November 9 – It’s National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

It seems that people have always been fascinated with flight. The first kite was invented in 1000 BCE in China; around 400 BCE Archytas of Tarentum developed a steam-powered pigeon; and most people are familiar with the designs of flying machines that Leonardo de Vinci created in the late 1400s. It wasn’t until 1680 that actual human flight was abandoned when an Italian mathematician determined that human muscles were incompatible with flight.

Zip ahead about 100 years and the first hot-air balloon took flight, which led to more complex technology, resulting in Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flight in 1903. From there, it seemed, the sky was the limit. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a trans-Atlantic Ocean solo flight in 1932, and in 1947 Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier. Given this long history, it’s astounding to think that only 58 years span the time from that modest 12-second flight by the Wright Brothers to the first manned space mission by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin! To celebrate the month, visit a local museum or read up on some of the pioneers of early flight—like the courageous women in today’s book.

Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest

Written by Aimée Bissonette | Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

 

Jerrie Mock was only seven when her first airplane ride convinced her she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up. At first she only dreamed of flying across Ohio, but later, when she followed reports of Amelia Earhart’s daring flights, she decided she too wanted to see the whole world.

In 1952, Joan Merriam was fifteen years old when she took her first airplane ride and was invited by the pilots to see the cockpit. That’s all it took for Joan to know she wanted to be a pilot too. She began flying lessons and was in the air before she even got her drivers license. By 1963, Joan was working as a professional pilot and bought a plane of her own. One of Joan’s goals was to “circle the globe following the exact route” her idol Amelia Earhart had charted.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

By the time Jerrie was thirty-seven, she had three children and ran a flight business with her husband, Russ. One night when she told Russ that she was bored, he joked, “‘Maybe you should get in your plane and fly around the world.’” Jerrie took him up on that. Both women spent months planning and charting their flights. Neither one knew that the other was getting ready for the same flight until their plans hit the media. Suddenly, what they had both thought was a solitary pursuit became a race to the finish.

Joan took off on March 17, 1964 from an airstrip in Oakland, California accompanied only by two stuffed bears. Two days later, surrounded by reporters asking if she thought she could beat Joan, Jerrie climbed into her tiny plane and took off too.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jerrie’s troubles began right away. First, her radio didn’t work then bad weather kept her grounded for six days. “Where was Joan?” she wondered. While Joan’s flight began smoothly, a gas leak brought her down to earth for a week while the tank was repaired. Back in the air, Jerrie seemed to suffer problems every day. “She battled dangerous ice buildup, burning radio wires, and bad weather. She flew into a sandstorm over the Arabian Desert and couldn’t see.” But she encouraged herself to stay calm and use her instruments. Joan was having it no easier. “Heavy rains pounded her pane. Her windshield leaked. Water puddled at her feet. When she finally made it to Brazil, she was delayed again. This time by a government revolution!”

Day by day both women battled the elements and equipment failures but kept flying. Everyone around the world seemed to be watching the race. Russ told Jerrie she had to fly faster—that Joan was winning. In Pakistan, people told Joan that Jerrie had landed there five days earlier. Finally, on April 17, twenty-nine days after she had left, Jerrie returned to Ohio to a hero’s welcome. Reporters and crowds pushed to see her. “Jerry’s heart pounded. She had done it. She had flown around the world. She had won the race.”

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Where was Joan? She “was in Lae, New Guinea—the last place Amelia Earhart was seen alive—when she heard the race was over.” Even though she knew she was behind Jerrie, “the news was still hard to take.” She sent Jerrie a congratulations telegram, and then left for Guam. There, she walked and “thought about her childhood dream. She thought about the race and she thought about losing.”  Then she thought about why she had undertaken the flight. She had done it to honor Amelia Earhart. Even though Jerrie had won the race, Joan thought that didn’t make her a loser. She “could still do what she set out to do.”

Joan landed back in Oakland, California on May 12, 1964. Her plane was in such bad shape that the Coast Guard had to dispatch a plane to guide her in. Joan was also welcomed by cheering crowds and reporters. Both Jerrie and Joan had accomplished incredible feats. Jerrie “became the first woman to fly around the world,” and Joan—”following Amelia’s exact route along the equator”—was the first “pilot—man or woman”—to fly that distance solo. And both women received thanks from Amelia’s sister, Muriel, for honoring Amelia—”a pilot who, like them, chose to follow her dreams.”

