August 22 – National Bao Day

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About the Holiday

National Bao Day, established as an annual holiday in 2017, was founded by Wow Bao to celebrate the anniversary of the launch of their first restaurant in Chicago on August 22 and to honor the ancient Chinese tradition of bao. To celebrate today, order dinner from your favorite Chinese restaurant or make this delicious meal at home.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao

Written by Kat Zhang | Illustrated by Charlene Chua

 

Amy can do lots of things well. She can even multitask. But when it comes to making the perfect bao—the thing she wants to do most of all—she has no luck. “Sometimes they come out too small. Sometimes they come out too big.” Sometimes the filling is oozing from the top; sometimes the bao is empty; and then there are the times when the whole bao crumbles before she can even eat it. Everyone else in the family can make a perfect bao. “Their bao are soft and fluffy and so, so delicious.”

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Today, Amy has decided, is the day she will do it. “She’s going to make the world’s most perfect bao.” Her dad helps her mix up the dough. Then they knead it and pound it and leave it to rise. Soon the little lump of dough fills the bowl. Amy’s dad squashes it, rolls it, and cuts little rounds while Amy’s mom makes the filling on the stove.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Now it’s time to make the bao. Amy’s mom, dad, and grandma gather at the table and start filling the dough. Amy fills a round too, but turns out a little lumpy, so she tries again. This one is too full and no matter how much she pinches the top, it just doesn’t close right. Her dad, mom, and grandma are all making perfect bao. They try giving her advice, but it doesn’t help. Amy feels dejected. Then she has an idea. She looks at her hands, she looks at the grown-ups’ hands. She looks at the dough. “She whispers her idea into her grandma’s ear.” In a moment she has two “Amy-size pieces” of dough in her hands. She rolls out the dough, fills it just right, and “pinch, pinch, pinches it shut.” Amy holds up her “perfect bao!”

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Amy makes perfect bao after perfect bao. Now it’s time to steam them. Inside the bamboo steamer are all of Amy’s bao—the good and the bad. When they’re done, the family sits down to munch. Amy eats two of her perfect bao. Then she eats one of her lesser attempts and discovers that it tastes just as good as the perfect ones. The next day she takes her bao to school to share at lunchtime, and her classmates think they are just perfect.

Amy’s family recipe for bao follows the story.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

In her charming culinary tale, Kat Zhang introduces a little girl who dreams of perfection. In Zhang’s straightforward storytelling, kids will recognize their own desires to reach perfect heights—whether in art, music, sports, or other activity. Kids will be captivated by the step-by-step process in making bao—especially if their own family has joined the bread-making phenomena of recent months. As Amy begins assembling her bao, only to have them turn our lumpy or empty once again, suspense builds. Amy’s realization of problem and solution is an empowering lesson for children struggling to achieve their own goals while her discovery that both perfect and imperfect bao are just as delicious is a reminder that perfection isn’t everything.

Charlene Chua’s Amy Wu is a powerhouse of enthusiasm and personality who tackles tasks with everything she’s got, and she has her heart set on making the perfect bao. Chua depicts Amy’s imagined perfect bun floating above her, surrounded by light and celebrated by a dragon and a fenghuang, humorously portraying the lofty goal Amy, like many kids attempting to achieve a goal, has given herself. As Amy sets her plan in motion on the appointed day, Chua realistically illustrates each step. Readers will empathize with images of Amy struggling to fill and close her bao, and a clever close-up illustration of Amy with her family behind her reflects the way people, advice, and even one’s own thoughts can intrude. When Amy realizes that the size of her hands in relation to the amount of dough is the problem, savvy readers may think back to the first spread, where Amy has similar problems with a toothpaste tube and her shoelaces. 

