For the second day of the 14-Day Picture Book Challenge, your assignment is to describe the setting of the picture book that you will be writing. You don’t need to write in beautiful, poetic words yet. You don’t need to consider the voice or the format of your potential picture book. You don’t need to consider rhyme, and for now, you don’t need to consider word count. Just let it fly! Describe the place where your story will take place.
First, allow me to say that the descriptions that you write for the first few days are not the text of your actual picture book. With these descriptive writings, we are telling ourselves the story of our picture books. We’ll whittle and reshape these descriptions several times. Our descriptive writings will later inspire the writing of our actual picture books.
Allow me to point out that the writing of some picture books has no verbal setting at all. For some picture books, the setting is developed through the illustrations, and that is also good. Keep in mind that for the sake of this assignment, you may be trying to do something that you will never do again in your writing, and that is okay. But don’t jump ship too quickly. Just play along. You may discover something different that you like, along the way. On the other hand, you may not. But regardless of how your settings are ultimately developed or not, you need to understand where the action of your story is taking place.
To help you understand Setting, as it relates to Picture Books, I’ll share several examples of Picture Book Settings:
I’ll begin with Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are, which is written in only 338 words. The development of setting in Wild Things is short and sweet.
Where the Wild Thing Are by Maurice Sendak – 1963
Book #1 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
“That very night in Max’s room a forest grew
and grew –
and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around
and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max
and he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are,” – Where the Wild Things Are
Town Is by the Sea – Joanne Schwartz – 2017
From my house, I can see the sea.
It goes like this–house, road, grassy cliff, sea.
And town spreads out, this way and that. . . .
My father is a miner and he works under the sea, deep down in the coal mines.
When I wake up, it goes like this–
First I hear the seagulls….
And along the road, lupine and Queen Anne’s lace rustle in the wind.
There are only two swings left now, one for big kids and one for babies. There used to be four. One broke, and the other one is wound so high around the top post it will never come down.
Far out at sea, the waves have white tips.
And deep down beneath that sea, my father is digging for coal,
Leave Me Alone – Vera Brosgol – 2016
Once there was an old woman who lived in a small village in a small house with lots of kids . . .
[Because she couldn’t find enough peace and quiet in the house, she couldn’t get her knitting done. She packed up her things and went in search of some peace and quiet.]
[She tried several spots here and there until her almost last stop was at the top of the moon. But that didn’t work either. The moon-men were a problem there. Ultimately, she climbed through a wormhole to a place that was absolutely dark and empty on the other side.]
The void on the other side of the wormhole was very dark and very, very quiet. She was absolutely, completely, utterly alone. It was PERFECT.
[She finished her knitting and used up her yarn and decided to go back home.]
She swept the void until it was a nice, matte black.
Little Red Riding Hood – Trina Schart Hyman – 1983
Now, her grandmother lived in a cottage in the middle of the forest, a good half hour’s walk from the village. . . .
Her house is the one by the blackberry hedge, and there’ a stream running by her garden. . . .
she saw the sunlight dancing through the trees, and the wild flowers and butterflies scattered throughout the ferns. . . .
Old Henry – Joan W. Blos – 1987
The story begins when a stranger appears and moves into a house that was vacant for years. . . .
the house was drafty, dark and gray, and more than seer years had passed since anyone had lived there last. . . . [the neighbor thought that Old Henry would fix things up, but Old Henry liked the house just the way it was}
the hollyhocks wilted, unwatered unkept, the gatepost stayed crooked, the walk stayed unswept. . .
The Relatives Came – Cynthia Rylant – 1985
It was in the summer of the year when the relatives came.
They came up from Virginia. They left when their grapes were nearly purple enough to pick. But not quite.
They had an old station wagon that smelled like a real car, and in it they put an ice chest full of soda pop and some boxes of crackers and some bologna sandwiches, and they came—from Virginia.
They left at four in the morning when it was still dark, before even the birds were awake.
