April 19 – Banana Day

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About the Holiday

It seems people are somewhat split on this most appealing holiday—is it a day for enjoying the tasty tropical fruit or a day for goofing off? Why not do both?! Bananas offer plenty of nutrition and flavor in their own tidy, take-along package, and they’ve been the subject of humorous skits as long as people have been tossing the peels to the ground. Today, grab a bunch and head out to have some fun at a park, playground, shoreline, or even back deck near you!  

Bananas in My Ears: A Collection of Nonsense Stories, Poems, Riddles, and Rhymes

Written by Michael Rosen | Illustrated by Quentin Blake

 

Things may go from the ridiculous to the sublime or from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the rhymes, stories, poems, and jokes in this collection are both ridiculous and sublime. Divided into four sections—The Breakfast Book, The Seaside Book, The Doctor Book, and The Bedtime Book—these bite-sized tales will nibble at your funny bone.

Each book includes six to seven short pieces that humorously reveal the inner workings of familial and community relationships. Recurring titles “What if…,” “Things We Say,” and “Nat and Anna” sibling stories tie the books together. The tone for Bananas in My Ears is set with aplomb in the very first offering, “Breakfast Time,” which reveals the chaos of early morning with its spilled milk, banging trash cans, pets on the table, school clothes ruined, and “I think I’m going crazy!” shenanigans. 

“What If…” (Breakfast Book) combines kids’ natural penchant for rhyming with their unbounded imagination and a bit of stream-of-consciousness to boot. Just as a little boy is to bite into a piece of toast, he has this thought: “What if / a piece of toast turned into a piece of ghost / just as you were eating it / and you thought you were going to sink your / teeth into a lovely crunchy piece of hot toast / and butter and instead this cold wet feeling / jumps into your mouth / going, / ‘Whoooooooooooooooooooo!’ / right down into your stomach…”

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Image copyright Quentin Blake, text copyright Michael Rosen, 2012. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Adding speech bubbles and expressive art to commonly used phrases in “Things We Say” transforms throw-off lines like “My hair’s a mess,” “Look what I found,” “You can’t lie there all morning,” and “Now what seems to be the trouble?” into self-deprecating humor all can relate to.

Four stories of Nat and his older sister Anna zero in on particular moments that illuminate the sibling relationship, At once opposed and in sync, Nat and Anna negotiate moments in which Anna is put in charge of watching Nat at breakfast with topsy-turvy results; a frightening story that Anna tells Nat about jellyfish somehow backfires; a trip to the doctor turns into a competition about future professions; and a “who’s-on-first” type banter allows Anna to enjoy some alone time.

“Three Girls” is a clever take on outwitting-an-ogre tales. Three girls walking on the beach come across a cave. One girl goes in and “sees a pile of gold sitting on the rocks, so she thinks, ‘Yippee, gold, all for me!’ And she steps forward to pick it up and a great big voice booms out ‘I’m the ghost of Captain Cox. All that gold stays on the rocks.’” Afraid, she runs out of the cave. The second girl is braver. She enters the cave, sees the gold, hears the same booming voice and is also chased away. Undeterred, the third girl walks into the cave, sees the gold, and hears the booming voice of Captain Cox. Instead of running away, however, she says, “‘I don’t care. I’m the ghost of Davy Crocket, and all that gold goes in my pocket.’” With her treasure secured she hightails it out to join her friends.

Among other fun stories in this volume are: “These Two Children,” with a lively recitation of familiar bedtime routines; “Fooling Around,” that offers light rhymes on children’s names; and another “What If” (the Breakfast Book) that will have kids cracking up —“What if / hard-boiled eggs turned into hard-boiled legs / just when your dad was eating his egg / and he says, / ‘Hey, what’s this?’…”

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Image copyright Quentin Blake, text copyright Michael Rosen, 2012. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Michael Rosen understands, as kids do, that sometimes nonsense makes perfect sense and that even the commonplace is quite absurd when you think about it. This collection of witticisms is sure to resonate with children. Just hand a child this book and get ready for giggles—and, oh yes, adults will chuckle too.

In his colorful pen and ink drawings the inimitable Quentin Blake enlivens each piece with rakish kids, wide-eyed parents, sloppy messes, bouncing, jumping joy, and all the silliness that contributes to having a great day. “An accident waiting to happen” doesn’t begin to describe the bedlam ensuing in “What Happens Next?” as each character and object is set up to play their part in an oh-so-human game of dominoes. Kids will love seeing themselves and the world around them so candidly drawn, and adults will appreciate the whimsical sophistication of the same.

Ages 5 and up

Candlewick Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-0763662486

Banana Day Activity

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Banana Banana Bread recipe, courtesy of allrecipes.com.