An empowering story, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao inspires children to keep striving to achieve their goals while including comforting reassurance for the journey along the way. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Aladdin, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534411333

Discover more about Kat Zhang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Charlene Chua, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Bao Day Activity

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Amy Wu’s Family Bao Recipe

 

Try your hand at making perfect – or not so perfect – bao. Either way, you know they’ll taste delicious! You can find Amy Wu’s family recipe at Simon & Schuster.

Amy Wu’s Family Bao Recipe

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You can find Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 16 – Wish Fulfillment Day

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About the Holiday

Have you made a wish that you’re just waiting to have fulfilled? Today’s holiday encourages you to get the ball rolling and plan how to make whatever you’re wishing for a reality. With perseverance (and maybe a cupcake) you may get your heart’s desire—just like the sweet French bulldog in today’s book.

A Family for Louie

By Alexandra Thompson

 

Louie was quite a gourmet. “He knew every chef in town,” and every day he visited his favorite restaurants for scrumptious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners—and dessert too, of course. “Louie ended each day with a bath, a good book, and a hot cup of cocoa. It was perfect.” While Louie thought his life was as good as it could be, when he saw other dogs enjoying time with their families, he thought “maybe there was one thing missing.”

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Copyright Alexandra Thompson, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Louie decided to look for a family. At the beach, he saw a woman and her son who looked nice, but when he saw what they were eating for their picnic lunch—“green Jell-O salad and sardine sandwiches”—he just turned away. He went to his favorite sushi restaurant, he spied a man and his daughter with an empty seat at their table. When he approached, however, a very territorial cat chased him away. He tried one more time at the park when a dad and his two kids invited him for a yummy burger and a game of frisbee. But he was no match for that flying disc. Louie thought maybe he’d never find a family.

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Copyright Alexandra Thompson, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Louie walked back to town, where he saw a new bakery. A little girl was setting up a table of cupcakes on the sidewalk in front of the shop. He went over, and the girl introduced herself and offered him a cupcake. The cupcake was delicious, and Louie loved playing with Bea. Bea begged her Mom to let them keep Louie. That night a bubble bath, “a home-cooked meal, and a story with hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies told Louie he’d found his perfect family.

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Copyright Alexandra Thompson, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Alexandra Thompson’s story about an absolutely adorable canine foodie searching for a place to truly belong is full of heart and humor—and delicious-sounding foods for every taste. Thompson’s charming storytelling is accompanied by her lovely illustrations that take readers into Louie’s favorite restaurants, where he gazes lovingly at the dishes in front of him and his eyes are never bigger than his stomach, to the beach, a barbecue, and to the middle of town, where the new bakery stands like a freshly frosted cake.

Thompson’s attention to details creates scenes rich in atmosphere and emotion. Kids will love Louie’s city park home, where he bathes in a fountain and goes to sleep in a well-decorated den under the roots of a tree. When Louie finally meets Bea, kids will immediately see that they belong together, and the gentle suspense when Bea asks her mom if they can keep Louie leads into a page turn that’s full of sweet celebration of love and family. And as Louie and Bea snuggle up with a book and snacks before bedtime, readers will already be looking forward to seconds.

Fresh and delightfully enchanting, A Family for Louie serves up a delectable recipe for story times and would be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1984813213

To learn more about Alexandra Thompson, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Wish Fulfillment Day 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
  • 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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-family-for-louie-cover

You can find A Family for Louis at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 20 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

When you love to read, you want to share the excitement that books hold. Get Caught Reading Month encourages people to pass along their love of all things written by asking folks to take pictures of themselves reading their favorite book and uploading those images to social media. Movie and TV celebrities, sports figures, authors, illustrators, teachers, mom, dads, grandmas and grandpas, and kids of all ages take part in this favorite annual event. Why don’t you?!

I received a copy of What About Worms!? from Hyperion Books for Children for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

What About Worms!? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!)

By Ryan T. Higgins and Mo Willems

 

Piggie comes to Gerald with a new book that he’s having trouble reading. In fact, he “cannot make heads or tails of it.” “Why not?” Gerald asks. “Because,” Piggie says with great mirth, “it is about WORMS!” And so, Piggie and Gerald and readers are off…! The story revolves around a little tiger, who believes he is big and brave and “NOT afraid of anything…except worms.”