They drove all day long and into the night, and while they traveled along they looked at the strange houses and different mountains and they thought about their almost purple grapes back home.
They thought about Virginia–
but they thought about us, too. Waiting for them. . .
The relatives weren’t particular about beds, which was good since there weren’t any extras, so a few squeezed in with us and the rest slept on the floor, some with their arms thrown over the closest person, or some with an arm across one person and a leg across another.
Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden – Edith Pattou – 2001
Inside Room 108 are six tables–four circles and two rectangles. There is a rug in one corner with real hopscotch squares and checkerboards woven in bright colors. There is also a size chart, a birthday chart, a gerbil in a cage, a housekeeping and dress-up corner, a row or twenty-two pegs for coats and backpacks and in another corner is Mrs. Spitzer’s desk
In the Quiet, Noisy Woods – Michael Rosen – 2019
In the quiet noise of the woods–the all-day, everywhere chorus of chirps and clicks and chits that peep and repeat. . . a wolf pup yip-yap-yowls as she bounds over a limb from a birch and bursts through the brambles and wildflowers. chasing her grr-ruff=ruff-racing brother who scampers along a shallow stream….
Lotus & Feather – Ji-li Jiang – 2016
“This lake used to be so alive,” Grandpa said. “Lotus flowers swayed in the breeze, fish jumped into the boat, birds sang in the sky, and foxes watched from the shore. But now–“he looked around the deserted landscape and sighed– “it has been ruined by greedy fishermen and hunters, and by ignorant people who took over land where animals once lived.
Lotus blew a whistle made out of a reed. The sound drifted around the empty lake like a wisp of sorrow.”
The Old Banjo – Dennis Haseley – 1988
All over this farm there are instruments that no one plays anymore.
“I wonder if some band used to live here,” says the farmer’s boy, “I wish we could have heard them.”
“Well, they’re gone now,” says his father, “and we’ve got too much work to do.”
So up in the attic waits an old banjo with worn silver strings.
And a trombone lies under a bed with a wool sock stuffed in its bell.
And an old piano sits in the gray barn with the ivory chipped on its keys–it looks like it has a few teeth missing.
And a violin waits in a shed with a bright trumpet going cloudyand a clarinet like a shadow left behind.
But one day just toward evening while the farmer and his boy are working and the sky is the color of a stone the old banjo remembers how a smiling old woman and all her sons and daughters used to sit on the porch and fill the night with music.
Before I show you how other picture book authors have developed their settings, I want to make it clear that your exercise for today is to fully describe the setting of your picture book. Don’t worry about word count. Don’t worry about flowery writing. Just say it. Sing the long song for now. We’ll edit out the fluff later.
Here is an Important Truth about Writing Picture Books. The best picture books are not written in long, slow text. They are mere snippets of life. But remember this: Before you can capture a snippet of life, you must have an understanding of the mass of words and emotions from which those snippets are extracted.
The Donkey’s Song – Jacki Kellum – 2022
In another post, I said the following about how I wrote my debut picture book The Donkey’s Song:
Although I have written several picture books before now, The Donkey’s Song is my debut published book, and the story wrote itself. The Donkey’s Song is the story of the Donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem. I wrote that story from the donkey’s perspective, which I imagined might have been true. But the facts of the nativity remain loyal to the Bible stories that I heard as a child. Because I knew the nativity story so very well, I had no need to research it, and after I began writing, the words simply tumbled into place. What’s more, the words came to me in rhyme. The Donkey’s Song is a short picture book, but it packs a big punch.
Random House describes the Donkey’s Song as follows:
Children will experience the first Christmas through new eyes in this incredibly moving story of the Nativity, told by the gentle but determined donkey that carried Jesus’s parents to Bethlehem. It’s a perfect Christmas gift book for snuggling up and sharing.
Sleepy but strong, I clip-clopped along
to rest in a stable with straw.
