December 7 – National Letter Writing Day

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About the Holiday

Many young wishers know all about writing letters in December, so it should come as no surprise that a letter-writing day be included in this month’s calendar. Today’s holiday celebrates all forms of personal communication written by hand and remembers correspondences from the past that have given us such insight into our favorite poets, novelists, historical figures, and more. Sure, email might be faster, but there’s a certain luxury in taking the time to write your thoughts on paper as well as an palpable excitement in holding a heartfelt letter in your hands. Today’s book also reminds us that letters can often change minds, hearts, and actions.

Dear Mr. Dickens

Written by Nancy Churnin | Illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe

 

Like most people at the time, Eliza Davis looked forward to every new story Charles Dickens published in his weekly magazine, All the Year Round. And when he began publishing books, she eagerly read those too. “What made Charles Dickens a hero in Eliza’s eyes is that he used the power of his pen to help others.” After people read about the harsh conditions children faced at workhouses, they demanded change. And when they “were moved to tears by tales of families struggling in desperate, dirty conditions, they gave what they could to charities. As did Eliza.” 

But while reading Oliver Twist, there was one aspect of the story that distressed Eliza. As a follower of the Jewish faith, she was disturbed by Dickens’ portrayal of Fagin as an “‘old shriveled Jew'” who taught Oliver how to steal. Fagin was “described…as dishonest, selfish, cruel, and ugly.” And each time she read “the Jew,…the word hurt like a hammer on Eliza’s heart.” Prejudice against Jews in England was already bad, and Eliza felt Dickens’ stories would made conditions worse.

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

She decided to write a letter to Charles Dickens, but she worried about his reaction. In her letter she said that his “portrayal of Fagin encouraged ‘a vile prejudice.’ She asked him to ‘atone for a great wrong.'” As she posted her letter, she wondered if she would get a response. About two weeks later, Eliza did receive an answer to her letter. In it Dickens replied that Fagin was based on real criminals and that there there were “other bad people in the book who are not Jewish.” He took exception to her request to atone by saying that “any Jewish people who thought him unfair or unkind…were not ‘sensible’ or ‘just’ or ‘good tempered.'”

Eliza was disheartened as she read the letter, and she sat down and composed another letter in response. Thinking of Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, Eliza reminded him of his past love for the novel Ivanhoe, which included positive, noble Jewish characters. She mentioned his present novel, in which while “some of his non-Jewish characters were criminals, all his Jewish characters were criminals.” Then she stated that future readers would “judge him by how he judged others.”

This time Eliza did not receive an answer. She knew that Dickens was working on a new novel, and when it began to appear serialized in monthly installments, she hurried to buy them, wondering if there would be other Jewish characters and how they would be depicted. When, as she read Our Mutual Friend, she realized Dickens had included another Jewish character, she trembled, wondering what they would be like. 

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Eliza was elated to see that Mr. Riah – named after the Hebrew word for friend, re’a – was “generous and loyal” and that a young girl he helps remarks about the Jews, “‘I think there cannot be kinder people in the world.'” She immediately sat down to pen another letter to Charles Dickens. This one thanking him for his great compliment to her and the Jewish people. He wrote back with much pleasure and revealed that in the future he wanted his work to reflect his true friendship with Jewish people.

To show his sincerity, he published essays condemning prejudice and in the reprint of Oliver Twist, he replaced mentions of “the Jew” with Fagin’s name so as to “make it clear that Fagin didn’t represent all Jewish people.” Eliza sent Charles Dickens one more letter – this time with the gift of an English-Hebrew Bible – praising his ability to right a wrong, and Dickens responded with one more letter thanking Eliza for speaking up.

An extensive Author’s Note reveals more about the history of prejudice against Jewish people in England from the 1200s until 1846, when attitudes began to change and a repressive law was repealed. Nancy Churnin also includes more details about Eliza Davis the communications between her and Charles Dickens, and Dickens’ daughter upon his death. Source Notes and acknowledgments are also included.

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nancy Churnin’s compelling story about the facts surrounding the correspondence between Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens shines a spotlight on a little-known, but important series of events in the life and inspiration behind Dickens’ growth and responsiveness as a writer. Eliza Davis, who acted on her convictions with confidence and courage, makes an inspiring role model for children who may want to voice their opinions on wrongs they see, read, or hear about.

Churnin’s introduction of A Christmas Carol, a novel that most children and adults know, allows readers to understand the important and influential connection between a person’s thoughts, words, and writing and their actions. It also provides a deeper resonance to Eliza Davis’s reminder to Dickens of his past, present, and future and to Dickens own change of heart from his first reply to Eliza to his portrayal of the Jewish character in Our Mutual Friend and his other actions.

