Tag Archives: perfect picture book friday

The Motel of Mysteries for Perfect Picture Book Friday

Let me present:

  • The Motel of Mysteries by David Macaulay.
  • Ages 12 and up.
  • Themes: archaeology

motel of mysteries cover

My dad loves the library. He particularly loves spy thrillers and I have believed for many years that he has read all of them. Sometimes, he tells me, he gets back from the library with a fresh new book, only to realize halfway in that he has probably already read it. I was the same way as a kid, but with horse books. The children’s librarian at the Burnhaven Library put together a small catalog of chapter books on popular topics and every week, I went down the list of horse books until I had read them all. It was a great sense of accomplishment when I finished them all, but then I ran into that problem my dad probably faces: well, now what do I read?

It was always a special treat to go with Dad on his weekly visits to the library when I was little. One week, my brother and I found the “new books” display. That is where we found The Motel of Mysteries, by David Macaulay. We sat down on the floor to look through it and realized we were looking at a book unlike anything we had ever seen. It was written in the style of a National Geographic article and it appeared to be about a archaeological dig. But instead of revealing the secrets of ancient Egypt, it revealed — with hilarious wrongness — the secrets of a 1980’s motel room. The explorer, Howard Carson, misinterprets everything about the room and its contents, believing it to be a burial chamber full of religious artifacts. The TV is an altar, the bathtub is a sarcophagus, the Do Not Disturb sign is a seal to ward off thieves.

As a kid, I thought this book was pretty funny. Parts of it have remained in my memory ever since that day, resurfacing again and again. Looking at it again now, I am tickled by the section on Souvenirs and Quality Reproductions, which is a tour through the museum gift shop. Ceiling tiles have been recreated as coasters and you can have your very own coffee set based on a toilet bowl. And then there is this picture:

motel of myteries

Which is based on this one from the excavation of the ancient city of Troy:

ancient troy jewelry

When I was in college and saw this in a textbook, my mind immediately went right back to The Motel of Mysteries. There wasn’t much of an internet in those days, so I was left wondering if I had imagined the whole book as some kind of bizarre dream.

Related activities:

  • Here is a list of excavation activities for kids,
  • But if I had an older kid, I would ask him to write a story about how the items in a room of the house, like the kitchen or the laundry room, might be misinterpreted by an archaeologist of the future. I actually do this thought experiment all the time, especially when I see certain stories on the news or on nature programs. It is really helpful at developing the kind of “consider the source” thinking you have to do once you are in college. And forever afterward, I guess, if I am any indication.

This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. She gets the best recommendations from the best people about the best books for kids. Every week.


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Dinosaur Roar!

What does it mean when a one year old has a favorite book? Kids (ok, babies) at this age are still a little like dogs (a lot like dogs? I’m leaning toward a lot like dogs). When they get sick, you try to measure how bad it is by how they are eating and pooping. You ask yourself if the quality of their sleep is different. You hem and haw about taking them to the doctor because the doctor is just going to do the same thing you’re doing at midnight, which is guess. And then no matter the diagnosis you end up with the advice of “wait and see” which is also what you get when you take a sick dog to the vet. I guess my point is: tiny children are mysteries.

So when a one year old kid looks at a book with that look on his face – fascinated, amazed, delighted – what exactly is he responding to? What about it is different from all the other books in the basket or piled in the corner or whatever? My one year old (pause while I freak out that he’s already a whole year old) is in love with this book: Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henrietta Strickland.

dinosaur roarHe will dig through the other board books with some determination until he finds it, will carry it over to me using both hands, and sit in rapt wonder as I read it to him for the sixieth time. Then he grabs it, shoves it back in my hands, and signs “more.” If I’m not quick to start it up again, he will open up my hand and place it on the binding. Which is one-year-old speak for “Do it again, silly.” And if I should dare approach him with another book, he will swat it right out of my hands and go find the dino book again. He does not have time for Maisy’s Fire Engine; more Dinosaur Roar!

This book has a lot going for it. Colorful pictures: yes. Repetition: yes. Simple concept of opposites: yes. And then it has a punchline at the end as well. I like a good punchline. Maybe Donovan does, too.

Related Activities:

Teach Your Baby About Opposites: I think this would be great if, say, you were leaving your baby with someone for a few hours who said they don’t know what to “do” with the baby. Well, here. Walk around the house and play with stuff.

Makes Opposites Cards. Take photos of your kid and make cards out of them. I need to do this. I think we would wear them out.

Dinosaur Costume: Because Halloween is coming up. And also just because this is a really cute picture of a baby dressed like a dinosaur.

And just in case anyone needs another, here is my kid. Dressed like a lion, but it’s close.

donovan lion

This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. She gets the best recommendations from the best people about the best books for kids. Every week.


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PPBF: The Flying Dragon Room

It’s Friday, which means it is time for a Perfect Picture Book.  This week, it’s The Flying Dragon Room by Audrey Wood and Mark Teague. Audrey Wood wrote The Napping House and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, among other, and Mark Teague illustrates the How Do Dinosaurs … books. A pretty good pedigree for a picture book, right?

flying dragon room

  • Published by Blue Sky Press, 1996
  • Fiction, for ages 4-8 (so says The Internet; my almost-three-year-old thinks it’s swell).
  • Topics: imagination, tools, building
  • Opening: “It all happened because of the Flying Dragon Room, or so they say, though Patrick didn’t know it at first.”

