April 30 – It’s Jazz Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

Jazz Appreciation Month got its start at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2001. The aim was to celebrate and educate people on the history of and continuing love for jazz. The holiday encourages people of all ages to become familiar with jazz music and the musicians of the past who created this original sound and those today who keep innovating jazz for new audiences. This year’s theme is “jazz beyond borders” and looks at the “dynamic ways jazz can unite people across the culture and geography.” In connection with this initiative, the Smithsonian Masterworks Orchestra will travel to cities in North America, Europe, and Asia as a way to use music to open dialogue about “diversity, identity, diplomacy, and innovation.” To celebrate jazz not only this month but anytime, attend a concert, listen to recordings, and read up on your favorite musicians or a new one. And don’t forget to share your love of jazz with your kids! A great place to start is with today’s book!

Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

 

As a child, Miles Davis listens to the radio before school, clapping and swaying along to “Louis Armstrong’s soaring trumpet” and “Duke Ellington’s sensational big band.” The “swinging sounds of jazz / swirl together like / colors on a pinwheel.” When he’s older, Miles watches the riverboats on the Mississippi as they bring musicians from New Orleans to play in the East St. Louis clubs. At night he listens as “melodies drift down the street. / Some croon country, / some cry the blues. / Sassy saxophones wail / through the night.”

During the summer, Miles visits his grandfather’s farm in Arkansas. Here, he hears the music of horses’ hooves. On his walks through town, he listens to the sounds of guitars and singing, and at church he learns the notes of “soulful singing.” For his thirteenth birthday, Miles receives a trumpet. He takes lessons and practices again and again.

While he’s still in high school, Miles begins being paid to play at dance halls. His confidence grows and he begins to develop his own sound. A new form of jazz is attracting attention—Bebop: “far-out harmonies / with fast, flipping beats / that hop and bop.” He goes to clubsto listen to Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play. He’s “blown away / by the energy of the music.”

Then one night, one of the band members doesn’t show up, and Miles—who always has his trumpet with him—is asked to fill the spot. In awe and a little intimidated in the presence of his idols, Miles’ playing “doesn’t shine.” But he knows that “jazz / is all he wants to play.” Miles moves to New York to go to school at Juilliard, but, really, to learn from Bird, Dizzy, and all of his idols. In the morning he goes to class, practicing between classes. At night he plays clubs throughout the city.

Soon, he leaves Juilliard to concentrate on playing and learning from the greats. His father advises him: “Don’t be like the mockingbird / that copies others. / Be your own man. / Be your own sound.” When Dizzy leaves Bird’s band, Miles takes his place. But he plays differently than Dizzy. “Some listeners put him down— / they want Dizzy’s rippling trumpet.” The criticism make Miles lose confidence and want to quit. But Bird encourages him.

With practice and patience, he discovers his own sound, holding and savoring perfect notes “just for the beauty of it.” He forms his own group with talented musicians who want to create new sounds. The nine musicians play “slowly and mysteriously…. Cool— / relaxed, / with a lighter, / lyrical feel.” Mile’s solos enchant audiences.

But the endless work takes its toll. He begins to lose gigs; his health declines. Miles doesn’t give up. “He climbs out / of his dark days / by playing his horn again.” Then in 1955 he takes the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival and begins to play. “…His mystical voice hangs / like a cloud, / leaving space / for each listener’s / imagination to wander.” The crowd cheers and applauds. Miles is back with his unmistakable sound and new ideas for the future of the music he loves.

Notes about Miles Davis from Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Cornell Berman, and Keith Henry Brown as well as a selected discography and bibliography follow the text.

Kathleen Cornell Berman’s lyrical passages reveal a boy, a teenager, and a man who embodied music, listening to and absorbing the various sounds around him and incorporating them into his own, unique sound. Her evocative vocabulary (swirl, rollicking, croon, rumbling, far-out, rippling, blizzard of notes, itching to play) and phrasing that blends short staccato lines with longer sentences echoes the rhythm of jazz and will keep readers riveted to the story. Berman emphasizes the listening, practice, and experimentation that informed Miles Davis’s original sound, showing children that innovation is built on hard work, dedication, and even history. Her inclusion of Davis’s setbacks also demonstrates that perseverance is part of the success of any endeavor.

Keith Henry Brown’s gorgeous, detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations take readers from Miles Davis’s living room, where he listens to the radio as images of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington swirl through his imagination, to an overlook on the Mississippi River and its paddlewheel steam ships to the clubs and jam sessions of New York and finally, to the Newport Jazz Festival. Brown’s color palette of cool blues, greens, purples, and browns, punctuated with Davis’s ever-present gleaming brass trumpet, brings Davis’s country and city experiences to life while mirroring the tone and feel of his unique sound. Quotes from Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout the story and set apart with type that looks handwritten, giving his words a personal touch.

Sure to inspire readers to learn more about Miles Davis and listen to his music, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound would be an excellent accompaniment to school music programs, an inspiring book for biography lovers and young musicians of all types, and a beautiful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

Discover more about Kathleen Cornell Berman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Keith Henry Brown, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Kathleen Cornell Berman

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In your author’s bio you say that you fell in love with Mile’s Davis’ music when you were 10 years old. Was there a particular spark that made you love his music?

As a kid I loved all kinds of music. When I first heard Miles’ trumpet sound, I fell in love. His trumpet sound was different. It wasn’t flashy, it was slow, haunting and very beautiful. I longed to hear it again.

Can you take readers on your journey of writing Birth of the Cool and having it published? What kind of research did you do? What was the most surprising thing you learned about Miles Davis?

I was thrilled when I got the email from Charlotte Wenger from Page Street. It’s beyond exciting when you find someone who loves your story as much as you do. And Charlotte was a dream editor to work with.

I read Miles’ autobiography and many other books about him, as well as journal and magazine articles. I listened to countless interviews and researched players in his band. And I listened to his music a lot. He went through many changes in his musical career. I realized I had to keep my focus on his early career. 

I was surprised to learn he had slave ancestors who played music in the main house on a plantation. It was interesting to discover that Miles loved rural life (from his visits to his relatives’ farms). When he first moved to NYC, he visited the stables and asked to ride their horses. He had fond memories of riding them on his grandfather’s farm.

Keith Henry Brown’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and full of expression. Can you talk about your reaction to seeing the illustrations for the first time. Do you have a favorite spread?  

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Kathleen Cornell Berman and Keith Henry Brown at the book launch for Birth of the Cool and the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

My first reaction to Keith’s illustrations was like an “out of the body” experience. To see my words come to life was a wonderful feeling. His art illuminated Miles’ journey in a jazz inspired way. I was very happy when he accepted the job. I already knew he was a jazz fan, so he was a good choice.

