March 24 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

From its beginning as a single-day observance in 1911 in Sonoma, California, the celebration of women’s achievements and contributions throughout history grew to a week-long event in 1980 and finally to encompass the entire month of March in 1987. During this month we remember the trail-blazing women of yesteryear who used their creativity, intelligence, and perseverance to promote rights for women while contributing their own innovations to science, art, social reform, medicine, and other disciplines as well as today’s pioneers who carry on their legacy and make our world a better place. Today, we feature a book about a woman who revolutionized virology and medical research, connecting the past and the present. To learn more about the holiday, visit the National Women’s History Museum website and check out their resource toolkit.

June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, June Almeida loved school. After class she couldn’t wait to share what she’d learned—especially science subjects—with her mother, father, and little brother, Henry. When June was ten, however, her life changed when Henry became sick and passed away. Throughout elementary school and into high school, June loved studying science, especially biology in which she learned about the cells in the body and their functions. “June was so enthusiastic about science, she won the top science prize at school.”

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But science wasn’t the only thing June loved. She had lots of friends, was an avid reader, and became an excellent photographer. Whenever she was out with her camera, “she noticed small details, and her keen eye helped her create stunning photos.” June dreamed of attending college, but the jobs her father and mother held did not pay enough, and when June was sixteen, she dropped out of school to get a job to help pay the bills. June wanted to make a difference, “so she applied to work at the nearby hospital” and was hired as a lab worker. Here she learned how to examine cells with a microscope. “Her findings helped doctors treat patients.”

When June was twenty-two, she and her family moved to London. She got a job in a hospital lab and also met and married an artist named Henry. June and Henry moved to Canada, where she quickly found a job at a “new research lab in Toronto.” In this lab, June worked with an electron microscope that could magnify things 25,000 times and produced detailed pictures of the samples being studied. These photos “were helpful. But it was hard to tell which tiny blobs were viruses and which were cells.” June thought she could improve on the photos.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

June knew that in the body antibodies would surround viruses as they worked to fight it. June wondered if by introducing antibodies to her samples, scientists would be able to determine the virus from the cells. June’s idea worked. The scientists were astonished. Because of June’s innovation, they now had clear pictures that would help them study and combat viruses.

After June took time away from work to have a baby in 1960, she returned to her research and often lectured about her work. She was recruited to work at a hospital lab in London, so she and her family moved once again. At the time, a researcher named David Tyrrell had been trying to identify a virus that had affected a young boy. Could it be a new virus? He was hoping that June could help.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When June received the sample, she knew that “since it was an unknown virus, there were no antibodies to help find it.” But she was an expert at using another method that might work. Carefully, June implemented the intricate steps. Then she put the sample under the microscope and scanned the picture. “June was stunned.” Each virus blob was encircled by tiny dots “like a crown. ” She had seen this twice before when looking at viruses from sick animals. She had written a paper on it, but it had been rejected by other researchers because they thought her pictures were just blurry and not those of a new virus.

June presented her findings to doctors who agreed with her discovery. They decided to name the new virus coronavirus, after the Latin word for crown, corona. June and David then published a paper telling other doctors and researchers about the new virus. Following this discovery, June continued to study viruses, such as hepatitis B and HIV. Her pictures of these viruses helped researchers develop medications that could “block them from making people sick.” Even after she retired, June never lost her love of learning, teaching herself to play the flute, about antiques, and how to use a digital camera to continue creating incredible photos.

Backmatter includes more about June Almeida and her life’s work, an illustrated timeline of her life, and a selected bibliography.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Suzanne Slade’s compelling biography of June Almeida gives context for and insight into the research and discovery of the coronavirus and informs present-day events and breakthroughs. Slade’s fluid storytelling clearly reveals Almeida’s intelligence and passion for science as well as her determination to use her skills to the betterment of society. Kids will be astounded that June was able to begin her career at the age of sixteen, and that her beloved hobby of photography became a career that changed medical research. Slade’s sprinkling of personal details about Almeida’s life creates a well-rounded understanding of this influential woman.

Through Elisa Paganelli’s realistic and detailed illustrations, children have the opportunity to see a researcher at work in world-class laboratories. Readers will be especially impressed by images of the electron microscope and how Almeida improved the photographs these powerful machines produced. Children familiar with the shape of the coronavirus will be interested in seeing the faithfully reproduced photographs and how the virus got its name. Kids will also enjoy seeing illustrations of Almeida’s family life, including her daughter Joyce, who is herself a doctor.

An inspirational and fascinating biography of a woman with a very innovative mind, June Almeida, Virus Detective! will thrill children interested in science, medicine, and the arts. The book would be an impactful addition to STEM and STEAM lessons. It is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111325

Discover more about Suzanne Slade and her books on her website.

To learn more about Elisa Paganelli, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

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Take a Closer Look Coloring Page and Word Search 

You can examine the parts of a microscope with this printable word search puzzle and coloring page.

Take a Closer Look Word Search Puzzle | Take a Closer Look Word Search Solution | Coloring Page

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You can find June Almeida, Virus Detective! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 9 – Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

The month of December is a gift-giver’s delight and looking at the long winter ahead there’s no better gift for everyone on your list than a book (or two or…). With so many new books hitting bookstore shelves, there really is a perfect book to fit everyone’s taste. Young children, especially, benefit from reading a wide range of picture books from laugh-out-loud or touching stories to nonfiction that introduces them to influential people, science, history, and—in a case like today’s book—to all three! Today’s reviewed book also has the distinction of being timely and inspirational. If you’re still looking for gifts to give, it’s not too late to head to your local bookstore or their online shop to find books that will make kids’ eyes light up.

Thank you to Knopf Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of The Polio Pioneer for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Knopf in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Polio Pioneer: Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

 

Even at the tender age of four, “Jonas Salk was a kid who saw things differently.” As he watched the soldiers marching in the victory parade in New York City following World War I, instead of cheering, he was saddened by all of the injured and wounded men he saw. In his free time, instead of playing ball or games with his friends, he read book after book, and yet he was the one the other kids came to when they needed a fair and knowledgeable referee. Jonas’s family had moved to America, fleeing religious persecution of Jews in Russia and Lithuania. Money was short, yet Jonas’s parents “taught their children the importance of education, of kindness, and of doing good works. Jonas prayed that he might, someday, help make the world a better place.”

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Image copyright Lisa Anchin, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

In college Jonas became enthralled with the study of chemistry and its use in making medicines. He went on “to medical school to become a doctor and researcher.” After graduation, he joined Dr. Thomas Francis in developing a flu vaccine. They had an idea for a new kind of vaccine that could help a “person’s body ‘practice’ fighting the flu” with the hope that the person’s body would “learn to fight the flu virus… and WIN.” After much research and work, they succeeded.

But there was a disease worse than the flu that was paralyzing or killing thousands every year—“including many babies and small children.” Even future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was affected and required a wheelchair to get around. Not fully knowing how the polio virus spread, public swimming pools and beaches were closed. “Parents kept children away from movie theaters, sleepovers, and crowds.”

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Image copyright Lisa Anchin, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Dr. Salk believed a polio vaccine could prevent the disease. He and his team of scientists worked tirelessly to develop one. When a viable vaccine was made, they tested it on children in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Dr. Salk gave “many of the shots himself.” The vaccine did seem to help defend the body from polio, but could it prevent it? To learn the answer to that question, a larger trial was needed. “Throughout America, almost two million children—POLIO PIONEERS!—participated.” Then on April 12, 1955 the world learned that Dr. Salk’s vaccine could indeed conquer polio.

“Within a few years, cases of polio plummeted,” and soon it was nearly eradicated from America and most areas of the world. But polio was not the only disease that Dr. Salk wanted to eliminate. He continued to work and test and dream. Then in California, Jonas Salk established the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where “researchers question and discover, seeking cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other diseases.” All of this good stemmed from a little boy “who saw things differently.” Perhaps you know a child like that too.

An Author’s Note from Linda Elovitz Marshall follows the text and describes her own experiences as a young child growing up with the fear of polio as well as what inspired her biography of Jonas Salk. Images of letters children sent to Dr. Salk thanking him for his life-changing vaccine are also included.

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Image copyright Lisa Anchin, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s compelling biography of Jonas Salk, begun many years before the COVID-19 pandemic, reminds young readers—many of whom may also be dreamers like Dr. Salk—that their impressions, feelings, and unique view of the world can make valuable, even indispensable, contributions to the world. Marshall’s introduction of Jonas Salk as a serious, curious, intelligent, and caring child—even very young child—will impress readers with his life-long commitment to helping others and inspire their own good works. Her straightforward storytelling reveals to children a time with fears and hopes similar to their own recent experiences—an eye-opening history that offers context and hope and demonstrates the value of science not only for today but as a glimpse into the past and a light for the future. Through excellent pacing and well-chosen details, Marshall gives readers a sense of the urgency researchers, parents, and the public felt as polio raged and intensifies the suspense as Dr. Salk and his team race to find a vaccine for this dreaded disease. 

The parallels of today’s COVID-19 pandemic to the ravages of polio make The Polio Pioneer a unique teaching tool for parents, teachers, librarians and other caregivers for discussing viruses, how epidemics and pandemics occur, the role of doctors and researchers around the world in developing vaccines to combat them, and the importance of getting vaccinated.

