January 15 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Stompin’ at the Savoy

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-cover

About the Holiday

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy and am now excited to be celebrating the book birthday of this extraordinary biography of one of the greats of Jazz with a review, an interview with Moira and Laura, and a giveaway of the book. Enjoy!

Thanks goes to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details and two ways to enter below.

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a child William Henry “Chick” Webb turned everything into a drum. “He tapped rhythms on iron railings. Tinkety-tink! He slapped rhythms on marble steps. Thwapety-thwap!” Years later he would be competing in the “biggest band battle of the century” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. But before that he had to overcome many obstacles. Throughout his life, William suffered with a spinal illness that stunted his growth. After an operation after a fall, the doctor recommended getting him a drum set to strengthen his arms. But drums—even drumsticks—were too expensive, so William used wooden spoons and pots and pans to make music.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-pots-and-pans

Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

William’s illness left him with a hunchback and the “kids called him ‘Chicken’—shortened to “Chick”— because of the way he walked. To make money, Chick began selling newspapers when he was nine or ten. Soon he had bought real drumsticks and finally a drum set. Even though Chick only grew to be four feet, one inch that “didn’t stop him from making a giant sound. He just needed a taller chair and a higher bass pedal to do it.”

As a teenager, Chick was hired to play in local bands. He met Duke Ellington. He thought Chick was ready to lead his own band, but Chick waited. In the late 1920s a new kind of music—swing, with its dance-driving beat—came on the scene. “This new music was just right for Chick” and after choosing the best musicians he could find, he began touring the country. On one of these trips he hired Ella Fitzgerald to be the band’s lead singer. By 1937, Chick and his band was playing at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some even called him the “‘Savoy King.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-newspapers

The Savoy Ballroom was different from most clubs. Here, both Black and White people were welcome to dance. “Working-class people and movie stars danced alongside one another. People jumped and jived to new dances all night long.” At the time, bands competed in live “battles,” which Chick usually won. But then in February 1937, his band lost to Duke Ellington.

Chick didn’t let that get him down. Instead he challenged Benny Goodman—who led the number one big band in the country—to a battle of the bands. Benny laid down some rules: his and Chick’s band would play the same songs, his band would play first, and he would play on the biggest stage at the Savoy. Chick agreed. “That night, four thousand people crowded together on the dance floor” and another five thousand gathered outside in the street. In the crowd were also reporters from music magazines. Before his band went on, Chick laid down just one rule as he talked to his bandmates: “‘I don’t want nobody to miss.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-drums

Benny Goodman and his band started off with his smooth, sweet clarinet that set the crowd swaying. But when Chick’s band took the stage, they gave the song a “hotter and faster… Swingier” beat, and the audience bounced along. The music swelled as “back and forth the bands played.” But it may have been “Jam Session” that decided it. As Chick “pounded louder and faster than a speeding train… Benny’s band just shook their heads in disbelief.” Everyone agreed that Chick had won. From that night on, Chick had a new nickname—“the ‘King of Drums.’”

An Authors note telling more about the life of Chick Webb follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-dancing

Thrilling for music-lovers, readers, and dreamers alike, Moira Rose Donohue’s biography of Chick Webb will inspire children to look not at the obstacles they may face but at ways to rise above them to achieve their goals. Donohue’s early focus on Chick’s determination to make music—whether he was using wooden spoons and pots or, much later, real drumsticks and drums—will impress on kids that practice, confidence, and an unfailing vision for the future can move mountains.

An important underlying lesson in Chick’s story is his self-awareness and willingness to wait until he felt ready to find his own niche and create his own band. This example, highlighted in Donohue’s compelling storytelling, will reassure readers who are meticulous, careful, and chafe under a “hurry, hurry” atmosphere. Through Donohue’s lyricism, pacing, and riveting vocabulary, readers can almost hear Chick at his drums as his drumsticks sizzle, whether at home, at venues across the country, or at the Savoy.