Bethany Stancliffe takes readers back to the the 1800s in her rich illustrations full of details of the period. Kids will be interested to see how authors published their work at the time. Her faithful depictions of Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens informs readers on the influence that a young person had on such an established and lauded author. Eliza’s pleasure in Dickens’ stories and her pain on encountering the prejudicial portrayal of Jewish characters is clear, which makes her dilemma all the more meaningful. The final spread, in which Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens, facing each other, are connected by the letters they exchanged.

An important story about a beloved author and the woman who influenced his work and life, Dear Mr. Dickens will spark conversations on issues of prejudice, standing up for ones beliefs, personal change, courage to address wrongs, and many other topics. The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807515303

Discover more about Nancy Churnin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bethany Stancliffe, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Letter Writing Day Activity

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Fashion a Quill Pen

 

Writing a proper letter is more fun with a fancy pen! you can fashion your own quill pen or liven up a ballpoint pen or a marker with this craft!

Supplies

  • Medium to large size feather with quill, available at craft stores (optional)
  • Ballpoint pen or marker (optional)
  • Clay, oven-bake or air-dry, in various colors if desired
  • Wire, beads, paint, and/or markers for decorating     
  • Scissors
  • Baking pan for oven-bake clay

Directions

  1. Roll clay 2 ½ inches to 4 inches long 
  2. Push the quill end of the feather into the clay OR cover the ballpoint pen or marker in clay
  3. Add bits of clay or roll sections of the clay between your fingers to give the clay shape
  4. To make the twisted shape pen, twist the length of clay around itself before adding the feather
  5. Shape the end or cut it with scissors to make the pointed writing nib
  6. If using air-dry clay: Add beads and/or wire and let clay dry around feather
  7. If using oven-bake clay: Add beads and other layers of clay before baking then carefully remove feather. Bake clay according to package directions
  8. Add wire and other decorations after clay has baked and cooled
  9. Reinsert feather into clay

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You can find Dear Mr. Dickens at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 6 – Mitten Tree Day

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About the Holiday

2021 marks the fifth year that I’ve celebrated Mitten Tree Day with the book that started it all. Originally published in 1997, The Mitten Tree has become a treasured read aloud and continues to inspire kindness programs in schools, libraries, and communities around the country. The feel of a cozy mitten on freezing fingers is one of the luxuries of wintertime. But where did mittens come from? The word “mitten” comes from the French word mitaine, which was an old nickname for a cat, because early mittens were typically made of animal fur. The earliest mittens, dating to around 1000 AD, were used as sheaths for gloves, adding extra protection for cold hands. Now that mitten weather is upon us, make sure your pair is still soft, wooly, and warm. If they’re not, consider buying a new pair from a local artisan, or, if you’re crafty, knit a new pair yourself. And, of course, enjoy the season with today’s book!

The Mitten Tree

Written by Candace Christiansen | Illustrated by Elaine Greenstein

 

In a small house at the end of a lane Sarah lives all alone. Her own children have grown and moved away, but as she watches the kids gather at the blue spruce tree to wait for the school bus she remembers all the years that she walked her son and daughter to this same spot. As she makes her way down the lane to her mailbox, she wishes the children will wave and smile, but they never seem to notice her. Still, it makes Sarah smile to see them.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

One winter morning Sarah notices all the kids throwing snowballs and making snowmen—all except one little boy dressed all in blue who lacks the mittens needed to join his friends. All day Sarah worries about the boy with no mittens. As the sun goes down Sarah digs “through the basket of yarn scraps she had saved for many years.” She finds her needles and four shades of blue wool. Then Sarah begins to knit.

With the rising sun Sarah hurries to the bus stop and hangs the new blue mittens on the spruce tree. Then she hides behind a hedge to watch. The little boy in blue is the first to arrive at the bus stop. When he sees the mittens hanging there, he tries them on and finds that they fit perfectly. With a big smile he makes “a perfect snowball” and throws “it high into the winter sky.” Soon Sarah sees a little girl with mismatched mittens. That night she finds the perfect color of wool and knits a pair to match the girl’s red coat.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Every morning Sarah watches the children, looking for any who have no mittens. During the day her needles are busy making gifts for these children. The next morning before anyone else is up she rushes to the spruce tree and adorns it with the mittens she has knitted. The children have warmed to the “game,” and each day search “under every branch and bough for another pair of mittens.” Once or twice Sarah thinks the boy with her blue mittens sees her, but his eyes don’t linger.

On the day before the school’s winter break Sarah fills her knitting basket with the latest mittens she’s knit. She heads out the door and down the lane. When she reaches the blue spruce, she hangs “mittens on every branch.” When the children arrive, they stand “very still for a few minutes looking at the mysterious, beautiful mitten tree.” As they board the bus, each child is wearing a new pair of mittens. Sarah sees them appear one by one in the bus windows, but none see Sarah.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Sarah goes home feeling happy and with her heart as full as it was “when the sounds of her own children had filled her house.” But what awaits Sarah? As she climbs the stairs to her porch, she notices a “basket woven with thick brown vines and decorated with a large white bow.” She’s surprised to see that it is filled to the brim with balls of colorful yarn. Even today Sarah knits new mittens for all the children in town, and “every time her basket is empty, a new full one appears.” Sarah doesn’t know who brings the basket, just as the children don’t know who supplies the mittens. “But someone must….”