Children curious about their peers from the past as well as how science and new ideas in history have transformed today’s medicine will find much to marvel at in Lisa Anchin’s realistic illustrations. Readers, familiar with modern scientific technology and laboratories, may be astonished at illustrations of a lab in the 1950s, where simple bottles, plastic tubing, and stacks of test tubes were the latest tools of the trade. They’ll enjoy comparing these earlier illustrations to a later spread showing scientists currently at work at the Salk Institute. Readers will empathize with images of children restricted to their homes, and a later illustration of a diverse group of children lined up to receive an experimental vaccine as part of the country-wide trial will impress them with the knowledge that kids just like them were instrumental in conquering polio for themselves and future generations.

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine is a superb and timely book for teachers and parents to introduce children to one of the world’s great scientific thinkers and lifesaving doctors. The story also gives adults a way to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and how vaccines are developed and work that will resonate with kids. A superb addition to STEM curriculum that will inspire future researchers and doctors, the book is a highly recommended for home libraries and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 9

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525646518

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lisa Anchin, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Linda Elovitz Marshall

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Linda Elovitz Marshall grew up near Boston, graduated from Barnard College, and raised four children and a flock of sheep on a farm in the Hudson River Valley. The author of several picture books, Linda still lives on the farm with her husband, Bob. To learn more, visit LindaMarshall.com.

 

I’m thrilled to be talking with Linda Elovitz Marshall today about this year’s cornucopia of books, her personal connection with The Polio Pioneer and how the book came to be, and her love of research.

2020 has been an amazing year for you with five books published—Saving the Countryside: Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, Shalom Bayit, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?, Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Round the World, and The Polio Pioneer! Can you talk a little about each of your books? Did you conceive of them around the same time or have some been percolating longer than others?

Thank you very much for interviewing me, Kathy. What a year this has been! Hopefully, we’ll have a vaccine widely available soon and can return to being with people we love and doing things we love to do.

Still, in this midst of it all, having all these books come out has definitely kept me busy and kept my spirits up. I’m very thankful for that. I’m thankful, too, to be part of the wonderful community of children’s writers.

About the books…

The idea for THE POLIO PIONEER: DR JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE came because Jonas Salk, who lead the team that discovered the polio vaccine, was a hero to me and many in my generation. That, coupled with the realization that people would soon forget about the once-dreaded disease polio – inspired me to write the book.

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The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California

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My research began back in 2016 when I’d told a friend of mine—a scientist who had just moved east from California—that we were planning a trip to La Jolla. I asked him what to do there. When he mentioned the Salk Institute, I told him that Salk was one of my heroes. That conversation led to my getting a tour of the Institute. The people at the Salk Institute were so very helpful… and helped me get my research off to a wonderful beginning.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-coverSHALOM BAYIT: A PEACEFUL HOME (KarBen/Lerner 2020) was inspired by a project I did decades ago about how people live. I’ve come to believe that each home, whether small or grand, has the potential to be sacred space in its own way. A few years ago, a project that my synagogue did called the Jewish Home Project gave me the impetus to write the story. The book may have a specifically Hebrew title—the words mean “Peace in the Home”—but the concept in universal. We all need a sacred space, a place to feel safe, warm, and well-fed.

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HAVE YOU EVER ZEEN A ZIZ? – This story about a mythological Jewish bird just seemed to fly into my mind. I really don’t remember how it began. I heard the word ZIZ and chuckled…and made up a poem that later became this book. In a way, it really was magical!

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ANNE FRANK: THE GIRL HEARD AROUND THE WORLD was suggested to me by my friend and editor (who was formerly) at Scholastic, Orli Zuravicky. She asked if I’d take on the challenge of writing about Anne Frank and how she became a writer. I was honored, but also frightened. Could I do it? Dare I try? That was back in 2017. I re-read Anne’s diary…and cried. I thought and thought about Anne and when, at last, I could feel Anne, I began writing.

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SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT was inspired by a trip I took to England in 2018 with 11 other children’s writers and illustrators. As preparation, we each chose a writer or illustrator that we would become an “expert” on. As we visited the different writers’ homes, we shared our expertise. I chose Lewis Carroll but, in the end, it was Beatrix Potter whom I found so fascinating that I had to write about her. Beatrix was restrained by the many constraints of her day, and yet she broke loose and did what she wanted to do! She became a writer, an artist, a scientist, a sheep farmer, land conservationist, a helper to many in the countryside. She was AMAZING! I couldn’t stop myself from writing about her!

Three of your new books are biographies. What drew you to these particular people? What do you like best about writing biographies?

I love, love, love research. Also, I like to learn about a person so that I can feel what makes them tick. I want to identify—in some way—with that person about whom I’m writing.

Shortly after leaving my (not-completed) Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology program, I began to interview people, tape-record the interviews, and write their as-told-to autobiographies. Following the interviews, I would personally transcribe each recording. It took hours! However, playing the tapes over and over would help me feel their voice and get a better sense of the interviewee. And when, at last, I had a good sense of them, I’d begin to write.

As for my choice of subjects… Anne came via a friend. Jonas Salk was a hero to me. Beatrix plopped herself in my lap.

What kind of research did you do for each of your biographies? What is one surprising thing you learned about each of your subjects while writing the books?

I’m a leave-no-stone-unturned researcher. I immerse myself in all things related to that person: books (non-fiction and fiction), movies, articles, everything. I try to get to know the time period, the sensibilities, issues, the problems of the time…I try to learn as much as I can so that I can feel that person and, for a while, carry that person inside me.

I learned that Beatrix Potter was a bit of a rebel but that she (somehow) did her rebelling quite graciously. If she had a pet that died, she boiled the animal, removed its skin, reassemble its bones, and studied its anatomy. She was a brilliant scientist and an amazing entrepreneur, too!

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Linda Elovitz Marshall researching Jonas Salk at the Salk Institute.

I learned that, as a child, Jonas Salk thought about becoming a rabbi. Later, he decided to go into government. It was in college that he discovered chemistry…and fell in love with it! And when he and his wife were first married, he cut his own wood for the woodstove/fireplace that heated their cabin.

I also learned that Anne Frank was a lively, boisterous kid with a twinkle in her eye who loved making jokes and liked making a bit of mischief, too.

I’d like for you to talk a little more in depth about today’s reviewed book. Can you take readers on its journey from idea to publication? Why do you think it’s important for children to know about Jonas Salk?

Thank you for asking. As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Salk was a hero to me and to many of my generation. There was even a stamp issued in his honor! It was part of the Distinguished Americans series of postage stamps. When I decided to write picture book biographies in addition to my other writing, Dr. Salk—my hero—was one of the first people I chose to write about. He was someone who saw a problem, wanted to fix it, and did. He was such a hero to me and my husband that when our first son (who grew up to become a doctor) was born, my husband (also a doctor) and I named him Jonah.

When I started researching this book, years before COVID-19 came on the scene, Americans had all-but-forgotten how deadly and devastating a communicable disease could be. Sure, there was fear with recent outbreaks of diseases like Ebola, Zika, and H1N1. But with good fortune and quick action, those diseases were (temporarily, at least) brought under control and, consequently, swept off the radar. It seemed the United States had become a fairly safe place regarding communicable diseases. Then came COVID-19.

The first vaccine that Dr. Salk worked on was the flu vaccine. Worldwide, the Spanish flu had killed millions of people. More people were killed from flu than died during all of World War I. The flu vaccine that Dr. Salk and his mentor, Dr. Francis, developed is the basis of the vaccine we still use. It has saved millions of lives!

Then Dr. Salk saw another problem: polio. He wanted to solve that problem… and he did! But he didn’t stop there. After that, he opened the Salk Institute—a place to identify, study, and solve problems. As we are seeing first-hand with COVID-19, the first step is to recognize a problem. The second is to have the desire to solve them. The third is to get to work. I hope this book inspires people to do all three!

Your experiences with polio outbreaks when you were a child and today’s restrictions in response to the pandemic have direct correlations. What do you remember about those times? What would you tell children today?

I was quite young, but I remember not being allowed to go to lakes or swimming pools or even to the movies. There were many restrictions, much as there are now. Polio, however, was thought to be a disease that struck mostly young children and babies. I don’t remember not being allowed to see or hug my grandparents. On the other hand, we lived quite far from them and didn’t see them often.

What would I tell children today? Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. A mask helps keeps the wearer safe. It helps keep people around the wearer safe. It’s a little thing and it doesn’t hurt.

I would also like to start a public service announcement campaign about masks. Inspired by the words of former U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” this public announcement campaign would be:

MASK:

What YOU can do for your country!

Anyone want to come up with a graphic? Anyone want to help get the word out?

If we all wear masks and all work together—for our country—we can help stop this pandemic. We can each do our part. MASK: what YOU can do for your country.

And when the vaccine is ready for us to take, we need to be ready to take it…for ourselves, for our communities, for our country.

The announcement of a successful vaccine for COVID-19 has generated excitement and hope. Your descriptions of the research Jonas Salk and his team did on a flu vaccine and on the polio vaccine can inform children’s understanding of the world’s current search to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. How can adults use your biography of Jonas Salk to discuss this topic with their kids or students?

At last, we are seeing rays of sunshine, glimmers of hope. It looks like there will soon be a COVID-19 vaccine readily available. Maybe soon, COVID-19, like polio (and diphtheria, measles, pertussis, etc.), will be a preventable disease. But for that to happen, people need to take the vaccine.

