January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

January 30 – It’s Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate all things creative! There are so many ways to be creative, from the arts to how you organize and manage your life at home and at work. Sometimes, special events, unusual problems, or particular people inspire—or necessitate—creative thinking. Today’s sweet story is one example! 

Mr. Goat’s Valentine

Written by Eve Bunting | Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer

 

When Mr. Goat read in the newspaper that it was Valentine’s Day, he jumped up, grabbed his phone and favorite hat, and headed out, determined to show his first love how much she meant to him. On the way he stopped off at Miss Nanny Goat’s weed stall and bought a “mixed bouquet” of “crabgrass, pigweeds, and ragweed” beautifully arranged in a “nice, rusty can.” Mr. Goat knew his first love liked ragweed salad, and Miss Nanny Goat assured him that she would like the can too. Mr. Goat agreed. There was nothing like a rusty can with a pinch of salt.

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The aroma from Mr. Pygmy-Little Goat’s stand enticed Mr. Goat to stop and look over his treats. The sample rotten egg looked so yummy—black and oozing on the plate—that Mr. Goat bought four. They have been “rotted for two years” and are “guaranteed foul and disgusting,” Mr. Pygmy-Little Goat boasted as he placed the four eggs carefully into a red, heart-shaped box and tied it up with a red ribbon. Not only would the eggs make the perfect dinner, the red bow would be a delicious dessert.

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mr. Goat walked on, passing up the fruit and vegetable stand with its fresh oranges, apples, and pears, but made time to talk to Miss Skunk when she approached him with her Eau de Skunk perfume cart. As she spritzed Mr. Goat with a sample of her special perfume, she reminded him that a Valentine’s card would be just right for his first love.

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mr. Goat continued on with just the faintest alluring reek and thought about what Miss Skunk had said. He didn’t have a card, but, he decided he could “‘compose a song and serenade her.’” It didn’t take long for Mr. Goat to write his ditty. He hurried on to his first love’s house. Standing at the door, he “burst into song. When I was a little kid / It didn’t matter what I did. / If I climbed too high and fell / You’d kiss the hurt and make it well. / You have loved me from the start / I love you with all my heart!”

Suddenly, the door opened, and Mr. Goat’s first love smiled at him. Mr. Goat handed her the bouquet and red box and exclaimed, “‘Happy Valentine’s Day, Mother!’”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Eve Bunting’s exceptional flair for engaging children is on full display in her funny, ewww-ful tribute to Valentine’s Day. The hearts of little ones swell with love around this holiday, and Bunting taps into their enthusiasm to get just the right gift for Mom. Readers will laugh at what might seem unusual gifts while also appreciating Mr. Goat’s thoughtfulness. Young children may wonder who Mr. Goat’s “first love” is as he shops from stall to stall, but as he makes up his song, most will figure it out and be happy to be in on the twist ending.

Kevin Zimmer’s cheery digital art showcases the sweet emotions that Mr. Goat has for his first love. His eyes grow wide at the delectable weed bouquet and rotten eggs, he contemplates the perfect words for his song, and smiles adorably when his mom opens the door. The less-than-fresh take on the idea of a Farmers Market will delight kids familiar with these types of stands. The other goats out shopping on this Valentine’s Day are equally as cute as Mr. Goat and provide camaraderie among this community that likes things a little bit rotten. As the door opens in the final spread, revealing Mr. Goat’s first love, children will be happy to know that the love between parent and child continues even when a “kid” is no longer a kid.

Mr. Goat’s Valentine is a sweet, original story for Valentine’s Day and throughout the year that is perfect for humorous home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585369447

Learn more about Kevin Zimmer and his art on his website.

Creativity Month Activity

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Entangled Hearts Matching Puzzle

 

These friends are collecting valentines! Can you help them follow the paths to find more in this printable puzzle?

