January 21 – Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m excited to be a part of Natasha Yim and Violet Kim’s blog tour to share Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, another engaging book in the Storytelling Math series from Charlesbridge that shows children how math occurs naturally in all aspects of their life and invites them to explore and experiment. 

Thanks to Charlesbridge for sending me a digital copy of Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum (Storytelling Math)

Written by Natasha Yim | Illustrated by Violet Kim

 

For Luna’s birthday, Ma Ma and Ba Ba take Luna and her brothers to a dim sum restaurant. They join the sound of happy voices and chopsticks that go “click, clickety, clack.” Servers wheel trolleys piled with plates and “baskets of dim sum. Warm smells of dumplings, buns, and sweet desserts tickle Luna’s nose.” Ba Ba asks the kids what they would like and Luna exclaims that she wants pork buns. Her older brother calls for two baskets, and her little brother Benji agrees. When the server brings two baskets of char siu bao to the table, the kids open the tops to find three buns in each.

Two buns for each of them, Benji proclaims. They each take a bun from the first basket, but just as Luna lifts hers up, it slips from her hand and falls to the floor— “Splat!” “‘Oh no!’” She takes a bun from the second basket. “‘That’s all you get,’ says Kai, and Benji seconds that. But Luna protests that it’s her birthday and she should get another bun. Benji and Kai gaze into the basket sadly, wondering what to do. Then Kai reminds his siblings that their mom always says they should respect their elders. But Benji remembers her saying “‘older kids should take care of younger kids,’” so he should get one too. And Luna? She exclaims that she’s the “‘birthday girl!’”

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Image copyright Violet Kim, 2020, text copyright Natasha Yim, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

The three kids stare each other down. Finally, Luna suggests cutting the two buns in half, and they do. But who will get the extra half, Benji wonders. Kai and Benji both have reasons they should get it. And Luna? She exclaims that she’s the “‘birthday girl!’” Kai thinks they should divide the half in half, but Luna tells him they’d just be back to the beginning. Kai and Benji like the idea of using their animals from the lunar calendar to choose who gets the pieces, but each has a valid claim to a half. Luna has one more suggestion that makes the division fair but the pieces tiny. Then Luna looks around and sees a hungry little boy at the next table and knows just what to do with the extra half.

Backmatter includes a description of Dim Sum and the Chinese Zodiac as well as a paragraph that explores the math found in the story and four activities to get kids working with math.

Natasha Yim’s charming tale will captivate readers with her funny and realistic competition between the siblings for the remaining two pork buns after Luna drops one. Her pitch-perfect dialogue invites kids to try and figure out how to divide the buns along with Luna, Kai, and Benji. Yim’s storytelling organically incorporates important concepts of one and two while also introducing the idea of one half in a way that they can—and will want to—replicate at home. Through Kai, Luna, and Benji’s  challenges to each other, kids also learn about superlatives and comparatives “oldest and older” and “tallest and shortest” as well as “bigger” and “bravest.” Luna’s solution to their dilemma is sweet and will entice kids to enjoy dim sum themselves.

Violet Kim’s vibrant illustrations take kids into a bustling dim sum restaurant, where they can see—and almost hear—happy diners and busy servers with their carts. By changing the perspective of her images, Kim allows kids to clearly see the buns in the baskets and take part in deciding how they can be divided. Children can also count chopsticks, tea cups, and other items on the table as well as the contents of baskets stacked on carts. Kim envisions the siblings’ competitions in humorous images that also demonstrate superlatives and comparatives that provide both math and language lessons. Readers will also empathize with Luna, Kai, and Benji as they debate, their facial expressions depicting their thought processes, doubts, and frustrations.

An enchanting read that combines math with familiar family dynamics, Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum is a story that will spark mathematical experimentation and understanding both at home and in the classroom, making the book an excellent choice for family, school, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 6

Charlesbridge, 2021 | ISBN 978-1623541996

Discover more about Natasha Yim and her books on her website.

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To learn more about Violet Kim, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Storytelling Math Chat

You’re invited to listen to authors Natasha Yim, Sara Levine, and Ana Crespo as well as Charlesbridge editor Alyssa Mito Pusey and math expert Marlene Kliman talk about the math, diversity, and importance of storytelling in Storytelling Math..

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You can find Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review 

January 20 – Celebrating Inauguration Day 2021

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. The ceremony begins around 11:30 a.m. with the national anthem and invocation. In a historic moment, Kamala Harris will then be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor shortly before noon. At noon, Joe Biden will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Capitol’s West Front, as is tradition. The day also includes a visit to Arlington National Cemetery by Biden, Harris and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as their spouses before traveling from 15th Street to the White House with a military escort. You can introduce your children to our country’s new President and Vice President, who offer hope and a new beginning, through these two excellent biographies. 

Joey: The Story of Joe Biden

Written by Dr. Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

With a gift for storytelling and an ear for the kinds of details that will draw kids in, Jill Biden introduces young readers to her husband and soon-to-be President of the United States, Joe Biden, at the age of eight. Even at this young age, Joe—or Joey as he was then called—demonstrated a fun-loving competitive spirit, maturity, daring, and sense of responsibility that would take him far in life. How competitive? Despite being the smallest boy on any of his teams, “he was always ready for the ball.” How daring? Take your pick: the time he and his friends hopped “from rooftop to rooftop of the garages” in his neighborhood after seeing a Tarzan movie; the time he swung on a rope “over a construction site without a net;” or when he shimmied to the top of the slippery, swaying flag pole at the football field.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Where did he learn these qualities? From his mom who always said, “‘Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.’” And from his dad who encouraged Joey to “‘Get up! Get up!’” whenever he stumbled. To find work, Joey’s family moved, but Joey always had friends in his siblings, especially his younger sister, Valerie.

