May 19 – It’s National Pet Month and Interview with Sarah Kurpiel

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About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat now and then. This year, our pets may be feeling stressed from stay-at-home restrictions. To help, try to keep your pet’s routines as normal as possible. Dogs may benefit from extra walks––just like Maple in today’s story!

I received a copy of Lone Wolf from Greenwillow Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Lone Wolf

By Sarah Kurpiel

 

Maple, a Siberian husky, loved living with the Parkers. He loved playing tug-of-war with Jax, reading with Avery, extra treats from Mom, and especially long walks with everyone. “But on her walks, people would say… ‘Dude, that dog looks like a wolf.’” Some little kids clung to their mom’s leg when they saw her, some older people asked if maybe she wasn’t just a little bit wolf, and even babies shouted “‘WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!’”

The Parkers tried to explain the differences between Maple and a wolf, but eventually, “even Maple had her doubts.” After all, when she compared herself to other dogs, she saw that so many had floppy ears or lots of fluff or handsome spots. She wasn’t like them at all. Plus, she was good at digging, howling, and hunting just like a wolf.

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Copyright Sarah Kurpiel, 2020, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

She began to think that she belonged in the wild, and one day when the gate was left open, she bounded out into the woods. But here the ground was hard, not soft like the Parker’s garden; squirrels were faster and harder to catch than Avery’s shoes; and sticks were pretty boring without Jax. Being a wolf was not as much fun as it seemed. As nighttime came and the sky darkened, Maple decided to head home.

On the way, she saw a flashlight and behind it familiar faces. Someone was looking for her. It was the Parkers—her pack! Now when people call Maple a wolf, she doesn’t have doubts. She knows just who she is and exactly where she belongs.

Sarah Kurpiel’s multilayered story about a husky who is often mistaken for a wolf will delight dog and pet lovers as it gently introduces the ideas of identity, self-doubt, and self-discovery. Her charming storytelling provides an excellent opportunity for adults and kids to discuss these important topics of individual growth with the backdrop of a supportive family. Children, familiar with being peppered by questions about what they’re doing and who they want to be (as opposed to who they are) as well as by comparisons to others, will relate to Maple. Maple’s exploration of what she considers her wolf-like abilities is humorous and models a positive self-analysis that is honest and non-judgmental while also embracing one’s unique qualities.

Kurpiel’s lovely color palette and rounded shapes are fresh and welcoming while her use of directional lines allows readers to dash along with Maple from one enchanting detail to another. Her use of various perspectives puts kids in Maple’s point of view while providing depth to this enthusiastic pup’s experience. Maple is adorable, and his wondering nature is clearly visible in his expressive face. Kurpiel’s images of family love begin on the copyright page with sweet framed family pictures, many of which include Maple. Avery, who is shown using a power wheelchair, is a welcome portrayal of a child with a disability. The final snapshot of the Parker family and Maple snuggling together is heartwarming and reminds readers that individual attributes are what make each person so special.

Touching and uplifting, Lone Wolf will charm children and adults anew with every reading. The book would make a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062943828

Discover more about Sarah Kurpiel and her art on her website.

You can download a Lone Wolf Activity Kit from HarperCollins here.

Meet Sarah Kurpiel

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Sarah Kurpiel is a librarian and artist inspired by nature and animals. She grew up in the Midwest with a Siberian husky named Mikayla. Consequently, most of her childhood was spent removing dog fur from her clothes. Lone Wolf is her first book. Sarah Kurpiel lives with her family (which includes her wonderfully goofy dog, Roxie) in Downers Grove, Illinois.

I was really excited to have a chance to talk with Sarah Kurpiel about her debut picture book, how it came to be, her illustration work, and more! Jack and Steve, who are also dog lovers, are back with lots of questions for Sarah too.

After reading––and loving––Lone Wolf, they wondered:

Do you have a dog?

Yes! My family has a dog named Roxie. We adopted her from a local animal shelter. We think she’s part Border Collie and part Retriever. She loves herding us around and rolling in the grass.

We have a miniature poodle. What breed of dog is your favorite?

Miniature Poodles are adorable! My favorite breed of dog is giant by comparison: the Borzoi. Borzois look a bit like extra-large, extra-furry greyhounds.

 Have you ever seen or heard a wolf?

I’ve never seen or heard a wolf in the wild, but I have seen Mexican Gray Wolves in a zoo. The Mexican Gray Wolf is one of the most endangered wolf subspecies in the world. Thankfully, there are recovery programs working to change that.

We’ve been taking our dog on lots of walks (just like the Parker family!) during this quarantine. What have you’ve been doing to keep busy?

I’ve been hanging out with my family and our pets, reading, catching up on Star Trek, and drawing lots and lots of cats for my next picture book.

Hi Sarah! Jack and Steve had so many terrific questions! Maple, the star of Lone Wolf, really connects with readers on so many levels. Through your story you introduce a wonderful way for kids and adults to talk about identity and belonging. This issue is really important, especially as children are developing their self-confidence and self-esteem. What was the spark for this story? What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The main character in Lone Wolf, Maple, is inspired by my childhood dog, Mikayla, a Siberian husky who had loads of personality. As anyone with a husky would probably attest, huskies often get compared to wolves. My dog was no exception. When translating this idea into a picture book, I asked myself, “What would a dog think about people comparing her to a wolf again and again?” I found I could relate to her feelings of self-doubt, as I think many people can. Lone Wolf is a cute, funny story, but like you mentioned, identity and belonging are at its heart. I hope readers will take away self-confidence to stay true to themselves despite assumptions others might make about them.

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celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lone-wolf-Mikayla

Lone Wolf is your debut picture book. Can you take readers on the book’s journey from idea to being published? Have you always wanted to illustrate and write children’s books?

When I was a kid, I loved to draw, but I don’t remember dreaming about becoming an illustrator. I don’t think I even knew it was a job! Throughout my life, drawing has always been a relaxing hobby. Years ago, I made a few comic strips about my family’s husky just for fun. Then, in 2018, while brainstorming picture book ideas, I reflected back on those comic strips. The one about wolf comparisons had potential for layers, but it wasn’t a story. So, over the course of a few weeks, I built out the idea, created a dummy, and sent it off to the agents who were considering representing me (and who later became my co-agents).

They sent me a few rounds of feedback, which pushed me to develop the story further. The point-of-view moved from first-person to third-person and the story arc evolved. I revised on and off for about three months. Then the story went out on submission, and I (very happily!) accepted Greenwillow’s publication offer. In the weeks that followed, I revised the dummy based on the editor’s helpful feedback before getting the go-ahead to start the final art. I learned a lot during this process that I expect will help me navigate future projects.

Just as you do, the little girl in this story uses a wheelchair. Can you discuss what it means to disabled children to see themselves in the books they read? Can you discuss the impact that having disabled characters in books for all ages has on society as a whole?

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I’m glad you noticed this connection! When I was 11, I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, and by 18, I had transitioned to a power wheelchair. The character Avery in Lone Wolf also uses a power wheelchair. She isn’t the main character. She’s just a girl who’s part of a family that has an awesome dog. Her presence is only notable because we don’t usually see kids in power wheelchairs in picture books. In fact, I can’t think of a single fiction picture book that includes a kid who uses a power wheelchair. I’m not saying there aren’t any out there, but if there are, I haven’t come across them yet. Kids who use manual wheelchairs are represented more often, but they’re still few and far between. And despite good intentions, some representations of disability are problematic. I think it’s important for kids with mobility disabilities to see themselves in happy stories where they are neither problems to solve nor sources of inspiration. For society as a whole, it helps normalize disability.

I love your illustration style that often mixes lovely rounded shapes with equally lovely lines, as a self-taught illustrator how did you develop your style?

I learned to draw when I was younger by sketching everything around me and from books I checked out from my public library. In 2016, I started drawing digitally. It opened up so many new possibilities. I started drawing every day, following illustrators on Instagram, thinking consciously about what made me like one illustrator’s work more than another, and taking part in a few fun, informal art challenges on Instagram. In 2017, one such challenge (a Harry Potter 20th Anniversary challenge, to be precise!) led me to draw a hippogriff. I tried some digital brushes I hadn’t used before and very desaturated colors. In that moment, I had never liked something I drew as much as that simple, imperfect hippogriff. It felt right. So I continued in that direction, drawing animals using digital dry media brushes, desaturated colors, flowy shapes, weathered edges, and sketchy, wobbly lines until, after a while, it was my style—and still is, at least for now!

As I looked at the portfolio of your art, I was moved by how uplifting the scenes are. In so many of them, the animals are looking into the sky or tenderly interacting with another animal or a person. Can you talk a little about the themes of your art and the colors you choose? What about nature inspires you the most?

