September 2 – It’s National Friendship Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-cover

About the Holiday

Friendship Month was instituted about ten years ago by the Oddfellows – or, as they are officially called, The Grand Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS) – an international organization dedicated to philanthropy and charity believed to have established in England in the 1730s. The holiday encourages people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and to reach out to others who are alone or need a friend. As school gets underway, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet new people and form friendships – some of which may last a lifetime.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Aven Green Baking Machine with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Aven Green Baking Machine

By Dusti Bowling | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

Hot off her stint as a sleuth, Aven Green has discovered another activity to conquer—baking! When she learns of a baking competition at the county fair the next weekend, Aven determines not only to enter, but to win the blue ribbon. She’s sure she will win because one, she’s an expert baker, having made a carrot cake last week; two, she’s a supertaster; and three, she has an excellent sense of smell. Now, as a pro, she calls her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata to come to her house prepared to each make a recipe of their choice. They will then choose which one to enter in the contest.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-mixing

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the girls all assembled at Aven’s house, they turn their attention to whose recipe to make first and focus on the ingredients Sujata brought to make her favorite Indian dessert, milk barfi. The other girls make fun of the dessert’s name, and Sujata retreats, crying, to Aven’s room. Aven’s mom appears to find out what happened. She asks the girls some pointed questions about whether they’d ever tried milk barfi before and if they had asked Sujata “what it tastes like or why it’s important to her.” She sends them in to Aven’s room to apologize. The friends make up and return to the kitchen to whip up the recipe, which Aven says smells like “spicy heaven.”

Next, they make Aven’s mint chocolate chip pie and then Emily’s peachy fluff, which Aven renames “peachy floof.” With these desserts all in the fridge, Kayla realizes they haven’t actually baked anything yet. And while the contest rules only call for an original dessert, Kayla thinks they should bake something. Aven suggests chocolate chip cookies until she discovers that the bag she thought held chocolate chips actually holds raisins for the raisin clafouti Kayla wants to make.

Aven has an unwavering loathing for raisins and tells Kayla, “‘Yeah, we’re totally not making that.’” The other girls defend Kayla’s choice. Hearing the shouting, Mom reappears and Kayla tells her how Aven won’t let her make clafouti—“‘raisin toefooty,’” Aven says, interrupting. Aven’s mom looks at her and tells her that she’s so disappointed in her behavior. Aven doubles down on her opinion and stomps off to her room to sulk. After the clafouti is in the oven, the girls all play together until it’s time to sample the desserts.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-pie

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

They love the Sujata’s milk barfi, and Emily’s peachy fluff turned out to be soupy—delicious, but more of a drink. Aven’s chocolate chip mint pie was deemed too minty, and Kayla’s raisin clafouti was declared the winner. Still, Aven wouldn’t try it. After everyone left, Aven’s mom sits down with her and explains that “‘the Aven I know would try something, even if she didn’t want to, so as not to hurt her friends’ feelings…. You did not act like a good friend.’”

When Aven goes to apologize the next day at school, the other girls tell her they don’t want to enter the contest with her because she is “too difficult. ‘It’s your way or nothing,’” Emily tells her. As Aven sits alone on the playground, Ren comes over to see if she’s all right. Aven tells him about the contest and he tells her about his favorite dessert, manju—sweet bean paste steamed cakes. Aven makes a “yuck face” and Ren, sad, walks away. At home, Aven decides she’ll make something for the contest by herself and bakes a chocolate cake with mint frosting. But when the cake comes out of the oven, it is less than perfect. Aven cries because she knows she can’t win with that cake and her friends are all mad at her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-fair

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

She goes to visit her great-grandmother, who gives Aven some perspective while making another unusual cake that Aven thinks she’s not going to like but ends up loving. The next day, Aven asks Ren to be her partner in the contest, telling his she wants to make manju. At first Aven is reluctant to try the steamed cakes they make, but one nibble later, she’s ready for more. She even decides that “from this moment in history until the end of time, I would forever be Aven Green, trier of new things, even the weirdest things anyone ever heard of.” The night before the contest, Aven made I’m sorry cards for Kayla, Sujata, and Emily, using all of her best stickers and glitter glue.

The day of the contest finally arrives. Aven and Ren make a fresh batch of manju and take it to the fair. Aven gives out her cards and wishes her friends good luck. They all wait to hear the judges’ decisions and… First place went to an apple caramel cake. Second prize went to a chocolate cream pie. And Third Place went to… Sujata, Emily, and Kayla for their raisin clafouti. Aven cheered and cheered for them, and when they left the stage, they offered Aven one of the yellow ribbons. She thought it would look lovely hanging on her wall, but she declined, telling her friends, “‘I didn’t win it. Not only that, but I had a bad attitude about the raisin clafouti, which did win.’”

Besides, Aven says, “‘I didn’t lose…. I won a whole new friend! And now I have my old friends back, too. Best day ever!’” Then she tasted the raisin clafouti, and even though she didn’t like it, she praised it for being an award-winner. Then the friends took in the fair and the bluegrass music, and Aven discovered another activity to conquer. “‘Watch out, world!’” she cried. “‘Here comes Aven Green, Music Machine!’”