Keith’s goal was to create drawings that weren’t too tight or realistic. He wanted to create a loose, abstract feeling. I think Keith achieved that beautifully. Kudos to his courage in creating illustrations in watercolor, a very unpredictable medium. It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite illustration, I really love them all.

Your inspirational biography highlights the ups—and downs—of Miles Davis’ early career. What message would you like readers to take away from the story?

Miles is a great example of how hard work pays off. Some kids today think it’s easy to play an instrument. For some it might be, but inventing your own sound, is extremely difficult. It takes perseverance and dedication to create your own voice on the instrument. That goes for anything you attempt, whether you become an architect, a visual artist, writer, or a singer. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t allow individuality, but finding something, anything that you’re good at can boost happiness.

I hope this story inspires kids to reach for the stars, to find their own voice, and never give up. I also hope kids will take time to listen to jazz; it’s America’s classical music. Listening to music has so many benefits, intellectually as well as emotionally.

I saw on your website that you like to collect words. Can you tell me five of your favorites and what you love about them? Do you remember where they first caught your eye—or ear?

I’m usually attracted to words that tickle the tongue and have a unique sound, like mesmerizing, prickly, crumpled, nuzzle, etc. There are so many. I love alliteration. When words are paired with another, they sing and make the text come alive. I usually have my wordbook at my side as I read any kind of book. I also use my phone memo to jot words as I hear them in daily life.  

Besides writing, you paint, and create assemblages from found objects. Your sculptures are gorgeous and fun and have so much personality! Which came first—writing or art? When creating an assemblage, do you start with one object or do you see how several of the materials you have can fit together?

Thank you very much. Creating found art sculptures is like therapy. I’ve always been into creating something out of ordinary things. The art and writing coincided with a strong desire to break out of the box of being a teacher.

I collect a lot of wood as well as words. When I find a piece that inspires me, I visualize what it might become and I begin the search for a complimentary piece. It’s kind of like doing puzzles.

Is there a similarity for you in constructing a sculpture and creating text for a picture book?

Yes, there is. I look for a seed of an idea that touches my senses or emotions. And in art I choose a piece of wood that inspires me visually. Then it all comes down to layering and adding details that make the story or art shine in a new way. Finally, adding the “just right” color or details can be compared to the continual revisions to discover perfect words that fit my story.

Birth of the Cool is your debut picture book. What are you looking forward to most as a picture book author?

Reading the book to children and getting them to reflect about their feelings. And, of course, introducing them to jazz.

I love writing picture book biographies. I also enjoy writing books that will amuse kids, as well challenge their thoughts about nature.

What’s up next for you?

I have a new picture book bio about another musician that I just started submitting. And I’ve started research on another interesting, relatively unknown musician that had a big impact on many.                                  

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love the traditions and the history. Holidays are so important in bringing busy families together. As a former teacher,             Thanksgiving gave me the opportunity to discuss the importance of the Native American people. They taught us so much. At the Thanksgiving table, we as a family celebrate the Native American contributions to our country. I wish more people did the same.

You can connect with Kathleen Cornell Berman on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Jazz Appreciation Month Activity

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Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle

 

Jazz has a sound and vocabulary all it’s own! Can you find the twenty jazz-related words in this printable puzzle? Then have fun coloring it!

Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle | Cool Jazz! Word Search Solution

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You can find Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 28 – National Superhero Day

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About the Holiday

Perhaps it’s fitting that the final Avengers movie hit the big screen the same weekend that we celebrate National Superhero Day since the founders of the day were Marvel employees, In 1995 they designated April 28 as a day to honor the real-life heroes who serve and protect. If you have some human superheroes in your life, take time today to tell them how much you appreciate them. It’s also a perfect day to settle in with some comic books or movies and defeat those bad guys!

Even Superheroes Make Mistakes

Written by Shelly Becker | Illustrated by Eda Kaban

 

It may seem that superheroes always make the perfect moves, are in just the right place, or have the exact power needed to take down the bad guys. But if you take a closer look, you might see things a little differently. “When superheroes are not up to speed, / when they slip up, and trip up, and fail to succeed…/ they could cry, or deny, or claim it’s not fair / or rip off their capes and quit in despair.” But do they?

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Image copyright Eda Kaban, 2018, text copyright Shelly Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When their baking goes awry they could claim it was only store-bought, when their convention appearance turns awkward, they could use their powers to create a diversion, and if they nab the wrong perp, they could just tiptoe away. But do they? No! Instead, “…ashamed superheroes who goofed up somehow… / first STOP and consider what’s best to do NOW.” To stay in top shape, they devise inventions to help them, polish their skills, and make sure they always look the best that they can.

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Image copyright Eda Kaban, 2018, text copyright Shelly Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But still, mistakes happen. “If they bash through the planets while flying in space, / they could claim someone’s cape was obstructing their face.” If things don’t turn out quite as expected, they could argue and fight or “stock up supplies and hide out FOREVER.” But “instead they remember that perfection is rare, / and they choose super ways to respond when they err.” What do they do? “They fix what they wrecked and apologize too!” It’s okay that they make a mistake—even two—then they pick themselves up and “…get on with their day… / saving the world in their most super way.”

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Image copyright Eda Kaban, 2018, text copyright Shelly Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her perfect, jaunty rhymes that are a joy to read aloud, Shelly Becker transports readers to an alternate universe, in which the superheroes make some pretty spectacular missteps, to demonstrate what they could do to throw blame elsewhere, distract attention, or evade responsibility altogether. Becker follows these up, however, with how a real superhero handles the mistakes they make, which include such kid-friendly ideas as making sure you wake up on time, combing your hair, and practicing your talent. What’s not on the list is arguing, blaming, or—importantly—losing self-confidence. Superhero-loving kids and adults will be charmed by and embrace Becker’s advice to own those slip-ups and then move on to bigger and better things.

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Eda Kaban’s funny lineup of superheroes, introduced by name on the front and back endpapers (Magnifique, Screecher, Typhoon. Icky, Beastie, Zing, Thrash, and Laserman), may look tough and poised on the title page, but it doesn’t take long for them to be hogtied and carried away by bandits who have just robbed an antiques store. As the day wears on and each seems to have lost their touch, readers will laugh as Laserman creates a fireworks’ display with his eyes to excite the crowd bored by his speech and Magnifique gets ready in the morning thanks to a intricate and handy contraption. Images of the superheroes cooperating to fix their bloopers and make amends, give adults and kids opportunities to talk about ways they too can handle mistakes and disappointments. The final spread of the superheroes playing mini-golf cleverly puts the day’s blunders into perspective.

