March 16 – National Panda Day

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About the Holiday

National Panda Day was established to raise awareness of the dangers faced by these favorite, adorable animals. Destruction of the vast bamboo forests on which pandas rely for food, coupled with their low birth rate has resulted in their being placed on the endangered list. Conservation groups as well as zoos and other animal sanctuaries are working to breed and protect these gentle black-and-white beauties. If you’d like to get involved, consider donating to a local zoo program or other environmental group.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sharing a digital copy of When I Draw a Panda for review. All opinions of the book are my own.

When I Draw a Panda

By Amy June Bates

 

A little girl, art box in hand, gazes at her full-wall blackboard and tells readers “I love to draw.” She tells them, though, that “when they say to draw a perfect circle, [hers] turns out a little wonky.” There are things she can draw perfectly, like a cloud or a flat bicycle tire, and to draw a panda she just keeps drawing circles until one appears. Then she gives it a personal touch and makes it hers.

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Copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

The panda also has its own style of drawing, which includes drawing a castle the left way “when someone tells him to draw a castle the right way.” The panda has his own interpretations of pictures people tell him to draw, and sometimes he gets distracted by something better, begins to daydream, and forgets what he was told to draw. The panda shows the girl how to draw a dragon from a squiggle.

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Copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

The girl says that she has her individual way of drawing too, and “when they say to draw it ‘this way,’” she asks, “‘Why?’” When she does draw a picture the way they want her to, she changes it later. Sometimes people tell the girl her drawing won’t work or remind her to stay in the lines, but the drawings turn out just fine. And when people can’t figure out what she and her panda have drawn, they let it remain a mystery. The girl and her panda can draw quietly, but there are times when their pencils like to ROAR! Then they go willy-nilly, the girl says, to “somewhere that makes us happy.”

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Copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

Amy June Bates celebrates the imagination and creativity of kids who, when given paper and freedom, will draw a unique picture every time, a masterpiece. Her storytelling in which the young artist counters the instructions of all of the “theys” who tell her to draw a “perfect” circle, castle, or other shape, is reassuring and uplifting to children who are proud of the artwork they do—artwork that is just what they want it to be. The girl’s honesty will resonate with readers of all ages who engage in the creative process, whether its art, writing, music, dance, inventing, or other discipline.

Bates’ own distinctive art shines in her illustrations of a child’s room that any kid will envy. One wall is painted completely with chalkboard paint, allowing her to give full expression to her imagination. Kids will appreciate the second and third spreads in which the girl demonstrates her “wonky” circles and then reveals that these become “perfect” clouds, ice cream cones, and flat tires. As the panda emerges from a great storm of squiggles, the girl’s imagination comes to life, and readers will cheer her on as she turns “the right way,” “something pretty,” and a “perfect” character or animal on their heads with panache and humor.

The front endpapers depict a series of familiar step-by-step diagrams that show how to draw a perfect circle, panda, princess, pirate, and more. The final diagram includes a fancy frame in which “something perfect” should be drawn. In the endpapers, these same diagrams appear covered in crayon scribblings, and the final frame holds a drawing of the girl herself.

Encouraging, freeing, and a delightful celebration of the ingenuity of children, When I Draw a Panda is a book kids will ask for again and again. This one’s a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1481451482

Discover more about Amy June Bates, her books, and her art on her website.

National Panda Day Activity

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Pick a Panda! Puzzle

 

Can you match the six twin pandas in this printable puzzle?

Pick a Panda! Puzzle

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You can find When I Draw a Panda at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 16 – Innovation Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate all those people who look at a problem and design a solution, or who just ask, “What if…?” and search for answers. The holiday was established by the Science History Institute in conjunction with the Society of Chemical Industry to help bring attention to those people who were not only producing technology, but were also pushing the envelope on what was possible. Each year, these two organizations coordinate to host Innovation Day. This year, restrictions and life-changing alterations needed to combat COVID-19, have sparked innovations both large and small at home, for business, at schools, and for medical researchers. Creative individuals have kept us entertained, given us hope, and kept things going even in the most difficult of times. To celebrate today, put on your thinking cap, look around you, and do something new, novel, and completely unexpected. Who knows…you may be the next great inventor!

Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever!