As he grew older Joey learned about world news and the rudiments of politics at the family dinner table, adding his opinions to those of the adults. At school, though bullies made fun of Joey’s stutter, that sometimes made talking difficult. Instead of taking it, Joey defended himself and others who were being bullied. He also devised ways to practice talking more smoothly. 

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

When his dreams of attending the Catholic high school seemed out of reach financially, Joey applied for a work-study program that allowed him to attend in exchange for duties such as painting the fence, pulling weeds, and washing windows. High school was also where he grew a foot taller and became the star of the basketball and football teams. Here he exchanged Joey for Joe. His sense of fairness and equality led him to stand up for his African American football teammate when the owner of the local diner would not serve him, and in a nod to his future profession, he was elected class president “during his junior and senior years.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

As the first in his family to go to college, Joe was “promptly elected president of his freshman class.” He learned about the struggles of blacks in America while working “as the only white lifeguard at a pool in an all-black neighborhood” during “the time of segregation and the struggle for civil rights.” Joe graduated with a law degree, and at the age of twenty-nine he “launched an unlikely quest to become a senator from Delaware”—even though the required age was thirty. “Against all the odds, Joe became one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate.” Reelected five times, “he was powerful and respected.”

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Then “after more than three decades of serving his country in the Senate, he was chosen by Barak Obama to run as his vice president. They won, energizing the nation,” and after eight years of serving together, President Obama called Joe, “‘the best vice president America’s ever had.’” In 2019, Joe announced his candidacy for president of the United States, calling the election a “‘battle for the soul of America.’—and Joe Biden was ready to fight it.”

Back matter includes family photographs, an extensive timeline of Joe Biden’s life and government service, inspirational “Bidenisms, sources for the quotations used in the text, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

For parents, teachers, and other adults looking to introduce children to the next president of the United States with an in-depth look at his life, his influences, and his vast experience, Dr. Jill Biden’s Joey: The Story of Joe Biden shines with an intimate portrait of his astonishing life. With specific examples that will resonate with children, Biden portrays the qualities and experience that make him the right person to lead our country during these times and demonstrates his long history of concern for all Americans. Conversational and folksy, Biden’s storytelling makes this an uplifting read aloud that will captivate listeners. The book provides an excellent opportunity to spark further research into Joe Biden’ life and government service as well a conversation-starter for adults to discuss the importance of family, character, hard work, perseverance, and community.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, text copyright Jill Biden with Kathleen Krull, 2020. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations are stunning, taking readers from Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania—where they can see some of the feats of daring Joey was famous for and how he interacted with friends and siblings—to Delaware, the state that informed his interest in politics and sense of community service. Through Bates’ realistic images, children swing on the rope over the construction site, sit among his siblings as they watch TV, and join in at the dinner table for influential family discussions. Bates also depicts Biden’s struggles with bullies and his stutter. Kids follow him up a ladder to wash windows and to the high school gridiron to watch Joe pull away from the opposing team to score the winning touchdown. As Biden runs for and takes on responsibilities in the Senate, readers are there too. In Biden’s face and stance, Bates clearly portrays his confidence, optimism, intelligence, and pride in a lifetime of serving the American people.

A superb biography of our next president and one that will inspire a new generation of activists and public servants, Joey: The Story of Joe Biden is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534480537

You can connect with Dr. Jill Biden on Twitter.

Discover more about Kathleen Krull and her books on her website.

To learn more about Amy June Bates, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Joey: The Story of Joe Biden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

Eve, a black girl, comes home from school in Oakland, California upset because Calvin, a boy in her class, said that girls can’t be President. Her mother tells her that Calvin is wrong and shows her a newspaper article about Kamala Harris, who “lives right here in Oakland and hopes to be President one day.” Eve’s mom begins to tell her daughter Kamala’s story, which began with “a strong black-and-brown braid coiling from India, where her mother, Shyamala, was born; to Jamaica, where her father, Donald, was born;” to Berkely, California and finally to Oakland.

She goes on to reveal that even as a baby “Kamala was like clay her parents molded for action,” as they took her along on marches for civil rights and to speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. Kamala listened and learned words like peace, justice, freedom. On a trip to Zambia to visit her grandparents, Kamala learned that “fighting for justice ran in the family.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Then when Kamala was seven her parents divorced, and Kamala, her younger sister Maya, and their mother moved to “‘the flatlands,’ the black working-class area in Berkeley.” From here, Kamala was bussed to Thousand Oaks Elementary in the “wealthy white part of town….,” where, she met “kids who were rich and poor, black and white; kids who celebrated holidays she’d never even heard of,” and learned to “count to ten in many different languages.” Here, Eve interrupts to excitedly tell her mother that their next door neighbor Guadalupe has taught her how to count in Spanish.

Kamala also learned from Mrs. Regina Shelton, a neighbor whom Kamala stayed with after school. Mrs. Shelton introduced her to Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. She encouraged her pursuits and instilled confidence in her. Just as influential on young Kamala were the family’s weekly visits to the “Rainbow Sign, a cultural center celebrating black art, music, books, and film. James Baldwin spoke there, Maya Angelou read there, and Nina Simone sang there.” Nina’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” particularly resonated with Kamala.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

On Sundays Kamala and Maya visited their father and went to the 23rd Avenue Church of God, where, along with singing in the children’s choir, Kamala learned from the Bible “that God asks us to speak up for those who can’t, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, like some lawyers do.” Maybe, Kamala thought, she would follow in her uncle Sherman’s footsteps and be that kind of lawyer too. Eve wonders if when she makes sandwiches for the homeless she’s helping out too. Her mom tells her yes.