This book is a wonderful teaching tool—especially with its soothing 1950’s retro look—for teaching about how a vaccine solved a problem in a previous epidemic. I’m hoping that teachers, parents, librarians, and caregivers will see the parallel and use it during COVID-19 (and, ugh, in the event that there’s yet another pandemic down the road…).

Adults can read The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine with their kids or students and talk about it. Read and talk about children around the country who took the shots. Those children, those “polio pioneers,” were heroes! By taking the vaccine, they helped save themselves—and many other people—from a devastating, communicable disease. Dr. Salk was so positive that his vaccine was safe and effective that he gave the shots to his own children!

Speaking of his children, I contacted them while I was researching this book. They’re grown up with children and grandchildren of their own. They were wonderfully helpful! If any of Dr. Salk’s children are reading this, thank you, again!

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Thank you letters to Dr. Salk from children who received the polio vaccine.

While you were raising your children, you lived on a farm. I’d love to hear a little more about your farm. Did the experience influence any of your books?

I raised my children on a small sheep farm in New York State’s Hudson River Valley. We had sheep, chickens, rabbits, and an occasional goat. We had dogs in the house and cats in the barn. My book, The Passover Lamb, was inspired by something that took place on our farm. The middle grade novel I’m working on is set on the farm. I also have several stories I’m working on, none of which are yet sold, that are also set on – or inspired by – the farm.

In doing a little research for this interview, I saw that you wrote a book about your father, Jerry Ellis (Gerald Elovitz), who founded Building #19—described as “New England’s laziest, messiest department store.” One joke that your dad incorporated into the store caught my eye. It was a sign at the door that read: “Wipe your feet before leaving this store.” Several of your books are based in humor. Did you inherit your sense of humor from your dad? How would you describe the humor in your books for kids?

I wish I could attribute my sense of humor to my father—he was a genius at humor and at making lemonade out of lemons. When he was completely bankrupt with three small children, a new house, and a new mortgage, he started a business that eventually became quite successful. Before that, he’d tried another business venture (selling TV’s and appliances) that failed miserably and depleted his (and the family’s) resources. When he started the new business—selling overstocked, imperfect goods, and damaged items from insurance losses—he wrote his own ads, saying he couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to write them. He even filmed his own TV commercials—using puppets because actors were too expensive! His humor helped make “America’s laziest and messiest department stores” a great success. The business eventually grew to 12 stores…and lasted almost 50 years!

Like my father, I try to add gentle humor to some of my writing. Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? and The Mitzvah Magician are good examples of that type of humor. Sometimes, I’m serious, too. Mostly, though, I like to play with words. I also need to keep myself amused. That’s important! When I read what I wrote the day (or week or month) before and laugh out loud (assuming it was supposed to be funny), I know it’s good.

Are you working on any new projects now? Would you like to give readers a hint for what’s to come?

I’ve just put (what I hope are) the finishing touches on a picture book biography that will come out in 2022. I have another picture book bio coming out in 2023. I’ve also got another picture book coming out in 2022 or 2023. Covid-19 has changed some of the dates and the illustrators haven’t yet been selected, so I won’t say more about them yet.

I’m also working on several projects, including a middle grade novel. I’ve just completed a wonderful poetry course (taken online, of course) through Highlights. Now I have several poems brewing. I have a long list of projects as well as a list of things that are just twinkles-of-ideas, ranging from board books to adult novels. There’s no way I’ll ever finish even half of what I’m interested in doing. And the list grows longer every day!

Thanks, Linda, for this wonderful talk! Your enthusiasm for your subjects is inspiring! I wish you all the best with The Polio Pioneer and all of your books!

You can connect with Linda Elovitz Marshall on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine has been named to these “Best Books” lists!

The National Science Teaching Association Best STEM books for 2021

 The Jewish Journal Best Non-Holiday books 2020

And Kirkus calls it “An exciting, informative introduction to medical research, the work of Jonas Salk, and the man himself.”

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming up with Knopf Books for Young Readers in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine, written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | illustrated by Lisa Anchin

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Reply with your hero or person you admire for an extra entry. Each reply earns one extra entry.

This giveaway is open from December 9 to December 15 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 16. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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You can find The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 22 – It’s National Insect Week

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About the Holiday

Insects are endlessly fascinating, and this week celebrates their diversity, purpose, and beauty. This week was established by the Royal Entomological Society to encourage people to learn more about insects, from those close to home to the exotic species around the world. This year the theme is Entomology at Home and people are invited to participate by learning about local species of insects and enjoying the resources on the National Insect Week website. There’s a photography contest, learning videos for all ages, access to Instar the Magazine for Young Entomologists, and so much more, including a mention of “the most bizarre use” of an insect ever imagined. To discover all of the resources and fun, visit the National Insect Week website.

I received a copy of Moth for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Moth

Written by Isabel Thomas | Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

 

“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope. It starts with a little moth.” Long ago a peppered moth wiggled out of its cocoon, unfurled its “salt and pepper” wings, its legs, and its antennae and took to the air to avoid predators. It met up with other peppered moths flitting and fluttering among the trees in the night sky. Most of these moths “had speckled, freckled wings,” but some had “wings as dark as charcoal.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-predators

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

During the day, the peppered moths rested, flattening themselves against the speckled bark of the trees, camouflaged from birds and other animals. But the black-winged moths weren’t so lucky. Easy to spot against the light bark, they began to vanish as birds nipped them up for themselves and their chicks. As the speckled peppered moths had more and more babies, they also sported a mottled pattern.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-bird

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Over many years, the speckled moths became dominant while the dark-winged variety dwindled. But then, factories, trains, and other machines that burned coal were built. They spewed dark clouds of soot into the air. The soot settled everywhere, turning buildings and trees black. Now, the lighter-colored moths became the meals of birds and other predators, and the black-winged peppered moths had better camouflage. “Now they lived long enough to lay eggs of their own…and their wing color passed on to their offspring…and their offspring’s offspring.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-evolution

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

After decades of pollution and adaptation, the peppered moth population was still strong, but now most of the moths were dark, while the lighter moths were rare. But then, people came together to clean up the pollution. Less coal was burned as new ways to fuel machines were found. In time, the air cleared, the sky was again blue and the clouds white. “The trees shed their sooty bark.” Modern life brought many changes to the landscape, providing places for both dark and speckled peppered moths to hide. Today, a mix of peppered moth can be found flittering and fluttering in the night sky, offering their “story…of survival…and hope.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Isabel Thomas’s superlative nonfiction picture book masterfully combines lyricism with clear descriptions of the science of adaptation and natural selection to create a story that touches on natural history, human history, and the interactions of the two. Thomas’s conversational tone and direct address to the reader makes this a personal story and will captivate children sensitive to nature and the world around them. Her excellent pacing serves to show the passage of time involved in the evolutionary changes within the moth community. Thomas begins and ends her story with a note of hope that living things will adapt to today’s changing world. The underlying lesson may also encourage readers to find ways in which humans can adapt to promote the survival of all living things.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-an-evolution-story-trains

Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Exquisite mixed-media illustrations by Daniel Egnéus will immediately draw readers—both children and adults—into the nighttime forest where peppered moths take wing, silhouetted against the golden moon and the deep blues and purples of the midnight sky before finding a hiding place from hungry bats and birds. The story’s theme of light and dark in its variations is powerfully presented. In the early pages, images are set against bright, open backgrounds; foliage is vibrant green; and birds dazzle with color. As a bird brings a charcoal-winged moth back to her nest while speckled moths hide, children can easily see natural selection at work.

As the Industrial Revolution alters the skyline and the quality of the air, the images become denser and the hues of the sky, trees, and birds muted. For children who have not grown up with the air pollution of the past—even the near past—double spreads of smog-churning factories and trains will make a strong impression. The introduction of a child at the beginning and end of the story reminds readers of two things: that we owe it to our children to treat the world with kindness and that our children are the hope this story builds on.

Special mention must be made of the magnificent and poignant illustrations of the speckled peppered moths. Looking closely at their outstretched wings, you will see nature—trees, water, dappled sunlight—reflected in them. The stunning cover—with its foil-embossed lettering, stars, and moth—reflects the importance of each reader to our world: touch or look into the shining silver and you will find yourself mirrored there.

A beautiful book to enhance nature and science studies and help children develop an understanding of the impact of change, Moth is a must for school, public library, and home collections.

Ages 6 – 10

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1547600205

Discover more about Isabel Thomas and her books on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Egnéus and his work, visit his website.

Take a look inside Moth with this beautiful book trailer.

National Insect Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tree-branch-with-white-cocoons

Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-cards

Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-an-evolution-story-cover

You can find Moth at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 4 – National Wildlife Day

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About the Holiday

National Wildlife Day was established in 2005 by author and pet lifestyle expert Colleen Paige in memory of conservationist Steve Irwin. The day promotes awareness of the importance of conservation of animals, habitats, and the environment worldwide and offers education on the number of endangered and threatened species across the globe. To honor today’s holiday, visit a local zoo, aquarium, or other nature preserve and take some time to learn about what you can do to help protect the environment.

I received a copy of Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys from Bloomsbury Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Written by Mike Unwin | Illustrated by Jenni Desmond

 

In their stunning book, Mike Unwin and Jenni Desmond take readers along as twenty diverse animals complete their annual travels to safer, warmer, or more fertile feeding grounds guided by inborn instincts. With compelling and conversational storytelling, Unwin introduces each creature, divulging fascinating and endearing facts about the adults and babies that undertake these epic trips—the shortest, 60 miles; the longest, a breathtaking 60,000 miles!

