December 2 – It’s Buy a New Book Month

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

Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

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

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

Leaves to My Knees

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

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

Picture Book Month Activities

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Coloring Pages and Teaching Guides

 

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

Meet Ellen Mayer

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You can find Leaves to My Knees on Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

You can also order from Star Bright Books

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

Picture Book Review

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

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Leaves to My Knees 

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

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

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

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

Meet Ellen Mayer

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To preorder from Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

 Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

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

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees 

Picture Book Review

November 16 – A Book Tour Stop for A Christmas Too Big

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About the Holiday

While it may seem a wee bit early for Christmas decorations at the mall, Christmas candy in the grocery stores, and Christmas songs on the radio 24-hours a day, it’s never too early to begin reading Christmas stories with kids! Today, I’m thrilled to be part of the book tour for A Christmas Too Big – a funny family story enriched with an endearing intergenerational friendship that will become a quick favorite for holiday story times.

Thank you to Two Lions and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of A Christmas Too Big for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Christmas Too Big

By Colleen Madden

 

For Kerry and her family, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when her mom, dad, and siblings go “TOTALLY BERSERK with Christmas.” Her dad gets out the strings of Christmas lights; her mom sings Christmas carols (filling in her own words where she can’t quite remember the real ones) while doing chores; her big sister bakes, bakes, bakes; and her little brother hides and rehides elves all over the house. At night, of course, they “watch every. Single. Christmas. Special. On every. Single. Christmas. Channel.”

A week before Christmas, they go to the cut-your-own Christmas tree farm and choose the biggest tree they see. The bring this behemoth inside and begin to decorate it. But there aren’t enough lights to cover it, there are squabbles over putting a star or an angel at the top, and someone finds a squirrel resting in the top. “O.M. Gingerbread,” Kerry says. She can’t take any more and heads outside.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-christmas-too-big-berserk

Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

There, her neighbors houses sport enormous decorations, flashing lights, and one has even provided a target on their lawn to show Santa where to drop the presents. Kerry thinks “that everybody is having a Christmas Too Big. Then, across the street, Kerry sees Mrs. Flores struggling with her grocery cart in the snow and goes over to help. After dislodging the cart from the snowbank and picking up the dropped groceries, Kerry walks with Mrs. Flores to her house.

¿Te gustaria un poco de cacao, querida? Mrs. Flores asks Kerry. Kerry would love some cocoa and answers “Yes, please! ¡Sí, por favor!” Kerry looks around Mrs. Flores house. It’s neat and tidy, and her tabletop Christmas tree is decorated in handmade tiny paper flowers. “And that’s it. NO singing penguins or peppermint candy canes…or a zillion lights.” Next to the tree is a picture of her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson who live in Mexico. Mrs. Flores says, “Los extraño mucho,” and Kerry is sure “they must miss her too.”

After they drink their cocoa, Mrs. Flores teaches Kerry how to make paper flowers and sings a song she remembers from when she was young: “En invierno, / Las flores no crecen, / esperan a que LLeguen La primavera y el sol! In winter the flowers / aren’t blooming. / They wait for the spring / and the sun! //Ellas desean besos / cálidos de mariposa, They wish for warm / butterfly kisses, Luego ellas bailan! then they dance! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! / Yes! Yes! Yes! / La! La! La!” They dance and then decorate Mrs. Flores’s house with the flowers they’ve made. Finally, Mrs. Flores lights a single candle in her window for her family.

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Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

Kerry helps Mrs. Flores open the gift her family sent her. It’s a tablet, but Mrs. Flores doesn’t know how to use it. Kerry shows her how and makes a call with it. Suddenly, Mrs. Flores’s son appears, then her daughter-in-law. Then she gets to see her grandson Andrew, who calls her “Na-na.”

Nighttime had fallen and it was time for Kerry to go home. Out in the snow, Kerry thinks about the day: “What a different kind of Christmas. Small and quiet, yet BIG all the same.” Back home, Kerry looks for a way to have “my own kind of Christmas in in my own crazy Christmas house.” She makes flowers—lots of flowers—and decorates the shelves, stairway, mirrors, and even their dogs.