It’s true! I love drawing animals looking up at the sky. It’s my go-to subject these days! Like many people, I’m drawn to the vastness of nature: the night sky, the ocean, mountains, wide open fields. A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and was not prepared for how awe-inspiring it was. The vastness of nature stirs up all kinds of emotions and memories, and also a sense of interconnectedness. I like placing people and animals in those environments. For those drawings, I tend to use quiet, desaturated colors, which I’m naturally drawn to. But there’s this other side to me that’s enamored with cute, funny, whimsical characters. Lately, I’ve been trying to use vibrant colors when I draw them. So I feel like there’s these two separate sides to my work. I like both, so do both.

When you’re not drawing or writing, you can also be found working as a librarian. What are your favorite parts of your job? How exciting will it be to see your own book on the shelf and share it with patrons?

I’m an academic librarian focused in digital services, so what I enjoy most is simplifying processes and improving access (which might sound pretty dull!). My first library job was a cataloger, so I was weirdly excited to see Lone Wolf’s Library of Congress MARC record and my Cutter number at the end of the call number for the first time. It’ll be gratifying to see my book on library shelves one day when the pandemic subsides. I’ll probably pull out my phone and snap a picture!

What are you most looking forward to in sharing your book with readers? Although you’re just getting started, what has been the best part of becoming a published children’s author?

I’d love to show kids how to draw the main character, Maple, themselves. When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher demonstrated on the chalkboard a simple way to draw a face. I still remember exactly how she did it. After that, I became obsessed with drawing stylized faces and that never really went away for me. I’d love to spark a little creativity like my teacher did for me.

So far, the best part of becoming a published author/illustrator is feeling empowered to talk more openly about my interests. Few people outside of my immediate family knew I draw. It’s also been wonderful to make connections with people I never would have met otherwise.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book will be about another popular pet: cats! I’m busily working on the final art right now.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing so much about your life and work! I wish you all the best with Lone Wolf and can’t wait to see your next book.

You can connect with Sarah Kurpiel on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

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You can find Lone Wolf at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Anderson’s Bookshop (Sarah’s local indie) | Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 12 – It’s Gifts from the Garden Month

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About the Holiday

If you’re into gardening then you know what a joy it is to harvest your vegetables and fruit or cut a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But gardens provide so many more gifts than these. Digging the dirt, planting the seeds, and even keeping the weeds at bay can be a mindful, relaxing experience as well as good exercise. Watching plants sprout and grow gives an appreciation for the wonder of nature. And a garden beautifies the view whether it’s a large plot or a window box. So, celebrate this month by enjoying all the gifts of your garden.

I received a copy of Badger’s Perfect Garden from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Badger’s Perfect Garden

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

On a spring morning, Red Squirrel watched as Badger brought out all of his jars of the seeds he had collected and kept safe all winter. He was planning on planting a perfect garden. Red Squirrel noticed that all the seeds looked different. Badger explained that they were “‘all kinds. Green and brown. Flat and round, Bumpy and smooth. Whirly-curly and straight as my whiskers.’”

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Red Squirrel wanted to help plant them. As Badger carefully studied his garden plan, Weasel showed up with his rake and Dormouse gathered string. Everyone helped Badger weed and rake his garden plot until it was smooth. Then they set up stakes on each side and ran string between them to make perfect rows. After that Weasel poked holes in the dirt for the seeds. Badger directed where each seed should go so that each type stayed together. That evening the friends had a party with muffins and mulberry juice, and Badger “imagined the plants that would grow in perfect rows in his perfect garden.”

The next morning, just in time, it began to rain. But the next day the rain turned heavy, and the day after that it became a deluge. Badger ran out into the storm to try to save his garden, but the strings collapsed and the soil washed away. Badger sniffled as he thought of his ruined garden. His friends tried to cheer him up by telling him they’d help gather new seeds in the summer, but Badger despaired of not having his perfect garden this year.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To ward off the sadness, Badger kept busy reading, cleaning, exercising, and sleeping. One summer day, he heard a knock on his door. It was Red Squirrel, Weasel, and Dormouse. They grabbed Badger’s hand and pulled him outside to a glorious field of wildflowers. Badger gazed at it in wonder. “‘Those can’t be my seeds,’ said Badger, rubbing his eyes. They’re all mixed up.’” But they were! The wild garden  was a “jumble-tumble of shapes and sizes. They made him feel jumbly and tumbly, too.” Badger thought it was “the most perfect garden of all,” and the friends raced into it for a perfect summer celebration.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Marsha Diane Arnold fills Badger’s Perfect Garden with sprightly, lyrical language that makes the story a delight to read. Little gardeners will relish the descriptions of Badger’s seeds and enjoy the precision of planting day. As the rains come, kids will empathize with Badger’s disappointment, knowing how it feels when plans don’t work out quite right. But the riotous results will spark their own happy, “jumbly-tumbly” excitement for Badger, his friends, and even their own endeavors. in the beauty of the wild, carefree, mixed-up garden can see the joy that can be found in new experiences outside one’s comfort zone.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s charming illustrations are a perfect mix of the whimsical and the realistic and will captivate readers. With soft colors and flowing textures, Kaulitzki depicts early spring with its light green grasses and mellow, cloud-filled skies. When stormy days come, the sky turns purple and rain whips through Badger’s garden, leaving things topsy-turvy and Badger’s plans uprooted. Late summer brings a series of show-stopping two-page spreads, where flowers of all kinds and colors mix with vegetable plants to attract bees and butterflies and, of course, provide the perfect spot for a summer party.

Beautiful through and through, Badger’s Perfect Garden plants the seeds of gentle encouragement, heartening friendship, and cheerful celebration. The book would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110007

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Q & A with Marsha Diane Arnold

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Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical,” “inspiring,” and “uplifting.” Marsha was raised on a Kansas farm, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, a place Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. Nothing makes her happier than standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies, listening to cardinals sing.

I’m so glad to be chatting with you, Marsha, about her newest book, Badger’s Perfect Garden! This story seems to have a close personal connection for you. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to write this book?

Having a father who was a farmer and gardener and a mother who was a perfectionist, must have had something to do with it! I grew up surrounded by nature, animals, and gardens. Growing up with so many animals around me, I talked with them all the time and I felt they talked back, so anthropomorphism comes easily to me. Illustrations of animal characters are so often enchanting, drawing young children into a book. They can create a strong emotional connection for children to learn from and remember.

Can you tell me more about what it was like growing up on a farm? What kind of farming did your family do?

My father was most proud of being a dairy farmer, but he, his father before him, and his five brothers also grew wheat and corn. I often stayed with my grandmother during the day; I loved being on the farm. Grandmother had to feed 8 children, Grandpa Henry, and herself, so she had a huge vegetable garden and did home canning. But her heart was with her flower gardens. There was spirea, yards and yards of bearded iris, a line of lilacs from the house to the outhouse, petunias, Bachelor buttons, hollyhocks, and more. Badger and Grandmother would have been fast friends.

As a child, what was your favorite part of farming or the farm? What do you appreciate more now as an adult?

I most loved being around the farm animals, although I was a bit frightened of those protective hens when I had to collect the eggs, and I enjoyed helping my father with the calves. One of our neighbors had a pet raccoon that I have fond memories of “hanging out” with, often in my friend’s tree house. (Remember, it was a long time ago and there were no wild animal rehabilitation centers near us.)

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Marsha having fun with her dog.

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Marsha hanging out with a calf on her family’s farm.

I think I always appreciated the freedom of big spaces and gardens to play in and trees and barns (don’t tell) to climb on, but now I realize even more how very lucky I was.

Have you continued the family farming tradition?

I had a spectacular garden in Sonoma County, California. Mostly I grew flowers and a small plot of fruit trees. My favorite part of creating the gardens was designing them, using the land as my canvas. I collected over 50 heirloom roses, selecting plants for their fragrance and color. I loved the stories that came with them, like, “This one was collected from an old farm house in Windsor.” I had over 30 sweet pea varieties. There’s nothing better than a home filled with the fragrance of sweet peas. Most of my fruits were “antique” varieties. There was a Spitzenburg, reputed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, and a Calville Blanc, traced back to 1598 France. The fruit from my trees was unique and absolutely delicious. The stories behind them were delicious too.

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Roses from Marsha’s flower garden.

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A beautiful bouquet of sweet peas.

How have your experiences with nature influenced your writing for children?

