December 24 – Christmas Eve

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About the Holiday

While Christmas Eve traditions vary around the world, children and adults everywhere look forward to this special night of giving with its wonder and magic. Today’s book tells the story of the first Christmas with gentle beauty. I also talk with author Carole Gerber about her inspiration and her own family traditions. 

Thanks go to Familius for sharing a copy of The Gifts of the Animals with me for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

After the animals in a Bethlehem stable watch Joseph help Mary dismount from their donkey’s back, they go to work to prepare a place for the soon-to-be-born baby Jesus to sleep. “The ox that stands in the drafty shed / drops straw into a manger bed.” The sheep and lambs add bits of wool to make the bed “feel soft and full.”

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Using downy feathers from the sparrows, chickens, and little chicks, the mice make a plump pillow for Jesus’ head. The cow finds a blanket, and with the help of the ox they lay it over the manger. “Then in this place, humble and warm, Christ, the Prince of Peace, is born.” Mary wraps Him in swaddling clothes then Joseph lays Him in the manger to sleep.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

On a distant hillside, shepherds are startled by the brightening stars but listen to the angel who tells them of Jesus’ birth. Then the sky fills with a choir of angels singing “‘Peace on earth. Good will toward men. / Go now, shepherds, worship him.’” The shepherds hurry to Bethlehem to join in the joy of Mary, Joseph, and the gentle animals and to sing “‘Glory to our newborn king!’”

A condensed version of the Christmas story from the King James version of the book of Luke, chapter 2 follows the story.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The wonder of that first Christmas night glows in Carole Gerber’s beautiful story that follows the animals in the stable as they make a warm and soft bed for Jesus to sleep in. Young readers will be mesmerized by the gentle generosity of the ox, cow, sheep, birds, and mice as they all work together to provide for the baby to come. As the shepherds are visited by the angels and go to worship Jesus, Gerber uses the lyrical language and flowing cadence of the King James version of the biblical story to create a tender and glorious read aloud for the whole family. 

Yumi Shimokawara’s gorgeous, soft-hued illustrations are breathtaking in their detail and inspiration. Pride, fellowship, and diligence shine on the animals’ faces as they create a manger bed worthy of the baby Jesus. Realistic and traditional images of the stone stable, the shepherds and their flock blend poignantly with the depiction of the singing angels that could come from any diverse modern choir. The final illustration in which the animals and the shepherds gather around Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in adoration reveals the promise and hope of the true meaning of Christmas.

Sure to become a favorite Christmas story to share year after year, The Gifts of the Animals would be a beloved addition to home bookshelves and a beautiful inclusion for library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

A Chat with Carole Gerber

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Poet and author Carole Gerber has written sixteen picture books, three chapter books, and more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. Her picture book, A Band of Babies, was named a 2017 Best Book for Children by Amazon editors. She holds a BS in English education and an MA in journalism from Ohio State, and has taught middle school and high school English as well as college news writing and factual writing at OSU.

Hi Carole! I’m excited to be sharing Christmas Eve with you and your Christmas classic. I’m sure readers would love to know what inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals.

In my random travels around the Internet, I came across a site called “The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.” One post contained the words to a song called “The Friendly Beasts.” The notes said “This song originally hails from a 12th century Latin song,” which was later known in England as “The Animal Carol.” It began: “Jesus our brother kind and good/was humbly born in a stable rude/and the friendly beasts around him stood/Jesus our brother, kind and good.” Here’s one more verse: “I,” said the cow all white and red / “I gave Him my manger for His bed;/I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”/ “I,” said the cow all white and red.

The song also mentions a dove cooing Jesus to sleep, the sheep giving him a blanket. It ends: “Thus every beast by some good spell/in the stable dark was glad to tell/of the gift he gave Emmanuel/The gift he gave Emmanuel.” What I wrote sounds nothing like the original, but it gave me the idea that sparked my story. I then developed my story into a 32-page picture book by including Mary and Joseph, other animals with useful gifts, the angels announcing the birth, and the arrival of the shepherds.

“The Animal Carol” sounds lovely. Do you know if it’s still performed?

After the book went to press, I found that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had performed the exact words of the original song. There’s a YouTube video that lasts about six minutes. I had no idea that it was famous! A man named Brian Stokes Mitchell was the main singer. He and the choir actually tweet and baa, making some of the animal sounds.  

Such a feeling of peace and love flows through your book. How do you go about choosing words and phrasing and even the poetic form to create that mood?

