May 29 – It’s National Inventor’s Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine, this month-long holiday celebrates the imagination and talent of individuals who dare to think differently and create new products, services, and ways of doing things that make a positive contribution to the world. To join in, enjoy your favorite new inventions, and if you harbor dreams of being an inventor—on a large or small scale—look for opportunities to share your ideas.

Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines

Written by Sarah Aronson | Illustrated by Robert Neubecker

 

Famous inventors usually get that way by creating something new—something that people can’t live without, right? Well, it kind of was and wasn’t this way for Rube Goldberg—as you’ll see. Even as a very young boy, Rube Goldberg loved to draw. As a four-year-old he traced the cartoons in the newspaper and when he got older, he took art lessons. His dream was to be a cartoonist for a major newspaper.

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Rube’s family was not so supportive, though. His father—who had moved to America from Germany so that his family could have a better life—believed his son would end up as a beggar if he pursued his art. So, Rube went to college and became an engineer for the Department of Water and Sewers in San Francisco—for six months. He gave up his good-paying job for a job as an errand boy at the San Francisco Chronicle at eight dollars a week. In between cleaning, emptying trash cans, and filing photographs, “Rube drew. And drew. And drew.”

Rube submitted his cartoons to the editor and most of the time they were rejected. When the editor “said yes, Rube sometimes got paid, but other times he just got out of the office tasks he didn’t like to do.” A year went by, and finally Rube was hired by the San Francisco Bulletin sports department, where he drew cartoons and wrote a column too. Then in 1906, the great earthquake hit San Francisco. Homes were lost, as were jobs. In the broken city, people couldn’t focus on their future or even feel hopeful. Rube “did the only thing he could do: He drew comics to cheer people up.”

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Rube also decided to move to New York—the place he considered the “‘front row,’ the cartoon capital of the country.” For twelve days he showed his art to newspaper after newspaper and was finally hired by the New York Evening Mail as a cartoonist. “Right off the bat, Rube became a celebrity. People couldn’t wait to see what he had to say about all kinds of things.” He drew comics about sports, politics, and “the silliness of everyday life,” but the comics people loved the best were drawn by his alter ego, Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. The professor was known for his intricately complex inventions that made even the simplest action a “surreal and ridiculous” multi-step wonder that often defied physics.

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

He invented a machine that employed a carrot-eating goat, a ghost, an egg-laying chicken, an archer, a target with a mechanical hand, an upright-shooting canon, and dough that cooked in the smoke of the cannon as a cannonball shot through the middle of it. Turning off the light, might just require the pull of a cord, but in Professor Butts’ world, it also required a banana-laden fishing pole, a monkey bouncing on a balloon, a fan that turned a bicycle wheel, a jack-in-the-box, a bucket, a bowling ball, and seesaw. Perhaps one of the silliest was a contraption for cutting your own hair.

Of course, these gizmos weren’t designed to really work—only to make people “look closer. And question logic. And tickle the imagination.” At a time when new discoveries were being made all around, Rube Goldberg’s cartoons “challenged people to use the most amazing machine in the universe: the brain!” Do you have aspirations, thoughts, and dreams that seem out of the mainstream and wonder if this same kind of success is still possible? The answer is: “You bet it is.” So “figure out what you want” then work hard and “have a great time getting there…. Just like Rube Goldberg!”

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

The book’s endpapers depict eight of Rube Goldberg’s original invention cartoons, and an Author’s Note following the text reveals more about Goldberg’s amazing life as a cartoonist, artist, and political observer. The awards he won and the children’s game inspired by his contraptions are also mentioned.

For Rube Goldberg fans, young inventors and artists, and anyone with a dream, Sarah Aronson’s story of this beloved cartoonist’s life is a fast-paced trip into the past and the fine tradition of lampoonery. Goldberg’s one-of-a-kind imagination and unstoppable confidence in his dream are on full display as he quits a lucrative job for the uncertainty of an artist’s life. His success and long career is a tribute not only to Goldberg himself, but to all the employers and consumers who recognize innovation and embrace it.

