Thursday, May 21, 2015

Learning from Picture Books: The Most Magnificent Thing

Since I have two daughters that love to create things, I really loved this story about creativity and persistence. And I especially liked the doggy assistant!

Here's the summary from

Award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires has created a charming picture book about an unnamed girl and her very best friend, who happens to be a dog. The girl has a wonderful idea. "She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!" But making her magnificent thing is anything but easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly. Eventually, the girl gets really, really mad. She is so mad, in fact, that she quits. But after her dog convinces her to take a walk, she comes back to her project with renewed enthusiasm and manages to get it just right.

For the early grades' exploration of character education, this funny book offers a perfect example of the rewards of perseverance and creativity. The girl's frustration and anger are vividly depicted in the detailed art, and the story offers good options for dealing honestly with these feelings, while at the same time reassuring children that it's okay to make mistakes. The clever use of verbs in groups of threes is both fun and functional, offering opportunities for wonderful vocabulary enrichment. The girl doesn't just "make" her magnificent thing -- she "tinkers and hammers and measures," she "smoothes and wrenches and fiddles," she "twists and tweaks and fastens." These precise action words are likely to fire up the imaginations of youngsters eager to create their own inventions and is a great tie-in to learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The Most Magnificent Thing, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires was published by Kids Can Press in 2014.

My thoughts as a writer:

The author really captures the emotional experience of trying, being frustrated, getting angry, and then taking another look and going on (much like the process of writing). I loved the simplicity and power of the text in this story. One of my favourite parts was “She makes things. He unmakes things.” I especially liked the way the author gave the main character space to resolve her angry and upset feelings on her own, instead of having an adult step in with a solution. “Bit by bit, the mad gets pushed out of her head.”

The illustrations in this story go so well with the text. I love the expressions on the girl’s and the dog’s faces as they work on their project. There are lots of details that children can explore when looking at this book on their own.

My thoughts as a teacher:

As a teacher, there are so many ways to use this book! Young children will relate to the emotional side of the story, where the girl gets frustrated because her ideas don’t match up to her vision. I would love to use this to spark some discussion with students about ways to manage angry feelings – and draw their attention to the strategy of just walking away for a little while. 

The illustrations and style of art in this story would also be great for modeling an art style students could try to create their own work, using the technique of adding colour for emphasis or for the important parts of the story (perhaps comparing and contrasting with other books that use a similar style, such as Steve Light’s Have You Seen My Dragon?).

Themes: creativity, persistence, coping with frustration, angry feelings

Ages: 2 - 6

Some possible activities:

- provide recycled materials and encourage students to create their own “magnificent things”
- create a plan for a “magnificent thing” and make a list of materials needed
- have students think about a time when something went wrong, and how they solved their problem
- choose a favourite illustration from the story and discuss why they like it
- talk about the reasons why the illustrator chose her technique and use this style to create their own art 

If you're looking for more great picture books to read to your class or to investigate as a writer, consider checking out the list of Perfect Picture Books, put together by author Susanna Leonard Hill.


  1. Replies
    1. Isn't it great! There are lots of details in the illustrations as she makes her attempts to construct the magnificent thing.

  2. I love this book. The struggle for perfection can stop kids from achieving.

  3. Such a great cover. The girl looks confident and determined. Important theme that it's okay to make mistakes so they don't give up! Like your thoughts as a writer and a teacher. Great choice.

  4. Hi happy you posted in Susanna's link up...I love your blog and I love the book you picked for PPBF. With a main character who has no name, this certainly sounds like a picture book that breaks some of the rules...can't wait to read it!
    Oh, and I love the way you review the a teacher and as a writer...very cool. ;)

    1. Aw...thank you Vivian! It's always great to hear positive feedback about my blog. I love the idea of PPBF and I hope more teachers hear about it and begin using it.

      It is really interesting to learn from books that break the rules a little.

  5. I too love the doggy assistant in this text. The humor and perseverance pervade the pages.

    1. My class really enjoyed this book, since they are always making things at the "construction centre." The humor is great!

  6. I still get frustrated by the same things! Thanks for sharing, Andrea.

  7. I keep meaning to look at this, but somehow it keeps slipping to the bottom of the list. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. This is such a fun book to read - and I just love the cover. Creating magnificent things from junk is tough, but creating the "most" magnificent thing.... that's even tougher. A great book for kids of all ages.

  9. Yes! Frustration is such a huge stumbling block to creativity--this sounds wonderful. I can recall crumpling up multiple projects as a kid.


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