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The Picture Book Buzz

Beach Toys v. School Supplies - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

So when does work become fun? When you're building a sand castle and helping friends.

I fell in love with the premise of this book when I first saw the cover reveal. And I find new things to fall in love with each time I read it. With a punny text, spunky characters, discovery of friendship, and amazing illustrations, this is a wonderful year-round read.

Beach Toys v. School Supplies

Author/Illustrator: Mike Ciccotello

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ages: 3-6



Summertime, friendship, cooperation, healthy competition, and humor.


Summer is winding down and school is just around the corner when two old rivals meet at the beach. Shovel thinks Ruler is a number-obsessed know-it-all. Ruler thinks Shovel is all play and no work. So when their two gangs challenge one another to a beachfront competition, the contest between beach toys and school supplies gets heated. Who will win? Who will have more fun? And will they be able to step up to help each other when unexpected disaster sweeps in?

This fresh take on the end-of-summer blues is bright, dynamic, and laugh-out-loud funny!

Opening Lines:

On the day that would be remembered as the Big Showdown,

Shovel was lying on the beach, minding his own business, when,

a strange shadow blocked his sun.

What I Liked about this book:

After blocking his sun, Ruler exchanges a series of punny insults and self-accolades with Shovel. They decide that the only way to settle their argument of 'who rules' is with a "sandcastle-castle building contest."

I love the next two spreads of the school supplies' arrival and the showdown scene. Mike has infused such personality into each beach & school item! And the text is loaded with puns that will have kids giggling and parents groaning. For instance, Ruler "inched over" and Beach Ball tells the others "We're totally going to deflate them."

© Mike Ciccotello, 2021.

Once Whistle blows, the teams are off. The Beach Toys dig into the task with unbridled enthusiasm, jokes, and singing. While the School Supplies, quietly draw a plan and methodically create "a castle of classrooms" (i.e. a sand school) Although the School Supplies win, in their hurry they hadn't listened to the number one rule - "don't build too close to the water." They forgot that you should always know the rules, or test instructions, first. A case of summer amnesia, perhaps.

Now, with the tide "creeping closer," the School Supplies' castle looks doomed. I am so impressed with Mike's ability to make us feel all the emotions of the notebook, pencil, ruler, & glue - fear, determination, horror, and panic - while still infusing the text with multiple puns and wisecracks - like "Pencil would be erased."

© Mike Ciccotello, 2021.

Not sharing shovel's reluctance, the other Beach Toys suggest helping the School Supplies - "because it's no fun watching anyone's castle get knocked over by a wave," Mike does an awesome job of 'forcing" Shovel, and by extension the reader, to step into the School Supplies' shoes. To realize that when the paper hits the fan, no one likes bad things to happen. And that if, and when, we can help another, we should. It reminded me of harrowing stories of medical near-catastrophes of American Olympic skaters in Russia, saved by supplies that a Russian competitor had stockpiled for himself. We may be competitors in events, but we are fellow humans outside the competition and should help each other.

The ending is earned, heartful, and gorgeous. What happens?

Well, Shovel & Ruler want to be the ones to show you. So - you'll just have to follow them through the book and see how it all ends. They are very good guides and dig showing off what they've learned.

© Mike Ciccotello, 2021.

Overall, this is a wonderful summertime, last days before school, first day of school, or better yet 365 day read. A great addition to any library, with a wonderful message of friendship, healthy competition, cooperation, and playfulness. And a fun example of a skilled use of word play.


- make your own cardboard (or other recycled materials) or brown sugar "sand" castle.

- enjoy this wonderful STEAM Activity Packet by Mike Ciccotello & Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).

- can you imagine a conflict between two other items or groups of items? Like spoon vs. spork or camping gear vs. skiing gear. Write a story of draw a picture of this conflict. How do they solve their problem?

- list some times where compromise and cooperation helped you create something amazing? Draw a picture of what you created.

- have you ever been surprised to find a chore or work to be fun? Write that story or draw an image of how it turned out to be fun.

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Mike Ciccotello (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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