Classic Picture Book Review


Thompson, Kay, and Hilary Knight (illustrator). Eloise. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1955. ISBN 9780671223502


In Eloise, a mischievous 6-year-old takes readers through her daily routine at her ritzy home, the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Readers are introduced to the lobby, where Eloise is dubbed a “nuisance”; the elevator, where she provokes the elevator man by “skibbling” up and down tirelessly; the hall, where she makes “a really loud and terrible racket” for the other residents; and various fancy rooms that are left a little less fancy in the wake of little Eloise. The 6-year-old also introduces readers to her pets, her nanny, her French teacher, and her wild imagination. Most of all, readers are introduced to Eloise’s big, often impish personality from the first page to the last.


Loud, opinionated, and very unique, Eloise is a picture book character like no other. Readers will never have to guess how Eloise feels about anything or anyone, whether it’s her boring boring boring French tutor Philip whom she mimics until he screams, or her nurse, Nanny whom ooooooo she just absolutely loves. Eloise’s voice is full of made up words and childlike observations (did you know that Kleenex makes a very good hat and so does cabbage leaf and an egg cup?), making her voice strong and certainly unforgettable, despite the simple, meandering plot of the story. Illustrations support and strengthen text with spreads as unforgettable as the one where readers watch Eloise saw Saylor the doll in half and ride in an ambulance to save the poor thing from this most terriblest accident.

However, while the voice and illustration of Eloise are to be lauded, the book often seems too mature for its 5- to 8-year-old audience. In fact, Kay Thompson herself never intended for this book to be a children’s book. It was intended, as its subtitle suggests, to be a book for precocious grown-ups. Children may not pick up on the illustration of the gin that 6-year-old Eloise has stashed away in her room, but they will hear the somewhat offensive mature phrases “for Lord’s sake” and “Oh my Lord” repeated about a dozen times. And while characters that are overly cute, sweet, and well behaved may not be memorable to children and didactic texts can turn them right off, Eloise seems to have no meaning nor subtle takeaway, unless it is that Eloise is actually a character to be pitied. She’s a 6-year-old whose parents are completely absent and whose mischievous acts seem to be the only way she knows how to get anyone’s attention. Or maybe the takeaway is that her naughtiness holds no undesirable consequences, an idea that caregivers may not be thrilled to have to correct.


New York Times Bestseller List

Times “100 Best Children’s Books of All Time” List

Bookroo “Best 100 Classics of All Time” List

From Time: “She is a magnificent moppet.”

From the New York Times: “Eloise is one of the most recognizable characters in children’s literature.”

From Variety: “Eloise is poised to become an overnight sensation.”


Read with other popular children’s books written in the 1950s:

  • Geisel, Theodor Suess. The Cat in the Hat. ISBN 9780394800011
  • Johnson, Crockett. Harold and the Purple Crayon. ISBN 9780747532033

Read with other picture books with strong character voice:

  • Willan, Alex. Unicorns Are the Worst!. ISBN 9781534453845
  • Pizzoli, Greg. The Watermelon Seed. ISBN 9781423171010
  • Lobel, Arnold. Frog and Toad Are Friends. ISBN 9780064440202

Read with other picture books that include elevators:

  • Minh, Lê, and Dan Santat (illustrator). Lift. ISBN 9781368036924
  • Kulling, Monica, and David Parkins (illustrator). Going Up!: Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top. ISBN 9781770495166
  • Frankel, Yael, and Kit Maude (translator). The Elevator. ISBN 781734783902

Read with other picture books about the day in the life of a child:

  • Viorst, Judith, and Ray Cruz (illustrator). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. ISBN 9780689711732
  • Falconer, Ian. Olivia. ISBN 9780689829536

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Review of a Book Illustrated by Kadir Nelson


Levine, Ellen, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 9780439777339


In Henry’s Freedom Box, young Henry and his family work as slaves. Henry longs to be free, but his master sends Henry to work for his son instead. As a slave for the master’s son, Henry grows up working in a tobacco factory and meets a girl, Nancy, who is working under another master. Both masters allow Henry and Nancy to marry, and they have three children together. But when Nancy’s master loses his money, Nancy and the children are sold and taken away forever. Henry decides that he’ll do anything to leave slavery behind. With the help of a sympathetic white man, Henry is nailed in a box and mailed to Philadelphia where he becomes free at last.


The story of Henry is a story that children won’t soon forget. Its plot moves forward at a quick and steady pace, yet never glosses over the harsh realities of Henry’s life as a slave. Readers watch as Henry is taken from his family of origin and placed in a harsh environment where he can be beaten, as his wife and children are sold away, and as he mails himself to freedom nailed inside a box. However, while Henry’s Freedom Box makes the harsh realities of slavery clear to young readers, the text is written in a tactful and age-appropriate manner. The writing style is engaging and easy to understand, making it accessible for its intended audience. There’s no doubt that Ellen Levine makes good stories.