Entangled Hearts Matching Puzzle

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You can find Mr. Goat’s Valentine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

EnPicture Book Review

January 29 – Curmudgeon’s Day

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About the Holiday

You know how gray days (literal and metaphorical) make you feel—grumpy, irritable, standoffish. Today is a day when it’s ok to indulge—and maybe even celebrate—those feelings. Remember, grouchiness can lead to change, so take control and do what you can to alleviate the situation. Whether you choose to stay home today and do nothing or get out there and make the best of it, have a happy Curmudgeon’s Day!

Grumpy Monkey

Written by Suzanne Lang | Illustrated by Max Lang

 

Jim Panzee woke up feeling pretty rotten. “The sun was too bright, the sky was too blue, and the bananas were too sweet.” Jim didn’t know why he was feeling this way. Norman the gorilla, Jim’s next-door neighbor, suggested that he might be grumpy. But Jim insisted that that wasn’t the problem. As the two walked along, they met Marabou, a long-legged bird. Norman explained that Jim was grumpy, but Jim denied it. Marabou pointed out that even Jim’s hunched posture showed his grumpiness. Jim wiggled his arms and shook his legs to prove how un-grumpy he was.

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Image copyright Max Lang, 2018, text copyright Suzanne Lang, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Next, they met Lemur, and Norman told him all about Jim’s grumpiness. Lemur couldn’t understand it, especially since it was “‘such a wonderful day.’” “‘Grumpy! Me? I’m not grumpy,’ said Jim.” Lemur said Jim’s grumpiness was obvious from the way he furrowed his eyebrows, so Jim raised them. They continued walking until Jim “tripped over Snake.” Norman gasped; this would only make Jim grumpier, he thought. Jim reminded Norman that he wasn’t grumpy in the first place. Snake wanted to know then, if that was true, why Jim was frowning. Jim obliged and put on a big smile.

Now Jim looked happy, but he still wasn’t happy. Everyone, it seemed, “wanted Jim to enjoy this wonderful day.” The birds wanted him to sing along with them, but Jim just scowled. The other monkeys wanted Jim to swing with them, but he just swatted their welcoming hands away. The zebras invited him to roll in the dust with them, and the peacocks wanted him to stroll along with them, but Jim didn’t feel like doing these things either.

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Image copyright Max Lang, 2018, text copyright Suzanne Lang, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Everyone had an idea on how to make Jim less grumpy, but Jim simply hunkered down and exploded: “‘I’M NOT GRUMPY!’ And he stormed off.” Jim felt bad for shouting at everyone, but he felt even worse for himself. He decided that maybe he was grumpy and he began to feel really sad. Just then, though, he saw Norman. “Norman was slumped. His eyebrows were bunched up, and he was frowning.” Jim asked him if he was grumpy.

It wasn’t that, Norman replied. He was sore from getting quills stuck in his behind while dancing with Porcupine. Jim asked him if he was okay, and Norman said, “‘It hurts but I’ll probably feel better soon enough.’” Then Norman asked Jim if he was still feeling grumpy. Norman admitted he was, but said, “‘I’ll probably feel better soon enough, too. For now, I need to be grumpy.’” The two friends agreed that it was a good day to be grumpy, which made them feel a little better already.

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Image copyright Max Lang, 2018, text copyright Suzanne Lang, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Suzanne Lang’s funny story belies an important truth about feelings for kids and adults: sometimes you just feel grumpy, and the best way to assuage it is to acknowledge the feeling, stew a bit, and let happiness return. Well-meaning Norman is a true friend who, after trying to cheer Jim up and suffering his own grumpiness-inducing mishap, comes to understand that like physical pain, sadness takes time to heal too. Readers will laugh at Jim’s attempts to embrace his friends’ suggestions while understanding that these surface “fixes” don’t get to the root of what’s bothering Jim. Children will also giggle at Norman’s sticky situation but show him plenty of empathy too. The pair’s final camaraderie is heartwarming.

