January 22 – Celebration of Life Day COVER REVEAL of Finding Beauty and Interview with Talitha Shipman

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About the Holiday

I’m excited to be sharing the cover of Finding Beauty on Celebrate Life Day. The holiday is all about honoring what makes each of our children and grandchildren truly unique. It’s also a wonderful day to think about all the beautiful things in the world that make you celebrate life. Reading Finding Beauty, coming from Beaming Books in October 2020, with your children will inspire them to discover their own exceptional character. 

Finding Beauty

By Talitha Shipman

 

You are beautiful from the top of your head to the tip of your toes—but beauty is far more than something you can have. It’s also something you have to find. In other people. In nature. In acts of kindness. In math, and art, and music, and sports.

In this beautiful inspirational book for girls, author-illustrator Talitha Shipman turns the concept of beauty inside out, transforming girls into beauty-seeking adventurers charging out into the world with confidence and ambition to find beauty and make beauty wherever they go.

Ages 4 – 8 

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506463797

Finding Beauty releases on October 20, 2020. The book is now available for preorder.

When a book is this stirring, you just can’t wait to see it! But before I reveal the cover of Finding Beauty, I talk with author and illustrator Talitha Shipman.

A Talk with Talitha Shipman

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Talitha Shipman is a picture book author and illustrator born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her favorite subjects to paint are wild kids and wild animals. Nature inspires Talitha’s painting, and she hopes her work encourages curiosity and creativity in children of all ages.

Talitha has worked with publishers large and small. Her books include the Sidney Taylor Honor recipient Everybody Says Shalom by Leslie Kimmelman (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015); an American Farm Bureau Recommended Read, Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz (Albert Whitman, 2017); a 2019 IPPY Silver Medalist, First Snow by Nancy Viau (Albert Whitman, 2018); and On Your Way written by John Coy and published by Beaming Books. Finding Beauty is Talitha’s first author/illustrator adventure.

Talitha lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her husband and their three-year-old wild child, Coral.

You can connect with Talitha Shipman on her website.

Welcome, Talitha! I’m so thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal of your latest book and to get this opportunity to chat with you about your inspiration and what what you hope children will take away from Finding Beauty.

The message in Finding Beauty is so important for children and, really, adults too. What inspired you to write this story?

My daughter is my greatest inspiration for Finding Beauty. I’ve been turning over the concept of how we perceive beauty for a long time, though. This book is me trying to express something that often feels overwhelming for me to put into words, but I’m trying my best! In the past few years, there has been an admirable effort to widen what we call beautiful among women. You see much more diversity in advertising and even clothing catalogs, but I wanted to go further, to shift my thinking outward instead of inward. As women, we still are bombarded by messages that you have to work towards this unattainable standard of beauty to be fulfilled. It can result in focusing on ourselves rather than the world around us, but what if we could train ourselves to see that outside beauty more often? Would we be less likely to fall into those traps that culture lays for us? Would we develop a notion of beauty that didn’t depend on our looks? I hope this book can ask some of those questions for my daughter and other young girls. 

As the author and the illustrator of the book, which came first, the story or the imagery?

For me, words usually come first. The central idea of this story hit me early in the morning. Most of my book ideas come to me right when I wake up! But some of the visual elements in the book—floating dandelion seeds and what I’m calling “beauty sparkles”, a visual representation of an abstract idea—came pretty soon after the initial concept landed in my mind. 

Could you talk about your illustration process in bring the story to life? 

I tend to work in very rough sketches first to get ideas out of my head and onto the paper. They are not pretty, but they help me get started. I do many sketches to figure out a character’s design. I do a lot of research too. For this book, I observed friends’ kids and my own daughter to develop character designs. After I finish rough drawings, I refine my ideas into tighter sketches that I use as a base for my final illustrations.

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With this book, I’m doing something a little different and adding traditional watercolor to my illustrations. For years I’ve painted digitally, so this is a big step for me, going back to traditional techniques. I’m melding hand-painted elements with digital painting; it’s the best of both worlds because you get the spontaneous nature of watercolor, but you can always go back and fix things in photoshop. 

The cover for Finding Beauty is so expressive and full of joy. How was this particular image chosen? 

Early on, when I was first pitching the manuscript, I did an illustration of a girl painting a mural. The editor at Beaming loved it, so we knew we were going to use a modified version of that illustration. I did three sketches with the girl in various poses.

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She was painting in a couple of examples, but in one sketch, she was skipping along looking over her shoulder at the beauty sparkles and some floral elements. The editor loved the movement in this piece, so we went with that instead of the painting concept. There are still some subtle elements of the mural present, and the mural shows up in an interior spread as well. 

As an artist, I imagine you see beauty everywhere. What is something that you find beautiful that might surprise readers?

I must be part crow because I love anything sparkly! Sparkly concrete is fantastic. If you’ve never noticed it before, start paying attention to sidewalks. Some sidewalks have crunched up minerals mixed in, probably quartz, that makes them glitter in the sun. I tend to find most of my inspiration in nature. I love walking in the woods in winter. It can seem dreary, but if you start paying attention to details, you see that the forest isn’t dead. There are little plants huddled under the fallen leaves, and there are buds on branches just waiting for spring to come.

Thanks for sharing how Finding Beauty and especially the cover came to be! I’m sure that readers are looking forward to October when this book finds its way to bookstores. I know I am!

