August 2 – It’s National Farmers Market Week

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About the Holiday

In 1999, first National Farmers Market Week was held after the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the holiday to promote the idea of a direct farm-to-consumer way of selling the fruit, vegetables, meat, and other products grown and or made by farmers, ranchers, and other suppliers. The first week of August was chosen for the bounty that is available at this time of year and leading into the fall season with its delicious squash, root vegetables, leafy greens, apples, and more. Farmers markets are growing in popularity due to the freshness of their offerings and the community spirit they engender. According to the USDA, more than 85% of farmers market vendors travel fewer than 50 miles to sell at a farmers market, with more than half of farmers traveling only ten or fewer miles. To celebrate today, visit a farmers market near you and see what delicious bounty they have to offer. You can find a farmers market near you with this USDA listing.

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market

Written by Michelle Schaub | Illustrated by Amy Huntington

 

Come spend a day mingling with the farmers, crafters, musicians, kids, dogs, and customers who make shopping local a fun community event—after all, “It’s market day. / Hooray, hooray! / Spy the wonders / on display: / rainbow carrots, / herb bouquets, / heaps of berries, / sample trays.” So “join the party; / don’t delay! / Come celebrate; / it’s market day!”

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Image copyright Amy Huntington, 2017, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

For the growers, the day starts before you are even awake. They are Early Risers who “toil by silver light. / Harvest, sort, / wash, and load. / Hop in trucks, / Hit the road. / Just as dawn / pinks the sky, / they arrive, stretch and sigh.” The farmers put up their booths and Pile Up their displays with meticulous care. Take Farmer Rick whose “cauliflower towers / take him eons to align. / His pyramids of peppers / show impeccable design….But when Miss Malory arrives, / Rick sports a wary smile— / she always picks her produce from / the bottom of the pile!”

In addition to fruit and vegetables, there is often a booth that entices with homemade bread and Delightful Bites. “Alluring aromas float over tent tops—a whiff of vanilla, a whisper of spice. / A hint of some cinnamon dusted on cupcakes, a sniff of plump blackberries tucked into pies.” There are loaves and croissants and muffins and more all waiting for you to try.

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Image copyright Amy Huntington, 2017, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Part of the fun of a farmers’ market is the Necessary Mess. “It clings to boots / and radish roots / and smudges mushroom caps. / It likes to hide / tucked deep inside / all crannies, grooves, and gaps….This film of dust, / a thin brown crust— / a mess you can’t avert. / But don’t you know? / No crops would grow / without a lot of dirt.”

Sometimes it’s just too hard to wait to eat the goodies at the market. One nibble…well…maybe two or three—no one will ever know. Except perhaps for those telltale Clues in Blue: “Blue splatters on our T-shirts. / Blue speckles on our shoes. / Blue splotches on our baskets. / Our footprints? They’re blue too…. ‘Who gobbled up the berries?’ / We both were reprimanded. / We tried to hide the evidence— / but we were caught… / BLUE-handed.”

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Image copyright Amy Huntington,  2017, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

With twilight the market closes. The farmers pack their trucks, the honey sellers say good-bye, and “the musician’s notes have hushed.” The shoppers have gone home where their “cupboards brim with bounty, / while families dream away, / imagining the wonders / to come / next market day.”

An Author’s Note on “Fresh-picked reasons to spend a day at the market” follows the text.

In eighteen humorous, insightful, and evocative poems, Michelle Schaub takes readers to a farmers’ market to experience the sights, sounds, aromas, and fun of a day spent with a community of people in the open air. From the transformation of a vacant lot to checking off the traits of summer to an imagined conversation between a Green Zebra Tomato and Dinosaur Kale, Straub’s light touch and jaunty rhythms will make readers smile from the first page to the last. Kids and adults alike will be inspired to visit their local market again and again—in person and through these delicious poems.

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Image copyright Amy Huntington, 2017, text copyright Michelle Schaub, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

As envisioned by Amy Huntington, this farmers’ market is alive with gorgeous vibrant and subtle colors that invite readers to explore the crates of vegetables and fruit, drool over the home-baked pastries, dance along to the banjo and fiddle players, and follow the dogs who enjoy a day out as much as their humans. A diverse community of adults and children enjoy the fun in each illustration that will have readers lingering over every page.

A perfect way to celebrate farms, community, and delicious eating all year round as well as a terrific take-along on a day’s outing to a farmers market, picnic, playground, or other jaunt, Fresh-Picket Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market should find a welcome spot on any classroom, public library, and home bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 9

Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017 | ISBN 978-1580895477 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1623541705 (Paperback, 2020)

Learn more about Michelle Schaub, her books, and her poetry on her website!