When Kerry lights a single candle for Mrs. Flores, her mom suggests inviting her for Christmas dinner. While her family puts the finishing touches on the tree, Kerry sends Mrs. Flores an invitation to her tablet. On Christmas day, Kerry and her family and Mrs. Flores all enjoy a festive dinner with all the trimmings and a lot of cheer.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-christmas-too-big-tree

Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

Whether you like to celebrate Christmas in big or small ways, Colleen Madden’s heartwarming story reflects the true spirit of the holiday as a day for family, friends, togetherness, and kindness. While Kerry’s parents and siblings believe in a bigger-is-better philosophy, when Kerry finds another way of celebrating with Mrs. Flores, she realizes that “big” doesn’t need to come with a huge tree, lots of lights, hundreds of cookies, or even a month of preparations, but can simply mean warm feelings inside their heart. Madden’s organic integration of Mrs. Flores’ conversation in Spanish is very welcome.

Madden’s straightforward, non-judgmental, inviting, and humorous storytelling welcomes kids all along the spectrum, from HUGE to tiny, to enjoy Christmas and its lead-in in the way that is most meaningful to them. The story can also spur talks within a family about the ways each member likes to celebrate and to incorporate those ideas into their yearly traditions.

Madden’s winning illustrations will keep kids riveted to the pages as Kerry’s family joyously retrieves the Christmas decorations and gets to work. Madden depicts their over-the-top love of the holiday in illustrations that are jam-packed, frenetic, and definite showstoppers that kids will love poring over—especially the title screens for seventeen comical Christmas specials, Mom’s “so close” renditions of holiday classic songs, and the cutaway of Kerry’s house, where they can search for the elves hidden in each room. The image of the Christmas tree bent in half because it’s too tall to fit in the room is particularly funny as is the two-page spread of the neighborhood where inflatable Santas, snowmen, and candy canes as well as billboard-sized lighted signs dominate each yard.

In contrast, Mrs. Flores one-story house has no outdoor decorations and the inside is sparsely furnished, allowing the focus to be on her small tree. As you turn from pages where you don’t know where to look next to these simple spreads, you can almost hear yourself sigh as the frenzy fades and a calm, quiet simplicity takes over. Back home, there’s no denying the beauty of the family’s fully decorated tree, and readers (maybe the adults even more than the kids) will appreciate the matching candy cane-striped onesie pajamas they’re wearing. The final image of Kerry’s family sharing dinner with Mrs. Flores is cheerful and festive. Spanish labels name all of the food, decorations, and other items on and around the dinner table.

Instructions on how to create the flores de Navidad that Mrs. Flores taught Kerry to make follow the story. The back endpapers name more objects, food, and clothing associated with Christmas and winter in Spanish. The English translations are found on the front endpapers.

An excellent story for sharing the fun and meaning of the Christmas season that will resonate with all kids and be asked for again and again, A Christmas Too Big would make a much-appreciated gift and a new family favorite on home bookshelves. The book is also highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542028004

Colleen Madden grew up in a crazy Christmas house and, like Kerry, she found a break by spending time with her neighbor who was from another country. She has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestselling What If Everybody? series, written by Ellen Javernick, and the picture-book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. She recently published Monkey Walk, her debut as both author and illustrator, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons. 

A Christmas Too Big Book Tour Activity

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Nail Polish-Dipped Ornaments

 

These plastic ornaments swirled with colorful nail polish make the perfect decorations for your tree. Make some to give to friends too!

