Top 6 Influential Picture Book Stories

Best-Chilrens-Book-Stories_2So I’ve told you about the picture book illustrations that have inspired me the most, but what about the best stories? These are the books I remembered into adulthood, and that I wanted to read over and over again as a child.

6. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith

This story was always such fun to read because it’s a comedy for kids. Adults can also appreciate the clever parody of the familiar Three Little Pigs tale. The authors turned the story on its head by telling it from the perspective of “the big bad wolf” or A. Wolf as he is known in the story. This author-illustrator duo also gave us The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and Jon Scieska penned The Frog Prince, Continued.

5. Now One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaula

This is a children’s book about strokes. Again, sounds like heavy fair for a picture book, but as someone who is close to my grandparents, I think seeing your loved ones change as they get older is something a lot of children can relate to. This story is particularly touching, because the main character is a little boy who was taught to walk by his grandfather. The story comes full circle after the grandfather suffers a stroke and the little boy in turn teaches his grandfather how to walk again.

4. Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg

This is the story of a young boy who doesn’t care about the environment, until he falls asleep and he and his bed are transported to the future. Instead of cool technology, the boy sees pollution and destruction. It sounds a little depressing, but it provides amazing imagery that sticks with a child and teaches a lesson in a powerful way.

3. Love you Forever by Robert Munsch

Most people will recognized this heart-warming book published in 1989. In fact, it is fourth on the list of all-time bestselling children’s paperback books. I remember my mom reading it to my siblings and me when we were younger. For some, it’s hard to read the story about a mother and son and the cycle of life without crying.

2. The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

It’s been said that the best children’s book stories teach a lesson without making the lesson glaringly obvious. Dr. Seuss was a master at the technique. Just look at The Lorax, who spoke for environmental causes in a rhyming and whimsical way, or The Butter Battle Book, a Cold-War era parable about the potential destruction of nuclear war.The Sneetches is my favorite because Dr. Seuss managed a satire of races and discrimination (apparently he was specifically inspired by his opposition to antisemitism, which ties into the imagery of the Sneetches wearing stars). That’s no easy task for a children’s picture book.

1. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Sure, we all love The Giving Tree, but Sidewalk first published in 1974 (and subsequently A Light in the Attic, 1981 and Falling Up, 1996) is where it’s at. Silverstein addresses childhood concerns, fantasy, dreams and imagination all through his poetry and illustrations. Poems like “Sick”, about making excuses not to go to school and “Jimmy Jet and his TV Set”, about a boy who watches so much TV he turns into a TV set, stand out in my mind. The poems are timeless. This is a book you can truly read over and over again, and always enjoy it.

Honorable Mention

I would be remiss to make any list of children’s book stories and illustrations without mentioning Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. It has been voted the number one picture book by the the School Library Journal readers and Sendak is generally considered the king of children’s picture books. It would be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it so great, so I will just leave it in the words of another reader who said, “perfectly crafted, perfectly illustrated.”

Top 5 Influential Picture Book Illustrations

You’re always told not to judge a book by it’s cover, but we probably have all done it, especially as children. Some artists have gone above and beyond to create memorable pictures that stick with us, even into adulthood. Here is my list of the top picture book illustrations and illustrators from my childhood that have influenced me.

5. “Little Critter” Series by Mercer Mayer


Mayer has such a distinct style it’s easy to recognize his work. He has created over 300 books including his “Little Critter” and “Little Monster” series. My favorite thing about the “Little Critter” books is that in each illustration he included an even smaller “critter” such as a mouse, frog, or a grasshopper and a spider. As a kid, I used to love turning the pages and seeing how fast I could spot the hidden characters.

4. The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base


There is no one better at creating extremely rich and detailed illustrations than Graeme Base (he also created the unforgettable book Animalia). This book is so fun because you get to solve a mystery by uncovering clues in the illustrations. For example, on one page the borders consists of Morse code, and another page set in a ballroom involves musical clues.