When a child grows up surrounded by nature, he or she grows to understand it and respect it. I learned to see the small things in nature, like my father before me. His neighbors said he knew the name of every wildflower or “weed” in the county. When you pay attention to something in that way, you come to love it and it becomes part of you. So, nature is what I write about, from my first book Heart of a Tiger, about a small kitten who had a dream to give himself a name like that of the Magnificent Bengal Tiger, to Galápagos Girl, about the unique animals of the Galápagos Islands, to the jumble tumble beauty of Badger’s Perfect Garden.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What is your favorite wildflower and why?

Wild rose! At our California home, there was a wild rose growing in our gully. Every spring I would walk down the hill to see if it was still blooming. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked carefully for it each year, telling myself that if it was still in bloom, in the shade of our oak forest, alone and straggly, I would still be well. I’m sure it’s blooming still.

Thank you for sharing so much about your passion for nature and what joy living fully within it can bring. I wish you all the best with Badger’s Perfect Garden and all of your wonderful books!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Spring Equinox Activity

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Plant a Flower Garden Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully blossom first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden or garden rows with flowers. Depending on the ages of the players, the game can be adjusted to fill all of the rows, some or all rows, or just one.           

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one or more sets of Flower Playing Cards for each player, depending on how  (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Cut the flowers into their individual playing cards
  4. Print one Flower Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the flower rolled in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” flowers until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with flowers or one row has been filled with all six flowers.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their flowers wins!

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You can find Badger’s Perfect Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Sleeping Bear Press

Support your local independent bookstore with these book sellers

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

 

May 11 – National Eat What You Want Day

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About the Holiday

Feel like your diet is out the window what with staying home or ordering take out? Has good nutrition taken a hit because ingredients are at a premium? Don’t stress! Today’s holiday gives you permission to eat that doughnut or cupcake or pizza or whatever you want without feeling guilty. Besides, sometimes indulging a little jumpstarts your metabolism and provides motivation for the long haul. Lately, I’ve been craving French fries, so in honor of that, I’m celebrating two best spuds that are fry-tfully good sports.

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

 

Spud City was about to hold its annual festival, and everyone was excited. Chip was practicing for the sack race. This year “he was determined to win the first-place prize: a Golden Bushel Award.” But a new spud in town—Curly—had a “spring in his step” and seemed to be real competition. Even though the other potatoes cheered him on, Chip was nervous.

On the day of the festival, the race route was lined with spectators. The couch potatoes lounged near the path while “the French Fries stood with their Tater Tots.” Even the sweet potato cheerleaders were waving pompoms and shouting. Just before the race began, Curly took a place next to Chip at the starting line.

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Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the whistle blew, Chip took off. He was in the lead until he heard someone behind him. “‘Look out!’ the BBQ Chips shouted. ‘Here comes a hot potato!’” Chip raced on, but then Curly bounced in front of him and even though Chip gave it his all, he couldn’t catch up. A moment later, though, Curly tripped and fell, leaving the path—and the race—wide open for Chip.

Chip hopped past Curly and was in clear sight of the finish line when he realized “he felt rotten.” He glanced back and “hashed it over in his mind.” He decided the only right thing to do was to go back. He offered Curly a hand up, and together they bounded down the route and past the other racers. But Curly was too quick for Chip, and he broke through the tape first. “In an instant, Chip’s dreams of winning were mashed.” 

Chip was just about to leave when Curly asked him to be his partner in the relay race. Curly thought they made a great team. They practiced until they found their groove. Everything was looking good until a new team showed up….

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Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kids will devour Cathy Breisacher’s pun-filled romp that takes them to Spud City’s annual festival, where Chip and Curly face off to win a Golden Bushel Award in the sack race. While Chip pulls out to an early lead, Curly bounces back and threatens Chip’s years-long dream to win. A misstep by Curly gives Chip the opportunity to achieve his goal, but in his decision, Breisacher shows readers true sportsmanship and integrity. Curly also displays the qualities of a gracious winner, and as the two work together to perfect their relay skills, a friendship sprouts. The final scene offers a funny “oh, no!” moment while also reminding readers that winning can be fleeting, but friendship and staying true to oneself endure.

Joshua Heinsz populates Spud City with a wide array of taters—from tots to waffle fries, sweet potatoes to twice-bakeds, French fries to home fries, and more. Heinsz adds plenty of visual humor to the mix with clever street sign and shop names, and the couch potatoes are, ingeniously, those impossible-to-peel curved ones that lurk in many a 5-pound bag. Kids will love picking out their favorite kind of potato, and the expressive spuds will have readers captivated from the very first page.

For rollicking story times that also offer opportunities to discuss the nature of competition and friendship, Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race is one to add to your home, classroom, or library shelf.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364084

Learn more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

To learn more about Joshua Heinsz, his books, and his art on his website.

A Chat with Cathy Breisacher

011CB

It’s so great to be talking with you again! This must be a really exciting—and busy!—time for you, so I’m thrilled to have you stop by!

You’ve mentioned that the inspiration for this story was a local potato festival. Can you describe that event a bit and tell what sparked the idea for Chip and Curly?

Every year, on the last Saturday in September, a town not far from where I live holds a Potato Fest.  The county where it is located is the second-largest supplier of potatoes in the state. People come from all around and a good portion of the downtown area is closed off for the event. There are tons and tons of vendors selling a variety of crafts, and the food vendors whip up all kinds of potato treats: sweet potato fries, potato candy, baked potatoes, pierogi, potato soup, French fries, potato bread, etc. There is live music as well as games for the kids. I love the fall season, and this is a great kick-off to the fall. I try to attend every year. So, in 2016 when I wrote this story, I thought about the potato festival and all of the kinds of potatoes that are sold at the event.  The names CHIP AND CURLY came to me and the idea for the story just flowed from there.

Of course, I have to ask—what’s your favorite kind of potato? Do you have a favorite recipe? Would you like to share it?

 I love twice baked potatoes. They are probably my favorite. But, there really isn’t a potato I don’t like. I also love perogies and sweet potato fries. Oh my goodness…it’s hard to choose just one. 

I’ll share a recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown potatoes that are gobbled up at many family events. They are so easy to make.

CHEESY HASH BROWN POTATOES

26 oz. Bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (thawed)
2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
16 ounces sour cream
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 ½ sticks butter
3 cups Crushed corn flakes
1 teaspoon garlic salt and pepper to taste

Thaw the hash browns.  Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with the hash browns.  Pour into 9 x13 pan.  Mix the sour cream, soup and cheese in a bowl. Spread over the potatoes. Melt ½ stick of butter and mix it with the crushed corn flakes.  Sprinkle over the potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Being competitive can take so many forms. Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what way?

Yes, I’m definitely competitive. I always want to put 110% into things that I do. If there is a challenge of some sort, I am in it to win it. J In the past couple of years, I’ve been intrigued with Escape Rooms and trying to solve all of the clues before the time runs out. Recently, I heard of an Escape Room that no one has “broke out of” yet.  I want to be the first! J

Chip and Curly is loaded with puns and really clever word play! The story must have been a blast, but also challenging to write. Can you talk a little about how you put it all together?

Chip and Curly was definitely a fun story to write. I just pulled out my first version of this story, and it has so few puns in it. I didn’t initially write this story to be punny.  But, as I was doing my first set of revisions, a pun popped in my head.  More puns came to me as I continued to revise. It wasn’t long before I knew this had to be a story that centered on potato puns. I scoured the Internet to find words associated with potatoes. I must have looked at every list that exists online. The tricky part was to include those words and phrases that fit nicely with the story. I didn’t want to include something just to include it if the word or phrase really didn’t flow with the storyline. My amazing editor, Sarah Rockett, had excellent suggestions for tweaking the story a bit more after she acquired it. And I was delighted with the fun, playful, colorful art provided by the illustrator, Joshua Heinsz.

After practicing for a year to win a Golden Bushel Award for the sack race, Chip makes a surprising decision part way through the race. What would you like kids to take away from the story?

This is the crucial part of the story. I want kids to know that competing can be a lot of fun. And it can feel good to win at something, too. However, practicing good sportsmanship is important and helps build character. When we show respect toward our opponents, we can still have fun and compete, but it helps us to keep our focus on what’s most important—treating one another the way we want to be treated.

Since CaveKid Birthday was released in March, what’s been the best part of being a published author? The most surprising? As a librarian, how does it feel to see your own book on your library’s shelf?

Gosh, there is so much I am enjoying about being a published author. I love meeting new people (kids and adults) at book events and talking with them about stories. It has also been a treat to see friends and family who I haven’t seen for a while. Being a school librarian, I get an extra treat when kids ask to check out my book. That has truly meant the world to me. When my students tell me they love my books, my heart just completely melts.

During our first interview for CaveKid Birthday how did I miss that you’re from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania? Does the town live up to its celebratory name? Do you have a favorite town celebration or spot to write or visit?

