Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Mac Barnett is my favourite writer of children’s fiction & Christian Robinson is my favourite illustrator. When Mac Barnett told me in an interview that he was working on a book with Christian Robinson, it’s fair to say that I was quite excited. Both have made enormous contributions to the picture book form.

Christian Robinson has been awarded a Coretta Scott King Honor, a Bologna Ragazzi Honor Award for nonfiction, and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor, illustrates books in his signature style that has a vintage 1950’s appeal, somewhat reminiscent of the brilliant M. Sasak.

Mac Barnett is the New York Times bestselling author of many picture books, including Telephone and Extra Yarn, which won a Caldecott Honor, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the E.B. White ReadAloud Award.

Together they have made Leo: A Ghost Story, about a sweet young boy who happens to be a lost soul roaming around in an empty house.

A family move into this house and Leo is ecstatic, he tries his very best to welcome them, but as it turns out they are not best pleased about the presence of a ghost in their new home.

Unwanted, Leo takes leave and decides to go and explore the world. He then meets Jane, a young girl with a vivid imagination, who mistakes Leo for one of her imaginary friends. But how will she react when she discovers Leo is not imaginary, he is a ghost?

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett & Jory John Reviewed by Romeo (age 9)

The Terrible Two

Synopsis: This amazing book that I have been reading is called The Terrible Two. It is about a young boy named Miles who moves from his house and lives in a strange valley called Yawnee valley. Did you know there are more cows than there is to humans? As I was saying, Miles moved into the valley, but started school not the best way.

What I liked about the writing is that the author used very descriptive language such as adjectives to describe the feelings of the character and even adverbs to show how the character is saying the speech. Furthermore, I also liked the way the author wrote that Josh Barkin threw Miles food on his clothes because it serves him right for shoving his backpack into Miles face. Moreover, I like the way that Barry Barkin,[Principal of the Yawnee valley   science and letters academy] was embarrassed by the whole school when his car was parked right in front of the school entrance and when it was April fool’s day there were one hundred cows mooing inside the school.

What I liked about the illustrations is that on the second page of the book, there is Niles Spark prank wall and the illustrator, Kevin Cornell, turned it into the title of the book and added extra detail. Additionally, I truly like the picture when Miles is covered with Macaroni and tomato soup all over is clothes. The reason I like this image is because you could also see the look at Josh’s face expressing how VEX he looks and the students surrounding him are shocked.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read a funny book and just enjoys it.

I give this book 9.9/10

Reviewed by Romeo, age 9

Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace + Q&A with Mac Barnett

It’s time to fly home for dinner! In this witty picture book from award-winning and bestselling author Mac Barnett, a mother bird gives the bird next to her a message for little Peter. But passing messages on a telephone line isn’t as simple as it sounds. Each subsequent bird understands Mama’s message according to its own very particular hobbies. Will Peter ever get home for dinner? This uproarious interpretation of a favourite children’s game will get everyone giggling and is sure to lead to countless rereads.

– Abrams & Chronicle

Q & A with Mac Barnett


James: Telephone, like all your books is brilliant; it literally made me laugh out loud. Then I made my wife read it and she had the same reaction. I took it to school and read it to my class and they also found it hilarious. I think the reason your picture books are such delightful reads is because they begin with a great concept. The simplicity of Telephone is what makes it so funny. I think you would have made a very successful copywriter in the advertising industry; however I’m relieved that isn’t the path you followed.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Mac: Thanks, James. If writing didn’t work out my plan was to become a medievalist, actually. But I don’t know whether I would have made a successful medievalist. Telephone gets at some things that are interesting to me—the strangeness of words, the imperfections of communication—in a very simple way. But for me the trick was to animate the premise, emotionally and narratively. There had to be a relationship at work (in this case, mother-son), some urgency to the message (but not so much that it competed with the climax’s ridiculous alarmism), and an appealing rhythm to the message’s transformations. Every picture book presents the author (and then the illustrator) a set of problems to solve, and doing so is the source of a lot of the joy and frustration in my life.
James: To quote the Picture Book Proclamation that you put together, ‘the line between author and illustrator is irrelevant’. Jen Corace’s illustrations do a great deal of the storytelling process, how do you choose who to work with on each project?
Mac: Well, typically the author has no say in the selection of the illustrator. I’ll sometimes approach a publisher with an artist in mind for a book, and I’m lucky enough that they’ve usually listened. But it was Chronicle Books that suggested Jen for Telephone, and I was thrilled. Jen and I are friends, and I love her work. Her pictures for Telephone are so smart, so funny, so beautiful. Illustrators of picture books do a lot of the narrative lifting—sometimes they’re doing the bulk of the storytelling. Good picture books get a lot of their juice from that interdependence of text and image.
James: Do you come up with the concept first and then hand it over to the illustrator to interpret it how they wish, or is it done in a more side by side fashion?
Mac: It’s almost always the case that the manuscript comes first. A picture book text goes through many interpretations before it reaches its audience. First it’s interpreted by an illustrator, then a reader (parent, teacher, librarian, babysitter, etc.) who often provides voices, decides on pacing, and sometimes even adds or subtracts text. Then, finally, it’s interpreted by the child. In that way, writing picture books is a lot like playwriting. And each time someone reaches across one of those interpretive gaps, there’s the possibility of creating tremendous energy.
That said, my text often changes once I see an artist’s sketches. I figure out what bits the art has made superfluous, or how I can amplify the impact of a particular spread.
James: You have worked with some of my all time heroes of illustration; Jon Klassen, Christian Robinson and Dan Santat. Can you tell us about any future collaborations that are on the horizon?  If not¸ who would you like to work with in the future?
Mac: My book with Christian comes out next year, but he’s posted a few pictures to his Instagram, so I think I can give some sneak peeks of that one.

