October 28 – It’s Black Cat Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

There may be many pet holidays—and even cat holidays—but this month we celebrate one particular feline: the black cat. While black cats are just as cuddly and sweet as any other cat, the superstition that black cats bring bad luck make them the least adopted of all cats.  If you’re considering adopting a cat or kitten, think about giving a black cat a forever home.

The Scariest Book Ever

By Bob Shea

 

On the very first page a little ghost lets kids know just what kind of book they’re holding—a scary one! It’s so scary that even before the first page—back on the title page—there were “dark woods” that are “probably crawling with hungry monsters with smelly breath, sharp fangs, and pointy claws.” At least the ghost hopes so. He also hopes he doesn’t spill his orange juice on himself, but you know how that goes—once you think about something, it happens.

Now the ghost is soaking wet and naked as a window. He can’t go into the forest like that! He sends you off into the woods alone and promises to meet you “in a couple of pages.” You see that the woods are full of pointy trees, whose shadows all create arrows pointing to one particular spot. “Well?” the ghost asks, “What do you see? A dark hole?” The ghost’s wide, owl-like eyes glow from the darkness, and he warns readers that “nothing ever good comes out of a dark hole!” He reassures them that they can stay here and help “with the haunted housework” which includes cleaning the bathroom. “That’s scary, right?”

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Copyright Bob Shea, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

But you go back, and what’s this? Out of the hole pops the cutest little bunny you ever did see! Her cheeks are pink and she’s wearing an adorable coat. A smiling snail, ladybug, and worm have also come to say hello. Back to the ghost who’s now up to his elbows in is rubber gloves (ghosts have elbows, right?). He wants to know all about the scary thing that came out of the hole. He’s even got some guesses: “Snakes made out of bees? A spider in a crabby mood? Broccoli?”

The ghost thinks the whole story of a sweet bunny is some kind of trick to get him into those frightening woods. But he’s happily scared right where he is, thank you very much. Can’t you see the ferocious black kitten lapping up milk with her little pink tongue? But you are pretty brave. Look at you–you just went back into the forest, where the bunny is giving out invitations to a Spooky Party to all of her friends.

The ghost wants to know what you saw…no he doesn’t…yes he does…no he doesn’t! Ok, so when he hears it, he doesn’t believe it. “Whimsical woodland creatures? Invitations? To a party? Nice try. What’s next, pumpkin picking in a pumpkin patch?” But as you’re leaving again, the ghost realizes his skepticism is a bit off-putting, so he tries to lure you back with doughnuts—“Spooooooooky doughnuts.” Meanwhile, the bunny is leading a parade through the forest, where the trees seem to be getting smaller and smaller. Sure enough the “whimsical woodland animals” have been visiting a pumpkin patch and these smiling little gourds are coming along to the party too.

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Copyright Bob Shea, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

“OOOOOOOHHHHH….” No, the ghost isn’t trying to be scary; his belly just aches from all the doughnuts he ate. See them? If you think the story about the pumpkin patch is going to rouse the ghost, you’re sadly mistaken. The ghost thinks it’s just a tall tale and does a bit of scolding: “Gimme a break. You think I died yesterday? I’m not falling for that. I’m staying right here.” And while he’s at it, he’s upset that the kitten has been so frightened that all she can do is pounce and play with a soft pink ball of yarn.

But you know how readers are—always turning the page! So here we are, and everyone is doing crafts and eating treats. The ghost figures since he “didn’t hear any screaming” and there were just crafts and cupcakes that the “woods aren’t that scary after all.” He decides to drop in—but just to “save you from the cupcakes.” He means “the super scary monsters.” But what’s this?! Horrible monsters like bats and Frankenstein and bandits and jack o-lanterns. There’s even another ghost. “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”

The ghost zips away, giving you a very stern tongue lashing, “Why didn’t you warn me? Are you trying to scare me more to death?” But the kitty sets him straight about the whole costume party thing, so he goes back—kitty first though. And when he gets back, everyone’s taken off their costume, and the ghost can see who’s underneath. “Oh, ha, ha, ha! Very funny,” he chuckles. No one loves a costume party more than a naked ghost.”