Laura Freeman’s rich colors and realistic depictions of Chick Webb—nearly always with drumsticks in his hands—will captivate readers as they watch a little boy with a big talent become the King of Drums. From his childhood kitchen to the school hallway to his natural entertaining spirit while selling newspapers, Freeman shows Chick’s singular focus and the times in which he grew up. Swirled musical bars, floating notes, and shadowed drumsticks give her illustrations movement. The look of rapture on Chick’s face as he plays and images of couples dancing to swing depict how the music transported people from the normal rhythms of life. The final spreads of Chick and Benny Goodman’s battle of the bands are raucous and enthralling and will have kids wanting to hear Chick’s music for themselves.

An absorbing biography of Chick Webb and the era of the big bands as well as a shining example of how one’s belief in oneself can conquer hurdles, Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Book Birthday Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-coloring-page

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

 

You can enjoy coloring a picture of Chick Webb at his drums and challenging yourself with the word search puzzle found in this printable Activity Guide found on the Sleeping Bear Website.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moira-rose-donohue-headshot

Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events to planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are holding a virtual book release celebration this Monday, January 18 at 3:30 EST with Tombolo Books bookstore. You can register for the event as well as buy signed copies of the book there. You’ll find more information and the link to register on my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Laura-Freeman-headshot

Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

What were your thoughts as you began to design the interior images for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I wanted to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

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

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet OR leave a comment below
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

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

A winner will be chosen on January 22. 

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stompin-at-the-savoy-cover

You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-cover

About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-planting

Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-dancing

Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-karen-rostoker-gruber-headshot

You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
image.png
 

One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-remote-controls-are-better-than-women-cover

My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-farmer-kobi's-hanukkah-match-cover

I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-farmer-kobi's-hanukkah-match-lamb-chops-topped-with-goose-pate

You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-food-fright-cover

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rooster-can't-cockadoodledoo-cover

After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bandit-cover

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ferret-fun-cover

The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

CPB - overnight success sign

The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

CPB - maddie the mitzva clown
 
CPB - the family and frog haggadah
 
 

They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-crowded-farmhouse-folktale-cover

I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

FullSizeRender (43).jpg

You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

jpeg image from roland--USE THIS ONE for pr in papers.jpg

I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

maria at a tea party with friends.jpg
 
IMG-1260.JPG

One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

IMG-1417.JPG

One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

CPB - Pinochio

every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tu-b'shevat-coloring-page

Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-cover

You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

November 7 – National Bison Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-cover

About the Holiday

Beginning in 2012, a movement grew to name the bison as America’s national mammal and declare the first Saturday of November as National Bison Day to bring together bison supporters, including Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, and educators to celebrate the significance of Bison. On May 9, 2016, President Barak Obama signed into law the proclamation naming the bison our national mammal.

The bison, also known as the American buffalo are considered a historical symbol of the United States and were integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Native American tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies. Bison also play an important role in improving soil and creating beneficial habitat whilst holding significant economic value for private producers and rural communities. Hunted to near extinction, bison now reside in all 50 states in national parks, refuges, tribal, and private lands.

My Bison

By Gaya Wisniewski

 

The first time a little girl meets the bison she was walking with her mother through a field of tall grass. “‘Look!’” her mother said. “‘He’s back!’” Every day after that the girl went out into the field to see the bison, coming a little closer each time until she was able to pet him. Once, she even thought she heard him whisper an invitation to come closer.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-first-time

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The little girl began to feed him food she’d made herself. Sometimes he didn’t like it, but he always tried it and that made her happy. One day it was time for him to move on with the rest of the herd. The girl walked with him as far as she could. When she said goodbye, the bison gave her a long look and she “knew he’d be back when snow covered the ground again.” The girl was lonely without him, but when winter returned she knew he had too without even seeing him. Now, seated together near the fire, the girl told him stories about the forest and what she’d done over the year while he, silent, “listened with tenderness.” She loved everything about him and loved him with her whole heart.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-come-near

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The girl and the bison grew old together, winter to winter, never feeling the cold of the snow. Once, they talked all night about their mothers. The girl remembering the first time her mother had shown her the bison, how she had comforted her and taught her the lessons of nature. She missed her mother so much, she told him, and imagined he missed his mother too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-tea