Discover more about Amy Huntington and her books on her website!

You’re going to dig this Fresh-Picked Poetry book trailer!

National Farmers Market Week Activities

 

Celebrate all the fresh vegetables that farmers markets have to offer with these activities!

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Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game

 

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

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden rows with vegetables. Depending on the ages of the players, the required winning number of rows to fill and the number of vegetables to “plant” in each row can be adjusted.

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one set of Playing Cards for each player (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Print one Vegetable Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  4. Cut the vegetables into their individual playing cards
  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 facing vegetable in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” vegetables until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with the determined number of vegetables.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their veggies wins!

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Plant a Vegetable Garden Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of vegetables to plant in your garden and add to your diet! Can you pick out the names of twenty veggies in this printable Plant a Vegetable Garden Word Search? Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Fresh-Picket Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 30 – Talk in an Elevator Day

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About the Holiday

There are many moments in life when the opportunity arises to make a connection with someone you don’t know – even if only fleetingly. Today’s holiday highlights one of these – a ride in an elevator. Instead of standing quietly until you reach your floor, the founders of Talk in an Elevator Day wanted to encourage people to strike up a conversation, maybe lighten the day with a joke, or just say hi! whether their traveling companions are a friend, neighbor, or stranger. The community in today’s book certainly celebrates the spirit of today’s holiday!

Going Up!

Written by Sherry J. Lee | Illustrated by Charlene Chua

 

Sophie and her dad, Leonard, have been invited to Olive’s birthday party on the tenth floor of their apartment building. She and her dad bake their favorite cookies to bring—”molasses with jam in the middle. It’s my grandma’s recipe,” Sophie says. Sophie and her dad live on the first floor, so just before 2:00, they head for the elevator, where Sophie pushes the button to go up.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2020, text copyright Sherry J. Lee, 2020. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The elevator stops at the second floor, and when the door opens, “the Santucci brothers, Andrew and Pippo”—two biker dudes—get on. “‘Hey, Little Bit!’” Pippo says to Sophie. On the third floor, a couple and their dog, Norman, get on, along with a “Happy Birthday” balloon. On the fourth floor, Mr. and Mrs. Habib and their grandkids, Yasmin and Jamal, are waiting with a “big bowl of gulab jamun” which they made especially for Sophie and her dad.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2020, text copyright Sherry J. Lee, 2020. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Things are getting pretty tight in the elevator by the time it reaches the fifth floor, so Leonard puts Sophie on his shoulders and Sophie holds the cookies on her head like a hat. The elevator door opens at the eighth floor to find Grace and Arnie standing there with a bass and a clarinet. Can they fit too? With a squeeze or two, they juuust make it. One more floor to go…. Will anyone else fit?

At last, the elevator reaches the tenth floor, and with a DING everyone runs, cartwheels, dances, and tumbles out—all to wish Olive a Happy Birthday. And who is Olive? Take the elevator up to see!

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2020, text copyright Sherry J. Lee, 2020. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Sherry J. Lee’s warm and welcoming story of a group of diverse neighbors getting together to celebrate the birthday of one of their favorite tenants will delight kids. With the thrill of riding a real elevator, readers will eagerly await the door’s opening on every floor, where they’re introduced to a new family or individual. Told from Sophie’s point of view and rich in dialogue, the story shines with inclusiveness as the neighbors greet each other enthusiastically.

Humor and suspense builds as the elevator stops on each floor and more and more people bringing food, instruments, pets, and housewarming gifts squeeze into the tiny space. The elevator provides a natural setting for fun math and observational engagement, and kids will love flipping back through the pages to count, add, talk about spatial relationships, and notice hints about the favorite talents and activities of each neighbor.

With her colored pencil-and-watercolor illustrations, Charlene Chua creates a vibrant apartment building community that works in perfect synchronicity with Lee’s story. Images of the diverse neighbors—from Black Sophie and Leonard to two supposed tough guys (who sport cat tattoos and carry the tiniest of kittens) to a same-sex couple and a South Asian family to Oliver’s owner, who uses a wheelchair—reflect readers’ urban, suburban, and rural experiences.

On the journey from the first floor to the tenth, Chua includes a cornucopia of humorous, sweet, and “oh no!” clues that define personalities, add to the suspense, and hint at the identity of the birthday girl. The pull-out page as everyone tumbles out of the elevator is a showstopper that will have readers of all ages pointing, giggling, and appreciating all the residents of this special home. Opportunities to visualize and discuss math concepts occur with each push of the button or turn of the page. After taking this trip, kids will eagerly look for and welcome the diversity and individuality in their own neighborhoods.

