Tag Archives: sourcebooks

Don’t Push the Button

26 Oct

Today’s book review is for Don’t Push the Button, by Bill Cotter, published by Sourcebooks. It is scheduled for release on Friday, November 1, 2013. I received an electronic advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I am also pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the blog tour for this book. So, keep reading after the review for a special guest post from Bill Cotter!

Don't Push the Button book cover

Don’t Push the Button is an interactive picture book for pre-school to kindergarten aged children. It features an adorable monster named Larry who has only one rule–do not push the button. Of course, the audience is tempted into pushing the button, and fun ensues.

The thing that struck me immediately about this book is how it encourages kids to interact with the book on a physical level. They are asked to touch and shake and move the book–not because there are flashy gimmicks, pull tabs, or textures to engage with, but because books themselves are objects that can be moved and manipulated. It’s a great way to draw in young children and keep them interested.

The writing is great. It can be hard to follow along with complicated clauses in a read-aloud situation and Cotter understands this. He uses simple sentences, which are perfect for his target audience. His word choices are natural and relaxed. They sound like the sort of language that pre-schoolers might use themselves.

I also enjoyed the illustrations. They’re fairly simple–but that doesn’t mean dull. They’ve got a lot of spunk, with fun colors and patterns. He leaves a lot of white space on the page, which gives the whole book a clean, professional feel. Too much detail can overwhelm younger children–they get distracted easily. So, once again, Cotter demonstrates an understanding of his target audience.

It’s a great book and sure to please kids. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars for being visually appealing, fun to read, and wonderfully targeted. It’s nice to see a new author-illustrator who really “gets” his audience.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

I asked Bill Cotter if he could share about how his experiences with teaching and working with young children influenced his writing. The following is a guest post he wrote in response


by Bill Cotter Bill Cotter Headshot

How I came into teaching was somewhat by chance. I graduated from art school, and with no prospects and barely any money, I moved from Baltimore up to New York City. Upon arrival the stock market IMMEDIATELY crashed. Let’s just say it was a frank introduction to the real world. I couldn’t even get a job at Target! Most of the time my roommates and I were cold and broke, but I know I’ll remember those years as being some of my happiest. I was on an excellent adventure with two of my best friends.

I had managed to land an internship in the art department of Rolling Stone, but it was unpaid so I still didn’t have any income. That’s when I came to know that there are a few recession-proof professions, and one of those is babysitting. Yes, it doesn’t matter how bad the economy got, people would always pay top dollar to get away from their kids for a night.

I’ll admit that babysitting had its pride-swallowing moments, but I really tried to look at it as a situation where I could learn about my target audience. At the time I knew a lot about how to make art, but I knew nothing about the people I intended to make it for. Besides for the fact that most of the job is getting paid to watch tv, I also got a glimpse into the lives of the New York elite; the decorating choices of a famous graphic designer, the book collection of a MoMA artist. And getting paid in cold hard cash wasn’t too bad either.

While I was making money as a “manny”, my roommate was working in the office of a school in Tribeca called the Church Street School of Music & Art. He let me know that an art teacher position was opening up, and with a combination of an art background and child-care experience I was offered the job. I was ecstatic to have a job where I could still get to know my audience while working in a super-creative environment.

This place isn’t your normal school. Church Street School is a local institution. For over 20 years, it has served as lower Manhattan’s non-profit arts center that offers a wide array of classes. The school hosts anything from mommy and toddler fingerpainting classes in the morning to figure drawing at night. They’re known for an amazing Pre-K class, a huge afterschool program as well as Carnegie Hall level performers teaching piano lessons to celebrities’ kids somewhere in between. It is truly an amazing place and was my second home from most of my time in New York.

The class I liked to be a part of most was Pre-K. Depending on the day, the class consisted of 2-3 year olds or 3-4 year olds. I think this age is so much fun to be around. All the students are just coming into their personalities, learning to talk, learning to socialize. They are so young that we teachers could always see an amazing amount of growth in just one semester.

My favorite part about teaching this class was that at any free moment we were reading a picture book to them. If we needed something for them to concentrate on during snack time, when they were waiting for others to finish washing hands after art, if a parent or sitter was late picking them up. I found myself reading several books on a daily basis. It was extremely beneficial to be able to sit down with kids and observe first hand how they reacted to different kinds of stories, characters, colors, textures, you name it. “Don’t Push the Button” came from me taking in this information and trying to come up with a book that I thought would be the most fun to read with my students.