Hmmm…very good question. The town where I live is a true community. People really get behind and support the schools, sports teams, agencies, fundraising events, etc. So I guess you can say that the people who live in Hollidaysburg celebrate one another’s aspirations and accomplishments. I am proud to live in this town. I do have a few favorite spots that I like to visit. There are a couple of parks that are so beautiful and serene. They are a great place to spend timejyeither alone or with family and friends. As for a favorite town celebration, I would have to say the Winterfest Light-Up Night that is held at the end of November each year. There are festivities in the downtown area and everything is decorated for Christmas. Local restaurants hold soup samplings and people vote on their favorite. Santa arrives and a giant tree is lit up that evening. There are ice carvings, too. It’s such a fun night and everyone is in the holiday spirit.

Thanks, Cathy! I can’t wait to try those delish-sounding potatoes! I know you’ll have lots of fun with Chip and Curly, and I wish you all the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Cathy Breisacher on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Eat What You Want Day Activity

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Appealing Potatoes Game

 

If you love potatoes, you can never get enough! Race to fill your plate with all six kinds of potatoes in this fun game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a game board and set of game cards for each player.
  2. Choose a player to go first.
  3. Taking turns, each player rolls the paper die and places a game card matching the rolled potato to their plate
  4. Or: If using a regular playing die, use the corresponding number and kind of potato listed below
  5. The first player to add all six kinds of potatoes to their plate is the winner.

Corresponding Numbers and Potatoes:

  1. Mashed Potatoes
  2. French Fries
  3. Potato Chips
  4. Baked Potato
  5. Twice-baked Potato
  6. Sweet Potato Fries

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You can find Chip and Curly, the Great Potato Race at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 1 – May Day and Interview with Author Denise Brennan-Nelson

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About the Holiday

May Day has for centuries celebrated the coming of spring. In ancient calendars May 1 heralded the first day of summer. Often celebrated with flowers and dancing, May Day has ushered in many traditions, such as dancing around a Maypole and May Day baskets, which are cone-shaped baskets filled with flowers. A May Day basket is usually given in secret as the giver hangs it on a friend’s doorknob and then rings the doorbell and runs away. (Which sounds like a perfect way to celebrate the holiday in these days of social distancing.) Whether nature is blooming in full or just starting to bud where you live, May Day offers the promise of brighter days ahead. Today’s book—and its adorable character Mae—shows us how to celebrate that feeling every day.

I received a copy of Mae the Mayfly from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Mae the Mayfly

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Florence Weiser

 

“Near the bank of the river one warm spring day / a new life began, and her name was Mae.” Before her mama said goodbye, she hugged her daughter and told her that she had her “whole life—a day, perhaps more” to explore her world. As Mae flitted along the river, a large, hungry trout waited for just the right moment to lure her in. It smiled deceitfully and beckoned to her, and, even though her inner voice told her not to, Mae flew down closer to take a look.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That’s when the trout leapt from the water to snatch Mae from the air. But she darted and dodged and got away. Shaking with fear, Mae found a hole in a hollow tree and flew in. “I’ll stay here forever! I’m not coming out!” she told herself.  But once her heart stopped beating so loud, she heard a happy tweet and peeked out of the tree. She saw a mother robin feeding her chicks and a spider web glittered in the sun. “The mist on the river was a fine, pink cloak. / A bullfrog bellowed his morning croak.” 

Mae remembered what her Mama had said and “launched herself from the dark, hollow place.” She followed the river, where she saw flowers and birds, a deer and a bear and one “stubby toad.” Then, she came to a clearing where she found “a singing, dancing jamboree… a wild mayfly jubilee! / Joining in, Mae danced with glee!”

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As morning turned to afternoon, Mae was floating on the breeze when she heard a call for help. She went in search of who it was and found Trout lying motionless and barely breathing. Fearful that he might leap at her again, she carefully went closer to inspect. “But Trout was weak, no flip or flail. / Tangled line had caught his tail.” Then Mae noticed something else—his shimmering “rainbow stripes in every hue, silver, pink, and shades of blue.” And in his eyes she saw his fear and realized that she and Trout were alike.

Mae went to work to try to free him. The knot was tight, but Mae worked patiently until the line slipped free and Trout swam away with the current. Mae hoped that he would be okay. Just then she saw a flash as Trout returned and with a flip of his tail said, “Thank you.” As nighttime settled over the river and the moon rose high, Mae settled on a cattail leaf. She listened to the bullfrogs and watched the fireflies glow. “The stars came out early for  sweet, little Mae. / She counted each one… then called it a day.”

Back matter includes a message about mindfulness, an exercise to try and facts about mayflies.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soaring and uplifting, Denise Brennan-Nelson’s unique story reminds children and adults alike to live each day to the fullest and reveals where the treasures that make life so fulfilling can be found. The short lifespan of a mayfly gives Brennan-Nelson a perfect canvas for compressing the lessons of a lifetime into one day, and her superlative storytelling incorporates parental love, fear, appreciation for our surroundings, courage, selflessness, and friendship. Her language is triumphant, carried breezily on rhyming couplets that are a joy to read aloud. The pitch-perfect ending may bring a tear to the eye but spur readers to find the beauty in every day.

Through Florence Weiser’s lovely textured illustrations, readers can almost feel the breeze ruffling the tall grasses, the spray of river water, and the warmth of the sun as they follow Mae on her adventure. Mae is a cutie with lacy wings and a sweet, expressive face. A powerful image of empathy comes in a close-up, two-page spread in which Mae, looking into Trout’s frightened eye, sees her own reflection. Whereas up to now Mae has been an observer of life, she now becomes an active participant by helping a fellow creature. Working in perfect tandem with Brennan-Nelson’s text, Weiser’s pages take readers on a journey of growth and discovery they’ll take to heart. Calming shades of green dotted with subtle pinks, purples blues, and browns reflect Mae’s mindful approach to life, making this a delightful book to share for quiet story times.

Beautiful and resonant, Mae the Mayfly is highly recommended and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110519

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Florence Weiser, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Denise Brennan-Nelson

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Denise Brennan-Nelson has written a number of books for children, including Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes, Leopold the Lion, Someday Is Not a Day of the Week, My Momma Likes to Say, Santa’s Secret, and the popular Willow series. As a national speaker, Denise encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She travels the country, sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob. She strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be talking with Denise Brennan-Nelson about her inspiring story, her journey in writing it, and how we can all appreciate the life around us. My blog partner Jakki’s sons, Jack and Steve, also loves Mae the Mayfly and had a few questions of their own. 

Jack wonders: What inspired you to write about a mayfly? 

The inspiration to write about a mayfly came when I discovered that they live, on an average, only one day. I started digging and discovered that while mayflies have many interesting qualities, it was their life cycle that reeled me in and set the basis for the story: a mayfly begins as an egg, then hatches into a nymph. It then lives as a nymph for one to three years before emerging from the water as an adult. Once they have molted––the only insect known to molt twice!––they only have about a day to live. ONE DAY? How do you live your entire life in ONE day? Where would you go? What would you do? I had so many questions. And so, the journey began!

Steve would like to know: Where is your favorite place to go and enjoy nature?

Our backyard has many trees and a few paths to meander on. One of those paths leads to a playhouse that my husband built years ago for our children, Rebecca and Rachel. I love to sit on the steps and take it all in––especially the forever-changing trees and the way the light filters through them. It’s quiet and I watch the birds and the chipmunks, squirrels, and occasionally deer show up. It’s far enough away from our house that I can forget about my “to-do” list and relax.

There are also a couple of parks nearby that have trails and lakes and offer a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Jack and Steve asked if you spent a lot of time at a pond while creating the story.

No, I didn’t spend a lot of time at a pond, but I did a lot of research to help me visualize the setting.

In early drafts, I pictured Mae’s life beginning on a pond but as the story emerged it turned into a river. Unlike a pond, a river “flows.” It seemed to fit with the ebb and flow of Mae’s life.

The river became integral to the story; Mae’s life began there, she experiences a harrowing ordeal with Trout, which causes her to flee the river out of fear, but ultimately, Mae returns “home” to the river and completes her life. (This was in keeping with a mayfly’s lifecycle.)  

Hi Denise! I love your answers to Jack and Steve’s questions! What an amazing character a mayfly makes. You’ve published many, many books for kids. What inspired you to become a children’s writer? What’s the best part about your job?

I had been happily writing for myself – journals and poetry mostly – when inspiration came knocking at my door in the form of a documented study about bumblebees. According to scientists, bumblebees are not “equipped” to fly. Aeronautically, their wings are too small for their bodies. Upon hearing that, I was compelled to write what was in my head and my heart. I wanted to answer the questions I had: What would happen if bumblebees found out about their small wings? Would fear and doubt stop them from doing what they love to do? Once it was written, I felt I had written something that I wanted to share with others. Four years and many rejection letters later, my first book, Buzzy the Bumblebee was published.