When Kamala’s mother accepted a job in Montréal, Canada, Kamala’s life changed again. One thing that stayed the same, however, was Kamala’s sense of justice. For example when the apartment building manager wouldn’t allow the kids to play soccer on the lawn, she and Maya picketed until he changed his mind. 

Although Kamala adjusted to life in Canada, when it came time to go to college, she returned to the United States to attend Howard University like one of her heroes, Thurgood Marshall. Kamala felt at home at Howard. She won a seat in the student government, competed on the debate team, interned at the Federal Trade Commission, did research at the National Archives, and on weekends joined protests against apartheid in South Africa.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As a sophomore, Kamala spent her summer as an intern for Senator Alan Cranston “learning from someone whose footsteps echoed in the halls of power every day.” She went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law, leading the Black Law Students Association as president and working to improve the chances that black graduates would be hired by the best companies in the country.

In order to practice law, Kamala had one more hurdle to overcome: the California Bar exam. Kamala failed in her first attempt, but it taught her an important lesson about digging deep and trying harder – a lesson that Eve understands. On her second try, she passed. Since then Kamala’s trajectory has been steadily upward. “First, Deputy District Attorney. Next, the first female District Attorney of San Francisco. Then, the first black woman Attorney General of California” and eventually the “second black woman voted into the US Senate.”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

As Senator, Kamala has fought for workers, women’s rights, and immigrant children. Then in 2019, she announced her candidacy for President of the United States. But running a presidential campaign takes a lot of money. When she and her team realized that they would not be able to sustain a campaign, she decided to give up her quest for the 2020 presidential nomination while still looking “forward to all the good work she could still do as Senator Harris.”

While the biography ends before the election and with the question, “Will she ever get to call the White House home?” the next sentence: “Kamala Harris is still writing her American story” looks forward to a future we will all be following. And what about Eve? She knows the message of Kamala’s life and dreams: “‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” That lesson and that Calvin is wrong about a girl’s ability to become the President.

A detailed timeline of Kamala Harris’s life and a list of resources follow the text.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Nikki Grimes’ compelling biography of Kamala Harris lyrically outlines the importance that ideas of justice, freedom, and inclusion play in both her personal and professional life. Children will be especially captivated by Grimes’ comprehensive and intimate look at Kamala’s childhood and the people, experiences, and places that influenced her education, character, long commitment to equality, and steady focus on achieving her dreams. Specific examples of the large and smaller issues Kamala has fought for throughout her life instill in young readers the knowledge that they too can make a difference. Framed by Eve’s disagreement with Calvin and her interjections about certain aspects of Kamala’s life, the story speaks directly to the reader, creating in them the kind of confidence and reassurance that has served Kamala well. The final lines offer encouragement and inspiration to tomorrow’s leaders.

Laura Freeman’s textured, realistic illustrations introduce Kamala Harris in the context of her family, the causes they put their hearts and voices into, and the communities that nurtured her. As a child, Kamala’s confidence and intelligence are evident as she learns about her family’s activism in Zambia, rides to school on the bus, listens to Mrs. Shelton and Nina Simone, and gets involved in activities at church, in college, and in law school. Images of Kamala as an adult depict her familiar smile, thoughtfulness, poise, and self-confidence. Freeman’s collage-style imagery of the people who have influenced Kamala are particularly powerful reminders of the legacy that parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, and leaders in society imprint on people from childhood and throughout life.

A beautiful and inspiring biography, Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice is an exciting introduction to our next Vice President and is sure to encourage discussion, stir dreams of greatness, and motivate girls and children of color to follow in her footsteps. The book is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534462670

Discover more about Nikki Grimes, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 Picture Book Reviewcelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-joey-cover

January 19 – National Popcorn Day Cover Reveal of Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

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Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

Written by Cynthia Schumerth | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to your popcorn before it lands in the bowl? Kernel-by-kernel, step-by-step, this story takes readers through the process of growing, harvesting, and finally popping delicious popcorn! However you take it – salted, buttered, or caramelized, every variation of America’s favorite snack begins in the same place. 

Backmatter includes STEM-related discussions about corn kernels and why these kinds of kernels pop when heated, a science activity, and an art project.

With Cynthia Schumerth’s exuberant and educational rhymes that bounce like bursting popcorn and Mary Reaves Uhles’s vibrant, action-packed illustrations of a group of kids planting, harvesting, shucking, cooking (KABOOM!), and eating this favorite snack, Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! makes the perfect reading treat for any movie night or story time! 

I’m excited to be talking with Cynthia Schumerth and Mary Reaves Uhles to discover how they turned America’s favorite snack into a book so deliciously fun!

Meet Cynthia Schumerth

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Cindy grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where kids played outside from sun-up to sun-down. Much of her writing reflects her love of nature, animals, and family. Cindy believes the power of words is magical and if even one child can find something they can relate to in a story, then that story just might change their world. Cindy lives with her husband and their rescue dog Chance in the same small town she grew up in. Together they raised two amazing children. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about popcorn when your book’s released! What inspired you to write Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!?
 

My love of popcorn! Growing up, popcorn was a special treat. It was something that got our entire family sitting together, sharing stories, and having a lot of laughs. This is something I’ve shared with my own children as they grew up. The truth is that I’d been having a bit of writer’s block before I came up with the idea for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! I knew I needed something new, something fresh, but I was drawing a blank.

