Category Archives: toddler

Electric Cats in the Garden: A Printable Picture Book

Electric Cats in the Garden, Illustration by Peggy Shearn

Electric Cats in the Garden, Illustration by Peggy Shearn

My grandmother was always making these charming, crazy little picture books for me and my brother, and of course I filed this away as A Thing I Will Definitely Do For My Own Children Someday. Well, right there with make every food from scratch and never say, “Wow, you are being really annoying right now” to their faces, this has mostly gotten shelved. I know, I know — I’m a writer! I should write for my children! Remember how A.A. Milne wrote all those Winnie-the-Pooh stories and poems for his own little son Christopher Robin? Let me tell you something. The real Christopher Robin? Went to boarding school from age 6. And that is how a writer/parent finds the time to document that unmissable magic of childhood. By missing it.

Still, somehow I wrote this story (I hope it’s just a chapter of a longer book, but you know, laundry), using ideas from the children. Harper really pretends to speak Polish quite frequently (also, Arabic and Spanish — Brooklyn public schools!), the kids really do play electric cats, Harper has invented all sorts of facts about said electric cats, she really did once threaten to take Ollie to play in the garden after Adam and I went to bed, Ollie told me that nocturnal creatures run Trader Joe’s at night. My talented mother, Peggy Shearn AKA Nani Peg, was gracious enough to do illustrations, and my talented husband, Adam TetzloffAKA Daddy, laid it all out and made a little book that we gave to the children on Christmas. Predictably, it was quickly buried beneath the wrapping paper of more exciting toys and dolls, but after a day or so it was rediscovered and has been pored over intently since.

So I’ll share it here, and I think you should be able to print it out, although you’ll need to have my husband explain how to make it into an actual booklet because my brain can’t handle the geometry or whatever that is. Here, it’s a PDF: Electric Cats in the Garden

I hope you like it, and that maybe even if your kids are not the actual Harper and Ollie they might like it too! Leave me an encouraging comment so I am shored up to finish the next story. Just kidding, I’m not that needy. Just kidding, of course I am.

Happy New Year!

Interview with What Will Hatch? Illustrator and All-Around Awesome Lady Susie Ghahremani

So, Susie Ghahremani.  Ridiculously talented and prolific artist (as she has been since the AP art class we took together in high school!), proprietress of, an adorability emporium offering art, books, jewelry, clothing, prints, and to-do lists that will change your life with their inviting cuteness, among many other things, somehow also a member of the San Diego indie rock band The Bulletins. Ever since I first met her circa 1993 (fact check, Susie?), she’s been the person who knows about all the cool stuff before anyone else. She had a zine before I was totally sure what a zine was, and was chatting online with band members of That Dog like 2 minutes after chatrooms were invented. So it  comes as no surprise to me that everything she makes is beautiful and super cool, and that her first picture book, What Will Hatch? is a total delight.

Written by nature writer Jennifer Ward, this gorgeous book introduces 2-5 year olds to the wonderful world of the oviparous animal. I recently used the book in a little storytelling workshop at Harper’s playschool — after reading the kids the book I gave them each little stacks of cards with illustrations of frog life cycle steps and had them put them in order, color, and title them (Harper’s was “Using Science”). All of which is to say, parents and teachers and people who love art, buy this book!

Thanks to What Will Hatch? we now use the word "oviparous" daily.

Thanks to What Will Hatch? we now use the word “oviparous” daily.

Harper loved What Will Hatch? so much that she wanted to learn more, so she asked some questions that I passed along to Susie, who graciously answered!

Why are there holes in the pages? Why do the holes become other things? How did you make those holes that shape?

The holes in the pages are called “die cuts” and they’re there to represent the shape of the egg for each type of animal throughout the book! The holes represent the egg on one page, but when you turn the page, the egg has already hatched, so I made the hole become something else in the next picture!

(I made the holes by obsessively drawing vector curves in InDesign that were output by the printer who fit a metal die to that exact shape…but are you really asking about that, Harper?)

What are those little lines across the pictures?

That is called woodgrain! It is the texture of wood, which is what I painted on for this book.

[Pre-emptive answer to the potential follow-up question: I painted on wood because I liked the idea of using natural materials to represent nature in this book!]

Why is each animal pictured in their habitat? How did you know what the habitats look like?

Each animal is pictured in their habitat because lots of people don’t know what their habitats look like and I thought it would be cool to show them! I didn’t know what the habitats looked like until I researched it!