Clever, sweet, and organically inclusive, Going Up! is a book kids will want to read again and again. As a charming story on its own and with so many applications for discussion and cross-curricular activities, the book is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1525301131

Discover more about Sherry J. Lee and her books as well as a fun Going Up! Activity Kit on her website.

To learn more about Charlene Chua, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Talk in an Elevator Day Activity

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Bake up Some Fun! Word Search Puzzle

 

Any party is more fun with lots of treats! Can you find your favorite in this baking pan puzzle?

Bake up Some Fun! Word Search PuzzleBake up Some Fun! Word Search Solution

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You can find Going Up! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 29 – Celebrating Rain Day with Shelley Johannes

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Shelley Johannes is the author-illustrator of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter-book series. A former architectural designer, she has a fondness for tracing paper, process, and accidental discoveries. She and her family live in Michigan with two feathered friends, Max and Alex, who make every day sunny and birdy. More Than Sunny is her debut picture book.

You can connect with Shelley on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Shelley! I love how you describe all sorts of weather days in your new picture book More than Sunny, so I just couldn’t pass up a chance to share Rain Day with you! Rainy days have their own special fun, and you certainly celebrate that in your book! Of course, when the sun comes out, rainy days also bring rainbows – those beautiful symbols of optimism, something we can all use every day and which shines on every page of More than Sunny. Can you talk about what inspired the story?

Thank you, Kathy! And thank you so much for having me here today. Optimism is always in season, but metaphorical sunshine definitely feels even more precious these days.

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Matthew Johannes

More Than Sunny was inspired by my son Matthew and a first-grade weather project. I’d viewed his daily weather chart—the kind with columns for sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, snowy—as a mundane task to check off our list, but on the first day, he looked outside and enthusiastically declared, “It’s sunny and birdy today!” When he called the next day “windy and squirrelly”, I knew it had to become a book someday. He turned a routine assignment into something fresh and exciting, and made me pay attention to the beauty I’d forgotten to see. That’s always book-worthy.

In More than Sunny, you describe days with nuances that delight in everything a day can possess. Using your story structure, what would your favorite day have been as a child? How about now as an adult?

I love this question! As a kid, I loved rainy days, and any excuse to curl up with my dog and our special Rainy Day Art Book. So maybe I’d say . . . Dreary and Doggy were my favorite kind of days back then. Rain is so relaxing.

As an adult, it’s a tough call between Springy and Birdy (because May is the most cheerful month, and we are huge bird nerds around here) and Autumn and Squirrelly (because the crisp, colorfulness of fall makes me happy, and we’re huge squirrel nerds too!).

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Before writing children’s books, you worked as an architect. Can you talk about that a little? Do you think being an architect influences your writing and art in any way? If so, how?

There was a time I felt bad about my winding path to making books. I felt bad that I didn’t have the guts to go after my dreams sooner. But these days, I’m so grateful for each part of my life and how it shaped me into the person I am today. My years in architecture helped me find my voice and gain the courage to use it. I also learned so much about my love for creative process and collaboration, and the type of people who inspire me. The desire to create, and to make something meaningful, is the motivational underpinning of both fields, so the transition to books felt very natural. The process of designing a building and building a story are surprisingly similar.

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A rainy and wormy day from More than Sunny by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

There’s also a direct connection in the way I work. I fell in love with tracing paper and felt-tip pens in my early days in architecture, and I’ve only fallen more in love as time passes. I’ve always loved how a loose sketch or a stray line can capture an idea on paper, and that wonder continues to bring me joy in new ways.

Your son Nolan narrates your wonderful book trailer and his pride and love for you and the More than Sunny really shine through. How great is it to share your writing journey with your kids?

Aw, thank you! We loved making that trailer together! And it was so special to capture his sweet voice just before it shifts into a grown-up one. It’s been so wonderful to share each step of the journey with my kids. I first realized I wanted to make picture books while reading to them as toddlers. They’ve been there for all the ups and downs and in-betweens of the creative process ever since, and enjoyed LOTS of celebratory pizza along the way! So much of each them—and they joy they bring into my life— is woven into everything I make. They inspire so many book moments, and are my most treasured critics and art buddies. I hope being part of this process empowers them to go after all the things they dream of doing, too!

What was your favorite place to read (or write or draw) as a child? What is your favorite place now and why?