And now I’m thrilled to reveal…

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On Your Way Giveaway

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I’m excited to partner with Beaming Books in a Twitter giveaway of 

  • Five (5) copies of On Your Way, written by John Coy | illustrated by Talitha Shipman. This sweet book follows the milestones of a child and the endearing and enduring pride and love every parent feels as they watch their child grow up.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Follow Beaming Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with something you find beautiful for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 22 through January 28 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Winners will be chosen on January 29. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Beaming Books.

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You can preorder Finding Beauty at these booksellers

AmazonBooks-a-Million | IndieBound

January 21 – National Hugging Day and Interview with Vikki VanSickle

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About the Holiday

Hugs are good medicine! Giving and receiving hugs releases oxytocin, a hormone that provides a wide-range of health benefits. Getting a hug can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower one’s risk of heart disease. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public, National Hugging Day gives people the opportunity to give—or ask for—a nice, big hug!

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Tundra Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know if you have any events coming up and what’s up next for you.

I am hosting a whole bunch of Teddy Bear’s Picnics, which you can see posted below. Attendees are invited to bring their own teddy and together we will read the story, have some snacks, and hold our own Teddy Bear Service Awards complete with diplomas for the teddies and stickers and colouring sheets for the kids. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone’s beloved toys! Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit on the Tundra website.

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Teddy Bear of the Year Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Tundra Books in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Teddy Bear of the Year, written by Vikki VanSickle| illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your or your child’s favorite teddy bear or toy for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 21 through January 27 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 28. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Tundra Books.

National Hugging Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 8 – COVER REVEAL! Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

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Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Yas Imamura

 

For hundreds of years as butterflies with orange-and-black wings as intricate as stained glass came and went in communities across North America, many people wondered “Where are they going?” In 1976, this question was finally answered—it was the Great Monarch Butterfly Migration! Each year, people discovered, millions of monarchs flew thousands of miles from Canada to a roosting place in the Sierra Madre mountains in central Mexico.

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery reveals the diverse community of people who worked together to track the butterflies and find their migration path. Through vibrant illustrations, readers are taken on a journey following the monarchs and meeting the people they encounter along the way.

Backmatter includes an Author’s Note explaining more about the Monarch Migration as well as information on ways that readers can help sustain the Monarch population, making Winged Wonders a stirring book to share with nature lovers, young conservationists, backyard gardeners, and students in STEM/STEAM-related lessons.

When a book is this intriguing, you just can’t wait to see it! But before I reveal the cover of this book, which KIRKUS—in their starred review—calls “riveting” and “a fascinating and inspiring STEAM-driven tale,” let’s chat with author Meeg Pincus and illustrator Yas Imamura who have brought this extraordinary story to kids.

Meet Meeg Pincus

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Meeg Pincus is a children’s author and speaker who loves telling stories about real people who have helped others, animals, and the planet. She lives in San Diego, California. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website.

 

 

 

 

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery presents such a fascinating way to look at monarch butterflies. Can you describe the story a little and talk about what inspired you to write it from this perspective?

Thank you, Kathy! Well, I got sucked into the history of the mysterious monarch migration several years ago when I took my kids to see a movie about it at our San Diego science museum’s amazing domed IMAX theatre. (I went back two more times!) I originally started researching a person on the 1970s tracking team for a picture book biography, but then a series of events led me to rethink that. I came to realize that an even more interesting approach was a collective one. It took many people to put the pieces together of this great “discovery”—from scientists to citizen scientists to everyday folks paying attention to nature—and that’s an important lesson for kids. So, using questions, my story takes kids on a journey to meet different people who each played a part, large or small, in solving the great monarch mystery. Then, it comes back around to asking kids what part they might be able to play in keeping the (now threatened) monarchs alive today.

How did you go about researching this story?

To get information on the people involved in tracking the migration, I collected every primary source I could, from articles they wrote to interviews they gave (so, words from their own mouths) and photos of them during that time. I also found secondary sources—articles about the monarchs’ roosting place “discovery” in the 1970s as well as a whole book about all the drama in the world of monarch science (who knew?!). By the way, I use the term “discovery” in quotes because it’s important to realize that there were people in Mexico who knew the whereabouts of the monarchs’ remote roosting place for generations. I also turned to the citizen science organization Monarch Watch, at the University of Kansas (descended from the original tracking team), for information as well; and we were fortunate that one of their experts agreed to serve as the book’s fact-checker.

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This is the 1976 National Geographic issue that broke the story of the Great Monarch Migration, with a story by the main scientist credited with the “discovery.”

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing Winged Wonders?

Honestly, it was that drama in the world of monarch research. There’s been competition over who gets credit for what, over the sharing (or not sharing) of information, etc. For me, this was actually all the more reason to focus my picture book not just on one person but on how it takes a lot of people working together to further scientific knowledge—and protect species.

This gorgeous cover is just a peek at Yas Imamura’s illustrations. Can you give readers a taste of what they have to look forward to? Do you have a favorite spread?

Oh, we could not have asked for more gorgeous and spot-on illustrations than what Yas created for this book! The whole team at Sleeping Bear Press has been thrilled with her vibrant images, which feel both 1970s and totally today, all at once. I like so many, it’s hard to pick just one—I love how she shows the monarchs flying through Dia de los Muertos celebrations, to them roosting in the trees of central Mexico, to the diversity of citizen scientists she created. I think readers are going to just eat up her illustrations!

