May 31 – Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is observed each year on the last Monday of May to honor all members of the military who lost their lives in the service of their country, especially in battle. Begun after the Civil War, the holiday expanded after World War II to remember those who died in all American wars. Memorial Day was made a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. 

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

Every year Mrs. Randall’s third-grade class attends the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What’s more every year four students are chosen from her class to carry the wreath. This year everyone wonders who those lucky four will be. Students who want to be in the running to be selected, Mrs. Randall, says, must write a letter telling her why they should be chosen. Hearing that, Freddie and Tommy drop out immediately while Nancy says her letter will be the best.

Anna dreams of being chosen too, but experience tells her she will not. She’s never chosen for the basketball or softball team, the cheerleading squad, or the lines of Red Rover. “Sure, someone always chose her for the spelling team, but the others—the fun ones—never.” But this time seems different. All day—even though Mrs. Randall’s eagle eyes catch it—Anna daydreams and makes plans. When the bus drops her and her sister off, they hurry home to start work.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

There Anna makes a secret call to her grandpa and then she and Natalie go to the front porch, and while Nat naps on the swing Anna pulls out her computer and begins writing her letter to Mrs. Randall. The next day Mrs. Randall collects the letters with the promise to choose the team by tomorrow and a reminder for those who will not be picked: “‘Remember,’” she says, “‘it certainly is an honor to be on the team, but it is also an honor to visit the Tomb.’” Then “they talked about Washington and the monuments and the Capitol and the White House, but especially they talked about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard.”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

At school the next day, Mrs. Randall says that while she received four excellent letters, one stood out. She begins to read it to the class: “‘I want to be on the team, not for myself, but for many others who have not been honored or remembered….They worked long and hard and saved many lives….And sometimes they were heroes bigger than the strongest men around. Sometimes they carried medicine and food to dangerous places to save the wounded soldiers. My own great-great-grandfather was in this special service and saved lives. I would like to be on the team to say thank you to those forgotten heroes of World War II. Yours truly…’ Mrs. Randall’s voice cracked and choked, and then she read, ‘From Natalie (with help from Anna)’”

The class starts whooping and cheering, but Mrs. Randall interrupts their celebration to read one more line: “P.S.—Would you please let Anna walk with me so I will not be alone and she won’t be either?” The class begins chanting “Yeah, Anna! Yeah, Anna!,” and Anna can’t believe that her dream of being on the team has come true. When Anna gets home from school and tells her family, they proudly make plans to travel with their “two girls” to the ceremony.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Finally, the day of the Wreath-Laying Ceremony arrives. The students are dressed in their best clothes, and as the four team members prepare to accept the wreath, “Natalie led the procession down the long marble steps, her black coat glistening and her brass buttons shining like the sun. Anna walked beside her.” As the soldier hands the children the wreath fashioned from “dogwood flowers, magnolias, and decorative red birds,” he loudly announces, “The students of Willow Run School and Natalie, a seeing-eye dog, will lay this wreath to honor the men who served in World War II and the dogs who helped them. ATTENTION!”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

The clear notes of Taps rang across Arlington National Cemetery as Anna and the three other children lay the wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, Anna’s grandfather and parents took pictures of Anna and Natalie to remember “this shining moment of Anna, and of Natalie, who saw the world that Anna could not see.”

An Author’s Note revealing the use of dogs during wartime—from ancient history to today—follows the text.

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Memorial Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog, whose great-great-grandfather served in the canine corps. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams, and a good friend is poignant and inclusive. Cole’s straightforward narration of a school day and the announcement of a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life depicts an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Ronald Himler’s realistic illustrations of Anna’s Willow Run School, her home, and Arlington Cemetery beautifully represent this moving story. His pages are full of diverse, real kids, smiling, laughing, getting off the school bus, enjoying a family dinner, and solemnly performing their job at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A hint to Natalie’s true identity is subtly inserted into various scenes, making the final reveal a satisfying moment.

Anna & Natalie is a wonderful choice for all kids observing Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

To learn more about Anna & Natalie and download a Curriculum Guide, visit Star Bright Books!