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Copyright Bob Shea, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Bob Shea has written one scary funny book for little readers, who will guffaw at the juxtaposition of frightening and cute and the ghost’s examples of some pretty scary stuff. Shea’s chatty ghost who sends readers into the woods and then wheedles, scoffs, and chides them afterward is an adorably sympathetic spirit—one that kids will take to heart from the first page.

Shea’s unique style and humor as well as one very cool printing trick that allows for a “naked ghost” to appear on the page will make readers Oooo and Ahhhh—in a good way. Black- and blue-toned pages alternate with candlelight-yellow ones to mirror the little ghost’s deep, dark fears and the festive reality of the bunny’s party. The final reveal not only puts the ghost at ease but also any readers who may feel a bit of trepidation about Halloween or the unseen in general.

The Scariest Book Ever is not just for Halloween as readers will love the garrulous ghost and the giggly, gentle nudge to try something new any time of the year. The book makes for fun and dramatic read-aloud story times at home, in classrooms, and at the library.

Ages 4 – 7

Disney-Hyperion, 2017 | ISBN 978-1484730461

This could be the scariest The Scariest Book Ever book trailer!

Black Cat Awareness Month Activity

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Cats and Pumpkin Coloring Page

 

Halloween may be scary, but these two kittens and happy pumpkin are sweet! Give yourself a treat and enjoy this printable Cats and Pumpkin Coloring Page.

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You can find The Scariest Book Ever at these booksellers

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

YYPicture Book Review

October 14 – It’s Black Cat Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

If you look at an annual calendar of pet holidays, you’ll see that cats reign supreme. This month, though, we celebrate one particular kind of feline: the black cat. While black cats are just as cuddly and sweet as any other cat, the superstition that they bring bad luck make them the least adopted of all cats. If you’re considering adopting a cat or kitten, think about giving a black cat a forever home.

Bambino and Mr. Twain

Written by P. I. Maltbie | Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

 

On a particular November day in 1904, a crowd gathered outside the brownstone where Samuel Clemens, known to readers as Mark Twain, had recently come to live. Reporters, readers, and neighbors had come to wish Sam a happy birthday. But they were shooed away by his housekeeper, Katy. Since his wife, Livy, had died five months earlier, Samuel had not felt happy; he didn’t want to see anyone or even leave the house.

“From an upstairs window an old man with wild white hair and a black cat watched the crowd walk away. ‘Everyone wants to meet witty Mark Twain,’ the man said. ‘But tell me, Bambino, would they want to meet sad, old Samuel Clemens?’” Soon his daughter Jean entered the room and persuaded her father to come downstairs for cake and ice cream with the promise that Bambino, their black cat, could have some too.

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Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

In the middle of the cake stood a single candle—a tradition that Livy had started so that Samuel would “‘never grow old.’” With a dish of ice-cream to himself, Bambino took the place of Sam’s older daughter, Clara, who couldn’t be with them that night. Friends had invited Sam for dinner, but he did not want to go. As winter settle in, so did Samuel. He rarely left his bed, littering the covers with papers and books—so many “that the cat had difficulty finding a soft place to sleep.”

As Christmas approached, instead of attending the parties he was invited to, Samuel wandered around his big house, gazing at pictures of Livy and playing games—like billiards—with Bambino. When spring arrived, Katy rushed around opening windows to air out the house. In a sunlit upstairs room, “Bambino attacked the sunbeam dancing on the wardrobe door. Sam opened the door. The sunbeam shone on a white suit. Bambino swatted at it.” Sam lifted the suit from the closet and looked at it fondly. While Livy was alive he had worn that suit every summer. “‘Those were happy days,’” he recalled.

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Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012, text copyright P. I. Maltbie, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Just then, outside the open window, Bambino saw a squirrel that had been chattering at him for days. With a leap Bambino was chasing the squirrel down the street. “‘Bamb-i-i-i-n-o-o-o!’ Sam’s voice echoed over the city noises.” Sam and Jean put up Lost Cat posters offering a $5.00 reward (a week’s wages) for Bambino’s return. Sam didn’t know how he would tell Clara that Bambino was gone, but Jean reassured him that someone would find their cat.