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

One winter the bison didn’t return and no amount of looking could find him. The girl, now an old woman, went home. She cried with missing him. And then just as in those winters so long ago when she felt his presence without seeing him, she knew he was with her. In her heart she “heard him say, ‘I am in every spring flower, every sound in the forest, and every snowflake.’” And she knew he was with her always.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-night

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Gaya Wisniewski’s stunning and gorgeous story about a friendship between a little girl and a bison is deeply moving, it’s straightforward and metaphorical meanings blending in harmony to settle in a reader’s heart. The girl’s and bison’s relationship is one of mutual respect and trust, and they are in many ways alike. With her shaggy coat and tousled hair, the girl looks like a miniature bison, while the bison is perfectly comfortable sitting at the table near the fire sipping hot chocolate or snoozing in the cozy built-in bed  in the girl’s home. The girl loves the bison the way children love their pets, and the way she takes care of him replicates a mother’s tender affection and attention.

Here the text and images take on deeper meanings as the little girl offers the bison homemade food, holding her long-handled spoon to his mouth the way mothers the world over do for their babies. She walks with him to the edge of the clearing as he leaves in the spring, waving goodbye but with the promise of his return like a mother taking her child to the bus stop, seeing them off to college, or watching them move away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-sky

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At other times the bison seems to take on the role of the mother. In the endearing illustration of the bison and the girl talking over cups of hot chocolate, the girl relates how the bison would listen to her stories. Later, readers learn that her mother made her hot chocolate when she couldn’t sleep, letting them imagine how the little girl might have told her mother about her day, about the things keeping her awake. The china cup also holds the bison’s memory of cuddling with his mother, their fur smudged and merging with the steam rising from the hot drink. This blending of roles subtly demonstrates the cycles of life and the reciprocal nature of love.

Readers don’t know when the girl lost her mother; but a snapshot of the girl playing Ring around the Rosie with her and her teddy bear, in which only the mother’s arms are visible at the side of the page and the circle of light highlighting this scene is surrounded by darkness, hints at the loss. As the bison and the girl grow old together and there comes the winter when the bison does not return readers discover that any great love is always with them.

Wisniewski’s charcoal and ink illustrations, punctuated with blue create a mystical, dreamlike atmosphere where the forest and the mountains, the girl and the bison reach out to embrace the reader and invite them into this world of a love like no other.

A tender story to share all types of unending love with children, My Bison would be a poignant addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898861

To learn more about Gaya Wisniewski, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Bison Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bison-coloring-page

Bison Coloring Page

 

Bison are majestic creatures. Enjoy this coloring page of a bison roaming Yellowstone National Park.

Bison Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-cover

You can find My Bison at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

October 26 – Howl at the Moon Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there's-something-about-sam-cover

About the Holiday

Wolves, with their gleaming eyes, sharp teeth, and eerie resonating howl, evoke strong emotions in many people. Playing the role of both hero and villain in mythological tales, feared by farmers and ranchers, and well known as “big and bad” to children everywhere, wolves are part of our lives whether we’ve ever seen or heard one or not. While many people may have a negative view of wolves, the founders of today’s holiday want to change that. They want people to see the beauty, power, and environmental benefits of these majestic animals. Wolves don’t actually howl at the moon; they howl to communicate with the rest of their pack, but the inspirational nature of an image of the full moon framing the upturned head of a wolf cannot be denied. To celebrate today? Sure! Go out and howl your loudest at the moon!

There’s Something about Sam

Written by Hannah Barnaby | Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

 

Max was inviting all the boys in his class to his sleepover birthday party. All except the new kid Sam, that is. “‘There’s something different about him,’” Max told his mom, but she said “‘I’m sure you’ll like him when you get to know him better,’” so Max wrote out the invitation. At school all the boys were excited to go. All except Sam, that is. He wasn’t sure because there was going to be “a full moon that night.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there's-something-about-sam-invitations

Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, 2020, text copyright Hanna Barnaby, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

The other boys thought Sam’s abilities to run really fast and know what the cafeteria would be serving for lunch were awesome. Still, Sam wanted to know what made him seem so different, and he was determined to figure it out at his party. At dinner, Max was mesmerized by Sam’s very rare burger. While they played games, Max thought it was amusing when Sam took a nip at Jeremy, and while all the other boys changed into their pajamas in the family room, Sam did it privately.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there's-something-about-sam-run-fast

Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, 2020, text copyright Hanna Barnaby, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

When Max’s mom brought out cookies, all the boys grabbed for them. That’s when Max noticed Sam’s hairy hands and long, sharp claws. The other kids screamed and hid, but Max thought it was cool. Sam was just about to explain, when “the room was flooded with moonlight.” Sam ran out of the house, growling, with Max right behind him. The boys had wild fun in the backyard all night…until they fell asleep up in a big tree.

