attempts to dislodge the dragon from the home.

Young readers won’t close the book with a satisfied sigh and say, “Boy, that guy really knows how to move a story along with clever use of patterning.” But they’ll likely say, “Read it again!” After all, just like in show biz, it’s the skillful work behind the curtains that gets us clapping for an encore.

~ Lou

Dragons are not easy to find. At last I found a dragon. This dragon was at the drugstore. He was wearing dark glasses and a hat. ~ The Best Pet of All

David LaRochelle applies the lesser-of-two evils-principle to a picture book, making this the ultimate how-to guide for kids perfecting the art of persuasion regarding pet (specifically dog) ownership.

It seems unusual for someone with David LaRochelle’s artistic talent to step aside and let someone else illustrate his baby, but David LaRochelle has more humility than most and this gives way to literary success. It’s his humility and humor that has reaped him the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Award, Minnesota Book Award, and his amazing books–over 25 of them, so far.

I wonder if he wants it back?Hanako Wakiyama’s flawless 50′s -60′s flavor makes me feel warm and fuzzy–and little again. Everyone wants that hip mom. And Wakiyama’s retro style reminds me of my vintage Whitman Tiny-Tot Tale Fun At The Beach by Gloria Trachtenberg, illustrated by Dagmar Wilson (that I borrowed  from my cousin in the 1960′s and never returned).

Tiny-Tot Tales' FUN AT THE BEACH

Tiny-Tot Tales’ FUN AT THE BEACH

BruceHaleWakiyama’s dragon reminds me of children’s author Bruce Hale, but it could just be the hat.

The Best Pet Of All is worthy to be read everywhere, even on the White House lawn.

Oh, wait! See below!

~ Anna


KEM Diamond

Watch for another pick from Lou next week!

We want to hear from you!
What’s you favorite reptilian tale?

August’s KidLit Gem Theme - Survivor Stories


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

About favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

July’s theme: Reptilian Tales

Text © 2014, Tim Warnes









Mole loved labelling things. All sorts of things. Anything really. Naming things was what Mole liked best. ~ DANGEROUS!

Most of us like to label, but few of us like to be labeled. Mole writes nouns on stickers to identify the things he knows: like frog, poop, and feathers. But when he ventures through the woods and comes across a scaly, scratchy mystery he has to resort to adjectives. And when the enormous, lumpy-bumpy, spiky thing almost rolls over on him and gobbles up all the identifiers, Mole makes an assumption. This thing is DANGEROUS!

The thing doesn’t understand and ultimately proves there’s more on the inside of him than what Mole has discovered on the outside, so Mole must make more stickers. And the new adjectives are positive, leading to one conclusion–which you’ll have to read for yourself.

Tim Warnes, the author of nine books, has illustrations featured in over 65 books in 18 different languages and he created the Chalk and Cheese comic strip. Most of his work includes funny anthropomorphic animal protagonists, making Dangerous! identifiable and easy to label as one of many Warnes’ treasures.

If I were to write stickers for this UK import, they would say: delightful, funny, charming, creative, imaginative, pleasant, endearing, heartwarming, empathetic, sweet, friendly, clever, thought-provoking, quirky, superb, suspenseful, page-turner, genius, treasured, wish-I’d-have-thought-of-it, a favorite.

~ AnnaDangerousPageII650



GEM Ruby

Watch for Lou’s pick next!

We want to hear from you!
What reptilian tale would you recommend?


Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

July’s theme: Reptilian Tales

Text & Illustrations © 2015, Elise Parsley
See our favoritism disclaimer toward the bottom.





Books for
(July 7,


If you bring an alligator anyway, she’ll tell you that alligators are trouble! ~ IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING AN ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON’T!

If you ever want to cry, DON’T read this book! It’s hilarious.

Parsley’s acutely aware of the funny bone and has created a main character, Magnolia, that can manage all of her illustrative wit. The delightfully adventurous Magnolia all but grabs your hand as she ventures into unknown waters by bringing an alligator to school for show and tell. You will wish you were in Magnolia’s classroom, so you too, could join in on the fun. Parsley’s attention to detail shines in every pixel of her artwork as she pokes fun at the school day rituals. You will find yourself poring over every illustrated page of this frank narrative time and again, unless of course, you get gobbled up!