Then I got to thinking… at writing conferences and workshops there is one comment that you hear over and over—write what you love. Well, I love popcorn, so I thought why not write about that? Thoughts about popcorn floated around my head for a few days (maybe weeks).  I considered different ideas about how to use popcorn in a book before I came up with the idea of a farm-to-table story. I grew up in a gardening family and it seemed like a great idea to share the entire process—from seed to the end product of a fluffy, tasty treat—with young readers in a fun way.  

From planting to popping, so much goes into creating the popcorn we love to munch. Can you talk a little about how you decided on the structure of your book—which combines nonfiction with lyrical storytelling?

Initially, I wrote it as a basic farm-to-table story. I wanted it to be fun while still having an interesting takeaway for kids. During a critique, it was suggested that I bring more of the specific popcorn terms into the story instead of having them only in the backmatter. I really liked that idea, but I had worked very hard to get the rhyme and rhythm just right. I had a tough decision to make—keep the story written in rhyme and somehow figure out how to incorporate words like: germ, endosperm, and pericarp into it, or rewrite the story an entirely different way.

I don’t usually write in rhyme. Rhyme is hard because it has to be perfect, but I decided to stick with it because I really liked the flow of the story. I knew I had to make sure the rhyme worked perfectly while still keeping the story factually accurate, and that was a bit of a hurdle. However, I think it’s true that if you write what you love, things work out. When the final manuscript was accepted, my editor surprised me by saying, “Don’t change a thing. I think it’s perfect just the way it is!  In the end, we did change three words, but having to change only three words in the entire manuscript is something I am very proud of!

Did you learn anything surprising about popcorn while writing this book?
 

I was surprised by how simple the process of going from popcorn seed to popped popcorn actually is. It’s both fascinating and something that kids (and adults) can easily understand. How cool is it that after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, the reader will be able to impress their friends with scientific knowledge about popcorn and how it pops?! It’s surprising how many people don’t know how the hard, little popcorn seeds turn into puffs of white yumminess.

Another thing that I found surprising is that some folks will pour milk over a bowl of popcorn with a little sugar and have popcorn as a breakfast cereal. I haven’t tried that myself, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will.

Mary’s cover is so enticing. What were your first thoughts when you saw the art for the cover and the interior illustrations.

When our editor told me Mary had been chosen as the illustrator, of course I searched out her work. I was so excited because I think she does great work and she was already an accomplished picture book illustrator! I had to wait over two years before I got to see the cover art, and then longer to see the inside pages, but it was well worth the wait. I think her drawings and her choice of color palette for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! are vibrant and inviting. And those kids in the story—I want to be friends with all of them!

I feel very lucky to share this book with Mary. I think this cover will stand out on the shelvesI know it would catch my own eye and I’d pick it up. I think kids will really like it, too.

Have you ever tried to grow popcorn?
 

Actually, one summer my kids and I did try growing popcorn!  Not all the plants made it and the ones that did, didn’t produce as much as we had hoped. After we harvested, dried, and shucked the ears, we were able to get enough kernels to make one pot of popcorn. You know what? It was the best popcorn we ever had! Growing something with your own hands is so satisfying. I hope after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, kids will want to give growing their own popcorn a try.

Of course, I can’t let you go without asking—what is your favorite type or flavor of popcorn?
 

I like caramel corn, kettle corn, and I’ve sprinkled parmesan cheese on my popcorn, but if I have to choose a favorite, I’m a salt-only popcorn girl. There are yellow and white types of popping corn, and I prefer white. I think it has more crunch to it. I like my popcorn cooked the good old-fashioned way, in a pot on top of the stove. I have my grandmothers popcorn pan from when I was growing up—it’s over 75 years old! That pan has probably popped thousands of bowls of popcorn. Recently, I’ve started using coconut oil when I pop my corn, and I really like the flavor you get. If you’re worried about the taste, don’t be! It doesn’t taste like coconut; it’s just healthier than using other oils.

Meet Mary Reaves Uhles

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Mary Reaves Uhles has illustrated several children’s books, including The Little Kids’ Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle; The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee, by Alice Faye Duncan; and the poetry collection Kooky Crumbs, by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Before illustrating books for children, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Find her online at maryuhles.com.

What were your first thoughts when you received the manuscript for Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!?

My first thoughts werewell this is great, I LOVE popcorn! I truly don’t think I could have done as good a job with the book if I didn’t love EATING popcorn and even tried growing it myself when I was about 9 or 10. I was excited about the concept of the cutaway pages where we see the seeds in the dirt, I always loved that kind of thing in illustrations when I was a kid.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And finally, I wanted to have a page or two to draw an environment that looked like where I grew uphuge fields dotted with trailers or houses. Kids and animals of all kinds would spill across the fields as if we owned them! While I didn’t have that many interiors to show in the book, the details of the inside of the blue trailer, such as the green fern curtains, are taken directly from memories of my friends’ houses.

Your cover illustration is so much fun! Did you go through many iterations and revisions before deciding on this final image? Could you take readers through the cover’s journey?

Thank you! I’m really happy with how it turned out. I knew I wanted the cover to have a lot of energy, with popcorn popping everywhere but how to get there? I went through several different thumbnails, some with characters on the cover, some with just popcorn.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

Finally I decided on having just one of the child characters. I picked the little girl with glasses because, well, I liked her glasses! Then it was a matter of getting her close to the pot but not so close it might feel a bit dangerous to have all that popcorn (and the lid) flying at her face.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

I did popcorn kernels on lots of different Photoshop layers so that, in the final design, the art director could move them to work around the final type. Since there was a lot of action with the popcorn I wanted the background behind the character to be a fairly flat color. I liked the idea of using the blue from the kitchen juxtaposed with the copper pot.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Now, I’m sure readers would love a little sneak peek into the interior. I’ve been lucky enough to see that they can certainly look forward to lots of action and different perspectives! Can you talk a little about how you translated Cynthia’s story into such dynamic illustrations?