A terrific follow up to Shelly Becker’s and Eda Kaban’s Even Superheroes Have Bad Days, Even Superheroes Make Mistakes would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 3 – 9

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-145492703

Discover more about Shelly Becker and her books on her website.

You can connect with Eda Kaban on Instagram.

National Superhero Day Activity

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Create Your Own Superhero!

 

If you could create a superhero what qualities would you give them? Let your imagination run wild in this printable, super worksheet.

Create Your Own Superhero! Worksheet

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You can find Even Superheroes Make Mistakes at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 26 – It’s National Park Week and Arbor Day

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About the Holidays

This week the country celebrates National Park Week, a collaboration between the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to honor our national treasures. During the week, people are encouraged to visit their local parks or take a trip to a new park and enjoy all it has to offer. Each day of the week has a special theme. Today’s is Friendship Friday and it commemorates all the organizations and groups who work to protect the parks. To discover national parks near you and discover their stories as well as to learn more about the week and how to help out all year round, visit the National Park Foundation website and the National Park Service website.

Today is also Arbor Day, a national celebration of trees that began as a campaign by J. Morton Sterling and his wife after they moved from Michigan to Nebraska in 1854. Morton advocated for the planting of trees not only for their beauty but as windbreaks for crops on the state’s flat farmland, to keep soil from washing away, as building materials, and for shade. In 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting day to take place on April 10. On that day nearly one million trees were planted in Nebraska. The idea was made official in 1874, and soon, other states joined in. In 1882 schools began taking part. Today, most states celebrate Arbor Day either today or on a day more suited for their growing season. To learn about events in your area, find activities to download, and more, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website.

I received a copy of If I Were a Park Ranger from Albert Whitman and Company for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Albert Whitman in an amazing giveaway! See details below.

If I Were a Park Ranger

Written by Catherine Stier | Illustrated by Patrick Corrigan

 

If you love trees, animals, and all the beauty of nature, you may think about being a park ranger in one of the United States national parks. How would you get there? By studying “wildlife biology, conservation, or education” in college. Historian William Stegner called national parks “America’s ‘best idea.’” Being a park ranger means you’d be part of a proud history of people who have cared for the “country’s most beautiful, historic, and unique areas.”

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Who are some of these people? Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were the first directors of the National Park Service, Captain Charles Young was “the first African American superintendent of a national park,” and Gerard Baker “brought Native American heritage and perspectives to the parks.” There are also writers, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas ,and artists, like John Muir and Ansel Adams, who shared the grandeur of the parks.

Park rangers work in some of the most exciting places in the country—in caves, deserts, and mountains and near volcanos or the sea shore. And that’s just the beginning! Ships, homes, battlefields, and monuments are also part of the National Park System. As a park ranger, you would protect the animals, plants, and buildings, you might work with scientists, or archaeologists, and you would help visitors gain new perspectives. How would you do that?

You’d “be a great storyteller.” As part of your job, you’d “learn about the natural history, the human history, and the legends” of you park so you “could share those tales…” and maybe “a few spooky campfire stories too.” You’d also learn all about the animals and landmarks of your park so you could provide interesting tours.

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Rangers are always on the lookout for fires, bad weather, or visitors who require help and alert emergency services when they’re needed. But rangers don’t spend all of their time outdoors. Sometimes they spend time inside using “computers to design exhibits, make maps, write articles, and keep track of endangered animal populations” or keep the park’s website updated. Park rangers are also invited to talk to students in schools and for organizations.

If you were a park ranger, you would make a big impact. Your park would be “cleaner and safer,” the “animals living there would be stronger and healthier,” and visitors might “experience something astonishing…a moment that could happen nowhere else in the world. A moment they’d remember forever” all because of you!

An Author’s Note reveals other riches of the National Park System, including STEM research, creative programs, artifacts and primary source materials, and more as well as a discussion on the education and various roles of rangers and a link where kids can find out about becoming a junior ranger at many parks.

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Catherine Stier’s inspiring look at the role of a ranger in the National Park Service takes readers from shore to shore and shows them the exciting and diverse jobs that are part of a ranger’s day. Stier’s use of the first-person point of view empowers readers to see themselves as a ranger protecting the treasures of the park and sharing them with visitors. Her straightforward storytelling is full of details readers will love about the duties of a park ranger and the parks themselves. Her stirring ending swells the heart. It’s certain to plant the seed of interest in jobs within the National Park Service as well as in planning a vacation trip to one of these beautiful areas.

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Image copyright Patrick Corrigan, 2019, text copyright Catherine Stier, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Through vibrant snapshots and two-page spreads, Patrick Corrigan transports readers to twenty-five national parks, including Redwood National Park, California; Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park; Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico; Acadia National Park, Maine; and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To immerse young readers in the story, the rangers are depicted as diverse children helping visitors, giving talks, protecting animals, translating petroglyphs, giving tours, calling firefighters, and even brushing dirt from an unearthed animal skull. In one image a ranger gives a flashlight tour of Mammoth Cave National Park to a girl who uses a wheelchair, and in another a ranger uses sign language to describe the beauty of her park. Children will want to linger over the pages to take in all the details and will be moved to learn more about each park.

Sure to spark expressions of “ooh,” “ahh,” and “I’d like to do that!,” If I Were a Park Ranger makes an inspiring addition to classroom geography and nature lessons and would be a terrific addition to home libraries for kids who love nature and travel and would like to explore future possibilities.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman and Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807535455

About the Author

As a child, Catherine Stier wanted to be an author or park ranger. She visited her first national park as a baby and has been a fan ever since. She is the author of If I Were President and several other award-winning picture books, and has worked as a magazine writer, newspaper columnist, writing instructor, and children’s literature researcher. She lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and volunteers with programs that connect families and children with nature and the outdoors. To learn more, and to download free activity sheets and curriculum guides, visit her website: catherinesier.com.

About the Illustrator

Patrick Corrigan was born in the north of England and grew up drawing and designing. After University, he was an art director in a design studio for nearly ten years. He now lives in London with his wife and cat, illustrating children’s books.

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If I Were a Park Ranger Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be teaming with Albert Whitman in this amazing giveaway! To enter just click the link below and follow the directions. What can you win?

Ten lucky winners will receive

  • a copy of If I Were A Park Ranger by Catherine Stier

One Grand Prize winner will receive

  • a signed copy of the book 
  • a Park Ranger Stuffed Doll
  • a “National Park Geek” Iron-on Patch
  • National Park Animal Cookies
  • Camping Stickers
  • a Woodland Animal Mini Notebook
  • Book Cover Postcards

One entry per person, please | US addresses only | Winners will be selected at random and notified via email.