Banana Banana Bread

 

How can you go wrong with a recipe that includes so many bananas they have to be listed twice in the name? You can’t! This simple, yet delicious banana bread from Allrecipes satisfies the munchies at breakfast or snack time! Try it toasted—you’ll be sure to cheer B-A-N-A-N-A-S! Click here to begin enjoying Allrecipes Banana Banana Bread.

Picture Book Review

April 2 – Peanut Butter and Jelly Day

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About the Holiday

Those Aztecs! Is there nothing they couldn’t invent? Culinary aficionados from kindergarten to gourmet chefs have the Aztecs to thank for peanut butter—that smooth (or chunky, or super chunky) concoction that is perfect by itself or as an ingredient in complex dishes. The Aztecs created their version by grounding roasted peanuts into a paste.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are thought to have originated during the American Civil War, when soldiers combined their peanut butter ration with their jelly ration and slathered it all on bread. After the war peanut butter sales skyrocketed as everyone discovered what a delicious and nutritious delight this simple meal was. To celebrate today, make yourself a PB & J sandwich!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale

Written by Joe McGee | Illustrated by Charles Santoso

 

Reginald was surrounded by culinary boredom. All “the other zombies wanted brains for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” but Reginald really dug peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The people of Quirkville weren’t too keen on the zombies’ preferred meal either. Whenever the zombies lumbered through town groaning “BRAINSSSSS,” everyone ran away screaming.

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Image copyright Charles Santoso, text copyright Joe McGee. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

Poor Reginald didn’t join the herd. His stomach was too rumbly and grumbly, “and all he could do was dream about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. ‘Sweet jelly…,’ moaned Reginald. ‘Sticky peanut butter…’” Sakes alive! The other zombies couldn’t understand. “‘No BRAINSSSSS?’” they asked. Reginald tried to explain how delicious peanut butter and jelly was, but the other zombies wouldn’t listen.

Reginald tried to satisfy his craving at the local café, but the man behind the counter just pointed to a sign that said “No Zombies Allowed.” In the school cafeteria, the lunch lady just plopped “a hunk of meatloaf” on his plate that looked disturbingly like brains. Reginald even went to the store to buy the ingredients himself, but when he got to the cash register, he had no money. No money meant no peanut butter, no jelly, and no bread.

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Image copyright Charles Santoso, text copyright Joe McGee. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

Then Reginald spied Abigail Zink with a lunch bag in her grasp. He “recognized the familiar jelly stain that was seeping through the paper bag” and made his move. At the same time, the “zombie horde shuffled and shambled around the corner” straight for Abigail, who had her nose in a book and took no notice of the danger. The other townspeople froze, and in that moment Reginald dashed forward and grabbed Abigail’s sack. He could practically taste the deliciousness inside.

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Image copyright Charles Santoso, text copyright Joe McGee. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

“Little Abigail Zink let out a shriek, the mayor’s poodle yipped and yapped, and the townspeople all screamed, ‘ AHHHHH!’” Reginald knew that if the other zombies had just one taste of peanut butter and jelly, they would change their minds about brains. Reginald held Abigail’s sandwich aloft and yelled, “‘BRAINS!’” The zombies crowded around as Reginald tossed the sandwich in the air.

Reginald had been right. With one taste, the zombies declared peanut butter and jelly “‘better than brains.’” Suddenly, the townspeople realized that the zombies were just hungry. With peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their tummies, the zombies became valued parts of Quirkville. The townspeople were happy, the zombies were happy, and Reginald? Well, he was still a little different. While the zombies now enjoyed PB and J, he “had moved on to…PIZZA.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peanut-butter-and-brains-zombie-horde

Image copyright Charles Santoso, text copyright Joe McGee. Courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

Joe McGee’s tradition-bucking zombie offers a sweet wake-up call to anyone sleepwalking through life doing and liking the same things over and over while they follow the herd (or horde). McGee’s humorous descriptions of the marauding zombies and the townspeople’s reactions will have kids giggling all the way through the story. The resolution to Quirkville’s predicament is deliciously “brainy,” and Reginald’s continued individuality makes for a surprising and satisfying ending.

Charles Santoso knows that most families have one or two zombies of their own who latch onto a favorite food and won’t let go. His stitched up, shaggy haired, raggedy clothed child zombies are adorable, and kids will love finding their favorite among the horde. Clever touches, such as a pirate zombie and a zombie cat, as well as the screaming townspeople will make readers laugh.

For the walking hungry, Peanut Butter & Jelly Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale is sure to be ordered from the book cupboard again and again for fun story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Harry N. Abrams, 2015 | ISBN 978-1419712470

Discover more about Joe McGee and his books on his website!