An Author’s Note describing the differences in Joan and Jerrie’s routes and aircraft as well as a bit more about their lives after the historic flight and a map outlining each woman’s flight pattern follow the text. Resources for further reading are also included.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Aimée Bissonette’s thrilling biography of two woman, two flights, and one race will keep young readers on the edge of their seats. Riveting details reveal the staggering dangers the women faced as well as their astonishing courage, dedication, and persistence. Bissonette’s fast-paced, electric storytelling puts kids in the cockpit as Joan and Jerrie cross the globe. As Jerrie wins the race and Joan reevaluates her goal, Bissonette makes important and welcome points about the nature of competition, keeping one’s eyes and heart on an original goal without getting caught up in distracting hype, and having the self-confidence to believe in oneself and recognize one’s accomplishments.

In her realistic, richly colored watercolors, Doris Ettlinger follows Jerrie and Joan as they experience their first airplane rides that determine their futures, plot their flights around the world, and take off. The obstacles each woman dealt with are dramatically portrayed as winds whip trees, blinding rain and sand storms thwart progress, and mechanical failures keep the women grounded. Children get a look at landscapes from Bermuda, the Philippines, Africa, and Pakistan as Joan and Jerrie complete their flights. Expressive depictions of Jerrie’s and Joan’s emotions show readers the determination, pressures, and ultimate joy each woman felt during these historic months of 1964.

An exhilarating biography and adventure story rolled into one, Aim for the Skies is a book that will inspire young readers to keep their eyes on their goals despite obstacles and setbacks while reassuring them that winning is accomplished by being true to yourself. Children who love history, flight, biographies, and adventure will find this a compelling book to add to their home bookshelf. Classroom, school, and public libraries will want to include Aim for the Skies in their collections for story times and lessons.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363810

Discover more about Aimée Bissonette and her books on her website.

National Aviation History Month Activity

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Flying is Fabulous! Maze

 

Can you pilot the airplane along its route to the airport in this printable Flying is Fabulous! Maze?

Flying is Fabulous! MazeFlying is Fabulous! Maze Solution

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You can find Aim for the Skies at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

November 3 – National Jellyfish Day

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About the Holiday

Jellyfish may be some of the most fascinating creatures in the sea, and they are certainly among the most beautiful. Often seen in groups—called swarms, blooms, or smacks—these ancient ocean invertebrates can be transparent, yellow, red, blue, and even effervescent. Jellyfish capture prey and defend themselves by emitting toxins through painful stings. To celebrate today’s holiday, visit a local aquarium or—if you live in a climate where jellyfish are present at this time of year, head to the beach to watch them in their natural habitat.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish

By Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 

Peanut Butter, a little seahorse, and Jellyfish were best friends who loved to explore the ocean and all its treasures together. Unfortunately, their adventures always seemed to take them past Crabby, “who would taunt as they slipped by, ‘You guys swim like humans.’” Jellyfish and Peanut Butter tried to ignore him, pretending they didn’t hear his hurtful jibes, but “Crabby was relentless. ‘You guys smell like rotten barnacles! Pee-yew!’” He compared them unflatteringly to sea slugs and his grandmother’s “run-walk shoes,” and ended with “what a bunch of bubbleheads!”

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Copyright Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 2014, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Jellyfish bravely stood up to Crabby, saying, “‘driftwood and sea stones may break our bones, but names will never hurt us.’” Of course, Crabby had a retort to that which involved the fact that Jellyfish was an invertebrate. One day, as Peanut Butter and Jellyfish passed Crabby’s house on their way to the big reef, they steeled themselves for the insults to come. But all they heard was quiet – until the sounds of sobbing reached their ears.

They swam on and found Crabby trapped in a lobster pot that was being pulled to the surface of the water. He called out to them that he was scared. Jellyfish and Peanut Butter looked at each other. Was it their responsibility to help Crabby? Peanut Butter thought that his situation looked pretty serious. And Jellyfish agreed. He even had a plan.

