November 21 – National Entrepreneurs’ Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2010, today’s holiday celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well in so many people and that helps advance knowledge and technology, solve problems, and make life better. The third Tuesday of November has been set aside to honor those thinkers and inventors of the past as well as to encourage those now working to see their ideas come to fruition. With their supple minds and unique way of looking at the world, children are natural entrepreneurs, as today’s book shows!

Norton and Alpha

By Kristyna Litten

 

Norton was a very particular kind of collector. He loved finding the kinds of things most people threw away. “Battered wheels, rusty cogs, broken springs…and best of all were the things Norton didn’t have a name for.” Nearly everywhere he went, Norton found useful things. He took them all home and “made the most amazing inventions.”

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

One day Norton found a little springy thing that he added “to his latest project.” It was the perfect final touch, and Norton named his invention Alpha. Alpha accompanied Norton on all of his hunts, following “his little robot nose down unknown paths.” He was small enough to get into all those places Norton couldn’t reach—ones where amazing items lurked.

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

One day “Alpha’s nose felt slightly odd. It tickled and tingled and led him to something very unusual.” Norton had no idea what it was, but he took it along home. In his workshop he tested it in all of his usual ways, but this object didn’t react in any way familiar. In fact, the longer Norton had it, the less useful it appeared to be until Norton finally threw it out the window. As it fell it scattered bits of itself all over the ground.

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As Norton and Alpha cleaned up, “they found a little round something their mysterious discovery had left behind.” Norton placed it in a jar just in case. The next day rain kept Norton and Alpha indoors, and the next day after that it was too hot to go out. Friday turned out to be just right, so Norton “oiled their joints and got everything ready for a long day’s collecting.”

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When they opened the doors they were greeted by the most beautiful, colorful sight. Norton and Alpha ran and played in the field and collected samples of all “the blue, pink, and orange things.” At home Norton didn’t experiment on them or even try to figure out what they were. Instead, he just used them to decorate his shelves, pipes, boxes, and bins because they “made him smile.”

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kristyna Litten’s inventive story of a little robot who loves to tinker and collect odd objects and his constant companion, Alpha, will charm children who are always intrigued by the unknown and ready to incorporate found objects into their world. The idea that industrious efforts can coexist with the simple enjoyment of the earth’s beauty may inspire kids and adults to also appreciate those special “found moments” that can bring much happiness to life.

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Litten’s Norton and Alpha are adorable friends, inviting little readers into their lab, where kids will love lingering over the gears, dials, machines, and shelves stacked with recognizable springs, tacks, nails, washers, hooks, hinges and other items. Readers will “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” when Norton and Alpha open their doors—accomplished through a marvelous double gate-fold spread—and the once-bleak landscape has been transformed into a gorgeous field by the flowers Norton has helped to grow. Children will also enjoy following what happens to the little seed Norton has saved as it is watered by an undetected leak in a nearby bottle and germinated on that very hot day.

With its cute illustrations and inspiring story, Norton and Alpha would be a much-asked-for book on any child’s home bookshelf and a terrific lead-in to inventive classroom playtimes or units.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1454924999

Discover more about Kristyna Litten, her art, and her books on her blog.

National Entrepreneur’s Day Activity

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Inventor’s Box

 

For young inventors or tinkerers, having bits and pieces and some tools to work with all stored in one place encourages creative thinking. Filling the drawers of a tool case, a tool box, or a tackle box with items like springs, brads, wheels, hinges, plastic piping, pieces of wood, glue, tape, and simple tools can spark a child’s imagination. Take your child along to the craft or hardware store and choose items together!

Picture Book Review

November 15 – I Love to Write Day

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About the Holiday

Of course, today is one of my favorite holidays! How could it not be when the whole idea is to spend the day writing?! Delaware-based non-fiction and how-to writer John Riddle instituted today’s holiday in 2002 to encourage kids and adults to set their thoughts down in whatever way they like best. The idea took off and now organizations from schools to shopping centers hold special events to promote and support the writing of stories, poems, articles, journal entries, and even novels. If you have words that are just waiting to be written, take some time today to put pen to paper or fingers to keys and let them flow!