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Candace Christiansen’s heartwarming story of kindness given and reciprocated will inspire kids to see that anyone can make a difference in the lives of others by using their talents to fill a need. This gentle, quiet tale offers suspense that will pique readers’ curiosity from page to page, and the mystery surrounding the never-empty basket of wool provides a satisfying and moving ending that also reassures kids that deeds of thoughtfulness and compassion are noticed. The grandmotherly Sarah and familiar school bus stop setting and winter activities will resonate with readers.

Elaine Greenstein’s softly colored, folk-style illustrations give the story a cozy feeling—perfect for cold-weather reading, The variety of intricately knitted mittens, with their hearts, stripes, snowflakes and cables, are charming, and the enchanting image of the blue spruce decorated with mittens makes it easy to see how The Mitten Tree continues to inspire so many acts of kindness and charity.

Ages 3 – 7

Fulcrum Publishing, 2009 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1555917333

Mitten Tree Day Activity

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Mitten Match & Coloring Page

 

Mittens often get lost or mismatched in the fun of winter activities. Find the pairs in this printable Mitten Match & Coloring Page and then decorate them!

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You can find The Mitten Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 3 – International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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About the Holiday

Today we honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a holiday that raises awareness for people of different physical and mental abilities across the globe. The day was proclaimed an international holiday in 1992 by the United Nations in order to appreciate members of our society who are often marginalized or ignored because of their different abilities. Today we recognize the importance of creating a world in which everyone feels like an active, respected member and cultivating a society that is accessible and designed for all of us. To celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities learn more about the fight for disability education rights or talk to someone you know with a disability about their experiences. You can also visit the IDPWD website to learn about available services, resources, and how you can get involved. We Want to Go to School! is a perfect way to start a conversation with a child about education equality for people with disabilities.

Thank you to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of We Want to Go to School! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights

Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler | Illustrated by Janine Leffler

 

When Janine was born with a disability called cerebral palsy, she had lots of teachers to help her learn. With the aid from different instructors who helped build her speech, her muscles, and her hand coordination, Janine was able to learn, play, study, and graduate school with the rest of her peers. This would not have been true, however, had she been born a decade earlier. Before 1971, millions of kids with disabilities were banned from attending public schools.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Janine explains that the people in charge claimed that children with disabilities shouldn’t go to school with everyone else because it would take too much money to fund education for them, and that those with disabilities would distract the other children. They even tried to say children with disabilities wouldn’t be able to learn. The real reason so many children with disabilities had to stay home or in hospitals instead of going to school was because of people’s prejudice.

Many parents of Black children had also experienced discrimination when they were in school. Before 1954, Black children had to go to separate schools that were not given nearly as many resources or good teachers as the white kids received in public schools. Similarly, children with disabilities in some places could take a test to go to public school, but they then were placed in separate, or segregated, classrooms and not given the same quality of education as the other kids. “But in 1971 in Washington, DC, seven school-age children were tired of hearing NO! They wanted to go to school too.” When other families heard about the lawsuit these seven families had started, they joined in too.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

So many children were not receiving public education because of disabilities, that all together they could file a class action lawsuit, “which meant that it stood up for a lot of children. And I mean a LOT! 18,000 students from the Washington, DC, area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities. Try to imagine 18,000. Then try to imagine 8,00,000 (8 million)! That’s how many children in the United States weren’t getting an education because they had disabilities.”

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Joseph C. Waddy, the judge on the case took eleven long months to deliberate over his decision – “On the one hand, he knew that it would cost a lot of money to provide an education to these children. On the other hand, shouldn’t schools be spending their money on ALL children?” – Finally, Judge Waddy decided, and the families won! “All across the country, millions of students with disabilities could finally go to school and get the education they needed and deserved.” The text concludes with one final note from Janine: “Thank you, Peter, Janice, Jerome, Michael, George, Steven, and Duane. You changed many lives…including mine.”