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins and Mo Willems, 2020, courtesy of Hyperion Books for Children.

Tiger’s wary of how they feel and how they squirm; plus, it’s hard to know which end is their head and which is their tail. Tiger forgets his fears when he spies a lovely pot of flowers. He picks it up and takes a deep breath of the sweet aroma. But then he remembers…. There’s dirt and where there’s dirt, there’s bound to be WORMS. The pot flies from his hands and smashes into pieces on the ground. In the spilled dirt, Tiger sees…no worms.

To take his mind off breaking the pot, Tiger picks a shiny, red apple from a tree and takes a big bite. Oh, how delicious apples are! But… “GULP!” Tiger tosses his apple away and it lands “SPLAT!” at his feet. In the bits of apple, he sees…no worms. He looks sadly at his lost pot and apple. Those worms, he shouts, they “ruin everything.”

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins and Mo Willems, 2020, courtesy of Hyperion Books for Children.

And now there’s another wriggly, striped worm right near him. But when Tiger takes another look, he realizes that it’s only the cover of a book. Reading is just what he needs right now. But what if… “it is a book about WOOOOOOOORMS!!!” Tiger throws the book and runs away as fast as he can. All of this commotion attracts none other than a group of worms who, seeing the retreating figure, discuss how they are afraid of tigers.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins and Mo Willems, 2020, courtesy of Hyperion Books for Children.

Just then they find the gifts that Tiger has left behind. They frolic in the dirt, munch the apple, and are excited about the book—especially since they can see from the cover that it’s a book about worms. But when they open it up, they discover it’s not about worms at all—but about tigers. With trepidation they begin reading, and by the end of the book these worms have learned so much about tigers that they’ve had a change of heart. So much so that when they catch a glimpse of Tiger, they each want to give him a big “worm hug!”

Piggie closes the book and wonders if Gerald liked it. He did! Especially its surprising ending. And Piggie? He says, “I love a book that worms its way into your heart.”

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins and Mo Willems, 2020, courtesy of Hyperion Books for Children.

Ryan T. Higgins is a master of laugh-out-loud storylines that lead up to a gem of a plot twist, and in What About Worms!? slapstick meets worry with smashing results. Kids will crack up at Tiger’s over-the-top reactions as they devour this well-paced story that’s also loaded with vocabulary they’ll be excited to recognize or learn. Repeated words and phrases flow naturally in this dialogue-driven story, increasing the enjoyment of the reading and learning process. Not only does Higgins address fears, friendship, regret, and a love of books, he also reminds kids of the truth of that important adage: You can’t tell a book by its cover.

As always, Higgins’ bold illustrations carry the story with actions and emotions that are humorous, identifiable, and relatable. Children familiar with Higgins’ Mother Bruce books will recognize beloved facial expressions on Tiger, and a cameo appearance from Mo Willems’ Pigeon will delight them. Speech bubbles contain one sentence only, making them easy to follow for beginning readers.

Sure to be a favorite and reached for often, What About Worms!? is a must whether you’re adding to your collection of Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! books or just starting out with the series.

Ages 4 – 8

Hyperion Books for Children, 2020 | ISBN 978-1368045735

To learn more about Ryan T. Higgins, his books, and his art, visit his website. Ryan’s site is under construction, but he and all your favorite characters will be back!

Discover more Elephant & Piggie Books as well as all of Mo Willems’ books on Pigeon Presents.

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Cup of Dirt (and Worms!)

 

This classic favorite is frightfully good––especially while reading!

