December 5 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

It’s that time of year when kids across the country visit with Santa to tell him what they’d like for Christmas. Today’s book takes a look at the age-old question—who is the real Santa?

Santa’s Secret

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

 

Singing carols all the way, a family drove to the city “all festive and bright” to watch the parade. The little girl climbed on her father’s shoulders to get a better view, especially of Santa in his sleigh. After the parade, the family walked through the city, looking at the beautiful decorations. But on the corner, the girl sees another Santa ringing a bell.

As she declared, “‘That’s not the same Santa!’” everyone turned toward her and stared. The girl’s mother told her that Santa needs helpers, but she wanted to know who the REAL Santa was. Grandma whispered, “‘It’s Santa’s secret, just as it should be.’” But the little girl was determined to learn the truth.

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Image copyright Deborah Melmon, 2019, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At Santa’s station, the girl waited in line to meet the jolly old elf, and when it was her turn, she asked him some pointed questions. She asked him his name, the names of the reindeer, and whether Rudolph had a favorite treat. Then the questions got tougher as she wanted to know “who helps you decide what presents to give,” whether he liked to fly and where he went, whether the elves lived with him, and more.

As Santa answered each question, the little girl wrote down his answers in her notebook. But she had one more question that she thought would catch him off guard. She asked him straight out if he was the real Santa. But his only answer was “a tug of his beard and a wink of his eye.” Then he asked her what presents were on her list.

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Image copyright Deborah Melmon, 2019, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Over a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows, the girl considered her notes and wondered if she had enough information to solve her case. As she puzzled and pondered, she caught a glimpse of a man who had a full white beard munching a cookie and reading a book. His coat pocket held carrots and his black boots were topped with striped socks.

She approached with her notebook, but before she could ask, “He said, ‘Reindeer like barley and berries to eat.’ / ‘But carrots,’ he added, ‘are their favorite treat.’” Then in the moment when she turned to look at her mother, the man disappeared without a trace, except for his mug of hot chocolate. Back home, the girl didn’t know if she’d seen the real Santa that day, but she agreed with her grandma that that is “‘as it should be.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-santa's-secret-reindeer

Image copyright Deborah Melmon, 2019, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Between trying to figure out which presents Santa will bring and wondering about the real Santa, most little ones become sleuths around the holidays. Denise Brennan-Nelson’s charming tale gives lyrical voice to that burning question about Santa’s identity while preserving the wonder of this childhood mystery. Brennan-Nelson’s jaunty rhymes and rhythm are a joy to read, as traditional Christmas sights and activities combine with the cozy warmth and community of a coffee shop to convey the homey feelings of Christmas. Her open-ended finale is sweet and just “‘as it should be,’” inviting young readers to wonder if they have seen the real Santa during their holiday jaunts.

Deborah Melmon’s cheery illustrations make sparkling use of “new” Christmas colors, brightening the pages with pinks, lime greens, teals, and purples along with the traditional red, green, and blue. Melmon’s diverse city backdrop provides a glowing setting for the little girl’s encounters with multiple Santas. The girl’s curiosity and inquisitiveness will resonate with kids, and they will cheer her on as she interviews Santa. Her questions provide Melmon with plenty of opportunities to show Santa and his reindeer in novel and kid-pleasing ways.

A delightfully original holiday read aloud that’s sure to generate spirited discussions, Santa’s Secret would make a fun addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110380

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Deborah Melmon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

 

Santa has one more present to put into his sack. Can you help him take the gift through the maze in this printable puzzle?

Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Puzzle | Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Solution

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You can find Santa’s Secret at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

December 4 – National Cookie Day

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About the Holiday

Whether you call them cookies or biscuits, these yummy treats have been around for quite a long time. Originating in Persia in the 7th century, cookies conquered Europe by the 14th century and came to America with the earliest settlers. Of course cookies are great any time of the year, but the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without the delicious snap or soft melt-in-your-mouth goodness of favorite cookies. Baking together is one of the joys of the season for adults and kids, and you can bet that with each batch, good memories are being created too.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles

Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler

 

A little girl watches out the window every morning as her mother goes to work, seeing other people hurrying along too. Across the street is Sol’s Market, and every morning Sol puts out a box of bruised fruit and vegetables for anyone to take. One day, an old man “takes out an apple and puts it on his shoulder. The apple rolls down his arm and into his hand. Then he takes a bite.” Sara wonders why he ate an apple with bad spots, and her grandmother tells her that the man is “probably poor and looking for something to eat.”

