June 28 – It’s Great Outdoor Month

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About the Holiday

The warmer weather begs to be enjoyed—whether you’re playing, working, or just lounging around. Established in 1998 as Great Outdoors Week, the holiday expanded to a month-long celebration in 2004. There’s so much to see and do outside as the wonders of nature are always changing and challenging you in new and surprising ways.

The Nocturnals Series

The Nocturnals series of books—early readers and middle grade novels—brings together a trio of friends for adventures and learning. The three main characters are Dawn, a gentle, kind, and wise red fox; Tobin, a shy, hesitant, and loyal pangolin; and Bismark, a chatty, romantic, impetuous sugar glider. Their distinct personalities serve them well as they meet up with various other woodland animals in mysterious, dangerous, and surprising ways. No matter what challenges they face, however, Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin support each other as best friends should.

Whether children meet the Nocturnal Brigade as an beginning reader or as an established reader, they will love following the friends’ adventures and be charmed by their close relationship, even when squabbles arise. As with any favorite series, kids will look forward to catching up with what this unique group of nighttime animals are doing next.

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 2 Books

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The Moonlight Meeting

Written by Tracey Hecht and Rumur Dowling | Illustrated by Waymond Singleton

 

As the twinkling stars began to appear in the sky, a sweet pangolin by the name of Tobin woke up. “‘Oh my, Tobin said. ‘I smell something delicious!’” He yawned and stretched and went in search of that wonderful smell. It didn’t take long before he bumped into a pomelo—the perfect thing for breakfast. But before he could dig in, he heard a screech from the tree above. “‘Thief!’ it cried.” Tobin was so frightened that he “let out a stinky poof!”

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The small creature in the tree covered his nose. “‘That stench! That odor! That tang!’” he exclaimed. “‘This calls for the flaps!’” In a moment the animal leaped out of the tree and glided to the ground. Although a little scared, Tobin was curious. He wondered if perhaps this creature could become a friend. But it didn’t seem he was interested in anything but the pomelo. As he grabbed the green fruit, he introduced himself. “‘I am Bismark! Sugar glider spec-tac-u-lar! And the owner of this pomelo.’” But before Tobin could reply, a red fox emerged from the bushes.

She had smelled Tobin’s spray of fear and wondered if help was needed. The fox had “kind eyes” and “a warm smile.” Bismark spoke up and told the fox about Tobin and the pomelo and the thievery. The fox asked if all of this was true. “Tobin was shy, but the fox made him feel brave.” He answered that he was not stealing the fruit, but Bismark said he had seen it first.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The fox thought over the problem and…sliced the pomelo into three pieces. She gave a piece to Tobin and Bismark and kept one for herself. “‘Mmm,’ Tobin said. The pomelo was sweet! ‘Burp,’ Bismark belched. The pomelo was juicy. ‘Perfect,’ the fox declared. The pomelo was delicious!” It seemed the little sugar glider liked more than just the pomelo. After smoothing his hair and giving a deep bow, he introduced Tobin and himself. The fox smiled and told them her name was Dawn. Tobin was smitten.

Suddenly, they all realized that each of them slept during the day and were awake at night. Bismark exclaimed that they would be “a moonlight trio… a nocturnal brigade”… a…. Dawn broke in. “‘We will be friends,’” she said. Tobin and Bismark were happy. They were friends.

Facts about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tracey Hecht introduces her unique band of friends in this story that brings a diverse group of animals together over the disputed ownership of a pomelo. The strong personalities of the characters lend humor and intrigue to their quarrel over this favorite fruit, and as Dawn raises her sharp claws to decide the issue, readers may join Tobin and Bismark in a moment of wide-eyed suspense. The fox’s solution, however, is one of inclusion and sharing and sets the tone for the rest of the series. Hecht’s short sentences are composed of active, high-interest vocabulary, and the story moves along at a quick pace, carried by realistic and funny dialogue.

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Kids will love meeting Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin through the illustrations on each page that convey their personalities and the storyline clearly. Tiny Bismark, with his big eyes, dramatic expressions, and energetic attitude is always ready for action. Tobin, the scaly pangolin with long claws, an anxious demeanor, and an inherent sweetness, is devoted and trustworthy. And Dawn, with her sleek red coat and gentle eyes, is caring, intelligent, and the glue that holds the three together. As readers get to know each character better, they’ll look forward to each one’s individual reactions to whatever adventure they encounter.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1944020149

You can find The Moonlight Meeting at these booksellers

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

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The Slithery Shakedown

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

Although nighttime had come, Bismark was still waiting for his friends to arrive. “Bismark tapped his foot. Bismark put his fists to his hips. Bismark scrunched his tiny pink nose. This sugar glider was peeved!” Still, he was more relieved than angry when Tobin, the pangolin, came through the reeds. It wasn’t long before Dawn, a red fox, joined them. Bismark jumped on top of a rock and declared that he was going to take them on an adventure. After all he was “‘Bismark the Brave.’” Tobin and Dawn giggled at their tiny friend.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Before they could get started, though, Dawn noticed something lurking in the bushes. It was a snake—a snake who seemed to have designs on eating Bismark for breakfast. “The snake slithered closer. ‘Sss-scrumptious!’ the snake said. ‘A sss-scrawny, little sss-sugar glider.’” Bismark ran and hit behind Dawn’s legs. Dawn stepped forward and confronted the snake. “Tobin summoned his courage” and joined her.

