Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Five friends want to do something terrific together. However, what was terrific for one was not terrific for them all. Then Snake slithers along and whispers, “It’s terrific to swallow an animal whole.”

Max's Boat Pick: Terrific!

Written and illustrated by Sophie Gilmore

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (July 6, 2021)

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What inspired you to write Terrific? SG: "For my third book I struggled with writing another fable-like tale, despite feeling full of story-telling threads. I'd shelved the bones of Terrific a few years earlier, and revisited the draft because it felt like a refreshing, animal-romp of a palette cleanser. Once it started coming together as an idea, it actually felt like a good fit. A few years ago I did a series of illustrations just for fun about an oddball bunch of animals, the Good Friends, doing things like swimming, where one of them was doing it wrong and the rest were just there, awkwardly looking on. So I suppose they were the seed."

What was it like creating a villain? "I enjoyed creating a villain, so I hope readers enjoy the increasing slimyness of Snake's character. I also wanted to ensure that Snake came across as a nasty piece of work--otherwise it might look as though he was being punished just for being a snake, when snakes are terrific."

There seems to be quite the mini-genre going of picture books that have characters devoured. What are some titles you love? "The thing is, I've always loved a book in which someone is devoured, preferably in one gulp, with a smacking of lips. There are no rules for what can or cannot happen next: the stubborn boy in Maurice Sendak's Pierre is shaken back out of the lion. Duckworth, of the wonderful Duckworth, the Difficult Child by Michael Sussman and Júlia Sardà, attends supper with his terrible parents while in the belly of a great snake. Then there is A Hungry Lion, Or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals, in which the action remains unwitnessed, with room for doubt. Similarly in Terrific, the devouring happens off-page, and is hinted at with a newly rotund belly and a little fourth-wall eye contact: it could be flat-out denied, if the bed-time reader would prefer to gloss over it."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "A few books that you'd find in my 100 best-picture-books-of-all-time would be The Minpins by Roald Dahl and Patrick Benson because I still pore over each spread, losing myself in the silent, cathedral-like forest; What is a River by Monika Vaicenavičienė, because with each word, illustration, page-turn you are bewitched further; When Molly Drew Dogs by Deborah Kerbel and Lis Xu for its sensitive handling of anxiety and tender illustrations; and You Matter by Christian Robinson for his joyful artwork and, because when it all comes down to it, is there a more important message to give every last kid? In fact, I'd like to include everything Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson have worked on together, because they are just wonderful: Last Stop on Market Street, Milo Imagines the World, and Carmela Full of Wishes.

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Ghosts are supposed to be sheets, light as air and able to whirl and twirl and float and soar. But the little ghost who is a quilt can't whirl or twirl at all, and he feels sad and left out when he can't keep up with his friends. But then one day, everything changes...

Pick by Monica Arnaldo, Are You a Cheeseburger?:

The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt

Written by Riel Nason

Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Publisher: Tundra Books (September 1, 2020)

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The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt handles identity and self-discovery so well. Can you recommend any other books that explore a similar theme?

RN: "I'd recommend Where Oliver Fits by Cale Atkinson and the first Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt. Oliver is a puzzle piece and Atkinson thinks of absolutely every angle as far as Oliver figuring out where he should fit. (It goes well beyond just assessing his basic shape. It is all so well done, and I kept thinking, yes, perfect, that is so clever!) As far as Scaredy Squirrel, sure, maybe I lean towards loving picture books with squirrels, but there is a page flip in the book when Scaredy FINALLY does something and has a wonderful discovery about himself. It is so cute and fun and the whole book is hilarious too."

What was your favorite book as a child? "Miss Suzy by Miriam Young and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. It's about a squirrel who gets chased from her tree-top home, finds safety in an old dollhouse in an attic (where she meets some brave toy soldiers) and then more or less, the power of kindness leads to a happy ending. I loved it. The only thing I loved more than the story was of course the illustrations and imagining actually being Miss Suzy in her tiny oak tree home or the dollhouse."

Do you have a favorite bedtime story? "My children are teenagers now so there are no more bedtime stories at my house, but I do have a book choice to mention as a favorite bedtime read: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen. It's a book that I've read countless times, too, for storytime when I volunteered at the elementary school library. The illustrations are stellar and there is a double-page spread in the book with animals hiding throughout the town that is amazing. It's a sweet rhyming story that can be read again and again."

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

A greyhound swears there's a turtle in the tree. A bulldog says it's a squirrel. Their argument leads to a most surprising discovery....

Max's Boat Pick: Turtle in a Tree

Written and illustrated by Neesha Hudson

Publisher: Dial Books (June 8, 2021)

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What inspired you to write Turtle in a Tree? NH: "The idea for Turtle in a Tree came from my son who was about two and a half at the time. We were waiting in the car and he suddenly exclaimed, “There’s a turtle in that tree!” To which I responded, “A turtle in a tree?” He then said, “I’m sure.” The conversation, and his insistence, stuck with me and it grew into the idea of two dogs arguing over what they see in a tree. The first few pages of the book are that conversation almost word for word."

You handle perception so well in Turtle in a Tree. Are there other picture books you would recommend for how they handle perception or differing viewpoints? "The one that immediately jumps to mind may be a bit obvious: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. Each page turn shows what different humans and animals see when looking at a cat 'walking through the world.' The style and color palette are visually stunning and add a lot of depth to the repetitive phrase 'saw a cat.' I love when text and pictures work so strongly together.

I also thought of This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers. I like the character arc that takes place in this relatively short story. Wilfred thinks this moose belongs to him, only to be horrified to realize other people think the same thing! After an emotional fall (both literally and figuratively) he realizes that maybe the moose doesn’t actually BELONG to anyone. After this realization his relationship with the moose is all the stronger."

There was a certain point (I won't give it away!) when I literally laughed out loud while reading your book. What are some of your favorite laugh-out-loud picture books?

"My first favorites were The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Most of Oliver Jeffers's and Jon Klassen’s books make me laugh out loud, too. I Want My Hat Back is one of the most memorable. I still remember my first time reading it and exploding into laughter at the end. Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko and Tim Miller is hilarious and I love the narrator perspective as well! Emma Yarlett creates really fun, bright, high quality books with plenty of silly humor. Bob Shea’s books, and Mike Boldt’s and Dev Petty’s and Ame Dyckman’s, too."

What's the picture book that inspired you to get into picture books? "I fell in love with picture books in college. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers really helped inspire me to get on the path to getting my own book published. The illustration style was very new and different to me at the time. Coupled with a heartfelt story and a little humor… I was hooked. His books are still among my most influential."

What's the one picture book that gets the most love in your house? "A long lasting favorite is The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. It hurts me a little as an illustrator that a book with no pictures is one of my kid’s favorite books but I can understand why. It always results in a theatrical read and a lot of giggles."

What's your all-time favorite classic picture book?

"Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is an all-time favorite and one I go back to many times to study pacing and page layout."