June 24 – It’s National Camping Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-can-you-canoe?

About the Holiday

June is the perfect month to explore the great outdoors up close through camping. Whether you enjoy pitching a tent, renting a cabin, or parking an RV, all the enjoyment of hiking, fishing, swimming, and of course toasting marshmallows and singing around the campfire await! 

Can You Canoe? And Other Adventure Songs

Written by The Okee Dokee Brothers—Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing Illustrated by Brandon Reese

 

Is it possible to sing a picture book? It is when the book is Can You Canoe?! These twelve humorous, rip-roaring tunes take readers and singers deep into the fun of what it means to spend time enjoying nature. Wild animals, tall tales, legendary characters, and all the sounds and flavors of country livin’ are represented in these catchy original songs that will have you singing and laughing along in no time.

Through the Woods introduces the line-up with an apt question: “I’m wondering if you’d go wandering with me / Through the wilderness and woods / To where the winds are blowin’ free…” But even the speaker realizes there might be doubts—“You’re wondering if I go wandering with you / what kind of trouble we’ll get ourselves into. / Would it be wrong to tag along / With a band of vagabonds?”—and assuages them in the end.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-can-you-canoe-hiking-art

Copyright Brandon Reese, 2016, courtesy of Brandon Reese (brandonreese.com).

Jamboree takes readers to a country store where there’s dancing every Friday night to a song called “Jamboree” that’s played with abandon and just a little off key. But all you need is to “grab you a partner / And hold on tight / ‘Cause we ain’t stoppin’ / Until we see the light.”

In Black Bear Mama a couple learns there’s no arguing with a mother bear on the lookout for food for her cubs, and Echo Echoooo reassures that nothing, not even the widest valley, can keep true love apart. Can You Canoe? is a celebration of the simple life out on the water without distractions: “Can you canoe on a little boat built for two? Can You Canoe?…I wanna float down a river with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-can-you-canoe-echo

Copyright Brandon Reese, 2016, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Mr. & Mrs. Sippy can take you by surprise as this isn’t a tune about straws or baby cups. Instead, this is a rambling life story that starts like this: “Mr. and Mrs. Sippy / Got married in the fall. / They left the church that very same day / For their honeymoon in St. Paul, / Singin’ M-I-double-S-double-S-I-P-P-I / M-I-double-S-double-S-I-P-P-I. The couple roams on down to St. Louis to make themselves a home, then raises children in ‘good old Memphis Town.” When they have no place left to go, “they drift down past New Orleans / To the Gulf of Mexico.” Then you’re invited to sing the chorus backwards and forwards once again!

The Legend of Tall Talkin’ Sam echoes some of the great legends of the American West, such as Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Samantha Rosie-Anna, aka Sam, was “born to a pioneer woman and a Rocky Mountain mountain man” and “come out ridin’ a panther and ropin’ a twister outta the sky.” Sam’s so big that when she sleeps under a blanket of snow, she lays her “hat down in Montana and my boots in Colorado.” But even though this girl is “half horse, half mountain lion and half grizzly bear,” she admits there are things she doesn’t know—“like how some little stream / Carved out one big ol’ canyon, / Or how a fire’s angry flame / Can be your best companion.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-can-you-canoe?

Copyright Brandon Reese, 2016, courtesy of Brandon Reese (www.brandonreese.com)

Jackalope addresses one of the greatest American myths—that of a creature of mixed jack rabbit and antelope blood that roams the plains of the West. With tongue in cheek, the mysterious whereabouts of the Jackalope is exposed in the chorus: “Well I’ve seen ‘em in books and in taxidermy shops. / I’ve seen ‘em hangin’ on the wall. / But I ain’t never seen one in the livin’ light of day— / It’s almost like they don’t exist at all.” But the last verse reveals that perhaps this odd apparition has a purpose after all: “So when you’re searchin’ for the truth / And you’re at the end of your rope, / You might find you don’t need no proof / To believe in the thing that gives you hope— / And for me that’s the jackalope.”

These and a few other rollicking, gold-nugget songs will make any camp out—or even camp in—a knee-slappin’ good time. Can You Canoe comes with a CD so you can sing along to all your favorites—and I have no doubt each song will become a favorite in no time!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-can-you-bears

Copyright Brandon Reese, 2016, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing have known each other all their lives and know a thing or two about adventures and how to make them more fun for friends and families. This Grammy-winning duo conjure up catchy tunes and compelling stories to make their songs unforgettable. These poems/songs have as much heart and wonder as a new frontier and invite readers and singers to explore!