As Max and his mom watched the boys head home, Max’s mom had to agree that Sam was “an unusual boy.” “‘Yep,’ Max said, ‘he sure is something.’” Then he ran to his room to schedule monthly sleepovers with Sam.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there's-something-about-sam-burgers

Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, 2020, text copyright Hanna Barnaby, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Hannah Barnaby’s unique tale of friendship and individuality will enchant rambunctious kids for whom the lure of all things wild is irresistible. Quickly paced, Barnaby’s story will entice readers to guess at Sam’s alternate personality and watch eagerly for his transformation. Along the way Barnaby tucks in plenty of traits—from athletic ability to liking the same things to just sharing unstructured play time—that draw friends together and reminds readers to give everyone a chance to show their true selves before making judgements.

Anne Wilsdorf’s delightfully freewheeling boys will charm kids from the first page. When readers first meet Sam, with his scruffy hair, they may begin to get an inkling of just how he is so different. Other hints add to the fun too. Details like monster backpacks, monster-themed toys, pajamas and sleeping bags, and a scary movie on TV leave it up to readers to decide whether Sam is really a werewolf or not.

Simply lots of fun with a welcome message, There’s Something about Sam will be an often-asked for addition to bedtime story times—full moon or not. The book would be  an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1328766809

Discover more about Hannah Barnaby and her books on her website.

Howl at the Moon Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-werewolf-coloring-page

Werewolf Coloring Page

 

You can have a howling good time with this printable coloring page, and you don’t even need to wait for the full moon!

Werewolf Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there's-something-about-sam-cover

You can find There’s Something about Sam at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 23 – Swallows Depart from San Juan Capistrano Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-cover

About the Holiday

For generations the cliff swallows of San Juan Capistrano, California have been famous for their annual autumn migration that takes place near the Day of San Juan, celebrated on October 23. This swirling, soaring cloud of birds inspires those lucky enough to witness it with its power and beauty. The swallows are headed for their winter home 6,000 miles south in Goya, Corrientes, Argentina. Their return around St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th is typically celebrated with a parade and festivities.

Jacob’s Fantastic Flight

By Philip Waechter

 

You may find this hard to believe, but Jacob could fly. The first time Jacob flew, he soared right out of this stroller. Jacob skipped the whole crawling stage and the first step thing. “He just few off instead.” Although at first his parents were concerned, “they soon got used to him flying and figured, ‘So be it—he’s our son, and he’s perfect just the way he is!’” One winter his parents decided to take a vacation to the Mediterranean. His mom and dad booked airplane tickets, but Jacob was going to fly there himself.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-baby

Copyright Philip Waechter, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Press.

Jacob filled his backpack, waved goodbye to his parents and took off. Along the way, Jacob counted animals down below. He even shared his sandwiches with a group of squirrels. It was then that he saw “eighty-three birds on their way to Africa.” Jacob decided to go with them. Their route took them over mountains and valleys, past lakes and fields of wheat and wildflowers.

Jacob loved dipping, swooping, and soaring through urban obstacle courses, taking breaks in the birds’ favorite rest stops, and having “lots of pleasant conversations.” It was a wonderful trip. But then one of their flock was captured in Mr. Mortar’s net. Mr. Mortar was a birdcatcher, and his home was filled with the birds he’d caught just so he could hear their chirping.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-counting

Copyright Philip Waechter, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Press.

When Jacob and the birds stopped for lunch, they immediately noticed that Hubert was missing. It didn’t take long for them to find out where he was. Jacob knew just what to do. With some feathers from his friends and a beak made from paper in his backpack, Jacob fashioned a costume and then flew in front of Mr. Mortar’s window where he was sure to see him.