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Image copyright Max Lang, 2018, text copyright Suzanne Lang, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Max Lang’s lush illustrations overflow with style and humor that kids will love. Little Jim with his surly glower tries to make his friends happy, but readers will recognize his half-hearted attempts—from wiggling his arms to raising his eyebrows to forcing a smile—as things they’ve probably done themselves. As more and more of Jim’s friends get in on the act, their cartoony expressions will make kids laugh. When Jim just can’t take it anymore and beats his chest while shouting, both children and adults will have a chuckle over how spot-on this portrayal is. The quiet companionship between Norman and Jim that follows is a welcome image of acceptance.

A book that offers a humorous way for kids and adults to talk about not only sadness but other emotions that can sometimes overwhelm, Grumpy Monkey is an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-0553537864

To learn more about Max Lang, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Curmudgeon’s Day Activity

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How Do You Feel? Emotions Storytelling Bear

 

With this Emotions Storytelling Bear, you and your child can talk about different emotions and feelings while changing the expressions on the bear’s face. Use the templates and/or make your own facial features. You can also use the bear to make up stories or play a game.

Supplies

  • Printable Bear Head Template
  • Printable Eyes and Noses Template
  • Printable Eyebrows  and Ears Template
  • Light brown felt or fleece (or color of your choice), 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Dark brown felt or fleece(or color of your choice), 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • White felt or fleece, 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Black felt or fleece, for pupils
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • 1 playing die (optional)

Directions

  1. Print templates
  2. Cut bear head from light felt or fleece
  3. Cut eyes from white felt or fleece
  4. Cut nose and inner ears from dark brown felt or fleece
  5. Cut pupils from black felt or fleece
  6. Glue pupils onto white eyes

Alternatively: Color and play with the paper set

For a Fun Story Time

Give the bear different faces and make up stories of why he looks that way!

To Play a Game

Roll the die to collect parts of the bear’s face. The first player to collect all of the bear’s facial features is the winner.

  • Die dots correspond to:
  • 1—one eyebrow
  • 2—second eyebrow
  • 3—one eye
  • 4—second eye
  • 5—nose
  • 6—inner ears

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You can find Grumpy Monkey at these book sellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 26 – National Seed Swap Day

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About the Holiday

If you love to garden, you may want to get involved with National Seed Swap Day! The first Seed Swap Day was held in Washington DC in 2006. Since then it has grown to be a nation-wide event as gardeners get together to trade the seeds from their best plants. Not only does this improve the biodiversity in your local area, it’s a great way to make new friends! To learn more about what events are planned in your area, visit the official National Seed Swap blog.

The Bad Seed

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Pete Oswald

 

A sunflower seed stares straight off the page and admits it: “I’m a bad seed. A baaaaaaaad seed.” He knows that all the other seeds would agree. They point him out and mumble, “There goes a baaaad seed.” You might wonder just how bad a seed he can be. Well…pretty bad. In fact, he’ll tell you himself. Are you ready? Take a listen: “I never put things back where they belong. I’m late to everything. I tell long jokes with no punchlines.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Heard enough? Still think this seed may not be so bad? Well, what if you knew he was unhygienic, a little untruthful, and sometimes a lot inconsiderate. Why does he do this stuff? You know why: he’s “a bad seed. A baaaad seed.” You might ponder if he was always this way. The answer’s No. In fact, he “was born a humble seed on a simple sunflower in an unremarkable field.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

He just hung out with his big family of seeds until the flower began to droop, the seeds scattered, and then…he found himself in a bag. In a terrifying moment, he was almost eaten by a giant with a big, scary mouth, but he was “spit out at the last possible second.” He landed under some bleachers, and when he woke up he found his life changed forever. He had “become a different seed entirely.” He’d “become a bad seed.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

He was in unknown territory, and all by himself. He’s happy to share the sad details: “I stopped smiling. I kept to myself. I drifted. I was friend to nobody and bad to everybody. I was lost on purpose. I lived inside a soda can. I didn’t care. And it suited me.” That is it did suit him until recently. This seed did some soul searching, and decided to be better.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

So now he still does some of that bad stuff (did you hear someone talking during a movie? That was probably him), but he does some good stuff too—like having good manners and smiling at people. Now, he says, “even though I still feel bad, sometimes, I also feel kind of good. It’s sort of a mix.” He’s just going to keep trying, and thinking, and readjusting his behavior and view of himself. Now when he’s walking down the street, he still hears, “There goes that bad seed.” But he also hears, “Actually, he’s not all that bad anymore.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Jory John’s sly look at bad behavior is a sophisticated psychological thriller for the youngest set. With a light touch, John explores some of the events that can cause sadness, loneliness, and even personality changes. As the once-happy seed loses his home, scatters from family, and ends up a bit bruised and battered, he sees his once sunny life turn dark.

