January 27 – National Chocolate Cake Day

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About the Holiday

Cake

Written by Sue Hendra | Illustrated by Paul Linnet

 

Cake had received an invitation to a party. “He’d never been to a party before, so he didn’t know what to expect.” He wanted to look his best, though, so he tried on different outfits and asked Fish what he thought. Fish didn’t think the pink parasol, the pirate get up, or the superhero costume were quite right. Fish suggested Cake wear a hat, so Cake went off to the shops in town to find one.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Cake tried on a fedora and a fez, a hat with streamers and a hat with a feather, he even tried on a hat with a full fruit salad on top, but none of these were what he wanted. A shop assistant approached and asked if he could help. Hearing that Cake was going to a party, the shop assistant brought out a hat that he said Cake would look “irresistible” in. Cake couldn’t wait to show Fish.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

At home, Cake put on his new purchase and surprised Fish with the big reveal. Fish took in the drippy icing hat sporting four lit candles and the blue ribbon and exclaimed, “‘You’ve cracked it!’” Cake jumped on his bike and rode to the party. As he rang the doorbell, Cake felt nervous, but everyone welcomed him with cheers and smiles. “‘A party isn’t a party without CAKE!’ they said.” Cake had a great time watching the dancing and games from his place on the table, but when the singing started he got a bad feeling about things. “Suddenly, there was a gust of wind, and everything went black.”

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Just then Cake felt a shaky hand grab his, and voice yelled, “‘Quick!’” Cake found himself running through the backyard and over the fence with a slice of pizza, cookies, ice cream, and other treats. They all went to Cake’s house and had a lovely tea party. Meanwhile, back at the party, Piñata rang the bell, hoping he wasn’t too late.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

If your kids enjoy a slice of dark humor, Sue Hendra’s droll party story is a gift they’ll love to open again and again. With clever turns of phrase and by juxtaposing Cake’s naïveté and readers’ birthday party experiences, Hendra invites kids to be active participants in Cake’s adventure. As Cake prepares for his first party, little ones will giggle as he tries on various outfits—sly riffs on popular cake decorations. Cake’s hat reveal provides a laugh-out-loud moment and increases readers’ suspense for what’s to come as Cake attends the party. Hendra’s food flight will delight kids, and the surprise ending gives them one more laugh—and a chance to devise their own story of Piñata’s escape.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Paul Linnet sprinkles his pages with festive party colors, cake-shaped spotlights, and vibrant layers that are the icing to Hendra’s story. With his wide eyes and innocent expression, Cake is a sweetie that will charm little readers. The clueless revelry that Cake and Fish display over the chosen party hat is hilarious, endearing and even a little poignant. Cake’s impromptu tea party for his new foodie friends shows readers there’s a way to party for everyone—as Piñata is sure (hopefully!) to find out too.

For silly story time fun frosted with sweetness and spiced with suspense, Cake is a delectable addition to home, school, and public library book shelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Aladdin, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534425507

You can connect with Sue Hendra on Twitter

You can connect with Paul Linnet on Twitter

National Chocolate Cake Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cake-maze -puzzle

Piece of Cake! Maze

 

Help the kids navigate their way through the party while picking up all five cakes so they can get slices of their own in this printable puzzle.

Piece of Cake! Maze Puzzle  | Piece of Cake! Maze Solution 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cake-cover

You can find Cake at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

January 23 – Measure Your Feet Day

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About the Holiday

While we may not really consider that when our feet are happy, we’er happy, we all know that when our feet are unhappy, so are we. Today’s holiday has its roots in ancient Icelandic springtime celebrations but has developed into a day when we take extra care of our feet. This pampering can take many forms, including a nice warm soak, a pedicure, or making sure that our shoes fit well and give our feet the support they need. To celebrate today, give your feet a little extra attention.

Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore

Written by Susan Wood | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

A day at the beach includes a bit of animal tracking as a brother and sister and their puppy romp and play as ocean creatures go about their day. Near the ocean’s edge, they find “wading feet, / sandpiper hops, / water curls and sprays. / Crawling feet, / click-clack crab scuttles on its way.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Seagulls and pelicans looking for a snack leave webbed prints on the sandy shore while underwater “wriggling feet, / on five orange legs, sea star makes its way.” A turtle on her way to dig her nest mingles her distinctive track with familiar five-toed footprints that run back and forth from the water to a tall sand castle. But the most surprising feet are “buried feet, / children laugh, / Daddy’s toes poke through.” At last, as the sun sets, tired feet head home.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Back matter includes a short discussion about ecology and prompts children to become “ecology detectives” at home, observing the tracks of creatures who live nearby, or on a hike to the forest, beach, or park. Photographs and descriptions of the sea creatures mentioned in the text teaches children more about these animals and how they move.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Susan Wood’s short, dynamic rhyming verses are a perfect way to entice young scientists to keep their eyes on the ground and observe tracks that can tell them about the creatures that traverse their backyard, playground, beach, park, or woods. Wood’s evocative vocabulary mirrors the action of the ocean as it “curls and sprays” and the animals who hop, scuttle, and wriggle to find food and shelter. Readers will also enjoy following the family who has come to spend the day at the beach with their lively dog in tow.

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Steliyana Doneva takes kids to the seashore in her lovely illustrations in which the aqua sea froths and bubbles, inviting swimmers, and the peach-hued sand preserves footprints, turtle eggs, and a growing sand castle—all overseen by a stalwart lighthouse. Kids get an up-close look at sandpipers, crabs, seagulls, pelicans, sea stars, barnacles, a turtle, and other fish as well as ocean and dune grasses. At the end of the day as the family heads home, Doneva’s beautiful sunset offers a perfect moment of quiet cuddle time during which readers can happily match the footprints on the final spread to the animals they’ve learned about in the story.

A terrific take-along for trips to the beach or a primer for outdoor jaunts, Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? makes for a fun and educational addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-158536409

Discover more about Susan Wood and her books on her website.

Measure Your Feet Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-whose-shoes-maze

Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

 

These kids are getting out and enjoying nature! Can you help them find the right shoes so they can start their adventures in this printable puzzle?

Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sandy-feet-whose-feet-cover

You can find Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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About the Holiday

Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!

Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale

Written by Virginia Loh-Hagan | Illustrated by Timothy Banks

 

Mei dreaded springtime when Nian, “the fierce dragon that used to rule the land” until a magical warrior sent him underground with a spell. Once a year though, Nian came out of hiding to quell his hunger. His favorite treat was little boys and girls. Even now, Mei could hear the “rumbling of Nian’s stomach” that told them springtime was near.

On the eve of the first day of spring, the magical warrior visited Mei in a dream. He told her that Nian’s strength was growing while his power was waning. It was up to Mei to keep the town safe. She had fifteen days in which to defeat the dragon, he told her as he gave her is magic cane. When she woke the next day, Mei heard her mother warning her that Nian was on his way and they must escape.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Knowing that Nian would eat anything in his path, Mei ran to shut their livestock in the barn and helped MaMa hide. She ran to get the warrior’s cane, but before she could hide Nian blocked her way. She grabbed a pot and banged on it with the cane and yelled at the dragon. Nian covered his ears. Then Mei got the other villagers to make noise. “They hollered. They hooted. They threw firecrackers at Nian,” and he slithered back to his den.

The villagers celebrated for five days and gave Mei a red silk robe in gratitude. But on the sixth day, Nian was back with cotton in his ears to muffle the noise. Mei, wearing her new robe, threw her lantern at him. The light and fiery robe frightened Nian. Mei gathered the villagers once more and told them to wear red and shine lights. Confronted with all of the red clothing and banners and the brilliant lights, Nian ran away again. The villagers celebrated for five more days, dyeing their clothes red and burning fires.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the tenth night the magical warrior came again to talk to Mei. He reminded her that she only had five more days to defeat Nian, who was now bent on revenge. Mei knew she couldn’t rely on getting lucky. She needed a plan. By morning, she had one. She and the villagers filled red bags with food and stuffed them into scarecrows dressed in their clothes. But Mei hid the warrior’s cane in her scarecrow.