Jacob was just the “rare specimen” Mr. Mortar had been looking for. He rushed out with his net, leaving the front door wide open. The flock swarmed in and removed not just Hubert but all of the caged birds. They met up in the woods at a cool pond. Birds from all over soon heard of how “the birdcatcher had finally be bamboozled” and flew in to celebrate. It was time for Jacob to meet up with his parents, so he waved goodbye.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-party

Copyright Philip Waechter, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Press.

Except for little Hubert who wanted to take a vacation too. Jacob found his parents on a golden beach. They hugged and kissed and then spent the time “the way a vacation is supposed to be.” When it was time to leave, Jacob went home with his parents on the plane—and Hubert got the window seat.

Quirky in the very best way, Jacob’s Fantastic Flight soars with themes of individuality and independence, friendship and family. Philip Waechter’s buoyant storytelling shines with acceptance born from love and understanding by both Jacob’s parents and the birds, and Jacob’s parents’ trust in their son’s abilities and judgement is a highlight. As a natural flyer, Jacob is part of two worlds, and children will recognize his joy in joining and learning from the flock of birds, just as they experience when discovering their own world.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-going-home

Copyright Philip Waechter, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Press.

Perfectly paced, Waechter’s story benefits from the bird’s and Jacob’s quickly devised plan to rescue Hubert. Today’s kids are incredibly smart, and they’ll happily see themselves in this turn of events too. Jacob’s reunion with his parents is sweet and uplifting; every vacation should be like theirs. As Jacob accompanies his parents on the plane, kids will feel that reassurance that no matter where they roam, they will always find open hearts and arms at home.

Waechter’s delicate line drawings enhance the sense of freedom and lightheartedness inherent in his story. Jacob is first introduced as a regular kid, surrounded by toys, snacks, and posters that any child might have. It is only on the second page that readers notice his singular talent. Images of Jacob flying from his stroller in front of his astonished parents and then helping out by picking apples from the top of a tree show how quickly his parents accepted his ability.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-flying

Copyright Philip Waechter, 2020, courtesy of Blue Dot Press.

Spreads of Jacob flying with the flock over a field and a city are lovely, and what child wouldn’t love to sit on a park statue with the happy birds? Mr. Mortar (an inspired name), hiding in the bushes with his net while dressed in green and sporting a leafy hat, reminds kids that there are always obstacles to watch out for. The two-page spread of the celebratory bird party will awe readers, and with the verve of all kids on vacation or in the car, readers will love counting the birds and squirrels Jacob meets on his way.

Supportive and uplifting, Jacob’s Fantastic Flight will inspire children to take wing and is a must-have for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 8

Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1733121262

If you and your kids love birds, you can download this  Crazy About Birds Citizen Science Resource Guide from Blue Dot Press to learn how you can get involved in helping birds!

You can also find a detailed Teacher’s Guide on the Blue Dot Press website that will get students at school and at home excited to learn about close reading and interact with the story to discuss themes, cause-and-effect relationships, character, illustration, and do some writing of their own.

Swallows Depart from San Juan Capistrano Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-coloring-page

Jacob’s Fantastic Flight Coloring Page

 

Celebrate birds with this beautiful printable coloring page perfect for kids and adults!

Jacob’s Fantastic Flight Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jacobs-fantastic-flight-cover

You can find Jacob’s Fantastic Flight at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 21 – It’s Squirrel Awareness Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-girl-versus-squirrel-cover

About the Holiday

Squirrels elicit emotions on both sides of the spectrum. On one hand you can’t help but say “Awww!” when you see their tiny little paws and crafty antics. On the other hand their voracious appetites at bird feeders and penchant for darting into traffic is more likely to make you say “Arrgghhh!” This month is set aside, however, for enjoying the squirrels in your yard, park, or city. And really, don’t they make life just a little more fun?