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Image copyright Yas Imamura, 2020, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On your website, you talk about your work as a Humane Educator. Can you describe Humane Education and its goal? Does being a Humane Educator influence your writing? In what way?

Sure! Humane education teaches about making conscious choices that help people, animals, and the planet. It focuses on empathy and compassion as means to taking action for a more humane, healthy, and just world. I found humane education when my kids were very young and it just brought together all my values and studies. So, I trained with two nonprofit organizations (The Institute for Humane Education and HEART) and started going into local classrooms as a humane educator to do lessons with the kids. As part of my lessons, I decided to read the kids picture book biographies about real people who’ve made a difference for people, animals, and the planet. I fell in love with these books, and realized they also perfectly brought together my background of 20+ years writing/editing nonfiction and my work in humane education—so, I decided to dive into writing them myself as my next career step as nonfiction writer/humane educator!

You also talk about teaching children to be solutionaries. I love that term! Would you define what a solutionary is? You also say that you now write “solutionary stories.” How does Winged Wonders fit into that description and how do you hope the book will influence young readers?

I love the term, too! I got it from my training in humane education. The full definition of a solutionary is “a person who identifies inhumane and unsustainable systems, then develops healthy and just solutions for people, animals, and the environment.” I simplify it for younger kids (I like to use the idea of “solutionary super powers” that we all possess to help others!). Kids really embrace being problem-solvers for people, animals, and the planet. As in Winged Wonders, I focus my books on solutionary people, ideas, and issues—ways people are helping, or can help, create that healthy, kind, and just world for all. I hope my books help inspire kids to find whatever issue affecting people, animals, or the planet sparks their own inner fire and then use their own unique talents and ideas to make a positive impact on it.

One last thing: We’re doing a special Winged Wonders Pre-order Offer with San Diego indie bookstore, Run for Cover—a signed hardback copy with a solutionary sticker and monarch bookmark—which can be sent anywhere in the U.S.

You can connect with Meeg Pincus on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Meet Yas Imamura

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Yas Imamura is an illustrator, graphic designer, and owner of the stationary company Quill & Fox. She grew up in Manila, Philippines, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Discover more about her work on her website.

What about this story particularly resonated with you?

What I love most about the story is the community aspect to the monarch search—how every person from all walks of life came together in shared curiosity and helped get to the bottom of the monarch mystery.

Can you describe the process for creating and choosing this beautiful cover?

I started with a few sketches, focusing in different imagery. Some early concepts honed in on the monarch butterfly, some with playing on the mystery of their flight. But eventually I ended up emphasizing the people in the story as well, as they play such a huge part in tracking the monarch migration.

Many of your stationery products from your company Quill and Fox as well as your other illustration work incorporate nature themes. What is it about nature that inspires you?

What inspires me most about nature is how incredibly challenging it is for me to really capture. It can be simplistic and incredibly mercurial at the same time, which I think is the beauty of it. As an artist, I feel like I’m always trying to climb that hill.

What kind of research did you do to bring this story to life?

Researching this book was a lot of fun. I was fortunate enough to be given a lot of take-off point resources that I built from. I looked up Catalina’s story a lot to gain insight on her character, her clothes, the era. The movie Flight of the Butterflies also inspired me greatly in pushing the narrative visually. There was so much color to the whole story as we trace the journey of these butterflies, and I really wanted to incorporate all that.

What feelings from the story did you most want to express in your illustrations? What do you hope readers will take away from them?

I want to evoke a sense of fascination and curiosity for these butterflies. And that perhaps learning about the incredible journey and impact of the monarch butterflies could lay the groundwork for us, as caretakers of nature, to give respect and reverence for even the smallest members of our ecosystem.

What do you love about being a picture book illustrator?

Seeing readers, young and old, pour over the pages that I’ve illustrated, especially when they’re reading it to someone else, will never, never get old. It’s the ultimate payoff for me.

You can connect with Yas Imamura on

Her website | Instagram | Instagram: Quill and Fox | Twitter

Thanks so much Meeg and Yas! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Wings of Wonder: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery as I am! We might have to wait a little bit longer until the book releases in March to read it, but we don’t have to wait any longer to see the stunning cover! 

And now I’m thrilled to reveal…

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Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, written by Meeg Pincus| illustrated by Yas Imamura 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of butterfly for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).
  • This giveaway is open from January 8 through January 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 15. Prize book will be sent from Sleeping Bear Press in February.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

To learn more about Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery and other marvelous books from Sleeping Bear Press, visit their website.

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You can preorder Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery from these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound |Run for Cover

Picture Book Review

 

December 3 – National Day of Giving and a Chat with Author Carole Gerber

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About the Holiday

Since 2012 the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been designated as a day to celebrate generosity and giving to others. 92nd Street Y in New York City created the holiday for people to think about charitable giving to those less fortunate not only for one day or one month, but all year round. How you give can take many forms—from time, voice, dollars, or goods to kindness or talent. Participants can be found across the United States and in more than 100 countries. The spirit of today’s holiday will fill you with cheer every day! To learn more about how individuals or organizations can get involved in the US or globally, visit the Giving Tuesday website.

I received a copy of The Gifts of the Animals from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website

A Chat with Carole Gerber

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

I’m thrilled to be talking with Carole Gerber again about her newest book for Christmas.

What inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New International Version of the Bible states:

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

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

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

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

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

National Day of Giving Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

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

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

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

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 28 – It’s Family Fun Month and Interview with Author Robie H. Harris

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-look-babies-head-to-toe-coverAbout the Holiday

This month-long holiday encourages families to spend time together having fun, learning, and getting to know each other on an all-new level. Having a baby in the family means there are plenty of joyous moments and new experiences to enjoy as the little one learns about the world and their place in it. For children any moment—whether while playing, shopping, or doing chores—can become an exciting and enjoyable opportunity for discovery. Reading together is one of the best ways to nurture a baby’s development—as you’ll see in today’s book!

I received a copy of LOOK! Babies Head to Toe from Abrams Appleseed for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams Appleseed in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

LOOK! Babies Head to Toe

Written by Robie H. Harris | Illustrated by Anoosha Syed

 

With a baby on your lap or cuddled up beside you, you can open the world of self-awareness for your child as you open the cover of this engagingly written and adorably illustrated board book. Little readers will be immediately entranced by the baby who smiles out at them from the first pages as adults exclaim, “Look! A baby!,” show them the baby “Head to toe! Toe to head!” and share a greeting: “Hi, baby!”

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Image copyright Anoosha Syed, 2019, text copyright Robie Harris, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

What baby doesn’t love playing peek-a-boo? Here, babies learn about eyes by playing along with the enthusiastic baby in the book who hides his eyes and then reveals them with a happy smile. What are ears for? Listening, of course! And as the sweet baby on the page listens to her mom play the ukulele, your baby hears “Look! Baby’s ears!” and can be encouraged to repeat “La-la-la!”

Noses are for smelling, but sometimes they’re for sneezing too—“Ah-choo!” Turn the page again and “Look! A baby! Look! Baby’s mouth” is puckered up for a kiss. Moving on, babies “clap-clap-clap” with their hands, discover their tummy, try out their strong legs, and, for a last bit of fun, wiggle their toes.

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Image copyright Anoosha Syed, 2019, text copyright Robie Harris, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

With her delightful, lively text, Robie H. Harris provides parents and caregivers a dynamic way to not only introduce little ones to parts of their body but to help with the development of  language and motor skills. The repeated phrases “Look!,” “A baby!” and mention of particular parts of the body, accompanied with pointing to the baby on the page as well the little reader, orient children to these often-heard words and give them concrete meaning. Active words that echo familiar sounds and motions offer opportunities for little ones to vocalize and play.

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Image copyright Anoosha Syed, 2019, text copyright Robie Harris, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Anoosha Syed’s charming babies are bright-eyed and smiley, sweet friends who are ready to play. Their enthusiasm is infectious as they make direct eye contact with young readers—an important aspect of communicating with children. Each of the ten diverse babies are highlighted on two-page spreads with plenty of white space that allows readers to focus attention on the child and the part of the body being introduced. In each image the children demonstrate a different expression—from welcome and surprise to love and joy to contemplation and uncertainty. Adding this range of emotions reflects studies which have found that looking at pictures such as these can help children form feelings of empathy and understanding.

A cheerful, enchanting book for sharing fun and quality time with babies and toddlers, LOOK! Babies Head to Toe makes a wonderful new baby or shower gift, an engaging take along for outings or times when waiting is expected, and a go-to read at home, in preschool classrooms, and for public library collections.

Ages Birth to 3

Abrams Appleseed, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419732034

Discover more about Robie H. Harris and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anoosha Syed, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Robie H. Harris

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Today, I’m thrilled to be talking with Robie H. Harris about her board books for youngest readers and the importance of reading with babies and toddlers.

You’re well known for your books about growth and development for children and teens. Your recent books with Abrams Appleseed, Who? A Celebration of Babies and LOOK! Babies Head to Toe highlight the development of babies and very young children.

I have always been fascinated by babies and toddlers and how amazing and interesting they are. I have always wanted to write board books for them, especially books with which they could connect and that would engage them. Thanks to Abrams Appleseed, LOOK! and WHO? are out in the world. The words I wrote for each of these books are my way of talking with babies and toddlers and having a conversation with them and, hopefully, drawing them into the book.

Here’s what a mother of an 11-month-old baby emailed me this morning about her infant’s reaction when she shared LOOK! with her baby: “My baby giggled as soon as I opened the first page (a rare reaction, typically he’s either serious or squirmy for story time these days) and giggled right through ‘til the end.” Another parent of a six-month-old infant emailed me: “My baby looked and listened the whole time I read the book to her. She also gurgled and cooed and at times reached and gently touched some of the drawings of the babies that are in LOOK! After I read it to her, she grabbed the book and hugged it and gave it a kiss.” This kind of engagement these infants had with LOOK! was what I was hoping for as I was writing WHO? and LOOK!

Do you feel that there is now more attention being paid to these important early years?

Yes, there is a lot more attention to the early years, and that’s wonderful and can be helpful to authors writing for our youngest children. Thank goodness, the notion that a baby is not a person yet or is just a “blob” has been discarded by most. The abundance of infant and toddler research that is now available and that is continuing to gallop forward has fueled my board books and tells us how powerful babies’ thinking and emotions and brains are. When I am writing, I need to understand what is going on emotionally with an infant or toddler. From my own observations of infants and toddlers and also from research, I try to create words and/or a story that will strike a responsive chord in them. When I finish writing, an artist, such as Anoosha Syed, the illustrator of LOOK!, can find even more ways through art to connect our book with the babies and toddlers for whom I was writing.

What research has contributed to our deeper understanding of babies’ learning?