Ingredients

  • 1 4-ounce package of instant chocolate pudding
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 8-ounce container of whipped topping
  • 16-oz package of chocolate sandwich cookies
  • Gummy worms

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Directions

  1. Beat milk and pudding mix together in a bowl until well blended and slightly thickened; let stand to thicken, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir whipped topping and 1/2 of the crushed cookies into pudding.
  3. Spoon 1 tablespoon crushed cookies into each serving cup.
  4. Fill each cup 3/4-full with pudding mixture and top with remaining crushed cookies.
  5. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  6. Top with gummy worms before serving

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-what-about-worms-cover

You can find What About Worms!? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 25 – National Zucchini Bread Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday seems to anticipate the prolific zucchini and yellow squash yields of summer gardens. Of course, they’re delicious too—giving a snap of flavor to side dishes, salads, pastas, and even breads—but, really, how do you keep up with the harvest? Today’s holiday offers a suggestion. And today’s book offers a humorous and creative way to share the bounty. Even if we can’t get together in person right now, we can always enjoy a great book and the scrumptious recipe at the end of this post!

Zora’s Zucchini

Written by Katherine Pryor | Illustrated by Anna Raff

 

Summer vacation was only three days old, but already Zora was bored. She was tired of riding her bike aimlessly around the neighborhood. But this time when she rode through town, she noticed a Free Zucchini sign in the window of the hardware store. She liked that the plant’s name began with a Z like her name, so she loaded up her basket and went home.

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Zora showed her dad her new plants. As she carefully dug in the garden and settled them in, her dad said “‘That’s going to be a lot of zucchini.’” “‘We’ll eat it!’ Zora promised.” All June and July, Zora tended her garden, cheering “every time she saw a yellow-orange zucchini blossom.” When Zora saw her first zucchini, she picked it and ran inside to show her family. Soon, they were enjoying zucchini for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was zucchini bread, zucchini soup, and grilled zucchini. “By the first day of August, Zora’s garden was a jungle of prickly, tickly, bushy, blossomy plants,” and each one “was covered in zucchini. There was no way her family could eat it all.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-zora's-zucchini-lots-of-zucchini

Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

When Zora peeked into her neighbor’s yard, she noticed there was no zucchini in her garden—but plenty of tomatoes. She asked Mrs. Thompson if she’d like to trade. Mrs. Thompson was delighted to swap a bushel of tomatoes for a bushel of zucchini. But Zora’s zucchini kept on coming. “‘This is crazy,’ Zora said.” She filled her bicycle basket and rode through the neighborhood, giving them all away. But the day after that, more zucchini was ripe for picking. Then Zora had an idea and got her family involved. “Her brother painted the signs. Her parents printed the fliers. Zora and her sister posted them all over the neighborhood.”

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

On Saturday, Zora stood next to her homemade stand that sported a sign that read: “Take a Veggie, Leave a Veggie” with an added entreaty that said “Or at least please take some zucchini.” As sun rose in the sky, though, no one had visited her stand. But then Mrs. Rivera came by with a bowl of raspberries, Mr. Peterson brought potatoes, and others traded carrots, green beans, and peppers as well as apricots, plums, and cherries. “Zora traded and traded until all her zucchini was gone.”

But Zora’s Garden Swap stand had done much more than share fruits and vegetables. As she looked around at all of the people laughing, talking, and nibbling, she realized that “her zucchini garden had brought so many people together.” She couldn’t wait for next year’s garden!

Back matter includes a note about gardening and the amount of food from a prolific garden that can go to waste. It also includes ideas for donating, preserving, and sharing excess harvests.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-zora's-zucchini-garden-swap

Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Katherine Pryor’s easy-going storytelling and gentle humor will charm kids with its realistic portrayals of the excitement that every growth spurt, bud, and blossom in a garden creates. As the zucchini keeps coming, Zora’s family’s willingness to keep trying new recipes is heartening, and their help in making her Garden Swap Stand a success shows welcome family unity and support. Zora’s outreach, first to one neighbor, then to individuals throughout her neighborhood, and finally through her stand, encourages creative problem-solving. As Zora realizes that her garden has brought many people together, readers will also embrace the ideas of camaraderie and sharing and see that they too can foster such friendship in their school and community. For today’s food-savvy and socially conscious kids, Pryor’s addressing the issue of food waste and ways to share our bounty with others will appeal to and resonate with children.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-zora's-zucchini-biking

Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Anna Raff’s cheery illustrations sparkle with the enthusiasm of children who go all in on a new interest. Kids will love seeing the zucchini plants grow from tiny seedlings to leafy giants that produce a flood of zucchini. Raff clearly shows Zora’s disbelief in her inexhaustible supply of squash and puzzlement as to what to do with it all, letting readers join in on her ever-growing problem. As Zora tries one solution after another and then hits on an idea, suspense grows, helped along with Raff’s visual clues in the signs and fliers her family makes. When the neighbors come together, smiling and chatting, at Zora’s stand, readers can see what a close-knit community can accomplish.

Sure to inspire a child’s interest in gardening and community sharing, Zora’s Zucchini, an award-winning book, is a fantastic addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves. The book also makes a fun pairing with picnics and visits to farmers markets and food festivals.

Ages 4 – 10

Eaters to Readers, 2015 | ISBN 978-0983661573 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0998436616 (Paperback, 2017)

Discover more about Katherine Pryor and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anna Raff, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Zucchini Bread Day Activity

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Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread from Creme de la Crumb

 

If you have zucchini to spare, you’ll love this delicious zucchini bread from Creme de la Crumb that’s sweet and moist and flavored with the homey taste of cinnamon! To find this scrumptious recipe and lots more, visit Creme de la Crumb!

Creme de la Crumb’s Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-zora's-zucchini-cover

You can find Zora’s Zucchini at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 10 – National Cake Decorating Day

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About the Holiday

You’ve seen them on TV and in bakery shop windows—cakes that tower three, four, five, and even more tiers high, cakes shaped like animated characters, cars, clothing, even unicorns. Today’s holiday honors all of those creative professional and amateur bakers who keep decorating in new and amazing ways and pushing the boundaries of what a cake can be. Using six different types of icing to produce those stunning results, bakers are always searching for innovative methods for jazzing up these favorite desserts. To celebrate today, stop by a bakery and pick up a creative cake, or why not try personalizing your own homemade cake with colors, candies, and other decorations. No matter how it comes out, you know that it will taste delicious! There’s even a recipe at the end of this post! To add to the fun, get your kids involved in the baking and decorating process—just like the grandmother in today’s book! 

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 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1595727473 (Paperback)

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!

National Cake Decorating Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cake-day-grandma's-cake

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 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

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

You can find Cake Day at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 23 – Autumn Equinox

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaf-jumpers-cover

About the Holiday

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, fall has arrived! If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, welcome to spring! Today, daytime and nighttime will be equal, ushering in a changing of the seasons. For some that means cooler weather, shorter days, and a slowing down in nature which leads to our being able to see the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges in the leaves of certain trees. The phenomenon featured in today’s book. For others nature is just awakening, with all the beauty warm weather and new growth bring. Wherever you live, enjoy the activities and events the change in season brings!

Leaf Jumpers

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Leslie Evans

 

One of the marvels of autumn is watching the trees change their summer clothes for colorful cool-weather dress. In their classic, Leaf Jumpers, Carole Gerber and Leslie Evans teach young readers how to identify eight of nature’s beauties by the shape and fall color of their leaves. On a crisp afternoon, two children (and their dog) watch “a soft wind shake the trees. It lifts the leaves and sets them free.” As the leaves flutter down, the kids race to catch them in the air as they call out their names.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaf-jumpers-girl

Image copyright Leslie Evans, 2004, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2004. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