Supplies

  • Plastic ornaments, available at craft stores
  • Nail polish in various colors
  • Plastic bowl or container, deep enough to dip the ornament into the water
  • Drying stand – I used a clear, plastic egg carton, or string for hanging ornaments to dry

Directions

Fill the plastic container with warm to hot water

  1. Using two or three colors, gently “paint” the water with the nail polish, using the brush or a toothpick in dots and swirls
  2. Slowly dip the plastic ornament into the water and turn it to pick up the nail polish floating on the top of the water
  3. To dry, place the ornament on a stand or hang with a paper plate, wax paper, or other paper to catch drips

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You can find A Christmas Too Big 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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-twinkle-twinkle-diaper-you-family

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-twinkle-twinkle-diaper-you-kick-bilingual-version

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-clean-up-up-up-dinner

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-clean-up-up-up-washing-hands

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-fish-to-feed-cover

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-fish-to-feed-spanish-edition-cover

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

 

June 29 – International Day of the Tropics

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About the Holiday

The International Day of the Tropics is a United Nations–sponsored holiday that celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the tropics while putting a spotlight on the unique challenges and opportunities the nations of the Tropics face. The Tropics are a region roughly defined as the area between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn and have in common a warm and typically unvaried seasonal temperature fluctuations and the prevalence of rain  determined by a region’s proximity to the equator. While it is projected that by 2050, the Tropics will be home to most of the world’s population and two-thirds of its children, the area faces challenges due to climate change, deforestation, logging, urbanization, and demographic shifts.  Today’s observance provides individuals, organizations, and governments an opportunity to take stock of progress across the tropics, to share stories and expertise, and to acknowledge the diversity and potential of the region. Today’s book tell the true story of one woman who is working to make a difference.

Thanks to Lee & Low Books for sending me a copy of Galápagos Girl/ Galápagueña for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. 

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Angela Dominguez | Translated by Adriana Dominguez

 

On the day when baby Valentina joined Mamá, Papá, and eleven brothers and sisters, even the sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and iguanas seemed to welcome her to the “island formed by fire.” Valentina loved growing up on the Galápagos Island of Floreana. She explored the lava rocks, where Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled back and forth. She swam with dolphins and manta rays, and even played with penguins.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

“Valentina watched pink flamingoes wading near mangroves. Blue butterflies fluttering on the breeze. Red-and-green iguanas sneezing salt like tiny geysers.” The crashing waves, albatross, and finches created a symphony as Valentina stopped to rest on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean. The lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and twirling sea lions provided young Valentina with a variety of dance partners.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

At home, Valentina’s family shared their home with two giant tortoises—Carlitos and Isabella. One day Papá told Valentina their story as they fed the tortoises plums that had fallen from their backyard trees. Papá had gotten Carlitos and Isabella from a friend when he first moved to Floreana. Although it was nearly impossible to imagine now that the tortoises were grown, at the time they were so small that they fit into Papá’s pockets.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

There was also a sad note to Papá’s story. He said that while giant tortoises still lived on other Galápagos islands, pirates and whalers had wiped out the population on Floreana. Papá went on to tell Valentina that many Galápagos animals were in danger. They were “threatened by other animals that don’t belong here. Threatened by people who don’t understand how to care for our islands.” Valentina promised that she would always protect them.

When she was older, Valentina left the island to go to school. She didn’t want to leave her beautiful home, but Mamá told her that she was “ready to learn about the world beyond.” And Papá reminded her that “like our islands, you have a heart full of fire.” On school vacations, Valentina always came back to study the wildlife on the Galápagos islands. She had not forgotten her promise to keep them safe.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

After she graduated with a degree in biology, Valentina returned to the islands as a nature guide to teach visitors about the beauty and uniqueness of the Galápagos. Some visitors were even lucky enough to meet Carlitos and Isabella when the plums dropped from the trees and the two old tortoises returned from exploring Floreana to eat them. Because of Valentina’s commitment to the Galápagos, her visitors also made a promise to always remember and protect them.

Extensive backmatter includes an Author’s Note about Valentina Cruz, the tortoises Carlitos and Isabella, and the history of tortoises on Floreana. There is also information on the Galápagos as well as fun facts about all of the animals in the story. A bibliography of sources invites readers to learn more.