Someone Like Me

Written by Patricia MacLachlan | Illustrated by Chris Sheban

 

A little girl strolls with her grandmother along a path lined with tall, golden grasses, rides in a pickup truck with her grandfather as the sun sets behind them, and visits her uncle in the barn as day breaks listening “to stories over and over and over.” There’s one about the time a horse named Jack and a dozen cows got loose and walked into town, and one about “Aunt Emma’s dog with three names—Tommy, Rascal, and Come Along,” and so many more.

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Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

This same little girl reads books every night and all day, never looking up even when “her mother led her across streets.” She likes to hide under tables and listen to “the grown-ups who told secrets,” and when she plays with her dog and reads to her chicken, she tries to teach them to talk. She is easily captivated by the fantastic, climbing the tall cottonwood tree to be closer to the clouds, and once running away with “a little boy who told her he’d find her a white horse, and didn’t.” She finds herself following people near enough to “hear their talk and their songs and how they laughed.”

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Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The little girl carries a plastic bag full of deep, rich earth that reminds her of her great-grandmother, who loved the prairie and flushing the geese from the slough just to watch them fly. If you were someone like this little girl, you might grow up to be “someone who writes about how the sky looks through the branches of a tree” or “geese against the clouds.” You might write about talking dogs, writerly chickens, and a mystical white horse. If you were someone like the teller of this tale, you might grow up to be just like her—a writer.

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Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

In her lyrical answer to the question “where do you get your ideas?” Patricia MacLachlan gives readers a peek into the process of becoming a writer. As the little girl stores up a lifetime of carefully observed and remembered influences and impressions, children discover that it is often the simple moments and the things someone finds particularly beautiful, magical, or funny that makes their voice unique. MacLachlan’s story encourages not only would-be writers but all readers to pay attention and be in the moment to capture all of life’s wonders.

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Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Chris Sheban’s soft watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite illustrations have the timelessness of favorite memories as they give substance to transformative stories only heard by the little girl. The cars and pickups, downtown streetscapes, rocking chair on a front porch, and even the girl’s explorations lend a lovely nostalgic feeling to accompany the thoughtful text. In each scene as the young will-be writer gathers fodder for her imagination, she is illuminated by the sun, a porch light, lamp light, or the moon, creating a nice visual metaphor for her growing enlightenment. As the final page gives a glance into the author’s study, light flows from the open door through the darkened woods and toward the reader.

Someone Like Me is an inspirational story for children who love to write or create other types of art. The book would be a welcome addition to home bookshelves for reflective and quiet story times or to accompany classroom writing units.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626723344

Discover more about Chris Sheban, his art, and his picture books on his website.

I Love to Write Day Activity

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My Story Template

 

Everyone has a story inside them! Take some time today to write yours on one of these printable My Story Templates

Lined Temp;ate | Unlined Template

Picture Book Review

October 5 – World Teachers’ Day

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About the Holiday

World Teacher’s Day, sponsored by the United Nations, was established to celebrate the role teachers play in providing quality education from preschool through college and beyond. Teachers guide students to find their best selves, whether they’re children just starting their journey or adults going back to school. To celebrate today’s holiday, thank a teacher for everything they’ve done or do for you.

Because I Had a Teacher

Written by Kobi Yamada | Illustrated by Natalie Russell

 

A little bear has lots to say about his or her teacher. It may come as no surprise that this teacher has instilled in the bear a love of learning. But it goes beyond that. The little one reveals that “because I had a teacher, I discovered that I could do much more than I thought I could.” If one thing is harder than the rest, that’s okay too, the bear realizes.

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Copyright Nancy Russell, 2017, courtesy of Compendium, Inc.

 

Because of having such a wonderful teacher, the child is ready for any challenges that come and understands that there are lots of ways of being smart”. Mistakes are not a big deal either, because they just happen when you’re trying to get things right. And those things that are the hardest? They bring the bear the most satisfaction to achieve.

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Image copyright Nancy Russell, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017 Courtesy of Compendium, Inc.

“Because I had a teacher,” the little bear says, “I know how good it feels when someone is happy to see me.” Not only that, but the child knows a friend is always near and that there is always someone who can help out. The bear’s teacher has introduced vast new worlds to explore and has fostered the little learner’s imagination. In fact, the bear feels that nothing is impossible. Then the little bear gives the best compliment of all: “Because I had you, I learned to believe in me.”

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Image copyright Nancy Russell, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017 Courtesy of Compendium, Inc.

Kobi Yamada’s heartwarming love letter from student to teacher is a touching tribute to one of the most important relationships in life. One of the wonderful aspects of the story is its fluidity, which allows for multiple interpretations on the student and teacher dynamic. The lyrical prose is appropriate for a traditional teacher/student pair, but the bond could also easily be between a parent and child, a grandparent and grandchild, or any caregiver and their small charge. The book could also be read the other way ‘round with the endearing sentiments coming from an adult to a child, as children often teach adults much about life as well.

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Image copyright Nancy Russell, 2017, text copyright Kobi Yamada, 2017 Courtesy of Compendium, Inc.

Natalie Russell’s softly hued illustrations masterfully do double duty as well. Quiet in their yellow background, line drawings, and adorable bears, Russell’s soy-ink drawings are also full of action and excitement. The teacher is just as engaged in the learning as the student—doing experiments, climbing trees, launching boats, and helping to paint masterpieces—making their relationship balanced and one of equal sharing. Gender neutrality is found throughout the book, making it appropriate for all children and adults.

Because I Had a Teacher would make a much-loved gift for any teacher, parent, or caregiver. It would also be a cozy read together for bedtime or any story time.

Ages 4 – 7 and up

Compendium, Inc., 2017 | ISBN  978-1943200085

To learn more about Kobi Yamada visit the Compendium, Inc. website.

View a portfolio of illustration work and sketches by Natalie Russell on her website.

World Teacher’s Day Activity

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Thank You, Teacher Certificate

 

If you have a favorite teacher, here’s a printable Thank You, Teacher Certificate for you to color, fill out, and give to them today or any day.

Picture Book Review

September 25 – World Dream Day and Interview with Author Michelle Cuevas

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About the Holiday

World Dream Day is a global participatory holiday that encourages individuals, schools, businesses, and families to focus on their dreams and make them reality. Discovering and acting on your dreams can transform not only your life, but the lives of others. Imagine how the world could change if everyone had the opportunity to live their dreams. Today, feel inspired and empowered to do or become whatever you’ve always dreamed of!

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow

Written by Michelle Cuevas | Illustrated by Sydney Smith

 

Smoot the Shadow was bored. Bored. Bored. For seven and a half years, he’d been doing the same things over and over. Every day, he and his boy—to whom he was firmly connected—“brushed the same teeth, frowned the same frown, and drew the same pictures—always staying perfectly inside the lines.” Smoot’s boy never jumped, ran, or even laughed, so Smoot never did either.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Excet at night. Then, while the boy slept, Smoot dreamed. He dreamed in a multitude of colors about singing, dancing, and having fun. One day, with an unexpected “pop” Smoot became free of his boy. He didn’t waste a moment, but packed a few things and headed out into the world. He jumped rope, rode a carousel and climbed a tree to say hello to a little bird. He even got to dance in a field of multicolored wildflowers just like in his dreams.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Suddenly, other shadows took notice. As they watched Smoot play, they became braver too. “‘If he can follow his dreams, we can too,’” they reasoned. The first shadow to take the plunge was a dandelion. As it soared away into the sky, becoming an indistinct form, people tried to guess what it was. All this attention emboldened the shadows of a cricket and a grasshopper who had “formed a band, but were nervous about playing music in public.” Their shadows, however, picked up their instruments and played “like cool shade on a hot afternoon.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

A frog’s shadow discovered his inner prince, and a dragonfly’s shadow floated out over the city as a ferocious dragon. Even a lowly rock’s shadow had dreams of greatness, transforming into “a cathedral, and then a skyscraper, and finally a castle that reached the clouds.” Smoot began to grow afraid of the imagination he’d unleashed. What if the shadows of zoo animals escaped and roamed through town or if the sun was eclipsed by the shadow of an enormous whale? How would anyone catch them?

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

But Smoot had an idea. He made a castle from the ambitious rock and some others. The frog moved in to live like a prince, and the dragonfly guarded the gate. Then Smoot sang with the grasshopper and cricket to give them more courage, and he blew the dandelion seeds into the air. The shadows all saw that their dreams had come true, so they returned to their owners, who also felt different.

And Smoot’s boy? All the excitement had inspired him to be more like his shadow. After he and his shadow reconnected, they ran, tumbled, jumped in puddles, and played in “singing, ringing, flying, vibrant, dancing color.”

Through her rambunctious shadows, Michelle Cuevas creatively externalizes that small (or loud) voice inside many people that is yearning to be heard and acted on. For many children and adults, giving free reign to their alter ego can feel uncomfortable or even frightening. In her lyrical and uplifting book, Cuevas reveals these dreams for greatness, recognition, or freedom and encourages readers to let go and chase them. She shines a light on how they can take that first step through play, teaming up, or using their imagination and talents to make their dreams come alive.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of sydneydraws.tumblr.com.

Sydney Smith’s striking images immediately orient readers to the monotone world the boy lives in. While outside the window colors abound, inside, the boy sits on a gray sofa with a black-and-white rug and his black-and-white dog nearby. The walls are white, the floor is dull, and even the plant—standing away from the light of the window—is browning. Perhaps, however, the painting above the boy offers hope and a little foreshadowing: Black images play on a white canvas, but a swipe of blue and a red dot add lively, colorful accents. Likewise, the red-covered book the boy reads is a bright spot in this otherwise dreary room.

The boy’s shadow, however, dreams in color. When Smoot pops free of his restraints and goes on a play-filled adventure, the illustrations are full of action and vibrancy. Smoot smiles and exults in his freedom. His joy is infectious, and his antics and clever ways of ensuring that each character gets to fulfill their aspirations will inspire children to uncover their own inner world.

Smoot: a Rebellious Shadow is a heartfelt and empowering book for hesitant and more adventurous children alike. It would make an ideal book for home libraries and classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN  978-0525429692

Discover more about Michelle Cuevas and her books for children and tweens on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork by Sydney Smith on Tumbler!

World Dream Day Activity

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Live Your Dream! Shadow Blackboard

 

Shadows are fun to create and play with! Making a black board from a shadow is a great way to show your imagination while making a useful decoration for your room. Put on your inventive thinking cap and devise a unique shadow by using toys or other objects from home. You can even make a shadow of yourself! Making the blackboard may require two people.

Supplies

  • Black thick poster board, 1 or 2 pieces or a tri-fold depending on how large your blackboard will be
  • Large sheet of white or light paper
  • Objects to create the shadow
  • Pencil
  • Scissors or x-acto knife
  • Mounting squares or tape
  • Chalk

Directions

  1. To Make a Shadow Blackboard from an object or objects
  2. Choose two or three objects, such as toys, musical instruments, shoes, knick-knacks, etc., that will make interesting shapes or ideas. Arrange the objects in a way to create the picture you want. (In the photo above, a cactus-shaped pillow and a ukulele were used to create the shadow)
  3. Either outside in a sunny spot or inside with a light, lay the white paper on the ground
  4. As one person holds the item or items above the paper, trace the shadow.
  5. Alternately, if the objects are large enough, you can arrange them and trace them on the white paper or directly on the black poster board.
  6. Cut the shadow out of the white paper
  7. Trace the shadow on the black poster board with the chalk
  8. Cut the image out of the black poster board
  9. Attach the shadow blackboard to your wall with the mounting squares or tape
  10. Use colored chalk to write or draw your dreams and doodles on your blackboard

To Make a Shadow Blackboard of Yourself

  1. Lie down on the white paper
  2. Strike a pose
  3. Have someone else trace you
  4. Cut out your figure
  5. Trace the figure onto the black poster board
  6. Cut out the figure from the black poster board
  7. Attach to the wall with the mounting squares

Meet Author Michelle Cuevas

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I’m excited to talk with Michelle Cuevas today about Smoot, her research adventures, and her very innovative Halloween costumes!

What draws you to write quiet picture books about introspective characters?

I actually think about this question a lot! I suppose it has to do with being a bit of a lone wolf as a kid – I loved making up song lyrics, building rock gardens, writing a newspaper about the lives of neighborhood animals. I was good at creating little worlds inside my own world, (I have three brothers, so I had company, but mostly the fighting-over-monopoly kind). I also think that in everyday life, it’s not always the big-bad-villain-monster that we’re up against. Often the things we face are inside – fear, loneliness, grief. I like characters who take on that kind of struggle, who make the everyday ‘okay this is hard but I’m going to keep trying’ feel extraordinary.

What was your inspiration for Smoot?

Smoot came to me when I had a couple candles lit and the shadows made me think I should do a book about shadow puppets… or a shadow puppeteer… something in that world. As I started writing, I realized that the most interesting character by far was the shadow. What were the shadow’s innermost dreams? Thoughts? Ideas? A lot of people ask about his name also. I think it’s a combination of “smudge” and “soot,” (though a child I met suggested it could also be “small” and “foot.” Definitely possible). I have such a great time naming characters in my books, I think I would thoroughly enjoy a career at Crayola in the color-naming department.

If you were a runaway shadow, where would you go or what would you do?

If I were a runaway shadow I might like to try being other things for a while – you could go be the shadow of a galloping horse, a skyscraper, a cloud across the surface of the ocean. The possibilities are pretty endless.

One of your activities is falconry, which conjures up such wonderful images. Could you tell how you became involved in falconry and a little bit about it?

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I like to do research for my books, so falconry started as research for my second novel about a boy who is half bird and hatched from an egg. I got very interested in it, even looking into getting my own Harris Hawk, but it takes many years and several days of hunting every week. Maybe someday!

I’ve also done research by riding elephants, bird banding with ornithologists, interviewing astrophysicists, spending time with butterflies, and more. It’s a really interesting part of my job!

Your research sounds fascinating and such fun! Is there anything you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?

I like to keep trying new things as a writer, and one new adventure I’m trying is artwork. I LOVED Shel Silverstein as a kid, so I’m pretty sure he’s my inspiration. I’ve been afraid to illustrate my own picture book, so far just sticking to little line drawings in my last two novels.

Perhaps I’ll take a cue from Smoot, be brave, and give picture books a try in the near future!

In your beautiful The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, the main character collects and delivers messages sent through bottles tossed into the sea. If you were going to write such a note to your readers, what would you say?

My dedication for Uncorker read:

For the Ocean Bottle Senders and Ocean Bottle seekers:

Try. Want. Wish. Tell

Is everyone as intrigued by book dedications as I am? When I read a book, I love imagining who the people are in the dedications, why did the author choose them? I often think about themes of my books when I write a dedication to a specific person. Since Uncorker is about a man with no name, and since the messages sent in bottles are often to no one in particular, I decided my dedication should reflect both of these feelings too.

As an author of middle grade and picture books, what do you find is the best part of writing for children?

The best part of writing for children… well, from my perspective, the best part is the sense of fun. I started out during my fiction MFA writing stories for adults. I’d often turn in stories with talking plants or deer that broke into houses. These stories confused the other writers in my program. Who were they for? Not serious-thinking adults. My mom sent me care packages, often with books inside, mostly kids’ books I had loved when I was younger or new ones she thought looked cute. I read them and it was a light bulb-over-my-head moment. I started writing my first novel about a prolific painting elephant my last year of graduate school and suddenly, my writing felt like me. I was able to do all the wild, free, magical things I had wanted to do all along in my writing. I was finally having fun.

And I think the best part in the “interacting with the world” category is when a child (or adult) says they connected to a character, or that a character’s tale made them cry. We don’t know one another very well, but I know how it feels when a book makes me cry. It’s a remarkable connection, really blows me away every time.

What’s Up Next for You?

Up next for me are visiting schools to talk about my new books Smoot and The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. In April 2018 I have a new picture book out with Catia Chien called Town of Turtle. It’s about a turtle who decides to do some renovations to his shell, which of course get wildly out of hand.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I have to ask: what is your favorite holiday, and do you have any stories you’d like to share?

My favorite holiday… I’ve always loved making costumes and the idea of getting to be a character on Halloween. Even in the last few years I’ve been… a pro wrestler, a deer with branch antlers, Cindy Lou-Who, a falconer… the list goes on. Last year I was Lydia Deetz from the movie Beetlejuice. When I was Cindy Lou-Who I spent a couple days making a wire-rigged headpiece with some very architectural hair. Making the costume is half the fun. I have several glue gun burns to prove it.

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I also got my Bernese Mountain dog a backpack to hand out candy. I don’t usually let him wear clothing, but made an exception for lollipop duty.

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Thanks, Michelle, for the fun and inspiring interview—and all of the fantastic pics! I wish you all the best with Smoot and all of your other books!

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You can find Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow at these booksellers

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

You can connect with Michelle on: her website | Twitter

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.

