June 10 – It’s Great Outdoors Month

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About the Holiday

This month-long holiday, expanded from a week-long event to take in the full month of June in 2004, encourages people to get outside and explore. There’s so much to see, from the delicate details of a flower to the wonders of the big open sky. If time permits, take a walk with your kids and really look at what you are passing. When you’re walking with children, stop to examine and talk about the marvels you see. Sometimes the most familiar sights turn out to be the most surprising!

I received a copy of Under My Tree from Blue Dot Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

By Jakki Licare

Under My Tree

Written by Muriel Tallandier | Illustrated by Mizuho Fujisawa 

 

“There once was a tree different from all the rest.” Most people think trees are all the same, but to Susanne there is no other tree like her tree. Susanne spends her vacations at her Grandma and Grandpa’s country house far away from the city where she lives. Initially, Susanne is scared to walk around the forest near her grandparent’s house because of the fairy tales she’s heard.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

But when Susanne goes on a walk with her Grandma in the forest and it starts to rain, they find shelter under a big tree. Susanne feels safe under its canopy and she is not alone. There is a nest of baby owls hiding in the tree too. Susanne convinces her grandmother to have lunch under the tree with the owls.

Susanne visits her tree a lot. Susanne touches the bark and then she hugs it! “That’s the first secret I learned: you have to touch a tree if you really want to talk to it,” Susanne says. The next time she visits the tree, she climbs up all the way to the top and is amazed by the view. On another visit she discovers the tree has grown fruit.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

One day it is very windy when she visits her tree and it seems like the whole forest is performing. “My tree sang with her leaves, using the wind as her lungs. The other trees sang back.” Susanne whistles along with the forest. Another time she finds insects all around her tree. In fact, the entire forest teems with life. Next time Susanne brings her best friend Max to meet her tree. Together they create a fort under Susanne’s tree. They use branches from the forest for the walls and moss on the ground as their carpet.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

Her tree’s leaves are starting to fall, and Susanne knows that summer is winding down. Susanne will not visit her grandparents often during the winter, but she knows that her tree will be taking a nice long rest. Susanne cannot wait to go back in the spring and watch her tree start to bud.

When Susanne’s mother comes to visit, she introduces her to the tree and they relax together underneath it. Before Susanne goes back to the city, she hugs her tree tightly and takes a leaf as a memento. Susanne may only be able to visit her tree occasionally, but she loves it “…all year long.”

There are eight tree facts and “try this” opportunities spread throughout the book.

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Image copyright Mizuho Fujisawa, 2020, text copyright Muriel Tallandier

This lyrical story is written in first person and will surely make readers fall in love with Susanne’s tree. Many kids will be able to relate to Susanne, who has grown up in the city, and is initially afraid of the forest. As Susanne points out, there are many scary things like witches and wolves in fairy-tale forests. Susanne soon discovers, however, a wonderful natural world in her grandparent’s forest, and she becomes good friends with a special tree. Muriel Tallandier shows us how important trees are, not only in the facts written in the sidebar, but also in the simple ways Susanne enjoys her tree.

Young readers will be interested in Susanne’s exploration of her favorite tree where she climbs, hugs, touches its bark, and watches its leaves change. The “try this” opportunities written in the sidebar will encourage young readers to explore the trees in their own yard, neighborhood, or local park just like Susanne. Under My Tree will certainly convince all children that trees are our friends.

Mizuho Fujisawa’s timeless illustrations depict a fun natural world that is filled with colors, animals, and of course beautiful trees. Her transparent overlapping leaves give the trees depth while maintaining a delicate nature.  The soft blue, green, and yellow palette of the forest invites readers to explore the natural world with Susanne. Fujisawa explores Susanne’s tree from a variety of perspectives. On the windy day, readers are looking up at Susanne and her tree, watching the leaves and her hair blowing in the wind. When her mother comes to visit, readers are looking down on the tree with a bird’s eye view and see the mother and child relaxing under the tree’s leaves. 