With a hardened heart, he goes about his days, acting badly and letting the comments of others define him. To his credit, however, this seed has the presence of mind—and enough honesty—to recognize his bad behavior and also to know that only he can change it. The niceties that the seed foregoes will have kids and adults laughing out loud as his reputation seems more roguish than the reality. And the authentic ending holds a reassuring kernel of truth—life is a bit of a mix, but happiness often wins out.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Looking at Pete Oswald’s adorable illustrations, it’s understandable if you don’t quite believe the sunflower seed when he says he’s a baaaad seed. Sure, he scowls and furrows his brow, butts in line, and gets a bit stinky, but underneath that hard shell, lies the heart of a softie. The other seeds in the neighborhood—pistachios, peanuts, almonds, chestnuts, cashews, and more—are fed up with him, though, registering fear, dismay, and even anger over the sunflower’s behavior. When the sunflower seed has a change of heart, however, others take note, and he gets another crack at life.

The Bad Seed is a funny book that kids will love to hear again and again. It also provides many teachable moments for those times when life gets a little discouraging. If you’re looking for an original book that has a bit of everything to add to a home, classroom, or public library, The Bad Seed is a good—no, great—choice.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2017 | ISBN 978-0062467768

Discover more about Jory John and his books on his website

Learn more about Pete Oswalk and view a portfolio of his artwork on his tumblr.

How good is this The Bad Seed book trailer? Take a look!

National Seed Swap Day Activity

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Seed Packet Coloring Pages

 

All of your favorite veggies come from seeds, of course!, and those seeds come in packets that are little bits of art. Grab your crayons or pencils and color these printable Seed Packet Coloring Pages.

Carrots Seed Packet | Peas Seed Packet | Broccoli Seed Packet | Corn Seed Packet

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You can find The Bad Seed at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 25 – National Florida Day and Interview with Author B. J. Lee

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About the Holiday

Today, we recognize Florida—the 27th state to enter the Union. Did you know that Florida is home to the oldest established city in the country? Founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, St. Augustine remains a fascinating city that combines an intriguing history of religious settlements, pirate treasure hunters, and a tug of war over ownership among Britain, Spain, and France with the modern beauty of a thriving community. Of course, Florida is well-known as an international tourist destination for its theme parks, wide open beaches, and warm weather. The state is also home to animals, insects, and reptiles unseen in the rest of the United States—a fact that today’s book riffs on.

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Written by B.J. Lee | Illustrated by David Opie

 

“There was an old gator who swallowed a moth. I don’t know why he swallowed the moth. It made him cough.” And with this culinary choice, readers are off on a wild jaunt full of suspense, humor, and big, sharp teeth. To catch that moth, the gator gobbled down a crab, but that scuttling bugger just filled his tummy with pain. To “nab the crab” the gator decided to “swallow an eel. / Quite an ordeal to swallow an eel!”

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Image copyright David Opie, 2019, text copyright B.J. Lee, 2019. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

But the eel didn’t help, and the cough persisted. What could the old gator do? He swallowed creature after creature to resolve a cascading number of problems until “he swallowed a manatee.” It was clear “he lost his sanity to swallow a manatee!” Because now that old gator’s stomach was getting pretty cramped. There wasn’t a lot of nabbing or catching going on in there, and there was still that moth to take care of. The distressed gator then spied just the enforcer that might get the job done and gulped it down too.