As a kid, I loved to read and draw in the quiet privacy of my room, because it was personal and I was shy. These days, I like to mix things up. I write best in a crowded place, with headphones on and music blaring, because it’s easier for me to concentrate when I’m surrounded by stimuli and happy hustle-and-bustle. I also enjoy writing on the go as ideas randomly come to me, and use my Notes app like it’s another piece of my brain. I read anywhere and everywhere, and love listening to audiobooks while riding my bike around my neighborhood!

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Though I doodle in sketchbooks all over my house, my studio is still my favorite place to make art. Having a place that’s dedicated to being creative, and filled with my favorite things, makes getting into the zone a bit easier.   

What is your favorite season and seasonal activity?

I’m torn between Fall and Spring. It’s hard to beat a cider mill on a crisp Autumn day, especially here in Michigan. Fresh donuts. Crisp apples. Bubbling steam running through the colorful trees. It’s pretty perfect. But then this Spring, we found a nature trail at a local park where wild birds fly down and eat out of your hands, and now we’re addicted to the wonder of that experience too.

Will you be doing any book events this summer that you’d like to tell readers about?

It’ll be a fairly quiet summer (see the answer to the next question!), but I’m doing a virtual event with wonderful Belmont Books on August 26th at 6:30pm ET, and I’d love for everyone to join us! We also had an amazing virtual launch event for More Than Sunny as part of Literati Bookstore’s At Home with Literati series. Jarrett Lerner and I talked about creative process, seeing the world with fresh eyes, and the making of the book. You can watch our conversation here anytime:

What’s up next for you?

This week I am starting the final artwork for my second picture book! I can’t wait to start experimenting with materials and see where it leads me!

Thanks for this wonderful chat and for sharing so many insights. I wish you all the best with More than Sunny and am really looking forward to your next book!

National Rain Day Review

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate rainy days—but not just any rainy days. Rain Day commemorates an odds-busting record that began in 1874 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania when one resident remarked to William Allison, the pharmacist at JT Rogers & Co drug store, that it always rained on his birthday—July 29. After that, Allison began keeping an annual record, and all eyes have been on Waynesburg to see if the remarkable run—115 years out of 147—continues. Now weather reporters around the country keep track of this remarkable statistic and broadcast “yes” or “no” to their audiences. As for the people of Waynesburg, they celebrate their notoriety with a huge festival that includes live musical entertainment, arts and crafts and food booths, kids’ games, and, of course, an umbrella-decorating contest. To learn more visit the Rain Day Website. And don’t forget to watch the skies!

More than Sunny

By Shelley Johannes

 

A girl knocks on her brother’s door and, before he’s even fully awake, she bursts in and announces with exuberance that this spring day is “sunny.” Yawning and rubbing his eyes, her brother adds “and early.” But his big sis pulls him outside to show him all the birds at the feeder and birdhouse. It’s not only sunny, she tells him “it’s sunny and birdy!” They head down to the pond, where the siblings have different ideas of what the day’s like. Little brother finds the day “sunny…and mucky!” But his sister, with feathers in her “wings,” states, “I say it’s sunny and ducky!”

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

On another day, these two compatible siblings head outside to discover what summer brings besides heat. The sunny day takes them to a field, a tree, and a dock, where they explore, relax, and use their imaginations. But not all summer days are sunny, and that’s okay because being inside when it’s “stormy” these kids make it cozy. And when the storm tapers off a bit, they grab their raincoats and big umbrella and go outdoors, where the girl exclaims, “it’s rainy and wormy!” and her brother inspects the mud and greets a small worm, “Hello squirmy.” The rainy day brings lots of fun with Mom and their dog too.

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

But summer days turn into autumn days with wind and squirrels and piles of leaves to jump in. The kids read and make paper snowflakes, waiting for winter to come. And, finally, the flakes fall. They taste so good. “Can we? Can we?” the siblings ask, eager to be out in the snow. “But I’m warm and socksy,” says Mom. But her kids, tiptoeing and playing, lure her out with “Let’s be snowy and foxy!”

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

They take a walk in the woods and, while sledding, see Daddy coming home. “Are you ready and sleddy?!” they ask, but there’s shoveling to be done. That’s all right; there are other ways to have fun in the snow. Tired out and chilly, the family goes inside for bedtime. Now there’s a knock at the sister’s door. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she goes to see who it is. It’s her brother, and he has something magical to show her.

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Shelley Johannes’s exuberant call to play and explore is a perfect jumping off place for kids to look at and interact with their surroundings with new eyes, imagination, and creativity. Hopping from season to season, Johannes touches on moments of freedom and wonder and those happy discoveries so formative in childhood. Her playful rhymes and bouncy rhythm echo kids’ delighted banter, and her sprightly adjectives invite readers to come up with their own descriptions of their day.