Under My Tree is the perfect read to encourage children to get outside and explore nature.  The book would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3-8 years old

 Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1733121231

Discover more about Muriel Tallandier and her book on Blue Dot Kids website.

To learn more about Mizuho Fujisawa, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Patterned Transparent Leaf Mobile

 

Recreate Susanne’s tree with your own transparent leaves in a leaf mobile. This is a great pattern and counting activity to do with young children. 

Supplies

  • Paper Plate
  • Scissors
  • Tissue Paper/Crepe Paper
  • Tape
  • String/ Yarn

Directions

  1. Cut out the center circle of the paper plate and use the outside ring as the top of your mobile
  2. Have children pick out colors. We did a fall theme, but you can really let the kids be creative here. 
  3. Cut out tissue paper or crepe paper into leaf shapes. Adults will have to cut out the bulk of leaves. My six year old was able to cut the leaf shapes out, but was tired after 5. I used about 60-70 leaves.
  4. Have children organize leaves into patterns.
  5. Tape leaves together so they overlap. 
  6. Tape chain to paper plate ring
  7. Tie String or yarn to the top of the mobile

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You can find Under My Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop| IndieBound

 

 

 

 

April 16 –National Orchid Day

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About the Holiday

National Orchid Day was established to celebrate one of the world’s most intricate and diverse flowering plants. With over 25,000 recognized species each, the orchid and the sunflower families of flowers vie for the title of largest as new species are discovered every year. Orchids range in size from a tiny 2.1mm flower with transparent petals only one cell thick to the grammatophyllum speciosum or Queen of Orchids, which grows to nearly 10 feet tall. Vivid coloring and striking patterns make the petals of each species things of wonder and prized plants for homes and botanical gardens. To celebrate today, learn how flowers use their colors and other features with today’s book!

I received a copy of Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate from Millbrook Press to check out. All opinions are my own.

Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Masha D’yans

 

A little purple prickly pear has something he wants to get off his spines. He shouts up at the reader holding the book. “Pssst! Down here! That’s right—I’m a plant, and I’m talking to you!” Once the reader is all attention, he goes on: “I want to clear up some of your crazy ideas about what the colors of our flowers mean.” You’ve got it all wrong if you think “red roses stand for love and white ones are good for weddings.” The prickly pear may see that the reader feels a bit confused, even a little embarrassed, so he softens his tone a bit and explains that while we may interpret a flower’s colors in certain ways, that’s not what they’re really for.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

He then continues to reveal “we use our flowers to talk to the animals” so that we can make seeds and more plants. To do that each plant needs pollen from another plant of the same kind. Flowers are like big ads, the prickly pear explains, that attract just the right birds, bees, or butterflies to help them out. Often, if they’re hungry, they fly from flower to flower and bring pollen along with them.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

But how does each bird, butterfly, or bee know which flowers to pollinate? That’s where a flower’s colors come in, the prickly pear says. “A flower’s color invites specific animals to visit.” Then he lets children in on their conversations. Hear the red flowers talking? They’re calling out to birds, offering hummingbirds a bit of nectar in exchange for carrying pollen. Insects can’t see the color red. Blue and other vibrant flowers whisper sweet nothings to bees, inviting them to take along some pollen – to their hives and also to other flowers, thanks! White flowers are perfectly hued to attract pollinators at a particular time of day. Brown flowers may not be showy, but they appeal to certain insects too. And green flowers? Well they don’t need to talk at all. The prickly pear encourages kids to guess why.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press

Colors aren’t the only trick that flowers have either. Most emit a scent and some are just the right shape. But now, the prickly pear excuses himself with an abrupt “Go take a hike.” Why the brush off? It seems he’s making a new flower and is just about done with it. When you see it, you’ll think it’s the bee’s knees!

Back matter includes an illustrated step-by-step look at how pollination works, information on how to protect pollinators, and a list of other books for further reading.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

With an impish attitude, Sara Levine’s hilarious and knowledgeable prickly pear narrator engages kids in witty banter while taking them on a colorful garden tour. As the cactus explains a plant’s growing cycle and the need for pollinators, the information it imparts is eye-opening for children and adults. Why and how each flower’s color and scent attract just the right pollinator is clearly described in conversational language that kids will laugh along with and learn from. Every page contains an “ah-ha” moment that will spark discussion and an excitement to plant a colorful garden and watch nature at work.