Written by Ruth Spiro | Illustrated by Holly Hatam

 

Maxine and her goldfish, Milton, were best friends, and Maxine loved thinking up creative scientific or technical ways to keep him fed, safe, and happy. “Maxine liked making things, and she especially liked making things for Milton. ‘If I can dream it, I can build it!’ she said.” Maxine’s other friend Leo also liked making things, but his creations were more arty.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

One day when Leo was visiting Maxine, they found packets of seeds and decided to build “‘The Greatest Garden Ever!’” Milton hoped the garden would have a pond just for him. Leo and Maxine drew up their plans. “Leo’s was pretty. Maxine’s was practical.” When they planted the seeds, Leo planted them far apart in large beds of soil. Maxine’s seeds were packed close together in pots made from old tires, barrels, toys, and even a chandelier. They both looked askance at the other’s seeds. They did, however, agree on Milton’s pond.

Every day they watered, weeded, and waited. At last, they truly did have “The Greatest Garden Ever!” There were vegetables and flowers, birdfeeders and a gazebo. The wild animals thought the garden was great too. One day, Maxine and Leo came to the garden to find nibbled carrots, radishes, and eggplants; pots were knocked over and little footprints were everywhere. Maxine wanted to make something to keep the animals away. “‘Something that looks nice?’ asked Leo. ‘Something that works.,’” said Maxine.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

They decided to make a scarecrow. While Leo stuffed overalls and made a shirt, Maxine built a mechanical body for the big teddy bear that would wear them. But the animals didn’t think the scarecrow was very scary. While Leo thought the bear had done nothing, Maxine said that it had helped them know what didn’t work. They gathered new supplies and “then while Leo sewed, Maxine wrote some code.” This time the bear had laser eyes, moving parts, loud sounds, a shiny helmet, and a scary black dress. That night, though, the scarecrow was so scary that it made babies cry, dogs howl, and kept neighbors awake.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Leo blamed Maxine, and Maxine blamed Leo. At home, Maxine and Leo thought about the garden and what they’d said. Maxine wanted “to make things better, and she wanted to start with Leo. Because it takes a long time to grow a garden… but even longer to grow a friend.” When they met the next day, they both apologized. As they cleaned up the garden and shared the last of the lettuce, Maxine had an idea. She and Leo repaired, repainted, and replanted, and when they were finished, they invited their new animals friends to enjoy the garden with them.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Ruth Spiro’s celebration of creativity, gardening, and friendship will enchant kids and show them that sometimes projects lead to try and try again cooperation before the original vision or a new idea is perfected. Through Maxine’s talent for engineering, coding, and inventing and Leo’s artistic abilities, Spiro shows readers that whatever their skills are, they can contribute to the success of any endeavor. When Maxine and Leo’s frustrations over the garden spill out into their relationship and an argument ensues, Spiro reminds kids that people and enduring friendships are more important than plans, projects, or events and that apologies and understanding keep relationships strong. Her charming narration, realistic dialogue, and periodic rhymes create a story that’s a joy to read aloud.

Holly Hatam’s vivid illustrations will keep kids lingering over the pages to catch all of her puns, Maxine’s inventions, and Leo’s crafts—many of which enterprising kids may want to try to replicate. Cheery Maxine with her red-and-blue streaked hair, bright eyes, and quick imagination is enthusiastic and confident, and Leo, wearing a dragon shirt any kid would love, is equally as confident and passionate about his talents. The garden is a visual treat, from its first planting to its early stages to its full-grown glory. Hatam’s vision for both of Maxine and Leo’s scarecrows is original and gleefully kid-centric. The final image of the shared garden at night is a spectacular celebration for all.

Both fans of Maxine and Milton’s first adventure in Made by Maxine and new readers of this little series will ask to hear Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! again and again. A rousing friendship story to engage kids in STEAM-related activities or to jumpstart ideas for those times when they’re are looking for something to do at home, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! Is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0399186301

Discover more about Ruth Spiro and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Hatam, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Innovation Day Activity

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Spoon Flowers Craft

 

It may not be time for gardening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “grow” some flowers. With a little innovation, you can give anyone a bouquet with this easy craft!

Supplies

  • Colorful plastic spoons
  • Heavy stock paper or construction paper in various colors, including green for leaves
  • Multi-surface glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut petals from the heavy stock paper or construction paper
  2. Glue the petals to the bowl of the spoon
  3. Cut leaves from the green paper (optional)
  4. Glue leaves to the handle of the spoon (optional)

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You can find Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 24 – Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day

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About the Holiday

We all have unique talents and abilities. Today’s holiday was established for us to define our abilities and think about how we would like to use them for ourselves and others. Whether your talents lie in the arts; science, math, and technology; the humanities; teaching and leadership; or kindness, with courage, confidence, and practice you can accomplish amazing things. Today’s books feature two very different talents and are accompanied by videos that can teach you how to use your creativity to achieve success.