View a gallery of work by Charles Santoso on his website!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Day Activity

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins, recipe from Erica’s Sweet Tooth, ericasweettooth.com.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins from Erica’s Sweet Tooth

 

Searching for a delicious alternative to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—one that’s perfect for breakfast, lunch, or as an in between sweet? Look no further than this scrumptious recipe from Erica’s Sweet Tooth! Made with creamy peanut butter, your favorite berry preserves, and a luscious crumble, these muffins will satisfy your PB & J cravings.

Click here for Erica’s Sweet Tooth Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

Picture Book Review

March 2 – Read Across America Day

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About the Holiday

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Read Across America Day, which is sponsored by the National Education Association and promotes the joy and discovery that reading provides. Not only is reading fun, studies show that reading to a child from birth improves literacy and language development and leads to a lifelong love for books. Today, visit your local bookstore or library and find some new books to share—or grab some favorites off your shelf and enjoy them again!

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling

By Timothy Basil Ering

 

Captain Alfred was sailing home with his boat filled with ducks for his farm. “Nestled safe inside his fiddle case” was one nearly ready-to-hatch egg—a surprise present for his wife. Captain Alfred already had a name picked out for the little one—Alfred Fiddleduckling—and he knew this baby would be very special. But suddenly a “mighty gale whipped the seas into a raging fury” and tossed the little boat and its occupants to and fro. When the storm had blown itself out, a thick, impenetrable fog descended over the ocean.

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Image and text copyright Timothy Basil Ering, courtesy of Candlewick Press

From the porch of a small cottage on the shore’s edge, a woman looked out to sea as “tears of worry dropped from her cheeks, into the mist.” Baby Alfred, however, unaware of these events and hidden by the fog, hatched as the fiddle case floated on the now-calm water. The little duckling looked around and saw something in the water nearby. He paddled out to it and even though it took no notice of him, Alfred “embraced the object with all of his heart.” He “caressed it so that it would not feel as lonely as he did ” and was surprised to hear a most beautiful and unexpected sound.

Alfred immediately fell in love—and imagined that his love was reciprocated. The two drifted along, buoyed by the waves until Alfred’s feet touched ground in a spooky swamp. In a moment, however, the comforting music began again. The sounds, so unexpected in this mist-shrouded swamp, reached the ears of “a beast that was lurking in the tall grasses.” The Beast bounded in the direction of the sound and found Alfred and his love. With drool dripping from its jaws, the beast came closer. Alfred shook, and in his fear “his music became fast and wild!”

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Image and text copyright Timothy Basil Ering, courtesy of Candlewick Press

The beast stood on his hind two legs, rising high and menacing above tiny Alfred and…began to dance. The dog had missed his master’s fiddle playing and he now found a best friend in Alfred. The two trekked through the swamp, searching for home and becoming cold, wet, and helpless as the hours stretched on. The fiddle quivered with music that was as sad and helpless as the two wanderers.

But someone heard those quiet strains—the woman on the porch of the little cottage. “She ran through the fog, straight toward the sound of Alfred’s fiddle. She wrapped her arms around her dog and marveled at the special duckling and his music. “‘Don’t ever stop playing your wonderful music,’” she told Alfred. Alfred played with abandon, pouring out all the happiness in his heart. Out on the sea a raft of ducks and one very surprised captain heard the music…and you can guess what happened next!

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Image copyright Timothy Basil Ering, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Timothy Basil Ering’s wonderfully unique tale of a ship-wrecked duckling and a fiddle who together make beautiful music that reunites a family is captivating. The story holds just the right amount of surprise, suspense, and heart to keep young children riveted to what happens next. Ering’s lyrical phrasing is music to readers’ ears and conveys the various melodies—sweet, quivering, poignant, tempestuous, and finally joyful—that carry the story from one event to another.

Ering’s full-bleed illustrations begin with bright vibrancy that gives way to gauzy grays as the fog rolls in. Despite the weather or ominous surroundings, Alfred remains a bright spot, his yellow fuzz and the multi-colored notes a glowing beacon in the dark. Little readers will love following the confetti notes of Alfred’s playing and guessing the next twist in the plot. The star of the story, plucky little Alfred, is a cutie as  with empathy he embraces the fiddle and bravely ventures through sea and swamp to find home.

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling is joyful, mysterious, and humorous tribute to friendship, love, and the unexpected that would make a great gift and an often-read addition to children’s home libraries.

Ages 2 – 6

Candlewick Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763664329

Read Across America Day Activity

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Snuggle-in Mug Cookie Treat

 

Snuggling up and reading is made even better with a quick and tasty treat! Make this warm mug cookie that takes only minutes to put together and then settle in for some favorite or new stories! Here’s a delicious recipe from Food.com for you to try!