Like a riotous field of wildflowers, Masha D’yan’s dazzling illustrations put colors on glorious display as the flowers lure insects and animals to them. D’yan’s detailed images provide a great place for young naturalists to start researching the various plants introduced. Depictions of the prickly pear, birds, and bees match the humor of Levine’s text. Kids will love lingering over the two-page spreads to point out the various animals and insects and how they interact with the plants. They’ll also like following the growth of the prickly pear’s bud as it grows bigger and blossoms.

A superb book for teaching children about this fascinating feature of flowers and plants as well as providing a guide for gardeners interested in attracting a variety of pollinators, Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate would be an outstanding addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 11

Millbrook Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1541519282

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Masha D’yans, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Plant a Flower Day Activity

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Flower Garden Stakes

 

It’s fun to start a garden from seeds, but how do you remember what you’ve planted where? With these easy to make garden stakes, you can mark your pots with style! 

Supplies

  • Wide craft sticks
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Colorful chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the stakes with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write the name of the different flowers or plants
  3. After planting your seeds, stick the stake in the pot 
  4. Wait for your seeds to grow!

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You can find Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 14 – National Gardening Day

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About the Holiday

For many of us, spring means gardening. Today’s holiday encourages avid gardeners and those new to this rewarding activity to turn over some dirt, plant seeds, and prepare to tend the little sprouts on their way through the season. While this year may pose challenges to regular gardening routines, ordering options, creative solutions

In the Garden

By Emma Giuliani

 

In her stunningly illustrated interactive guide through the seasons, Emma Giuliani introduces Plum and her little brother, Robin, and invites readers to join them as they tend to their garden and all the plants, animals, and birds that call it home. Plum and Robin begin at winter’s end. “This morning it’s cold. It’s not yet spring, but, in the garden, Plum and her brother Robin see the first catkins appearing on the branches of the willows and hazels. The blossoming mimosa makes the gardeners impatient for spring to come.” As Robin counts the long, drooping catkins, Plum rakes a layer of compost over the ground. On the facing page, children get a close-up view of the fuzzy catkins, can peek inside a bud, burrow underground with earthworms just waking from hibernation, and view a few early bloomers. They also learn about what makes up the earth’s soil and get a recipe for compost.

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

With the arrival of spring, Plum is in her little greenhouse, planting vegetable seeds and spritzing the soil with water to keep it moist while Robin repots some plants who have spent the winter in the greenhouse. Outside, Plum aerates the garden bed with a pitchfork, careful of any tiny creatures below. Children can open the door to Plum’s well-stocked shed to see all the tools tidily stored there and lift the flaps to look inside a bulb and help a hyacinth, a daffodil, and a tulip grow.

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At last the warm weather of spring has arrived. The cherry trees are blossoming, and Plum and Robin are setting stakes and planting bean seeds. Next, they provide protection for the tender strawberry plants that are beginning to bloom. Young gardeners will enjoy opening a bean seed to learn what’s inside and then following its growing process. The bees are visiting the cherry blossoms, pollinating the flowers and making honey. What does a bee see as it hovers around the flower? Pull down the flap to see for yourself and learn all the parts of a flower. What other plants are flowering now? Open the flap to see!

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Summer begins and “what a joy to be in the garden in June! The gentle breeze, the smell of cut grass, and the tangy taste of strawberries and cherries make the gardeners smile.” While Plum waters the tomato plants, “Robin looks for ripe strawberries under the leaves.” Join him! Robin is also picking cherries before the birds eat them. How do those bright red, round fruits grow? Lift the flap to learn and see how they develop from flower to fruit. Plum is getting help with the aphids on the bean plants from industrious—and hungry—ladybugs. “Dragonfly larvae are transforming into graceful flying insects….Their presence is a sign of a healthy garden.”

