In Praise of Airedales, Firemen and Fur Families

Recently, on a family vacation—thousands of miles and a dozen years since we’d read the book he was referencing—my son said, “Look—an Oliver Tolliver dog.” Now if you haven’t read Mary Ann Hoberman’s book One of Each, you wouldn’t have known to look around for an Airedale Terrier, but my husband and I knew exactly what he was talking about and spotted the pooch right away. 51uLYmUIXDL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ In addition to aiding us in canine identification (thanks to illustrator Marjorie Priceman’s Airedale-esque hero), we’ve been known to ask for “just one, only one, simply one, one of each” on occasion, thanks to the story’s refrain.

In my view, there’s no higher tribute you can pay a book than incorporating it into your family lexicon. But how does that happen? Well, shoot. I wish I knew. As far as I can tell, there’s no surefire formula. And, besides, certain books and phrases are going to resonate with some families and not with others. Still, here are a few things to consider if you’d like future readers to adopt parts of your books into their private family vocabulary:

• Write a book worth reading—over and over (and over . . .) again.

• Include fun-to-say words and phrases (quick: say “Oliver Tolliver” three times fast).

• Use rhyme, rhythm and/or repetition to make phrases easy to remember (and hard to forget—sort of like, for me, the Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle, only more literary and meaningful, of course).


Here’s another example: Fireman Small by Wong Herbert Yee. It offers all these elements—zippy rhyme, catchy phrases, and a funny yet sweet story that stands up to multiple readings. And, sure enough, many years after we last read it, under certain circumstances, one of us will say “Quickly out of bed he scoots, jumps into his pants and boots . . . .” And the other two will join in reciting the rest of the stanza.

9780060518981 But I can’t finish without talking about the book I meant to write about, the one that gave me the idea for this post in the first place: Margaret Wise Brown’s Little Fur Family. It ends with the mother and father singing a song to their child:

Sleep, sleep, our little fur child,

Out of the windiness, Out of the wild.

Sleep warm in your fur

All night long, In your little fur family.

This is a song.

The book offers no guidance regarding the tune. So you could just read it, I suppose. But it’s a song. It says so. So we made up our own melody. That was probably fourteen years ago. And yet we sang it just the other day and remembered every word—and every off-key note of our made-up tune.

I love how a book can do that.

In this blog, we’ll be discussing the sorts of things authors and illustrators do to create picture books that are engaging, compelling, hilarious, thought-provoking, foot-tapping, heart-tugging and just plain unforgettable. We hope you’ll join in the conversation and visit often (you can subscribe at right).

In the meantime, what words, phrases and characters from picture books have become part of your family lexicon? And do you have a tune for the Little Fur Family song? I’d love to hear it. If you’d like to share, post a video on my Facebook page. —Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 45 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a how-to guide for picture book writers. Her books have been included on the ‘best of the year’ lists of The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, the American Library Association, the Children’s Book Council, and The New York Public Library, among others, and have been translated into many languages.


  1. I LOVE the concept of this new blog! Where do I sign up to follow it? (I’ll look.)

    Linda, my tune for Brown’s song sounds an awful lot like the “Oh, I wish I was…” jingle. Thanks for sticking that ditty in my head for the day. 😉

    • Oh, no, Carol–so sorry I stuck that song in your head! Thanks so much for stopping by. We’re working on the sign-up part. Please check back again soon. We’ll be posting Tuesdays and Fridays.

  2. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve chanted, “There are dogs on the bed / Like logs on the bed / Bed hogs on the bed– / These dogs, these dogs!” from Elizabeth Bluemle’s DOGS ON THE BED….

    So happy about this new blog!

  3. I didn’t have a tune! Oh my! But one came to my head as I read it over a few times. It’s lullaby-ish, but my own new lullaby tune. Not a traditional one.

    I’m very excited about your new blog!!! Very! (And I would like one of every book in your header!)

    • picturebookbuilders

      Hey, Penny. You can sing it to me if/when I meet you in person some time. Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you here often!!

  4. Our family lexicon proudly includes “Taste my cloven justice!” – a classic line from Bob Shea’s “Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great.”

    Can’t wait to see what more this talented blog group has in store!

  5. Great blog….can’t wait to read more! Please let us all know when we can sign up!

  6. Following you through blogtrottr (found it a while back – VERY handy for blogs without signup buttons!). LOVE this – and as I have never read Little Fur Family, I have NO tune for it (but WILL be requesting that book from the library so perhaps I can!). Not thinking of any picture book lines in our family lexicon at the moment – but I am SURE there are some. May have to get back to you on that one ;). Thanks for this blog – will definitely be reading!