“Soon a steady stream of people appeared on Sam’s doorstep with cats and kittens of every size, color, and breed.” Seeing the crowd, Sam came out onto his stoop. One little girl offered to let Sam borrow their family’s cat until Bambino returned, and others brought him cats they thought would comfort him. But Sam thought Bambino would not “‘take kindly to finding a foreign cat in his kingdom.’” Reporters wanted to talk to this beloved author about Bambino too, “and this time Sam talked to them.”

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Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Four days later, Katy found Bambino on the doorstep as if nothing had happened. Sam was overjoyed. “‘To celebrate, we’ll feast on the fatted salmon,’” he said. Sam’s experience with his kindly friends, neighbors, and readers had given him a new perspective. He was ready to rejoin the world and enjoy what it had to offer. An announcement in the newspaper let people know that Bambino had returned, but they continued to drop by to wish Sam well. Now, Sam smiled and talked with them.

Sam had several white suits made, and they became his trademark. At his home in Connecticut, he held a musical gala and talked and joked the way he used to. Jean and Clara had not seen their father this happy in a long time. And Bambino? He just “blinked his eyes and purred.”

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Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

P. I. Maltbie’s focus on a particular year in Samuel Clemens’ life provides a deeper portrait of this author known for his wit, wisdom, and social commentary. Maltbie’s detailed and compassionate storytelling reveals the stages and effects of grief and the way a pet or a good friend can help in a way that is accessible and understandable for children. His tracing of the passage of time from fall to summer allows readers to see that recovery from sadness or other events is a personal journey, but one that is made easier with the enduring love and reassurance of family and friends. Readers who love the stories and novels of Mark Twain will appreciate this touching glimpse into Samuel Clemens’ life.

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Daniel Miyares’ crisp, mixed-media and digital illustrations resonate with muted, yet saturated colors that reflect Samuel Clemens’ mourning. Perky Bambino is a constant presence, celebrating Sam’s birthday, playing billiards with Sam, and curled up on Sam’s bed. Bambino’s dramatic leap out the window will wow kids, and they will empathize with Sam as pages without the black cat reflect Sam’s feeling of loss. Young readers will be inspired by the little girl who offers her own family cat to comfort Sam and be cheered to see the positive effect Bambino’s return has on Sam as he again embraces the world dressed in the iconic white suit, which signals Sam’s lightening mood and regained good humor.

Bambino and Mr. Twain is an excellent biography to share with children at home and school to show that everyone undergoes good and bad times, but with faithful and loving family and friends, problems can be resolved and happiness restored.

Ages 5 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2012 | ISBN 978-1580892728 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1580892735 (Paperback)

To learn more about Daniel Miyares, his books, and his art on his website

Black Cat Awareness Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-match-the-kittens-puzzle

Match the Kittens Puzzle

 

These kittens all have a twin, but they got mixed up while playing! Can you find the pairs again in this printable Match the Kittens Puzzle?

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You can find Bambino and Mr. Twain at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 24 – World Cat Domination Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was begun in 2012 to celebrate the 10th birthday of Sparkle, a very talented Somali cat with her own blog who was well-known for her cat-to-cat advice column and books as well as book reviews, wisdom, and more. Sparkle’s mom established the holiday to help Sparkle—and really all cats—achieve their true calling: World Domination. And couldn’t we use a bit of that now? Summer, another sweet, smart, and funny Somali cat, has assumed the mantel of the SparkleCat blog and the goals of World Cat Domination Day. To read more about Summer and Sparkle, check out SparkleCat. Don’t miss a hilarious diary entry about the 2018 Official World Cat Domination Day photo shoot and the June 17 entry featuring this year’s graphic.

I received a copy of Max… Attacks from Atheneum Books for Young Readers for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m purr-fectly excited to be teaming with Atheneum in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Max… Attacks

Written by Kathi Appelt | Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan

 

See Max crouching under the chair? He’s getting ready to do what he does best: attack! On the table sits a bowl of fish. “Max’s paws are made for pounces. / Max’s legs are built for trounces.” He springs…he leaps… “but hold on….” On the screen door crawls a lizard watched with curiosity by the dog. In a moment Max is there: “Max one. Dog none.”