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

It’s high summer and the garden is glorious. Bean pods hang from the vines, and Plum contemplates whether they are ready to pick. She may leave some “husks dry out on the plant before picking them.” Dried completely indoors, they can be stored and eaten during the fall and winter. Take a look inside a pod to see the seven red beans there. Flowers greet you too: an orange marigold with petals like a pinwheel, a brilliant pink and purple fuchsia, and a perky mignon dahlia. Robin took cuttings of these plants and potted them to grow some more. Learn how you can do that with your plants too!

The summer heat is waning and the days are growing shorter. Fall is here. The catkins of early spring have become hazelnuts that are ready to be harvested. Even the squirrel approves! Plum and Robin teach you how to store them—and when to pick the winter squash and keep them for months as well. Can you count the number of seeds inside the winter squash? Plum’s beautiful trellised pear tree is bearing sweet fruit. Yum! But look out—a crafty rabbit is after the last leafy vegetables in the garden. No need for a fence, though. Milk will do the trick of shooing him away.

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The air is chilly again and winter is on the horizon. “Plum and Robin have donned their warmest clothes and gone out to collect the dead leaves. Some leaves will feed the compost, others will become mulch to protect plants over the winter. The hedgehogs can use the rest of the leaves in making their homes.” Do you see the pile of crunchy leaves? Lift them gently…shhh! A hedgehog is snoozing underneath. Robin and Plum have built an insect hotel to keep the bugs cozy during the winter and have filled the greenhouse again. For the colorful birds who stay awhile or all winter, Robin and Plum put out a bird feeder and fill it with locally produced seeds.

After putting all of their tools back in the shed, Plum and Robin head indoors to plan next year’s garden and “watch eagerly for the very first signs of spring.”

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

If your family tends a garden or is thinking of starting one, Emma Guiliani’s superb book is a must. At 16 inches tall, In the Garden provides fascinating facts about plants, insects, and animals; helpful tips on when and how to plant a variety of fruit, vegetables, and flowers, information on natural ways to ward off pests; and how to recognize when fruit and vegetables are ready for picking and how to store them. Through copious flaps, children get inside views of flowers, seeds, buds, and vegetables to learn the names of each part and how they contribute to the growth of the plant. Along the way, young and adult gardeners discover how early gardening can begin, directions on how to create and use compost, when bushes can be planted, information on pollination; and how to winter over the garden for the coming spring.

Giuliani’s crisp, lush illustrations are marvels, combining intricate paper cuts that replicate the shapes of delicate bulbs and buds, flowers and seeds, smooth and serrated leaves, the long bean pod, and even Plum’s garden shed with a window in the door. Her extraordinarily beautiful color palette immerses readers in the garden experience; you can almost smell the rich earth, hear the bees buzzing at the blossoms, and feel the air changing season to season.

A brilliant resource and a joy to peruse, In the Garden is a book that adults and children—both gardeners or nature lovers—will share throughout the seasons and from year to year. The book is most highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 7 – 12

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898939

You can connect with Emma Giuliani on Instagram.

National Gardening Day Activity

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Plant a Flower Garden Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully blossom first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden or garden rows with flowers. Depending on the ages of the players, the game can be adjusted to fill all of the rows, some or all rows, or just one.           

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one or more sets of Flower Playing Cards for each player, depending on how  (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Cut the flowers into their individual playing cards
  4. Print one Flower Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the flower rolled in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” flowers until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with flowers or one row has been filled with all six flowers.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their flowers wins!

To play a printable Vegetable Garden Board Game, click here.

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You can find In the Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Princeton Architectural Press

Picture Book Review

August 8 – National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day

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About the Holiday

If you’re a gardener, you know how prolific summer squash plants can be! By now you’re probably knee deep in luscious zucchini and yellow squash. Of course, they’re delicious—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. Perhaps, you can put together a box or basket of fresh squash with a recipe or two and—when no one’s looking—leave it where a neighbor or a friend will find it. What to do if all of your neighbors and friends are gardeners too? Have a zucchini party!

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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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.”