Discover more about about Ronald Himler and view a gallery of his work, visit his website!

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

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You can find Anna & Natalie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 30 – National Water a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

If the showers of April have dried up where you are and the May flowers are getting a bit thirsty, today’s holiday makes the perfect reminder to fill the watering can or turn on the sprinkler and give them a drink. Colorful flowers are some of the joys of summer and provide food for birds and insects all season long. If you haven’t begun your garden yet, it’s not too late! Grab a packet of seeds or visit your local nursery and see what a wonderful, wild patch you can grow!

Lola Plants a Garden

Written by Anna McQuinn |Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

 

Lola has a book of garden poems that she absolutely loves. Her favorite poem is: “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, / How does your garden grow? / With silver bells / and cockleshells / and pretty maids all in a row.” She likes that poem so much, in fact, that it has inspired her to plant her own garden. Lola’s “mommy says there is room near the vegetables.”

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2014, text copyright Anna McQuinn, 2014. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Lola checks out a stack of books about flowers from the library and with Mommy’s help makes a list of her favorites. “They go to the garden store to buy seeds.” At home Lola and Mommy dig in the dirt and drop in the seeds. Lola uses the “seed packets to mark where the flowers are planted.” Then Lola waits. While waiting she uses the time to create her own book about flowers. She cuts paper petals, stems and leaves and even adds a butterfly. “Mommy types the Mary Mary poem, and Lola glues it in.”

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2014, text copyright Anna McQuinn, 2014. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

After that, Lola threads some silver bells onto a string. She places several shells on her shelf and adds some beads as well. With wood, cloth, and yarn, Lola “even makes a little Mary Mary.” At last, Lola sees green shoots popping out of the ground. She carefully pulls up weeds around her plants. Day by day, her flowers grow taller and “open up to the sun.”

When the garden is in full bloom, Lola’s daddy helps her hang the string of bells above it. Mary Mary is given her own special spot too. When her little plot looks perfect, Lola invites her friends to see her garden. She and Mommy make cupcakes, and Lola wears a flowered shirt, flowers in her hair, and a beaded bracelet.

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2014, text copyright Anna McQuinn, 2014. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Lola’s friends love the garden. “They share the crunchy peas and sweet strawberries that Mommy grew.” While the four friends enjoy the cupcakes and juice, Lola entertains them with a story starring her Mary Mary doll. Already Lola is thinking about what garden she will plant next.

Little ones will be excited to meet Lola, whose love of flowers and the “Mary Mary” poem spurs her creativity in so many directions—from gardening to crafting to cooking to pretending. Anna McQuinn’s engaging story shows how reading can inspire action, and puts Lola in charge of making her vision come true. With simple yet lovely storytelling, McQuinn taps into children’s desires to reenact what they see and read and to share their successes with others. Through her work, Lola becomes the subject of her own “Lola Lola” poem, which closes the book.

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2014, text copyright Anna McQuinn, 2014. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Rosalind Beardshaw’s Lola is an adorable and determined girl with an ever-present smile. Young readers will love being invited into Lola’s home, going along to the garden store, watching her flowers bloom into glorious colors, and joining her picnic with friends. Seeing the progression of all of Lola’s projects may motivate readers to copy her—which would make for a fun summer activity!

Lola Plants a Garden will captivate fans of Lola’s other adventures and make new readers want to discover them all. The book would make a great addition to home libraries as Lola will quickly become a friend children will want to visit with again and again. Lola Plants a Garden has recently been published in paperback in English and Spanish editions

Ages 2 – 5

Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017 (Paperback)| ISBN 978-1580896955 (English); 978-1580897860 (Spanish)

Discover more about Anna McQuinn, her books, and her work with children on her website!

Visit Rosalind Beardshaw’s website to learn more about her books and artwork!

You can join Lola in her adventures with these fun activities on the Alanna Books website!

National Water a Flower Day Activity

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Plant a Flower Garden Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully blossom first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden or garden rows with flowers. Depending on the ages of the players, the game can be adjusted to fill all of the rows, some or all rows, or just one.           