Entries are due by May 3, 2019

Follow this link to enter!

National Park Week Activity

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Majestic Parks Coloring Pages

 

You may not be able to visit all of these parks, but you can still enjoy their beauty with these printable coloring pages!

Mesa Verde National Park | Gates of the Arctic National Park | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Biscayne National Park

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You can find If I Were a Park Ranger at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 23 – It’s National Dance Week and Interview with Author/Illustrator Anne Lambelet

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About the Holiday

The National Dance Federation wants everyone to fall in love with dance, and National Dance Week is just the time to do it! With so many types of dance, there are ways to enjoy this activity throughout one’s life. This week has been established to introduce the fun and benefits of dance in schools, community centers, dance studios, and through special performances. If you—or your kids—feel your toes tapping or a desire to get up and move as soon as the music starts, why not check out the opportunities for learning your favorite dance styles in your community?

Maria the Matador

By Anne Lambelet

 

Even more than “tea parties and dancing and wearing her hair in pigtails…Maria loved churros.” So when she saw that a lifetime supply of churros went to the matador who could remain in the arena with the bull the longest, she knew she had to enter the contest. But as “one of the smallest girls in all of Spain,” could Maria pull it off? She knew she couldn’t outrun the bull, intimidate him, or overpower him. So, what could she do?

Maria wandered through the streets of town, gazing at the posters on the walls advertising the brave matadors who would challenge the bull as well as the Feria de Mayo, with its beautiful dance performances, looking for inspiration. When the big day came and Maria walked into the room where the other matadors had gathered, they burst out laughing. “‘You should just give up now,’ they all agreed. ‘There is no way such a little girl could ever fight such an enormous bull.’”

Maria kept her mind on the grand prize even though she was growing worried. Soon the bullfight began. The fastest matador was quickly run out of the arena, the strongest matador was soon lying on the ground, and the biggest matador was nothing but a plaything for the big bull. At last it was Maria’s turn.

She entered the ring and saw “the most ferocious-looking bull she had ever seen, but she marched up to him anyway…and asked the bull to dance.” The bull was charmed by the little girl’s kind request and offered his hoof to her outstretched hand. The bull, it turned out, was a very good dancer. Around and around the ring they danced, and when the men carrying trays of churros entered the arena, “the crowd burst into thunderous applause.” And Maria and the bull? They enjoyed a churros tea party!

Anne Lambelet’s highly original story shows young readers that with motivation, confidence, and creative thinking they can accomplish their heart’s desires. With a pragmatic take on her situation, Maria realizes she’s not fast enough, strong enough, or big enough to best the bull the usual way, and lacking anyone to ask for advice, she comes up with her own solution. Lambelet’s storytelling is rich with examples of Maria’s courage in the face of adversity and her own misgivings, allowing kids to see that bravery comes in many forms. And Lambelet’s clever solution to Maria’s dilemma demonstrates that kindness wins out. The humorous frame of Maria’s churros obsession will resonate with kids, who all seem to have their own favorite motivators to rely on.

Lambelet’s stylized illustrations combine the texture of wood etchings with the colors and feeling of a small Spanish village. The brown, maroon, and purple palette sprinkled with bits of blue is striking and lends depth, light, and shadow to the tale. Kids will love the expressive crowd as they “ooh,” “ahh,” and gasp at the formidable bull. (One mother even shields her son’s eyes with her hand.) When tiny Maria marches out into the ring the crowd’s disbelief brings pointing and shocked faces, but cheers and celebration erupt as Maria and the bull take their bows.

Maria the Matador is a story that kids will embrace as it sparks ideas for creative problem solving with more than a dash of kindness thrown in. The book will be asked for again and again and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146565

To learn more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Anne Lambelet

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I’m excited to be chatting with Anne Lambelet about art, influences, inspiration and what she might do to get her favorite treat!

What was the inspiration behind Maria the Matador?

Maria the Matador, as crazy as it might sound, actually started out as a dream I had about having to fight a bull! I woke up and instantly felt like that was the sort of silly idea that could, just possibly, be perfect for a children’s book. From there though, it had to go through a lot of development. I had to return to my roots and really examine my original picture book influences…The Story of Ferdinand, World-famous Muriel, Madeline, etc. Using those as inspiration, I figured out what it was that had made me love them as a child (silliness, whimsy, problem-solving, getting paid in food), and tried to combine that with what made them stick with me now that I’m an adult…(peaceful, fun solutions in situations where it seems like violence is the only answer, indictments of toxic masculinity, female empowerment, culturally immersive settings). Maria was a long road of editing and re-writing to try and get my favorite elements to co-exist in the same story.

You’ve enjoyed success as an illustrator since your college days. Can you talk a little about how you developed your style and how it’s changed over the years?

In high school I’d say my artistic style leaned more towards photo-realism. Like most high school students, I accepted a sort of un-original, generic idea of what it means to make a “good drawing,” and, although I wasn’t terrible at hitting that mark, I wasn’t making anything very special either. Without a real sense of artistic individuality and purpose, I shied away from going to college for art and instead chose to major in computer science after graduating. I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, miserable during most of those four years, and I ended up pouring all my free time into discovering new artistic outlets to assuage that misery. What I discovered (online t-shirt design competitions, lowbrow pop surrealism, street art, artists like Gris Grimly, Brandi Milne, Lori Early, Mark Ryden, etc.) gave me a new, darkly humorous and whimsical artistic voice as well as newfound confidence in my skills. 

So, I put together a portfolio of monsters and creepy, big-eyed women and returned to college to give illustration an honest shot. The classes I took at the University of the Arts exposed me to so many new influences. Each one opened my mind to new, fascinating approaches to illustration, and my style fluctuated dramatically in relation to whatever artist was my latest craze. As a result, most of my sophomore/junior work just looks like one bad rip-off after another. The more influences I accumulated though, the more I began to figure out what about each “rip-off” had worked with my own identity and what didn’t. I started cherry-picking little bits of each style I’d loved and mushing them together into an amalgam of aesthetics and techniques that could begin to be called a “unique style.” Instead of stealing everything from one artist I liked, I stole one thing from every artist I liked, and, by the end of my senior year, that resulted in basically what you see now!  Style takes a lot of failing and soul-searching and figuring yourself out. I feel like I’m still evolving and changing to this day, but the increments of change get smaller and smaller every time. 

What were your favorite books growing up? Who were your artistic influences when you were a child and now?