After the resolution of Janine’s recounting of this landmark case, a page entitled “About Disability Education Rights in the United States” provides more details on the key points for readers and educators. The informational spread includes a direct quote from Judge Waddy’s ruling and a timeline of important landmarks for disability rights and education. In personal notes from Janine Leffler and her mom, Maryann, the authors talk about their connections to the disabled community. This insightful page concludes with a personal note from the last surviving Plaintiff’s Attorney on the case: Paul R. Dimond.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Janine Leffler and Maryann Cocca-Leffler collaborate to tell the important story of the Mills v. Board of Education of the District Columbia case that served as a critical turning point in the fight for disability education rights. Through Janine’s personal narration of the case, the two authors succinctly explain the unfolding of this history in terms that are engaging and easy to understand for young readers. Speech bubbles and intertwined text with illustrations make the story engaging and exciting for young readers to follow. On the page that states how many children with disabilities were not allowed to go to school in DC, and more widely across the US, the whole spread features 1,000 tiny faces of kids, to help readers fathom the enormity of 18,000 people, let alone 8 million. The children in the story represent a diverse crowd of races, genders, and abilities. A joy to read, and an essential story to learn. Education matters.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807535189

You can find an Educator’s Guide to download on the Albert Whitman & Company website here.

Discover more about Maryann Cocca-Leffler, her books, and her musical on her website.

To meet and learn about Janine Leffler and discover the books and other creative endeavors she has inspired, visit Janine’s Party.

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You can find We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 2 – I AM TODAY Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

I’m thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for I Am Today by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Patricia Pessoa. This season of giving is the perfect time to share this gorgeous book that reflects the desire of children to give their thoughts, talents, and actions to causes that are meaningful to them. If you’d like to follow I Am Today’s blog tour, see the graphic below for further dates and blogs.

I Am Today

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine | Illustrated by Patricia Pessoa

 

A child stands on the edge of the beach, letting the sea foam run over her bare toes. Below, a turtle wrapped in a strand of wire floats nearby, while in the background a factory belches smog into the air, and a pipe snakes over the dunes to the water, where it spills its industrial waste. As the child picks up the turtle and removes the wire, she states, “Grown-ups say I am the Future.” Then while releasing the freed turtle, she finishes her thought: “But I’d rather be the Now.” The child then makes her case, explaining that she’s ready to contribute in positive ways, having learned decency, fairness, and generosity from her family and other role models.

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

The memory of the turtle she saved stays with her—her one small act inspiring her to do more. She determines “if I see something isn’t right, / I need to take a stand! / Why wait to offer kindness? / Why wait to lend a hand?” While trying to go to sleep, the little turtle and a whole sea of fish and other creatures swim in her mind. Suddenly, she has an idea and gets out of bed. She writes note after note and folds each paper into origami turtles. She then goes to her window and releases them on the wind.

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

The next morning, despite the rain, a crowd of children has gathered at the child’s door—all are holding her note. They and their parents and other adults, many carrying signs urging protection for the sea animals, march down the sidewalk and past the polluting factory to the beach. Living in that moment, they think: “The past is far behind us, / the future, well beyond. / There’s never been / a better time to listen… / …learn… / …respond!”

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

At the beach the group fans out across the sand to pick up debris, and a turn of the page reveals a clean beach and a newspaper containing a front-page article on the factory’s waste pipe that has been closed. “Someday I’ll be the Future” the child says, “But right now… / …I am Today.”

Illustrated instructions on how to make an origami turtle follow the story.

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Image copyright Patricia Pessoa, 2021, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2021. Courtesy of POW! Kids Books.

Children, having lived on our planet for only a few years, are all progress, moving forward, not looking back yet as each day they learn something new, develop another skill, break old barriers, and form unique opinions. So it’s no surprise that kids are concerned about what is happening today and how it will affect the future—their future and the world’s. In I Am Today, Matt Forrest Esenwine harnesses that power of wonder, confidence, and ambition that children possess and gives it a lyrical voice. Flowing with a rhythm as stirring as ocean swells, Esenwine’s story will resonate deeply within any child’s heart.

While Patricia Pessoa’s lovely illustrations depict a child concerned with protecting the ocean and its creatures, Esenwine’s text is universal and equally inspiring for any child and any cause. While recognizing the desire and ability of children and young people to bring about change, Esenwine also provides concrete ways that they can do so, from small gestures to larger actions, allowing all readers to feel included and important. I Am Today also presents a meaningful way for kids and adults to talk about causes that are important to them and ways that they can get involved.

With a warm, vivid color palette and fresh perspectives that allow readers to make some of their own deductions, Patricia Pessoa presents a lush landscape of a child’s family life, imagination, and ideas brought to fruition. Her images of the family’s picture wall and dinner time are full of heart and humor, and kids will enjoy lingering over the pages to catch all the action. Pessoa portrays the importance of saving the turtles and other sea creatures with clever imagery as the turtle appears in the bathroom mirror as the child brushes her teeth, swimming in the bathtub, and decorating the cup of water on her nightstand. Pessoa’s illustrations of the fish and other ocean creatures that fill the child’s mind are especially beautiful, as is the spread in which she sends her origami messengers out into the world.