I will cite one of many studies that deals with shared reading as an example of the type of research that informs my thinking when writing a board book. The principal researcher of this recent study is Alan Mendelsohn, MD, pediatrician, New York University School of Medicine. “The study identifies pathways by which parent-child interactions in shared reading and play can improve child behavioral outcomes.” In addition, as a children’s book author, I continue to have the good fortune of consulting with pediatricians, child development and infancy specialists, child psychologists and analysts about what I am writing to make sure that it will ring true for an infant, toddler, or young child.  

Why is it important for parents and other caregivers to read books to babies, even before they can talk? How can age-appropriate books, like these from Appleseed, help?

This statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics site says it all: “​In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement recommending parent-child home reading beginning at birth and continuing at least through kindergarten. Behavioral evidence has shown that children who are read to, especially before school entry, experience stronger parent-child relationships and learn valuable language and literacy skills.” I would add the following statement of my own: Board books are one way our very youngest children begin to understand not only themselves, but also the people and the world around them. It is also a way for our youngest children and a significant adult in their lives, be it a parent or caregiver, to have a moment together away from the bustle of their everyday lives.

Story time is a time to build a loving relationship with each other and, yes, have some fun together while sharing a book. Additionally, make sure you read to your child once a day, every single day. Find a quiet time to do so, if possible, and don’t be interrupted by a call on your phone or anything else. Just enjoy your special time together. Start early and keep on reading books to them. Have a basket of board books on the floor with just board books in it—nothing else. And it’s okay if your infant or toddler sits on a book, chews on it, puts it on top of their head, drools on it, or opens it and is looking at the book upside down. This is one of the ways books become part of their lives and will continue to be part of their lives as they grow up and grow older. 

Look! Babies Head to Toe includes repetitive phrases and onomatopoeia such as “La-la-la” and “Achoo!” How do these aspects of the story benefit a baby’s developing language skills? How can adults expand on that type of learning?

I purposely use repetitive phrases such as “La-la-la, Achoo!, Kiss-kiss. Clap-clap-clap” and others in LOOK! because they are sounds that infants have heard and may have uttered out loud. While writing LOOK!, I believed infants and toddlers would mimic these sounds and words and have fun doing it while at the same time expanding the words they learned and could eventually use to communicate with others. I felt it could also be a way of engaging infants and toddlers in the  book. I purposely use repetitive sounds and words in WHO? for the very same reasons. Adults can expand on that type of learning by continuing to share a book with a child each and every day.

What are the long-term benefits of engaging babies in language and activities?

There are many. Here are two: Sharing a board book such as LOOK! is early literacy in the making and helps to create a love of language, art, and books for years to come. Reading a book with an infant or toddler also gives that child and their parent or caregiver the chance to spend time together, which can help to build a loving and caring bond between them and with others in the years ahead.

Anoosha Syed’s illustrations of babies are adorable while also being realistic. She also includes actions and gestures, such as crawling, hiding and revealing eyes, and smiling. Can you talk a little about how babies and toddlers react to seeing photographs or illustrations of children and how that helps their physical and emotional development?

Anoosha’s pitch-perfect drawings of babies do draw infants and toddlers into the book. Parents and caregivers have told me that while reading LOOK! babies gurgle and coo and often touch the drawings of babies in the book. They’ve also said that their toddlers sometimes kiss the drawings or pat their tummies or clap their hands just as the babies in the book do. The fact that this happens delights me as an author and as a person who feels that infants, toddlers, and young children are true learners.

You love to meet your readers of all ages! Have you held readings or events for parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers? What do these consist of? Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I have held some readings for parents and have given talks at conferences for infant and toddler professionals. These revolve around the benefits of sharing board books such as WHO? and LOOK! with infants and toddlers as well as the benefits of sharing picture books with young children. I show a video of a parent reading WHO? to a six-month-old infant, who is responding to the book in many ways both verbally and physically. The response from the parents and professionals who watched that video surprised me. Here’s why: Many parents and professionals were amazed to find out that sharing a board book with a baby does engage the infant at such an early time in their life. Many told me that they would now start sharing board books with babies.   

Do you have any other books for this age group in the works?

Yes. I can’t seem to keep myself from coming up with yet more ideas for another board book. One is almost fully written. I am just fiddling with the end of the book and need some more time to work on that. I read it out loud to myself this morning. This is something I do often to hear whether the words or the story I wrote work. Work for whom? Work for the age-range of the children who would be the audience for that particular book. I also have extensive notes on another board book idea. I have written only a few words for that book and am just at the beginning of my process of writing it. A lot more work is needed to move this book along. But I’m too busy with other books under contract to spend much time on it now.

Thanks, Robie, for this fascinating talk! I wish you the best with Look! and Who? and all of your books!

LOOK! Babies Head to Toe Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Abrams Appleseed in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of LOOK! Babies Head to Toe, written by Robie H. Harris | illustrated by Anoosha Syed

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

This giveaway is open from August 28 through September 3 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on September 4.

Prizing provided by Abrams Appleseed

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

Family Fun Month Activity

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Child’s Sensory Board

 

Toys or objects that provide many opportunities for sensory experimentation and observation stimulate a baby and young child to learn while having fun. You can make a sensory board for your own child using household items and that have a variety of textures, sizes, shapes, and movement. When you create your own sensory board, you can personalize it for your child by adding their name, pictures of family members, and other special items. While you play with your child, take time to talk about all of the objects on the board, what they do, and how they work. Count the objects. If you include words or your child’s name, spell them outloud and say them. There are so many ways to use a sensory board. Even if children can’t yet talk, they are listening and soaking in the rich language learning you are providing!

