School Library Journal: 10 Picture Books that Could Win a Newbery

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Cinderella Skeleton

Title: Cinderella Skeleton

Author: Robert D. San Souci

ISBN: 978-0-15-205069-6

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company


This is not your typical Cinderella Story. In Cinderella Skeleton, the story is told through verse, and of course all of the characters are skeletons. Cinderella Skeleton lives with her stepmother and her nasty stepsisters, and is always kept busy hanging cobwebs, displaying dead flowers around the house, and feeding the bats. When Prince Charnel announces he is throwing a party, Cinderella Skeleton has to stay home and work. She decides to go and visit a witch to seek a solution to her problem, and is quickly transformed into a glamorous skeleton. With a warning that she must return by morning, the witch sends Cinderella Skeleton off to meet her prince. At the ball, they instantly hit it off, and Cinderella Skeleton looses track of time. She rushes out of the ball, and as the prince grabs for her, her entire foot comes off in his hand. The prince searches the land until he at last finds Cinderella Skeleton, and matched her foot to her leg. Cinderella Skeleton gets her happy ending at last.

San Souci, R. D. & Catrow, D. (2000). Cinderella skeleton. San Diego, CA: Silver Whistle/Harcourt.

My Impressions:

Cinderella Skeleton by Robert D. Sansouci was a fun read. When I picked up this title, I was expecting a typical Cinderella story with a skeleton twist. But this was so much more than that. The story was told in verse, complete with stanza, rhyme, line repetition, and rhythm. And the illustrations were so original in their design and detail. I loved the vibrant colors in the scenery and on the characters themselves. I would like this book for the fantastic illustrations alone, but the addition of the clever story is a plus. This would be such a great story to pair with a poetry unit! Overall, I would recommend this story to 3-5 grade readers, or to teachers looking for a fun mentor text to use while teaching poetry.

For Use in the Library:

Read this title around Halloween as a fun, spooky read aloud. Then ask the students to turn one of their favorite fairy tale characters into a skeleton. For older students, ask them to try and re-write their favorite fairy tale into verse, using Cinderella Skeleton as a guide.


Cinderella Skeleton / Was everything a ghoul should be: / Her build was long and lean and lank; / Her dankish hair hung down in hanks; / Her nails were yellow; her teeth were green–/ The ghastliest haunt you’ve ever seen. / Foulest in the land was she.” San Souci (Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story) takes his interest inCinderella variants one step further by creating a bony heroine whose trip to the ball has a distinctly Halloweenish cast. Even children who’ve never heard of The Addams Family will recognize the conventions (Cinderella Skeleton’s housework consists of hanging up cobwebs instead of taking them down), and the plot follows the original folktale closely, with one grisly exception: instead of retaining her glass slipper, Prince Charnel gets her entire foot, snapped off halfway up the leg bone. This and other potentially scary moments are made humorous in Catrow’s caricatures, which employ the long lines and angles of the skeletons to create particularly dynamic compositions in pencil and watercolor. Cinderella wears a fluttering cobweb gown and a blooming dandelion as her headdress, while Prince Charnel is just as handsome with deeply sunken eyes and ornamental cockroaches scurrying over his Napoleonic dress uniform. Although San Souci’s unusual rhyme scheme, complex syllables, and breaks in meter may trip up a few unwary readers, much remains to be admired in this sweet tale of corpse-meets-corpse.

