May 6 – It’s National Bike Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1956 and sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month celebrates all the fun and benefits of cycling. Communities around the country usually celebrate with special events, tours, and safety lessons. This year the League of American Bicyclists is encouraging riders to ride solo or with family and share their experiences online with #BikesUnite. For a list of ideas on ideas for making this year’s Bike Month fun, meaningful, and special, visit the League of American Bicyclists website.

I received a copy of Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride from Oni Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

 

Maybe you’ve been criticized for your hair or your body shape; told that “you are not enough.” Bessie heard that over and over. When the boys gathered after school to race on their bikes, they rode past Bessie, laughing that she wasn’t fast enough. But Bessie wanted to join them. The boys just laughed harder and said, “Silly little Bessie! Girls can’t ride bikes!”

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

Bessie asked her mama if girls could ride bikes, and she suggested Bessie “ask the Man Upstairs.” That night Bessie said her usual prayers and then asked “if girls are supposed to ride bikes.” That night in her dreams she rode up and down hills, through cities, by the ocean, and even on top of the waves. She rode through cities and up into space.

In the morning, Bessie knew just what she was going to do that day. When the boys got together, she was there, hanging behind. As the leader of the group started the countdown to race, Bessie waited. And when he shouted “Go!” “Bessie zoomed past the boys. She sailed over the concrete like it was the ocean in her dream. She was fast enough.” She zipped past the ladies walking their dogs as if they were skyscrapers in the city and tore up the track with the speed of a comet.

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

When the boys saw that, they called for her to wait up, and when they reached her there were high-fives all around. From then on Bessie could be found speeding around town on her bike until the day she heard “ROOOAAAR VAAROOM!,” saw…a motorcycle, and “realized she could be even faster.”

Extensive back matter continues Bessie’s story as a pioneer for women in motorcycling in the early and mid-twentieth century. Also a nurse, Bessie traveled all over the United States, following the Negro Motorist Green Book to find safe accommodations, as well as the world. She was “the only woman on a team of civilian motorcycle couriers for the U.S. military” and became “the first woman to ride a motorcycle across America.” Children will be fascinated by her adventurous life and captivated by the various versions of her life and legend. 

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

Joel Christian Gill introduces children to Bessie, a determined, brave, and pioneering woman at a formative time in her life. Told that girls don’t ride bikes and that she wasn’t good enough or fast enough anyway, Bessie Stringfield wrestled with self-doubt, but she took control of what she wanted and ultimately proved to herself and others that she was more than capable. Gill’s first pages set the stage for readers to contemplate ways in which they may doubt themselves, before encouraging them to find inspiration and confidence in Bessie’s story.

Gill’s vivid illustrations clearly show Bessie’s sadness as she internalizes the boy’s taunts, her tenacity, and finally her jubilation is besting them and achieving her goal. Images of Bessie’s dream and its resulting reality creatively play on the dual meaning of the word dream while a change in Bessie’s room décor while she sleeps is a clever touch.

A singular story about a trailblazing black woman, Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride encourages children to embrace their own identity instead of letting others define them. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

To learn more about Joel Christian Gill, his books, and his cartoons, visit his website.

National Bike Month Activity

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Ride with Me! Maze

 

These two girls want to ride bikes together. Can you help them find each other in this printable maze?

Ride with Me! Puzzle | Ride with Me! Puzzle Solution

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You can find Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 30 – International Jazz Day

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About the Holiday

International Jazz Day was instituted in November 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to spotlight jazz and it’s role in uniting people worldwide. The holiday is celebrated by communities, musicians, students, teachers, historians, and especially jazz enthusiasts as a way to learn about jazz, its roots, and its influence. Every year, jazz is recognized for its part in promoting a dialogue among cultures, diversity, freedom, and respect for human rights. 

While the celebration was originally planned to take place in Cape Town, South Africa and in other cities around the world, this year International Jazz Day 2020 will take place online and be hosted by Herbie Hancock. The day’s centerpiece will be a Virtual Global Concert featuring artists from across the globe, streamed live on jazzday.com. The concert will begin at 3:00 pm US eastern time. This spectacular musical event is a great opportunity to introduce kids to jazz and to enjoy the masters of the form with jazz lovers around the globe.

Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

 

As a child, Miles Davis listens to the radio before school, clapping and swaying along to “Louis Armstrong’s soaring trumpet” and “Duke Ellington’s sensational big band.” The “swinging sounds of jazz / swirl together like / colors on a pinwheel.” When he’s older, Miles watches the riverboats on the Mississippi as they bring musicians from New Orleans to play in the East St. Louis clubs. At night he listens as “melodies drift down the street. / Some croon country, / some cry the blues. / Sassy saxophones wail / through the night.”

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

During the summer, Miles visits his grandfather’s farm in Arkansas. Here, he hears the music of horses’ hooves. On his walks through town, he listens to the sounds of guitars and singing, and at church he learns the notes of “soulful singing.” For his thirteenth birthday, Miles receives a trumpet. He takes lessons and practices again and again.

While he’s still in high school, Miles begins being paid to play at dance halls. His confidence grows and he begins to develop his own sound. A new form of jazz is attracting attention—Bebop: “far-out harmonies / with fast, flipping beats / that hop and bop.” He goes to clubs to listen to Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play. He’s “blown away / by the energy of the music.”

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

Then one night, one of the band members doesn’t show up, and Miles—who always has his trumpet with him—is asked to fill the spot. In awe and a little intimidated in the presence of his idols, Miles’ playing “doesn’t shine.” But he knows that “jazz / is all he wants to play.” Miles moves to New York to go to school at Juilliard, but, really, to learn from Bird, Dizzy, and all of his idols. In the morning he goes to class, practicing between classes. At night he plays clubs throughout the city.

Soon, he leaves Juilliard to concentrate on playing and learning from the greats. His father advises him: “Don’t be like the mockingbird / that copies others. / Be your own man. / Be your own sound.” When Dizzy leaves Bird’s band, Miles takes his place. But he plays differently than Dizzy. “Some listeners put him down— / they want Dizzy’s rippling trumpet.” The criticism make Miles lose confidence and want to quit. But Bird encourages him.

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

With practice and patience, he discovers his own sound, holding and savoring perfect notes “just for the beauty of it.” He forms his own group with talented musicians who want to create new sounds. The nine musicians play “slowly and mysteriously…. Cool— / relaxed, / with a lighter, / lyrical feel.” Mile’s solos enchant audiences.

But the endless work takes its toll. He begins to lose gigs; his health declines. Miles doesn’t give up. “He climbs out / of his dark days / by playing his horn again.” Then in 1955 he takes the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival and begins to play. “…His mystical voice hangs / like a cloud, / leaving space / for each listener’s / imagination to wander.” The crowd cheers and applauds. Miles is back with his unmistakable sound and new ideas for the future of the music he loves.

Notes about Miles Davis from Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Cornell Berman, and Keith Henry Brown as well as a selected discography and bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

Kathleen Cornell Berman’s lyrical passages reveal a boy, a teenager, and a man who embodied music, listening to and absorbing the various sounds around him and incorporating them into his own, unique sound. Her evocative vocabulary (swirl, rollicking, croon, rumbling, far-out, rippling, blizzard of notes, itching to play) and phrasing that blends short staccato lines with longer sentences echoes the rhythm of jazz and will keep readers riveted to the story. Berman emphasizes the listening, practice, and experimentation that informed Miles Davis’s original sound, showing children that innovation is built on hard work, dedication, and even history. Her inclusion of Davis’s setbacks also demonstrates that perseverance is part of the success of any endeavor.

Keith Henry Brown’s gorgeous, detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations take readers from Miles Davis’s living room, where he listens to the radio as images of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington swirl through his imagination, to an overlook on the Mississippi River and its paddlewheel steam ships to the clubs and jam sessions of New York and finally, to the Newport Jazz Festival. Brown’s color palette of cool blues, greens, purples, and browns, punctuated with Davis’s ever-present gleaming brass trumpet, brings Davis’s country and city experiences to life while mirroring the tone and feel of his unique sound. Quotes from Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout the story and set apart with type that looks handwritten, giving his words a personal touch.

Sure to inspire readers to learn more about Miles Davis and listen to his music, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound would be an excellent accompaniment to school music programs, an inspiring book for biography lovers and young musicians of all types, and a beautiful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

Discover more about Kathleen Cornell Berman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Keith Henry Brown, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Kathleen Cornell Berman

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In your author’s bio you say that you fell in love with Mile’s Davis’ music when you were 10 years old. Was there a particular spark that made you love his music?

As a kid I loved all kinds of music. When I first heard Miles’ trumpet sound, I fell in love. His trumpet sound was different. It wasn’t flashy, it was slow, haunting and very beautiful. I longed to hear it again.

Can you take readers on your journey of writing Birth of the Cool and having it published? What kind of research did you do? What was the most surprising thing you learned about Miles Davis?

I was thrilled when I got the email from Charlotte Wenger from Page Street. It’s beyond exciting when you find someone who loves your story as much as you do. And Charlotte was a dream editor to work with.

I read Miles’ autobiography and many other books about him, as well as journal and magazine articles. I listened to countless interviews and researched players in his band. And I listened to his music a lot. He went through many changes in his musical career. I realized I had to keep my focus on his early career. 

I was surprised to learn he had slave ancestors who played music in the main house on a plantation. It was interesting to discover that Miles loved rural life (from his visits to his relatives’ farms). When he first moved to NYC, he visited the stables and asked to ride their horses. He had fond memories of riding them on his grandfather’s farm.

Keith Henry Brown’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and full of expression. Can you talk about your reaction to seeing the illustrations for the first time. Do you have a favorite spread?  

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Kathleen Cornell Berman and Keith Henry Brown at the book launch for Birth of the Cool and the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

My first reaction to Keith’s illustrations was like an “out of the body” experience. To see my words come to life was a wonderful feeling. His art illuminated Miles’ journey in a jazz inspired way. I was very happy when he accepted the job. I already knew he was a jazz fan, so he was a good choice.

Keith’s goal was to create drawings that weren’t too tight or realistic. He wanted to create a loose, abstract feeling. I think Keith achieved that beautifully. Kudos to his courage in creating illustrations in watercolor, a very unpredictable medium. It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite illustration, I really love them all.

Your inspirational biography highlights the ups—and downs—of Miles Davis’ early career. What message would you like readers to take away from the story?

Miles is a great example of how hard work pays off. Some kids today think it’s easy to play an instrument. For some it might be, but inventing your own sound, is extremely difficult. It takes perseverance and dedication to create your own voice on the instrument. That goes for anything you attempt, whether you become an architect, a visual artist, writer, or a singer. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t allow individuality, but finding something, anything that you’re good at can boost happiness.

I hope this story inspires kids to reach for the stars, to find their own voice, and never give up. I also hope kids will take time to listen to jazz; it’s America’s classical music. Listening to music has so many benefits, intellectually as well as emotionally.

I saw on your website that you like to collect words. Can you tell me five of your favorites and what you love about them? Do you remember where they first caught your eye—or ear?

I’m usually attracted to words that tickle the tongue and have a unique sound, like mesmerizing, prickly, crumpled, nuzzle, etc. There are so many. I love alliteration. When words are paired with another, they sing and make the text come alive. I usually have my wordbook at my side as I read any kind of book. I also use my phone memo to jot words as I hear them in daily life.  

Besides writing, you paint, and create assemblages from found objects. Your sculptures are gorgeous and fun and have so much personality! Which came first—writing or art? When creating an assemblage, do you start with one object or do you see how several of the materials you have can fit together?

Thank you very much. Creating found art sculptures is like therapy. I’ve always been into creating something out of ordinary things. The art and writing coincided with a strong desire to break out of the box of being a teacher.

I collect a lot of wood as well as words. When I find a piece that inspires me, I visualize what it might become and I begin the search for a complimentary piece. It’s kind of like doing puzzles.

Is there a similarity for you in constructing a sculpture and creating text for a picture book?

Yes, there is. I look for a seed of an idea that touches my senses or emotions. And in art I choose a piece of wood that inspires me visually. Then it all comes down to layering and adding details that make the story or art shine in a new way. Finally, adding the “just right” color or details can be compared to the continual revisions to discover perfect words that fit my story.

Birth of the Cool is your debut picture book. What are you looking forward to most as a picture book author?

Reading the book to children and getting them to reflect about their feelings. And, of course, introducing them to jazz.

I love writing picture book biographies. I also enjoy writing books that will amuse kids, as well challenge their thoughts about nature.

What’s up next for you?

I have a new picture book bio about another musician that I just started submitting. And I’ve started research on another interesting, relatively unknown musician that had a big impact on many.                                  

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love the traditions and the history. Holidays are so important in bringing busy families together. As a former teacher,             Thanksgiving gave me the opportunity to discuss the importance of the Native American people. They taught us so much. At the Thanksgiving table, we as a family celebrate the Native American contributions to our country. I wish more people did the same.

You can connect with Kathleen Cornell Berman on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Jazz Appreciation Month Activity

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Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle

 

Jazz has a sound and vocabulary all it’s own! Can you find the twenty jazz-related words in this printable puzzle? Then have fun coloring it!

Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle | Cool Jazz! Word Search Solution

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You can find Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 29 – It’s National Month of Hope

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About the Holiday

Founded in 1991, National Month of Hope encourages people to bring hope to those in need both emotionally and physically. Reaching out to let a friend know you’re there for them, volunteering to help out in the community or on a personal level, and simply sharing a smile with those around you are all ways to show others you care. These days, staying in touch online and checking up on family and friends spreads happiness and hope for when we can all be together again. 

Little Mole Finds Hope

Written by Glenys Nellist | Illustrated by Sally Garland

 

Little Mole felt sad. He didn’t know why he felt bad inside, he just did. His mama told him he needed to find hope. Little Mole wondered where. As she took his paw, Mama said, “‘Sometimes, hope is hiding in the darkness. Sometimes it’s hard to see. But it’s always there.'” Mama led her son out of the tunnel, but on the way she pointed out a “brown, wrinkled” bulb hanging from the ceiling. Little Mole thought it was dead.

But Mama explained that that bulb would someday soon become a lovely daffodil. She asked her son to picture it swaying with the breeze, and when he said he could see it, she told him “That is hope.'” When they crawled out of the burrow, Little Mole saw trees without leaves. “They stretched out like skeleton bones silhouetted against the sky.” Little Mole thought they were dead. But Mama explained that buds and then leaves would soon appear. She asked Little Mole to imagine it. With excitement he told her he could see it. Again, Mama said, “‘That is hope.'”

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Image copyright Sally Garland, 2020, text copyright Glenys Nellist, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Mama and her little one continued on past Mr. Rabbit’s garden, where they saw another example of hope hiding in an unexpected place. When they got home, Little Mole was happy.He said he’d had a wonderful day and understood that “there was always hope, even in the darkest places.” Mama tucked her son into bed with a kiss, and Little Mole fell asleep dreaming of the colorful spring to come.

Back matter includes a Discussion Guide for Caretakers that gives them tools for talking about the story, tips on helping a child who feels sad, and how to share their own experiences and where hope can be found.

Glenys Nellist’s uplifting story could not have come at a better time. With children at home and their normal lives disrupted, many may be feeling sad and unusually stressed. While many things have changed, there are still those aspects of life that remain constant. A parent or caregiver’s love is one; signs of spring and summer are another. Nellist’s honest and straightforward storytelling, acknowledges feelings of sadness and the fact that they are often unattributable to any concrete cause. Mama’s gentle acceptance of her son’s emotions and her actions in showing him signs of renewal will resonate with children familiar with the cycles of winter and spring and give adults models for conversations with their own children. Perfectly paced, Nellist’s book provides opportunities for adults and kids to look for other constants in their lives and to reaffirm their love for one another––now and always.

Sally Garland’s textured illustrations, rendered in warm tones that reveal the coziness of the Mole’s home and vibrant, sunny colors as Little Mole imagines springtime, will delight children and draw them into the meaning of the story. As Mama clearly points out the bulb, the bare trees, and a sleepy chrysalis, children will enjoy guessing what each will become and how they represent hope. Readers will also like finding other symbols of hope and signs of Mama’s and Little Mole’s love throughout the story.

Lovely in every way and highly recommended for talking with children about their feelings, Little Mole Finds Hope is a book kids will enjoy for its storytelling and its heart again and again.

Ages 3 – 6

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506448749

Discover more about Glenys Nellist and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Sally Garland, her books, and her art here.

Month of Hope Activity

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Little Mole Finds Hope Activity Pack

 

You can find lots of fun in this printable activity pack found on the Beaming Books website.

Little Mole Finds Hope Activity Pack

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You can find Little Mole Finds Hope at these booksellers

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

 

April 26 – National Tell a Story Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to celebrate the art of storytelling. Highlighting the tradition of oral storytelling, the day encourages families to get together and have fun remembering and sharing family tales. Reading together is another wonderful way to discover your own stories and those of others around the world.

My Bison

By Gaya Wisniewski

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898861

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

National Tell a Story Day Activity

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Tell a Story Maze

 

This puzzle may look like a regular maze, but there’s a secret to it! Within this maze is any story you’d like to make up. Why do you go left instead of right? Are you avoiding a zombie or a rain shower? Why do you go up instead of down? Is it because you can you float? What lurks in that dead end you’ve entered? There are as many cool stories as you can imagine right in those little pathways. And when you find your way to The End, you’ll have written a story with this printable puzzle!

