Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘animal picture books

There are books that one should buy the instant they’re published. They are the books that become frayed and worn from multiple rereads. At the same time, their stories are so heartwarming one must tell every reader about them. These rare and special books will live on in our hearts and as such deserve a place on everyone’s shelves. Such a book is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.

The Kissing Hand was inspired by a true event. Penn had the fortune “to witness a mother raccoon in the wild giving comfort to her newborn cub by opening his tiny hand, nuzzling his paw, and leaving her scent within his grasp.” She then watched the cub place his palm to his face, making in her words “that first important connection with his mother.” A true storyteller, Penn recounted that experience to her first son, then her second son, and later to her daughter. She also sold the story to Humpty Dumpty Magazine. When her final child entered kindergarten, Penn decided to rewrite the story in picture book form–for which the literary world should be grateful.

Any adult can weave tales to entertain a child for a few minutes, but it takes talent to write a story that will become a keepsake, and Penn has that gift. The Kissing Hand starts with the simple but captivating line: “Chester Raccoon stood at the end of the forest and cried.” Immediately I wanted to know why Chester is unhappy. Turns out Chester doesn’t want to go to school, but wishes to stay home with his toys, his friends, and his mom. Instantly I felt a connection. Rare is the child or adult who hasn’t wanted to stay home surrounded by everything and everyone who is familiar, instead of embracing a strange and potentially uncomfortable new situation. At first his mom simply tries to reassure Chester by holding his paw and telling his that he’ll find new toys, make new friends, and experience new adventures. While these actions are a start, she’s a smart enough mom to know that something else will be needed, and so she shares with Chester the secret of the kissing hand.

The colorful illustrations are by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. Harper is a self-taught artist from England who approached Penn back in the days before the internet to ask if she needed an illustrator. Penn loved her drawings and gave her the manuscript for The Kissing Hand. Leak is an American printmaker whose hand-pulled original etchings have won her recognition throughout the United States. Together the two artists have enhanced Penn’s story with tender and pleasant artwork.

SoCal Public Relations surprised me with a 25th anniversary edition of The Kissing Hand. On the front inside is a presentation page, a page for special memories. On the back inside is a letter from the author, a sheet of The Kissing Hand stickers, and a code for a free download of Letters to Chester. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn will become a keepsake.


Marie Letourneau is a full-time illustrator and graphic artist, with a BA in Fine Arts from Hofstra University’s New College on Long Island. She has done design work for (and appeared on) The Nate Berkus Show, and The Revolution with fashion icon Tim Gunn. In 2014, Marie was a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards for her stationery shop Le French Circus, on Etsy. She loves animals, beets, and roller skating. Marie is the author and illustrator for Argyle Fox. She and her family live on Long Island, New York.

ALLISON: Your bio indicates that you made books as a child. Do you still have one, and if so, why, and please describe? Or do you remember one that you gave as a gift, and if so, why, and please describe?

MARIE: I think only one of my childhood books exist. My aunt has a book I made for her when I was about 11 or 12. I think it was about a forest-dwelling creature called a “Blump” (sort of a cross between a gnome and a hobbit) I don’t remember the storyline, but it was based off of a stuffed toy I won at an amusement park.

ALLISON: What other interests did you have a child?

MARIE:Art in general was my main interest. But I also loved roller skating (which served me later in life when I joined women’s roller derby!)

ALLISON: Share an unforgettable memory from adolescence.

MARIE: I was 13 and my sister, Michelle and I were at the beach. Suddenly a baby whale appeared and we swam out past the breakers to meet it. We went back every day for a week to ‘play’ with it.

ALLISON: Is there someone who helped you become an artist that you can tell us about, and how they influenced you?

MARIE: My parents and family always encouraged me to pursue art. I also had some great teachers in school – namely, Celeste Topazio (elementary school) and Don Bartsch (jr & sr high). I am so grateful to them both.

ALLISON: When did you also become an author, and why?

MARIE: I always liked to write stories. As a kid I was constantly creating comic strips, writing plays and making my own books. It wasn’t until 2002 that I seriously started thinking about submitting my work and pursuing a career as an illustrator.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

MARIE: Practice as much as you can. Work on developing a style, but be patient with yourself. These things take time.

ALLISON: You have two dogs and a cat. What has been your most fun adventure with them? Or what has been one of their fun solo adventures?

MARIE: Every day is an adventure. They are constantly getting into mischief of one kind or another. Like the time I found one of my dogs standing on our piano. I didn’t even know she played.

ALLISON: Please tell us more about your love of beach glass.

MARIE: There’s something about the colors and shapes that fascinate me–like little jewels. Knowing they have been in the ocean long enough to be shaped and smoothed, then suddenly ending up in my hand is extremely cool. I’m very particular about which pieces I take home. They need to have been well-worn by the ocean.

ALLISON: What’s something quirky about yourself?

MARIE: I like to collect old things. Old film projectors, dial-up telephones, typewriters, trunks, etc. I have a lot of my grandparents stuff, including a very heavy, metal (iron, I think) Art Deco table fan. It still works. My grandfather kept all of his things in immaculate working order.

ALLISON: What’s your next book and/or creative project?

MARIE: I’m in the process of brainstorming this one. I have a couple of ideas. I can’t really say exactly what it will be, but it may just involve an adventure at sea.


After accepting the opportunity to receive an Advanced Reader Copy of I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat by Simon Philip, I anxiously awaited its arrival. As the owner of three cats, I love to add cat books to my library. When the picture book finally came, the vivid matte illustrations tantalized me as much as the title. I dropped everything to read it. The first half was adorable, but the last half take some surprising twists that leave me unsettled.

The story features a young girl with bright orange hair and colorful dresses. Her first words hooked me: “I have a new cat.” What pet lover doesn’t relate to that experience? Her next revelation is that the cat had shown up hungry on her doorstep. Ah, what cat rescuer doesn’t know that experience? Her next line is equally endearing and true: “She obviously liked the dinner I gave her, because she’s stayed ever since.” Yup, this has happened to more than one animal lover, whether a cat owner or not. Incidentally, the cat is gray with bright eyes and alert ears. Every young reader will be in love! The rest of the first half of the story is about the girl trying to name the cat. Readers will enjoy the chaotic adventures and the vivid matte illustrations. You can decide for yourself if you like the name selected.

Unfortunately, here’s where the story takes an unsettling twist. The cat goes missing, and can’t be found anywhere. Not even in a zoo. But a gorilla is only too happy to follow our heroine home. She in turn is perfectly content for him to become her pet. I know young kids can be fickle, but our heroine is disturbingly nonchalant about this switch in pets. There’s an additional twist, in that the Bureau for Naughty Animals shows up to remove the gorilla. Again, our heroine takes this turn of events in stride. No tears are ever shed over either loss. And then for the third twist—the cat conveniently comes back. The author leaves readers with this strange moral: “Maybe one pet at a time is best for everyone.”

The whimsy style reminds me of tales by Dr. Seuss and the Reys. Even those authors though tended to avoid side lines in the plot. For me, I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat is a one-time read. Younger readers may more heartily embrace the book.

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