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Image copyright David Opie, 2019, text copyright B.J. Lee, 2019. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

After such a big meal, the gator needed a bit of a drink, and the lagoon looked so refreshing! Just then, when that old gator was fully…well…full, that pesky moth fluttered its wings and made the poor guy “cough! Cough! Cough!” And what did that one little last cough do? Well, let’s just say the story has a splashing…I mean smashing…ending!

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Image copyright David Opie, 2019, text copyright B.J. Lee, 2019. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

B.J. Lee gives the favorite cumulative rhyming There Was an Old Lady story a reptilian remodeling that kids will find irresistible as the old gator guzzles down a host of Florida denizens with hilarious results. Lee, an award-winning poet, has an engaging way with words and phrasing that creates surprising rhymes and rib-tickling rhythms. Clever alliteration and action-packed verbs move the story along at a clip that mirrors an alligator’s voracious appetite and will keep young readers on the edge of their seat to see which animal becomes the gator’s next snack. Kids may even enjoy trying to come up with their own rhyming line to add to the story.

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David Opie’s illustrations of the anguished alligator and his unsuspecting “remedies” are a hoot. Opie accomplishes just the right combination of suspense and humor with his juxtaposition between realistic depictions of the coastal animals and gut-busting portrayals of these creatures crammed into the gator’s belly. As the gator grows rounder and rounder, readers will be wondering how it will all end. The final spreads of the tormented gator are sure to elicit an “Oh!” or “Ew!” or two and plenty of guffaws.

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth is a fun and funny choice for story time, and its comical repetition will prompt enthusiastic read-alongs. The book would be a sunny choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 and up

Pelican Publishing Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-1455624416

Discover more about B.J. Lee, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about David Opie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Author B. J. Lee

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Thank you, Kathryn, for having me on your blog! There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth is getting a lot of love and I appreciate that! I also appreciate that you asked me about my poetry since, even in my picture books, I try to incorporate some aspect of poetry, such as lyrical language, rhyme and, in the case of Gator, cumulative rhyme.

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth is your debut picture book. What drew you to creating a Florida-themed version of this well-known classic?

It wasn’t so much that I set out to write a Florida themed version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, it was more that I had a gator character in mind and he pretty much chose this classical structure.

Have you always loved to write? When did you publish your first poem? Can you tell readers a bit about your journey to becoming a published writer?

Yes, I have always enjoyed writing. My sixth-grade teacher encouraged me to write plays! But I didn’t really realize I was a writer until, as an adult, I started writing a novel, which I never finished because my health intervened. In 2006 I had a shoulder operation which left me with severe bicep tendinitis, and for two years I couldn’t write, couldn’t even hold a pencil. My husband said “Write something shorter. Write poetry.”  But I didn’t know how to write poetry. He had planted something in my mind, though. I started studying poetry and then began to write it. My first poem was published in the SCBWI Bulletin in 2010. And so, I became a poet quite by accident. In a way I’m almost grateful for the bicep tendinitis, because I would not have become a poet without that hiccup in my journey. And I’ve picked up the novel again, resurrecting it as a verse novel.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw that you worked as a librarian at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and play the piano since your poetry has such a musical quality to it. Did you ever consider becoming a musician or songwriter? How does your musical background influence your poetry?

Thank you for saying that my poetry has a musical quality. I have heard that before but I am unaware of trying to incorporate any musicality into my poetry. I am a pianist, jazz singer, and even enjoyed a brief stint as lead singer in a local rock ‘n’ roll band. Recently, I have written some songs for a current work in progress in which the main character is a singer-songwriter.

What is your favorite form of poetry to write and why? Do you write poetry for adults as well as children? What do you find satisfying about both?

I enjoy writing many forms of poetry but I guess I like the challenge of writing in repeating forms, such as the villanelle, the triolet, the pantoum and the roundel. I blog at Today’s Little Ditty, where I am an authority on poetic forms. 

However, I am continually challenging myself to write new forms of poetry, like free verse and performance poetry such as rap. I have written poetry for adults; however, since I am a children’s author, I try to stick with children’s poetry, including work for very young children through young adult and have over 100 poems published in anthologies and magazines.