I Am Today is an inspiring, uplifting, and motivational book that children will want to frequently revisit and one that families, classrooms, schools, and public libraries will want to add to their collections. The book’s beauty and message makes it a wonderful gift for any child on your list.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

POW! Kids Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1576879948

Discover more about Matt Forrest Esenwine, his books, and his poetry on his website.

You can connect with Patricia Pessoa on Instagram.

Check out these upcoming dates and discover how other bloggers are celebrating I Am Today

I Am Today Blog Tour Schedule

This year many books have been delayed from their original publishing date to a later time due to shipping and supply issues. The best way to support authors and their wonderful new books is to preorder titles from your favorite bookseller.

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You can preorder I Am Today at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 1 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Dancing with Daddy

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Dancing with Daddy

Written by Anitra Rowe Schulte | Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

 

Elsie was shopping for the perfect dress to wear to her first father-daughter dance. Should she choose the pink one that will make her look like a princess or the red one that’s the same color as her daddy’s soccer jersey? As her mom held them up, Elsie reached from her wheelchair and “grabbed the red dress and pulled it close. This one,” she thinks. “It’s perfect for dancing with Daddy.” She gets a matching bow headband and heads home as snowflakes flurried around them. Elsie was worried the dance would be cancelled.

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At home, Elsie’s sisters, Daphne and Rosalie, raced to meet Elsie at the door while Daddy asked her if she picked out a good one. Elsie replied by touching the “special” picture square in her PODD communication book. After dinner – noodle bowls for Daphne and Rosalie and a push of food through a feeding tube for Elsie – the sisters went to Elsie’s room to see her dress and talk about the dance. Soon it was time for bed, and “Daddy read Elsie’s favorite bedtime book,” the Nutcracker. “As the dancer in the story twirled, Elsie’s heart did pirouettes. I can’t wait to see my dress spin,” Elsie thought.

That night Elsie dreamed about the dance, but the snow kept falling. In the morning, Elsie stared out the window with disappointment. She saw snow edging her window panes and heard the sound of snow shovels. She just knew the dance would be cancelled. Then her mom came in and told her “‘the dance is a go!'” All day the sisters practiced dancing and twirling and dipping Elsie’s wheelchair “until she found her groove.”

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At last the time came to get ready and leave for the dance. Daddy complimented all of his daughters on their dresses as they made their way to the dance hall. That’s when Elsie realized she didn’t have her bow. While crossing the parking lot, Elsie’s wheels got stuck in a snowbank, but Daddy pushed it through. Once inside, the other girls all reminded her of the dancer in her favorite book. She wished she had her bow and put her hand up to touch her hair. Reminded, her dad pulled the headband from his pocket and set it in place. Then he spun her around; “her ruffles took flight.”

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Inside the gym, the music boomed, and everyone was dancing. When a “tender tune began to play, Daphne and Rosalie took a break. Elsie’s daddy picked her up. “Elsie pressed her forehead against Daddy’s, and together they danced. He swung her high and held her tight. It was just like her dream, “except better.” Afterward, Elsie tasted the frosting from her piece of cake, then she touched the “dance” picture in her book. Elsie and Daddy returned to the dance floor and “joined Daphne and Rosalie under the lights and dance and danced into the night.”

An Author’s Note at the front of the book introduces readers to Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, its prevalence, affects, and the tools people with WHS use to eat, communicate, and get around.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-with-daddy-book

Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Inspired by her own daughters, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome like Elise, Anitra Rowe Schulte’s story glows with family love, support, and encouragement. As Elise gets ready for a father-daughter dance, readers will get caught up in her excitement and universal concerns, such as choosing the “perfect” dress and whether a much-anticipated event will be cancelled because of adverse weather. Schulte’s evocative storytelling beautifully incorporates both emotion and factual information through the use of realistic, uplifting dialogue and intermittent lyrical lines that echo the movement and music of dance. Children also see that while Elsie may be nonverbal, her thoughts are like their own, just expressed differently.

Ziyue Chen’s lovely illustrations shine with sisterly camaraderie and family devotion. As the story opens and Elise chooses the red dress over the pink one by pulling it close, kids can read in her face and body language how important the dress, the dance, and surprising her dad are to her. Likewise, readers will share Elise’s excitement and her worries and celebrate the fun she has at the dance. Particularly moving are two mirrored illustrations: the first, a gorgeous image, lit by golden orbs and tiny stars, of Elise dreaming of the dance to come, and the second a tender two-page spread later on when her dream comes true. 

In her illustrations of Elise, Chen realistically depicts the facial features of children with WHS as well as the wheelchair, orthotics, feeding mechanism, and PODD books used by many. Children who use tools similar to Elise will be excited to see themselves represented in these pages, and others will be interested to learn about them and to meet Elise.