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Sara thinks about the man all day at school. When snack time comes, she wraps the cookie her teacher gave her in her napkin and puts it in her pocket. The next morning, she asks her mom to leave it in the box at Sol’s Market. Later, she sees the man find the cookie and eat it. The next day at school, Sara tells her friends about the man, and they wrap up more cookies and their teacher gives them a container of juice to add to the bag. At home, Sara helps her mom make the man a sandwich to go with the cookies.

On Friday, Sara and her family go to synagogue and stay for the oneg Shabbat get together afterward. There, she sees the old man enjoying challah and grape juice. “After that, every day, when the man comes by Sol’s there is something for him to eat.” At school the kids are getting ready for Hanukkah. Their teacher talks about the origins and meaning of Hanukkah then the children make menorahs with “tiles, bottle cap, paint, and glue.” Sara brings her menorah home. Her grandmother says that it’s beautiful and puts it in the window. Before Sara’s mother comes home, she and her grandmother make latkes and Hanukkah cookies shaped like menorahs and dreidels with extras to spare.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Later, Sara shows her mother her new menorah and asks her to put the one she made last year in the box at Sol’s. At first her grandmother is afraid she is throwing it out, but Sara tells her she is “‘giving tzedakah. I’m giving it to someone who has less than we have,’” she says. The bag also contains “latkes, cookies with sprinkles, and Hanukkah candles.” The next morning, she sees the old man find her gift and wipe away tears that she hopes are happy ones.

On Friday, Sara helps her mom and grandma fix a Shabbat and Hanukkah dinner, and at synagogue she asks if they can invite the old man to their house to join them. After speaking to the rabbi and learning that the man’s name is Morris Berger and that he helps at the synagogue, Sara and her mom ask if he’d like to join them.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Mr. Berger says yes. During dinner he talked about the days when he worked in a circus. He shows Sara some tricks and juggles small pieces of challah, which he then catches one-by-one in his mouth. After dinner, Sara’s mom brings out a plate of the Hanukkah cookies she made. “Now Mr. Berger knows who has been leaving cookies, sandwiches, and milk for him. He knows who left the menorah and candles.” Quietly, he says thank you.

Mr. Berger shows Sara a magic trick by pulling a cookie from behind her ear and making it disappear in one bite. “‘That’s okay,’” she says. “‘We have lots to share.’” Morris says he has things to share too and offers to teach Sara magic tricks and tell circus stories. Sara wants to learn how to juggle, but juggling, Mr. Berger says, “takes lots of practice.” Sara’s mom agrees that she will need many lessons. “Morris smiles. He knows that lots of lessons mean lots more Shabbat dinners with us.”

An Author’s Note about the meaning and traditions of Hanukkah, the game of dreidel, and thinking about giving tzedakah follows the story.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

David A. Adler’s touching story about a little girl who sees someone in need and generously provides help is a heartening story for Hanukkah and any time of year. Adler’s straightforward storytelling, told from Sara’s first-person point of view, invites young readers to look out the window with her and join her as she saves a cookie for the old man and goes on to provide more food and finally companionship to him. The fact that Mr. Berger is a member of Sara’s synagogue reminds readers that people in need of help of all kinds are part of our community, are part of us. Readers will be charmed by Mr. Berger’s circus past and will learn from him that the gifts we have to share with others do not always need to be monetary to have value.

Jeffery Ebbeler’s enchanting illustrations of the city, complete with an adorably narrow Sol’s Market, take readers into Sara’s world, where she sees examples of people in need and those who have plenty. Sara’s contemplations about Mr. Berger and his plight are shown as she considers the full bowl of fruit on her kitchen table, watches someone ask for two hot dogs at the corner cart, and decides to save her cookie at school while the other kids eat theirs and reach for seconds. These same kids, however, happily give up their snack the next day to fill Sara’s bag for Mr. Berger. Classroom scenes and the image of Sara showering her cookies with sprinkles are familiar for all children celebrating holidays at school and at home. The family’s joyful Hanukkah dinner is doubly fun as Mr. Berger performs tricks that even the cat tries to do.

A moving story for Hanukkah and for sharing the spirit of giving all through the year, Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles is a fantastic addition to all home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Apples & Honey Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1681155005

Discover more about David A. Adler and his books on his website.

To learn more about Jeffrey Ebbeler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Cookie Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cookie-maze

Catch the Cookie! Maze

 

Sometimes you just need a cookie! Help the little girl find her way to her favorite cookies with this printable Catch the Cookie! Maze and Solution.

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You can find Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

 

November 21 – It’s National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

It seems that people have always been fascinated with flight. The first kite was invented in 1000 BCE in China; around 400 BCE Archytas of Tarentum developed a steam-powered pigeon; and most people are familiar with the designs of flying machines that Leonardo de Vinci created in the late 1400s. It wasn’t until 1680 that actual human flight was abandoned when an Italian mathematician determined that human muscles were incompatible with flight.

Zip ahead about 100 years and the first hot-air balloon took flight, which led to more complex technology, resulting in Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flight in 1903. From there, it seemed, the sky was the limit. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a trans-Atlantic Ocean solo flight in 1932, and in 1947 Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier. Given this long history, it’s astounding to think that only 58 years span the time from that modest 12-second flight by the Wright Brothers to the first manned space mission by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin! To celebrate the month, visit a local museum or read up on some of the pioneers of early flight—like the courageous women in today’s book.

Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest

Written by Aimée Bissonette | Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

 

Jerrie Mock was only seven when her first airplane ride convinced her she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up. At first she only dreamed of flying across Ohio, but later, when she followed reports of Amelia Earhart’s daring flights, she decided she too wanted to see the whole world.

In 1952, Joan Merriam was fifteen years old when she took her first airplane ride and was invited by the pilots to see the cockpit. That’s all it took for Joan to know she wanted to be a pilot too. She began flying lessons and was in the air before she even got her drivers license. By 1963, Joan was working as a professional pilot and bought a plane of her own. One of Joan’s goals was to “circle the globe following the exact route” her idol Amelia Earhart had charted.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

By the time Jerrie was thirty-seven, she had three children and ran a flight business with her husband, Russ. One night when she told Russ that she was bored, he joked, “‘Maybe you should get in your plane and fly around the world.’” Jerrie took him up on that. Both women spent months planning and charting their flights. Neither one knew that the other was getting ready for the same flight until their plans hit the media. Suddenly, what they had both thought was a solitary pursuit became a race to the finish.

Joan took off on March 17, 1964 from an airstrip in Oakland, California accompanied only by two stuffed bears. Two days later, surrounded by reporters asking if she thought she could beat Joan, Jerrie climbed into her tiny plane and took off too.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jerrie’s troubles began right away. First, her radio didn’t work then bad weather kept her grounded for six days. “Where was Joan?” she wondered. While Joan’s flight began smoothly, a gas leak brought her down to earth for a week while the tank was repaired. Back in the air, Jerrie seemed to suffer problems every day. “She battled dangerous ice buildup, burning radio wires, and bad weather. She flew into a sandstorm over the Arabian Desert and couldn’t see.” But she encouraged herself to stay calm and use her instruments. Joan was having it no easier. “Heavy rains pounded her pane. Her windshield leaked. Water puddled at her feet. When she finally made it to Brazil, she was delayed again. This time by a government revolution!”

Day by day both women battled the elements and equipment failures but kept flying. Everyone around the world seemed to be watching the race. Russ told Jerrie she had to fly faster—that Joan was winning. In Pakistan, people told Joan that Jerrie had landed there five days earlier. Finally, on April 17, twenty-nine days after she had left, Jerrie returned to Ohio to a hero’s welcome. Reporters and crowds pushed to see her. “Jerry’s heart pounded. She had done it. She had flown around the world. She had won the race.”

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Where was Joan? She “was in Lae, New Guinea—the last place Amelia Earhart was seen alive—when she heard the race was over.” Even though she knew she was behind Jerrie, “the news was still hard to take.” She sent Jerrie a congratulations telegram, and then left for Guam. There, she walked and “thought about her childhood dream. She thought about the race and she thought about losing.”  Then she thought about why she had undertaken the flight. She had done it to honor Amelia Earhart. Even though Jerrie had won the race, Joan thought that didn’t make her a loser. She “could still do what she set out to do.”