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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 Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch 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

May 30 – National Water a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

If the showers of April have dried up where you are and the May flowers are getting a bit thirsty, today’s holiday makes the perfect reminder to fill the watering can or turn on the sprinkler and give them a drink. Colorful flowers are some of the joys of summer and provide food for birds and insects all season long. If you haven’t begun your garden yet, it’s not too late! Grab a packet of seeds or visit your local nursery and see what a wonderful, wild patch you can grow!

The Curious Garden

By Peter Brown

 

“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.” People didn’t notice because they spent most of their time inside—working, going to school, or at home. “As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.” There was one boy, though, who loved being outside. One rainy day Liam discovered a stairway leading to a bridge that held unused railway tracks. Of course, he was curious, and when he reached the top he discovered a scrawny patch of wildflowers. They needed water; they needed a gardener.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-curious-garden-railway-tracks

Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Liam wasn’t officially a gardener, “but he knew that he could help.” After a few false starts and a mis-snip here and there, the plants began to look better. After several weeks, “Liam began to feel like a real gardener, and the plants began to feel like a real garden.” Now that the garden was healthy, it began to be curious about what lay up and down the railway track. The weeds and mosses crept down the tracks while the “more delicate plants” plucked up their courage and followed. During the next few months, Liam and the garden explored all the nooks and crannies of the railway bridge. Liam looked out over his city with a new perspective.

When winter came, the garden lay under a blanket of snow and Liam stayed below, sledding and preparing for spring. With warmer weather, Liam gathered his new shovel, hoe, pruners, and watering can in his red wheelbarrow and went back to the railway. “Winter had taken a toll on the garden.” The grass and moss were brown, the flowers were just brittle twigs, and the little tree was dull and unkept. But Liam watered, snipped, and even sang to the plants, and soon they “awoke from their winter sleep.”

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Now the garden was even more curious about the rest of the city, and the brave weeds and mosses led the way. “They popped up farther and farther from the railway and were closely followed by the more delicate plants.” They explored “old, forgotten things,” wiggled their way into sidewalk cracks, and even poked their heads out of broken basement windows. When some plants planted themselves where they didn’t belong, Liam moved them. He also began leaving them in surprising spots around town.

This led to an even more surprising thing: new gardeners also popped up all over the city. Now there were rooftop gardens, backyard gardens, and even gardens that climbed walls. Plants created soft carpets for stairs, huge lily pad boats, an animal parade, and high-rise tree houses for neighbors to share. “Many years later, the entire city had blossomed.” But Liam still loved his patch on the railway line the best.

An Author’s Note following the text reveals the true-life inspiration for the story.

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Peter Brown’s classic story about a little boy who brings new life to a city that has shut itself off from the natural world, reminds readers of the importance of the environment and getting outside to enjoy it and participate in its survival and growth. But Brown’s story is about so much more too. As Liam’s garden begins to branch out, readers see how one person can be instrumental in spreading ideas, happiness, good news, kindness, in fact any number of life-changing events. In the title and the description of the garden, Brown taps into a dual nature of “curious.” What may seem odd or new or even forgotten sparks interest and exploration and new, often better, perspectives that can bring people together.

Brown opens the story with a two-page, aerial-view spread of the drab city dotted in only two places with a bit of color and giving readers a bit of foreshadowing of the transformation to come. The scrubby patch of greenery next to the rotted tracks includes a tiny tree, cleverly imbued with personality. As the garden spreads, kids will love hunting for the itty-bitty birds, bees, and beetles that appear among the colorful flowers. Kids will “ooh” and “ahh” over the pages that show how and where the garden has spread (a parking lot reclamation is a bright spot) and its influence on new gardeners. The final spread completes the promise held in the first and is a true showstopper.

Ages 4 – 9

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009 | ISBN 978-0316015479

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

National Water a Flower Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-spoon-flowers

Spoon Flowers Craft

 

Plastic spoons aren’t just for enjoying yummy treats, they make cute flowers too! With this easy and quick craft, you can give everyone you love a bouquet!

Supplies

  • Colorful plastic spoons
  • Heavy stock paper or construction paper in various colors, including green for leaves
  • Multi-surface glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut petals from the heavy stock paper or construction paper
  2. Glue the petals to the bowl of the spoon
  3. Cut leaves from the green paper (optional)
  4. Glue leaves to the handle of the spoon (optional)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-curious-garden-cover

You can find The Curious Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 15 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

National Reading Month is a book-lover’s delight! With thirty-one whole days where taking extra time to read is not only allowed but encouraged can send one hurrying out to the bookstore or library to stock up! The month is only half over, so gather the kids and discover some new books to enjoy together–why not start with today’s book?!

The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Written by Sophia Gholz | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

On a large river island in India, there lived a boy who loved the trees that provided food and shade for the people and shelter for the many native animals. But each year, the floods of the rainy season took more and more of the land. “The boy’s precious island was shrinking—eroding away with the rushing river, leaving empty sandbars behind.” Animals’ homes were destroyed and the animals died or didn’t come back. The boy was afraid this would happen to the people of the island too.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Sophia Gholz, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When he took his fears to the elders of his village, they gave him twenty bamboo saplings. He rowed over to one of the sandbars and began to plant the saplings. He came back every day to water the plants and then devised an easier way to water them. Under his care, the bamboo began to grow. In time they became “a healthy thicket.” But for the bamboo to spread further, the boy knew the soil needed to be richer.

He brought in “cow dung, earthworms, termites, and angry red ants that bit him on the journey to their new home.” From other villages, he got seeds of different trees and planted those too. Over the years, a forest grew, covering acres and acres of land. Animals like rhinos, elephants, birds, and monkeys began to return. But with these animals, dangerous predators also came. The villagers were afraid. To provide food for the tigers, the boy—now a man—sowed grasses to attract rabbits, mice, deer and other prey.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Sophia Gholz, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To keep other animals fed, the boy planted fruit trees, and when the villagers cut down trees to build homes, the man sowed more seeds. Hunters came for the animals’ “horns and fur, but the man was there to protect.” Today, the forest is thriving and is called Molai for the man who planted and preserved it. His name is Jadav “Molai” Payeng.

More information about Jadav Payeng, an Author’s Note, and a seed-planting activity follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Sophia Gholz, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

If anyone questions how much one person can do, Sophia Gholz puts these doubts to rest in her inspiring biography of a child who recognized a danger to the people and wildlife of his island and solved the problem for generations to come. Children will marvel at the story of Jadav Payeng’s dedication and lifelong perseverance told through Gholz’ lyrical text. As children learn about Jadav Payeng, they also discover the components of fertile soil and how a lush environment attracts the animals and other wildlife vital to a flourishing community.

Kayla Harren’s exquisite sundrenched illustrations transport readers to the Indian island where Jadav Payeng grew up and let them see the effects of eroded shorelines, stranded animals, and the overwhelming task Jadav took on. Harren’s realistic images show Jadav’s hard work and ingenuity as he cares for his first twenty plants and expand the forest little by little. With stunning texture and depth, Harren depicts the verdant foliage and diversity of wildlife Jadav recreated. The true-to-life illustrations will thrill nature and animal lovers and have them exploring each page to capture all the details.

A gorgeous and beautifully told story about the power of one, The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng will excite children to make a difference in their own way. The book is an excellent choice to add to home, classroom, and library collections for science, sustainability, and inspirational story times and discussions.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110243

Discover more about Sophia Gholz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kayla Harren, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read an interview with Sophia and Kayla about their inspirations for this book and how it came to be!

The Boy Who Grew a Forest Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in an Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of The Boy Who Grew a Forest written by Sophia Gholz | illustrated by Kayla Harren

This giveaway is open from March 15 through March 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Just do these things to enter:

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

National Reading Month Activity

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The Boy Who Grew a Forest Activity Sheets

 

You can be an environmental crusader in your neighborhood too! Print these activity sheets and challenge yourself with the questions. Then think about what you can do to help plants and wildlife in your neighborhood or even your own backyard!