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • ½ Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Tablespoons dark or milk chocolate chips
  • 1 Pinch salt

Directions

  1. Place butter and milk in a microwavable mug. Microwave for 30 seconds to melt the butter and warm the milk.
  2. Stir in the brown sugar and vanilla extract.
  3. Mix in flour, chocolate chips, and salt.
  4. Microwave for about 1 minute on High. (Cooking time is based on the texture of cookie you like)
  5. Cool for 5 minutes before serving
  6. Add toppings such as ice cream, whipped cream, or hot fudge or chocolate sauce

Picture Book Review

February 25 – Clam Chowder Day

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About the Holiday

Today we laud that cozy concoction of clams, onion, and potatoes that creates a warm, satisfied feeling in the tummy and is the perfect antidote to winter’s chill. Whether you like New England style clam chowder with its rich, creamy base or the lighter tomato-based Manhattan version, this delicious soup is sure to hit the spot!

Blue Moon Soup: A Family Cookbook

Recipes by Gary Goss | Illustrated by Jane Dyer

 

“Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, / Waiting in a hot tureen! / Who for such dainties would not stoop? / Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!” With these words from Lewis Carroll, Blue Moon Soup introduces 33 delectable soup recipes plus some extras to go with them all wrapped up in the comfort and splendor of a picture book. The clever names of the soups will have kids giggling and eager to try such intriguing dishes as Twist & Shout, Polka Dot Soup, Bouncy, Bouncy Ball Soup, Squish-Squash Soup, and Funny Face Soup.

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Image copyright Jane Dyer, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

Categorized by seasons, these soups make use of familiar as well as more unusual ingredients while sprinkling in kid-inspired surprises like the ice cream in Believe It or Not! Soup, which is a yummy alternative to the usual frozen version of this favorite treat. Hey, Hey Soup, a “hot and jazzy sweet potato soup named after a great jazz club in Kansas City,” incorporates the flavors of curry while on top floats a chocolate garnish.

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Image copyright Jane Dyer, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

A few offerings from Winter are Ch-Ch-Chili; Brrroccoli Soup au Gratin; Hot Diggity Dog Soup, a tasty minestrone with a hot dog addition; and Sob Soup, an onion soup that will have you crying with joy. Spring brings (No) Duck Soup, a lentil pleaser; Soup of the Evening, a sophisticated feta cheese and spinach dish; Sweet Dreams Soup made from carrots; and Abracadabra, a soup with more than a little magic.

Summer’s active days are perfect for a quick lunch or dinner, and Best Buddy Soup of tomatoes and oranges is a fast goodie to cook—and share. Fruit makes another appearance in You Can’t Elope, made from—you guessed it—cantaloupe, and if you like to bask in the sun, you may love Bisque in the Sun, a creamy pool complete with a couple of shrimp. Before winter rolls around again, Fall drops with veggie-inspired soups made of potatoes, cabbage, pumpkins, squash, and peas.

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Image copyright Jane Dyer, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

And what about our honored soup of the day—clam chowder? That’s here too in Fish Soup, garnished with goldfish crackers.

An Extra, Extra, Eat All About It! final chapter provides recipes for banana bread, corn muffins, salad, guacamole, nachos, and other delicious sides that make a well-rounded meal. Front matter gives a list of supplies, rules for working in the kitchen, and directions for setting a table.

Gary Goss, former owner of the Soup Kitchen Restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts knows about soup and kids and what they like. In his Letter from the Chef that opens Blue Moon Soup, Goss talks about the warm, cozy feelings and good memories “soup day” creates and offers tips for making the cooking experience with kids easy and fun. Most recipes call for ingredients usually found in kitchens or easily picked up at the market and have fewer than ten steps to prepare them—steps that kids will enjoy helping with.

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Image copyright Jane Dyer, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

Jane Dyer’s gorgeous illustrations populated with attentive fish waiters; lamb and lion best friends; a duck and ducklings fishing from the rim of a huge bowl; rabbits serving gazpacho; a cow, cat and, dog jazz trio; and more open each seasonal chapter and introduce some recipes. Each page is also peppered with adorable images of personified vegetables dancing, playing, cooking, and lounging that will charm little chefs as they help in the kitchen. Families may even find themselves making up stories about the characters in the book while the soup simmers.

Blue Moon Soup, a multi-award winning book, would make a delicious and often-consulted addition to anyone’s collection of cookbooks and a wonderful way to introduce kids to the art of cooking.

Ages 7 and up

Sky Pony Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-1620879900

Discover more about Jane Dyer and a gallery of her well-loved children’s books on her website!

