December 24 – Christmas Eve

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About the Holiday

While Christmas Eve traditions vary around the world, children and adults everywhere look forward to this special night of giving with its wonder and magic. Today’s book tells the story of the first Christmas with gentle beauty. I also talk with author Carole Gerber about her inspiration and her own family traditions. 

Thanks go to Familius for sharing a copy of The Gifts of the Animals with me 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.

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

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.

Hi Carole! I’m excited to be sharing Christmas Eve with you and your Christmas classic. I’m sure readers would love to know 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.

Christmas Eve 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

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 22 – National Cookie Exchange Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday got its start during the Middle Ages, when spices and dried fruit were becoming popular additions to baked goods. These ingredients were expensive, however, and most families could only afford to bake cookies at the holidays. To celebrate, they held parties to share and appreciate these delicious treats. This tradition lives on in today’s cookie exchanges. To celebrate, organize your own cookie exchange or simply share your favorite cookies with your friends and family members.

Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mama bear and her little bear get ready for one of the most fun days of the year. “Cooke day, / Time to bake. / Aprons on, / Lots to make!” The little one cracks an egg into the bowl while the butter, flour, and sugar wait their turn. Mom pours warm melted butter and lets her little bear stir it into dough.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With the dough rolled smooth, it’s time to use the cookie cutters to make…”Christmas tree, / Reindeer, bell. / Snowman, star, / Cookie smell.” The pair add angels, candy canes, and drummer boys before sliding the tray into the oven and watching them bake. At last the timer rings but they still must wait. Finally “ready, set… / Decorate!”

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

It’s so much fun spreading the frosting and shaking out sprinkles to create green trees, yellow stars, and red-and-white striped candy canes. Even the bakers can’t resist nibbling a few. But not too many, because these are special “cookie gifts. / Made with care. / Pack them up, / Cooke share!” It’s time to invite friends and family for a yearly treat—“Christmastime, / Spirits bright. / Family hugs, / Cookie night.”

A delectable Christmas Cookie Day Recipe follows the story for all little bakers to try.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

The absence of personal pronouns and a red apron for the little cub make Christmas Cookie Day! gender neutral.

A sweet story to spark a fun family tradition and share the joy of giving, Christmas Cookie Day! makes an endearing addition to a child’s home library.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

Discover more about Tara Knudson, her books, and her other writing for children on her website.

You can connect with Pauline Siewert on Instagram.

Meet Tara Knudson

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I’m excited to be talking today with Tara Knudson about her sweet book, her favorite cookie, and how being a teacher inspires her work.

Christmas Cookie Day has such a joyous feeling. Do you have any special memories of baking with your family when you were a child?  What is your favorite kind of cookie?

I’m so glad that you think CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY has such a joyous feeling! The story evokes happy memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mom and sisters when I was a child. I remember gathering the cookie cutters from the cabinet, excited to get started! We all stood around the kitchen table and decorated our cookies with sprinkles, frosting, and candy pieces. It was so fun!

CPB - Tara Knudson Interview - decorating cookies

While I do enjoy eating Christmas sugar cookies, my favorite kind of cookie is chocolate chip, especially ones with dark chocolate chips and a little salt. Yum!

As a regular contributor to children’s magazines like Highlights Hello, Highlights High Five, Baby Bug, and Ladybug, you write stories and poetry for the youngest readers, what do you like about writing for this age? What are a few of the most important ingredients in stories for little ones?

I love writing for little ones because they are so curious about everything in the world around them—sights, smells, sounds, tastes, new experiences, and people. They take it all in as they learn, develop, and grow. I like to be a part of that.

My poems and stories for this age group often include short and simple sentences with some fun words added that young readers may not be familiar with.

You’ve said that you loved to write even as a child. Can you describe your journey to becoming a published writer?

My journey as a writer has been a long one. I still have my creative writing stories from second grade. Reading them now makes me laugh! Growing up, the stories were always special to me, but I did not know yet that I wanted to be a writer.

CPB - Tara Knudson Interview - school writing folder

I started writing poetry when I was in high school. As I dealt with the problems and frustrations that adolescence can bring, I often wrote poems to express my feelings. After college, I became a Spanish teacher and I often used children’s picture books in the          classroom. I would spend hours at bookstores searching for favorite ones. It was during that time that I fell in love with picture books and decided that I wanted to write them.

In pursuit of my goal, I won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that allowed me to take a break from my teaching job and live in Barcelona, Spain for a year and experiment with writing for children. I wrote many poems and rhyming stories for children. I continued to write after my return to the U.S. As years passed, I sold articles and poems to children’s magazines and continued to work on my picture book manuscripts as I worked as a teacher and later took care of my two sons. Finally, I signed with an agent who helped me sell my first book.

Can you talk a little about your work as a teacher? How do your experiences influence your work?

My teaching background is unique because I have taught different subjects to students of many ages. I started my teaching career as a high school Spanish teacher. Then, while in Barcelona, I taught English to middle school students. Upon my return to the U.S., I taught Spanish to grades K-2 and then math to grades 1-4. 

Whichever subject I teach, and to whichever grade level, there is always something for me to gain as a writer when I work with students. Whether it be from something that happens in the classroom or something that a student says that sparks a writing idea, being around children gets my creative juices flowing! I hope to get back in the classroom soon.

What’s up next for you?