How did you get the ideas for this book? How did you not change your mind and do something else? What does “else” mean?

The idea for the book came from the author, Jennifer Ward, who wrote it! From there, I just drew what came to my imagination after researching each of the animals. Many times, I did change my mind 🙂 Else has a few meaning. In the context of “something else”, it would mean something like “something other”, except “something other” sounds weird. Hey, you should ask your mom the writer about this one!

And here’s a question from me, Amy, the grownup: What are you working on next?

I’m on the board for ICON the Illustration Conference which launches July ’14 in Portland, and am beginning to teach. I’m always working on new illustrations and art shows! I have an art show on May 11th in Los Angeles at Leanna Lin’s Wonderland showing my collaboration with my friend Irene on a series of cross-stitch portraits of extinct animals. I’ll be at the opening signing copies of What Will Hatch as well! Then, a Little Golden Books-inspired art show June 28th in Florida curated by my friend Heidi Kenney of My Paper Crane.

[Harper clapped and squealed at the idea of a Little Golden Book art show and I am only slightly worried she will try to run away to see it.]

And here is Harper’s review of the book:

“Kids will like this book. But wait, we still get to keep it right?”

Me:” Yes, but do you think they should get their own copy?”

Harper:” Yes, because I want to keep this one.”

Pretty AND smart.

Pretty AND smart.

Be sure to check out Susie’s site! Just be prepared to find yourself inventing reasons to buy tons of lovely notepaper and necklaces and also feeling a strange twitch to draw…

Related: Read Harper’s interview with illustrator Jennifer Bell here!
Read my neighbor Lena’s interview with YA novelist Carley Moore here!
Read my interview with YA novelist M. Beth Bloom here!

10 Reading Recommendations from Tiny Humans

The kids, as they are every day.

The kids, as they are every day.

I’ve been so remiss with my kid-book posts here that we have a huge backlog of beloved books. Thus, this truncated version, in case anyone happens to have an almost-two-year-old boy and an almost-four-year-old girl who need to be distracted from the hypnotic, unending horrors that are the Dinosaur Train books (how do they always find those at the library anyway?).

Alton’s Top Five Books for Little Boys With Even Littler Attention Spans:

1) Snuggle Puppy. He loses his mind over this book, he really does. There is nothing cuter than an almost-2-year-old’s “Oooooh…I yuv oo!”

2) Bus Stop. Any book with a vehicle is good with this kid. But this one actually doesn’t make me want to scream. The illustrations are beautiful, with lots of things to find on each page. I mean, “yots.”

3) Brown Bear, What Do You See. Still.

4) Let’s Go For a Drive! Does he really get this book? I have no idea, but it does crack him up. “WAIT!” Maybe he just knows that Brooklyn kids are contractually obligated to love Mo Willems.

5) Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. Highlights: the goat and… the goat. Just the goat, actually.

Mr. Gumpy

Mr. Gumpy and the goat. And some other things, whatever, who cares GOAT!

Harper’s Top 5 Books for Precocious Preschoolers Who Adore Sitting Still:

1) Look… Look Again! We’ve only had this from the library for about 2 days, but Harper has declared it her favorite ever. It’s full of illustrated riddles that make her snort with laughter. Except the one where the pizza eats the chef. That one is scary!

2) Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary. I’m so glad to tell you that Harper has inherited my childhood love of stories about miniature creatures. This beautiful book is perfect for before you’re old enough for The Borrowers.

3) Jumpy Jack and Googly. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Harper laugh so hard at a book. (And no, she doesn’t find it all ironic that this book is about a monster who’s afraid of everything.)

4) The Snow Globe Family. Ditto. Tiny family sledding in a snow globe! What the what!

5) It’s a Secret.  If you love cats, and dressing up, and little girls having adventures (check, check, check), this is your book.

I didn't even notice, somehow, that this book is also the work of John Burningham! YOU KNOW THE MR GUMPY GUY! How cute is it that the kids have each latched on to their own his-and-hers John Burningham books? I CAN'T STAND IT IT'S TOO CUTE

I didn’t even notice, somehow, that this book is also the work of John Burningham! YOU KNOW THE MR GUMPY GUY! How cute is it that the kids have each latched on to their own his-and-hers John Burningham books? I CAN’T STAND IT IT’S TOO CUTE

Happy Sibling Propaganda

The Adventures of Harper and Ollie in Prospect Park

The Adventures of Harper and Ollie in Prospect Park

A dear friend of mine just had her second child, and, as is already family lore, her older son gazed upon his new brother and welcomed him with a “No. No. No. No.” The mysteries of sibling relationships have been of particular interest to me, obviously, for the past, ohhhh almost 2 years I’d say. I recently met a grown brother and sister who were hanging out together, as they do every weekend, and I asked them their secret. They shrugged and said that their parents always told them it was important for them to be friends. Could it be that simple? Can you make your kids get along with each other?