You Can Draw Comic Book Characters

By Spencer Brinkerhoff III

 

Do you have a comic book creator inside yearning to blast free? In this step-by-step guide, Spencer Brinkerhoff III shows you how to draw more than 25 original -comic book characters, draw with perspective and from different angles, and how to use simple shapes to create all of the characters running around in your imagination. To get started, Brinkerhoff introduces readers to the tools of the trade, especially one type of template that ensures that your characters are always in proportion whether they’re standing still, flying, climbing, running, or engaged in battle.

Whether you’re drawing a hero or a villain, Brinkerhoff presents illustrated steps for creating the head, complete with guidelines that tell you where to put the eyes, hair, and other facial features; how to add the body and sketch in arms and legs in active poses. Brinkerhoff then invites artists to make these prototype characters their own by showing how through hairstyles, clothing, and facial features you can add personality and individuality to your characters.

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Copyright Spencer Brinkerhoff III, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster, Jr.

But characters aren’t just created through their physical appearance—readers also want to know what makes them tick. Brinkerhoff adds specific and enlightening guidance on how to design a well-rounded character that readers will care about. He discusses general ideas on how heroes and villains come to be then gives specific examples of backstories, motivations, powers, and limitations for heroes, villains, and all the minions and sidekicks in between.

Once you’ve practiced drawing your character, it’s time to add some color, and Brinkerhoff has you covered there too with tips on choosing colors to make an effect, how to make it look as if a character is wearing a helmet with a face shield, and how to make Zaps and Zings really shine.

So, you have characters with histories—now what? They need a story to live in! Brinkerhoff reveals how to develop a strong story from beginning to end and create a script. Then he shows artists how to plan and draw panels that help tell the story, create good story flow, establish mood and location, include dialogue and sounds, and add the kind of suspense that keeps readers turning the pages. Finally, Brinkerhoff shows readers how to put it all together to make a complete comic book. He follows this up with larger templates for characters who are standing, flying, and fighting as well as a few in various action poses.

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Copyright Spencer Brinkerhoff III, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster, Jr.

Spencer Brinkerhoff presents an excellent guide for artists and would-be artists of all ages with specific help and plenty of opportunities to practice a variety of body styles, facial expressions, poses, and all accompanying accents. The diversity of examples and the emphasis on other aspects to creating successful characters and complete comics will spark children’s imagination and help them develop their talent for both drawing and writing, which are equally important in creating the kinds of comics that readers fall in love with and want to read again and again.

A superb drawing book for children, You Can Draw Comic Book Characters would make a much-appreciated gift for young artists and an often-used, go-to book as children or adults work on improving their drawing and visual storytelling abilities. The book is a must for home bookshelves for aspiring artists as well as for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 10 and up

Quarto Knows, Walter Foster Jr., 2020 | ISBN 978-1633228665

About Spencer Brinkerhoff

Spencer Brinkerhoff III started drawing and making art at an early age and has never stopped. Spencer’s professional work has included creating Star Wars art for Lucasfilm Ltd, animating an educational game for the World Health Organization, creating and starring in a video that won him Burt Reynolds’ Trans Am, and creating some of the horse sculptures for the PF Chang’s restaurants. In addition to working on these licensed projects, he has also created a glasses-less 3-D image platform called ShadowBox Comics, an in-camera special effect keychain called LightStickFX, and a drawing system called DrawingIsSimple. You can discover more about Spencer Brinkerhoff III, his art, and his work on his website.

Drawing Captain Jinx Tagget and Savage with Spencer Brinkerhoff III

In this video and two more videos from Quarto Classroom, children and adults can learn from Spencer Brinkerhoff III how to create two original characters from You Can Draw Comic Book Characters: Captain Jinx Tagget and Savage. In the first video Spencer Brinkerhoff demonstrates each step in drawing his hero Jinx, talking viewers through an easy method for creating the head and body, the whys and hows of facial-feature placement, and how to add accents to make each character distinctive. In his second video, Brinkerhoff uses a prop that gives new artists clear visual help in understanding how a face can be drawn when tilted and turned. He also demonstrates how to draw Jinx when flying.

In his third video Brinkerhoff shows kids how to draw the imposing Savage, a character that uses different proportions yet is still derived from basic shapes beginning with a circle. At the end of each twenty-five-minute session, he gives a lesson on adding color to the character. Brinkerhoff’s easy-going and encouraging delivery will instill confidence in artists and get them excited about designing their own characters.

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You can find You Can Draw Comic Book Characters at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS

Written by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Ginnie Hsu

 

Maria Corazon—better known as Cory—was a little girl growing up in the Philippines, a country made up of thousands of islands. At school, she learned lessons on reading and writing and math and also “how to take a step forward.” For example, when one of her classmates was not able to make a speech in front of the school, Cory volunteered to give it.