My next book, EASTER EGG DAY, will be released in February, 2020. Also, I’m happy to announce that a third book in my holiday board book series will follow. I will share details about that book soon. I have plenty of non-holiday projects as well that I hope will make their way into the world in the near future.

What’s your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love the excitement that leads up to it, the beautiful decorations, the spirit of giving, and the true meaning of the season. It’s such a magical and joyous time for people of all ages filled with traditions and love. I’m so happy that CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY can be a part of it all!

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Thanks so much for chatting with me, Tara! I wish you a wonderful holiday and much success with all of your writing!

You can connect with Tara Knudson on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter  

National Cookie Exchange Day Activity

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Gingerbread Kids Ornaments

 

All cookies don’t have to be edible! With this easy craft children can make gingerbread kid ornaments to decorate your tree or windows or to give to family and friends!

Supplies

  • Printable Gingerbread Girl and Boy Template
  • 2 Brown foam sheets
  • White paint (or any color you like)
  • Glitter in two colors
  • Paint brush
  • 2 Small heart buttons (optional)
  • Mounting squares (for mounting)
  • Thread  and needle (for optional hanging)

Directions

  1. Trace gingerbread kid templates on brown foam sheets and cut out
  2. Paint around the edges with the white paint then add trim to the edge of the dress and the top of the socks 
  3. Add buttons
  4. Add faces
  5. Paint the hands of each figure then sprinkle glitter over the wet paint to make mittens
  6. To use as decoration, attach mountable squares. To use as an ornament, use a threaded needle to make a hole in the top of each figure and tie the thread to create a hanger.

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You can find Christmas Cookie Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 30 – Celebrating Family Fun Month with Ellen Mayer

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Ellen Mayer is a writer with a background in early childhood and parent education. She has worked as a researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, studying family engagement in children’s learning. She has also worked as an early literacy home visitor with a diverse community of families, supporting young children in early language development through book sharing and play. Ellen held a writing fellowship for Math Picture Book Authors, from the Heising-Simons Foundation, and is a visiting author with the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative of the Somerville, MA Public Schools. Her books include picture books Rosa’s Very Big Job and Cake Day as well as her Small Talk Books series, which includes A Fish to Feed, Red Socks, Clean Up, Up, Up, Banana for Two, and Twinkle, Twinkle Diaper You. Ellen writes her children’s books to entertain and educate both children and the adults who read to them. She holds an M.Phil. in Sociology from Columbia University.

You can discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books as well as activities for kids to accompany all of her books on her website. You can also connect with Ellen on Facebook and Twitter.

Hi Ellen! It’s so great to have you join in on my summer interviews, especially because this is a really exciting time for you! Your books for the youngest readers consistently make “Best of” lists and win awards. Your work before becoming an author centered around families and literacy and your books really show the kinds of caring connections that build strong bonds and learning skills. The two careers seem perfect for you, who I know as someone who is a wonderful friend and loves to bring people together. As summer winds down, I wonder if you’d share a special childhood memory with readers.

One of my favorite memories is pulling a wagon with real human cargo the length of a long dirt driveway through the deep woods, wearing no shoes, during a hot New Hampshire summer. That was one of the most gratifying summer things this seven-year-old did!

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Each summer my family and another spent our vacation in New Hampshire in two houses on the same road. We were brought together because our mothers were friends from high school and our fathers were friends from college. Between our families there were five children ranging in age from one to seven, and I was the oldest. Halfway down the road, the woods broke to a clearing where my father grew sunflowers. I was in charge of managing and operating round-trip wagon rides to “Sunflower Stop.” When we reached Sun Flower Stop, my passengers invariably alighted to stop and look up in awe at the sunflowers, and I got a much-needed rest.

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When it was time for my family to return home to New York City and our friends to Boston after three long summer vacation months, I pulled my wagon into the back of the garage until the next summer. I don’t remember whether I got to take this sunflower back with me, but I like to think that I did.

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What a fun and fantastic story! Those must have been amazing summers. Thanks so much for sharing that special memory with us!

I’m excited to get to your books because your latest board book, Twinkle, Twinkle Diaper You!, recently received a national award from the Carnegie Library, which named it one of the Best Books for Babies for 2021! Carnegie Library chose the books on their list because the librarians “believe they offer something special to babies and their grown-ups and will delight and engage babies age birth through 18 months and the adults who care for them.” This is a great description of your Small Talk Books®, which always offer ways for adults and kids to play and learn together while looking forward to a bright future.

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Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!

¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu

 

Ellen Mayer’s newest addition to her Small Talk Books® series is a charming story that little ones will eagerly respond to and which can help parents turn diaper time into a joyful experience full of opportunities for language and literacy development. Mayer’s clever take on the kid-favorite Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, is infectious and fun for adults to sing while reading with their baby and while diapering. Sweet endearments, playful words, and even a tummy kiss realistically reflect the loving relationship parents and caregivers share with their little ones.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2020, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2020. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Children love and respond positively to routine, and the frequency of diaper changing makes this one of babies’ first familiar experiences. Adding parental conversation, songs, smiles, and mirroring of the child’s sounds, expressions, and motions to the dedicated time diapering takes creates a rich educational environment for baby to listen to caregivers and begin the basic foundations of language learning.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2020, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2020. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Ying-Hwa Hu’s bright illustrations, sprinkled with silver stars that glitter on the page, will delight little readers. Her clean lines and soothing color palette create a pleasing backdrop to familiar details that give adults plenty to point out and name while reading. The centerpiece of each page is the relationship between mother and child and reflects actions, such as making eye and physical contact, that enhance a child’s learning and self-confidence. Hu’s adorable baby giggles and belly laughs as Mama smiles and talks lovingly while changing and then cuddling her little one. The appearance of the baby’s big sister (perhaps still using diapers herself, or recently transitioned to underwear), makes this a book that will appeal to a wide range of ages. The final spread of the baby’s family reading and cuddling together is heartwarming.

