Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Squirrel loves counting the leaves on his tree--red leaves, gold leaves, orange, and more. But hold on! One of his leaves is missing! On a quest to find the missing leaf, Squirrel teams up with his good friend Bird to discover who the leaf thief could be in this fun exploration of change.

Max's Boat Pick: THE LEAF THIEF

Written by Alice Hemming and illustrated by Nicola Slater

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (August 1, 2021)

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What inspired you to write The Leaf Thief? AH: "I came up with the idea for The Leaf Thief on a particularly lovely autumn day in 2010, walking through piles of leaves and turning the word ‘leaf’ over in my mind. I wrote the basic story on that same day, but I just couldn’t seem to get Squirrel’s voice right and the text didn’t quite work.

Years later, I was visiting a friend and her children. Her little boy was fascinated in some building work taking place next door and kept shouting out questions to the builder, who answered wearily but patiently. This exchange helped me find the voices of Squirrel and Bird. The Leaf Thief was accepted for publication, and I was over the moon when Fiz Osborne, my lovely editor, paired my words with Nicola Slater’s amazing illustrations. She instantly ‘got’ the book and was able to convey so much emotion and humour through the characters’ expressions. This, along with her use of colour and humorous touches brought the whole book to life."

Are there other picture books you love that explore autumn or seasonal change? "An oldie, but a goodie: All the books in Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper series are delightful, but his autumnal After the Storm is a special favourite, in which all the animals work together to help each other after their tree falls down. Likewise, the whole Hedgehugs series (from husband and wife team Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson) is great but the autumnal one, Hide and Squeak, where Horace and Hattie follow a mysterious squeak, is particularly fun. More recently, the stunning Pip and Egg by Alex Latimer and David Litchfield. It’s not exactly seasonal but is about growth and change and the circle of life. I love it!"

Do you remember what you loved reading to your children at age three? "At this age, they loved simple, repetitive books, like Zed’s Bread by Mick Manning and Granström and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury. Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers by Sam Lloyd was a great way to introduce the idea of a new sibling, but also a fun story in its own right."

At age five? "When they were a little older, humour became particularly important. They found it with the Dr. Seuss books and Jonny Duddle’s Pirates series, especially The Pirates next Door. You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt also provided hours of fun! Along with the funnies, they enjoyed more gentle books with lovely artwork, including Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner and the small but perfectly formed Eric by Shaun Tan."

What are your favorite classic picture books? "Classic classics that take me back to my childhood include the perfect Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg and Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It is amazing that books like these are read across the generations and never seem to grow old.

But there are many more modern classics, too, and I love I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen because it’s so funny, dark and quotable. I personally overuse the phrases 'I have seen my hat' and 'Don’t ask me any more questions.'

Also, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. I remember finding this in a bookshop just as I was getting interested in writing picture books. I found it hilarious and bought multiple copies as presents."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Two that would definitely make the list, and I haven’t mentioned above, are: Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson. Three owls sitting on a branch for the entire story shouldn’t work, but the gentle, repetitive text and the beautiful illustrations with their shifting perspective, ensure that the story is a delight.

And I Love You, Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark. I love the rhythm, repetition, and wonderful expressions of an increasingly worried Blue Kangaroo as the book moves towards its snuggly, satisfying ending. Both are cuddly bedtime books, perfect for autumn evenings."

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

As a young bunny is carried by his mother home in the dark night, he sees lights in the windows, and hears and smells what his neighbors might be doing: talking on the phone, pulling a pie out of the oven, having a party, saying goodbye. As the bunny's father tucks him into bed, the bunny continues to wonder about his neighbors' activities in this dreamlike tale.

Pick by Matthew Forsythe, POKKO AND THE DRUM and Matthew Burgess, BIRD BOY:


Written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi

Publisher: Kids Can Press (April 4, 2017)

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What inspired you to write The Way Home in the Night? AM: "I used to live in Berlin. There, I saw many homes through the windows. Most of the windows didn't have a curtain (it's different in Japan!) and I could see many kinds of life. It looked sometimes dramatic or melancholic or sympathetic. I imagined many lives in them. It was impressive and I drew some pictures of what I saw, for example, someone calling by a building window or someone looking out a train window. This story was started from those pictures."