Brandon Reese lends his distinctive talent to each song, creating animated scenes loaded with the kinds of details and drama kids love. Barefoot travelers with their packs on their backs and strong walking sticks in hand pad through woods populated with friendly wildlife. The country store is alive with animal musicians and dancers on the porch, on the roof, and hanging out every window while broadsides for Aunt Malady’s Snake Oil and No Itch Flea Powder hang on the walls. A cozier camping tent you’ll never find, and canoe paddlers are accompanied by a raccoon poling a crocodile boat while a rabbit floats along on the belly of a turtle. Each picture invokes the great outdoors in all its glory.

Can You Canoe is a must for any trip, whether you’re traveling far or just down the road!

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1454918035

National Camping Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-canoe-maze

Come Canoeing With Us Maze

 

These friends want to canoe together but first they must pick up little deer at the center of the lake. They need your help navigating their way in this printable Come Canoeing With Us maze! Here’s the Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-can-you-canoe?

You can find Can You Canoe? And Other Adventure Songs at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Reviews

August 17 – It’s National Catfish Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-catfish-tale

About the Holiday

National Catfish Month honors the hard work and innovations of America’s catfish farmers, many of whose families have been farmers for two or three generations. This delicious fish has many nutritional benefits. It is found mostly in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana and is one of the most sustainable species of fish. Fried or blackened with spicy Cajun or other spices, catfish makes for a scrumptious meal! Try some this month!

A Catfish Tale: A Bayou Story of the Fisherman and His Wife

Written by Whitney Stewart | Illustrated by Gerald Guerlais

 

Down in the bayou, so the story goes, there lived two young sweethearts named Jacques and Jolie. Jacques liked to “pole his skiff through cypress knees to his favorite fishing hole,” and Jolie cooked up peppery hot gumbo and sang “so true even the cicadas hushed up to listen.” One day Jacques hooked a big one, and when he pulled up his line a catfish sprang from the water. But this was no ordinary catfish. The wily fellow explained that he was a magic catfish and not at all a catch for supper. Jacques was so frightened that he freed the “jabbering critter” and took off for home.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-catfish-tale-crocodile

Image copyright Gerald Guerlais, 2014, text copyright Whitney Stewart, 2014. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

When Jolie learned Jacques had given up their chance for a wish that could replace their shack with “a proper house where she could sing for a crowd,” she was steamed. Jacques thought everything was all right the way things were, but he hightailed it back to the swamp and asked that catfish for a house. The catfish was obliging and with a grin said, “‘Ah, tooloulou—if that ain’t the easiest thing to do.’”

In her big, beautiful house, Jolie entertained loads of friends and decided to take her show to all the cities down the river. All she needed, she said, was a paddle wheel boat. The catfish smiled when he heard Jacques’ request and said, “‘Ah, tooloulou—if that ain’t the easiest thing to do.’” Every night Jolie sang from the bow of her grand paddle wheeler. Her fans called her the Queen of the Mississippi, and she ate it up.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-catfish-tale-catfish

Image copyright Gerald Guerlais, 2014, text copyright Whitney Stewart, 2014. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

Jacques was miserable stuck in his stateroom with a pounding headache and no fishing pole, so he returned to the bayou to find his catfish friend. Meanwhile, Jolie took the New Orleans nightclubs by storm. With Mardi Gras approaching, Jolie had one more little favor to ask of the catfish, and with a “tooloulou” Jolie became Queen of Mardi Gras. She wore a diamond crown and a white satin gown. Even though things were a little rocky—the cheering crowds couldn’t hear her sing, and the Mardi Gras beads she tossed to her fans got tangled in her crown—she loved being queen.

Jolie wrote to Jacques and asked to become Queen of the Bayou. The catfish said his magic words and in no time Jolie was crowned Queen amid blaring musicians and applauding fans. Jolie smiled and began to sing. Suddenly, a fierce hurricane blew up, “snakes, alligators, and swamp creatures slithered up the riverbank. Ghosts, and goblins flew from the cemeteries and pirate skeletons escaped watery graves to dance in the streets.” And Jolie? She was swept up and unceremoniously dropped in a tree. From among the branches she called to a passing pelican, “‘Tell my husband to ask that catfish for one more little thing!’”

Jacques “paddled faster than an alligator could swish its tale” and asked that catfish for one last wish…, and what do you think he said? Well, he just slipped back beneath the water ‘cause he knew “Jolie didn’t need nothin’ more.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-catfish-tale-riverboat

Image copyright Gerald Guerlais, 2014, text copyright Whitney Stewart, 2014. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

A Catfish Tale includes a Bayou Glossary as well as a recipe for Seafood Gumbo by New Orleans native Hans Andersson.