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Image copyright Robert Neubecker, 2019, text Sarah Aronson, 2019. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Robert Neubecker’s stylized and entertaining illustrations take inspiration from and honor Rube Goldberg while also transporting readers to the early 1900s. Kids will particularly enjoy the clever design that takes text through underground maze of the San Francisco Department of Water and Sewers and the busy newsroom—complete with carrier pigeon—where Goldberg found a home as a cartoonist. In two-page spreads, three of Goldberg’s cartoons are rendered in color, giving readers plenty to linger over and giggle at, and the final images are sure to spark a new appreciation for the imagination and its power.

Sure to create new fans of Rube Goldberg’s work, Just Like Rube Goldberg would be an exciting addition to home, school, and public libraries for all of those unique thinkers out there.

Ages 3 – 8

Beach Lane Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481476683

Discover more about Sarah Aronson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Robert Neubecker, his books, and his art on his website.

National Inventor’s Month Activity

CPB - Inventor's Tool Kit II (2)

Inventor’s Tool Kit

 

Every idea begins as a jumble of seemingly unrelated parts. Gathering whatever types of material inspires you and keeping it in a box ready to go when inspiration hits is a great way to support innovation and spark experimentation.

Supplies

  • Small parts organizer with drawers or compartments, available at hardware stores and craft stores
  • A variety of parts or craft materials that can be combined, built with, or built on
  • Some hardware ideas—pulleys, wheels, small to medium pieces of wood, wire, nuts, bolts, screws, hooks, knobs, hinges, recyclable materials
  • Some craft ideas—clay, beads, wooden pieces, sticks, paints, pipe cleaners, string, spools, buttons, glitter, scraps of material, recyclable materials

Directions

  1. Fill the organizer with the materials of your choice
  2. Let your imagination go to work! Build something cool, crazy, silly, useful—Amazing!

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You can find Just Like Rube Goldberg at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 1 – It’s Children’s Book Week & Interview with Jodi McKay

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About the Holiday

Children’s Book Week, a celebration of reading and books, turns 100 this year! Founded in 1919, this longest-running literacy initiative in the US, was a collaborative effort by Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, Frederic G. Melcher, the editor of Publishers Weekly, and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library. In 1916, the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, sponsored the first Good Book Week.

When the Children’s Book Council was established in 1944, they assumed responsibility of running this important initiative. The holiday is celebrated with special events in schools, libraries, bookstores, and communities across the country with the participation of authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers. This year the theme of the week is Read Now, Read Forever. To find out more about the week as well as activities to download and locations of events in your area, visit Every Child a Reader.

I received a copy of Pencil’s Perfect Picture from Albert Whitman & Company for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Albert Whitman & Company in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Pencil’s Perfect Picture

Written by Jodi McKay | Illustrated by Juliana Motzko

 

Pencil loves his dad so much that he wants to do something special for him. He thinks about baking him a cupcake or giving him a bouquet of flowers, but then he hits on just the right thing. Pencil decides “I’ll draw him the greatest, the best, the most perfect picture he has ever seen!” But there’s a hitch, Pencil doesn’t really know what that is. He heads off to the Art School to find out.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

He finds Brush doing a headstand in a paint can, and after Brush adds a golden swoop to a sunset painting, Pencil asks if that’s what makes the picture perfect. “Perfection?” Brush answers. “Pah! I paint for pleasure.” This answer doesn’t really help, so Pencil goes in search of Marker.

Marker shows Pencil all the fancy moves he uses when drawing. Pencil loves the action in Marker’s work and wonders if that’s what makes it perfect. Marker’s not that interested in perfection though, just in doing his best. Pencil then thinks he’ll go ask Pastel for her opinion. He finds Pastel practicing yoga before she creates. Then she faces her blank paper and in a few minutes has a picture that makes Pencil “feel happy.” Could this be the secret to perfection? Pastel says peace is her aim, but Pencil counters, “I don’t think I’ll find peace until I know how to draw a perfect picture” and walks off to find the crayons.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The little crayons have all been working hard on their drawings and are proud to show them off. Pencil thinks they’re all perfect and asks how they achieved it, but their teacher reveals that they just “draw because it’s fun.” Pencil’s still no wiser when he meets up with Chalk, but in describing his frustrations, Pencil has a brainstorm.

He hurries home to try a little bit of everything he’s learned. He stands back to take a look at his drawing just as his dad comes in. Pencil explains that he wanted to make a special drawing for him, but he’s just not sure it’s…. His dad studies the drawing and says, “Wow, this picture is PERFECT!” Pencil is excited and wants to know why. As they gaze at the drawing in which Pencil and his dad are smiling and have their arms around each other, Pencil’s dad says, “It’s perfect because YOU drew it for me.”