Now, my children could not be more different in temperament. Every morning Ollie grabs his shoes and stands by the door and points and pleads, “Down!” The great loves of his life are going places, running, yelling, smashing things, kicking things, and trains and also trains. Harper’s favorite thing is to stay in her nightgown all day and to cry, when anyone goes near the door “I’m not going outside!” Left to her own devices, she prefers: sitting quietly and looking at books, sitting quietly and playing with paper dolls, sitting quietly and doing art projects. They do have some common ground in their shared love of jumping up and down, which I’m sure our downstairs neighbors find incredibly charming.

Just in case we have some say in the matter, ever since Ollie was born nary a fortnight after Harper’s second birthday, we have been waging a full-on assault of sibling-relationship information warfare. The thought is, if kids become what they are told, or even if any of it rubs off a tiny bit, might as well tell them over and over: “You are best friends. Brothers and sisters stick together. You are a team. Not only that, you are psyched to share a room. GO FAMILY!”

In this vein, we bombard them with the ruthlessness of communist USSR propogandists. I’m not talking about “there’s a new baby in the house” type books, most of which take a “and that’s a bummer” tack. I mean just nice models of nice siblings.


Harper still loves everything Charlie and Lola. (Saw the cartoon once, wasn’t terribly interested. But the books! Oh the books!) Siblings who share a room and are nice to each other. Check.  Big sibling looks after little sibling. Check check. So we assign Charlie and Lola studies at least once a day.

The Magic Treehouse books, which I mentioned in my roundup of chapter books, features a non-squabbling brother/sister pair who goes on great adventures together. Perfect. I like to throw a little notebook in a backpack and tell Harper she and Ollie are Jack and Annie and goodbye, have fun with the dinosaurs.

Runners-up: Max and Ruby, though Ruby is a bit bossy if you ask me. But Max, with his non-verbal, grinning mischeviousness, is a pretty good stand in for our own baby brother character.


We’ve just discovered the Olive Us video series and are all pretty obsessed. These lovely, under-5-minute videos show an adorable family of 6 (!) siblings having sweet, wholesome fun together while wearing really cute clothes. Mountain picnics. Making cookies. Washing the car. The best.

Learning by Rote:

Adam brilliantly instituted a program called “The Adventures of Harper and Ollie on Earth.” This started off as a simple homemade binder to hold drawings we collaborate on, of adventures Harper and Ollie had, have, or may someday have, and has really taken off. Harper always wants to draw Harper and Ollie stories (sample quote: “Ollie! Get away! I want to draw a Harper and Ollie story!”), about, say, when they are grownups and live together in Manhattan, where it is fancy, and ride their scooters together to the café. Or else, when they go skydiving together, holding on to a rope that is taped to the sky. Now that she is starting to draw figures and faces herself this is even less work for us, and the result is a cuter-than-cute scrapbook of hypothetical sibling adventures dreamed up while one sibling was napping.

Any other happy sibling propaganda we should check out? We’re committed to making this life-long psychological experiment work. I’m pretty excited to meet them in Manhattan for lunch circa 2033.


3 Chapter Books for 3 Year-Olds

I wrote here a while back about how Harper and I fell hopelessly in love with the Winnie-the-Pooh gang.  What I haven’t mentioned is that this sent us on a wormhole-ish hunt for toddler-friendly chapter books. It is really so fun to read chapter books together – the curling up, the flicker in her eyes as she pictures a scene, or asks me to repeat a detail so she can really really picture it — and it is also, I’ve found, really hard to find just the right books that she can follow, aren’t too dark or complicated, and have enough pictures but not too many. And that don’t involve dying parents. Or dying anyone. We’re just not there yet (thankfully!). I mean, Harper thought the Heffalump was terrifying.

Here are our findings so far:

1. Jenny and the Cat Club, by Esther Averill

"Time is nothing to a cat when he is dancing."

“Time is nothing to a cat when he is dancing.”