Johannes’s bright, energetic, and cheery illustrations dazzle with lively depictions of the siblings playing outside in all weather. Her smile-inducing portrayals of the siblings mirror real kids and each page is loaded with details readers will love lingering over. Mom and Dad make warm cameos to create a book the whole family will enjoy.

More than Sunny is a generously sized picture book that kids and adults will find themselves joyfully sharing throughout the year. For teachers and homeschoolers, Johannes’s storytelling provides a spark for writing prompts, grammar lessons, and observational skills. Sure to become a quick favorite, More than Sunny is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Harry N. Abrams, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419741814

Discover more about Shelley Johannes and her books on her website.

You can download More than Sunny activities from the Abrams website!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-more-than-sunny-cover

You can find More Than Sunny at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 28 – Beatrix Potter Day

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About the Holiday

On this date in 1866, one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors was born – Beatrix Potter. Her twenty-three books about Peter Rabbit and his friends have enchanted children for generations, and the tale of how The Tale of Peter Rabbit came to be is as full of twists and turns as any good story – as you’ll see in today’s book. To celebrate today, why not go to your bookstore, library, or maybe even your own bookshelf at home and enjoy spending some time in the garden with Peter.

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati

 

At home in London, young Beatrix Potter loved drawing and painting pictures of her pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer and other woodland creatures. Beatrix and her brother didn’t go to school but were taught at home under a strict daily timeline. “Then came summer and … freedom! During the summer, Beatrix’s whole household—pets included—moved to a country house where there were ducks, chickens, cows, and a garden.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

When Beatrix’s brother grew a little older, however, he went away to a boarding school while Beatrix had to stay home. “But Beatrix wanted to do something important, something that mattered. She often helped her father with his hobby, photography.” She visited artists’ studios and museums. She learned about art and how to make her drawings better.

She made more pictures of Benjamin Bouncer and sent them to publishers. One publisher put her drawings on the front of greeting cards, and Beatrix began making money from her work. But Beatrix was also interested in the science of nature. She even wrote a paper about mushrooms and hoped to have it printed in a scientific journal, but it was rejected. Beatrix was disappointed but went back to drawing.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

Then one day, to cheer up a sick child, Beatrix wrote and illustrated a story about Peter Rabbit. Later, she submitted it to publishers. When they told her they weren’t interested, she had books printed herself. She sold every copy—the second batch too. Finally, a publisher agreed to print her books. Beatrix went on to write more and more stories. At last she had fulfilled her dreams of creating something important. She was also an excellent marketer and self-promoter, and “soon people all over the world knew about Peter Rabbit, and they knew about Beatrix Potter too.”

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

As Beatrix grew older, she couldn’t draw in the way she had, but that didn’t mean she left the countryside behind. She wanted to protect the farmland she loved. She helped farms and families, paying for needed veterinary care for animals when the farmers couldn’t afford it and for a nurse when the flu hit. Beatrix Potter’s life was made up of so many things that mattered. Not only did she give the world the beloved Peter Rabbit and his friends, but through donations of farms and acreage she “made sure the land would be cared for, protected, and cherished. Forever.”

An Author’s Note about how she came to write this book and more information on Beatrix Potter’s legacy follows the story.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s delightful and surprising biography of Beatrix Potter delves into the depths of her desire to make a difference with her life. A woman far ahead of her time, Beatrix Potter remains an inspiration for each new generation of readers not only for her well-loved stories but for her community work and foresight. Marshall’s thorough and well-paced story will captivate today’s children, who have the same hopes as Beatrix to influence the world with their talents and opinions. Marshall’s descriptions of Beatrix’s later largesse swell the heart and readers’ admiration for this exceptional woman.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

Linda Marshall’s words are set among Ilaria Urbinati’s exquisite illustrations that take children inside Beatrix Potter’s world at home in London and out to the countryside she adored. Her delicate and detailed renderings of young Beatrix drawing with her pet Benjamin Bunny by her side, the farm where she spent summers, her scientific explorations, and her later successes immerse readers in the late 1800s to mid-1900s, allowing them to experience the environments that created one of the world’s most beloved authors. Urbinati’s glorious panoramas of the lake district farms that Beatrix saved are breathtaking and inspiring in their beauty.

