Book Review of Once Upon a Memory

What writers and illustrators can learn from Once Upon a Memory...

How to…

  • infuse lyrical language and meter.
  • create a guessing game with compelling questions and predictable rhyme.
  • enhance the text with whimsical and vibrant illustrations.
  • provoke discussion with intriguing backmatter and related questions.
  • combine fantasy and reality in a way that resonates with children and adults.
  • Include concepts like “before” and “after” that teach and delight.

“Does a cake remember it once was...grain?  Does an ocean remember it once was...rain?”  

Once Upon a Memory, written by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska beautifully combines lyrical language, rhyme and whimsical illustrations to create a moving book about memories.  The personification of each object helps the reader enter a magical world of “before and after”.  The structure of this story lends itself to guessing what words will come next, and even when the answers are unexpected, the predictable rhyme will make you want to read this book more than once.  We also adore the backmatter at our house!  The author and illustrator both share memories and ask:  “What are some of your favorite things to remember?”  This question inevitably leads to great discussions about memories of cookies and how we should be making more cookies and therefore more favorite memories!  This book is a luscious read and well worth studying as a mentor text for anyone who wants to write lyrical, yet sparse texts.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus--an Excellent Mentor Text

What writers and Illustrators can learn from The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus...
How to...

  • Create a biography that fully engages the reader and involves the common core.
  • Interweave illustrations, words, and personality quirks to make a person come alive for a young audience.
  • Use collage to enhance the message of the story.
  • Organize intriguing backmatter.
  • Celebrate the power of words and education with story.

Amazing, astounding, breathtaking, extraordinary, impressive, marvelous, spectacular, wonderful, captivating.  The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is all of this and more. The thesaurus has been a beloved companion of mine since childhood.  Learning about Roget and his list-making genius made me smile. This is a biography well told through the perfect interplay of words and illustrations.  We learn about the power of words and how Roget's thesaurus became what it is today.  Jennifer Bryant artfully chooses the perfect words to describe Roget and his life.  Roget's introversion, his need for the thesaurus to be accessible to all classes, and his drive to learn make him someone that I wish I could meet.  This book includes some of the best back matter I've ever seen in a picture book:  A list of principal events, author and illustrator notes, a list for further reading and an actual picture of the original word book.  This book genuinely uses just the right words to make Roget's story come alive!  

The Body Institute, By Carol Riggs

The Body Institute, a young adult novel by Carol Riggs, is a compelling read with an intriguing premise.  It grapples with body image and scientific technology gone awry.  What if you could swap bodies? What if you could pay someone to enter your body and lose weight for you? Would you do it?  Do our bodies affect who we are inside?  Does our consciousness change with changes in our physical appearance?
Carol Riggs explores all of this with her engaging characters and fast paced plot. The book shines a light on fat shaming in a way that seems eerily close to the truth in our world today.
Morgan is a teen girl who needs money to keep her family out of the slums. Although she is brilliant, her application for a school grant is suspiciously denied. She discovers she will get the grant if she becomes a REDUCER and allows her brain to be uploaded into the body of a girl who is 100 pounds overweight. Morgan must lose the weight before she can be returned to her own body. She imagines the job will be fairly easy and without lasting consequences, but when her thoughts are invaded by those of the girl she’s inhabiting, will her views change? She begins to consider: “Are we our minds…or our bodies?”
This book is well worth the read for anyone who enjoys sci-fi or simply enjoys a good read!
What are you reading this summer?

Life's Homework and Collecting Stories

Recently I watched a Ted talk by Matthew Dicks.  He’s a masterful storyteller and his Homework for Life changed my perspective on writing and storytelling. His advice for finding stories is powerful and simple.  He challenges us to take five minutes at the end of each night to really think about the day and write down the most story worthy moment:  “When you start to look for stories in your life, you suddenly have stories well up”.  He suggests that we ask ourselves:
  1. What’s the 5 minute story from today?  
  2. What makes today different from yesterday?
Taking the time to really contemplate my day and find something story worthy has made me pay more attention to each moment.  My Life’s Homework document contains thoughts like:
  • Sheri can’t get the ring on Jim’s finger at wedding
  • Sammy at 5:30am asking for story cubes
  • ​Fox with chicken in mouth and dropping her when startled
  • Plane delayed 2 hours and got home at midnight.
To read more of this post, go to Children's Book Academy, here