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Copyright Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 2014, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

The two friends swam up to the lobster trap, and Peanut Butter wrapped his tail around a slat in the door. When he pulled it open, however, Crabby didn’t move. Peanut Butter wanted him to hurry, but Crabby had a confession to make. He couldn’t swim, and he was afraid of heights. Now, Jellyfish had an idea.

He swam to the top of the lobster trap and with all his tentacles working feverishly, he tried to untie the knot in the rope. The trap was coming closer and closer to the fisherman’s boat. Just in the nick of time, the knot loosened, but then Crabby was hurtling to the bottom of the ocean. Peanut Butter and Jellyfish raced to catch it. “They grabbed ahold and lowered it to safety.”

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Copyright Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 2014, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Crabby felt weak as he returned to his rock, but he stuttered out a thank you to Jellyfish and Peanut Butter. Then he told them that he was sorry for all the things he had said. “Crabby may have been afraid of heights, but he was brave enough to apologize.” Crabby admitted that he may have felt jealous of all the fun Peanut Butter and Jellyfish had “exploring the open waters.” Jellyfish told Crabby that there was “plenty to explore close to the ocean floor” too. In fact, that’s where “they found their greatest treasure.”

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Copyright Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 2014, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s seafaring friendship story for little ones uses humor and a generosity of spirit to teach kids a lesson about empathy. Readers may giggle over Crabby’s taunts, but they will also understand the hurt they cause Peanut Butter and Jellyfish. Following this, the kindness showed by Peanut Butter and Jellyfish toward Crabby when he is in trouble then comes as a powerfully surprising message on compassion. Crabby’s willingness to admit his fears, own up to his jealousy, and apologize, as well as the trio’s growing friendship, provides many thought-provoking topics for children to consider.

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Copyright Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 2014, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Krosoczka’s illustrations of the undersea world give readers plenty of details to enjoy while adorable Peanut Butter and Jellyfish take center stage. When their sweet smiles give way to wary looks, kids will know trouble is on its way. Each scene during Crabby’s entrapment and escape provide gentle suspense while demonstrating the story’s themes of understanding and acceptance. As the three explore a chest overflowing with gold in the final spread, readers can debate what the “greatest treasure” is.

Ages 3 – 7

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014 | ISBN 978-0375870361

Discover more about Jarrett J. Krosoczka, his books, and his art on his website.

World Jellyfish Day Activity

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Jellyfish Coloring Page

 

Watching a jellyfish float on the ocean current can be mesmerizing! Grab your colored pencils, markers, or crayons—and maybe some glitter too—and enjoy this printable Jellyfish Coloring Page!

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You can find Peanut Butter and Jellyfish at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

Usually, I match books to existing holidays. Today, though, I have the pleasure of posting a review of a book that established a holiday. On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration.

The Dot

By Peter H. Reynolds

 

At the end of art class, Vashti looked at her paper. It was still as blank as it was at the beginning of art class. Her teacher came over and took a peek. She saw right away that Vashti had drawn “‘a polar bear in a snowstorm.’” Vashti wasn’t fooled by the joke. “‘I just CAN’T draw,’” she said. But her teacher had a suggestion. “‘Just make a mark and see where it takes you.’”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti jabbed at the paper with a marker, making a dot right in the center. Her teacher studied her drawing carefully then told Vashti to sign it. That, at least, was something Vashti could do. She signed her name and gave the paper to her teacher. At the next week’s art class, Vashti was stunned to see her dot framed and hanging above the teacher’s desk. She looked at the tiny mark and decided that she could do better than that.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti opened her watercolor set and began. She “painted and painted. A red dot. A purple dot. A yellow dot. A blue dot.” Then she discovered that blue mixed with yellow made a green dot. Vashti went to the easel and began painting lots of little dots in all sorts of colors. She realized if she could make little dots, she could make big dots. She knelt down on the floor with a big piece of paper and a big brush and created a huge dot.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Then on an enormous canvas Vashti “made a dot by not making a dot.” At the school art show, Vashti’s dot paintings covered two walls and were quite a hit. Coming around the corner a little boy spied Vashti. He came close and told her, “‘You’re a really great artist. I wish I could draw.’” Vashti was encouraging, but the little boy said he couldn’t even “‘draw a straight line with a ruler.’”

