~Reviewed by Amanda Smith
Dirt and Bugsy are friends and bug catchers. They dig, lift, and sift to find all kinds of creepies and crawlies, but when it starts to rain, Dirt and Bugsy are concerned for their new bug friends. They come up with a marvelous plan to keep the bugs dry.
Dirt and Bugsy: Bug Catchers by Megan Litwin, illustrated by Shuana Lynn Panczyszyn (Penguin Young Readers, February 2023) is an entertaining Level 2 book for progressing readers. Its conversational tone, action packed pages, and engaging story-line will get new readers’ brains buzzing. The bright color palette, detailed bug illustrations, and kids’ joyful expressions add to a fun reading experience that will ignite a love for bugs and books (and more bug-books!)! And the bug-catcher tips in the back are sure to lure readers outside for their own arthropod adventures.
Lower elementary teachers will want to snatch up Dirt and Bugsy: Bug Catchers for their classrooms, and keep their nets at hand for Dirt and Bugsy: Beetle Mania that will hatch in June!
Megan’s experience as a former teacher and reading specialist is evident on every page of Bug Catchers. If your work-in-progress is an early reader, study Bug Catchers for rhyming refrains with similar sounds that make decoding easy and familiar for young readers. Megan employs the repetition of words and sounds in close proximity, as well as alliteration and assonance in the text, making this fun adventure accessible, even to reluctant readers. The text swarms with playfulness, humor, and a fun pun at the end. Megan certainly knows how to capture young readers “again, and again, and again…” and a close study of her work can help bring the same success to your manuscript.
To learn more about Megan Litwin, her books, events and workshops, visit https://www.meganlitwinbooks.com/about. You can see more of Shauna Lynn’s cheerful art here: https://shaunalynn.com/
CROCODILE HUNGRY by Eija Sumner
Review by Kristi Mahoney
You don’t have to look further than the title to see the problem in this hilarious story, Crocodile Hungry (Tundra, 2022) written by debut author Eija Sumner and illustrated by John Martz. Main character, Crocodile, is hungry and sets out to find something to eat, visiting various places such as the farmer’s market, grocery store, and even the community garden. Unfortunately, Crocodile’s efforts turn out to be fruitless and he quickly goes from hungry to hangry. It’s not until the prefect solution lands right in front of Crocodile that he finally knows exactly what to eat. Martz’s art is the perfect complement to Sumner’s words, adding layers of humor and hilarious details that may just make Crocodile Hungry your next favorite read aloud.
I brought Crocodile Hungry to one of our 24 Carrot Writing meetings where, amongst other things, we discuss picture books from a writer’s perspective. It was an instant crowd pleaser. Yes, it contains a lot of elements that denotes good writing:
A clear goal? Check.
Satisfying page turns? Check.
Humor and Heart? This one is a hard one to pull off, especially in a book that’s streamlined at around 150 words. But check, check.
Yet there were two additional things that made Crocodile Hungry go from fun to fantastic: voice and the unexpected.
The voice Eija Sumner chose for the main character is not only unique and kid friendly but endearing and delightfully witty. There’s something to be said for writing in a way that leads or directs the reader how to read (or perform) the book. The voice more than begs to be read aloud- it instructs how to read Crocodile’s voice. And that makes this a fantastic mentor text for writers as well as a hilarious read-aloud.
The unexpected nature of this story is one of the main reasons it’s so successful. We might expect that if a crocodile is hungry, he’d go hunting in his natural habitat. But, instead, Sumner takes us to very un-crocodile-like places that happen to be very kid friendly and relatable. But Sumner doesn’t stop there. The unexpected continues to unfold with every page turn until the very last laugh. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that in terms of smart writing and a satisfying ending, Sumner serves up a banquet of delight.
Crocodile Hungry will leave readers guessing with every page turn and giggling (big crocodile tears) until the very last page.
To learn more about author Eija Sumner visit https://eijasumner.com/ or find her on social media @eijas.
To learn more about illustrator John Martz visit https://johnmartz.com/ or find him on social media @johnmartz.
Click here to purchase Crocodile Hungry.
A Holiday Book Pick Wrap-Up!
Throughout 2022, 24 Carrot Writing has shared our favorite books in our Book Picks section. As the holiday season approaches, these books would make perfect gifts for readers and writers alike. Enjoy a round-up of 24 Carrot Writing's 2022 Books Picks.
