July 16 – World Snake Day

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About the Holiday

Snakes are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but they often get a bad rap due to their mysterious nature and their portrayals in literature and throughout history. Today’s holiday promotes awareness of dangers to the snake population through habitat destruction, climate change, disease, and other threats. The wide variety of snakes provide many benefits to their natural environments and deserve protection.

I Don’t Like Snakes

Written by Nicola Davies | Illustrated by Luciano Lozano

 

Can you imagine a family who has nothing but snakes for pets? Well, that’s the way it is for the little girl in I Don’t Like Snakes. Sitting in her red chair surrounded by her mother, father, brother and four snakes, she finally pipes up and tells her family that she “‘really, really, REALLY doesn’t like snakes!’” And they ask, “‘Why?’”

“‘Because they slither,’” she answers. Her mom has a ready answer that leads into a scientific discussion of why and how different kinds of snakes move. The mechanics of concertina and serpentine slithering as well as caterpillar crawling are clearly described in both easy-to-understand text and accompanying illustrations. Her father adds more transportation methods, including side-winding, twining, climbing, swimming, and even flying.

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Image copyright Luciano Lozano, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Courtesy of walker.co.uk.

The little girl has to admit these sound pretty smart. “‘But what about their slimy, scaly skin?’” She asks. After all it’s so icky! Well, her mom reveals, snakes aren’t actually slimy, but dry. Following this readers learn why snakes look wet and how they shed their skin. Her dad goes on to explain that a snake’s scales are used for protection and as camouflage or as a warning to other creatures. Ok, the little girl agrees, “‘That’s pretty cool.’”

Still, the girl doesn’t like their flicking tongues. Her mom reassures her that snakes only use their tongues to smell with. Readers then see how a snake picks up the scent of a mouse or other prey and how it is transferred to the Jacobsen’s organ that helps it detect even faint odor trails. “‘That IS interesting,’” the girl tells her mom. “‘But I STILL don’t like the way they stare! It’s creepy.’”

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Image copyright Luciano Lozano, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Courtesy of walker.co.uk.

Dad has the answer to that one. They stare because they have no other choice. Without eyelids, it’s impossible for them to blink. But if you look closely at a snake’s eyes, you can tell if they are a night or day hunter or whether they are chasers or ambushers.

All this information is starting to change the little girl’s mind about snakes. “‘Maybe now that I know something about them, I do like snakes—just a little bit!’” she tells her brother. And just like brothers everywhere, he ups the ante by revealing how snakes kill. He revels in explaining about how some snakes have hollow fangs that inject poison into their victims and how others strangle their prey until there’s no life left. And without proper teeth, snakes have to swallow their dinner whole!

The boy’s sister is braver than he thinks, and now she wants to get in the game. She says that she has discovered something about snakes herself. She knows how snakes have babies. Some give birth to live babies but most lay leathery eggs. Either way, the babies are on their own soon after hatching. The little girl has had a complete change of heart. She now thinks snakes are beautiful. “‘And do you know what?’” she says. “‘I really, really, REEEEEALLLLY LIKE THEM!’”

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Image copyright Luciano Lozano, 2016, text copyright 2016. Courtesy of walker.co.uk.

Whether you like snakes, don’t like snakes, or are somewhere in between, Nicola Davies’ engaging tribute to this interesting and often misunderstood species will delight. Cleverly written to include commonly held opinions and provide compelling facts, I Don’t Like Snakes is part story, part nature encyclopedia seamlessly woven together to create a fascinating and funny read. Kids and adults will respond to the conversational tone, and, like the little girl in the story, be open to a change in attitude toward this intriguing reptile.

Luciano Luzano bridges the world of the fictional story and the nonfiction facts in I Don’t Like Snakes with charming sketches of the family and realistic depictions of the snakes they discuss. The little girl with her oversized hair bow and astonished expressions is a disarming guide to discovery. The family’s reptilian obsession is everywhere, from the snakes that twine around the mother, father, and brother’s arms and shoulders to the snakeskin upholstery. The factual information about snakes is accompanied by accurate drawings and representations of the traits portrayed.

I Don’t Like Snakes is a wonderful book for those who already love snakes as well as for those who want to learn more! It’s a great addition to anyone’s nonfiction collection.

Ages 5 – 10

Candlewick Press, 2015| ISBN 978-0763678319 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1536203233 (Paperback, 2018)

Learn more about Nicola Davies and her books on her website!

To view more art and books by Luciano Luzano visit his website!

