PENGUIN AND PINECONE by Salina Yoon

A penguin? A pinecone? How can a writer possibly bring these random things together in a fully-developed and beautiful story about friendship and love? When you read this new picture book by prolific and uber-talented Salina Yoon, you’ll see exactly how.

I asked Ellie to write a review of PENGUIN AND PINECONE for A Mom’s World because she was so touched by the characters from the moment she saw the book trailer:

It’s a short video, but during those 59 seconds Ellie cried and laughed and clapped and cried some more. She thought it seemed like a sad book and wondered how it would end. Would Pinecone be gone forever? What would Penguin do without his new best friend? We had to get the book to find out, of course, and while we read it, Ellie cried and laughed and cried and laughed. Then we read it another dozen times. She slept with it. She brought it to school. Finally, after a week of carrying it around, the book has a place of honor on our ottoman in the living room, because you never know when you HAVE to read it again.

In a nutshell, PENGUIN AND PINECONE is a friendship story: When Penguin finds a lost pinecone one day, an unlikely friendship blooms. But Grandpa reminds Penguin that pinecones can’t live in the snow — they belong in the warm forest far away. Though he will miss his friend, Penguin returns Pinecone to his home, dreaming of the day they can reunite. And when he finally returns to the forest to check on his friend, Penguin discovers that love only grows over time-and so do little pinecones! 

And here is Ellie’s review — I asked her some questions and typed her answers as she talked.

  • What did you think about the book?  Sad. Happy. Enjoying. When Penguin has to leave Pinecone it is sad. It is happy at the end when Pinecone grows into a big tree because now it snows sometimes and Penguin and Pinecone get to be together. It’s enjoying when they get to be together when they first become friends before Grandpa tells Penguin it’s too cold for Pinecone here.
  • What did you like best about the book? When Penguin tries to figure out what Pinecone is. It is really, really funny!
  • What are your 3 favorite things about the story?  1. It’s funny.  2. It’s also sad.  3. It’s learning – if you didn’t know this, pinecones have seeds in them and if you leave them alone they can grow into trees.
  • What is your favorite word/lines?  “Pinecone was sad to see Penguin go, but the forest is no place for a penguin.” Because it’s sad, but it’s funny because the tree has a scarf.And it’s also really exciting because Penguin saw how Pinecone had grown so big.  “When you give love, it grows.” All the trees have scarves, hats, mittens on and those were all the pinecones that grew up. They had love. Because of the hats and things.
  • Who is your favorite character? What do you like best about that character?  Penguin – because he is most funniest and also really sad when Pinecone has to leave. He’s caring. About Pinecone.
  • What was your favorite illustration?  The picture that shows when Penguin leaves Pinecone in the forest. He made an “I” with sticks, made a heart with stones, and a “U” with pine needles. And he put Pinecone right in the middle. It shows how much Penguin loves Pinecone and how it feels to lose a friend.

Ellie wants you to know that you should read this book too, but only if you really like penguins and pinecones and also books that are happy and sad at the same time. She was thrilled to find out that Penguin has his own blog now too, so she can stay in touch with him and find out what he’s doing these days. We both look forward to many more adventures with Penguin in books to come!

Ellie also wants to say THANK YOU to Salina for sending her Penguin’s story, AND a copy of her board book, WHERE’S ELLIE?, which has not yet come down from the top bunk where it is read nightly. She hopes that some day she can meet Salina in person and give her a hug.

VAMPIRINA BALLERINA by Anne Marie Pace

Hey, just because you’re a vampire it doesn’t mean you can’t dream about dancing! We were so excited to get our copy of Anne Marie Pace‘s newest book — at one time or another, each of my girls have had the ballerina bug, and anything pretty, sparkly and twirly is right up our alley. At the same time, the girls are also not strangers to using the occasional spooky costumes to enhance their tiaras.

Little Vampirina is adorable — so what if she doesn’t look like the other dancers? So what if her family’s a little…unusual? I love the way Vampirina keeps trying her hardest, no matter what happens (like when her pets scare the class or when she trips over her cape). At first, her classmates regard her with fear and frank judgement, but as Vampirina presses on, they come to accept and even applaud her. The text itself is series of wonderful advice for all aspiring ballerinas (drink plenty of water and always get a good day’s sleep), and the accompanying pictures deftly apply those rules to little Vampirina.

The illustrations by the super-talented LeUyen Pham are fabulous and truly take advantage of extending the story, which is what picture books ought to do. The color scheme — with Vampirina dressed in black and gray, of course, and the ballet scenes depicted in soft pinks and whites — plays up the idea that Vampirina is out of place, at least, until the final image where Vampirina is surrounded by her smiling classmates and they all blend together (except for Vampirina’s fangs, of course.) My girls really loved picking out the small details throughout, and one of the favorites is the way that Vampirina turns into a bat whenever she’s embarrassed or upset (I mean, isn’t that how we all feel?). I loved the vintage feel to the book, which is probably appropriate for an immortal character.

In the end, the story is about never giving up on your dreams, and, after all her hard work, this plucky, adorable vampire ultimately earns the coveted status of Ballerina.

With Halloween just days away, you’ll want to add this book to your holiday library — but pick up a pair of plastic fangs for your little one. You might be facing a last-minute change from Cinderella to Vampirina.

Yes! A post in which I actually discuss writing!

Since half of my world is about writing, I figured it was time to blog on that topic.

Sigh.

‘Bout sums it up.  Okay, not really, but it’s been that kind of week.  I’ve been working on a few manuscripts this week, trying to improve my ability to fully capture a child’s voice.  (Unfortunately, I’ve learned that my own kids are not good examples of how kids talk.   My own kids seem to be good examples of how adults should talk.  “Mom, I recently learned that it’s not proper behavior to pick your nose at the table,” said Mitzi.  She’s seven.  Seriously.)  Not that my kids are geniuses or anything (well, duh, of course they are), but it seems that they’re not the norm.

So I’ve been working on that.  Lately I’ve started with fun titles and tried to carve a story from that.  Writing picture books is a whole lot harder than any of you suspect.  Imagine, you have at most 500 words to create the same kind of story arc as you would in longer writing.  You need simple, succinct language that is at once rhythmic and lyrical.  You need to have an engaging, realistic main character who gets into lots of zippy situations, and finishes the 32 pages with a whiz-bang (that last is what an experienced writer told me recently). You have to accept that your illustrator (whom you don’t choose and in fact will likely never meet) will tell a large chunk of the story, since most of the picture book readership can’t actually, you know, read.  So you have to think and plan in pictures, though you don’t in the end draw them.

Then you have to compete with the other 893 writers who have submitted to the same publisher that week.

Most picture books take about 2-3 years to write well enough to seriously submit to publishers.  Getting acquire by a publisher could take another 2 years.  Then, expect another 1-2 years before you see your book on a shelf.

Imagine that.

Clearly, not the biggest money -maker in the writing biz.

But it’s my new passion.  When you consider the dexterity and talent required to write a picture book well, it’s amazing.

I think I have potential, but I have a lot to learn.  Luckily, I’m surrounded by people who love nothing more than to cuddle up with a good book.

Nice.