Vashti wanted to see. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. With a quivering pencil, he drew a line and handed the paper back to her. Vashti studied the wavy line for a minute, and then gave the paper back. “‘Please…sign it,’” she said.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Peter H. Reynold’s classic story of a little girl who believes she can’t draw is inspirational for anyone at any age who listens too closely to that voice in their head that stops them from letting go and doing. Whether it’s painting, writing, changing the décor of one’s house, updating a wardrobe, getting healthy, or even taking a class, the project often seems insurmountable. But what if you could start with a YouTube video, one step, a pair of earrings, a pillow, a word, or…a dot? Reynolds says you can! With his straightforward storytelling, Reynolds gives readers permission to play, experiment, and feel free.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Reynold’s familiar line drawings that sketch out adorable Vashti and her wise teacher are punctuated by the colorful dots that Vashti draws in profusion. Even Vashti, herself, is surrounded by circular auras of color throughout the story, reflecting her talent and creative spirit. The final scene of the art show gallery is a revelation, showing readers that one’s work or life work adds up to an impressive display of the self.

Through and through The Dot is charming, moving, and encouraging. It is a must addition to home libraries, public libraries, and classrooms.

Ages 5 and up

Candlewick Press, 2003 | 978-0763619619

Discover more about International Dot Day, download an Educator’s Guide, and see a gallery of projects on thedotclub.org.

You’ll learn more about Peter H, Reynolds, his books, and his art as well as find lots of inspiration and creative tips on his website!

International Dot Day Activity

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Decorate the Dots Coloring Page

 

How would you color these dots? Grab your favorite paints, markers, or crayons and let your imagination fly with this printable Decorate the Dots Coloring Page.

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You can find The Dot at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 18 – Break the Monotony Day

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About the Holiday

Are you stuck in a rut? Are you so entrenched that you can’t imagine breaking your comfortable routine? Then maybe it’s time for a change. And that’s what today’s holiday is all about. It doesn’t take much to break the monotony—just a simple change-up will do. So today, instead of having your usual latte, order a chai. They’re delicious! Instead of following the same boring route to work or school, zip down a different road. You never know what you will see! And Instead of binge-watching that show, try a new one.  I know! But you can go back to it tomorrow. Of course, one of the best ways to break the monotony is by reading books—they’ll take you to all sorts of places, you’ll meet new, exciting people, and you’ll get involved in events you never thought possible! 

Somewhere Else

By Gus Gordon

 

There are birds that fly north and those that fly south. There are birds that take the bus and those that don’t care how they travel just so long as they go somewhere. And then there’s George Laurent. “George never went anywhere.” He told himself that he liked his home and his garden and, especially, the pastries he baked in his oven better than anything or anywhere else.

It wasn’t like he never saw anyone. His “friends were always dropping by on their way to somewhere else” to enjoy his delicious treats. And they often invited George to fly away with them. When Penelope Thornwhistle was reminded of the Andes while eating one of his éclairs, she asked George to go there with her. But George had potentially award-winning brownies in the oven. When Walter Greenburg tasted George’s apple strudel and thought about Paris, he was ready to take George to see the city of lights, but George had ironing to do. And a trip to the Alaskan tundra with a flock of other ducks had to be postponed because of yoga class.

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Copyright Gus Gordon, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

As time went on, everyone stopped asking George to share their adventures. They knew he was too busy anyway. When winter came, “George found himself alone.” At least until Pascal Lombard came knocking, looking for a place to spend the snowy months. When the bear wondered why George wasn’t sunning himself on some Caribbean beach, George said he was learning Flamenco songs on his guitar, catching up on the TV series Lost in Space, and typing out his memoirs.

But Pascal reminded George that he didn’t have a guitar or a television and that he hadn’t yet done anything worthy of a memoir. It was then that George made his confession: he didn’t know how to fly. When all the other ducks had learned to fly, he said, he had been too busy with something else. “He had been making excuses not to fly ever since.”

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Copyright Gus Gordon, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Well, Pascal was ready to remedy the situation. Fortunately, he had an “uncanny knack for solving tricky problems.” They tried reading books, taking wing on a kite, and using a crane. But nothing worked. “It turned out Pascal Lombard didn’t have much of a knack for solving tricky problems after all.” Both George and Pascal felt disappointed as they read by the fire, until George happened to peek at Pascal’s newspaper and see an announcement for a hot air balloon ride in Paris.