The best part about my job is creating something – taking an idea and turning it into something new that entertains and inspires children and adults. I also love the freedom to work when and where I want to, often in my pajamas in the wee hours of the morning.

Mae the Mayfly is a gorgeous, poignant reminder for both kids and adults to look around and appreciate the beauty all around us. Not only the mayfly, but all of the sights that Mae sees are ephemeral parts of nature. How did you choose each of these?

I felt they had to be simple, yet remarkable acts of nature that would draw Mae out from the hollow of a tree. You know that awe-inspiring feeling you get when you discover a bird’s nest or a spider’s web? That was the basis for the sights and sounds Mae encountered.

I also drew from a trip to Yellowstone where the vivid images of rivers, flowers, bear cubs, and other magnificent acts of nature are forever embedded in my mind.

The rhymes of Mae the Mayfly are as light as she is, and your rhythm is as jaunty as a mayfly’s flight. Could you describe your journey in writing this story?

After learning of a mayfly’s short lifespan, the mulling-over period ensued. A lot of thinking and dialogue in my head takes place before taking pen to paper. Often, I share my initial thoughts with family and friends which helps the pieces come together.

I did more research, too. I watched a video showing how some mayfly nymphs resist the pull to come to the surface when it is time to shed their outer covering and expose their wings. After spending years at the bottom of the dark river, why would they resist? I wondered. Why would they want to stay at the bottom of the river when they could break through the surface into the light, and fly––if only for a day?

Ah, fear.

It was starting to come together – I would write about a mayfly and how beautiful and meaningful one day could be, if she can overcome her fears.

Initially, the story was written in prose and then I wrote it in verse. At one point, I even wrote a funny version for my kids about Mae being stubborn and not listening to her mama. That version didn’t end well for Mae, because, well, she didn’t listen to her mama! My kids got a kick out of it.

Before she was Mae, she was Martha. From Martha to Marvin. Then I changed it to May. And then May became Mae.

My first submission was declined. So, I gave it a rest. The idea was there but I needed to start over. I believed in this story with my whole being and I wasn’t giving up. In June 2018, I resubmitted it and in August I learned that Sleeping Bear Press wanted to move forward with it. I signed the contract in September and it was released in March of 2020 amid a pandemic. It wasn’t the launch I envisioned, but the story is about appreciating the simple things and living life to the fullest. It is also about empathy, fear, and gratitude. Perhaps the timing was just right.

Florence Weiser’s illustrations are adorable while truly highlighting the beauty of what Mae sees. Do you have a favorite spread? Why do you love it?

I love the cover and the end sheets, and the illustration of Mama saying good-bye to Mae tugs at my heart. But my favorite is the spread where Mae encounters Trout tangled in fishing line and Mae sees herself – literally and figuratively – in Trout’s eyes. Mae is confronted with a difficult decision between fear, or courage and compassion. This was a pivotal part of the story and Florence did a remarkable job capturing the emotion of both Mae and Trout.

You encourage people to be aware of and open to inspiration and those small moments in life that make them the best version of themselves they can be. How can kids and adults practice this kind of mindfulness while at home during this time of self-isolating and social distancing?

In a robust and enthusiastic voice my dad often proclaims, “This is living!” He says it with such conviction that you might think he won the lottery. On the contrary, he says it to express his delight over life’s simple/small pleasures; a sunset, eating a fresh-picked tomato from the vine, watching the birds, the daffodils sprouting, a delectable meal, a rainstorm . . .

I am by no means an expert on mindfulness, but I have learned a few things that help me enjoy life a little bit more:

  • Be aware/pay attention – the list of things to delight over is endless when we notice what is going on around us
  • Make room for quiet time and stillness every day
  • Focus on one thing at a time and do it with intention and purpose
  • Write down 3-5 things daily that you are grateful for. Do it as a family with a “family journal” or get a notebook for every member and make it a nightly ritual

Lately I’ve been asking people, “What do you like most about the shelter-in-place order that we are being asked to follow?” Over and over, I’ve heard, “It feels good to slow down . . . less hectic . . .” I hope we emerge from this unique experience with the realization that life is not a race, it’s a gift.

What’s up next for you?

My publisher is currently reviewing two stories that I have submitted. Fingers crossed that they accept both of them!

What inspires you each time you start a new story?

When I have an idea that interests me I feel invigorated and purposeful. What can I do with it? Where will it take me? What can I learn from it?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its only little lighthouse.”

Each time I begin a story I am hopeful that what I write “will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”

Thanks so much, Denise! This has been such a wonderful talk! I wish you all the best with Mae, the Mayfly and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

You can connect with Denise Brennan-Nelson on 

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

May Day Activity

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Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

 

Like Mae, you can calm your mind and be present in the moment as you enjoy your surroundings. Use this printable activity to get into that peaceful state of mind. Just look at the picture inside the star and follow the breathing directions as you trace each arm. You can download it from the Sleeping Bear Press Website under Teachers Guides here:

Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

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You can find Mae the Mayfly at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Picture Book Review

April 30 – International Jazz Day

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About the Holiday

International Jazz Day was instituted in November 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to spotlight jazz and it’s role in uniting people worldwide. The holiday is celebrated by communities, musicians, students, teachers, historians, and especially jazz enthusiasts as a way to learn about jazz, its roots, and its influence. Every year, jazz is recognized for its part in promoting a dialogue among cultures, diversity, freedom, and respect for human rights. 

While the celebration was originally planned to take place in Cape Town, South Africa and in other cities around the world, this year International Jazz Day 2020 will take place online and be hosted by Herbie Hancock. The day’s centerpiece will be a Virtual Global Concert featuring artists from across the globe, streamed live on jazzday.com. The concert will begin at 3:00 pm US eastern time. This spectacular musical event is a great opportunity to introduce kids to jazz and to enjoy the masters of the form with jazz lovers around the globe.

Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

 

As a child, Miles Davis listens to the radio before school, clapping and swaying along to “Louis Armstrong’s soaring trumpet” and “Duke Ellington’s sensational big band.” The “swinging sounds of jazz / swirl together like / colors on a pinwheel.” When he’s older, Miles watches the riverboats on the Mississippi as they bring musicians from New Orleans to play in the East St. Louis clubs. At night he listens as “melodies drift down the street. / Some croon country, / some cry the blues. / Sassy saxophones wail / through the night.”

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

During the summer, Miles visits his grandfather’s farm in Arkansas. Here, he hears the music of horses’ hooves. On his walks through town, he listens to the sounds of guitars and singing, and at church he learns the notes of “soulful singing.” For his thirteenth birthday, Miles receives a trumpet. He takes lessons and practices again and again.

While he’s still in high school, Miles begins being paid to play at dance halls. His confidence grows and he begins to develop his own sound. A new form of jazz is attracting attention—Bebop: “far-out harmonies / with fast, flipping beats / that hop and bop.” He goes to clubs to listen to Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play. He’s “blown away / by the energy of the music.”

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

Then one night, one of the band members doesn’t show up, and Miles—who always has his trumpet with him—is asked to fill the spot. In awe and a little intimidated in the presence of his idols, Miles’ playing “doesn’t shine.” But he knows that “jazz / is all he wants to play.” Miles moves to New York to go to school at Juilliard, but, really, to learn from Bird, Dizzy, and all of his idols. In the morning he goes to class, practicing between classes. At night he plays clubs throughout the city.

Soon, he leaves Juilliard to concentrate on playing and learning from the greats. His father advises him: “Don’t be like the mockingbird / that copies others. / Be your own man. / Be your own sound.” When Dizzy leaves Bird’s band, Miles takes his place. But he plays differently than Dizzy. “Some listeners put him down— / they want Dizzy’s rippling trumpet.” The criticism make Miles lose confidence and want to quit. But Bird encourages him.

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

With practice and patience, he discovers his own sound, holding and savoring perfect notes “just for the beauty of it.” He forms his own group with talented musicians who want to create new sounds. The nine musicians play “slowly and mysteriously…. Cool— / relaxed, / with a lighter, / lyrical feel.” Mile’s solos enchant audiences.

But the endless work takes its toll. He begins to lose gigs; his health declines. Miles doesn’t give up. “He climbs out / of his dark days / by playing his horn again.” Then in 1955 he takes the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival and begins to play. “…His mystical voice hangs / like a cloud, / leaving space / for each listener’s / imagination to wander.” The crowd cheers and applauds. Miles is back with his unmistakable sound and new ideas for the future of the music he loves.