The wonder of the first Christmas miracle is movingly told with descriptions of scented pine, warm candlelight, fresh hay, and a “sweet angel sound” as a gentle donkey welcomes the baby Jesus. Each page has adorable, moonlit images of the humble farm animals that were there to witness and comfort.
This luminous, soothing song of hope, friendship, conviction, and faith is one that families will return to each Christmas for years to come. – Random House
I can’t thank Sydney Hanson enough for her outstanding illustrations for The Donkey’s Song. Through our combined efforts, Sydney and I have intimated the same kind of quiet, calm setting in 186 words that Jane Yolen created in the 751 words of her book Owl Moon. 751 words is a very, very long picture book–especially by today’s standards. Yet, the setting is beautiful and worthy of note.
Owl Moon -Jane Yolen – 1987
Book #30 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Papa and I went owling. There was no wind.
The trees stood still as giant statues. And the moon was so bright the sky seemed to shine.
Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.
I could hear it through the woolen cap Pa had pulled down over my ears. A farm dog answered the
train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when
their voices faded away it was as quiet as a dream. We walked on towards the wood, Pa and I.
Our feet crunched over the crisp snow and little gray footprints followed us. Pa made a long shadow,
but mine was short and round. I had to run after him every now and then to keep up, and my short,
round shadow bumped after me.
We reached the line of pine trees, black and pointy against the sky, and Pa held up his hand. I stopped
right where I was and waited. He looked up, as if searching for the stars, as if reading a map up there.
The moon made his face into a silver mask. Then he called: “Whoo-whoo-who-who-whowhoooooooo,” the sound of a great horned owl.
We went into the woods. The shadows were the blackest things I had ever seen. They stained the
white snow. My mouth felt furry, for the scarf over it was wet and warm. I didn’t ask what kind of
things hide behind black trees in the middle of the night. When you go owling you have to be brave.
Then we came to a clearing in the dark woods. The moon was high above us. It seemed to fit exactly
over the center of the clearing and the snow below it was whiter than the milk in a cereal bowl.
The owl’s call came closer, from high up in the trees on the edge of the meadow. Nothing in the
meadow moved. All of a sudden an owl shadow lifted off and flew right over us. We watched silently
with heat in our mouths, the heat of all those words we had not spoken. The shadow hooted again.
Then the owl pumped its great wings and lifted off the branch like a shadow without sound. It flew
back into the forest. “Time to go home,” Pa said to me. I knew then I could talk, I could even laugh out
loud. But I was a shadow as we walked home.
When you go owling you don’t need words or warm or anything but hope. That’s what Pa says. The
kind of hope that flies on silent wings under a shining Owl Moon.
Little House – Virginia Lee Burton – 1942
Book #32 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
Little House is a longer picture book, but because is has 44 pages, the words do not seem to crowd the images. [Most of today’s picture books have 32 pages.]
The Little House was very happy
as she sat on the hill and watched the countryside around her.
She watched the sun rise in the morning and she watched the sun set in the evening. …
In the nights she watched the moon grow from a thin new moon to a full moon
then back again to a thin old moon and when there was no moon, she watched the stars.
Way off in the distance, she could see the lights of the city. ….
In the Spring…she waited for the first robin to return from the South
She watched the grass turn green.
She watched the buds on the tree swell and the apple trees burst into bloom.
She watched the children playing in the brook.
In the long Summer days she sat in the sun
and watched the trees cover themselves with leaves
and the white daisies cover the hill.
She watched the gardens grow, and she watched the apples turn red and ripen.
She watched the children swimming in the pool.
In the Fall, when the days grew shorter and the nights colder,
she watched the first frost turn the leaves to bright yellow and orange and red,
She watched the harvest gathered and the apples picked.|
She watched the children going back to school.\
In the Winter, when the nights were long and the days short,
and the countryside covered with snow,
She watched the children coasting and skating.