Oh wow, picking favorite books is so hard. There are so many to love, and it’s a struggle to narrow them down! I’ll try though! For picture books some favorites were World Famous Muriel by Sue Alexander, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Santa Calls by William Joyce, and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.  I also adored almost all Dr. Seuss books, but especially McElligot’s Pool and Happy Birthday to You. I liked picture books that were whimsical and imaginative while being infused with a sense of humor as well as emotional poignancy. Interactive elements like the letters in The Jolly Postman or the hidden picture puzzles in The Eleventh Hour were always great too.  

Then, as I grew out of picture books, I began a love affair with middle grade fantasy that has persisted to this day. Favorites then became Harry Potter, Brian Jacque’s Redwall series, Dinotopia by James Gurney, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.  Also, although it’s not fantasy per se, I think Holes by Louis Sachar is one of the greatest kid’s books of all time. 

Because of my love for fantasy, I spent most of my childhood drawing dragons and fairies and other mythical creatures. As such, major artistic influences back then were Brian Froud, John Howe, Jan Brett and James C. Christensen. I also loved looking at my older brother’s Magic: The Gathering cards and watching Jim Henson movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, I lost sight of that important self-defining nerdy-ness in my high school art. I guess I was trying to be “too cool” or something, haha.  I re-discovered them again later, though, and incorporated them into new influences I’d found that also dealt with whimsy and nostalgia. My current greatest influences are Eyvind Earl, Carson Ellis, Julia Sarda, Rankin/Bass’s The Last Unicorn and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea

In Maria the Matador, Maria will do anything—even get in the ring with a bull—for lifetime supply of churros. What’s your favorite treat and what would you do for an endless supply?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think my greatest food weakness is doughnuts. If a doughnut enters my field of vision, I just can’t not be immediately hungry for doughnuts. I don’t know what I would do for them. Right now, I feel like the struggle is to stop myself from eating them, not to get more. I do really dislike public speaking and cleaning the toilet, but I think I’d probably clean the toilet while reciting the Gettysburg Address in front of a very large audience if I was promised a bunch of doughnuts afterwards! 

When did you become interested in writing and illustrating picture books? Can you describe your journey to publication?

Since before I can remember, I’ve always been making up stories and characters and illustrating them, but, like I said, I didn’t always believe in my ability to leverage those skills into a viable career. I think what really changed my mind was being introduced to online t-shirt design competitions where I got hooked on having to design around certain prompts and parameters, meet deadlines, and then sometimes (miraculously) even get paid for my work! I realized the potential to build a career on doing that professionally and that’s when I officially decided to go back to school for illustration.  

Then, throughout all that soul-searching for style I previously mentioned, I discovered that a key, defining aspect of my art is nostalgia. I realized that, all along, every drawing had been an attempt to re-open the floodgates of imagination that had flown so freely in my childhood games of pretend. At some point in my time at the University of the Arts, I figured that if childhood was where my heart was, then the people that I should make illustrations for were children!

After that I joined SCBWI which provided me with a ton of essential resources for embarking on the journey to publication. I got an agent through a local SCBWI pitch day and we workshopped Maria a little bit but ultimately made the mutual decision to go our separate ways. I regrouped after that setback, used the SCBWI handbook to create a small list of dream agents, and sent my portfolio out to all of them. A little while later, I got an email from Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary and immediately felt like she was a great fit. Stephanie helped me re-visit Maria and while we were polishing that up together, I attended the SCBWI winter conference in New York where I went to a breakout session hosted by Kristen Nobles of Page Street Kids.  She said she was on the hunt for new manuscripts so almost as soon as I got back, Stephanie and I made sure to get Maria in front of her. Luckily, she liked it, and within a few months, we’d signed a contract for my very first author-illustrated picture book!

You have another book coming soon from Page Street called Dogs and Their People. Can you give readers a sneak peek? In your bio you mention that you have a dog Eevee (that’s such a cute name!). What kind of dog is she, and is she like you or anyone in your family? If so, how?

Dogs and Their People is basically an anthology of different types of people-dog relationships tied together by who the narrator sees on her walk home from school. There are small people with tall dogs, people and dogs who share ice cream, and even pairs with matching mustachios. Some people are just like their dogs and some are very different, but no matter what, each person and each dog is clearly with their very best friend.  When the girl finally makes it home, the best friend that she has waiting for her provides a surprising comedic twist to the story’s end.

My dog, Eevee is a chowbrador (a mix between a labrador and a chow-chow). I definitely think she and I have a lot in common. She’s a little aloof for a dog, and it takes her a little while to warm up to new places and new people. However, once you’re “in” her enthusiasm to hang out with you will verge on embarrassing. She’s completely comfortable spending time alone, but she’s still very excited when she gets to have all her favorite people in one place. And lastly, like me (and Maria for that matter), she is highly food motivated and loves her snacks!

What advice would you give a young person who would like to pursue art as a career?

Never be ashamed of what you love even if—actually especially if—it’s something that you feel like no one else loves. Your personal combination of unique interests is going to be what makes your artistic style something the world has never seen before. Also, understanding why you love that thing that no one else loves will be a big clue to figuring out your ultimate purpose as an illustrator and/or author and the types of messages you want to convey. 

What’s up next for you?

After Dogs and their People, I illustrated another picture book called The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison. That’s set to hit shelves in October of this year. I’ve also just begun work on two new picture books, How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson for Millbrook Press and The Poisoned Apple, my third author/illustrated book with Page Street Kids. Both of those are set to come out fall of 2020. I’m super excited about both of them!

What’s your favorite holiday

Oh boy…another hard choice to make.  It might be cliché, but I’ve always loved Christmas. I love the decorations and the lights and the food, and I love spending time with my family and re-visiting all the good memories and traditions we’ve built since I was small. I also consider myself a champion gift-giver and getting to see other people open gifts from me is way more fun (in my opinion), than getting to open my own.

A close second, though, would be Halloween. Once I’ve thought of a costume idea I really like, I feel giddy anticipation about it for weeks to months in advance. 

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share? (Alternately, has a holiday ever influenced your work?)

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was very little, my mom was reading me a bedtime story. Meanwhile, my dad went outside, stood under my bedroom window and shook a set of sleigh bells. My mom convinced me that it was the sound of Santa’s sleigh flying by overhead.  It was probably one of the most magical moments of my life, and I love that my parents were so enthusiastic about making the magic of Christmas seem real for me. One of my favorite things about both Christmas and Halloween is that, as a kid, they made me feel like there was actually magic tucked away in the unseen corners of the world…whether that be toy-making elves at the North Pole or a ghost in an old, abandoned house or just the promise that if you put on a mask, you can become whoever you want. I think the best children’s books bring that same promise of magic to the world, and that will always be something that motivates what I create.