3. Marianna May and Nursey by Tomie dePaola


From the simple figures on the cover, it may not look like this book is monochromatic, but it is really all about color. I’ve never forgotten the image of a Victorian-era girl who isn’t allowed to get her white dress dirty. In the end, I loved all the colorful ways in which she does get the dress dirty. The artwork is very recognizable as Tomie dePaola’s, who is well known for his “Strega Nona” books. He has created over 200 books, and interestingly he was an art teacher for around 16 years before retiring full time to focus on children’s books.

2. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg


This book is a collection of black and white illustrations on one side accompanied by one sentence on the other side. Chris Van Allsburg is well known for his other works including The Polar Express and Jumanji. What I always loved about these illustrations was their eery yet realistic nature. Each picture is a mystery. The illustrations were even the inspiration for the short story “The House on Maple Street” by Stephen King. While he is an amazing illustrator, Van Allsburg actually has a master’s degree is sculpture.

1. The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey and Don Wood

Red Rip Strawberry

This story was written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by her husband Don Wood. The pair have collaborated on many other successful books including Piggies and The Napping House. Audrey is a fourth generation artist (when she was young, she lived in Sarasota, FL while her father was an art student and worked for The Ringling Brothers’ Circus). Although the story is heartwarming, it’s the incredibly rich illustrations that drew me in, and made me realize I wanted to be an illustrator when I grew up.

Honorable Mention: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark illustrated by Stephen Gammell

scary stories

So it’s not really a picture book, but whether you liked them or not these illustrations were certainly memorable. As a kid, I remember skipping certain pages in the book because I was too afraid to look at the pictures! Those surreal images were created by Stephen Gammell, who grew up in Iowa (woohoo!) He is self taught, and in 1989 he won the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in Song and Dance Man. Even you can barely remember the stories from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, you’ll never forget those creepy illustrations.

There are soooo many picture books out there, and I’ve only listed a few of the ones I remembered from childhood. What are some of the ones you love?


Back To School Movies

back_to_schoolWith summer coming to an end, many of us are preparing to go back to school. I don’t happen to be one of those people, so instead of dreading the return to the classroom, I’ve been nostalgic and decided to kick off the start of fall by watching movies that remind me of autumn or school.

Good Will Hunting
For some reason Boston and the New England area in general makes me think of autumn, so Good Will Hunting has a lot of that going for it to make this list. Although Matt Damon never attends school during this movie, he is a janitor at MIT and many other prestigious schools are mentioned. The only real downside to this movie is that Mini Driver’s laugh is obnoxious. Other than that it’s an all around great movie.

The Cider House Rules
Although it takes place in an orphanage and on an apple orchard, the orphanage still has a boarding school vibe and there are a lot of kids so we’ll call it close enough. It’s a heartfelt coming of age story that has Michael Caine and Paul Rudd in it so what more could you ask for? The down side is that it is starring Toby Maguire and he weirds me out, but with a gratuitous shot of Charlize Theron’s ass, I’ll let it slide.

The Legend of Bagger Vance
Now I know this isn’t the best movie in the world because you’re probably asking yourself, “What is the legend of Bagger Vance?” But to peak your interest it stars Matt Damon and Will Smith (younger Will Smith not weird W.S.) The movie takes place in Georgia so it doesn’t really look fallish but there are definitely night scenes where you can see their breath…..The more I think about it the more it seems like this movie might take place in summer, but this is my blog post and it reminds me of fall and going back to school so it’s going up. Check it out, it’s alright.

The Dead Poets Society
Robin Williams makes the list again, It’s no Jumanji, but not every movie can be Oscar caliber. This goes on the list without question. It ends pretty solid in the middle of winter, but the boarding school setting mixed with the magical fall vibe in the beginning over power it’s depressing ending in winter. I honestly haven’t seen this movie in a while so I’ll just close by saying “Carpe Diem” and then I’ll quietly whisper it a bunch of times while you look at old pictures of alumni.