But the best part of the book is its illustrations. Illustrator Kadir Nelson’s crosshatched pencil lines covered with layers of watercolor and oil paint practically burst from the page, bringing the details of each scene into sharp focus. Facial expressions are drawn with especially astonishing clarity, driving home the emotions that Henry is feeling—his anger as he works in the tobacco factory, his delight as he talks with Nancy for the first time, his horror and heartbreak as he learns of the selling of Nancy and the children, and his determination to find his way to freedom. Pictures will invite readers to engage with Henry’s story, to triumph with Henry in his deliverance, and to develop a deeper understanding of a dark part of America’s history. This book would make an excellent addition to any picture book collection for older readers.


Caldecott Medal Nominee (2008)

Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3­–6 (2010)

California Young Readers Medal for Picture Books for Older Readers (2012)

Comstock Read Aloud Book Award Nominee (2008)

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Powerful illustrations will make readers feel as if they have gained insight into a resourceful man and his extraordinary story.”

From School Library Journal: “This book solidly conveys the generalities of Henry Brown’s story.”

From Kirkus: “Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved.”


Read with other picture books about Henry “Box” Brown. Compare and contrast the differences in each story.

  • Weatherford, Carole Boston, and Michele Wood (illustrator). Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom. ISBN 9780763691561
  • Walker, Sally M., and Sean Qualls (illustrator). Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown. ISBN 9780060583101

Read with other Caldecott nominees of 2008:

  • Seeger, Laura V. First the Egg. ISBN 9781596432727
  • Willems, Mo. Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. ISBN 9781423102991

Read with other award-winning books illustrated by Kadir Nelson and discuss how the art is similar and different in each book:

  • Alexander, Kwame, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). The Undefeated. ISBN 9781328780966
  • Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. ISBN 9780061730740
  • Nolen, Jerdine, and Kadir Nelson (illustrator). Thunder Rose. ISBN 9780152060060

Read with other picture books as an introduction to the Underground Railroad:

  • Tate, Don. William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781561459353
  • Cole, Henry. Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9780545399975
  • Stroud, Bettye, and Erin S. Bennett (illustrator). The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom. ISBN 9780439851176

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.

Caldecott Review


Blackall, Sophie. Hello Lighthouse. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018. ISBN 9780316362382


Hello Lighthouse is the story of one lighthouse and its last “keeper,” a man whose job is to make sure the lighthouse lamp is wound up tight, its oil is refilled, and the events of the day are written in the logbook. Time passes in the lighthouse and, with it, many events—the arrival of the keeper’s wife, the rescue of three wrecked sailors from a storm, the birth of a daughter, and—finally—the invention of a lighthouse machine that needs no keeper, causing husband, wife, and daughter to say goodbye to their beloved lighthouse and find a new home on the shore.


Hello Lighthouse is not your average picture book. Unlike such favorites as Corduroy or How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Sophie Blackall leaves her characters nameless and without a book-long problem to solve. However, while these omissions might make another picture book fall flat, in Sophie Blackall’s deft hands, Hello Lighthouse shines from its promontory station as a wonderful children’s book.

What makes Hello Lighthouse truly exceptional is its pictures. Beautiful Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations accompany and amplify textual descriptions—the colors of the sunrise reflect on the water as the text declares that “from dusk to dawn, the lighthouse beams” and the lighthouse becomes a ghostly silhouette when “the fog makes everything disappear.” But the illustrations go far beyond simple textual amplifications. They invite curious young readers to uncover hidden gems in the intricate details of each spread, like the words of the letter written to “dearest Alice” or the weather remarks written in the logbook of the lighthouse. And images are drawn from unique, cinematic perspectives, such as the eye-level illustration that invites readers to greet the lighthouse from across the shore with husband, wife, and child. Young readers are sure to come away from this book full of a little more imagination and a little more wonder.


2019 Caldecott Medal

Publisher’s Weekly Best Picture Books of 2018 Pick

New York Times Notable Children’s Books of 2018 Pick

From Publisher’s Weekly: “This graceful account celebrates a lost era and vocation—the sometimes lonely, sometimes dangerous job of keeping a lighthouse. . . . A jewel of a creation.”

From School Library Journal: “A lovely picture book, recommended for all libraries. A delightful bedtime read perfect for one on one sharing.”

From Booklist: “Blackall’s charmingly old-fashioned art style is beautifully matched to this nostalgia-rich story, which imbues an antiquated place with warmth and wonder.”


Read with other award-winning books illustrated by Sophie Blackall:

  • Mattick, Lindsay, and Sophie Blackall (illustrator). Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. ISBN 0316324906
  • Blackall, Sophie. If You Come to Earth. ISBN 145213779X

Read with other books about lighthouses such as:

  • Armitage, Rhonda, and David Armitage (illustrator). The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch. ISBN 0590551752
  • Hopkinson, Deborah, and Kimberly B. Root (illustrator). Birdie’s Lighthouse. ISBN 0689835299

Use as an introduction to a weather unit with other weather books such as:

  • Rabe, Tish, and Aristides Ruiz (illustrator). Oh Say Can You Say What’s the Weather Today? ISBN 0375822763
  • Gibbons, Gail. Weather Words and What They Mean. ISBN 0823441903

Use as an introduction to an inventions unit. Point out that a new light is installed in the lighthouse. Brainstorm with the children about things they want to invent. Then, ask them to draw a picture of their inventions.

*Note—This book review was created as an assignment for a course at Texas Woman’s University.