Whitney Stewart’s tall tale of a magic catfish, the woman who learns enough is often enough, and the man who loves her will capture kids’ fancy. Jolie’s overreaching ambition and the catfish’s ready spell give children plenty of opportunity to join in with repeated phrases, and the well-paced suspense will keep kids engrossed in the action. The unique bayou setting and colloquial lilt sets A Catfish Tale apart as a rollicking story-time romp with a bit of Cajun caution and a whole lot of magic.

Gerald Guerlais brings the mystery and flavor of the deep south to A Catfish Tale with moss greens and shadowy blues that well depict the bayou’s natural environment. Twisty Cypress trees dip their roots in still, lily pad-filled waters, shimmering lights glow in the nighttime swamp, and spooky critters teem in the stormy sky. The magic catfish wears an ever-present, easy-going grin, and a crusty, good-ol’-boy alligator spins the tall tale just the way he’s heard it. Children will love the scenes of the paddle wheeler and the festive atmosphere of Mardi Gras.

Whitney Stewart’s  A Catfish Tale, a deft retelling of  Grimm’s A Fisherman and His Wife, is a fantastic introduction to the distinctive qualities of the southern Mississippi region, one which kids may want to explore further.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2014 | ISBN 978-0807510988

To learn more about Whitney Stewart and her work as well as to discover activities for children and teachers, visit her website!

View a gallery of illustrations by Gerald Guerlais on his website!

National Catfish Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bayou-coloring-page

Catfish Coloring Page

 

The catfish is a most unusual creature! Add your own swamp or river setting to this Printable Catfish Coloring Page!

May 30 – Loomis Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-cover

About the Holiday

On Loomis Day we remember Mahlon Loomis, a Washington DC dentist working in the mid-1800s who had a very inventive mind. Not only did he invent artificial teeth, he also had some revolutionary ideas on communication. He understood about the electrical properties of the atmosphere and experimented with sending signals long distances using kites flown many miles apart but at the same height. In July of 1872 he received a U. S. patent for “An Improvement in Telegraphing” on wireless telegraphy. Further research revealed that while his wireless telegraphic system worked, it did not work the way Loomis thought. His experiments, however, advanced the science at the time, leading to one of the world’s most transformative discoveries and an ongoing quest for better and faster communications.

Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph

Written by Lucy Margaret Rozier | Illustrated by Leo Espinosa

 

Anyone who looked at the baby with legs “so long they looped like a pretzel” and required a stroller with “an extra axle” knew that he’d been born to run. In fact, his legs grew so fast that if his mother dressed him in long pants in the morning, they were shorts by that evening. Little Jack McCabe used those legs to chase “whatever would run: hogs, dogs, even his own shadow” and “as he got older, he raced trains flying past his house in Windy Flats. By the time he turned eighteen, he’d beat every stagecoach, antelope, and locomotive in the territory.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-a-train

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The people of Windy Flats called him Jackrabbit and relied on him to deliver messages that were urgent. On Sundays he joined the horses on the track, making money when people bet on him to come in first. One day, though, the electric telegraph came to Windy Flats. The poles and wires already crossed the eastern part of the country. Each connected city had “a telegraph and an operator who sent and received messages in Morse code, an alphabet of dots and dashes.”

The people of Windy Flats didn’t think this newfangled contraption could carry messages faster than Jackrabbit, so the telegraph man suggested, “‘How ‘bout a race between your fella and this here electric telegraph? Sandy Bluff’s just got themselves an operator, That’s pert near twenty-five miles, as the crow flies.’” Jackrabbit was all for it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-a-horse

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

On the day of the race, the whole town of Windy Flats came out with flags, banners, and even a brass band. “The mayor carefully wrote down the same message on two slips of paper. He handed one to the telegraph man and the other to Jackrabbit.”  On the shout of “GO!” the telegraph man plunked his finger on the key sending the pulses through the wire while Jackrabbit took off down the road toward Sandy Bluff “like a tornado.”

The townspeople watched as in only a few moments “a reply came clattering back as that telegraph key jumped and smacked all on its own.” The telegraph man read the code and yelled, “‘Message received. Stop. Sandy Bluff Operator.’” But where was Jackrabbit McCabe? Although he made it to Sandy Bluff in only 9 ½ minutes, it was still too long to beat the telegraph. When he stopped short at the door of the depot, he was met by a telegram tacked to the door. Jackrabbit read it and then pulled the paper that contained the mayor’s message out of his pocket. The two were the same.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-at-the-starting-line

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Riding home in a stagecoach, “Jackrabbit felt lower than a snake’s navel.” The mayor also felt pretty low, thinking of Jackrabbit, until he realized that if Jackrabbit’s fingers were as fast as his legs, he’d make an excellent telegraph operator. When Jackrabbit stepped out of the stagecoach and heard the mayor’s offer, he whooped with joy. It didn’t take long for Jackrabbit to learn the new code, and soon “his fingers flew like a banjo player’s strumming that telegraph key.” Every day he sent and received messages. He even “teamed up with the local typesetter, who printed the news that came over that wire, linking Windy Flats to the whole entire country,” and whenever a telegram or the newspaper needed to be delivered, Jackrabbit was there in a flash!