Clam Chowder Day Activity

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Souper Word Search Puzzle

Find the names of 20 ingredients in this tasty printable Souper Word Search Puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

Picture Book Review

February 11 – It’s Bake for Family Fun Month

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About the Holiday

Mid-winter is a perfect time to get out your favorite recipes, gather yummy ingredients, and bake with your kids! Not only does baking together teach valuable cooking skills, but it can bring a family closer. Talk about old family recipes and find new favorites. Of course the best part of baking together is eating the delicious treats afterward!

Baking Day at Grandma’s

Written by Anika Denise | Illustrated by Christopher Denise

 

Three little cubs bundle up in their winter coats, hats, scarves, and mittens and head out over the snowy hills to Grandma’s for baking day. Soon they see “past the pond so smooth and clear / little cottage drawing near.” A knock on Grandma’s door brings her closer, and when she opens the door the trio give her a kiss before entering the snug home.

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, courtesy of Philomel Books

After warming their toes by the fire, the young bears grab the cookbook, a mixing bowl, a spoon, and a whisk because “It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / at Grandma’s!” As her little bakers stand on chairs to reach the table, Grandma passes out aprons and reads the recipe. Happily crowded around the bowl, the cubs with “wooden spoon and measuring cup, / mix the batter; stir it up. / Fold it gently in the pan, / lick the spoon because we can.”

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, courtesy of Philomel Books

While they wait for their treats to bake, Grandma pours tummy-warming mugs of hot chocolate and one little bear draws a smiley face on the frosty window for a little chickadee to see. Grandma puts a record on her old Victrola, and as she sings the “soft and sweet skippy notes,” the cubs tap their feet. At last the kitchen timer rings, and the little bears dance arm in arm because “It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / at Grandma’s!”

The chocolate goodies pop from the pan, and with icing and sprinkles are ready to be wrapped and tied with a red ribbon. Other treats get pretty bags, “each one marked with little tags.” The cubs are also bundled nice and warm, and with final hugs for Grandma, they are soon “Walking home under the moon. / Back to visit Grandma soon.”

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, courtesy of Philomel Books

Anika Denise’s sweet, rhyming story is as heartwarming as a cozy kitchen on a cold day. The buoyant rhythm is a joy to read, and Denise’s infectious repeated verse, “It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / at Grandma’s!” invites little ones to join in the story. The bond between the three cubs and their grandma is full of love and hugs, and just like the young bears, readers will want to return again and again to Grandma’s house.

Christopher Denise infuses his winter landscapes and Grandma’s house with rich, warm colors that welcome readers into this special family baking day. The three cubs, wrapped in green coats and red knit caps, march with their sled over brilliant white snowy hills between their house and Grandma’s tidy log cabin. Inside, the rooms glow with golden sunshine, and it’s easy to see why the cubs love their attentive grandma so as she gently guides them in baking.

Newly available as a board book, Baking Day at Grandma’s is a book that young children will love to hear over and over at story time, naptime, or bedtime. It would also make an appreciated gift to or from a grandmother.

Ages 2 – 5

Philomel Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-0399171574 (board book) / 978-0399242441 (hardcover)

Learn more about Anika Denise and her books and find Reader Engagement and Activity Kits on her website!

Discover the illustrated world of Christopher Denise on his website!

Spend time baking with Grandma with this sweet book trailer!

Bake for Family Fun Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Grandma—and they’ll become your favorite confection too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

Picture Book Review

January 22 – Celebration of Life Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to give parents, grandparents, and caregivers a nudge to step back and look at our children and grandchildren as the unique individuals they are. Each child has a special personality and innate talents that combine to make them who they are. Today, celebrate each child’s exceptional character! Ask your children what they want from life, what their opinions are, and what is important to them. Then incorporate some of those things into your daily life!

Cake Day

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Estelle Corke

 

An adorable little boy runs to his grandma, excited that it’s “Cake Day!” “That’s right,” his grandma agrees, “Today we’re going to bake a cake!” The boy, hardly able to see over the counter, wants to be picked up and see what’s in the cabinet. His grandma happily obliges, and the pair carefully pick the ingredients for their cake together.

“‘Hmmm…we need flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar to make a cake,’ says Grandma.” With all the ingredients set on the table, the two start measuring. The little chef is eager and curious: “‘Cake Day! How much, Grandma?’” he asks. As Grandma pours the flour into the cup and a soft, powdery cloud envelops them, the delighted boy laughs, “‘Too much, Grandma!’” The two work happily side by side, with Grandma adding the eggs while her grandson pours in the milk.

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Image copyright Estelle Corke, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy Star Bright Books, 2016

As the ingredients start to mesh, Grandma exclaims, “‘Look! What’s happening to the batter?’” The little boy wants to help it along and takes up the wooden spoon. Round and round he stirs, creating swirls in the yellow batter until it’s ready for the oven. “‘Bake day! Your turn, Grandma!” the boy says and stands wide-eyed as his grandma slides the deep pan into the oven. 