The book is called Leo, and it’s a ghost story, and I’m very excited for it.

James: You and Jon Klassen have worked together on two inspired picture books, can we hope for this to be a career long collaboration? Like the Tim Burton and Jonny Depp of the picture book form.

Mac: I’m pretty certain we’ll be making more books together. Jon’s one of my closest friends, and so working with him is rewarding in a very particular way. 

James: As a teacher I find myself surrounded by bland children’s books. When the book fair arrives and sets up their pop up shop in the hall I am always disappointed that not one original book sits amongst the shelves. The book corners in the classrooms were filled with drab novels and naff picture books. I decided I would put a list together to improve the situation. It’s surprising how many educators of children are not aware of how brilliant the art form can be. I hope my blog is helping to back up your picture book proclamation in a small way. 

Mac: It’s true. There are a lot of terrible children’s books. There are a lot of terrible books for adults, too. But for a lot of complicated reasons—scarcity of adult expertise in kids’ books, pervasive wrongheaded notions of what stories for children “should” or “must” do, market pressures on stores and publishers and writers—with kids’ books, it can feel like the whole art form is defined by its least interesting output—that everything is moralizing and singsong and Freytag’s triangle. That’s not so. In fact, I think it’s possible we’re entering a new golden age of picture books. Daring, fascinating, provocative, beautiful books are coming out in great number. I’m glad you’re helping people find them, James. 

James: Your talks and books have inspired me greatly. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, I am very grateful. 

Check out Mac’s website for more information on his work www.macbarnett.com

Or follow Mac on twitter.

Mac Barnett

 President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath – Mac Barnett & Chris Van Dusen

George Washington crossed the Delaware in the dead of night. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union. And President William Howard Taft got stuck in a bathtub, and then got unstuck. This is his story.

– Mac Barnett

“Although there’s considerably more naked flesh on display then in the average picture book, there’s no denying the riveting spectacle of Taft’s struggle.”

Publishers Weekly

Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World – Mac Barnett & Dan Santat

Santat and Barnett collaborate seamlessly on this slapstick adventure about a pigtailed, bespectacled science fair entrant trying unsuccessfully to control her prize-winning robot… Barnett’s telegraphic text packs wicked humor into economical, comic book-style lines, while Santat’s skylines pay homage to old monster movies… Blueprints for the robot and the genetically altered toad she deploys to defeat it are included on the endpapers, but, kids, don’t try this at home!” — Publishers Weekly

Chloe & the LionMac Barnett & Adam Rex

“[Combines] twisty plotting, irreverent dialogue, visual hilarity, and sophisticated book design into an arch package. But beneath the silly surface, children will find a meaningful exposition of just what goes into a successful picture book, and how author, illustrator, and character must collaborate and compromise.” — Booklist


Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem – Mac Barnett & Adam Rex

A headlong plunge into surrealism ensues when Billy Twitters’s parents punish him by giving him a blue whale. The cleverness is in the idea’s literal-mindedness — Billy thinking “I feel like something’s watching me” as he eats his cereal, one very large eye visible behind him, and then hauling the whale to school on his bicycle. It’s not supposed to make sense, and, amusingly, it doesn’t.” —The New York Times


Guess Again! – Mac Barnett & Adam Rex

“A funny, absurdist take on guessing books….Twisted good fun.” — Publishers Weekly

Count the Monkeys – Mac Barnett & Kevin Cornell

Cornell (who previously teamed up with Barnett for Mustache!) is an artist in the modern-day Disney animation tradition, effortlessly juggling funny chaos, irreverent characterizations, and visual winks and nudges. Barnett’s narrator may be increasingly frustrated (“We’re never going to count the monkeys!”) but he also has expert comic timing…. This spot-on spoof of counting books is the perfect reward for anyone who’s put in a hard day’s work with numbers, big or small.”
Publishers Weekly

Battle Bunny – Mac Barnett, Jon Scieszka & Matthew Myers

An honest reflection of the ways kids interact with books—in a way that’s accessible to kids themselves—as well as a complexly layered work of comic genius….This is an example of exactly how kids are told not to interact with their books—and that’s what makes it so effective. Alex’s gleeful disregard for the inanity of Birthday Bunny belies a deep engagement with the words in the book, an active participation with the structures of literacy that acts as a rebellious model for kids just starting to read on their own. And who can’t help but giggle at a cry of “Time to get it on, carrot breath!”? This is, then, sure to be an early reader that’s also endlessly entertaining and that will stand up to multiple readings as viewers find more of Alex’s hidden gems.”