World Snake Day Activity

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Slithering Snake Word Search

 

Snakes wind their way along wherever they want to go. Follow the twists and turns in this printable Slithering Snake Word Search to find the reptile-inspired words!

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You can find I Don’t Like Snakes at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

July 15 – Take Your Poet to Work Day

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About the Holiday

Sometimes you just need a little inspiration or spark of creativity, a loyal friend to give perspective to the ups and downs of the day, and a bit of fun never goes amiss either. Put it all together and you get today’s holiday! Sponsored by Tweetspeak Poetry since 2013, Take Your Poet to Work Day celebrates poets and poetry and gives participants a chance to carry their own favorite poet or poets around with them all day. Ever felt like you’d work better if only Emily Dickinson were watching over you? Or maybe you’d like to spend the day with Langston Hughes. If old, old school is more your style, then you might want William Shakespeare by your side. Tweetspeak has you covered no matter who your favorite poet is with their downloadable coloring book from which you can create popsicle-stick puppets to place on your desk, in your pencil cup, or on your bulletin board. And what if you’re not at work today? That’s okay too. Your poet can go wherever you do! See the day’s activity below for a link to Tweetspeak Poetry’s website and the 2020 Coloring Book as well as much more for poets and aspiring poets.

Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections

Written by Michelle Schaub | Illustrated by Carmen Saldaña

 

A girl finds herself with a problem. Her teacher has given the class an assignment to bring something they collect to school. While all the other kids cheer and talk about what their collections, the girl sits at her desk, wondering, in My Collection Conundrum, “It seems that everyone BUT ME / knows just the thing to share. / ‘My jar of marbles.’ / ‘Arrowheads.’ / ‘My favorite teddy bears.’” The little girl has lots of random things at home, but they just don’t add up to a collection. She’s hoping that her family and friends can help.

At home, she asks her mom about her collection. In My Mother’s Button Box, the little girl stands by mesmerized as her mom opens the box. Inside are “shiny ones / of shell and glass. / Pearly circles, / swirls of brass…. / Daisies, paisleys, / bugs, and bows. / Bunnies saved / from baby clothes.” Each is so daintily different that it’s hard to choose a favorite.

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Image copyright Carmen Saldaña, 2019, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Next, the little girl tries to find inspiration in her dad’s train collection. In My Father’s Trains, she waits eagerly while he flips the switch then “round and round the crisscrossed lanes, / engines pull my father’s trains. / Box cars, tankers in a row, / circus cars with beasts in tow, / flatcars hauling toys and cranes….” / Signals flash and whistles blow. / I love to watch the dizzy show / when Daddy runs his model trains, / round and round.” Her sister and brothers have their own special collections, and her grandparents have both amassed items that bring them joy.

Her grandpa keeps his eyes on the ground, searching, in Grampa’s Good Cents, for “a glint of silver / hiding in a sidewalk crack / or / a flash of copper / dropped in the street.” When he does, he stoops to pick it up and examines it carefully “hoping to find / a buffalo nickel, / a Roosevelt dime, / or some other bright prize / to make his set complete. / Gramps always says, / ‘Keep your eyes open wide— / for the treasure you seek / could be right / at / your/ feet.’”

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Image copyright Carmen Saldaña, 2019, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

The little girl searches the attic and visits her Auntie Kate, who has lived in states all across the country. She goes to see her friend Asher, who has a collection that moves, and her friend Meg, who collects animal figures of a certain color. While she appreciates their cool collections, for her these aren’t quite right. Even her mail carrier has a collection, but it’s something only he can see. Even when she and her family eat at Mae’s Rise and Shine Diner, she finds a collection.

The girl does a little research and accumulates a few new vocabulary words and then takes a break to go outside and enjoy the warm evening, where in Collecting Stars? “sparks of starlight / dance around the yard,” playing catch us if you can. She tells readers, “I fill a mason jar / and watch the embers / flash and glow…” and then watches as these “specks of light” fill the sky again. In the morning, the girl sits at her desk in her classroom, happy and as enthusiastic as the other kids to share the treasured collection she has decided on.

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Image copyright Carmen Saldaña, 2019, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Michelle Schaub’s charming poems about all kinds of collections will have kids looking at their world in a whole new way. While some readers may already have amassed a collection of their own, much of the delight of Schaub’s poetry is in realizing how many types of collectibles there are and even in what constitutes a collection. Each of Schaub’s poems—some rhymed, some free verse—hold little treasures of their own with enchanting onomatopoeia, evocative synonyms and metaphors, and even snappy dialogue. The array of family, friends, neighbors, and community members and their individual collections will keep kids coming back again and again to this special poetry collection.

