Perfect Picture Book for Middle School

One of the perks of being a librarian is to attend events in which the newest picture books are introduced to the world. I recently spent a day attending the SLJ Picture Book Palooza event of the year. This is an online event in which librarians and teachers are acquainted with the authors and illustrators of these lovely gems entering the world for the first time.  One gem that I did find and want to share is The Station Cat, a perfect picture book for middle school.

SLJ Picture Book Palooza

After attending each year, I chuckle when I hear someone say picture books are only for very young children. To me, it’s like someone strolling past a bookstore saying there’s nothing in there but a bunch of old books. Ahh. If they could only perceive the magical worlds they just paced past that both young and old would enjoy. 

The Creation of a Perfect Picture Book

Attendees are able to listen to how books are created through the minds of the authors. I loved each moment. One particular moment was when a distinguished author said while she was writing a biography, she kept hearing a voice. She said the voice said many times, “I didn’t talk that way.” As the voice got louder and louder in her mind, she did more research. It was then she realized that the person’s “at home” voice was very different than the one the public knew. To me, this was incredible. It was also a good lesson on how important “voice” is in our writing. 

The Perfect Picture Book Must Include Illustrations

Another aspect of the event that I loved was listening to and watching the illustrators. I perceive illustrators as just as important as authors. Many times, the illustrator seems to take a back seat to the writing of a book. 

However, I feel if we could place more emphasis on the illustrations, it would pull in the reluctant readers that we seem to lose. This is especially true when we introduce chapter books and novels to our students. 

Visual-Spatial Learners

In addition, illustrations draw in the interest of the artistic students. In the publishing world, there is a little secret. Did you know that 60% of the story is only told through words, and that the other 40% is told through the illustrations? For example, the author shouldn’t write “The sky was gloomy when the child entered the beautiful garden.” The job of expressing the gloomy sky and the beauty of the garden is placed on the illustrator, not the author. 

Magical Creation of Flowing Words

I will always say over and over again, picture books, or storybooks as I call them, are not only for the ones who are just beginning to read, but for all who love a good story, no matter the age. It’s for all who want to fall into another world and stop time until the magical creation of flowing words slowly comes to an end.

Storybooks to me are like short movies. They gently pull you in at the beginning, holding your emotions as they rise and fall, all the while carrying you tenderly to the end. It’s at this point in which you feel like you will never be the same person you were before you opened those well-written illustrated pages. 

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The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, does just this. I was introduced to this and many other picture books this year. 

The Station Cat is a story that begins its journey in a world full of grayness, void of any colors or joy at a busy, lonely train station. As the story progresses, we are introduced to a colorful kitten, a lonely, starving, little lady that no one pays any mind to. However, as time drifts past, one by one, slowly, ever so slowly, the sad passengers begin to notice her. As they do and begin to show her empathy, they realize how much this one little kitten changes them and opens their life up to a more colorful world.

Publisher’s Synopsis of The Station Cat:

A stunning picture book about the power of hope.

A lonely little kitten wanders into a dull, gray station, full of dull, gray people. Her colorful fur and bright green eyes bring warmth and life to this weary place, and soon people begin to notice the kitten. As she learns about the different travelers and their struggles from loss and loneliness, the little kitten wants to help fill their world with hope and color, too. 

In this timely and important book, author and illustrator Stephen Hogtun shows young readers the pride and sense of purpose that can come from helping others.

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, is the perfect book to bring the beauty and hope of a well-written story into your classroom. Full of beautifully written similes and metaphors, Hogtun’s writing takes the reader through a delightful journey. Warning: have your tissues nearby for the ending. Better yet, watch the faces of your students when they reach that final destination. Believe me, they will be given the priceless gift of empathy for others and how this empathy can truly make the world around them a more colorful place. 

Please enjoy the reading of this wonderful book by the author himself. A true gift.

The Art of Illustrating a Picture Book

One thing my daughter, who is a teacher as well, emphasizes is that not all children have the same interest. This is so true. For this reason, I pay just as much attention to the beautifully crafted illustrations for the budding artist in the class. Most of the time, if I have a reluctant reader, I go the other direction, and introduce them to the beauty of the paintings, the use of color, the light strokes, the heavy emphasis of the paint brush here and there. This opens up worlds of art for them, thus bringing them into the world of books too.