Yeah, if you ever want to cry yourself to sleep, DON’T turn the pages of this book.

~ Kristi

By now, of course, you’ll wish you’d brought a hollow stick or a bird’s nest or some sparkly rocks for show-and-tell instead of an alligator. By now, you’d rather have some dirt than an alligator. IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING AN ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON’T!

Magnolia and her alligator never get old. That’s because their creator, Elise Parsley, made them so darn funny. As you turn the pages, follow the paper airplane; admire the colors, textures, and shadowing; read the names on the lockers and the facts on the blackboard; notice the classroom diversity, giggle at the alligator’s shenanigans; and count Magnolia’s teeth. You might accidentally learn something. I sure did.

Like the paint on page thirteen, Parsley mixes humor, mischief, and a dangerous supporting character with the universal school theme and stirs it to a satisfying circular end. Haven’t we all experienced the anxiety of show-and-tell?  Haven’t we all feared that teacher?

Everything you see is a part of Parsley’s charming life and imagination. She even designed the complementary font. That’s why we think she’s the bomb. And that’s why we know you’ll love this book.

Anyone who disagrees deserves three checks by their name and an underline.

Really, this was everyone’s Gem, but Kristi’s a better arm wrestler.

~ Anna


Not from us. We’re too invested. You see, we’re Elise’s critique partners–and we love her character creations like they were family. That makes us their crazy aunts, of sorts.


Who doesn’t secretly love the mischief-maker?

Take her soon-to-be firstborn, Magnolia, for instance. We’ve been with Elise since Magnolia’s conception. Okay, maybe that sounds a little weird, but If You Ever Want To Bring An Alligator started with a funny picture–one not quite as polished as the postcard version above, but almost. It made us snort and say, “This is a great seed for a picture book.” That was the non-steamy conception.

Following this stage we fed Elise popcorn to appease her quirky “with child/character” cravings.

OrigamiAlligator650We monitored Magnolia’s embryonic stages of revisions, queries, and conferences. Then, we heard Magnolia’s heartbeat when an editor at the Fall 2013 Iowa SCBWI Conference told Elise that she had a breakout character.

We held Elise’s hand during her labor pains, when she queried Steven Malk of Writers House. And we held a baby shower when Mr. Malk offered representation and got her the amazing three-book deal with Little, Brown & Company.

And now we pace the floor, anticipating Magnolia’s birth. (You’ve probably surmised: It’s a girl! Oh–and an alligator.) Elise’s IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING AND ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON’T debuts July 7. We can’t wait until Elise introduces you to our feisty new niece.

Magnolia at the 2015 Book Expo of America (BEA)

Magnolia’s professional début at the 2015 Book Expo of America (BEA)

KEM Sapphire

Watch for Anna’s gem next week!

We want to hear from you!
What is your favorite children’s book featuring a cold-blooded vertebrate?


June is the month to honor dads.
What children’s book is your ode to fatherhood?

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: KidLit Gems for Dad

NameplateKristisGemIONLY MY DAD AND ME
Text © 2003, Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Illustrations © 2003, Tiphanie Beeke

ONLYMEANDMYDADPicture Book Fiction

Age Range:  2-5 years

Grade Level:  Preschool-K

Harper-Festival, HarperCollins Publishers

2004 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award Winner

When it’s only my dad and me, We pick shells from the sand, And jump waves hand in hand. ~ ONLY MY DAD AND ME

Only My Dad and Me, is a wonderful rhyming book that takes the young reader through seasonal rituals. This book resonated with me as I read it with my children because the setting is always outdoors, which was our favored place to explore. The double flaps of the book reveal how time spent together can build a lifetime of beloved memories that celebrate the friendship a child has with their father.  Beeke’s saturated hues and watercolor style further celebrate Satin’s capricious narration. Their married simplistic style creates an overall feel of energetic love, that Only a Dad and child share.  The perfect picture book to celebrate the Father’s Day season.