For fans of Peter Rabbit and any lover of children’s literature, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit is a must. Stirring on so many levels, the book will inspire multiple readings as well as the discovery or rediscovery of Beatrix Potter’s tales. Perfect for home, school, and public library collections for story times and to enhance language arts lessons and even nature science studies.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1499809602

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ilaria Urbinati, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game

 

As all readers know, Peter Rabbit loved vegetable gardens. With this fun game you and your family can grow your own gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully ripen first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden rows with vegetables. Depending on the ages of the players, the required winning number of rows to fill and the number of vegetables to “plant” in each row can be adjusted.

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one set of Playing Cards for each player (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Print one Vegetable Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  4. Cut the vegetables into their individual playing cards
  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 facing vegetable in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” vegetables until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with the determined number of vegetables.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their veggies wins!

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You can find Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 27 – Celebrating National Culinary Arts Month with Cathy Ballou Mealey

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Cathy Ballou Mealey has never worked in a pickle factory but she has been a crossing guard, pet sitter and professional gift wrapper, among many other jobs. When she is not writing or reading, she volunteers for schools and organizations that support children with autism spectrum disorders. Her favorite type pickle is the crispy and tangy bread-and-butter kind. She lives with her husband, son and daughter north of Boston, Massachusetts, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics, and is patiently waiting for a sloth to appear. Cathy is also the author of When a Tree Grows (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019).

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi, Cathy! Thanks for dropping by to celebrate National Culinary Arts Month with me! Since Sloth and Squirrel made it big with their culinary talents after a comical turn as pickle packers, I bet it’s one of their favorite holidays too! Which got me wondering: has a previous job ever influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

You have probably watched at least part of this famous scene from I Love Lucy entitled “Job Switching” in which Lucy and her friend Ethel work on the chocolate conveyor belt at Kramer’s Kandy Kitchen.

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In both of my picture books, I’ve tried to pay homage to this classic, slapstick food factory funniness.

Squirrel, starring in When a Tree Grows, gets a job at Nifty Nuts as a quality control inspector. Sounds perfect until he consumes too much product and is fired!

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Sloth and Squirrel work at the pickle packing plant in Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle to earn money for a bicycle. These friends also discover that a job that seems easy may not be simple in reality.

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Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Was I too fired from food service? Yes, indeed. Working in a narrow service window next to my boss, I was repeatedly scolded for bumping her arm as we scooped entrees onto cafeteria trays. I was demoted to dishwasher where being left-handed didn’t matter, but at least I was free from the hairnet and plastic gloves!

Who knew cafeterias were so fraught with danger?! At least readers reap the very funny benefits of the inspiration this job provided! 

Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kelly Collier

 

A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two lovable, but unlikely, friends. Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things—and different speeds of doing them. So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don’t go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightening squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome and, before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory’s door, along with the 677 and ½  jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think—until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan!

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Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Cathy Ballou Mealey’s tongue-twistingly funny story of odd-couple friends working to buy a bike will keep kids giggling from start to finish. Her creative story based on the literal and figurative definition of “pickle” seamlessly blends unique characters and events while hilariously incorporating the traits of squirrels, sloths, and even pickles to ramp up the suspense and humor. Plenty of clever alliteration as well as Squirrel’s rapid-fire dialogue make this a read aloud kids are going to want to hear again and again. Woven throughout Mealey’s story are messages of friendship, ingenuity, perseverance, creative-thinking, and industriousness.

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Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

In her pickle brine-hued illustrations Kelly Collier accentuates the humor of the story with comical visual elements that begin on the first page, where a bear and a bunny, near doppelgangers for Sloth and Squirrel go whizzing by on their bike. Once inside the pickle factory, kids will love pointing out all of the pickle-inspired décor, from the wallpaper to Mr. Peacock’s university degree to his old-style telephone. Collier’s slapstick images will have kids laughing out loud, and her illustrations of Sloth engaging in sloth-like behavior while attaching labels hints at the upcoming and pitch-perfect plot twist without giving it away. Pickle puns and a pack of pleased customers celebrate Sloth and Squirrel’s new venture and a little turtle’s dare leads to a surprising finish.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1525302381

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

You can connect with Kelly Collier on her website | Instagram | Twitter.

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For another hilarious picture book by Cathy Ballou Mealey with plenty of nuts, nuttiness, and suspense plus a group of forest friends, you’ll want to check out When a Tree Grows (illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska and published by Sterling Children’s Books). You can read my review of When a Tree Grows and another interview with Cathy here.