The Lorax – Dr. Seuss – 1971
Book #33 out of Top 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows,
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows,
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows , ,
Is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.
Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out it in space. . .
one morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the Trees!
The Tufted Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.
The Cat in the Hat – Dr. Seuss – 1957
Book #36 out of Top 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
The sun did not shine.
it was too wet to play.
so we sat in the house
all that cold, cold, wet day.
I sat there with sally.
we sat there, we two.
and i said, ‘how i wish
we had something to do!’
too wet to go out
and too cold to play ball.
so we sat in the house.
we did nothing at all.
You might benefit by reading some settings that novelists and other writers have created.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
When I read Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, I was stunned by her descriptive writing:
“Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.
“First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled barlk like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in opulation, secreting their precous eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arcing their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.” p. 5 …
“Consider, even an Africa unconquered altogether. … What would that Africa be now? … All I can think of is a unicorn that could look you in the eye.” p. 10 …
“The [Congo] riverbank, though it looks attractive from a distance, is not so lovely once you get there: slick, smelly mudbanks framed by a tangle of bushes with gaudy orange flowers so large that if you tried to put one benhind your ear like Dorothy Lamour you’d look like you were wearing a Melmac soup bowl. The River Kwilu is not like the River Jordan, chilly and wide. It is a lazy rolling river as warm as bathwater, where crocodiles are said to roll around like logs. No milk and honey on the other side, either, but just more stinking jungle laying low in the haze, as far, far away as the memory of picnics in Georgia.” pgs. 82-83.
[About going to an African Market Day]
“From everywhere in walking distance, every fifth day, people with hands full or empty appeared in our village to saunter and haggle their way up and down the long rows where women laid out produce on mats on the ground. The vendor ladies squatted, sowling, resting their chins on their corssed arms, behind fortresses of stacked kola nuts, bundles of fragrant sticks, piles of charcoal, salvaged bottles and cans, or displays of dried animal parts. They grumbled continually as their built and rebuilt with leathery, deliberate hands their pyramids of mottled greenish oranges and mangoes and curved embankments of hard green bananas. … Yet, my eye could not decipher those vendors: they wrapped their heads in bright–colored cloths as cheerful as a party, but faced the world with permanent vile frowns. They slung back their heads in slit-eyed boredom while they did each other’s hair into starbursts of astonished spikes. However, I might pretend I was their neighbor, they knew better. I was pale and wide-eyed as a fish. A fish in the dust of the marketplace, trying to swim, while all the other women calmly breathed in that atmosphere of overripe fruit, dried meat, sweat, and spices, infusing their lives with powers I feared.” pgs. 150-153
Kingsolver’s writing is visual, dramatic, and emotional. In my opinion, Kingsolver’s fiction is very nearly poetry–if it actually is not.
And Here is the Bitter Reality: Your Picture Book Must Be More Poetic than Poisonwood Bible. If Poisonwood is poetry, your picture book must be haiku — or actually, it must be the breath between the words of haiku. It is a stab at saying what can’t be said. It is a manuscript that i written in the language of the birds.
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
Although Dillard is writing memoir, her development of the setting of her childhood is masterful. Instead of simply saying, “My name is Annie Dillard, and I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which once was a vast woodland inhabited only by Native Americans, Annie Dillard jumps into the marrow of her childhood home:
“When everything else has gone from my brain–thePresident’st name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and wat it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family–when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: The dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.
“I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills’ curves, rows of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; the houses’ bricks burn like glowing coals.
“The three wide rivers divide and cool the mountains. Calm old bridges span the banks and link the hills. The Allegheny River flows in brawling from the north, from near the shore of Lake Erie, and from Lake Chautauqua in New York and eastward. The Monongahela meet and form the westward-wending Ohio.
