Review and Giveaways: Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein

Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein – Book Trailer from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Stein, David Ezra. (2012).  Because Amelia Smiled. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 9780763641696

Plot Summary: Positive feelings that began with Amelia smiling as she splashed through puddles in her street spread around world from Mexico to England to Israel to Paris to Italy and finally right back to New York.

Critical Analysis: Stein’s Interrupting Chicken won a 2011 Caldecott honor.  While the story and illustrations are different in both tone and style, Because Amelia Smiled is still a wonderful book to share not only with small children, but people of all ages.  A timeless message accompanied by energetic illustrations full of details that will hopefully inspire smiling and acts of kindness both large and small.

I especially enjoyed reading the interview with Stein that Candlewick posted.  (I hope that librarians and teachers take advantage of all these wonderful resources to share with readers and students.)  He talks about how this was a story inspired by a conversation with his sister and Buddhism and how you choose in every moment how to react to things that happen to you.

“I was walking home from the subway thinking about this, and suddenly a story started telling itself to me. I didn’t have my sketchbook with me that day, but I did have a large paper bag. As I was walking home, every few blocks I stopped and jotted down the story that was coming to me. It was the story of Amelia.” It was the first story he sold to a publisher but after many failed attempts to illustrate it, he put it aside.  Many successful books later,  he was ready.  He pulled the idea out again and shared it with his current editor.

“Now I know that I don’t have to pick only one way of working, and the technique doesn’t dictate what I do. I decide. The way I use a crayon is not the way someone else does. I even invented a new way to work, just for Amelia.  I call it Stein-lining. It imitates a printmaking look for the line work of the book by using label paper. I apply crayon to label paper, turn it over, and press on the back to create a line on the artwork. It’s like creating my own carbon paper using different colors of crayon.”

Activities: Talk about how sharing a smile effects others. Have you ever committed a random act of kindness? What are some small ways to show kindness?  Made someone laugh? What makes you laugh?  Inspired someone else to do something positive?  What inspires you to do something positive?

In the video below, Stein demonstrates his “Stein-lining” technique he used in the book.  Create your own artwork using this technique.

Author/Illustrator David Ezra Stein Demonstrates “Stein-Lining” from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Readalikes:  This book reminded me of Madlenka by Peter Sis.  In this case, Madlenka travels the world by meeting her neighbors on her block.

Pay It Forward and Giveaway: I received a wonderful beat up cardboard box from Candlewick Press.  In it was a suitcase covered in stickers from around the world.  And inside the suitcase?  A bag of smiles, postcards and two copies of the book:  One to review and one to giveaway.  I don’t know if I have mentioned it here before, but I give almost all the books I review away.  To friends, to students where I work, to readers of this blog.  But this is a special book, and it creates the desire to connect and do something positive.  So before I get to the giveaway, a story about connecting and doing something positive for the world.

A few years ago I volunteered to be on the board at my church that oversees Christian Education.  I have served with some wonderful people who also volunteer their time and talents.  One gentleman reads and reviews books for the church newsletter.  He also buys books to be added to the church library, maintains the library and library records.  He helps with all special events, plays in a band, coaches and more.  I recently realized his term on the board is almost up.  I wanted to do something special to recognize him.  Something with books…and as I was preparing to write this post, I realized this was a perfect book to honor him.  I will place a special bookplate honoring his service in the front and add the book to the library.  Then his ‘smile” will spread for years to come.

And now to the giveaways.  Another lesser known feature of this blog is perhaps the fact that if you click on a link and make a purchase through Amazon, I receive a very small portion of the purchase price.  I have always promised myself that if I ever earned anything, I would give it back to the readers.  Well, it took two years, but I finally earned enough to get paid.  And as promised, I am giving it back to you.

Comment on this post about something that has made you smile recently or how you are inspired to pay it forward and you will be entered into both drawings: One for a copy of Because Amelia Smiled and one for a $10 Amazon gift card.  Use it to buy a book for yourself, or in the spirit of Amelia, buy a book for someone else and keep the chain going.  Winners will be drawn next Monday.

Review Excerpts: “A playfully profound picture book that does its part in passing on good feelings.”–Kirkus Reviews

“[H]eartwarming, yet never saccharine….it’s a satisfying portrait of the feast of life. Even youngest children will grasp the idea that good deeds and positivity beget more of the same.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“Salutary good humor and a series of related events are both reliable picture book patterns; their up-to-date transmission…is particularly effective, as are Stein’s cheerfully energetic illustrations in pencil, water-soluble crayon, and watercolor….sure to elicit smiles…”–Hornbook

“Realistic, heavily colored, and intensely detailed, the illustrations invite children to look closely and see the way people across the globe are connected….some adults may want kids to make connections with their own actions, but this is also just a lovely way to look at life.”–Booklist

“David Ezra Stein’s crayon art is playful and vivid.”–The New York Times

“Dynamic blends of crayon and watercolor create an impressionistic scene that still conveys eye-catching detail….the story offers valuable opportunities for discussion of how one person’s actions can influence events far beyond their own surroundings.”–School Library Journal

“Will nicely suit parents who hope to impart the value of pay-it-forward kindness to their children.”–The Wall Street Journal

“Teems with cheer and vigor, the illustrations bursting to the sides of each spread and rushing with color all around.”–Kirkus Children’s Book Blog

Reviewed from publisher provided copy.  Amazon Affiliate: If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.


  1. This is a great story about how one little thing can cause the world to change. A little girl smiles at the beginning of the book, and she causes a chain reaction that ends up circling the world and coming back to her. The text is short, and the pictures are large and vibrant. The repetition, too, makes this book excellent for read aloud!

    • I agree. I hope this book is being added to story times and other programs in libraries and classrooms. The video of the artist demonstrating his technique for this book would also make this a great book for older students studying art and design.

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