The breadth of subjects you’ve written about—from sea glass to termites to naughty poodles and so many more—is truly inspiring! Can you talk about how and why certain subjects spark your creativity and how you follow that to a completed poem?

As far as subject matter, I’m very interested in the natural world and animals, so those subjects often show up in my work. Sometimes I write to prompts from anthologists. Once I have a subject that begs a poem, I simply try to find the best form to present it. Sometimes the poem may not work at all, and I’ll have to select a new form. Sometimes poems just start in my head and I have to be very quick to capture them.

Your poetry appears in children’s magazines, including Highlights and Spider, in publications for schools and many others, and in anthologies such as those published by National Geographic and Wordsong. Do you ever hear from young readers about your work? Do you have an anecdote from a letter or reading event that you’d like to share?

Yes, I do hear from young readers, which is very gratifying. In one case a Vietnamese teacher contacted me telling me that her phonics students are using my poem, A Garden Prayer, to learn English. That was when I realized that my poetry has gone around the world.

In another case, a woman contacted me from St. John’s, Nova Scotia, to ask me if they could use my poem, Moored, on a sculpture in Bannerman Park for a woman who died at a young age and who had always loved sailing. Of course I said yes! The proposed sculptor is Luben Boikov.

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I’ve read some of your very clever poems that have been finalists—and winners!—in the Think, Kid, Think! Madness Poetry Tournament held in April on thinkkidthink.com. Can you talk a little about the tournament and being an authlete?

Yes, the Think Kids Think March Madness poetry tournament is a wonderful event for children’s poets. I loved being an authlete and competing but it’s very difficult to write a quality poem in a short amount of time. It was like pulling college all-nighters!

Do you have any advice for aspiring poets—children or adults?

My advice for aspiring poets, both children and adults, is: find the metaphor.

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently writing a verse novel as well as picture books and poetry collections.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day because: love.

Can you talk about one of your poems that incorporates a holiday theme?

I’ve written a few holiday poems including “Groundhognostication,” which appears in National Geographic’s Poetry of US.

Thanks for this wonderful chat, B.J.! I’ve loved learning more about your poetry and other work. I wish you all the best with There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth!

You can connect with B.J. Lee on:

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Florida Day Activity

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Fabulous Florida! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the names of twenty mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects in this printable puzzle.

Fabulous Florida! Word Search Puzzle | Fabulous Florida! Word Search Puzzle Solution

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You can find There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

 

January 24 – National Compliment Day

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About the Holiday

Getting a compliment can make the world seem brighter. Maybe this is what inspired New Hampshire residents Kathy Chamberlin and Debby Hoffman to create National Compliment Day in 1998. How to celebrate today’s holiday is simple. Take a look around and when you see something about someone that you like, tell them! Does your friend’s sense of humor always lift your spirit? Tell them! Did your employee do a great job today? Tell them! Are your kids the light of your life? Tell them why! You don’t have to limit your compliments to friends and family either. Giving a compliment to someone you don’t know may just make a big difference in their day. So, today, be generous with those nice comments!

Giraffe Problems

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Lane Smith

 

Giraffe was self-conscious about his neck—and why not? After all, it just seemed “too long. Too bendy. Too narrow. Too dopey” and “too” so many other things. All-in-all, he summed it up this way: “Yes, my neck is too necky.” Giraffe could feel everyone staring at it. He’d tried “dressing it up,” and hiding, but nothing made it better.

No other animals had such a ridiculous neck. Zebra’s was stylishly striped; Elephant’s was “strong and powerful, yet graceful”; and Lion’s was “adorned with a glorious mane of flowing locks.” Even the reassurances Giraffe’s mom gave didn’t make him feel better. In despair, Giraffe laid his long neck on a rock and sighed. But the rock turned out to be a turtle shell—with a turtle inside.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2018, text copyright Jory John, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

What luck! Turtle had been watching Giraffe from afar and thought his neck was pretty spiffy. Turtle said, “Oh, how I wish my neck looked like yours! I’d get so much done in a day.” He longed to be able to look around properly and grab things that were high up. But instead Turtle was “saddled with this little excuse for a neck.” Turtle even demonstrated how far his neck could reach—which was not far at all.