    • Okay, Joanne, you can get back to us with your family lexicon lines AND sing us your song after you get the book from the library. Looking forward to that! Thanks for stopping by–and for the tip about blogtrottr!

  7. Decades later I’ve been known to ask, “Do you like my hat?” Nine times out of ten someone will respond, “I do not like that hat,” OR “yes, yes I do like that hat. I like that party hat!”

  8. Ha! Sounds like Dr. Seuss to me. I’ve got lots of his lines still stuck in my head. Horton, in particular, made an impression (“A person’s a person no matter how small . . .”).

  9. Or:
    I meant what I said
    and I said what I meant.
    An elephant’s faithful
    one hundred per cent.

  10. Jill: That is one of my favorite lines to quote along with “Some days are like that, even in Australia.” But as a family, we all can quote pieces of A Snowy Day: “It was stick, just right for smacking a snow-covered tree.” or “Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. His feet sank into the snow.” We also quote lines from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

  11. How I love this post! Thank you. Here are two phrases that are part of our family now and forever: “Not relaxed!” (Poppleton Everyday) and “you one dumb fawg and I one mad tuh-tuh” (Prince of the Pond).

  12. So excited to follow your new blog. Thanks Jill for letting us know. I look forward to all the little gold nuggets about picture books from some of my favorite authors and illustrators!

  13. I have to chime in with a beloved line from BEST FRIENDS FOR FRANCES, where Albert tells Frances about the “boy” things he plans for his day. His lengthy list includes “a little frog work maybe.” Our family always talks about doing a little frog work…

  14. Love the idea for this blog! Can’t wait for more!

  15. Congrats on the new blog — it looks great!

  16. Thanks, Jon!

  17. Very nice. Look forward to reading more.
    “And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)” (Dr. Seuss)

  18. “. . . with crimson soles and crimson linings . . .
    (I dare not reveal the title.)
    I imagined, as a child, that the word “crimson”
    meant “velvet.” Years later, I mentioned this
    to my son, and he assured me he’d thought
    the same thing . . .

    • My kids frequently pulled out lines from Audrey and Don Wood’s books. Knocking on a door, they’d call, “I’m Heckedy Peg. I’ve lost my leg. Let me in!” Or, if someone was lingering in the bathroom too long, “King Bidgood’s in the bathtub and he won’t get out. Oh, who knows what to do!”

  19. HI, Eve. Thanks so much for visiting!

  20. We have many family quotes from children’s books. one of my favorites is “Don’t dawdle, dear. Don’t drag behind.” from In the Rain With Baby Duck by Amy Hest.

  21. We have lots of family quotes from books, but the one that comes up frequently and in conjunction with a good table-pounding is, “The meat! (The meat!)” from Melinda Long’s HOW I BECAME A PIRATE. Love!

  22. besides the phrases from “Alexander and the…..” already mentioned, we have “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats” from our own MN author, Wanda Gag.

  23. Linda- love all three of these- and even have had to buy duplicate of Fireman Small as we literally read it to pieces… as for family lexicon we have loads- but the one that comes to mind instantly is ANY of Sandra Boynton- ” red sock, blue sock, purple sock ..ooops” even when sorting the sock basket now ( at 9 and 12 yrs) they will play along – loved your post… bookmarking this page!

  24. What a great idea for a blog! I will look forward to all of your posts. Linda, Fireman Small was a very popular one in our house too 🙂 We have also been known to say, “Let the wild rumpus start” (which may not be the exact line from Where The Wild Things Are, but we know what we mean :)) and “You may be sure there will always be plenty of chocolate cake around here” from A Baby Sister For Frances and Frances’s egg song from Bread And Jam For Frances – I do not like the way you slide, I do not like your soft inside… or something along those lines 🙂

  25. Here’s one of our all-time family favorites — Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo, chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo!

    TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO by Arlene Mosel

    Enjoying this blog already!

  26. I love Picture Book Builders! Thank you for this thought provoking blog and for this post! The lines that have become part of our family lexicon and come to mind right away are from Daniel Pinkwater’s THE BIG ORANGE SPLOT, especially: “My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams” and “Plumbean has gone too far!” My kids are adults now but they still quote from this favorite from their childhood.

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