Stand by Me
Now I’m positive this movie takes place in the summer before our heroes go back to school, but screw it, it’s on the list. Once again it’s a coming of age story based on of a short story by Stephen King. I’m not the biggest Stephen King fan but I tend to like his more dramatic pieces, (Shaw-Shank, Green Mile, etc.) However, It kind of creeps me out how often he has pervy scenes with children in his stories. Go back and read “It” and tell me if there isn’t some kid diddling going on. That being said, Stand by Me is a great movie.

The Harry Potter franchise
These movies encompass an entire year so naturally these movies could be included in all seasons. It deals with magic and every movie starts at the beginning of the school year. I’d say it’s safe to say they belong on this list. I was a huge fan of Harry Potter growing up and I still am. Rest assured, I will find ways to weasel HP references into other future posts.

Other Great Movies

The Departed
The Town
The Goonies
The Breakfast Club

There are many other great movies to watch but hopefully these can help get you mentally prepared for the upcoming school year.

Be All In

Be All In

After three years and lots of discussion and discernment Majestic Jam officially became a business on January 19th, 2013. Not just any business, but a family business. As we approach the first 6 months of our fledgling startup, we’re beginning to see the making of a brand.

It hasn’t been easy. For example, we’ve been going around & around on a specific marketing strategy:

1)   When do we launch our social media and blog?
2)   Do we start this process while still working on our deliverables?

Much like in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” similar to this quote:

Ted, “The truth is Wyld Stallions will never be a super band until we get Eddie Van Halen on guitar.”
Bill, “I do not believe we will get Eddie Van Halen until we have a triumphant video.”

For our first 6 months we’ve had to overcome a few challenges, such as:

  • We’re 7 strong-willed individuals.
  • We meet via Skype (3 time zones/8 hours apart.)
  • We’re all very verbal and tend to talk over each other.
  • We’re heavy on the creative and weak on the commercial.

However, we’re a close-knit family and love collaborating and working together; In other words…..”We’re ALL IN!” So how do we work so well effectively? Technically we’ve been working together as a team for over 3 decades. But the real answer is: communication, respect and keeping an open mind.Great companies are only as good as their employees. Success comes from good teamwork. There is no I in TEAM. Do you know the movie this was quoted from?

We’re vested as a family; we’re ALL IN and we will do what it takes to make Majestic Jam a successful brand and business.

Fall Movie Lineup

Although this won’t be true for all of our readers, this has been a very cool and wet summer in the Midwest, especially in Chicago. With that being said, I have all but given up on this summer. No problem…….fall-time is unquestionably one of my favorite seasons. To get me pumped up I have been watching Halloween and fall-related movies. Full disclosure….this is one of my bad habits (come on, who else doesn’t do this??) Yes, I’ve been known to jump-the-gun as far as holidays and changing seasons go. I know what you’re thinking, “but Cameron, we’re still running off a buzz from all that glory from The Patriot and Independence Day during the 4th of July holiday. Yes of course we all are, but one must get over it and move from the past and prepare for the future.

So to help everyone transition from this summer to fall I have created a list of movies to get you excited for the best season of the year…autumn.

HalloweenSave For Closer to Halloween
Monster House
Hocus Pocus
Disney’s The Legend of Ichabod Crane


DIsney[3]Disney Channel Original 
Halloween town
Mom’s got a date with a vampire
Scream Team


Harry Potter
Good Will Hunting
Cider House Rules
Dead Poets Society
….I guess anything with school

Trick or Treat
Halloween (original)
Friday the 13th (original)
The Others

Lost Boys
Lost Boys (Say No More)

Of course there are many more movies that could make this list. However, this is only the
beginner’s guide to help you transition into autumn.

What is your fall classic movie lineup?

Would You Rather…?

WOULD-YOU-RATHERI really like the thrill of being scared by a movie. I recently watched the 2012 horror movie called Would You Rather in hope of getting such a scare.