As a bonus, we've asked a few of our Book Pick authors to recommend one of their favorite 2022 books too!
Put these books on your want to read list, your mentor lists, and then wrap them up and share them just in time for reading during the winter season.
Megan Litwin's Book Pick
In TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT (September 20, 2022, Clarion Books), debut author Megan Litwin and illustrator Nneka Myers take readers on an exquisite journey through a magnificent winter wonderland. This beautiful book is about finding joy in the details, seeing light in the darkness, and discovering all of the many wonders of the season. Read the full Book Pick here.
BIG AND SMALL AND IN-BETWEEN (Chronicle, 2022) written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Daniel Miyares, is a uniquely stunning picture book in which a carefully arranged list unfolds across three sections, categorized by size. The list of “things” is not just things at all, but rather a range of observations, experiences, emotions, and more - all presented in glorious, linger-worthy detail.
Writers could learn a lot from the specificity of this book, and the way it taps right into the heart of childhood. As a teacher, I used to do a lot of work helping young writers “zoom in” on the world and their personal experiences – and that is exactly what this book does, making it a mentor text for writers of all sizes.
Marcy Campbell's Book Pick
The first page of SOMETHING GOOD (LBYR, 2021) written by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken, starts like this:
“The day the custodian found the bad-something on the bathroom wall…”.
With those words, Campbell drops us right into this beautiful, powerful story – and into the tangle of feelings and questions that circle through an entire school community. Read the full Book Pick here.
In Charlotte Voake's BEE, a curious boy gets a glimpse into the lives of bees when he is magically transformed into one for a day.
This book so perfectly captures a child’s imagination, while also managing to incorporate science facts and ends with an easy way to show love and appreciation for these amazing creatures.
Sometimes, as writers, we can over explain. In this fictional story, which nonetheless helps kids learn information about bees, we never lose the thread of the young narrator’s point of view and his sense of wonder.
Blanca Gomez's Book Pick
In DRESS-UP DAY, by author/illustrator Blanca Gomez a young girl is distressed to have missed her opportunity to dress up as a bunny for her class' dress-up day because she's out sick. She decides to wear her bunny outfit to school the next day (What could go wrong?). With smart, sparse text and evocative illustrations that make the characters' emotions dance off the page, Gómez conveys a message of acceptance and kindness without once stating or summarizing the theme of her story. Read the full Book Pick here.
THE KIOSK by Anete Melece is about Olga, who works and lives in her kiosk, where she finds herself stuck. Until one day something happens…
I love this book because it reminds me of the books I used to read when I was a kid; or at least it made me feel the same way. Books about normal people living incredible situations, a bit surreal and totally crazy.
The book is a great example of how to tell a story. We can see Olga is literally stuck: her body cannot physically escape from the kiosk, but the first lines of the book: “Olga has been living and working at the kiosk for a long, long time. Maybe too long” are telling us that Olga is also mentally trapped. She dreams about travelling, about doing something else… but she needs a push, and we certainly can see that push along the pages of the book.
THE KIOSK is a great example of how to talk about important matters in a really funny and unexpected way.
April Jones Prince's Book Pick
YOU ARE A READER! YOU ARE A WRITER! by April Jones Prince and illustrated by Christine Davenier (Margaret Ferguson Books, 2021) is a book for readers and writers everywhere. Its “two-books-in-one” design cleverly shows that readers are writers and writers are readers, and the acts of reading and writing are all around. Writers of all ages would do well to read Prince’s pages on being a writer. To begin, she notes the importance of looking and listening well, no matter what you’re doing. Read the full Book Pick here.
In THIRST by Varsha Bajaj, communal water taps in Minni's impoverished Mumbai neighborhood provide water only a few hours a day. This compelling middle grade novel is an important reminder that things we often take for granted are not equally accessible in other parts of the world and that speaking up is something we all have the power to do. I loved Minni’s grit and compassion and especially the deep and broad community that sustains her throughout the story.
As a mentor text, THIRST is a master class in creating a cast of primary and secondary characters who feel real, relatable, and true and in leaving readers feeling empowered and fulfilled. (After reading you’ll be thirsty for more Varsha Bajaj, so check out her inclusive middle grade novel COUNT ME IN as well!)