An Author’s Note outlining the pivotal event that sparked Samuel F. B. Morse’s interest in a quicker communication method and the history of the telegraph as well as a Morse code key and a riddle to translate follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-hogs-and-dogs

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Lucy Margaret Rozier has written a funny and fact-based addition to the fine American tradition of tall tales with Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph. From her folksy delivery to her humorously exaggerated details, Rozier presents an engaging history of the telegraph through the story of one man affected by this new technology. Kids will love the fast-paced story full of crackling dialog and gripping suspense.

Leo Espinosa infuses his brightly colored, vintage-style illustrations with the charm and innocence of the mid-1800s while highlighting the humor of Rozier’s yarn. Jackrabbit’s looong legs take up a whole page—sometimes two—as he runs with dogs and hogs, sprints past steam trains, speeds off at the starting line, and wedges himself into the stagecoach, with one foot hanging out the window. The small town of Windy Flats and the townspeople are decked out in period details, and the enthusiasm of the time is infectious.

Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph will become a favorite read lightening quick. The book would make a fun addition to children’s bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-0385378437

Discover more about Lucy Margaret Rozier plus book-related resources on her website!

View a gallery of illustration work by Leo Espinosa on his website!

Loomis Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-morse-code-image

Morse Code Decoder

 

Sending secret messages in code is cool! Use this printable Morse Code Decoder to learn how to write your name and those notes you don’t want anyone else to read in this early method of communication.

Picture Book Review

February 6 – It’s Hot Breakfast Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paul-bunyan-and-babe-the-blue-ox-the-great-pancake-adventure

About the Holiday

Hot Breakfast Month was established to encourage people to have a hot, healthy breakfast before they go off to work or school. A good breakfast can keep your brain and your body working longer and better, which will result in a good day and more happiness in your life! Isn’t that worth cracking a few eggs in a pan, toasting some bread, or—as Paul Bunyan preferred—mixing up a batch of pancakes?!

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure

By Matt Luckhurst

 

Everyone knows that Paul Bunyan and his best friend Babe the Blue Ox were “the greatest lumberjacks to every work the forests.” But not many people know just how that came to be. It all started because Paul was a very big boy in a very small town. He found it hard to concentrate on school because he was always thinking about his mom’s pancakes. “‘Math,” Paul said, “is just not very tasty.’”

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-review-paul-bunyan-and-babe-the-blue-ox-and-the-great-pancake-adventure-babe-and-paul

Copyright Matt Luckhurst, courtesy of mattluckhurst.com

Now, Paul and Babe were lucky enough to live in an area where lots of fresh fruit and vegetables were grown, but they only wanted pancakes. In fact when their mom tried to feed them broccoli, they spit it right out! So Paul’s mom made stacks and stacks of pancakes until she was out of breath—but she still had fields to tend to. Paul and Babe tried to free up time for Mom to keep cooking by working in the fields, “but their big feet just squished and squashed everything in sight.”

Finally, there were just not enough pancakes at home, so Paul hugged his mom and set off into the deep dark forest to find his “pancake fortune” with Babe at his heels. With their heads in the clouds and their bellies empty, they happened upon a lumberman with a huge problem. The Syrup River was dammed up with pancakes and the logs couldn’t get through. It was just the job for Paul and Babe!

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-review-paul-bunyan-and-babe-the-blue-ox-and-the-great-pancake-adventure-babe-smiling

Copyright Matt Luckhurst, courtesy of mattluckhurst.com

Paul and Babe ate every last pancake until the river was clear. The lumberman was so impressed he offered them a job on the spot! And the best part was that they would be paid in pancakes! The trio tromped from Wisconsin to California, logging the land and making their mark. In Minnesota it was “so cold that all of Paul’s words froze before they could make a sound. They say you can still hear his voice in the forests there today as they thaw out.” Further west Paul and Babe had a little something to do with creating the Rocky Mountains, and the Grand Canyon would still be a flat plateau if it weren’t for Babe’s voracious appetite.

