July 19 – It’s National Vacation Rental Month

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About the Holiday

A great vacation starts with a great place to stay! Whether you like a cabin by the lake, a cottage by the shore, a tent or camper in the woods, an airbnb, or that good-ol’ staple the hotel, getting away from home can be an adventure in itself. July hosts National Vacation Rental Month because, coming in the middle of summer, it is when most vacations take place. If you haven’t planned a get-away yet, there’s still time to find just the right accommodation for maximum enjoyment!

The Great Indoors

Written by Julie Falatko | Illustrated by Ruth Chan

As the family headed off in their van packed with fishing gear and sleeping bags, the animals knew it was time to start their annual vacation. The bears were the first to arrive. As they gazed appreciatively around their summer home away from home, they sighed happily. “‘Ah, the great indoors!’ said the father bear. ‘The most relaxing week of the year,’ said the mother bear.” Meanwhile their teenage bear was hurrying off to the bathroom to install her makeup and hair supplies. Soon, the beavers showed up, taking over the kitchen with bags of food and ca cooler stuffed with ice cream.

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Image copyright Ruth Chan, 2019, text copyright Julie Falatko, 2019. Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

The deer brought the karaoke machine and disco ball. “‘Good-bye peace and quiet!’ said a big deer. ‘Hello, dance party!’ said a bigger deer.” The skunks loved the simplicity of electricity. The bears, the deer, and the skunks all plunked down on the couch in front of the TV while the beavers prepared frosty drinks and lasagna. Yes, “the great indoors was the perfect vacation spot.” The bears took advantage of the opportunity to use their power tools, while the deer perfected their singing, and the skunks got online, made calls, and took lots of showers. Meanwhile, the beavers were cooking, cooking, cooking.

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Image copyright Ruth Chan, 2019, text copyright Julie Falatko, 2019. Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

But as the week dragged on, “things got less than perfect.” The animals’ muscles ached from all the dancing and video game playing, the teenage bear hogged the bathroom, and the kitchen was left a disaster. “And still it got even worse.” Father bear broke the bed, a deer created a toaster fire, a skunk blew out the speaker, the garbage piled up, and the dishes had to be washed outside in the puddle left from the hose.

By the end of the week, “everyone was ready to go home.” The sounds grated, the work was overwhelming, and little skunk missed “peeing behind a tree.” Still, they all agreed they’d had a great time and were looking forward to next year. And just as they headed back to the woods, the family came back from their camping trip and opened the door to find…well….

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Image copyright Ruth Chan, 2019, text copyright Julie Falatko, 2019. Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Julie Falatko hilariously turns the table on people’s penchant to get away from it all in the great outdoors with her sly story of woodland besties spending a week together in a house vacated for a family vacation. As the animals settle in, Falatko riffs on everything from vacation clichés to the challenges of traveling with kids and teens to enjoying typically summer-only treats. There are even a few droll nods to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Kids will laugh out loud to see their favorite activities adopted in a new wild way.

Echoing people’s happiness to return home no matter how fun the vacation, Falatko humorously reminds readers that there’s no place like home, while holding out eager anticipation for the next adventure. The unsuspecting family’s return—an ingenious and comically perfect combination of text and illustration—wraps up this vacation spree with just the right note of surprise (and perhaps a nudge to remember to leave the great outdoors without a trace).

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Image copyright Ruth Chan, 2019, text copyright Julie Falatko, 2019. Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Ruth Chan’s funny depictions of the animals gathering at their vacation “rental” will have kids and adults giggling from the first page. She nails the giddy excitement of being away from home with all the excess supplies and grand schemes that go along with it. Stepping through the door of the hotel, cabin, or even tent, what adults don’t gaze around with appreciation as the kids run off to claim a bed or the bathroom or get ready for a swim? Treats that might be off-limits the rest of the year are suddenly on the menu to great delight, and the lure of all the time in the world to do just what you want is irresistible.

Chan’s vivid illustrations are loaded with comical details just waiting to be unpacked. For example, ice-cream flavors include saltlick ice, vanilla with “real oak” clusters, honey cream, and log ice. Kids will love following the week-long antics of the hair-obsessed teenage bear, who creates a “Fur De-Frizzer 2000” and then can be seen sporting its successful results. A clever aerial view of all the rooms in the house lets kids see the chaos of a vacation out of control, and as the great indoors begins to lose its luster, readers are in for more humorous portrayals of how life diverges for people and animals.

For vacationers or staycationers, The Great Indoors is just the ticket that will have kids rarin’ to go—or stay—but definitely laughing and asking for more. The book would be a funny and favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Disney- Hyperion, 2019 | ISBN 978-1368000833

Discover more about Julie Falatko and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ruth Chan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Vacation Rental Month Activity

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Family Vacation Fun! Maze

 

This family is really looking forward to their vacation in the woods. Can you help them find their way to their cabin in this printable maze?

Family Vacation Fun! Maze | Family Vacation Fun! Maze Solution

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You can find The Great Indoors at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 11 – All American Pet Photo Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday probably needs no special promotion since the purpose of the day—sharing pictures of our singular pets with others—is something all of us pet owners do every day. Our pets are just so cute and funny and clever. Like just this morning, my cat… but I digress. To celebrate today, capture your pet doing something extraordinary—or ordinary, it doesn’t really matter—and share them for your family, friends, and the world to see!

Dogs and their People

By Anne Lambelet

 

When the day is fine, a girl likes “to take the long way home from school” and watch people and their dogs. Some people have both babies and puppies, while others share their advanced age with their loyal hound. “Some dogs and their people look alike, and others could not be more different, but however they look, each person “seems to have found their perfect match.”

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Copyright Anne Lambelet, 2019, courtesy of annelambelet.com.

Take Cordelia Vanderlay, the painter, and her dog Fluffernutter Vanderlay, who loves to make prints of her paws. Or Jennette and Lisette, who are twins, but very different. While Jennette likes to wear sleek black attire, her sister loves things that are frilly. And their dogs—a smooth dark greyhound and a fluffy, groomed standard poodle—are perfect mirrors of their owners. And of course there’s “Lord Banberry and his schnauzer, O’Grady,” who both sport the same impressive, well-trimmed, downturned mustachios.

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Copyright Anne Lambelet, 2019, courtesy of annelambelet.com.

A young hot-dog lover, accompanied by his wiener-dog dachshund, buys an after-school treat from Freddie McDarrow and his smiling pup. Yes, “watching dogs and their people is fun,” the girl says, “because I can always tell they are best friends.” But she’s always happiest to come home to her best friend…can you guess who?

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Copyright Anne Lambelet, 2019, courtesy of annelambelet.com.

Anne Lambelet’s story charms as she introduces dog-and-owner pairs who look alike, act alike, or are polar opposites but still besties. As author and illustrator, Lambelet perfectly melds the joy of people- and pet-watching with a Victorian elegance that sets her story in an enchanting universe. Readers will get a kick out of Lambelet’s flowery names—both human and pet—that add to the ambience and seem as perfect as the friendships.

Lambelet’s unique mixed-media style of illustration, which highlights each owner and their dog—often with simple props surrounded by airy white space, but also in several two-page spreads that give kids a glimpse into the girl’s city—brings texture, interesting perspectives, and movement to the pages. Her lovely, muted color palette is as refreshing as the glow of autumn, and her fashionable city dwellers and their equally well-turned-out pooches could easily have just stepped out of a fashion magazine. Lambelet’s surprise ending will delight readers and gives the other side a sweet, heart-felt nod.

A jaunty trip through the joys of pet-and-people friendships, Dogs and their People will be a much-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves and would be a fun spark for or take along on a people- and pet-watching walk.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146893

Discover more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art on her website.

All American Pet Photo Day Activity

CPB - Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

 

Each of the puppies has a friend. Can you match them up based on one trait? There may be multiple right answers! Why do you think the dogs you chose go together in this printable puzzle?

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Dogs and Their People at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 9 – Cow Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

While today’s holiday started out as a clever ruse to entice people to eat more chicken, it also gives us an opportunity to think about the world’s bovine citizens. These gentle animals deserve healthy and humane treatment as they provide our diets with needed protein as well as delicious treats. Cows appear in untold numbers of stories and songs for little ones, making them a favorite of young readers everywhere!

Cows Can’t Jump

Written by Dave Reisman | Illustrated by Jason A. Maas

 

In this early literacy/beginning reader picture book, Dave Reisman introduces kids to nineteen animals and the way they can move. The repeated refrain, which begins with “cows can’t jump, but they can swim,” leads to young readers meeting a gorilla who can’t swim but who can swing, a galloping giraffe, a slithering snake, a stampeding bull, and many other favorite animals reacting to the previous interloper in humorous ways. Reisman presents active, evocative, and high-interest verbs that will capture the attention and imagination of young readers and help with their vocabulary development.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

The short, simple sentences will have even the youngest child joining in on the repeated phrases, and with repeat readings, they’ll begin to remember how each animal moves and be able to happily read along. The underlying theme of the story—that each animal is unique—will resonate with adult readers and their little ones.

Jason A. Maas’s bright, textured paintings put the focus on each animal and their movements. Page turns are cleverly designed so that the animals meet under startling and funny circumstances. The cartoon-inspired drawings will delight kids and elicit plenty of giggles as each animal responds to the newcomer with wide eyes and quick getaways, until…the lizard leaps onto a branch that is already occupied and discovers that “sloths can’t leap…but they can sleep.”

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Cows Can’t Jump will be released in a bilingual English/Spanish edition: Las vacas no pueden saltar in August, 2019.

Ages 2 – 7

Jumping Cow Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0980143300 (Paperback) | ISBN 978-0998001005 (Stubby and Stout Board Book)

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Cows Can’t Quack

Written by Dave Reisman | Illustrated by Jason A. Maas

 

Following the same format as Cows Can’t Jump, Dave Reisman brings together a gaggle of animals all making their own unique sounds. Here twenty-two animals from the farm, forest, ocean, and air show off their vocal stylings with funny results. As the moose grunts, the donkey hee-haws, the hippo brays, the goose cackles, and the day ends with a puppy snoring, little ones will be eager to learn more about these creatures.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Just as in Cows Can’t Jump, Reisman enchants with verbs that invite kids to participate in the reading with their own interpretations of the sounds. Children will also enthusiastically read along on the repeated phrasing. While each animal speaks in its own language, children are reminded of the diversity and richness of the world’s languages.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Once again Jason A. Maas’s animals, with their rakish charm and humorous responses that cause feathers to fly, a baby penguin to hatch, and a donkey to kick up his heels, will have little ones laughing along with their language learning.

Ages 3 – 7

Jumping Cow Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0980143348 | ISBN 978-0998001012 (Stubby and Stout Board Book)

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Cows Can’t Spin Silk

Written by Dave Reisman | Illustrated by Jason A. Maas

 

Little ones will be happy to see their cow friend from Cows Can’t Jump and Cows Can’t Quack in this third book in the Cows Can’t… Series. This time, she looks on astonished as a silk worm drops down into the barn doorway on a long, silky thread. Cows may not be able to “spin silk…but they can make milk.” The woodpeckers in the nearby tree look astonished at this talent, but in the next moment they return to what they do best: “hammer holes.” The surprised alligator can’t do that, but he “can dig gator-ponds.”

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

The alligator in their midst sends the rest of the animals scurrying—from the spider that weaves a web to the chickens that “lay eggs” to the ants that “build bridges.” Joining the animals are some other talented insects—caterpillars that “construct cocoons, wasps that “craft paper,” and bees that create honey”—and a few sea creatures like squid that “can squirt ink,” oysters that “can produce pearls,” and octopuses that “can erect barricades.”

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

The inclusion of some more unusual animals and their impressive talents in Cows Can’t Spin Silk offer adults and kids an opportunity to discover more about the animal kingdom and what each animal can do. In addition to presenting new vocabulary, and a read aloud treat, the book can encourage families to get outdoors to see if they can find evidence of any of the animal creations mentioned in the story.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Readers familiar with Jason A. Maas’s illustrations for the series will be delighted with the gentle suspense that carries the story as the alligators, skunks, chipmunks, beavers, bears and fourteen other animals use their smarts to create homes, defend themselves, make tools, and display other skills.

Connecting this story to the idea that each person has their own special talent or talents extends the educational language and literacy learning of the book to personal discussions and explorations adults can share with their kids.

Ages 3 – 7

Jumping Cow Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0998001029 (Paperback ) | ISBN 978-0998001036 (Stubby and Stout Board Book)

Recommended by early literacy organizations, such as the Parent-Child Home program, the Cows Can’t Series offers little learners and beginning readers familiar, reassuring, and fun encouragement as they begin learning the structures of language and developing confidence in their own skills. The books would be welcome additions to home, classroom, and public library collections for read aloud story times or for beginning readers.

To learn more about Jumping Cow Press and find  printable activities, visit their website. And watch for the newest title in the Cows Can’t… Series: Cows Can’t Blow Bubbles, coming in August 2019.

Discover more about Jason A. Maas, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Cow Appreciation Day Activity

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Cows Can’t Jump Word Search

 

Each animal in Cows Can’t Jump has a special way of moving. Can you find seventeen words that describe how different animals get around in this printable puzzle?

Cows Can’t Jump Word Search Puzzle | Cows Can’t Jump Word Search Solution

You can find the Cows Can’t Series at these booksellers

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Cows Can’t Spin Silk

Amazon 

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Cows Can’t Quack

Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

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Cows Can’t Jump

Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Picture Book Review

 

June 28 – It’s Great Outdoor Month

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About the Holiday

The warmer weather begs to be enjoyed—whether you’re playing, working, or just lounging around. Established in 1998 as Great Outdoors Week, the holiday expanded to a month-long celebration in 2004. There’s so much to see and do outside as the wonders of nature are always changing and challenging you in new and surprising ways.

The Nocturnals Series

The Nocturnals series of books—early readers and middle grade novels—brings together a trio of friends for adventures and learning. The three main characters are Dawn, a gentle, kind, and wise red fox; Tobin, a shy, hesitant, and loyal pangolin; and Bismark, a chatty, romantic, impetuous sugar glider. Their distinct personalities serve them well as they meet up with various other woodland animals in mysterious, dangerous, and surprising ways. No matter what challenges they face, however, Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin support each other as best friends should.

Whether children meet the Nocturnal Brigade as an beginning reader or as an established reader, they will love following the friends’ adventures and be charmed by their close relationship, even when squabbles arise. As with any favorite series, kids will look forward to catching up with what this unique group of nighttime animals are doing next.

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 2 Books

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The Moonlight Meeting

Written by Tracey Hecht and Rumur Dowling | Illustrated by Waymond Singleton

 

As the twinkling stars began to appear in the sky, a sweet pangolin by the name of Tobin woke up. “‘Oh my, Tobin said. ‘I smell something delicious!’” He yawned and stretched and went in search of that wonderful smell. It didn’t take long before he bumped into a pomelo—the perfect thing for breakfast. But before he could dig in, he heard a screech from the tree above. “‘Thief!’ it cried.” Tobin was so frightened that he “let out a stinky poof!”

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The small creature in the tree covered his nose. “‘That stench! That odor! That tang!’” he exclaimed. “‘This calls for the flaps!’” In a moment the animal leaped out of the tree and glided to the ground. Although a little scared, Tobin was curious. He wondered if perhaps this creature could become a friend. But it didn’t seem he was interested in anything but the pomelo. As he grabbed the green fruit, he introduced himself. “‘I am Bismark! Sugar glider spec-tac-u-lar! And the owner of this pomelo.’” But before Tobin could reply, a red fox emerged from the bushes.

She had smelled Tobin’s spray of fear and wondered if help was needed. The fox had “kind eyes” and “a warm smile.” Bismark spoke up and told the fox about Tobin and the pomelo and the thievery. The fox asked if all of this was true. “Tobin was shy, but the fox made him feel brave.” He answered that he was not stealing the fruit, but Bismark said he had seen it first.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The fox thought over the problem and…sliced the pomelo into three pieces. She gave a piece to Tobin and Bismark and kept one for herself. “‘Mmm,’ Tobin said. The pomelo was sweet! ‘Burp,’ Bismark belched. The pomelo was juicy. ‘Perfect,’ the fox declared. The pomelo was delicious!” It seemed the little sugar glider liked more than just the pomelo. After smoothing his hair and giving a deep bow, he introduced Tobin and himself. The fox smiled and told them her name was Dawn. Tobin was smitten.

Suddenly, they all realized that each of them slept during the day and were awake at night. Bismark exclaimed that they would be “a moonlight trio… a nocturnal brigade”… a…. Dawn broke in. “‘We will be friends,’” she said. Tobin and Bismark were happy. They were friends.

Facts about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tracey Hecht introduces her unique band of friends in this story that brings a diverse group of animals together over the disputed ownership of a pomelo. The strong personalities of the characters lend humor and intrigue to their quarrel over this favorite fruit, and as Dawn raises her sharp claws to decide the issue, readers may join Tobin and Bismark in a moment of wide-eyed suspense. The fox’s solution, however, is one of inclusion and sharing and sets the tone for the rest of the series. Hecht’s short sentences are composed of active, high-interest vocabulary, and the story moves along at a quick pace, carried by realistic and funny dialogue.

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Kids will love meeting Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin through the illustrations on each page that convey their personalities and the storyline clearly. Tiny Bismark, with his big eyes, dramatic expressions, and energetic attitude is always ready for action. Tobin, the scaly pangolin with long claws, an anxious demeanor, and an inherent sweetness, is devoted and trustworthy. And Dawn, with her sleek red coat and gentle eyes, is caring, intelligent, and the glue that holds the three together. As readers get to know each character better, they’ll look forward to each one’s individual reactions to whatever adventure they encounter.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1944020149

You can find The Moonlight Meeting at these booksellers

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

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The Slithery Shakedown

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

Although nighttime had come, Bismark was still waiting for his friends to arrive. “Bismark tapped his foot. Bismark put his fists to his hips. Bismark scrunched his tiny pink nose. This sugar glider was peeved!” Still, he was more relieved than angry when Tobin, the pangolin, came through the reeds. It wasn’t long before Dawn, a red fox, joined them. Bismark jumped on top of a rock and declared that he was going to take them on an adventure. After all he was “‘Bismark the Brave.’” Tobin and Dawn giggled at their tiny friend.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Before they could get started, though, Dawn noticed something lurking in the bushes. It was a snake—a snake who seemed to have designs on eating Bismark for breakfast. “The snake slithered closer. ‘Sss-scrumptious!’ the snake said. ‘A sss-scrawny, little sss-sugar glider.’” Bismark ran and hit behind Dawn’s legs. Dawn stepped forward and confronted the snake. “Tobin summoned his courage” and joined her.

The snake prepared to attack. “Dawn snarled…. Tobin raised a sharp, taloned claw.” The snake took a look at the stalwart friends and decided it was time to “‘sss-skedaddle.’” Biskmark was trembling as he watched the snake slither away, but he would not admit that he had been scared. Dawn and Tobin reassured him that “‘You can be scared and brave, too.’” In fact, they told him, they had also been afraid of the snake.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Just then something blue and shiny in the bushes caught Bismark’s eye. He went closer. The thing was long and thin, but it did not slither. “‘By the moon!’ Bismark said. ‘Look here! That snake slithered right out of its skin.’” He picked it up and tore it into three pieces. He gave a piece to Tobin and Dawn. They each tied the piece of snakeskin around their neck like a cape and admired themselves. Dawn thought it was the perfect symbol for their brigade. “‘The Nocturnal Brigade!’ Tobin cheered, and Bismark added, “‘Bold in adventure. And best of all, brave!’”

Information about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

When the three are threatened by a snake, will they be brave enough to send him packing? Even though Bismark considers himself the bravest of the brave, he turns out to be the one most frightened by the slithery bully. With his new friends behind him, Biskmark learns that fear and bravery often go hand in hand. Here, the three solidify their friendship with a physical symbol of the brigade, and their blue snakeskin capes become a regular feature of the series. Using lots of alliteration, dialogue and some sss-snakey onomatopoeia, Tracey Hecht weaves a fast-moving story that shows that sticking together and standing up for others is the best way to defeat a bully.

Josie Yee further develops her characters in this story that sees the usually uber-confident Bismark experience fear that he can’t hide. Tobin demonstrates another level of self-assurance by swallowing his usual shyness to confront the snake, and Dawn, true to her nature, serves as strong example to her friends and readers.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020170

You can find The Slithery Shakedown at these booksellers

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

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The Peculiar Possum

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

It was a bright, beautiful night when Dawn, a fox; Bismark, a sugar glider, and Tobin, a pangolin met under the pomelo tree. Bismark was dismayed because while the tree was usually full of fruit, tonight he could only find one. Just then they heard a strange “cluck cluck clatter! Chit chit chatter!” Bismark was sure it was a prowler who’d come for his pomelos. “Suddenly, the wind blew. The shadows shifted. A strange smell filled the air.”

Dawn looked up into the tree and saw “two shiny, brown eyes. And a paw, holding a pomelo! ‘Popping peepers!’ Bismark bellowed. ‘There is a prowler! And it has one of my precious pomelos!’” Quickly, the eyes disappeared and the pomelo came soaring out of the swaying branches. With a few more clucks and clatter, chits and chatter, the prowler plunked down in front of them. The three friends recognized the interloper as a possum. They gathered around it, but it lay motionless on the ground.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn prodded it with her paw. “‘Perhaps this possum is feeling a bit peaky,’” she said. But the possum opened one eye and told them it was just playing possum. The possum got up and introduced herself as Penny. “‘Pleased to meet you,’” she said, sticking out her paw. But Bismark was not pleased to meet her. He did not like that she “prowls and pillages.” As evidence he pointed to the wayward pomelo.

Dawn gazed at her friend and said, “‘Bismark, these pomelos belong to everyone.’” Well, what about the way Penny chits and chatters? Bismark asked. He thought her way of speaking was strange. Dawn reminded him that he too had a unique way of speaking. Then Bismark pointed out the unusual hairless patch on Penny’s tail. “Dawn smiled gently. She looked down at Bismark’s bald spot. ‘Bismark, Penny is not the only one with a hairless patch.’” Still, Bismark wasn’t keen on Penny’s smell or the way she played possum.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tobin hurried to Penny’s side to defend her. “‘Penny, I spray a terrible odor when I get scared,’” he reassured her, reaching for her paws. Dawn told Bismark that no one is exactly like someone else. That everyone is unique. Then Penny told Bismark that she was proud of who she is. Bismark looked at Penny, and even though it was hard to admit he’d been wrong, he apologized to her and proclaimed, “‘You are your own possum. And that makes you perfect.’” Then Bismark split the pomelo into four sections and they all had a pomelo picnic.

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, brushtail possums, and pomelos follow the text. Back matter also includes a Language Glossary showing forms of five words in the story as well as the translations of these words into Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, and Arabic.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

When Bismark encounters Penny, a possum and an animal he’s never seen before, his adverse reaction to her disappoints Dawn and Tobin, who show him the errors in his thinking. Through her story, Tracey Hecht demonstrates that everyone has more similarities than differences and that what makes one person distinctive should be celebrated. Along the way, readers learn how to welcome a new friend.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020194

You can find The Peculiar Possum at these booksellers

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

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 3 Book

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The Chestnut Challenge

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

After sundown, while other animals slept, Dawn, a red fox; Bismark, a sugar glider; and Tobin, a pangolin “were playing a game of chestnut checkers.” Bismark thought Tobin was taking too long to move his chestnut. He snapped his fingers, tapped his foot, and finally said, “‘Hurry up!’” But Dawn chided Bismark and said Tobin should take the time he needed. At last Tobin moved his piece. Bismark was delighted. Tobin, it seemed, had set him up to win. Bismark moved one of his chestnuts. Now it was Tobin’s turn to be delighted. “Tobin jumped a chestnut across the board—and captured all of Bismark’s chestnuts.” Bismark was crushed. Tobin chuckled and said that it was only a game.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Suddenly, a voice called out and Chandler, a chinchilla, popped out from a nearby bush. He said that he was “‘the real chestnut champion.’” Bismark warned his friends against playing chestnuts with Chandler. He seemed to boastful to the little sugar glider, but Dawn wanted to give him a chance. Chandler chose Tobin to play first. Tobin didn’t like playing competitively; he just liked to have fun.

Bismark was all for Tobin taking up Chandler’s challenge, while Dawn said it was up to him to play or not. Chandler wanted an answer. Tobin decided to play—but just for fun. “Chandler and Tobin started to play. Chandler’s brow wrinkled. Tobin’s jaw tightened. No one seemed to be having fun.” Just then, Chandler shouted and pointed to the bushes. Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn all turned to look. “That’s when Chandler reached forward—and moved one of Tobin’s chestnuts!” When the three friends turned back, Chandler took his turn and Tobin’s chestnut that he had moved.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn thought something looked suspicious. Bismark begged Tobin to win against the “cheeky challenger.” Tobin was nervous. Suddenly, Chandler sneezed right in their faces. While their eyes were closed, he moved two chestnuts. He laughed when he saw that no one had seen him. Chandler only grew bolder. When Tobin closed his eyes for a moment, the chinchilla stole one of his pieces. This time Bismark caught him. He called on Dawn and Tobin, but Chandler denied it. Dawn, however, had also seen him steal the piece. She looked directly into his eyes and asked if he had stolen Tobin’s chestnut.

Now it was Chandler’s turn to be nervous. His cheeks reddened, his teeth chattered, “and then from Chandler’s paw, out dropped the chestnut.” With tears in his eyes, he admitted that he was a cheater. Dawn told him that champions don’t use tricks, and Tobin told him no one wins all the time and practice helps. Then they offered Chandler a second chance. So with Tobin cheering him along and Bismark keeping an eye on the board, “the four friends settled into a cheerful game of chestnut checkers.”

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and chestnuts follow the story.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

As the three friends meet a chinchilla with competitive streak, Tracey Hecht shows readers that cheating to win deprives all participants—even the champion—of the fun and pleasure of playing a game. In today’s super-charged world of competition at all levels, Hecht’s reminder that good sportsmanship wins out is welcome, and Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn, with their various personalities and generous offer to give him Chandler a second chance, make good companions as developing readers increase their skills while learning to play fair and for fun.

Josie Yee’s nighttime illustrations, rendered in dark blues, plums, and deep greens, take kids to the heart of a heated chestnut checkers match where they watch as Chandler concocts false alarms to cheat his way to victory. When Chandler is caught red-handed, readers see the positive effect his confession and the brigade’s offer of another chance have on him.

Ages 6 – 8 

Fabled Films Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1944020231

You can find The Chestnut Challenge at these booksellers

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

You can learn more about The Nocturnals series; watch videos of games, face painting, and other activities; find educational language arts and science guides; download activity kits; and even join the Brigade by visiting The Nocturnals website.

You can find information about the Grow & Read program, Educator’s Guides, and The Nocturnals Book Club Kits with printable coloring pages and masks at Grow & Read.

Picture Book Review

June 21 – World Giraffe Day & Interview with Author Monica Bond, Illustrator Kayla Harren, and Educator David Brown

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, celebrates the animal with the longest neck on the longest day or night of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. The purpose of World Giraffe Day is to honor these majestic animals while also promote awareness of the dangers and threats they face. Events supporting these gentle giants are held around the world at zoos and conservation organizations as well as by governments, institutions, and companies involved in education about and protection of the giraffe. To celebrate today, learn more about these animals, visit a zoo or wildlife refuge, or consider donating to the cause of giraffe conservation. To learn more visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.

Juma the Giraffe

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Juma, a baby giraffe, loved to play with his friends Upendo and Rafiki on the African safari while their mothers watched. “Upendo likes to explore new places” while “Rafiki jokes and makes everyone laugh with his silly faces. Juma is kind and generous.” With his long neck, he’s able to reach the sweet acacia leaves to share with the dik-diks. One day, though, while the giraffes were at the water hole, Juma caught a glimpse of his reflection.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Looking at himself alongside all the other giraffes, he realized that they all looked the same. “And because they all looked alike, he felt he wasn’t special.” His mama noticed Juma standing alone and sad and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he wished he “looked different from everyone else.”

Juma’s mama gazed at her child lovingly and told him how special giraffes are. “‘There is no other animal in the whole world like us,’” she said. Then she gently reminded him how his long legs and neck help him get food, how his thick tongue and lips protect him from the thorns of the acacia trees, and how his “‘swishy tail sweep away the pesky flies that like to bite us.’” Their brown spots camouflaged them from lions and hyenas.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Then Mama asked Juma to look closely at his spots and notice that “‘each spot is different from the others and every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots.’” Juma saw that Mama was right. He saw one spot “shaped like a star and another like a flower.” Mama’s spots were different too, and so were Upendo’s and Rafiki’s. Mama reassured Juma that each giraffe was unique outside and inside.

Juma was happy and continued to notice other ways that each giraffe was different, including their various personalities. Then Mama nuzzled her little one and told him that to her he was the “‘most special giraffe of all’” because he was her baby and she loved him.

Fascinating facts about the anatomy of giraffes, newborn giraffes, and where giraffes live follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Young readers who are at that stage where they wonder about how they are different from other kids and how they fit into their community will find loving reassurance in Monica Bond’s touching story even as they learn about a giraffe’s distinctive features. The sweet relationship between Juma and Mama, depicted through tender dialogue, will charm little ones. A welcome exchange comes when Mama points out Juma’s unique features and the little giraffe enthusiastically adds more observations of his own. Just as Juma does, young readers will see that they too are special in their own way.

As readers open the cover, Kayla Harren’s stunning panoramic view of the verdant African savanna places them close to zebras, an ostrich, a greater kudu, a grey crowned crane, a stalwart warthog, a family of mongoose, and a herd of elephants. Smiling out from the page is little Juma. As the story progresses, Mama spotlights each of Juma’s attributes, and readers see how he uses them. A shimmering two-page spread of the giraffes lined up at the watering hole and the close-up on the next page will awe kids and adults. Images of smaller animals hiding in rock crevices and big cats and monkeys resting on tree limbs will entice readers to learn more about these creatures. As Mama nuzzles Juma on the book’s final page, adults and little ones are sure to find time to cuddle too.

A sweet story that gives parents, teachers, and other caregivers a way to show the children in their life how special they are, Juma the Giraffe would be an often-asked for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2016 | ISBN 978-0989818292

Learn more about Juma the Giraffe and find videos and teachers resources here.

You can connect with Kayla Harren on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram

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Helping Brother Rhinoceros

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Brother Rhinoceros and his friend Father Oxpecker went to the waterhole to cool off on a blazing hot day. When they got there, they saw “that most of the water had dried up, leaving a big patch of gooey, sticky mud.” But Brother Rhinoceros lied down in the cool mud anyway and pronounced it “‘Perfect!’” Then Father Oxpecker nestled in behind Brother Rhinoceros’s ear, folded his wings, and the two drifted off to sleep.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros woke up hungry, but when he tried to leave the waterhole, he discovered that he was stuck in the mud. Father Oxpecker flew off to find help. First he brought back Sister Vervet Monkey, who was good at tying. “She ran around the mud patch looking for something to tie together that might help Brother Rhinoceros. But there was nothing.”

Next, Father Oxpecker brought Grandfather Giraffe, who thought his height could help, but he didn’t know exactly how. So, the bird flew off again in search of someone else. This time he came back with Grandmother Spider, who “produced a delicate thread of beautiful silk from her abdomen. It fluttered in the breeze, of no help whatsoever to Brother Rhinoceros.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Father Oxpecker left once again and returned with Mother Elephant. Although she was big and strong, she could only watch from the sidelines. Last, Father Oxpecker found Brother Weaverbird, who declared that he could “weave anything” if only there was something to weave. All of the animals sat nearby wondering what they could do. “They were all so proud of the things they could do, but none of them could help Brother Rhinoceros out of the mud.”

It was Grandmother Spider who suggested that they combine their talents and work as a team. She began by “spinning long streams of silk.” Brother Weaverbird braided “the silk into a long, strong rope.” Sister Vervet Monkey tied the rope around Brother Rhinoceros, using Grandfather Giraffe’s long neck as a bridge to reach him. Then it was Mother Elephant’s turn. She grabbed the rope, “took a deep breath and began to pull.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros helped push. “Finally, with a big squishy sound, Brother Rhinoceros lifted his body up out of the mud.” He was free! His friends cheered. Brother Rhinoceros thanked each one individually for their special skills that helped to save him. “They certainly made a great team and the best friends a muddy rhinoceros could ever have.”

Back matter reveals facts about Africa’s black and white rhinoceros. A map of Africa shows the historical range and the much smaller current range for each type of rhino.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

With the lyricism of a fable, Monica Bond weaves a story about individuality and teamwork and how every person has the ability to help others. As Father Oxpecker flies off again and again searching for just the right animal to help, readers will enjoy the suspense and learning each animal’s special ability. When Grandmother Spider suggests they all work together, kids will see that by combining their talents with friends and classmates, they can move mountains. The format of the story makes it a multi-layered choice for teaching the elements of a story, prediction, and comprehension.

Kayla Harren’s sun-drenched pages are bathed not only in the heat of a hot African day but in the warmth of friendship these animals share. Harren’s beautifully textured and realistic depictions of the animals and the surrounding savanna will inspire awe and an enthusiastic desire in kids to learn more about the animals, insects, and birds in the story.

A perfect book for social studies, science, and reading classes and for kids who love nature and animals, Helping Brother Rhinoceros makes an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Wild Nature Institute, 2018 | ISBN 978-1732323414

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Our Elephant Neighbors

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Robert and his little sister Mary live on their family’s small farm in Tanzania. There are cattle and goats, which Robert helps watch while Mary helps her mother wash clothes and cook. Sometimes they went to the waterhole to get water. “They splash each other with cool water on hot days.” One day, when it was very hot, they saw something amazing at the waterhole. A family of elephants was enjoying the cool water too. “Robert and Mary climbed up a nearby tree to watch and wait for the elephants to leave.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Soon, two elephants came to stand in the shade of the tree, right under the branch where the two children sat. “The elephants looked up and saw Robert and Mary.” They had been taught to fear people. Nervous, they backed up a few steps. Robert and Mary had been taught to fear elephants, and Mary hid behind her brother. The bigger elephant, Tomas, introduced himself and his little sister, Teresa. Robert introduced himself and Mary.

“Robert looked thoughtfully at the elephants below. ‘You are an elephant, and elephants can hurt people,’ Robert pointed out.” Tomas replied, “‘Well, you are a human, and humans can hurt elephants too.’” Even though Mary knew she should be afraid, she liked the elephants. She reached down and touched Teresa’s upturned trunk. Mary said that she could pick things up with her fingers, and Teresa showed her how she could pick things up with her trunk.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

The elephants and the children talked back and forth about all of their similarities. They were even the same ages. They talked about how all the aunties help out when a baby person and a baby elephant are born, how the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in both human and elephant families teach the children important lessons and protect them, and how all the members of a both families feel sad when another member dies.

When they talked about the food they liked, Robert said that his “‘father gets angry when elephants eat” the vegetables in their garden.’ Then Tomas told Robert and Mary a secret.” He said that “all elephants hate chili pepper powder” and if they hung chili pepper powder on their fences, it would keep the elephants away. One reason elephants were eating from people’s gardens, Tomas said, was because their habitat was getting smaller as people planted more and more farms. Also “more and more of their family members are being hurt by people, because the elephants have fewer places to go.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Robert promised Tomas that when he grew up and had a farm of his own, he would build it where it would not disturb the elephants. He also promised to report anyone who tried to hurt the elephants. Soon it was time for Robert and Mary to get back home with the water, and Tomas and Teresa heard their mother calling for them. “They shook hands and trunks” and hoped they would see each other again. They knew “they would never forget their new friends from the waterhole.”

Interesting facts about African elephants follows the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Through Monica Bond’s charming story of a sister-brother pair and their elephant counterparts, young readers learn surprising ways in which they and elephants are alike. With similar abilities, family units, and even feelings, people and elephants should be friends, but too often they come into conflict, and the result has been a decrease in the elephant population and at times danger for humans as well. As the adorable Robert and Mary talk with Tomas and Teresa, Bond’s enchanting storytelling and realistic dialogue, draw in children, giving them even more reasons to love these popular animals. A major take-away is how people can protect and care for these gentle and intelligent animals and their habitats now and in the future.

Against gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania and its savanna, forests, and mountains, Kayla Harren depicts one family’s simple farm and a family of elephants enjoying a day at the nearby waterhole. At nine and five years old, Robert and Mary will steal readers’ hearts with their infectious smiles, sweet sibling relationship, and enthusiastic interactions with elephants Tomas and Teresa. Harren juxtaposes illustrations of the elephants’ family with those of Robert and Mary’s family in similar situations, showing readers how alike we really are. The pages are washed in soft-blue skies and glowing peach-hued sunsets, as realistic portrayals of the elephants, birds, and other animals create detailed and awe-inspiring panoramas.

Our Elephant Neighbors is an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to further understanding of elephants, conservation, and nature.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2017 | ISBN 978-1732323407

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Nature’s Giants Magazine

In this new magazine from the Wild Nature Institute, an enthusiastic dung beetle named Doug invites kids to learn about animal and plant giants of the African savanna through articles, games, crafts, and other activities that will keep them busy having fun and learning for a long time. Let’s get rolling and see what’s inside! Kids love finding stuff and right on the first pages they’re prompted to spot five differences on two identical (?) giraffes and search the pages for five beetles to see which one will would win a beetle race.

Along the way kids will enjoy:

Comics:

  • Doug engages kids in funny and interesting banter about the dung beetle’s ecological importance, including facts on their very, very long family history, three different dung beetle lifestyles, how dung beetles roll their dung balls in a straight line, and various job sites where dung beetles do their work.

Articles:

  • Ele-Fence!: About new ways farmers are protecting their crops from elephant raiders without engaging in Human-Elephant Conflict
  • Lions vs. Giraffes: About ways scientists use scars found on giraffes to study predation
  • Black Mambas: about the women rangers who patrol the Balule Nature Preserve to stop poaching of black and white rhinoceros and who teach environmental education programs in local schools. Since the group was formed “poaching of all species has decreased by 79%.”
  • Barking up the Right Tree: about the beautiful, sprawling baobab trees.
  • Infographic: on elephants, giraffes, termites and a surprising fact about biomass

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Activities:

  • Ideas for backyard or neighborhood science exploration
  • A savanna word search puzzle
  • An illustrated search-and-find animal puzzle
  • Craft instructions for making an Insect Hotel and an African Savana Scene
  • Jokes
  • A maze
  • How to draw an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros
  • A Giant Birds coloring page

Meet the Team Behind the Books and Magazine

I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk with Kayla Harren, Monica Bond, and David Brown about the work of the Wild Nature Institute, their lovely books that combine nature science with enchanting writing, and their new magazine for children.

Meet Monica Bond

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Hi, Monica! It’s nice to be chatting with you today! The love you have for Tanzania comes through in your stories so clearly and touchingly. Can you talk a little about your work and what brought you to this area?

My partner Dr. Derek Lee—quantitative ecologist and population biologist—and I chose to live and work in Tanzania because this country has some of the best wildlife experiences on Earth. As wildlife scientists, the lure of the African savanna is very strong; it is truly a wildlife paradise. In Tanzania there is incredible biological diversity combined with an extremely high density of mammals and birds, and we still have the full suite of predators and scavengers which means that the food web is intact. Tanzania also holds some of the best habitat for the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna — elephant, rhino, and giraffe.

Derek and I are studying giraffes in Tanzania using a computer program that matches each individual’s unique spot patterns from photographs. We are monitoring thousands of giraffes in northern Tanzania, and learning where they spend their time, which other giraffes they hang out with, and how they move around the ecosystem. Our goal is to understand the things that hurt or help giraffes so we can help to preserve these magnificent animals for the future.

What is it like to live so closely to these majestic animals?

Every time I go to the bush and interact with these creatures, I am awed anew. They are so very special. Every day I feel that I am living the dream and I cannot get enough of watching them in their beautiful savanna habitat. Although we work in the bush, we often go back out to the bush on our days off!

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How did the Wild Nature Institute get its start? Can you talk a bit about the organization?

Formed in 2010, Wild Nature Institute conducts scientific research on endangered wildlife and inspires the public to protect wild nature. Next year we will celebrate a decade of work! The Institute was started as a platform for two dedicated wildlife scientists to realize our dream of doing interesting and bold science that protects the earth’s remaining bits of wild nature. The Wild Nature Institute is me and Derek at the core, but with lots of other partners and cooperators in our network (like David Brown and Kayla Harren) who are all critical to accomplishing our important work.

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. As we celebrate World Giraffe Day today, could you talk about the giraffe—it’s importance to its ecosystem, the threats and pressures the animal faces from human and environmental factors, and how people can help protect them?

The gentle, iconic giraffe is popular around the world, but scientists know surprisingly little about them in the wild. We chose to work with giraffes because they are amazingly beautiful and peaceful animals, but they are vulnerable to extinction because people have taken so much of their wild natural habitat for human uses like farming and houses. Poaching is also a serious problem for giraffes. They need our help.

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Tanzania in East Africa is a stronghold for giraffes, supporting more than any other country. Although the Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, populations have declined here since the 1980s—yet few people are aware of the plight of the beloved giraffe in the wild. It is our job as scientists to bring this problem to light.

How are can families and organizations around the world help in the mission?

What can you do to help save giraffes and wild nature? (1) You can donate money or time to conservation groups like Wild Nature Institute and others. People can use their skills by providing advice, services, or goods in their personal area of expertise that can help the cause. (2) You can raise awareness about the silent extinction of giraffes. Speak up within your social circles and encourage others to donate money or time to saving giraffes. You can raise awareness in your home communities by writing, speaking, and contributing to the global conversation about our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises. (3) You can plant native trees.

Giraffes, elephants, and many other species need native trees, but deforestation continues worldwide. Planting native trees helps fight the global climate crisis and helps biodiversity too! (4) You can support legal protections for wildlife. Laws like the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws make the world safer for wildlife and people. Call and write to your congressperson, senator, governor, and president telling them you support strong law enforcement to protect wildlife. (5) You can commit to not buying body parts, and if you live in Africa you can commit to not eating bushmeat.

The programs that the Institute sponsors and supports—from education in schools and communities to environmental conservation of animals and land to publishing materials for children—is extensive. How has your work been received? What successes have been achieved and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?

To save wild nature, we must know it and love it, so Wild Nature Institute and our partners developed environmental educational materials for children and teachers. The materials teach biology, geography, science, math, and language skills using focal animals and fun, beautifully illustrated stories. Our first book, The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest, was a tri-lingual children’s book about wildebeest migration, and the ecological and economic benefits of conservation. The book was so successful that we created our “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” program to use environmental education to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

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We now produce and distribute our four multi-lingual storybooks, two Swahili activity books, and seven posters, as well as learning activities to accompany the books and posters, to tens of thousands of children throughout Tanzania. These materials teach ecological and social lessons, build national pride in Tanzanian wildlife, and motivate children to read and learn about their natural world. The learning activities help Tanzanian teachers meet environmental education curricula requirements, and also meet Next Generation Science Standards for American schools.

To ensure the materials are used to their best advantage, we host workshops for teachers, led by our education consultant Lise Levy, a retired high school biology teacher with 32 years of experience in education. At the workshops, teachers have a wonderful time learning the stories and practicing the hands-on activities that they will use in the classroom to accompany the books and posters.

Can you talk a little about the impact that these books and the new Nature’s Giants Magazine have on the children and families in Tanzania?

Every year since we introduced our education program, we have expanded its reach and impact through word-of-mouth. Our books and posters are now recognized and requested by Tanzanian educators throughout Tanzania, from Ruaha and Ruvuma in the south to Serengeti in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east. We hired a Tanzanian education coordinator who regularly visits classrooms, orphanages, and community centers and brings “Giraffe in a Box,” “Elephant in a Box,” and “Rhino in a Box” with all of the materials needed to implement the activities. We made our storybooks into videobooks which are playing on Tanzanian television. We organize “fun days” at the schools to celebrate Africa’s giants where we do tree-planting, sports, drama and arts, and creative learning. 

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We are constantly dreaming up new and fun ways to spread the word about the fascinating animals of the African savanna. Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation to love and care for their wildlife and conserve the environment.

On your website you talk about the importance of zoos in supporting the environmental work in Tanzania. How do/can zoos help?

Zoos have an important role to play both in providing financial support for field conservation as well as promoting the conservation of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros through environmental education directed at visitors. Many zoos are using our Celebrating Africa’s Giants education program. Zoos also conduct their own scientific research. We couldn’t do our work without our zoo partnerships and we are really grateful for their support.

To learn more about Monica Bond and the work of the Wild Nature Institute, visit their website.

Meet Kayla Harren

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Welcome back, Kayla! I’m thrilled to be talking with you about these three beautiful books and Nature’s Giants Magazine.

How did you get involved with the Wild Nature Institute and this project? What does it mean to you to be part of it?

In 2015 my husband, Peter, who is also an artist, was asked to illustrate a picture book about a baby giraffe that was written by a friend of a friend. He wanted to pursue a different path in his illustration career, so he passed the job to me. I fell immediately in love with the story of Juma. My passions have always been art and animals. Being able to combine those two loves feels incredible.

I feel so lucky to be involved with the Wild Nature Institute because I get to help wildlife in my own way even though I am not a scientist. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to wildlife education and hopefully spark a love for nature in other people. It feels like fate the way the first book found me through a friend of a friend of a friend and now it has turned into an amazing partnership.

Your artwork in Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbors, and Helping Brother Rhinoceros is stunning and full of such wonderful detail and personality. What kind of research did you do to bring the characters to life? Do Juma—or any of the animals—depict real giraffes, elephants, or rhinos in the area?

Thank you! Monica was incredibly helpful with providing plenty of photographs that she and the other scientists had taken of the scenery and wildlife in Tanzania. It made my job so much easier to know that people who actually lived in Tanzania and knew the area were checking all the details of my work to make sure it was accurate. For each book I was able to look through images provided by Wild Nature Institute of people, landscapes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and plenty of birds and animals to add in the background of each illustration. I did study the spot patterns of many giraffes, but Juma is a made-up combination of many giraffes I studied.

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Readers of your many books know what realism and sensitivity you bring to your illustrations of animals. Do you have a special affinity for animals and nature? Where did that come from?

Absolutely! Animals are my favorite. It started with my love of stuffed animals when I was very young. I had a huge collection, and I would spread them all out on my bed so none were hidden and they all got equal attention from me. I was introduced to many animal species through my toys. I remember fondly a stuffed white Bengal tiger that was bigger than me and a plump little panda bear. I loved the zoo, nature shows, and all the pet cats and dogs my family had. I feel most comfortable and relaxed in nature. I love going for walks with my dog because she stops every few steps to sniff something and that makes me pause and look around at all the beautiful shapes and textures and colors of the plants surrounding me. Nature is infinitely inspiring.

Have you ever visited Tanzania?

Not yet. Visiting Tanzania is very high on my list of things I need to do. Seeing a giraffe in the wild would be an absolute dream come true.

I’m going to let David Brown answer the next few questions about “Nature’s Giants Magazine.” David is a biologist, wildlife conservationist, and environmental educator—and he’s the co-creator and major writer of “Nature’s Giants.”

Welcome, David! As a nature lover, puzzle doer, and crafter myself, I love “Nature’s Giant’s Magazine!” There’s so much for kids to fall in love with!

“Nature’s Giants” magazine is full of fascinating articles (I learned a lot!), fun crafts, science prompts, challenging puzzles, and even a funny dung beetle named Doug. Can you talk about how the magazine came to be, what your role in the magazine is. and about how it can be used in the classroom? 

A group of conservationists and educators were meeting about how we could make Celebrating Africa’s Giants accessible and interesting to kids who love giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. We discussed how magazines like “Ranger Rick” and “National Geographic Kids” helped spark and sustain our love of nature when we were young, and we realized that there wasn’t really anything like that for even the most popular animals like giraffes and elephants. We decided to start our own nature magazine to fill that gap. We decided that our host of the magazine should be a dung beetle named Doug Beetle.  Doug Beetle helps show that there are many ways to be a giant in nature beyond physical size.

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My role is to help coordinate the creation of the magazine, develop story and activity ideas, and write the articles that bring those ideas to life. I also write the Doug Beetle comics. Megan Strauss, a wildlife biologist and illustrator, creates activities, crafts, and provides content for the magazine with her scientific expertise.  Kayla creates illustrations to accompany the articles and designs the layout of each page.

Accessible and interesting are perfect adjectives for Nature’s Giants! The magazine really promotes exploration and hands-on activities to engage kids in science learning. Can you describe some of the elements parents, teachers, and kids will find inside?

The magazine can be enjoyed casually for its art, stories, and activities. We also designed it for use in classrooms, zoo education programs, and other learning environments. In the first issue, we have a story about how scientific information can be visualized with infographics and how that helps us see the world in different ways.

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We also have a story about how a scientist makes an observation, asks questions about what she observed, and then solves a scientific mystery. Readers will learn how scientists study animals in the field, and hopefully get inspired to take part in citizen science themselves. 

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Environmental issues around the world are important to all of us. In what ways can children help from home or in their own communities?

The young people of the early 21st century are going to be the deciders of whether big animals like giraffes, elephants, and rhinos and their habitat survive this century and beyond. These animals are beloved around the world. They are the biological equivalent of the great works of art, architecture, and popular culture that are the common heritage of people around the world.

The young people in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where these species and their habitats live, are the primary decision makers, but these animals need a global constituency of conservationists. They need people to help pay attention to them and keep their conservation needs visible in the world. Just as we pay constant attention to our favorite sports teams, celebrities, and technology products, we need to find ways to keep attention on giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

If you love a species, then helping your local social network of family and friends be aware of the animal is a meaningful conservation action. Our goal for “Nature’s Giants” is to help connect young people with these animals and their conservation challenges and find ways to keep that connection growing.

What are the future plans for the magazine? How can teachers or other organizations order copies?

The first issue of “Nature’s Giants” is themed about African animals and plants. If the magazine finds an audience and there is an appetite for future issues, we would love to do a theme issue for each continent. We have also thought about doing an issue about the oceans. There are endless possibilities for issue themes. We would love to explore the future adventures of Doug Beetle.

To order copies of the magazine and all three storybooks, you can contact Monica Bond: monica@wildnatureinstitute.org

If you are interested in ordering Juma the Giraffe, Helping Brother Rhinoceros, and/or Our Elephant Neighbors for your classroom, organization, or yourself, contact Monica Bond monica@wildnatureinstitute.org. Individual copies of the books cost $12.00. Substantial discounts are offered when ordering multiple copies. All prices include shipping and handling.

Individuals, schools, and other organizations can also order single and/or multiple copies of “Nature’s Giants Magazine” for $4.25 each, plus shipping and handling.

You can also download printable posters with illustrations and information about giraffes, rhinos, and elephants from the Africa’s Giants website: www.africasgiants.org

To find the books with major online booksellers, see the information and links below.

Nature’s Giants Books & Magazine Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to be partnering with Wild Nature Institute in a giant giveaway! You could win this prize package that includes

  • One (1) copy of Juma the Giraffe signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Helping Brother Rhinoceros signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Our Elephant Neighbors signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of “Nature’s Giants Magazine”

To be entered to win Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets.

Bonus: Reply with your favorite African animal for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

The giveaway will be held from June 21 to June 27.

A winner will be chosen on June 28

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

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You can find Helping Brother Rhinoceros at these booksellers

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

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You can find Our Elephant Neighbors at these booksellers

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

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You can find Juma the Giraffe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 12 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

During National Oceans Month, we celebrate the wondrous diversity of sea life. A majority of the earth’s surface is covered in water and yet we know only a fraction of what the oceans have to show us. With new technology scientists are diving deeper and deeper and discovering some of the most unique creatures in the world. The holiday also gives us an opportunity to pledge our help to preserving the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the world’s oceans from climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction. To join in on this month’s holiday, visit a beach or aquarium, learn more about the animals and resources of the sea, and consider donating to or volunteering with an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore

Written by Susan Wood | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

A day at the beach includes a bit of animal tracking as a brother and sister and their puppy romp and play as ocean creatures go about their day. Near the ocean’s edge, they find “wading feet, / sandpiper hops, / water curls and sprays. / Crawling feet, / click-clack crab scuttles on its way.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Seagulls and pelicans looking for a snack leave webbed prints on the sandy shore while underwater “wriggling feet, / on five orange legs, sea star makes its way.” A turtle on her way to dig her nest mingles her distinctive track with familiar five-toed footprints that run back and forth from the water to a tall sand castle. But the most surprising feet are “buried feet, / children laugh, / Daddy’s toes poke through.” At last, as the sun sets, tired feet head home.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Back matter includes a short discussion about ecology and prompts children to become “ecology detectives” at home, observing the tracks of creatures who live nearby, or on a hike to the forest, beach, or park. Photographs and descriptions of the sea creatures mentioned in the text teaches children more about these animals and how they move.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Susan Wood’s short, dynamic rhyming verses are a perfect way to entice young scientists to keep their eyes on the ground and observe tracks that can tell them about the creatures that traverse their backyard, playground, beach, park, or woods. Wood’s evocative vocabulary mirrors the action of the ocean as it “curls and sprays” and the animals who hop, scuttle, and wriggle to find food and shelter. Readers will also enjoy following the family who has come to spend the day at the beach with their lively dog in tow.

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Steliyana Doneva takes kids to the seashore in her lovely illustrations in which the aqua sea froths and bubbles, inviting swimmers, and the peach-hued sand preserves footprints, turtle eggs, and a growing sand castle—all overseen by a stalwart lighthouse. Kids get an up-close look at sandpipers, crabs, seagulls, pelicans, sea stars, barnacles, a turtle, and other fish as well as ocean and dune grasses. At the end of the day as the family heads home, Doneva’s beautiful sunset offers a perfect moment of quiet cuddle time during which readers can happily match the footprints on the final spread to the animals they’ve learned about in the story.

A terrific take-along for trips to the beach or a primer for outdoor jaunts, Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? makes for a fun and educational addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-158536409

Discover more about Susan Wood and her books on her website.

National Oceans Month Activity

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Personalized Painted Pail

 

A trip to the beach isn’t complete without a pail! It’s perfect for collecting shells, seaweed and sea glass or to use when making a sand castle. But why should all the cool stuff be on the inside? With this craft you can decorate your pail to show your unique personality!

Supplies

  • Plastic or metal pail
  • Craft paint in various colors
  • Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating, for multi-surface use
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint designs on the pail
  2. When paint is dry spray with acrylic coating to set paint
  3. Let dry

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You can find Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 21 – It’s National Family Month and Interview with Galia Bernstein

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About the Holiday

In the weeks between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we celebrate National Family Month. The holiday was established by KidsPeace to encourage families to spend more time together. It also gives us the opportunity to honor everything that makes a group of people a family. Common experiences, shared memories, and unconditional love create that unique feeling in the heart that defines family. To celebrate, gather your family together and plan some fun!

I received a copy of Leyla from Abrams Books for Young Readers for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Leyla

By Galia Bernstein

 

Leyla has a BIG family! Besides her and her mom and dad, there are “nine aunts and twenty-three cousins,” and…they all live together. There’s always someone who wants “to hug and kiss her. Yuck!” Her home is noisy and rowdy, and it’s often hard to get some peace—or a nap. So Leyla ran far away until she couldn’t see them, smell them, or hear them. On the way, she hurt her foot on a rock.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Out in the quiet wilderness, Leyla met a lizard. She tried to find out its name. She tried to get it to kiss her foot and make it better, but the lizard said nothing. Finally, the lizard opened one eye. “‘Shhh,’ he said. ‘I’m busy.’” It didn’t look like the lizard was busy to Leyla, but it told her he was “busy doing nothing.” Then he showed Lelya how to do nothing too.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Leyla and the lizard sat side by side with their eyes closed. They felt the warmth of the sun and listened to the leaves and the insects and thought about nothing. When Leyla finally opened her eyes, it was evening. Leyla missed her family and knew it was time to go home. The lizard told her she could visit any time. Leyla ran until she smelled the familiar smell, heard the familiar noise, and saw her wonderful family. She told them all about her adventure and the lizard. “They thought she was very brave and wanted to know if she was all right.”

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Well, there was that one thing—Leyla wanted to know if they wanted to kiss her foot better. And, of course, they did! “That night, in her mother’s arms, Leyla didn’t mind the noise.” She remembered her day with the lizard, and “whenever it all got a bit too much,” she went back to see him. “And the lizard was always there.”

An Author’s Note following the text tells a bit about the Hamadryas baboons, who live in large, noisy, and loving families like Leyla and the troop that inspired her story.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Any child—whether they’re from a big family, part of a large class at school, a participant in a team or group activity, or a person who just likes a little quiet—will recognize themselves in Leyla. In her sweet and straightforward story, Galia Bernstein lets children know that when the pressures of a day squeeze in, rejuvenation is close at hand. The astute and chill lizard Leyla meets when she runs away from her large, loud, and loving family teaches her and readers methods of mindfulness and meditation, allowing them to shut out the noise and distractions and find peace within. Feeling refreshed, Leyla returns home with a new appreciation for what she has and a story to share.

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Bernstein’s textured illustrations of a Hamadryas baboon troop, rendered in cool earth tones, is a joyful representation of family, with all the care, concern, and caresses that come with them. Kids will giggle when Leyla meets the lizard with a startled EEEEEEEEEP!, and you can bet they’ll close their eyes and meditate right along with Leyla and the lizard. Leyla is adorable and thoughtful, and her troop eyes her with understanding as she returns to the fold. The final two-page spread is warm and comforting.

In Leyla, Gaia Bernstein reminds readers that looking inward as well as outward toward new experiences and beyond their comfort zone brings new perspectives and happiness. The book would be a tender accompaniment to lessons on meditation or mindfulness as well as a reassuring read for home and classroom story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419735431

To learn more about Galia Bernstein, her books, and her art, visit her website

Meet Galia Bernstein

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Today, I’m really excited to be talking with Galia about her first paying job as an artist, how kids can find their own quiet place, and…a world of cats!

What was your inspiration for Leyla?

As a young child I was terrified of large family gatherings. So many people in the same room who wanted to hug and kiss me, and who wanted, it seemed,  to hear about every single thing that happened to me since we’d last met. It was overwhelming. Over the years, I found that if I took a short break, went to my room for a bit, or walked around the block, I was able to relax myself and was even able to enjoy myself. Years later, I was sitting in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn watching a small but energetic troop of, who had recently welcomed a new edition to the family—a baby boy. What if that baby, I thought, is a bit different from the other baboons? What if he couldn’t handle the constant attention? Who will teach it how to take a break? And the idea for Leyla was born.

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Galia snapped this picture of 2 female Hamadryas Baboons and the baby that inspired Leyla.

In addition to gaining an appreciation for her big family, Leyla also learns about mindfulness and the benefits of getting some quiet time. Do you have any advice for kids on how they can carve out some time or a place just for themselves?

If you can, go outside. Of course, make sure that you’re safe and an adult knows where you are, but there is nothing like being outside on a beautiful day and breathing some fresh air. You will immediately feel better. Find a little private spot that’s yours—in the back yard, a near-by park, or even in the school yard—sit down and just breath. If you have time to read, bring a book, or listen to music if you prefer. Lying on a blanket under the old lemon tree in our yard on a summer afternoon with a book and a plate of grapes is a very happy childhood memory for me. Today, I listen to books on tape while I walk my dog and, for a while, clear my mind of everyday worries.

Before you moved to New York to study illustration, you were the art director for two children’s magazines in Israel. Were you always interested in working in publishing, and children’s publishing in particular, or how did that come about?

In Israel, military service is mandatory. When you turn 18, you join the army and serve 2 years if you’re a girl, and 3 if you’re a boy. During this time, many people get to learn a profession that they may be interested in as a civilian, and that’s how it was for me. I was lucky enough to join the Israeli Army’s weekly magazine as a graphic designer and an illustrator/cartoonist. It was my first paying job as an artist and I fell in love with publishing. It’s also really fun to say “artist” when people asked me what I did in the army. Since I was mostly interested in illustration, and a big reader as a child, I was naturally drawn to children’s publishing.

Your debut picture book, I Am a Cat, also published by Abrams, was very well received. I understand the spark of the idea goes back to when you were just thirteen years old. Can you talk a little about that? I’m curious if writing was always part of your repertoire and if not when you began to write as well as illustrate and design.

I Am a Cat started as a cartoon I drew for my father. It showed a little house cat looking very grumpy on one side and a bunch of big cats rolling on the floor laughing on the other. The caption underneath said “Yes, I call myself a cat!” That cartoon is hanging in my dad’s study to this day. I am an illustrator first, but I was always a writer as well. In middle school, I wrote and drew comic books starring all my friends and plays for us to perform in class. When I moved to the US, it took me a while to feel confident enough to write in a second language, a problem I didn’t have with the international language of illustration, so for a while, I was more of an illustrator than a writer.

A look through your portfolio reveals that much of your illustration work features animals. How have animals influenced your work?

I’ve loved animals since before I could walk. They always fascinated me and I always wanted to read about them and learn to draw them. My books are always based on real animal behavior, and I am always happy to teach and talk about the amazing creatures we share this world with.

In your bio you say that your art is heavily influenced by mid-20th century design and Eastern European and Scandinavian folk art. What do you love about these styles?

What I like about Scandinavian and folk art is the minimalism—saying so much with very few details and minimal color. My picture books tell a story through body language and facial expression, and the backgrounds are very simple. I work hard on the look of the entire page—not just the art, but the white spaces in between called the negative space. Sometimes what’s not there can tell a story as much as what’s there. In I Am a Cat, I played with the points of view, allowing the readers to see Simon the cat through the eyes of the big cats, and on other pages be Simon and feel what it’s like to be stared at by a lion, a tiger, a puma, a cheetah, and a panther. In Leyla, I used the colors of dusk and sunset to not only show the passage of time, but also the change in Leyla and the way she sees the world around her, before and after meeting the lizard.

What has been the best part about being a children’s author and illustrator? Do you have a story from any book event or classroom visit you’d like to share?

The best thing about writing for children is the children of course. I love to see how smart kids are and  how interested  they are to learn about animals. We always talk about the animals in the books, where they are from, and how their natural behavior inspired their behavior in the books. The most surprising reaction to I Am A Cat came from… cats! The book came out in 14 languages and I get pictures of actual cats “reading” my book from all over the world. It always makes my day!

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Cats of the world, unite!

What’s up next for you?

I’m taking a little break from writing this year. I have 2 more picture books and one nonfiction book I am going to start working on soon, all as an illustrator only. Right now I am working on a very funny Hanukkah book called 8 Knights. It’s about, well.. 8 Knights. With a ‘K.’ The kind with armor and horses. It’s going to be a very fun book, I can’t wait!

What is your favorite holiday?

Now I feel like I should say Hanukkah… but it is a really fun holiday. Amazing food, open flames allowed indoors (!) and for a kid who, as you might remember from question one, is not a big fan of large family gatherings, a very intimate holiday, at home, with the immediate family.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Galia! I wish you all the best with Leyla, and I can’t wait to see your upcoming books!

You can connect with Galia Bernstein on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Leyla Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Abrams Books for Young Readers in a Twitter giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Leyla by Galia Bernstein

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from May 21 through May 27 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 28.

Prizing provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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

National Family Day Activity

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Family Charades

 

Getting together to play charades is a fun way to spend family time with a little bit of thought, a little bit of action, and lots of laughs. You can find lots of charades cards, ideas, and rules at funstufftodo.com.

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You can find Leyla at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review