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Jodi McKay so sweetly taps into the desire of little ones to show their parents, grandparents, or other caregivers how much they love them while including that lump-in-the-throat moment adults experience when it happens. Through Pencil’s unwavering determination to find the answer, kids are introduced to all their favorite drawing tools and lots of ways to look at art or any pursuit. Pencil’s enthusiasm is infectious and charming, and readers will be happy to take the journey with him. When Pencil puts his own spin on what he’s learned and creates the drawing for his dad, little ones will see that they too have great creative ideas. The reaction of Pencil’s dad is reassuring and teaches an important lesson about anything children pursue—that “perfection” is personal and in the eye of the beholder.

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Opening the cover of Pencil’s Perfect Picture is like stepping into a classroom full of color and joyful kids eager for fun. Juliana Motzko’s adorable Pencil with his stick arms and legs and expressive smile and eyebrows is just the kind of friend readers would love to spend time with. Cleverly, Motzko depicts the other drawing tools as other influences that children meet along their way in life—teachers, coaches, and classmates. Readers will love seeing all of the drawings these artists create and may even want to try drawing some of them themselves (in their own style, of course!). Every page will make kids and adults smile, and the final spreads in which Pencil and his dad stand with their arms around in real life and in the portrait make for the perfect ending.

Sprinkled with humor, Pencil’s Perfect Picture is an adorable and endearing read that would quickly become a favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807564769

Discover more about Jodi McKay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Juliana Motzko, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Jodi McKay

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Jodi McKay lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and two furry friends. She is the PAL coordinator for SCBWI-MI, and is active in several online writing groups. She has two books published by Albert Whitman & Co., WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (2016) and PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE (May, 2019). Jodi is represented by Linda Epstein of Emerald City Literary Agency.

Today, I’m excited to chat with Jodi McKay about Pencil’s origin, how adults can help kids develop and keep their own style, and some of the best parts of book events.

What inspired you to write Pencil’s Perfect Picture?

I actually wrote Pencil’s Perfect Picture thinking that it would be a companion book to my first book, Where Are The Words? That story ends with the characters asking Pencil to draw them pictures for the story they just wrote. I figured book number two would show Pencil trying to draw pictures for them, but not just any pictures, they had to be perfect. That idea came from watching my son struggle with drawing something “just right.” He had developed a sense of perfection when it came to his art and that broke my heart a little. I realize that kids start to compare themselves to their peers or others as they grow up, but I didn’t want that to affect how he approached his creativity. I had to make sure the story addressed that idea of perfection especially when it comes to art. My editor suggested that I change who Pencil draws his picture for to include more of a family theme which I loved. It adds a layer of heart that is relatable to kids as they often draw pictures for their parents or loved ones.

I love the message of Pencil’s Perfect Picture. As you say, children seem to learn so quickly to compare their work and themselves to others. What are a couple of ways that adults can help them appreciate and embrace their unique view of the world.

Yes, agreed! I know it has to do with some developmental stage where the self becomes less important and peer opinions more important, but it’s imperative not to lose that sense of self. We have to celebrate our individuality, explore what makes us unique, and find ways to express ourselves with our imaginations. Parents have a special job when it comes to fostering all of that, and for me it really comes down to creating a judgement-free zone not just with art, but with all aspects of life. For the sake of time let’s stick with art here.

  • Provide your child with different types of art supplies: markers, crayons, paint, fabrics, clay, etc. Let them pick what they want to use and how they want to use it (watch where those small pieces go!).
  • When your child is finished, talk to him or her about what they made, how it made them feel, what is their favorite part about their art project. Keep it positive.
  • Remember, art is never wrong. Emphasize that to your child. It is awesome because they imagined it and brought it to life. No one else can make that same picture.
  • Consider creating with your child. I think kids love to see their parents use their imaginations so grab a marker or a crayon and draw together! Need a fun idea? Try to draw a perfect picture together.

Here’s what you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil, crayon, marker, whatever is fun to draw with

Instructions:

One person starts by drawing something simple, a shape, a line, etc. Take turns adding elements to the picture until you both decide it’s perfect. Enjoy your masterpiece!