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Image copyright Jenni Desmond, 2019, text copyright Mike Unwin, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books.

Readers will meet a humpback whale and her baby who stick together for more than 15,000 miles—“the longest swim of any animal on Earth”—as they head from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Australia to the Antarctic and back in search of krill. As the baby eats, it “will start building up the thick layer of blubber that it needs to keep out the cold.” When it is ten years old, this baby will be fully grown and can look forward to many migrations to come.

If you were stuck waiting at a caribou crossing, you’d want a good, long book on hand. More than 100,000 adults and their young swim across icy rivers and trek over grasslands of the frosty Arctic “inland toward the forests [where] the trees will help protect them when winter comes” and delicious moss and lichen await under snowy blankets.

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Image copyright Jenni Desmond, 2019, text copyright Mike Unwin, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books.

Meanwhile in a warmer part of the world, a passenger cries, “Stop the car quick! There’s a red river flowing right across the road…. But look closer. It’s not water: it’s crabs. Big red ones. There are thousands of them. They pour across the road in an army of pincers, then scuttle down the bank on the other side, heading for the sea.” Where does this awesome sight take place? On Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean northwest of Australia as millions of red crabs move from the forests to the sea, en masse.

One of the most mysterious and intricately sequenced migrations is that of the monarch butterfly. Each year it takes four generations and four stops to lay eggs and breed along the way for these stained-glass-gorgeous insects “that can weigh less than a paperclip” to complete their journey from the northern United States and Canada to Mexico.

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Image copyright Jenni Desmond, 2019, text copyright Mike Unwin, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books.

And which creature has the stamina for that 60,000-mile voyage? That honor goes to the appropriately named wandering albatross, who “five to ten years ago…left the small rocky island where it was born. Ever since then it has been wandering, covering more than 60,000 miles a year—over a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Never once has it touched land, though the birds often roost on the surface of the water.” In one or two years, this solitary traveler will return to land to breed and become a stay-at-home parent until its only child is ready to depart.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-migration-incredible-animal-journeys-wildebeasts

Image copyright Jenni Desmond, 2019, text copyright Mike Unwin, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books.

Other creatures presented include the emperor penguin, arctic tern, whooping crane, barn swallow, globe skimmer dragonfly, southern African pilchard, ruby-throated hummingbird, bar-headed goose, great white shark, African elephant, pacific salmon, osprey, blue wildebeest, straw-colored fruit bat, and green turtle.

A map of the world—with each animal’s migratory journey outlined—orients children to the geographic locations and distances involved as well as a few more facts on migration and how pollution and habitat destruction affect migratory patterns follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-migration-incredible-animal-journeys-penguins

Image copyright Jenni Desmond, 2019, text copyright Mike Unwin, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books.

Mike Unwin’s accessible, descriptive, and sensory snapshots turn this science-based book into an enthralling page-turner. As one astounding true story leads to another, readers will be eager to see which animal comes next and continue learning about this wildlife phenomenon. Well-known for his nature books for children and adults, Unwin captures the spirit of each animal as they take on the formidable challenges of their annual migration and in the process teaches a love and respect for nature.

Accompanying Unwin’s text are Jenni Desmond’s gorgeous mixed-media illustrations, made all the more impressive by the book’s large format. The textured pages dazzle with the movement and grandeur of nature, transporting readers to far-flung parts of the world and showing them the beauty of each animal up close. Icy blues and greens lend images of the Arctic a frosty feel, while vibrant greens set off the brilliant oranges of the monarch butterflies and jeweled feathers of the ruby-throated hummingbird. Wildebeest are menaced by storm clouds and elephants parade along a brown, dusty road. The book concludes with first a dusky and then a moonlit night that welcome bats and turtles to begin their travels.

An excellent choice for home, classroom, homeschool, and public library collections, Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys will be a favorite of both kids and adults for lessons and more casual reading.

Ages 5 – 8 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1408889916

To learn more about Jenni Desmond, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Wildlife Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wonderful-wildlife-board-game

Wonderful Wildlife Board Game

 

Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice below
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!
  • 1 = Flamingo – South America
  • 2 = Emperor Penguin – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 3 = Giraffe – Africa
  • 4 = Bald Eagle – North America
  • 5 = Ibex – Europe
  • 6 = Kangaroo – Australia
  • 7 = Panda – Asia
  • 8 = Orca – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 9 = Toucan – South America
  • 10 = Buffalo – North America
  • 11 = Koala – Australia
  • 12 = Lion – Africa
  • 13 = Etruscan Shrew – Europe
  • 14 = Manta Ray – Pacific Ocean
  • 15 = Sea Turtle – Atlantic Ocean
  • 16 = Tiger – Asia

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-migration-incredible-animal-journeys-cover

You can find Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 21 – World Giraffe Day & Interview with Author Monica Bond, Illustrator Kayla Harren, and Educator David Brown

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, celebrates the animal with the longest neck on the longest day or night of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. The purpose of World Giraffe Day is to honor these majestic animals while also promote awareness of the dangers and threats they face. Events supporting these gentle giants are held around the world at zoos and conservation organizations as well as by governments, institutions, and companies involved in education about and protection of the giraffe. To celebrate today, learn more about these animals, visit a zoo or wildlife refuge, or consider donating to the cause of giraffe conservation. To learn more visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.

Juma the Giraffe

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Juma, a baby giraffe, loved to play with his friends Upendo and Rafiki on the African safari while their mothers watched. “Upendo likes to explore new places” while “Rafiki jokes and makes everyone laugh with his silly faces. Juma is kind and generous.” With his long neck, he’s able to reach the sweet acacia leaves to share with the dik-diks. One day, though, while the giraffes were at the water hole, Juma caught a glimpse of his reflection.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Looking at himself alongside all the other giraffes, he realized that they all looked the same. “And because they all looked alike, he felt he wasn’t special.” His mama noticed Juma standing alone and sad and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he wished he “looked different from everyone else.”

Juma’s mama gazed at her child lovingly and told him how special giraffes are. “‘There is no other animal in the whole world like us,’” she said. Then she gently reminded him how his long legs and neck help him get food, how his thick tongue and lips protect him from the thorns of the acacia trees, and how his “‘swishy tail sweep away the pesky flies that like to bite us.’” Their brown spots camouflaged them from lions and hyenas.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-juma-the-giraffe-herd

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Then Mama asked Juma to look closely at his spots and notice that “‘each spot is different from the others and every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots.’” Juma saw that Mama was right. He saw one spot “shaped like a star and another like a flower.” Mama’s spots were different too, and so were Upendo’s and Rafiki’s. Mama reassured Juma that each giraffe was unique outside and inside.

Juma was happy and continued to notice other ways that each giraffe was different, including their various personalities. Then Mama nuzzled her little one and told him that to her he was the “‘most special giraffe of all’” because he was her baby and she loved him.

Fascinating facts about the anatomy of giraffes, newborn giraffes, and where giraffes live follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-juma-the-giraffe-juma-and-panorama

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Young readers who are at that stage where they wonder about how they are different from other kids and how they fit into their community will find loving reassurance in Monica Bond’s touching story even as they learn about a giraffe’s distinctive features. The sweet relationship between Juma and Mama, depicted through tender dialogue, will charm little ones. A welcome exchange comes when Mama points out Juma’s unique features and the little giraffe enthusiastically adds more observations of his own. Just as Juma does, young readers will see that they too are special in their own way.

As readers open the cover, Kayla Harren’s stunning panoramic view of the verdant African savanna places them close to zebras, an ostrich, a greater kudu, a grey crowned crane, a stalwart warthog, a family of mongoose, and a herd of elephants. Smiling out from the page is little Juma. As the story progresses, Mama spotlights each of Juma’s attributes, and readers see how he uses them. A shimmering two-page spread of the giraffes lined up at the watering hole and the close-up on the next page will awe kids and adults. Images of smaller animals hiding in rock crevices and big cats and monkeys resting on tree limbs will entice readers to learn more about these creatures. As Mama nuzzles Juma on the book’s final page, adults and little ones are sure to find time to cuddle too.

A sweet story that gives parents, teachers, and other caregivers a way to show the children in their life how special they are, Juma the Giraffe would be an often-asked for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2016 | ISBN 978-0989818292

Learn more about Juma the Giraffe and find videos and teachers resources here.

You can connect with Kayla Harren on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-helping-brother-rinoceros-cover

Helping Brother Rhinoceros

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Brother Rhinoceros and his friend Father Oxpecker went to the waterhole to cool off on a blazing hot day. When they got there, they saw “that most of the water had dried up, leaving a big patch of gooey, sticky mud.” But Brother Rhinoceros lied down in the cool mud anyway and pronounced it “‘Perfect!’” Then Father Oxpecker nestled in behind Brother Rhinoceros’s ear, folded his wings, and the two drifted off to sleep.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-helping-brother-rhinoceros-rhino

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros woke up hungry, but when he tried to leave the waterhole, he discovered that he was stuck in the mud. Father Oxpecker flew off to find help. First he brought back Sister Vervet Monkey, who was good at tying. “She ran around the mud patch looking for something to tie together that might help Brother Rhinoceros. But there was nothing.”