Do you have any other favorite picture books that explore the nighttime? "Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, describes directly the tender atmosphere and feelings which cannot be told by words. I think this book shows childhood happiness and is close to The Way Home in the Night in this way. Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote and illustrated The Polar Express, is one of my favorite authors. His illustrations are really powerful and draw me into his imagined world. I can enjoy his fantasy world so vividly with all of its high technology. Every time I open the pages, I can feel the excitement of the special day and the smell of winter."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Dawn by Uri Shulevitz is the book that inspired me to draw a picture book before I went to art university. I found this book at the bookstore near my school and it changed my image of a picture book completely. I used to think picture books were only for kids. But Dawn showed how picture books can have universal expressions, including for kids. I love the beautiful and quiet moments in this book."

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. But what happens when the greedy circus owner returns to claim the animals?

Pick by Riel Nason, The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt:


Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Publisher: Candlewick (September 22, 2009)

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I love that The Circus Ship is based on a historical event. You also wonderfully illustrated President Taft is Stuck in the Bath, written by Mac Barnett. Are there any other picture books you love that are based (however loosely) on historical events? CVD:"I love picture books based on true historical events, especially strange and unusual events, but they are few and far between. That’s why I was so excited when I read about The Royal Tar, the steamship that caught fire off the coast of Maine on which I based The Circus Ship. A couple books that come to mind that are based on actual events are Letting the Swift River Go by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, and Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond."

Riel Nason called out your incredible double-page spread with the animals hiding around the town. Can you tell me more about that spread? "It’s funny, because I almost didn’t include that spread in the book. I thought what if kids find the animals the first time and then on the second or third or fifth or 30th time they read it, that illustration just becomes boring. I didn’t foresee that it would be exactly the opposite. It’s the spread that’s most mentioned in that book. In a way, I think it’s almost an empowering image for young children. Even though they may have found the animals a number of times, they still feel like they have observation skills that Mr. Paine doesn’t, and find joy in one-upping the villain."

You have such a distinctive illustration style. Are there any other illustrators you admire for their distinctive style? "There are so many illustrators whose work I admire (from Adam Rex and Christian Robinson to Robert McCloskey and P.D. Eastman) that it’s hard to pick just one. I would undoubtedly leave someone I love out, and I would hate to do that. So I’ll mention an illustrator that maybe people might not be as familiar with - Mark Buehner. He often illustrates stories by his wife, Caralyn, and people may know their Snowmen books (Snowmen at Night, Snowmen at Work). But their book, Fanny's Dream, is probably my favorite. It’s a wonderful story and the illustrations are gorgeous. Mark also illustrated Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, written by Jerdine Nolen, which is also amazing."

What do you think the best picture books do? "I think the best picture books take you to a place you’ve never been and/or show you something you’ve never seen. Probably the best example of this is the classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. A more current example is The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by the Fan Brothers. I also think the best picture books make you want to read them over and over. One of the best compliments I can receive is when a parent tells me that after they had finished reading one of my books to their child, the child responds, 'Again!'"

What are some of your favorite classic picture books? "The classic picture books are classic for a reason - they’re so good. Some classics I still go back to are One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. But there are so many more. Some more recent books that I think (or hope) will become classics are Terrific by Jon Agee, Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, Flotsam by David Wiesner, Small in the City by Sydney Smith, Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall, School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen... I could go on and on and on…."

What was your favorite picture book as a child? "My favorite picture book as a child was probably Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey. Not so much for the writing, but definitely for the illustrations, which are stunning! That book definitely takes you someplace you’ve never been before!"

Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids? "One book I remember that I loved reading aloud to my sons is Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, which I mentioned before. It’s written in an easy conversational style and I loved adding a Southern accent when I read it. Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman and Trash Trucks! by Daniel Kirk were favorites, too. And my wife loved to read In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "I think all the books I mentioned above would make my top 100 picture books of all time. And I think if I had to name my number one favorite picture book of all time, I’d go back to a classic, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. It just might be the perfect picture book."