#kidlit Picture Book That Excels At Suspense and Surprise

Along with picture books, I also write mysteries for adult readers (see It’s a Mystery blog). Mystery (and thriller) writers strive to create suspense and tension, as well as surprise in their work. That’s why it is cool to see an author/illustrator excel at this task in a nearly wordless picture book.

In Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima, Spencer has an unusual pet, a balloon dog. The dog accompanies Spencer everywhere he goes, including some places that are decidedly dangerous for balloons.  Readers hold their breath. Will his pet survive?

The ending is a twist sure to surprise everyone. Once the surprise is revealed, many readers are going to want to read it again to look for clues that they might have missed. Although it will never be the same level of surprise, readers also want to re-live that initial experience of tension/suspense.

I noticed in reviews that some people were disturbed by the twist. Perhaps it is possible to defy expectations too much, to make the surprising twist too far from the realm of possibility.? You don’t want to do anything that interferes with readers suspending disbelief and buying into your story in adult books, but the standards are likely different in highly-imaginative children’s books.

Have you read Spencer’s New Pet? What did you think?

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Hardcover: 56 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 27, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1534418776
ISBN-13: 978-1534418776

Two New #Kidlit Books Set in Oklahoma

This week I updated the Oklahoma state page of the Reading through the States website with these two books. A big thank you to author/librarian Sherri Maret for suggesting them.

The Cloud Artist–A Choctaw Tale (Told in English and Choctaw) by Sherri Maret and illustrated by Merisha Sequoia Clark

2017 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award Finalist
2018-2019 First Nation Communities Read Shortlist
2018 Oklahoma Book Award Finalist

Leona, a little Choctaw girl, can paint with clouds. When she is invited to join a carnival, Leona must choose what kind of artist she wants to be.

Visit the author’s website for a number of activities to accompany the book.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: The RoadRunner Press; first edition (September 26, 2017)
Language: English, Choctaw
ISBN-10: 1937054748
ISBN-13: 978-1937054748

The Survivor Tree-Oklahoma’s Symbol of Hope and Strength by Gaye Sanders and illustrated by Pamela Behrend

Winner  2018 Comstock Read Aloud Book Award
Winner  2018 Oklahoma Book Award
2019 Notable Social Studies Book
Finalist for 2018 Reading the West Book Award, Mountain and Plains Independent Booksellers Association

No one expected the American elm that grew near the Alfred P. Murrah building to survive after the bombing on April 19, 1995. But it did, earning its name The Survivor Tree.

Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Publisher: The RoadRunner Press; first edition (November 1, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1937054497
ISBN-13: 978-1937054496

If you ever have suggestions for appropriate books, please let me know. It is a hobby of mine that often gets put on the back burner.

Blog Tour for All Eyes On Alexandra Starts Tomorrow #kidlit

I’m excited to announce that next week I’m going to be part of a blog tour announcing the new picture book, All Eyes on Alexandra by Anna Levine and illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto.


What it’s about:

In All Eyes on Alexandra, young Alexandra Crane is terrible at following her family in their flying Vee. She can’t help it that the world is so full of interesting distracting sights! When it’s time for the Cranes to migrate to Israel’s Hula Valley for the winter, Alexandra is excited but her family is worried. Will Alexandra stay with the group, and what happens if a dangerous situation should arise? Might Alexandra—and the rest of the flock—discover that a bad follower can sometimes make a great leader?

Young readers learn about the real crane migration.

If you can’t wait for my post on December 14 to find out about it, be sure to visit the blogs on this week of the tour:

December 3rd @ The Muffin
What goes better in the morning than a muffin? Make sure you visit WOW’s blog and read an interview with the author and enter for a chance to win a copy of the book All Eyes on Alexandra.  –Direct link to post.

December 5th @ Cassandra’s Writing World
Visit Cassandra’s blog where she shares her thoughts about Anna Levine’s picture book All Eyes on Alexandra.

December 5th @ Break Even Books
Visit Erik’s blog where you can read Anna Levine’s guest post about how to jog your inspiration. I’ll be sure to catch that one.

December 7th @ Coffee with Lacey
Grab some coffee and visit Lacey’s blog where you can read her review of Anna Levine’s picture book All Eyes on Alexandra.

December 8th @ Author Anthony Avina’s Blog
Visit Anthony Avina’s blog where he joins in the fun of celebrating and shares information about Anna Levine’s book All Eyes on Alexandra.

December 8th @ Christy’s Cozy Corners
Visit Christy’s blog and cozy up while you read her review of Anna Levine’s picture book All Eyes on Alexandra.

December 9th @ Coffee with Lacey
Visit Lacey’s blog again where you can read Anna Levine’s guest post about designing your ideal writing spot. – I need help with this, so I’m looking forward to it.

December 9th @ Christy’s Cozy Corner
Visit Christy’s blog where you can read Anna Levine’s blog post about how she decided to use crane’s in her story.

Can’t wait for more next week.