Colors Are Extremely Important

In the story, The Station Cat, perfect picture book for middle school, not only does Hogtun write the words, he brings those words to life through his beautiful illustrations. This is particularly true in the area of color. In the beginning, the young kitten is the only one full of color, or as we may imagine, full of hopes and dreams. Everyone else is dull, void of color, and life. As the story progresses, things begin to change. Color begins to flow through to the lonely passengers drifting by. 

This is one of those beautifully constructed books in which we could easily take away the words to only imagine the story through its illustrations. For the reluctant readers, placing emphasis on the illustrations will open up worlds for them as well. 

As a librarian, there are many joys with my job. I love being the first to view new books as they begin their journey. For I know the next ones to view them will be through the hands of my students. I love the classics. However, I put just as much, if not more emphasis on the newer books emerging from the presses. I know The Station Cat will be much loved along its journey. 


If you ever get a chance to virtually attend next year’s SLJ Palooza of Picture Books, please do. It will open your heart to the world of picture books. Furthermore, t will also open up the possibilities of what you can do with them in middle school. Please do not let the age limits on these books stop you. I did check the age limit for The Station Cat. They recommended eight for the oldest reader. I dare to disagree. In my tender older age, I enjoyed every moment. I can only imagine the lessons I can create from its pages. Please consider attending next year’s event and let this wonderful world of perfect picture books open up for you as well. 

Author of Blog

If you would like to learn more about reading picture books in middle school, please visit our other blog post…

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom

Using Scary Stories to Motivate Writers

Are you searching for a way to motivate writers in your classroom? If so, grab some quick and easy scary mentor text to read to your students during October. Reading a variety of samples of mentor text is an awesome way to model the craft of writing. Plus, using scary stories to motivate writers is even easier in the month of October.

Literary Elements and Figurative Language

What’s the secret to writing a suspenseful Halloween story? By making sure key pieces of literary elements and figurative language are intertwined throughout. Many spooky stories contain such crucial aspects as a unique setting on the edge of night, spooky sounds that only well-crafted onomatopoeia can produce, and sensory words that really make a reader feel a part of the action.


As you know, the setting of a story is the location in which a narrative takes place and time of the events. The setting creates the mood. However, a scary story doesn’t always have to occur in the typical graveyard or a haunted house with a long history of misfortune. No. It can be somewhere totally unexpected, but with the right twist and turns, becomes a place of danger, a place of fear. For example, in the story, The Creepy Carrots, who would have ever thought a carrot patch named Crackenhopper Field could produce an air of fright. Nonetheless, it most certainly does through the creative mind of Aaron Reynolds.

While much emphasis is placed on the location, which is indeed extremely important, so is the time. Nothing grabs the reader’s attention more than when a story begins at the edge of night. For example, Linda Williams writes in The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, “She walked so long and so far that it started to get dark. There was only a sliver of moon shining through the night.” I personally believe it has to do with primal fear kicking in with the reader, creating an environment in which the hairs stand up on the back of their necks and they are dying to know more.


What’s another crucial aspect that a spooky story must contain? Sound. Nothing creates more dread than an unexpected sound coming from an unexpected place, no matter the time or location. For example, in The Creepy Carrots, Reynolds writes, “Jasper was about to help himself to a victory snack…when he heard it. The soft…sinister…tunktunktunk of carrots creeping.” No one is scared of pulling carrots from the ground. However, when the sky is on the edge of darkness and the field is located along the side of woods, and you are all alone, then suddenly a sinister echo vibrates from the garden behind you. Yes, primal fear automatically kicks in, even if it is a carrot patch.

Sensory Words

Last, what brings a reader fully into a story than the use of sensory words in mentor text. Sensory words really make the reader feel a part of the action. In the story, The Snowmen at Night, Buehner writes, “Some bite into caramel treats, which give them gooey grins.” I can taste the caramel now. Can you?

Let’s explore the mentor text mentioned above even more.

The Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown

A quick and fun mentor text to read aloud is The Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. It definitely takes suspense to a whole different level by demonstrating to your students how a simple carrot field can be transformed into a sinister setting.

Can carrots, the simple vegetable, that doctors tell everyone is good for them, stalk you home and make your life such a disaster you are scared to sleep at night? That is exactly what happened to the fun-loving bunny named Jasper one fall.

