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I am so excited to review John Parra’s first book as an author illustrator, GROWING AN ARTIST, THE STORY OF A LANDSCAPER AND HIS SON! It has everything I usually love in his illustration work: pink skies, lovingly depicted and affectionate family scenes, hidden animals, insects, and airplanes in the sky. But what makes this book so special is that it is Juanito’s story!

“Today is a big day—the first time Juanito gets to help his papi on the job as a landscape architect! Throughout the day, Juanito sketches anything that catches his eye: a nest full of baby birds, a nursery with row upon row of plants and flowers, and more. Father and son travel from house to house, pruning, weeding, mowing, and turning overgrown and chaotic yards into beautiful spaces.“

But when a classmate sees Juanito at work with his father and pretends not to see him, Juanito’s heart sinks. Leaving him feeling awkward and confused.

This moment gives the book an emotional honesty that will be meaningful for so many young readers. The way the book resolves Juanito’s feelings is gentle and realistic. The resolution is inside Juanito, in the beautiful way he sees himself, his family, work, and the world around him, and most importantly… in his art!

Book Pairings and Classroom Ideas

Picture Book Artist Autobiographies: Pair GROWING AN ARTIST with THE ART LESSON and explore the young lives of two award winning picture book author illustrators.

Fathers and Children Exploring the Natural World: Pair with a reading OWL MOON and have students write about their own experiences with the natural world big and small, from daddy long legs in the closet corner to hearing owls at night. Where were they? Who were they with? What new experiences do they dream of having?

The Joy and Beauty of Hard Work: Pair with a reading of SOMEONE BUILDS THE DREAM and make a class list of all the wonderful jobs they know about and how they each make our world beautiful.

Illustrator Study: Can your students find themes and recurring images in John Parra’s work? Have them look for work, family, animals, food, machines, colors… 

Book Giveaway Details

John Parra grew up in Santa Barbara, which is my hometown too, so I especially loved all the Santa Barbara Easter eggs. I recognized the dump (if you’ve never been to the dump with your dad, you are honestly missing out), the train station, the Mission, and lots of familiar streets!  If you can tell me where this picture is in the comments, I’ll send you a signed copy of John’s new book! **Someone identified the mystery Santa Barbara spot on Twitter and has claimed the signed copy!**

If you need a hint, come read my interview with John about his illustrations in GREEN IS A CHILE PEPPER. This is one of our all time favorite places in Santa Barbara and we talk about it in the interview!

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Green is a Chile Pepper Activities

Over in The Nonfiction Nook I just posted my interview with award winning illustrator John Parra about his new color concept book, GREEN IS A CHILE PEPPER. The book is beautiful and fun and speaks to the teacher in me, so I’m posting a few activity and lesson ideas for parents and teachers below.


Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their recommendations for early literacy to include reading aloud to babies from the first days of life! Singing, talking, and reading to your infant, baby, toddler, and big kid help prepare them for success in school. The number of words a baby hears before entering school effects how well they do. And studies show, the words that count are the words from YOU–their parent, their caregiver, their teacher–not from the radio, the TV, or electronic toys.

These are my recommendations for reading GREEN IS A CHILE PEPPER, but ANY book you both enjoy is a good book to read together.

INFANTS: before they are wiggly babies love the snuggly rhythm of rhyme and I think it is always best to read in a rocker, but anywhere will do! Read before nap, on the bus, in the waiting room, after bath, before bed—anytime is a good time to read!


BABIES & TODDLERS: Once they start wiggling babies and toddlers might not sit through a book read from front to back, or they might one day and not the next. During this stage the important things are you and the words. Point at the pictures to build vocabulary. Go on little hunts: “Where is the chicken? THERE is the chicken! Where is the bicycle? THERE is the bicycle! What’s your favorite page?” John Parra’s work is FILLED with tiny details perfect for keeping little kids interested—so let your kids grab, point, turn pages, and have fun!


PRESCHOOLERS: Most preschoolers will sit through a whole book. Some preschoolers will wander around the room while you read. Both kinds of reading are good for kids. And preschoolers are ready to understand concepts like color. After you read the book you can go on a color hunts. How many green things can we find? How many purple? Can we count them? Or if you have a class full of kids, you can have them find ONE object in their favorite color and share out. (I love muffin tins to organize found objects)


BIG KIDS: Here is the amazing thing about big kids: all that other stuff, all those other games, they STILL like those. But now they are ready to help read words (color words are great for early literacy), and to help make rhymes. If I were teaching this book in elementary school we would probably be making our own color books. I bet mine would be GREEN IS A FROG. For younger kids you could choose just a few favorite colors, and it wouldn’t have to rhyme, but it could!

You don’t need fancy toys or materials to make a good book into great fun—so get going and read!

Click here to learn about John Parra’s inspiration for the art in GREEN IS A CHILE PEPPER and you could win a personalized signed copy!