Carmen Saldaña’s homey, textured illustrations give a personal touch to each page as people of all ages proudly display their passion for their chosen collectable. Kids will love lingering over the glass cases, gallery walls, and well-stocked shelves to take in all the details of each collection. Saldaña’s work also provides plenty of opportunities for math extensions in counting and sorting. Her lovely color palette shines with warmth and the joy that comes from sharing the individual and the communal pleasure of this favorite hobby.

Sure to inspire children to start a collection of their own or to learn more about the collections of others, Finding Treasure is a perfect book for home, classroom, or public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2019 | ISBN 978-1580898751

Discover more about Michelle Schaub and her books on her website.

To learn more about Carmen Saldaña and view a portfolio of her art, visit her website.

Take Your Poet to Work Day Activity

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Tweetspeak Poetry Coloring Book

 

You’ll find this year’s coloring book as well as coloring books from past years and instructions on making your puppets plus writing prompts, teacher’s resources, and much more.

Take Your Poet to Work Coloring Book

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You can find Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 14 – Pandemonium Day and Interview with Author/Illustrator Abi Cushman

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About the Holiday

Do you feel like you’re in a rut? Is life too organized, too sedate? Then what you need is a little pandemonium! If you and your kids have a set plan for today, throw it out and have fun doing whatever comes to mind. Feel like joining the kids in a water balloon fight? Do it! Ever wonder what pickle chocolate-chip cookies taste like? Make them! Today’s holiday is all about freeing yourself from preconceptions and inhibitions that might keep you from letting go and enjoying life to the fullest. Celebrate today by doing something wild with your family. You may even be inspired by today’s book!

By Jakki Licare

Soaked!

By Abi Cushman

 

It is a rainy day and Bear points out that no one is happy. Not even the hula hooping moose! Bear hates when it rains. The rain wrecks all of his favorite things: “ice cream cones, sand castles, cashmere sweaters. What’s that you say?” Bear asks readers. “Why don’t we just go inside my cave until the rain stops?” It’s a good idea, but when Bear and all his friends enter the cave, the Hula-Hooping moose takes up all the space. Bear begins to look for his umbrella. He searches for it everywhere and all his friends help, but no one can find it. Bear explains, “Badger said she found her blue bumblebee umbrella. But not mine.”

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Copyright Abi Cushman, 2020, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Unhappy, Bear sits on a fallen tree wallowing in what a “Blahhhhhhhhhhhhh…” day it is as Moose passes by, cartwheeling and Hula-Hooping at the same time. With a Fwoop, he loses control of the hoop and it flies into a tree. The animals look up, and Bear makes an observation: “Wait a minute. We can’t have a Hula-Hooping moose without a Hula-Hoop, can we.” So they stack up to get moose’s Hula-Hoop out of the tree. Bunny’s juuuuust got it when they lose their balance and all fall into a giant puddle.

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Copyright Abi Cushman, 2020, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

The Hula Hoop falls over Bear’s head and the animals encourage him to try it. Bear gives it a whirl. “There. I did it. Totally unfun. Just like I thought. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a moment to myself.” Bear sneaks around the tree with the Hula-Hoop and twirls it round and round, kicking up big puddle waves. Then all the animals join him and have a blast splashing and Hula-Hooping in the puddles until “everyone is soaked!” Somehow, Bear has acquired everyone’s Hula Hoops, and he’s having so much fun—“It’s so splishy and sploshy! Silly and soggy!” he exclaims—that he hasn’t noticed the rain has stopped. Bear drops the Hula Hoops and shuffles off, grumbling, “Blah. Too sunny.”

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Copyright Abi Cushman, 2020, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Told in first person from Bear’s perspective, Abi Cushman’s Bear humorously reflects every kid’s rainy day blues. Cushman’s humor will bring readers back to read her story again and again. Little kids will giggle at mopey Bear who wishes he could just eat his ice cream cone, Bear’s  hilarious and random Hula-Hooping moose friend, and how no one can fit into Bear’s cave because moose is taking up all the space twirling his hula hoops. Her poignant pauses in the text allow for the momentum of the story to build up to the great big splash! Every child will enjoy diving into this silly story.