The snake prepared to attack. “Dawn snarled…. Tobin raised a sharp, taloned claw.” The snake took a look at the stalwart friends and decided it was time to “‘sss-skedaddle.’” Biskmark was trembling as he watched the snake slither away, but he would not admit that he had been scared. Dawn and Tobin reassured him that “‘You can be scared and brave, too.’” In fact, they told him, they had also been afraid of the snake.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Just then something blue and shiny in the bushes caught Bismark’s eye. He went closer. The thing was long and thin, but it did not slither. “‘By the moon!’ Bismark said. ‘Look here! That snake slithered right out of its skin.’” He picked it up and tore it into three pieces. He gave a piece to Tobin and Dawn. They each tied the piece of snakeskin around their neck like a cape and admired themselves. Dawn thought it was the perfect symbol for their brigade. “‘The Nocturnal Brigade!’ Tobin cheered, and Bismark added, “‘Bold in adventure. And best of all, brave!’”

Information about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

When the three are threatened by a snake, will they be brave enough to send him packing? Even though Bismark considers himself the bravest of the brave, he turns out to be the one most frightened by the slithery bully. With his new friends behind him, Biskmark learns that fear and bravery often go hand in hand. Here, the three solidify their friendship with a physical symbol of the brigade, and their blue snakeskin capes become a regular feature of the series. Using lots of alliteration, dialogue and some sss-snakey onomatopoeia, Tracey Hecht weaves a fast-moving story that shows that sticking together and standing up for others is the best way to defeat a bully.

Josie Yee further develops her characters in this story that sees the usually uber-confident Bismark experience fear that he can’t hide. Tobin demonstrates another level of self-assurance by swallowing his usual shyness to confront the snake, and Dawn, true to her nature, serves as strong example to her friends and readers.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020170

You can find The Slithery Shakedown at these booksellers

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

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The Peculiar Possum

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

It was a bright, beautiful night when Dawn, a fox; Bismark, a sugar glider, and Tobin, a pangolin met under the pomelo tree. Bismark was dismayed because while the tree was usually full of fruit, tonight he could only find one. Just then they heard a strange “cluck cluck clatter! Chit chit chatter!” Bismark was sure it was a prowler who’d come for his pomelos. “Suddenly, the wind blew. The shadows shifted. A strange smell filled the air.”

Dawn looked up into the tree and saw “two shiny, brown eyes. And a paw, holding a pomelo! ‘Popping peepers!’ Bismark bellowed. ‘There is a prowler! And it has one of my precious pomelos!’” Quickly, the eyes disappeared and the pomelo came soaring out of the swaying branches. With a few more clucks and clatter, chits and chatter, the prowler plunked down in front of them. The three friends recognized the interloper as a possum. They gathered around it, but it lay motionless on the ground.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn prodded it with her paw. “‘Perhaps this possum is feeling a bit peaky,’” she said. But the possum opened one eye and told them it was just playing possum. The possum got up and introduced herself as Penny. “‘Pleased to meet you,’” she said, sticking out her paw. But Bismark was not pleased to meet her. He did not like that she “prowls and pillages.” As evidence he pointed to the wayward pomelo.

Dawn gazed at her friend and said, “‘Bismark, these pomelos belong to everyone.’” Well, what about the way Penny chits and chatters? Bismark asked. He thought her way of speaking was strange. Dawn reminded him that he too had a unique way of speaking. Then Bismark pointed out the unusual hairless patch on Penny’s tail. “Dawn smiled gently. She looked down at Bismark’s bald spot. ‘Bismark, Penny is not the only one with a hairless patch.’” Still, Bismark wasn’t keen on Penny’s smell or the way she played possum.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tobin hurried to Penny’s side to defend her. “‘Penny, I spray a terrible odor when I get scared,’” he reassured her, reaching for her paws. Dawn told Bismark that no one is exactly like someone else. That everyone is unique. Then Penny told Bismark that she was proud of who she is. Bismark looked at Penny, and even though it was hard to admit he’d been wrong, he apologized to her and proclaimed, “‘You are your own possum. And that makes you perfect.’” Then Bismark split the pomelo into four sections and they all had a pomelo picnic.