A joyous and heartfelt story of a loving and supportive family and which celebrates the common hopes and dreams of all children, Dancing with Daddy is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542007191

About Anitra Rowe Schulte

Anitra Rowe Schulte has worked as a journalist for The Kansas City Star and the Sun-Times News Group, as a staff writer for Chicago Public Schools, and as a publicist. She is the mother of three beautiful girls, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and is the inspiration for Elsie in this book. She lives in the Chicago area, and this is her first picture book. Learn more about her at www.anitraroweschulte.com and follow her at @anitraschulte on Twitter.

About Ziyue Chen

Ziyue Chen is the Deaf illustrator of a number of children’s books, including Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk, How Women Won the Vote by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby by Danna Smith. She lives with her loved ones in Singapore. Find out more at www.ziyuechen.com or follow her @ziyuechen on Instagram.

To see Ziyue Chen bring her illustrations to life on the page, watch these videos.

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You can find Dancing with Daddy at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 30 – Tedd Tuesday

About the Holiday

There is no better time to feature Tedd Arnold than during Picture Book Month! Tedd Arnold has published over 50 books as both writer and illustrator! His themes range from houses crashing down, to little girls turning into frogs, to his beloved character Fly Guy. No matter which book you choose you can rest assured that you will be pulled into a world full of action, adventure, and things flying through the air! And No Jumping on the Bed! has become such a classic that the book got an illustrative update for it’s 25th anniversary. Whether you love new look or are a fan of the original, No Jumping on the Bed! makes for a perfect bedtime story time.

Review by Amanda Leemis

No Jumping on the Bed!

Written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold

 

Meet Walter. He loves jumping on his bed. Walter’s father has told him a million times not to jump on the bed. As Walter closes his eyes in his darkened bedroom, he can hear a “thump, thump, thump” from the apartment upstairs. Suddenly, he just can’t resist! “If Delbert can jump on his bed, so can I!” declares Walter. This is when something very unexpected happens. Walter’s feet firmly hit the bed and the entire floor cracks beneath him. Walter, his stuffed puppy dog, and all of his things crash right through the floor.

Copyright Tedd Arnold, 1987, courtesy of Pearson Early Learning Group. | Copyright Tedd Arnold, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books.

You may think the story ends here as Walter crashes into the apartment beneath and lands in Miss Hattie’s spaghetti, but the apartment building is large and Walter lives in a floor way up high. So, instead of apologizing to Miss Hattie for landing her her spaghetti dinner, they both crash through the next floor and pick up Mr. Matty and his TV. Mr. Matty is shocked as ever to see two people crash through his ceiling and soon he becomes a crasher too, crashing into Aunt Batty’s apartment. Walter tumbles through a box of stamps and into the next apartment along with everyone else where he destroys a beautiful block castle.

Copyright Tedd Arnold, 1987, courtesy of Pearson Early Learning Group. | Copyright Tedd Arnold, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books.

Walter picks up a fluffy cat named Fatty Cat along the way and his tumbling continues down through a painter’s apartment where everyone is splattered by buckets of paint! Down, down, down, they fall covered in green, yellow, and blue paint! “Walter, Miss Hattie, Mr. Matty, Aunt Batty, Patty, and Natty, Mr. Hanratty, Fatty Cat, seventeen cans of paint, the stamps, the TV, the spaghetti, the bed, and all.”

The final apartment is that of Maestro Ferlingatti and his musicians. Spaghetti and paint flies onto the musicians’ heads! His practice room floor is also the basement ceiling and Walter squeezes his eyes shut as he tumbles through the darkness back onto a soft mound of blankets.

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Copyright Tedd Arnold, 1987, courtesy of Pearson Early Learning Group.

Walter opens his eyes and finds himself safe and sound in his bed. Now, reader, you must be thinking that this was all just a dream, but that’s when Walter hears a creak. He looks up, and Delbert comes crashing though Walter’s ceiling, bed and all.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-no-jumping-on-the-bed-2012-sleeping

Copyright Tedd Arnold, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books.

Tedd Arnold’s illustrations, full of vibrant colors, energy, and movement, will make you want to hold on tightly to the edges of your own bed for fear you may be the next crasher! The repetition may temp your little ones to read along and name all of the people and things that are tumbling through the building. This story is great for bedtime and provides an interesting thought to ponder as you drift off to sleep – was Walter dreaming, or is there really a structural problem with the building? Which apartment would you like to crash through next?

Ages 4-6

Dial Books for Young Readers, 1987, ISBN | 0-8037-0038-5

About Amanda Leemis

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Amanda Leemis is a model, artist, and creator of The Hollydog Blog! She is passionate about encouraging our littlest humans to read! With two books published in the “My Hollydog” series, she loves illustration and uses her skills to create printable worksheets for ages 2-5. Creating resources that build fine motor skills and boost creativity is her passion.