Cushman’s soft backgrounds and great animal expressions will pull readers into this soggy adventure. Her illustrations of the melted ice cream cone, rain-drenched fur, and collapsed sandcastles perfectly reflect sad rainy-day blues. Little ones will be sure to pick up on all of the fun illustrative details and the moment when Bear has a change of heart. My kids loved how Badger is sneakily catching Bear’s melting ice cream in his own cup. Also, be on the look out for Bunny who wears Bear’s shrunken cashmere sweater as well as Badger’s broken umbrella after the fall. When the animals tumble into the puddle, Cushman uses a variety of textures and colors that really make the splash jump right off the page. Even the endpapers showcase her visual humor from start to finish. The front endpapers show Badger taking one of the bumblebee umbrellas, and at the end we see Bunny in her oversized cashmere sweater Hula Hooping.

Goofy pandemonium saves the day in the hilarious Soaked!, which is sure to be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1984836625

Discover more about Abi Cushman, her book, and her art as well as a Soaked Bear Craft and a 10-page Activity Kit on her website.

Meet Abi Cushman

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Today I’m excited to talk with Abi Cushman about the inspiration for her debut picture book, her road to publication, and how she developed her distinctive art style.

I’m in love with Soaked! and Bear’s rainy adventure. What was the inspiration for Soaked!? And how did you come up with a hula hooping moose?

Thanks, Jakki! I’m thrilled to share Soaked! with you and all the Celebrate Picture Books readers. The initial idea for Soaked! came to me while out for a walk and got caught in a torrential rainstorm. I was 8 months pregnant and well into the waddling stage of my pregnancy. On my slow, soggy walk home, I realized it was actually quite pleasant to be completely soaked. So I wrote this tidbit into my Ugly Sketchbook (the sketchbook where I keep my story ideas):

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After mulling it over for months, I kept drawing various versions of this sorry-looking wet bear. And at that point, I realized I wanted to write a funny story centered around him.

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As for the hula-hooping moose, the beginning of my story involves a badger and a bunny, and I wanted something absurd to break up the rhythm of woodland animals starting with the letter B. (Bear also starts with the letter B, but he’s the narrator.) So, the first absurd thing I thought of was a dancing moose. I pictured him dancing it up in the cave with glow sticks.

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But in revisions, I changed the dancing moose to a hula-hooping one (but made sure those hoops were glow-in-the-dark).

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Soaked! is your debut book. Can you talk about your path to publication?

In 2018, I entered the Portfolio Showcase at the New England SCBWI Conference in Springfield, MA. I included a rough dummy of Soaked! with my portfolio. To my complete amazement, I ended up winning the showcase.

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One of the judges was Jim Hoover, art director at Viking. He asked to see the dummy again and shared it with Tracy Gates, an editor he thought would get my quirky sense of humor. At that point, I introduced them to my agent, Kendra Marcus from BookStop Literary, and she handled all the communications from then on. Jim and Tracy offered feedback on the dummy, so I did some revisions based on their notes. And happily, they loved the revision, and I got an offer for a two-book deal!

Later in the year, I started working with Jim and Tracy on the book. And I can say that making the book was such a collaborative effort, and the final book is so much better than I ever could have imagined because of the experience, knowledge, and talent that Jim and Tracy brought to the table. I finished up all my final art in the fall of 2019, and I finally got to hold the real book in my hands at the end of June this year. It’s a dream come true.

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I know you have your hands full taking care of two little ones. How do you manage making time for your art, writing and creativity in general? Also, has being a mother changed your approach to creating picture books or the content in your picture books?

Yes, life with small children is intense! But, luckily, I have a very supportive husband, which makes all the difference. He’s a teacher and has summers off and he definitely takes the brunt of the childcare/housework in the summer months. Also, I have always been a night owl, so my natural inclination is to work late at night. And that is how I balance home life with work and art. I do most of my writing and art after the kids go to sleep, and the house is quiet.

Being a mother has definitely influenced my writing/illustrating career. For one thing, I’m really well-versed in current picture books. Before the quarantine, my kids and I would visit the library every week. I always took the opportunity to read all the new kids’ books. It was great. And of course, I love that I get to experience the world anew with my kids. Their unbridled curiosity and enthusiasm is infectious. And I think being in touch with kids’ sense of wonder and their sense of humor is so important when you’re writing for kids.

Were there any books that inspired you as a child to become a writer or illustrator or both?

I loved poring over the illustrations in books by Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter when I was a kid. I would try to draw characters in their style. I always loved that their stories featured animal characters with a lot of personality because I always gravitated toward drawing animals myself. But I never thought of myself as a writer growing up, to be honest. I gained confidence that I could write my own stories when I enrolled in Storyteller Academy in 2016.