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Image Penelope Dullaghan, 2019, text copyright Kathi Appelt, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

Back to the fishbowl Max creeps. He gets up close and licks his lips, but then he smells “his favorite catnip bird.” He takes time out to play, but the paw-flung toy gets lost. Perhaps it’s in “the basket filled with dirty socks?” Yes! “Oh happy day, this basket rocks.” With the socks all snagged and bitten through, Max dreams again of “fishy stew.”

But, wait! What’s that swaying underneath the table? It’s none other than a shoelace begging to be attacked. A few swats and swings later, “our sneaky boy is on the creep. / He peers into the ocean deep. / Back and forth those fishes go… / swishy swashy, to and fro.” Max climbs up on the table and “perches on that bowl of water. / Lower… lower… teeter-…totter.”

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Image Penelope Dullaghan, 2019, text copyright Kathi Appelt, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

Splash! The fish don’t mind the waves he makes, and Max? He needed a bath anyway. Besides, he sees his dinner bowl he can attack. Satisfied and tired Max curls up on his rug. “He’s done, kaput, stopped in his tracks. / A mighty nap attacks our Max.” And those fishies are so proud to show: “Max none. Fish, six plus one.”

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Image Penelope Dullaghan, 2019, text copyright Kathi Appelt, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

Kathi Appelt’s infectious rhythm is as bouncy and jaunty as a fun-loving, curious cat and perfectly captures the mercurial nature of felines. Appelt’s verses are rich in sprightly vocabulary that moves the story along at the pace of a playful kitten while introducing charming, unexpected rhymes. Cat lovers will appreciate the humorous nod toward some of a cat’s favorite things, including shoe laces, any creepy-crawly, smelly socks, and a catnip toy. Lots of action, onomatopoeia, and internal thoughts put kids in Max’s point of view: a most wonderful place to be. 

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Image Penelope Dullaghan, 2019, text copyright Kathi Appelt, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

Penelope Dullaghan’s mixed media illustrations snap with personality and motion as Max leaps from one fascination to another. Her fresh, vivid images are set on plenty of white space, giving Max full range for his playful antics, and her dynamic and colorful typography contribute to the frolicking fun. With the dog shrouded in curtains and the potted plant tipped on its side, Dulligan’s Max hightails it off the page and away from his mess with a sly backward glance and just the hint of a smile. A laundry basket full of socks is no match for Max’s gamboling and sharp teeth and claws, and that dangling shoelace (shown from Max’s eye view) is just too tempting to resist. Kids will revel in the suspense when Max teeters on the fishbowl, and thrill to his ninja-style attack on his food bowl. Max’s innocent nap time face will elicit lots of “awwws,” and that one eye open on the last page is sure to entice a repeat reading.

A joy to read aloud and sure to be a much-asked-for favorite, Max… Attacks is a book you’ll want to pick up for yourself and as a gift. The book would be a purr-fect addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481451468

Discover more about Kathi Appelt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Penelope Dullaghan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Max… Attacks Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Atheneum in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Max… Attacks written by Kathi Appelt | illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from June 24 through June 30 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on June 31.

Prizing provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Cat World Domination Day Activity

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A Little Ball of Kitten

 

This sweet little kitten is easy to make and can keep you company on your desk or shelf! Since every kitten is different, you can make yours to look just the way you want. Here’s how I made mine:

Supplies

  • Wooden ball with a flat bottom, available in craft stores and in different sizes
  • Craft paint in any color kitten you’d like (I used red and yellow and mixed it to make a mottled orange)
  • Craft paint in pink or white for the inner ear
  • Scrap of fleece for the ears. Fleece is easily shaped to the rounded ball and when painted is stiff enough to stand up on its own.
  • Thin, colored wire in several colors for the tail (string or twine, wrapped wire, fleece, stiff paper, and other materials could also be used)
  • Paint brush
  • Permanent marker for making the face
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden ball and let dry
  2. Paint the scrap of fleece to match the wooden ball, let dry
  3. Cut out small triangular shapes for the ears. Round the bottom of the ears slightly so they fit the shape of the ball
  4. If making a tail from several colors of thin wire, twist them together, leaving one end untwisted
  5. With the glue gun or strong glue attach the ears to the top of the head
  6. With the glue gun attach the tail to the back of the wooden ball in the center near the base
  7. With the marker, draw eyes, nose, and mouth for the face and semicircles near the bottom for the paws