Burkam, A. L. (2000). [Review of the book Cinderella skeleton, by R. D. San Souci & D. Catrow]. Horn Book Magazine, 76(5), 589-590. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: Crow Call

Title: Crow Call

Author: Lois Lowry

ISBN: 978-0-545-03035-9

Publisher: Scholastic, Incorporated



Crow Call is a touching story about a little girl’s day out with her dad after he returns home from war. She is trying to get used to having a dad again, and feels shy and uncertain around him, and about going hunting with him to kill the crows that are eating their crops. Her dad does everything that he can to make her feel at ease. He sees her looking at a shirt in the window of a store and buys it for her. He orders her cherry pie at a diner because she says it is her favorite. He plays around with her in the woods by making “calls” to different types of animals. As the girl begins her crow call, she has so much fun, and gets so caught up in the moment, that before she know it she has crows flying all around her. Her dad just sits and watches, enjoying his daughter’s delight. In the end, the dad decides not to hunt the crows that day. He knows it would bother his daughter, and he is happy to simply have been able to spend time making her smile.

Lowry, L., & Ibatoulline, B. (2009). Crow call. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

My Impressions:

What a touching story. The vivid descriptions, and exquisite illustrations in this story do a phenomenal job of working together to tell this post war story of a father reconnecting with his daughter. I loved how lifelike the illustrations were, and how I could see every detail on the characters’ faces. It really added to my being able to connect with the little girl. I felt transported into the story, as if I myself were the girl heading out on a hunting trip with my father. Lowry picked the exact right words to describe the people and places in her story. She uses beautiful language and varied sentence structures, which caused me to remain invested in the story, and not grow bored by repetition and predictability. Overall, I highly recommend this title to readers of all ages. It would make a great story to read with students in the library in celebration of Father’s Day, or Freedom Week, or as a father daughter bed time story.

For Use in the Library:

I would recommend using this title as a mentor text for teaching descriptive writing in narrative. Take some time to analyze which of the five senses this story uses the most, and create a chart of the descriptions used.


( October 15, 2009; 9780545030359 )
*Starred Review* Drawing on a childhood memory, Lowry offers a story where the specific becomes universal. Lizzie’s father is back from the war, and to her, he is almost a stranger. He doesn’t even know how much she loves cherry pie. But he does understand when she picks out an unconventional adult-size hunting shirt, which at least she won’t outgrow. One cold morning, Lizzie dons her shirt and goes out with Daddy to hunt crows. Crows eat crops; of that there’s no doubt. Daddy has his shotgun. He’s given Lizzie a crow call so she can gather the birds together in the trees. In a subtle dialogue, Lizzie says things without saying the big thing on her mind: I wish the crows didn’t eat the crops. . . . They might have babies to take care of. Not wanting to disappoint her father, Lizzie calls the birds until they fill the sky, and then, after a breathless moment, her father, not wanting to disappoint Lizzie, takes her home. Each frame of the story is captured like an old-time movie in Ibatoulline’s tender watercolor and acrylic gouache artwork. Particularly effective is the double-page spread in which father and daughter walk among the leafless trees on that chilly autumn day, when their words seemed etched and breakable on the brittle stillness. In the end, words aren’t needed after all.–Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2009 Booklist

Cooper, I. (2009). [Review of the book Crow call, by L. Lowry & B. Ibatoulline]. The Booklist, 106(4), 50. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: The Dark

Title: The Dark

Author: Lemony Snicket

ISBN: 978-0-316-18748-0

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers



The Dark is a story about a little boy who is afraid of the dark. He sees it lurking everywhere, and does his best to stay out of all of The Dark’s hiding places- especially the basement. One night, the boy’s night light goes out and the dark comes to visit him in his room. It calls to him to follow, and claims it has something to show him. The boy wanders around the house, following The Dark’s voice, until he finds himself in the basement. The Dark instructs him to open the bottom drawer of the dresser, and inside the boy finds a light bulb to fit his night light. the boy realized that The Dark was his friend, and they were able to live peaceably together from that moment on.

Snicket, L., & Klassen, J. (2013). The dark. New York, NY: Little Brown & Company.