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one or more sets of Flower Playing Cards for each player, depending on how  (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Cut the flowers into their individual playing cards
  4. Print one Flower Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the flower rolled in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” flowers until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with flowers or one row has been filled with all six flowers.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their flowers wins!

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You can find Lola Plants a Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 28 – National Road Trip Day Book Tour Stop for Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places

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About the Holiday

In 2019 Pilot Flying J, the country’s largest travel center operator, established National Road Trip Day to mark the start of the summer travel period from Memorial Day weekend through the beginning of September. The holiday makes a perfect time to celebrate the launch of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places, a story about the joys (and sometimes foibles) of traveling, about making new friends, and, of course, about coming home. Whether you’re traveling to see family or friends you haven’t seen in awhile or setting your sights on new adventures; traveling by car, plane, train, or boat, remember to pack a few great books to take along – like today’s book!

Thanks to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m thrilled to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places

Written by Katie Frawley | Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

 

Scrolling through his phone in his rain forest abode, Fritz comes upon an ad that seems to be the answer to his wanderlust and need to escape the constant attentions of his herd. The ad from Tabitha, a self-described “pampered suburban cat” on Lair-BNB.com promises “First-class comfort! Five-star service! Fancy, frilly fun!” Fritz thinks it sounds perfect for a well-deserved birthday getaway. He answers the ad, and Tabitha responds right away. She can’t wait to exchange her pad for a “rain forest adventure” and tells Fritz to keep in touch.

The two pack up and take flights to their vacation destinations. Fritz sends a message to Tabitha that he was well received by one little human in particular and enjoyed splashing in the big watering hole. He also includes a warning about Rocky the snake who “does not play well with others.” For her part, Tabitha is relishing her time in the forest with Fritz’s herd. She’s even met some big cat family members, has discovered a bee hive makes a swell scratching post, found a perfect swatting toy hanging from a tree, and loves the outdoor litterbox with its holes and mounds already dug. She also knows just the human Fritz has met and warns him about Claudia’s penchant for playing beauty parlor.

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Image copyright Laurie Stansfield, 2021, text copyright Katie Frawley, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Fritz and Tabatha’s next messages gush about the local cuisine. Tabitha is gorging on mice salad, mice hors d’oeuvres, and mice pizza while Fritz’s herd looks on in horror, and Fritz is cooking up a storm with Claudia in Tabatha’s kitchen. But the next day brings confusion and disappointment when a trip to the museum with Claudia and a dust bath go awry for Fritz, and Tabitha has a run-in with a hippo and finally meets the dreaded Rocky. She does remember, however, to wish Fritz a happy birthday and hopes he enjoys the party Claudia is preparing.

Disappointment turned to disaster, Fritz tells Tabitha, when there was a mix-up in whose birthday they were celebrating. He fondly remembers the birthday surprise his herd gave him last year. He signs off “Singing the blues, Fritz.” Tabitha too is feeling out of her depth and wishes she was back home with Claudia.

Fritz gets the message loud and clear and is all-in on getting back to familiar and beloved  territory. They pack up, make travel plans, and with a hug from Claudia for Fritz and a squeeze from the littlest member of the herd for Tabitha they hit the airport. Contentedly back at home, Fritz and Tabitha keep in touch—happy to have made a friend. In fact, these two like-minded travelers have sent each other thank-you gifts, and Tabitha even floats the idea of taking a trip together!

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Image copyright Laurie Stansfield, 2021, text copyright Katie Frawley, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Katie Frawley’s clever travelogue—told entirely through phone messages exchanged by Fritz and Tabitha on Lair-bnb—will delight kids. As Fritz and Tabitha regale each other with their adventures, kids will find plenty to giggle about as the shine of the new and exciting gives way to a renewed appreciation of home. Mix-ups and misunderstandings lead to laughs as well as sympathy for these sweet, out-of-their-elements characters. Puns sprinkled throughout the text add to the lighthearted fun, and the story is neatly packed with themes of friendships made and nurtured.

Laurie Stansfield matches irresistibly cute and funny illustrations to Frawley’s text while adding enticing details that will keep kids lingering over the pages with each new reading. As Fritz and Tabitha write about their days, Stansfield’s vibrant images depict the humorous reality of their misinterpretations. Interspersed wordless two-page spreads juxtapose similar situations experienced by Tabitha and Fritz , such as eating, meeting a hippopotamus, and sleeping arrangements.