“Where the two rivers join lies an acute point of flat land from which rises the city. The tall buildings rise lighted to their tips. Their lights illumine other buildings’ clean sides, and illumine the narrow city canyons below, where people move, and shine reflected red and white at night from the black waters. [p. 3]
“When the shining city, too, fades, I will see only those forested mountains and hills, and the way the rivers lie flat and moving among them, and the way the low land lies wooded among them, and the blunt mountains rise in darkness from the rivers’ banks, steep from the rugged south and rolling from the north, and from farther, from the inclined eastward plateau where the high ridges begin to run so long north and south unbroken that to get around them you practically have to navigate Cape Horn.
“In those first days, people said, a squirrel could run the long length of Pennsylvania without ever touching the ground. In those first days, the woods were white oaks and chestnut, hickory, maple, sycamore, walnut, wild ash, wild plum, and white pine. The pine grew on the ridgetops where the mountains’ lumpy spines stuck up and their skin was thinnest.
“The wilderness was uncanny, unknown, unknown. Benjamin Franklin had already invented his stove in Philadelphia by 1753, and Thomas Jefferson was a schoolboy in Virginia; French soldiers had been living in forts along Lake Erie for two generations. But west of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania, there was not even a settlement, not even a cabin. No Indians lived there, or even near there.
“Wild grapevines tangled the treetops and shut out the sun. Few songbird lived in the deep woods. Bright Carolina parakeets–red, green, and yellow–nested in the dark forest. There were ravens then, too. Woodpeckers rattled the big trees’ trunks, ruffed grouse whirred their tail feathers in the fall, and every long once in a while a nervous gang of empty-headed turkeys came hustling and kicking through the leaves–but no one heard any of this, no one at all.
When I read the first chapter of An American Childhood, I felt the same way that I did after I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible. Poisonwood is fiction and Dillard’s book is nonfiction; yet, the quality of the writing for both pieces is the same.
Washington Irving was the Father of the American Short Story. Here is an example of ways that he developed the Setting in his short story Rip Van Winkle.
Illustration by N.C. Wyeth
Washington Irving’s Descriptive Writing in Rip Van Winkle.
Hudson River Valley & The Catskill Mountains
“Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country.
“Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of grey vapours about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.”
. . .
“…Rip had unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill Mountains. He was after his favourite sport of squirrel shooting, and the still solitudes had echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun. Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that crowned the brow of a precipice. From an opening between the trees he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.
On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain glen, wild, lonely, and shagged, the bottom filled with fragments from the impending cliffs, and scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun. For some time Rip lay musing on this scene; evening was gradually advancing; the mountains began to throw their long blue shadows over the valleys…
. . .
“…a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks, toward which their ragged path conducted. He paused for an instant, but supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient thunder-showers which often take place in mountain heights, he proceeded. Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices, over the brinks of which impending trees shot their branches, so that you only caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening cloud.”
. . .
“On waking, he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first seen the old man of the glen. He rubbed his eyes—it was a bright sunny morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and the eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure mountain breeze.”
. . .
“… a mountain stream was now foaming down it, leaping from rock to rock, and filling the glen with babbling murmurs. He, however, made shift to scramble up its sides, working his toilsome way through thickets of birch, sassafras, and witch-hazel, and sometimes tripped up or entangled by the wild grape-vines that twisted their coils or tendrils from tree to tree, and spread a kind of network in his path.
“At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such opening remained. The rocks presented a high, impenetrable wall, over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest.”
The Valley Where The Houses Were Built
“At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village, of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists in the early times of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant (may he rest in peace!), and there were some 4of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weathercocks.”