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-review-paul-bunyan-and-babe-the-blue-ox-and-the-great-pancake-adventure-paul's-words-freeze

Copyright Matt Luckhurst, courtesy of mattluckhurst.com

But one day Babe fell ill, and Paul was feeling a little under the weather himself. The doctor gave them a grave diagnosis. “‘You seem to have been eating too many pancakes!’” he announced. Paul was flabbergasted—how could there be such a thing as too many pancakes?! But the doctor explained that a balanced diet was best. Paul pondered where he could find good food. Then it hit him! Paul and Babe said goodbye and headed back home.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paul-bunyan-and-babe-the-blue-ox-the-great-pancake-adventure

Copyright Matt Luckhurst, courtesy of mattluckhurst.com

Mom was thrilled to see them and cooked plenty of nutritious meals to make them healthy. They stayed in town and grew “Bunyan sized veggies,” helped the townspeople, and always listened to Mom. And they never ate another pancake ever again! Well….

As Matt Luckhurst so adroitly knows, there is no more fascinating figure of North American folklore than Paul Bunyan and no greater meal than a pancake breakfast! Combining the two is sweet genius and rollicking fun to boot! Tall tales capture the imagination, and Luckhurst has included plenty of fantastic events to keep kids enthralled from page to page. Luckhurst’s larger-than-life illustrations burst with color and dynamic 3-D typography that enhance the humor and heart of Paul and Babe’s predicament. The juxtaposition of sizes and folk-art influences create unique, eye-catching pages, and Paul and Babe’s endearing innocence make them loveable characters.

Perfect for folktale lovers, pancake aficionados, kids who follow a singular vision, and anyone who loves a good yarn, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure is great fun and would be an often-read addition to a child’s bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012 | ISBN 978-1419704208

You’ll enjoy getting to know more about Matt Luckhurst and viewing a portfolio of his work on his website!

Take a peek at this awesome trailer for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure!

Copyright Matt Luckhurst

Hot Breakfast Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pancake-game

Pancake Flip-Out Game

 

Pancakes are served in a stack because they’re so delicious that each one doesn’t last long! This game gives you the chance to see how many pancakes you can flip onto a plate! You can play this game several ways:

  1. Give each player the same number of pancakes and see how many they can toss onto the plate during their turn
  2. Make a target with the plate in the middle and draw 3 concentric circles around it. Hitting the target can earn you 20 points. Getting your pancake in the first circle around the plate earns you 15 point, the second circle is worth 10 points, and the third is worth 5 points. Rotate through the players as many times as you like and add up the points at the end. The player with the most points wins!
  3. Instead of tossing the pancakes with your hands, try throwing them with a spatula!
  4. Make up your own rules—and have fun!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the Pancakes and Breakfast Plates and cut them out
  2. Glue the pancakes and plate to poster board, cardboard, or foam to give the pancakes more weight for throwing and the plate more support
  3. Once dry, the game pieces are ready for fun!

Picture Book Review

January 11 – Learn Your Name in Morse Code Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-cover

About the Holiday

With today’s instantaneous communications systems, it’s almost impossible to think of a time when all messages had to be delivered by hand. That changed when Samuel F. B. Morse, physicist Joseph Henry, and Alfred Vail developed a code that used dots and dashes to represent letters and was transmitted through electrical pulses. The ability to send quick messages revolutionized communication and led to a more connected world.

Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph

Written by Lucy Margaret Rozier | Illustrated by Leo Espinosa

 

Anyone who looked at the baby with legs “so long they looped like a pretzel” and required a stroller with “an extra axle” knew that he’d been born to run. In fact, his legs grew so fast that if his mother dressed him in long pants in the morning, they were shorts by that evening. Little Jack McCabe used those legs to chase “whatever would run: hogs, dogs, even his own shadow” and “as he got older, he raced trains flying past his house in Windy Flats. By the time he turned eighteen, he’d beat every stagecoach, antelope, and locomotive in the territory.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-a-train

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The people of Windy Flats called him Jackrabbit and relied on him to deliver messages that were urgent. On Sundays he joined the horses on the track, making money when people bet on him to come in first. One day, though, the electric telegraph came to Windy Flats. The poles and wires already crossed the eastern part of the country. Each connected city had “a telegraph and an operator who sent and received messages in Morse code, an alphabet of dots and dashes.”