Well I used to be an animator so when I begin laying out a book I do it like a film storyboard, with each page turn being a new camera angle. I really think so much of our emotional journey in a book (or movie or TV show) happens with how the camera makes us feel in proximity to the subject. As the plants start to grow I wanted to bring readers close to the tiny stalks and then move them farther and farther back as the plants get bigger and bigger.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

 I did the same thing with the kernels in the pot.. I wanted to actually bring the camera down inside the pot so the readers were right next to the POP when it happened.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let's-pop-pop-popcorn-kernels

Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In some of the illustrationslike the image of the kernels being pluckedI wanted the reader to feel like they were doing it… so the perspective is from over the bowl. Art director Felicia Macheske and I discussed having lots of different kids doing different tasks throughout the book but waiting until the very end to show all the kids together on a spread. I really liked that idea as it feels very celebratory but it was also a lot to keep track ofwhich kids were appearing on which pages so it stayed balanced. I actually had a visual spreadsheet at one point so I could keep track. I had to laugh that this is now my third book to have a big crowd at the end! In The Little Kids’ Table a huge family gathers around the table and in A Tuba Christmas we see the whole tuba orchestra.

Did you learn anything new about popcorn while working on this book?

Well I actually did not know there were only two kinds of popcorn! Also I looked at lots of different pictures of popcorn to get the details correct and I found it interesting how much smaller popcorn kernels are than ‘corn on the cob’ kernels. A friend of mine gave me a couple of popcorn cobs with the kernels still on when I started sketches and I kept them in my studio the whole time for reference.

In your dedication, I noticed that you give a shout out to Jackson (Team Popcorn) and Grace (Team Chex Mix). Is there a competition for favorite snack in your family?

Ha ha! I don’t know that there is a competition, but I knew from the beginning that this book’s dedication would have to say something about my son’s love of popcorn. Any time there’s family movie night he’s so excited because I’ll make popcorn. For the record I make it the stovetop way, just like in the book. But my daughter is not a fan of popcorn! So I always have to come up with alternate snacks. Her favorite is Chex Mix.

Now that we know Cynthia’s favorite popcorn, I know readers would love to hear what your type or flavor of popcorn is.

I do love just good, old-fashioned stovetop popcorn with a dash of butter and a few more dashes of salt. But I also love kettle corn! It’s my favorite ‘fair food’ as in, getting it at the state fair in giant greasy bags.

Thanks so much! You two have made me hungry! While readers check out where they can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, I’m going to go cook up some nice buttery, salty popcorn for myself! But first, I’d like to invite everyone to enter my giveaway of the book! You’ll find the details right here!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let's-pop-pop-popcorn-cover

You can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 18 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King once stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. We still have a long way to go before there is justice and equality for all, but this year – even this week – gives us a new start. Look for ways you can offer help and hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. (Little People BIG DREAMS)

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Mai Ly Degnan

 

“Martin Luther was a spiritual boy from Atlanta who came from a long line of preachers.” It was thought that he might grow up to be one too. One day, a White friend invited him to his house to play, but when his mother wouldn’t let him in, Martin “realized something terrible was going on.” He discovered that Blacks weren’t welcome in the same places as Whites. Businesses, transportation, and other public places were segregated, which meant there were separate areas for Black and White people. Martin and his friend even had to go to different schools.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Martin believed people should speak up when something is wrong. He decided that he would “fight injustice with the most power weapon of all: words.” As he grew up and went to college, he learned about ways people could peacefully protest things they felt were wrong. After he graduated, Martin did become a preacher in Alabama. On Sundays, he encouraged his congregation to make their voices heard.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, Martin asked people to avoid taking the bus until the law was changed, and they responded. For nearly a year people walked and the buses were empty. Finally, segregation of buses ended. This was only the beginning of peaceful protests aimed at overturning the country’s segregation laws. Despite being attacked and arrested, Martin and his followers remained peaceful. Martin “knew that hate can’t drive out hate; only love can.”

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In a huge protest march on Washington DC, thousands of people assembled to hear Martin speak. His speech began with “four simple yet powerful words: ‘I have a dream.’” The next year, Martin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Little Martin’s words and dream still ring in your heart, and if you listen you can help make that dream “of a world where we are judged by our character, not by the color of our skin.”

A timeline of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, accompanied with photographs, follows the text.

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Image copyright Mai Ly Degnan, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s series of biographies for youngest readers are little gems that create a personal connection between the reader and the subject while presenting a clear overview of the person’s life and work. A highlight of the series is Vegara’s early focus on events in the subject’s childhood that changed their perspective and informed their later profession or influence and which will resonate with kids. Here, these include his family’s legacy, a forbidden friendship, and his discovery of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

Vegara’s storytelling is simple and straightforward, presenting the facts of formative events in language that young children will understand but which never talks down to them. She highlights times when community members were instrumental in changing the laws of segregation, showing children that they too can affect change through their actions, words, and the way they treat others. She then leaves children with words of hope and encouragement on how they can carry on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

Mai Ly Degnan’s stylized and sophisticated illustrations invite children to learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life through images they will connect with intellectually and emotionally. Kids will enjoy seeing Martin dressed up in his father’s robe that pools around his feet as he preaches to his friends and will not need words to understand the angry face and outstretched pointing arm of his friend’s mother.

Other events, such as Rosa Park’s arrest and the bus boycott are depicted from the community’s viewpoint, allowing children to be part of the audience or crowd. Other images, such as Martin’s arrest, a peaceful protest, and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, give children and adults opportunities to discuss and expand on the text. Degnan’s final spread echoes back to the day when Martin was sent away from his friend’s house – but this time with acceptance – as a Black boy stands with his arm slung over the shoulder of his White friend as they stand in a diverse crowd of people.