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Image copyright Ginnie Hsu, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

When Cory was still a child, her parents send her to America to study. When she returned home after graduating from college, she was determined to become a lawyer. While in law school, “she became close with a student as honest and as bold as her.” His name was Benigno, but those who loved him called him Ninoy. Ninoy went on to become a politician. He wanted to help his fellow Filipinos and became an ardent critic of the country’s dishonest president. Because of his opposition to the president, he was arrested. Then Cory wrote speeches and became her husband’s voice for nearly eight years while he was in prison.

Declaring more and more unfair laws, the president became a dictator and forced Ninoy, Cory, and their family to leave the country. They moved to Boston, Massachusetts and were happy there, but after three years “Cory knew that Ninoy had to go home and try to restore democracy, giving power back to the people.” They returned to the Philippines, but the president’s men were waiting for them and Ninoy was killed.

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Image copyright Ginnie Hsu, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Cory felt alone, but at Ninoy’s funeral millions of people showed that they were with her, giving “her their love and support.” Cory decided it was up to her to continue Ninoy’s work. She ran for president and won, but the defeated president “faked the results of the election” and sparked a revolution. For four days “millions of people armed with courage took to the streets and proclaimed Cory president of the Philippines. The dictatorship crumbled and Cory became the first female President of the Philippines. Through her lifelong courage and honesty, little Cory grew up to save democracy for her people and change their lives forever.

A timeline of Corazon Aquino’s life follows the text.

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Image copyright Ginnie Hsu, 2020, text copyright Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s excellent biography of Corazon Aquino for young readers introduces them to this amazing woman with well-chosen details about her life and the personality traits that made her singularly suited for her role in leading the Philippines out of the darkness of dictatorship. Vegara’s straightforward storytelling reveals her respect for the intelligence and social conscience of her readers as she relates hard facts about life in the Philippines at the time and its personal consequences for her family. Examples of Corazon’s courage, from giving a speech at school to giving voice to millions of people, will inspire readers to show bravery in their own pursuits, both big and small, and prompt them to look for ways that they can make a difference.

Through Ginnie Hsu’s captivating illustrations, readers are introduced to a brief view of the diversity of communities among the islands of the Philippines and the cities and schools that nurtured her while growing up. Children see the enthusiasm with which crowds met Cory and Ninoy on his political rise. In a clever two-page spread, a speech that Ninoy is writing spills from his typewriter, across the two pages and into Cory’s hands as she reads her husband’s words after his arrest. Images of people lining up to vote will be familiar from our own recent election and offer opportunities for adults to discuss the importance of voting. Adults may remember Corazon Aquino’s signature yellow outfits, which Hsu recreates here. Hsu’s vibrant illustrations, packed with the people that supported the Aquinos, demonstrate the change that, together, people of courage can affect.

An inspirational biography of an influential leader, Corazon Aquino is an excellent addition to the Little People, BIG DREAMS series and offers a meaningful way for adults to introduce young readers to political and social leaders and the ideas of responsibility and leadership. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711246843

About Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, born in Barcelona, Spain, is a writer and creative director in constant search of new concepts for children’s books and the author of the multimillion-copy best-selling Little People, BIG DREAMS series of picture books that explore the lives of outstanding people. Working for more than fifteen years for clients in top advertising agencies, her books combine creativity with learning, aiming to establish a new and fresh relationship between children and pop culture. You can connect with Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Instagram.

About Ginnie Hsu

Ginnie Hsu is an illustrator, designer, and educator living in upstate New York. Her work is often inspired by everyday life, nature, human living, and well-being. Ginnie also enjoys foraging, yoga, and herbalism. To learn more about Ginnie Hsu, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS video with Ginnie Hsu

In this video from Quarto Classroom you can listen to Ginnie Hsu read Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS and learn about the importance of the color yellow throughout the story as well as how color has become associated with other revolutions around the world. Hsu also introduces viewers to the meanings behind eight colors and how using these colors adds depth and meaning to a picture book and other illustrations. For example, yellow carries with it the ideas of positivity and happiness. After learning about colors and their meanings, Hsu invites kids to gather supplies in a color of their choice and to create a project meaningful to them. In keeping with the yellow in her book, Hsu chooses to make a sunflower from felt and a digital sunflower collage. She demonstrates how she puts together her felt sunflower and then shows children the variety of ways a sunflower can be drawn.