The people of Windy Flats didn’t think this newfangled contraption could carry messages faster than Jackrabbit, so the telegraph man suggested, “‘How ‘bout a race between your fella and this here electric telegraph? Sandy Bluff’s just got themselves an operator, That’s pert near twenty-five miles, as the crow flies.’” Jackrabbit was all for it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-a-horse

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

On the day of the race, the whole town of Windy Flats came out with flags, banners, and even a brass band. “The mayor carefully wrote down the same message on two slips of paper. He handed one to the telegraph man and the other to Jackrabbit.”  On the shout of “GO!” the telegraph man plunked his finger on the key sending the pulses through the wire while Jackrabbit took off down the road toward Sandy Bluff “like a tornado.”

The townspeople watched as in only a few moments “a reply came clattering back as that telegraph key jumped and smacked all on its own.” The telegraph man read the code and yelled, “‘Message received. Stop. Sandy Bluff Operator.’” But where was Jackrabbit McCabe? Although he made it to Sandy Bluff in only 9 ½ minutes, it was still too long to beat the telegraph. When he stopped short at the door of the depot, he was met by a telegram tacked to the door. Jackrabbit read it and then pulled the paper that contained the mayor’s message out of his pocket. The two were the same.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-at-the-starting-line

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Riding home in a stagecoach, “Jackrabbit felt lower than a snake’s navel.” The mayor also felt pretty low, thinking of Jackrabbit, until he realized that if Jackrabbit’s fingers were as fast as his legs, he’d make an excellent telegraph operator. When Jackrabbit stepped out of the stagecoach and heard the mayor’s offer, he whooped with joy. It didn’t take long for Jackrabbit to learn the new code, and soon “his fingers flew like a banjo player’s strumming that telegraph key.” Every day he sent and received messages. He even “teamed up with the local typesetter, who printed the news that came over that wire, linking Windy Flats to the whole entire country,” and whenever a telegram or the newspaper needed to be delivered, Jackrabbit was there in a flash!

An Author’s Note outlining the pivotal event that sparked Samuel F. B. Morse’s interest in a quicker communication method and the history of the telegraph as well as a Morse code key and a riddle to translate follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackrabbit-mccabe-&-the-electric-telegraph-racing-hogs-and-dogs

Image copyright Leo Espinosa, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Lucy Margaret Rozier has written a funny and fact-based addition to the fine American tradition of tall tales with Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph. From her folksy delivery to her humorously exaggerated details, Rozier presents an engaging history of the telegraph through the story of one man affected by this new technology. Kids will love the fast-paced story full of crackling dialog and gripping suspense.

Leo Espinosa infuses his brightly-colored, vintage-style illustrations with the charm and innocence of the mid-1800s while highlighting the humor of Rozier’s yarn. Jackrabbit’s looong legs take up a whole page—sometimes two—as he runs with dogs and hogs, sprints past steam trains, speeds off at the starting line, and wedges himself into the stagecoach, with one foot hanging out the window. The small town of Windy Flats and the townspeople are decked out in period details, and the enthusiasm of the time is infectious.

Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph will become a favorite read lightening quick. The book would make a fun addition to children’s bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-0385378437

Discover more about Lucy Margaret Rozier plus book-related resources on her website!

View a gallery of illustration work by Leo Espinosa on his website!

Learn Your Name in Morse Code Day Activity

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Morse Code Decoder

 

Sending secret messages in code is cool! Use this printable Morse Code Decoder to learn how to write your name and those notes you don’t want anyone else to read in this early method of communication.

Picture Book Review

July 23 – National Day of the Cowboy

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About the Holiday

Observed annually on the third Saturday of July, the day commemorates the “contributions of the Cowboy and Cowgirl to America’s culture and heritage. The heyday of the cowboy and cowgirl came after the Civil War when Texas experienced a booming wild cattle population. As the United States grew and people moved West, the demand for beef in the Northern states grew. Cowboys and cowgirls drove nearly 5 million head of cattle north, sparking tales, legends, and a rich history of the Great Plains in their boot and hoof steps.

Cowboy Camp

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Mike Reed

 

In the first moments of Cowboy Camp, Avery sizes up the other kids (both boys and girls) and decides he “was all wrong.” Not only is his belt buckle too big and his hat too small, but his name is completely UNcowboy. When the Camp leader, Cowboy Dan, introduces himself, Avery thinks he is “the realest looking cowboy” he’s ever seen. Cowboy Dan promises to turn the “little ragamuffins” into real walkin’, talkin’ cowboys. But first a chow time of grits and beans!

All the other buckaroos dig into their plate eagerly, but Avery spits out his very first bite and is relegated to eating cheese and crackers. “Whoever heard of a cowboy who doesn’t like grits and beans?” Avery thinks. Next up, announces Dan, is horse riding. All the kids saddle up. “It wasn’t but a minute later” though that Avery starts sneezing and has to ride a cow instead.