When Nian returned again on the fifteenth day, he gobbled up the scarecrows. But when he got to Mei’s, the cane magically allowed the warrior to ensnare Nian. Then, as destiny foretold, the warrior and Nian “turned into a stone statue in the middle of the village.” The villagers cheered Mei’s success and threw a party complete with food offerings, lanterns, firecrackers, and lots of red. Now, every year at the beginning of spring, the village celebrates this way and Mei always presents “an offering to the statue of Nian and the magical warrior.”

An Author’s Note about the Chinese New Year, the holiday’s traditions, and the Legend of Nian follows the story.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Virginia Loh-Hagan presents an enchanting retelling of the Legend of Nian, filled with kid-centric cleverness and, especially, girl power. Suspense builds as Nian returns on three five-day cycles to terrorize the villagers, and children will eagerly await and cheer Mei’s actions. Along the way, readers learn the origins of beloved Chinese New Year traditions. Loh-Hagan’s fast-paced storytelling shines with evocative language and personal, action-packed motivations. Nian is truly a fiercesome beast and Mei, born in the year of the dragon, is just the person to defeat him, providing readers with a charming role model in vanquishing the “beasts” in their own lives.

Timothy Banks’ illustrations employ the beauty and delicacy of Chinese brush painting while adding stylized line drawings and textured backgrounds to depict eye-catching scenes on every page. Nian is first introduced coiled in his underwater cave, the entrance to which mimic the monster’s enormous mouth. The urgency of Nian’s threat is evident as the frightened animals run for the barn, while the villagers’ delight in helping to scare away the dragon demonstrates the bravery that Mei inspires in them. Banks plays with darkness and light, and especially with the vibrant red associated with the holiday, emphasizing Mei’s accomplishment while creating meaningful imagery throughout the story.

Beautiful and compelling, Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon is an excellent story to share during Chinese New Year celebrations and all through the year. The book will excite children to learn more about the holiday and offers many opportunities for home or curricular extensions. It would make a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364138

Appreciate a Dragon Day 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-nian-the-chinese-new-year-dragon-cover

You can find Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale at these booksellers

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Picture Book Review

January 1 – Z Day

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About the Holiday

On this first day of the year it seems fitting to let the last letter of the alphabet shine. Today all of those with last names that start with Z get to move to the front row and the front of the line! You might get creative with your celebrations and eat only foods that start with Z—ziti and zucchini sound good, buy a zipper or something zany, read a zine about zombies, and of course go to the zoo to see the zebra!

AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First

Written by Alethea Kontis | Illustrated by Bob Kolar

 

The letter A stands on a little pedestal holding aloft an apple. “A is for app—,” she starts, but is suddenly interrupted by Z, who states, “Zebra and I are SICK of this last-in-line stuff! This time we want to go first!” Y is all for this change and wants to give it a try. Z jumps on the pedestal, and with pride and a prop reveals, “Z is for zebra.” Next up is Y and with her knitting on her lap says, “Y is for yarn.” Although X is a bit wrapped up in Y’s craft, he still manages to plonk out, “X is for xylophone.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, text copyright Alethea Kontis, 2012. Courtesy of candlewick.com

W spouts off that “W is for whale, and P, lounging in swimming ring, is happy to tell you that P is for penguins as two of the little fellows toddle nearby.” Wait a minute! P doesn’t come after W…or is it before W? Hmm…This is getting confusing. V wants her rightful place and confronts P, but P brings up the point that no matter how the alphabet runs, some letters “are still stuck in the middle.” N agrees, and M takes off running “closer to the end, just to mix it up a bit.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

A is perturbed by this whole state of affairs, but Z is excited. O takes over with “owl,” and N flies off in the “night.” H takes the spotlight with a tall stack of hats while G waits in the wings whispering, “H, dear, it’s not our turn yet!” A is now fuming. H, however, is happy with her usual lot in life, and R, leaning on her rainbow-colored umbrella, agrees. Z is jumping! “Go wherever you want! Just hurry up, or we’ll never get to the end.” S rushes off to be ready for the page turn where he wrangles a snake above his head. I is chased by insects, V plays the violin, and J runs away with a jack-o’-lantern.

E blasts off toward Earth, where “F is for flowers. And fairies.” Hold on there a minute! V is upset: “Hey, I didn’t get to pick two things. I think I should get another turn.” X, on the other hand seems ok with it because he doesn’t “have much to choose from.” All this fuss is making Z crazy. He just wants things to move along.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

Ok, then…the next letters get in line. “T is for taxi and train. L is for lemons and lollipops. K is for kangaroo and kites. And C is for cat and canary in cages.” V is back, inserting and asserting herself with a vacuum in hand, a volcano in the background, a vulture lurking, and valentines scattered about. But Z yanks her away as G says, “Ooh, V is for violence.”

R gets his chance to pop open his umbrella, D fights a dragon, and G frolics with a great gorilla. B gets a bevy of words that make a big mess. M dashes away from a monster, and Q is queen for the day. And that’s that, right? Is it? It’s kind of hard to tell. Z shouts through a megaphone, “Has everyone had their turn?” No! It seems U has been in the bathroom since P.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, text copyright Alethea Kontis, 2012. Courtesy of candlewick.com.

U is uncertain whether the other letters still want her, but they usher her to the podium. Finally, it is A’s turn, but where is she? “Yikes!” exclaims Y and it’s easy to see why. A has been rounding up the words! Twenty-two of them, in fact—23 if you count “and.” The other letters cheer, and Z says he’s sorry for being bossy, to which A says, “apology accepted.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

Alethea Kontis’s classic alphabet romp is a hilarious, personality filled celebration of the 26 letters that compose our language. As Z’s mixed up experiment goes awry, the letters’ sassy and squabbling comments make for laugh-out-loud reading. Sly wordplay adds to the fun, making this an alphabet book that older kids will enjoy as well. Subtle lessons on cooperation, teamwork, acceptance, and inclusion give readers of AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First lots to discuss while enjoying the show.

Bob Kolar’s bold, bright, and enthusiastic letters nearly pop off the page. Their expressive eyes and mouths display their excitement, distress, pride, and other emotions as the status quo is shaken up by Z. As each letter gets their turn, Kolar infuses the page with visual puns. For example, I is being chased by “insects,” that also happen to be bees (Bs?). His clever choices of nouns allow for discussion of other forms of the words too—as when S juggles a snake that…well…snakes above him. Kids will love lingering over the illustrations to find all of the jokes and letter-related images and to make sure that all of the letters get their due.

AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First is so much more than an alphabet book. Adding it to any child’s bookshelf will suit them to a T.

Ages 3 – 8

Candlewick, 2012 | ISBN 978-0763660840

To discover more about Alethea Kontis and her books for kids and older readers as well as book-related activities, visit her website!

Find a gallery of picture book art, personal art, and other projects by Bob Kolar on his website!

Z Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-zing-goes-my-heart-word-search

Zing! Goes My Heart Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the 20 words that begin with the letter Z in this printable heart-shaped Zing! Goes My Heart Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution!

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You can find Alpha Oops! The Day Z Went First at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 19 – Look for an Evergreen Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday gives people an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the variety of evergreen trees that grow locally and around the world. During the winter these giants stand out against snowy landscapes with their deep-green needles that retain their color all year around and always offer the hope of spring. For those who celebrate Christmas, the evergreen is a highlight of the celebration. Decorated with lights and sparkly ornaments, the tree is where family and friends gather to exchange gifts and share time together. Look for an Evergreen Day was created by the National Arborist Association to encourage people to enjoy the beauty of these special trees.

Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves

Written by Annemarie Riley Guertin | Illustrated by Helena Pérez Garcia

 

Little Redbird was taking her last sleep before flying south for the winter when she was thrown from her nest onto the hard ground by a strong gust of wind. When she got up, the pain in her wing told her she would not be able to fly. “‘How will I survive the long, harsh winter winds? Surely I will perish,’” she thought. But then she saw all the trees in the forest and “chirped with relief.” She could build a new nest on a low branch of one of them and find shelter.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The first tree she hopped to was a birch. Politely, she told the tree her predicament and asked, “‘May I live in your warm branches until spring returns?’” But the birch only wanted to look out for itself and told Little Redbird to “‘move along.’” Next, Little Redbird came to a large oak tree. She explained about her injured wing and asked if she could spend the winter in the oak’s strong branches. The oak was surprised by the request and suspicious that the little bird would also want to eat up all of its acorns. The oak shooed Little Redbird away. When she came to the maple tree, Little Redbird repeated her request. The maple told her that it was “‘too busy making sap for maple syrup. I have no time for little birds,’” it continued and sent Little Redbird on her way.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Afraid and uncertain, Little Redbird began to cry. Then she heard a voice offering to help. She looked up and saw “a smiling fir tree.” She approached and told her story again. At once, the fir tree offered Little Redbird a safe and warm place to stay within its many branches. Little Redbird thanked the fir tree, but said that she didn’t have the strength to fly up into the branches. The fir told the little bird not to worry as he reached out his lower branches.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Overhearing this exchange, a nearby blue spruce called out that he would help shield Little Redbird from the wind with his strong branches. “‘How kind of you!’ replied Little Redbird.” Then another voice came whispering on the breeze. It was the juniper tree offering berries to heal the little bird’s wing. Little Redbird happily “built a warm nest inside the fir tree’s branches and waited for winter’s arrival.”

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

One evening soon after, the Frost Queen and her son Jack came strolling through the forest. Jack wondered if he could touch the leaves on every tree. His mother pointed to the fir, the blue spruce, and the juniper and explained that he could touch the leaves on every tree except these. “‘They were very kind to one of my precious birds who had injured her wing,’” the Frost Queen told Jack. “‘They may keep their green leaves all year round. And they shall forevermore be called evergreen.’” It is also said that these acts of kindness inspired these little red birds to stay and keep these trees company all winter long.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Annemarie Riley Guertin offers a charming and well-rounded telling of the legend of how evergreens got their name and their unique feature that also provides a heartwarming reason for why cardinals do not fly south for the winter. This delightful pairing deepens the meaning of the story by demonstrating that kindness is recognized and often comes back to those who give it. Guertin’s clear and emotionally rich dialogue allows readers to fully appreciate Little Redbird’s distress, the rebuffs of the deciduous trees, and the acceptance of the others. The appearance of the Snow Queen and her son Jack bring a human element to the story that will resonate with children, who are themselves learning to be kind.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-why-evergreens-keep-their-leaves-frost-maple-tree

Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Helena Pérez Garcia’s vibrant, folk-art inspired illustrations are simply gorgeous. Set against a black forest floor, the autumn flowers, fallen leaves, and trees in full fiery color pop off the page. Just as in any real-life garden, the red cardinal immediately catches the eye, putting readers’ focus on Little Redbird and her plight. The image of Little Redbird crying is touching, making the fir tree’s offer of help and outstretched branches all the more emotional. Garcia’s imaging of the Snow Queen and her son Jack will enchant any lover of fairy tales, and the final image of a flock of cardinals keeping the evergreens company during the winter is a sight we can all hope to see.

A beautiful tale to share during the winter season or along with other fairy tales or fables, Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves would make a terrific addition to home, classroom, and public library collections. Pair with a bird feeder or small evergreen tree to plant to make a gift any child would love.

Ages 5 – 8 

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701587

Discover more about Annemarie Riley Guertin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Helena Pérez Garcia, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Look for an Evergreen Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Find-the-Perfect-Pine-Tree-maze

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze

 

Can you help the kids sled their way to find the evergreen tree in this printable maze?

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze | Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-why-evergreens-keep-their-leaves-cover

You can find Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hanukkah-cookies-with-sprinkles-window

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hanukkah-cookies-with-sprinkles-school

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hanukkah-cookies-with-sprinkles-cookie

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

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

Picture Book Review