**When making your board always ensure that you use items that are not a choking hazard or can catch tiny fingers. Make sure that items are firmly attached to the board. Never leave a baby unattended while playing.**

Supplies

  • A board large enough to hold the items you want to attach. Boards that can be used include: those found at hardware stores or craft stores; large cutting boards; shelves; old table tops; etc.

Sample items for your sensory board can be age appropriate and include:

  • Large swatches of various textured material. (I used fur, a scrubbing sheet, and a piece of carpeting)
  • Wooden or thick cardboard letters and numbers, painted in a variety of colors. Letters can be used to add a child’s name to the board.
  • Figures cut from sheets of foam or wooden figures found at craft stores in a variety of numbers that you can count with your child (I used sets of 1, 2, and 3 fish cut from foam to go along with the numbers 1, 2, and 3)
  • Mirror
  • Push button light
  • Chalk board to write on
  • Castor or other wheel
  • Door latches
  • Door knockers
  • Mop heads
  • Paint rollers
  • Cranks
  • Drawer handles
  • Hinges (I attached a tennis ball to a hinge that children can push back and forth)
  • Pulleys
  • Paint in various bright colors
  • Paint brushes
  • Scissors
  • Screws
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Velcro
  • Super glue

Directions

  1. Assemble your items
  2. Paint wooden or cardboard items
  3. Arrange item on the board so that your baby or child can easily reach or manipulate each one
  4. Attach items with screws, nuts and bolts, or super glue
  5. Push button lights or other objects that take batteries can be attached with strong Velcro. Ensure items attached with Velcro are large and not a choking hazard.
  6. Set up board where you and your baby or child can enjoy playing with it together

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You can find LOOK! Babies Head to Toe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

August 15 – It’s Back to School Month and Interview with Authors Ann Ingalls & Sue Lowell Gallion

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About the Holiday

It may seem like summer vacation just began, but it’s already time to start thinking about the new school year. The stores are stocked with clothes, supplies, and plenty of gear to make the new school year the best ever. But the “stuff” of going to school is just part of getting ready. Kids are looking forward—eagerly or maybe with a little trepidation—to meeting new friends, having new teachers, and exploring new subjects and ideas. Making the transition to a different grade easier and exciting is what National Back to School Month is all about.

I received a copy of Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway prize package. See details below.

Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak

Written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

It’s the first day of school and Tucker is up and at ‘em as soon as the bell rings, but “the bell scares Tip. He hides” in his little red igloo. As the kids enter the classroom, they immediately notice Tip and Tucker’s cage and come over to take a peek. Their teacher, Mr. Lopez, introduces adventurous Tucker and shy Tip. He even reveals a funny fact about Tucker: he snores!

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mr. Lopez asks Pim to read the five rules pertaining to their classroom hamsters. As he does, Tucker and Tip both listen along. “‘I like the treats rule,’ says Tucker” as he imagines all the apples, carrots, and seeds that await them. “‘I like the quiet rule,’ says Tip.” The last rule is to always make sure the cage door is closed by listening for the click. Mr. Lopez gives Pim a cardboard tube to add to the cage. Then it’s time for music class. As the kids line up, Mr. Lopez gives the hamsters a carrot and closes the door, but there is “no click.”

“‘Hasta luego, chicos,’ says Mr. Lopez” to Tip and Tucker. While everyone is gone, Tucker and Tip talk about school. Tip thinks it’s too noisy, but Tucker likes noise—and naps. He falls asleep on the carrot and begins to snore. Tip goes to the door of the cage. “Tip peeks out. The door opens. PLOP!” The cage is so high up now.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Tip calls for Tucker to help him. Just then Mr. Finch, comes in to change a lightbulb, and Tip runs out the door. Meanwhile, Tucker wakes up. He can’t find Tip. He “zips to the igloo. No Tip there. No Tip anywhere! ‘Where are you, Tip?’” he calls. Tip has zipped down the hall and into the supply closet. It’s quiet and dark, but there’s no Tucker.

Tucker is determined to find his friend. He leaps from the cage and runs down the hall and into a bathroom. One girl thinks he’s a rat, so “Tucker zips down the hall” until he bumps into Mr. Finch. Mr. Finch picks Tucker up and puts him in his shirt pocket. Tucker worries that he’ll never find Tip. In the closet, Tip has gotten hungry and tried chomping on the strings of the mop, but it crashes to the ground. “‘SQUEAK!’” says Tip. Tucker hears him. “‘SQUEAK!’” he answers. Mr. Finch also hears and opens the closet door. He lowers his hand down to Tip. “The hand smells like Tucker.” Tip climbs in and is plopped into Mr. Finch’s shirt pocket with Tucker.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Back in the classroom, Mr. Lopez and the kids are worried and searching for Tip and Tucker. Then “Mr. Finch peeks in.” The kids are happy to see Tip and Tucker. With their pets safely back in their cage, the class circles up on the rug. One child asks how they escaped. “‘Lo siento. I’m sorry,’” Mr. Lopez says and explains how he forgot to listen for the click and will be more careful next time. Tip and Tucker are happy to be back home with extra seeds to munch. In fact, Tip has decided that he “‘might like school…. This is a good home after all,’” he says.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Tip and Tucker are back with their second adventure, following Tip and Tucker, Road Trip in which Mr. Lopez chose them from a pet store and brought them to their new home. As Mr. Lopez’s students are introduced to their classroom pets, new readers get to know this darling duo too. With repeated words and phrases, onomatopoeia, gentle suspense, and humor, Ingalls and Gallion weave a story that will captivate kids while boosting their confidence in their reading ability. When Mr. Lopez discovers that he left the cage door unlocked, he gathers his students and apologizes, demonstrating a good lesson in accepting responsibility and the idea that everyone makes mistakes. Through his unexpected adventure, Tip learns with pride that he has untapped bravery, providing another good example for kids who may be more hesitant or wary of new experiences.