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Copyright Gus Gordon, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

George was intrigued. And Pascal said, “‘I am remarkably good with my hands! We can build it!’” So they set to work, but it was harder than they thought, and “it took all winter (it turned out Pascal Lombard wasn’t actually very good with his hands).” Finally, though, they were flying! They flew their red patchwork balloon for months, seeing the Eiffel Tower, floating over the Arctic Circle, soaring through Madagascar, and experiencing places that were “more exciting than they had ever imagined.” But still, they missed George’s homemade pie. So they flew home, enjoyed tea and pie, and planned next year’s “anywhere somewhere else” adventure.

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Copyright Gus Gordon, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Gus Gordon’s tenderhearted and funny story about missed opportunities that can lead to more missed opportunities, excuses, and sometimes isolation tackles a common predicament not often seen in children’s books. George’s amusing tales of loads of laundry, Flamenco lessons, and yoga classes as well as his real talent for baking will endear George to readers, making his admission a moment for true empathy and encouragement. More silliness ensues as Pascal tries to help out, and kids will cheer when the two finally get off the ground.

Gordon’s reassurance that there’s no shame in making mistakes or not knowing something is also found in Pascal’s bravado and subsequent asides to the contrary. As George and Pascal work together to teach George to fly, kids see that help can be as close as a good friend—and as fun. A welcome undertone to the story is the idea that it’s also okay to be yourself: the first page abounds with very unique birds flying here and there; for Penelope an éclair reminds her of the Andes and for Walter, strudel reminds him of Paris—and who’s to say they’re wrong?; and when George and Pascal miss home and homemade goodies, they return to their favorite place.

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Copyright Gus Gordon, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Gordon’s illustrations are a treat too. Full of visual humor and word play, the mixed-media, collage-style images bring together snippets of old advertising, photography, and traditional mediums and invite readers to linger to catch all the humor included. The page on which George finally makes his confession is worthy of special note. Here, in contrast to the other pages, the background is white, a saddened George is simply sketched with a blue outline, and the stack of firewood he was carrying lies haphazardly at his feet. The image gives children and adults an opportunity to talk about feelings of embarrassment, doubt, or uncertainty.

Somewhere Else is an original story with heart, humor, and an uplifting lesson that would make a sweet and meaningful addition to classroom and home libraries.

Age 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626723498

Discover more about Gus Gordon and his books on his website.

Break the Monotony Day Activity

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Reading is Super! Maze

 

One of the best ways to add excitement to life is through reading! These kids are waiting for some books to read. Can you help the super-reader bring his friends new books in this printable Reading is Super Maze?

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You can find Somewhere Else at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 12 – New Conversations Day

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About the Holiday

This brand-new holiday extols the virtues of a really good conversation. Too often our exchanges with others fall into the realm of small talk where the weather, the score of the latest game, or a cursory “how are you?” is as deep as it gets. But there are so many more interesting topics to discuss that would lead to better connections with and understanding of family, friends, and acquaintances. Take the opportunity of today’s holiday to get together with your friends and talk about the funniest thing that ever happened to you, the best meal you ever had, or your favorite work of art. Of course a perfect topic of conversation is your favorite book or character and why! You’ll find out a lot about your friends as well as about yourself!

The Blue Songbird

By Vern Kousky

 

There once was a little blue songbird who loved to listen to her sisters singing in the morning, but when she tried to join in, the notes always fell flat. Sadly, she told her mother that she thought there were no songs for her, but her mother gently told her, “‘not just any notes will do. You must go and find a special song that only you can sing.’” So the little songbird began a journey to “find her special song.”

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

When she was far from home, she met a great crane and asked if he knew of any song made especially for her. The crane said he couldn’t help her, but pointed her in the direction of the mountains, where a wise bird lived. When she reached the pine forest on the other side of the mountains, the songbird explained to Mr. Wise Old Bird his quest for a song. But the owl could only ask, “‘Whoooo? Whoooo?’” so the songbird went on her way.