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Image copyright Estelle Corker, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy of Star Bright Books, 2016

The little boy and his dog settle in front of the oven to watch the cake bake. With keen expectation the boy asks, “‘Cake day! Ready, Grandma?” Grandma encourages her grandson’s inquisitiveness and explains the process: “‘We have to wait until the cake rises. The heat makes it rise. When you hear the timer go BEEP BEEP it will be ready.’” At last the cake comes out of the oven, but it’s not ready to be decorated yet. First, they must wait for it to cool.

In a short time the high, golden cake can be iced and decorated. The little boy vigorously shakes a jar of sprinkles over the top, scattering a rainbow of colors across the white frosting. The cake is beautiful and just the right complement to the little boy’s Cake Day, Bake Day, Shake Day—Birthday!

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Image copyright Estelle Corke, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy Star Bright Books, 2016

Ellen Mayer’s language-rich and playful story of a small child and his grandmother baking together is a wonderful introduction not only to reading but to the type of full-sentence conversational modeling that improves and increases literacy. The steps to baking the birthday cake flow organically and lyrically through the loving relationship between the little boy and his grandma, enticing young readers to learn more about the world around them and how it works. The repeated phrases “Cake day! Bake day!,” and “Ready, Grandma?” as well as the boy’s short statements offer opportunities for kids to read along and learn new vocabulary as they develop important language skills.

Estelle Corke’s cheery illustrations glow with enthusiasm and the close bond between grandmother and grandson. The grandmother lifts, steadies, and holds the boy while still allowing him to perform all the tasks he can. The little boy, in his green apron, delights in every aspect of the baking process, his eagerness expressed in his animated smile and lively participation. The homey kitchen is awash in inviting colors and objects that children will recognize. The clearly drawn boxes and jars of ingredients, kitchen tools, and furnishings offer readers a chance to practice their vocabulary and learn new words.

Ages Birth – 5

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727466

To see more books by Ellen Mayer as well as language development and reading strategies for young children, visit her website!

Visit Estelle Corke’s website to view a gallery of her artwork!

Star Bright Books publishes fiction nonfiction, and bilingual “great books for great kids” and provides literacy resources for readers.

Celebration of Life Day Activity

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Image copyright Ellen Mayer, 2016

Grandma’s Cake

 

Grandma and her grandson baked a delicious, special cake—and now you can too! Invite your child or children to help, and make a Celebration of Life cake decorated just the way they’d like! Here’s the full recipe that Grandma uses. Recipe courtesy of Ellen Mayer.

A Simple Sponge Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus a little to grease cake pan.
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • You will need: 3 mixing bowls:
  1. 1 to cream butter and sugar
  2. 1 to mix flour, baking powder and salt
  3. 1 in which to beat the eggs
  • A 7-inch diameter, deep cake pan

Directions

  1. Butter pan and dust with flour.
  2. Set the rack at the middle of the oven.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  5. In large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In the third bowl, beat the eggs and add milk.
  6. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to butter mixture then alternate with the egg and milk mixture. Continue to alternate ending with flour mixture. Scrape bowl and beater often.
  7. Add vanilla and mix well.
  8. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.
  9. Bake cake about 45 minutes. Insert knife or wooden skewer into the center. If it emerges clean, the cake is done. If not, bake for 5 more minutes.
  10. Remove cake from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes.
  11. Turn cake out onto a cake rack and leave to cool.

Grandma’s Favorite Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1⁄4 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Blend all ingredients together with a mixer until smooth
  2. Spread on the top and sides of cake
  3. Decorate with sprinkles or your favorite topping

Picture Book Review

November 18 – It’s National Pet Awareness Month and Q & A with Author Vikki VanSickle

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About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a dog, cat, bird, or small animal from your local animal shelter. You’ll both benefit!

If I Had a Gryphon

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

Sam gazes at her first pet—a hamster—as he slumbers on his bed of shavings. She’s a little disappointed because mostly all he does is eat, sleep, and hide. She snuggles into her reading chair with a cup of tea and a book of mythical creatures and thinks: “If only I could have a pet / With strange, exotic powers, / I know that I’d find lots to do / To while away the hours.” She considers having a unicorn whose mane she could braid and who she could ride through fields of posies, then remembers that “Unicorns are pretty, / but they’re also very shy. / On second thought, I’d like to give a hippogriff a try.”

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam plans to take her hippogriff to the dog park to “run and jump and fetch” and “to give his wings a stretch.” Considering it again, though, she realizes that the dogs may find a hippogriff scary and that “when it comes to playing ball, / Well, things could get quite hairy.” Instead, she decides to get a sasquatch “with burly, curly fur,” but then she remembers all the time she’d spend brushing out the tangles. A gryphon with “flashing feathers” sounds better until she thinks how she’d have to fly it every day “regardless of the weather.”