Giraffe was nonplussed to find another neck sufferer. But they were happy to have found each other. Turtle introduced himself as Cyrus, and Giraffe said his name was Edward. In this spirit of camaraderie, Cyrus confessed a secret. “There is a hill in the distance, which you can surely see from your great vantage. I’ve stood on that very hill for seven straight days now staring skyward, watching as a single piece of fruit—a lone banana!—slowly changed from green to yellow, ripening.” Cyrus’s frustration poured forth as he explained how he’d spent sleepless nights waiting for the fruit to drop so he could taste just a bit of it. Then came the disappointment and self-recrimination as he revealed how foolish he felt as he stretched his “neck toward those greedy branches, only to be limited by my own physical shortcomings.” He topped off this soliloquy with a small smile.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2018, text copyright Jory John, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Edward summed it up, just to be sure. “You want a banana from a tree.” That is indeed what Cyrus wanted. Easy as one, two, three, Edward plucked the banana from its branch and dropped it in front of Cyrus. Cyrus gobbled it up and declared it delicious. In thanks, Cyrus complimented Edward on his “impressive” neck that allows him “to do amazing things.” In return, Edward complimented Cyrus’s neck, saying “it’s elegant and dignified, and it works well with your shell. They each appreciated the other’s viewpoint then Edward had a suggestion for his new friend. Soon, each was smiling and complimenting the other on how they looked in their handsome bowties. And for the first time ever, both Edward and Cyrus felt good about their necks.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2018, text copyright Jory John, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Who knew animals have the same insecurities as people? Jory John, that’s who—much to readers’ benefit! John’s completely original story about a giraffe and a turtle who both despair about the state of their necks will make readers laugh out loud even as they empathize with these two endearing characters. Edward’s flowery reveries comparing his own imperfect neck to those of his fellow animals and Cyrus’s burst of vexation at the limits of his neck are hilarious—and, really, who doesn’t feel this vociferous sometimes? Following this, the friendship forged by Edward’s ease at fulfilling Cyrus’s simple request provides a satisfying ending that’s all the more charming for its modest honesty—and bowties.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2018, text copyright Jory John, 2018. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

When Jory John and Lane Smith team up, you always know you’ll be opening the cover to an exceptional experience. Here, sweet Edward juts onto pages with a neck so long that often only his head and neck, or body and neck, or just his neck appear. His attempts at disguising his most noticeable feature under neckties, behind palm trees, and in other natural surroundings will only make readers love him more. Edward is a born storyteller with a beautifully inlaid shell and an expressive face that makes his confession all the more touching. Alert readers will notice that the supposedly gawking animals all have their own unique features and perhaps are as self-conscious as Edward is. The muted and mottled browns, greens, reds, and golds that color the textured images are perfectly suited for the natural environment, and a gatefold page that flips up to let Edward procure the banana will delight kids.

Giraffe Problems is a must for fun story times as well as for when a child (or adult) needs a bit of a boost. The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and library bookshelves. And if you’re looking for more adorable animals with problems, check out Jory John and Lane Smith’s Penguin Problems!

Ages 3 – 7

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1524772031

Discover more about Jory John and his books on his website.

To learn more about Lane Smith, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Compliment Day Activity

Caring Compliment Cards

 

Sharing a compliment is a great way to brighten someone’s day and make new friends! With these printable cards, you’ll always have a sweet compliment at hand to give to a friend, a teacher, a librarian, or anyone who looks as if they need encouragement.

Compliment Cards 1 | Compliment Cards 2

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You can find Giraffe Problems at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 23 – National Reading Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrated in schools across the country, National Reading Day was established to encourage students in PreK through 3rd grade to develop a love of reading, which is the basis for becoming a lifelong learner. Schools, libraries, organizations, bookstores, and parents provide activities to connect young readers with books they’ll love.