Although both travelers are happy to cut their trips short, the goodbye scenes demonstrate that despite some rocky moments, both Fritz and Tabitha have made good friends on the other side of the world. A late airport scene of a busy terminal in which both Fritz and Tabitha appear among the many animal travelers can be a fun jumping off point to talk about when and how this “almost meeting” occurred as well as about airports and travel in general.

Original, charming, and packed with lots of laughs and feeling, Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places will become a favorite summer (and anytime) read. The fast-paced, multi-layered story and clever illustrations make this a perfect story time read for home, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542008549

Katie Frawley grew up on a diet of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Madeline. She went on to earn a bachelor’s in English from the University of Florida and a master’s in literature from Florida Atlantic University. These days, Katie lives in South Florida with her husband, four children, and a handsome mutt named Nantucket. When she’s not reading or writing, Katie can be found building pillow forts, testing recipes with her teensy sous-chefs, or shooing iguanas from her garden. You can connect with Katie on her website | Instagram | Twitter

Laurie Stansfield grew up in Oxford, England, but packed her bags and moved west to study illustration at the University of the West of England. She now works as a freelance illustrator. She is the illustrator of Poems Out Loud!, published by Penguin UK, and has more books forthcoming. Laurie lives with her husband in Bristol, United Kingdom. You can connect with Laurie on her website | Instagram | Twitter

One Question with Katie Frawley

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I’m excited to start a summer series of One-Question Interviews with authors and illustrators with Katie Frawley and her debut picture book that’s sure to become a favorite for summer reading and whenever kids want to take a flight of fancy!

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

Every summer from the age of about 8 to 18, I rode my bicycle across the state of Iowa with my family, some great friends, and about 10,000 other people. This event is called RAGBRAI, and it is an absolute hoot! The people are wonderful, the food is fantastic, and the memories definitely last a lifetime. I’m sure both Tabitha AND Fritz would enjoy the ride. Perhaps they should lace up their biking shoes and hit the road!

What an amazing experience! A biking tour sounds like a perfect trip for Fritz and Tabitha’s first adventure together! I wish you and Laurie Stansfield all the best with your book and definitely hope to see more about their friendship.

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Two Lions and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places written by Katie Frawley | illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite travel destination for extra entry

This giveaway is open from May 28 to June 4 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on June 5. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

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

National Road Trip Day Activity

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Suitcase Tumble Matching Puzzle

 

These suitcases are well-traveled! Can you find the matching luggage in this printable puzzle?

Suitcase Tumble Matching Puzzle

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You can find Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 27 – Rachel Carson Day and Interview with Shana Keller

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the birthday, on May 27, 1907, of Rachel Carson, the famous ecologist who launched the modern environmental movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring, which documented the dangers of pesticides to the environment. Silent Spring and Carson’s continued advocacy for the environment ultimately resulted in the banning of the pesticide DDT. To honor the day, learn more about the life and legacy of this influential woman whose work continues to impact our world. To learn more about Rachel Carson, visit rachelcarson.org.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

CBP Shana Keller Toad Image

A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Rachel Carson Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 26 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

Reading is great all the time, but this month we celebrate actually being seen with a book in hand laughing at a funny line, shivering over a suspenseful scene or maybe even tearing up over an unexpected plot twist. Throughout the month, authors, illustrators, actors and actresses, athletes, business people, teachers, and students all upload pictures of themselves reading to encourage others to discover the joys of this fun and important pastime. To learn more about the holiday and find resources to download or order, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

 

You know the deal—Once upon a time there was a little girl whose grandmother loved her so much she sent her a special “red cape with hood she had sewed just for her.” And you probably know about the woods and the big bad wolf and all the rest, but what you might not know is that Little Red has her own version of the story—and she’d eager to tell it. For instance, remember the picnic basket, lovingly packed by Little Red’s mom? It was actually one of those HUGE gift baskets. And didn’t you always think it was a little strange that they sent “a CHILD carrying a GIANT basket into the WOODs. ALL ALONE?” So did Red!

