Sing a Song of Randolph Caldecott…Or how to turn a nursery rhyme into a picture book

Randolph Caldecott, an English illustrator born in 1846, created 16 picture books from nursery rhymes. Minimal text and pictures working together, page after page.  Perfect.

Maurice Sendak introduced me to his work in 1976. He called him the “Father of Picture Books”

My version of Sing a Song of Sixpence was published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 1985.

I studied with Sendak while I was a student at Parson’s in NYC.  It took me a few picture books before I was brave enough to try my hand at illustrating this nursery rhyme used by Caldecott and also admired by Sendak. The challenge:  Be true to the words while creating a different story and a different picture book.

I dedicated the book to Maurice and to Jane Bierhorst (who taught with Maurice and was also the designer for this book)

Here are a few pages from both books:

In my version, we have the courtyard kids. Their parents work for the king and queen. The child with the blonde hair and clean white shirt, is new to the neighborhood. They bet him a sixpence that he can’t snitch a pocket full of rye.

We now have 24 blackbirds.

The princess watches it all unfold. She really wants to play with the courtyard kids.

And she does. The children sprinkle rye while the cook has her back turned. They put the apples back in the bag.

Now, instead of apple pie, we have blackbird pie. The reader knows what’s happening. The cook is clueless.

“Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?”

The kids and the princess think it’s all great fun. The King, Queen and the cook aren’t so sure.

The cook chases the children. The blackbirds join the King in the counting house.

The Queen shares her bread and honey with the kids and the blackbirds.

She was modeled after my grandmother who had a sweet tooth. I remember her giant sugar cookies.

The cook is still in pursuit of the children.

This spread was inspired by a childhood memory of wandering through fresh laundered sheets hanging on the clothes line. A fun place to hide. I loved the fresh smell!

(When I visited the Tower of London, I saw Henry VIII’s armor and discovered it was short and wide. Just like Henry! The clothes on the clothesline must fit the king and queen.)

In some versions of this nursery rhyme, including Caldecott’s–after a blackbird snaps off the maid’s nose–a  jenny wren “pops” it on again. My tribute to Caldecott’s version had to have a jenny wren! I must be true to the words.

First, the blackbird needs to do his job.

Can you find which one has the nose?

(I love hearing kids squeal with delight when the find it!)

In a picture book, the pictures and text create a dance. Two different illustrators can take the same words and create a different dance and a different book.

One decision that an illustrator makes that has a huge impact on the story, is what the characters will look like. Will they be children or could they be rabbits? Bears?…

Sometimes the illustrator creates and introduces new characters that aren’t even in the written text! They still need to work with the story. She still needs to be true to the words. (I better have all 24 blackbirds!) But, these other characters can add an extra layer to the story. I introduced the courtyard kids, the queen’s dog (a bulldog), the cat that’s after the blackbirds, the cook and the princess. You won’t find any of these characters in the written poem.

As for my princess…Another tribute to Caldecott who often added a twist at the end.

My king and queen do not want their princess hanging out with the courtyard kids. She joins in with the courtyard kids while her parents are busy doing what kings and queens do. On the last page, the king makes the princess return to the castle. She doesn’t go quietly!


 Caldecott ends his Hey Diddle Diddle with the knife and fork taking the spoon away and leaving the poor dish is shattered.

Subtle. Brilliant.

The goal is always to create a book that a child will want again and again and hopefully discover something new in the art each time she reads it.

If you want to make a picture book, starting with a poem in public domain a is a great place to begin.

What do you do after you pick out a poem? How do you turn those words into a 32 page book? I’ll talk more about about the process in a future post. Until then there are many helpful of resources on the internet.

Here are two of my favorites:

Society of Children’s Book Illustrators and Writers:

Highlights Foundation:

For fun activities and information about all of my books…visit my website:

Have fun!…tcp


Mother Goose lands in bookstores…Soon!


“While letting the traditional phrases work their magic, Pearson captures the spirit of the nonsense in lively ink drawings with watercolor washes. . . .  With plenty of intriguing characters and visual details to discover, here’s a lively interpretation of a classic nursery rhyme.”Booklist


My new book, Girls and Boys Come Out to Play will be available at your local indie bookstore

or wherever books are sold on

April 13th!!!

Mother Goose wants you to know that early copies will be available when you attend one of my virtual book events.

Join us for some silliness…reading…drawing…and fun!




Saturday, March 27th 11:00-12:30

(802) 872-7111



Saturday, April 3rd 10:00 am

(207) 941-0255


Hope to see there!…HONK! HONK!…


…Thank you, Margaret Ferguson! Thank you to everyone at Holiday House Books!