Sterling Children’s Books sent me a copy of Mirabel’s Missing Valentines to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines

Written by Janet Lawler | Illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller

 

Mirabel had always been very shy, and as Valentine’s Day approached she was nervous about giving cards away at school. Still, “despite her nerves, the night before, she crafted works of art.” When she was finished, she signed them and drew a heart. In the morning, though, she was reluctant to go to school. Finally, though she left the house and ran to school. In her hurry, she didn’t notice that her bag was getting lighter and lighter.

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Image copyright Olivia Chin Mueller, 2018, text copyright Janet Lawler, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Mirabel rushed past a lonely lady who was checking her mailbox—and then checking it again just in case. But as Mirabel hurried down the road, the lady turned and saw a valentine lying next to her. “She smiled and thought, How nice!” As she turned a corner, “construction workers sweating / as they dug around a pole / laughed to find a sweet surprise / half-buried in the hole.”

A baby found a valentine that had floated into their stroller, and for a jogger who’d just stepped in gun, the sparkly card on the ground made her day better. Others, too, found valentines that made them smile. Suddenly, though, the neighbors all heard a cry: “‘I’ve lost my valentines!’” Mirabel had discovered a hole in her bag and that all of her cards were gone. Everyone realized what had happened. They rushed to find Mirabel and return the valentines. “‘Your cards have made us smile! / Thanks for sharing them with us, / if only for a while,’” they told her.

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Image copyright Olivia Chin Mueller, 2018, text copyright Janet Lawler, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Seeing all of their happy faces cheered Mirabel and made her feel braver. She waved goodbye to her new friends and followed the other students into school. Later, she joined in her class party and was excited to share the valentines she’d made. On the way home from school, Mirabel didn’t notice the jogger, dad, construction workers, and others slip valentines into her bag as she passed by. But when she got home, she discovered that her bag was overflowing with love.

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Image copyright Olivia Chin Mueller, 2018, text copyright Janet Lawler, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Janet Lawler’s endearing story of a little mouse who is nervous about Valentine’s Day will resonate with little ones and adult readers as well. Sharing one’s feelings and talents—as Mirabel does with her homemade cards—can be daunting, but Lawler shows that friendship shared is often returned in kind. Little ones will find much to admire in Mirabel’s bravery to go to school even though she is apprehensive about what the day will bring. The reminder that children occupy a special place in the heart of many people, including family, friends, teachers, librarians, and others that they interact with, will cheer them and inspire them to reach out and accept the love offered on Valentine’s Day and every other day.

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Image copyright Olivia Chin Mueller, 2018, text copyright Janet Lawler, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Olivia Chin Mueller’s Mirabel is an adorable friend for little readers. As she cowers under a blanket, contemplating going to school, kids will send her encouraging thoughts and be happy to see her change her mind and hurry along to join her classmates. As the valentines begin to fly out of Mirabel’s bag, readers will wonder who will find each card and will look forward to each page turn. The smiles on the faces of those treated to the surprise gift are heartening as readers see what a positive impact little Mirabel has on those around her. As Mirabel hands out her valentines to her classmates, hearts abound, demonstrating along with the students’ smiles and surprised expressions the warm feelings of friendship that are contained not only in each unique card but in Mirabel’s kind spirit. The final image of Mirabel clasping her bag full of valentines is endearing.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454927396

Discover more about Janet Lawler and her books on her website.

To learn more about Olivia Chin Mueller, her books, and her art on her website.

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Mirabel’s Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler | illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, January 23 – 29. Already a follower? Thanks! Just Retweet for a chance to win. 

A winner will be chosen on January 30.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

National Reading Day Activity

cpb - monster love maze

Monster Love! Maze

 

Help the love monster gobble up all the Valentine’s Day candy snacks in this printable maze!

Monster Love! Maze | Monster Love Maze Solution

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You can find Mirabele’s Missing Valentines at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review