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In ¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! the story is charmingly translated into Spanish by Eida Del Risco. Spanish verses share two-page spreads with the English translation, providing a rich reading experience for native Spanish speakers, bilingual families, and those parents interested in teaching their children Spanish.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2020, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2020. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

A Note for Parents, Grandparents, and Caregivers by Dr. Betty Bardige, an expert on language and literacy development in young children, is also included in each book. The note reveals the important connection between talking, singing, and playing with babies and their language learning. Bardige goes on to provide tips for interacting with your child and following their cues as well as for how to share this book with little ones.

Ages Birth – 3

Star Bright Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1595728937 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595728944 (Spanish/English bilingual edition)

Read my full review of Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! here.

You can find Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-MillionBookshop | IndieBound

You can find ¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! here

Amazon | Books-a-Million | Bookshop | IndieBound

Storytelling Math Board Books

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Clean Up, Up, Up! 

¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up!

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu

 

In Clean Up Up Up!, the concept of spatial relations is organically introduced to toddlers through the motions and words used while putting items in their proper place, stepping up on a stool to use something out of the child’s reach, and even when eating. Research shows that talking with children at all ages about math concepts such as positions and locations improves their understanding and leads to better success in school and beyond.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

The loving relationship between father and child in Mayer’s early language development book A Fish to Feed, is expanded on here as the same interracial family enjoys clean-up and dinner time. The engaging dialogue between Daddy, Mommy, and their toddler will captivate young readers and inspire adults to continue the story in their own daily lives.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Ying-Hwa Hu’s adorable toddler giggles and plays while soaking up the rich language of positions and locations that the father clearly points to while cleaning up. Little readers will be charmed by the enthusiastic child and the little puppy that follows along. Images of books, toys, washing up, and dinnertime all demonstrate the positions and locations referred to in the story, while other details provide an opportunity for adults and children to expand on the text (the fish from A Fish to Feed swims inside its bowl and balls sit inside a bin, for example). Hu’s vivid colors as well as the smiles and enthusiasm with which Daddy, Mommy, and their child interact make Clean Up, Up, Up! a feel-great educational read.

A note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers from childhood education expert Susan C. Levine on how they can find opportunities to talk about spatial relations during everyday activities is included.  Gender neutral clothing and hairstyle as well as an absence of pronouns makes this a universal story.

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Clean Up, Up, Up! is also available in a bilingual Spanish/English edition: ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up! translated byAudrey Martinez-Gudapakkam and Dr. Sabrina De Los Santos

Ages 1 – 3

Star Bright Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1595728012 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595727589 (Spanish/English edition)

Read my full review of Clean Up, Up, Up! here.

Discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ying-Hwa Hu, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Sing Along!

Adults will have fun sharing “Wash Up, Up, Up!,” a song inspired by the story, with little ones as they wash their hands! The lyrics are also available for download and printing. Listen and sing along here:

“Wash Up, Up, Up!” 

You can find Clean Up, Up, Up! at these booksellers

AmazonBooks-a-Million | Bookshop | IndieBound

You can find ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up! here

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

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A Fish to Feed

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu

 

Dad plans a fun trip into town with his young child to buy a pet fish. He says, we will get “‘a fish to swim in our bowl. A fish we can look at and feed.’” The pair are excited to go together and have time to “‘walk…and talk.’” The two head out and soon pass a store. In the window the child sees a T-shirt with the picture of a fish on it and points. “‘Look—fish! Fish! Fish!’” Dad reinforces the observation using complete sentences that model conversation and increase his child’s vocabulary—“‘Yes, I see the fish on the T-shirt too.’” He further explains: “‘That’s a fish to wear, not a fish to swim in our bowl.’”

As Dad and his toddler visit other stores, the child finds more fish on a backpack, toys, and other items. When they get to the pet store, the child is excited to find a fish that swims. They take the goldfish home, where it swims happily in their bowl. They’ve found a pet they “‘can love and feed.’”

 
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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy of starbrightbooks.com

Ellen Mayer’s story of a dad and his child out for an afternoon together as they look for a pet to love offers adults and children a sweet way to spend time with one another. The story, set in the familiar environments of home and stores and revolving around a close parent-child relationship, will engage even the youngest readers. The back-and-forth conversation between Dad and his child as they shop models ways in which adults can follow a child’s lead while providing language and literacy development. 

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy of starbrightbooks.com

Ying-Hwa Hu’s illustrations are vibrant and joyful. When Dad bends down to be at eye-level with his toddler as they talk, the close bond between them is obvious in their smiling and laughing faces. The shops are full of colorful toys, clothes, backpacks, and other items that will capture kids’ attention. Spending time looking at each page allows adults and children to point at the various items, name them, and talk about them.

A Fish to Feed contains die-cut holes in the pages that kids will love peering through as they shop along on this adventure to find a special pet.