The interactive part of the book was very much inspired by the way they teach kids at the school. Being physically engaged with the activity is crucial for a child that young. Every song that they learn has accompanying hand gestures. The gestures help them learn the words and vice versa. In art class we are constantly making the student verbalize the different materials and textures they encounter. I feel like the experience is better solidified in the child’s mind if multiple senses are being engaged.

I definitely considered all these things when making the book. “Don’t Push the Button” is a combination of a few elements that I knew would engage a young kid: bright colors, a catch phrase, a character talking directly at them, and a way to physically interact with the story.

I feel like the best proof that this works is this video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cuzamora/9459614238/

Thanks to the author and publisher for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.


The Snatchabook Blog Tour

14 Oct

Today’s review is for The Snatchabook, written by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty, published by Sourcebooks. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I am also pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the blog tour for this book. So, keep reading after the review for a special guest post from Helen and Thomas Docherty!

The Snatchabook book cover

The Snatchabook is a whimsical new picture book by husband and wife duo, Helen and Thomas Docherty. Burrow Down is a peaceful forest neighborhood where children are tucked in to bed at night with stories. That is, until someone starts stealing all the books! One little girl, Eliza Brown, decides to get to the bottom of the mystery and discovers the Snatchabook. But by setting firm boundaries and practicing compassion, Eliza comes up with a solution where everyone wins.

This story, told in rhyming verse is a joy to read aloud. It could certainly become a bedtime favorite in many households. The language is playful–and the rhymes flow smoothly. Helen Docherty even manages to make the rhymes feel natural, avoiding the shoe-horned-in feeling so common in rhyming stories. Heroine Eliza Brown is a great character. I love her cleverness and persistence, her desire to solve the mystery, and her creative problem-solving. She’s a great role model for kids.

Thomas Docherty’s illustrations are lovely. They’re cute, but they are also lively. There is a luminous quality to many of them, and his technique creates the feeling that light sources in the images are actually glowing. His cutaway views of the burrows in Burrow Down are some of my favorite elements of the book–I love how they really create a sense of place and setting.

The Snatchabook is a beautifully designed and executed book. Pages are thoughtfully laid out to provide pacing to the text–two page spreads to make you linger, several smaller illustrations on a page to give a sense of frenzied activity. I also appreciate that there’s never too much text on any page. As always, I appreciate the attention paid to such details.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars for being an engaging new bedtime tale. The Docherty’s have done an excellent job of adding to the realm of fairy tale creatures with their invention of the Snatchabook. Children and their caregivers are sure to love the story and the message that sometimes the bad guy isn’t such a bad guy.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviws, at Goodreads.

Guest Post From Helen and Thomas Docherty
I invited Helen and Thomas to discuss how they came up with the idea for the Snatchabook as a creature. Where did he come from? What could they share about his background? The following is their response.

Helen: I have always been drawn to characters that transgress in some way – characters that are flawed, but not beyond redemption. Dr Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas has always been one of my favorite children’s books, and was definitely an influence in the creation of the Snatchabook (although they are, of course, very different characters). I am also interested in outsiders, and how their arrival impacts on a community (a theme also explored in our next book, Abracazebra).

The idea of a book thief who steals children’s bedtime stories popped into my head at the end of a long day of trying (and failing) to think up interesting storylines. A book cruncher? A book snatcher? No, a Snatchabook! Almost immediately, I saw the potential to develop the story as a mystery with plenty of suspense, a brave heroine and a twist in the tale – namely, that the Snatchabook is just a pitiful little creature, whose motivation for stealing all the books is simply that is he is desperate to be read to; to be included in the cozy bedtime world of Burrow Down. So really, the Snatchabook represents any child who has missed out on that experience, for whatever reason. And in a way, all the animals in the community of Burrow Down become his ‘parents’ when they include him in their story times at the end. (As to where he came from originally…that remains a mystery!)

Tom and I had a lot of fun developing the character of the Snatchabook visually. I had an image in my head of a sort of bush baby with long, delicate wings and a long tail, and Tom set to work drawing sketches. He interpreted it so brilliantly that it looked like a creature that already existed.

Here are his earliest sketches:

Several early sketches of the Snatchabook

(click the image to view full size)

Many thanks to the author and publisher for giving me the opportunity to participate in this tour.
You can learn more about Helen at her website: http://www.helendocherty.com/
and Thomas at his website: http://www.thomasdocherty.co.uk/