Your portfolio is full of lovable creatures who are positively brimming with personality. My favorites are the skydiving hippo and the buffalo standing in the tall grass on a windy day. How did you develop your illustrative style? What mediums do you work in?

Thank you! I am so hopeful that I will come up with a story for both the sky diving hippo and the highland cow. I did both of those pieces as illustration prompts for SCBWI’s DrawThis challenge.

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It took me years to figure out a drawing style that would work for me for kids’ books. When I graduated from college, I was doing a fairly realistic style. My favorite medium was pastels. I later experimented with a cartoonier style that was all digital. I loved the realistic style/traditional approach for the textures and the organic feel. But it was hard for me to work small enough and neat enough.

The cartoony style/digital approach was fun and really easy to correct mistakes and adjust the layout. But it lacked the expressiveness that children’s book illustrations need. When I learned that Mike Curato (Little Elliott) and Sam Garton (I Am Otter) worked in a hybrid manner, it was a game changer for me. I now draw all my characters with a mechanical pencil on computer paper. I scan those into Photoshop, then I color in the characters and paint in the backgrounds using the pastel brush with a Wacom Cintiq tablet. It’s the best of both worlds!

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Can you walk us through how you create your stories? As an author/illustrator do you usually start with writing or sketching or does it depend on the story?

In general, I start with sketches of characters and scenes. I also jot down funny lines. Then I piece those parts together like a puzzle. I’ll draw little thumbnails, and then I put together a little mini-dummy by cutting some computer paper in half and then folding it into a booklet. There’s a lot of cutting and pasting that happens to get the pacing right. Usually, I don’t even sit down to type out the manuscript until I have the story figured out in dummy form first.

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What’s next for you?

I am wrapping up final art for my second book with Viking called Animals Go Vroom!, which comes out next summer and combines animal sounds with transportation. It has die-cut peekaboo windows and challenges readers to guess what goes roar, hiss, and honk. I think kids will have a lot of fun yelling out the answers as they read along.

Thanks so much, Abi, for chatting with me and sharing so many pictures! This has been great fun. I wish you all the best with Soaked! and can’t wait to see Animals Go Vroom!

You can connect with Abi Cushman on

Her websiteInstagram | Twitter

You’ll also enjoy Abi’s two websites

Animal Fact Guide | My House Rabbit 

Pandemonium Day Activity

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Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head Craft

 

Looking for a rainy-day activity to keep the kids busy? Create this active picture that will wow kids even after the craft is done. Blue beads slide on thread making it look like it is actually raining

Supplies

  • Printable Umbrella Template
  • Picture of child pretending to hold umbrella
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Blue Beads
  • White thread, Yarn or Pipe Cleaners (pipe cleaners will work better for pre-school aged children)

Directions

  1. Print out Template
  2. Cut out picture of your child
  3. Tape picture under the umbrella
  4. Cut a small horizontal slit at the top about an inch down
  5. Cut another slit 3″ down
  6. Cut another 1/4″ down
  7. Cut another slit 3″ down
  8. Cut another 1/4″ down
  9. Cut another slit 3″ down
  10. Repeat slits about 2” over. Make about 10 slits total
  11. Tape string/thread/pipe cleaner to the back of picture
  12. Pull string/thread/pipe cleaner to the front
  13. Add a bead or two or three!
  14. Weave string to back through the next slit and then to front again
  15. Add another bead
  16. Repeat till you reach the bottom
  17. Tape string/thread/pipe cleaner to the back
  18. Repeat for the rest of the slits.
  19. Move the picture around and beads will mimic rain falling!

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You can find Soaked! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 13 – Go West Day

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About the Holiday

On this date in 1865, Horace Greeley, a writer and editor of the New-York Daily Tribune, is purported to have stated, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” He was, supposedly, reacting to the adverse living conditions he found in his own city and echoing the sentiments of many, who did pack up their family and all of their possessions and begin the long, arduous trek across the country to find a better life. Those intrepid souls expanded our nation, and the idea to “go west” is now synonymous with a certain determination, bravery, and sense of adventure.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Southwest Sunrise with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Southwest Sunrise

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Wendell Minor

 