Another wonderful aspect of your book is that you include so many different personalities in Brush, Marker, Pastel, and the Crayons. Which do you identify with most and why?

I really like this question! It’s taken me a minute to think about it and the one I have chosen is not an obvious answer if you know me. I think I’m most like Marker. I’m not particularly sporty or a fan of sweat bands, but I am organized like him. He’s a “First, Next, Last” kind of guy which is how I can be when it comes to tackling a project. Also, his motto, “Do your best” resonates with me.

When my son was young, he and his friends took to sharpening old pencils down to the eraser to see how small they could get them. We loved those cute nubbins! Your first book, the very clever Where Are the Words? also has a pencil character. Do you have a special place in your heart for pencils, a favorite pencil or a special memory involving pencils or writing instruments?

I know, it must seem like I have a thing for pencils, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t. I used to draw a ton with pencils, color and plain. Lots of doodles in the margins of notebooks, drawing pads full of patterns, cartoons, likenesses. I never write with pencils though, I use pens for the most part which makes one wonder why I didn’t include a pen in the story, right? I do have a favorite pen—it has a sloth on it, which makes me very happy.

On your website you mention that The Story of Ferdinand was your favorite book as a child. Me too! In fact, I just found a boxed edition for $3.00 at my wonderful local used book store and snapped it up. I really identified with Ferdinand, but there’s also so much sage advice in that book. What is about that book that made it a favorite for you?

There is so much to love about that book—the sense of calm I feel when I read it, the way pacing is used to create both tension and ease, the words Leaf chose that paint beautiful pictures (smelling flowers under a cork tree), and how Ferdinand stayed true to himself. LOVE it!

One fun part of being a children’s author must be visiting schools and holding other events. What do you like best about meeting your readers? Do you have any anecdote you’d like to share?

Yes! I love meeting readers and chatting with them about books—what they like, what they don’t like, and listening to their story ideas. It’s such a great feeling to see kids get excited about writing and reading, it makes me think that I’ve done my job as an author.

Some of my favorite moments happen when I see a young reader connect with the humor in my books. I love the laughs and the, “aha!” moment of understanding the joke. Some of my funnier experiences have happened during school visits. There’s always the question, “How old are you?” and the follow up comment, “My mom is that old!” or the looks I receive when the kids walk into the room and say, “That’s her!” and “She’s the author!” I’ve never seen myself as that person and hearing their whispers is funny to me. Of course, there are also sweet moments filled with hugs and thank you’s from the students.

What’s up next for you?

At the moment I am busy preparing for upcoming book-signing events as well as a few future events for the Michigan SCBWI members. Otherwise, I am still writing, writing, and writing some more. I have a couple of stories ready to send to my agent, one ready for submission to editors (fingers crossed!), and a bunch waiting for revisions or reworking.

What’s your favorite holiday?

Christmas all the way. I love the joy of the holiday, the shared excitement, the smells and sounds, and the colorful, glittery décor. It’s all about family, love, and giving. There’s not much better than that!

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Christmas definitely has inspired some stories (surprise!), however I was informed that holiday, Christmas specifically, stories are really hard to sell. I’m not giving up hope though, I will just need to find the right spin on a holiday theme and maybe it will become one of those few that are chosen.

Thanks so much Jodi! This was fun! I wish you all the best with Pencil’s Perfect Picture, Where Are the Words, and all of your future projects!

You can connect with Jodi on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter | You can email her at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

Pencil’s Perfect Picture Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Jodi McKay in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) signed copy of Pencil’s Perfect Picture, written by Jodi McKay | illustrated by Juliana Motzko

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

This giveaway is open from May 1 through May 7 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 8.

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

Children’s Book Week Activities

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Pencil’s Draw Your Own Picture Page

 

Are you eager artist? Then Jodi McKay and Pencil have a treat for you—a page where you can create their own “perfect picture!” Download it here and get drawing!

Draw Your Own Picture Page

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Surprise Ferocious Beings Paper Project

 

Today, Jodi’s also sharing one of her favorite craft ideas courtesy of Janette Nyberg’s Craft Whack website. If you love to draw—and add an element of surprise to your work—you’ll love this clever idea! After your kids do this one, they’ll want to take a look at all of the fun ideas on this fantastic site!

Surprise Ferocious Beings Paper Project

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You can find Pencil’s Perfect Picture at these booksellers

Albert Whitman & Co. | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 25 – Museums Advocacy Day

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About the Holiday

Today is a day when we can show our museum curators and government representatives how much we value museums. Museums are vital parts of our communities and economy. Did you know that more than 850 million people visit American museums every year? This is more than the number of visitors to all major-league sporting events and theme parks combined. Museums across the country employ more than 726, 000 workers and contribute $50 billion to the economy. While museums enjoy overwhelming support among people, advocacy is needed to ensure that museums continue to receive funding and governmental protections so that they can continue to grow while  preserving and teaching about our history, culture, and scientific achievements. Show your support for museum funding by contacting your city and state representatives and by visiting and/or donating to your favorite museum!

The Museum

Written by Susan Verde | Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

 

A lanky young girl enters an art museum and goes right up to an abstract painting of sunlight yellow circles. She says, “When I see a work of art, something happens in my heart.” The painting makes her feel like dancing and leaping, and in front of a painting of a ballerina, the girl lifts up on her toes and raises her arms gracefully.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night makes her “all twirly-whirly” and she spins around like the painting’s swirling winds. She sees off-beat sculptures that inspire her to turn upside down and become a human work of art with bent legs and pointed toes. She sits face to face with The Thinker, contemplating “the whos and whats and wheres and whys.” A woman’s abstract face painted in blues makes her sad, while a plate of apples reminds her she’s hungry.

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Image copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2013, text copyright Susan Verde, 2013. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams Books for Young Readers.

The girl skips past a wall lined with paintings of flowers, mirrors The Scream, and makes “silly faces at a guy” by Picasso. Paintings of squiggles make her burst out in giggles. But then she sees a wall-sized painting that makes her stop and stare. The canvas is completely blank. She looks long and hard, then shuts her eyes and says, “I start to see things / in my head, / yellow, blue, then green / and red, / circles, lines, all kinds of shapes, / faces, flowers, and landscapes.” The idea of a world that’s hers to fill anyway she wants leaves her elated, and as she walks out the door at the end of the day, the girl is happy and content because, she says, “The museum lives inside of me.”

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Image copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2013, text copyright Susan Verde, 2013. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Through one girl’s trip to a museum Susan Verde celebrates the emotions and dreams that experiencing art can stimulate in visitors. Her jaunty rhymes and conversational rhythm create an atmosphere of active participation for her happy museum-goer as well as for readers, leading them to the realization that not only a canvas, but their life itself, is a unique work of art.

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Image copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2013, text copyright Susan Verde, 2013. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Peter H. Reynolds’ fluid, uninhibited line drawings are ideally suited to Verde’s inspirational story. As the girl flits, twirls, and skips from gallery to gallery and mimics the paintings and sculpture she sees, readers’ imaginations will also take off, remembering art that they’ve seen and conjuring up some of their own. Reproductions of famous works of art give younger kids a chance to learn about some pieces of world art and allows older children the opportunity to show their knowledge.

A smart and stylish tribute to art museums, the feelings expressed in The Museum are also fitting for any child who finds inspiration in a museum of history, natural science, science, or any discipline. The book makes a beautiful gift, a stirring addition to home bookshelves, and a terrific book to pair with museum trips, art classes, and inspirational story times in any classroom.

Ages 5 – 7 (and up)

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-1419705946

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

To learn more about Peter H. Reynolds and view a gallery of his books and art, visit his website

Museums Advocacy Day Activity

CPB - Cookie Jar Museum (2)

Create a Museum Exhibit

 

Every item has a story. Is there a funny anecdote behind that knick-knack on the shelf? Does your favorite serving dish hold sentimental value? A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is to create a museum exhibit of objects in your home.

For teachers this can be a fun classroom activity that incorporates writing, art, and speaking, and categorizing skills. Students can use objects in the classroom or bring items from home to set up museum exhibits. This activity can be done as a whole-class project or by smaller groups, who then present their exhibit to the rest of the class.