The Bulletin for the Center of the Children’s Book

Extra Yarn – Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

“Understated illustrations and prose seamlessly construct an enchanting and mysterious tale.” — Publishers Weekly

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole – Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

When Sam and Dave dig a hole, readers get “something spectacular.” The boys, on the other hand, do not. Their quest to find the spectacular brings them painfully and humorously close to buried jewels as they spade their way into the ground, accompanied by an intrepid canine companion. Readers occupy a superior position as cross-section illustrations reveal those jewels buried just out of the shovels’ reach. Each time they near one, the increasingly grubby boys maddeningly change course. On they dig, tunneling in different directions, and each effort reveals (to readers) yet larger jewels evading them. Exhausted, they fall asleep, but the dog digs after a bone it senses below. In an unexpected turn, the ground gives way to nothingness, and the trio falls through empty space “until they landed in the soft dirt.” At first glance, it seems they’ve ended up where they began: A small tree stands on the recto, and a house with a porch is on the verso, as before. But careful readers will notice that the tree here bears pears, while the tree at the story’s start had apples.




Sam & Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

If you follow my blog you’ll know I’m a huge fan of both Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. Both are incredible talents who have made outstanding contributions to the picture book form.

Jon Klassen has written & illustrated bestselling and award-winning picture books such as the brilliant I Want My hat Back & the 2013 Caldecott medal winning This Is Not My Hat.

Mac Barnett, a writer not an illustrator is the author of brilliant picture books, such as; Chloe & the Lion, President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath, Battle Bunny, Count the Monkeys, Billy Twitters & the Blue Whale Problem & many more.

Together they made the wonderful picture book Extra Yarn, which won a Boston Globe-Horn Book award and a Caldecott Honor.

I saw the cover art for their latest picture book Sam & Dave Dig a Hole some time ago on twitter and I have been eagerly awaiting it ever since.

Mac & Jon are clearly good friends, who create magic when they put their heads together. They complement each other like Milk & Cookies.

Here’s what they had to say about their working relationship taken from a transcript to Walker Books.

This is the second picture book you’ve collaborated on. What do you enjoy about working together? Why do you think you make a good team?

Mac: I’ll let you go first and say something nice about me.

Jon: Ok.

Mac: And if you decide not to say something nice about me, will be able to deal with that in my response.

Jon: No no, I will do it.

Mac: I think you mean “Okay!”

Jon: Ok.

Jon: On my end, you seem to enjoy premises for these books that are as much visually driven as they are text driven, and so the story ends up happening in both areas. I think even though we are both left to do the things we like to do on a book we make together, the ideas we come up with in conversation at the beginning are never either purely visual or verbal.

Mac: Yeah, even though I can’t draw I think that writing a picture book is a visual act, and one of my main jobs is to provide a space for illustrators to do their own storytelling.

Jon: You for sure can’t draw.

Mac: Aw man, and I was just typing something nice about you: There’s nobody I like talking about books with more than Jon, and working together gives us a chance to talk about books and try out ideas that feel exciting to us both. I guess that we talk about books a lot anyway though. This is a way to do it that feels more immediately productive. We also talk a lot about TV shows. And lunch.

Jon: I just had soup.

Mac: I just had two handfuls of cereal.

Their new book Sam & Dave Dig A Hole is full of visual humour. The two boys are determined to find something spectacular. They embark on their plan to dig a hole, a hole they plan to keep digging until they find that something spectacular, which they eventually find, in a much unexpected way.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

An extraordinary new picture book about a little girl who cocoons her cold, grey town in joy and warmth … and brightly coloured yarn!

On a cold, dark day in a dull, grey town, little Annabelle discovers a box of brightly coloured yarn. She knits a cosy jumper to keep herself nice and toasty warm and finds, to her surprise, that she still has yarn left over. So she decides to knit her dog a jumper too but – hang on a second – she STILL has extra yarn! Annabelle knits and knits and, soon, she’s blanketed the entire town in a rainbow of colour, knitting away the dreary iciness that grips it. Her prodigious status spreads far and wide. It doesn’t take long for the evil Archduke to set his beady eyes upon Annabelle’s magical box of yarn but, little does he know, you have to have a little bit of magic inside your heart for it to work…

Walker Books