Each two-page spread presents the text in English and translated into Spanish by Adriana Dominguez.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s lyrical and buoyant passages sing with the carefree joy Valentina felt as a girl exploring her beloved Galápagos and which brought her back home as a biologist to protect them. After seeing Valentina playing and swimming with the native animals and feeding Carlitos and Isabella, readers will also feel Valentina’s sadness at the dangers they face and want to make a positive difference to the environment and the world around them. Arnold’s dialogue-rich storytelling highlights the personal nature of the subject and will draw children into Valentina’s world.celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Galápagos-Girl-blue-footed-booby

Saturated with glorious color, each of Angela Dominguez’s illustrations is a celebration of the splendor of the Galápagos. Playful sea lions, high-stepping blue-footed boobies, scampering crabs, and even a sneezing iguana will captivate young readers and inspire them to learn more about these creatures and the islands. Images of Valentina camping out to study the animals during school breaks will excite environmentally conscious kids, and pictures of Carlitos and Isabella happily munching on plums will generate smiles and “awwws.”

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña will excite kids to learn more not only about the Galápagos region but about their own local environment, and the call to action will spark an enthusiasm for protecting the earth’s animals. The book would make an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and an excellent way to begin classroom discussions on environmental issues and science lessons. The engaging Spanish translation will delight Spanish-speaking and bilingual families.

Ages 4 – 8

Lee & Low Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0892394135

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website. You can also download activity sheets and teachers’ guides for most of her books here as well.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Welcome Marsha Diane Arnold

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In 2018, I was thrilled to talk with award-winning picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold about the backstory of Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña. Her interview, originally for National Wildlife Day, is just as timely today. Marsha was inspired to write this story after traveling to the Galápagos Islands, where she met Valentina Cruz and had the opportunity to swim with sea lions and dolphins.

Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author whose books have sold over one million copies. Her 21st book, Lights Out, was published in the fall of 2020. Arnold’s other books include Badger’s Perfect Garden, May I Come In? and Mine. Yours. Among Marsha’s honors are the Ridgeway Award for Best First Book, state Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book, and Smithsonian Notable Book. Her bilingual book Galápagos Girl was selected as a 2019 Bank Street Best Books of the Year, a Campoy-Ada honor book, and a 2019 Green Prize in Sustainable Literature. The media has referred to her as, “a born storyteller.” Educators have called her a “true literary artist” whose books show “warmth and respect for one’s self.”  She lives with her family in Alva, Florida.

Thank you, Kathryn, for inviting me to celebrate Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña, along with conservation of wild places and animals!

As a child, would you have enjoyed swimming with sea lions? Feeding plums to giant tortoises by hand? Having warblers fly through your house? That was the life of Valentina Cruz. Galápagos Girl is based on her idyllic life on remote Floreana island in the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago west of Ecuador.

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My photos of actual blue-footed booby and Galápagos marine iguana.

Valentina grew up surrounded by nature, but perhaps more accurately, she grew up in nature. I think when a child grows up seeing wild wonders every day, they grow up respecting and protecting nature and wildlife. Valentina and her siblings certainly did. She grew up to be a biologist and naturalist guide. One brother, Eliecer Cruz, was director of the Galápagos National Park and, later, director of the Galápagos branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Another brother, Felipe, worked on many projects with the Charles Darwin Research Station, including studying the challenges that face the Galápagos petrel. Her sister, Marilyn, is director of Galápagos Biosecurity Agency, which helps control and prevent invasive species in the islands.

In some ways, Valentina’s childhood was similar to mine. She was surrounded by a loving family—her parents and eleven brothers and sisters. I only had one brother, but along with my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, we gathered on many Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s house. Valentina and I both delighted in nature, though hers was a more exotic nature—the distant Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin discovered those famous finches and came up with his theory of natural selection. Mine was a small farm on the Kansas plains—I didn’t see the ocean until I was an adult. Valentina had Galápagos tortoises as pets and swam with sea lions. (Of course, keeping tortoises as pets is not allowed today.) I played with my neighbor’s pet raccoon (also, not allowed today) and listened to the meadowlark’s song from the roof of my house.

Valentina loves nature, home, and family, but has the soul of an adventurer. I’m much the same. When I grew up I yearned to see as much of the world as possible. When my long-time traveling buddy, Jean Gallagher, asked me to travel with her to the Galápagos, one of my long-time dreams came true.

