February 20 – National Love Your Pet Day

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About the Holiday

Whether you have a dog or cat, hamster or fish, parakeet, iguana, or horse, your pet is one of the most loved parts of your family. Sharing your life with a furry friend and their funny antics, eager personalities, and unconditional love simply makes things better. Today’s holiday encourages people to spend more time with their pet or pets by taking a longer walk, extending playtime, and giving special treats that show your them how much they mean to you. If you don’t have a pet, but have been considering getting one, maybe today’s the day!

A Pet for Petunia

By Paul Schmid

 

You might say that “Petunia likes skunks,” but that wouldn’t be quite right because “Petunia LOVES skunks!” She loves everything about them from their nose to their tail, and the best thing of all is that they have stripes. Petunia loves stripes. Petunia likes sharing her love of skunks with everyone. Of course, Petunia doesn’t just love skunks, she wants one of her very own. Sure, her plush skunk is great, but “Petunia wants, wants, wants! a REAL pet skunk.”

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2011, courtesy of HarperCollins.

She hops up and down and uses please and begs her parents for a pet skunk. Her parents try to explain, but Petunia has jumped in with her list of all the things she’ll do for her skunk. She’ll feed it everyday, and walk it, and play with it, and even empty the litter box. “‘Every week. Day! Hour! Whatever! Promise! Please, please, please may I have a pet skunk? Please!’”

Petunia is shocked when her parents say no. She can’t understand why not. “‘They stink,’ say her parents.” Petunia is incensed. She explodes in a tirade of how unfair it all is, she defends the aroma of skunks up and down, she compares her parents to Katie’s parents (who “would get her a skunk), and lets them know that she has to run away from home.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2011, courtesy of HarperCollins.

She flees out the front door and towards the woods where she half hopes a bear eats her, knowing that then her lunkhead parents would get her a skunk. And, lo and behold, there on the path is a real-life skunk complete with “cute little nose. Big black eyes. Stripes.” They stare at each other, and “Petunia gives a joyful gasp.” But the gasp comes with a horrible smell. “Smell” isn’t even strong enough. “It is a STINK!” With tears in her eyes, Petunia turns and races back home.

After a little while in bed to contemplate, Petunia decides that “Skunks…are…so…AWESOME!” But looking at her cute little toy skunk, she also “decides she already has a perfectly awesome pet.” Until…well, you’ll just have to see….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-pet-for-petunia-please

Copyright Paul Schmid, 2011, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Paul Schmid’s pitch-perfect story of a little girl who just has to have a skunk for a pet will delight kids and adults with its adorably earnest Petunia and her realistic dialog. Petunia’s long list of promises leads into the perfectly shocked expression when she discovers that her parents are saying “no” to a pet skunk. A page full of bold, italics, fancy, and shrinking typefaces that lay out Petunia’s argument follows, mirroring the barrage of words that flow from this disappointed little girl. To her credit, when she is presented with (confronted by?) her heart’s desire and treated to its particular talent, Petunia makes a smart choice—until…. Kids will no doubt appreciate Petunia’s sincerity while adults will understand it on a more experienced level. And both will laugh at Petunia’s exasperation and stinky predicament.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2011, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Schmid is well-known for his expressive illustrations, and Petunia is a shining example. Schmid’s simple line drawings combine just-right body poses, skipping, jumping, somersaulting, and eventually running with sweet smiles, wide grins, and surprise to create a lovable and loving child that readers of all ages will embrace. Her pet skunk is adorable too—and, like all favorite toys, possesses a true personality of its own. Tinted with purple and a hint of orange, the clean, black-and-white images put the spotlight on endearing Petunia.

For pet lovers, toy lovers, and book lovers, A Pet for Petunia is a charming and captivating story to add to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2011 | ISBN 978-0061963315

To learn more about Paul Schmid, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Love Your Pet Day Activity

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A Sweet Match! Puzzle

 

These sweet skunk twins got separated! Can you help them find their match again in this printable puzzle?

A Sweet Match Puzzle

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You can find A Pet for Petunia at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

February 19 – It’s Bird-Feeding Month

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About the Holiday

Have you been noticing more bird activity in your yard or neighborhood? Maybe you’ve been awakened by birdsong that you haven’t heard in many months. During February, as temperatures creep up, birds begin returning to their homes to nest and mate. But the effects of the long winter still make it hard for these little creatures to find enough to eat. Recognizing a need, John Porter created a Congressional resolution in 1994 recognizing February as National Bird-Feeding Month. One-third of Americans have backyard feeders that provide the sustenance birds need to survive when natural resources are scarce. To celebrate this month, if you have feeders make sure they are well stocked. If you don’t have a feeder in your yard, consider hanging one and enjoy the beauty and songs of the birds in your area. 

Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet Are Neat

By Laurie Ellen Angus

 

All birds get hungry, but not all birds eat the same thing, of course. Did you know that a bird’s feet are important in determining what they eat? Let’s find out how different kinds of feet help birds find the right food for them. “If you had webbing between your toes, you could… Paddle like a swan to dabble for pond plants.” Long legs and toes could help you “wade like a heron to sneak up on a school of fish.”

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Copyright Laurie Ellen Angus, 2018, courtesy of Dawn Publications.

Birds who have long, strong legs can run and catch their dinner, and birds whose feet have sharp claws can climb tree trunks and hunt for insects in the bark. Birds with “small flexible toes” find their feet handy for perching on branches of trees and bushes to pick berries or—like towhees—to scratch in the dirt for bugs. There are also those birds that have “powerful feet with sharp talons” to snatch a meaty meal for themselves or their babies.

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Copyright Laurie Ellen Angus, 2018, courtesy of Dawn Publications.

There are many kinds of birds in the world, and each one has just the right kind of feet that help them move through their environment, find or catch food, and survive.

Extensive back matter that offers many opportunities to extend STEM learning in the classroom or at home includes

  • a detailed and illustrated exploration of each bird mentioned in the text, complete with a description of their feet and how they help the bird procure food. Kids will also enjoy learning the fun fact about each
  • A description of the bird that inspired the book
  • A discussion of adaptations, with a chart categorized with facts on habitat, feet, and beaks for seven birds and suggestions for a creative activity 
  • Common characteristics of birds
  • A discussion on predators
  • Bird-watching tips
  • More resources for further learning
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Copyright Laurie Ellen Angus, 2018, courtesy of Dawn Publications.

In her engaging text, Laurie Ellen Angus takes kids out to the pond, desert, forest, and backyard to watch as a variety of birds catch or gather their dinner. Using evocative verbs, Angus reveals not only the action of getting a meal, but the way each bird goes about it—through stealth, quick motion, pecking, scratching, and more. Specific examples of bird/feet combinations give readers a starting point for further exploration. Each category also includes a partially hidden predator, such as a fox, bobcat, snake, and hawk, that the particular bird is warned about and which readers will want to join in pointing out.

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Copyright Laurie Ellen Angus, 2018, courtesy of Dawn Publications.

Angus beautifully employs collage-style illustrations to give her birds and environments texture, color, and movement. Her use of various perspectives, lets readers wade into the pond with the heron, chase after the roadrunner that is trotting off the edge of page, cling to a tree trunk with a woodpecker, and come in for a landing with an owl. 

A visually stunning book, Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet Are Neat is a science book that will attract the attention of young learners and excite them to learn more about the wonders of the natural world.

Ages 4 – 8

Dawn Publications, 2018 | | ISBN 978-1584696131 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1584696148 (Paperback) 

To learn more about Laurie Ellen Angus, her books, and her art on her website.

Wild Bird Feeding Month Activity

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When you put up a bird feeder in your yard, you’ll see so many different types of birds come to visit! Find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle.

Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle | Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Solution

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You can find Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet Are Neat at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

February 16 – National Do a Grouch a Favor Day

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About the Holiday

It’s probably safe to say that everyone knows a grouch. And if we’re being honest, it’s probably safe to say that we’ve all been a grouch at one time or another. Some days (weeks?) are just like that. Today’s holiday aims to make life just a little better for those who are having a grouchy day. If you know someone who’s grumpy or complainy try giving them a smile or a little special treat. Even doing something goofy or surprising might make them laugh in spite of the doldrums. Perhaps there’s something going on in their life that they’d like to talk about. Spending a little time listening as a friend, may help brighten their day too. Sometimes, though, no matter how much we try to help, all the grouch really wants is for us to…

BE QUIET!

By Ryan T. Higgins

 

Rupert, a scholarly little mouse is so excited to be writing a book in which he will be the starring character. It’s going to be great—a wordless book that is “very artistic.” But just as he gets started his friend Nibbs, pops over and wonders what Rupert is doing. Rupert tells him, “Shhh. Be QUIET. This book does not have words.” When Nibbs hears this, he wants to help, but there’s supposed to be no talking and he’s talking. In fact, he’s “talking about talking.”

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Rupert wants to throw his friend out of the book, but Nibbs begs and pleads to be included. He’ll even be “extra wordless” if he can just stay. Rupert is beside himself. “I said BE QUIET. This book is wordless!” Just then their friend Thistle drops by wondering what all the shouting is about. Nibbs tells him in some detail what’s going on and why he can’t talk about it.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Thistle thinks a wordless book sounds perfect and also wants to be included. Nibbs says sure, but says they won’t tell Rupert because they’re not supposed to be talking. Rupert, though, is keeping count of all these words, and there are too many of them. Thistle rubs his hands in glee: it’s going to be such fun. But Rupert takes him to task. His book is going “to be more than FUN. It will be visually stimulating.” Nibbs isn’t sure what that means, so Thistle explains that it means they’re going to “poke our readers in the eyeballs with pictures.”

After a bit of strong-man silliness, Nibbs and Thistle buckle down to find “strong-but-silent types.” Nibbs suggests a very familiar bear, but Thistle thinks he looks too grumpy. Rupert thinks a cute kitten would be a good addition, but those claws? And those teeth? On second thought perhaps a cucumber would be better. With just a squiggly smile and some googly eyes, the cucumber makes a great vegetarian character. Thistle tries to explain about vegetarians, and Rupert is in a fury over all this nonsense clogging up his “brilliant piece of wordless literature.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-quiet-visually-stimulating

Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Oh! Well, if “serious” is what Rupert wants, how about a portrait of Vincent van Mouse? Too esoteric? Then maybe the three mice should be converted into three potatoes. Rupert yells that he doesn’t even like potatoes. Action is what’s needed, says Thistle. A silent superhero, like “Captain Quiet the Vocabulary Vigilante. Bam! Pow! Kaboom!” No, no, no! Rupert is hopping mad. “No superheroes and no onomatopoeia either.” Say what? “I’m-a-gonna-pee-a?” asks Nibbs “What’s that mean?” Thistle thinks Rupert “should have gone to the bathroom before the book started.”

Really, Thistle and Nibbs just want to help. What about mimes? Nibbs comes up with a great routine, flapping arms and all. Thistle tries to guess what he is, and Rupert can’t understand how they don’t know what “quiet” means. Oh!, say Nibbs and Thistle. Like that saying about the tree in the forest. Is that what quiet is? With a chain saw and a nearby tree, they try it. But Rupert is screaming so much they can’t hear if it makes a sound or not.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Poor Rupert! All he wants is for them to “be quiet for just one page!” He can’t hold his frustration in any longer. He goes on a tirade of words. Nibbs quietly interrupts him. “WHAT?!” yells Rupert. “Shhh. Be Quiet. This book does not have words,” Nibbs reminds him just as the book ends. Now that the book is finished, Thistle and Nibbs think it came out pretty good and hope they can do another one.

Ryan T. Higgins’ laugh-out-loud book about best intentions gone awry is a definite day brightener. Kids and adults will recognize the zany truth of control lost to the unexpected or the oblivious. While we may often feel Rupert’s frustration in real-life situations, Higgins reminds us that it’s good to step back and see the humor in it all. Higgins’ action-packed illustrations and rakish mice ramp up the fun. Kids will enjoy seeing a glimpse of their favorite grumpy bear, Bruce, and discovering what the three mice have been up to since they transformed Bruce’s home into a hotel.

Clever wordplay, realistic dialogue, and sweet characters make BE QUIET! a perfect read-aloud book that kids will want to hear again and again. It would be a funny and fun addition to any child’s bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 6

Disney-Hyperion, 2017 | ISBN 978-1484731628

Discover more about Ryan T. Higgins and his books on his website!

Do a Grouch a Favor Day Activity

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Smile If You’re Grouchy! Word Search Puzzle

 

Do you feel grouchy, grumpy, cantankerous? Then maybe a smile would help! Find all twenty words in this printable Smile if You’re Grouchy! puzzle. You’ll be smiling when you do!

Smile if You’re Grouchy! Word Search PuzzleSmile if You’re Grouchy! Word Search Solution

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You can find BE QUIET! at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

February 14 – Valentine’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate love! Love for family, friends, and our special valentines. Begun as a religious feast day, Valentine’s Day became a day of romance with the bloom of courtly love during 14th century. During the 18th century in England those in love began showing their affections by giving flowers and candy and making valentine’s cards. Now, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and a favorite of adults and kids alike.

XO, OX: A Love Story

Written by Adam Rex | Illustrated by Scott Campbell

 

Ox has finally gotten up the courage to write to his heart’s desire. He sits on the edge of his bed, lap desk upon his knees scribbling away. “Dear Gazelle, For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to tell you how much I admire you.” He goes on to praise her gracefulness and remarks that even when she is “running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers.” He ends with a declaration of love and XO, OX.

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Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Gazelle, lounging on her daybed and admiring herself in a mirror nonchalantly hands her response to her assistant. “Dear Ox, Thank you for your letter. I hope you understand that I have many admirers and cannot reply to each one personally.” She says “Au revoir” with the gift of a signed photograph and moves on to the next letter in the overflowing box of fan mail.

The ever-optimistic Ox writes back while sitting on a park bench and enjoying a cup of steaming coffee. Gazelle’s picture is propped against a guitar, and little friends gather nearby. In his letter, Ox reveals that he does understand about the many other admirers and that makes it all the more meaningful that she responded to his letter personally. He signs off “XO, OX.” In return, Gazelle shoots off her standard letter and encloses another signed photo.

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Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox is overjoyed to receive a second letter. The “coincidence” of the exact wording to the preceding letter only reinforces his opinion that Gazelle is “very smart” and has “a tidy mind.” He urges her to reject the idea that he only loves her because she is pretty. He also loves that she is smart. Gazelle receives Ox’s letter (sealed with a big, red heart) while floating on a raft in the pool, a tall, cool drink floating nearby on its own poof. Her response is a departure from the usual, but only because she is insulted that anyone would think her “repetitive.” While she admits to many faults, this is not one of them. It seems she couldn’t be much clearer when she ends her letter with, “There is no need to write me again.”

Ox reads and rereads Gazelle’s note. Ignoring the last line, he focuses on the “ridiculous” thought that she has many faults. Ox assures her that she only has “one or two.” Gazelle takes offense and from her vanity table tells Ox that his “clumsy brain” has led him away from the usual response to her self-deprecation, which is that she has no faults. She then can’t help but mention the faults of other animals, such as being “too large and too stout” and having “strong smells about them and clumsy brains.”

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Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox does not have such a “clumsy brain” and humbly accepts Gazelle’s criticism. In fact he states that he is glad to know what his faults are and tells Gazelle “you make me want to be the best Ox I can be.” His love for her—“the unflattering light of my life”—is undimmed, and he is looking forward to her next letter. Gazelle puts an end to it once and for all. She writes that there will be no next letter, clarifying that “this letter doesn’t count.”

HaHa, thinks Ox when he reads this. He quickly pens a note telling Gazelle how much he loves her sense of humor. Gazelle is brutal. She orders Ox to stop and tells him he is wasting his time. She lays out her reasons: “I could never love a clumsy thing. I could never love a smelly thing.” She goes on to list all of the aforementioned faults and adds that she could never love someone “so thick and ungraceful and awful and unlovely. And unlovable.”

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Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

You might think Ox would be devastated, but in this tirade he finds one of Gazelle’s faults—and he tells her that her ability to reveal it to him only makes him love her more. He closes with his usual XO, OX and includes a photograph of himself. Gazelle is incredulous. She rips the picture into bits, but then gazes at the pieces again and smiles. “Dear Ox,” she scribbles as she sits on the edge of her bed, lap desk upon her knees and with the taped-together photograph of her beau looking on.

There’s something for every age in Adam Rex’s XO, OX: A Love Story. Little ones will find the snooty Gazelle and humble Ox funny in their persistent writing and reactions to each letter. Older kids will understand the dynamics at work and will get the sly wordplay, the twist on whom exactly is “thick, ungraceful, and awful”, and the idea that perhaps the lady doth protest too much. And adults will never make it through without out loud guffaws on almost every page. Wondering how Ox will respond to each of Gazelle’s letters is such delicious suspense, and his kindness in the face of her derision will tug at readers’ hearts.

Scott Campbell’s softy colored line drawings offer hilarious touches to fill out the details of the homes and lives of these smitten pen pals. In a stroke of genius, Gazelle’s personal assistant is a sunglasses-wearing mole, suggesting Gazelle’s own perception of her dazzling brilliance. Clever contrasts in the lifestyles of barrel-bodied Ox, who writes at a rustic desk and relaxes by a pond, and lithe Gazelle, who writes from her elegant vanity and lounges in her pool, demonstrate that their similarities may outweigh their differences. The touching ending that brings the relationship between Ox and Gazelle full circle as he sends her a photograph and she responds is satisfying and sweet.

XO, OX: A Love Story would be a funny, fantastic addition to anyone’s home library—one that can provide laughs or balm for feeling hearts. 

Ages 4 and up

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626722880

Discover the world of Adam Rex, including his art, picture books, and books for older kids, on his website!

View a gallery of illustration by Scott Campbell on his website!

Valentine’s Day Activity

cpb - monster love maze

Monster Love! Maze

 

Help the Love Monster collect all the valentines in this printable puzzle.

 Monster Love! Maze | Monster Love Maze Solution 

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You can find XO, OX: A Love Story at these booksellers

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

 

Picture Book Review

February 8 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

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About the Holiday

This week was established to raise awareness and promote literacy and the joys and benefits of reading. During the week, children’s authors and illustrators attend special events at schools, bookstores, libraries, and other community centers to share their books and get kids excited about reading. To learn more about how you can instill a lifelong love of learning, visit ChildrensAuthorsNetwork!

Where Are the Words?

Written by Jodi McKay | Illustrated by Denise Holmes

 

A little purple period feels like writing a story. He goes to visit Pencil and Paper and tells them his plan. They want to help, but Pencil says, “We are at a loss for words.” So the three set off to find some. Question Mark sees Period searching here and there and asks what he’s doing. When he finds out about Period’s plan, Question Mark has, well… lots of questions and joins the hunt.

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Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

Exclamation Point is excited to learn about the story writing idea and is eager to help. “What do you know about words?” Question Mark wonders. “Lots!” Exclamation Point answers as he heads off the page. “Let me get them for you!” While Exclamation Point is gone, Question Mark and Period meet up with Quotation Marks, who have sage advice for these two. “‘Seek and ye shall find,’” they offer. Just then Exclamation Point comes back with an armload of words: Once, Upon, A, and Time. Just as he’s about to pass them over, though, he trips and the words scatter in a jumble of letters. Undeterred, Exclamation Point hurries off to get more words.

Then Parentheses meanders by. Question Mark thinks maybe they know where words hang out. “I might,” one says, raising everyone’s hopes. But then she adds, “(although I doubt it).” Period is disappointed and even a little miffed when he sees Exclamation Point rushing around waving a net. But Exclamation Point’s just trying to corral some rather active words who would rather “run, jump, skip, hop” freely. Colon offers aid as long as there are peanuts, but Period thinks the whole thing is getting out of hand.

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Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

In fact, Period decides to quit. But not so fast! Exclamation Point has something to show everyone. “Look!” Exclamation Point says, and they all gaze upward to find all the words they’ve said hanging in the air. “They were here all along,” Period says. Now Period has everything to write a story—except an idea. Exclamation Point suggests they all write the story together.

And so each one contributes a little bit to the story while Pencil writes it all down on Paper. Their own hunt for words and a little imagination inspires them to write a story that they all think is… “Wonderful?” offers Question Mark. “Incredible!” says Exclamation Point.  But Parentheses thinks something is missing. What is it? Pictures! But where will they find them? Everyone agrees when Period says, “Pencil could draw us the perfect pictures.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-are-the-words-write-together

Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

Jodi McKay’s adorable set of punctuation marks take kids on a whirlwind ride to find words that Period can use to write a story. As each punctuation mark joins the search, McKay gives them personalities and conversation to match their grammatical uses. Readers will giggle at the mishaps and setbacks that beset Period’s creative process but empathize with him as his dream of writing a story seems to slip away. When the friends discover that the words they’re searching for are right at hand, children will see that they too have the words they need to express themselves creatively and even in social situations.

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Punctuation has never been so cute! With their sweet smiles and expressive stick arms and legs, Denise Holmes’s colorful, ready-to-help punctuation marks, pencil, and paper are true friends as they take on Period’s wish and make it their own. Dialogue bubbles make it easy for kids to understand how the various punctuation marks are used in a sentence, and dynamic typography sprinkled throughout the pages show action and add to the humor. Readers will also have fun guessing why Colon is so fond of peanuts in a clever running joke.

A charming way for children to engage with writing and punctuation, Where Are the Words is a grammatical mystery that would make its mark on home, classroom, and library bookshelves for fun story times and composition lessons.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman and Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807587331

Discover more about Jodi McKay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Denise Holmes, her books, and her art, visit her website

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-out-the-punctuation-word-search

Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search

 

Can you find the twelve types of punctuation in this printable puzzle?

Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search | Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-are-the-words-cover

You can find Where Are the Words? at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

February 5 – Chinese New Year

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About the Holiday

Chinese New Year begins today—ushering in the Year of the Pig—and celebrations take place until February 19. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities that include lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations. The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations end each year with the Lantern Festival. To learn more about the history of Chinese New Year, how to celebrate, and the signs of the zodiac, click here.

Ruby’s Chinese New Year

Written by Vickie Lee | Illustrated by Joey Chou

 

Every year Grandmother would come to visit Ruby for Chinese New Year. “Together they celebrated, eating special foods and making drawings for good luck.” But this year Grandmother couldn’t make the trip, so Ruby decided to visit her grandmother instead. As a gift, Ruby drew a picture of her family enjoying a special dinner. She put it into a red envelope and tucked it away in her pocket. Soon after leaving, Ruby spied Cat and Rat and asked if they would like to come along too. They did, but Cat wondered how they would “cross the meadow and the pond.” Ruby suggested that they ask Ox.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Soon, they found Ox, who was bringing rice cakes and candy to the farmer for the New Year celebration. When she heard that Ruby, Cat, and Mouse were going to Grandmother’s house, she offered to let them ride on her back. Just then, Tiger and Rabbit “bounded out of the bushes, streamers flying behind them.” They also wanted to go to Grandmother’s house, so Cat rode on Tiger’s back and Rat nestled between Rabbit’s furry ears, and they all headed down the path.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-rat

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

They came to where Dragon and Snake “were making paper lanterns.” They were both excited to come along too. “Snake loved Grandmother and was happy to visit her,” and Dragon “was always ready for an adventure.” They packed up the lanterns they had made and the friends started off again. Horse and Goat were grazing in the nearby meadow, and they too wanted to come along. They picked flowers for Grandmother, and then the little parade was off.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-ox

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

When Ruby and all the rest reached the pond, they saw Monkey and Rooster fishing for their holiday dinner from an overhanging branch. Grandmother’s house was just on the other side of the pond. Ruby was so excited that “with a leap and a bound, Ruby dove into the pond. She would swim to Grandmother’s. She was so close!” But when she jumped, the red envelope flew out of her pocket and drifted into the pond. All of the other animals dove into the pond to save Ruby’s gift. Monkey snatched it with his fishing hook, and Rooster flew across the water with the card in her beak. They all met Ruby on the other side of the pond and sadly showed her the drenched card. “‘Oh no,’ Ruby cried. ‘It’s ruined. Everything is ruined!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-streamers

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

“‘It’s not ruined!’ cried Rooster.” And then each animal reminded Ruby that they had fish and flowers, lanterns and streamers, rice cakes and sweets, and most especially, “‘…we have our family,’ said Cat and Rat, looking toward the house.” Suddenly, Dog and Pig bounded out and “covered Ruby’s face with kisses and tickled her until she shrieked with joy.” The happy sounds brought Grandmother to the door. She was thrilled to see Ruby. When Ruby gave her the gift she thought was “ruined,” Grandmother assured her that it would dry and that seeing Ruby and all of her friends was “the best gift of all.” Then they all sat down at the long table decorated with streamers and lanterns and celebrated the New Year with a delicious dinner—“except for Cat, who had fallen fast asleep.”

Following the story, readers will enjoy learning one legend of the Chinese zodiac and discovering the  traits for each animal. Children will also find directions for making a paper lantern, a paper fan, and good luck banners.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-pond

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Inspired by one legend of the Chinese Zodiac and how each animal came to be included in the calendar, Vickie Lee tells an engaging cumulative story that keeps readers excited to discover who will be the next to join Ruby on her trip to Grandmother’s house. The fate of Ruby’s special gift reveals many truths about friendship and family as the animals work together to save the card and Grandmother reassures Ruby while showing her that love is the best gift of all. Readers may also enjoy talking about which of each animal’s trait—as found in the back matter—is reflected in their role in the story. Older children may like discussing references to Chinese New Year traditions and how Lee reimagined the legend to tell her story. And why is Cat sleeping through the delicious dinner? Legend has it that….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-legend

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Joey Chou’s delightfully cheerful illustrations are packed with action as each animal—included into the group in the order of the Chinese zodiac—adds a special ingredient to the New Year celebration. His lovely color palette sparkles with glowing reds, cool aquas, lush blues, and shadowy violets that create a homey atmosphere for this very special holiday. Scenes of togetherness and friendship include smiles and joy at being together as well as empathy for Ruby when her card gets wet.

A beautiful book to share with children for Chinese New Year and throughout the year, Ruby’s Chinese New Year would be a charming addition to home, school, and library bookshelves for its story and included activities.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250133380

To learn more about Joey Chou, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Chinese New Year Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chinese-new-year-word-search

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle | Chinese New Year Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-cover

You can find Ruby’s Chinese New Year at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hiding-game-cover

About the Holiday

Celebrating art is always a great thing! Today we champion that feeling you get inside when you create or experience art—no matter what kind is your favorite. Paintings, books, music, sculpture, quilts, photography, and other arts show you a bit of the world in a new way—a way, perhaps, you’ve never thought of before. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most—as you’ll see in today’s book. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

The Hiding Game

Written by Gwen Strauss | Illustrated by Herb Leonhard

 

It was October of 1940, and after moving from place to place to stay “one step ahead of the German soldiers,” Aube and her family had found a home where they could “live together until it was their turn to flee to safety. The Villa Air-Bel was rented by Varian Fry—a magician—and his assistant Danny Bénédite and served as a place to hide those looking to escape the war-torn country. On Sundays, the house was full of “thinkers, artists and writers who had to hide from the German soldiers because of their ideas of freedom and liberty” like Aube’s parents.

On those days, everyone played games, danced and made collages. One of Aube’s favorite games was Cadavre Exquis, in which a piece of paper was folded and each participant drew a design on one fold. When the whole paper was unfolded, amazing, artistic pictures emerged. These games and entertainment, Aube’s father told her, were their ways of fighting against fear. Because of the danger, many things had to be hidden at the Villa, including the radio and the cow that provided milk. Many ingredients for cooking were scarce. But even then Aube’s father used art to lighten the mood, leaving a drawing of a roast beef in the pantry where a real roast should have been.