Ages Birth – 5

Star Bright Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1595727077 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595727589 (Spanish/English edition)

Read my full review of A Fish to Feed here.

You can find A Fish to Feed at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million | Bookshop | IndieBound

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You can find Un pez para alimentar/A Fish to Feed at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

A Sneak Peek at the next  Small Talk Books® Storytelling Math Board Book, Yellow, Red, Green – GO!

 The third book in the Small Talk Books® series (joining Banana for Two and Clean Up, Up, Up!) to focus on math talk, Yellow, Red, Green – GO!  is based upon work supported in part by TERC under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation for the Storytelling Math project.

Yellow, Red, Green – GO! features the math of patterns for children ages 1-3 and welcomes back the interracial family from A Fish to Feed and Clean Up, Up, Up! In the story Mommy and her child bicycle through their neighborhood to Grandma’s house and, along the way, discover lots of patterns – from the traffic lights that each change from yellow, to red, and then to green – to the windows, lights, and doors on each of the row houses on Grandma’s block.

Yellow, Red, Green – GO!, illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu, releases in Spring, 2022 in English as well as in a bilingual Spanish/English edition.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cake-day-cover You can read a review of Cake Day and find a delicious recipe to make here

 

 

 

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Find my review of Rosa’s Very Big Job and paper dolls of the characters plus clothes and accessories to download and print here.

 

 

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Read my full review of Banana for Two and find a fun shopping game to play with little ones here.

 

 

 

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You’ll find my full review of Red Socks and a fun matching puzzle to do with little ones here.

Family Fun Month Activity

CPB - Playhouse craft

Come Inside! Playhouse

 

Kids love pretending with their toys in playhouses. With this craft you and your child can make a playhouse with recycled items and lots of imagination. While making the house, talk with your child about the building process using spatial relation words and ask for their ideas on what it should look like.

Once finished, you and your child can make up stories using words that use spatial relations as characters come in the house, go out of the house, peek in or out of a window, sit on the roof, wait under the window, sit next to a friend while having tea, and so much more!

Supplies

  • Cardboard box
  • Craft paint
  • Markers
  • Glue

Plus Recycled items, such as:

  • Bottle caps for door knobs,
  • Small boxes for a chimney
  • Use the cardboard cut from the windows to make shutters
  • Scraps of cloth for curtains

 

August 27 – Banana Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

If you love bananas, you’re not alone! Bananas are the most popular fruit in the United States and one of the most popular worldwide. How popular are they? On average each person eats 100 of these delicious fruits every year. Bananas’ are versatile and nutritious, making them a perfect addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time. Today, banana lovers can celebrate by enjoying this appealing fruit in their favorite way. But first, you’ll need to buy a bunch. Make the shopping fun for you and your little ones with today’s book!

Banana for Two

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu

 

As a mother strolls her shopping cart through the grocery store, she engages her toddler, who’s brought along two stuffed bunnies, in choosing the items they need. Mama talks to her child about the one roll of paper towels she puts in the cart, then it’s off to the cereal aisle. Holding up a colorful box, Mama says, “‘Here’s your favorite cereal’” to which her toddler enthusiastically answers, “‘MORE!’” Playfully, Mama holds the box up to one eye and says, “‘we don’t need more—just one box. Peek-a-boo! Can you see just one eye?’”

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2017, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2017. Courtesy of Start Bright Books.

Her little one giggles as they head for the dairy aisle for yogurt. Here, the child’s wish for “‘MORE!’” is granted, and Mama lets her little one hold the containers. “‘One, two—one for each hand,’ says Mama.” The child laughs and kicks, excited to help. As they pass through the fruit section, the toddler grabs a banana from the display and holds it up triumphantly. Mama is happy to add the one banana to the cart to eat later. “‘Look—one banana for one hand!’” she points out.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2017, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2017. Courtesy of Start Bright Books.

At check-out, Mama names each item and the quantity they are buying as she puts the banana, yogurt, carrots, potatoes, milk, and other things on the conveyor belt. But her little one wants to help too! Suddenly, one of the stuffed bunnies is riding toward the smiling clerk on top of the roll of paper towels. Back home, it’s time for a snack. As Mama cuts the banana in half, her toddler proudly exclaims, “‘TWO!’” showing an understanding of the concept of two.

A note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers by early math expert Deborah Stipek is included. Gender neutral clothing and hair and the absence of personal pronouns in the text make this a universal book for all children.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2017, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2017. Courtesy of Start Bright Books.

Ellen Mayer’s joyful math board book for the youngest readers introduces parents and other caregivers to ways that they can add math talk to everyday activities. In Banana for Two, grocery shopping becomes a fun opportunity for an adult and child to talk together about quantity—an important early building block for math understanding and future math success. Connecting concepts a child already knows—such as two containers of yogurt for two hands—as the mother does in Banana for Two is another way to strengthen understanding.

Mayer’s conversational style—indeed the whole story is a conversation between mother and child—is sweet and loving and full of the kinds of moments that may seem routine to adults but that children cherish sharing with parents, grandparents, or other caregivers. And the final image of the little one happily savoring slices of banana will have kids asking for “‘MORE!'”

Ying-Hwa Hu’s exuberant illustrations of mother and child will make little ones and adults smile. Cheerful eye contact between the two shows the love they share and their enjoyment in spending time together. Colorful boxes and containers line the grocery store shelves, giving the pages a fresh and sunny feel. The items Mama adds to the cart are clearly shown in quantities of one and two. Little readers will love the adorable stuffed bunnies and join in the toddler’s pride as they too recognize the ideas of one and two.