Jayden mopes all the way from New York to New Mexico, upset about moving from his beloved city to “a place of shadows.” Shadows and drabness are all he sees when he gets off the plane. In the morning, though, he wakes up “to a knife of sunlight slicing through” his room. Here, his window doesn’t have bars, and the view is of a “mountain striped in rainbow.” Jayden is surprised; he didn’t know that was there.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A string of chili peppers brightens the kitchen. Jayden isn’t optimistic that he’ll see any other colors in his new desert surroundings. His mom gives him a field guide to New Mexico at breakfast, and as he pages through it he doesn’t really think he’ll find any of the colorful flowers inside. But then, as he looks around, he spies the burgundy wine-cup and yellow bells that “wake up the desert with their silent ring.” He finds more flowers from the book that add red and purple to the landscape.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jayden walks on, farther away from his new house. The unfamiliar silence is broken by “the mad chatter of winged gossips passing secrets” from one piñon tree to another. He watches the long-tailed magpies swoop through the “deep waves of turquoise overhead” and wonders why he never saw so much sky in New York. Still, he misses looking up and seeing the grandeur of the skyscrapers.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Looking down again, Jayden finds a striped lizard that seems happy to run along his hand, tickle his fingers. Instead of seashells, he finds bones and an abandoned turtle shell. “What stories do they have to tell?” he wonders. He continues his walk and, upon turning the corner, finds himself in the shadow of a different kind of skyscraper—rugged, red, and rocky. On the air, Jayden hears his mom calling. He picks some flowers the colors of sunset to take home to her. He waves as he nears the house and sees her standing on the porch and flashes her “the first smile she’s seen since New York.” He thinks that maybe New Mexico can be Home.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Nikki Grimes’ lyrical story is in plot a tale about moving from one part of the country to another, but in spirit it is a invitation for children and adults alike to open their heart to new experiences, to find the beauty in the unfamiliar and the joy in the unexpected. As Jayden journeys from New York to New Mexico and then around his new environment, Grimes explores honest emotions—the disappointment and anger change can bring, the preconceived ideas about the unknown that can color feelings and actions, and even that moment when a person can reject or accept the new circumstance or opportunity. As a poet, Grimes excels at the perfectly chosen detail and sublime description. Here, her words put readers in the spotlight of New Mexico’s laser sun, let them feel the skittering feet of a lizard, meet a haughty raven, and bask in the rainbow of colors Jayden never expected he’d see. His final smile and resolve to give his new city a chance fulfills the new dawning inherent in the title and is uplifting encouragement for all.

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Slouched down in his airplane seat, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Wendell Minor’s Jayden is a picture of despondency. But things begin to look brighter when, in the morning, he notices the mountains and colors he missed the night before. Minor’s sun-washed illustrations allow readers to discover the beauty of the New Mexico desert along with Jayden. His new home is light and open, with a timbered ceiling and windows free of the bars he’s used to. Minor’s use of perspective allows children to view sweeping vistas of the desert landscape as well as images of some of the creatures found there. Putting the raven front and center gives kids an idea of the size and attitude of this striking bird. Fiery reds and oranges, vivid yellows, pinks, and purples, and glorious blues punctuate the sandy backdrop as Jayden’s thoughtful expressions depict his growing appreciation for his new home.

An exquisite book for any child, whether they are moving to a new home, exploring new experiences, or keen observers of their surroundings, Southwest Sunrise would be a joyful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547600823

Discover more about Nikki Grimes  and her books as well as educator guides and resources on her website.

To learn more about Wendell Minor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Go West Day Activity

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Beautiful Desert Coloring Pages

 

The desert has plants, animals, and landmarks seen nowhere else. Grab your crayons or pencils and give these two printable scenes some of its unique color.

Curious Rabbit Desert Scene | Western Sun Desert Scene

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You can find Southwest Sunrise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 10 – Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day

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About the Holiday

The classic picture book The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, written by Jimmy Kennedy and illustrated by Michael Hague has inspired kids for more than two decades to pack a basket of treats, grab their favorite teddy bear, and find a sunny or shady spot to enjoy a picnic. Today’s holiday reminds kids and their families of this simple summer pleasure and encourages them to celebrate with a teddy bear picnic of their own. Today’s book—a sweet, updated take on the original—as well as the  accompanying activity kit will spark ideas for fun, friendship, kindness and a picnic any time of the year.

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know how they can hold their own Teddy Bear Picnics.

Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit below.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 9 – It’s Culinary Arts Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the culinary arts from salad to dessert and everything in between and the chefs, cooks, and bakers who create new dishes that keep us coming back for more. This month we also thank all the home chefs who prepare healthy meals for their families every day. To celebrate this year, help out your local restaurants or bakeries and order take out to enjoy with your family. While spending more time at home this summer, why not get the kids involved in making meals or special treats. Cooking together is a terrific way to make memories while making family favorites.