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André Ceolin’s bright and welcoming illustrations invite kids to school, where Mr. Lopez’s diverse class is excited about their new pets and people watch out for each other—and their tiny charges. Ceolin’s pages are packed with action and detailed scenes that help emerging and new readers connect the text to what they see. Tip and Tucker are as cute as can be as they settle into their classroom home. During their separation they display emotions of happiness, wariness, trust, and finally joy in being reunited. 

A delightful entry in this series for early, developing, and newly independent readers, Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak will enchant fans, who will eagerly look forward to these friends’ next adventure. The book is a charming addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110083 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1534110090 (Paperback) 

Discover more about Ann Ingalls and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sue Lowell Gallion and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by André Ceolin and learn more about him and his work, visit his website.

Interview with Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion

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Today, I’m thrilled to be talking with Ann and Sue about their writing partnership, their inspirations for their Tip and Tucker series, and what it’s like living in the same city but two different states.

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Meet Ann Ingalls

 

How did you and Sue team up to write the Tip and Tucker series of early readers?

Lucky for me, I met Sue at a local writers’ group. We hit it off right away and realized that we have the same sort of sensibility about writing for children. We write to engage children, to entertain them, and to teach them. With this group of emergent readers for Sleeping Bear, our aim is to teach them to read.

What inspired you to adopt hamsters as the main characters for the series? Are any real incidents from your years as a teacher reflected in the stories?

I had many, many classroom pets—mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, canaries, finches, turtles, fire-bellied toads, loads of fish, salamanders, and the list goes on. My students especially loved having hamsters. Salamanders were the stinkiest. We kept them in a small wading pool and returned them to the ponds they came from after a period of time, usually about 2 weeks.

Your list of countries visited is quite extensive—Australia, the West Indies, Germany, China, Hungary, Peru, Belgium, Guatemala, and so many more! How did you become such a globe-trotter? Can you share any anecdote from one or more of your trips?

I have always loved to travel, beginning with family trips to northern Michigan as a child and a trip to Mexico as an exchange student in college.

One time during a visit to Denmark, I visited an elementary school. I loved seeing that each classroom had its own fruit bowl, and that children go outside for recess even when it rains because they need the exercise and their clothes will dry in the classroom anyway. That same school was attached to a senior care center and the children and adults ate together, read together, and went to recess together.

I’m intrigued by some of your nonfiction titles—Fairy Floss about the invention of cotton candy, J is for Jazz, an alphabetic romp about jazz, and Trails to California about some of the state’s founders. What sparked your interest in these topics, and what do you like best about writing nonfiction?

I am a research nutcase. So often my own curiosity about a particular topic and the reading I do to satisfy that leads me to write a book. That is so very true about the jazz books, a book on piranhas, and even the 8 books on manners I wrote. I now know that if you are walking down the street during a rainstorm with an umbrella and someone else is coming from the opposite direction with an umbrella, the person with the taller or higher umbrella holds it above the lower umbrella as the people pass one another. Who would have thunk it?

The variety of your school presentations sound fantastic! What’s your favorite part of school or other events? Do you have an anecdote from an event that you’d like to share?

I know what I like best is reading to the children in the group. I like watching their expressions and answering any questions they might have. I also love to play silent Hokey Pokey with them. I came up with the idea for that during a time my students had to wait in long lines to have their pictures taken. It’s still a pretty big hit.

One time during a presentation at a local school, a child in the front row was so attentive. I thought he was really interested in my presentation. When it came time for questions, he asked me if I knew that I had hair in my nose. I thought his teacher would die of embarrassment. We all had a good laugh about it, and I told him that he had hair in his nose, too.

What’s up next for you?

I have a few new manuscripts that are out on submission. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed but have no expectations. If they sell, I’ll celebrate. If they don’t, I’ll keep on writing and revising.

You can connect with Ann Ingalls on

Her website | Twitter

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Meet Sue Lowell Gallion

 

It must have been fun collaborating with a friend on this series. What was your process for working together with Ann and crafting the story? Where did Tip and Tucker’s adorable names come from?

Ann and I became critique partners and friends a long time ago. One day, having coffee at a local bagel shop, we started brainstorming characters and story ideas to try writing something together. Einstein Bros. Bagels became our Tip and Tucker headquarters. We do get some funny looks from other customers!

We came up with the personalities of the characters first. Tip’s name emerged early on as we pictured a hamster hiding with just the tip of its tail showing. Ann is very fond of my beloved black lab mix, Tucker, and she suggested that we name our adventurous hamster after my curious pup. I’m not sure how the real Tucker feels about that.