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The Galápagos Gang – fellow travelers to a far-off land. Jean is 3rd to right in front. I am 4th.

It was on that 2007 trip that I met Valentina, one of our naturalist guides. With her, we visited Floreana and saw the home where she grew up. I was enamored. I thought how wonderful a book about the islands and their unique wildlife, woven together with Valentina’s childhood, would be. Yet it wasn’t until April 2009 that I emailed Valentina and told her of my dream to write a picture book based on her life. Over months and years, Valentina generously shared her stories with me.

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Valentina showing us the lay of the land.

Valentina got her sense of adventure and love of nature from her father, Eliecer Cruz Cevallos, who first arrived in the Galápagos in 1939. He was one of only 100 people living in the Galápagos at that time!

Eliecer returned to Ecuador and married Valentina’s mother, Emma Bedon. She made him promise they would never live in the Galápagos. Who can blame her? They’d have almost no human neighbors! But in 1944, she changed her mind. Emma sailed to Floreana with Eliecer to build a life together. Valentina told me that even living in the wild, her mother taught her children “to keep all the rules of a city so we do not grow up wild.”

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Valentina and her father on Floreana

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Valentina, her mother, and her sister

Two Galápagos tortoises were a big part of Valentina’s childhood, so I had to include them in Galápagos Girl. Floreana tortoise had long been extinct (or so it was thought).  So when Eliecer moved to Floreana, his friend gave him young tortoises from other islands. Eventually, the family released the tortoises to roam free. One of the most exciting things that happened to Valentina as a child was seeing the tortoises return to their farm that first year after their release. The main reason was the tasty plums dropping from the trees. Every year after that, when the plums ripened, the family waited for the tortoises to return. They always did!

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An illustration of one of the family’s tortoises eating a plum treat by Angela Dominguez

The tortoise story changed several times during the writing of my book due to Valentina’s remembering more over time, checking facts with her family, and a discovery near Wolf Volcano on Isabela, another Galápagos Island. What’s in my book isn’t exactly the way things were, but it’s close to the real story. As Valentina wisely shared: “Each of us remember things in different ways. Our memory is like pictures of what impresses us in that specific moment, so everything can be true and everything can be fiction.”

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One of eleven species of Galápagos tortoise

Regarding the exciting discovery on Wolf Volcano, scientists recently found tortoises there that carry some of the Floreana tortoise genes! There is a project now to bring these tortoises back to Floreana. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have partial Floreana tortoises wandering freely, restoring the ecology of Floreana?

You may ask, “How did Floreana tortoises get on Isabela Island?” That’s one more fascinating question about the Galápagos. If I visit your school, you can ask me and I’ll share more.

Thanks so much, Marsha, for sharing the fascinating story behind Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her Website | Earth’s Voices | Facebook

International Day of the Tropics Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-animals-of-the-galapagos-match-up-puzzle

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

 

There are so many fascinating animals that live in the Galápagos! Can you match the picture of each animal to its description in this printable Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle? You can find and download the activity sheet from the Lee & Low Books website:

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Get Ready for New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

It’s safe to say we’re all happy to be saying goodbye to 2020 and looking forward to 2021 with hope and resolve. A new year offers opportunities for reflection and growth as well as sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong no matter what challenges we face. Today’s book celebrates all three of these parts of life at the New Year or any time.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-kitchen

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

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New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

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You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 7 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

Beginning on September 15th  and running through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future. From business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment, Hispanic Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. First observed in 1968 as a week-long holiday, the holiday was expanded to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. learn more about the holiday, find resources for classrooms and homeschooling, videos, and more to use not only this month but throughout the year, visit the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-abuelita

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-mamá

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Ańo Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-new-years-eve

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Hispanic Heritage Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-we-are-all-family-word-search

We Are All Family English/Spanish Word Search

 

Find the names of family members in both English and Spanish in this printable heart- shaped word search puzzle.

We Are All Family Word Search PuzzleWe Are All Family Word Search Solution!

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