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, brushtail possums, and pomelos follow the text. Back matter also includes a Language Glossary showing forms of five words in the story as well as the translations of these words into Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, and Arabic.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

When Bismark encounters Penny, a possum and an animal he’s never seen before, his adverse reaction to her disappoints Dawn and Tobin, who show him the errors in his thinking. Through her story, Tracey Hecht demonstrates that everyone has more similarities than differences and that what makes one person distinctive should be celebrated. Along the way, readers learn how to welcome a new friend.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020194

You can find The Peculiar Possum at these booksellers

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

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 3 Book

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The Chestnut Challenge

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

After sundown, while other animals slept, Dawn, a red fox; Bismark, a sugar glider; and Tobin, a pangolin “were playing a game of chestnut checkers.” Bismark thought Tobin was taking too long to move his chestnut. He snapped his fingers, tapped his foot, and finally said, “‘Hurry up!’” But Dawn chided Bismark and said Tobin should take the time he needed. At last Tobin moved his piece. Bismark was delighted. Tobin, it seemed, had set him up to win. Bismark moved one of his chestnuts. Now it was Tobin’s turn to be delighted. “Tobin jumped a chestnut across the board—and captured all of Bismark’s chestnuts.” Bismark was crushed. Tobin chuckled and said that it was only a game.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Suddenly, a voice called out and Chandler, a chinchilla, popped out from a nearby bush. He said that he was “‘the real chestnut champion.’” Bismark warned his friends against playing chestnuts with Chandler. He seemed to boastful to the little sugar glider, but Dawn wanted to give him a chance. Chandler chose Tobin to play first. Tobin didn’t like playing competitively; he just liked to have fun.

Bismark was all for Tobin taking up Chandler’s challenge, while Dawn said it was up to him to play or not. Chandler wanted an answer. Tobin decided to play—but just for fun. “Chandler and Tobin started to play. Chandler’s brow wrinkled. Tobin’s jaw tightened. No one seemed to be having fun.” Just then, Chandler shouted and pointed to the bushes. Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn all turned to look. “That’s when Chandler reached forward—and moved one of Tobin’s chestnuts!” When the three friends turned back, Chandler took his turn and Tobin’s chestnut that he had moved.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn thought something looked suspicious. Bismark begged Tobin to win against the “cheeky challenger.” Tobin was nervous. Suddenly, Chandler sneezed right in their faces. While their eyes were closed, he moved two chestnuts. He laughed when he saw that no one had seen him. Chandler only grew bolder. When Tobin closed his eyes for a moment, the chinchilla stole one of his pieces. This time Bismark caught him. He called on Dawn and Tobin, but Chandler denied it. Dawn, however, had also seen him steal the piece. She looked directly into his eyes and asked if he had stolen Tobin’s chestnut.

Now it was Chandler’s turn to be nervous. His cheeks reddened, his teeth chattered, “and then from Chandler’s paw, out dropped the chestnut.” With tears in his eyes, he admitted that he was a cheater. Dawn told him that champions don’t use tricks, and Tobin told him no one wins all the time and practice helps. Then they offered Chandler a second chance. So with Tobin cheering him along and Bismark keeping an eye on the board, “the four friends settled into a cheerful game of chestnut checkers.”

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and chestnuts follow the story.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

As the three friends meet a chinchilla with competitive streak, Tracey Hecht shows readers that cheating to win deprives all participants—even the champion—of the fun and pleasure of playing a game. In today’s super-charged world of competition at all levels, Hecht’s reminder that good sportsmanship wins out is welcome, and Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn, with their various personalities and generous offer to give him Chandler a second chance, make good companions as developing readers increase their skills while learning to play fair and for fun.

Josie Yee’s nighttime illustrations, rendered in dark blues, plums, and deep greens, take kids to the heart of a heated chestnut checkers match where they watch as Chandler concocts false alarms to cheat his way to victory. When Chandler is caught red-handed, readers see the positive effect his confession and the brigade’s offer of another chance have on him.

Ages 6 – 8 

Fabled Films Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1944020231

You can find The Chestnut Challenge at these booksellers

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

You can learn more about The Nocturnals series; watch videos of games, face painting, and other activities; find educational language arts and science guides; download activity kits; and even join the Brigade by visiting The Nocturnals website.

You can find information about the Grow & Read program, Educator’s Guides, and The Nocturnals Book Club Kits with printable coloring pages and masks at Grow & Read.