Thanks, Anne for this amazing talk and the reminder that people should always embrace their uniqueness and be true to themselves. I wish you all the best with Maria the Matador and all of your upcoming projects!

National Dance Week Activity

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Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle

 

There are so many different kinds of dances to learn and enjoy! Can you find the sixteen styles in this printable puzzle?

Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle | Get up and Dance! Word Search Solution

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You can find Maria the Matador at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 23 – It’s National Humor Month

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National Humor Month was established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde who is also the director of the Carmel Institute of Humor to promote all things funny and raise awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented. Lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Reading funny books is a fantastic way to share a laugh—for kids and adults—and to encourage a love of literature. In fact, there’s even a Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a good guffaw not only during April but everyday! 

Too Much! Not Enough!

By Gina Perry

 

It’s bedtime and Moe is just trying to get to sleep. “‘Too much jumping,’” Moe calls up from the bottom bunk. But Peanut’s still wide awake and thinks there’s “‘Not enough time to play!’” When pint-sized Peanut and towering Moe head out into the rain to go to the store, Peanut loves stomping in the puddles, but Moe’s not so crazy about all the splashing.

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Copyright Gina Perry, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

When Moe’s tummy is grumbling, Peanut springs into action and whips up a breakfast in which there’s never “too much” of anything. When Moe and Peanut sit down to the food-laden table, though, Moe’s shocked to see “‘too much food.” Peanut’s only concerned is that there’s “‘Not enough syrup!’” Washing up, playtime, and art time also bring some gentle differences of opinion until Peanut, teetering on a stack of chairs to add to his growing block building, crashes to the floor sending toys, musical instruments, and even half a sandwich flying.

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Copyright Gina Perry, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Moe loses it and shouts “TOO MUCH!” Grabbing a book about the stars, Moe steps outside and sits on the porch as rain pours down. With a remorseful look, Peanut peeks out the window and watches Moe sadly reading about the constellations. Peanut wipes away a tear and begins to clean up all of the “too much” around the house. Meanwhile, Moe, lonely among the “not enough” on the porch, begins to have a change of heart. Moe comes back inside to see a perfectly clean house. Peanut worries and asks if it’s a bit “‘too much?’” But with a hug Moe reassures Peanut that it’s “‘Just enough.’”

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Copyright Gina Perry, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Gina Perry takes on those differences of opinion that can vex even the most devoted friends and siblings in her humorous and charming story of two besties who, together, aren’t “too much” or “not enough” but just perfect. Perry’s enthusiastic, dialogue-rich storytelling makes for an engaging read aloud that young readers will love chiming in with. Young actors and actresses would have a blast acting out the story, and the facial expressions on Perry’s sweet and caring characters give adults and kids lots of opportunities to talk about empathy, understanding, and listening to one another.

Moe and Peanut, drawn in Perry’s smile-inducing signature style may seem like opposites in every way—Peanut is small with a button nose and long ears while Moe is tall, aqua, and sports a large pink nose between his tiny ears—but their love for each other is evident. Readers will notice it’s clear that Peanut looks up to Moe (in more ways than one): When Moe is hungry, Peanut makes breakfast; while Moe washes dishes, Peanut entertains; during art time, Peanut creates a portrait of Moe; and when Moe explodes, Peanut worries and is sorry. Perry’s vibrant pages are full of details that kids will love lingering over, naming, and counting—and don’t forget to keep an eye out for that half sandwich!

A fun and funny book that adults and kids will love sharing, Too Much! Not Enough! makes a terrific choice for pre-readers and early readers at home, in the classroom, and for public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1101919507

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art and to find fun activity sheets—including ones on how to draw Moe and Peanut—visit her website.

You can’t get too much of this Too Much! Not Enough! book trailer!

National Humor Month Activity

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Silly Balloons

 

You can have lots of silly fun with balloons! Try some of these ideas—they’re sure to make you laugh!

Goofy Faces

Blow up a balloon and draw a funny face on it. Rub the balloon on your shirt or a blanket and stick it to the wall, your shirt, or even your mom or dad!

Crazy Hair

Rub a blown-up balloon on your shirt or a blanket (fleece works well) then hold it near your hair and watch it go a little crazy!

Bend Water

This bit of balloon magic will amaze you! Rub a blown-up balloon on a blanket (fleece works well). Turn on a faucet to a thin stream of water. Hold the balloon near the stream of water and watch it bend toward the balloon. 

Volleyballoon

This is a fun game for two or more people played like volleyball—but with balloons! All you need is a balloon and a line on the floor. Players form teams and bat the balloon back and forth over the line, keeping it in the air.as long as possible. A team wins a point when the opposing team can’t return the balloon.

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You can find Too Much! Not Enough! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

By 1970 awareness was growing worldwide about the damage that industrialization, pollution, and pesticides were causing people and the environment. On April 22, 1970, millions of people demonstrated for change. In response, in July President Nixon and the US Congress created the Environmental Protections Agency and enacted laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act among others. Earth Day is now celebrated around the globe as a day for political action and civic participation.

Today, it’s more important than ever for citizens to participate in the protection of the environment so that the advances we have made are not rolled back or lost. This year the theme of Earth Day is Protect Our Species. To learn more about endangered and threatened species—from plants to animals to insects, including the Hines emerald dragonfly, and how you can help, visit the Earth Day Network. To celebrate today’s holiday, join an action group in your community dedicated to protecting natural resources.

I received a copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Soar High, Dragonfly!

Written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

 

As winter turns to spring, flowers bloom, baby birds hatch, and “high above, tiny wings hum like wind through the leaves.” The sound comes from dragonflies. In the warm air, the females are looking for places to lay their eggs. They find a pond, where they can lay eggs in the water or within the stem of a plant. While some eggs are eaten, many others hatch into nymphs. Underwater, the nymphs have a special way of swimming that propels them to find food to eat.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As a nymph “he eats, he grows. As he grows, he sheds his casing. Squirt. Gulp! Squirt. Gulp!” At last the nymph is ready to leave the water. During the night, he climbs the stem of a water reed and waits for daylight. The nymph has undergone many casing changes, but finally, his last casing grows too tight. “It cracks. He wiggles and squiggles. Out he crawls!” Although his wings are free, he is too tired to fly.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the warmth of the sun, the dragonfly’s wings dry. “They hum in the morning light.” When he is ready, he takes off into the sky… “he’s flying! Soar high, dragonfly!” Without practice, the dragonfly can fly forward, backward, and even hover. Using his large eyes, he scans for predators, darting away at the last moment.