I wrote and revised it many times, of course. But I never felt frustrated and truly did feel peaceful and loving as I wrote. The art director, David Miles, was great to work with. We brainstormed about other animals that would live in a stable and might contribute to preparing the manger. I came up with mice to carry the feathers from the birds perched on the rafters. Nothing appropriate rhymes with “manger” so I came up with “ox” to rhyme with “manger box.” A sweet result of involving more animals (besides getting enough pages to fill the book) was that they all worked cooperatively.

The Gifts of the Animals is absolutely gorgeous, from the glowing gold-embossed cover to the images of the gentle animals that are happily helping to the jubilant angels that mirror a modern choir. Can you tell me about Yumi Shimokawara and how she was chosen to illustrate your book?

David Miles met her at the Bologna Book Fair in 2017, and was absolutely blown away by her talent. She lives in Japan and had won many awards, including the grand prize at her art school. Yumi had written and illustrated several books published in Japan. My favorite title is Potsu, posu, potsu daijobu, which translates in English to Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Are You All Right? The title makes me smile. Yumi is not fluent in English so she worked with a Japanese friend who helped her translate David’s emails containing art directions. She did the cover first and it is beautiful. But she had given the baby blond hair and pale skin. My comment was, “We can’t have Jesus looking Swedish!” David replied, “No worries. I will fix this with Photoshop.” He darkened the baby’s hair and skin a bit and directed Yumi as she worked on the interior pages, to make all the people more authentically Middle Eastern.

Each spread is so beautiful on its own, but do you have a favorite? What makes that illustration special to you?

I love how happy and expressive the animals are, especially in the last spread when the people and animals are gathered around the Holy Family. Jesus is not the only baby in that picture. Yumi put baby chicks in that spread, too, which makes it even more touching. I also smile at the inside cover page, which has at the bottom an adorable illustration of a small choir of mice and birds. One little mouse is clasping his paws as he sings his heart out.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

At the end of your story you include a condensed version of Chapter 2 from the Biblical book of Luke in the King James Version. How did you choose which version of the story to include?

I earned a King James Bible when I was about eight years old as a reward for attending Sunday School for 10 Sundays straight. Ever since, I have loved the grandeur of the language in the King James Bible. Compare the words between the King James and The New International Version.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The New International Version of the Bible states:

“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

No guest room available? It sounds like what a desk clerk in a motel would say. Bah!

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

Every time I get a new book published, my husband makes a Christmas tree ornament of the cover. This started years ago when my daughter Jess was in middle school. She secretly used my husband’s power tools – EEEK! – to cut to size a small piece of plywood on which she glued a small photocopied cover of one of my first published books. She put a doll house size clothes hanger on the back to attach it to the tree. After that, every Christmas, the last things we put on our tree are the miniature covers of my books.

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What a sweet and supportive tradition! It’s such a nice idea to adapt with photos or drawings for any family wanting to celebrate achievements from the past year. Thanks so much for this chat, Carole! I wish you all the best with The Gifts of the Animals and a very Merry Christmas with your family.

Christmas Eve Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the sixteen words about the first Christmas in this printable puzzle.

Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle | Tell the Good News! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 13 – National Cocoa Day

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About the Holiday

There’s no better drink to dispel the frostiness of winter than hot cocoa. Whether you make it from dark, rich cocoa powder or from an easy-open pack, drink it straight or add extra flavors like peppermint or cinnamon, enjoy it unadorned or topped with whipped cream or marshmallows, there’s no doubt that hot cocoa is a favorite for cozy snuggling. The history of cocoa being used as a drink goes back to the Aztec culture in 500 BCE (although archaeologists believe it predates that time). It took until 1828, however, for powdered chocolate to be developed (allowing for both chocolate bars and instant hot chocolate to be produced); and it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that Charles Sanna created Swiss Miss – the first hot cocoa able to be mixed in a cup. To celebrate this rich indulgence, mix up frothy mugs of hot cocoa and cuddle up with your kids and a great book –like today’s!

Tiny Reindeer

By Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

 

As the book opens, a little girl has made her way down the hill from her rural home to the mailbox, where she slips a special letter into the slot. In the distance, a town is nestled between the rolling hills. In another part of the world, a “very, very tiny” reindeer was wondering what he could do to help “Santa get ready for the most important night of the year.” Every year it was the same, Tiny tried to help but ended up getting “tangled in the reins and harnesses,” falling into the other reindeer’s water bowls, or completely covered in tape “when he tried to wrap the presents. 