Banana for Two will charm little ones and would made a perfect book to share before shopping, at meal or snack time, or during playtime to reinforce the lesson and the fun of learning. The book also makes an excellent shower or new baby gift and is highly recommended for home, preschool classroom, and public library board book collections.

Ages Birth – 2

Star Bright Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1595727886 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595727992 (Bilingual Spanish/English Edition)

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Banana for Two is also available in bilingual editions in these languages. See the Star Bright Books website for more information and how to order. To find all of languages Star Bright Books titles are published in, click here.

Chinese/English | Hindi/English | Hmong/English | Punjabi/English | Somali/English | Spanish/English

To discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books as well as  find lots of resources for adults and fun activities for kids, visit her website.

Learn more about Ying-Hwa Hu and her art, and her books, visit her website.

Banana Lovers Day Activity

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Math Fun Is in the Bag Grocery Shopping Game

 

Little ones love to pretend to go grocery shopping! With the printable game pieces and instructions here, you and your child can fill a bag with items in quantities of one and two and share some math fun!

Supplies

Directions

To Make a Bag

  1. Fold the 8 ½” by 11” piece of paper in half and tape on the side and at the bottom
  2. Your child may enjoy decorating your homemade bag or a paper sandwich bag with crayons

To Play the Game

  1. After printing the Math Fun Is in the Bag template, talk with your little one about the quantity of items in each picture. Even if your child is not talking yet, they are listening and learning.
  2. Help your child cut the pictures apart
  3. Ask your child to find a picture of one banana and put it in the bag
  4. Continue with the other pictures, noting the quantity of the item
  5. For older children, print two (or more) copies of the Math Fun Is in the Bag template and have them add two bananas, two cartons of milk, four carrots, and four containers of yogurt to the bag.
  6. Older children may also enjoy paying for their groceries with pennies in quantities of one or two (or more). Set a price for each item and help children count out the coins needed to pay for them.

More Math Fun!

You’ll find more Math Fun, including printable bunny puppets to make, pretend play suggestions, and tips for talking about two on Ellen Mayer’s Website

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You can find Banana for Two at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 24 – Celebrating Family Fun Month with Tara Knudson

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Tara Knudson is a former teacher who has been writing poetry and stories since she was a young girl growing up in Chicago. Her published work can be found in children’s magazines, greeting cards, calendars, and a poetry anthology for teens. Christmas Cookie Day, Easter Egg Day, and Valentine’s Day Treats are all part of Tara’s collected works celebrating a childlike approach to beloved holiday celebrations.

You can connect with Tara Knudson on her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much for stopping by to chat, Tara! I’m happy to be celebrating Family Fun Month with you since your books always invite kids and their families to enjoy the seasons together at home, with friends, and on special outings. You always include some kind of hands-on element to your books – either recipes, tips, or touch-and-feel pages – to get kids and adults spending extra time together. It makes me wonder if your previous job or jobs have influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

One of my favorite books when I was a child was Richard Scarry’s BEST WORD BOOK EVER. I remember sitting in a big chair and reading as many words as I could. I loved to learn and play school when I was younger, so it’s no surprise that later I became a teacher. I was a teacher for many years before becoming an author. I taught Spanish to K-12 students and math to elementary students in Chicago. I also taught English to middle school students in Barcelona, Spain where I lived as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar for a year.

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Given my experience in education, I think my books will always have some teachable moments in them. From making Christmas cookies, to dyeing Easter eggs, or creating a heart-shaped cake from a round cake and a square cake, I like to incorporate fun lessons in my books that early childhood teachers can incorporate into their classroom lessons. 

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In my board books for the youngest readers, little ones can experience the unique sights and sounds of a fall day or a lively parade and learn new words along the way!

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I am excited to be able to do in-person author events once again as schools safely welcome back students and teachers again. What a joy it is to teach with my own books! 

Your experiences in the classroom have certainly inspired wonderful books for little ones! Congratulations on your upcoming book Parade Day Fun, which is releasing from Zonderkidz in March 2022! I’m sure little ones will be lining up to bring the excitement of a parade home!

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Fun Fall Day: A Touch and Feel Board Book

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Juliana Motzko

 

Tara Knudson’s playful rhymes will charm little ones as they join in on the fall fair excitement. Along the way, kids meet many different animals and engage with shapes and colors. Knudson’s lyrical verses perfectly reflect the fun and cozy atmosphere of fall. Sensory patches invite eager fingers to pet the horse and goat, touch grainy sugar, enjoy the woody texture of a fallen leaf, and feel the smoothness of a pumpkin shell.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2020, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2020. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Juliana Motzko’s fall fair enchants with adorable animals and the bright colors of the autumn season. Delighted smiles abound as the young fair-goers visit the petting zoo, craft table, baked goods display, play area, and pumpkin patch. Motzko’s textured illustrations of golden hay, rich soil, whole grain bread and apple pie as well as crunchy leaves and a straw-filled scarecrow blend well with the touch-and-feel patches and enhance the opportunity for adults and kids to talk about sensory awareness.

Fun Fall Day, a nicely sized board book—not too small or too big for little hands—is a story that’s a joy to read aloud and one that kids will want to hear again and again. It would make a much-appreciated gift for babies and toddlers and a favorite on home, preschool, and public library bookshelves.