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

A kraken would be an unique pet, but to survive the cold, wet depths while playing with it she’d need a scuba suit. A warmer companion might be a dragon, although she thinks with its “temperamental snout / I’d need a fire extinguisher / to put her sneezes out.” A kirin could be a possibility, although it needs an ocean of grass to keep it happy; and a jackalope, while cute, is much, much, much too hoppy.

A phoenix might be an enduring pet, but it “needs a chimney nest / That’s smoke and fire proof” while a “Manticore needs special floss / For EACH and EVERY tooth.” There are oh so many creatures to contemplate—from harpies and chupacabras to fairies and kelpies to basilisks and sprites—but each is problematic in its own way.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam takes another look at the adorable hamster in its cage and reconsiders: “He may not be a gryphon, / Or a creature from the sea, / But I am his and he is mine / And that’s enough for me.”

Vikki VanSickle’s entertaining rhymes frolic, gallop, and prance through her encyclopedic array of fantastic beasts. Her young readers will be delighted that the fun of an imaginary menagerie is not just for the older set and will eagerly await each newly considered pet. VanSickle includes all the favorite mystical creatures, plus fascinating new ones that will spark kids’ imaginations and have them scrambling to find out more about them. The juxtaposition of attractive and less so traits of each possible pet adds a nip of humor to the verses that will make kids giggle. Sam’s ultimate realization that her hamster is the perfect companion is a sweet ending that reaffirms readers’ own relationship with their pets.

Cale Atkinson’s Sam is already a dreamer when she acquires her hamster. Her mug of tea sports a picture of a narwhal, her bookmark is a paper-thin dragon, and the book of Mythological Creatures that she consults is already well-thumbed. As the little girl with the square-rimmed glasses contemplates each creature as pet, Atkinson presents an illustration that is both humorous and beautiful. The hippogriff with its bird legs in front and horse legs in back is a gorgeous hue of blue, but it’s expressive reaction to seeing the dogs at the park as well as its enthusiasm to play along also causes the dogs to hide behind a tree; the sasquatch is a cutie, but he also snarls her bike, her bed, trees, and road signs in its thick brown hair; and a turquoise dragon may shimmer with lovely scales, but it also chars walls and furniture. Despite its apparent sloth, Sam’s hamster actually is the perfect pet—besides, he might have a secret of his own!

If I Had a Griffin is a fun romp through a mystical realm of pets that kids will love to hear again and again. The book would be a welcome addition to kids’ bookshelves, especially if they have older siblings enjoying that other series that features magical creatures!

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498099

To learn more about Vikki VanSickle and her books as well as to download an If I Had a Gryphon Activity Guide and coloring page, visit her website!

National Pet Awareness Month Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Treats

 

Pets love it when you do something special for them! Here’s a recipe for homemade dog biscuits that will taste even better than store-bought because they’re made with love! Making dog biscuits is a fun way to spend time together and benefit furry friends. These biscuits make tasty treats for your own pet, or consider making a batch to donate to your local animal shelter. This recipe is easy and proven to be a favorite.

Children should get help from an adult when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog biscuits or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, 1 Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits

Q & A with Author Vikki VanSickle

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Today I’m pleased to talk with Vikki VanSickle about her books for kids and tweens, her influences, and the unique place she draws inspiration from.

What were your favorite picture books growing up?

My mind was absolutely blown by Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall. It was likely the first mystery I was exposed to and I have loved mysteries ever since. This is a perfect example of text and illustration working together. Nothing in the text explains the true identity of Viola Swamp (what a name!), but there are hints in the illustration. It takes a certain kind of genius to make readers side with the adult—a beleaguered teacher—instead of the children in the book

Teddy Rabbit by Kathy Stinson and Stephane Poulin really spoke to me because like the main character, I had a teddy rabbit instead of a teddy bear. It also spoke to my deep fear of the subway. Growing up in a small town I was equally fascinated and terrified by the big city. I found Toronto loud, overwhelming, and very fast-paced. The subway in particular was frightening, and the idea of dropping my beloved Bunny on the tracks was as high stakes as it gets. If little Vikki knew that she would grow up to take the subway every day (without fear or incident, in fact I look forward to the extra reading time) she would not believe it.

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Lastly, Steven Kellogg’s Pinkerton books, Pinkerton, Behave and A Rose for Pinkerton were also favourites of mine. I have always loved pet stories, and the giant, clumsy Great Dane with a heart of gold totally captivated me. Especially when he meets his match in tiny but fierce Rose, a kitten after my own heart.

