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The Children's Bookshelf: Once Upon a Book - March 12, 2023

Once Upon a Book written by Grace Lin and Kate Messner and illustrated with colorful pictures alive with details by Caldecott Honor Book winner Grace Lin is a picture book treasure.

When the reader first meets young Alice, she is bored, cold and extremely tired of the gray weather. She wants a warmer place. The birds quickly say that sounds just like their home. “Turn the page and come in….” And she does. The illustration shows the reader a forest full of blue birds, blue jays, parrots, flamingoes, woodpeckers, and pelicans.

As it gets hotter and rains Alice says she would like to be in a place that was not so steamy. A camel decides that sounds like his home and says “Turn the page and come in.” And she does. Here the reader will experience an extraordinary illustration of Alice on the back of a beautiful camel riding across the desert reading her book!

A sandstorm, however, causes her skin to feel dry. This time she needs a place where it isn’t so dry. A fish thinks his watery home would be perfect. “Turn the page and come in….”

This is the cumulative design of the whole book as Alice tries again and again to find the perfect place to be. Eventually she feels she needs a place where she wouldn’t be lonely and where it would be cozy and warm. So, she goes back to her home. “… where the kitchen smelled of dumplings and her family was waiting with dinner.”

Once Upon a Book written by Grace Lin and Kate Messner and illustrated gorgeously by Grace Lin is a charming story with a beautiful lesson for children 4-8 years of age about honoring their own home (Little Brown and Company) 2023.

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Once Upon a Book

The illustration of Alice returning to her home is full of things that she saw on her adventures to other lands. Study that illustration and find the following items: a small statue of a camel, busy fish, birds, and clouds. There is also a book on the bookshelf that is titled Alice in Wonderland. Think about what that storybook has to do with Once Upon a Book. How does the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland differ from the white bunny in this book? Ask older siblings and parents to help if you have not read Alice in Wonderland yet.

There are at least twenty pictures of the bunny in Grace Lin’s illustrations. Try to find at least 15 of them. Go On a Bunny Hunt.

Have fun!

At the end of this book, you can see Alice eating dinner with her family. Draw a picture of you and your family around your dinner table. Be sure to include the dishes, the glasses, the tablecloth and what you are all eating.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.