As far as process, we work on a draft together, then head home and start emailing revisions back and forth. I tend to be a procrastinator and Ann’s energetic and prolific. She speeds me up and I slow her down.  All I can say is that it works, thanks to Barb McNally, our wonderful editor at Sleeping Bear Press, and the team there. André Ceolin, who illustrates the series, is the one who brings these two characters and their stories to life. We are enchanted with his work and feel so lucky to be part of this series.

Besides telling a great story, early reader books encourage kids to fall in love with reading while also introducing new vocabulary and sentence structure and giving them a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end. That’s a lot to think about while writing! Where do you start and how do you draft the structure needed?

It’s a challenging form. It’s difficult to work with such a limited vocabulary, plus just a few high-interest words in each book. We also want kids to relate to the animal and human characters and their feelings and experiences. At the same time, we want a lively story arc with humor and great illustration possibilities. The art helps the students in decoding the words. We draft the story first, and then go back and edit, edit, edit. Ann’s deep education background is a huge resource for me. I’ve learned a lot working on these.

Can you talk a little about the Lead to Read program that you’re involved in? What kind of mentoring do you do with students? What kinds of changes and successes do you see in the kids that you mentor?

I’m such a fan of this program. Lead to Read KC organizes community volunteers to read for 30 minutes one-on-one with kids in first, second, and third grade classrooms every week. The goal is to improve third-grade literacy.

I go to my school on Tuesdays at lunchtime along with other volunteers. You work with the same child all year, so you get the opportunity to get to know that student. I love bringing picture books and early readers that might interest them or make them laugh. The student picks out some books from the classroom or from my book bag, and the fun begins.

It’s an absolute thrill to see a student who is struggling with reading experience success. Kudos to all the teachers and librarians who do this critical work every day!

I’d love to see the Lead to Read model replicated all over. There are more than 1,100 volunteers reading every week in Kansas City now. Check it out at leadtoreadkc.org.

You seem to have been born into the writing and publishing business! Can you talk a little about your family’s business, a favorite memory from your childhood, and how it influenced your becoming a writer?

My family had a commercial printing business, so I grew up playing at the plant on Saturday mornings with my sister. We loved to roam around the skids of paper and create things with scraps and rubber cement. We went to work in the bindery and as proofreaders there in the summers when we were teenagers. My sister ended up a writer, too.

Readers know you for your adorable and critically acclaimed Pug Meets Pig and Pug and Pig: Trick or Treat, illustrated by Joyce Wan. Can you share where the idea for this cuddly cute pair came from and the inspiration behind the characters? Can readers look forward to more from Pug and Pig?

Thank you! Joyce Wan is a fabulous book partner along with the whole Beach Lane Books team. The idea for Pug and Pig came from a story a friend told me in a water aerobics class about a family with a pet pug that adopted a pig. I loved the way the words “pug” and “pig” sounded together, and the illustration potential of two round, curly-tailed creatures. I can’t share any details yet, but yes, there’s more to come from Pug and Pig!

What’s up next for you?

Ann and I are at work on book 3 of the Tip and Tucker series, which will come out in 2020. I’ve got several projects in the works that haven’t been announced yet that will come out in the next few years. And I’m looking forward to some solid writing time in the months ahead, as well as lots of school visits in the upcoming year.

And one last question for the two of you!

Ann and Sue share a pretty cool fact! They both live in Kansas City, but the city is divided between Missouri and Kansas. Ann lives on the Missouri side and Sue lives on the Kansas side. In a bit of friendly rivalry, can you each tell me your favorite place in Kansas City and your favorite thing about your state?

ANN: Maybe my favorite place in Kansas City is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I have been there so many times with so many different people. I loved taking my children there when they were small and everything and every space looked large and amazing. They still love to go there. We actually went there to study how to make my son, Kevin’s, Halloween costume as a knight.

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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

SUE: State Line Road actually is just a few blocks from my house. One of my favorite things about Kansas City on both sides of the state line is all of our parks and fountains. Visitors often are surprised that there are so many trees and gardens. We do have hills also!

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Kansas City, Kansas Children’s Fountain

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Carl J Dicapo Fountain in Kansas City, Kansas.

ANN AND SUE: For our friendly rivalry, anyone from Kansas City has a favorite barbecue place. Ann loves Q39 on the Missouri side. My favorite is Brobeck’s on the Kansas side!

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Thanks, Ann and Sue for this fun chat! You’ve definitely made me want to visit Kansas City! I wish you both all the best with all of your books and your upcoming projects!

You can connect with Sue Lowell Gallion on

Her website | Goodreads | Pinterest | Twitter

Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak Giveaway

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tip-and-tucker-hide-and-squeak-cover        celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tip-and-tucker-hide-and-squeak-hamster-toy-for-giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak, written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Gallion | illustrated by André Ceolin 
  • One Hamster Plush

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your child’s classroom pet or your favorite animal for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry)

This giveaway is open from August 15 through August 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on August 22.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Back to School Month Activity

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Fill Your Backpack Game

 

Make sure you’re ready for school with this fun, printable board game! As players take turns rolling the die to acquire supplies for their backpack, they get closer and closer to being prepared. The first player to fill their backpack with all six supplies is the winner!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print one game board and set of playing pieces for each player
  2. Print one playing die
  3. Players can color their backpack game board if they’d like
  4. Cut out individual game cards and give a set to each player
  5. Cut out and assemble playing die
  6. Players roll the die to place items on their backpack
  7. The first player to get all six items is the winner

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You can find Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review