My Impressions:

This book was so wonderful I re-read it several times in one sitting. I love the way Lemony Snicket personifies the dark, and how throughout the story, the boy slowly develops a friendship with the dark, much as he would with a boy his own age. The description of the dark is beautiful, and works to build up more and more suspense on each page. Klassen’s illustrations expertly work in concordance with the plot to build suspense. Each page is a juxtaposition of light and shadow that works to help the reader to relate to the little boy’s fear of the dark. Overall, this is a fantastic book, both for its original story, and its clever illustrations. I would recommend this book to readers age 7 and older.

For Use in the Library:

The Dark would be a fantastic book to read to introduce a lesson on personification. Students will enjoy analyzing the pages to discover all of the ways Snicket describes darkness as having human-like qualities. It will cause them to ask themselves, what does personification add to this story? Would the story be as good as it is if the author had not personified the dark? After reading and discussion, students could then attempt to add some personification to their own writing.


( March 01, 2013; 9780316187480 )
*Starred Review* What if the dark meant more than the absence of light? What if the dark were someone? Laszlo, dressed in blue footie jams, his hair precisely parted, is afraid of the dark. Mostly, the dark lives in the basement, but one night, when his night-light fails, it arrives in Laszlo’s room. The dark leads Laszlo through the rickety house and down to the basement, and bids him to open the bottom drawer of an old dresser, where he finds night-light bulbs. Laszlo is emboldened, peace is restored, and Laszlo and the dark, presumably, live happily ever after. Snicket’s atmospheric narrative personifies the dark with indelible character, its voice as creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows. Klassen renders the expansive, ramshackle house in mottled sepia tones, visible in the sharp beam of Laszlo’s flashlight as it interrupts the flat, inky black. Even the dialogue respects the delineation, with Laszlo’s words set in the swaths of light and the dark’s written in the dark. But just as important are the things Klassen omits: rooms are empty of furniture and people. Laszlo feels alone. In its willingness to acknowledge the darkness, and the elegant art of that acknowledgment, The Dark pays profound respect to the immediacy of childhood experiences. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Snicket and Klassen? This’ll be huge.–Barthelmess, Thom Copyright 2010 Booklist


Barthelmess, T. (2013). [Review of the book The dark, by L. Snicket & J. Klassen]. The Booklist, 109(13), 58. Retrieved from

Posted in Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: Spoon

Title: Spoon

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

ISBN: 978-1423106852

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion



Spoon is a picture book for young readers about a spoon who has a hard time identifying the positive aspects of his life. Spoon envies all of the other utensils around him, claiming that they are lucky to be able to do the things that he will never be able to do. However, Spoon doesn’t realize that the other utensils envy him as well. They also wish to be able to do things that only Spoon will ever be able to do. Spoon comes to understand that every utensil is unique, and that he should be grateful for the things that he can do, especially since he is the only utensil who will ever be able to be used in a bowl of ice cream.

Rosenthal, A. K. & Magoon, S. (2009). Spoon. New York, NY: Disney/Hyperion Books.

My Impressions:

I wanted to love this book. It’s such a clever idea, and the pictures are adorable. However, after reading this book I was left thinking that I didn’t get much out of it. Yes, there is the message that we should celebrate our individuality, but there are many more books that do a much better job of communicating that message. I wouldn’t have liked this one at all had it not been for the illustrations. They are clever and original. The faces on the utensils do a great job of personifying them so that readers can better relate to the characters. I enjoy many of Rosenthal’s other books, and would recommend those to readers before this title.

For Use in the Library:

Amy Krouse Rosenthal has written many fantastic books that young children seem to love. I think that Spoon would make a great addition to an author study for young readers. Children often read what they know, so if they were introduced to one of Rosenthal’s books, such as Duck Duck Rabbit, they would love to find out that the author of the book they just enjoyed has many other books available for checkout. In this way, students get to hear a new story, and also explore the other work of an author they haven’t read before.