You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

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You can find Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 26 – Celebrating All or Nothing Day with Jane Kurtz

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Jane Kurtz is an award-winning children’s book author, speaker, educator. She is also on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Children’s and YA Literature. She is a co-founder of the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads, an organization that brings books and literacy to the children in Ethiopia, where Jane grew up. She also heads the creative team of Ready Set Go Books, a project of Open Hearts Big Dreams to create fun, colorful, local language books for people in Ethiopia. She is the author of many books for children, including River Friendly River Wild, winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite award for picture book text, and What Do They Do With All That Poo?, a finalist to the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Excellence in Science Books list; it has also been named to several state reading lists, voted on by children.

You can connect with Jane Kurtz on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Jane! I’m so glad you could join me to celebrate All or Nothing Day, which encourages people to seize the day—whatever comes—and make the best of it, even if that means overcome fears or obstacles to accomplish something they’ve always wanted to do. The stars of  your latest book, Chickens on the Loose, certainly embrace this philosophy and stop at nothing to enjoy a bit of freedom!

I love your and John Joseph’s book not only because it’s funny and action-packed but because my family had our own “chickens on the loose” experience last year when two chickens mysterious ly showed up in our yard—right outside our cat’s favorite window. Needless to say, he was delighted with all the activity. They hung around for a bit and then wandered away. We’re not entirely sure how they got to our yard or where they came from, but they’ve never been back. It definitely made for a fun memory!

Since you’ve published more than forty books for children in a variety of genres – including many award winners – I’m sure readers would like to know how you get the ideas for your books. How do you know when an idea “will stick?”

 When I was a young writer, I only remember hearing that books come from a writer’s imagination. I still think that a writer has to have a way of imagining scenes in vivid detail, but often the ideas that first spark a book (or a scene) come from staying curious and paying attention to life as it happens right around me. With my new picture book, Chickens On The Loose, for example, the idea sparks came from my neighbor’s chickens running around my backyard in Portland, Oregon—and from the many notices I was reading on my “Next Door” neighbor site pleading for help with escaped chickens. My mind drifted to where the chickens would go in my urban neighborhood. It’s hard for me to craft a draft from a mere spark of an idea, though. One thing that makes an idea stick is when it comes paired with a lively voice. “Chickens on the loose. Chickens on the lam, zipping from the yard as quickly as they can.” Where did those words come from?

I suppose they came from my imagination.

Later, when I was working with an editor to refine the story arc, I was having trouble imagining what plot move would allow the chickens to shake off the people who were following and slowly make their own way back home. I was walking in my neighborhood park when I saw a dog walker with too many dogs on too many leashes and a desperate look on her face that said the situation might be out of control any minute. Suddenly, in my mind, I saw the chickens and crowd running around a corner, tangling with all those leashes…humans landing “splat” with chickens flapping onward.

Just like a cook experiments, tries something, adds, tastes, steps back, considers…I sometimes instantly and sometimes slowly know that I’ve come up with a sticky idea for a book or a scene depending on the sensation it leaves in my reader’s mind. The whole thing takes curiosity, patience, and anything that keeps discouragement at bay.

Thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us! I hope you’re having a wonderful—and idea-filled—summer!

Now let’s take a look at:

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Chickens on the Loose

By Jane Kurtz | Illustrated by John Joseph

 

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

Oh no! The backyard gate is open and there are “chickens breaking loose. / Chickens on the lam. / Zipping from the yard, / as quickly as they can.” It’s a wild chicken chase, with humans trailing behind, trying and failing to stop the loose chickens. The chickens zoom and do not stop; they peek in windows, take items from shops. They do some yoga at a local studio, before grabbing some snacks at an outdoor food court fest. What a crazy, hilarious, chicken-filled mess!

An ever-growing crowd of people race behind, trying to stop them in their tracks. Throughout the story, each new member of the crowd yells, “STOP!” but the chickens pay no heed. When the chickens reach the local pet store, “‘STOP!’ shouts everybody. But the chickens will not stop. / ‘No way!” they say, “We will not stay.” It sounds like BOC BOC BOC.” What will bring these chickens home? Find out in the madcap ending that will have kids wanting the hear the story all over again.

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Image copyright John Joseph, 2021, text copyright Jane Kurtz, 2021. Courtesy of West Margin Press.

Author Jane Kurtz wows again with another read-out-loud tale perfect for youngsters. Her infectious rhymes and zippy rhythm propel the story with wit as quick as those runaway chickens. Kurtz’s vivacious vocabulary adds to the fun, and her repeated phrasing will have kids vocally joining the chase. 