This is, next to the Winnie-the-Pooh books, our biggest hit so far. Harper has been playing Jenny Linsky, drawing Jenny Linsky, telling stories about Jenny Linsky, ever since she recovered from the shock of receiving this (deceivingly!) boring-looking chapter book as a Hanukkah present. Esther Averill’s stories about Jenny Linsky, a shy yet brave little black cat who lives with her master, Captain Tinker, in Greenwich Village, are just nonstop charming. There is nothing scarier than a mean dog who steals Jenny’s signature red scarf – this episode made Harper hyperventilate with anxiety, both at the meanness of the dog, and the great crime of a theft of an accessory. Throughout these sweet stories, Jenny deals with issues like her shyness, smallness, and learning to be generous, all big issues in a preschooler’s life.

For here is the rub – I find that other chapter books, probably naturally, address questions Harper hasn’t even started to consider yet, like getting teased by mean kids. I am so thankful, particularly in the face of horrifying recent events, that this is so – that Harper still lives in a sweet little bubble where her biggest issues are her brother, Hair Puller Extraordinaire, and that sometimes her annoying mama wants her to brush her teeth, and that the meanest person she knows is her imaginary friend Murray. So in that vein, I find that older books, somehow, are the only ones that can manage to be innocent enough for this highly sensitive kiddo. Isn’t that a little weird and sad?

Anyway, good thing this book has been reprinted by the excellent New York Review Children’s Collection, and is just such a lovely object, full of charming drawings, that I find myself looking through it again and again (and unable to choose illustrations to share because they are all the best one). Best of all, this is part of series, so we can read even more about our dear little J. Linsky, as Harper likes to call her.

2. The Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs Before Dark

I heard about Mary Pope Osbourne’s insanely popular series on, who knows, probably Pinterest. Apparently all kids everywhere love it, though I, elderly ignoramous!, had never heard of it. Harper and I had a very lovely afternoon at a local coffeeshop having hot chocolate and tearing through chapter after chapter of this first book in the series, Dinosaurs Before Dark. She liked studying the pictures, and most of all she liked the idea (as did I!) of this magic treehouse full of magic books (!!!!!!!), and the brother and sister who have adventures together. She was carrying around a notebook and backpack for a few days, just like Jack and Annie in the book. I thought we were really on to something. But somehow the next books in the series have not held her interest. I think they’re a bit too complicated – there’s all this business with magicians and Merlin and legends. But that first one, wow, what a page-turner it was! And we love happy-sibling-propaganda. So this was a good one too.

3. A Bear Called Paddington

I’m cheating a bit here, because we’ve only read one chapter of this book, which Harper’s grandmother gave her for Christmas – Harper’s daddy’s childhood copy! This has been fun for me to discover too, though, since somehow I missed the whole Paddington phenomenon as a kid. Were you aware Paddington is a real bear? From Peru? (Excuse me, darkest Peru?)Who comes to live with a family in London? There aren’t quite enough pictures for Harper’s tastes, and there is that problem familiar to us from our painstaking attempts at Stuart Little of the humor being largely pitched to witty adults, but one chapter in, so far so good. I even heard some stories being muttered about darkest Peru in one of Harper’s marathon story-telling-sessions. Chapter two happens tonight. Wish us luck!

Any other good chapter books for the very wee we’re missing? I have been remiss, by the way, in not thanking lovely commenter Genevieve who this summer led us to many awesome wordless picture books, including our favorite, You Can’t Bring a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum. Genevieve, are you out there? Do you know about chapter books too??

The Read Balloon: Jennifer A Bell, Illustrator Extraordinaire

Lately we’ve been reading the adorable Too Shy For Show-and-Tell over and over, and discussing it at unexpected times. “Why did Otto say ‘weaf’?!” Harper will demand out of nowhere, requesting a millionth read.

I was shy as a kid, so I know there’s nothing worse as a shy kid than having someone order you not to be so shy. It’s basically a guarantee that you won’t be able to speak for at least 15 minutes. So I respect Harper’s occasional bouts of bashfulness, and was relieved to find Too Shy For Show-and Tell, which offers a gentle way to discuss the idea of shyness. Sam, sweet giraffe, bends his formidable neck and goes silent when faced with the prospect of… dun dun! SHOW AND TELL. Shivers.

too shy for show and tell, jennifer a bell

Too Shy For Show and Tell, Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, my friend. And written by some lady too.

But let’s get real here. What we love most about this book are its incredibly cute, amazingly expressive illustrations. And not just because they were done by my dear friend Jennifer A. Bell.