Notes about Miles Davis from Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Cornell Berman, and Keith Henry Brown as well as a selected discography and bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

Kathleen Cornell Berman’s lyrical passages reveal a boy, a teenager, and a man who embodied music, listening to and absorbing the various sounds around him and incorporating them into his own, unique sound. Her evocative vocabulary (swirl, rollicking, croon, rumbling, far-out, rippling, blizzard of notes, itching to play) and phrasing that blends short staccato lines with longer sentences echoes the rhythm of jazz and will keep readers riveted to the story. Berman emphasizes the listening, practice, and experimentation that informed Miles Davis’s original sound, showing children that innovation is built on hard work, dedication, and even history. Her inclusion of Davis’s setbacks also demonstrates that perseverance is part of the success of any endeavor.

Keith Henry Brown’s gorgeous, detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations take readers from Miles Davis’s living room, where he listens to the radio as images of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington swirl through his imagination, to an overlook on the Mississippi River and its paddlewheel steam ships to the clubs and jam sessions of New York and finally, to the Newport Jazz Festival. Brown’s color palette of cool blues, greens, purples, and browns, punctuated with Davis’s ever-present gleaming brass trumpet, brings Davis’s country and city experiences to life while mirroring the tone and feel of his unique sound. Quotes from Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout the story and set apart with type that looks handwritten, giving his words a personal touch.

Sure to inspire readers to learn more about Miles Davis and listen to his music, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound would be an excellent accompaniment to school music programs, an inspiring book for biography lovers and young musicians of all types, and a beautiful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

Discover more about Kathleen Cornell Berman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Keith Henry Brown, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Kathleen Cornell Berman

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In your author’s bio you say that you fell in love with Mile’s Davis’ music when you were 10 years old. Was there a particular spark that made you love his music?

As a kid I loved all kinds of music. When I first heard Miles’ trumpet sound, I fell in love. His trumpet sound was different. It wasn’t flashy, it was slow, haunting and very beautiful. I longed to hear it again.

Can you take readers on your journey of writing Birth of the Cool and having it published? What kind of research did you do? What was the most surprising thing you learned about Miles Davis?

I was thrilled when I got the email from Charlotte Wenger from Page Street. It’s beyond exciting when you find someone who loves your story as much as you do. And Charlotte was a dream editor to work with.

I read Miles’ autobiography and many other books about him, as well as journal and magazine articles. I listened to countless interviews and researched players in his band. And I listened to his music a lot. He went through many changes in his musical career. I realized I had to keep my focus on his early career. 

I was surprised to learn he had slave ancestors who played music in the main house on a plantation. It was interesting to discover that Miles loved rural life (from his visits to his relatives’ farms). When he first moved to NYC, he visited the stables and asked to ride their horses. He had fond memories of riding them on his grandfather’s farm.

Keith Henry Brown’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and full of expression. Can you talk about your reaction to seeing the illustrations for the first time. Do you have a favorite spread?  

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Kathleen Cornell Berman and Keith Henry Brown at the book launch for Birth of the Cool and the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

My first reaction to Keith’s illustrations was like an “out of the body” experience. To see my words come to life was a wonderful feeling. His art illuminated Miles’ journey in a jazz inspired way. I was very happy when he accepted the job. I already knew he was a jazz fan, so he was a good choice.

Keith’s goal was to create drawings that weren’t too tight or realistic. He wanted to create a loose, abstract feeling. I think Keith achieved that beautifully. Kudos to his courage in creating illustrations in watercolor, a very unpredictable medium. It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite illustration, I really love them all.

Your inspirational biography highlights the ups—and downs—of Miles Davis’ early career. What message would you like readers to take away from the story?

Miles is a great example of how hard work pays off. Some kids today think it’s easy to play an instrument. For some it might be, but inventing your own sound, is extremely difficult. It takes perseverance and dedication to create your own voice on the instrument. That goes for anything you attempt, whether you become an architect, a visual artist, writer, or a singer. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t allow individuality, but finding something, anything that you’re good at can boost happiness.

I hope this story inspires kids to reach for the stars, to find their own voice, and never give up. I also hope kids will take time to listen to jazz; it’s America’s classical music. Listening to music has so many benefits, intellectually as well as emotionally.

I saw on your website that you like to collect words. Can you tell me five of your favorites and what you love about them? Do you remember where they first caught your eye—or ear?

I’m usually attracted to words that tickle the tongue and have a unique sound, like mesmerizing, prickly, crumpled, nuzzle, etc. There are so many. I love alliteration. When words are paired with another, they sing and make the text come alive. I usually have my wordbook at my side as I read any kind of book. I also use my phone memo to jot words as I hear them in daily life.  

Besides writing, you paint, and create assemblages from found objects. Your sculptures are gorgeous and fun and have so much personality! Which came first—writing or art? When creating an assemblage, do you start with one object or do you see how several of the materials you have can fit together?

Thank you very much. Creating found art sculptures is like therapy. I’ve always been into creating something out of ordinary things. The art and writing coincided with a strong desire to break out of the box of being a teacher.

I collect a lot of wood as well as words. When I find a piece that inspires me, I visualize what it might become and I begin the search for a complimentary piece. It’s kind of like doing puzzles.

Is there a similarity for you in constructing a sculpture and creating text for a picture book?

Yes, there is. I look for a seed of an idea that touches my senses or emotions. And in art I choose a piece of wood that inspires me visually. Then it all comes down to layering and adding details that make the story or art shine in a new way. Finally, adding the “just right” color or details can be compared to the continual revisions to discover perfect words that fit my story.

Birth of the Cool is your debut picture book. What are you looking forward to most as a picture book author?

Reading the book to children and getting them to reflect about their feelings. And, of course, introducing them to jazz.

I love writing picture book biographies. I also enjoy writing books that will amuse kids, as well challenge their thoughts about nature.

What’s up next for you?

I have a new picture book bio about another musician that I just started submitting. And I’ve started research on another interesting, relatively unknown musician that had a big impact on many.                                  

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love the traditions and the history. Holidays are so important in bringing busy families together. As a former teacher,             Thanksgiving gave me the opportunity to discuss the importance of the Native American people. They taught us so much. At the Thanksgiving table, we as a family celebrate the Native American contributions to our country. I wish more people did the same.

You can connect with Kathleen Cornell Berman on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Jazz Appreciation Month Activity

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Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle

 

Jazz has a sound and vocabulary all it’s own! Can you find the twenty jazz-related words in this printable puzzle? Then have fun coloring it!

Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle | Cool Jazz! Word Search Solution

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You can find Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 20 – It’s National Humor Month

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About the Holiday

National Humor Month was established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde, who is also the director of the Carmel Institute of Humor, to promote all things funny and raise awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented. Lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Reading funny books is a fantastic way to share a laugh—for kids and adults—and to encourage a love of literature. In fact, there’s even a Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. This year, perhaps more than any, a little laughter helps us and our kids get through difficult times. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a laugh not only during April but every day! 

I received a copy of When a Tree Grows from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

When a Tree Grows

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska

 

We all know that age-old question “When a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?” Inexplicably, this riddle seems to forget all about the adorable woodland animals—many of which we meet in this hilarious book that poses many thought-provoking conundrums of its own. For instance: “When a tree grows in the forest, two things can happen. It becomes a scratching post for Moose’s itchy antlers, and the tree sways gently side to side. OR… CRASH-BOOM! Moose pushes a little too hard, the tree falls on a cave, and the bear inside wakes up.”

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But how does Bear react? He can stay inside… OR come out to see what all the ruckus is about. And when he comes outside? Well, the domino effect could take over the forest… OR not. Alert readers will notice that Bear’s not the only one affected by the falling tree. Squirrel loses his home, but does he find the perfect replacement when a Nifty Nuts truck loaded with acorns gets entangled in this roller-coaster ride of a story… OR not?

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As readers follow the action, they’ll wonder—will Squirrel discover a lifetime supply of nuts? Fame and fortune? An empty spot in his heart? And when (if?) “Scribble-Scratch! He writes a letter to Moose,” will Moose eat it or read it? The answers to these forest-related questions lead to a fantastic welcome-home feast with party hats and decorations and, of course, lots and lots of acorns that Squirrel will either gobble all up… OR….

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Nuttiness abounds in this funny story that will have kids on the edge of their seats and excitedly chiming in as each situation plays out, leading to more and more consequences for Squirrel. Cathy Ballou Mealey’s action-packed storytelling, punctuated with onomatopoeia, makes each page a joy to read aloud. Underlying all of the shenanigans is a sweet friendship story that will tug at readers’ hearts as the gently suspenseful circumstances seem to take Squirrel farther and farther away from the forest. Kids will cheer along with Moose, Bear, and a bevy of other cute animals as they celebrate Squirrel’s homecoming and enthusiastically approve of what Squirrel does with his windfall to guarantee that all the friends can stick together forever.