Thanks to blog tour manager Nicole Pyles for organizing this event and providing the materials.

Encouraging Kids to Read: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

Want to encourage children to enjoy reading and books? Try this two-pronged approach.

Prong 1:  Book Ownership

Buy books for kids. Give books as gifts. Why? Owning an age-appropriate book means the child will be able to return to it again and again, allowing him or her to become comfortable with it. Ownership allows children to make friends with books.

Books don’t have to be expensive. Plenty of used book stores, library sales, and discount chains offer inexpensive children’s books.

Prong 2:  Create Enjoyable Memories

Connect reading with some enjoyable and memorable activities. Look at the child’s passions and learning styles, and explore them using the book as an inspiration. There are many, many suggestions for activities to tie-in with books online, especially on Pinterest (Buggy and Buddy have over 500 pins).

Let’s use Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen as an example.

Extra Yarn is a picture book about a young girl who finds a box of yarn. It looks like an ordinary box, but when she begins to use the yarn, amazing things happen. It is a complex, layered story that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

It is also a Caldecott Honor Book, so expect imaginative, creative illustrations.

extra yarn book activities

Suggested Activities:

1. Explore the Story Using Different Formats

Some of us love paper books and others swear by our ebook readers. Still others enjoy listening to a book. Unsure which to choose? Encourage a child to explore all the different ways to enjoy a book.

Be sure to include audio options. In addition to reading the book aloud in person, look for videos of people reading children’s books like the one below.

It might be fun to compare how different people read. Does the reader pronounce any of the words differently? What about rhythm? Are some readers faster or slower? Which do you prefer?

Yarn Projects

The story begs to be accompanied with some colorful skeins of yarn to be used for projects.

2. Make a Yarn Doll

My grandmother taught me how to make these when I was a child.


  • Yarn (one or more colors)
  • Index card or a rectangle of similar size cut from card stock (or stiffer cardboard for younger kids)
  • Scissors (age appropriate)
  • Googly eye (optional)


If you are using an index card, line up the end of the yarn with edge of the card (middle of 3 inch side). This will be called the lower edge. Gently wrap the yarn around the center of the card the long way about 25 to 30 times. The yarn should be snug, but not so tight that it bends the card. Keep the tension as even as possible so all the wraps are the same length. When finished, cut the yarn at the lower edge.

Next, cut a piece of yarn about five inches long. It can be the same color yarn or a contrasting color.

Slide the cut piece between the yarn and the card on the upper edge until there is roughly the same amount of yarn piece on either side of the wrapped yarn. Tie the ends of the cut piece together snugly around the wrapped yarn with a square knot. This will be the top of the doll’s head. (Note:  I forgot this step in the next photo, but added it at the end. See the last photograph in the series, the one with two dolls.)

Slip the index card out of the yarn wrap, keeping the yarn as a bundle. Cut another piece of yarn about five inches long. Tie this piece around the bundle about an inch from the top knot. This forms the head.

Tie another cut piece of yard about 1 to 1 1/2 inches below the head. That will form the body.

Now you have some choices. You can cut through the yarn at the lower edge to form a skirt. (If you have ever made tassels, this is similar.) That can be the finished look.

You can also separate the lower edge yarn into two “legs” and tie the “feet” with two piece of yarn.

To make arms, wrap yarn as you did above, but this time wrap around in the short part of the card.

When you’ve wrapped 20-25 times, cut the yarn at the lower edge, as before. Slip the card out of the yarn, leaving it as a bundle. Using 2 pieces of yarn, tie off the bundle near the ends (creating “hands.”)

Now slip the arms through the body of the doll by poking your finger in to separate the yarn roughly in half and then feeding the arms into the hole. The arms should be perpendicular to the body.

Finish the dolls by tidying up the tie pieces (cut them close to the knots), adding hair, googly eyes, etc.

3. Lacing Craft for Preschoolers


  • Tag board, cardstock, manila folders or light cardboard
  • Hole punch
  • Yarn
  • Tape (optional)

Cut a frame out of the tag board, creating a size appropriate for the age of the children you are working with. Make holes in the frame with a hole punch. Now have the child weave and wrap by placing yarn through the holes. Note:  Rolling a small piece of tape around the yarn at the leading end will make it easier to slip through the holes (like the aglet of a shoelace).

For this one, we mimicked a spider web.

Can be extended by adding different yarn colors.

Kids also enjoy exploring yarn by wrapping it around kitchen chairs, trees, etc.

4. Teach older kids how to knit or crochet.

If you don’t know how to knit or crochet yourself, check some of the many how-to videos.

5. Research how yarn is made and where the raw materials come from.

One of our favorite picture books on this topic is Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep: A Yarn About Wool by Teri Sloat.

An older favorite is Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie dePaola

All this was inspired by Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3
Publisher: Balzer + Bray; First Edition edition (January 17, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0061953385
ISBN-13: 978-0061953385


Have you ever shared Extra Yarn with a child? Do you have any activity suggestions to extend this book?