Supplies

  • A number of household or classroom items
  • Paper or index cards
  • Markers
  • A table, shelf, or other area for display

Directions

  1. To get started have children gather a number of items from around the house to be the subjects of their exhibit. An exhibit can have a theme, such as Grandma’s China or Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, such as toys, plants, tools, even the furniture they see and use every day.
  2. Using the paper or cards and markers, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children will be able to write the labels themselves; younger children may need adult help.
  3. Spend a little time relating the story behind each object: where it came from, how long you’ve had it, when and how it was used in the past, and include any funny or touching memories attached to the item. Or let your child’s imagination run free, and let them create histories for the objects.
  4. When the labels are finished, arrange the items on a table, shelf, or in a room, and let your child lead family members or classmates on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on social media.
  5. If extended family members live in your area, this is a wonderful way for your child to interact with them and learn about their heritage.

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You can find The Museum at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

October 25 – International Artists Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2004 by Canadian Romantic Realism artist Chris MacClure, today’s holiday celebrates artists working in all mediums from painting to sculpture, photography to music, writing to dance, and many more. Creative expression is a universal language, and society benefits when art and artists of all types are embraced and celebrated. The goal of International Artists Day is to celebrate the contributions of artists and to raise their stature and visibility around the world. A love of the arts can start at the youngest ages by exposing children—and even babies—to a variety of creative mediums and allowing them to explore their talents. For more information about International Artists Day, visit the IAD  website.

My Art Book of Love

Written by Shana Gozansky

 

Don’t be surprised if you feel a flutter of the heart upon opening the cover of My Art Book of Love. Page after page of gloriously reproduced paintings from thirty-four artists from the past and working today demonstrate love in all of its actions, forms, colors, and meanings. Divided into six sections, the paintings touch on what love is, how love feels, what love looks like, and other qualities of this tender emotion.

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Courtesy of Phaidon Publishing, copyright 2018.

Accompanying each painting is a lyrical phrase that describes its feeling or subject and combines with the others in the section to create a moving verse that will warm the hearts of  little ones—and even older children. To begin, “Love is… soft snuggles…” represented by a detail from Gustav Klimt’s The Three Ages of Woman, in which a mother and child sleep cuddled together with the mother resting her head on her child’s soft curls. Love is also “tender nuzzles,” and any animal lover or child with a pet will recognize the shared affection as a little girl strokes her pet in Pierre Bonnard’s Little Girl with Cat.

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Courtesy of Phaidon Publishing, copyright 2018.

The comfort an older sister provides for her younger sibling tugs at the heart in Paul Gauguin’s Piti Teina (Two Sisters), and Alan Katz demonstrates that growing up with a bunch of sisters can be an adventure in The Ryan Sisters, in which four girls walk down the road barefoot with their arms around each other. As an African-American boy wears his dad’s fedora while getting a big hug in Emory Douglas’s Father and Son, “Love feels… Safe.” A father’s encouragement can make a little one feel “brave” as in Vincent Van Gogh’s First Steps, after Millet, where a father spreads his arms to welcome a baby toddling his way.

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Courtesy of Phaidon Publishing, copyright 2018.

In all the ways it is expressed, “Love is Beautiful.” Salvador Dali captured the joy a father feels for his child in Fiesta at the Hermitage, a fragment of which spotlights a father playfully lifting his infant above his head. Henry Moore’s sculpture Family Group lets children visually experience the solidarity of the family unit as a mother, father, and two children are connected through touch. Two vibrant and familiar artworks close out this poignant tribute and remind readers that “Love is for everyone!” as the linked figures dancing around a red heart in Keith Haring’s untitled painting and the bold and boxed letters L-O-V-E in Robert Indiana’s Philadelphia Love beautifully demonstrate.

Back matter presents thumbnail images of each art piece along with information on the artist, the work, and which museum it can be found in.

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Courtesy of Phaidon Publishing, copyright 2018.

Exquisitely curated to offer a range of artistic styles, cultural touchstones, and emotional responses, My Art Book of Love is a sophisticated board book that is part museum, part love letter and a completely original and moving way to share and talk about love with babies, toddlers and older kids during quiet, cuddly story times. The book can also be used in classrooms to accompany reading, writing, and art lessons. The book makes an inspired choice as a gift or to add to any home, classroom, and public library.

Ages 2 – 4 and up

Phaidon, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877181

International Artists Day Activity

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I Love Blocks

 

Bare wooden blocks can provide lots of artistic fun for both young and older kids. Painted with craft paint or chalk board paint, they can be written on or drawn on with chalk. They can be stacked to make sentences or towers or sculptures.

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-review-blocks-craft-2Connected with glue or adhesive Velcro tape, blocks can become a robot or a giraffe, laid end-to-end they can be a train or a snake. Supply some cloth, play jewels, googly eyes, foam shapes, glitter, or other items and let kids play with their imagination and creativity!

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You can find My Art Book of Love at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 24 – It’s Arts and Humanities Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1993 as a celebration of culture and the arts, National Arts and Humanities Month encourages people to begin a lifelong love of exploring and participating in the arts. Throughout the month, special events are held by arts organizations in communities around the country. A terrific way to instill an appreciation of the arts and humanities in children is to share books like today’s with even the youngest readers.

Squares & Other Shapes: with Josef Albers (First Concepts with Fine Artists)

Paintings by Josef Albers

 

Opening Squares & Other Shapes, readers encounter a vibrant magenta square nesting in an autumn maple leaf-hued square which floats in a square of clear, winter-sky blue. On the next page two orange squares beckon you to follow into the glowing, yellow center square. Could it be a doorway or window leading somewhere?

In another painting, a bold yellow rectangle and an equally bold blue rectangle host guests: “two little rectangles lying down for a nap.” But the calm is shattered on the next page as stacks of red and blue rectangles shake and tumble: “Watch Out! It’s raining rectangles!”

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Now circles want a turn, and they want to have fun! In a large black rectangle a white circle and a red circle play stoplight: “Circle, Circle, Stop!” while on the next page blue, black and spirally circles jump and frolic—“Bounce, Circles, Bounce!” Turn the page—can you count all of the little circles in the rectangle or all of the baby circles in the rectangle on the right-hand page? Some of the babies are leaping away—or are they just joining the group? What do you think?

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Next the black rectangle is back, but this time with two white squares inside. Wait a minute—how did those little yellow circles get into the bottom square? “Hey circles, get out of that square!” Of course triangles don’t want to be left out. Dusky triangles in many sizes connected tip to tip enjoy their light, white background, but on the next page they’re left in shadow—“Hey triangles, who turned out the lights?”

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Be careful turning the page to look at the two intersecting triangles: “Ouch, these triangles look sharp!” Maybe it’s better to move on to the big, vivid triangle on the right. Oooh, so many colors! Nine, in fact! Hmmm… “Is this one big triangle, or lots of little triangles?” These paintings are getting more complex! Now there are “blue squares in pink squares, pink squares in blue squares; rectangles in rectangles, circles in circles, and more triangles in triangles. But here’s a different painting: the rectangles are perfect rectangles, but the squares are a little off, and what kinds of shapes do those curved lines make?—“Funny shapes in funny shapes!” And the last painting? Back to squares. Red, purple, and blue squares. “Beautiful squares.”

Following the paintings, the last page provides a captivating biography about Josef Albers’ life and work aimed at the book’s young audience.

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Imagine being able to own a stunning collection of famous paintings by a world-renowned artist and educator to teach your child about shapes, color, and art. With Squares & Other Shapes by Josef Albers you can! The second in the First Concepts with Fine Artists series, Squares & Other Shapes presents readers with more than 30 painting by Josef Albers, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Most well-known for his Homage to the Square paintings, Albers worked with color and shapes to challenge perceptions and promote creative thinking.

Shapes are one of the earliest concepts introduced to babies and young children. Even the youngest readers will be riveted by the beautifully reproduced paintings in this large board book that present squares, circles, rectangles, and trianges in clear but creative ways. The easily understood labels, repetition, and recognizable patterns offer key strategies that are known to build strong reading and comprehension skills. Kids will love the humorous text that brings the paintings to life, helping them to also see that art is not static, but active and open to interpretation by each viewer.

Squares & Other Shapes with Josef Albers is a wonderfully conceived concept book that can grow with children as it offers readers enjoyment and education on so many levels. The book would be an often-sought-out addition to home and library bookshelves and also makes a perfect present for baby showers and other gift-giving holidays.

Ages birth – 5 (and up)

Phaidon Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0714872568

National Arts and Humanities Month Activity

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Shapes Art

 

To make art like Josef Albers, kids can use these printable shapes to create their own pictures!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the shape templates on white or colored paper
  2. Have kids color the shapes 
  3. Cut out the shapes and let kids put them together in various patterns. This is a fun activity for adults to share with younger children too!

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You can find Squares & Other Shapes with Josef Albers at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

September 21 – It’s National Sewing Month

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About the Holiday

Sewing is one of the most popular hobbies around and has historically been one of the most important industries in this country and around the world. National Sewing Month was established in 1982 to encourage people to learn more about this craft and to try their hand at picking up a needle or sitting down at a sewing machine. To celebrate read up on the history of sewing and the textile industry and consider taking a sewing class or learning on your own. Sewing can be a fun and rewarding activity for adults and children.

Crafty Llama

Written by Mike Kerr | Illustrated by Renata Liwska

It was a gorgeous day and Llama knew she should concentrate on her “chores, this, that, and whatever,” but that big mound of fluff was calling to her. And because “it was such a beautiful day,” she wanted to do “something lovely.” So she took herself outside, and while she decided what to do with the day, she kept her hands busy with her knitting needles. “She felt like the answer was sitting right in front of her, but she just couldn’t see it.”

Pretty soon Raccoon dropped by with a string and beads, and then Rabbit came over with her embroidery, and Pony with the quilt he was stitching. It didn’t take long for almost all of Llama’s friends to join in with their own projects. When Beaver stopped by, he only wanted to make something that was useful. He studied Llama’s long stretch of knitting and wanted to know what it was. Llama hadn’t really thought about it. “She had just been having fun making.” She asked Beaver what he would do with it, but he didn’t know. Raccoon suggested a sail, Pony thought it would make a great rocket, and Rabbit opted for a hot-air balloon basket. But Beaver wasn’t convinced.

By now more of Llama’s friends had shown up, and they all found bits of her knitting very useful. Lion found a hairband, Elephant discovered a neat way to carry his trunk, and there was even “something for Turtle when he came out of his shell.” Llama was excited to see that “if you have fun making something, others are bound to enjoy it too.” All of Llama’s friends were sporting new, knitted somethings that were just right for them—“everyone but Beaver.”

Beaver wanted something…but what? What would be useful? He decided to do what always helped him think. He gnawed and gnawed and chewed and chewed on some trees while mulling over his options. At last, he and Llama took a break. Beaver’s break turned into a much-deserved sleep, because while Beaver was “‘thinking,’ he had made something special for everyone too.” Suddenly, Llama knew what her “crafty something” was useful for. She slipped a bit under Beaver’s head and covered him with a bit more, and Beaver continued snoozing cozily. Now when Llama and her friends get together for crafting, they love their brand new place to do it in!

Mike Kerr’s sweet tribute to the joys of crafting and imagination will delight little artists and makers of all kinds. Thoughtful Beaver and more free-wheeling Llama make good foils—and friends—in this story that introduces a full studio of artistic endeavors as well as different thought patterns that make each person unique. While many of Llama’s friends immediately recognize how to use the “crafty something” they choose, Beaver is more precise, wondering about logistics, practicality, and even safety. It turns out that Beaver is more like Llama than he might think as he also crafts a perfect gift for all of his friends.

Renata Liwska’s well-known adorable animals make the cutest crafting companions ever. Llama’s HGTV-worthy kitchen lets the sun shine in on her big ball of wool that’s just waiting to be spun into yarn. As one lovable friend after another joins the crafting party, young readers will be enticed to try all of their arts—from sewing to painting, stamping to terrarium making, basket weaving to needle crafts, and more. Little ones will wish they were in the midst of all the fun as Llama’s friends pick out just the right clever gift for their needs. They’ll want to linger over every page to see how each “crafty something” is used and to catch all of the details. When children spy Beaver’s beautiful pavilion, they’ll understand that giving is an art of its own.

For children enthusiastic about making things or who are looking to experiment with their own creative talent, as well as for anyone who is thoughtfully precise, Crafty Llama is an engaging story. The book would be a welcome addition to home libraries classroom bookshelves to accompany art and other creative lessons.

Ages 4 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681191218

Discover more about the art and writing of Mike Kerr and Renata Liwska on their website, RandMCollective.com.

To view a portfolio of work by Renata Liwska, visit her website

National Sewing Month Activity

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Got You in Stitches Dot-to-Dot Puzzle

 

Stitch the letters together to discover the picture in this printable Got You in Stitches Dot-to-Dot Puzzle.

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You can find Crafty Llama at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review