John Joseph’s colorful, comedic drawings feature a diverse cast of city residents of different races, religions, ethnicities, and abilities. The girl whose chickens got loose in the first place leads the crowd down the streets from page to page. Joseph illustrates the neighborhood with colorful storefronts, homes, bustling crowds, and the silliest of chickens. The exaggerated body language and expressiveness of the humans and chickens tell a story in themselves, adding a great deal of humor to the story. 

Ages 4 – 8

West Margin Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1513267241

For classroom resources, a peek inside the book, and a fun video, check out this page on Jane Kurtz’s website!

For more fantastic reading, check out these picture books and middle grade reads by Jane Kurtz too!

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You can find Chickens on the Loose at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 23 – Hot Enough for Ya? Day

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About the Holiday

So here we are in the dog days of summer with their sweltering heat and soggy humidity. It’s so hot that even the simplest activities leave you drenched and drained. It’s the same every year, so what can you say? Well, today’s holiday gives a wry wink at that summer conversation starter, “Hot enough for ya?” Somehow this folksy phrase always brings a smile and shared commiseration. During these sweltering days enjoy some cooling treats with your kids – how about an ice-cream, a dip in the pool, lake, or ocean, or even that old favorite: running through the sprinkler? No matter where you find refreshment today, don’t forget to ask: “Hot enough for ya?”

And Then Comes Summer

Written by Tom Brenner | Illustrated by Jaime Kim

 

Summer days are like no other days during the year. Full of light and the kind of weather that entices you to stay outdoors, the months of June, July, and August hold promises of beauty and fun. Every day and every place welcome summer in their own way and invite new adventures. “When the days stretch out like a slow yawn, and leaves and grasses sparkle with dew, and the cheerful faces of Johnny-jump-ups jump up…THEN throw on flip-flops and breathe the sweet air.”

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Copyright Jaime Kim, 2017, courtesy of jaimekim.com

In those flip-flops you’ll run past buzzing bumblebees, flying warblers, and Dad mowing the lawn to your bike. Pump up the tires, raise the seat, put on your helmet, and take off! When the sun stays up past bedtime “and crickets crick-crick in the evening air, and bugs as big as thumbs bang against windows…” then it’s time to play games until night falls.

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Copyright Jaime Kim, 2017, courtesy of jaimekim.com

When every day is a play day and you’re out running and jumping or at the beach, and you hear that “familiar jingle,” you know the ice-cream truck is on its way. Then race your friends “to be the first in line” to choose your favorite icy-cold treat. “When the dog days of summer roll around, and it’s so hot you’re practically panting, and not even the sprinklers provide relief…THEN it’s time to head to the lake.” On the way, watch the world go by through your open window. Feel the breeze and enjoy the smells, sounds, and sights of the trip.

As you approach the familiar vacation spot where “the silver lake winks through the trees, and old friends run to greet you…” then it’s time for swimming and tents and roasted marshmallows while you tell stories and “plan tomorrow’s adventures.”

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Image copyright Jaime Kim, 2017, text copyright Tom Brenner, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Tom Brenner’s tribute to the wonders of summer reflects that free and easy feeling that vacation months bring to kids. The little moments that become favorite memories are all here, recorded in Brenner’s lyrical and evocative pages. The rhythm and repetition play out like the best summer days—some, nuggets of individual joy and others, building to the excitement of eagerly anticipated vacations.

Jaime Kim transports kids to backyards, main streets, lemonade stands, and finally a shimmering lake in her sun-drenched illustrations of kids enjoying the freedom of summer. Readers can almost hear the shouts, sprinkler spray, running feet, fireworks, and crackling campfire as they turn the pages to join Kim’s enthusiastic kids in their summertime romps.

And Then Comes Summer is a joyous book to share with kids during summer or any time of the year.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763660710 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1536217377 (Paperback)

Discover a portfolio of illustration work by Jaime Kim on her website!

Hot Enough for Ya Day? Activity

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Flip-Flop Flower Pots

 

Have you outgrown your flip-flops from last year? You can turn them into fun plant holders with just a few buttons and mounting squares! Paint the pots with your own designs to make your hangings even more unique!

Supplies 

  • Small flip-flops with elastic heel backings
  • Decorative buttons
  • Glue or needle and thread
  • Small plastic flower pots
  • Paint for decorating the pot (optional)
  • Flower or plant
  • Dirt
  • Mounting Squares

Directions

  1. Plant the flower or plant in the flower pot 
  2. Decorate the straps of the flip-flops with the buttons. You can glue them on or sew them on with a needle and thread
  3. Place the flower pot into the flip-flop, letting it rest on the toe separator and securing it with the elastic backing
  4. Attach mounting squares to the back of the flip-flop to hang.

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You can find And Then Comes Summer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review