First come maple leaves “bright and vivid as a match.” Joining them, “the sugar maple’s leaves are orange, like pumpkins in a pumpkin patch.” The boy compares his hands to a white oak leaf and seeing birch leaves on the ground thinks they are as oval and sunny as an egg. Their dog likes hiding among the fringy yellow-green willow leaves, while the girl gently holds a ginkgo’s “wavy golden leaf” that’s “shaped just like a little fan.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaf-jumpers-dog

Image copyright Leslie Evans, 2004, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2004. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

High up in the sycamore a squirrel crouches on a branch, camouflaged in the dense foliage. The boy and girl wave to it, and their dog, all attention, is ready for a chase. The kids pick up leaves by the handful and toss them into the air, dancing underneath. As the leaves land, the boy and girl giggle. “Leaf hats settle on our heads.” The girl grabs a rake and begins gathering the leaves, and when they are mounded deep, the three leap into the beckoning “pile of colors.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaf-jumpers-squirrel

Image copyright Leslie Evans, 2004, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2004. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

With lyrical verses, Gerber invites kids to enjoy the fun that comes when the vibrant fall leaves blanket the ground. Her sprightly descriptions are just right for teaching even the youngest readers to recognize trees by the intricate details of their leaves. Smooth or jagged, thin or wide, red, orange, or yellow, each leaf has a story to tell. Gerber’s also compares the color or the shape of each leaf to something children are familiar with, helps them to remember and distinguish each type of leaf. But, of course, Gerber understands that for little ones, autumn leaves mean just one thing, and she celebrates kids’ excitement and creativity in her final pages, where the leaves become enticing playmates.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaf-jumpers-maple

In her vivid illustrations, Leslie Evans spotlights each type of leaf while also infusing her pages with that giddy exhilaration that cooler weather and falling leaves creates in kids. The antics of the children’s brown-and-white dog adds humor as it hides in the willow leaves, anticipates a squirrel race, and frolics with the kids in the soft, welcoming pile. Touches of red, blue, violet and tan in the children’s clothing set off the dazzling leaves, producing a warm and cozy effect you’ll love snuggling up with.

Now in a board book edition, Leaf Jumpers makes a perfect book to have on hand at home to take along on fall trips to farmers markets and parks or on strolls around the block. It’s also a great book to share as leaves begin changing color and tumbling down and before those fun leaf-raking sessions. Leaf Jumpers is a wonderful resource for classrooms and libraries to include in their collections as well.

Ages 3 – 7

Charlesbridge, 2017 | ISBN 978-1580897822 (Board Book, 2017) | ISBN 978-1570914980 (Paperback, 2006)

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Leslie Evans, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Autumn Equinox Activity

CPB - Cinnamon Apples (2)

Cinnamon Apples

 

Warm apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar is one of the most delectable treats of autumn. Here’s an easy recipe for making this delicious dessert or side dish.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of apples, Macintosh or Granny Smith apples are good choices
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

CPB - Cinnamon Apples ingredients (2)

Directions

  1. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon
  2. Peel and core 2 large apples
  3. Thinly slice apples
  4. Combine apples and cinnamon sugar/brown sugar mixture
  5. Stir until well combined
  6. Drizzle with lemon juice and stir again
  7. Cook apples on the stove at medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until desired texture

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-leaf-jumpers-cover

You can find Leaf Jumpers at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 9 – It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-cover

About the Holiday

Beginning on September 15th  and running through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation. From the military, to business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment Hispanic Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. First observed in 1968 as a week-long holiday, the commemoration was expanded to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. To celebrate, learn more about Hispanic Americans who have influenced our culture, attend a special event, and enjoy great books by Hispanic authors like today’s book! You can learn more about the holiday at the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written by Margarita Engle | Illustrated by Rafael López

 

Growing up in Venezuela, Teresa listened to her mother’s lullabies and learned how to play the piano from her father. It wasn’t always easy “to make the stubborn music behave as she practiced gentle songs that sounded like colorful birds…and powerful songs that roared like prowling jaguars, beside towering waterfalls in a mysterious green jungle.” But by the time she was six, she was composing her own songs and at seven, she played in the cathedral.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-papa

