The STORM WHALE – Perfect Picture Book Friday

stTitle: The STORM WHALE

Written and illustrated by: Benji Davies

Published by: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 2013

Themes/Topics: whales, loneliness, father/son relationships

Suitable for ages: 3-7

Fiction, 32 pages


Noi lived with his dad and six cats by the sea.


An only child, a little boy named Noi, lives with his dad by the sea. Every day he watches his dad leave early for his work as a fisherman and while he does have his six cats, he is a little lonely. One morning after a night’s heavy storm, he spots a baby whale on the beach. Being a quick-thinking boy knows this wee whale won’t survive long out of water so he takes it home to the bathtub, where he keeps it very good company. That evening Noi  doesn’t manage to keep his secret long, but his dad is not so much angry as worried for his son’s loneliness. This story has a very poignant ending!


Why I like this story:

Firstly, do not miss an anonymous poem on the page before the title page:

The wonder of the world,                                                                                                    The beauty and the power,                                                                                                   The shapes of things,                                                                                                           Their colors, lights and shades–                                                                                         These I saw.                                                                                                                          Look ye also while life lasts.

How did I miss this gem last year? This is a warm, deep, kind story of the relationship between a (single) dad and his son. It is beautifully paced and heartfelt, rich with authentic lonely little boy feelings and gestures. The blue/black storm pages are beautiful contrasts to quieter moments on the beach and by the bathtub! This story creeps into your heart and tugs at it long after you have finished reading it. A quiet masterpiece, IMHO! I shall look out for more from this author/illustrator.


Lots of scope for child to adult discussion about feeling lonely and saying goodbye to something/someone loved.

Benji Davies website is here.

Fascinating Nerdy Book Club post on how THE STORM WHALE came to be.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Illustrator Interview – Vinicius Vogel


As soon as I saw Vin Vogel’s wonderful banner for this year’s PiBoIdMo, run by Tara Lazar, and knew that Vin had written and illustrated a picture book about YETIS, I knew I had to interview him. Vin Vogel is based in New York City and was the winner of the NJ-SCBWI 2013 Conference Juried Art Show for Published Illustrator.


[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[VV] Author/illustrator. I always begin with pictures: it’s my most natural way of thinking.

[JM] Where are you from and how has that influenced your work?

[VV] I’m from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I think in Brazil we’re exposed not only to local artists, but also many artists from Europe and South America. So along with my North American references, I grew up reading stuff like Asterix, Tintin, Smurfs, Gaston Lagaffe, Mafalda, Mortadelo y Filemón… It was fun to be exposed to artwork from so many countries!

I guess because I come from Brazil, my artwork tends to be colorful and there is a joie de vivre and an excitement in my characters.

[JM] Being European, Asterix and Tintin were some of my favorite comics growing up!  Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[VV] I started drawing at a very young age, around 3 years old.

When I was in primary school, I won prizes for storytelling and illustrations—this encouragement definitely contributed to my dream of being an author and illustrator.

I graduated with a degree in journalism, and worked for three years as a reporter for an architecture magazine in São Paulo. I then went through a “professional crisis”, and decided to live my true passion to the fullest: I wanted to be an illustrator. For many years I thought that I’d never make it as an artist: it’s a very difficult career, because mostly you work as a freelancer, so there is little job security. But I can’t imagine doing anything else.

[JM] Bravo! You have already illustrated more than 45 books for children and young adults. But you have you debut picture book as an author/illustrator, THE THING ABOUT YETIS! Coming out in the fall of 2015. How long have you been working on breaking in as an author as well as illustrator?

[VV] When I moved to the USA, more specifically NYC, in 2011, I realized that I’d have to work really hard to break in as an illustrator. Although I had more than 45 books published in various countries, no one knew about me here in the US. And I didn’t know anybody here in NY. So I decided to start writing my own stories, along with trying to promote my illustration work. I became a member of the SCBWI and went to every conference and event that I could – and realized that I needed an agent. The rest is history.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[VV] For doodling in general and doing the first sketches for any project, just an automatic pencil and paper. For final art, I always use Photoshop – sometimes I mix things up, created in varied ways, like digital, pencil, crayon, pastel, ink…

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[VV] One of my favorite themes is children having encounters with animals, which was something that I was intrigued with as a child myself.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating it/them?

[VV] Sure, here it goes. These are from Maddi’s Fridge written by Lois Brandt (published by Flashlight Press).

Maddi WIP

Maddi WIP

1) I read the manuscript and start doodling the main characters. Most of the time, I use an automatic pencil on paper at this stage. Coloring is then added digitally.

Maddi WIP #2

Maddi WIP #2

2) When the characters are approved, I start working on the sketches, on how I envision each spread. I might use pencil on paper or draw digitally with my tablet. Very often the font is chosen at this stage since the art director will want to make sure the text matches the style of the illustrations and that there is enough room for the type.

Maddi - WIP #3

Maddi – WIP #3

3) When the sketches are approved, I start on the final art. Occasionally, there are slight changes here and there, even at this final stage. I often start working on the cover when the interior illustrations have been approved.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[VV] A picture is worth more than a thousand words…


[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?


Kathryn Lynch

Frank Holiday

Frank Holiday

Thom Merick

Thom Merick

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                               [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[VV] Well, for a national park, Floresta da Tijuca, in Rio. Urban parks: Stanley Park in Vancouver and Riverside Park in NYC.

Rio Park - Copyright © Riotreme

Rio Park – Copyright © Rioxtreme

[JM]  Cats or dogs? 

Nook and Peppermint Patty

Nook and Peppermint Patty

Teddy, the pit bull

Teddy, the pit bull (Joanna’s note – gotta love pit bulls!)

Sherman, the English Setter

Sherman, the English Setter

[JM] Have you seen a yeti?

[VV] Of course. How would I write about something that I’m not familiar with? (wink)

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[VV] That I was terrified of pit bulls, and now I’m a big fan of the breed. Thanks to Teddy, our pit!

[JM] I love bullies! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[VV] I enjoy having a drink or a espresso while I watch people passing by – and drawing the ones I find interesting. It’s my version of the book Humans of New York.

You can find out more about Vin on his website,

Vin, it’s not easy to arrive in a new country/city and put yourself and your art out there, but you have done that remarkably well these past 3 years in New York. Bravo and to your continued success! MADDI’S FRIDGE sounds like a book I need to review!




Cats Are Cats – Perfect Picture book Friday

catsTitle: Cats Are Cats

Written and illustrated by: Valeri Gorbachev

Published By: Holiday House, 2014.

Themes/Topics: cats, pets, tigers, fish

Suitable for ages: 3-5


Miss Bell loved cats.                                                                                                           One day she went to the                                                                                                      pet shop to get a little kitten. 


Miss Bell’s love of cats takes her one day to the pet store to buy a kitten. She buys a wee thing with stripes, tail and smile like a tiger, so, she calls him, TIGER. She puts her heart and soul into caring for her little Tiger. The trouble is her little Tiger grows bigger and bigger and bigger! But she doesn’t stop loving him, ‘Cats are cats’, she says. One day she takes Tiger for a walk and they pass the pet store from which he was bought. On a whim, she treats her big boy to two bags of goldfish. And the rest of the story you will have to read yourself!


Why I like This Book: Valeri’s illustrations of this tiger growing bigger and filling up the whole apartment are full of whimsy and character! Cat lovers will appreciate the truism, that big or small, cats have certain characteristics. You and your children will love the unexpected fishy twist at the end, as much as I did. A cat is always a cat, after all!


Activities/Resources: All kids like to draw cats. Try this template from draw+a+cat

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.