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

She stopped here and there to talk to a buzzard, a group of pigeons, and a family of penguins, but “no bird ever had the answer.” Then one snowy day the songbird saw “a bird who looked a little bit mean and more than a little hungry. Even so the songbird bravely chirped: ‘Please don’t eat me, Mr. Scary Bird. I was just wondering if you’ve ever heard of a very special thing—a song that only I can sing.’” The crow did know of such a thing and told the songbird about an island filled with enchanting music.

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

The songbird grew weary searching for the island, and then one day he saw a glow on the horizon and knew she had found it. She could hear the faint strains of beautiful music, and she flew faster and faster to get there. When she neared the island, though, she knew this place. It was home. “The songbird’s heart fell.” After all that time and all the conversations with other birds, “her quest had failed.”

When she saw her mother, however, her mood brightened. She wanted to tell her mother all about her travels and the other birds she’d met. When she opened her beak to tell her stories, though, “what came out was not words at all…but a song!” She sang about Crane and Owl and Crow, “of cities and of stormy seas and mountains capped with snow.” She told of warm days and cold days and most of all “of the love the songbird felt for her family and her home.”

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

Vern Kousky gently nudges little ones out of the nest to begin exploring the world on their own, to test their wings, meet others, and discover their talents. Along the way young readers learn that they can trust their instincts, be brave, and that perseverance pays off. Kousky’s lyrical story also reassures children that home is always waiting and that no matter where they go or what they do, family will always welcome them.

Kousky’s tiny blue smudge of a bird is adorable as she cuddles with her mother to reveal her doubts and then demonstrates hopeful pluck as she talks with much larger birds on her way to self-discovery. Kousky’s settings delight with muted hues of blues, yellows, and reds and angled mountains, skyscrapers, and glaciers that point the little songbird—as well as readers—skyward. The image of the little songbird’s mother welcoming her home with outstretched wings is heartwarming, and the songbird’s elation at having found her song will fill readers with joy.

A joyful story for inspiring self-confidence, interactions with others, and personal growth, The Blue Songbird is a beautiful book for home and classroom libraries that will be asked for again and again.

Ages 4 –  8

Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762460663

To learn more about Vern Kousky, his books, and his art, visit his website.

New Conversations Day Activity

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Family Conversation Starters

 

Because children have such fertile imaginations, great conversations can start from just one intriguing question. Put these printable conversation starters on the dinner table and let the fun and serious talk begin!

Conversation Starters Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6

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You can find The Blue Songbird at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 11 – National Making Life Beautiful Day

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About the Holiday

Today isn’t so much about physical beauty as it is about making life more fun, meaningful, joyful—more beautiful—for someone else. This can be done in so many ways, from spending more time talking with someone to using your talents to make something you know a friend, family member, or coworker would love, to just giving a smile to those you meet during the day. Making someone else feel good will make life more beautiful for you too!

I was sent a copy of The Secrets of Ninja School to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also happy to be hosting a giveaway of the book! See details below.

The Secrets of Ninja School

By Deb Pilutti

 

Ruby, a little red-haired girl, is excited to be attending Master Willow’s School for Ninjas. The school, located in a huge house on the outskirts of town, is open only one weekend each summer. Master Willow called his students “‘saplings,’” and each child attended his school eager to learn how to appear invisible, jump skillfully, show patience, and be brave. “But most of all, they came to Master Willow’s School for Ninjas to discover their very own secret skill.”

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

While the other saplings learned quickly, Ruby could not get the hang of sneaking invisibly, jumping with skill, being patient, or feeling brave. Most disappointing, Ruby could not discover her own secret skill. She went to see Master Willow, who told her that through practice she would improve and find her skill. Ruby did practice and did improve, but her special skill still eluded her.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

At bedtime, Ruby felt homesick. The other kids told her that saplings did not miss home, but, still, she told them how her father read stories to her when she couldn’t sleep, how her mother lit a nightlight and kissed her nose when she was afraid of the dark, and that her grandmother would bring out her craft box and “they would spend hours making the most magnificent creations” when she was worried.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

Not a sound broke the silence. But then Ruby heard “a sniff and a gasp and a wail. Before she knew it all the other saplings were crying.” Ruby knew just what to do. She “sneaked down the hallway” invisibly, jumped over the cat with skill, and “snipped and stitched and stuffed” patiently. She even bravely explained why she was out of bed when Master Willow caught her.

Back in the dormitory, Ruby turned on a lamp, “gave each of the saplings a stuffed dragon and told them stories of bravery and daring.” Master Willow watched and listened with a smile on his face. When Ruby handed him a stuffed dragon too, he told her that her skills were no longer a secret. “‘You are a wonderful storyteller, a fine dragon maker, and a very good friend.’” Ruby was happy, but she “kept practicing, because being brave isn’t always easy. Even for a ninja.”

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, courtesy of Macmillan Publishers.

Deb Pilutti’s uplifting story takes an honest look, through a fun Ninja lens, at the worries some children have when they compare their skills and talents to others and even against their own expectations. While Ruby struggles to pick up Ninja skills, readers will see that Ruby has other talents, such as perseverance, creativity, and the courage to ask for help. Ruby may feel—like all kids do at times—that she’s different from the others, but she discovers that emotions are universal, allowing her to appreciate and share her gifts for empathy, kindness, and friendship.

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Pilutti’s bright illustrations will endear Ruby to readers as she excitedly goes off the ninja school, keeps practicing despite some mishaps, and sees dragons in clouds and shadows. Images of the saplings jumping, throwing, and meditating will delight little home ninjas-in-training, and the fully stocked Ninja Craft Area where Ruby creates her stuffed dragons will cheer young crafters.

You can make Ruby’s Dragon Softie too!

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Clear instructions and patterns for an adorable dragon that kids can make at home are included at the end of the story.

Ages 4 – 8

Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2018 | ISBN 978-1627796491

To learn more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art and to find fun book-related activities, visit her website.

The Secrets of Ninja School Giveaway

I’m excited to be giving away:

  • One (1) copy of The Secrets of Ninja School and one (1) Green Dragon Softie

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, June 11 – 17. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

Winners will be chosen on June 18.

Giveaways open to US addresses only 

National Making Life Beautiful Day Activity

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Happiness Cards to Share

 

You can easily make someone’s day brighter by saying something nice! Share these printable Happiness Cards with friends, family, teachers, and others and watch them smile!

Happiness Cards to Share Page 1 | Happiness Cards to Share Page 2

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You can find The Secrets of Ninja School at these Booksellers

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Macmillan | Powell’s

May 27 – It’s Mystery Month

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About the Holiday

The month of May is dedicated to mysteries! Established nine years ago by Booklist, part of the American Library Association, Mystery Month highlights all things mysterious and offers webinars, articles, awards, recommendations and more! For kids it’s a terrific time to discover this most exciting, chilling, and fun genre. So celebrate by reading all types of mysteries from gentle puzzlers for little ones to more complex fiction and biographies of great detectives – likes today’s book!

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective

Written by Marissa Moss | Illustrated by April Chu

 

As Kate read the newspaper advertisement from the Pinkerton Agency for the third time, she knew that this was the job for her. It said: “Wanted: Detective. Must be observant, determined, fearless, and willing to travel.” But in 1856 no one would hire a single woman, so Kate decided to present herself as a widow.

Kate had been raised by her father, a printer. Books had always been her companions, and she knew how to make up a story—even the story of her life. “So Kate Carter became Kate Warne…exactly the kind of person you’d want to hire as a detective.” As soon as she walked through the door, Allan Pinkerton began writing down his impressions of Kate. He thought she was a client seeking help. From her manner and appearance, he knew he would take her case—whatever it was.

But when Kate told him she was applying for a job, he told her he “had no need for a washerwoman or cook.” Kate told him she was there to apply for the detective position. Pinkerton had reservations. The dangerous work was “not at all the sort of thing a woman could do,” he said. But Kate disagreed. She told him that she would be able to go into places his male detectives could not and could be the confidant of women witnesses. Pinkerton told her he would think it over.

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Image copyright April Chu 2017, text copyright Marissa Moss, 2017. Courtesy of Creston Books.

The next day Kate was at the office as soon as it opened. “Today, you’ve made some history,” Pinkerton told her, “You’re now the first woman detective in the country.” He handed her a file marked The Adams Express Case. As she read the case, Kate felt a thrill of excitement. “The Adams Express Company transported money and valuables for businesses all over the South, by rail, steamboat, and stagecoach.” Valuables were well protected by locks that couldn’t be picked.

But $40,000 had disappeared. One suspect stood out from the rest—Nathan Maroney, the manager of the Montgomery office where the packages had come from. He had been the last person to lock up the carrying pouch before the messenger, Mr. Chase, transported it to Atlanta, where it was found to be empty. Maroney was arrested, but there was little hard evidence—only a slit in the pouch that had not been there before Maroney was accused.

Kate considered the problem then remembered the sleight of hand tricks huskers used to fool people. She figured out how Maroney had stolen the money, but they needed more evidence and a confession. While a male agent pretended to be a fellow thief named “John White” in the same jail cell as Maroney, Kate befriended Maroney’s wife, Belle, pretending to be Madame Imbert. While Belle didn’t confess to the theft, she did ask her new friend for advice on where to hide valuables. Kate told her she hid her valuables in the basement or buried them in the garden.

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Image copyright April Chu, 2017, text copyright Marissa Moss, 2017. Courtesy of Creston Books.

When Belle left town to visit her husband in jail, Kate took the opportunity to do some snooping at her house. Just as Kate found a freshly dug mound behind crates and barrels in the basement, she heard Belle returning home. She hurriedly put everything back in place and rushed upstairs. Belle was suspicious of the dust on Kate’s dress, and Kate knew she and the other agents had to act fast. She alerted another agent who crawled through the basement window while Belle slept. He tidied up the basement, and the next morning when Belle checked her hiding place, everything was in order. She could still trust her friend she thought.

The Pinkerton Agency plan was going like clockwork. Inside the jail cell, Maroney put his faith—and his money—in the detective’s hands. Maroney wrote to Belle, telling her that John White was going to help them. He instructed her to give John White all the money he had stolen. White was going to plant some of it on Mr. Chase, use some of it to bribe a judge to find Maroney not guilty at trial, and keep the rest for Maroney to collect later. At first, Belle didn’t trust John White, but one sentence from her friend “Madame Imbert” eased her mind and she went along with her husband’s plan.

As the ingenious plan was hatched and carried out, Kate made sure that all the money was secure. The money made its way to the Pinkerton agent “Mr. White” with Belle and Maroney none the wiser. As Maroney’s trial proceeded, and he heard Mr. White called as the first witness, Maroney suddenly changed his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty.” “The reputation of the Pinkerton agency was made. So was Kate Warne’s.”

Kate became one of the agency’s most valuable detectives. She was even put in charge of a women’s division and hired many more women who became “some of Pinkerton’s strongest agents.” But Kate Warne, the first woman detective in America, would always be considered the best.

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Image copyright April Chu, 2017, text copyright Marissa Moss, 2017. Courtesy of Creston Books.

An Author’s Note explaining more about the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the first woman detective follow the text.

Children who love mysteries will be enthralled with this true tale of the first woman detective in America and her explosive first assignment. Marissa Moss’s suspenseful, compelling storytelling and excellent pacing reveal the facts of the case, Kate’s insightful reasoning, and the clever ruses the agents used in outsmarting and capturing the thief. Moss infuses the story with the feeling of the time period and a sense of pride in this little-known piece of women’s history.

April Chu’s detailed period drawings take kids to the mid-1800s to follow Kate Warne as she solves her first case. Depictions of Kate’s father’s printing press, the dirt roads traversed by horse-drawn wagons and carriages, the Adams Express locked pouches and secure rail car will excite history and mystery buffs. The full cast of characters are clearly portrayed, allowing young readers to become detectives themselves as they see the action through Kate’s eyes. The dramatic finale to the case will have children on the edge of their seats whether they are hearing the story aloud or reading it themselves.

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective is a thrilling picture book introduction to both biographies and mysteries for children. It offers a unique look at the contributions of strong women in history and is an excellent selection for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 5 – 13

Creston Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1939547330

Visit with Marissa Moss on her website to discover more about her, her books, and loads of fun activities!

View a gallery of artwork by April Chu on her website!

Mystery Month Activity

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Mysterious Mystery Word Search Puzzle

 

Do a little sleuthing to find the twenty mystery-related words in this printable Mysterious Mystery Word Search Puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review