The dragonfly is a marvel, moving his wings and changing his body to keep warm day and night. Summer brings mating season, and with the autumn the dragonflies migrate to warmer climates to lay their eggs and begin their life cycle again.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Sheri Mabry Bestor’s lyrical text is accompanied by equally engaging factual information about dragonflies, and the green darner dragonfly in particular. Each page contains a sentence or two of fascinating description about egg laying, life stages, feeding customs, movement (“Nymphs squirt water out of their back ends to propel themselves forward.”), body regulation (“Dragonflies have special ways to keep warm. They can capture the heat of the sun by adjusting their four wings just right.”), and migratory habits of these favorite insects.

For young readers interested in insects and nature, Bestor’s captivating storytelling, which uses short sentences that echo the quick, darting movement of dragonflies, will keep them absorbed as they learn about this most intriguing creature.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jonny Lambert brings his talent as a paper engineer to the vibrant, collage-style illustrations that will wow kids with their beauty. The iridescent brilliance of the green darner dragonfly is represented through a green and yellow-mottled head and thorax that gives way to a blue striped abdomen. Light-sage-colored wings mirror the dragonfly’s delicate appearance. A stunning palette of greens and blues usher children into the underwater world of the pond where the nymphs grow among fish, frogs, snails, and other creatures. Each stage and change the dragonfly experiences is clearly shown and enhances learning.

A superb book for general story times as well as STEM learning, Soar High, Dragonfly! would find eager readers at home as well as in classroom and public libraries. Check out the first gorgeous collaboration between Sheri Mabry Bestor and Jonny Lambert, Good Trick, Walking Stick!, too! You can read my review of that book here.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364107

Discover more about Sheri Mabry Bestor and her books on her website.

Soar High, Dragonfly! Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in an Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | illustrated by Jonny Lambert

This giveaway is open from April 22 through April 28 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Just do these things to enter:

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Earth Day Activity

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Dragonfly Decoration

 

Your kids can bring the beauty of nature inside with this easy-to-make dragonfly craft.

Supplies

  • Wooden clothespin
  • Wax paper
  • Bright green craft paint
  • Bright blue craft paint
  • Green glitter
  • Blue glitter
  • Paint brush
  • Thread or fishing line (optional)
  • Adhesive magnet (optional)

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Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the top part of the clothespin (to the point where the metal hinge crosses the wood) green
  2. Sprinkle green glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  3. Paint the bottom part of the clothespin blue
  4. Sprinkle blue glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  5. If the glitter doesn’t completely stick, apply a thin layer of glue with a toothpick and add more glitter

To Make the Wings

  1. Cut two 5-inch-by-3/4-inch strips from the wax paper
  2. Cut a curved edge at each end of the wax paper strips, cutting straight down from the top and curving around the bottom corner
  3. Cut curved notches in the center, top and bottom, of each wing to allow the wings to fit into the clothespin
  4. Open the clothespin and slip the wings in, curved edge down and allowing the top wing to overlap the bottom wing slightly

Attach the thread or fishing line to the dragonfly to hang, or to make a refrigerator magnet, attach an adhesive magnetic strip to the back

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You can find Soar High, Dragonfly! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

April 19 – National Hanging Out Day and Interview with Author/Illustrator Catherine Lazar Odell

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About the Holiday

National Hanging Out Day began in 1995 as a way to encourage people to use less electricity by hanging out their laundry. A look at social media shows that it’s also celebrated at a day to get out and enjoy some time with friends. Why not combine them both? While your wash is drying, take a break with your friends or family and do something fun—or learn a new skill like the Pepper in today’s story!

I received a copy of Pepper and Frannie from Page Street Kids for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Page Street Kids in a giveaway of two copies of the book. See details below.

Pepper and Frannie

By Catherine Lazar Odell

 

“Pepper is practical and prepared, and follows the rules. Fannie is fancy and free, and follows her own path.” They are best friends. They love to go on adventures together and enjoy activities in their own particular way. This weekend they’re heading off to the forest—Pepper to photograph a wildflower and Frannie to participate in the Wheels in the Woods skateboarding festival.

As Pepper passes the bus stop on her motorcycle, she’s flagged down by Frannie, who has missed her bus. When they get to the festival, Pepper’s interested in what’s going on, and Frannie convinces her to stay. “Pepper is mesmerized. She snaps photos of perfect flips, ollies, and tailstalls on the half pipe,” as Frannie joins the skaters.

Then Frannie wants Pepper to try skating. When she stands on the board, she feels a bit shaky, but Frannie is right there to support and teach her. When Frannie thinks Pepper is ready, she lets go of her friend. Pepper glides along until…she falls. Then “Pepper is done skating.” But Frannie has her up and trying again and again until…she’s got it. The two speed down the forest path with the other skaters. Pepper’s success inspires her to dream of all the things she could accomplish. They spend the rest of the day skating and helping each other when they fall. It becomes a weekend adventure to remember.

Catherine Lazar Odell takes kids out to the skate park in her fresh and original story about friendship and the courage to try new things. For more cautious Pepper, succeeding on the skateboard is a revelation and leads her to contemplate all the things she might be and do. Frannie exemplifies the kind of enthusiasm, camaraderie, and support a good friend shows to a more reluctant companion, and the friends’ love and concern for each other is a highlight of the story.

Odell’s evocative and action-packed mixed-media illustrations will charm readers as Frannie hops up and down and waves her arms with excitement and Pepper gets up again and again while learning her new skill. Images of the skateboarding characters doing tricks on their boards will thrill young skaters and would-be skaters. Early images of Pepper reading a “stay on path” sign but then leaving the path to photograph a wildflower and her choice of a motorbike for transportation both hint at Pepper’s unrecognized bravery.

A lovely book sure to encourage and inspire kids to reach out of their comfort zone as well as to support friends in their varied pursuits, Pepper and Frannie would be heartening addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146602

To learn more about Catherine Lazar Odell, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Catherine Lazar Odell

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I’m excited to be talking with Catherine Lazar Odell today about how her world travels influences her work, the most rewarding part about being a children’s author, the value of community and more. 

Pepper and Frannie is your debut as an author-illustrator. You’re also the illustrator for the recently released I’m Done! with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan. What inspired you to start writing and illustrating for children?

To be honest, writing and illustrating books was not the career I had been dreaming of since I was little. I’ve never had that kind of clarity. But I’ve always loved drawing, and I’ve always loved things that were deceptively simple. I was visiting my parents at a point when I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do next. I had worked at a fancy design job, and I had toured as a musician in a band, and I was just getting by on freelance design gigs and starting to dedicate more time to drawing from my imagination. My mother had kept a couple shelves of my favorite books from childhood and I found myself in the basement flipping through them, absolutely flooded with memories and excitement. I couldn’t believe how much had stuck with me after all these years. It was almost like I could see some of the blueprints to my own way of thinking.  It was actually my brother who suggested I give it a try. He’s always been my biggest fan.