Now, I’ll share some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s settings:
Descriptive Writing In Little House on the Prairie:
Leaving the Little House in the Big Woods
“There was thin snow on the ground. The air was still and cold and dark. The bare trees stood up against the frosty stars.” pages 3 – 4 …
“So they all went away from the little log house. The shutters were over the windows, so the little house could not see them go. It stayed there inside the log fence, behind the two big oak trees that in the summertime had made green roofs for Mary and Laura to play under. And that was the last of the little house.” pages 5 – 6
“Kansas was an endless flat land covered with tall grass blowing in the wind. Day after day they traveled in Kansas, and saw nothing but the rippling grass and enormous sky. In a
perfect circle the sky curved down the level land, and the wagon was in the circle’s exact
All day long Pet and Patty went forward, trotting and walking and trotting again, but they couldn’t get out of the middle of that circle. When the sun went down, the circle was still around them and the edge of the sky was pink. Then slowly the land became black. The wind made a lonely sound in the grass. The camp fire was small and lost in so much space.
But large stars hung from the sky, glittering so near that Laura felt she could almost touch them.”
Crossing the River – pages 17 – 19
“The wagon went forward softly in mud. Water began to splash against the wheels. The splashing grew louder. The wagon shook as the noisy water struck at it. Then all at once the wagon lifted and balanced and swayed. It was a lovely feeling.” …
“She felt cold and sick. Her eyes were shut tight, but she could still see the terrible water and Pa’s brown beard drowning in it.
For a long, long time the wagon swayed and swung, and Mary cried without making a sound, and Laura’s stomach felt sicker and sicker. Then the front wheels struck and grated, and Pa shouted. The whole wagon jerked and jolted and tipped backward, but the wheels were turning on the ground. Laura was up again, holding to the seat; she saw Pet’s and Patty’s scrambling wet backs climbing a steep bank, and Pa running beside them, shouting, “Hi, Patty! Hi, Pet! Get up! Get up! Whoopsy-daisy! Good girls!”
At the top of the bank they stood still, panting and dripping. And the wagon stood still, safely out of that creek.” p. 19
Supper in the Prairie – pages 25 -26
“Then Pa brought water from the creek, while Mary and Laura helped Ma get supper. Ma measured coffee beans into the coffee-mill and Mary ground them. Laura filled the coffee-pot with the water Pa brought, and Ma set the pot in the coals. She set the iron bake-oven in the coals, too.
“While it heated, she mixed cornmeal and salt with water and patted it into little cakes. She greased the bake-oven with a pork-rind, laid the cornmeal cakes in it, and put on its iron cover. Then Pa raked more coals over the cover, while Ma sliced fat salt pork. She fried the slices in the iron spider. The spider had short legs to stand on in the coals, and that was why it was called a spider. If it had had no legs, it would have been only a frying pan.
“The coffee boiled, the cakes baked, the meat fried, and they all smelled so good that Laura
grew hungrier and hungrier.
“Pa set the wagon-seat near the fire. He and Ma sat on it. Mary and Laura sat on the
wagon tongue. Each of them had a tin plate, and a steel knife and a steel fork with white bone handles. Ma had a tin cup and Pa had a tin cup, and Baby Carrie had a little one of her
own, but Mary and Laura had to share their tin cup. They drank water. They could not drink coffee until they grew up.
“While they were eating supper the purple shadows closed around the camp fire. The vast prairie was dark and still. Only the wind moved stealthily through the grass, and the large, low stars hung glittering from the great sky. The camp fire was cozy in the big, chill darkness. The slices of pork were crisp 25
and fat, the corncakes were good. In the dark beyond the wagon, Pet and Patty were eating, too. They bit off bites of grass with sharply crunching sounds.
“We’ll camp here a day or two,” said Pa. …
“For an instant she was still, listening to the long, wailing howl from the dark prairie. They all knew what it was. But that sound always ran cold up Laura’s backbone and crinkled over the back of her head.”
“They washed their hands and faces in the tin washbasin on the wagon-step. Ma combed every snarl out of their hair, while Pa brought fresh water from the creek. Then they sat on the clean grass and ate pancakes and bacon and molasses from the tin plates in their laps.