A handy-woman named Mrs. Jenkins lets Patrick borrow her tools and he uses them to create a fantastical world in what appears to be the cellar of his parents’ house. He takes everyone on a tour and each room is more marvelous than the last, including the Small Creature Garden and the Bubble Room.

I’m beginning to understand that I like illustrations that feel “special” when I read a picture book. And the pictures in this book are very special — the rooms are loaded with details and invite some extra imagination work. There is no explanation in the text for what everything does or is supposed to do or why it’s there.  If you want to pour over the images, you can come up with all kinds of stuff on your own.

Another thing that makes this particular book stand out is Mrs. Jenkins. She is old(er), with a crazy white hairdo, and she is a handy-person hired to paint a house. You don’t see that many older women in children’s books, unless they are grandmas (at least, this is my experience; feel free to tell me what books I’ve missed). But besides all that, she is such a cheerleader for the kid Patrick. It’s obvious to me, as a grown up, that Patrick has taken her tools and imagined a world of extraordinary possibilities, but Mrs. Jenkins takes it all very seriously. And so does the book. There is no indication whatsoever that anything is made-up or make-believe. Which won me over completely.


  • The obvious activity is to hand a kid some tools, real or play, and tell them to build you something. At our house, this results in more “fixing” existing stuff rather than building completely new anything, but I take what I can get.
  • Create simple “fairy” doors and hide them around your house or yard. Talk about who might live there or what crazy things might be in the tiny room on the other side. I’ve seen very adorable and expensive fairy houses and doors you can get for the yard, but these are just paper ones you can make and decorate yourself. Brilliant.
  • Here is a site with ideas for how to get started with imaginative play. I like the idea of leaving a “scene” out for a day or two, so kids can come back to it later (this was my M.O. as a kid).

Perfect Picture Book Friday is hosted by Susanna Lenard Hill.  Check out this list of all the Perfect Picture Books. It’s the most comprehensive list I’ve ever seen.


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Review: Bus Stops for Perfect Picture Book Friday

bus stopsBefore I share my thoughts on Bus Stops by Taro Gomi for Perfect Picture Book Fridays, let me just mention that I had no idea this was the same author as Everybody Poops until I started looking it up. I feel like I need to … erm, air that out. I have never read Everybody Poops. I am sure it is a fine book. I am sure my children would find it hi-larious as they share genes with the people who brought a fart machine to my wedding rehearsal. But if I knew about the connection, I would have prepared by reading Everybody Poops as well. All I can offer, especially if you are having a bad day, is to read the 1 star reviews of Everybody Poops on Amazon. Some of them are hi-larious themselves, at least to me. (Like: “A waste of ink and paper.” I’m pretty sure that pun was unintentional.)

So. Bus Stops. Completely different book.

  • Published by Chronicle Books, 1999
  • Fiction; for ages baby-preschool
  • Themes: transportation
  • Opening: “The bus stops at the beach. An artist steps off.”

Bus Stops follows a charming little bus on its route, from the beach to the city and then out to the suburbs. Every page is a different bus stop where people get on and off. The text points out things to find in the pictures, like a car or someone who missed the bus.  The illustrations are done in water colors; they are bright and cheerful and very expressive. I found it a really fun book to read when my son was small, maybe like 12-18 months.  He loved the pictures. It helped us get through a real squirmy phase.


  • Ride the bus in your town. Even from our house, which is not very far from downtown, the scenery changes quite a bit — from shops to a hospital to a university to skyscrapers.
  • Take a pretend bus ride on the couch. Everyone can practice having their change ready when they get on and making the noises of the bell when they pull the imaginary cord for the next stop.
  • And, of course, sing a few rounds of The Wheels on the Bus.  We like to make up new verses, like “The trains on the bus go choo-choo-choo.” Because, of course they do.

Perfect Picture Book Friday is hosted by Susanna Lenard Hill.  Check out this list of all the Perfect Picture Books. It’s the most comprehensive list I’ve ever seen. Especially if you have, I don’t know, any summer birthdays coming up you need to get presents for.


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Review: Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo for PPBF

This is my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday, which is presented each week by Susanna Leonard HillChugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by Daniel Kirk.

  • Hyperion Books, 2001
  • Fiction; ages 3 – 5 (or anyone who thinks it’s fun to say “choo-choo”)
  • Themes: trains, toys
  • First line: “Sun’s Up, Morning’s Here.  Up and at ’em, engineer.”