24 Carrot Writing's 2022 Book Picks
In JOHN'S TURN, it's a young boy's turn to demonstrate his talent during the school's "Sharing Gifts" time. Mac Barnett's simple yet strong text - along with expressive illustrations by Kate Berube - gives the reader the space to experience the emotional power of the story without once pointing out the message. Read the full Book Pick here.
THE CREATURE OF HABIT (Random House Studio, 2021), by Jennifer E. Smith and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, tells the story of an island dwelling creature who loves his routine. A great mentor text to examine the way long vs short, and serious vs silly sentences can move plot, create tension, drive pacing, and enhance readability. Read the full Book Pick here.
You may think balloons and cake are just for birthdays, but SOMETIMES CAKE (Candlewick, January 2022), written by Edwina Wyatt and illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie, proves that when it comes to celebrations, thinking out-of-the-box is encouraged. SOMETIMES CAKE combines two lovable characters, kid-friendly dialogue, and perfectly pared-down prose. Read the full Book Pick here.
In I'M STICKING WITH YOU, (Henry Holt and Company, 2020), written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Steve Small, Bear vows to be there for and do everything with his best friend, Squirrel. But when Bear’s enthusiastic devotion wreaks havoc on his buddy’s things and space, Squirrel decides their friendship may becoming a little… over-bearing. A perfect mentor text for first person rhyme and dual narrator transitions. Read the full Book Pick here.
You are welcome to share your favorite 2022 books in the comments. Be sure to let us know how they can be used as a mentor text for our 24 Carrot Community!
Books really do make the BEST gifts! Happy Reading!
Review by Kristi Mahoney
In Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night (September 20, 2022, Clarion books), debut author, Megan Litwin and illustrator Nneka Myers take readers on an exquisite journey through a magnificent winter wonderland. Using the beloved nursery rhyme, this story presents a winter romp that explores all the diverse ways animals and people experience and celebrate the winter months. Every page is a new discovery of light —from serene, snow-draped landscapes sprinkled with woodland creatures, to family-fun on a shimmery pond, to a bustling town come alive with the many celebrations of the season. Nneka Myer’s beautiful illustrations add another layer to this story, creating a world filled with whimsical characters, joyous details, and scenes that glow with every turn of the page.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night is a beautiful book about finding joy in the details, seeing light in the darkness, and discovering all of the many wonders of the season. The exploration of winter activities makes it an ideal classroom companion, while the snuggle-in mood of the book equally lends it to bedtime reading. So, grab a steaming cup of cocoa, pile it high with marshmallows, and drink in this cozy winter wonderland. Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night is sure to shine bright throughout the entire season and for years to come.
With a fresh twist on the familiar classic of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Megan ensures that every rhyme sings and every word sparkles. Why say “stars” when you can say, the “sky sparkles like a chandelier”? Simple candles illuminate when they become “windows wink with eyes of gold.” Megan shows us that well-chosen words are magical, transforming a manuscript into a work of art. Megan’s tale also includes a diverse mix of events, honoring many different observances to warm the hearts of readers from various backgrounds.
Below is a summary of ways you could use Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night, as a mentor text for your own manuscript:
To learn more about Megan, visit https://www.meganlitwinbooks.com/
Browse Nneka's fabulous portfolio at https://www.nnekamyers.com/
Click here for vendor links.
Review by Megan Litwin
The first page of SOMETHING GOOD (LBYR, 2021) written by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken, starts like this:
“The day the custodian found the bad-something on the bathroom wall…”
With those words, Campbell drops us right into this beautiful, powerful story – and into the tangle of feelings and questions that circle through an entire school community. As readers, we never find out exactly what was written on the wall. But the students do (as kids always do) - and everything changes. In the aftermath we see varied emotions, as children and adults process those emotions in different ways. Ultimately, the community finds a way to move forward and toward healing as they create “something good” together.
There is so much to love about this book – from Campbell’s sensitive and careful approach to difficult subject matter to Luyken’s signature color-forward approach. Huge double-spreads on each page swirl with colors that evoke emotion. Everything feels immediate – the writing, the feelings, the faces.
Much like ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE, another layered title by this same dream team, SOMETHING GOOD is a timeless picture book that can help build better humans. And that is something VERY good.
Marcy Campbell is a strong writer, and she makes two conscious and powerful decisions here that make readers feel connected from the start.