Joan landed back in Oakland, California on May 12, 1964. Her plane was in such bad shape that the Coast Guard had to dispatch a plane to guide her in. Joan was also welcomed by cheering crowds and reporters. Both Jerrie and Joan had accomplished incredible feats. Jerrie “became the first woman to fly around the world,” and Joan—”following Amelia’s exact route along the equator”—was the first “pilot—man or woman”—to fly that distance solo. And both women received thanks from Amelia’s sister, Muriel, for honoring Amelia—”a pilot who, like them, chose to follow her dreams.”

An Author’s Note describing the differences in Joan and Jerrie’s routes and aircraft as well as a bit more about their lives after the historic flight and a map outlining each woman’s flight pattern follow the text. Resources for further reading are also included.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Aimée Bissonette’s thrilling biography of two woman, two flights, and one race will keep young readers on the edge of their seats. Riveting details reveal the staggering dangers the women faced as well as their astonishing courage, dedication, and persistence. Bissonette’s fast-paced, electric storytelling puts kids in the cockpit as Joan and Jerrie cross the globe. As Jerrie wins the race and Joan reevaluates her goal, Bissonette makes important and welcome points about the nature of competition, keeping one’s eyes and heart on an original goal without getting caught up in distracting hype, and having the self-confidence to believe in oneself and recognize one’s accomplishments.

In her realistic, richly colored watercolors, Doris Ettlinger follows Jerrie and Joan as they experience their first airplane rides that determine their futures, plot their flights around the world, and take off. The obstacles each woman dealt with are dramatically portrayed as winds whip trees, blinding rain and sand storms thwart progress, and mechanical failures keep the women grounded. Children get a look at landscapes from Bermuda, the Philippines, Africa, and Pakistan as Joan and Jerrie complete their flights. Expressive depictions of Jerrie’s and Joan’s emotions show readers the determination, pressures, and ultimate joy each woman felt during these historic months of 1964.

An exhilarating biography and adventure story rolled into one, Aim for the Skies is a book that will inspire young readers to keep their eyes on their goals despite obstacles and setbacks while reassuring them that winning is accomplished by being true to yourself. Children who love history, flight, biographies, and adventure will find this a compelling book to add to their home bookshelf. Classroom, school, and public libraries will want to include Aim for the Skies in their collections for story times and lessons.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363810

Discover more about Aimée Bissonette and her books on her website.

National Aviation History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Flying-is-Fabulous-Maze

Flying is Fabulous! Maze

 

Can you pilot the airplane along its route to the airport in this printable Flying is Fabulous! Maze?

Flying is Fabulous! MazeFlying is Fabulous! Maze Solution

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You can find Aim for the Skies at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

 

November 15 – It’s Geography Awareness Week

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was instituted in 1994 by National Geographic to get people excited about geography and its importance to education and everyday life. As defined by National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” This discipline includes how humans interact with the environment and the impact of location on people. These important questions affect a wide range of issues. More than 100,000 people across the country participate in Geography Awareness Week through special events, focused lessons and activities in classrooms, and attention by government and business policy-makers. To learn more about the week and discover resources for further education, visit the National Geographic website.

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

By Jennifer Thermes

 

Jennifer Thermes’ phenomenal work of history and geography begins on the front and back endpapers, where a detailed and tagged map of Manhattan, with its gridded streets and unique landmarks awaits investigation. But how did it become this bustling world leader? Thermes reveals that even from its formation millions of years ago as a sheltered bit of land, fed by both fresh and salt water, the island “bubbled with life.” Continuing on from this lyrical beginning, Thermes’ love for New York shines on every exquisite page.

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Alternating between sweeping vistas of the island, immersive images of major events, and meticulous maps—complete with tiny homes and buildings, people at work and play, and hand-lettered street names—that show the growth of the city, Thermes presents a feast for the eyes. Her full-bleed, oversized illustrations, rendered in a gorgeous color palette, create in themselves a comprehensive overview of history seen through changing clothing, transportation, and home styles to name just a few telling elements. Studying the maps, a reader can’t be faulted for feeling as if they might come to life at any moment.

She introduces readers to the Lenape, who for thousands of years called the island home. They named it “Mannahatta, which means ‘island of many hills.’” As the seasons changed, the people moved from one part of the island to another, establishing villages “with names like Sapokanikan and Shroakapok and fishing, farming, and foraging for “what they needed and nothing more.”

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Thermes then follows explorer Henry Hudson, whose reports back home about the island’s riches would change the island forever. She marks historical periods from 1625 to today with elegant banners that give the dates and changing names for this coveted landmass. Thermes’ storytelling eloquently reveals the complexity of the island’s development from canals dug and filled in, expansion of its width with landfill that included “rocks and earth, broken crockery, oyster shells, wood from old shipwrecks, rotting garbage, and even dead animals” to the adoption of the grid system.

The impact of slavery, the divides between rich and poor, the influence of business and industry, and the continual effects of modernization are woven throughout Thermes’ pages, sometimes coalescing as in the story of Collect Pond, once “the island’s best source of fresh water,” which became, in turn, the site of a cemetery for free Africans, polluted by “breweries, tanneries, and slaughterhouses,” a neighborhood for the wealthy, an area plagued by gangs and violence, and finally, in 2006, a national monument commemorating the old African Burial Ground. Each clearly articulated description gives readers a robust and eye-opening history of this city that is in many ways a microcosm of America.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-british-new-york

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

With the Revolutionary War behind them and a new nation in front, people thronged to what was now New York, New York, U.S.A. With much rebuilding needed, “Shipbuilders, sailmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and all kinds of artisans crowded the city again…. The city on the island was branching out in all directions. It needed a plan.” The plan came in the form of a grid system. The execution of the plan saw the island’s hills leveled, new roads built and old roads straightened, houses in the way torn down, and people relocated. When the dust settled, “the city commissioners had thought it would take centuries to fill the grid with buildings. It only took sixty years.”

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The Great Fire of 1835, the building of Central Park, the history of immigration, the gilded age of the late 1800s, and the Great Blizzard of 1888, which spurred the building of the subway, are a few more of the events readers will learn about. As an island, Manhattan’s story is also written its bridges, and everyone knows the names of the famous skyscrapers that make the city’s skyline unique. Stirring images of these landmarks are here too.

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Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The city continues to be changed by environmental events, such as Hurricane Sandy of 2012, and buoyed by improvements like the cleaning of the Bronx River that has prompted beavers to return “for the first time in more than two hundred years.” As Thermes says in conclusion: “Reminders are everywhere that through centuries of constant change humans and nature will always exist together. And beneath the city’s concrete crust, the island endures.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-manhattan-mapping-the-story-of-an-island-skyscrapers

Copyright Jennifer Thermes, 2019. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

A stunning achievement, Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island is a must addition to home, school, and classroom collections. This is a book that readers will want to dip into again and again to discover all it has to offer. Opportunities for cross-curricular lessons abound from history to geography, language arts to math, art and architecture to environmental science, and beyond. Manhattan makes a wonderful gift for children and teachers and, of course, for any New York lover of any age.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Harry N. Abrams, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419736551

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Geography Day Activity

CPB - Map Day II

Map Jigsaw Puzzle

 

Sometimes reading a map is like putting together a puzzle—so why not make a puzzle out of a map? It can be fun to use a map of your town or state or to use a map of a state or country you’d like to visit!

Supplies

  • Small to medium size map (maps are often offered free at tourist stops, town halls, or other tourist information offices or racks)
  • Poster board
  • Glue
  • Scissors

CPB - Map Day

Directions

  1. Use the entire map or cut a desired-sized section from a map
  2. Glue the map to the poster board, let dry
  3. Cut the map from the poster board
  4. Cut the map into puzzle sections, these can be straight-sided sections or ones with interconnecting parts.

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You can find Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 11 – Veterans Day

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About the Holiday

Veterans Day is observed each year on this date to honor and thank all members of the military who are currently serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces. The official ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery and then continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and comments by dignitaries. While an official government holiday, some schools remain in session, holding special ceremonies of their own and inviting veterans to relate their experiences.

Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War

Written by Mireille Messier | Illustrated by Kass Reich

 

When a train full of soldiers stopped in a small town, they met a girl named Daisy and her goat, Billy. “The soldiers were going to war and they thought Billy would bring them luck.” Although Daisy loved her pet, she said they could take Billy with them if they promised to bring him back. During the bus ride to training camp for the Fifth Battalion, Billy endeared himself to the men with his antics, and they began calling him Private Billy. “And that’s how Billy joined the army.”

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Image copyright Kass Feich, 2019, text copyright Marielle Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Billy trained with the soldiers and encouraged them with a push when they fell behind. When the soldiers were sent to England, they snuck Billy on board the ship. “And that’s how Private Billy crossed the ocean.” As time went on, the Fifth Battalion was sent to France. “Mascots were strictly forbidden at the front,” but the men hid Billy in an empty orange crate and “that’s how Private Billy went to the front lines.” Billy seemed to be the perfect solider. He didn’t mind the adverse conditions, the “foul food” or “even the rats.”

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Image copyright Kass Feich, 2019, text copyright Marielle Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Billy celebrated victories and comforted soldiers during defeats and loneliness. The soldiers even wrote home about their beloved mascot. Even though food rations were short, Billy was happy with socks, napkins, or once even secret documents. For that misdeed, the colonel “placed the goat under arrest. And that’s how Private Billy went to jail for being a spy.” While Billy was locked up, the soldiers became bored, discontented, argumentative, and unhappy. So Billy received a pardon and was returned to the troops.

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Image copyright Kass Feich, 2019, text copyright Marielle Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

After many brave deeds, such as capturing an enemy guardsman and saving some “soldiers’ lives by head-butting them into a trench seconds before a shell exploded right where they had been standing,” private Billy was promoted to Sergeant Billy. Billy knew he could always count on the soldiers, and the soldiers knew they could always count on Billy. For his “exceptional bravery,” Billy was awarded the Mons Star. The war raged for years, but, finally, peace was declared. The soldiers—and Billy—were ready to return home. They traveled over land and across the ocean and brought Billy back to Daisy, just as they had promised.

An Author’s Note explains more about animal mascots and the way animals were used during WWI. Readers can see photographs of Billy, Daisy, and the soldiers he served with as well.

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Image copyright Kass Feich, 2019, text copyright Marielle Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Mireille Messier’s charming storytelling brings to life the extraordinary World War I experience of a goat and the soldiers who loved him. Her easy-to-follow timeline, containing humorous incidents, clever ploys to move Billy from place to place, and harrowing exploits, will capture readers’ attention and hearts. Along the way, children learn about conditions and events of war. Messier’s repeated phrasing “And that’s how Billy…” moves the story forward while contributing to the cumulative effect of Billy’s positive influence on the troops and his role in battle.

Kass Reich’s captivating illustrations immerse readers in the wartime atmosphere while focusing on Billy and his endearing personality. Seeing Billy giving a tired soldier a nudge with his horns, being smuggled from place to place, comforting a soldier, and nibbling on secret documents allows children not only to visualize these events but to understand how important Billy was to the morale of the men, whose emotions are honestly depicted. Images of Billy happily wallowing in mud, playing with rats, and gobbling down anything he finds will have kids giggling while those of Billy saving lives and getting medals will wow them. His safe passage back home to Daisy is a delightful and satisfying ending.

A superbly told story, Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War, is highly recommended. The book would make an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public library collections for general story times and especially those around Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264427

Discover more about Mireille Messier and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kass Reich, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Watch the Sergeant Billy book trailer!

Veterans Day Activity

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Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty-one Veterans Day related words in this printable puzzle?

Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Puzzle | Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Solution

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You can find Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 9 – It’s National Gratitude Month

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About the Holiday

November has been designated as a time for reflecting on our lives and being grateful for our family, friends, opportunities, and the things we have. To celebrate Gratitude Month, take time to count your blessings and thank those who are important in your life.

I received a copy of Duck and Hippo Give Thanks from Two Lions to check out. All opinions are my own. 

Written by Jonathan London | Illustrated by Andrew Joyner

 

As Hippo raked leaves, he was “dreaming of a good, old-fashioned Thanksgiving,” but his reveries were interrupted by Duck, who landed with a plop right in the middle of Hippo’s leaf pile. When Hippo asked his friend what he was doing, Duck answered that she was having fun and invited Hippo to join her, but with a huff he said, “‘I’m trying to make the pile all nice and tidy!’” Just then, Hippo was bonked on the head by a falling apple. He handed it to Duck as a snack, who said, “‘Thanks, Hippo!’”

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, text copyright Jonathan London, 2018. Courtesy of Two Lions.

That reminded Hippo that tomorrow was Thanksgiving and he asked Duck to celebrate with him. Duck suggested they invite all of their friends. They went to the grocery store to buy supplies. The shopping went quickly as Hippo whooshed down the aisles with Duck in the cart grabbing food as they went. When Hippo wanted a ride in the cart, though, he got stuck. Elephant rushed over and got him out. To thank him, Duck and Hippo invited him to their Thanksgiving feast.

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, text copyright Jonathan London, 2018. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At the bakery, Turtle let them skip ahead of him in line, so he was invited too. For lunch, Duck and Hippo went to Pig’s Pizza. To thank her for the delicious slices, Duck invited her to their dinner the next day. “‘Yummy!’ cried Pig. ‘I can’t wait!’” Back home, they began preparations. They helped each other gather leaves, pumpkins, squash, and apples then decorated the table together. Duck even “did a dance on the tabletop and sang, ‘TA-DA!’” before going home with the promise of seeing Hippo tomorrow.

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, text copyright Jonathan London, 2018. Courtesy of Two Lions.

While Hippo was dreaming of his big old-fashioned Thanksgiving, Duck had called together Elephant, Pig, and Turtle. “‘Let’s make something special for Hippo!’” he told them. Thanksgiving morning Hippo was up early. He baked apple and pumpkin pie, acorn squash, and other goodies. Then he sat down to wait for his friends. He waited and waited. The sun went down and the moon rose. Still, Hippo’s friends hadn’t arrived. Finally, they burst through the door with a surprise for Hippo. Hippo eagerly wondered what it was.

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions.

One by one, they showed what they had brought. Turtle held a tray of Chinese egg rolls, Elephant had made sea-cucumber sushi, Pig had created one of her famous pizza napoletanas, and Duck offered a plate of peanut-butter-and-jelly tacos. “‘SURPRISE!’” they all cheered. Hippo frowned. This was not the Thanksgiving feast he had imagined.

But then he saw how happy all of his friends looked. “He spread his arms wide and said, ‘WELCOME!’ And thank you for being who you are!’” They all sat around the table, held hands, and gave thanks for “being together, and for sharing natures bounty.” Then they gobbled up the best Thanksgiving feast ever. And when they were done? They went outside and dove into the leaves!

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions.

In his warmhearted Thanksgiving story, Jonathan London presents gentle conflicts which are resolved with generosity, friendship, and understanding as Duck, Hippo, and their friends prepare what each considers the perfect Thanksgiving feast. The spirit of the story lies in Hippo’s quick realization that a “good old-fashioned Thanksgiving” doesn’t lie solely in one type of meal, but in including friends, new traditions, and togetherness. Other examples of acceptance, of thoughtfulness, and of shaking off trivial accidents and minor complaints between the characters show young readers that happiness can be achieved when one fully considers a situation from both sides.

Andrew Joyner’s bright, action-packed illustrations clearly show the fond friendship between Duck and Hippo as they plan Thanksgiving dinner together. Duck’s carefree personality contrasts and complement’s Hippo’s more fastidious nature. Through the wide smiles, playfulness, and generous acts of the supporting characters young readers will understand that instead of ruining Hippo’s feast, they are excited to participate and contribute to it. Clear facial expressions and highlighted text also spotlight the strong bonds among these friends.

A feel-good story with humor and a positive message about the true meaning of Thanksgiving, Duck and Hippo Give Thanks—the latest in the Duck and Hippo series, which includes Duck and Hippo in the Rain and Duck and Hippo Lost and Found—is a wonderful addition to the series for fans and a terrific holiday book for home and classroom libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2018 | ISBN 978-1503900806

To learn more about Andrew Joyner, his books, and his art, visit his website.

You’re invited to watch the Duck and Hippo Give Thanks book trailer!

National Gratitude Month Activity

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Alphabet I Spy Gratitude Game

 

Things to be thankful for are all around you! What do you see? Find an entire alphabet of favorite things with this printable Alphabet I Spy Gratitude Game Page!

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You can find Duck and Hippo Give Thanks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 8 – National STEM/STEAM Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2015, National STEM/STEAM Day aims to encourage kids to explore the fields of science technology, engineering, art, and math. These subjects are the backbone of innovation and discovery. Children who are introduced early on to the workings of math and science do better as they advance through school and are more likely to choose science-based careers. Solving many of the problems that the world now faces relies on having a workforce who can think creatively and inventively to design a better future for us all. To learn more about STEM and STEAM and to find activities to get kids excited about these subjects, visit the TERC website.