Empowering and informative, Martin Luther King Jr.: Little People BIG DREAMS is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

The book can also be found as part of a boxed set Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, which includes biographies of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. 

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245679 | Little People BIG DREAMS Black Voices, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711262539

You can connect with Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Twitter.

To learn more about Mai Ly Degnan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, c olor this printable coloring page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

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You can find Martin Luther King Jr. (Little People BIG DREAMS) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review Picture Book Review 

January 17 – World Snow Day

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About the Holiday

World Snow Day was established by FIS (Fédération Internationale de Ski) to promote and raise awareness of recreational skiing and snowboarding. In recent years the numbers of people participating in snow related activities has dropped. World Snow Day is one of the key initiatives introduced by FIS to reverse this decline. While there are many reasons for people – especially children – to engage in winter sports, two stand out. In addition to the health benefits of participating in skiing and snowboarding, being out on the slopes gives kids an appreciation for nature that will inspire them to help preserve the environment in the future. To celebrate today, take your kids out for some winter fun… or… stay in for some cozy fun – both are perfect ways to spend a day as you’ll see in today’s book.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of Croc & Turtle: Snow Fun! for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Croc & Turtle: Snow Fun!

By Mike Wohnoutka

 

The snow is falling and Croc runs to Turtle’s house with a list of fun things to do. Turtle comes to the door with another list. They’re both a little surprised to find such opposite activities on each other’s lists, but Turtle thinks it will be fun to “do everything on both lists.” First, they head out to the pond to ice skate. But Turtle doesn’t know how. Croc says to just follow along, but in all of Croc’s zooming, whooshing, and twirling, Turtle is left dizzy and flat out on the ice. Croc thinks being outside is the best, but Turtle’s ready to go inside.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-croc-and-turtle-snow-fun-paper-skating

Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Inside, Turtle has all the craft supplies to make paper snowflakes. Croc says, “I’m not very good at paper snowflakes.” Turtle, snipping away energetically, says, “Just watch me.” Turtle unfolds the paper and displays an intricate four-snowflake arch, while Croc’s four angled blocks of paper, taped and glued together, lie in front of him.

Outside again, Croc’s happy to go sledding, but Turtle’s feet are freezing. Uncertainly, Turtle sits in front of Croc. The screaming starts as the sled bumps and jumps down the hill. Buried up to their necks in snow, Croc is exhilarated, but for Turtle “it’s time to go back inside.” In the house, Turtle begins spreading the 1,000 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor in front of a roaring fire as Croc flops nearby in utter boredom.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-croc-and-turtle-snow-fun-paper-snowflakes

Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

He wants to go back out, but Turtle finds it “too cold and too dangerous.” In a huff, Croc stomps outside. Turtle fumes and stays inside. But Croc finds that throwing snowballs and skiing without Turtle is no fun, and Turtle misses Croc while coloring and playing cards. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s Croc with an apology. Turtle apologizes too.  Croc ponders: how can they “be inside and outside and together?” Then Turtle whispers an idea into Croc’s ear.

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Inside, Turtle gets out the recipe book, eggs, flour, and other ingredients. Outside, Croc pats and shapes snow into blocks. Soon, Turtle has a tray full of cookies and hot chocolate, and Croc is pulling a sled loaded with Turtle’s table, chairs, and slippers to… their warm, cozy igloo so they can be “outside…and inside…and together.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-croc-and-turtle-snow-fun-igloo

Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Mike Wohnoutka’s best friends Croc and Turtle are back in a cold-weather adventure that will warm readers’ hearts. Their enthusiasm to play together sparkles in their bright smiles and cheery greetings, they even overcome the initial momentary shock that Croc prefers outside, while Turtle is a homebody. As the two try to enjoy each other’s activities, though, their different personalities cause a rift. Little ones needn’t worry about these two besties, however.  It only takes a few minutes for each to realize winter is no fun without the other.

In a tender lesson, Wohnoutka shows Croc and Turtle apologizing for their role in the tiff and then quickly moving on to working together to come up with a solution. The result of their creative problem solving will delight kids and is a clever activity that can be adapted for play at home. Wohnoutka’s inside and outside pursuits for Croc and Turtle are well chosen and will resonate with readers even as they giggle at the outcomes.

Just as in Wohnoutka’s first tale—Croc and Turtle! The Bestest Friends Ever!—these bright green friends with their expressive eyes will charm readers. Wohnoutka’s vivid imagery always puts the spotlight on Croc and Turtle, allowing the youngest readers to easily connect the text with the action, while older readers soak up all the humor and emotion in this enchanting story. Inside, Turtle’s home glows with warmth, while outside, you can almost feel the crisp, frosty air and the snowflakes drifting down. The final image brings both of these welcome winter delights together.

Whether you’re already fans of Croc and Turtle or meeting them for the first time, Croc & Turtle: Snow Fun! is a sweet addition to home bookshelves. The book will also be a favorite in preschool and kindergarten classrooms and in public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681196374

Discover more about Mike Wohnoutka, his books, and his art, on his website.

World Snow Day Activity

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Snow Buddies

 

This is a great craft for kids to share with a friend. Grab a pair of socks and have fun making these snow buddies! 

