SteigFEST 14: Happy birthday, Bill!



from The Agony in the Kindergarten, Duell, Sloane and Pierce,1950

Thanks for joining me in this fourteen-day long celebration! I’ve taken the liberty of wishing Bill a happy birthday – I never met him, but I hear that’s what he liked to be called by friends, and, well, it’s his birthday!


Publisher: Godine, 1984
Ages: 4-8yrs
Themes: creatures, volcanoes, flowers
Opening: .
Summary: (from Amazon) What would happen if every creature on land and sea were free to be as rotten as possible? If every day was a free-for-all; if plants grew barbed wire; if the ocean were poison? That’s life on Rotten Island. For creatures that slither, creep, and crawl (not to mention kick, bite, scratch, and play nasty tricks on each other), Rotten Island is paradise.But then, on a typically rotten day, something truly awful happens. Something that could spoil Rotten Island forever. Out of a bed a gravel on the scorched earth, a mysterious, beautifly flower begins to grow…

I like this book because: What could be more fun for kids than to get ugly, then uglier, mean then meaner along with horrific creatures and to have it all consume itself? I think this book in particular demonstrates well how Steig fed the child within himself  and without letting his adult brain lead, wrote a story for adults. Enough, just go read it!

Rotten Island2

Resources/activity: this is one for the writers – young, old, and in between: let the child within write whatever it wants, whatever pleases, and whatever you do, have fun! Nothing would please the ‘birthday boy’ more! For a fine lesson in sentence transformation, check out Renee’s guest post with Michelle – HEREFor more PPBF picks, go to Susanna Hill’s blog – HERE

rotten island3

Today’s tidbit: Check out this birthday post from 2011 from the wonderful father, picture book maker, and creator of the Happy Birthday Author blog, Eric Van Raepenbusch – HERE. (Photos Eric posted of his kids jumping in a leaf pile inspired the sketches for the blog banner above)


Rotten Island, Godine, 1984

I hope you’ve already hit your libraries and your local independent booksellers in search of some of the titles shared during SteigFEST, but I have ONE REMINDER: savor them slowly, like chocolate (which Steig loved – actually, all sweets!), taking note of Steig’s shaping of beautiful phrases. And when you find a delectable mouthful (you MUST read Steig aloud) share it!

from The Agony in the Kindergarten, Duell, Sloane and Pierce,1950

from The Agony in the Kindergarten, Duell, Sloane and Pierce,1950

Further reading:

The Art of William Steig

The World of William Steig

The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker

Heart and Humor: The Picture Book Art of William Steig

The Comic Worlds of Peter Arno, William Steig, Charles Addams, and Saul Steinberg

SteigFEST 13: Doctor De Soto


DDScoverPublisher: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1982
Ages: 4-8yrs
Themes: mice, fox, dentists
Opening: Doctor De Soto, the dentist, did very good work, so he had no end of patients. Those close to his own size – moles, chipmunks, et cetera – sat in the regular dentist’s chair.
Summary: (from my library catalog) Dr. De Soto, a mouse dentist, copes with the toothaches of various animals except those with a taste for mice, until the day a fox comes to him in great pain.


I like this book because: though I love so many of Steig’s stories, this is my absolute favorite. Not because I have particularly fond memories of the dentist (even though I wrote a little ditty about our family dentist growing up, Dr. B.B. Levine), but because Doctor De Soto  is dedicated, just as his father was, and manages to keep his cool and have (some) compassion even in a life threatening situation and in the end outwits the fox – a “wicked, wicked creature(s)”. How could I not become Dr.De Soto’s biggest fan?


Resources/activities: this is a great story to read and begin a discussion about trust, judgement and compassion with students – or for a lesson on dental health; for a science lesson, make ‘elephant toothpaste’ click HERE; or to make real natural toothpaste kids will like, click HERE


Today’s tidbits: I found a dentist in Louisiana that was practicing before the book was published – would love to ask him what work has been like after the book!  And Doctor De Soto in acronym is DDS, which means Doctor of Dental Surgery. I found an Australian band called, Doctor De Soto (video below)


SteigFEST 12: The Toy Brother


Publisher: Harper Collins, 1996, 1st ed.
Ages: 4 and up
Themes: humorous stories, siblings, alchemy
Opening: Magnus Bede, the famous alchemist, and his happy-go-lucky wife, Eutilda, thought they had a harmonious family. But their older son Yorick, considered little Charles a first-rate pain in the pants, always occupied with something silly.
Summary: (from my library catalog) An apprentice alchemist finds that his despised kid brother is the only one who can help him when he concocts a potion which makes him the size of a peanut.