Ages Baby – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310770213

Discover more about Tara Knudson and her books on her website.

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

You can find Fun Fall Day: A Touch and Feel Board Book at these booksellers

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

Holiday Books

Kids enjoy getting ready for the holidays with these sweet books by Tara Knudson and Pauline Siewert.

You can find printable coloring pages for each book on Tara’s website.

To connect with Pauline Siewert, visit her on Instagram.

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Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mama bear and her little bear get ready for one of the most fun days of the year. “Cooke day, / Time to bake. / Aprons on, / Lots to make!” 

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

You can find Christmas Cookie Day! at these booksellers

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

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Tara Knudson captures the enthusiasm little ones have for expressing their love in her warm rhymes that transport kids into the middle of exciting Valentine’s Day preparations. As the little raccoons cut and paste, color and paint, and add stickers and lots of glitter, kids will be eager to get out their own supplies to make homemade cards for those they love. And just one look at Knudson’s clever cake will have them running to the kitchen to make that too. Of course, Valentines are to share, and readers will be eager to see who gets the little raccoon’s special treats.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2020, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2020. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Pauline Siewert’s adorable raccoons craft and cook their way through Valentine’s Day to make special cards and snacks for their friends. Her vivid images are cheerful and lively and charmingly include the little spatters and splashes that are all part of the fun. Little ones will enjoy soaking up all the details in the craft room, the kitchen, and the friends’ house and pointing out the ones they know. When adults point out these details while reading, kids will find it easy to read along too, as Knudson uses them to make her bubbly rhymes and flowing rhythm. Kids will also like keeping their eye on the tiny house mouse who is also making itty-bitty Valentine’s Day treats. 

Ages Baby – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310768395

You can find Valentine’s Day Treats at these booksellers

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

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Easter Egg Day

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Little ones love the magic of dyeing Easter eggs, and Tara Knudson’s bright, bouncy rhymes perfectly convey the giggly excitement kids feel during this once-a-year tradition. Readers will eagerly anticipate each step and page turn along the way as the bunnies turn their carton of white eggs into a basket full of creative, colorful treasures. Of course, Easter eggs are made for hiding and finding, and Knudson invites kids to join the bunnies and little moles and mice as they scamper through the yard on this most joyful of all hunts.

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Image copyright Pauline Stewert, 2020, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2020. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With sunny yellows, tender-grass greens, and vibrant oranges, purples, and reds, Pauline Siewert drops kids as gently as an egg into dye into spring and the enchantment of Easter egg fun. White eggs marked with creative crayon designs will give readers a few ideas for their own eggs while the sweet smiles and enthusiasm of the bunny siblings and their parents mirror their own feelings. As the bunnies and their friends dash off to find the eggs, little ones will be just as excited for their own Easter egg traditions.

Adorable and endearing, Easter Egg Day will be a favorite spring read for adults and kids to share before Easter and to remember family fun.

Ages 2 – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310767527

You can find Easter Egg Day at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 16 – Celebrating Back-to-School Month with Tammi Sauer

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Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is the full-time author of many popular picture books, including Quiet Wyatt, illustrated by Arthur Howard, and Nugget and Fang and Nugget and Fang Go to School, both illustrated by Michael Slack. Getting kids excited about reading and writing is her passion. Her other passion is tropical tea. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

You can connect with Tammi on her website | Facebook | Twitter

Hi Tammi! I’m really happy you could help me celebrate kids going back to school with your best-of-friends, Nugget and Fang! This minnow and shark don’t seem like they’d be natural friends, but they make really supportive besties. Many of your books explore friendships and themes of being out of your comfort zone – and always with a liberal sprinkling of humor that really appeals to kids. How has a previous job or jobs influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

I am a former pre-k teacher and library media specialist. Both of those positions exposed me to hundreds of picture books. How lovely is it that the more you read, the better you write? Plus, being in the classroom and the library helped me to see what books really resonated with kids.

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My role as Mom has also been a big benefit to me as a writer. I used to read stacks and stacks of picture books to my kids. My son, Mason, was a tough audience—especially when he was four. After every book I read, he would either give it a double thumbs up or say, “Wow, that’s a dud.” I always keep four-year-old Mason in mind as I write. I want to create something that little Mason would have readily endorsed.

How great is it for a picture book writer to have a seasoned and discerning critic in residence?! Thanks so much, Tammi for sharing your experience with readers—and for all of your double-thumbs-up books!

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Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