A glossary of baking words found in the story as well as recipes for milk barfi, mint chocolate chip pie, peachy floof, raisin clafouti, tomato soup cake, and manju follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-dancing

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Dusti Bowling’s second Aven Green story for young readers is infused with her protagonist’s distinct personality, infectious enthusiasm, and big heart. Realistic dialogue, situations, and emotions make it a book that will easily resonate with kids. While it’s easy to focus on the humor in Bowling’s story—which is delivered with snappy, rapid-fire dialogue and observations—the story also packs a punch in its message about the injustice of preconceived notions, the effects of thoughtless comments, ultra-competitiveness, and the true meaning of acceptance.

Just one of the joys of Bowling’s series is how Aven Green smashes wrong assumptions while being fearless and self-confident. Here, Aven discovers that while she promotes acceptance for herself, she must also extend the same appreciation to others. All of Bowling’s characters possess strong opinions, enough self-assurance to reject behavior that hurts, and the ability to recognize when they’ve been wrong and make amends. These qualities make them excellent role models for readers. As the girls separate into different teams for the baking contest and, ultimately, make a new friend, readers learn important lessons on standing up for oneself, making informed opinions instead of snap judgements, and what true friendship is all about.

Gina Perry’s engaging illustrations bring the story to life as readers see Aven cooking, eating, and creating cards for her friends with her feet as well as participating in all the other activities at school and the county fair. Her line drawings also capture the emotions of the characters as they argue, make up, and cheer each other on. Cameos by Aven’s mom and great-grandmother portray a steadying and caring influence.

Aven Green Baking Machine is a multi-layered story that will make kids think as they enjoy the humor, close relationships, and invitation to discover and bake recipes from around the world. This book is a good choice for kids and adults to read together while discussing the issues presented. Fans of the series will want to catch up on what Aven is conquering next and new readers will be happy to discover this empowering series.

Ages 6 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454942207

Discover more about Dusti Bowling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-cover

You can find Aven Green, Baking Machine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 15 – It’s National Shark Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-cover

About the Holiday

It’s Shark Week – one of the most anticipated holiday’s of the year! Kids and adults are fascinated by these denizens of the deep, and especially the Great White, which sports fearsome teeth and intimidates with their imposing size. But there are many more sharks in the sea – about 500 species! – and they are an important part of the world’s ecosystem. If Shark Week is your favorite week of the summer, you’re no doubt enjoying a full schedule of shark-related shows on the Discovery Channel. To learn more information about sharks, including statistics from this year’s coastal shark survey, a chance to cast your vote for “freakiest shark,” a line-up of top videos, and more, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shark Week page. To celebrate sharks and the wonders of the ocean every day, you’ll want to put today’s book at the top of your reading list.

Thanks to Joan Holub for sharing a copy of I Am the Shark with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Joan in a giveaway package that kids will love. See details below.

I Am the Shark

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Laurie Keller

 

Great White Shark is excited to introduce himself, especially since he is “the GREATEST SHARK in this book.” But a voice contradicts Great White. Who begs to differ? It’s Whale Shark, and she loses no time in demonstrating why she is “the greatest shark in this book” due to her enormous size, which can’t be matched anywhere in the undersea world. And if that weren’t enough, she adds this bite: “Compared to me, you are small.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-great-white

Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

But Great White takes it in stride. If he isn’t the greatest shark, that’s okay because being the smallest has some pretty great perks too. So he’s in the middle of a “smallest shark” victory dance when a voice calls out, “No, you’re not.” It seems there’s a much smaller shark in the sea—Dwarf Lantern Shark, who, besides being the tiniest shark has a rather enlightening ability too. After the long take down from Whale Shark, this time Great White pivots quickly, thinking about how “smart and curious” he is. Could he be “the smartest shark in this book?”

Well, that would be a no. Hammerhead Shark has that one nailed down as well as a unique view of their colorful world. This time, Great White is a little intimidated. “Whoa!” he exclaims. “How can I top that?” But being smart (just not as smart as Hammerhead), Great White has another idea. This one, though, is quashed just like the others in a sneak attack. Turns out Great White isn’t the best hunter, the oldest, or even the “fishiest” shark in this book.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-whale-shark

Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Undeterred, Great White decides to do a little research in other books to “figure out the greatest thing about [him]. He learns all about his different body parts and even shares a labeled diagram (on graph paper and everything) with you. And he doesn’t stop there. He’s discovered all sorts of awesome facts about their skeletons, senses, teeth, skin, and other cool tidbits that he lets you know about. Great White could probably go on and on, but suddenly there’s a “snack alert” and all the sharks take off at top speed after their prey. Great White’s fast! He’s in the lead! Great White’s the fast..est… “Crumbs.” Great White’s passed up by a faster shark. Who is that anyway?

By this time Great White is feeling pretty down in the dumps. “Maybe I should change my name to Just-Okay White Shark or Not-So-Great White Shark,” he bemoans. But then Dwarf Lantern Shark swims up to him and enlightens him with some perspective and sage advice: “Just be happy being you.” Great White takes it to heart. In fact, it helps him think of a new, can’t-miss quality that finally gives him a “GREATEST in this book” status.

Backmatter includes more details on the eight sharks introduced in the story as well as books and links about sharks for kids wanting to learn more.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-smallest

Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Kids are always fascinated by the superlative—the fastest, the biggest, the smallest, the silliest, the best—and Joan Holub makes superlative use of this fact in her highly entertaining and educational romp. As Great White goes on a rollercoaster of emotions, one moment thinking he’s the best at something while the next moment having his hopes dashed, readers learn eye-opening details about eight sharks, described in engaging ways that will wow kids. Great White’s boundless optimism is infectious while setting up his disappointment for maximum comic effect. Kids will eagerly await the chance to chime in on the “No, you’re not.” asides that are sure to bring plenty of giggles. But this story isn’t all about sharks. Holub masterfully weaves in an important message for kids about self-acceptance, true happiness, and finding their unique qualities and talents.

Laurie Keller uses her prodigious talent for humor in her up-close images (and is there any other way kids would want to see them?) of these competitive sharks. Loaded with attitude, each shark swims onto the pages to demonstrate their “greatest” trait in ways that will stick with kids and have them excited to learn more. Expressive faces and silly antics add personality and laughs to each page spread. Keller’s vivid, textured, and collage-style illustrations are eye-catching, and funny details, such as Tiger Shark’s tattoos, chain bangle, band-aid, and gold tooth, will have kids lingering over the pages. While they’re there, they’ll want to keep a look out for the Dwarf Lantern Shark who finally lets Great White in on a great secret.

Full of facts, action-packed, and loaded with laughs, I Am the Shark is creative non-fiction at its GREATEST. Kids who love learning about sharks, nature, and the ocean or who just love a fantastic read will want to sink their teeth in this charmer. I Am the Shark is a can’t-miss must for homes, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0525645283

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-joan-holub-headshot

Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated over 150 children’s books, including the Goddess Girls series and the Heroes in Training series (with Suzanne Williams); the New York Times bestselling picture book Mighty Dads, illustrated by James Dean; Little Red Writing, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; and Zero the Hero, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Her board & novelty books include This Little Trailblazer and Fa la la Llama. Joan adores line dancing to the Jaws theme, reading Sharkspeare, and vacationing in Finland.

You can connect with Joan Holub on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-laurie-keller-headshotLaurie Keller is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Scrambled States of America, Potato Pants!, Arnie the Doughnut, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, the Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut chapter book series, and We Are Growing!, part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series and winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. When Laurie isn’t busy making books, she enjoys playing the banjo, traveling, cross-country skiing, and splashing in Lake Michigan, where as far as she knows, there is not a single shark.

You can connect with Laurie Keller on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Shark Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shark-fin-craft

Fin-tastic Shark Fun

 

Your kids can make a splash during Shark Week and all year around with this easy-to-make craft! 

Supplies

  • 2 pieces of 8.5 x 11 gray card stock paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

fin outline white

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shark-fin

Directions

  1. Tape the top of the two pieces of paper together
  2. Fold them back together
  3. Measure an inch up from the bottom of the papers (the un-taped side) and trace a straight line across both papers
  4. Trace a shark fin outline onto your paper. The shark outline should stop an inch above the bottom
  5. Cut out the fin on both pieces of paper. If you should cut through the tape, re-tape the tops together
  6. Fold along the lines of both papers so the folds face towards each other.
  7. Tape the folds so the fin becomes a triangle
  8. Cut two slits parallel to the folded lines
  9. Thread ribbon through slits

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-cover

You can find I Am the Shark at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 2 – National Tater Tot Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-cover

About the Holiday

Frozen potatoes come in all shapes and sizes – from shoestring fries to smiley fries to today’s celebrated favorite, tater tots. How beloved are tater tots? Every year approximately 3.5 billion of these little barrel-shaped nuggets are sold in the United States. Tater tots are created from the shredded leftovers from the process of making French fries and were the invention of Nephi and Golden Grigg, the brothers behind Ore-Ida who began their business in 1934. A fact author Cathy Breisacher makes clever use of in her fry-tastic story. The Grigg’s ingenuity is our delicious treat, so celebrate today by grabbing a bag of tater tots and enjoying them plain or in a family-favorite recipe! 

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

 

Spud City was about to hold its annual festival, and everyone was excited. Chip was practicing for the sack race. This year “he was determined to win the first-place prize: a Golden Bushel Award.” But a new spud in town—Curly—had a “spring in his step” and seemed to be real competition. Even though the other potatoes cheered him on, Chip was nervous.

On the day of the festival, the race route was lined with spectators. The couch potatoes lounged near the path while “the French Fries stood with their Tater Tots.” Even the sweet potato cheerleaders were waving pompoms and shouting. Just before the race began, Curly took a place next to Chip at the starting line.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-spud-city

Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the whistle blew, Chip took off. He was in the lead until he heard someone behind him. “‘Look out!’ the BBQ Chips shouted. ‘Here comes a hot potato!’” Chip raced on, but then Curly bounced in front of him and even though Chip gave it his all, he couldn’t catch up. A moment later, though, Curly tripped and fell, leaving the path—and the race—wide open for Chip.

Chip hopped past Curly and was in clear sight of the finish line when he realized “he felt rotten.” He glanced back and “hashed it over in his mind.” He decided the only right thing to do was to go back. He offered Curly a hand up, and together they bounded down the route and past the other racers. But Curly was too quick for Chip, and he broke through the tape first. “In an instant, Chip’s dreams of winning were mashed.” 

Chip was just about to leave when Curly asked him to be his partner in the relay race. Curly thought they made a great team. They practiced until they found their groove. Everything was looking good until a new team showed up….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-practicing

Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kids will devour Cathy Breisacher’s pun-filled romp that takes them to Spud City’s annual festival, where Chip and Curly face off to win a Golden Bushel Award in the sack race. While Chip pulls out to an early lead, Curly bounces back and threatens Chip’s years-long dream to win. A misstep by Curly gives Chip the opportunity to achieve his goal, but in his decision, Breisacher shows readers true sportsmanship and integrity. Curly also displays the qualities of a gracious winner, and as the two work together to perfect their relay skills, a friendship sprouts. The final scene offers a funny “oh, no!” moment while also reminding readers that winning can be fleeting, but friendship and staying true to oneself endure.

Joshua Heinsz populates Spud City with a wide array of taters—from tots to waffle fries, sweet potatoes to twice-bakeds, French fries to home fries, and more. Heinsz adds plenty of visual humor to the mix with clever street sign and shop names, and the couch potatoes are, ingeniously, those impossible-to-peel curved ones that lurk in many a 5-pound bag. Kids will love picking out their favorite kind of potato, and the expressive spuds will have readers captivated from the very first page.

For rollicking story times that also offer opportunities to discuss the nature of competition and friendship, Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race is one to add to your home, classroom, or library shelf.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364084

Learn more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

To learn more about Joshua Heinsz, his books, and his art on his website.

A Chat with Cathy Breisacher

011CB

It’s so great to be talking with you again! This must be a really exciting—and busy!—time for you, so I’m thrilled to have you stop by!

You’ve mentioned that the inspiration for this story was a local potato festival. Can you describe that event a bit and tell what sparked the idea for Chip and Curly?

Every year, on the last Saturday in September, a town not far from where I live holds a Potato Fest.  The county where it is located is the second-largest supplier of potatoes in the state. People come from all around and a good portion of the downtown area is closed off for the event. There are tons and tons of vendors selling a variety of crafts, and the food vendors whip up all kinds of potato treats: sweet potato fries, potato candy, baked potatoes, pierogi, potato soup, French fries, potato bread, etc. There is live music as well as games for the kids. I love the fall season, and this is a great kick-off to the fall. I try to attend every year. So, in 2016 when I wrote this story, I thought about the potato festival and all of the kinds of potatoes that are sold at the event.  The names CHIP AND CURLY came to me and the idea for the story just flowed from there.

Of course, I have to ask—what’s your favorite kind of potato? Do you have a favorite recipe? Would you like to share it?

 I love twice baked potatoes. They are probably my favorite. But, there really isn’t a potato I don’t like. I also love perogies and sweet potato fries. Oh my goodness…it’s hard to choose just one. 

I’ll share a recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown potatoes that are gobbled up at many family events. They are so easy to make.

CHEESY HASH BROWN POTATOES

26 oz. Bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (thawed)
2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
16 ounces sour cream
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 ½ sticks butter
3 cups Crushed corn flakes
1 teaspoon garlic salt and pepper to taste

Thaw the hash browns.  Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with the hash browns.  Pour into 9 x13 pan.  Mix the sour cream, soup and cheese in a bowl. Spread over the potatoes. Melt ½ stick of butter and mix it with the crushed corn flakes.  Sprinkle over the potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Being competitive can take so many forms. Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what way?

Yes, I’m definitely competitive. I always want to put 110% into things that I do. If there is a challenge of some sort, I am in it to win it. J In the past couple of years, I’ve been intrigued with Escape Rooms and trying to solve all of the clues before the time runs out. Recently, I heard of an Escape Room that no one has “broke out of” yet.  I want to be the first! J

Chip and Curly is loaded with puns and really clever word play! The story must have been a blast, but also challenging to write. Can you talk a little about how you put it all together?

Chip and Curly was definitely a fun story to write. I just pulled out my first version of this story, and it has so few puns in it. I didn’t initially write this story to be punny.  But, as I was doing my first set of revisions, a pun popped in my head.  More puns came to me as I continued to revise. It wasn’t long before I knew this had to be a story that centered on potato puns. I scoured the Internet to find words associated with potatoes. I must have looked at every list that exists online. The tricky part was to include those words and phrases that fit nicely with the story. I didn’t want to include something just to include it if the word or phrase really didn’t flow with the storyline. My amazing editor, Sarah Rockett, had excellent suggestions for tweaking the story a bit more after she acquired it. And I was delighted with the fun, playful, colorful art provided by the illustrator, Joshua Heinsz.

After practicing for a year to win a Golden Bushel Award for the sack race, Chip makes a surprising decision part way through the race. What would you like kids to take away from the story?

This is the crucial part of the story. I want kids to know that competing can be a lot of fun. And it can feel good to win at something, too. However, practicing good sportsmanship is important and helps build character. When we show respect toward our opponents, we can still have fun and compete, but it helps us to keep our focus on what’s most important—treating one another the way we want to be treated.

Since CaveKid Birthday was released in March, what’s been the best part of being a published author? The most surprising? As a librarian, how does it feel to see your own book on your library’s shelf?

Gosh, there is so much I am enjoying about being a published author. I love meeting new people (kids and adults) at book events and talking with them about stories. It has also been a treat to see friends and family who I haven’t seen for a while. Being a school librarian, I get an extra treat when kids ask to check out my book. That has truly meant the world to me. When my students tell me they love my books, my heart just completely melts.

During our first interview for CaveKid Birthday how did I miss that you’re from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania? Does the town live up to its celebratory name? Do you have a favorite town celebration or spot to write or visit?

Hmmm…very good question. The town where I live is a true community. People really get behind and support the schools, sports teams, agencies, fundraising events, etc. So I guess you can say that the people who live in Hollidaysburg celebrate one another’s aspirations and accomplishments. I am proud to live in this town. I do have a few favorite spots that I like to visit. There are a couple of parks that are so beautiful and serene. They are a great place to spend timejyeither alone or with family and friends. As for a favorite town celebration, I would have to say the Winterfest Light-Up Night that is held at the end of November each year. There are festivities in the downtown area and everything is decorated for Christmas. Local restaurants hold soup samplings and people vote on their favorite. Santa arrives and a giant tree is lit up that evening. There are ice carvings, too. It’s such a fun night and everyone is in the holiday spirit.

Thanks, Cathy! I can’t wait to try those delish-sounding potatoes! I know you’ll have lots of fun with Chip and Curly, and I wish you all the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Cathy Breisacher on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Eat What You Want Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-appealing-potatoes-game-cards

Appealing Potatoes Game

 

If you love potatoes, you can never get enough! Race to fill your plate with all six kinds of potatoes in this fun game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a game board and set of game cards for each player.
  2. Choose a player to go first.
  3. Taking turns, each player rolls the paper die and places a game card matching the rolled potato to their plate
  4. Or: If using a regular playing die, use the corresponding number and kind of potato listed below
  5. The first player to add all six kinds of potatoes to their plate is the winner.

Corresponding Numbers and Potatoes:

  1. Mashed Potatoes
  2. French Fries
  3. Potato Chips
  4. Baked Potato
  5. Twice-baked Potato
  6. Sweet Potato Fries

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-cover

You can find Chip and Curly, the Great Potato Race at these booksellers

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

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 6 – National Coaches Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 1972 by President Richard Nixon to honor the men and women who inspire us to work harder and do our best in many of life’s pursuits. Coaches help us develop a good work ethic, learn how to work as a team, and learn how to focus and achieve goals. Sometimes our most influential coaches can be surprising—as you’ll see in today’s book.

Kid Coach

By Rob Justus

 

Kid Coach knew a challenge when he saw it. And he saw a couch-potato sized challenge lying in his own living room with soda in one hand and a computer, a tablet, and a phone all streaming a different wrestling match in the other. And…yeah…there was a bowl of peanuts there too. Was Kid Coach up to the task of turning this marshmallow into a champion? He thought yes and dragged his dad away from all the distractions.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-challenges

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Kid Coach started his dad’s strength training with simple push-ups and an itty-bitty bar bell. But soon those “small wins” led to “bigger challenges and major wins” until Kid Coach and Dad were ready to “wrangle big guys, bad guys, bald guys, (and a scary guy with tattoos of big, bad, bald guys!) in the grandest arena of them all”—the “Wrestle-Rumble Mania Kingdom Tournament of Champions.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-wrestling

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

The competition is fierce, but Dad “snaps into action” and soon those big, bad, and bald guys in their fancy costumes are being flipped, chopped, and tied into knots. Kid Coach cheers him on, whistling and clapping, until he begins to notice something. “Dad starts to dance a little too long, celebrate a little too much, and rudest of all…he won’t even shake hands! Instead of making friends, Dad’s leaving the other wrestlers sad and mad.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-celebrating

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

That’s when Kid Coach does some soul-searching and realizes he didn’t teach his dad everything about being a true champion. A real champion, he knows, is a leader, someone who inspires others, and “most of all, they make everyone feel like a winner.” By now, Dad was feeling kind of bad himself for being so insensitive. Kid Coach gave him a hug, and the two of them tried to make amends. But the other wrestlers didn’t want flowers, and they weren’t interested in high-fives. So, Dad dug deep and came up with…a “sincere apology” and…a jumbo bag of chips! Now all those frowns are smiles and everyone’s having a blast in the ring.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-chips

Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Rob Justus reminds children about good sportsmanship and the qualities that make for a true champion in his visually exhilarating story. Kids will be all in with the couch-potato twist in which a child physically drags his dad—who holds on for dear life—from his leisurely pursuits.

Images of this noodle-thin dad in his flashy robe going up against some real heavy-weights will have kids giggling, and his over-the-top self-celebrations will elicit plenty of laughs (and probably copycats too.) But Justus doesn’t let this behavior go without showing its effects on the other wrestlers—and ultimately on Dad too. As Kid Coach and his dad try to mend fences, kids will see that gifts and token gestures aren’t as meaningful as a straightforward apology. The loving relationship between the boy and his dad is a highlight of the story, and will have readers—kids and adults—engaging in some rough and tumble and plenty of snuggles.

For rough-and-tumble fun story times—especially for dads and kids—with an inspirational life lesson, Kid Coach would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2020 | ISBN 978-1624148866

To learn more about Rob Justus and see a portfolio of his work, visit his website.

National Coaches Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-best-father-trophy-coloring-page

Best Dad Coloring Page

 

Good coaches win lots of trophies, and there’s no better coach than Dad! Let your dad know what a great coach he is with this printable coloring page!

Best Dad Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kid-coach-cover

You can find Kid Coach at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 3 – National Grab Some Nuts Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-squirrels-who-squabbled-cover

About the Holiday

Today we celebrate cashews, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and all the other nuts that flavor dishes and provide healthy snacks. Nuts are nutritious, providing a good source of vitamins, protein, fiber, and important minerals. Eating nuts on a regular basis can also help keep your heart healthy. So, grab a handful of your favorite nuts today and have a feast!

I received a copy of The Squirrels Who Squabbled from Scholastic, Inc. for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

The Squirrels Who Squabbled

Written by Rachel Bright | Illustrated by Jim Field

In the middle of autumn, “a flighty young squirrel, / Who everyone knew as / ‘Spontaneous Cyril’” discovered he hadn’t prepared for the winter. In fact, “he hadn’t a mouthful of food ANYWHERE.” Then he spied a closed pinecone in a tree across the way. But as Cyril planned how to nab this very last treat, “‘Plan-Ahead Bruce’ had his sights on the prize.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-squirrels-who-squabbled-swinging

Image copyright Jim Field, 2019, text copyright Rachel Bright, 2019. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

Although Bruce had amassed a tower of nuts, seeds, berries, and mushrooms to get him through the winter, he decided he must have that last pinecone too. So while Cyril took off running up the tree trunk on one side, Bruce scrambled up around the other side. Their scrabbling shook the tree and dislodged the pinecone from its nook. “Both squirrels gave chase at a lightning pace. / This was the start of a wild, nutty race.” They called out: “it’s mine!”. . . “No, it’s not!” . . . “Yes, it is!” and other such talk as they rushed after the pinecone.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-squirrels-who-squabbled-pinecone

Image copyright Jim Field, 2019, text copyright Rachel Bright, 2019. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

“It BOINGED over bushes. . . and flew through the air. / It BINGED on the nose of a slumbering bear! / It BOUNCED over boulders then came to a . . . / STOP.” There, high on a cliff, it balanced a moment then fell into the rushing river below. Bruce and Cyril dived in after it. Each were thiiiis close to grabbing it when a bird nab it instead and flew far away. Meanwhile, the logs they were rafting on drifted over a waterfall. As they plunged did they think: “They’d squandered their chances / to team up and share. / Would their nutty young homes / simply end in despair?”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-squirrels-who-squabbled-cliff

Image copyright Jim Field, 2019, text copyright Rachel Bright, 2019. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

As they passed by a tree, Cyril clung to a branch and reached out his hand to rescue Bruce. Soaked and exhausted they crawled to dry land. “Then Bruce looked at Cyril and… exploded in giggles!” He thought they’d been silly and that he was greedy to boot. He vowed that he’d change and that their skirmish would cease. He said, “‘We should celebrate—seeing / we’re both in one piece!’” And Bruce kept his word. From then on he shared his bounty with Cyril and all the animals of the forest because he’d learned that sharing with friends was the best thing of all.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-squirrels-who-squabbled-waterfall

Image copyright Jim Field, 2019, text copyright Rachel Bright, 2019. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

Kids will eat up Rachel Bright’s funny friendship story that bounces along at the pace of a flick of a squirrel’s tail. Her set-up to the action of the story is nifty with humorous and telling nicknames for the two squirrels and spreads that deftly depict their opposing lifestyle philosophies. Cyril and Bruce’s race through the forest, plunge over the waterfall, and daring rescue provide plenty of material for dramatic readings of Bright’s spectacular rhymes and rhythm. Her delectable vocabulary serves up comical squabbles, gripping suspense, and a heartwarming ending. Readers will eagerly join in on the rousing onomatopoeic rhymes. Bright’s message of camaraderie and what’s most important in life is always welcome and is well delivered. The story offers many opportunities for creative extension ideas.

Jim Field’s striking images of the forest in autumn—rendered in gold, red, orange and green with touches of rose—are fresh and peaceful. The sun-dappled vistas soon become an ironic counterbalance for the hilarious antics of Cyril and Bruce. The two rakish squirrels leap and bound through the forest, their speed portrayed with blurred backgrounds and their wrangling for the last pinecone pictured in tangled and grasping arms and legs. Cyril and Bruce’s  plummet over the waterfall is a vertical showstopper as is an illustration of the black bear among the birch trees. Get ready for repeat readings of the page where the pinecone ricochets from tree to rocks to the bear’s nose and lots of giggles when Bruce and Cyril make up. The final two-page spread of Bruce and Cyril’s feast shows friendship at its best.

Without a doubt, The Squirrels Who Squabbled is a book to add to home, classroom, and school libraries. It will be an often-asked-for favorite for story times all year ‘round.

Ages 3 – 7

Scholastic Inc., 2019 | ISBN 978-1338538038

Discover more about Rachel Bright and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jim Field, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Grab Some Nuts Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-squirrel-maze-puzzle

A Feast of Nuts! Puzzle

These two squirrels are after all the nuts they can find! Can you help one squirrel pick up nuts while scampering through the maze to her friend in this printable puzzle?

A Feast of Nuts! Maze Puzzle| A Feast of Nuts! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-squirrels-who-squabbled-cover

You can find The Squirrels Who Squabbled at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshhop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 24 – National Brother’s Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-book

About the Holiday

Today we take time to celebrate brothers! Whether you grew up with a brother (or a few) or have a friend you love like a brother, today’s holiday gives you a terrific reason to get in touch, relive some old memories, and make new ones! This year, as we’re spending more time working and playing with family, today’s book is certainly a home run!

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

Written by Audrey Vernick | Illustrated by Steven Salerno

When the weather warms and kids’ thoughts turn to sports, the afternoon air rings with the sounds of slamming doors as players race from home to the baseball diamond. Back in the 1920s and ‘30s, the same door slammed not once or twice, not three or four times, not even eight or nine! The door shut behind 12 brothers! Anthony, Joe, Paul, Alfred, Charlie, Jimmy, Bobby, Billy, Freddie, Eddie, Bubbie, and Louie Acerra. These 12 boys also had 4 sisters—but this is a story about baseball, and back then girls didn’t play ball.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-sliding-into-neighborhood
Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

It could be said that “baseball set the rhythm of their lives.” Neighbors couldn’t remember a time when Acerra boys weren’t throwing or hitting a ball or running the bases at the local park. And there was an Acerra on the high school baseball team for 22 years in a row!

In 1938 the nine oldest brothers formed a semi-pro team and competed against other New Jersey teams and teams from New York and Connecticut. Their dad was their coach. The brothers all had different skills—Anthony could hit homeruns, and even hit a couple into the Atlantic Ocean from a seaside park; Charlie was a slow runner; and Jimmy had a knuckleball that was unhittable and uncatchable.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-stadium
Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

But playing had its dangers too. In one game Alfred was going to bunt, but the ball bounced badly off the bat and hit him in the face. He was rushed to the hospital, but the accident caused him to lose an eye. Everyone thought he would never play again. But after he healed, his brothers helped him recover his skills and his courage.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-sliding-into-home
Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

During World War II six of the brothers joined the war effort and spent years apart. Far from home they dreamed of the days when they played together on warm afternoons. When the war ended all the Acerra boys came home to their very happy mother. The brothers got back to what they loved doing best. Now Anthony was their coach, and from 1946 to 1952 they won the Long Branch City Twilight Baseball League championship four times—much to the pleasure of the crowds that came out to watch the Acerras play.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-brothers-last-at-bat
Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

As time went on the Acerras got jobs, married, and had families of their own. In 1952 the brothers played their last game as a team, having made history as the longest-playing, all-brother baseball team ever. Even though the Acerras played many, years ago, people have not forgotten them. In 1997 they were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame. The surviving seven brothers made the trip along with one sister and more than a hundred relatives. Now Jimmy Acerra’s uniform and glove are on display alongside exhibits about Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays. If you visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, you can see them too!

Interesting and personal author’s and artist’s notes follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-brothers-at-bat-brothers
Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

Baseball fans will love Audrey Vernick’s exciting, true story of this most unusual team. Her focus on the close relationship of the Acerra brothers elevates the tale from merely a sports story to one that reveals deep affection and support during difficult times. The different personalities of the brothers shine through in Vernick’s easy, conversational tone, and the inclusion of the Acerra brothers’ induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame shows that this story lives on for all generations.

Steven Salerno’s evocative illustrations will transport readers into a past where neighborhood leagues enjoyed the same level of loyalty as the majors. Capturing the brushed style, colors, and portraiture of pictures of the period, Salerno shows kids not only what it meant to be a baseball player in the 1930s and 40s, but what it meant to be a family.

Ages 4 – 9

Clarion Books, 2012 | ISBN 978-0547385570

Discover more about Audrey Vernick and her book on her website.

To learn more about Steven Salerno, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Brother’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-best-brother-certificate

Best Brother Award Certificate

Today is all about your brother and how great you think he is! Print and fill out this Best Brother Award Certificate and give it to your brother—or brothers!

You can find Brothers at Bat at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 23 – It’s National Tennis Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-serena-the-littlest-sister-cover

About the Holiday

When the weather turns warm, thoughts turn to love. Not romantic love, but tennis! Tennis can’t be matched for thrilling one-on-one competition, exercise, and fun. While this year the world’s great tennis tournaments may be cancelled, outdoor tennis courts may be open, allowing you to reap the benefits of this favorite sport. Even though tournament viewing is limited this summer, you can always immerse yourself in a stirring biography of the game’s great players––starting with today’s book that’s all about love––of tennis and family!

Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

 

On that day when “Serena stood in Arthur Ashe Stadium and kissed the trophy,” her fans, sisters, and parents cheered. How had that day come about? It started thirteen years earlier when Serena, then four years old, joined her older sisters on the tennis court where their dad coached them. As he showed Serena how to swing, her sisters celebrated when she hit one and ran after the ones she didn’t. Mostly, the equipment they used was old and donated. Sometimes the balls had even lost their bounce, but “their father explained that it was good practice for Wimbledon—a Grand Slam tournament where the balls bounced lower because the tennis court was made of grass.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-serena-the-littlest-sister-grand-Venus

Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

When they weren’t on a real tennis court, the girls played a pretend game of tennis on the sidewalk. Serena loved when she won these games “because, well, Serena loved being the star.” As they grew, their father never allowed them “to use the word can’t.” Their mom told them, “‘Whatever you become, you become in your head first.’ So the girls dreamed of what they could become.” While the other sisters became a nurse, a lawyer, and a singer, Venus and Serena became top tennis players.

Venus was taking the tennis world by storm with her hard hitting, speed, and 100-miles-per-hour serve. Serena wanted to play in tournaments too, but her father said she wasn’t ready. But one day, Serena noticed an application for a tournament Venus was playing in. Serena filled it out and sent it in. At the tournament, Serena snuck off to play on one court while her parents watched Venus on another. Serena ran her opponent ragged and won the match.

Serena thought her father might be angry, but instead he was proud and began teaching her how to play against her next opponent. “Serena won all her matches, moving up and up until…she faced her big sister in the final match.” During the match, Serena asked Venus to let her win one game, but Venus ignored her plea. Later at home, though, Venus traded her gold trophy for Serena’s silver one. “Serena cherished that trophy.” Serena idolized Venus and did everything she did until her father reminded her that she was her own person. Some people didn’t think Serena would have the success Venus did, but her oldest sister told her, “‘You’ll have your day. And it’s gonna be even bigger.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-serena-the-littlest-sister-grand-sixteen

Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

After several years of winning, Serena, Venus, and her family moved to Florida for training. On those courts the girls stood out for their skin color, their beaded braids—and “their powerful strokes.” When Venus was fourteen, she was allowed to enter professional tournaments. She won her first match. When Serena turned pro, she didn’t win. The two teamed up as doubles partners, and by the time she was sixteen, Serena had grown in both height and confidence. She had her own style of play too.

The sisters continued to play as a doubles team, and in 1999 they won the French Open Doubles competition. Venus was eighteen and Serena was seventeen. That same year, the sisters entered the US Open, the tournament Serena had long dreamed of winning. Surprisingly, Venus was knocked out early, but Serena kept winning her matches. In the finals she met the player who had beaten Venus. Serena served eight aces and “her fierce forehand earned her point after point.” Serena won the match and became “the first black woman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament in more than forty years.” At the awards ceremony, Serena thanked her dad, her mom, and her sisters for all of their support. The crowd cheered as cameras flashed. “And one of the many headlines of the day read, Little Sister, BIG HIT!”

An Afterword highlights other victories Serena and Venus have enjoyed during their careers, follow-ups on their sisters, and quotations from each of the five sisters.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-serena-the-littlest-sister-grand-slam

Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Karlin Gray’s masterful biography of Serena Williams shows young readers the determination, confidence, and strong familial bond that followed Serena through her life and made her one of tennis’s most influential women players. The family’s remarkable life and focus on what one can achieve will inspire all kids, no matter what their dream is. Choosing seminal events in Serena’s and Venus’s life, Gray follows Serena’s reputation on the court as she loses and wins matches, building suspense until that day when she accomplishes her goal and wins the US Open. Her inclusion of articles and comments that cast doubt on Serena’s future success, demonstrates that even the greats face opposition and naysaying, and Serena’s sister’s advice to ignore it is sound.

Monica Ahanonu’s textured, collage-style illustrations leap off the page with vibrant images full of action and the girls’ personalities. As the girls race onto a court for practice, their eager expressions show their love of the game and being together. Even as a four-year-old Serena has the steely eyed gaze of a champion as she watches the bouncing ball and lines up for her swing. Ahanonu’s use of various perspectives and shadowing create dynamic scenes on the court, and tennis lovers will be thrilled at the many illustrations of Venus and Serena playing their sport. The bond between the sisters is evident in images of Serena interacting with one or more of her sisters. Those who remember Serena’s win at the 1999 US Open will recognize her joyous win.

Perfectly aimed at young readers who are the same age as Serena and Venus when they began developing their skills and sport, Serena: The Littlest Sister is an inspirational biography of a present-day role model that is sure to spark an “I can” attitude. Adults who have followed the Williams sisters’ rise to tennis stardom will be equally enthralled with this beautiful biography. The book would make a stirring addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

To learn more about Monica Ahanonu and her work, visit her website.

National Tennis Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tennis-word-search-puzzle

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle

 

If you’re a tennis ace, you’ll enjoy finding the tennis-related words in this printable word search puzzle.

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle | Tennis Love Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-serena-the-littlest-sister-cover

You can find Serena: The Littlest Sister at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review