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

This year on the day before Christmas Eve, Santa suggested that Tiny visit the Mail Room to help sort the last of the children’s letters. Santa had told him there was just a little pile of letters, but when Tiny got to the Mail Room, he found himself buried in an avalanche of paper. As he wriggled his way out, one letter caught his eye. There was a picture of a reindeer drawn in the corner, and the child was asking for just one gift for Christmas: a tiny reindeer to go with the tiny wooden sleigh her granddad had made for her.

He had planned on making a little reindeer to lead it, but had not been able to. She wrote, “I know reindeers are REALLY BIIIG but I only need a very very tiny one so that we can all fly together like you Santa and your Big Big reindeers.” Then she thanked Santa and sent lots of love before signing her name. After Tiny read the letter, “he came up with a plan.”

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

On Christmas Eve morning, when Santa and the other reindeer were distracted , Tiny leapt into the fully loaded sleigh. He felt like “a secret voyager on a special mission.” While Santa made his rounds, flying high in the sky, Tiny waited for a precise moment. When it came, he “leapt from the sleigh into the freezing air as Santa and his galloping herd disappeared into the darkness.” He floated toward a particular house, carried by the parachute he’d made from the little girl’s letter. Down the chimney and into the fireplace he fell. He made his way to the staircase leading upstairs only to find that he was too small to climb it. Discouraged and unsure if he’d even found the right house, Tiny began to cry.

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Just then he heard a crash in the room he’d just left and, then, footsteps. Tiny tried to hide in the shadow of the steps, but in a moment a huge figure stood over him. It was Santa! Santa carried Tiny upstairs and placed him on a pillow next to where a little girl lay sleeping. On her nightstand was “a beautiful, tiny wooden sleigh.” Santa whispered goodbye and promised to visit next year. Tiny wondered what tomorrow would bring as he yawned and went to sleep.

When the little girl woke on Christmas morning, her eyes lit up. “‘A tiny reindeer! My tiny reindeer!’ she cried out.” Then “Tiny…knew he had finally found where he belonged – and with the most beautiful sleigh he’d ever seen, handmade to fit him perfectly.” The little girl hitched him to the sleigh, and they raced outside to fly over the snowy hills in the frosty morning sky.

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Copyright Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros’s sweet, warm, and breezy story is a Christmas and wintertime delight that will charm kids. Young readers eager to help with holiday preparations and to find their place among older siblings and/or adults will empathize with Tiny’s predicament. As this littlest of reindeer devises and carries out a clever and courageous plan to make a girl’s dream come true, readers will see that they too make a big difference just by being themselves. When it seems that all will be lost at the foot of the insurmountable stairs before a watchful and caring Santa appears with a helping hand, kids will feel that comforting assurance their own parents, caregivers, or teachers provide to help them achieve their goals and potential. 

Naylor-Ballesteros’s rustic illustrations glow with the magic of the season, and readers will fall in love with Tiny, who’s no bigger than one of the carrots in the other reindeer’s dinner bowl. Humorous snapshots of Tiny tangled in the reins, tape, and ribbon will make kids giggle. Kids may take note of Santa’s backward glance as Tiny leaps from the sleigh, but his appearance still comes as a happy surprise when Tiny is feeling low. For all children with big imaginations and that harbored desire to have a tiny pet or friend of their own, Naylor-Ballesteros’s uplifting ending will cheer their heart.

An enchanting Christmas tale that will become a family favorite, Tiny Reindeer would make a much-loved gift and a heartwarming addition to home bookshelves and school and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735271180

Discover more about Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, his books, and his art on his website.

National Cocoa Day Activity

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Friendship Hot Cocoa Jar 

 

There’s nothing better than sipping hot chocolate with a friend or family member during the cold months ahead! Here’s an easy way to make a special gift for someone you love!

Supplies

  • Mason jar, canning jar, or any recycled jar from home
  • Canister of your favorite hot chocolate mix
  • Bag of mini marshmallows
  • Bag of chocolate chips
  • Measuring cup
  • Spoon
  • Piece of cloth
  • Shoelace, string, elastic, or ribbon
  • Paper or card stock to make a Friendship Tag
  • Hole punch
  • Scissor

CPB - Hot Chocolate from above with whisk

Directions for Filling the Jar

  1. Wash and completely dry the jar
  2. Drop a handful of mini marshmallows into the bottom of the jar. With the spoon push some of the marshmallows tight against the glass so they will show up when you add the hot chocolate mix.
  3. Measure 1/3 cup of hot chocolate mix and sprinkle it on top of the marshmallows. With the spoon gently spread the mix over the marshmallows.
  4. If you wish, add a layer of chocolate chips.
  5. Continue layering marshmallows and hot chocolate mix until you get to the top of the jar.
  6. At the top add another layer of chocolate chips and marshmallows.
  7. Put the lid on the jar and secure it tightly.