Next, Father Oxpecker brought Grandfather Giraffe, who thought his height could help, but he didn’t know exactly how. So, the bird flew off again in search of someone else. This time he came back with Grandmother Spider, who “produced a delicate thread of beautiful silk from her abdomen. It fluttered in the breeze, of no help whatsoever to Brother Rhinoceros.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-helping-brother-rhinoceros-monkey

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Father Oxpecker left once again and returned with Mother Elephant. Although she was big and strong, she could only watch from the sidelines. Last, Father Oxpecker found Brother Weaverbird, who declared that he could “weave anything” if only there was something to weave. All of the animals sat nearby wondering what they could do. “They were all so proud of the things they could do, but none of them could help Brother Rhinoceros out of the mud.”

It was Grandmother Spider who suggested that they combine their talents and work as a team. She began by “spinning long streams of silk.” Brother Weaverbird braided “the silk into a long, strong rope.” Sister Vervet Monkey tied the rope around Brother Rhinoceros, using Grandfather Giraffe’s long neck as a bridge to reach him. Then it was Mother Elephant’s turn. She grabbed the rope, “took a deep breath and began to pull.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-helping-brother-rhinoceros-oxpecker

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros helped push. “Finally, with a big squishy sound, Brother Rhinoceros lifted his body up out of the mud.” He was free! His friends cheered. Brother Rhinoceros thanked each one individually for their special skills that helped to save him. “They certainly made a great team and the best friends a muddy rhinoceros could ever have.”

Back matter reveals facts about Africa’s black and white rhinoceros. A map of Africa shows the historical range and the much smaller current range for each type of rhino.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-helping-brother-rhinoceros-giraffe

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

With the lyricism of a fable, Monica Bond weaves a story about individuality and teamwork and how every person has the ability to help others. As Father Oxpecker flies off again and again searching for just the right animal to help, readers will enjoy the suspense and learning each animal’s special ability. When Grandmother Spider suggests they all work together, kids will see that by combining their talents with friends and classmates, they can move mountains. The format of the story makes it a multi-layered choice for teaching the elements of a story, prediction, and comprehension.

Kayla Harren’s sun-drenched pages are bathed not only in the heat of a hot African day but in the warmth of friendship these animals share. Harren’s beautifully textured and realistic depictions of the animals and the surrounding savanna will inspire awe and an enthusiastic desire in kids to learn more about the animals, insects, and birds in the story.

A perfect book for social studies, science, and reading classes and for kids who love nature and animals, Helping Brother Rhinoceros makes an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Wild Nature Institute, 2018 | ISBN 978-1732323414

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Our Elephant Neighbors

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Robert and his little sister Mary live on their family’s small farm in Tanzania. There are cattle and goats, which Robert helps watch while Mary helps her mother wash clothes and cook. Sometimes they went to the waterhole to get water. “They splash each other with cool water on hot days.” One day, when it was very hot, they saw something amazing at the waterhole. A family of elephants was enjoying the cool water too. “Robert and Mary climbed up a nearby tree to watch and wait for the elephants to leave.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-elephant-neighbors-splashing

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Soon, two elephants came to stand in the shade of the tree, right under the branch where the two children sat. “The elephants looked up and saw Robert and Mary.” They had been taught to fear people. Nervous, they backed up a few steps. Robert and Mary had been taught to fear elephants, and Mary hid behind her brother. The bigger elephant, Tomas, introduced himself and his little sister, Teresa. Robert introduced himself and Mary.

“Robert looked thoughtfully at the elephants below. ‘You are an elephant, and elephants can hurt people,’ Robert pointed out.” Tomas replied, “‘Well, you are a human, and humans can hurt elephants too.’” Even though Mary knew she should be afraid, she liked the elephants. She reached down and touched Teresa’s upturned trunk. Mary said that she could pick things up with her fingers, and Teresa showed her how she could pick things up with her trunk.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-elephant-neighbors-meeting

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

The elephants and the children talked back and forth about all of their similarities. They were even the same ages. They talked about how all the aunties help out when a baby person and a baby elephant are born, how the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in both human and elephant families teach the children important lessons and protect them, and how all the members of a both families feel sad when another member dies.

When they talked about the food they liked, Robert said that his “‘father gets angry when elephants eat” the vegetables in their garden.’ Then Tomas told Robert and Mary a secret.” He said that “all elephants hate chili pepper powder” and if they hung chili pepper powder on their fences, it would keep the elephants away. One reason elephants were eating from people’s gardens, Tomas said, was because their habitat was getting smaller as people planted more and more farms. Also “more and more of their family members are being hurt by people, because the elephants have fewer places to go.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-elephant-neighbors-elephant-family

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Robert promised Tomas that when he grew up and had a farm of his own, he would build it where it would not disturb the elephants. He also promised to report anyone who tried to hurt the elephants. Soon it was time for Robert and Mary to get back home with the water, and Tomas and Teresa heard their mother calling for them. “They shook hands and trunks” and hoped they would see each other again. They knew “they would never forget their new friends from the waterhole.”

Interesting facts about African elephants follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-elephant-neighbors-fetching-water

Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Through Monica Bond’s charming story of a sister-brother pair and their elephant counterparts, young readers learn surprising ways in which they and elephants are alike. With similar abilities, family units, and even feelings, people and elephants should be friends, but too often they come into conflict, and the result has been a decrease in the elephant population and at times danger for humans as well. As the adorable Robert and Mary talk with Tomas and Teresa, Bond’s enchanting storytelling and realistic dialogue, draw in children, giving them even more reasons to love these popular animals. A major take-away is how people can protect and care for these gentle and intelligent animals and their habitats now and in the future.

Against gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania and its savanna, forests, and mountains, Kayla Harren depicts one family’s simple farm and a family of elephants enjoying a day at the nearby waterhole. At nine and five years old, Robert and Mary will steal readers’ hearts with their infectious smiles, sweet sibling relationship, and enthusiastic interactions with elephants Tomas and Teresa. Harren juxtaposes illustrations of the elephants’ family with those of Robert and Mary’s family in similar situations, showing readers how alike we really are. The pages are washed in soft-blue skies and glowing peach-hued sunsets, as realistic portrayals of the elephants, birds, and other animals create detailed and awe-inspiring panoramas.

Our Elephant Neighbors is an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to further understanding of elephants, conservation, and nature.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2017 | ISBN 978-1732323407

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Nature’s Giants Magazine

In this new magazine from the Wild Nature Institute, an enthusiastic dung beetle named Doug invites kids to learn about animal and plant giants of the African savanna through articles, games, crafts, and other activities that will keep them busy having fun and learning for a long time. Let’s get rolling and see what’s inside! Kids love finding stuff and right on the first pages they’re prompted to spot five differences on two identical (?) giraffes and search the pages for five beetles to see which one will would win a beetle race.

Along the way kids will enjoy:

Comics:

  • Doug engages kids in funny and interesting banter about the dung beetle’s ecological importance, including facts on their very, very long family history, three different dung beetle lifestyles, how dung beetles roll their dung balls in a straight line, and various job sites where dung beetles do their work.

Articles:

  • Ele-Fence!: About new ways farmers are protecting their crops from elephant raiders without engaging in Human-Elephant Conflict
  • Lions vs. Giraffes: About ways scientists use scars found on giraffes to study predation
  • Black Mambas: about the women rangers who patrol the Balule Nature Preserve to stop poaching of black and white rhinoceros and who teach environmental education programs in local schools. Since the group was formed “poaching of all species has decreased by 79%.”
  • Barking up the Right Tree: about the beautiful, sprawling baobab trees.
  • Infographic: on elephants, giraffes, termites and a surprising fact about biomass

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Activities:

  • Ideas for backyard or neighborhood science exploration
  • A savanna word search puzzle
  • An illustrated search-and-find animal puzzle
  • Craft instructions for making an Insect Hotel and an African Savana Scene
  • Jokes
  • A maze
  • How to draw an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros
  • A Giant Birds coloring page

Meet the Team Behind the Books and Magazine

I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk with Kayla Harren, Monica Bond, and David Brown about the work of the Wild Nature Institute, their lovely books that combine nature science with enchanting writing, and their new magazine for children.

Meet Monica Bond

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Hi, Monica! It’s nice to be chatting with you today! The love you have for Tanzania comes through in your stories so clearly and touchingly. Can you talk a little about your work and what brought you to this area?

My partner Dr. Derek Lee—quantitative ecologist and population biologist—and I chose to live and work in Tanzania because this country has some of the best wildlife experiences on Earth. As wildlife scientists, the lure of the African savanna is very strong; it is truly a wildlife paradise. In Tanzania there is incredible biological diversity combined with an extremely high density of mammals and birds, and we still have the full suite of predators and scavengers which means that the food web is intact. Tanzania also holds some of the best habitat for the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna — elephant, rhino, and giraffe.

Derek and I are studying giraffes in Tanzania using a computer program that matches each individual’s unique spot patterns from photographs. We are monitoring thousands of giraffes in northern Tanzania, and learning where they spend their time, which other giraffes they hang out with, and how they move around the ecosystem. Our goal is to understand the things that hurt or help giraffes so we can help to preserve these magnificent animals for the future.

What is it like to live so closely to these majestic animals?

Every time I go to the bush and interact with these creatures, I am awed anew. They are so very special. Every day I feel that I am living the dream and I cannot get enough of watching them in their beautiful savanna habitat. Although we work in the bush, we often go back out to the bush on our days off!

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How did the Wild Nature Institute get its start? Can you talk a bit about the organization?