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You can find Max… Attacks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 7 – It’s Pet Appreciation Week

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About the Holiday

Pets give us so much love and joy that we often want to do something special for our furry friends in return. The first full week of June gives us the opportunity to show our pets how much we appreciate them! Why not spend a little extra time walking or cuddling with your pet? Or maybe make them a favorite treat or get them a new toy. Another way to show how much our pets mean to us is to schedule a regular check-up to make sure they’re healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations. However you celebrate, you know your pet will appreciate it!

Lola Gets a Cat

Written by Anna McQuinn | illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

 

Lola loved cats, and while she had a room full of stuffed cats in all colors and sizes, she wanted a real kitten of her own. Her mother told her that “looking after a cat is a lot of work.” Lola wanted to learn more, so Mommy took her to the library to get a book about cats. Lola learned lots of interesting information about cats and how to take care of them.

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2017, text copyright Anna McQuinn. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Lola decided to pretend that Dinah, one of her stuffed kitties, was real. She made a special bed for Dinah from a shoe box and blanket. She made a chart and checked off when she fed, bathed, and played with Dinah. Mommy saw what a good job Lola did with Dinah and agreed that Lola could have a cat. First, Lola and Mommy went to the computer to “find out how to adopt one.” Then they went to the animal shelter where Jeremy showed “them three perfect cats.”

Lola looked at the orange tabby, the black cat who was napping, and the playful gray ball of fluff. Even before Lola made her choice, the little gray one chose her! Jeremy gave Lola a list of all the things she’d need at home to make the little kitten feel comfortable and happy. The next day, Lola and Mommy went shopping at the pet store, and Lola and Daddy set up a special corner in the house with the cat’s toys and bed.

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2017, text copyright Anna McQuinn. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Finally, everything was ready. Lola and Mommy went back to the shelter. The kitten was afraid to go into the carrier at first, but including her own blanket made her feel safe. At home, Lola watched her new kitten explore her corner and new things. Lola named her cat Makeda, “the name of an African queen.” Every day, Lola took “excellent care of Makeda.”

Lola’s friend Ty was excited to meet Makeda and even brought her a present. Makeda now feels at home—especially when she’s cuddling with Lola! At night Lola reads a story to Makeda before bedtime. She loves Makeda, and reading to her “is the best of all.”

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Image copyright Rosalind Beardshaw, 2017, text copyright Anna McQuinn. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Anna McQuinn’s little Lola is loved by young readers for her curiosity, gentle nature, and can-do spirit. Lola’s sweet personality overflows in this story as she decides that she’d like a pet and then demonstrates to her mommy and daddy that she understands the responsibility. Through her charming storytelling, McQuinn invites little readers to be part of Lola and Makeda’s journey and share in their warm friendship. Lola’s supportive parents offer guidance but allow Lola to thoughtfully make her own decisions and show what she can accomplish.

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Throughout her colorful illustrations, Rosalind Beardshaw’s Lola shows intelligence, self-confidence, and pride as she practices tending for a cat, learns about cat behavior and care, listens to the animal shelter manager, and gets everything ready for her new cat. Detailed images realistically depict the items a cat requires, a bit of the procedure of adopting a shelter cat, how to give a new pet space to assimilate into their new environment, and a good example of a pet-care chart, giving those contemplating a new pet a good primer for children. The quiet joy that infuses each page, makes Lola and Makeda  perfect companions for little readers.