Directions for Decorating the Lid and Adding the Tag

  1. Cut a 6-inch circle from the cloth. To make the edges decorative, use a pinking sheers or other specialty scissor.
  2. Cover the lid of the jar with the cloth and secure with an elastic or rubber band.
  3. Tie the string, shoelace, or other tie around the rim of the lid.
  4. If using a Mason jar, place the cloth between the disk and the screw top
  5. Create a Friendship Tag and add your name and the name of your friend.
  6. Use a hole punch to make a hole in the Friendship Tag, slide it onto the tie, and knot it.

Directions for Making the Hot Chocolate

  1. With a spoon measure 1/2 cup of the hot chocolate, marshmallow, chocolate chip mix into a mug
  2. Fill the mug with boiling water, hot milk, or a combination of both
  3. Enjoy!

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You can find Tiny Reindeer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 23 – It’s Adopt a Turkey Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1986 with the founding of Farm Sanctuary, a refuge for farm animals and advocate for institutional farming practices and plant-based living, Adopt a Turkey Day inspires people to think of turkeys differently and encourages them to symbolically adopt one of the Sanctuaries rescued “spokesturkeys” to help with its care. Operating sanctuaries in Watkins Glen, NY and Los Angeles, CA, Farm Sanctuaries provides homes for chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats, in addition to turkeys. They also connect animals with loving forever homes, where they can live with plenty of space and care. If you’d like to learn more about Farm Sanctuary, visit their website. To celebrate, give the generous turkey and his friends in Cold Turkey a forever home on your bookshelf!

Cold Turkey

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call | Illustrated by Chad Otis

 

A frigid blizzard blast swirls through the coop, and “turkey woke up c-c-cold. / He wheezed, ‘It’s ten degrees! / I need to b-b-bundle up / before I f-f-freeze!'” Turkey pulls on a turtleneck sweater and overalls, a scarf, hat, and mittens and heads out into the snow. When he comes to Sheep’s shed, he finds his friend “s-s-shivering” and gives him his hat, tying it on nice and tight.

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Image copyright Chad Otis, 2021, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, 2021. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Further down the path, Turkey finds Chick “all alone.” She tells him that her “‘beak is ch-ch-chattering. / I’m chilled right to the bone.'” Turkey wants to help and stuffs Chick’s crown and tail feathers into his two oversized mittens. Continuing on, Turkey finds Horse, who’s having trouble neighing through his frozen lips, and provides just the warmth he needs by wrapping his muzzle in his long, long scarf.

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Image copyright Chad Otis, 2021, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, 2021. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Turkey then discovers poor cow “qu-qu-quivering” and totally miserable. What can Turkey do? He find that his sweater makes an utterly warming udder warmer, and he’s on his way again. In the sty Turkey spies a “polar Pig” with icicles on his snout peeking from the straw. He says, “‘My body’s numb from snout to bum. / I don’t know when I’ll thaw.'” Turkey has just the thing to warm Pig’s cold behind. In a minute Pig is wearing Turkey’s overalls – even if they are a little snug.

Now Turkey “had loaned out all his loot. / He wobbled homeward, cold and bare, / in just his birthday suit!” Although he now was freezing, he thought “‘At least my heart feels warm.'” But his friends were very thankful and they built a roaring fire. They sat around it toasty warm – Turkey in his feathers and the rest in his attire.

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Image copyright Chad Otis, 2021, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, 2021. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

If you and your kids love to laugh during story time and are looking for a new book to share this winter, you’ll want to trot out to your bookstore and pick up a copy of Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call’s hilarious story. A perfect read aloud that will get all kids ch-ch-chiming in on every teeth-ch-ch-chattering line, Cold Turkey is fast-paced, full of puns, and loaded with charm and empathy. Turkey’s generosity and the farm animals’ reciprocation adds a layer of sweetness and friendship that will enchant kids. Rosen Schwartz and Call’s impeccable rhyming and rhythm creates a cold-weather giggle fest that readers will want to return to again and again. 

Chad Otis amplifies the humor with his adorably chunky animals and their goggle-eyed acceptance of Turkey’s largesse. Cowering, quivering, and complaining, the farm animals look laugh-out-loud funny stuffed into the bits and bobs of Turkey’s winter clothes. Otis’s clever choices and frozen landscape create active, dynamic scenes that flawlessly carry the story to its warm conclusion. 