“All around them shadows were moving over the waving grasses, while the sun rose. Meadow larks were springing straight up from the billows of grass into the high, clear sky, singing as they went. Small pearly clouds drifted in the intense blueness overhead. In all the weed-tops tiny birds were swinging and singing in tiny voices. …
“There was only the enormous, empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it, and birds flying up from it and singing with joy because the sun was rising. And on the whole enormous prairie there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there.
“In all that space of land and sky stood the lonely, small, covered wagon.”
“Laura was very happy. The wind sang a low, rustling song in the grass. Grasshoppers’ rasping quivered up from an the immense prairie. A buzzing came faintly from all the trees in the creek bottoms. But all these sounds made a great, warm, happy silence. Laura had never seen a place she liked so much as this place. …
“That was a wonderful supper. They sat by the camp fire and ate the tender, savory,
flavory meat till they could eat no more. When at last Laura set down her plate, she
sighed with contentment. She didn’t want anything more in the world.
“The last color was fading from the enormous sky and all the level land was shadowy. The warmth of the fire was pleasant because the night wind was cool. Phoebe-birds called sadly from the woods down by the creek. For a little while a mockingbird sang, then the stars came out and the birds were still.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats – 1962
Book #5 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
One winter morning Peter woke up
and looked out his window.
Snow had fallen during the night.
It covered everything as far as he could see.
After breakfast he put on his snowsuit and ran outside
The snow was piled up high on the street to make a path for walking.” Snowy Day
Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey – 1941
Book #6 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
When they got to Boston, they felt too tired to fly any further. There was a nice pond in the Public Garden, with a
little island on it. “The very place to spend the night,” quacked Mr. Mallard. So down they flapped. …
“I like this place,” said Mrs. Mallard as they climbed out on the bank and waddled along. “Why don’t we build
a nest and raise our ducklings right in this pond? There are no foxes and no turtles, and the people feed us peanuts.
What could be better?” – Make Way for Ducklings
Frog and Toad Are Friends – Andrew Lobel – 1970
Book #15 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
Frog ran up the path to Toad’s house.
He knocked on the front door.
There was no answer. …
“Toad, Toad,” cried Frog.
“The sun is shining!
The snow is melting.
Wake up!” “I am not here,” said the
Frog walked into the house.
It was dark.
All the shutters were closed. “Toad,
where are you?” called Frog.
“Go away,” said the voice from a
corner of the room.
Toad was lying in bed.
He had pulled all the covers over his
“We will skip through the meadows
and run through the woods and swim in
In the evenings we will sit right here
on this front porch and count the stars.” – Frog and Toad Are Friends
The Story of Ferdinand – Munro Leaf – 1936
Book #17 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
He liked to sit just quietly and
smell the flowers.
He had a favorite spot out in
the pasture under a cork tree.
It was his favorite tree and he
would sit in its shade all day
and smell the flowers. – The Story of Ferdinand
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – 1902
Book #19 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were—
They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree. …
Presently, he came to a pond where Mr. McGregor filled his water-cans. A white cat was staring at some gold-fish, she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive.
He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit-hole and shut his eyes.
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag – 1928
Book #21 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice
clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn’t
be happy because they were so very lonely. [If they only had a cat] …
And he set out over the hills to look for one. He climbed over the
sunny hills. He trudged through the cool valleys. He walked a
long, long time and at last he came to a hill which was quite
covered with cats.
“Cats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Book #22 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
Corduroy is a bear who once lived in the ty department of a big store. Day after day he waited with all the other animals and dolls for someone’s come along and take him home.
The store was always filled with shoppers buying all sorts of things but no one ever seemed to want a small bear in green overalls.
Kitten’s First Full Moon – Kevin Henkes – 2004
Book #25 out of 100 Best Picture Books – School Library Journal
It was Kitten’s first full moon.
When she saw it, she thought, “There’s a little bowl of milk in the sky” and she wanted it. …
So she chased it down the sidewalk, through the garden, past the field, and by the pond.