When most fish and sea creature saw Fang, they swam or scuttled off in fear. But the mini minnows knew Fang was just a softie – and a vegetarian – because he once had saved them and his best friend Nugget from a fisherman’s net. In fact the mini minnows liked Fang so much, they thought he should go to school with them at Mini Minnows Elementary School. Nugget thought this was a great idea too.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Fang was excited until the first day of school arrived. He felt seasick and thought his skin was turning blue. “‘Your skin is always blue,’ said Nugget. ‘You’ll be fine.'” When the first bell rang, Nugget had to drag Fang in by the fin as Fang rattled off questions: “‘What if I lose a tooth? Or two? Or twenty? What if I sit on a jellyfish?'” He was afraid of swallowing someone while yawning, and getting swallowed by a whale himself. As the teacher, a hermit crab, introduced herself, Fang still worried. “‘She looks crabby,’ whispered Fang.'”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Nugget tried to reassure his friend. “‘You’ll be fine,'” he said, but things did not go well in reading, math, or science. Music, art and The Brief History of Minnows were also disasters. Fang thought the day couldn’t get any worse, but it did. At the end of the day, the teacher invited each student to the front of the class to share something special. After the horrible day he’d had, Fang did not want to do it. After students had shared their hobbies, talents, or special things from home, it was Fang’s turn. He stood in front of the class nervously trying to think of something to share. Then he noticed Nugget, who was smiling, nodding, and holding the lunchbox the mini minnows had given him that read “Fang, Our Hero!”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Suddenly, Fang did feel fine. And he knew just what to say. With a big toothy grin, Fang announced, “‘I have the best friend in the whole underwater world!'” Everyone was so impressed that the teacher even gave Fang a gold star. Now Fang didn’t want to leave school, but Nugget grabbed him by the fin and led him home anyway.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Tammi Sauer dives deep into the ways true friends help and support each other in her story that takes on first-day-of-school jitters and shows that even awkward days turn out fine with a bit of encouragement. Little readers will appreciate Sauer’s straightforward storytelling that focuses on children’s common fears when beginning school or any new extracurricular activity with a light touch and plenty of punny humor to get them giggling. To calm those fears, Sauer shows that reassurance and kindness come from many places, including best friends, new friends, and teachers. 

Fans of Nugget and Fang will be happy to reunite with Michael Slack’s rainbow-hued minnows and blue Fang. As Nugget and Fang approach the school, Fang’s fears swirl around him, replicating the way thoughts whirl through a worried mind. Slack’s uncluttered illustrations make it easy for kids to understand Fang’s predicaments as well as the comical touches. Slack uses the ocean environment for plenty of clever interpretations of a classroom setting. The science food chain poster in Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—or Snack Time? gets a history update in this version, adding to Fang’s embarrassment. Just as in the first book of this series, readers will cheer on Fang and Nugget’s unusual but strong friendship. 

Nugget & Fang Go To School will quickly become a favorite for kids just beginning their school journey, starting a new grade, or going back to in-person learning after a virtual year. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

Deep in the ocean two friends do everything together and life is almost perfect as they swim over ship wrecks, under reefs, and all around. Nugget and Fang are as close as two friend can be—there’s just one thing: Nugget is a minnow while Fang is a shark. Neither of them consider their friendship unusual—until Nugget goes to school. There during Reading, Nugget hears the story of The Three Little Minnows and the Big, Bad Shark. “‘Ha!’” says Nugget. “‘Impossible!’”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

During Math class the students solve a word problem: “What if there were ten minnows and a shark came along and ate four of them? How many minnows are left?” Nugget is scandalized. “‘A shark would never do that!’” he says. During Science period when Nugget learns the facts of the Marine Food Chain, he protests that sharks aren’t scary and announces that his best friend is a shark. “Have you lost your gills?” one classmate asks as another snarks, “Hello—sharks eat minnows!” Nugget can’t believe it.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Back home Nugget gives Fang the bad news. “‘Sounds fishy to me,’” says Fang. Nugget assures him it’s true before swimming far away. “Fang’s heart sank.” As Nugget stayed away, Fang determined to get his best friend back. He tried dressing like a mermaid, inviting Nugget for dinner, and even performing a song and dance routine, but nothing could sway Nugget. Fang was so upset that he didn’t didn’t notice when a fishing net floated toward the sea floor, capturing Nugget and the other minnows.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

When Fang realizes what has happened, he doesn’t know what to do. Then he has an idea. With his big sharp teeth he chomps and chews and tears the net to pieces, allowing Nugget and the minnows to swim to safety. They all stare at Fang wide-eyed. He knows just what they’re going to say. But Nugget has a new math problem for him: “‘There were ten minnows, and a very special shark came along. How many friends are there altogether?’” Now eleven friends live happily deep in the ocean, and everyone—especially Fang—are all smiles.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Tammi Sauer’s tribute to true friendship reveals the danger when “facts” take precedence over what you know in your heart to be true. Her reminder to listen to your inner voice is approached with humor and the honest types of doubts that can niggle and cloud judgement. Throughout the story, her language is accessible and kid-conversational, including puns that will elicit laughs. Sauer’s use of a math word problem to both highlight contrary thinking and provide a solution underscores the value of education as well as making new—and keeping old—friendships.

In Michael Slack’s vibrant illustrations, tiny Nugget and imposing Fang make a happy, nonchalant pair. They play together through vivid reefs unaware of marine animal stereotypes. When Nugget gets “schooled,” his astounded expressions and those of his classmates humorously depict their conundrum. The ocean setting gives Slack an opportunity for lots of visual jokes and innovation. Kids will laugh at Fang’s attempts at reconciliation with Nugget, and cheer when he becomes a hero.

Ages 4 – 9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013 ISBN 978-0544481718 | Lap Board Book, 2018 ISBN 978-1328768391

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever – Or Snack Time? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

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Shark Organizer Jar

 

Are some of your favorite school supplies scattered here and there? Would you like to be able to get a good chomp on them? Then here’s a craft you can really sink your teeth into! This shark organizer jar is easy and fun to make and a fin-tastic way to keep your stuff tidy!