First, even though there is a singular narrator, that narrator (a girl) is a collective voice for the school. She uses encompassing plural pronouns like “we” and “us” and focuses on the things that are happening to and with the group. Consequently, the story becomes everyone’s story; everyone in the book – and everyone reading it, too.
Second, note Campbell’s straightforward prose. There is no extra imagery or description just to be pretty – the beauty is in the direct language that allows WHAT is happening to take center stage. It leaves room for readers to feel all the things they need to feel. A lesson in “less is always more.”
Use SOMETHING GOOD to consider the nouns you assign your manuscript's narrator and the power that gives your narrator and your story. Finally, be brave and follow the example of SOMETHING GOOD- cut the flowery language in your prose to allow the beauty of an underlying message to shine.
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
When writers are seeking mentor texts that depict subtle ways to convey a message, the standouts can be challenging to find. There are picture books galore with themes of kindness, understanding, and acceptance, but far fewer that convey those themes with a light touch that permits young readers to experience the sentiment as it's developed rather that have it stated to them. Two recent standouts in the area of nuanced, subtle storytelling are Blanca Gómez's DRESS-UP DAY (Abrams, 2022) and Mac Barnett's JOHN'S TURN (Candlewick 2022).
In DRESS-UP DAY, a young girl is distressed to have missed her opportunity to dress up as a bunny for her class' dress-up day because she's out sick. She decides to wear her bunny outfit to school the next day (What could go wrong?) only to find the stares and snickers of her classmates crush her excitement about her costumed appearance. When a fellow classmate shows up wearing his carrot costume, caring not a smidge if the others in the class approve or not, the two enjoy a day of imaginative play. And their peers? They decide maybe costumes and pretend play might be fine any day one chooses and shouldn't have to be relegated to an assigned date. This change of heart is shown (never told) when the other children come to school the next day with dress-up gear of their own.
With smart, sparse text and evocative illustrations that make the characters' emotions dance off the page, Gómez conveys a message of acceptance and kindness without once stating or summarizing the theme of her story. The actions and illustrations do the heavy lifting but leave the interpretation to the reader.
In JOHN'S TURN, it's a young boy's turn to demonstrate his talent during the school's "Sharing Gifts" time. While a few children comment on the unfamiliar music playing before John takes the stage and question what he's about to do, John musters up the courage to perform his ballet routine in front of his school with confidence and pride. The audience of children, after watching the feat of John's impressive dancing, applaud him for his impressive talent.
In JOHN'S TURN, Barnett never once mentions that ballet is often considered by many to be a female pursuit, nor does he state that the children may be dubious of John's choice of interest. Rather, he lets the children's reactions--from a few snickers to intrigued silence to impressed applause--show how John's talent and passion for ballet breaks down the boundaries of conventional--though outdated--gender norms. Barnett's simple yet strong text--along with expressive illustrations by Kate Berube--gives the reader the space to experience the emotional power of the story without once pointing out the message.
Both DRESS-UP DAY and JOHN'S TURN are consummate examples of picture book texts that address themes of acceptance and kindness in a most subtle manner.
Review by Kelly Carey
If you have ever been a substitute teacher and had to contend with a constant barrage of “that’s not the way we do it”, this lovable and laughable picture book is for you! The Creature of Habit (Random House Studio, 2021), by Jennifer E. Smith and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, tells the story of an island dwelling creature who loves his routine. He does everything the exact same way every day. When a surprise newcomer arrives the Creature of Habit shows him the daily schedule, but the newcomer breaks with the plan. The result is fun, silly, and charming for the reader but “absolute madness” for the Creature of Habit. With colorful and fanciful illustrations filled with pineapples and seashells this story is a tropical reminder that mixing things up every once in a while, can be amazing.
If you are looking for a humorous comp title featuring a bit of wordplay, The Creature of Habit would be a fabulous choice. But don’t miss the opportunity to study Smith’s use of varied sentence structure. This is a great mentor text to examine the way long vs short, and serious vs silly sentences can move plot, create tension, drive pacing, and enhance readability. Smith also stays fully focused on her kid audience as she moves her characters through hysterical antics and keeps the mood light using pineapples, bananas, and fish. The result is a kid friendly story filled with giggly moments hiding a deeper message about breaking out of a routine and trying something new. Perhaps reading The Creature of Habit will help you find something new in your manuscripts.
Learn more about Jennifer E. Smith here. And explore Leo Espinosa's portfolio here.