The Boy Who Grew a Forest Activity Sheets

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-who-grew-a-forest-cover

You can find The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

March 12 – National Plant a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

Spring is right around the corner and with it the beautiful blooms that color our yards, neighborhoods, and communities. In some places the flowers are already blossoming, while in others, people are eagerly waiting for the snow to melt so seeds and plants can grow again. If you’re looking forward to flower gardening—indoors or out—today’s the perfect day to start planning. Why not take a trip to your local nursery or garden supply store and stock up?

I received a copy of Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate from Millbrook Press to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Millbrook Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Masha D’yans

 

Do you hear something? Yeah, me too. Oh! It’s the little purple prickly pear down there with all the other cacti. It seems it has something to say about plants. Okay, we’re listening.

“I want to clear up some of your crazy ideas about what the colors of our flowers mean.” You’ve got it all wrong if you think “red roses stand for love and white ones are good for weddings.” While that may be how you interpret the colors, that’s not what they’re really for.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

“We use our flowers to talk to the animals” so that we can make seeds and more plants. To do that each plant needs pollen from another plant that’s the same kind. Our flowers are like big ads that attract just the right birds, bees, or butterflies to help us out. Lots of times if they’re hungry they fly from flower to flower and bring pollen along with them.

How does each bird or butterfly or bee know which flowers to visit? That’s where our colors come in! And it’s pretty fascinating. Birds can see a color that insects can’t, and they don’t have a good sense of smell. Can you guess which flowers they’re attracted to? How about bees? Which colors do you think they like the best? I’ll give you a hint: “scientists just figured out that bees have three favorite colors.” Of course, we flowers “have known this for ages. That’s why so many of us make flowers in these colors. We like the reliable help.” This is fun, right?

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

How about moths and bats—which flowers do you think they visit? The flowers even assist them in finding their way by putting “out perfume as an extra guide.” You may not like flies buzzing around you, but these color flowers love it. They put out a smell too, but I wouldn’t call it perfume—I don’t think you would either. There’s even a certain color flower that doesn’t talk to animals or insects at all. Go on, try to guess….

Colors aren’t the only trick flowers have either. Some are just the right shape—like mine. In fact, I’ve got to get going. “I’m making a new flower” and “I’m just about done with it.” Oh—what are the answers to the game we were playing? You’ll have to read my book and see!

Back matter includes an illustrated discussion about pollination, information on how to protect pollinators, and a list of other books for further reading.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

With appropriate attitude, Sara Levine’s hilarious and knowledgeable prickly pear narrator engages kids in witty banter while taking them on a colorful garden tour. As the cactus explains a plant’s growing cycle and the need for pollinators, the information it imparts is eye-opening for children and adults. Why and how each flower’s color and scent attract just the right pollinator is clearly described in conversational language that kids will laugh along with and learn from. Every page contains an “ah-ha” moment that will spark discussion and an excitement to plant a garden and watch nature at work.

Like a riotous field of wildflowers, Masha D’yan’s dazzling illustrations put colors on glorious display as the flowers lure insects and animals to them. D’yan’s detailed images provide a great place for young naturalists to start researching the various plants introduced. Depictions of the prickly pear, birds, and bees match the humor of Levine’s text . Kids will love lingering over the two-page spreads to point out the various animals and insects and how they interact with the plants. They’ll also like following the growth of the prickly pear’s bud as it grows bigger and blossoms.

A superb book for teaching children about this fascinating feature of flowers and plants as well as providing a guide for gardeners interested in attracting a variety of pollinators, Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate would be an outstanding addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 11

Millbrook Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1541519282

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Masha D’yans, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Plant a Flower Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flower-pot-stake-craft

Flower Garden Stakes

 

It’s fun to start a garden from seeds, but how do you remember what you’ve planted where? With these easy to make garden stakes, you can mark your pots with style! 

Supplies

  • Wide craft sticks
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Colorful chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the stakes with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write the name of the different flowers or plants
  3. After planting your seeds, stick the stake in the pot 
  4. Wait for your seeds to grow!

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You can find Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review