Some facts about Jenny:

1. She was my husband’s friend from high school who I stole when we all ended up living in Minneapolis at the same time. I had moved there for grad school and didn’t know anyone so I forced her to be friends with me. We spent many a snowy Minnesota night over at her family’s apartment, eating her freshly baked cookies, drinking wine, and getting into winding debates about I have no idea what with her intellectual husband.  She also taught me to knit. They were good times. And really good cookies. I miss those guys so much! The people that is. Okay, and the cookies.

2. Jenny has a son who is now a man of 11, but who used to be our child-crush before we had our own. We still say “Not idea!” all the time, which was his way of disapproving of things when he was 3.

3. Jenny has the prettiest eyes in the world. I know that’s not relevant here but thought it might be interesting to note.

and, to get back on task here, 4. She can draw anything at all. Truly. I’ve seen her artwork and it’s all great. In recent years she’s focused on illustration, probably because she has an uncanny knack for drawing animals that are so cute they make you want to die. See more of Jenny’s eyeball-exploding work here.

Harper was very intrigued by the fact that I know the illustrator of this book which she so adores, so she told me to ask Jenny some questions that had been on her mind. I transcribed the questions verbatim, and Jenny’s lovely, patient responses are below.

H: Why did you make David a turtle instead of a crocodile?
J: I thought that since David brings his socks for show-and-tell that he needed to be a turtle because honestly I’d love nothing more than to see a real turtle wearing socks. I think that would be ridiculously cute. It’s funny too because David is the only animal who never has clothes on!

H: Why does Sam have a striped shirt instead of no shirt at all?
J: Why not? If I were a giraffe I would always wear stripes.
H: Why does his mama have a long neck and also a cup of coffee?
J:Mama giraffes always have long necks. I also thought it would be fun to make her neck really long so it could stretch all the way across the page. I gave her coffee because most of the mamas I know (including myself) like to drink a lot of it.H: How did you get the words for the book? I think it’s because you’re so smart. [Ed. Note: I tried to explain that another person wrote them and probably emailed them to Jenny or something, but Harper figured we should go ahead and find out from the source.]
J: I wish I wrote this story! A lady named Beth Bracken wrote it.

H: Why is the back of the book different from the front? [Ed. Note: meaning the covers]
J: When the back is different than the front you get more pictures to look at.
H: Did you make the dots [on the endpaper]? Why are they different sizes?
J: I did make the dots! The giraffes have different size dots on their necks too so I wanted copy that pattern.
I asked Harper if she was sure she didn’t want to ask something like how Jenny does her illustrations. She shook her head and said, “I think she does them on a computer.”
And there you have it! Check out all of this prolific lady’s books: the complete list is on her website.
I’ll leave you with this ridiculous display of adorability:

An illustration by Jennifer A. Bell, for your squealing pleasure.

The 2-for-1-Special Springtime Birthday

One thing you have to admit for our family planning, we are really going to save money on birthday parties. Man, have we beat the system!

Last year I was convinced Alton was going to be born on Harper’s birthday, and so we had her tiny tea party a little early, but he had the good manners/laziness to be born weeks later. That was fun! I’m kidding, it was miserable! Anyway. So their birthdays ended up being two weeks apart, in different months even so they each get their own little sector of spring, but close enough that for the next few years anyway we can force them let them share a birthday party.

I decided a spring theme made sense, which meant some fake cherry blossom sprigs, some springy bunting, and two cake-foods. For the Harper side of things, dainty pink cupcakes with gum paste cherry blossoms that I lovingly crafted by hand. Come on, my kids eat nuggets every night. I ordered those suckers online. And for the Alton side of things, a chocolate cake that looked like mud, which is to say, slathered in chocolate pudding and crumbled cookies and gummy worms and slugs. For some reason, some of the guests found this to be off-putting. There was pin-the-tail-on-the-robin, but more importantly, tons of balloons. And that was it. We played records. We gave the grownups mimosas and bagels. Alton wandered around like a puppy, climbing into people’s laps and stealing their food. Harper occasionally reminded her guests not to take home her presents. Murray got shy at the last minute and stayed home with all his cats in Paris. It was really so much fun, and we felt so thankful to all the friends and new neighbors who came by, and very house-warmed and heart-warmed.

Here are some photos Adam took. And you can also get a peek at our new place, which we are semi-settled into. So without further ado, here is why is my novel revisions are not into my editor yet: