March 27 – Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day

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About the Holiday

Song titles can be evocative of so many emotions, and country song titles seem to take this fact to a whole nuther level. Sure, the travails of heartbreak may cause misery and despair, but I bet you can’t help smiling—just a little—when you read titles like this: I Would Have Writ You A Letter, But I Couldn’t Spell Yuck!, You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life, and Did I Shave My Legs for This? So, today, celebrate by finding and listening to some quirky country songs that tickle your fancy.

Talkin’ Guitar: A Story of Young Doc Watson

By Robin Gourley

“Yonder, where blue mountains meet the sky, Arthel Watson was born into a world of music.” Music, for Arthel, was much more than his mama’s singing at the end of the day. It was the calls of animals and birds, the burbling river, the whistles of trains, and the clatter of farm machinery. He loved to listen to the rain and the wind and the silence between sounds too. “Arthel had ears like a cat. Maybe it was because he was blind.”

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Image and text copyright Robbin Gourley, courtesy of robbingourley.com

Arthel just couldn’t help but make music whenever and wherever he could. Pots became drums, and cowbells rang like cymbals. Arthel even strung a steel wire across the barn door to strum. When Pappy gave him a harmonica, Arthel practiced until the screechy notes settled into a purr. When Pappy made him a banjo, he practiced until the “rusty door hinge” creak was replaced by spritely melody. One day when Arthel plinked out a few notes on his cousin’s guitar, his father made him a promise. “‘Son, if you can play a song by the time I git home from work, we’ll go into town and buy you your own guitar.’”

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Image and text copyright Robbin Gourley, courtesy of robbingourley.com

By the end of the day, Arthel had composed a “sweet, simple song” from the few chords he had learned. With a “belly full of butterflies,” he played it for his family and earned himself a guitar. From then on Arthel carried his guitar everywhere, learning from records at home and from songs on the radio. He memorized the rhythms of farm work and the songs of various animals, and between chores he practiced, practiced, practiced. “All those chores and all that practice made him sharp as a whittling knife and tough as a hickory.”

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Image and text copyright Robbin Gourley, courtesy of robbingourley.com

Arthel decided that if he could work just like everyone else, he could probably play music as well as the artists he listened to on records and on the radio. He began to compose his own music. “It felt as natural as dew on a foggy mountain morning.” Arthel played “what he couldn’t see. He could make his guitar sound like a muskrat or a groundhog or a ‘wooly boogie bee’” and sing the stories of the countryside he loved.

An Author’s Note following the text reveals more about Arthel’s life, the influences on his music, and how he earned the nickname “Doc.”

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Image and text copyright Robbin Gourley, courtesy of robbingourley.com

Robin Gourley’s heartening biography of Doc Watson is perfectly attuned to her young audience. Readers are introduced to Arthel as he soaks in the sounds of life around him and only learn several pages into the story that he was blind. His blindness is not mentioned again except for the subtle acknowledgement that “he reckoned if he could work like everyone else, he could play music like the folks he heard on the records and the radio”—which becomes universal inspiration for all. The emphasis that practice develops natural talent and pays off is also a great lesson for readers who may just be discovering their own talents.

Gourley’s soothing watercolors are suffused with the beautiful pastels of Appalachia, which was both home and muse to Anthel. Vignettes take readers inside Anthel’s home to discover the Victrola and the old radio that were his early teachers and introduce his family, who surrounded him with encouragement as he grew from a child to a young man—always with a guitar in his hands.

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-0544129887

To discover more about Robbin Gourley, her books, and her art, visit her website!

Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day

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Musical Dot-to-Dot

When a musician follows notes, they create a song. What will you find when you follow the numbers on this printable Musical Dot-to-Dot?

Picture Book Review

December 14 – It’s Human Rights Month

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About the Holiday

December is Human Rights Month, an observance established by the United Nations in order to raise awareness of, promote, and protect the equality of the world’s citizens. It takes vigilence, compassion, dedication, and determination, but achieving the goal of equal human rights is a responsibility we all share.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Written by Laurie Ann Thompson | Illustrated by Sean Qualls

 

A baby is born in Ghana, West Africa with bright eyes, healthy lungs, and tiny, clasping fingers—but with only one strong leg. Most people think the baby will grow up to be a burden or worse—a curse. His father leaves the family, but his mother keeps the faith. Her name is Comfort and she names her child Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

As Emmanuel grows, his mother encourages his independence. He learns how to crawl and hop to complete his daily work all with one leg. Most kids with disabilities don’t go to school, but Comfort carries her son back and forth until he becomes too heavy. From then on Emmanuel hops the two miles each way all by himself. At first the other kids won’t play with him, but Emmanuel is clever. He buys a soccer ball with the money he earns shining shoes and when he offers to share it, the kids include him. On crutches he is a fierce competitor and earns his classmates’ respect. Riding bikes is another favorite activity. Can Emmanuel pump those pedals with only one leg? He practices and falls, practices and falls some more until he masters the technique.

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

When Emmanuel is 13 years old, his mother becomes ill. As the only family member capable of working, Emmanuel takes a train to a city 150 miles away to find a job. He doesn’t see his family again for two years. Because of his disability it is hard for him to find work. Finally, a food stand owner hires him and gives him a place to live. Over time Comfort grows sicker. When Emmanuel goes to be with her, she tells him to never beg and never give up. He takes these words to heart.

Emmanuel has an idea to show the world that “disabled does not mean unable”—all he needs is a bike. When the Challenged Athletes Foundation learns of his plan to bike around Ghana, they give him a bike, a helmet, and clothing. He trains and receives a blessing from the king of his region. Then accompanied by people who will document his trip, he takes off. “He pedaled through rain forests, over rolling hills, and across wide, muddy rivers….He pedaled as trucks roared past on the narrow highways and wild animals stalked his thoughts….He rode up, down, across, and around his country, proudly wearing the colors of its flag on a shirt printed with the words “The Pozo” or “the disabled person.”

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Emmanuel talks to others with physical challenges and to those without. He meets farmers, landowners, government officials, and reporters. He wants everyone to learn of his message. People begin to pay attention—they ride and run alongside him; people with disabilities come out of their houses to see him (some leaving home for the first time ever). Emmanuel is becoming a national hero! Emmanuel completes his journey—nearly 400 miles—in only 10 days. In that short amount of time he proves that anyone can do great things and that one person is enough to change the world.

An Author’s Note expanding on Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s life since his bike ride follows the text.

Laurie Ann Thompson tells this story of courage and achievement in straightforward language that highlights the difficulties and prejudices Emmanuel overcame to live the full life his mother envisioned for him. The details Thompson reveals—both within the school setting and in the world beyond—will inspire anyone who reads this special and moving true story.

Sean Qualls renders the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah in the vibrant colors and patterns of his native West Africa, giving energy and spirit to the fire that burned inside the young boy who rose above his disability and the expectations of his community. His relationship with his strong, supportive mother is drawn with obvious love and compassion. The use of a folk-art style combined with scenes of African markets, landscapes, and traditional tableaus, effectively sets the story for children. One particularly touching illustration shows a tiny Emmanuel hopping off to school as his mother, shown larger in the foreground, watches.

Ages 4 – 9

Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2015 | ISBN 978-0449817445

Discover more about Laurie Ann Thompson and her books on her website!

To view a gallery of picture book illustration by Sean Qualls, visit his website!

Human Rights Month Activity

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Change Your World Coloring Page

 

You can make a difference in your school, your town, and the world around you. Here’s a printable Change Your World message that you can color and hang in your room or locker to remember how much power you have.

Picture Book Review

November 11 – Veterans Day

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About the Holiday

Veterans Day is observed each year on this date to honor and thank all members of the military who are currently serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces. The official ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and comments by dignitaries. While an official government holiday, some schools remain in session, holding special ceremonies of their own and inviting veterans to relate their experiences.

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

 

Every year Mrs. Randall’s third-grade class attends the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What’s more every year four students are chosen from her class to carry the wreath. This year everyone wonders who those lucky four will be. Students who want to be in the running to be selected, Mrs. Randall, says, must write a letter telling her why they should be chosen. Hearing that Freddie and Tommy drop out immediately, while Nancy says her letter will be the best.

Anna dreams of being chosen too, but experience tells her she will not. She’s never chosen for the basketball or softball team, the cheerleading squad, or the lines of Red Rover. “Sure, someone always chose her for the spelling team, but the others—the fun ones—never.” But this time seems different. All day—even though Mrs. Randall’s eagle eyes catch it—Anna daydreams and makes plans. When the bus drops her and her sister off, they hurry home to start work.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

There Anna makes a secret call to her grandpa and then she and Natalie go to the front porch, and while Nat naps on the swing Anna pulls out her computer and begins writing her letter to Mrs. Randall. The next day Mrs. Randall collects the letters with the promise to choose the team by tomorrow and a reminder for those who will not be picked: “‘Remember,’” she says, “‘it certainly is an honor to be on the team, but it is also an honor to visit the Tomb.’” Then “they talked about Washington and the monuments and the Capitol and the White House, but especially they talked about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard.”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

At school the next day, Mrs. Randall says that while she received four excellent letters, one stood out. She begins to read it to the class: “‘I want to be on the team, not for myself, but for many others who have not been honored or remembered….They worked long and hard and saved many lives….And sometimes they were heroes bigger than the strongest men around. Sometimes they carried medicine and food to dangerous places to save the wounded soldiers. My own great-great-grandfather was in this special service and saved lives. I would like to be on the team to say thank you to those forgotten heroes of World War II. Yours truly…’ Mrs. Randall’s voice cracked and choked, and then she read, ‘From Natalie (with help from Anna)’”

The class starts whooping and cheering, but Mrs. Randall interrupts their celebration to read one more line: “P.S.—Would you please let Anna walk with me so I will not be alone and she won’t be either?” The class begins chanting “Yeah, Anna! Yeah, Anna!,” and Anna can’t believe that her dream of being on the team has come true. When Anna gets home from school and tells her family, they proudly make plans to travel with their “two girls” to the ceremony.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Finally, the day of the Wreath-Laying Ceremony arrives. The students are dressed in their best clothes, and as the four team members prepare to accept the wreath, “Natalie led the procession down the long marble steps, her black coat glistening and her brass buttons shining like the sun. Anna walked beside her.” As the soldier hands the children the wreath fashioned from “dogwood flowers, magnolias, and decorative red birds,” he loudly announces, “The students of Willow Run School and Natalie, a seeing-eye dog, will lay this wreath to honor the men who served in World War II and the dogs who helped them. ATTENTION!”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

The clear notes of Taps rang across Arlington National Cemetery as Anna and the three other children lay the wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, Anna’s grandfather and parents took pictures of Anna and Natalie to remember “this shining moment of Anna, and of Natalie, who saw the world that Anna could not see.”

An Author’s Note revealing the use of dogs during wartime—from ancient history to today—follows the text.

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Veterans Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her great-great-grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability is honest and inclusive, and while the fact of Anna’s blindness is contained in a surprise ending, this serves to present Anna as just another student in the class—a girl who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams to be part of the team, and a good friend.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Cole’s straight narration of a school day and a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life creates an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

Ronald Himler’s realistic illustrations of Anna’s Willow Run School, her home, and Arlington Cemetery beautifully represent this moving story. His pages are full of diverse, real kids, smiling, laughing, getting off the school bus, enjoying a family dinner, and solemnly performing their job at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A hint to Natalie’s true identity is subtly inserted into various scenes, making the final reveal a satisfying moment.

Anna & Natalie is a wonderful choice for all kids observing Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

To learn more about Anna & Natalie and download a Curriculum Guide, visit Star Bright Books!

To view a gallery of artwork and picturebook illustration by Ronald Himler, visit his website!

Veterans Day Activity

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Wreath and American Flag Coloring Page

 

Remember everything our members of the Armed Forces do to keep our country safe as you color this printable Wreath and American Flag.

Picture Book Review

October 30 – Candy Corn Day

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About the Holiday

It says something about a candy that is only sold for a month or two out of twelve and yet has been around since the late 1800s. What is that candy? Candy Corn, of course! Seeing those little triangular white, yellow, and orange morsels on store shelves means Halloween is just around the corner. Whether you can eat them by the handful or find them too sweet, there’s no denying that Candy Corn is part of trick-or-treat fun!

Witches

Written by Cheryl Christian | Illustrated by Wish Williams

 

A gaggle of witches, too small for their feet to touch the floor as they sit around the table, stir up a special brew in their iron caldron. Into the bubbling pot go spiders’ webs and “a bone or two,” in fact “any kind of smelly, slimy, sticky stuff will do.” The witches gobble up their feast and hurry on their way, flying broomsticks into the night. They cackle with “screeching screeches”—“what a fearful sight.”

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Image copyright Wish Williams, text copyright Cheryl Christian. Courtesy Star Bright Books

Wearing dark capes and “witchy hats,” they creep along the street, meeting ghosts and astronauts, lions and crocodiles, and of course black cats. There are “witches ringing doorbells” and “running through the street. Witches having lots of fun…calling ‘TRICK OR TREAT!’”

Cheryl Christian’s bouncy, bounding rhyme bubbles with the excitement and joy kids feel on Halloween night. Transformed by costumes into witches that want more treats than tricks, favorite animals, personal heroes, mythical creatures, and spooky haunters, children relish the abandon of going door to door collecting goodies, meeting their friends, and “screeching screeches”—and all in the mysterious deep, dark night when they might usually be going to bed. Kids will love Christian’s focus on them and the activities that make Halloween such a looked-forward-to holiday.

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Image copyright Wish Williams, text copyright Cheryl Christian. Courtesy Star Bright Books

Wish Williams’ luminous celebration of Halloween night radiates a glow-in-the-dark feeling that lends the story an element of the fantastical even as it illuminates the traditional fun kids have on this special night. A distinctive color palette of deep turquoise, magenta, green, purple, and orange lit with an eye toward creating an atmosphere of spooky coziness, makes each two-page spread a joy to explore. In the kitchen scenes, cats frolic, jack-o-lanterns grin, and kids happily concoct a witchy potion from ingredients found in the fridge and pantry. Spatulas, whisks, and spaghetti spoons held up to the light become monstrous shadows on the wall.

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Image copyright Wish Williams, text copyright Cheryl Christian. Courtesy Star Bright Books

Outside, readers can almost hear the shouts and laughter of the trick-or-treaters as they fan out across the neighborhood, play in the town center fountain and gazebo, jump in fallen leaves, and run door-to-door calling out “trick-or-treat.” There are so many details tucked away from corner to corner of every page that kids will want to linger and find them all.

One very welcome and distinguishing aspect of Witches is its inclusion of children of color and children with disabilities among the group of witches as well as the other trick-or-treaters. Witches would be an excellent addition to library shelves for all kids to enjoy.

Ages 3 – 7

Star Bright Books, 2011 | ISBN 978-1595722836

Candy Corn Day Activity

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Halloween Word Search

 

Join the witch in this spooky printable Halloween Word Search as she concocts the perfect potion for a fun holiday!

Picture Book Reveiw