Supplies

  • White dress ankle socks
  • Polyester Fiber Fill
  • Tiny buttons
  • Fleece or ribbon, enough for a little scarf
  • Toothpicks
  • Twigs
  • Orange craft paint
  • Cardboard
  • White rubber bands, one or two depending on the size of the snowman
  • Fabric or craft glue
  • Small hair band (optional)

Directions

To Make the Snowman

  1. Cut a circle from the cardboard about 2 inches in diameter for the base
  2. Place the cardboard circle in the bottom of the sock
  3. Fill the sock with fiber fill about ¾ full or to where the ribbed ankle cuff begins. Pack tightly while making a sausage shape. You can make your snowman different shapes with the amount of fill you use.
  4. Stretch out the cuff of the sock and tie it off near the top of the fill either with a loop knot or with the hairband.
  5. Fold the cuff down around the top of the filled sock to make the hat.
  6. Wrap a rubber band around the middle of the sock to make a two-snowball snowman. For a three-snowball snowman, use two rubber bands. Adjust the rubber bands to make the “snowballs” different sizes.

To Make the Scarf

  1. Cut a strip of fleece or ribbon 8 to 10 inches long by ½ inch wide
  2. Tie the fleece or ribbon around the neck of the snowman
  3. To Make the Nose
  4. Dip one end of the toothpick into orange paint, let dry
  5. Cut the toothpick in half
  6. Stick the toothpick into the head or top portion of the snowman

To Make the Arms

  1. Insert small twigs into each side of the body of the snowman
  2. You can also use wire or cardboard to make the arms
  3. Attach two mini-buttons to the face for eyes with the fabric or craft glue
  4. Display your Snow Buddy

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-croc-and-turtle-snow-fun-cover

You can find Croc & Turtle: Snow Fun! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review 

January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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About the Holiday

Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell, the first book in her Dragon Keepers Chronicles series. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!

The Book Dragon

Written by Kell Andrews | Illustrated by Éva Chatelain

 

In Lesser Scrump, reading was a chore. To teach the alphabet, the schoolmaster, Mr. Percival, drew on tree trunks with bits of charcoal, scratched on slate with a rock, or drew in the dirt of the schoolyard. One day, Rosehilda said that “‘reading would be more fun if the letters and words were written as stories.’” She even suggested writing them with ink on papers that could be put together. The students were shocked and “Mr. Percival sent Rosehilda home with a stern note scratched onto a leaf.”

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When Rosehilda got home she asked her grandfather what all the fuss was about. He told her about the Book Dragon, who instead of hoarding gold, collected books. Rosehilda had never heard of a book, and her grandfather explained that it was “letters and words written on papers that are attached together.” He pointed out the window to Scrump Mountain and told Rosehilda that the Book Dragon lived deep inside and stole any book brought into the village.  

The next day at school, Rosehilda declared that the school needed books and that she was not afraid of the Book Dragon. Mr. Percival explained that after the dragon snatched a book, she terrorized the villagers the next night, and he sent her home again with another note etched into a candle stub. On the way home, Rosehilda met a peddler who had a book in her pile of wares. She gave it to Rosehilda in exchange for the candle stub.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

That night Rosehilda read a story about a brave knight who defeated a dragon and won its hoard of gold. “For the first time, reading wasn’t tiresome. It was amazing!” In the morning, the book was gone. Rosehilda’s grandfather told her that they and all the villagers would have to lock their windows that night. Rosehilda felt guilty. “She vowed to challenge the dragon and win her book back.”

She went to the top of Scrump Mountain and peered into the dragon’s cave. The Book Dragon was lying atop an immense pile of books. She looked surprised to see Rosehilda standing there. Rosehilda summoned her courage and demanded that the dragon return her book. The Book Dragon apologized and explained that because she was too big to live in the village, books were the only friends she had.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Rosehilda scolded the dragon for stealing so many books. The dragon said she only meant to borrow them, but when she tried to return them, the windows were locked and people screamed when she knocked. The dragon agreed to give Rosehilda her book back, but Rosehilda had a hard time finding it among so many books.

While searching for it, Rosehilda and the Book Dragon began stacking the books “by subject and author.” At the end of the day, they had plenty of piles and more books to sort, and Rosehilda hadn’t found her book. The Book Dragon suggested she borrow a different one. She read late into the night, and the next day she went back to the dragon’s cave to help sort books. She left with another book. This went on all week.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-book-dragon-pile

Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Finally, all the books were sorted and Rosehilda found her book. She was excited that she wouldn’t have to come back, but the Book Dragon looked sad and suggested that she “borrow another book…and come back tomorrow.” That gave Rosehilda an idea. The next day at school, Mr. Percival and the other students were horrified to see the dragon outside their window, but Rosehilda explained that she was just returning their books. Now the Book Dragon oversees the “Official Village Library of Lesser Scrump,” and everyone reads as much as they want!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-book-dragon-book-found

Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kell Andrew’s clever story will delight book lovers of all scales with its mix of fantasy, mystery, courage, and friendship. Fearless Rosehilda is a plucky role model for all kids, and the Book Dragon’s desire for company will melt readers’ hearts faster than a breath of fire. Andrew’s storytelling reflects the best of fairy tale lore for a modern audience, with touches of humor, mistaken motives, and a creative resolution.

Éva Chatelain bridges the medieval and the familiar in her bright illustrations that draw on the rich yellows, reds, and greens of leather-bound books, piles of gold, fiery emotions, and woodland villages. Chatelain introduces brave Rosehilda as she challenges her teacher and buys a book,  but she also reveals the trepidation Rosehilda overcomes to confront the Book Dragon, showing readers that even the most courageous people can feel fear too. As Rosehilda reads her treasured book, kids’ suspense will quicken to see the silhouette of the dragon outside her window. The stacks of books that Rosehilda and the Book Dragon build are cunning references to library stacks, and the final images of a happy town and a happy (dragon) librarian will charm readers.