Spoon is a spoon who is feeling down because his life is not as exciting as those of his friends Knife, Fork, and Chopsticks. He covets dieir thrilling jobs and unique styles (“And Chopsticks! They are so lucky! Everyone thinks they’re really cool and exotic”). As it turns out, the other culinary implements think Spoon is the one who has it made – who else gets to bang on pots, dive into a bowl of ice cream, or relax in a hot cup of tea? Invigorated by these reassurances, Spoon can’t sleep and so hops into bed with his parents and, you guessed it, spoons. The details included in Magoon’s artwork are laugh-out-loud funny: in the Spoon family photo, black-sheep Spork can be seen looking woeful off to the side; there is a cute gag about a dish who ran away with a spoon; and the depiction of the Chopsticks as a couple of deadly serious ballroom dancers prancing around a plate of sushi is indelible. Rosendial’s creation is adorable and funny and will be embraced by both children and parents. – Daniel Kraus

Kraus, D. (2008). [Review of the book Spoon, by A. K. Rosenthal & S. Magoon]. The Booklist, 105(7), 59. Retrieved from


Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 2, Picture Books

Module 2: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Title: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Author: Mo Willems

ISBN: 978-0-06-220309-0

Publisher: HarperCollins


At first glance, That is Not a Good Idea! appears to be a typical cautionary tale, but it comes with a surprise ending. A hungry fox meets a goose on his stroll down the street one day. As these stories typically go, the fox decides to lure the unsuspecting goose to his house so that he can eat her for dinner. The fox takes it one step at a time, by first luring her into the woods, then to his kitchen and his pot of soup. In between each step of the plan, the goose’s chicks warn, “That is not a good idea!” (That is Not a Good Idea!, 2013, p.10). Throughout the story, the reader assumes that the chicks are warning their mother about the trickery of the fox. It is not until the end that the reader realizes that the goose had her own plan all along. She surprises the fox and puts him in his own pot of stew. As the goose and her babies feast on their stew dinner that night, the reader realizes that it was the fox that the chicks had been warning all along.

Willems, M. (2013). That is not a good idea! New York, NY: Balzer Bray.

My Impressions:

I am a huge fan of Mo Willems, so when I found out that he wrote a book that I wasn’t aware of, I jumped on the opportunity to read it for my literature in youth class.What grabbed my attention the most was the style and structure of the text and illustrations. It reads like a silent film. First comes a piece of action without words, represented in illustration. The words come on the next page, all white on a solid black background. The sentences themselves are very simple, much like would be in a silent film. This format remains throughout the book. I was impressed by the clever way Willems told such a simple story. There was also an element of surprise that added excitement and humor to the plot. When I realized at the end of the story that the chicks were warning the fox all along, and that the goose had made her own tricky dinner plans, I laughed in excitement. At that moment, I celebrate the whole composition of this book. The pictures, text, and structure/layout of the pages all work together to make this such a wonderful read. I would recommend this title to readers of all ages.

For Use in the Library:

I can imagine using this title for all kinds of activities with children. One that comes to mind is using this title to introduce the idea of Trickster Tales at the beginning of a fourth grade unit on fables. The characters in That is Not a Good Idea! easily exhibit the traits we look for in a trickster, and follow the typical plot of a trickster tale. From there, the students could practice finding the moral or lesson of the story, or work on their inferencing skills.


Willems, whose Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs also operated on a balance of threat and humor, models this suspenseful picture book after a silent movie. The sequence concerns a dastardly villain, played by a smirking fox in a top hat, and an in-genue, played by a coy duck in a blue headscarf. The fox invites the sweet-looking duck “for a stroll.” When she agrees, he asks, “Would you care to continue our walk into the deep, dark woods?” “Sounds fun!” she answers. Each time the duck accepts the fox’s invitations, an increasingly alarmed audience of six yellow peeps pops up to shout some version of the title: “That is not a good idea!” This being a Willems vehicle, a sudden twist reveals which character the peeps have been addressing all along. Cinematic conventions, like neatly framed white-on-black intertitles and gauzy iris-eye close-ups of the eyelash-batting heroine, join allusions to classics like “Henny Penny,” Rosie’s Walk, and perhaps even Mighty Mouse. Trust Willems to blend silents, animation, and comics for a wickedly droll poultry-in-peril yarn. Ages 4-8.