The Brain Is Kind of a Big Deal

By Nick Seluk

 

Are you a fan of The Brainiacs? You know, that group led by the Brain that keeps you humming along all day, every day? Yeah, they’re at the top of the (medical) charts, and it’s the Brain that keeps them there. Want to know more about how their body of work all comes together? Then settle in with Nick Seluk’s hip, informative, and clever introduction to the brain and all that it does from its command center “inside of your head, behind your eyes, and under your hair.” From there the brain works continuously, collecting and remembering “information about everything you experience.”

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Copyright Nick Seluk, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

Ready to turn the page? You can’t do it without your brain telling your arm, your hand, and your fingers what to do—and in what seems like no time at all. As you turn the pages you’ll learn how the brain sends these messages to the muscles and organs through synapses, which is a little bit like passing notes in class, and along a “highway” of nerves. Turn a few more pages and you’ll learn about involuntary and voluntary functions, how you know when to eat and when you’re full, and how when you sleep and dream, your brain gets ready for the next day.” Even when “…it dreams about weird stuff.”

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Copyright Nick Seluk, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

But the Brain isn’t a solo act. He collaborates with the senses, which work through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and nervous system, to collect data that helps you remember what things look, sound, smell, and feel like. The brain is great at doing stuff, but it’s also an awesome thinker. With your own incredible brain “you can imagine things and solve problems just by thinking about them.” Ideas aren’t the only things that come from the brain; feelings to too. And the interesting thing about this is that while “you feel happy, sad, angry, or scared without ever having to learn how, you can control how you react when you feel something….” So, what does all of this brain power add up to? Everything that makes you YOU!”

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Copyright Nick Seluk, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

Back matter includes a glossary of terms found in the book, wild facts about animal brains (did you know “a cockroach can live for weeks without its head and brain?”), and a round up The Brainiacs bandmates’ social media posts. The reverse side of the book jacket contains a The Brainiacs concert poster. The front end papers’ riffs on album covers can make for fun adult/child nostalgia bonding,

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Copyright Nick Seluk, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

Fascinating facts about the brain and how it works are accompanied by Nick Seluk’s charming cartoon-style illustrations of anthropomorphized organs, muscles, neurons, and of course the star of the book, the brain—a spectacle-wearing pink orb. These characters are full of personality and puns while taking orders from upstairs. The heart is “pumped” watching messages speed along the nervous system; eyes cry when they receiving the command after an “ouch!” is sent from a nerve to the brain; and the lungs are astonished to learn they must gasp and huff “forever.” Seluk’s writing is clear and engaging, translating the communications from the brain to the rest of the body into steps and purposes that children can understand. Seluk’s sly humor, sprinkled throughout the book, is always in service of the text and allows kids to relate to the concept at hand.

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As the brain recalls information it’s learned, it huddles in a command center where the computer identifies a tree by these attributes. “Sight: Green and Brown; Sound: Rustling; Touch: Rough; Taste: Gross.” When the brain sees a hand hovering over a stove burner, it goes to work. The ring is “bright red, stove says ‘On,’ Mom said ‘No,’ smells hot.” The brain sends out its urgent warning: “Abort! Don’t touch that! Remember last time?! The brain sure does, as the picture of it with bandaged hands on the computer screen shows. Full-bleed, vibrant backgrounds set off the comic-strip panels, funny interactions between Brain and Nose, Ears, Tongue, and other body parts, and Smart Stuff sidebars full of interesting tidbits. Kids will gain valuable knowledge about the body as they giggle through the text in Seluk’s sharp presentation that deftly navigates the dual hemispheres of fun and learning to spotlight the brain for the rock star it is.

You can’t go wrong by adding The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal to your home, classroom, or public library. It is—as they say—a no brainer!

Ages 6 – 8

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338167009

Discover more about Nick Seluk, his books, his art, and so much more on his website.

National STEM/STEAM Day Activity

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Be a Scientist!

 

If you love STEAM subjects at school, you could grow up to be one of the scientists in this printable word search puzzle. Which would you choose?

What Kind of Scientist Would You Be? Puzzle and Solution

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You can find The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review