Thank you, Phoenix Books , Briar Patch Bookshop and All Indie Booksellers!

…It takes a team to make a book!!




Look what’s New for Spring 2021…

It’s my book…honk…honk!

Girls and Boys Come Out to Play published by Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House.

Thank you, Margaret Ferguson! Thank you, Holiday House!

Where would a goose be without you?

Just a peek. More to come…



Elephant meets Robert Frost…looking for spring in Vermont…

Elephant and Gracie looking Maple Syrup in Vermont woods...

Elephant and Gracie waiting for Maple Syrup in Vermont woods…

Celebrating Poetry Month with Elephant and Robert Frost…

Robert Frost’s Snowy Woods…with help from Elephant and Gracie…

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
…and fill

…and fill

…and fill

…and fill

My little horse must think it queer
That Spring will never visit here
Between the woods and frozen lake
The longest winter I do fear.

We give our heavy coats a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of gusty wind and heavy flake.

The woods are snowy, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
Please… a sign of Spring before I sleep,
Please… a sign of Spring before I sleep.

Elephant, Gracie with help from Robert Frost and  Tracey Campbell Pearson

The original (below) from Robert Frost works well December through February!

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost


The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson…The Common Core & muffin cups?…

The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson Illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson published by Farrar Straus Giroux ISBN 0-374-35046-9 Booklist Editor's Choice, Top of the list 2006 School Library Journal,  A Book of the Year, 2006

The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson Illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson
published by Farrar Straus Giroux ISBN 0-374-35046-9
Booklist Editor’s Choice, Top of the list 2006
School Library Journal, A Book of the Year, 2006

While signing books at stores in Maine…*(BOB, THE MOON…ELEPHANT’S STORY isn’t out until October 22nd)…I was told THE MOON is being used for “The Common Core”!

Here are links for using THE MOON  with the “The Common Core”:

I was NOT thinking of  “The Common Core” when I created the illustrations for Stevenson’s  poem.

What was I was thinking?…
(while reading my Dad’s childhood copy of A Child’s  Garden of Verses)

…I love the rhythm, the language, the spaces that Stevenson left me to create my own story within the poem

…the magic of a moonlit night

…sailing with my dad by the light of the moon when I was young.


My story begins on the title page….when Dad goes into the child’s room…the new baby can’t sleep and neither can anyone else in the house.

spread-moon-clock“The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;”

I’m not sure Stevenson was thinking…

…about a Dad taking his child out for a boat ride in the moonlight… Mom stays home with the baby. This story is for the older child when a new sibling arrives. There are enough books written that will tell him how he’ll “love his new baby brother or sister”
This book celebrates the older child.

Here is a link to THE MOON on my website. It includes “the inside story” about my process creating the book. I share this with teachers, librarians and students when I visit schools.

What were the children thinking?
The same poem.
Different artists.
Different art.

See posts from June 5th,  June 6th…Chamberlin Elementary in S. Burlington,VT made beautiful watercolors.

Post from April 7th…Alden Primary in Buffalo, NY made great paper cut outs of owl in the night..check out the owl’s eyes made out of…muffin cups!!!

So…after teachers fit The Moon into The Common Core…
…maybe students can pick up a paintbrush…or scissors…paper…a glue stick and….
….muffin cups???…tcp

*PS…I left signed books in Maine at The Children’s Book Cellar inWaterville, The Briar Patch in Bangor, Maine Coast Books in Damariscotta and Blue Hill Books in Blue Hill…all wonderful independent bookstores…I just sent books at Deer Isle Library….and left a pile of books for the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School for kids to check out…enjoy…tcp


Poem for April Fools…

Poem for April Fools Day...Ladles and Jelly Spoons.

Poem for April Fools Day…Ladles and Jelly Spoons.

April is poetry month.

I found my copy of A ROCKET IN MY POCKET. The book was first published over 60 years ago. (It is older than me!…but I bet you can still find a copy in your library.) This was the first book I bought for myself from a school book fair when I was little. It is filled with poems rhymes and chants…many of them are very silly.

Here is a favorite poem that I memorized and would recite to myself and to everyone and anyone that came along…

Ladles and jelly spoons:
I come before you
To stand behind you
And tell you something
I know nothing about.

Next Thursday,
Which is Good Friday,
There’ll be a mothers’ meeting
For fathers only.

Wear your best clothes
If you haven’t any,
And if you can come
Please stay at home.

Admission is free;
Pay at the door.
Take a seat
And sit on the floor.

It makes no difference where you sit;
The man in the gallery is sure to spit.

Happy April Fools Day!

Find a silly poem and share it with a friend.

or borrow this one…enjoy…tcp