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You can find Corazon Aquino: Little People, BIG DREAMS at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day Activity

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Draw Captain Jinx Tagget

 

With this printable guide from Spencer Brinkerhoff III, you can learn to draw Captain Jinx Tagget standing and in action with detailed and specific steps from making your first circle for the head to completing her superhero suit. You’ll find another guide on how to draw Savage at Quarto Classroom

Captain Jinx Tagget Drawing Guide | Savage Drawing Guide

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September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration. Internationally renowned artist Yayoi Kusama, who became famous for her dot paintings and is the subject of today’s book – continues to live this philosophy every day.

Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry

By Fausto Gilberti

 

Yayoi Kusama, with her big, round curious eyes and dotted top gazes out at the reader as she introduces herself. She’d like to tell them her story, she says. She begins with her birth in “Matsumoto, a historic city in Japan with a beautiful castle.” Even as a child, she reveals, she loved to draw and would escape into the meadow to capture in her sketchbook the things she saw around her, the things “that other people didn’t.”

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

When she grew up, she moved to New York with dreams of becoming a famous artist. When her money ran out, she gathered scraps of food that had been thrown away at the market and used them to make soup. At home in her apartment, Yayoi painted “hundreds and hundreds of dots onto large canvases.” Often the canvases couldn’t contain all the dots and they ran onto her walls and even her clothes. “But I wasn’t sorry,” she explains. “Each dot was part of thousands of others—they made me feel like I was a single dot that was part of our infinite universe.”

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Even though, Yayoi created lots of paintings, she was still poor. One day Georgia O’Keefe, answering a letter from Yayoi asking for help in selling her paintings, came to visit. She introduced Yayoi “to her art dealer, who immediately bought one of my paintings.” After that, Yayoi painted more pictures and had a successful solo exhibition in New York. More exhibitions followed, and Yayoi’s work expanded. She began making soft cushioned shapes that she used to cover…well…almost everything.

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Yayoi even experimented with pasta, lighted balls, and mirrored rooms. And then she did something daring: She held “‘happenings,’” where she turned people’s bodies into canvases for her art. This brought her more recognition, and she decided that she wanted to “change the world for the better.” With her unique vision, she protested against the Vietnam war and was arrested. Following her release, she began experimenting even more, with clothing styles that brought people together—one dress fit twenty-five people at once!

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Then Yayoi became sick. She stopped creating and moved back to Japan to recover. But much had changed in the years she had been away. Development and pollution had destroyed the nature she once loved. A snowy day, however, restored her desire to do art, and she began writing. When she was better, Yayoi decided to stay in Japan. “I still work nonstop, making paintings, writing books, and designing clothes and other objects” like pumpkins covered in dots, she says. Her artwork can be found in galleries and museums around the world—her dream from so long ago came true.

More about Yayoi Kusama’s life as well as a stirring photograph of one of her art installations—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins—follows the text.

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Copyright Fausto Gilberti, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon.

Fausto Gilbert’s captivating biography of contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama will enchant young readers and creators of all kinds. Writing from Yayoi’s perspective, Gilberti hits a perfect tone, allowing children to hear Yayoi’s confidence in herself and her work while also discovering the lean times she experienced and how she reached out for help. Gilberti illuminates the timelessness of Yayoi’s singular creative vision, and its meaning will be embraced by today’s aware and activist children. Her final whimsical revelation about her pumpkin artwork will resonate with imaginative kids, exciting them to believe their own dreams of success are within reach.

Gilberti’s quirky black and white illustrations, later punctuated with Yayoi’s signature red hair, will charm kids and are particularly affective in drawing a portrait of this unique artist. Readers will marvel anew with every page and will especially love the twenty-five-person dress and the idea of Yayoi’s “happenings,” which could prompt a fun bath-time art activity for at-home learning. The book will also motivate kids to learn more about Yayoi Kusama’s work online and to create their own art with abandon.

Inspiring and liberating, Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry is a must for creative kids at home, in the classroom, and at public libraries.

Ages 4 – 7 

Phaidon, 2020 | ISBN 978-1838660802

To learn more about Fausto Gilberti, his books, and his art.