Because the authorities were reading Varian and Danny’s mail and were listening to their phone calls, they had devised a way of hiding messages in toothpaste tubes that escaped the guard’s searches. The messages went to other people helping along the escape route to tell them who to expect next. Everyone in the house also had to have a special hiding place in case the police came. Aube chose the an old cabinet in the kitchen.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, text copyright Gwen Strauss, 2017. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Whenever a new group of people were scheduled to “make the dangerous journey to a new country, they held a Sunday party and art sale to raise money.” Canvases painted by famous artists were hung among the branches of a large tree on the Villa grounds. When winter came, the Villa was so cold everyone had to wear all of their clothes to stay warm. They kept their spirits warm, too, by singing their favorite songs.

During the winter Danny visited camps where people were being held under terrible conditions. “Aube understood now that the danger was that they would be sent to the camps,” where people were dying of starvation and disease. They had little clothes and no blankets even though it was snowing. The people, Danny said, were going to freeze. Aube thought of the game freeze tag and worried about all of those “people freezing, waiting for someone to set them free.”

One day in December, the police raided the Villa. They took away all the men, including Danny, Varian, and Aube’s papa. Aube cowered in the kitchen cabinet with their dog in fear. The next week, the men were released, but they knew that the police would be back. Danny and Varian began to plan their escape. Before they all left, Aube’s father devised one more game. Each artist would paint their own version of a playing card to create a collective work of art. “The cards would remind them that they had laughed together and stayed free in their hearts even during the darkest times.”

Aube’s family were placed on a ship sailing to South America, and on February 18, 1941 they left the Villa and Danny and Varian behind and made the one-month-long journey to freedom. Several months later, Varian was “forced to leave France and return to America.” Danny went underground and “helped another 300 people escape France.” In 1943, however, Danny was “arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death.” Just as he was facing the firing squad, soldiers fighting the Nazis burst through the gates of the camp and freed him and the other inmates.

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Image copyright Herb Leonhard, 2017, courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

Gwen Strauss includes extensive backmatter on this true-life story about her great-uncle Danny Bénédite. A detailed account of the work by Varian Fry, Danny Bénédite, and the American Rescue Committee, complete with photographs, as well as short biographies of some of the artists who visited the Villa (and a compelling list of others) plus resources for further study round out this compelling book.

Clearly written and with details from a child’s point of view that will resonate with readers, The Hiding Game is an absorbing tribute not only to two men involved in the Nazi resistance movement but to the resilience that uplifts people during the darkest times. This fascinating true story also offers a glimpse into the important role that artists and writers play in shining a light on history, interpreting it, and fighting against forces that destroy. Rich with the atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and simple pleasures enjoyed, Strauss’s dynamic storytelling will thrill children. The Hiding Game will prompt them to learn more about this time period and will inspire in them their own acts of heroism.

Herb Leonhard’s realistic drawings of the Villa Air-Bel, the families who stopped there on their way to freedom, the moments of joy that sustained them, and the secret measures necessary for people’s safety take readers into the heart of the story and allow them to witness the danger and the creativity that swirled side-by-side within the Villa and the people living there. Largely depicted in somber tones of gray and green, the pages brighten with glowing yellows during times of laughter, games, and creativity. An illustration of the mammoth tree hung with canvases by famous artists will impress children, and the final image will leave an indelible and thought-provoking impression on young readers and adults.

An excellent book for facilitating discussions about World War II and the Holocaust with children at home and in the classroom as well as offering opportunities for cross-curricular learning in history, art, reading, and more, The Hiding Game is a superb choice to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 12

Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-1455622658

Discover more about Gwen Strauss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Herb Leonhard, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Inspire Your Heart with Art Day Activity

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle

 

Art has a language all its own! Have fun finding the twenty-five art-related words in this printable puzzle.

I Love Art! Word Search Puzzle and I Love Art! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hiding-game-cover

You can find The Hiding Game at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review