An enchanting story for book buffs, dragon devotees, and fairy tale fans, The Book Dragon would be a favorite addition to story times and home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454926856

Discover more about Kell Andrews and her books on her website.

To learn more about Éva Chatelain, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Appreciate a Dragon Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-darling-dragon-match-puzzle

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

 

In this group of darling dragons, each dragon has a twin. Can you help them find each other in this printable puzzle?

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

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You can find The Book Dragon at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 15 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Stompin’ at the Savoy

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About the Holiday

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy and am now excited to be celebrating the book birthday of this extraordinary biography of one of the greats of Jazz with a review, an interview with Moira and Laura, and a giveaway of the book. Enjoy!

Thanks goes to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details and two ways to enter below.

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a child William Henry “Chick” Webb turned everything into a drum. “He tapped rhythms on iron railings. Tinkety-tink! He slapped rhythms on marble steps. Thwapety-thwap!” Years later he would be competing in the “biggest band battle of the century” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. But before that he had to overcome many obstacles. Throughout his life, William suffered with a spinal illness that stunted his growth. After an operation after a fall, the doctor recommended getting him a drum set to strengthen his arms. But drums—even drumsticks—were too expensive, so William used wooden spoons and pots and pans to make music.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-pots-and-pans

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

William’s illness left him with a hunchback and the “kids called him ‘Chicken’—shortened to “Chick”— because of the way he walked. To make money, Chick began selling newspapers when he was nine or ten. Soon he had bought real drumsticks and finally a drum set. Even though Chick only grew to be four feet, one inch that “didn’t stop him from making a giant sound. He just needed a taller chair and a higher bass pedal to do it.”

As a teenager, Chick was hired to play in local bands. He met Duke Ellington. He thought Chick was ready to lead his own band, but Chick waited. In the late 1920s a new kind of music—swing, with its dance-driving beat—came on the scene. “This new music was just right for Chick” and after choosing the best musicians he could find, he began touring the country. On one of these trips he hired Ella Fitzgerald to be the band’s lead singer. By 1937, Chick and his band was playing at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some even called him the “‘Savoy King.’”

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The Savoy Ballroom was different from most clubs. Here, both Black and White people were welcome to dance. “Working-class people and movie stars danced alongside one another. People jumped and jived to new dances all night long.” At the time, bands competed in live “battles,” which Chick usually won. But then in February 1937, his band lost to Duke Ellington.

Chick didn’t let that get him down. Instead he challenged Benny Goodman—who led the number one big band in the country—to a battle of the bands. Benny laid down some rules: his and Chick’s band would play the same songs, his band would play first, and he would play on the biggest stage at the Savoy. Chick agreed. “That night, four thousand people crowded together on the dance floor” and another five thousand gathered outside in the street. In the crowd were also reporters from music magazines. Before his band went on, Chick laid down just one rule as he talked to his bandmates: “‘I don’t want nobody to miss.’”

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Benny Goodman and his band started off with his smooth, sweet clarinet that set the crowd swaying. But when Chick’s band took the stage, they gave the song a “hotter and faster… Swingier” beat, and the audience bounced along. The music swelled as “back and forth the bands played.” But it may have been “Jam Session” that decided it. As Chick “pounded louder and faster than a speeding train… Benny’s band just shook their heads in disbelief.” Everyone agreed that Chick had won. From that night on, Chick had a new nickname—“the ‘King of Drums.’”

An Authors note telling more about the life of Chick Webb follows the text.

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Thrilling for music-lovers, readers, and dreamers alike, Moira Rose Donohue’s biography of Chick Webb will inspire children to look not at the obstacles they may face but at ways to rise above them to achieve their goals. Donohue’s early focus on Chick’s determination to make music—whether he was using wooden spoons and pots or, much later, real drumsticks and drums—will impress on kids that practice, confidence, and an unfailing vision for the future can move mountains.

An important underlying lesson in Chick’s story is his self-awareness and willingness to wait until he felt ready to find his own niche and create his own band. This example, highlighted in Donohue’s compelling storytelling, will reassure readers who are meticulous, careful, and chafe under a “hurry, hurry” atmosphere. Through Donohue’s lyricism, pacing, and riveting vocabulary, readers can almost hear Chick at his drums as his drumsticks sizzle, whether at home, at venues across the country, or at the Savoy.

Laura Freeman’s rich colors and realistic depictions of Chick Webb—nearly always with drumsticks in his hands—will captivate readers as they watch a little boy with a big talent become the King of Drums. From his childhood kitchen to the school hallway to his natural entertaining spirit while selling newspapers, Freeman shows Chick’s singular focus and the times in which he grew up. Swirled musical bars, floating notes, and shadowed drumsticks give her illustrations movement. The look of rapture on Chick’s face as he plays and images of couples dancing to swing depict how the music transported people from the normal rhythms of life. The final spreads of Chick and Benny Goodman’s battle of the bands are raucous and enthralling and will have kids wanting to hear Chick’s music for themselves.

An absorbing biography of Chick Webb and the era of the big bands as well as a shining example of how one’s belief in oneself can conquer hurdles, Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Book Birthday Activity

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Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

 

You can enjoy coloring a picture of Chick Webb at his drums and challenging yourself with the word search puzzle found in this printable Activity Guide found on the Sleeping Bear Website.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

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Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events to planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are holding a virtual book release celebration this Monday, January 18 at 3:30 EST with Tombolo Books bookstore. You can register for the event as well as buy signed copies of the book there. You’ll find more information and the link to register on my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

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Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

What were your thoughts as you began to design the interior images for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I wanted to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

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

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet OR leave a comment below
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 15 through January 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 22. 

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

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You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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