Whether new to the Lola series, adding to a collection, or looking for a character and story a little one will fall in love with, you’ll find that Lola Gets a Cat is perfectly at home on family and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 5

Charlesbridge, 2017 | ISBN 978-1580897365 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1580897365 (Paperback)

Discover more about Anna McQuinn and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rosalind Beardshaw, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Kids and Pets Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-match-the-kittens-puzzle

Match the Kittens Puzzle

 

These kittens all have a twin, but they got mixed up while playing! Can you find the pairs again in this printable Match the Kittens Puzzle?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lola-gets-a-cat-cover

You can find Lola Gets a Cat at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

February 4 – It’s National Bake for Family Fun Month

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About the Holiday

Mid-winter is a perfect time to gather with family and friends and spend those cold, indoor day baking your favorite recipes! Baking together is a great way to teach valuable cooking skills and a little math. Talking with kids while baking cane fun too! Tell old family stories, favorite recipes, and funny or memorable culinary experiences at school, home, or while eating out. Of course, the best part of baking together is eating the delicious meals or treats afterward!

There Are No Bears in This Bakery

By Julia Sarcone-Roach

 

Muffin, the “whiskers” of the neighborhood assures readers that “there are no bears in Little Bear Bakery.” After all, he works the nightshift and knows everything that goes on. He knows the scratchy sounds of the mice, the clanging that means the raccoons are raiding the trash, and the flip flap of the bats. But he has to admit that last night there was a new sound: “grrrrrrrrrrr.” He went to investigate.

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

“The air was cool and wet like a dog’s nose.” None of the regular creatures were in the alley, but “the bakery’s back window was open like a crooked smile.” And, again, Muffin heard, “grrrrrr.” He entered the bakery thinking that maybe the intruder was a mouse looking for sprinkles. Then he saw it. Was it a huge mouse? No. It was a tiny bear. The bear was surprised; Muffin was surprised; and Muffin’s tale? It “was the most surprised” of all. The “grrrrrrrr” was coming from the bear’s stomach.

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Muffin knew just what to do. He gave the cub a slice of cake, let her choose a doughnut from the bakery case, and toppled over a canister of cookies so she could nibble a few. The bear’s belly stopped grumbling, but then the bakery seemed quiet – too quiet. Muffin looked around and saw something in the darkness. It turned out to be a huge bear, and suddenly Muffin was in the dark as he was enveloped in a big hug. “It was warm, like a bath mat in the sunshine. It smelled like that bath mat needed a bath.”

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

The mama bear was a bit hungry too and scarfed down some sprinkles. As the sun came up, the bears crept out the window and down the alley toward the forest. With the nightshift over, Muffin headed home to wake up his sleeping human and tell his heroic tale. “It was a messy job,” he said, “but I handled it.” And as Muffin curled up on his pillow, he just happened to mention, “By the way, we’re out of donuts.” Among other things….

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Julia Sarcone-Roach’s storytelling is as frisky as a kitten and full of hilarious and oh-so-apropos similes from a cat’s point of view. Sarcone-Roach imbues her little feline security guard with the supreme confidence and guilt-free consciousness that cat lovers will recognize. Kids and adults will enjoy the noir-tone of this wry narrator, and like the best parodies, the suspenseful buildups give way to laughs. Sweet moments abound during the off-hours snackfest, and as readers gaze into Muffin’s wide, “who-me?” eyes, they’ll know that after the clean-up there will still be cuddles for this adorable cat.

Sarcone-Roach’s nighttime illustrations are rich with humor and shadowy atmosphere as Muffin relates her suspenseful tale of how she rid the bakery of bears. Clever perspectives immerse readers in Muffin’s experience while also allowing them to laugh at the feline expressions that make these pets so beloved. The little bear cub is as cute as a mini-cupcake and as endearing as any child. Those readers with a cat “alarm clock” will appreciate the morning scene, and the final spread of the bakery will elicit an “Oh!” or two.

If you love any of these: cats, bears, bakeries, mysteries, or a story wonderfully told that kids will want to hear again and again, you’ll want to add There Are No Bears in This Bakery to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0399556654

Discover more about Julia Sarcone-Roach, her books, and her art on her website

National Bake for Family Fun Month Activity

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

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

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

Vanilla Cupcakes

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

Vanilla Bean Frosting

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

Directions

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

Additional Notes

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-are-no-bears-in-this-bakery-cover

You can find There Are No Bears in This Bakery at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 30 – It’s Cat Lovers Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-quackers-liz-wong-cover

About the Holiday

As 2018 gives way to 2019, we give one last bow to those friends that keep us smiling, whether at home or in cute pics and videos online. Who are they? Cats! With their “who me?” looks, disregard for privacy, and utter confidence that they rule the house, cats and kittens make life better in so many ways. If you’re thinking about adding a furry family member to your home this coming year, check out the sweet cats at your local animal shelter.