SOMETIMES CAKE by Edwina Wyatt
Review by Kristi Mahoney
You may think balloons and cake are just for birthdays, but Sometimes Cake (Candlewick, January 2022), written by Edwina Wyatt and illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie, proves that when it comes to celebrations, thinking out-of-the-box is encouraged.
When Audrey meets Lion, he is celebrating something different every day. Whether it’s Tuesdays, coconuts, or the color orange, Lion believes every day holds a reason to celebrate. And Audrey is in for all of it. Better yet, she even adds her own personal flair. But when Lion announces it’s just “an ordinary day”, Audrey must discover if ordinary days are worth celebrating and, if so, --how? Packed with heart and a pinch of humor, I found myself eating up this sweet story about friendship, collaboration, and finding joy in everyday things.
As writers, we love words. I personally have struggled with paring down my stories until landing at a place where every word counts. Cutting words is easy. But cutting words while still maintaining the heart, humor, a strong plot, and a successful arc is something else. Edwina Wyatt has managed to find the winning recipe in Sometimes Cake, by combining two lovable characters, kid-friendly dialogue, and perfectly pared-down prose. You might call Ainslie’s art the icing on this Sometimes Cake with illustrations that are soft, timeless, and filled with adorable details that will have you wanting to read this story on each and every ordinary day.
To learn more about Edwina Wyatt visit her website here. To learn more about illustrator Tamsin Ainslie visit his website here.
Review by Kristi Mahoney
Amidst heaps of picture book friendship stories, I’m Sticking With You, (Henry Holt and Company, 2020), written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Steve Small, may be one you’ll want to hoard away with you for winter.
In it, Bear vows to be there for and do everything with his best friend, Squirrel. But when Bear’s enthusiastic devotion wreaks havoc on his buddy’s things and space, Squirrel decides their friendship may becoming a little… over-bearing. The two continue to seesaw between the ups and downs of friendship in a quest to determine if, through thick and thin, real friends will stick together. Packed with heart and sprinkled with humor, this celebration of friendship will be adored by readers of all ages.
If you’re looking for a mentor text on first person rhyme and/or dual narrator transitions, I’m Sticking With You, is worth checking out. Prasadam-Halls’ first person rhyme flows seamlessly as the reader is introduced to the character’s thoughts and feelings: first Bear’s, then Squirrel’s, then both together. The author brilliantly transitions these segments with well-timed pauses to the story’s rhythmic meter and perfect comedic timing during the height of emotion. She also does an excellent job of leaving room for the illustrator to provide important clues and Small’s illustrations accompany the story in the best way possible. Simplistic backgrounds allow ample opportunity for clever details, body language, and these endearing characters’ unmistakable expressions to take center stage. Like Bear and Squirrel’s friendship, I’m Sticking With You, is definitely a keeper.
To learn more about Smriti visit her website here or find her on Twitter @SmritiPH. To learn more about illustrator Steve Small visit his website here.
THE LEAF THIEF by Alice Hemming
Review by Kristi Mahoney
If you’re looking for a fresh new seasonal book that is both informative and funny, look no further than The Leaf Thief, written by Alice Hemming and illustrated by Nicola Slater (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2021). When Squirrel discovers his beloved leaves are disappearing from his tree, he goes on a panic-stricken quest to find the thief. Worse yet, all of his forest friends suddenly seem suspect. It’s not until teaming up with his friend Bird that he discovers the real culprit might be right under his nose. The Leaf Thief, is a hilarious book about the fall season, adapting to change, and the anxiety that may come with it. Nicola Slater’s illustrations bring these captivating characters to life with vibrant, detailed, art that is pure gold amongst an autumn landscape.
With dozens of books under her belt, Alice Hemming isn’t a novice when it comes to writing and it shows. With distinct voice, punchy comedic timing, and perfect page turns, The Leaf Thief is an ideal mentor text if you need help infusing your manuscript with humor and making sure it offers irresistible page turns. This book may become a seasonal treasure for readers, and a go-to mentor text for writers. Hemming’s humorous twist ending and information packed back matter makes it a fantastic laugh-while-you-learn book.
To learn more about Alice visit her on Twitter at @AliceHemming1. And to find out more about illustrator Nicola Slater visit @Nicolaslater.
Our favorite mentor texts to guide your writing and revisions.