Supplies

  • Wide-mouth plastic jar, like a peanut-butter jar
  • Gray craft paint
  • White craft paint
  • Black craft paint
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Find a point in the middle of the jar on opposite sides of the jar
  2. Mid-way between these points on the other sides of the jar, find a point about 1 1/2 inches above the first points
  3. From the first point draw an angled line up to the higher point and down again to the lower point to make the shark’s upper jaw
  4. Repeat Direction Number 3 to make the shark’s lower jaw
  5. With the gray paint fill in the jar below these lines to make the shark’s head
  6. Along the jawline, paint jagged teeth with the white paint
  7. Add black dots for eyes on either side of the shark’s head
  8. Let dry

Picture Book Review

August 10 – Celebrating Inventors Month with Laurie Wallmark

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Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. (Photo credit Jeanne Balsam)

You can connect with Laurie Wallmark on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much, Laurie, for stopping by to celebrate Inventors Month with me! Since this holiday recognizes innovators of the past and present, it seems a  perfect fit for your books that teach kids about amazing women whose inventions or inventive ways of thinking have changed our understanding of math, computers, communications, and even secret codes. 

Your love for these subjects and depth of research lead to compelling biographies. Reading them, I’ve often wondered whether a previous job has influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write. 

For many years I was a software engineer and, after that, a computer science professor. Not surprisingly, my first two women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) picture book biographies were about computer scientists, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.  

The same love of math and science that led me to these careers also led me to want to encourage children’s interest in these fields. And what better way to do this than through books? I now have three more picture book biographies of women mathematicians and scientists out, the latest being Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, with two more on the way.  

But it’s important not to fall into a rut in your writing, so my next title, coming out in October, is Dino Pajama Party. Because of my interest in STEM, people have asked me if it’s nonfiction. Um, no. But who knows? Maybe reading a fun, rhyming picture book about dinosaurs will encourage a child to grow up to be paleontologist. 

I’m sure readers are as thrilled as I am to hear that you have two more STEM-related books coming out! I’m really looking forward to seeing who they’re about! And what could be better than dinosaurs partying in pajamas?! What a terrific way to send little one’s off to bed.

The Latest Books from Laurie Wallmark

 

I’m excited to share a little bit about Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars and Dino Pajama Party.

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Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, readers open the cover to an intriguing question: “Could it be? Had enemy spies sneaked into the United States?” World War II was raging, but the United States had not yet joined the effort. And yet the “FBI had intercepted hundreds of coded messages from a secret base in New York.” The problem was no one could read them. Who did the FBI turn to? Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who broke the codes, discovered a cadre of Nazi spies, and provided the evidence “to send thirty-three German spies to prison.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Elizabeth’s career in code breaking began in an unusual way: through her love of Shakespeare. In 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.” In 1917, with the US involved in World War I, Fabyan asked Elizebeth and her now-husband William Friedman, who was also an expert at secret codes, to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers….”

In 1921, they helped soldiers send sensitive intelligence from the field by devising a complex code that would use only pencil and paper instead of the Army’s cumbersome machine. During Prohibition, they helped stop smugglers and Elizabeth created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit. With America’s entry into World War II, it was Elizabeth who figured out how to defeat the Germans’ powerful code-making machine, Enigma, which “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Compelling and wonderfully detailed, Laurie Wallmark’s biography of Elizebeth Friedman immerses children in the world of war-time spies, where cracking codes equaled saved lives and battles won. Wallmark’s storytelling reads like a thriller and is sprinkled throughout with quotes from Elizebeth that give kids a sense of her personality and the demands of her career. By including several cases Elizebeth was instrumental in solving, Wallmark provides readers with historical context on the broad range of nefarious activity that relied on secret codes. This informs children’s knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as of international spy networks. Each page is a celebration of Elizebeth’s talent, intelligence, and accomplishments, and her incredible story will enthrall readers.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache illustrations offer enticing glimpses into the past while following Elizebeth as she meets George Fabyon who shows her around his museum-like house while carrying a small monkey on his shoulder, establishes the United States’ first code-breaking unit, testifies in court, and thwarts the Nazis’ war plans. Interspersed with Smart’s realistic depictions of Elizebeth’s life are images in which lines of coded messages snake across the page, giving readers a look at the kinds of unreadable text Elizebeth and her teams cracked. 

Ages 7 – 11

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419739637

Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.

To learn more about Brooke Smart, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Inventor’s Day Activity

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Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit

 

Secret fun is at your fingertips with the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit, which is full of codes kids will love learning, using, and sending! It’s available for download from the Abrams Books website here:

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit

You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Dino Pajama Party

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Michael Robinson

 

Jazzy dinos have a fun day singing, dancing, and making music, boogying to a funky beat. But once the sun goes down, bedtime calls! Perfect for story time or bedtime, this playful read aloud goes from rollicking to restful. 

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Image copyright Michael Robertson, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Laurie Wallmark’s infectious rhymes will have kids stomping, jiving, and roaring along with Michael Robinson’s colorful, pajama-clad dinosaurs that shake their claws, strum guitars and toot horns, and show their pointy white teeth through big grins. As nighttime falls and the dinos trudge home, tired and yawning, readers will find themselves yawning and ready for bed too. 

Ages 4 – 8

Running Press Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-0762497751

To learn more about Michael Robertson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit

 

Have dino-sized fun with the Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit available for download from Laurie Wallmark’s website here:

 Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit 

You can preorder Dino Pajama Party at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, preorder from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Check out these other books by Laurie Wallmark!

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Picture Book Review