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The Picture Book Buzz

The Perfect Plan - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I loved building blanket, pillow, and tree branch forts when I was a child. One of my favorite memories as an adult is building a giant driftwood fort on a beach with my parents, husband, and kids. It took all of us working together to get the wood to balance into a triangle shape, but we created a fort big enough to stand up in. One that all six of us could fit into at the same time. It was magical to sit there and listen to the waves swoop and trickle across the beach.

Since I've always wanted a real tree fort, I was immediately intrigued by this cover and delighted by the gorgeously illustrated story that weaves a little STEAM into creating a dream.

The Perfect Plan

Author/Illustrator: Leah Gilbert

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (2021)

Ages: 3-6



Creativity, collaboration, friendship, and determination.


Maya dreams of building a fort - a special, comfy, cozy place to hide out and read, to dream and play. So she goes to work drafting plans and gathering all her supplies. But when she gets to the forest, she realizes she needs help. Thankfully, some new friends have just the right skills to make a perfect fort-building team. Will Maya's fort be everything she hopes? Or could it turn into something she never even imagined?

Leah Gilbert's story bursts with inspiration and life, celebrating creativity, leadership, perseverance, and the magic of working together to build a dream.

Opening Lines:

Maya dreamed of having a fort.

A special, comfy, cozy place

to hide out and read,

to dream and play.

It will be the most

incredible and wonderful

tree fort in the world! she imagined.

What I LIKED about this book:

I LOVE the cover design with Maya's tree fort plan drawn onto the trees. It's loaded with a ton of foreshadowing, I'll explain some of them, the rest you'll discover when you read the book. On the opening end pages, Maya is seen exploring nature - photographing a beaver lodge, peering into a bird nest & bear den (they're sleeping), and looking through a paper tube at a moose. Leah Gilbert's soft digital drawings beautifully use light to create a dreamy, almost magical tone for the book before you even get to the story.

Text and Image © Leah Gilbert, 2021.

Then the gorgeous first spread shows Maya's dream fort. And the animals she's just been observing are peeking at her. I love the sunbeams streaming through the trees and the golden, starry quality of the fort.

Text and Image © Leah Gilbert, 2021.

Like any good engineer, "She did some research," Maya begins with looking through a big stack of books, including "Building Forts" and "Homes in Nature." "Carefully designed," she spends time (indicated by the scratched out drawings & number of crumpled pages scattered around her) creating a detailed plan for the fort. I love her assistant, a frisky, playful, black cat. Once the plan is set, Maya gathers supplies (trail mix, juice boxes, hammer, & a ruler) and sets out to find the perfect trees for her fort.

But as with much of life, building a fort requires a lots of trial and error. After working with the branches she could gather and carry, the fort just isn't working. During Maya's soul searching moment, the reader notices a couple of beavers among the trees. Not ready to admit defeat, Maya heads to the beaver lodge to ask for help with her "outstanding and original tree fort." Maybe Maya remembers an earlier research book, "Build Like a Beaver," but there is no immediate answer to why she suddenly asked for their help.

The beavers and Maya set to work. Then, while they contemplate how to move the big "branches" they've amassed, Maya notices a Moose. She asks him for help building the "strongest and sturdiest tree fort." By changing the adjectives with each animal, Maya gathers a crew to help build the fort, capitalizing on their individual strengths, abilities. and personalities. Smart, creative, and full of enthusiasm, Maya is a natural leader.

Text and Image © Leah Gilbert, 2021.

Observant readers swill see a mischievous, thieving racoon, and a chipmunk, squirrel, and fox family which appear throughout the illustrations watching Maya and the fort's progress and 'assisting ' with the supplies. But even though she has a beavers, moose, and bears helping, it doesn't quite work and all comes crashing down. Scattering animals in all directions. Wait until you see who the final helper is and the resulting fort.

This last third of the book is full of angst, friendship, and a bit of nature's magic. And Leah's illustrations of the final few wordless spreads are full of her own magic, heart, and wonder. You'll definitely see why they are her favorite ones. It is a great book about following one's dream, despite any obstacles, collaborating with others, and friendship. The gorgeous illustrations and fun lyrical text make this a book that will be enjoyed over and over again by kids and parents alike.


- make your own model of a perfect tree fort (

- have you ever made a blanket or pillow fort? What happens when you work with someone else? What was the best one you ever made?

- draw a plan or write a description of your favorite fort. Where would it be? What would it be made out of?

- how was Maya's process of making her dream fort similar to the process of an engineer or architect? Make a list or flow chart of the steps Maya took.

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Leah Gilbert (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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