The Writing Room

As a writer with a chronic illness, I spend a lot of time at doctor’s appointments. What that really means is that I spend a lot of time waiting. Anyone who’s ever had to make a trip to the doctor’s office, and I’d guess that’s most of us, has experienced the loss of a huge chunk of time, stolen from the day.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You rush around at home in order to get to your doctor appointment early. You arrive fifteen minutes before your scheduled appointment, your child in tow. You check in, take a seat, and wait.

That momentary feeling of pride because you made it on time is quickly replaced with the thought, how long will we have to wait for the doctor?

You glance at your child playing with the waiting room toys in the corner. You think about all of the sick kids who played there before. You reassure yourself that surely someone must sanitize the toys on a daily basis.

You leaf through a magazine, so boring. You scroll through your phone, check your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter. You wonder if it’s okay to have your phone on in here. You look around and notice that half the other people waiting are on their phones too.

Now it’s five minutes past your appointment time, now ten, now twenty, now thirty. Your child has played with every toy and looked at every book. He/she’s grown restless and so have you. Your mind wanders to all the things you could be doing. Is writing one of them?

Next time, grab a notebook and pen on your way out the door. Here’s why you’ll want to bring these valuable tools to all of your appointments:

1. To pass the time. You’ll be surprised at how much writing you can get done while waiting for your appointment. If you write picture books, as I do, you may even get a whole draft written.
2. To record observations. Watch people, especially children, and write down character traits or bits of dialogue you overhear. They might come in handy for current or future writing projects.
3. To practice writing. Study the paintings on the waiting room walls or look at pictures in magazines and use what you see as writing prompts to exercise your writing muscles. Jot down words or feelings that come to mind, or write a short story.
4. To brainstorm ideas. Use your waiting time to think about a work in progress or a new story you’ve been wanting to start. Brainstorm words, characters, names, revisions, dialogue, setting, etc.
5. To practice drawing. If you’re an illustrator, use your wait time to sketch new characters and scenes or just to practice your skills. Sketch objects or people you see in the waiting room. Make notes on colors that have caught your eye. Copy pictures from magazines.
6. To support your budding author or artist. Bring an extra notebook and pen for your child so that he/she can practice writing or drawing too.
7. To keep your mind off of unpleasant things. I don’t know anyone who would say they enjoy going to doctor’s appointments. If you have to go, it’s usually because you, or your child, are sick or suffering from a medical condition of some kind. Writing or drawing will allow your mind to drift away from a potentially unpleasant experience and focus on something fun instead.

So, the next time you’re rushing out the door to get to an appointment, don’t forget to bring along a notebook and pen. When your wait time seems to fly by because you’ve written three new paragraphs for your middle grade novel, or you’ve come up with an idea for a brand-new picture book story, or you’ve outlined your entire YA contemporary, you’ll be glad you turned the waiting room into a Writing Room.

Picture Books At The Library 120

PB at the library 2

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

Chirri and Chirra are surprised by the magical world they discover in the tall grass of the meadow.

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Twins Dax and Zoe are ready for kindergarten, but, oh no, they’ll be in different classrooms!

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Frog has had enough of being sat on by Dog, so he changes the rules. Fun!

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Zoey the chicken creates a school in the barn for her friend Sam the pig.

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Arnold is nervous about his first day of kindergarten, so he becomes the brave Super Saurus.

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A boy goes searching for a bear at bedtime. Sweet!

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Manny puts on his invisible cape to stand up to a bully at school.

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Explains the rules a kid must follow to survive the perilous world of the lunch room.

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Here’s everything you need to know to help your teacher get ready for the first day of school.

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Sometimes being a boat is full of adventures on the high seas, but at other times, arguing passengers can run you aground.

Erin sneaks aboard her mother’s fishing boat to find out if the legend of Black Rock is true. Whimsical and artistic!

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Five unlikely heroes must save the Super Happy Magic Forest from Zorgoth, Super Slug of Doom.

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Grace and Walter’s father tells them a scary story about two children in a dark forest. Clever story within a story!

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Casey wants what his older sister has–a shimmery skirt, glittery nails, and a sparkly bracelet.

Picture Books At The Library 119

PB at the library 2

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

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When Lucy’s friend Brock visits, Sparkle is jealous until he discovers he shares Brock’s love of drumming and dancing.

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Follow a little girl as she shares all of her favorite things, from the holes she digs to the hugs she gives.

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When your brother is a monkey, be prepared for messes and mayhem.

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Race cars line up, ready to zoom down mountains, past waterfalls, and through tunnels to the finish line. 

 

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Zombelina has an idea to help her new friend work through his show-and-tell day jitters.

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When her big sister is too busy to play, a little sister creates Sister Day.