Girl Versus Squirrel

Written by Hayley Barrett | Illustrated by Renée Andriani

 

Pearl built three birdhouses and put them in and near the tree in her backyard. One was shaped like a house, one was a tube, and the other was a tea cup atop a tall stand. After filling the house with suet, the tube with seeds, and the teacup with peanuts, Pearl settled in with her binoculars to wait. Soon cardinals, flickers, finches, and chickadees swooped in. But none of them wet for the peanuts.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-girl-versus-squirrel-bird-feeders

Image copyright Renée Andriani, 2020, text copyright Hayley Barrett, 2020. Courtesy of Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House.

Happily sitting next to the teacup was a squirrel with a peanut in its paws. Pearl scared the squirrel away and then went to work to win this contest of wits. She used her hockey stick to raise the teacup’s stand higher and “watched, breathless with anticipated success, but was soon disappointed” as the squirrel easily climbed to the top. Pearl added a mop to make the pole even higher.

But still the squirrel had no trouble getting to the top. “The squirrel stared at Pearl and seized an especially plump peanut.” Just then the “pole began to teeter and totter until…It toppled to the ground,” breaking the handle off the teacup. As the squirrel dashed up a nearby oak tree, Pearl shouted, “‘You’re a bird-feeder-crashing, teacup-smashing, peanut-poaching pest!’” A pest Pearl was not about to lose out to.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-girl-versus-squirrel-bird-garage

Image copyright Renée Andriani, 2020, text copyright Hayley Barrett, 2020. Courtesy of Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House.

While Pearl fixed her teacup, she devised a plan. She gathered supplies and started creating. Soon, a “network of obstacles emerged, each more squirrel-challenging than the last.” The squirrel may have been fast and determined, but the course ensured that “teacup triumph will require nerves of squirrely steel,” Pearl fixed her binoculars on the squirrel and waited.

It didn’t take long before the squirrel was headed in the right direction. He scampered over the rope, spun around the big spool, leaped to the swing, and scrambled through the rest of the course. Until… “CRUNCH!” Pearl was astounded. Then she saw the squirrel head for a nest in the oak tree with three baby kits in it. That’s when Pearl realized the squirrel was a mother. “‘I proclaim your victory,’ cheered Pearl, ‘ and I salute you, fearless, fluffy sister!’” Immediately, Pearl wanted to help this family grow and learn. Now her backyard is a birds’… and squirrels’… and contraption-lovers’ paradise.

“Some Squirrely Facts” about our favorite nature nemesis follows the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-girl-versus-squirrel-obstacle-course

Image copyright Renée Andriani, 2020, text copyright Hayley Barrett, 2020. Courtesy of Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House.

For anyone who has done battle with a squirrel at their birdfeeder, Hayley Barrett’s story is a delight. Her nimble alliterative phrasing and fun-to-read action verbs will make any story time a joy. Add in Pearl’s can-do attitude and the squirrel’s unstoppable energy and you have the makings of an epic battle—one that readers are sure to want to replicate in their own yards. Barrett nails the experimental nature of children’s building projects, a detail that kids will appreciate and that will endear Pearl to them.  Barrett’s nod to girl power provides a strong, uplifting ending. Factual information about birds, bird food and squirrel behavior is interwoven organically throughout the story. That and the fascinating back matter make this a terrific book to pair with classroom lessons.

Renée Andriani’s vibrant, action-packed illustrations will wow kids and have them on the edge of their seats for each page turn. Realistic depictions of the cardinals, finches, chickadees, and flickers that swarm Pearl’s bird feeders will entice readers to learn more about these birds. When Pearl raises her teacup feeder higher and higher, Andriani presents clear images of how Pearl tapes the stand, stick, and mop together as well as the crashing result when the squirrel hops on. As Pearl gathers items from her garage and begins building her obstacle course, readers will be in suspense, waiting to see the final result.

Presented in a wild, two-page spread, Andriani’s portrayal of Pearl’s obstacle course rewards readers with bold, expressive typography and images of the squirrel making her way from station to station with style. The final two-page spread of Pearl’s backyard, is a riot of color as feeders, birds, and mama and baby squirrels nosh to their hearts’ content. Kids will want to linger to catch every detail.