Quackers

By Liz Wong

 

Quackers, a little orange tabby, wants to say hello! “Meow.” Quackers is a duck. “He knows he’s a duck because he lives at the duck pond with all the other ducks.” Not only that, but all of his friends are ducks. Sometimes, though, when he looks around at all the white feathers and orange beaks, he feels a bit out of place, and communicating is sometimes difficult. There’s also the issue of food—some of the things he’s given to eat are pretty slimy or tiny or hard to chew, and duckweed seems to be on the menu all the time. The worst, though? Getting wet.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-quackers-liz-wong-at-the-pond

Copyright Liz Wong, 2016, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

One day, Quackers meets another duck who looks like him and sounds like him. In his joy, Quackers blurts out, “‘I’ve never met a duck who understands me!’” The gray kitten, Mittens, is confused at first and then understands and then laughs. At last, she invites Quackers to follow her. They end up at a farm where Mittens lives with “a whole flock of strange ducks. Ducks just like Quackers.”

Mittens shows Quackers how they “chase mice,” which Quackers prefers to swimming; “drink milk,” which is more delicious than duckweed; and clean themselves, which Quackers is a bit iffy on. Soon, Quackers is napping with his new friends. As much as he enjoys being a cat, Quackers starts to miss the duck pond. He even finds that he has a craving for duckweed. He scampers back and discovers that “most of all, he missed his friends.”

Now Quackers splits his time at the pond and the farm. Sometimes he’s a duck, and sometimes he’s a cat. But all the time “he’s just Quackers, and that makes him completely happy.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-quackers-liz-wong-ducks

Copyright Liz Wong, 2016, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

As mom to a cat who thinks he’s part person and possibly part dog, I fell in love with Liz Wong’s little Quackers and little readers will too. Kids will giggle as Quackers sits contentedly on a lily pad, accepts slugs and snails as snacks with a meow-nimum of fuss, and explains to Mittens that he’s a duck.  Readers, who are beginning to develop their own identity, will be cheered when Quackers embraces both his duck and cat sides. They’ll understand that it’s what’s inside a person that matters and that being yourself is the best thing you can be. Wong’s adorable kittens and ducks will charm kids, and her simple hand-lettered text and speech bubbles create a cozy reading experience that’s like a sweet hug in a book.

Full of humor, self-acceptance, and inclusion, Quackers should find a home on any child’s and classroom’s bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553511543

Discover more about Liz Wong, her books, and her art on her website.

Cat Lovers Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-match-the-kittens-puzzle

Match the Kittens Puzzle

 

These adorable kittens all have a twin, but they’ve gotten mixed up while playing. Can you find the matching pairs in this printable Match the Kittens Puzzle?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-quackers-liz-wong-cover

You can find Quackers at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

December 25 – Christmas Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-christmas-cat

About the Holiday

Christmas is anticipated all year round for the joy of giving, the fun of receiving, and the message of hope the holiday gives. Honoring the birth of Jesus, Christmas is a religious observation celebrated with hymns, special services, prayers, and remembrance of others. Incorporating long-held traditions from around the world, the holiday also welcomes Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Papá Noel, Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost” in Russian), Julenissen (“Christmas Gnome” in Norway), and many other names, who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve. The day inspires family dinners, home baking, parties with friends, and togetherness.