Surely, lassoing will be easier, he reasons. “It wasn’t but a minute later,” however, that his hands are red and chaffed with rope burn and he has to practice with yarn. “Whoever heard of a cowboy who got rope burn?” he thinks. A bit dejected, Avery sits in front of the campfire trying to think cowboy thoughts after all the other kids have “turned in for some shut-eye.” “It wasn’t but a minute later that Avery discovered he wasn’t alone.” Creeping out of the shadows is the meanest looking cowboy Avery has ever seen.

“‘I’m Black Bart,’” the mean looking cowboy says. He tells Avery that he’s there to put a stop to Cowboy Camp because “‘Cowboy Dan and his gang of good cowboys are makin’ it too hard to be a bad guy.’” Avery does some quick thinking. He doesn’t want anything to happen to Cowboy Dan or the camp. He stutters out that this isn’t Cowboy Camp, but Space Camp. Black Bart isn’t so easily fooled. Sensing disaster, Avery gives himself up as proof: “‘Sir,’” asks Avery, “‘Do I look like cowboy material?’”

To root out the truth Black Bart gives Avery three tests. First he opens a can of beans from his saddlebag. “‘All cowboys eat beans,’” Bart exclaims. Avery takes a tiny taste from the can and begins coughing and wheezing. “‘Hmm…’” says Bart. Next he sets Avery on his horse. “‘All cowboys ride horses,’” Bart exclaims, but as soon as Avery sits astride the horse, he begins sneezing. “‘Hmm…’” says Bart. He hands Avery his rope. “‘All cowboys know how to lasso,’” Bart exclaims. Avery grabs the rope and immediately begins crying in pain.

Black Bart has seen enough. “‘You’re no cowboy,’” he agrees. With time a wastin’ to find and stop the real cowboys, Black Bart saddles up and turns his horse toward the rising sun. “‘It wasn’t but a minute later’” that the other campers and Cowboy Dan arrive. Dan congratulates Avery on his bravery and quick wit and proclaims that “‘No one but a real cowboy could outsmart the likes of Black Bart the way you just did.’” Avery smiles. He finally feels like a “real honest-to-goodness cowboy.”

In Avery, Tammi Sauer has created a welcome hero—a boy who uses his individual talents of intelligence and bravery to defeat the bad guy and comes to realize that he does fit into the group. Sauer’s witty plot line is a joy to read and offers real surprise when Black Bart appears on the scene. Bart’s “cowboy test” in which Avery’s supposed failings become his greatest assets is inspired. The realistic dialogue with a Western twang transports kids to the Great Plains and is fun to read, while the repeated “uh-oh” moment—“It wasn’t but a minute later that Avery discovered…”—elicits suspense and will have kids reading along.

Mike Reed beautifully captures the allure of the Wild West in his humorous, sometimes larger-than-life illustrations. The golden plains of Cowboy Camp stretch to the red-rock plateaus in the distance while scrub grass and cacti pop up here and there. Cowboy Dan has a chin almost as long as his 20-gallon hat is tall, and Black Bart is perfectly scruffy and menacing, with a long black coat and bolo tie, as he creeps out of the midnight blue shadows to confront Avery by campfire light. Kids will both sympathize with Avery’s travails even as they giggle at his evocative pexpressions.

An ingenious bit of illustration occurs in Reed’s depiction of Avery. Although Avery feels as if his belt buckle is too big and his hat too small, in reality both of these are the same size as the other kids. Moreover, a side-by-side comparison with Cowboy Dan, the “realest cowboy,” shows that Avery looks almost identical to his hero with both wearing grey vests and hats. (You can even measure the hats for yourself!) In addition, the other campers are all different in some way, emphasizing the idea that everyone is unique and has their own place in any group and the world in general.

Both for the wonderful story and the burst of confidence building provided, Cowboy Camp belongs on every young reader’s bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 9

Sterling Publishing Co., 2014 | ISBN 978-1454913603

To view more of Tammi Sauer’s books and learn what she’s working on next, visit her website!

National Day of the Cowboy Activity

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The Best Durn Tootin’ Cowboy and Cowgirl Coloring Pages

 

Well, buckaroos, here’s your chance to create your own Wild West scene. Just print out these Best Durn Tootin’ Coloring Pages and have a rip roarin’ blast!

June 28 – Paul Bunyan Day

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About the Holiday

The tales of Paul Bunyan, a logger of superhuman size and strength, and his companion Babe the Blue Ox belong to some of the most popular folklore of early North America. Many think his name stemmed from the Quebec bon yenne!, which expresses surprise or astonishment. The phrase would be fitting as Paul Bunyan is said to have accomplished many feats, including creating the Grand Canyon when he walked through the area dragging his ax and forming the Great Lakes as a watering hole for Babe. In 1916 freelance writer and adman William B. Laughead took the figure of Paul Bunyan for an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company, and the stories received new burnishing and popularity.

To celebrate today’s holiday research folklore about Paul Bunyan and Babe, take a walk in the woods Bunyan loved so well, and read today’s book!

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure

By Matt Luckhurst

Everyone knows that Paul Bunyan and his best friend Babe the Blue Ox were “the greatest lumberjacks to every work the forests.” But not many people know just how that came to be. It all started because Paul was a very big boy in a very small town. He found it hard to concentrate on school because he was always thinking about his mom’s pancakes. “‘Math,” Paul said, “is just not very tasty.’”

Now, Paul and Babe were lucky enough to live in an area where lots of fresh fruit and vegetables were grown, but they only wanted pancakes. In fact when their mom tried to feed them broccoli, they spit it right out! So Paul’s mom baked stacks and stacks of pancakes until she was out of breath—plus she had fields to tend to. Paul and Babe tried to free up time for Mom by working in the fields, “but their big feet just squished and squashed everything in sight.”

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Finally there were just not enough pancakes at home, so Paul hugged his mom and set off into the deep dark forest to find his “pancake fortune” with Babe at his heels. With their heads in the clouds and their bellies empty, they happened upon a lumberman with a huge problem. The Syrup River was dammed up with pancakes and the logs couldn’t get through. It was just the job for Paul and Babe!!

Paul and Babe ate every last pancake until the river was clear. The lumberman was so impressed he offered them a job on the spot! And the best part was that they would be paid in pancakes! The trio tromped from Wisconsin to California logging the land and making their mark. In Minnesota it was “so cold that al Paul’s words froze before they could make a sound. They say you can still hear his voice in the forests there today as they thaw out.” Further west Paul and Babe had a little something to do with creating the Rocky Mountains, and the Grand Canyon would still be a flat plateau if it weren’t for Babe’s voracious appetite.

But one day Babe fell ill, and Paul was feeling a little under the weather himself. The doctor gave them a grave diagnosis. “‘You seem to have been eating too many pancakes!’” he announced. Paul was flabbergasted—how could there be such a thing as too many pancakes?! But the doctor explained that a balanced diet was best. Paul pondered where he could find good food. Then it hit him! Paul and Babe said goodbye and headed back home.

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All images courtesy of Matt Luckhurst (mattluckhurst.com)

Mom was thrilled to see them and cooked plenty of nutritious meals to make them healthy. They stayed in town and grew “Bunyan sized veggies,” helped the townspeople and always listened to Mom. And they never ate another pancake ever again! Well….

As Matt Luckhurst so adroitly knows, there is no more fascinating figure of North American folklore than Paul Bunyan and no greater meal than a pancake breakfast! Combining the two is sweet genius and rollicking fun to boot! Tall tales capture the imagination, and Luckhurst has included plenty of fantastic events to keep kids enthralled from page to page. Luckhurst’s larger-than-life illustrations burst with color and dynamic 3-D typography that enhance the humor and heart of Paul and Babe’s predicament. The juxtaposition of sizes and folk-art influences create unique, eye-catching pages, and Paul and Babe’s endearing innocence make them loveable characters.

Perfect for folktale lovers, pancake aficionados, kids who follow a singular vision, and anyone who loves a good yarn, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure is great fun and would be an often-read addition to a child’s bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012 | ISBN 978-1419704208

Take a peek at this awesome trailer for Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure!

Copyright Matt Luckhurst

Paul Bunyan Day Activity

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Pancake Flip-Out

Pancakes are served in a stack because they’re so delicious each one doesn’t last long! This game gives you the chance to see how many pancakes you can flip onto a plate! You can play this game several ways:

  1. Give each player the same number of pancakes and see how many they can toss onto the plate during their turn
  2. Make a target with the plate in the middle and draw 3 concentric circles around it. Hitting the target can earn you 20 points. Getting your pancake in the first circle around the plate earns you 15 point, the second circle is worth 10 points, and the third is worth 5 points. Rotate through the players as many times as you like and add up the points at the end. The player with the most points wins!
  3. Instead of tossing the pancakes with your hands, try throwing them with a spatula!
  4. Make up your own rules—and have fun!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the Pancakes and Breakfast Plates and cut them out
  2. Glue the pancakes and plate to poster board, cardboard, or foam to give the pancakes more weight for throwing and the plate more support
  3. Once dry, the game pieces are ready for fun!

Picture Book Review