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Kasia Nowowiejska populates this most friendly of forests with adorable, wide-eyed animals whose expressions perfectly reflect their dilemmas without giving away the secret answers. Kids will laugh out loud to see Moose nervously clinging half-way up a tree as Bear growls, applaud squirrel’s aim with a slingshot, and wish they could join in the party when Squirrel comes home. Nowowiejska’s beautiful earth-tone color palette provides depth and texture to the lush foliage while highlighting each animal’s choices in clever and original ways that kids will love. The onomatopoeic phrases are spotlighted with vibrant, bold lettering, ensuring that readers will add their own spin to this fun element of the story.

No “OR…”s about it, When a Tree Grows will be a hit for lively, animated story times and would be an often-requested addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 and up 

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454921202

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kasia Nowowiejska, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Cathy Ballou Mealey

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Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Thank you for inviting me to the fabulous Celebrate Picture Books! I am delighted to join your celebration of Get Caught Reading Week by talking about writing inspiration and what we might learn from our hobbies and jobs, and also sharing a story starter for a favorite fall holiday!

I’m delighted that we get to talk about all of these things—and more! So let’s get started at the beginning of your journey with When a Tree Grows!

What was the spark of inspiration that led to When a Tree Grows?

When A Tree Grows was inspired by a distant creaky Crash! that I heard in the woods while hiking with my family. Was it a falling tree? An animal? I wondered: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.

You must have had fun coming up with the alternate scenarios in your book. Can you share any that didn’t make the cut?

An early draft had a sweet city scene between Squirrel and a pigeon, but it didn’t make the final cut. It was tender and poignant, but needed a funnier alternative outcome to move the storyline along. In the end, I am happy that only Squirrel, Moose and Bear share the spotlight!

I love Kasia Nowowiejska’s illustrations that combine adorable, expressive animals with silly antics. Do you have a favorite spread? Did anything in the illustrations surprise you? 

I agree! Kasia is from Poland, and I loved the European flair in her forest sketches. Seeing the warthog was a complete, delightful surprise. Warthogs are not animals we would typically see in a North American woodland, and that leads to great discussions with young readers.

You have degrees in psychobiology and classical civilization. Can you describe these a bit and how they are connected? Does your study of psychobiology help inform the character development in your stories?

Psychobiology is the study of the brain, behavior and cognitive processes. I found it fascinating to research why and how we think, feel and do the things we do! I learned how to be a good observer, listener, and follower of the empirical method. I also studied classical civilization because I loved Latin, and the professors were extremely gifted storytellers. They brought ancient texts to life through dramatic readings and captivating extemporaneous performances. Exactly how these field of study inform my present work is unclear, but a liberal arts education really does cultivate curious minds!

In your bio, you also say that you were a crossing guard, hash-slinger, gift-wrapper, and pet sitter. This sounds like perfect prep for becoming a picture book author! Have any of these jobs inspired a story? Do you have a funny or surprising experience you’d like to share?

Writers DO find a way to wring fictional purpose out of anything, don’t we? I have found that one common theme across many of my stories is work. In When A Tree Grows, Squirrel gets a job in the Nifty Nuts factory as a quality control inspector. That’s one job I have not done! But working as a department store gift-wrapper was a job where quality mattered. Customers could buy a specialty paper/ribbon combination or choose the free “store wrap” which was red with tiny white checkered squares. The squares had to line up perfectly, no matter how lumpy or bumpy the item was, or the boss would make us re-wrap it. Wrap a floor lamp? Rocking chair? I like to imagine one of my co-wrappers invented printed gift bags out of desperation.

In previous interviews, you’ve described how you wrote your first picture book to enter the Cheerios “spoonful of stories” contest. But did you always like to write? What kinds of writing did you do? What inspired you to try the picture book form?

As a kid I loved to write and illustrate greeting cards, so my earliest efforts were short and to the point, just like picture books. I also wrote scripts for Muppet-like puppet shows, assigning the best roles to myself, of course. When school assignments piled up and writing lost its luster, I stopped scribbling for pleasure. Decades later, having children led to reading many picture books and to many boxes of Cheerios. So those factors definitely helped re-ignite my passion for writing and picture books specifically.

When a Tree Grows was released on April 2. What have you found to be the best part of being a published author? If you’ve held any book events, can you describe the reactions of kids to your story?

Of course seeing Tree on bookstore shelves and in readers’ hands is delightful. Hearing people laugh at the funny spots is a thrill! I like to ask a helper to wave a big sign that says “OR” to dramatize the page turns during readings. And kids love to see Squirrel scooping coins out of the fountain to buy a bus ticket home – so naughty!

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret, super funny picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Halloween – because it is in the fall, my favorite season. It also happens to be my birthday! Costumes, candy, glowing pumpkins, being outside after dark – all these elements make magical memories for kids. And on top of all that I got a cake, candles, and presents too? Pretty great.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

What a great idea! Let’s imagine re-casting When A Tree Grows as a Halloween story.

When an Owl hoots in the forest on Halloween, two things could happen.

Warthog blows out the candle in her pumpkin. Trick or treat is over.

OR…

Eek! Warthog is startled and tosses her candy into the air.

When Warthog tosses her candy into the air, two things could happen.

What do YOU think should happen next?

Oh my! Let’s see…

Bat neatly snatches all the candy out of the air with her trick-or-treat bag.

OR…

A candy corn ricochets off a tree and bonks bat, sending her wildly off course.

Readers? What do YOU think? Add your ideas in the comments section below!

Well, this was tons of fun, Cathy! I’m so glad we had a chance to chat! I wish you all the best with When a Tree Grows!

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Moose starts a whole string of events in today’s book! What will you get up to in your own moose antlers?

Supplies

  • Stiff brown paper
  • Brown hair band
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Directions

  1. Trace your hands with fingers spread on the brown paper. Leave a 1 – 2 inch tab on the end of the wrist for wrapping around the head band
  2. Cut out the hand prints
  3. Place one hand print on the right side of the headband with the thumb of the hand pointing up.
  4. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape
  5. Place the second hand print on the left side of the headband with the thumb pointing up.
  6. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape.

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You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 17 – International Haiku Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

Small things are amazing—and surprising! We all know good things come in small packages, and just look at the wisdom, humor, and capacity for love of children. The same goes for haiku—the smallest form of poetry in size but never in impact. During National Poetry Month, today is set aside to especially celebrate the haiku. The simple 5-7-5 rule that we all learn in school doesn’t begin to define the complexity of these three-line beauties that distill the world into little nuggets that make readers see life in amazing and surprising ways.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Written by Sydell Rosenberg | Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

 

In her lovely and delightfully whimsical poems, Sydell Rosenberg holds moments in the palms of her hands, letting readers immerse themselves in the tender, humorous, and wistful flashes of a day before they shift, evolve, or fade away. H is for Haiku begins, appropriately, with Adventure and its dreamy memory for a worn-out kitten as he slumbers.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

The journey continues as readers meander along a city sidewalk and see a “Boy on a mailbox / perched like a solitary bird / watching the sunset.” Walking on, readers peek into car backseats, queue for ice-cream on a sweaty summer day, and visit a barbershop where you always ask for Xavier. Down country lanes, you’ll spy a pale moon, turn the heads of sunflowers, share bike rides and car rides, and watch as “Munching on acorns / a squirrel sweeps up sunbeams / with her transparent tail.”

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

Rosenberg’s studied eye for connections makes her poems especially enchanting. Leaves and flowers, birds and insects, rain and thunder interact with those in their midst, adorning hair, scurrying away, playing musical backup, meeting danger, and creating transformations like the one at Y: “Yesterday’s cool rain / left this flat puddle smoothing / the wrinkled leaves.” A trip to the fish market is infused with humor, and an optical illusion makes you look twice at the flamingos in a pond.

Even in her observations of the routine, Rosenberg reminds readers that there is music and poetry in common actions. For example, at U we hear: “Up and down the block / homeowners mate the covers / of gusted trash cans.” As a teacher sits grading papers to close out the book, readers can’t be faulted for wishing our alphabet had a few more letters.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

As a teacher Sydell Rosenberg was attuned to the spirit of children, and her sophisticated and fun haiku are particularly accessible for young readers. Touching on a wide range of subjects, Rosenberg invites kids to look and look again. Her keen observations and lilting imagery will inspire them to do just that. 