You’ve traveled all over the world and called many places home. How did those experiences influence your creative development? What’s one thing you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to kids?

As we flew from one side of the world to the other, I remember thinking about all the people we were passing over, all the different countries, cities and towns, and how different their lives were from mine. I was fascinated by all the ways you could grow up, and while I felt like I was getting a sampling platter, I knew that others were having very specific experiences—on a farm, in a city, somewhere hot, somewhere cold, in a big house, or a little hut. I guess this might have contributed to my obsession with the idea that we are all different, but we are the same. I believe that it’s important to celebrate and honor our unique stories, and then to remember that those differences make us stronger when we work together.

You’ve created designs for many companies. Can you reveal one or two designs we’d recognize?

Nothing that really made it to a shelf. Most of the work I’ve done for recognizable companies was what we call ‘blue sky’ design, so it was more conceptual and behind the scenes—great work for a dreamer. That work also helped develop my interest in storytelling, because at the end of the day it’s less about the object and more about the story it tells or the one it is a part of. I learned a lot about everything that goes into making a single bottle of shampoo, or a diaper. Yes, I worked on diapers, and I can tell you that the technology and design behind those things is riveting. 

As a new author, what are some of the things you’re enjoying most about the process and engaging with readers?

I love hearing the responses I get while sharing the book—comments, questions, interruptions—attention is a wonderful gift. When I see young minds giving thought and consideration to something I spent many, many hours developing, it’s the best reward. I’m also thrilled about meeting all the people that have such a passion for books and helping to bring them to young readers.

I love Pepper and Frannie and their seemingly opposite personalities. One of my favorite parts of your book comes when Pepper skateboards for the first time without Frannie’s help, but then falls. The simple line that follows—“Pepper is done skating.”—is such an honest reaction, and it sets up a wonderful sense of suspense in the story. What is some advice you’d give for encouraging a child (or an adult) to keep trying?

I have been stopping at this page during readings and asking kids if they think Pepper will try again. I feel like it’s pretty obvious—all the great stories have so much failure before the success! But I’ve been shocked to hear some “no’s” from a few children at readings. I want to come to a full stop and talk to them, but instead I turn the page and hope that they can get a different perspective by the end of the book. One girl who said no at my last reading came up and gave me an unannounced hug before leaving. That might be the best moment so far. I want to remind folks (at any age) that the enjoyment is in the effort, and every time you try, you’re one step closer to getting it.

Skating is a perfect example because it’s so literal: falling is an inescapable part of learning. Really great skaters have fallen a lot more than skaters with less skill. It’s the same with writing, or playing an instrument, or baking…everything! I’ve always been drawn to perseverance. My favorite book when I was very small was The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. That little boy planted a seed and he believed the carrot would come up. He watered it and tended to it, and it didn’t look like anything was happening, but he believed.  And, of course, underneath, things were happening. He remained faithful through the constant skepticism from others and guess what—the carrot came up. Ugh, I still get the feels just thinking about that final page turn.

Animals feature prominently in your work. What do you love about animals and nature?

What’s not to love? I think it’s easy to forget that we share this place, and to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world. But I think anything that deepens our sense of connection is really important, from a good poem, to a community garden, or a walk in the park, or… bunnies on skateboards. Making art takes a lot of time, so it’s good to make art about things you love.

You can be found at the Portland Saturday Market selling your work, at P & Q’s Market holding Sip and Sketch gatherings with a friend. Can you describe both of these and talk a little about how connecting with the community this way inspires you?

Let’s see, The Portland Saturday Market is a craft market that is open every weekend March – December, and it has been running for over 40 years. It’s a big attraction for visitors to the city, and I’m in my 6th season now—not sure how that happened! It has been a wonderful way to connect with others through my work. I get to people watch for two days a week, and it takes me out of my bubble. People are an endless source of inspiration. I get to watch facial reactions, and hear what memories come up for people when they look at my drawings. I also see what doesn’t resonate. It’s all helpful.

P’s and Q’s is entirely different. It’s more like a neighborhood restaurant with a small food market. It’s the epitome of quaint, and the perfect place to have a group sit around a farm table and enjoy each other’s company. Selfishly, hosting a drawing night has been a great reason for me to get out of the house, eat a delicious meal and draw without purpose—it’s more like art therapy. I always come home with some new insight or perspective or curiosity, and maybe a new friend. Hosting our drawing night at a space like P’s and Q’s means that all ages are welcome to join—which is important to me. Connecting with other humans in real spaces is something we are doing less and less, and I don’t think that it’s benefiting us. I’m inclined to think that gathering together is almost a subversive act at this point. A casual drawing night is very low key, and it takes off some of the social discomfort for introverts.

What’s up next for you?

Book 2 for Pepper and Frannie! I’m deep in the final art-making phase right now, and really excited that I get to continue their story. The second book experience has been totally different from the first, mainly because I’m more comfortable with the process of making a book. It’s such a long timeline, but now that I know more about what to expect I’m able to settle in and enjoy it more. I’m also spending more time with the same characters. I already know them, so we can skip the getting to know you phase of character development  and jump right into a new situation. Really, I’m just digging into a different part of my own past.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

I’m particularly fond of the New Year. I love the global awareness that comes with the idea of time sweeping around the planet. I suppose technically it’s the planet spinning and orbiting, but it kinda feels the other way around. (I know everyone doesn’t celebrate the New Year on the same day, but I’ll have to pull from my own experiences here.) I love the reflective aspects of this holiday. Looking back and looking forward, and everyone around you doing the same.

Did a holiday ever influence your work? If so, how?

Can’t say that has yet, but anything is possible.

Thanks so much Catherine for chatting with me today and sharing so much about your life and work! It’s been so nice getting to know you! I wish you the best with Pepper and Frannie and their next adventure too!

You can connect with Catherine Lazar Odell on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Pepper and Frannie Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Page Street Kids in a Twitter giveaway of

  • One (2) copies of Pepper and Frannie by Catherine Lazar Odell

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from April 19 through April 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Page Street Kids.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National Hanging Out Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-Shredding-is-Fun-Skateboarding-Word-Search

Shredding is Fun! Word Search Puzzle & Coloring  Page

 

There are so many cool tricks to learn in skateboarding! Can you find the names of fifteen tricks in this printable puzzle? Then color the skateboard in your own style!

Shredding is Fun Word Search Puzzle | Shredding is Fun Word Search Puzzle 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pepper-and-frannie-cover

You can find Pepper and Frannie at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review