A quirky, hilarious romp in which kindness shines, Cold Turkey would be a quick favorite on home, classroom, and public library shelves. The book is highly recommended for winter story times and all throughout the year.

Ages 4 – 8

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0316430111

Discover more about Corey Rosen Schwartz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kirsti Call and her books, visit her website.

You can find out more about Chad Otis and view a portfolio of his work on his website.

Adopt a Turkey Month Activity 

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Dress Your Own Turkey Activity Sheet

 

If you’re cr-cr-creative and love to c-c-color, then this printable Cold Turkey activity sheet is for you! Color and cut out Turkey and his clothes then get him all bundled up for the winter. You can even make Turkey some clothes for the other seasons as well!

Dress Your Own Turkey Activity Sheet

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You can find Cold Turkey at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 15 – It’s Young Readers Week

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About the Holiday

Established in 1989 by the Center for the Book and Pizza Hut as a way to celebrate reading and invite kids and adults to discover the fun and benefits of reading, Young Readers Week is a favorite on any book-lovers’ calendar. Bringing together businesses, schools, families, and libraries, the Book It! program offers encouragement and resources to get kids excited about reading. To learn more and find activities, printables, reading trackers, and other resources for schools and families, visit the Book It! program website.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Big Honcho Media for sending me a copy of Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.)

By Ryan T. Higgins

 

Norman was a porcupine whose best friend, Mildred, was a tree. During the day, Norman loved playing baseball with Mildred (even though she always struck out—and, if truth be told, never even swung at the ball), bird-watching, “playing ‘tree’ together, and even playing chess (even if Norman had to play both black and white). At night, Norman settled himself in Mildred’s branches and read to Mildred (who always asked for “one more chapter.” Sometimes Norman just liked being with Mildred, holding hands with a low-growing branch.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Then one day an interloper popped from the ground complete with some leafy appendages. “And WHO is THAT?!” Norman asked Mildred. Of course, “it was another tree”—a tree that did not belong with Norman and Mildred. At first Norman just stewed, but soon he began to worry about whether Mildred might prefer this other tree to him. And, in fact, as the other tree grew taller, it seemed that Mildred didn’t need Norman to play baseball, birdwatch or play “‘tree’” anymore. “Life wasn’t the same.”

On the day that Mildred and the other tree actually touched leaves, Norman decided that was “the last straw. Even though, in this case, there were no straws. Just branches.” He decided to take action and devised the perfect plan. One night, Norman dug up the other tree, plopped it into a wheelbarrow, “and took it far away. Very far away.” So “very, very far away” that he needed a rowboat to get there.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

And on a tiny island, Norman replanted the other tree and rowed back to shore. After that things were back to normal—sort of. But Mildred was suspicious; she had questions. Norman did his best to offer possibilities after first explaining that he hadn’t done anything with the other tree. “Maybe it went on vacation,” he said. “Maybe it moved. How should I know?” And then he reassured Mildred that she still had him.

But there a niggling disquiet came to Norman. He began to fear that someone had seen him and that maybe “digging up your friend’s friend…was NOT the right thing to do.” His guilt ate at him until, under Mildred’s accusing gaze, he tripped and fell into the other tree’s empty hole. “Norman had hit rock bottom. ‘I have hit rock bottom!’” he announced. He knew what he had to do.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

He took the wheelbarrow and the rowboat and hurried to the tiny island. Back home, he replanted the other tree right where it had been before. “Norman knew life was going to be different.” Maybe it would even be better, he contemplated from the comfort of his hammock. “Just the three of them”—until the other tree’s best friend appeared from its nest, saw Norman, and demanded to know “And WHO is THAT?!”

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Ryan T. Higgins’ superbly well-conceived story of personal relationships tested by newcomers paints the wide swath of emotions that friendships, sibling bonds, and other connections spark in the human heart with his well-known and ameliorating humor. Higgins’ honest look at the progression of contentment, jealousy, resentment, fear, and sadness leading up to a desperate act followed by short-lived satisfaction, denials, guilt, dread, introspection, and finally acceptance not only makes for a dramatic and suspenseful read, but offers kids and adults a compelling way to talk about the delicacy and resilience of strong relationships.