Sawsan Chalabi’s charmingly quirky illustrations and stylized lettering present each poem with dash and personality that will enchant kids. Her delicately lined drawings are infused with vibrancy from a gorgeous color palette. Just like Rosenberg’s haiku, Chalabi’s pages are animated with a love for life that will resonate with kids—and adults.

H is for Haiku will spark a love for this special form of poetry and inspire kids to write their own. A terrific gift for poetry lovers and an imagination-boosting addition to homeschool lessons, the book makes a wonderful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 11 (and up)

Penny Candy Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0998799971

Discover more about Sawsan Chalabi and view a portfolio of her work on her website.

 Amy Losak talks about her mom, Sydell Rosenberg

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Sydell Rosenberg and her daughter Amy enjoying the park n 1961.

SYDELL ROSENBERG (1929-1996) lived, wrote and taught in New York City. Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 and served as HSA’s Secretary in 1975. Her short poems – notably haiku and senryu – as well as other poetry, were published in various magazines and anthologies. Syd received her M.A. in English as a Second Language from Hunter College in 1972. It was Syd’s dream to publish a book of haiku for children.

Compiled by her daughter, Amy Losak, H is for Haiku is the fulfilment of the late poet Sydell Rosenberg’s dream to write a book of poetry for children. I was excited to talk with Amy about her mother, her journey with H is for Haiku, and her own poetry.

Can you talk a little about your mother and her love for haiku and senryu?

Sydell Rosenberg was a New York City teacher (various grades; substitute, English, literacy; and also adult ESL). I think Syd Rosenberg “discovered” haiku and senryu in the early-to-mid 1960s. How she may have stumbled upon these poetic forms, I wish I knew. Mom always was a writer – short stories, poetry, literary and word puzzles, and more. Syd wrote in English and in Spanish and translated literature from and into Spanish too. In her early 20s, she published a racy novel, “Strange Circle,” under a male pseudonym, Gale Sydney (a reversal of the initials of her maiden name, Sydell Gasnick). This was in the early 1950s! This potboiler sold a respectable number of copies. In fact, “Strange Circle” is still floating around online.

In the 1960s, as a still-young wife and mother, perhaps she was restless and searching for a challenging format to test her talents and reflect, or give credence to, her singular way of viewing the world around her. Syd was a native New Yorker who loved nature and found marvels in mundane moments. Perhaps the lucid qualities of haiku and senryu, with their concise yet intense focus on such things, gave her—paradoxically—the amplitude she wanted to express her vision and ideas.

What is the difference between the two forms?

I’m no expert on haiku and senryu. Poets spend years studying and they labor over their work. These are difficult forms to write well. Like any creative art, it takes practice. It seems as though the definitions can get “in the weeds”—and then there are some poets who don’t get too “hung up” on the distinctions. Here are topline definitions from the Haiku Society of America, and readers can go to this Haiku Society of America page for more details:

The Haiku Foundation also is a great source of information, and there are many other fine resources in books, online and in social media.

HAIKU: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.

SENRYU: A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.

Were the poems in H is for Haiku originally written as an alphabet-inspired collection?

Yes, some of the poems in H Is for Haiku were in one (or more, possibly) alphabet-themed manuscripts I located among mom’s many materials. And some were previously published in journals decades ago.

It was Syd’s lifelong dream to publish a book of haiku for children. Can you talk about the journey you’ve taken with H Is for Haiku?

Mom was submitting at least one of her kids’ poetry manuscripts (I’m not sure how many she created, and I don’t think they were all haiku) to publishers since the 1980s. My fuzzy memory tells me she may have submitted as far back as the 1970s. This has been a long and zigzagging timeline, by any measure.

Mom’s poetry was well-anthologized in a variety of media over several decades (including classic texts such as The Haiku Anthology, The Haiku Handbook, The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, among others). Syd was a teacher, and she had this desire to publish a poetry picture book, preferably a haiku A-B-C reader. I think she wanted kids to illustrate it, although she also had illustrators she liked in mind (in one old cover letter I found, she mentions Arnold Lobel).

After her sudden death in October of 1996, her family promised to try and publish her dream book. But it wasn’t until around 2011 that I knuckled down—and even then, the process of collecting and organizing some of her work was, to be frank, tortuous. But I managed to curate a good compilation.

In the meantime, I spearheaded other projects to revive some of her work for today’s audiences, especially children. For example, I’ve been in a partnership for several years with a terrific nonprofit arts education organization in NY, Arts for All which brings a variety of arts programs into public schools. Teaching artists have used mom’s “word-picture” haiku to convey the basics of painting, drawing and collage; music; and theater to young students.

In 2015, I finally started to send out her manuscript to publishers that didn’t require agents. In 2016, I connected with the wonderful Penny Candy Books, thanks to a poet and teacher, Aubrie Cox Warner. Penny Candy’s Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera have been such a joy; and Sawsan Chalabi’s dynamic illustrations vividly augment the gentle playfulness in mom’s poems.

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Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America. Can you talk about her work with the HSA?

 HSA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Syd attended the founding meeting in October of 1968. She also served as HSA secretary in 1975 and twice on committees for HSA’s Merit Book Awards “for excellence in published haiku, translation and criticism.” Of course, mom’s work was published in HSA’s beautiful journal, Frogpond, and a good number of other journals and publications, including (but not limited to) Modern Haiku, Wind Chimes, and Haiku West. HSA memorialized Syd by reading some of her work shortly after her death in 1996. In addition, Frogpond published a lovely memorial page in its December 1996 issue. It also published one of her posthumous haiku in a 1997 issue. Her first published haiku in a journal was in 1967 in American Haiku (although I believe she may have published haiku even earlier, in the poetry column of a now-defunct newspaper).

HSA and all things haiku—and writing overall—were important, even essential, components of her life. Creative expression was aa important to her as breathing.

The haiku in H Is for Haiku have such a wonderful sense of active observation and eye for personality and fun. Do you remember this as a quality of your mom while you were growing up?

Yes! Mom had a playful, offbeat, and I think an innate optimistic spirit. Mom was a “knowledge-adventurer.” Her intellect sometimes had an almost childlike quality. She tried to instill this expansive sense of curiosity in my brother Nathan and me. I have come to realize that mom looked forward to each new day as jam-packed with the possibilities for new experiences. And she sought them out for herself and her family.

I read that you also write poetry. Can you share a little about your work?

I’m a beginner as a poet. I think I always will be, and I’m fine with this. There’s a lot to learn.

I especially enjoy the process of trying to write haiku and senryu. It allows me to “be in the moment” and dial down distracting “chatter” that can bombard and dull my senses. Some of my work has been published. I’m slowly improving.

Thanks to social media, I find inspiration in the work of other poets today, especially haiku and senryu poets (and others, as well). There’s so much great poetry out there! I also have learned to find “bits” of inspiration in my daily life. Our pixilated cats, for example, were a wellspring of inspiration! And New York City, of course, offers an inexhaustible supply of both small and big moments. Even something as routine as my bus commute can sometimes trigger “slices” of awareness that lead to a short poem. Or I will be walking to the bagel shop for an iced coffee, and something out of nowhere—the peep of a sparrow in a forsythia bush, a squashed pine cone on the pavement—will draw my attention. Maybe this “haiku moment” will result in a poem. Or maybe not, but I’m still richer because of these “slivers” of experience.

And mom, it turns out, has had more of an influence on me that either one of us could have imagined. Syd’s spirit resonates today. I like to think she would be pleased with this book. And of course, kids and their parents!

The poetry and kidlit communities are caring and supportive. I’m grateful for all their encouragement over the years. And I’m grateful to my husband, Cliff, brother, Nathan; sister-in-law, Debbie; other loving family members; friends; colleagues, etc. So many terrific people! They’ve kept me going, and I can’t thank them enough.

Thanks, Amy, for sharing so much about your mom. I wish you all the best with H is for Haiku and your own work.

International Haiku Poetry Day Activity

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Haiku Wall Art

 

The haiku you write deserves to be shared with others! With this easy craft you can display your poem in style.

Supplies

  • Colorful heavy stock paper, 2 or three colors
  • Ribbon
  • Glue or glue dots, or double-sided tape
  • Dowel or wire for hanging
  • Paint to paint the dowel (optional)

Directions

  1. Write a haiku and print the lines on colored paper
  2. Cut the lines apart, making the first and third line shorter than the second line
  3. Glue or tape the lines to the ribbon, leaving about a half inch between them
  4. To make the hangers, fold the tops of the ribbon over and glue or tape it closed
  5. If using a dowel to hold the poem, you can paint it to match or contrast with the paper
  6. Hang the poem from a dowel or wire

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You can find H is for Haiku at these booksellers:

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

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