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A cat explains why cats make much better pets than dogs.

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Two balls of clay have a great time shaping themselves into various animals.

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Time Out isn’t such a terrible punishment when you have a spaceship to board, a starry sky to visit, and a moon to circle.

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Mommy and Lila are going to visit Grandpa, but Lila is busy playing in her own imaginary world.

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Follow a little girl in author Patricia MacLachlan’s semi-autobiographical picture book and learn what it might take to grow up to become a writer.

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Millions of children around the world protest bath time every day.

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A little red train picks up a few uninvited passengers.

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When a class pet proves to be more than a handful, the students must convince their teacher to release him into the wild.

 

New Year=New Beginnings: July’s Winner (plus August’s prize)

In January of this year, I posted about a year-long giveaway called New Year=New Beginnings that I’m offering here on Frog on a Blog–a new prize each month for folks who comment on blog posts. With so much negative energy floating around in the world, I wanted to do something positive to show my gratitude to my followers, fans, and friends for their support.

Let’s recap January through July and announce July’s winner!

January’s prize was a copy of my book The Peddler’s Bed.

February’s prize was an adorable plushie Curious George.

March’s prize was a set of Pilot’s pens, a Night Writer 2-pack with LED lights, perfect for writing in the dark, and a must have for writers or travelers.

April’s prize was winner’s choice of either a picture book manuscript critique (for writers) or a Personal Library Kit (for book lovers).

May’s prize was a set of two darling bookmarks: A Hippo and a Crocodile.

June’s prize was a Maurice Sendak Nutshell Library box set that includes four tiny classics: Alligators All AroundChicken Soup With RiceOne Was Johnny, and Pierre.

July’s prize was a set of two music CDs by the amazing Emily Arrow: Storytime Singalong volumes 1 and 2! These CDs feature original music inspired by picture books.

And the winner of July’s prize is…

Patricia Tilton

Congratulations Patricia! Please contact me with your address by clicking HERE. Your CDs will soon be on their way to you!


If you haven’t won a prize yet, there are still more chances to win this year!

And even if you can’t win because you’ve won already or because you’re not a US resident, I still welcome your comments and appreciate your support of Frog on a Blog.

August’s Prize is this super cute, super fun novelty Writer’s Block Journal filled with 300 blank pages, ready and waiting for inspiration to hit!

Comment on this post or any post during the month of August for a chance to win. For more information on how to qualify for prizes, click HERE.

Due to contest/sweepstakes regulations in other countries, this giveaway is available to U.S. residents only. I’m very sorry fans and followers from other nations. I still appreciate you! All winners are chosen at random.

Picture Book Personals (47)

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Picture Book Personals

Little lost duckling seeks wise-eyed boat on the Yangtze River.

What Classic Picture Book Am I?

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Leave your best guess in the comments below. Find out the answer when the next Picture Book Personals is posted.

And the answer to last week’s Picture Book Personals is…

George and Martha

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Did you get it?

Picture Books At The Library 118

PB at the library 2

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

Gus wants to take tap dance lessons but he can’t afford tap shoes.

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A rivalry ensues when a new knishery opens up across the street from Benny’s parent’s shop.

 

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A mother Maiasaura dinosaur finds an egg and decides to care for it as if it were her own.

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Mitzi is determined to discover what the strange ingredient in her muffin is.

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Black Belt Bunny faces a serious challenge–making a salad. Cute!

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A hungry giant goes in search of some tasty children to eat. Fun read aloud!

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As George gets ready for school, he realizes he’s forgetting something, but he can’t figure out what.

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A little girl makes a sandwich for her father filled with all of his favorite things.

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When Amanda’s first day of kindergarten doesn’t go to plan, she decides to quit and join her brother in second grade.

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A hungry but generous giraffe gives away all of his apples to the other animals.

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Bear is determined to prepare for his party all by himself. He can get dressed, pick apples, and make sandwiches without help from anyone.

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The dinosaurs cause havoc all over the school.

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Two little mice hear all sorts of noises as they go about their day. Love the use of color in this one!

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Hector collects acorns of different shapes and sizes and stores them in his desk at school.

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All sorts of trains, from passenger to freight, are constantly on the move.

Picture Book Personals (46)

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Picture Book Personals

Hat-clad hippo seeks way to tell friend he dislikes split pea soup.

What Classic Picture Book Am I?

George and Martha

Leave your best guess in the comments below. Find out the answer when the next Picture Book Personals is posted.

And the answer to last week’s Picture Book Personals is…

Library Lion

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Roar!