Formed in 2010, Wild Nature Institute conducts scientific research on endangered wildlife and inspires the public to protect wild nature. Next year we will celebrate a decade of work! The Institute was started as a platform for two dedicated wildlife scientists to realize our dream of doing interesting and bold science that protects the earth’s remaining bits of wild nature. The Wild Nature Institute is me and Derek at the core, but with lots of other partners and cooperators in our network (like David Brown and Kayla Harren) who are all critical to accomplishing our important work.

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. As we celebrate World Giraffe Day today, could you talk about the giraffe—it’s importance to its ecosystem, the threats and pressures the animal faces from human and environmental factors, and how people can help protect them?

The gentle, iconic giraffe is popular around the world, but scientists know surprisingly little about them in the wild. We chose to work with giraffes because they are amazingly beautiful and peaceful animals, but they are vulnerable to extinction because people have taken so much of their wild natural habitat for human uses like farming and houses. Poaching is also a serious problem for giraffes. They need our help.

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Tanzania in East Africa is a stronghold for giraffes, supporting more than any other country. Although the Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, populations have declined here since the 1980s—yet few people are aware of the plight of the beloved giraffe in the wild. It is our job as scientists to bring this problem to light.

How are can families and organizations around the world help in the mission?

What can you do to help save giraffes and wild nature? (1) You can donate money or time to conservation groups like Wild Nature Institute and others. People can use their skills by providing advice, services, or goods in their personal area of expertise that can help the cause. (2) You can raise awareness about the silent extinction of giraffes. Speak up within your social circles and encourage others to donate money or time to saving giraffes. You can raise awareness in your home communities by writing, speaking, and contributing to the global conversation about our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises. (3) You can plant native trees.

Giraffes, elephants, and many other species need native trees, but deforestation continues worldwide. Planting native trees helps fight the global climate crisis and helps biodiversity too! (4) You can support legal protections for wildlife. Laws like the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws make the world safer for wildlife and people. Call and write to your congressperson, senator, governor, and president telling them you support strong law enforcement to protect wildlife. (5) You can commit to not buying body parts, and if you live in Africa you can commit to not eating bushmeat.

The programs that the Institute sponsors and supports—from education in schools and communities to environmental conservation of animals and land to publishing materials for children—is extensive. How has your work been received? What successes have been achieved and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?

To save wild nature, we must know it and love it, so Wild Nature Institute and our partners developed environmental educational materials for children and teachers. The materials teach biology, geography, science, math, and language skills using focal animals and fun, beautifully illustrated stories. Our first book, The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest, was a tri-lingual children’s book about wildebeest migration, and the ecological and economic benefits of conservation. The book was so successful that we created our “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” program to use environmental education to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

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We now produce and distribute our four multi-lingual storybooks, two Swahili activity books, and seven posters, as well as learning activities to accompany the books and posters, to tens of thousands of children throughout Tanzania. These materials teach ecological and social lessons, build national pride in Tanzanian wildlife, and motivate children to read and learn about their natural world. The learning activities help Tanzanian teachers meet environmental education curricula requirements, and also meet Next Generation Science Standards for American schools.

To ensure the materials are used to their best advantage, we host workshops for teachers, led by our education consultant Lise Levy, a retired high school biology teacher with 32 years of experience in education. At the workshops, teachers have a wonderful time learning the stories and practicing the hands-on activities that they will use in the classroom to accompany the books and posters.

Can you talk a little about the impact that these books and the new Nature’s Giants Magazine have on the children and families in Tanzania?

Every year since we introduced our education program, we have expanded its reach and impact through word-of-mouth. Our books and posters are now recognized and requested by Tanzanian educators throughout Tanzania, from Ruaha and Ruvuma in the south to Serengeti in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east. We hired a Tanzanian education coordinator who regularly visits classrooms, orphanages, and community centers and brings “Giraffe in a Box,” “Elephant in a Box,” and “Rhino in a Box” with all of the materials needed to implement the activities. We made our storybooks into videobooks which are playing on Tanzanian television. We organize “fun days” at the schools to celebrate Africa’s giants where we do tree-planting, sports, drama and arts, and creative learning. 

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We are constantly dreaming up new and fun ways to spread the word about the fascinating animals of the African savanna. Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation to love and care for their wildlife and conserve the environment.

On your website you talk about the importance of zoos in supporting the environmental work in Tanzania. How do/can zoos help?

Zoos have an important role to play both in providing financial support for field conservation as well as promoting the conservation of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros through environmental education directed at visitors. Many zoos are using our Celebrating Africa’s Giants education program. Zoos also conduct their own scientific research. We couldn’t do our work without our zoo partnerships and we are really grateful for their support.

To learn more about Monica Bond and the work of the Wild Nature Institute, visit their website.

Meet Kayla Harren

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Welcome back, Kayla! I’m thrilled to be talking with you about these three beautiful books and Nature’s Giants Magazine.

How did you get involved with the Wild Nature Institute and this project? What does it mean to you to be part of it?

In 2015 my husband, Peter, who is also an artist, was asked to illustrate a picture book about a baby giraffe that was written by a friend of a friend. He wanted to pursue a different path in his illustration career, so he passed the job to me. I fell immediately in love with the story of Juma. My passions have always been art and animals. Being able to combine those two loves feels incredible.

I feel so lucky to be involved with the Wild Nature Institute because I get to help wildlife in my own way even though I am not a scientist. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to wildlife education and hopefully spark a love for nature in other people. It feels like fate the way the first book found me through a friend of a friend of a friend and now it has turned into an amazing partnership.

Your artwork in Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbors, and Helping Brother Rhinoceros is stunning and full of such wonderful detail and personality. What kind of research did you do to bring the characters to life? Do Juma—or any of the animals—depict real giraffes, elephants, or rhinos in the area?

Thank you! Monica was incredibly helpful with providing plenty of photographs that she and the other scientists had taken of the scenery and wildlife in Tanzania. It made my job so much easier to know that people who actually lived in Tanzania and knew the area were checking all the details of my work to make sure it was accurate. For each book I was able to look through images provided by Wild Nature Institute of people, landscapes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and plenty of birds and animals to add in the background of each illustration. I did study the spot patterns of many giraffes, but Juma is a made-up combination of many giraffes I studied.

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Readers of your many books know what realism and sensitivity you bring to your illustrations of animals. Do you have a special affinity for animals and nature? Where did that come from?

Absolutely! Animals are my favorite. It started with my love of stuffed animals when I was very young. I had a huge collection, and I would spread them all out on my bed so none were hidden and they all got equal attention from me. I was introduced to many animal species through my toys. I remember fondly a stuffed white Bengal tiger that was bigger than me and a plump little panda bear. I loved the zoo, nature shows, and all the pet cats and dogs my family had. I feel most comfortable and relaxed in nature. I love going for walks with my dog because she stops every few steps to sniff something and that makes me pause and look around at all the beautiful shapes and textures and colors of the plants surrounding me. Nature is infinitely inspiring.

Have you ever visited Tanzania?

Not yet. Visiting Tanzania is very high on my list of things I need to do. Seeing a giraffe in the wild would be an absolute dream come true.

I’m going to let David Brown answer the next few questions about “Nature’s Giants Magazine.” David is a biologist, wildlife conservationist, and environmental educator—and he’s the co-creator and major writer of “Nature’s Giants.”

Welcome, David! As a nature lover, puzzle doer, and crafter myself, I love “Nature’s Giant’s Magazine!” There’s so much for kids to fall in love with!

“Nature’s Giants” magazine is full of fascinating articles (I learned a lot!), fun crafts, science prompts, challenging puzzles, and even a funny dung beetle named Doug. Can you talk about how the magazine came to be, what your role in the magazine is. and about how it can be used in the classroom? 

A group of conservationists and educators were meeting about how we could make Celebrating Africa’s Giants accessible and interesting to kids who love giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. We discussed how magazines like “Ranger Rick” and “National Geographic Kids” helped spark and sustain our love of nature when we were young, and we realized that there wasn’t really anything like that for even the most popular animals like giraffes and elephants. We decided to start our own nature magazine to fill that gap. We decided that our host of the magazine should be a dung beetle named Doug Beetle.  Doug Beetle helps show that there are many ways to be a giant in nature beyond physical size.

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My role is to help coordinate the creation of the magazine, develop story and activity ideas, and write the articles that bring those ideas to life. I also write the Doug Beetle comics. Megan Strauss, a wildlife biologist and illustrator, creates activities, crafts, and provides content for the magazine with her scientific expertise.  Kayla creates illustrations to accompany the articles and designs the layout of each page.

Accessible and interesting are perfect adjectives for Nature’s Giants! The magazine really promotes exploration and hands-on activities to engage kids in science learning. Can you describe some of the elements parents, teachers, and kids will find inside?

The magazine can be enjoyed casually for its art, stories, and activities. We also designed it for use in classrooms, zoo education programs, and other learning environments. In the first issue, we have a story about how scientific information can be visualized with infographics and how that helps us see the world in different ways.

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We also have a story about how a scientist makes an observation, asks questions about what she observed, and then solves a scientific mystery. Readers will learn how scientists study animals in the field, and hopefully get inspired to take part in citizen science themselves. 

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Environmental issues around the world are important to all of us. In what ways can children help from home or in their own communities?

The young people of the early 21st century are going to be the deciders of whether big animals like giraffes, elephants, and rhinos and their habitat survive this century and beyond. These animals are beloved around the world. They are the biological equivalent of the great works of art, architecture, and popular culture that are the common heritage of people around the world.