(2014). That is not a good idea! [Review of the book That is not a good idea!, by M. Willems]. Publishers Weekly, 261, 48. Retrieved from

Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 1, Picture Books

Module 1: The Plot Chickens

Title: The Plot Chickens

Author: Mary Jane and Herm Auch

ISBN: 978-0823423071

Publisher: Holiday House



The Plot Chickens details the story of Henrietta, a chicken who loves to read. After she has read all there is to read at the local library, Henrietta decides to try her hand at writing her own book. With the help of her aunts, Henrietta begins her journey to discover what makes a good story. She makes her way through the writing process, and is very proud of her final product. However, when she tries to get her writing published, she is met with only scathing reviews. One reviewer even called her work, “odoriferous” (The Plot Chickens, 2009, p.25). Henrietta doesn’t let this get her down, and she decides that she will publish her own books instead. In the end, no publisher finds any value in Henrietta’s writing, but it becomes a favorite of the kids who frequent the local library. The librarian asks Henrietta to read her story aloud to the children, and she learns that her story was just waiting for the right audience.

Auch, M. J., & Auch, H. (2009). The plot chickens. New York, NY: Holiday House.

My Impressions:

Holy cow, I loved it! This story is hilarious, and clever, while also teaching students how to follow the writing process. The characters were very well written. What especially did it for me was the speech bubbles that give the reader insight into what each of the chickens is adding to the story. Aunt Golda’s input is the best. On every page, she tries to end the story prematurely by saying something like, “Then he eats her. The end. Good story.” Aunt Golda reminds me so much of many of my students writing our writing block, who just want to get done with their writing. I can’t wait to read this to my class so that I can remind them, don’t be like Aunt Golda! I also love use of colorful vocabulary in this story. The authors do not dumb down the writing in the least, and this allows for much more interesting sentence structure, and for great teaching opportunities. Finally, The illustrations in this book are excellent. They are colorful, and do an excellent job of showing character moods and motivation through body language. Overall, this is an excellent book to read just to enjoy, or to read as a class to gain some insight into the writing process. I recommend it to readers of all ages, and for use in the classroom for elementary grades.

For use in the Library:

This title would make a great read to inspire writers. Read it to the students, and then ask them to pair up to write a story using the tips that Henrietta gives throughout the story. Remind your students, Don’t be like Aunt Golda! Take you time to develop your story. After the students are finished writing, allow them to share what they wrote. If possible, allow them to act out another group’s stories.



From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 2—Henrietta the chicken, star of Souperchicken (Holiday House, 2003), is an avid library user and decides that because reading is so much fun, “writing books must be eggshilarating.” She finds a manual of writing rules and creates her own story-with the unsolicited help of the other fowl. When it is rejected by a publisher, Henrietta decides to self-publish. She takes a copy to her librarian, who tells her to send it to The Corn Book Magazine for review. Henrietta gets another rejection: “odoriferous.” Then she wanders into the library at storytime and sees that her book was chosen best of the year by the children. Henrietta is asked to read it aloud. “She read with dramatic expression. Of course, all the children heard was BUK, BUK, BUK….” The illustrations, a combination of oil paints and digital technology, are bold and colorful. The pictures are busy, with Henrietta at her typewriter while her friends cavort around her. There are imagined scenes in cloud shapes, word balloons, and jokes aplenty. A droll chicken with a repeating line adds to the humor. This offering works on two levels. It’s a funny picture book that could be used as a manual on writing.—Ieva Bates, Ann Arbor District Library, MI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the School & Library Binding edition.

Bates, I. (2009). [Review of the book The plot chickens, by M. J. & H. Auch]. School Library Journal, 55(3), 105-106. Retrieved from: