December 2 – It’s Buy a New Book Month

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Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

For children, picture books provide one of the best ways to interact with facts and feelings. Stories that speak to their experiences, both common and new, alongside illustrations that bring the story to life let them discover the world around them. Today’s stunning nonfiction books are loaded with illustrations or photographs that let kids see exciting details about science, history, biographies, nature, and so much more. This month, take a look for fiction and nonfiction picture books about your child’s passions to add to your home library. And be sure to check out today’s book that incorporates both!

Thanks to Star Bright Books for sharing a digital copy of Leaves to My Knees with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Leaves to My Knees

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

Daddy has a surprise for Camille and her little brother Jayden. They get dressed in their coats—big for Camille and little jacket with a stegosaurus hood for Jayden—and head into the backyard. There, Camille discovers her dad has gotten her a rake of her own. It’s not as big as Dad’s, but it’s bigger than Jayden’s little rake. It’s the perfect size for Camille.

Camille marches right off to rake a pile of leaves. But not just any pile—she has a goal. “‘I’ll rake leave all the way up to my knees!’” she tells her dad. The three get working on the yard. Camille concentrates on gathering leaves, listening to the different sounds that the various sized rakes make: “The leaves go swush when Daddy rakes. They go swish when I rake. They go sweeeee when Jayden tries to rake.”

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Lurking under the leaves are twigs and acorns that clog up Camille’s rake. She worries that she’ll never be able to rake leaves to her knees. She calls for Daddy’s help, and together they clear Camille’s rake. “‘You’re good to go now, Camille,’” Daddy tells her. Back at it, Camille rakes and rakes. Then she steps into the pile she’s accumulated to measure it. Her pile only comes up to her ankles. Camille grabs her rake harder and with determination she collects more leaves. But wait! Jayden is stealing leaves from her pile to add to his! Camille guards her pile with her rake, and sends her little brother over to Daddy’s bigger pile. Camille checks her measurements again. Her pile has grown, but only up to the top of her boots.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Camille rakes ‘bunches of leaves,” and her pile gets taller, until “‘Oh no! A BIG BREEZE!!’” sends lots and lots of leaves swirling “Whoosh!” into the air and scattered to the ground. “I will never rake leaves to my knees!” Camille thinks. And when she measures again, her pile is back to her ankles. Daddy encourages her to keep going, and Camille is committed to achieving her goal. She throws off her coat, grabs her rake, and works on gathering up all the leaves she had, plus more. At last, too tired to rake anymore, Camille wonders. Has she done it? “‘Time for measuring!’ says Daddy.”

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Camille relinquishes her rake to her dad then, holding her breath, steps into her pile. “‘TA-DA!’” Camille raises her arms in victory. She steps out, positions herself a good ways away, and winds up for the run and jump. “‘GO!’ yells Daddy. ‘GO!’ Jayden yells too.” Camille flies through the air and lands, laughing, into her pile. Then Jayden jumps in. And Daddy? He gives Camille  “really big squeeze” for raking “leaves all the way up to [her] knees.”

A note for parents, teachers, and other caregivers written by Marlene Kliman, a mathematics learning expert and senior scientist at TERC, describes how the story incorporates the math of measurement and sizes and how adults can extend the lesson by pointing out elements in the book’s illustrations and while going about their day or doing common chores, such as cleaning up and sorting laundry.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Ellen Mayer’s Leaves to My Knees has everything that makes a story a young reader’s favorite—a spunky main character that kids will identify with, an achievable goal, successes and setbacks, suspense, humor, and a child-propelled victory. And it all revolves around an early math concept that comes naturally to children and which invites playful learning not only during the fall, but any time of the year. Shoveling snow and making snowballs in winter, yard cleanup and gardening in spring, and building sandcastles and raking grass clippings in summer as well as in-home fun with laundry piles, toys, and other objects are all ways to extend the story.

Told from Camille’s point of view, the story also engages children’s emotions as they join in to cheer Camille on as her leaf pile grows and commiserate with her when it shrinks. The close relationships among Camille and her dad and little brother ring true with dialogue-rich storytelling that is always encouraging. Strong themes of determination and persistence will also appeal to parents and teachers, who can point to how many times Camille has to start over before accomplishing her goal and her positive, resolute attitude.

Nicole Tadgell’s exuberant illustrations shine with personality, and kids will immediately become invested in each character as Dad gets working on a big job that needs doing, Jayden runs, jumps, and copies his big sister, and Camille unwaveringly works on her pile of leaves. Camille’s setbacks are clearly depicted, along with her and her father’s facial expressions that give adults and kids an opportunity to talk about disappointment, frustration, perseverance, and feelings of accomplishment. Each image also demonstrates the math component of measurement and sizes in the story with various-sized rakes, the growing and diminishing leaf pile, big and little jackets, and other objects that invite comparison.

Tadgell’s soft-hued pages are infused with the feeling of fall and hum with activity as cardinals, blue jays, chickadees gather at the bird feeder, squirrels scamper up and along the fence, and leaves continue to float to the ground. Readers will love following little Jayden’s antics and be inspired by Camille’s wide smile as she enjoys the reward of all her hard work.

Leaves to My Knees is a multilayered read aloud infused with the enthusiasm and rhythms of childhood that kids will want to hear again and again. Its mathematics base and themes of determination and perseverance rewarded will appeal to parents, teachers, and other educators as a way to engage children in active, hands-on learning. The book is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Star Bright Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1595729590 (Leaves to My Knees) | ISBN 978-1595729613 (Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Picture Book Month Activities

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Coloring Pages and Teaching Guides

 

You can extend the fun and learning in Leaves to My Knees with these activities, which include three fun coloring pages from the story, a hands-on play-dough art and discovery activity, and a detailed educator’s guide for teachers, homeschoolers, parents, and other caregivers that offers multiple ways to use Leaves to My Knees to explore math, mathematical thinking, and reading comprehension through the story and beyond at home, school, and elsewhere.

Meet Ellen Mayer

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You can find Leaves to My Knees on Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

You can also order from Star Bright Books

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

Picture Book Review

November 30 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re doing holiday shopping, don’t forget to add picture books to your list for the kids in your life. With so many picture books to choose from on all kinds of topics, there’s sure to be a perfect book for each child. You know what they say—and it’s really true: A book is a gift you can open again and again, and today’s story is one kids will love to hear all through the year.

Thanks to Megan Litwin and Clarion Books for sharing a digital copy of Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Twinkle, Twinkle Winter Night

Written by Megan Litwin | Illustrated by Nneka Myers

 

Readers are invited along for a walk on a crystal-clear, moonlit snowy evening as a father and child discover how “nightfall sets the world aglow.” As darkness deepens overhead, and the stars twinkle over a white-blanketed field, “the sky sparkles like a chandelier.” Passing a pond where families are skating while snowflakes fall, “dusting glitter on earth’s face, / dressing trees in coats of lace,” the pair wave to a friend and then make their way into town.

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Image copyright Nneka Myers, 2022, text copyright Megan Litwin, 2022. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Here they come upon their village shimmering with magic as strings of white, gold, and colored lights outline rooftops, connect building to building, and create a glistening spectacle of snowy patches. Windows glow with candles glittering in wreaths for Christmas, menorahs for Hanukkah, and kinaras for Kwanza. The flame of diya lamps for Diwali joins them. In the central square, a brilliant star shines forth as people gather around, enjoying all the sights, sounds, and tastes of the winter holidays. Father and child join in on this “Beaming, gleaming, lively sight— / twinkle, twinkle, winter night.”

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Image copyright Nneka Myers, 2022, text copyright Megan Litwin, 2022. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

On their way home and to bed, they pass a picture window where they can see a mom and her two kids hanging Christmas decorations, a fire flickers in the fireplace. In the woods, a deer and her fawn doze, curled up under a small tree, its branches covered in sparkling snow. In town, kids are tucked under covers but can’t resist going to the window for one last look, for “twinkle, twinkle, winter night. / Everywhere you look . . . / there’s light.”

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Image copyright Nneka Myers, 2022, text copyright Megan Litwin, 2022. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

You know that special glow you feel during the winter when the moon and stars seem to shine more brightly; the hearth or wood stove glimmers with extra warmth; snow and ice twinkle when caught in a beam of light; and, around the holidays, neighborhood streets wink on with glorious displays? The glow you wish could last all year long? Megan Litwin captures that feeling in her lovely Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night not only for the winter months, but all year around. Litwin’s graceful rhymes and rhythms immerse readers in winter’s quieter atmosphere and slower pace and invites them to really look at nature, at their communities, and in their own homes to find the light and magic there. Throughout the story, Litwin reintroduces her title phrase strung with glittering new adjectives, reminding readers of just how ardently we embrace the exquisite beauty of light. Her flowing storytelling is a joy to read aloud, making this a perfect book for bedtime or quiet story times.

Nneka Myers’ stunning pages seem to actually dance with the twinkling of stars, the glittery shimmer of snowflakes, and the breathtaking radiance of decorated homes, shops, and streetscapes. Images from Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Diwali can be found in Myers’ illustrations of the town and its winter festival. Her rich purples, blues, and fuchsias set off the sparkling lights, patches of snow, and wide smiles of the townspeople as they mingle in the square welcoming and celebrating winter’s diverse and poignant holidays.

A book that shines with an appreciation for the beauty of light, nature, and community all around us, Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night would quickly become a favorite on home bookshelves for snuggly reading throughout the year and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Clarion Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-0358572046

Discover more about Megan Litwin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Nneka Myers, her books, and her art, visit her website. You can also visit her on Instagram and Twitter.

Meet Megan Litwin

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Megan Litwin holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Simmons University and is a former teacher whose lifelong work is to grow lifelong readers. Megan lives in Massachusetts with her family. 

You can connect with Megan on Her Website | Instagram | Twitter

I’m excited to be talking with Megan Litwin today about her debut picture book, her journey to publication, and how parents can instill a love of reading in their kids.

Hi, Megan! Congratulations on your beautiful book! Your writing in Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night really shimmers with so many gorgeous images of light. Was there one spark of inspiration for your story, or how did it come about?

Thank you so much for those kind words! I certainly agree that illustrator Nneka Myers has created the perfect shimmery, glimmery world for readers here! As for the story, there absolutely was an initial memorable spark. It happened on a cold, dark December drive. One of my sons was newly captivated by all the light he saw—everything from the snow to the moon to the houses decked out for the holidays. It was like the whole world was suddenly made of magic. He kept calling out things he noticed in his tiny toddler voice as we drove and repeating the words “twinkle lights” over and over. I realized I wanted to find a way to showcase this bright and beautiful time of year, with the focus not on any one particular holiday, but on the shared magic of these lights.

Can you tell readers a little about what your journey from that first idea to having Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night published was like?

LONG. That December drive was eleven years ago! I had the initial spark and a first draft poured out of me immediately. But it was not yet the story I wanted to tell. It didn’t have the magic I had seen and felt. It was too long, too wordy, overly descriptive. And so . . . I let it sit. I revisited it off and on over the years, but only around times of great inspiration . . . usually around this time every year! The idea never left me, but it wasn’t until 2016 (when I joined SCBWI) that I began working on this manuscript with the serious attitude it takes to publish. I took it to my first critique groups, I took it to conferences to get agent/editor feedback, I cut and polished and rewrote with a keener eye and ear—and 25 drafts later, it went out on submission. Even then, it was not quick! This manuscript went all the way to acquisitions with another publisher before landing, very happily, with Kate O’Sullivan at Clarion/HarperCollins (then Houghton Mifflin) in 2020.

You previously worked as a classroom teacher and reading interventionist. Can you talk about these positions? What did you love best about being a teacher?

I was a second-grade classroom teacher for nine years, and then spent time in part-time roles after my second son was born. I’ve worked as a literacy interventionist and a school library teacher, and I also helped our local school set up and run a take-home book program. I have always felt entirely at home in a school, and think I’ll always be a “teacher-at-heart.” In fact, one of the things I’m most excited about in this new phase of my book-centered career is being able to go into classrooms to do reading and writing workshops with kiddos.

How did you help kids not only learn how to read but to be excited about reading?

My years as a classroom teacher were especially magical because of the tight-knit community we built each year. In those early years of school, each classroom feels like a family. And a lot of deep connection can happen through books. We connected through our daily read alouds, huddled close together on the rainbow rug, and also through discussions about whatever we were reading, which were full of connections to our own lives and the books we had read before as a “reading family.” It was so important to me that my students saw books as magical. I wanted them to learn to read – but to love to read as well, because engaging comfortably in that process for your whole life opens so many doors. One of the best thank-you gifts I ever received was from a parent who wrote that I had inspired her daughter to be an “under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight-reader!” Nothing could make me happier.

Do you have any suggestions for how parents can instill a love of reading in their kids?

My best advice for instilling a love of reading is simple. Read together. Read often. Surround your kids with books of all kinds. Find books that bring you joy and read them alongside your kids. Modeling a love of reading and celebrating books is the first step.

And, since we’re talking about this, if anyone is interesting in more tips on growing readers, I include a section focused on that in my seasonal author newsletter that comes out just four times a year. It is called “Read, Write, Magic”—and you can sign up on my website!

What was your favorite type of book to read when you were a child? What kinds of books do you gravitate toward as an adult?

As a child, I loved books about animals and also things that had a healthy dose of magic or wonder. Some favorites were The Velveteen Rabbit, Animalia, and The Polar Express. I also loved series as I got older because I got to spend time in a world with characters I came to know and love. I was a big Sweet Valley Twins and Nancy Drew fan, and was (and still am) a Harry Potter lover. As an adult, I still enjoy ALL those same things! I would add that overall, the books I love best are ones that make me FEEL something. Or according to my husband’s observations, books that make me cry…

You’ve also published poetry in two anthologies: Friends & Anemones and An Assortment of Animals, released by the Writer’s Loft. Do the rhythms of poetry come naturally to you? What is your writing process once you have an idea?

Yes, those rhythms do come naturally, actually—even though I wouldn’t consider myself a poet! I’ve never studied poetry, and don’t know how to analyze it using all the proper terminology. For me, it is all about feel and sound. I think that is what initially drew me to picture books, way back when. Picture books have a bit of poetry and music and theater all mixed in. I like to say that I “play with words” for a living now. I pour words out onto a page for a first draft…and then I play. I cut, change, arrange, rearrange…over and over and over. I count beats, I read it aloud. My kids say it looks like I’m talking to myself!

You have such enthusiasm for meeting your readers at book events as well as spending time with kids in the classroom through your three different school workshops designed for various elementary age groups. Do you have an anecdote from any of these events you’d like to share?

I love interacting with young readers and writers at events and in schools. Kids are the best! I love the way they see the world, their honest language, and their willingness to try new things.

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One of the workshops I offer schools is about poetry, and the idea that to write a poem (or most anything), you need to play with words. And at the end of the session, I always wrap up the same way I began—by asking them to finish the sentence “Poetry is (blank).” It is fun and illuminating to see how their answers differ from the beginning. One of my favorite moments was when a first grader simply said, ‘You were right. Poetry IS fun.” He looked both surprised and excited by that thought. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day.

What do you like best about being a children’s author?

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Reading aloud to kids! That was always my favorite part of the day when teaching. And now I get to do that all the time as an author—this time with words I wrote myself. It’s WILD!!

What’s up next for you?

I am thrilled to be launching the first of two books in an early reader series with Penguin Young Readers in February 2023. Dirt & Bugsy: Bug Catchers is about two sweet boys who love to catch bugs.

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Each book features backyard adventures and lots of cool bugs—including a bit of backmatter for bug-loving readers. Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn did a fabulous job illustrating, and I can’t wait for newly budding readers to hold these books in their hands and to feel confident (and happy) while reading them. Kirkus recently gave it a great review, saying “Bugs, friendship, and fun—what more could burgeoning readers want?” Hooray!

I also have a second picture book just under contract. Stay tuned…

Thanks, Megan, for this amazing chat! It’s easy to see how much you love kids and books—and connecting kids to books! Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Nights certainly has that magical touch! I’m sure readers can’t wait to discover Dirt & Bugsy: Bug Catchers as well! I know I can’t! I wish you all the best with Twinkle, Twinkle Winter Night!

Picture Book Month Review

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Winter Lights Coloring Pages

 

Celebrate the lights of winter with these printable coloring pages!

Christmas Candle | Diwali Diya Lamp | Hanukkah Menorah | Kwanzaa Kinara

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You can order signed or personalized copies of Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night at

Word on the Street Children’s Books and Gifts

You can find Twinkle, Twinkle Winter Night at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 20 – It’s a Book Birthday Party for Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

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About the Holiday

Today, I’m celebrating the book birthday of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! with two holidays – Read a New Book Month and Friendship Month. I also have amazing interviews with author Jamie Michalak and illustrator Sabine Timm that really dive into the creation of this unique book. So, come on in!

Thanks go to Hippo Park and Deborah Sloan for sharing a copy of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

Written by Jamie Michalak | Illustrated by Sabine Timm

 

Kids first meet the sweet lemon (yes, an adorably sweet lemon) at the center of this story peeking out from a cutout in the cover. The narrator, having revealed that “there’ a party in this book,” now invites Lemon to find it: “Come on, Lemon! Let’s go look.” So, a little uncertainly, Lemon knocks at a red door with a mouse door knocker. Once inside, Lemon, readers, and the narrator meet a jaunty cast of characters—suspender shorts atop three pillows, a paint-tube mouse on a bed, a curious sock on the top of a bunkbed, and a little pink-and-green house on more pillows.

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

The scene sets Lemon and crew wondering… “Is this a mouse party? A pants, sock, and house party?” And the answer? “No! This is a game where we can’t touch the floor.” Ah! So the narrator says, “Lemon, keep looking. Try the next door.” Lemon tries another house, but there’s no party there either—just some fashionable cats and fruit.

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Hmmm… Lemon is getting a little discouraged. But the narrator gives Lemon a nudge, saying “This book is not done.” Although Lemon meets a group of friends at the beach, they’re not partying, just hanging out together. Lemon meets some pigeons and enters a kitchen, where a bear, a bunny, and a little toast dog made of bread are baking up treats. But there’s no party! Finally, “…Lemon’s back home. Does the book end right here, with her sad and alone?”

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

But then Lemon has an idea! An idea that needs readers’ help to succeed! Lemon (and readers) are going to host the party for everyone they’ve met! There’s going to be cake and candy, decorations and games. “This is a big and a small, / have a ball party. / Hooray for new friends at the / come one and all party!” And what about readers? Everyone shouts, “Come on in!”

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Kids can’t help but get excited about joining Lemon in searching for the party promised on the cover. Jamie Michalak’s enthusiastic, inclusive storytelling speaks directly to them from the very first words as she exclaims “What?! There’s a party in this book?” As Lemon goes from door to door and page to page, readers follow, carried along on Michalak’s buoyant rhythm and rhymes that surprise—coming at the ends of lines but also sometimes in the middle, which keeps each page fresh and fun. 

When Lemon returns home after not finding the party and hits upon the idea of being the one to host it, the promise that “there’s a party inside” is fulfilled in an unexpected way. An interactive page gets readers involved in the party preparations and will make them feel both included and empowered to invite others to their own party—or just to make new friends. 

Sabine Timm’s illustrations, created with found objects, burst with childlike imagination and endearing personalities. Each page is a showstopper that kids and adults will want to explore together to soak up all the details. And you don’t have to stop there! Each character—from Lemon to the yarn cat and clothespin rabbit to the paintbrush dog and soccer-loving log boy (see Sabine’s answer to question 2 in her interview below)—offers up an opportunity for readers to have fun creating their backstories, imagining what they’re doing when Lemon first encounters them, and guessing what their favorite part of the party is. But wait! The party isn’t over yet! The front and back endpapers, full of tiny objects from the story, give families a super search-and-find game to do together.

Full of humor, whimsy, imagination, and the joys of inclusive friendship. Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! will quickly become a family favorite to read again and again. The book would make a terrific gift and one you’ll want in your home, school, or public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Hippo Park, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640001

Meet Jamie Michalak

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Jamie Michalak is a children’s book writer, who loves toast, dogs, and toast shaped like dogs. She is the author of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! illustrated by Sabine Timm. Jamie’s other titles include the multiple starred reviewed Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Kato-Jones; Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; the Frank and Bean early reader series, illustrated by Bob Kolar, and the Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. She lives with her family in Rhode Island.

You can connect with Jamie Michalak on her website | Instagram | Twitter

This story feels so fresh—whimsical, comical, and surprising.  I’d love to have you talk about how your story came to be and your writing process for it.

Thank you! Long ago, I jotted down the title and idea for this story—an interactive picture book with a different party on every page that the reader was invited to join. But I never wrote it. Several years later, my agent, Victoria Wells Arms, told me that editor Jill Davis was looking for a manuscript for artist Sabine Timm. So I checked out Sabine’s irresistible art on Instagram.

I instantly fell in love with her characters and wanted to write a story that included as many of them as possible. That’s when my old idea for COME ON IN; THERE’S A PARTY IN THIS BOOK! came to mind. I wrote the story and threw a party for Sabine’s characters—cats wearing boots and fruits dressed in suits, pigeons named Fred, and dogs made of bread. As it turns out, this party was just waiting for the right guests to get it started!

The idea of anthropomorphizing everyday objects is so interesting, especially as it’s a practice universal to adults and kids. As a storyteller, do you think this is just part of human nature or do we learn it in childhood?

That’s a fascinating question! I’m not sure. But I do love how children and children book creators are always turning inanimate objects into characters. A hot dog and baked bean can be new friends who form a band called The Chili Dogs. Or the salt and pepper shakers might face off in a talent competition before dinner arrives. Life is more interesting when you use your imagination.

The story lends itself so well to the “search and find” fun of Sabine’s illustrations. Was this also part of your intention as you crafted the story?

It wasn’t, but you’re right! I discovered all of the seek-and-find elements, just like readers will, when I first saw Sabine’s illustrations. There are so many whimsical details that I spot new ones with every read.

Every page is so creatively put together, but do you have a favorite spread in the book?

The cats wearing boots spread is one of my favorites from any picture book ever. How did Sabine create a cat from a small ball of yarn and sassy plastic doll boots? I mean … the BEST!

What would you like kids to take away from the story?

Everyone is invited to this book’s party—and that’s what makes the last spreads, starring all of the characters, the most joyful of all. I hope that readers take away that parties are more fun when no one is left out.

Do you have any special events or other marketing planned that you’d like to tell readers about?

Here’s a video “Welcome to Sabine Timm’s Studio” that introduces readers to Sabine Timm and Lemon. Then Sabine gives a tutorial on how they can make a character of their own. a link to a video “Welcome to Sabine Timm’s Studio – the illustrator of COME ON IN.”

And here’s a short bit of animation showing closeups of the objects that make up the book cover.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited about several books coming out next year. The first is a picture book about a tiny treasure hunt set in a Parisian bookshop: DAKOTA CRUMB AND THE SECRET BOOKSHOP illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Candlewick Press). It’s the follow-up to DAKOTA CRUMB: TINY TREASURE HUNTER about an Indiana Jones-ish mouse. The third Frank and Bean early reader, FRANK AND BEAN: THE STINKY FEET MONSTER, illustrated by Bob Kolar (Candlewick Press), is a hilarious take on Bigfoot. And two Chicken Soup for the Soul for Kids books—THE SUNSHINE GARDEN, illustrated by Jenna Nahyun Chung, and PLAYDATE (WITH BEAR TOO?), illustrated by Katie Mazeika—will be released from Charlesbridge.

Thanks, Jamie, for taking time to chat with me todat! Finding new book of yours is always a reason to celebrate! 

Meet Sabine Timm

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Sabine Timm calls herself an artist, creator, beach-trash collector, flea-market lover, and photographer. She draws, paints, assembles and shares her work nonstop on Instagram. She lives in Dusseldorf Germany, but has fans from around the globe.

You can connect with Sabine Timm on Facebook | Instagram

Hi Sabine! I’m so thrilled to have a chance to talk with you about your incredible illustrations! As your 168K Instagram followers would, I’m sure, agree, your adorable creations are not only awe-inspiring but always bring a smile. Can you tell readers how you got started doing this kind of art?

It’s hard to say when I started making art like this. I always had a big interest in playing with found objects. When I was a child, I collected various things from nature. Shreds, sticks, seeds, buttons I’ve found on the streets etc.

I always loved the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and I was very much inspired by the hidden life of things in his stories. Many years later when I became a mother myself we had holidays at the sea and me and my son made a beach walk. We found a lot of funny things…a broken flip-flop, a red-checked French-fries bag, sandblasted wood sticks, small rope pieces, bottle caps, shells, feathers, and stuff like this.

Together we started playing, and we made characters from this found trash. We transformed trash to treasures…through our eyes and visions the things got a second life. I was deeply fascinated by these experiences, and I continued in arranging and photographing characters like this.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

When you look at an object, do you immediately see its potential to become something else? I’m thinking of the sofa you made from crackers that appeared on your Instagram page recently.

When I work with found or everyday objects there two options. Sometimes the objects themselves are attractive (colour, shape, size) and while looking at these things I get an inspiration. For example, the Swedish bread that became an upholstered sofa.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

The other option is that I have the plan of creating a special character and I go around in my home or in my studio and look around for something that works.

I always try to look at the things around me with the eyes of a child. Forgetting about function and use, I enjoy playing and arranging.

For example the little tree trunk character from the book….I found the miniature soccer shoes at the flea market and I came back to my studio where I had a box with collected objects from nature. I immediately had the idea of a little tree trunk boy who loves playing soccer!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Come On In! is your debut picture book. What were your first impressions when you read Jamie’s manuscript?

I was totally thrilled!!! All my characters united in such a wonderful story! When I read the lovely text for the first time I could hardly believe that Jamie has never been in my studio.

She pictured everything so detailed and gripping. Jamie wrote a charming story of cohesion and team spirit. I love the rhymes and the imaginative language.

I’m so happy to have in Jamie an author who empathizes so much with my characters. Come on In! invites everyone to have a great time together, and I was inspired from the first moment! 

Your scenes in Come On In! are beyond adorable. Can you share a little bit about your process in creating them?

So let’s go into my studio . . .

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Here I will show you something about my working process. In the very first beginnings of this book, I started with sketches and scribbles to get an idea of the story and the characters.

When I want to build and arrange a scene, I usually start with the characters! When they “come to life“ I start playing and letting them interact with each other. I take a lot of test photos to see how it works.

Next step is building the background or finding the location. In the case of a cardboard background I recycle used boxes and cut them into the right size. I cut out windows and build doors and in the end I paint. 

When I just have to find a nice location, I pack all my utensils and my camera. I never go out before checking the weather forecast (no rain and wind, please)!

For example, the scenery with the pigeons is arranged on my studio rooftop even though I had built a nice cardboard roof, but it didn’t work as I imagined. I changed my plans and placed all the pigeons on the real rooftop…this was an authentic and perfect place for a crazy party with sunflower seed snacks and drinks and music! Adding these kind of items is like the icing on the cake!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Did you have a favorite part of the story to create an assemblage for? What made it stand out for you?

It’s hard to make a decision…each assemblage is unique and special.

Creating the characters of fruits and bread was a great fun. Working with edible materials is particularly appealing to me—it is easy to get and you can eat it up when the work is done. (I have to say…sometimes I can’t eat them when they are looking at me so sweetly.)

For the kitchen scene, I was so happy that I could use my lovely vintage furnishings I’d collected for my photo arrangements years before.

I found the perfect buns and cakes to assemble the characters—Mr. Bear looked like a fantastic pastry chef and little bunny girl in her crunchy dress was so photogenic! Very same with the fruits-in-suits scene—in the beginning there is just a bag with fruits and vegetables, and after a few hours you have a gallery of fruity friends!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

What are you hoping to inspire in readers with your illustrations?

I hope I can inspire the readers to realise that the best thing in life is coming together, having a good time, respecting each other, and celebrating the uniqueness of each being.

Lemon takes the initiative, and I hope she will empower the readers to do the same.

What would you like for children to take away from your illustrations in this book?

Children are so creative, and I would like for my illustrations to encourage them to play with anything they find around at home, in nature. or wherever. They don’t need to buy new and expensive Playmobil or Lego figures…just a lemon can become a friend.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Thanks, Sabine, for sharing so much of your creative process and all of these images! I’m sure readers are excited to read the book—and to stretch their creativity! I wish you all the best with Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

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You can find Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 3 – Lower Case Letter Day Virtual Book Tour Stop for My Pet Feet plus Interview with Josh Funk and Billy Yong

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate those lowercase letters that make up a predominance of our sentences (and nearly all of our texting). The lowercase letter has a proud history, dating back to the earliest development of script and writing. The terms “lowercase” and “uppercase” come from the era of the printing press, when individual letters were inserted by hand into plates that were then inked and pressed onto paper. The tiles etched with each letter were kept in trays conveniently located for the printer to set them into the plates with capital letters found in the upper case and small letters arranged in the lower case. To learn more about the history of our script was developed, visit My Modern Met. You’ll find rules on using lowercase and uppercase letters at Gammerly. And to discover the fun you can have with the letters of the alphabet, read about today’s book below and meet its creators!

My Pet Feet

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Billy Yong

 

A little girl wakes up on a glorious morning. The bees are buzzing and the palm tees (no, it’s not a typo, you’ll see…) outside her window are standing tall. First job of the day is to feed her pet ferret, Doodles. She goes to his cage only to find two very long feet and a very sad face looking up at her. “‘What happened to my pet feet?’” she cries. “‘I mean my pet feet. Why can’t I say ‘FEET’?’” She looks all over her room for an answer and then spies something suspicious. Her alphabet banner is missing the ‘R.’ She quickly assesses the situation and realizes that without the letter R, her beloved pet has become simply FEET. Immediately, she decides she must do something and calls her best friend Lucas to help her.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But when she left the house, she discovered that the missing R wasn’t just affecting Doodles, but the whole town. On the way to find Lucas at his mom’s bake shop, she had to avoid “a bunch of kids on go-cats” and a policewoman on the back of a galloping hose.” Then when she found Lucas, her bestie had turned into a fiend. What was worse is that no one acted like anything was wrong.

Everywhere she went there was pandemonium, strange hybrid creatures, and weird machines. The girl wanted to find out “what happened to the eighteenth symbol of the alphabet. Could someone have taken it? “But who? And why? …I don’t want to have pet feet until the end of time!” Distressed to hear this, Doodles ran away, and even though she chased him “by the old babbling book, down a tail, and into a gassy field, the girl couldn’t find him.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But then, faintly in the distance, she heard familiar footsteps and followed the sound until she found him at the seashoe …ummm…at the beach, which was not quite the way it used to be. Still, she found Doodles and apologized for hurting his feelings. He gave her a big hug, but then was off again—this time into the sea. The girl dove in too. Could Doodles be leading them to the answer for the missing R’s? Could life eally etun to nomal … ummm … Could life actually go back to the usual? To find out, jump in and paddle along! You don’t want to miss the supising esolution … I mean the astounding ending!

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

In My Pet Feet, Josh Funk has carefully crafted a grammatical mystery that will keep readers (both kids and adults) marveling over the cleverness of each word transformation and how they add to the richness of the story. As the little girl races to restore Doodles to his normal cuddly state, readers become totally immersed in the laugh-out-loud, fantastical R-less world even as they empathize with her dilemma. The pitch-perfect ending comes as a real surprise, one that is sure to please readers of all ages.

Perfectly matched to Funk’s comedic talents is new picture book bright light Billy Yong, who brings a fresh, vibrant, and hilarious sense of humor to this story. Readers will want to linger over every page as Yong infuses each spread with a wealth of astoundingly clever details in depicting not only the R-less words provided in the story but in creating a whole town and outlying regions in which every element is flawless. Yong’s illustrations set up an irresistible game of search-and-find for all the visual puns, and the before and after images of the town make for an engaging find-the-differences puzzle.

A joy from beginning to end, My Pet Feet charms on many levels. The book is laugh-out-loud fun for the whole family as well as a way to engage kids in lessons on the alphabet, sound recognition, spelling, and grammar for teachers. Both avid and reluctant readers will love the silliness that makes this a must-have addition to all home, classroom, school, and public library collections

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534486003

I’m thrilled to be talking with Josh Funk and Billy Yong today about My Pet Feet. So put up your feet and get ready to learn about the amazing journey this story took from an initial idea to an instant classic!

Meet Josh Funk

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Josh Funk Headshot-Credit Carter Hasegawa
Credit Carter Hasegawa

Josh Funk writes silly stories such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including the forthcoming The Great Caper Caper, November 15, 2022); the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series (including the forthcoming It’s Not the Three Little Pigs, October 1, 2022); the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series (including How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Rollercoaster); the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series in conjuction with the New York Public Library (including Where Is Our Library? and Lost in the Library); Dear Dragon, Albie Newton, Pirasaurs!, A Night at the Bookstore: A Barnsie & Noble Adventure, and Dear Unicorn, coming in the fall of 2023!

Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 500 schools, classrooms, and libraries and he is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Hudson, MA. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

Hi Josh! I’m so excited to be a part of your book tour for this comedic tour de force! Thanks for taking time to chat with me about My Pet Feet and how the story came to be! I’m sure readers would love to know a little about how you wrote this story. How much fun was it to find all of the convertible words? How long did your writing process take?

It started with a typo on my phone (or possibly an autocorrect). I meant to write the word ‘friend’ but it came out ‘fiend’ which led me to wonder … what happened to the R? Why would a friend become a fiend? Did other words also lose their R’s? Did ALL words lose their R’s? Why? And what would the world look like if there were no R’s? What silly illustratable shenanigans would occur in a book written without the letter R?

This led me to start searching for words where if you took away an R, it would become another word—especially word pairs that made for funny illustrations. Crows becoming cows. Babbling brooks becoming babbling books. The seashore becoming the seashoe.

But I still also needed a story. I needed a reason, an important reason, that someone needed to investigate the missing R’s … and needed to get them back. And rescuing a pet who had been transformed into something else was the perfect reason.

Once I had the list of words to play with along with the main character’s motivation, everything easily fell into place. JUST KIDDING! I wrote many, many, MANY revisions of this story both before and after it was acquired to get things in the shape they finally ended up in. And truly, nothing really came together until Billy Yong joined the team.

Speaking of Billy, what were your thoughts when you saw his illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

As an author of picture books, I think I benefit from not thinking too visually, at least in specifics. By that, I mean, I had no idea what ‘pet feet’ would look like. Would they be human feet (with human toes? Ew.)? Would it be like a rabbit’s foot? Would the foot have a face? I honestly didn’t even bother thinking about these things—I left that for someone else to tackle.

And unsurprisingly, I think Billy’s visual creation of pet feet is amazing! I have no idea how he made ‘pet feet’ look cute. The concept is just so ridiculous, but he managed to pull it off.

As far as favorite spreads and images, I love the spreads with all the visual gags in the background, like the one in town with everyone acting like it’s just a typical day. But the best, without a doubt, is the gassy field. I had no idea Billy was going to illustrate a bunch of butts farting—but I totally approve. Like I said, I don’t think too visually—I just wrote ‘gassy field’ and assumed someone else would take care of it. And there are no buts about it—Billy did.

Meet Billy Yong

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Billy Yong is an illustrator and character designer. Since starting out he has drawn storyboards, engaged in visual development, and has even voice acted for animation, games, and children’s books. When he’s not creating his professional doodlings, he can be found in a cafe drawing or painting in his sketchbook, in his studio developing his personal projects, or in the dojo teaching Japanese swordsmanship. Billy currently lives in sunny Singapore.

To learn more about Billy Yong and view a portfolio of his work, visit his website. You can connect with Billy on Instagram and Twitter

Hi Billy! I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you since the moment I saw my review copy of this book. First, I want to Congratulate you on your debut picture book! Can you talk about your previous work and how you came to illustrate Josh’s story?

Thanks Kathy! It is such a privilege to be debuting through Josh’s hilarious story. Up till then, most of my illustrative works centered around the Young Adults range. Now that I think about it, one of my most enjoyable school projects that brought me into the kid lit scene was The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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Copyright Billy Yong

When I was first approached about the project, Josh, Kendra and Chloe (editor and art director respectively) said my sense of humor was what got me the role. At that time, I honestly struggled to understand what they meant, but never say no to great opportunities eh?

What were your first impressions when you read Josh’s manuscript?

Dude, I loved it. Probably not a good thing that I first read it just as I was about to turn in for bed (it was 02:32 in the morning since I live in Singapore). I couldn’t sleep for the next two hours because I was drawing scenes in my head haha.

Your illustrations are so ingenious, even including foreshadowing and visual puns that go beyond or riff on the “r-less” words in the text. I’m sure readers would love to learn a little about your process in creating them.

You’re too kind! First off, for anyone wanting to get into illustration, particularly with larger projects like these, understand that the process is more often a back-and-forth than a straight journey. I typically like to doodle on the script when I first read it, it helps to just spill out any ideas onto paper without restraint at the earliest phase.

Some of the earliest ideas featured the town name: Butterfield Shores -> Buttefield Shoes. Me being the adult that I am, figured why not a bronze statue, butt resplendent for all to see, with a sign sticking out his bum, and a shoe on his head, with a little flower growing from it.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Developments of bums are always a joy.

Another was around miscellaneous things we would encounter.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Even though they were never used, it helped kick off the vibe of this crazy world our heroes lived in.

Back on the main subjects, I’m usually drawn most towards characters, so that’s usually what I like to start off with after doodling on the script.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

I loved that our main human was pretty nondescript, so that left a lot of room to create a cast of characters. I eventually settled on no.2, since her shapes felt quite a lot like our fe(rr)et, Doodles. Below are some other characters I drew during the development process:

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

When it came to laying out the pages however, my usual methods of working digitally lacked the grand overview and the bravery to push past mistakes. Ironic since the digital medium allows me to undo to my heart’s content, but that also means I don’t see my mistakes and move past them.

So, feeling stuck, I whipped out a giant A3 sketchpad with a sharpie and just went ham at it. No distractions, not even music in the background, just drawing at the dining table figuring out the flow and composition for Josh’s story. I think I managed to churn out the entire layout in 2 days because of this, haha.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

(Initial doodles of the first couple of pages. When I liked a composition but didn’t like parts of it, I would paste a sticky note on top and just draw over it. It feels a lot more intuitive ideating like this compared to a digital drawing.)

This wouldn’t quite make sense to Josh, Chloe (art director) and Kendra (editor) though, so the next step was tidying up.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

(I think the most important part about this sketch cleanup phase was not to be too married to the original sketches, so if it doesn’t work on cleanup, then it helps to go back to the sketchpad or just move on and revisit the spread.)

Once layouts were done, it was back to designing the characters. Doodles (or Feet) had the most rounds of back and forth. Ranging from foot-face, to a head on feet, ultimately to feet with a face, every interpretation brought us closer to what you see before you.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Doodles (Feet State) v.2 was what we settled on in the end.

Was there a spread that was particularly fun to illustrate? What made it so?

Haha, they were all a joy to do, but my favorites would be these three:

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

While the layout changed quite a fair bit from the original sketch, my goal of showcasing the go-cats and the topsy-turvy-ness of it all culminated in a winding road, with a subtle line at the top to lead the eyes back to the cat’s tail, ultimately to rest at the water splashing of the police ho(r)se.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

While this was less dynamic than the previous one, it was really fun laying out the look and feel of the town. I think the biggest challenge was to make it feel populated without overloading the senses, and allowing the eyes pockets of rest in a spread so full of colors and information. I also sneakily snuck in my friends, who are getting married at the end of 2022, so even though I couldn’t be there, it’s my little wedding present to them.

The @-rats were also a suggestion of my wife (I think). Honestly in the thick of things I’ve confused ideas I’ve received from Josh, Kendra (our editor), Chloe (art director), my wife Rachel and myself. It really has been a team effort to bring this book to life.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

Again with the swirly composition. (I’m starting to think I have a thing for these…) Also relatively simple, but I’m happy turning the tail into a device for our readers to traverse from left to right. Of course the gassy fields had to be a field of bums farting into the wind.

What do you like best about illustrating children’s books?

I enjoy the freedom of expression. It’s very daunting whenever you start a project like this, because said freedom means you often start on a very blank canvas, with only the story to guide you. You have to give yourself permission to be as wild as your skill and imagination can allow, and avoid listening to the doubts you have with certain decisions you make. When those doubts do manifest, I’ve found it useful to remind myself that this is a team process, and if the author, editor or art director don’t quite approve, they’ll let you know. Until then, go ham.

What’s up next for you?

Haha, I don’t think I’m allowed to say, but perhaps I could hint that it’s about a boy, his friends and a hammer. It’s quite the wild ride, and I hope when it’s released readers will enjoy it. I certainly have. Apart from that, just raising a baby girl with my wife. It’s an exercise in patience and endurance. I cannot wait to start drawing with her and learning from her. Perhaps I will become a better artist from that.

Wow! Thank you for sharing so much about how you brought My Pet Feet to life! Your awesome illustrations and sense of humor are going to keep kids searching for all the visual puns and laughing from beginning to end – and over and over again! I wish you all the best with this book and am really looking forward to seeing more of your work. And, since we’re talking about bringing the story to life, I think we have time for one more image ….

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Copyright Billy Yong, 2022

So, Everybody, jump on your Go-Cat and head to your local bookstore to pick up My Pet Feet to celebrate New Book Month in hilarious style! 

My Pet Feet Virtual Book Tour Activity

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Feet Pet Portraits

 

Feet don’t have to be just for walking, running, or dancing. As today’s story shows, they can make pretty awesome pets (even when it’s just a mistake). With this craft you can use your own feet to make a pet portrait to decorate your room!

Supplies

  • 1 Sheet of regular printer paper or heavy stock paper for the portrait
  • 1 Sheet of colored heavy stock paper for the frame’s backing
  • 1 Sheet of heavy stock paper in a contrasting color from the backing to make the frame 
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue or glue dots

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Directions

  1. Stand on the white paper with your feet together and trace your feet
  2. Now it’s time to get creative! Turn the paper toes up, toes down, or toes to the side and design your pet.
  3. After you’re finished drawing, color your picture in
  4. Cut your pet out

To Make the Frame and Frame Your Portrait

  • Measure one inch around each side of one piece of heavy stock paper
  • Cut out the middle
  • Use glue or glue dots to adhere the frame to the backing
  • Use glue or glue dots to adhere your feet pet portrait to the backing of the frame

Hang your pet portrait!

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You can find My Pet Feet at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 12 – Cover Reveal of Leaves to My Knees plus Interview with Ellen Mayer and Nicole Tadgell

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  • celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaves-to-my-knees-spanish-english-cover

Leaves to My Knees 

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

Camille is determined to rake her own pile of leaves―all the way up to her knees! She swishes leaves to and fro, watching her pile grow bigger alongside the piles made by Daddy and her little brother, Jayden. WHOOSH! After raking leaves to the top of her boots, a giant breeze blows the pile back down to her ankles. But Camille won’t be stopped until she gets the job done––a knee-high pile, the perfect size for… jumping in!

Leaves to My Knees and Spanish/English bilingual Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees are playful introductions to the early math concepts of size comparison and measurement. A note by researcher and mathematics learning expert Marlene Kliman explains how parents and caregivers can use the book to help young children explore different sizes and measurement in everyday environments.

I’m thrilled to be talking with Ellen Mayer and Nicole Tadgell today about this gorgeous cover and their adorable—and educational—book that will be available this fall, just in time for leaf-raking season!

Meet Ellen Mayer

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To preorder from Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

 Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

To order from Star Bright Books and be notified when the books become available click here: 

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees 

Picture Book Review

March 21 – International Day of Forests

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About the Holiday

International Day of Forests was instituted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 to raise awareness of the importance of trees in vast woodlands or in your neighborhood or yard. Trees contribute to the quality of the air we breathe, improve the local climate, reduce noise pollution, shelter wildlife, and provide food for people and animals. This year’s theme is “Forests and sustainable production and consumption.” So many aspects in our lives – from the materials for building homes, making tools, developing new household items, and more to the medicines we take, the water we drink, and the clothes we wear rely on healthy and sustainable forests. This year’s theme encourages people to think about the ways forests benefit not only human life but the wildlife and the earth as a whole. For more information visit the UN International Day of Forests website and The Geneva Environment Network.

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets in the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “a shelter for animals and people, / a recycler and provider of water, / a creator of food and oxygen, / an inventor of medicine/ a soldier against climate change.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

International Day of Forests Activity

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Climb a Tree! Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of trees that make our world beautiful. Can you find the names of twenty threes in this printable puzzle?

Climb a Tree! Word Search Puzzle | Climb a Tree! Word Search Solutio

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You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 19 – Museum Selfie Day

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About the Holiday

Can you picture yourself at a museum today? Then the holiday we’re celebrating is just for you! Mar Dixon, a museum enthusiast, created Museum Selfie Day in 2015 as a way to encourage museum visitors to be creative and have fun taking selfies while also emphasizing the importance of all types of museums to their community. This holiday is celebrated in museums around the world, with participants sharing their selfies on Twitter and Instagram. To celebrate, head out with your kids to a museum near you and make some memories. To participate share your pictures using the hashtag #museumselfieday.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for sharing a copy of Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter

Written by Jamie Michalak | Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

 

“In the great, big city, in the great, big museum, a clock tick-tocks past midnight.” The guards are on the watch, but they don’t see the tiny mouse that “creeps out of the shadows” and zig-zags her way through the galleries under the peering eyes of the art hung on the walls. Who is this explorer that carries a sack over one shoulder and has her eyes riveted on a map? It’s Dakota Crumb, and “for endless nights, Dakota has searched for a famous priceless treasure.

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Image copyright Kelly Murphy, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak, 2021. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The map reveals that it is in “the Deepest, Darkest Cave. But perils lie ahead. Scurrying past knights in armor, Dakota spies a tiny masterpiece across the room. Using her rope, she swings and picks it up. She places it into her sack and continues on. Into the hall of giants she roams. The only movement is the maintenance worker cleaning the floor. Dakota scans the room and—“aha!”—discovers a forgotten statue. Trying to collect it, she’s nearly swept away with the day’s refuse.

Dakota consults the map again and crawls away. Her journey takes her “to the land of Egypt,” where Dakota is on the hunt for “the famous Purple Jewel of Egypt.” Dakota summons all her courage when she comes eye to claw with “A GIANT… EVIL EYED… MOUSE-EATING… CAT!” She hurries past and into the deep, dark cave. She climbs up, up and “Pull. Pry. Oh, my!”  grabs the treasure she’s been seeking—the Purple Jewel of Egypt. “Oh! how it sparkles!” As dawn colors the glassed rotunda, Dakota tiptoes home, her sack full.

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Image copyright Kelly Murphy, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak, 2021. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The museum opens, but not only for people. Around the corner, a “teeny-tiny door” welcomes visitors of another sort. These city dwellers—insects and mice, raccoons and squirrels, worms and pigeons await the opening of a new museum—the Mousehole Museum, where Dakota Crumb proudly presides over her carefully curated exhibits. The visitors enter and roam the galleries, marveling over all of the wonderful treasures they see. You’re welcome to join them too!

Following the story, Dakota Crumb invites readers to return to the museums—both big and small—to scour their rooms for forty-five items that are cleverly concealed.

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Image copyright Kelly Murphy, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak, 2021. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Charming from beginning to (ingeniously extended) end, Jamie Michalak’s Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter is sure to become a favorite of any child. Michalak’s crafty uses of the types of exhibits seen in major museums not only add intrigue to the story but will thrill those kids who are already museum lovers and entice others to visit their local museums. The hushed sense of suspense that infuses the pages as Dakota Crumb creeps from room to room gathering items in her bag will have kids eagerly turning the pages to discover the provenance of the Purple Jewel of Egypt. What is she doing with all of the things she finds? Michalak’s perfect answer will enchant every collector, artist, scientist, history buff, and explorer.

Kelly Murphy’s wizardry begins on the title page, where the museum is just about to close and they city dwellers are heading home in the purple twilight. Taking in the lush urban landscape, alert readers may pick up on details that tell them the fun is just beginning. As kids follow Dakota through the quiet museum, finding themselves searching for treasure just as she does, they see paintings, ceramics, sculptures, animal exhibits, and finally the regal Egypt room.

Murphy ingeniously incorporates items from the scavenger hunt list kids find at the end of the story into each page spread while adding humorous hints, realistic portrayals of famous exhibits, and even a comical nod to a common cleaning occurrence. But like many museum goers, readers may find themselves catch their breath when they enter the Mousehole Museum. Murphy’s well-imagined exhibits turn everyday items into masterpieces—and who’s to say they’re not? From toys to fasteners to snacks, containers, and trinkets and even an overdeveloped polaroid photograph, the displays in Dakota Crumb’s museum invites readers to look at their surroundings in a brand-new way.

A smart, witty, fun, and thought-provoking book, Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter is a superb book for introducing the excitement of museums to children and engaging them in observation as well as ideas on art, historical value, community inclusion, and collecting. All this and an imaginative scavenger hunt that challenges readers to be as intrepid a treasure hunter as Dakota Crumb. Sure to spark plenty of ideas for teachers, homeschoolers, museum educators, and libraries, Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter is a must for home, school, and library bookshelves as well as for museum gift shops.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Candlewick Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1536203943

Discover more about Jamie Michalak and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kelly Murphy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can download a Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter Activity Kit for teachers, families, librarians, or any book lover here or on the Candlewick Press website.

A Chat with Jamie Michalak

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Jamie Michalak is the author of many children’s books, including Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; Frank and Bean, illustrated by Bob Kolar; the highly praised Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz; as well as the forthcoming picture book Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Jones, and many more.

When not writing, she can often be found singing off-key, drinking too much coffee, or hanging out with her two sons. Jamie lives with her family in Barrington, Rhode Island.

You can connect with Jamie on her website | Instagram | Twitter

Welcome, Jamie! I’m so happy to be part of your book tour for Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter! Visiting museums is one of my and my family’s favorite activities, especially when we travel. They always provide us with wonderful memories. Do you have a favorite memory from a trip you took to research one of your books?

When I was writing Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, in which a mouse searches for tiny objects in a museum, I wanted to scout out the best places to hide them. So I decided to visit an art museum in Manhattan, and I asked my eight-year-old son to come along as my research assistant.

Within fifteen minutes of our visit, he tugged on my sleeve. He was looking up at me with an expression of shock and horror.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Mom,” he whispered, looking around. “They’re not wearing ANY PANTS!”

I had no idea he hadn’t seen nude Greek or Roman statues before.

In any case, he learned a lot about art, found some perfect hiding spots for mice treasures, and went home with lots to tell his friends.

That’s fabulous! Kids’ reactions to new experiences are such treasures in themselves.

In your school and library programs you share your writing process and give lots of advice for kids and teachers on how to create characters and stories as well as talking about your books. They sound like a blast! This past year, you probably held more virtual programs than usual. What was one funny thing that happened during one of these events this year?

I ended all of my virtual visits with a sing-along of the “Jelly Donut Hole Song” from my early reader Frank and Bean, illustrated by Bob Kolar. I’d play the audio and share the lyrics on my screen, so the class could join in. (Keep in mind I couldn’t see the faces of any of the kids.) During one visit, I’m playing the song, kind of half singing along because I can’t carry a tune AT ALL. Also, I’m clapping every now and then. Aaaand at the very end, the teacher says, “Um, Jamie? We couldn’t hear the audio on our end.” So basically the kids only saw my big head and heard me humming one note or mumbling every other three words. This went on for at least two minutes! Awkward.

Well, that sounds like a story Frank and Bean would love! Perhaps this funny oops! will find its way into one of your books. Thanks for sharing these two humorous events that show just what a varied tapestry being a picture book author is!

 Here’a a little more about Frank and Bean

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Written by Jamie Michalak; Illustrated by Bob Kolar

When the introspective Frank meets the gregarious Bean, can they find a way to make beautiful music together? Dry wit and hilarious illustrations introduce a new unlikely pair.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2019, text copyright Jamie Machalak, 2019. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Candlewick Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-0763695590

Early Reader; Ages 3-7

A 2019 Amazon Best Book of the Year

2019 Junior Library Guild Selection

Florida 2020-2021 SSYRA JR Award Nominee

Cybils Award finalist

Museum Selfie Day Activities

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Tiny Treasure Hunt

 

This treasure hunt from Jamie Machalak is just like Dakota Crumb’s, but with a twist! And it’s perfect for families to do together! Print and cut out this tiny treasure hunt checklist for your child, so they can gather the objects listed. Then ask them to share what they found, using three adjectives to describe each treasure. What does a button feel like? What does the tiny toy look like? (Magnifying glasses are optional!)

Tiny Treasure Hunt List

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Museum Coloring Pages

 

You may not be able to visit these famous museums today, but you’ll love these coloring pages that can take you around the world!

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art | London’s British Museum | The Louvre in Paris

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You can find Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review