Based on the title, I thought the movie had potential (I must admit that’s partly because I’ve been digging the bizarre Would You Rather posts on Buzzfeed lately). Unfortunately, The movie was in no way scary enough to keep me up at night, but it did get me thinking about certain “would you rather” situations. Both situations presented in this game are usually equally unpleasant, otherwise where would be the fun in it? For instance, would you rather:

  • fire your best friend from a job, or get fired from your own job?
  • live in a city but not have any friends, or live somewhere rural but have an annoyingly close neighbor?
  • go back to school for another degree that will be completely free, or have all of your previous student loans paid off?
  • get to live in an amazing mansion that will be torn down in one year, or be given a sub-par apartment that will be free for life?
  • have a GPS like sense of direction but you’ll never be able to drive again, or always have a working car but you’ll get a ticket every other month?
  • start your own  business and have it fail, or never try starting it at all and always have regrets?

Of course, being a horror movie, the situations in the film had to  be a lot more gruesome, and on that point at least the movie didn’t disappoint. The film is centered around a girl (played by Brittany Snow – shout out to The Guiding Light, the soap opera in which she got her start) who attends a dinner party and is coerced into playing the sadistic game. But instead of questions like “would you rather be stranded on a deserted island with Taylor Swift or Taylor Lautner?” the questions are more like “would you rather be held under water for two minutes or be stabbed in the thigh?”

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My Refuge in Pop Culture

Majestic Jam Productions

One of my favorite things in life is that moment when you’re at the movies or a stage production and the lights go down to let you know the show is about to start. At the movies, the previews end, the lights go off and the studio logo comes on screen to start the show. Likewise at the stage production, the lights dim and the auditorium goes silent as hundreds of whispered conversations fade out while the curtain rises. This moment fills me with a calming sense of anticipation. I know that for the next few hours I can push my troubles to the back burner and escape into a world that is about to unfold before me. Even a horrible movie can be a thing of beauty if watched with the right company.

My “craptacular” summer
It has been a summer of epic car malfunctions, lingering illness, unexpected bills and very long days at work. This has held pretty true for many of my friends and family as well. Of course there have been some high points but it has none the less been trying.

We all have different coping mechanisms. Among my most tried and true are the following:
* Netflix binging on a great TV series with my wife.
* Listening to Les Mis (performing my own one women production) while I’m alone in my car.
* Watching Muppet Christmas Carol when I’m feeling particularly low and need my faith in humanity restored.
* And always, always going to the movies.  Or……….Help Start a Family Business……..What?

My guess is when people hear the phrase ‘family business,’ writing collective is not the first thing that comes to mind. I imagine most people think of something that has been passed down through generations like a dealership or furniture store. I realize we’re taking an unconventional approach to starting a business. Some might say, “We make furniture then we sell it.” Well not the Joneses!  So you may ask, what gives? Why are we trying to make a go of this? Isn’t starting a business a lot of hard work? I won’t’ try to speak for the other six members – anyone who knows us will attest that they speak plenty for themselves :)  As for me, it boils down to a few simple facts: I have always liked to write and I love pop culture.

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Motivational Letter from Meghan to Self

Dear Self,

Today will be a productive day! Already off to a good start – I feel well rested. Of course, maybe sleeping in until noon is not the best thing for productivity, but I did have a meeting with Jess and Amanda that ran kind of late last night. We discussed writing projects Amanda has come up with and outlined. Must have some new writing content to share with those two ladies by early next week. So, today I will put pen to paper (and by that I mean fingers to keyboard) and starting developing ideas for two new book ideas. At some point today, I literally will put pen to paper when I draw some more HypochondriCat ideas. But first, I’ve got to go watch some of that new Star Trek movie mom has been insisting I watch…just joking, ain’t nobody got time for that…but really I’ll probably watch it.



Hello and welcome to the Majestic Jam blog! Majestic Jam (which may be referred to simply as MJ hereafter for laziness sake) started as an idea to share creative projects with the world. It is a family-run entity (but we’re not a creepy family-band, Partridge family sort of thing – we never traveled around the country in a painted bus, although we did go through several minivans). The participating MJ members are spread out around the US and in various countries, but we come together (virtually) to collaborate on writing projects. So read on an enjoy!

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