A Book for Escargot

Written by Dashka Slater | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

“Bonjour!” Escargot—that most adorable snail (he’ll tell you so himself)—is back! He can see that you’re reading and doesn’t want to disturb you, even though he knows that “It can be distracting to have a very beautiful French snail staring at you while you read.” In fact, Escargot is on his way through the library to check out a French cookbook right now. Along the way, he’d like to talk about all things literary. First, Escargot would like to know your favorite book. “Is it Goldytentacles and the Three Snails? Harry Gastropodder and the Chamber of Salads?” Or maybe it’s another snail classic.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Escargot loves books, but there’s one thing that is so sad it makes him cry. Go ahead—you can wipe the tears from his eyes with your sleeve. What is so sad? None of the books have a snail hero. All the books about snails that he’s seen “make a joke about slow snail or shy snail. I am not laughing at this joke,” he says.

Escargot thinks that you—yes you, the reader—can write a story about an extraordinary snail that has daring adventures. He’ll even help you with the first sentence and how to illustrate such a magnifique character. Of course, every good story hero needs a problem. Perhaps you, as a writer, think: but Escargot, “‘you are so handsome, suave, and smart. What problem could you possibly have?’” And yet, Escargot does have a problem. He is bored with salads. And so, he is off to find a new recipe.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

But not so fast. Every story worth its salt also needs an obstacle. And can there be any greater obstacle than Escargot looking down (far down) upon the object of his quest: The Art of French Cooking? To show what an intrepid snail he really is, Escargot sets his antennae to horizontal and leaps. He flies! Sort of.

At last the “resolution of the story” is at hand (so to speak). Escargot opens the cookbook ready to discover a new delicious recipe. But what is this?! This is not a recipe Escargot wants a chef to see. And he certainly doesn’t want that chef to see him. Can you help hide Escargot? As this only slightly rattled snail hides out, you can finish your story. Escargot even gives you an ending sentence that you can finish with a little panache.

Now, where is that French cookbook? Perhaps Escargot was hungrier than he thought. The pages are looking kind of chewed, and Escargot’s cheeks appear a little puffed. But it is all good, and just as in any delectable story—Escargot’s and yours—ends “with a kiss! Mwah!

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Like meeting up with a best friend after a long absence, Escargot and his second adventure will swell your heart. All the charm and endearing airs of Dashka Slater’s little French snail that made readers fall in love with him in Escargot still inspire his first-person monologue aimed directly at readers. Along the journey to finding a French cookbook, Escargot invites kids not only to write a story that has never been told before—the tale of a snail who overcomes the odds—or at least the odd obstacle—and becomes a hero—but to interact at certain points to help him out.

Slater’s clever takes on her audience’s favorite books will have kids giggling and retitling their own bookshelves while subtle allusions to the original story are enchanting and build giddy suspense for this book’s resolution. As a writing tool for teachers and homeschoolers, Escargot’s prompts and encouragement go a long way in helping children understand the basic structure of a story, how to use evocative vocabulary, and how to incorporate necessary elements. As Escargot once again comes out victorious, all readers will exclaim Oh là là! with a big Mwah!

Light, airy, and punctuated with the cutest snail around, Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are a joy. How magnifique it is to once again open the cover to those full-moon eyes, looong antennae, petite smile and very French shirt and scarf. Kids will love following Escargot’s silvery trail over snail bestsellers, through a palette of paint, and on to a pile of hilariously titled animal stories, which, much to Escargot’s disappointment, do not extend the superhero theme to snails. For future illustrators, Hanson demonstrates an easy way for kids to replicate Escargot and his escapade for their own stories. Each of Hanson’s pages is darling from Escargot’s flying feat of daring to his agility with the long-sought French cookbook to his solution to the unfortunate recipe.

Lovely and lovable through and through, A Book for Escargot will be a favorite. The book is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections. And on’t miss the original, Escargot. While each story stands alone, these two books go together like butter and…well…you know!

Ages 4 – 6

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020 | ISBN 978-0374312862

Discover more about Dashka Slater and her books on her website.

You can connect with Sydney Hanson on Instagram.

Enjoy this A Book for Escargot book trailer!

Culinary Arts Month Activity

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Super Snail Coloring Page

 

What do you think this snail is thinking about? Being brave? Fast? Creative? Magical?Make Escargot happy and write and illustrate a story about this super snail using the printable journal template and coloring page.

