The Story of a Story by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

The Story of a Story by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2021. 9780823444915

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? A young boy arrives with his dog at a cozy cabin in a snowy wood.  After shedding his winter gear, he plops himself down at a desk in front of a big window, ready to write a story.  Unfortunately, despite his best intentions, writer’s block has set in, and the only thing he seems to accomplish is a huge pile of crumpled paper on the floor around him.  “The words won’t come.”  He walks away for a bit, decides to have a cookie, and while staring out the window at the wintry world, he notices a persistent black-capped chickadee at a bird feeder, taking one seed at a time, again and again.  The bird’s determination inspires the boy to take another stab at his story, now entitled “The Chickadee”, which begins to fill the page, one word at a time.

This charming, lyrical book by the well-known nonfiction author Deborah Hopkinson may inspire young writers to set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards).  Readers will certainly empathize with the boy’s struggle to get started on his work, and will laugh at the illustrations showing his many feats of procrastination, as well as his faithful and attentive dog’s attempts to help.  The theme of perseverance and grit, as demonstrated by the chickadee, will be fairly obvious to most; observant readers may notice the bird outside the window from the outset.  The second-person narration is a little awkward, but perhaps will work well in a read aloud setting.  In terms of the gentle tone of the text and the doodling style of the drawings, it calls to mind some recent work by Peter H. Reynolds like Be You.  An author’s note provides writing prompts for students to create their own chickadee story, including suggestions for the beginning, middle, and end, and recommends the National Audubon Society website to learn more about the bird.

Anything you did not like about the book?  I’m curious about the location of this magical cottage in the woods and where the boy’s grownups are.  

To whom would you recommend this book?  It would serve nicely as a read aloud in upper grade classrooms about to embark on a creative writing assignment, possibly even using the provided prompts!  

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: December 31, 2021

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