The young people in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where these species and their habitats live, are the primary decision makers, but these animals need a global constituency of conservationists. They need people to help pay attention to them and keep their conservation needs visible in the world. Just as we pay constant attention to our favorite sports teams, celebrities, and technology products, we need to find ways to keep attention on giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

If you love a species, then helping your local social network of family and friends be aware of the animal is a meaningful conservation action. Our goal for “Nature’s Giants” is to help connect young people with these animals and their conservation challenges and find ways to keep that connection growing.

What are the future plans for the magazine? How can teachers or other organizations order copies?

The first issue of “Nature’s Giants” is themed about African animals and plants. If the magazine finds an audience and there is an appetite for future issues, we would love to do a theme issue for each continent. We have also thought about doing an issue about the oceans. There are endless possibilities for issue themes. We would love to explore the future adventures of Doug Beetle.

To order copies of the magazine and all three storybooks, you can contact Monica Bond: monica@wildnatureinstitute.org

If you are interested in ordering Juma the Giraffe, Helping Brother Rhinoceros, and/or Our Elephant Neighbors for your classroom, organization, or yourself, contact Monica Bond monica@wildnatureinstitute.org. Individual copies of the books cost $12.00. Substantial discounts are offered when ordering multiple copies. All prices include shipping and handling.

Individuals, schools, and other organizations can also order single and/or multiple copies of “Nature’s Giants Magazine” for $4.25 each, plus shipping and handling.

You can also download printable posters with illustrations and information about giraffes, rhinos, and elephants from the Africa’s Giants website: www.africasgiants.org

To find the books with major online booksellers, see the information and links below.

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You can find Helping Brother Rhinoceros at these booksellers

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

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You can find Our Elephant Neighbors at these booksellers

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

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You can find Juma the Giraffe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 3 – Wild Koala Day

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About the Holiday

If you love koalas, you’ll want to join in on this Australian holiday that’s dedicated to celebrating koalas and protecting their habitats. Koalas survive by eating the gum leaves of eucalyptus trees, but these forests are threatened by deforestation, fire, and climate change. Conservationists are calling for the preservation and replanting of these important forests. To show solidarity with the cause and koalas, people are encouraged to wear gum leaves (or any leaf), plant a tree, and post a picture of a wild koala on social media, using #wildkoaladay. You can learn more about today’s holiday by visiting the Wild Koala Day website.

I received a copy of Koala Is Not a Bear from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sterling Children’s Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Koala Is Not a Bear

Written by Kristin L. Gray | Illustrated by Pachel McAlister

 

Koala couldn’t wait to go to camp, meet the other campers, and have lots of fun. Since this was her first trip away from home, she packed some of her favorite things in case she felt homesick. When she got to camp, she found a cabin for birds, one for crocodiles, and one for cats, but she couldn’t find her cabin. Just as she was about to ask for directions, Grizzly came running out to meet her and welcome her to Bear Cabin.

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Koala was introducing herself when, “‘Hold it!’ said a voice. ‘Koala is NOT a bear.’” It was Kangaroo, who, Grizzly said, was “‘a bit of a know-it-all.’” Koala was tired from looking for the right cabin and only wanted a place to put her gear and relax. She showed off her “‘sharp teeth and claws,’” and Grizzly agreed that Koala must be a bear. But then Kangaroo reminded them that “‘crocodiles have sharp teeth and claws’” too.

Koala was not to be deterred and scampered up a tree just like a bear. Kangaroo countered with the example of lemurs, who also climb trees but are not bears. Koala had another bear-like trick up her sleeve, though, and let out a growl a bear could be proud of. Kangaroo brought up tigers. Koala then got down on all fours and crawled along accompanied by Grizzly. Duck had a sage observation that went like this: “‘If she walks like a bear and talks like a bear, she must be a bear.’”

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“‘Tail?’” questioned Kangaroo, and while Koala didn’t have a proper tail, she did have thick fur that kept her warm and dry. Grizzly figured the issue was settled and they all went into the cafeteria to eat. But not so fast. Kangaroo had a book, which she said proved Koala was not a bear. And instead of similarities, Koala began to see the differences between her and Grizzly. She didn’t like berries or fish and she didn’t hibernate during winter. Suddenly, Koala thought she “didn’t belong in Bear Cabin. Maybe she didn’t even belong at camp.”

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Koala began to feel homesick and went off to a corner to look at the picture of her family she’d brought along. She had just opened her pouch to get out the photograph when, right behind her, Koala heard that familiar voice. “‘Aha! I knew it,’ cried Kangaroo. ‘Koala has a pouch! Like ME.” But when Kangaroo got a glimpse of Koala’s photograph, she recognized her great-aunt Quokka. “‘Your great-aunt?’” said Koala. “‘Quokka’s my great-aunt.’”

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Koala had a feeling…and asked some more questions: had Kangaroo ridden in her mother’s pouch, been called a joey, and come from Australia? Yes, yes, yes, answered Kangaroo. Suddenly, Koala and Kangaroo knew exactly what Koala was—a marsupial—which made her and Kangaroo family! They both got a bear hug from Grizzly and went off to settle into Marsupial Cabin, just as Platypus arrived looking for Duck Cabin….

A short Author’s Note about marsupials follows the text.

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

In her funny and layered story of mistaken identity, Kristin L. Gray reveals facts about koalas and the order marsupials while also making the point that we all embody more similarities than differences. As Koala narrows in on which cabin is hers, alert readers will enjoy besting Kangaroo in discovering who Koala will be bunking with. Duck provides humorous asides that will keep kids giggling, and the pitch-perfect surprise ending promises to send young animal lovers scurrying to do some research.

Through vibrant, action-packed illustrations, Rachel McAlister showcases all the ways in which Koala is like a bear—as well as crocodiles, lemurs, and tigers—but ultimately belongs in the marsupial family. Grizzly’s stalwart support of her new friend is endearing as she also shows her claws and teeth, climbs a tree, growls fiercely, crawls beside her, and in the end clasps her in a big bear hug when it’s discovered that Koala is actually a marsupial. The cafeteria scene shows happy camaraderie and invites readers to learn which scientific families the other campers fall into.

A fun story for animal lovers or to accompany science and STEM lessons in the classroom, Koala Is Not a Bear would make for an engaging story time at home or at school.

Ages 4 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454927457

Discover more about Kristin L. Gray and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachel McAlister, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Koala Is Not a Bear Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Koala Is Not a Bear written by Kristin L. Gray | illustrated by Rachel McAlister

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

This giveaway is open from May 3 through March 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 10.

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books

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

Wild Koala Day Activity

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Cute Koala Coloring Page

 

For a koala, a eucalyptus leaf is the perfect snack! Here’s a printable coloring page of a koala in its natural habitat to help you celebrate Wild Koala Day!

Cute Koala Coloring Page

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You can find Koala Is Not a Bear at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

November 8 – X-Ray Day and Q & A with Author Sara Levine

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About the Holiday

In 1895 while Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen was experimenting with cathode rays and glass, he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. This led him to make an astounding discovery. He found that the electromagnetic energy that caused the glow—which he named X-rays—could penetrate human flesh, but not bone, thus allowing bone to be photographed. For the first time doctors could see inside the body without surgery. X-rays were first used during the Balkan War in 1897 to find bullets, shrapnel, and broken bones in soldiers. While X-rays were an amazing advancement for medical research and patient care, their danger was not readily understood. The novelty of this new technology was used by shoe stores as a fitting device in the 1930s through 50s until the harmful properties of radiation were better appreciated. Today, X-rays and the technology they led to are instrumental in diagnosing injuries and diseases and in targeting a medical response.

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth

 

Can you imagine if we sloshed through life like soup without a bowl? What would we set our hats on? Where would we carry our phones? How could we sit in class or the office or perform our favorite activities? And what would happen to our organs, our hair, our homes? It’s all a little disturbing! Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that scenario because “we’re vertebrates, animals with bones. Our bones hold us up.” Phew!

There are different kinds of vertebrates—mammals, reptiles, fish, and more—but many of our bones are similar. For example, “all vertebrates have skulls and ribs. And we all have vertebrae. Vertebrae stack up one on top of another to make the spine, or backbone.” Humans have vertebrae that end…well…you know where, but imagine for a minute if your vertebra kept on going. What if they poked a hole right through your shorts? Yes! You’re right—you’d have a tail. Tails are pretty helpful for some animals. They help them swim, communicate, even keep their balance.

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

Good job! Let’s try again…how about if you only had a skull, vertebrae, and ribs. No arm bones; no leg bones. You’ve got it! A slithery snake! Nah…really…you’d look great! Okay, maybe you’d prefer if you had a skull, vertebrae, and arm bones—but no leg bones—and your nose was transferred to the top of your head. Sounds fishy? Maybe, but not quite. Oh! Did I give it away? Yep, you’d be a whale or a dolphin, and you’d use those powerful vertebrae to propel yourself to the ocean’s surface to grab a breath.

Imagine what kind of gloves and shoes you’d need if your “middle fingers and middle toes were so thick that they supported your whole body.” Hey, you’re good at this! It was a trick question. You wouldn’t need gloves, but you’d wear horse shoes (or no shoes if you’re a less domesticated animal like a zebra). Now, let’s take a trip through a room full of fun-house mirrors. What kind of animal would you be if your neck was reeeaally long and each vertebrae was “as big as your head?” Or if your legs were muuuuuch longer than your arms? Or your “finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Seeing those transformations is definitely worth the price of admission, right?