Amanda Leemis is the illustrator of My Hollydog and My Hollydog Rides in the Car. Her mother Charise Leemis is the author! The “My Hollydog” series is written specifically for ages 2-3. With one sentence per page, little ones will stay engaged and keep focused on the vibrant illustrations. Come along with Hollydog on an adventure! Whether it’s hanging her head out the window or jumping into a pile of leaves, Hollydog loves her humans more than anything in the world!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-hollydog-covercelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-hollydog-rides-in-the-car-cover

Tedd Tuesday Activity

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No Jumping on the Bed Word Search

 

Print your No Jumping on the Bed! Word Search to find all 10 hidden words! All the words are names of things that went crashing right through the floor!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-no-jumping-on-the-bed-cover-original-version celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-no-jumping-on-the-bed-2012-cover

You can find No Jumping on the Bed! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million (Hardcover, 2012 | Paperback, 1987)

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop (Hardcover, 2012 | Paperback, 1987) | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 29 – Middle Grade Monday

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-legend-cover

Review by Jakki Licare

Dragon Legend

By Katie & Kevin Tsang

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Dragon Legend continues the exciting saga begun in the first book of the series, Dragon Mountain, in which San Franciscan Billy Chan, attending a summer camp in China to improve his Mandarin language skills and learn more about his Chinese heritage, discovers that he and his friends, Charlotte, Ling-Fei, and Dylan, are destined to bond with dragons who are guarding a portal that leads to the Dragon Realm. Once they’re bonded, the dragons gain strength in ability as well as in size. Through the dragons’ mystical pearls, the kids also gain super powers. Charlotte receives super strength, Ling-Fei can sense nature, Dylan has the power of persuasion, and Billy gains super agility.

These dragons tried to keep an evil dragon, known as the Dragon of Death, out of the Human Realm, but they were unable to defeat her so they sent her through a time portal to the past. Now in the Dragon Realm, evil dragons are trying to open up a time portal and bring back the Dragon of Death. Billy and his friends are able to stop the evil dragons and close the time portal. But not before Old Gold, the owner of the summer camp, kidnaps Billy’s best friend, Dylan, and jumps through the time portal before it closes. (for a full synopsis and my review check it out here: https://celebratepicturebooks.com/tag/dragon-mountain-book-review/)

As Dragon Legend opens, Billy, Charlotte, Ling-Fei, and their dragons must create a portal to go back in time to save their friend Dylan who was kidnapped by Old Gold, the owner of the summer camp the children have been attending. The group agrees that JJ, Old Gold’s grandson, can come too so he can find his grandfather. While they all believe that JJ will be helpful in locating Dylan in the Dragon Realm, they don’t trust him and tend to exclude JJ from the group.  Billy’s dragon, Spark, swallows a star to create a portal and they are transported back in time to the Dragon Realm.

With the help of some dragon parents and a cute flying pig, Billy and his friends find Dylan entrapped in a tree by dark magic. JJ is able to open the tree because his grandfather created the spell. Billy and his friends are thrilled to have Dylan back, but JJ, who has felt like an outcast among the group, lets the tree ensnare him. He wants to wait for his grandfather.

Billy feels conflicted over JJ’s decision but ultimately decides that there isn’t anything he can do about it. Dylan tells the group that Old Gold has bonded with the Dragon of Death and together they are searching for the remaining mystical pearls. In all there are 8 pearls, inspired by the  Chinese symbols of the Eight Great Treasures. The group is determined to find the rest of the pearls before the Dragon of Death does. As they travel, Spark confesses to Billy that since she swallowed the star she craves the power that comes from dark magic and now she hungers for more. She promises BIlly that she will fight it, and Billy vows to help her.

To find the Ice pearl Billy and his friends have to travel to the Frozen Wasteland on their own. The dragons can’t cross a magical barrier that separates the dragons from their mortal enemy, the worms. While the kids negotiate with a giant hungry fish for passage and fend off giant scorpions, they discover that their powers are enhancing. Dylan can create illusions, Ling-Fei can open up the earth, and BIlly is even faster than before and can create electric shields. After Charlotte defeats the Wasteland Worm and captures the Ice pearl, the group discovers that Charlotte has been lethally bitten by the giant worm. Using their new powers and working together they are able to locate a flower to heal her. Once Charlotte is healed, they create a portal using the magic from their pearls to get back to their dragons.

As soon as they reunite with their dragons, they all head off to the human realm to find the Diamond pearl. They travel into ancient China and steal the Diamond pearl from the emperor’s headdress. The Dragon of Death appears with JJ and Old Gold. JJ has bonded with Dimitrius, a noxwing they fought in Dragon Mountain. Billy tries to convince JJ to come to their side, but JJ refuses.