International Dot Day Activity

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Decorate the Dots Coloring Page

 

How would you color these dots? Grab your favorite paints, markers, or crayons and let your imagination fly with this printable Decorate the Dots Coloring Page.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-yayoi-kusama-covered-everything-cover

You can find Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 14 – It’s National Crayon Collection Month

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About the Holiday

Kids love going to restaurants that provide a fun placemat and crayons to color with while they wait. But what happens to those crayons when the meal is over? Most times they’re thrown in the trash with the napkins and straws and other items left behind. Wouldn’t it be great if those gently used crayons could go on to be used by other kids at schools that can’t afford such supplies? They can! Begun by Crayon Collection, National Crayon Collection Month encourages restaurants, hotels, and other organizations that provide free crayons to collect the ones left behind and donate them to under-serviced schools. As school arts programs are threatened with budget cuts, these important supplies can make a big difference in the lives of students. The ability of children to express their creativity is a crucial part of their education and growth.  You can get involved too! To learn how you can make an impact, visit CrayonCollection.org. Or look into donating crayons (and other supplies) to a school in your area.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

Written by Natascha Biebow | Illustrated by Steven Salerno

Edwin Binney was an inventor who truly appreciated all the colors around him. In fact, “color made him really, really HAPPY!” Perhaps he loved color so much because all day long in the mill where he worked he was surrounded by nothing but black: “black dust, black tar, black smoke, black ink, black dye, black shoe polish. His company sold carbon black, a new kind of pigment, or colored substance, make from the soot of burning oil and natural gas.” Edwin worked with his cousin C. Harold Smith, and their company was called Binney and Smith.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

While Harold was the salesman, Edwin was the tinkerer who had made better pencils for writing on slate and a wax crayon that wrote on both paper and wood. His wife, Alice, thought he was just the person to create better crayons for kids. The existing crayons were too big and clunky, and artists’ crayons were too expensive.

Edwin gave it some thought and started experimenting with wax for substance and rocks and minerals for color. Then he and his workers fine-tuned their batches, adding only “a pinch of this pigment, a sploosh of that one, a little hotter, a little cooler…and voilà, LOTS of different shades!” Now, instead of being covered in black dust at the end of the day, “Edwin came home covered in color.”

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

At the factory, Edwin’s team worked on their top-secret formula and finally poured the mixtures into “thin, crayon-shaped molds” to make crayons that were just the right size for children. Finally, in 1903, Edwin had the product he wanted. “He’d invented a new kind of colored crayon” and wanted a new name to go with it. Alice had just the right suggestion, and Crayola crayons were born.

The first boxes contained eight colors and sold for a nickel. As they shipped out to stores, Edwin wondered if the kids would like them. Children loved their fine points, clear lines, and long-lasting color. By this time, inexpensive paper was also available, so kids didn’t have to draw or write on slate tablets anymore.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Edwin’s Crayola crayons won a gold medal. As time went on, Edwin and his team made even more colors, many inspired by nature and even the flowers in Edwin’s own garden. Some of the colors you’ll find in a box today were given their names by children, including “macaroni and cheese” and “robin’s egg blue.” Now, kids all around the world can create just the picture they want, with lots and lots of color.

Back matter includes an illustrated description of the process of making Crayola crayons, an extended biography of Edwin Binney, and a bibliography of resources.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Natascha Biebow’s quickly paced biography of Edwin Binney and the invention of Crayola crayons is a deft portrait of the man and his times that were on the cusp of and central to so many innovations that created the modern world. Biebow’s emphasis on Binney’s willingness to listen and match his inventions to people’s needs is a lesson on collaboration and the true spirit of invention for today’s future pioneers. In her fascinating and accessible text, Biebow relates the problems with late 1800s writing and drawing mediums while also building suspense on how Binney and his team created the new crayons. Children will be awed to discover the thought, experiments, and materials that went into those first thin sticks of color. Short paragraphs that explain more factual information about topics in the story, including carbon black, the availability of paper, European crayons, and pigments are sprinkled throughout the pages.

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Image copyright Steven Salerno, 2019, text copyright Natascha Biebow, 2019. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Steven Salerno’s color-drenched pages are beautiful tributes to the man who brought a new age of color into children’s lives. In a clever page turn, Edwin Binney stands in his garden with his arms outstretched appreciating the rainbow of flowers, the deep-blue sea, the light-blue sky, and a fiery red cardinal flying by. The next page takes kids into Binney’s mill, where he stands in the same position, but now seeming to bemoan the sooty environment. Salerno brings the time period alive for kids through hair and clothing styles and school and home furnishings. Several pages give readers a field trip into Binney’s secret lab to see the mechanics of making crayons at work. The front and end papers invite kids to give the wrapper-less crayons pictured a name based on their colors and then to make a drawing of their own.

A high-interest biography of the man who changed the way kids could interpret their world, The Crayon Man is a must for young inventors, artists, and thinkers as well as for classroom story times, social studies lessons, and art classes. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 9

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328866844

Discover more about Natascha Biebow and her books on her website.

To learn more about Steven Salerno, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Coloring Book Day Activity

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Cool Coloring Pages

You know what to do during Crayon Collection Month! Collect some crayons and enjoy these printable coloring pages for you to print and enjoy!

Cave kid Coloring Page | Dragon Coloring Page | Mermaid Coloring Page

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You can find The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 29 – It’s Gifts from the Garden Month

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About the Holiday

Many of us – and perhaps even more this year – spend the summer digging, planting, and tending our garden and yard. We look forward to all of the delicious vegetables and fruit our gardens provide and the hours of fun we have playing or lounging in the yard. But if you look closely, these areas offer up other gifts too. That profusion of dandelions may seem like bothersome weeds, but their sunny flowers and puffball seeds also create beauty and unforgettable childhood moments. Watching industrious insects reminds us of the wonder of nature below our feet or pollinating our crops. And – as today’s book shows – with some imagination and creativity that garden or yard can be transformed into a work of art. So, get outside and see what your gifts are sprouting in your backyard.

I received a copy of Leafy Critters from Blue Dot Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

By Jakki Licare

Leafy Critters

By Yvonne Lacet

This creative and imaginative earth art book by Yvonne Lacet an artist and photographer, whose work incorporates urban environments, landscapes, and nature play, will inspire children to look at nature in a whole new light. Yvonne Lacet uses petals, twigs, stems, and leaves to create “Leafy Critters.” Simple items from nature are arranged together to become different animals: foxes, polar bears, butterflies, mice, and more.

Not only is the artwork stunning but on many pages Lacet shows readers the before and after photos which makes it simple for kids to duplicate her animals. My kids enjoyed pointing out the different items in the before photos and discovering how Lacet used them in her completed artwork. A leaf, for example, transforms into a head or a wing.

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Copyright Yvonne Lacet, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press.

One of the extraordinary things about this book is not only that any child can find the natural materials needed in their backyard or local park, but the artistic eye Lacet uses to create the eighteen creatures presented. The piglet (pictured on the front cover) is simply six pink petals arranged together. Yvonne takes it a step further, though, and uses the portions of the petals that are near the pistil and have a darker pigment to add shading and detail that  transform into the pig’s hooves and snout.

The image of the polar bear also shows how contrasting colors can create a whole new scene. With the black paper background and white petals sprinkled over the page, we are suddenly transported into an arctic snowstorm at night! The great thing about Leafy Critters is that it makes young readers think outside the box. If you don’t have white petals on hand, then rice could make a great substitution. 

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Copyright Yvonne Lacet, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press.

My boys are often frustrated with art projects because they cannot create “realistic art.” Earth art, however, is an easy way for kids to explore colors and composition without the frustration of being limited by their skills. It only requires a little nature and a creative eye. So take Leafy Critters outside! You’ll be surprised to discover what creatures creep, crawl, swim, and lurk in your own backyard. 

A DIY page at the back gives kids tips on how to search for materials, gather them, and look at the colors, shapes, and sizes of leaves, petals, seeds, and more to spark their imaginations. Younger children will enjoy the creativity in each design on the pages while older children and even teens and adults will be inspired to create their own works of art.

Whether you are looking for a fun home art project or inspiration for your elementary art students, Leafy Critters will make a creative addition to your library.

Ages 3 and up

Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1733121224

Discover more about Yvonne Lacet and her work on her website.

Gifts from the Garden Month Activity

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Natural Art Note Card

Send a special note to a loved one with your own leafy critter. This idea could be a great card for Father’s Day too! Just write in Dad after otter!

Supplies

  • Natural Materials (I used brown leaves, bark, clover flowers, and stems)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Marker
  • Paper

Directions

  1. Gather your natural materials outside

  2. Arrange your pieces together to make an otter shape

  3. Cut any pieces that need to be shaped or trimmed

  4. Glue your otter down

  5. Write “There’s no OTTER like you!”

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You can find Leafy Critters at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

February 14 – International Book Giving Day

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About the Holiday

International Book Giving Day was established by Amy Broadmoore and her son and is now celebrated in more than 44 countries. The idea behind the holiday is for people to buy, share, and donate books so that all children can have access to books and know the pleasure and educational benefits of reading. To learn more about today’s holiday, visit the International Book Giving Day website.  You’ll also discover the names of literacy organizations in your country, find tips on ways to get involved, and find bookmarks and bookplates to download. Today, of course, is also Valentine’s Day, and along with the hugs, candy, cards, and fun, giving a book is a wonderful way to show your child how much you love them.