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

But getting back to the bowl of soup: “Could you be an animal if you didn’t have any bones at all?” Sure! Some insects and sea creatures “have their hard parts on the outside,” and some are just “mushy.” Think of worms, slugs, and jellyfish, just to name a few. But bones make life more fun, don’t ya think? So if all vertebrates have bones, what makes humans different? Well, for one thing we (as well as some apes and monkeys) have opposable thumbs, which means that “we can move our thumbs in a special way that allows us to do many things, including turning the pages of a book,” using tools, and picking up objects. “Did you get that one? If so, give yourself a thumbs-up!”

An Author’s Note including more about bones, the types of vertebrates, a glossary, and resources for further reading follow the text.

With humor and a kid’s sensibility of the bizarre, Sara Levine presents an anatomy lesson that young readers will respond to. Juxtaposing individual bony features of humans and animals is a brilliant idea to give children perspective on the differences in animal skeletons and the uses of each unique trait. Levine’s quiz-like format engages readers, encouraging independent thought and active participation as well as building suspense for what transformation comes next. Kids will laugh and learn and be on the lookout for other ways human and animal skeletons differ as they become more aware of the natural world around them.

With illustrations of tailbones sticking out of pants, empty socks, two fingered hands and two toed feet, a neck that needs two scarves, and more, T. S Spookytooth illuminates what it means to be human in an animal world or an animal in a human world. Kids will laugh imagining themselves as Spookytooth depicts them with animal features and “Ewww” when their portrayal dissolves into a muddy mess. The accurate drawings of human and animal skeletons educate readers on the names and placement of particular bones.

The unique approach to the study of human and animal skeletons, the wide range of animals presented, and the enticing writing and illustrations make Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons a wonderful choice for libraries and home bookshelves of budding scientists and nature lovers.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-0761384649

To learn more about Sara Levine and her books, visit her website! You’ll also discover fun Bone by Bone activities to enhance your reading!

View a gallery of artwork by T. S Spookytooth, plus videos and more on his website!

X-Ray Day Activity

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Dog Paw and Human Hand X-Ray Craft

 

X-rays are cool to look at, but they always stay at the doctor’s office! With this craft you can simulate an X-ray of a dog’s paw and a human hand!

Supplies

  • Printable skeleton templates: Human Hand Template | Dog Paw Template
  • Black chalkboard drawing paper, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches
  • White colored pencil
  • White chalk
  • Clear Plastic Report Sheet Protectors
  • Magnetic clip to hang your x-ray on the refrigerator or other metal surface (optional) OR
  • String or wire, adhesive squares, and clothes pins to hang x-ray on the wall (optional)
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Print the Human Hand and Dog Paw Templates (you may want to print two—one to cut and one to follow when transferring the bones to the black paper)
  2. Cut the bones apart
  3. Lay the bones on the black chalkboard paper
  4. Trace the bones with the white colored pencil
  5. Color in the bones with the white chalk
  6. Slip the black paper into the plastic report sheet protector
  7. If desired, hang the x-ray on the refrigerator with the magnetic clip or on the wall using string, adhesive squares and clothespins

 

Q & A with Author Sara Levine

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Today, I’m thrilled to talk to Sara Levine about her writing as well as to learn about her early experiences with animals and to discover a kid’s-eye-view of women in science.

Your writing for kids is so infused with humor that really captures their attention. What were some of the books that you liked best as a child?

When I was younger, one of my favorite picture books was Katerine and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch. I’ve noticed that this book has gone back into print; I was so happy to find it online. It’s basically about creativity. A girl and her friend keep finding new uses for a large cardboard box—a house, a car, a dance platform. I can still recall my feeling of excitement when hearing it read to me—it made me want to go make something. It’s actually a feeling very similar to what I have today when I think of a new idea for a book. There was also a book called Wisher, which was about difference—about a cat who dreamt he was really a fish. I remember that the illustrations were beautiful and somewhat scary—just done in blues, browns and yellows.  As an older child, I loved Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater and pretty much everything by Judy Blume.

I don’t suppose any of these books are like the books I write. I used to tell people that I liked my science and my books separate. I just wanted to go outside to learn about science. But, I wanted stories in my books. I don’t think there were any of the sorts of books I write about science out for kids when I was young. At least I didn’t find them. But if I had, I think I would have enjoyed them—the fact that they were funny and interactive. But here’s a picture book I LOVE that I found as an adult that is certainly infused with humor and captures a kid’s (and a grown-up’s) attention: Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer. I think this is currently my favorite picture book.

You grew up on a farm in Guilford, Connecticut. Can you tell me a little about the farm and how or if it influenced your current work?

Calling it a “farm” might be a bit of a stretch. My parents were two kids who grew up in Brooklyn and then moved to CT and decided to get some animals, cheered on by their enthusiastic offspring. First there was a goat, who got lonely. So then there was another goat. And they had a baby. And there was a chicken at school who needed a place to go for the summer. And then never went back to school… And so on. We ended up having over 100 named animals—a horse, a cow, peacocks, geese, a donkey and more. I loved taking care of the animals, with my siblings. It was a wonderful experience, one that I’m very grateful for. But it wasn’t at all lucrative. I think the only money made was by my brother who would sell extra eggs to his teachers.

How did it influence my current work? I’m not sure. Certainly my interest in animals is a lifelong one. I think the stories about the animals actually show up more in my writing for adults than in my picture books. The ideas for the books for children come more from teaching ideas that I think will translate well into a picture book format.

You have a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a masters in fine art. When and how did the two merge into your work as an author?

What a great question. I have always had this science side and this humanities side. A lot of my life, I’ve been struggling with how to balance and feed both sides of myself. It’s taken me a long time to find a way to merge the two interests, and it’s been very satisfying to do so in writing about science, especially for kids.

You offer four different school and library programs, all of which sound fascinating. Do you have any anecdotes from a presentation you’d like to share?

In one of my workshops, the one for Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, I bring in an articulated skeleton for the kids to see and a disarticulated skeleton in a box. The kids learn the bones, and I then hand them each a bone which they take up to the standing skeleton to figure out which bone it is, and then work together to put together the second skeleton on the floor. Inevitably, someone asks if the skeletons are real. They are. I literally found them in the closets, when I started my teaching at Wheelock. There are all sorts of questions about that, generated by the kids, and then, often, someone will ask if the skeletons are “boys or girls.” Recently, at a school near Boston, I was explaining to a group of second graders that both were female, that we could tell by the shape of the hips, and I heard one girl, going, “YES!” and pumping her arm up and down, in victory. The boy next to her says, “Why are you so happy? That means a girl died.” To which she responds, “That’s true. But it also means one more girl in science!”

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Sara Levine leads a workshop at Cold Spring School

What’s the best thing about writing for kids?

I enjoy trying to think of engaging and interactive ways to teach something that hasn’t been taught before. I like the creativity involved. And, of course, reading it to the kids when I’m done and seeing them respond!

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Students at Al Hamra Academy examine a skeleton

You also write articles for adults and were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007. Can you tell me more about your writing for adults?

I write science related essays for adults. The writing comes more from my own experiences.  I do have a handful of essays published. I think the one that was nominated for the Pushcart, “What Hands Can Do” is still available to read online. Here’s a link to it on Fictionaut. It’s about spaying a dog. And more, of course. I think my most successful essay is “The Body of a Cow” which originally appeared in the Massachusetts Review. It’s also on Fictionaut, if anyone wants to have a look. Eventually, I hope to work the essays into a memoir for adults.

What’s up next for you?

I have a book on dinosaur bones which will be published by Lerner next year. I also have three children’s books written which I’m trying to find homes for at the moment—one on animal classification (but interactive, written like a “do your own adventure” story), one on how plants communicate with animals, and one very funny one (if I can say so myself) called “Breakfast at the Omnivore Café,” which is about what animals eat. This one might never get published because it falls into the cracks between nonfiction and narrative fiction, but I haven’t given up on it yet. The book I’m currently working on is an attempt to explain climate change through stories of the carbon cycle. Doesn’t sound very interesting when put that way, but it’s written as an interactive story, and is also actually quite funny in parts, so I think kids will like it.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you what your favorite holiday is…

Passover. You get to tell a story to children in a way that is interactive and engaging for kids, AND it involves food. What could be better?

Thanks so much for chatting and sharing your unique perspective on the natural world, Sara! I, for one, would love to read Breakfast at the Omnivore Café—that would be one interesting menu, I bet! I wish you the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Sara Levine on:

Her Website | FacebookTwitter

About Sara Levine

Sara Levine is an assistant professor of biology at Wheelock College and a veterinarian.  Her science books for children include Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (2013) and Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks and Chompers (2016).  Her third book, Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones will be published in 2018.  Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons has received much recognition, including the Utah Beehive Book Award, selection as a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, and finalist for the Cook Prize for best STEM picture book.

Sara also writes science-related essays for adults, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007.  Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Review, Bayou, and in the anthology And Baby Makes More. In addition to teaching college students, she has taught children’s environmental education classes for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and other nature centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut for over 15 years. 

Sara holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) from Tufts University, a master of fine arts degree (MFA) in creative nonfiction writing from Lesley University and a bachelor of arts degree (BA) in English from Haverford College.  She is a native New Englander and lives with her daughter and their dogs and cat in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

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Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons and Sara’s other books can be found at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBoundLerner Publishing

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