Picture Book Review

 

August 29 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the artists who interpret the unique history, culture, and people of America in ways that bring new meaning and insight to those who interact with it. To celebrate, visit your local art museum or take a trip to another city to view peices you’ve never seen before. The dynamics of seeing art up close provides new perspectives and appreciation.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Written by Jeanne Walker Harvey | Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

 

As a child, Maya Lin loved playing and interacting with nature near her home. She and her brother liked to run over what Maya had named “the Lizard’s Back”—a hill behind her house—and into the woods. Sometimes Maya went into the woods alone and “sat as still as a statue, hoping to tame rabbits, raccoons, chipmunks, and squirrels.” She liked to play chess with her brother and build towns from scraps of paper, boxes, books, and other things she found around the house.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya’s “parents had fled China at a time when people were told what to be and how to think.” They did not want the same for their children and always encouraged Maya to be and think what she wanted. Maya grew up surrounded by art. Her father worked with clay, and her mother was a poet. Maya also liked to make things with her hands. The beautiful library where she went to college inspired Maya to become an architect.

To learn about different buildings, Maya traveled all over the world. When she was only a senior in college, “Maya entered a contest to design a memorial to honor soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.” The contest stated two rules: the memorial had to fit in with a park-like setting, and it had to include the 58,000 names of the soldiers who had died in the war. These rules resonated with Maya. She “believed that a name brings back all the memories of a person, more than a photo of a moment in time.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya visited the site where the memorial would be built. As she looked at the gently rolling hill, she envisioned a simple cut in the earth that would support a polished wall covered in names. Not only would the wall reflect those who died, but also those who came to visit and the surrounding nature. At school, Maya worked with mashed potatoes and then with clay to help her create the perfect monument. When she had finished her drawings and plans, she wrote an essay to accompany them. She wrote that her monument would be “a place to be experienced by walking down, then up past names that seemed to go on forever.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

More than 1,400 artists and architects—many of them famous—entered the contest. The designs were hung in an airplane hangar anonymously for judging. Finally, the day came for the announcement of the winner. When the judges called out Maya Lin’s name and she came forward, they were surprised to find that she was so young. Maya was excited to have won, but then some people began to object to her design. Some said her “design looked like a bat, a boomerang, a black gash of shame.”

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Maya was hurt by these comments, but she defended her design and, finally, it was approved. Maya worked with the architects and engineers who excavated the land and built the wall. As each granite panel was polished, engraved with the soldiers’ names, and set in place, Maya looked on. The memorial opened on Veterans Day in 1982. Thousands of people came to see it and to find the names of loved ones they had lost. As Maya approached the wall, “she searched for the name of the father of a friend. When she touched the name, she cried, just as she knew others would.” Every day since then visitors come to the wall to remember.

Maya Lin has gone on to design many more works of art and architecture that can be seen inside and outside. Each piece has a name and a particular vision. Maya wants people to interact with her art—to touch it; read, walk, or sit near it; or think about it. After each piece is finished, Maya thinks about her next work and how she can inspire the people who will see it.

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Image copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2017, text copyright Jeanne Walker Harvey, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

An Author’s Note about Maya Lin and the Vietnam War Memorial follows the text.

Jeanne Walker Harvey has written an inspiring biography of Maya Lin that reveals not only her creativity but the importance of creative freedom for children. Lin’s confidence that led her to enter the contest and then defend her winning design will encourage readers to pursue their dreams. Harvey’s lyrical storytelling reflects Maya Lin’s quiet, introspective nature, the influences that nurtured her creative spirit, and her dedication to inviting others to be part of her art.

Dow Phumiruk’s graceful, soft-hued illustrations allow children to follow Maya Lin as she grows from a girl discovering nature, constructing cardboard cities, and learning the arts from her parents to a young woman who draws inspiration from the world’s buildings and relies on her own sensitivity to guide her. Back-to-back pages of the landscape of Vietnam and the site of the memorial connect the two places for children’s better understanding. Phumiruk’s depictions of the Vietnam War Memorial also give children an excellent view of this moving monument. Her images of Lin’s other architectural work will entice young readers to learn more about her and to explore where each of these pieces can be found.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt & Company Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1250112491

Discover more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books on her website!

Learn more about Dow Phumiruk, her art, and her books on her website!

American Artist Appreciation Month Activity

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Fantastic Frame

 

Every great work of art deserves the perfect frame to display it. With a frame ready to decorate from a craft store and a few materials, you can create a Fantastic Frame for any of your drawings or photos!

Ideas for Decorating

  • Stickers
  • Decorative buttons
  • Small objects
  • Shells
  • Markers, crayons, or paint
  • Stencils
  • Washi Tape

Picture Book Review

August 25 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

This month we honor the artists of the past and those currently creating work that represents, reflects, and translates the world we live in. There are as many ways of making art as there are artists, so take some time this month to visit an art museum or gallery, to look online or read a book and discover life in a whole new way.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

By Javaka Steptoe

 

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch / and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist.” All day Jean-Michel sits surrounded by colored pencils and “a storm of papers” and draws. As he sleeps his dreams swirl with images. When he wakes he adds to his drawings, scribbling away. What he creates is “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still beautiful.”

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Jean-Michel’s talent comes from his Puerto Rican mother, who has a natural sense of style and design and who always makes time to draw with her son, lying on the floor next to him. She takes Jean-Michel to art museums and theaters and reads poetry to him, but she also shows him the art of the city—its sounds, sights, style, and “patchwork” colors. Jean-Michel loves to visit the museum and read about the artwork and the artists. From these stories he “learns what it means to be a famous artist.”

When Jean-Michel is seriously injured in a car accident, his world seems scary and confusing. His mother gives him an anatomy book, which he memorizes. It erases his fears and becomes influential in his work. After returning home, his life changes when his mother suffers a breakdown and can no longer live at home. “He tries drawing the terrible out of his blues, but things are not the same.” Jean-Michel visits his mother when he can, “always bringing his artwork to show, telling her that one day it will be in a museum, ‘when I am a famous artist.’”

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

As a teenager, Jean-Michel follows his dream, moving from Brooklyn to New York City. There he stays with friends, painting, creating collages, and writing poems on paper strewn about him. At night he paints on city walls, trash cans, and other urban canvases. His art, signed ‘Samoo,’ attracts attention. People wonder: “‘Who is Samoo?’”

Soon his art can be found in art galleries and hanging in the homes of the people who buy his work. Jean-Michel continues to create, listening to “a sound track that is all his own.” Through talent, inspiration, and his mother’s loving influence, Jean-Michel Basquiat conquered the art world, becoming a king among artists, and fulfilling his desire to be a famous artist.

An extensive Author’s Note about Jean-Michel Basquait’s life, including his struggles with addiction and his death in 1988; the motifs and symbolism in his work; and a personal comment on the impact Basquait’s art had on the author, follow the text.

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Javaka Steptoe’s compelling biography of this complex, brilliant artist who people called “radiant, wild, a genius child” beautifully brings to life the inspirations and motivations that fueled his unique and intense talent. Steptoe delivers the story in staccato and flowing sentences, using consonance, assonance, and repetition—the rhythms of a poet. He shows how Basquiat maintained his focused determination, self-confidence, and persistence from childhood into adulthood. This perseverance reveals to readers that success is not a matter of luck, but of belief in oneself despite obstacles. Steptoe sensitively addresses the serious injury Basquiat suffered, his mother’s mental illness and Basquiat’s continued love for her, and his unsettled teenage years to complete this far-reaching life story.

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Steptoe’s mixed-media paintings were created on found wood from neighborhoods across New York City. While Steptoe does not reproduce any of Basquiat’s work, he states that readers will find “original pieces that were inspired by him and my interpretations of his paintings and designs.” As befitting his subject, Steptoe offers pages that burst with vibrant color and intricate details and beat with the pulse of the city, the people, the dreams, and the imagination that Basquiat transcribed onto paper, walls, and canvas. Part collage, part fine art, Steptoe’s illustrations will fascinate children and entice them to linger and take in the emotion and meaning in each. The final spread, a crowd scene made up of photographs, sets Basquiat in the midst of people whom he and his art continue to inspire.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat offers children an inspirational model of creativity, compassion, and confidence no matter where their talents lie. The book is an excellent choice for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0316213882

Learn more about Javaka Steptoe, his books, art exhibitions, and life on his website!

American Artist Appreciation Day Activity

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Make Art from Found Objects

 

Each person finds inspiration in different things, places, and people. Today, try to create something new from the materials around you. Boxes, bottles, wire, magazines, cloth, wood, sponges—almost anything—can be transformed with some imagination. With those old socks, corks, flower pots, candle stubs, bits of ribbon, clementine crate, paint, glitter, beads, and more, you can make something useful, a decoration for your room, or even a gift for a friend!

Picture Book Review