Picture Book Review

May 10 – National Hamster Day

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About the Holiday

Cute, furry, friendly, and small, the hamster may be one of the best pets around! These inquisitive little ones love to explore, and the way they wash their tiny noses is adorable. Easy to care for and a fun to play with, either maneuvering a maze, rolling around in a plastic ball, or running on a concave disk roll, a hamster makes a great addition to a family or classroom. This month we also celebrate National Pet Month. If you’re considering getting a pet, check out the hamsters at your local pet shop or animal shelter.

I received a copy of Tip and Tucker: Road Trip for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Tip and Tucker: Road Trip

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

 

When Mr. Lopez walks into the pet store, Tucker scampers up his ramp and stands on tiptoe among the wood shavings to get a better look. As Mr. Lopez said hi to Rosa, the store owner, Tucker runs down again to find his friend. “‘Tip!’ says Tucker. ‘Come and see!’” Tip shyly comes out of his igloo and peers through the glass. “He sees a big nose. / Big brown eyes. / Big black glasses. / Blink. Blink.”

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

Startled, Tip races back to the safely of the igloo. But Tucker and Tip have already charmed Mr. Lopez, and he tells Rosa he will take them home. He buys a cage and food and learns their names. Their new home will be noisy, he says, but fun. Tip worries. “Tip does not like noisy things.” At the pet shop there are “Noisy parrots. Bawk. Bawk. / Noisy puppies. Bark! Bark!” Tucker, on the other hand, “likes new things.”

“‘¡Vamos!’ Mr. Lopez says. ‘Let’s go!’” The cage bumps and jumps as he carries it to his car. Inside, Tucker and Tip sniff new smells—coffee and fries. They like the smells, but Tip is scared and hides in the igloo. “Just the tip of his tail shows.” The car zips and zags, and the cage jumps along. Finally, the car stops and Mr. Lopez carries the cage to a building. He goes inside and “click. Click. Click. / Mr. Lopez walks down a hall. / Creak. He opens a new door. / Clunk! The cage bumps.”

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

Tucker climbs to the top of the cage and looks all around. He sniffs the air. He sees blocks, jump ropes, balls, and books. Tucker likes his new home and calls for Tip to come out. Before he leaves, Mr. Lopez picks up Tip and Tucker and smiles. “‘Hasta mañana,’ says Mr. Lopez. ‘See you tomorrow. Your first day of school!’”

Mr. Lopez turns out the lights, but Tip and Tucker aren’t ready to go to sleep yet. Inside the igloo, Tip wonders what school is. Tucker doesn’t know, but he’s excited for them to find out—together.

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

Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion’s vivacious language and sweet furry friends draw kids into this early reader that gives them confidence in their abilities while introducing them to two hamsters with different personalities. Ingalls and Gallion’s engaging story of a teacher looking for a classroom pet allows them to present words, vowel sounds, and familiar (or soon-to-be familiar) sight words in clever ways that while repeated never seem repetitious. Short sentences are filled with verve and a mix of dialogue and description. Onomatopoeic words sprinkled throughout add action and are fun to read out loud. In two places, the teacher, Mr. Lopez, speaks in Spanish, which is immediately followed by the translation. The two hamsters—Tip, a more hesitant hamster who does not like noise, and Tucker, who likes new things—reflect personalities that will resonate with readers. As Tip and Tucker set out on their new adventure together, children will be happy to join them in their own discovery of reading.

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André Ceolin’s cute-as-a-button Tip and Tucker will have kids smiling and exclaiming “Awww!” as they meet the little pair at Rosa’s pet shop and read on to discover where Mr. Lopez is taking them. Ceolin’s colorful illustrations organically help young readers decipher the text. For instance, as Mr. Lopez is described, he is shown from Tip’s perspective as he gazes into the hamsters’ tank, his big eyes and big black glasses clearly portrayed. Kids will appreciate familiar sights, such as the paper coffee cup and bag of French fries in Mr. Lopez’s car and empathize with little Tip as he hides in his igloo with only the tip of his tail showing.

Just the kinds of friends kids would want on a journey—both a road trip and a reading adventure—Tip and Tucker: Road Trip is an excellent choice for getting children excited about reading on their own.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110069

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

Learn more about Sue Lowell Gallion and her books on her website.

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

Tip and Tucker: Road Trip Giveaway

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

  • One (1) copy of Tip and Tucker: Road Trip, written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Gallion | illustrated by André Ceolin

This giveaway is open from May 10 through May 16 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Like the Giveaway Post
  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Bonus: comment with your child’s classroom pet or your favorite animal for an extra entry (each tag gives you one more entry)

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

National Hamster Day Activity

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Tip and Tucker Activity Sheet

 

Tip and Tucker are eager to get to their new home! Can you help them find their way in this printable activity sheet?

Tip and Tucker Activity Sheet

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You can find Tip and Tucker: Road Trip at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review