I like this book because: who hasn’t dreamed of altering ourselves only to realize it might not be an easy thing to live with? Or to transform one’s own siblings, or a school bully? That’s why it’s so fun to watch Charles enjoy this happening to Yorick from the safety of the sofa!


Resources/activities: play a thinking game that Steig enjoyed with his family: What Would You Rather Be? (taken from the contribution of Maggie Steig in  THE ART OF WILLIAM STEIG. Get the book. Read it!) Ask questions like, What would you rather be, a tree or a flower and have students explain why (it lives longer; it’s prettier). And read the book: Which Would You Rather Be?, illustrated by Harry Bliss

ToyBdogspotToday’s tidbit: Steig’s older brother Irwin gave William his first painting lessons. His younger brother Arthur later founded an art-supply manufacturing firm whose products were widely used by artists and graphic designers, including William.


SteigFEST 11: Brave Irene


Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986, 1st ed.
Ages: 5 and up
Themes: humorous stories, dressmaking, blizzards
Opening: Mrs. Bobbin, the dressmaker. was tired and had a bad headache, but she still managed to sew the last stitches in the gown she was making. “It’s the most beautiful dress in the whole world!” said her daughter, Irene. “The duchess will love it.” “It is nice,” her mother admitted. “But, dumpling, it’s for tonight’s ball, and I don’t have the strength to bring it. I feel sick.”
Summary: (from my library catalog) Plucky Irene, a dressmaker’s daughter, braves a fierce snowstorm to deliver a new gown to the duchess in time for the ball.


I like this book because: is it Irene’s perseverance? Her mother’s? A show of female strength? Yeah, probably all of the above. Whatever the reason, this one is a particular favorite. I don’t want to overthink it – just love it! I appreciate the continual spreads of Irene in the snow, because I have been through enough storms (of one kind or another) and can identify with Irene. I bet kids would like it too!


Resources/activities: make a dress – a simple A-line will do for a parent-child project. See some easy examples/instructions HERE; discuss how to handle getting caught in a snowstorm during a weather unit – tips HERE, Lesson plans HERE


BIspotToday’s tidbit:  


SteigFEST 10: Amos & Boris


Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992, c1971.
Ages: 4-8yrs
Themes: mice, whales, friendship
Opening: Amos, a mouse, lived by the ocean. He loved the ocean. He loved the smell of sea air. He loved to hear the surf sounds- the bursting breakers, the backwashes with rolling pebbles.
Summary: (from my library catalog) Befriended by a whale as he is drowning in the ocean, a mouse gets a chance to reciprocate years later in an equally unlikely situation.


I like this book because: like many of Steig’s characters, Amos has some pretty deep thoughts about beauty and life and what may become of his soul after death. I like that in a mouse. Also because he named his boat the Rodent, and among all the useful things he packed a yo-yo, and that says a lot.


Resources/activities: Common Core activity Pitner’s Potporri HERE ; draw another adventure for Amos and Boris; felt amn elephant or male a boat at


Today’s tidbit: more gorgeous homemade Amos and Boris characters at – HERE

I’m a guest blogger on Laura Sassi Tales today – HERE

SteigFEST 9: Tiffky Doofky


Publisher: MacGraw-Hill, 1978, 1st ed.
Ages: 5-8
Themes: humorous stories, dogs, true love
Opening: Tiffky Doofky, the garbage collector, went his rounds in a jolly mood. It was first-rate weather. He planned to wind up work in time to get to the Annual Picnic of the Oil and Vinegar Club over in Moose Hollow.
Summary: (from my library catalog) Tiffky Doofky, a kindly garbage collector, spends his day waiting for a fortune teller’s prophesy to come true.


I like this book because: it’s silly, slightly ridiculous, and even though it breaks some rules of storytelling, it still works for me. The pictures add so much humor and warmth – just look at Tiffky’s outfit! Oh, and I do have a weakness for fortune-telling!


Resources/activities: make an origami fortune-telling device – like these beauties HERE; read companion books: Fortune Cookie, by Albert Bitterman/Chris Raschka, and Amelia Tells All, by Marissa Moss

TiffkyDoofky3Today’s tidbit: “Steig would later admit to being a bad student more interested in recreational activities such as touch football than ever cracking a book. He excelled in at least one of those recreational endeavors – he was a member of the All-American water polo team during his time at City College.” Read the complete post covering many aspects of Steig’s life from The Comics Reporter HERE


SteigFEST 8: CDC?


Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984
Ages: 6 and up
Themes: humorous books, word puzzles
Opening: C U N  10-S-E. (answer: See you in Tennessee)
Summary: (from my library catalog) Letters, numbers, and symbols are used to create the sounds of words and simple sentences which U R expected to figure out with the aid of illustrations.

I like this book because: I LOVE PUZZLES. Doesn’t everyone? The intended age level was 6-9, but that’s preposterous! I bet my gray-haired uncle would have enjoyed this too (okay, he went gray at 21, but I didn’t know him then). According to a contribution to THE ART OF WILLIAM STEIG by his daughter Maggie, Steig played a drawing game called ‘Five Lines’*, in which one person draws five random lines on paper and another adds to them, creating a face. Try it!


Resources/activities: read together with Steig’s first picture book from 1968: CDB!; have each student come up with one image and word puzzle, or let them work in teams. Play Five Lines*, mentioned above.

Today’s tidbit: From “Steig passed his father’s ideas about art and work on to his own children by encouraging them never to take nine-to-five jobs: his son Jeremy is a jazz flautist, daughter Lucy a painter, and Maggie an actress.”


SteigFEST 7: Caleb & Kate


Author/Illustrator: William Steig
Publisher: David R. Godine; 1st edition 1984
Ages: 4 and up
Themes: humorous books, monsters, fantasy
Opening: Caleb the carpenter and Kate the weaver loved each other, but not every single minute. Once in a while they’d differ about this or that and wind up in such a fierce quarrel you’d never believe they were husband and wife.


I like this book because: it’s as much a book for kids, with just enough magic – and a dog! – as for adults. And it’s a great way to begin a dialogue with kids about parents sometimes arguing though they still love each other.


Resources/activities: ask what animal would students like to be transformed into for fun; discuss with students what they might do if they found a stray dog; have someone from your community’s animal rescue department come to talk about correct behavior handling a stray animal.

P1160069Two tidbits today: Want to own a print? Check out the NewYorker prints, like the one below, available at Condé Nast – HERE; I just found it kinda funny that someone chose the same main character names for a romance novel.

Since it’s Friday – this post ‘counts’ for PPBF! For more Perfect Picture Book selections, go to Susanna Hill’s blog  HERE


SteigFEST 6: The Zabajaba Jungle


Publisher: Harper Collins, 1987, 1st ed.
Ages: 4 and up
Themes: humorous stories, jungle animals, adventure
Opening: oops , back with the correct opening later!
Summary: (from my library catalog) Leonard penetrates the mysterious Zabajaba Jungle where odd adventures await him, from carnivorous flowers to a petrified monster.


I like this book because: Steig takes Leonard where we ‘dare not go’ as children, but here the main character staves off fear, questions not, and forges on! And the reader is right behind him! Read and join this pure tale of adventure!


Resources/activities: discuss fears and why we have them, how can they be useful, or hinder us from doing things we’d like to do; create a fun creature to add to the Zabajaba Jungle.


Today’s tidbit: Steig produced 117 covers and more than 1,600 drawings for The New Yorker – more here in the Newsweek post THE KING OF CARTOONS.

SteigFEST 5: Spinky Sulks


Publisher: Farra, Straus and Giroux, 1988, 1st ed.
Ages: 4-8yrs
Themes: humorous stories, family life, anger
Opening: Spinky came charging out of the house and flung himself on the grass.
Summary: Spinky is convinced that his family hates him and goes off to sulk in his hammock. His brother and sister try to make amends. His mom even brings him a beautiful tray of food. But nothing can get Spinky to stop sulking—not even a circus passing by on his street! Will Spinky ever cheer up? Spinky Sulks is another delightful tale from the incomparable William Steig that will leave readers of all ages smiling.


I like this book because: I have vivid memories of feeling that same kind of all-the-world-against-me anger, of hiding, as per usual, under the middle pine tree for as long as need be. As a parent I can laugh at the familiar attempts made and lengths taken, over-stretched, to console the poor child. There were times we were not even allowed to look at my oldest at the breakfast table – but we can all laugh now!


Resources/activities: great discussion starter on feelings, anger, moodiness, cheering up a friend or letting them have their space, and how we might help ourselves when a bad mood is coming on. For adults, writers especially: read this post on Neruda and his childhood realization about our ‘longing for mutuality that impels us to make art’, at Brain Pickings –HERE

SpinkySulksToday’s tidbit: Letters of Note post on Steig’s Caldecott acceptance speech and glossophobia- HERE