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

When Teresa was eight, however, her world was rocked by war, and she and her family escaped by ship to America. In New York, she felt lost among all of the strangers, who didn’t speak Spanish and gawked at her and her family as if they “belonged in a museum of oddities.” Even here, they had not escaped conflict as the Civil War waged, pitting the North against the South and family against family.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-jungle

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Teresa found refuge in her new piano and began to make friends with musicians who came to her home to listen and play along. Teresa practiced all types of music, “her strong hands accepting the challenge of life’s many dark and light moods.” She became well known as “the Piano Girl” and performed with big orchestras and in theaters. She became so famous that she was even invited to play for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-cathedral

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

At the time Washington DC was awash in suffering, torn by war and weariness. President Lincoln’s young son had recently become sick and died. How, Teresa wondered, “could music soothe so much trouble?” Holding tightly to Papá’s hand, she entered the White House and was ushered into a room “as red as a storm or a sunrise.” As she sat at the piano, Teresa recalled past challenges and her discover that life was a “mixture of all sorts of feelings, happy and sad.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-ship

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

She began to play, but the piano was out of tune, “making her music sound ugly.” She stopped, but then President Lincoln requested she play his “favorite song, ‘Listen to the Mockingbird.’” This was a song Teresa could play on this imperfect piano. “Her fingers leaped across all the dark and light keys, improvising the way mockingbirds do, the melody changing as she went along.” Lincoln closed his eyes and was taken away on the soaring notes.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-new-york

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

When the song ended, the President rose and applauded. He smiled at Teresa and she smiled back, understanding that “her music had brought comfort to a grieving family, at least for one brief, wonderful evening of dancing hands.” Teresa continued to share her gift with the world, always bringing “beautiful dark and light moments of hope” to her listeners.

A Historical Note about the life of Teresa Carreño follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-war

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Margarita Engle’s soaring biography introduces readers to an astounding woman who, even as a child, had not only a prodigious talent for the piano but a gift for understanding life as well. Engle, the 2017 -2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, infuses her story with beautiful lyricism and stirring metaphors that evoke the power of music in Teresa’s heart and hands. On these pages, music becomes a living thing, capable of forming friendships, soothing grief, providing escape, and offering hope. Engle’s focus on the meeting between Teresa Carreño and Abraham Lincoln is significant and offers inspiration to young readers. Like Teresa, who, concerned with playing just right, was presented with an imperfect piano but encouraged by Lincoln’s kindness, they too can learn that with a steady and courageous heart, anyone can use their talents to overcome challenges.

In Rafael López’s crisp, stylish illustrations, Teresa Carreño’s love of music and its emotional power serves as a counter point to the distress of war and anguish of grief. Using vibrant greens, pinks, oranges, and blues, Lopez surrounds Teresa with lush vegetation, dazzling birds, and the security of home. Muted variations of  these colors depict the bleakness of war. A moving image, washed completely in gray except for an approaching vivid bird and a tinge of soft rose dawn shows a mourning Abraham Lincoln alone in his office but soon to be comforted by Teresa’s music.

A beautiful and uplifting biography for kids of all talents, Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln would be an inspiring addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481487405

Discover more about Margarita Engle, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about Rafael López, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Hispanic Heritage Month Activity

CPB - Tortilla chips (2)

Homemade Baked Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

 

It’s easy to make these yummy tortilla chips at home! Why not invite your friends over and bake up a batch or two to enjoy while playing or reading together?

Ingredients

  • 2 10-inch flour tortillas
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • Butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the cinnamon and the sugar in a bowl
  3. Butter the tortillas
  4. Sprinkle the tortillas with the cinnamon sugar mixture
  5. Cut the tortillas into 8 pieces
  6. Place pieces on a baking sheet
  7. Bake in 350-degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes
  8. Chips will become crispier as they cool.

Makes 16 chips

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-cover

You can find Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review