But Little Red wants to help her grandma, so into the woods she goes—just as the narrator tells her to (except she borrows her sister’s blue cape ‘n’ hood). So, she’s walking through the woods, when “a figure crept out from the trees. It was…” A pirate? With a hook on one hand and wolf puppet on the other? He says he just “be fillin’ in” for the wolf who’s sick, but Red’s not having it.

Still, she continues on with “the Big Bad Hook” (who, by the way also wonders about the dangers of Red traipsing around the woods by herself), when this dastardly villain has an idea—a dastardly idea. But the narrator wants to stick with the original script and tells the Big Bad Hook what to do and how to do it. It seems, though, that Hook “did not agree to people-eatin’.” But a story is a story, so Hook hightails it over to Grandma’s house while Red is picking flowers. By now, the Big Bad Hook is a bit confused as to which wolf he should be impersonating, but he gains entrance into Grandma’s house, dresses up as Grandma, and jumps under the covers.

When Red shows up, she goes along with the whole “big ears, big eyes, gold teeth” thing. Just then the woodsman shows up. Well, at least a wood man…um wood kid with a “big nose,” as Red points out. He’s ready to go to battle with the Big Bad Hook, when who should come out of the kitchen, but Grandma! With ice cream sundaes! As they all dig into the sundaes, the narrator despairs. The story just isn’t the story anymore. “Everything is ruined,” the narrator cries. But is it really? Seems Grandma makes a mean sundae—it’s so delicious, in fact, that she opens her Grandma’s Ice Cream shoppe, where all your favorite storybook characters love to gather. And Red? As Dopey tells her, “Maybe your next story is starting right now.”

If you’ve ever wondered about some of the incongruities in the Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf story, you’ll love Josh Funk’s send-up of all those head-scratching details. Here, Little Red adds her perfectly reasonable comments with a pinch of sass and just the right amount of silliness to create a whole new laugh-out-loud rendition of this favorite story. Funk’s substitution of a pirate for the Big Bad Wolf as well as his mash up of other well-known tales will have kids giggling to the very end. Readers will have a hoot following the back and forth between the narrator and the various characters, whose snappy retorts are packaged in easy-to-track speech bubbles.

Edwardian Taylor populates this story with nonstop goofiness that will get kids laughing from the first page. Pratfalls, exaggerated facial expressions, and a delightfully quirky pirate add up to a basketful of fun that kids, parents, teachers, and—yes—grandmas will enjoy sharing for any story time. Taylor’s thatched-roof cottages, deep dark woods, and Big Bad Hook dressed up as Grandma, complete with curlers in his beard, give kids plenty to linger over. They’ll especially want to spend some time pointing out all of the fairytale characters who have come to Grandma’s Ice Cream Shoppe for her delicious sundaes.

Full of surprises and laughs, It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood offers Big, BIG fun for home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542006668

To discover more about Josh Funk and his books and find lots of fun activities and resources, visit his website.

You can learn more about Edwardian Taylor and his books and find a portfolio of his work on his website.

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You can find It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 25 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Whose Big Rig?

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About the Holiday

It’s Get Caught Reading Month – a perfect time to celebrate the book birthday of Whose Big Rig? the fourth book in Toni Buzzeo’s best-selling series for little ones who can’t get enough of learning about tools and vehicles of all kinds. For readers, as summer grows closer, thoughts turn to which new books will be discovered, get tucked away in beach bags or suitcases, and be read again and again. This fun and educational board book is sure to find its way onto all those lists for your youngest readers. 

Thanks to Abrams Appleseed for sharing a copy of Whose Big Rig? with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Whose Big Rig?

Written by Toni Buzzeo | Illustrated by Ramon Olivera

All aboard readers? Get ready to join a friendly construction crew in learning about how to build a light-rail system with all of the tools, trucks, and rigs needed to assemble the tracks. Six big rigs are ready to roll in another stunning, rhyming, information-packed board book by Toni Buzzeo in her WHOSE? series.