Super Snail Coloring Page | Journal Template

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You can find A Book for Escargot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

July 8 – Math 2.0 Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday dates back to 2009 and was established to show a little love for technology and math and how these two disciplines complement each other. The day was also conceived to bring together mathematicians, programmers, engineers, educators, and managers to raise awareness of the importance of math literacy at all levels of education. The combination of math and technology forms the foundation of most of the things we use every day, such as computers, phones, tablets and other electronics. Math and technology are also employed by scientists, researchers, manufacturers, and architects—who know just how to make a house cozy and inviting like the little home in today’s book.

Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story!

Written by JaNay Brown-Wood | Illustrated by Priscilla Burris

 

Grandma’s tiny blue house sits on a tidy little yard between two multi-story homes. The walls of Grandma’s tiny house are full of framed photographs of her family and even her pets. Today is a very special day, and “ONE grandma waits in her big easy chair, / while TWO turkeys send scrumptious smells through the air.” There’s a knock on the door, and Grandma opens it to find three neighbors carrying four pots of “hot greens and ham hocks galore.”

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Image copyright Priscilla Burris, 2017, text copyright JaNay Brown-Wood, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Before Grandma can close the door, five more friends stride up the walk, bringing six dozen biscuits and pear jam. Then “SEVEN cool uncles stroll up in a line, / with EIGHT jugs of lemonade, ice-cold and fine.” There are nine aunts and ten cheesecakes squeezed into the den, and all their kids are happy to be here again. “ELEVEN nephews join, slapping high fives / and fumbling TWELVE sweet-potato pies.”

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Image copyright Priscilla Burris, 2017, text copyright JaNay Brown-Wood, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Sure, there are girls too—thirteen, in fact, and they’ve brought a wagon of fourteen honeydew melons. But those are the big kids; who else has come running? Fifteen excited little ones are ready for Grandma’s hugs. When everyone’s inside “that’s when the walls bulge. There is no more space! / How will we all eat in this too-tiny place?”

But the tiniest girl has a big idea and whispers it into Grandma’s ear. The house may be small, but the “yard’s long and wide.” Her thought? “Why don’t we move our big dinner outside?” It’s the perfect solution, so everyone grabs a plate or a dish, the silverware, chairs, and tables and pour out the door. As evening approaches and the sun goes down, the family, friends and neighbors talk, eat, and play at Grandma’s tiny house.

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Image copyright Priscilla Burris, 2017, text copyright JaNay Brown-Wood, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

JaNay Brown-Wood’s joyful counting book adds up to a celebration of family and friends and offers a wonderful way to discuss math concepts, such as counting, amount, and spatial awareness, with little ones. Brown-Wood’s vivacious rhymes and dynamic vocabulary create a lively read-aloud that organically incorporates counting from one to fifteen into a larger story about the pleasures of boisterous gatherings and the love of extended families.

Priscilla Burris’s vibrant and animated illustrations will put a smile on little ones’ faces from the first page to the last. As the smiling Grandma gazes out the window of her tiny home, she’s not only waiting for her guests to arrive but is inviting readers to join in too. The two-page spread of family photos gives kids an inkling of the party to come, and as each laughing, talking, waving group arrives at Grandma’s, the excitement of the day—and the enticement to count, count, count—begins. Each of Burris’s many characters displays unique personality traits as they talk, sing, high-five, run, shout, and rejoice.

The people and objects to count are presented clearly, allowing children to easily find them. As the group gathers together inside the house and out in the yard, readers will no doubt want to count them all, letting them see addition at work. Each spread also offers a game of hide-and-seek with Grandma’s puppy and kitten.

Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story is the kind of picture book that will get kids excited about math and their own place within a family. It would make a wonderful gift and addition to home as well as classroom libraries.

Ages 2 – 5

Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017 | ISBN 978-1580897129

Discover more about JaNay Brown-Wood  and her books and find resources for adults on her website.

View a portfolio of illustrations, drawings, and books by Priscilla Burris on her website.

You’re all invited to Grandma’s Tiny House book trailer!

Math 2.0 Day Activity

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Totally Cool Mystery Phrase Math Puzzle

 

There’s no mystery to how fun math can be! Use the numerical clues in this printable Totally Cool Mystery Phrase Math Puzzle to discover a hidden message! Add the numbers under each line then use that number to find the corresponding letter of the alphabet. Write that letter in the space. Continue until the entire phrase is completed.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-grandma's-tiny-house-cover

You can find Grandma’s Tiny House at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review