Trucks On Tour (plus a Giveaway)

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Can trucks be adorable? They can if they’re the hard-working, road-building crew from Susanna Leonard Hill and Erica Sirotich’s new picture book THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT, set to be released on July 25. In this fun rhyming story, readers may recognize a familiar rhythm, that of the classic nursery rhyme THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. I’ve asked Susanna to talk a little bit about the process of taking something familiar and turning it into something fresh and new.

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Making Cinnamon Drop Rainbow Raisin Surprise Out Of Gruel

(or, how to take something old and tired (and in the case of gruel, kind of disgusting 🙂 ) and make it fresh, exciting and new!)

by Susanna Leonard Hill

“Mom!” your horde hollers. (Or Dad – I’m not gender stereotyping, just writing from my own point of view… more on that in a minute 🙂 )  “What’s for dinner?”

“Chicken,” you answer.  (Or veggie burgers, pasta, chili, pork chops, soup and salad, salmon, beef stew, or burritos…)

“Not again,” the horde whines.  (Because – as you all know – the only good answer to this question is pizza.  Everything else is old and boring and only to be tolerated because it’s better than starving to death, a danger the horde feels to be imminent every evening!)

You bristle.

You shopped and washed and chopped and diced and put time and effort into a delicious and nutritious meal for them – time you could have spent writing! – and for what?

Ingrates!

You’d think you’d offered them watered-down gruel!

Looking down into their pathetic Dickensian faces – “Only gruel, mum?  Please, mum!  Mightn’t we have something better?” – it dawns on you that there’s another way of serving up dinner.

(And no, it’s not hiring a personal chef or feeding the children out of a trough in the back yard… although both options are tempting 🙂 )

Uh, Susanna?  (I hear you interrupt.)  Do you have a point?  We’re supposed to be talking about writing, not gruel!

Why, yes, in fact, I do. 🙂

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that there are no new stories.

This is a daunting statement if you’re a writer.

Really!

If there are no new stories, what are we supposed to write?

As with the age-old question of what’s for dinner, there may not be anything new… but it’s all in how you serve it up!

Gruel takes on a whole new interest, meaning, and desirability if you put in your own dash of this and pinch of that and present it as Cinnamon Drop Rainbow Raisin Surprise, or Banana Berry Blast Supreme!  Suddenly the horde is front and center at the table, eager to partake.

So it is with writing.

Perhaps it’s true that there are no new stories.  (Perhaps not, but that’s a debate for another time.  The point is it can often feel true when you sit down to write.)

But just because something has been done before, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly or a picture book about bedtime, doesn’t mean that you can’t put a whole new spin on it.

Your spin.

Believe it or not, no one else will tell a story exactly the way you do because you are unique.  You come at everything from your own point of view.  (I told you we’d get back to that in a minute. 🙂 )

You bring your own unique combination of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, memories, experience, and dreams to everything you write.  As a result, I could ask 20 of you to write a bedtime story and I would get 20 new and different stories.  They might be similar in concept, but the execution would be unique to the individual – from who you choose as characters, to what the precise problem or goal is in relation to bedtime, to how you resolve the story, to your choice of language and mood.

Because of this, we can take things that have been done before and make them new – turn the familiar into the fresh and fun.

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Text copyright © 2017 by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustration copyright © 2017 by Erica Sirotich
Used by permission of Little Simon

When my son was little, he loved heavy equipment.  We read a lot of books about big trucks.  Most of them simply pictured and described the trucks and what they were used for, or showed them on a road going somewhere.

I wanted to do something different.

I wanted to show how a group of trucks could work together to build a house, or a road, or something…  That was me.  Something that came from me. My experience of reading with my son.  My own fascination with heavy equipment.  My own interest in how things work.

My story would be a story – not just a description – and it would be about the trucks, of course, but also about the process of building and about teamwork.

I made a list of the vehicles I might potentially include.

I mucked about with a number of different openings.

I played with which trucks to use and how to include them.

And I thought to myself, what is the best way to tell this story?

And out of nowhere, like a tickle of memory, a sequence of notes that conjures up a familiar song, I thought, a sequence story… like THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT!

Without even really realizing it, I was taking something familiar (THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT) and making it something new – making it mine.

Someone else would have written this story a different way.  They wouldn’t have thought about sequence, or it wouldn’t have occurred to them that THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT would make a perfect vehicle (hahaha) for a story about trucks building a road.

But other people have certainly had the same idea with different topics.  Have you read THIS IS THE STAR? or, THE TREE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT? or any one of a number of other stories based on the familiar rhyme but encompassing different stories, characters and ideas?

Someone else might have started with THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT but used it to frame a story about filling a picnic basket because they had a family tradition of picnics every Sunday after church.  Or they might have used it to frame a story about building a car because of their race car-obsessed daughter… or anything else under the sun.