Dylan and his dragon, Buttons, protect the humans from the Dragon of Death’s poisonous breath. Ling-Fei and her dragon attack the Dragon of Death while Charlotte and her dragon attack the noxwings. Billy and Spark go after JJ and his pearl. Billy grabs the pearl just as JJ’s dragon tries to blast him with fire. Spark reacts just in time and blasts Dimitrius and JJ with an electrical net. Billy is stunned by the look of pain on JJ’s face, but before he can ask Spark about it, he has to help Charlotte who falls off her dragon’s back. Billy catches Charlotte and together they fight the noxwings. Spark entraps the noxwings with an electrical net and BIlly is surprised when Spark starts sucking away the noxwings’s life force. Spark then ensnares the Dragon of Death with an electrical net and starts to feed off of her life force too.

The dragons decide that the Dragon of Death must be turned into a star. Spark releases JJ and Old Gold, and they are all shocked that Spark has injured them. Spark gathers the pearls from everyone so she can turn the Dragon of Death into a star, but then she releases the Dragon of Death. Spark acknowledges that the Dragon of Death is too powerful to fight and gives her the pearls. Everyone is stunned by Spark’s betrayal, and Billy feels guilty for hiding Spark’s struggle with dark magic. The Dragon of Death uses the pearls to call forth a turtle named Destiny Bringer. Destiny Bringer shows the Dragon of Death eight different destinies and the Dragon of Death chooses one.

Billy wakes up back in the human realm, but the entire human race is enslaved by the Dragon of Death. He’s thankful that he is still with his friends and explains to them all that he has a plan. Together they will defeat the Dragon of Death.

Review

 

Dragon lovers rejoice! The second book in the Dragon Realm series is here and it’s ready to sweep you back into Dragon Realm. Like the first book, Dragon Legend is a fast-paced adventure that will keep your middle grader on the edge of their seat. Be prepared to join Billy Chan, his friends and their dragons as they face off with the Dragon of Death. Katie and Kevin Tsang’s imagination soars to new levels in Dragon Legend. The fantasy world is filled with memorable locales like the Forgotten Sea, a body of water that can only be seen by those who remember it.

The children also must cross the daunting blood strait, a river of blood that separates the dragons from the worms. Additionally, they must also traverse the Frozen Wasteland that looks like a frozen “thrashing ocean” while the ground is covered in bones. While the majority of the story takes place in the dragon realm, my favorite part was when the kids travel into the human realm. Here we get to fly over the great wall of China on a dragon’s back, protect the imperial palace and its inhabitants from the noxwings’ fiery breath, and steal the Diamond pearl from the emperor’s headdress.

One of my son’s favorite things about Dragon Mountain was when the kids discover their magic. So he was thrilled when, in Dragon Legend, the kids’ magical powers begin to evolve. Kevin and Katie cleverly string these evolutions throughout the story, adding an extra element of surprise to many of the fight scenes. For example, Dylan’s power of persuasion evolves into the power to create illusions just as the drifters, hungry soaring jellyfish-like creatures, are about to descend upon them. Dylan is able to distract the drifters from eating them with an illusion of their group in a different location. Then, when they are trying to steal the Diamond pearl from the emperor’s headdress, Dylan’s powers evolve again, allowing him to camouflage people in invisibility.

Like the first book, a major theme of Dragon Legend is the power of working together, but this time we see the negative effects of not working together in JJ’s storyline. Kevin and Katie explore the feelings of exclusion and distrust when JJ joins the group. JJ’s close relationship with his grandfather makes the kids distrust him, when the reality is that JJ is just as confused by his grandfather’s actions as they are. 

In the beginning when Dylan is missing, JJ feels as if he can’t live up to Dylan’s image and believes that everyone is disappointed that they have him instead of Dylan. The kids could have befriended JJ and potentially gained another ally, but their distrustful nature create their own enemy. To add fuel to the flames, Katie and Kevin add in  Spark’s mistreatment of JJ at the end, leaving a wonderful plot thread for us to explore through the rest of the series. I won’t lie, my middle grade-loving heart is hoping for a reconciliation.

Spark’s struggle and her craving for dark magic took this series to a whole new level. The entire first book built up BIlly’s bond with Spark, so Billy’s debate of whether to keep Spark’s struggle a secret or to tell the others about it had my son and me on the edge of our seats. Every time Spark’s eyes flickered black my son and I groaned out loud. Like Billy, we too, are rooting for Spark to overcome her craving for dark magic. I’m very interested in seeing how Billy’s and Spark’s relationship plays out in the next book.

If your child enjoyed The Land of Roar or How to Train Your Dragon, then this fast-paced, immersive adventure is a perfect fit.

Parental Considerations: this book does contain fantasy fighting; the most extreme moment included an innocent bystander being burned alive.

Ages 9+

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1471193095

You can learn more about Katie & Kevin Tsang, their Dragon Realm series, and their Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series on their website.

Thanks go to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Dragon Legend for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-legend-cover

You can find Dragon Legend at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review