Higgins’ plump and rakish Norman garners immediate affection with his adorable expressions and enthusiastic friendship with the steadfast Mildred so that when “the other tree” comes into the picture, readers will feel a deep empathy with his predicament. Depictions of how Norman sees interactions between Mildred and the other tree as usurping his role are clever and meaningful conversation starters. The aftermath of Norman’s replanting of the other tree also provides insight into whose life Norman really uprooted. In his pitch-perfect ending, Higgins reminds kids that no one lives in isolation and that their own experience may be mirrored in someone else’s.

An outstanding story that charms as a favorite read-aloud for humorous story times as well as one that makes a poignant impact on social-emotional growth, Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 8

Disney-Hyperion, 2021 | ISBN 978-1368026239

You can connect with Ryan T. Higgins on Twitter. 

To find more books by Ryan T. Higgins and an Activity Kit/Educator’s Guide for teachers and families, visit Ryan’s page on the Disney Books website.

Young Reader’s Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-we-love-to-read-maze

We Love to Read! Maze

 

Help the kids pick up books and find their way through the library in this printable maze.

We Love to Read! Maze Puzzle | We Love to Read! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norman-didn't-do-it-cover

You can find Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 4 – It’s Picture Book Month

About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Martin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways. They entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding. If you want to learn more about the holiday and read engaging daily posts about why picture books are important by your favorite authors, illustrators, and others in the children’s publishing industry, visit picturebookmonth.com

Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist

Written by Jenny Moore | Illustrated by Barbara Bakos

 

Miss Gorilla is hanging the final practice session reminders for her class’s dance recital that night when she comes upon Mrs. Sloth, snoozing in her hammock hung right on the Dance Show billboard. But Ms. Gorilla doesn’t try to rouse her. Instead, she encourages her to dream and rest, wanting her to be at her “dancing best.”

At four o’clock, when the dancers assemble at the theater, Miss Gorilla gives each of them some pointers to make their routines shine. First up is Mr. Elephant who’s having a bit of trouble with the costume and the steps. Miss Gorilla calmly tells him “Don’t get your tutu in a twist, Mr. Elephant, / don’t get your tutu in a knot. / Arms out wide, then turn and glide, / with a graceful jump and a tippy-toe trot.” Next, Mrs. Pelican is all aflutter what with trying to tap and smile, keep her wings up and get her dance right.

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Mr. Polar Bear can’t seem to keep his top hat in place and whirl and twirl at the same time. Miss Gorilla reminds him to “just listen to the beat as you move your feet…” during his soft shoe routine. Miss Gorilla’s glad to see that Mrs. Sloth made it to rehearsal, but now she’s sleeping again! Miss Gorilla gets her tap shoes on her, but that only lasts a moment. Mrs. Sloth keeps sleeping here and sleeping there. She’s even brought the curtain down—but not in a good way; she’s crashed into the stage lights, which lie broken on the floor. Miss Gorilla picks her up and carries her off to find Mr. Crocodile and give him his pep talk. But the minute she’s turned her back, Mr. Crocodile is chewing the curtains and Mrs. Sloth is sleeping in the seats.

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

At last it’s time for the big show and the theater is packed. Miss Gorilla encourages her dancers once more—“It’s time to shine –you’ll all be fine, / lights up, drum roll… let’s go!” But the dancers? They don’t look too confident. When Mrs. Pelican goes first her knees knock together and stage fright has her stuck. Next, Mr. Polar Bear takes the stage, but he’s forgotten to listen to the beat, he trips over Mrs. Sloth, who’s dozing on the floor, and knocks Mr. Elephant into the orchestra pit. Mortified, Miss Gorilla, shouts, “Don’t squash the orchestra! No, Mr. Elephant, tippy-toe trot, not splat!” And then what horror does she see? “Don’t eat the audience! No, Mr. Crocodile, / didn’t I mention that?”

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Poor Miss Gorilla admonishes herself. She should have listened to those who told her teaching these students was hopeless. But suddenly she hears… could it be… the sound of applause? She peeks around the curtain to find Mrs. Sloth—her eyes still shut—gracefully gliding with new moves and a “three-toed tip tap groove.” The audience roars for more, and “Mrs. SUPER Sloth” obliges with leaps and twirls, handstands and whirls. But where has she learned all of these steps, Miss Gorilla wonders. Then she realizes and exclaims, Mrs. Sloth “a natural star, it seems… you’ve been dancing in your dreams!”