The Christmas Cat

Written by Maryann Macdonald | Illustrated by Amy June Bates

 

“Jesus was beautiful, like all babies,” but on the night he was born he cried and cried. Mary tried everything to comfort him—a warm blanket, feeding him, rocking him—but nothing soothed him. Looking on, the other animals longed to help. “Doves fluttered down from the rafters, settling on the creaky stable door.” Although their coos were soft and musical, the baby did not stop crying.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-christmas-cat-crying-jesus

Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of amyjunebates.blogspot.com/

The gentle brown cow tried next, lowing the lullaby she used on her own calf, but Jesus cried louder. And even though the donkey meant well, her braying “made Jesus cry loudest of all.” Then from a hiding place a little kitten crept “step by careful step” toward Mary and Jesus. Leaping lightly onto Mary’s lap, the kitten “nuzzled Jesus’s neck. Then he began to purr, a calm, contented purr that came from deep inside.” Jesus gazed at the tiny kitten, and as he touched the soft fur his crying quieted. The barn grew silent and the new family and all the animals slept soundly.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-christmas-cat-mary-and-jesus

Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of amyjunebates.blogspot.com/

As time passed and the kitten grew into a cat, he and Jesus became close companions, playing together under the fig tree. When it was naptime, “it was the cat’s turn to watch over the baby and purr him to sleep.” But one day their peaceful life was shattered. Jesus’s father, Joseph, learned through an angel that King Herod was looking for Jesus. Harod had heard rumors that Jesus would grow up to be king one day. “Herod’s soldiers, the angel said, were racing toward Bethlehem, hoping to find the baby Jesus and destroy him.”

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus hurried to leave their home, packing everything they had to go now—in the middle of the night—to escape detection and flee to Egypt. With all their goods piled onto their donkey, Mary and Joseph were ready to leave. But where was Jesus’s cat? “Mary and Joseph combed through the tall grass, searched the shadows near the fire and looked high in the branches of the fig tree. But the cat was nowhere to be found.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-christmas-cat-and-jesus-playing

Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

It was much too dangerous to linger, and so, sadly, the family left Bethlehem without their beloved pet. In the chill night air, Jesus was uncomfortable; he missed his cat. “He clenched his tiny fists and screamed.” Joseph worried. Were the campfires on the horizon Herod’s soldiers? Could they hear Jesus crying? Both Mary and Joseph missed the calming influence of their cat. Suddenly, Jesus heard a familiar wail. Out of the basket tied to the donkey’s flank popped his companion. Jesus reached out for him, and the cat leaped into his arms.

After the two had greeted each other as long lost friends, they fell asleep to the cat’s tender purring as “the donkey carried them far away from Herod’s soldiers and their terrible swords, far away to the safe land of Egypt. Love had saved them.” As the two grew older together, they loved each other as only a pet and it’s child can. “They were meant for each other…from the very first Christmas night, in the bright starlight.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-christmas-cat-bethlehem

Image copyright Amy June Bates, courtesy of amyjunebates.blogspot.com/

In her Author’s Note following the text, Maryann Macdonald reveals that her story is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of La Madonna del Gatto or the Madonna of the Cat, in which the baby Jesus is depicted holding and playing with a cat as he sits on his mother’s lap, as well as legends of a cat that lived in the stable where Jesus was born.

Maryann Macdonald’s gentle story of the baby Jesus soothed by a kitten on the night he was born and saved by this same pet on his flight to Egypt will captivate young children. The focus on the child-animal bond will delight little ones with pets of their own and makes the Christmas story immediately accessible. Macdonald’s lyrical language beautifully portrays the emotion and setting of the story, and she establishes the danger faced by the family with age-appropriate suspense.

Amy June Bates enhances the story with gorgeous traditional paintings of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, the stable and its animals, and the nighttime journey to Egypt. Her watercolor, gauche, and pencil illustrations glow with warm ambers, greens, and midnight blues. The barn animals are sweetly gentle and earnest in their attempts to soothe the crying baby, and the realistic portraits of the family demonstrate their love for each other. Children will especially like the images of Jesus and his pet cat cuddling and playing together. The final illustration of Mary, Jesus, and their cat echoes the drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that accompanies the Author’s Note.

For pet owners and animal lovers, The Christmas Cat would make a meaningful addition to their holiday collection.

Ages 3 – 6

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-0803734982

To learn more about Maryann Macdonald and her books, visit her website!

To view a portfolio of artwork by Amy June Bates, visit her blog!

Christmas Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-christmas-cat-coloring-page

Cute Christmas Cat Coloring Page

 

This cute kitty is all decked out for the holiday! Have fun with this printable Cute Christmas Cat Coloring Page!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-christmas-cat

You can find The Christmas Cat at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review