~ Kristi

ONLYMYDADANDME ONLYMYDADANDMEII____________________________________________________________________

We go sailing away. “IT’S SUMMER! HOORAY!” When it’s only my dad and me. ~ ONLY MY DAD AND ME

Kids love buried treasure. This quiet little gem provides the joy of discovery with whimsical watercolor surprises on hidden double flap pages. Your young ones will ones enjoy opening the folds to spot a dancing squirrel amidst autumn leaves, a winter snow bunny eating a carrot, a spring scarecrow and a bluejay nest, summer seashells and fishing mice, during four seasons of adventure with a bunny father and child.

Kudos to Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Tiphanie Beeke for creating such a sweet tribute to fatherhood.

~ Anna


KEM Sapphire

Watch for Kristi’s gem again next week!

We want to hear from you!
What children’s book is your ode to fatherhood?

July’s KidLit Gem Theme - Reptilian Tales


June is our month to recognize fathers.
What children’s book would you recommend for Father’s Day?

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

About favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: KidLit Gems for Dad

NameplateAnnasGemIMY DAD IS BIG AND STRONG, BUT . . .
Text © 2012, Coralie Saudo
Illustrations © 2012, Kris Di Giacomo



                 Age Range:
4-8 years

              Grade Level:

       Enchanted Lion Books


Kirkus, Starred Review

At first, I try to be nice. ~ My Dad Is Big And Strong, But . . .

This father/child picture book is a French import that shows how humor and tenderness can survive translation. In it kids everywhere can experience the universally exhaustive side of bedtime manigances (That’s French for shenanigans. Aren’t you impressed?) The protagonist must convince his father that it is bedtime; that he’s read him enough stories; and no, the dark is nothing to fear. What a delightful way to affirm a strong and playful bond between a father and child. All this while empowering the child with a newfound empathy for his or her caretaker.

I hope Coralie Saudo’s deadpan text will make you laugh out loud while you study Kris Di Giacomo’s unique and funny illustrative style with its muted and earthy color palette. Wouldn’t you love to be a little birdie in the corner as Saudo and Di Giacomo tuck children into bed? With their humor and creativity, it must involve entertaining negotiation.

Fathers: experience My Dad Is Big And Strong, But . . . with your children. It might not make the lights-out process less eventful, but it’s sure to make the ritual more fun.

~ Anna




And when he looks at me with those pleading puppy dog eyes, I give in every time and read him another story. ~MY DAD IS BIG AND STRONG, BUT . . . (the next page)


GEM Ruby

Watch for Kristi’s pick next!

We want to hear from you!
What children’s book would you recommend for Father’s Day?


June is our month to honor our fathers.
What children’s book makes you think of your dad?

Welcome to KidLit Gems!

Join us in a coffee-style chat about favorite children’s books and the elements that make them shine.

This month’s theme: KidLit Gems for Dad

Text © 2002, Martin Jenkins
Illustrations © 2002, Jane Chapman



Age Range:
4-8 years

Grade Level:
3rd Grade


And because he’s egg-sitting, he can’t go off to the sea to feed. So that means two whole months with an egg on your feet and no dinner! Or breakfast or lunch or snacks.”
~ The Emporer’s Egg

With June honoring fathers, let The Emperor’s Egg serve as a shout-out to all those single dads, stay-at-home fathers, and any guys who shoulder the bulk of child-rearing. And yes, I’m also talking about penguins here.

The Emperor’s Egg draws us into Antarctic family life from a male Emperor penguin’s point of view. After the female lays an egg, she disappears to feed all winter. The male warms, protects, and hatches the egg, then feeds the chick until the female finally returns to land.

Stellar non-fiction picture books intertwine facts with emotion-evoking narrative. In The Emperor’s Egg, author Martin Jenkins slips in non-fiction tidbits while getting us to really care and root for the penguins. Illustrator Jane Chapman’s soothing acrylics capture charming penguin body language, while bringing life and depth to a barren landscape.

Whatever your family situation, if you’re looking for a Father’s Day book that really embodies dad devotion, check out this gem.