Imaginative, humorous, and educational, Girl Versus Squirrel will become a favorite and will inspire kids to create their own obstacle course. The book would also be a high-interest accompaniment to STEM lessons in the classroom and at home. It would make a terrific addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House, 2020 | ISBN 978-0823442515

Discover more about Hayley Barrett and her books on her website.

To learn more about Renée Andriani, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Squirrel Awareness Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-squirrel-community-coloring-page

Squirrely Activity Pages

 

You can join a girl who’s watching squirrels, find a whole squirrel community to color, see a squirrel enjoying a snack, and follow the numbers to discover… with these printable Squirrely Activity Pages

Girl Watching Squirrel Coloring Page | Squirrel Community Coloring PageDot-to-Dot Coloring Page | Squirrel with Nut Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-girl-versus-squirrel-cover

You can find Girl Versus Squirrel at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

October 6 – National Coaches Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 1972 by President Richard Nixon to honor the men and women who inspire us to work harder and do our best in many of life’s pursuits. Coaches help us develop a good work ethic, learn how to work as a team, and learn how to focus and achieve goals. Sometimes our most influential coaches can be surprising—as you’ll see in today’s book.

Kid Coach

By Rob Justus

 

Kid Coach knew a challenge when he saw it. And he saw a couch-potato sized challenge lying in his own living room with soda in one hand and a computer, a tablet, and a phone all streaming a different wrestling match in the other. And…yeah…there was a bowl of peanuts there too. Was Kid Coach up to the task of turning this marshmallow into a champion? He thought yes and dragged his dad away from all the distractions.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-challenges

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Kid Coach started his dad’s strength training with simple push-ups and an itty-bitty bar bell. But soon those “small wins” led to “bigger challenges and major wins” until Kid Coach and Dad were ready to “wrangle big guys, bad guys, bald guys, (and a scary guy with tattoos of big, bad, bald guys!) in the grandest arena of them all”—the “Wrestle-Rumble Mania Kingdom Tournament of Champions.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-wrestling

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

The competition is fierce, but Dad “snaps into action” and soon those big, bad, and bald guys in their fancy costumes are being flipped, chopped, and tied into knots. Kid Coach cheers him on, whistling and clapping, until he begins to notice something. “Dad starts to dance a little too long, celebrate a little too much, and rudest of all…he won’t even shake hands! Instead of making friends, Dad’s leaving the other wrestlers sad and mad.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-celebrating

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

That’s when Kid Coach does some soul-searching and realizes he didn’t teach his dad everything about being a true champion. A real champion, he knows, is a leader, someone who inspires others, and “most of all, they make everyone feel like a winner.” By now, Dad was feeling kind of bad himself for being so insensitive. Kid Coach gave him a hug, and the two of them tried to make amends. But the other wrestlers didn’t want flowers, and they weren’t interested in high-fives. So, Dad dug deep and came up with…a “sincere apology” and…a jumbo bag of chips! Now all those frowns are smiles and everyone’s having a blast in the ring.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-chips

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Rob Justus reminds children about good sportsmanship and the qualities that make for a true champion in his visually exhilarating story. Kids will be all in with the couch-potato twist in which a child physically drags his dad—who holds on for dear life—from his leisurely pursuits.

Images of this noodle-thin dad in his flashy robe going up against some real heavy-weights will have kids giggling, and his over-the-top self-celebrations will elicit plenty of laughs (and probably copycats too.) But Justus doesn’t let this behavior go without showing its effects on the other wrestlers—and ultimately on Dad too. As Kid Coach and his dad try to mend fences, kids will see that gifts and token gestures aren’t as meaningful as a straightforward apology. The loving relationship between the boy and his dad is a highlight of the story, and will have readers—kids and adults—engaging in some rough and tumble and plenty of snuggles.

For rough-and-tumble fun story times—especially for dads and kids—with an inspirational life lesson, Kid Coach would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2020 | ISBN 978-1624148866

To learn more about Rob Justus and see a portfolio of his work, visit his website.

National Coaches Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-best-father-trophy-coloring-page

Best Dad Coloring Page

 

Good coaches win lots of trophies, and there’s no better coach than Dad! Let your dad know what a great coach he is with this printable coloring page!

Best Dad Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-cover

You can find Kid Coach at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review