Ever stuck in traffic and feeling a bit cranky? Trains can help with car jams by transporting many people at once. So, let’s get to building one! But where to start? With a BIG special piece of machinery that looks like a tube and has a disc cutter, cutterhead, gripper shoe, propel cylinders, and a rear support leg to “build a light-rail by starting down low.” Each part of a light-rail system has a different construction team. So, “Whose Big Rig Is This? Do you know?” It belongs to the tunnel borer team who drill through rocks to make tunnels for underground tracks.

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Image copyright Ramon Olivera, 2021, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

Next up a team of workers “dig the channels so water can flow. WHOSE BIG RIG IS THIS? Do you know?” The excavator is labeled with all its main parts, and in the foldout the driver explains, “I dig culverts to drain water away from the tracks.” Further along, the bulldozer driver flattens crushed rock to make the ground smooth, the tie dragon crew places ties on top of the crushed stone, the track maintenance specialists make sure the tracks are level. Then the electricians install the wires that will power the trains.

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Image copyright Ramon Olivera, 2021, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

At last, the light-rail is almost finished, but not quite. “Who’s come to help? It’s YOU. I know!” Two children join in with on the fun, playing with toy miniatures of each rig now learned. They build and zoom and use all the fancy tools, engaging readers to join in with their own creative toys and enthusiasm.

Each page features a new step along the way to building a light-rail system. On the left-hand side signs supply a simple explanation for what the machine does and the question, “Whose big rig is this?” to get kids thinking. On the right-hand side, kids see a labeled illustration of the rig. That page then folds out to reveal the answer of who uses the rig and shows the machine at work.

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Image copyright Ramon Olivera, 2021, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

Toni Buzzeo has dedicated this book “all those dedicated to building light-rail lines that move us quickly, safely, and responsibly from place to place.” She creates yet another fun, informative and well-crafted book explaining large concepts to small children in an absorbable manner. A diverse cast of construction workers explain their positions to readers in an engaging speech bubble format. A sequel board book to Whose Tools?, Whose Truck?, and Whose Boat? that follows the fun, read-aloud worthy, guessing game text.

Ramon Olivera “lays the tracks” with durable pages and detailed, colorful up-close rigs. Buzzeo’s text is bordered by construction-site stripes, the introductory information is presented on roadside signage, and funky details (birds, cats, dinosaur bones and more!) are interspersed through the fold-out spreads. The thick board book pages pop with greens, oranges and yellows as well as visually pleasing rig-in-action scenes. Diagrams of each rig are the perfect balance of simple and detailed for the targeted audience as the parts and their functions are visually easy to comprehend and will add to a child’s intuition on how moving parts can work together.

Whose Big Rig? is a perfect addition to any machine-enthused child’s collection, for road trips, libraries, and most of all—train rides!

Ages 2 – 4

Abrams Appleseed, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419742200

Discover more about Toni Buzzeo and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramon Olivera, his books, and his art on his website.

Whose Big Rig? Book Birthday Activities

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Let’s Ride the Light-Rail Train! Maze

 

This class is taking a field trip! Can you help them find their way to the light-rail train station in this printable puzzle? Then color the kids and their teacher.

Light-Rail Train Maze Easy Puzzle | Light-Rail Train Maze Easy Solution

Light-Rail Train Maze Hard Puzzle | Light-Rail Train Maze Hard Solution

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You can find Whose Big Rig? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 24 – National Escargot Day

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About the Holiday

National Escargot Day celebrates this popular dish that’s enjoyed by people around the world, but is perhaps most notably associated with France, as Escargot is French for edible snails. Archaeological evidence suggests that edible snails were the first animals to be farmed by people, and the world’s oldest surviving cookbook, aged from the 1st to 2nd century BCE, contains a recipe for snails. Take part in the holiday by enjoying this world-class appetizer or by learning more about snails and the science of Heliculture. 

A Book for Escargot

Written by Dashka Slater | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 6

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

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

You can connect with Sydney Hanson on Instagram.

Enjoy this A Book for Escargot book trailer!

National Escargot Day Activity

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Super Snail Coloring Page

 

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

Super Snail Coloring Page | Journal Template

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You can find A Book for Escargot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review