Mission: Impossible

I love picture books that make me laugh. And those that make me cry. It’s nearly impossible, though, to find one book that does both. Nearly impossible. But then there’s this one:

Jacket.aspxThe Impossible Patriotism Project (2007), written by my friend Linda Skeers and illustrated by Ard Hoyt, is a rare gem of a story.

First, a quick synopsis:  Caleb is stumped. For a school project, he’s supposed to create something that represents patriotism for a Parents’ Night display. But how do you do that? After all…

Patriotism wasn’t something you could draw, like a tree or a spaceship or a crocodile. He was good at drawing crocodiles. Why couldn’t they be having a Crocodile Celebration?

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That makes me laugh. Then Linda adds a little pressure. Caleb’s classmates don’t seem to be having any trouble coming up with ideas. His friend Jake is writing a poem about America. But…

“I don’t think anything rhymes with America, though. Maybe I’ll write a poem about the states.” He started writing. “Wonder what’s more poetic – crates, gates, or skates?”

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That cracks me up, too. As do Caleb’s thoughts when he learns that Molly is dressing up as the Statue of Liberty, complete with fireworks (so she thinks)…

Fireworks? Sparklers? Caleb groaned. Maybe he could tell Mrs. Perkins he would be sick on Parents’ Night. He was coming down with a cold. Or a broken leg.

Linda sprinkles these little giggles throughout the story. Later, still worrying, Caleb is in his room at home, wishing his dad were there to help  him with his project. “He would know that patriotism is more than a map or a statue.” That’s when Caleb figures out what to do.

Skip to Caleb and his mom in his classroom, enjoying Parents’ Night. They’re looking at the various projects, but a crowd has gathered around Caleb’s desk. He goes over to explain…

“That’s a picture of my dad in his uniform,” Caleb said proudly. “Patriotism means going away from your family even if you have to miss Parents’ Night. It means keeping everyone in the United States safe.” He smiled and gently touched the picture. “My dad taught me to love my country.”

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And then, when you’re already softened up and feeling a little mushy … the whammy.

“My dad is patriotism.”

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This is when I choke up. Every time. I don’t presently have a family member in the service, but I’ve seen this book read by those who do, and to report that they’re deeply, deeply touched is an understatement. And this isn’t even the end of the story – Linda saves a last giggle, then winds it all up with another lump-in-the-throat moment. *whew*

If you’ve never seen this one, make sure you find it. It’s one of my own personal mentor texts, inspiring me to make my work richer and deeper and more touching. I can dream.

So are there books that yank you back and forth between laughter and tears? Tell me about them.


Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of many picture books. Her latest is How to Grow a Dinosaur. Other recent titles are Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, and I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! Learn more at http://jillesbaum.com.


  1. I cry way too easily, so there are probably more than there should be LOL – though I am not thinking of one at the moment. But this one looks like a gem. Requesting it from my library! Thanks!

  2. This does sound like a rare gem, Jill. Another one for the library list . . .

  3. Fantastic! I want to study this one, Jill, thank you. And I love the illustrations, too!

  4. This does sound wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading it! Thanks, Jill.

  5. Kathy Mazurowski

    I just put this title on my library list. Thank you!

  6. Rebecca Forester

    Ok, now you’ve made me laugh then cry. I was enjoying the beautiful illustrations and snippets and then as I continued down I thought: Oh I know where this is going and…yep by the time the pic of the Dad arrived I was crying.

    Another title for my (very long!) library list! Thanks for sharing this one.

  7. Ooh, I must read this book about Caleb and his Dad. Using this book as your mentor text is an excellent idea as you create rich, deeper texts. Dream on.

    I can think of two picture books depicting moods:
    Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day By Judith Viorst
    Happy, Hippo, Angry Duck By Sandra Boyton

    Thank you for featuring this book.

  8. Jill,
    Thanks for this review. I live in a military town. I looked and it’s in the public library catalog here. Gotta read it! Thanks again!

  9. Thanks for sharing this book…I was not aware of it. A definite must for every library and every military home. God bless our troops!

  10. Oh, that looks like a lovely book! One picture book that makes me laugh AND get teary-eyed is MARS NEEDS MOMS. It’s a gem!

  11. Thanks for telling me about this book. I hadn’t seen it but will check it out.

  12. This book will become a classic. All generations will fall in love with it.

  13. Thank you, Jill! I grew up in a military family, and I have no doubt this book will be a “mentor” for me too. One more “hold” book for my local library!

  14. There is nothing better than getting a reader to choke up a little. And if you can do it with humor at the same time, well….It is something I’m determined to do someday. Thanks for this recommendation Jill! I look forward to finding this book.

  15. That is a touching ending. Choked up a bit myself.

  16. OMG, that one line: “My dad is patriotism” made me cry!

  17. Sandie Vaisnoras

    Excited to get this. I remember Linda talking about it this summer.
    Hope all is well.

  18. i checked this one out from our library two years ago, and i still remember it fondly. thanks for a touching story of gratitude about our armed forces, linda!

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