Tell a Story Maze | Tell a Story Maze Solution 

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You can find My Bison at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

Celebrating 50 years of raising awareness of threats to the environment and spurring global action to combat them, Earth Day is the world’s largest civic-focused event. The initiative began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans (10% of the population) demonstrated against the industrialization, pollution, and pesticides that were damaging people and the environment. In response, in July President Nixon and the US Congress created the Environmental Protections Agency and enacted laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act among others. This year’s theme is Climate Action, and the day will be commemorated with a global digital mobilization encompassing conversations, video teach-ins, special performances, calls to action, and more. To learn how you can participate or access resources in your area, visit the official Earth Day website.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

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A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Earth Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

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

April 21 – National Kindergarten Day

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About the Holiday

National Kindergarten Day honors the birthday of Friedrich Wilhelm August Frobel who was born April 21, 1782 and is credited with starting the very first Kindergarten in Germany in 1837. Recognizing that children learn through play and experience, Frobel established a foundation for modern education. The first kindergarten in America was opened by Margarethe Schurtz in 1856 in Watertown, Wisconsin. Kindergarten became part of some public school systems in 1873. Even though kids aren’t in their regular classes right now, we still celebrate all of their achievements, creativity, and love of fun. Little ones’ enthusiasm and natural empathy can make them great teachers too—as today’s book shows.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of Kindergarrrten Bus to check out. All opinions are my own.

Kindergarrrten Bus

Written by Mike Ornstein | Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry

 

As the little tykes climb the plank into the kindergarten school bus, they’re met by a most unusual driver. He has a hook hand, a peg leg, a curly beard, a broad-brimmed hat with a parrot perched on the edge, and he greets the first little boy like this: “Ahoy, boy! What? It be ye first day of kindergarrrten? Well, don’t worry, laddie—it be me first day as a bus driverrr!” The pirate shows the kids to their seats and lays down the rules. Any infractions…. Well, Polly will tell ya: “Raaaaa, mutiny!”

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The kids don’t seem too sure of this turn of events. They each talk about how they miss their family, their pets, their toys, and how it’s all a little scary. But the pirate will have “no blubberin’ on me bus! Pirates don’t get scared! We eat bones for supperrr!” he tells them. And as far as them missing their moms and dads? “We ain’t got time for that fluffy stuff!” he says. So the bus takes off, and the driver sings a ditty about brave these little buccaneers are as they go.

But the route turns as bumpy as a churning sea with potholes that rattle Polly so much she flies out the window…I mean “winderrr.” The pirate wails after his parrot, “Waaaa arrrgh waaaa arrrgh!” Then the bus comes to a screeching halt amid a pirate melt-down. “I can’t drive me bus without me sweet snuggly Polly! I can’t do it, I tells ya! I can’t! I can’t I can’t!”

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Everyone piles out, and the kids try to reassure the poor driver, reminding him of all the things he told them. Turns out that ol’ pirate “was only hornswogglin’” and that he considers himself “nothin’ but a scared, blubberin’ boob of a buccaneer.” The kids are empathetic and reassuring, and pretty soon the pirate is feeling better about things.

Back on the bus, the little ditty is less bravado and more true bravery. As they pull up at the X, where “the treasure of all treasures” awaits the kids, the pirate gives one more lesson before letting all those little “scoundrels walk the plank—errr, I mean, exit the bus.” But why is a pirate driving a school bus? one little boy wants to know. Well, that answer may surprise you and it be somethin’ ye just have to see for yourself!

An afterword from the author discussing tips for talking with kids about fears and worries follows the story.

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Could Mike Ornstein actually be a pirate? I’m thinking yes! His ease with Pirate-ese makes this dialogue-rich story a comical treasure that will have kids “Harrr, harrr, harrr-ing” at every twist and turn in the book—and lucky for them, there’s a whole loot of those. Scrumptious words like “blubberin’, hornswogglin’, landlubbers,” and “blue-footed booby bird” as well as a liberal sprinkling of rrrrs make this book a joyful read-aloud that kids will clamor to participate in. Nuggets of reassurance about “rrrespect,” admitting fears and worries, and enjoying school are pure gold.

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kevin M. Barry’s wide-eyed, rakish kids and scallywag of a bus driver are the perfect companions on this hilarious journey to the first day of kindergarten. The school bus—a wooden jalopy with porthole windows, a ship’s wheel steering wheel, and a teddy bear jolly roger—comes to a tipping point when the pirate’s beloved Polly flies the coop. As the pirate dramatically looks to the skies and admits his false bravado, the kids—skeptical, astonished, and empathetic—look on. While one curly-haired little girl reassures the pirate, the other kids channel their own bravery and get ready to have a fun day at school. Readers will love the expressive faces, small details (a fish-skeleton belt buckle, a girl’s “I Got This” t-shirt), and, of course, ruffled Polly.

Kindergarrrten Bus is a rip-roarin’ yarn with a heart of gold that will get kids and grown-ups laughing and talking about feelings, fears, and the fact that everyone gets scared sometimes. A go-to book for fun story times and moments when a little more encouragement is needed, Kindergarrrten Bus would be a favorite on home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363988

To learn more about Kevin M. Barry, his books, and his art on his website.

National Kindergarten Day Activity

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Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze

 

Join the crew of scallywags to pick up supplies on your way to finding a treasure chest full of gold in this printable maze.

Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze Puzzle | Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze Solution

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You can find Kindergarrrten Bus at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 11 – National Submarine Day

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About the Holiday

Today we commemorate the day in 1900 when the United States Navy acquired its first modern commissioned submarine, the Holland VI. The vessel was designed in 1896 by John Phillip Holland, an Irish-American inventor, and launched in 1897 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was later purchased by the U.S. Navy and commissioned on October 12 with Lieutenant Harry H. Caldwell commanding. It was renamed the USS Holland (SS-1). Submarines are now employed not only for military purposes but for scientific research as well. To celebrate, learn more about the history and service of these vessels. You can even take a virtual tour of the USS Torsk – part of the fleet of Historic Boats in Baltimore, Maryland.

Boats Will Float

Written by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum | Illustrated by Brett Curzon

 

As the sun rises, “boats are bobbing in the bay, / waiting to be on their way. / Longing for the reaching tide. / Needing to explore and glide.” The day is clear and the sun shines brightly on fishing boats, where fishermen pull up their nets and drop their lines, and dragon boats, where rowers steer the boat to the rhythm of the drum. Captains hail each other as their boats pass on the way out to the open ocean. Seagulls swoop and call out too.

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Image copyright Brett Curzon, 2020, text copyright Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At a family picnic, the “speedboat launches human kite.” Is that Grandma taking flight? The ocean’s busy on this day with tugboats, a tanker, and an old-fashioned schooner. A fireboat’s needed to put some smoldering out. The coast guard is keeping the water safe while cruise ship passengers spy “passing pods of spouting whales.”

A research vessel way out to sea launches scientists and divers to learn more about what lies beneath. While “far below, a submarine, / working hard to stay unseen, / travels at a steady pace, housing sailors, short on space.” A trawler rounds a rocky shore where a lighthouse warns of dangers below. Nighttime brings a starlit sail and a houseboat rocks its family to sleep. “Safely moored in dreams all night– / Boats will float…toward morning’s light.”

An illustrated glossary telling more about each of the sixteen boats in the story follows the text.

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Image copyright Brett Curzon, 2020, text copyright Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A day on the water has never felt so inviting as in Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s engaging tale of boats big and small sailing the ocean for work and pleasure. Rosenbaum introduces young readers to a community of boats all enjoyed by industrious and enthusiastic skippers, sailors, paddlers, and even a dog or two. Her lyrical storytelling brings the sights, sounds, and flowing rhythms of the sea inside for rousing and educational story times while the cozy nightly routine of the family who lives in a houseboat makes for snuggly bedtime reading.

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Image copyright Brett Curzon, 2020, text copyright Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

You can almost feel the salty breeze in Brett Curzon’s bright and charming illustrations that place the boats in tranquil waters and amid roiling waves. Whitecaps and frothy spray, leaping dolphins and whales, and circling seagulls looking for a treat create a vivid experience for readers. Curzon faithfully recreates each vessel with clear details that will enthrall kids. The fun of the dragon boats, drama of the fireboat, and porthole view from the submarine will enchant readers. The nighttime sail by a child and father is gorgeously lit by an explosion of stars, a vibrant moon, and the stalwart lighthouse and buoy that guides them.

A captivating introduction to boats, work, and life on the sea for vehicle lovers and any child, Boats Will Float, will be a favorite for story times and as a take along on ocean, lake, river, and other outings.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110410

Discover more about Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and her books on her website.

National Submarine Day Activity

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Boats Will Float Activity Page

Set sail with this Boats Will Float Activity Page available to download from Sleeping Bear Press.

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You can find Boats Will Float at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

  |Picture Book Review