You’ve said that the idea for If I Had a Gryphon grew out of an observation at a bookshop story time. Can you tell me a little about that?

I used to watch my colleague Elaine create actual magic during story time. I was fascinated with which books resonated with the kids. It wasn’t always the ones that I expected. You don’t know how a book will land until you see it read aloud to children. Two things became clear: rhyme was always a hit (plus it was so fun to read) and pet stories were perennial favourites.

At the same time, I had a lot of little customers with older siblings who were obsessed with Harry Potter. They wanted to share in their older siblings’ love of the series, but when I went looking for good storybooks featuring similar creatures I came up short. There were lots of stories about dragons and unicorns, and some beautiful anthologies about mythological creatures, but no storybooks for the youngest readers. I’m a Harry Potter and mythology fan myself, and decided to write a sort of primer to magical pets.

Which of the mythical creatures that you mention in your book do you like best? Why?

This is a tricky one! Before I saw Cale’s illustrations I would have said a phoenix or gryphon, because I think they’re such majestic and fiercely beautiful creatures. But then the art came in and I found myself totally charmed by the enthusiasm of poor hippogriff, who just wants to play ball. I also love that cuddly-looking sasquatch, I think he’d make a great reading buddy.

You mention in your bio that you liked to go to flea markets when you were growing up. Do you have a favorite item that you found at one? Why is it special?

I am like a kid in a candy store at a flea market—I hardly know where to start and I could spend all day browsing through tables and shelves of random objects. It is such a rich source of story ideas that it’s almost overwhelming. Did that trunk come from overseas? Why? When? Who did it belong to? What does the inscription in this book mean? Who wore that wedding dress, and what happened at the party? How did that teddy bear rip its jacket? The possibilities are endless.

I didn’t bring the treasures home very often, it was enough to ponder the ideas they inspired. The one thing I did buy was Nancy Drew books. I completed my entire collection by searching garage sales, flea markets and antique stores.

You interact with your readers through school visits, library presentations, and at festivals. What do you like best about meeting your readers in person? Do you have a fun or interesting anecdote to share from any of your appearances?

Now that I no longer work in a bookstore, I don’t have as much kid-contact as I would like. Visiting schools and libraries gives me a chance to chat with kids, find out what’s important to them, what books they love, what makes them laugh, and just generally be reminded of what a privilege it is to write for this audience.

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In terms of presentations, the students keep me on my toes with insightful questions, comments, and by pushing me to be flexible when an activity doesn’t work or they are more interested in process rather than plot. It sounds obvious, but you need to be very present when you’re working with children. I appreciate the opportunity to be in the moment, connect with readers, and talk about stories.

Earlier this fall during the question period a little boy asked me if I knew how many species of dragon there were in the world. When I told him I did not, he replied “That was a trick question. Nobody knows.”

Besides If I Had a Gryphon you’ve written a series of three middle grade novels (Words That Start with B, Love is a Four-Letter Word, and Days That End in Y) and a coming of age novel (Summer Days, Starry Nights). Can you tell me a little about how you approach the different genres and what you enjoy most about each?

I find them to be entirely different experiences. Picture books to me are about structure, space, and beats. It’s very much like writing a play. As the playwright, you do not cast, direct, or design the costumes, set, or lighting for your show. Your task is to create the bones of a project that many other people will then flesh out. With a picture book, the illustrator takes on role of casting director, costume, set and lighting designer. I believe in the interplay between text and pictures, and as the writer I need to leave the space for an illustrator to do so in the narrative.

Novel writing is a messy, chaotic, immersive process, at least for me. It’s very instinctual. I write in first person, trying to understand the voice of the narrator and her motivations, and the plot is often secondary. I’ll jump all over the place, sometimes writing the same scene in many different ways, occasionally working backwards from what I think might be the end, or switching narrators. I get to a certain point (usually between 60-80 pages) when I stop writing to seriously consider what I have done. I read, take notes, reorder, cut, refine, and then I have the beginning of a structured draft.

What’s up next for you?

I’m in the final throes of a middle grade novel which I’ve been describing as “Stranger Things” for tweens and I have a picture book I’ve been muddling over for awhile now that’s starting to come together.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you a few questions about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday?

Definitely Halloween—costumes, black cats, AND candy? What’s not to love?

Do you have a funny or interesting holiday anecdote you’d like to share?

Here I am dressed as a Rockford Peach, my all-time favourite Halloween costume.

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Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Not yet, but I would love to write something with a Halloween theme eventually. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head but I haven’t settled on the perfect one yet.

Thanks so much for spending time with me, Vikki! I wish you the best with all of your books!

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You can find If I Had a Gryphon at these booksellers:

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

You can connect with Vikki on:

Her Website | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review