This mentor text is perfectly written and illustrated in the Twilight Zone style of the 60s. Reynolds uses the setting of a carrot field on the edge of night to send shivers down the spines of his readers. The author brilliantly weaves the figurative language of onomatopoeia throughout this story to keep his readers on edge.

Additionally, this story makes the perfect mentor text to demonstrate the writing of a scary story without using any truly scary parts. I mean, who fears a couple of carrots, right? Well, just ask Jasper that question.

Publisher’s Synopsis: In this Caldecott Honor-winning picture book, The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch as a rabbit fears his favorite treats are out to get him. Celebrated artist Peter Brown’s stylish illustrations pair perfectly with Aaron Reynold’s text in this hilarious picture book that shows it’s all fun and games…until you get too greedy.

The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

Another great one that will instantly grab your student’s attention is The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything. The use of onomatopoeia is expertly crafted throughout this story.

How do you scare a little old lady who isn’t afraid of anything? Well, if things don’t scare her, maybe sounds will. Williams incorporates the figurative language of onomatopoeia to create a fun and rhythmic story for all readers.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Once upon a time, there was a little old lady who was not afraid of anything! But one autumn night, while walking in the woods, the little old lady heard . . . clomp, clomp, shake, shake, clap, clap. And the little old lady who was not afraid of anything had the scare of her life! With bouncy refrains and classic art, this timeless Halloween story is perfect for reading aloud.

The Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner

Another fantastic book to read to show how an ordinary setting can be changed into a spooky narrative is The Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner. Who would have ever thought of using snowmen for a Halloween story? However, Buehner does it beautifully.

Are there such things as snowmen at Halloween? Not only does this mentor text show how to craft a good story, but it also gives your students a great research project. Plus, adding a nonfiction writing project motivates writers as well.

After analyzing this story for literary elements and figurative language, my students also did some research. They researched how many states and countries may possibly have snowmen on their front lawns during Halloween. The answer might amaze you.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Have you ever built a snowman and discovered the next day that his grin has gotten a little crooked, or his tree-branch arms have moved? And you’ve wondered . . . what do snowmen do when we’re not watching? After an early snowfall, a few kids build some snowmen before going trick-or-treating. And when the kids go off to bed, the snowmen have their own Halloween festival! 


An assortment of scary mentor text may be just the thing to share with your writers this October. Using scary stories is the perfect mentor text to motivate writers in the classroom. This is the month to clearly show the power of the literary element and the figurative language through a variety of scary stories. Your students will love to read or listen to as many as possible. There are so many different samples of a mentor text to model the craft of writing. Dive in and use as many as you can this month.

Author of Blog

Interrupting Chicken Book Review

Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein, is a hilarious story to read with your children or students, especially if they love to interrupt others. Plus, it is a perfect place to begin a discussion about class rules, as well.

Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein, is an adorable story about a young chicken TRYING to patiently listen to the same old bedtime stories her papa reads to her each night without interrupting.

Being the impulsive little chicken that she is, this is extremely hard! Whether the bedtime story is a tale about HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she cannot help herself as she jumps in to save the hapless characters from their plot’s dangerous mishaps.

If Stein’s enchanting use of dialogue wasn’t enough, his drawings come alive to add that perfect touch to give the reader the feeling that they are also nestled in the little farmhouse, comfortably watching as Little Chicken teases her father with her interrupting antics.

Stein’s imaginative illustrations utilizes watercolors, water-soluble crayons, pens, and even tea to create the whimsical art displayed throughout the story. Furthermore, Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein, is the recipient of the 2011 Caldecott Honor Award. The Caldecott Medal is given each year for distinguished illustrations in a picture book and for excellence of pictorial presentation for children.

In the Studio: David Ezra Stein on Interrupting Chicken

Many young readers can easily relate to this charming little story. Sometimes it is so hard for them not to jump in and create new twists or better endings, especially if they have heard or read the story many times before. Interrupting Chicken would make that perfect springboard for children to leap into the writing process. After the reading of this story, it would be so easy to ask your little readers if they would change anything about one of their favorite bedtime stories as well.

Interrupting Chicken is a perfect demonstration of “real life” dialogue, awesome whimsical drawings, and to enhance the love of storytelling in young children.

Genre: Humorous Fiction

Best Attribute: Dialogue

Accelerated Reader Level 2.2

Elementary Librarian and Author of Book Review