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Jenny Moore doesn’t tiptoe around the backstage nerves and missteps of a dance recital in her comical story. As Mrs. Gorilla tries to calm the dancer’s jitters and refine their steps, kids will be eager to see how the performance plays out—and, especially, will Mrs. Sloth wake up in time? Moore’s energetic rhymes and rhythms that pulsate with the motivational, slightly frantic beats of teachers or parents trying to get their young charges shipshape for a performance invite dramatic readings that will get kids laughing. Readers will enjoy spotting Mrs. Sloth deeply asleep in various spots at the theater. Encouragement and inspiration to do your best and follow your dreams underlies Moore’s funny story.

Barbara Bakos’s vibrant illustrations of Mr. Elephant, Mrs. Pelican, Mr. Crocodile, Mr. Polar Bear, and Mrs. Sloth are packed with humor as the animals try to rein in their nervousness and put on a good show. Bakos accentuates the mishaps with shocked and worried faces, less-than-graceful steps, and costumes that just don’t stay put. But when it seems that things can’t get any worse, kids will be surprised to see Mrs. Sloth—the most unlikely of prima ballerinas—save the show with her dreamy moves.

A lighthearted and funny book that will reassure dancers and any child taking part in a recital, performance, or presentation as well as entertain kids who just love to laugh, Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist is a terrific choice for animated story times at home, school, or public libraries.

Ages 4 – 9

Maverick Arts, 2021 | ISBN 978-1848867802

Discover more about Jenny Moore and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Bakos, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

You can find Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 3 – It’s Family Literacy Month

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About the Holiday

National Family Literacy Month was designed to encourage parents and other adults to read together with the children in their life. Studies show that children who are read to are better prepared to read on their own and do better in school. Cuddling together before bedtime or during special story times with favorite books instills a love of reading that can last a lifetime. To celebrate, plan some special reading-related activities: take a trip to a local bookstore and let your child pick a book; if your child is old enough, visit the library to sign up for a library card; and schedule extra reading time, especially with grandparents or other family members who may be visiting for the holidays. A fun and educational board book like today’s book is a perfect way to get little ones enthusiastic about reading as they grow older!

Thank you to Abrams Appleseed and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals

Written by Laura Gehl | Illustrated by Gareth Lucas

 

From their earliest years, kids are attracted to animals, whether for their fluffy coats, enthusiastic “kisses,” or silly antics. They love visiting the zoo and the aquarium to see – and maybe even touch – animals and sea creatures from around the world. And they’re always excited to meet new animals through the books they read. Through an age-appropriate short, charming poem played out over eight boldly illustrated pages, Laura Gehl does just that, introducing kids to a few of the earth’s most unusual animals. 

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Image copyright Gareth Lucas, 2021, text copyright Laura Gehl, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

Gehl begins with an animal from Asia and Africa that at first glance might appear like an unlikely combination of an anteater and a fish – the pangolin! Turning the page, readers do meet a fish – and what a fish! “This sunfish weighs a ton.” Another ocean dweller is introduced two pages later: “This angler sees no sun.” Readers will be equally charmed by a turtle whose “neck is long,” and a clever camouflaged insect whose “jumps are strong.”

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Image copyright Gareth Lucas, 2021, text copyright Laura Gehl, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

In addition to these three quirky creatures, kids get to know a glass frog, a long-horned orb-weaver spider, and a bush baby. Then Gehl tickles kids’ funny bone with a surprising perspective about how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Following her lyrical pages, Gehl presents readers with a factual paragraph about each critter that reveals more about the trait that makes them so unusual and where they live. These descriptions are accompanied by a full-color photograph of the animal so kids can get a close-up view of nature’s amazing adaptations.

For young nature-lovers in the making, Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals is an engaging way to introduce them to a few creatures from around the world that will whet their appetite for more discovery. The book would be a much-read addition to home, classroom, and school and public library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 4

Abrams Appleseed, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419742224

Discover more about Laura Gehl and her books on her website.

You can connect with Gareth Lucas on Instagram and Twitter

Family Literacy Day Activity

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Odd Beasts Coloring Pages

 

These odd beasts could use some color! Download and print these three coloring sheets from Laura Gehl’s website!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-odd-beasts-cover

You can find Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

October 30 – Hug a Sheep Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-cover

About the Holiday

Hug a Sheep Day was founded by a woman who rescued a sheep named Punkin from the Bluegrass Stockyards in 1992. When Punkin passed away 12 years later, the woman, known as “the Crazy Sheep Lady,” wanted to honor him and encourage people to appreciate the warmth and comfort these animals provide and show how much they love them. She chose Punkin’s birthday as the date of her new holiday, and over the years Hug a Sheep Day has grown to be celebrated around the world with many farms inviting visitors to open farm days and fun events where they can indeed hug a sheep. If you want to take full advantage of today’s celebration, look for a participating farm or petting zoo near you. 