I received a copy of Birdsong from Greystone Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Birdsong

By Julie Flett

 

On a rainy, gloomy day a little girl, Katherena, and her mother pack up their last belongings for a move from their house in a seaside city to the country. Katherena thinks about all the friends and relatives she’ll miss. She thinks about how she’ll miss her “bedroom window and the tree outside. ‘Goodbye, tree friend,” she whispers. They drive past fields and over mountains, stopping to watch a coyote cross the road.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Their new home crowns a hill that overlooks a field now dotted with snowdrops. Two trees stand nearby. Inside, Katherena climbs the creaky stairs to her room. She places books, a toy whale, and her drawing supplies on the shelf next to the window and above a small desk “for drawing.” Now, though, her hands are cold and she doesn’t feel like drawing. That night she and her mom “bundle up together under the covers in [their] new home in the country, far from the sea.”

Summer comes and Katherena sits under a tree listening to the “peeps and whistles and ribbits and chirps” and watching her neighbor Agnes working in her yard. Katherena’s mother encourages her to go over and meet her. Katherena takes their dog Ôhô, which “means owl in Cree,” and says hello to Agnes. Agnes has heard a lot about Katherena from her mother––especially that she likes to draw. Agnes makes things out of clay, and as she shows Katherena around, Katherena admires the objects she’s made. “They look like the branches and birds and flowers.” After her visit, Katherena is excited to go home and draw.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Throughout the fall, Katherena visits Agnes again and again, helping her with her garden. The weather is turning “cold and windy and creaky. Agnes says she’s getting creaky too.” One day Agnes shows Katherena a round pot she is working on. She talks about the phases of the moon, and Katherena tells her about Cree seasons and that “this month is called pimihâwipîsim—the migrating moon.”

In the winter Ôhô enjoys his first snow, tobogganing with Katherena until they’re both soaked through. Later, Katherena warms up near the fireplace and helps her mother make salmon stew for Agnes. Agnes’s daughter has come to help her mother during the winter. In exchange for the stew, Agnes gives Katherena snowdrop bulbs to plant next fall. Katherena thinks “they look like tiny moons,” which gives her ideas for more drawings.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Spring finds Agnes weaker, and Katherena sits on the end of her bed as they listen to the birds singing in the trees and “the tickle of the branches against her window.” When the snowdrops begin to bloom, Katherena wishes Agnes could see them. Suddenly, she has an idea. She gets her drawings from home and with Agnes’s daughter’s help, she papers the walls of Agnes’s room with her drawings of birds, trees, flowers, and other things from nature. Gazing at the walls, “Agnes says it’s like a poem for her heart.”

For the rest of the day, Katherena and Agnes “talk about making things” and sit together in happy silence “until it’s time to say goodbye.” Katherena’s heart is heavy, but she feels fortunate to know Agnes. Later that night, ayîkipîsim, the frog moon, is full.” Her mom and she snuggle up together under the soft blankets. Her hands are warm, and she falls asleep thinking about her friend.

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Copyright Julie Flett, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Books.

Quiet and deep, Julie Flett’s story of a little girl who moves from the city home she knows and loves to a house in the country, where she meets a kindred spirit touches the heart. Generosity, friendship, and acceptance flow through each page as Katherena learns to embrace her new home, a mentoring friend, and the seasons of life. Our connection to the natural world is beautifully represented in Katherena’s drawings, Agnes’s pottery, and the pair’s gardening. Their intergenerational relationship, forged through proximity and similar talents is profound in its calm comfort and heartening love as they teach each other new ways of understanding life—Agnes from her long years of experience and Katherena through her heritage and the lovely Cree words and ideas she shares with her friend.

Simple, earthy details—a coyote on the road, mulch and worms in the garden bed, salmon stew, snowdrops in a field, the phases of the moon—root the story in the common and surprising moments in life that unite us all. Katherena’s mother and Agnes’s daughter provide comforting emotional and physical support while hinting at another cyclical aspect of life.

Flett’s textured illustrations, in soft, muted earth tones, capture the mood, the emotions, and the seasons with a fresh yet traditional feeling that reveals and reflects the story’s themes. The two-page spreads that introduce Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring again are minimalistic beauties that give readers a moment of reflection before moving on—much like transitional weeks between seasons.

A story that children and adults will take into their hearts, Birdsong belongs on all home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 8

Greystone Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771644730

To learn more about Julie Flett, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Book Giving Day Activity

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Image by Sanne Dufft for International Book Giving Day 2020.

International Book Giving Day Bookmark and Bookplate

 

Celebrate today’s holiday with these book accessories that you can add along with any book you give a child.

International Book Giving Day Bookmark| International Book Giving Day Bookplate

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You can find Birdsong at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review