I came to the rhyme a little bit round about, but lots of people start with it, or some other familiar rhyme, song, or story.

For example, THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY.

Writers with unique perspectives and ideas wrote THERE WAS AN OLD MONSTER, and THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, and THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED SOME BOOKS… and many others.  What character could you put in that story and what would they swallow and why?

Fractured fairy tales fall into this category as well – picture books abound that are based on the THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, and GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS, among others, all of them entertaining and delightful.  Those stories are familiar frameworks – scaffolding upon which to build something new, different, and fun.

Iza Trapani has made a career out of starting with familiar Mother Goose rhymes and spinning them into wonderful creative new stories that expand the original to new heights and depths.  That’s a whole other field of familiar you can cultivate into something new.

Give it a try today!

Start with something we all know:

The House That Jack Built

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly

She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain

Hansel And Gretel

There Was A Crooked Man

Little Boy Blue

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Eensy, Weensy Spider…

…or any other fairy tale, song, or nursery rhyme that appeals to you.

Change the characters or the setting.

Give the character a different problem, goal or challenge.

Put the story in a different format – cumulative or parallel instead of classic or circular.

Or take a manuscript of yours that hasn’t worked right just yet and see what happens if you put it into one of these shapes.  What if you tried working your story about a stray dog into a Jack And The Beanstalk tale?

There are so many ways to freshen the familiar!  And whatever you choose will be unique to you.

Take that old gruel and add a spoonful of cinnamon, and a handful of black raisins, golden raisins, and cranberry raisins and voila!  Instead of boring old gruel that no one wants, you have Cinnamon Drop Rainbow Raisin Surprise that has everyone begging for second helpings!

Hope that gives you a positive little nudge in your writing today!

Thank you so much for having me here at Frog On A Blog for the second time in a month, Lauri!  I so appreciate your support for my new books and your willingness to help spread the word!  And thanks to everyone for stopping by to read! 🙂

Thank you so much, Susanna, for stopping by and sharing your knowledge with us. We’ve all got our engines revving and we’re ready to write. But first, let’s visit the rest of the stops (or is it the rest stops?) on the Trucks on Tour blog tour. Vroom!!!

Truck Blog Tour Schedule

Giveaways

You can win a signed copy of Susanna’s book THE ROAD THAT TRUCKS BUILT by replacing a familiar title with one that has a truck in it. (For example: The Little Bulldozer That Could, in place of The Little Engine That Could) Put your title in the comments. At the conclusion of the blog tour, a winner will be chosen at random and will be notified.

Plus

A special prize will be raffled off among anyone who comments on every single blog tour stop, so don’t miss a single fascinating installment!

And don’t forget to share on social media.  The hashtag we are using to promote the book is #trucksontour.  Every time you share a post on FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram using #trucksontour, you will get an entry into a raffle where 3 winners will each get a $25 Merritt Bookstore and Toystore gift card.

Susanna Leonard Hill is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children.  She teaches an online picture book writing class – Making Picture Book Magic (http://www.susannahill.com/MAKING_PICTURE_BOOK_MAGIC.html) – offers picture book critiques, and does frequent school and library visits.  She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.

Picture Book Personals (45)

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Picture Book Personals

Head librarian seeks quiet lion to help with dusting, licking stamps, and shelving books.

What Classic Picture Book Am I?

Library Lion.jpg

Leave your best guess in the comments below. Find out the answer when the next Picture Book Personals is posted.

And the answer to last week’s Picture Book Personals is…

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

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Did you get it?

Picture Books At The Library 117

PB at the library 2

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

Fabulous mix of artistic talent in this bunch!!!

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Little Excavator wants to do what the big trucks do, but he’s too small.

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A prim and proper mouse tries to convince the reader that nothing interesting will happen in the book.

A little monster has trouble finding suitable new underwear.

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Babies are cared for by loved ones in every way and grow up in the blink of an eye.

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Little Plane is good at arcs and dives, but he has trouble doing loopity-loops.

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Garcia and Colette can’t agree on where to explore, so they set out on independent expeditions.

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Wally is a boa constrictor who loves hugs, but his friends from school are afraid of getting hugs from him.

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A child searches for the perfect spot to read.

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Sometimes it’s fun to be wet and sometimes it’s not. There are all kinds of ways to get wet.

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Celebrate life with animals of every kind. All around lovely!

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A sweeping view of America, its strength and inclusiveness, from sea to shining sea. Beautiful paintings!

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Two children are left behind at the zoo after dark, and that’s when the magic happens. Fantastic illustrations!

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On a rainy day, Hare finds many things to complain about until Bear finally has had enough. Incredible artwork!

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A little girl and a group of animals challenge the reader to a staring contest. Clever concept!