~ Lou

THEEMPORERSEGGIV ___________________________________________________________________

And when it gets really cold and windy, they all snuggle up together and shuffle over the ice in a great big huddle.
~ The Emporer’s Egg

THE EMPEROR’S EGG is an EGGcellent tribute to fatherhood; plainly stating the sacrifices that are made as the Emperor patriarch. I love how the narrative begins with the extremes of nature while the illustration portrays a simplistically painted landscape. The illustrations are seemingly simple, yet masterfully rendered. Much like the extremes of the Arctic cold and starvation, the bold brushwork allows the onlooker to feel the heaviness of the dire situation. Then, CHIP, as though the sound of the newborn chips away the icy cold, the narrative and brushstroke’s shift and we are introduced to the feathery ways of parenting a penguin chick. This to me is a true picture book, as neither the narrative nor the illustration would behold such beauty, if it weren’t for the other. A true union that hatches a gem worthy of royalty.

~ Kristi

THEEMPORERSEGGIII ____________________________________________________________________

It’s mom! She starts trumpeting “hello” and the father penguin starts trumpeting “hello” and the chick whistles. The racket goes on for hours, and it really does sound as if they’re extremely pleased to see each other.
~ The Emporer’s Egg

There’s something special about waddling penguins, newborn babies, and doting dads. Martin Jenkins, author of Chameleons Are Cool and Grandma Elephant’s in Charge, combines them to add another irresistible animal-centered picture book to the Read and Wonder series. Through Jenkins’ enthusiastic and conversational writing style young and old readers will fall in love with the biggest penguins in the world. Their unconventional, gentle, and efficient tag team-style cooperation toward making a family offer subliminal inspiration to us humans as we strive for a higher level of selflessness and commitment. Jane Chapman’s lifelike illustrations and Jenkins’ clever footnotes pull the story together for an authentic nonfiction experience. If you enjoyed National Geographic’s March of the Penguins, you’ll enjoy The Emporer’s Egg.

~ Anna


KEM Diamond

Watch for my pick next!

We want to hear from you!
What children’s book makes you think of your dad?


How many times have you written a story or thought of an idea, only to read or see something similar, somewhere else, a day, a month, or a year later?

I wonder what Dan Santat, creator of The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend and the creators of Big Hero Six thought when they first saw each other’s chubby white guy protagonists.


Did they notice the physical similarities?
If so, did they say, “Oh, look! Great minds think alike! I’m so flattered!”? Or, did they say words you shouldn’t express in picture books or PG movies?

FeastIIdea clones haunt me.

I had just finished a manuscript about a dog who glories in the food of his master, loses all hope when his master changes his eating habits, and regains hope again when a meatball plops on his tail. Then I saw the short film The Feast.

My heart plopped like that meatball.ANNOYINGABC

I wrote an alphabet manuscript revealing the ABCs through children’s name. Then I read Annoying ABC by Barbara Bottner, an alphabet book revealing the ABCs through children’s names.

Annoying? Yes.

I wrote about an ostrich who wants to fly. FLIGHTSCHOOLThen I read Flight School by Lita Judge, about a penguin who has an ostrich friend who wants to fly.


I changed the character to a pig. Then I saw a television commercial with a flying pig and remembered Mo Willems’ Today I Will Fly.

Is nothing sacred?

So I changed the protagonist to a giraffe. FLYDUMBOFLYThen I saw Birds Can Fly and So Can I, by Noa Nimrodi.

Sigh . . .

How about a Mouse? Or better yet, an elephant, you say?

You’re killin’ me.

Idea clones aren’t new:

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.
Abraham Lincoln

Idea clones don’t haunt the pros.

SeenArtThe most successful artists don’t sweat over being original, they sweat over being authentic.

Look at Beekle. Dan Santat knows his creation is a totally different guy than Big Hero Six. He’s laughing all the way to DreamWorks Animation, with his Caldecott Medal.

ArtNMaxLook at Art. He’s the central character who makes for funny wordplay in Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s Seen Art?, David Wiseman’s Art and Max, and Kelly Light’s Louise Loves Art.

Everyone loves Art. No one cares that his name isn’t original.


LOUISELOVESARTReally, there’s not an original idea out there. If you can imagine it, someone else can and likely has. It’s like naming your child “Ava,” thinking you’ve thought of the most original name in the world.

Luckily, no one else is going to create an Ava or an Art just like your Ava or Art. So, in our own small way, we can be original in our authenticity.

Here’s to chubby white guys, Avas and Arts. We look forward to seeing more of you in the future.