Related activities:

So, duh, we love trains around here.  Train books are pretty much the gold standard.  Was Knuffle Bunny good?  Yes.  Would it have been better if it had featured a train? Yes. Obviously.

chuggc chuggaIn honor of this train adoration, I offer up Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis for Perfect Picture Book Friday.  It is a really fun read-aloud book.  When we first heard it at a library storytime (o! storytime! how I miss you!), the librarian had all the kids say, “Chugga-chugga choo-choo!” with her while pulling an imaginary train whistle whenever the phrase appeared in the book.  By the end of that reading, she had turned into the pied piper of the library; the children would have followed her anywhere. The pictures are pretty great, too, since they are about toys.  I love seeing how other people imagine playing with toys that we have in our house, like blocks.  It helps me out when I’m having those low-energy days. Or, you know, months.

I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but sometimes when I have read the same book forty or fifty times, I start to mentally take it apart and search for hidden meanings. Maybe this is just how the girl who loved English class deals with this all day mommy-time, I don’t know.  Llama Llama Red Pajama, for example, appears to be about a single-parent family.  And many of the workers in Roadwork seem to be women (they have ponytails at any rate, so I’m calling it). Did I notice that all the trucks in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site are male? Yes, I did. And I was irritated. I know these examples aren’t exactly Jane Eyre-madwoman-in-the-attic, but you know, they help me get through another bedtime.

I don’t want to admit how many times I read Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo before I realized the human protagonist has dark skin.  And that some of the toys, including a cowboy, do too. (I’m not using the term African-American because this story could take place anywhere around the world.  And also, I don’t know how/if toys identify themselves as far as race/ethnicity.) These details make this book a little more special to me, especially since I think it is easy to lump trains into the realm of Thomas the Tank Engine and little Caucasian boys wearing engineer hats, when really, I know from personal experience that trains appeal to all kinds of kids. And some of them are not often represented in the pictures on the page. Example: an amazon search for “princess + train” reveals just one entry.  Why?

Every time I discover something new/extra/hidden/special about a book, it makes it all the more interesting when I read it the next forty or fifty times.

Do you ever pick apart the kids books you read?  Have you discovered anything interesting?


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Review: What Do People Do All Day? for Perfect Picture Book Friday

For Perfect Picture Book Friday, I present: What Do People Do All Day?

What Do People Do All DayBy Richard Scarry, published by Random House 1968

Amazon says the intended age is 3 – 7. But my 2 year old thinks it is awesome. And I remember looking through this book long after I had moved on to reading my own chapter books.

Theme: Occupations (also: trains!)

“Some workers work indoors and some work outdoors. Some work up in the sky and some work underground.”

There is something so intriguing about Richard Scarry’s illustrations.  They are full of such minute detail; they reward every visit and revisit with new little nuggets to look at.  This was one of my favorite books as a kid, one I took from my parents’ house when I was planning to start my own family so I could read it to my own kids.  The stories I remember loving the best were Building a New House, Sergeant Murphy of the Busytown Police Department, and A Visit to the Hospital.  My son’s favorite are: The Train Trip (I can currently recite it from memory), The Story of Seeds and How They Grow, and The Airplane Ride. I still like looking at the cut-away pictures, showing the insides of different vehicles or parts of a coal mine.  On more than one occasion, I have caught Finn pouring over the pages by himself, just as I used to do when I was a kid.


Make painter’s tape roads. Add blocks or legos to make some buildings. A few cork boats floating in a cookie pan. Make a car or train tunnel out of a cardboard box or toilet paper tube. It’s your own Busy Town.


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Review: Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I’m Off to the Moon! by Dan Yaccarino

I am trying out Perfect Picture Book Friday, hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill, where she has lots more kid book reviews.  I love to offer a peek into what we are reading, so here goes.

This week: Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I’m Off to the Moon! by Dan Yaccarino.


Publisher: Scholastic
Year: 1997
Age: 1 – up? Amazon says “preschool – K” but … my not-quite-three-year-old is in love with it.
A child’s imagined trip on a rocket to the moon, told in rhyme.
Theme/subject: Rockets, space travel
“Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!
I’m off to the moon.
Up, up, and away,
I’m leaving today.”
Rockets have a lot of cache in my house.  Because they are a form of transportation, yes, but also because they are rather mysterious, as I am not sure what parts of space travel are really comprehensible to my 2 year old. But mystery or no, he really loves this book.  I like it, too.  The text is simple and charming, just short rhyming lines about the various stages of space flight.  The pictures are big and colorful.  My son’s favorite page is the countdown to the blast off — he really enjoys anything related to counting right now and is especially enamored of counting backward.
His mind may have been blown when I tried to explain the page showing earthrise from the moon.  I’m not sure I did a very good job of it, though (thank goodness for books with pictures).

Wait a minute … this book is selling for $60 on Amazon.  Is it out of print?! Bummer.  We found this one at the library. Highly recommended for a toddler who loves rockets and space ships.  Also great for a squirmy kid who has trouble sitting still; you could really whip through this one in a flash if you had to.

Resources and activities for more fun:

Rocket craft upcycled from an old tp tube (I do love a good tp tube craft, seriously).

Make a straw rocket. OMG, will be attempting today. Esp if all you need is a straw, paper, and tape.

Jumping cups. For the record, we tried this one a while back and it broke immediately and was a source of great frustration to my then almost-2-year-old. Perhaps, like crayons, we need to try it again now that some time has passed.


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