Thanks go to Beaming Books for sharing a copy of Little Ewe with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Beaming Books in a giveaway of the book. You’ll find the details below.

Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Tommy Doyle

 

The flock gathers at the fence, where “one shepherd opens up the gate. / ‘It’s time to eat.’ / The sheep can’t wait!” The sheep file out of the pen and up the hill in pairs, but Little Ewe is more interested in exploring than nibbling. She chases three lizards and watches four spiders, and when Shepherd calls for her to come back, she promises to do so “but not until…/ She bounces on five floating logs / and splashes with six croaking frogs.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-splashing

Image copyright Tommy Doyle, 2021, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2021. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Shepherd whistles for Little Ewe to return to the flock, and she starts on her way but then she spies sparrows dining on figs and decides to join this different flock for a tasty treat. Suddenly, though, as the sun sets, nine badgers discover the figs and take them away from Little Ewe. In the dark, Little Ewe lopes down the path and is frightened by the “ten spooky eyes” of the owls in the trees.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-owls

Image copyright Tommy Doyle, 2021, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2021. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

All alone, lost, and hungry, Little Ewe “wishes she’d listened when / Shepherd called her in the glen.” Screeching bats fly overhead, making her cry. At the same time, Shepherd is counting “his flock with love” and realizes one is missing. He jumps up and heads down the mountain path right to where Little Ewe waits, shivering and bleating. He lifts her into his arms and gives her a hug. He takes her home where the sheep “all gather round. / The shepherd’s lamb, / once lost . . . is found!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-shepherd

Image copyright Tommy Doyle, 2021, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2021. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Laura Sassi’s gentle and poignant story combines counting from one to twelve with the reassurance of constant love. Like the little ones reading the story, Little Ewe is curious and adventurous, but as she strays farther away and darkness falls, she longs to be home. Of course, the shepherd won’t leave his lamb behind and, knowing just where to look, he comes to find her. Sassi’s perfect rhymes and jaunty rhythm invite young children to join in counting and reading. The nighttime scenes are not too scary while they offer assurance that when little ones feel frightened, uncertain, or alone, they are still under a watchful eye. Little Ewe can be read as a retelling of the Biblical parable of the Good Shepherd and God’s ever-present love or as a story of the enduring love of a parent or caregiver.

Tommy Doyle’s warm and adorable images will delight little ones as they count from one to twelve with Little Ewe as she explores the meadow, stream, and hillside. Kids will love pointing out these easily discovered images again and again. Doyle’s Shepherd is kind and caring, and the look of love on his face as he cradles rescued Little Ewe will be familiar comfort to young readers. The joy depicted when Little Ewe reunites with her flock shows the happiness of any family when all its members are together.

A sweet and comforting story that young readers will want to hear again and again, Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep would make a tender addition to any child’s bookshelf as well as for school, church, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 5

Beaming Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1506464701

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website.

To learn more about Tommy Doyle, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be teaming with Beaming Books in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Tommy Doyle

To enter:

This giveaway is open from October 30 to November 4 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on November 5. 

Prizing provided by Beaming Books

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

Hug a Sheep Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-craft-finished

Courtesy of Laura Sassi (laurasassitales.wordpress.com)

Make a Little Lamb Resting Box and Play a Game! 

by Laura Sassi

Read Little Ewe, then grab a little lamb toy (or make your own from felt or fleece, by painting a rock, or by knitting one using this Little Ewe Pattern). Then play a game of hide and seek with your little lamb. When you are finished playing, give your little lamb a hug (since it is Hug A Sheep Day!), then let him/her rest in this cozy resting box. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-craft-paper

To make a cozy resting box, you will need

  • a precut piece heavy paper or light card board measuring approximately 5 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches with four 1-inch deep notches cut from each corner, as shown.
  • crayons or markers 
  • clear tape

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-craft-paper-folded    celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-craft-paper-colored

Directions

  1. Fold the sides of the box so your child can see what the finished shape will be.
  2. Have your child decorate the inside and outside of the box any way they want. (Ex.: I made my outside look like grass and my inside like a cozy quilt.)
  3. Finish the box by taping the four corners up using clear tape.

To Play

Take turns hiding the little lamb. Play as many rounds of hide-and-seek as desired. After playing, let the lamb take a rest in the cozy resting box you have made. Then read your lamb a sheep-themed story like … Little Ewe!  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-ewe-cover

You can find Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review