September 2 – It’s National Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

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

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

Aven Green Baking Machine

By Dusti Bowling | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 8

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

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

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

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

You can find Aven Green, Baking Machine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 31 – Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is observed each year on the last Monday of May to honor all members of the military who lost their lives in the service of their country, especially in battle. Begun after the Civil War, the holiday expanded after World War II to remember those who died in all American wars. Memorial Day was made a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. 

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Memorial Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog, whose great-great-grandfather served in the canine corps. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams, and a good friend is poignant and inclusive. Cole’s straightforward narration of a school day and the announcement of a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life depicts an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

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

Discover more about about Ronald Himler and view a gallery of his work, visit his website!

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

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You can find Anna & Natalie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 6 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s picture books are amazing! Offering inspiration, characters that really speak to kids, moments to laugh out loud or reflect, glimpses into history, revelations in science, and much of the best art currently being produced, picture books defy their slim appearance with content that can change young lives. Reading a wide variety of books to children from birth on up is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Make choosing the books to read a family affair! Kids love picking out their own books and sharing cozy and fun story times with you!

Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story

Written by Amy Webb | Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

 

Emma loved making art of all kinds, she also loved laughing, her big sister, Chloe, and her mom and dad. Emma had limb differences. “She had no hands and used a wheelchair to get around.” When she drew or painted she held the pencil or paint brush with her toes. Today, Emma was painting a picture of herself. “Emma looked at her drawing and said, ‘No bodies are wrong. All bodies are right. We’re all different colors, sizes, and heights.’” Emma knew that her body worked differently, and she loved who she was.

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Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When Emma’s class went to the art museum, Emma hoped to find a painting by her favorite artist, Matisse, who also used a wheelchair. But when they got to the museum, there was no ramp out front for Emma to use. Instead, she and her teacher would have to go around back and meet up with the class inside. Emma felt sad and frustrated because she wanted to use the front door, but she put on a smile and reminded herself “‘My body works differently – I love being me! Because ME is an awesome thing to be.’”

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Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Once inside, the kids raced all over the museum looking at the different types of art. At last, Emma found a painting by Matisse. Gazing at it, Emma dreamed that one day maybe her art would hang in a museum. Her musings were suddenly interrupted when Charley grabbed hold of her wheelchair and began pushing. Emma had to remind him that she liked to drive herself. Then at lunch, before she could even unpack her bag, Charley started doing it for her. And when they stopped to draw, Charley was right there again to help. It made Emma angry, and she told Charley to stop.

Charley apologized and said he felt bad about her not being able to use the front door and about other things Emma couldn’t do. Emma explained to him that everyone is different and that she loves who she is. Emma said that it was okay if she couldn’t do everything. No one can do everything, she told Charley. Then she reminded him of all the things she could do on her own and with her feet.

Suddenly, Emma had an idea. In her sketchpad she wrote a letter, and the whole class signed it. Before they left, Charley handed it to a museum worker. Several weeks later, a letter arrived for the class. In it the museum director agreed that there should be a ramp out front and promised to begin building one right away. Everyone cheered, and Emma “felt awesome.”

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Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Positive, straightforward, and empowering, Amy Webb’s book about a girl with limb differences and a strong sense of self-confidence and self-esteem is both a compelling story and an excellent way for adults and children to discuss the wide range of abilities people possess, inclusivity, and individuality. Emma, displaying talent, poise, and enthusiasm as well as the courage to speak up for herself, is a delight. She is a superb role model for all children.

Merrilee Liddiard’s charming illustrations show Emma as a regular kid, drawing, painting, at school with friends, and enjoying the trip to the museum—just differently. Her happiness and self-possession are evident in her expressions and interactions with her friends. When no ramp is available at the front door of the museum and Charley begins taking over, Emma’s expression registers her frustration, allowing readers to see and understand how these experiences make her feel. Images of Emma in her wheelchair and performing tasks with her bare feet demonstrate Emma’s independence and abilities.

Uplifting and inclusive, Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story is highly recommended and would be an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. Don’t miss the first book in this series: When Charley Met Emma.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506464954

Discover more about Amy Webb and her books on her website.

To learn more about Merrilee Liddiard, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-awesomely-emma-cover

You can find Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 1 – International Music Day and Interview with Author Gary Golio

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About the Holiday

International Music Day was established in 1975 by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist and conductor  – widely considered to be one of the great violinists of the 20th century – to promote the art of music across all segments of society and to apply the UNESCO ideals of peace and friendship among all people, with an exchange of experiences and mutual appreciation of all cultures and their aesthetic values. To celebrate today’s holiday, listen to your favorite music and take some time to discover a new style – it might just become a favorite too!

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

 

As readers open the cover to Dark Was the Night, they discover a date: 1977. In this year Voyager I was shot into space carrying “a precious Golden Record, a message to the Universe from Planet Earth.” The record contained pictures of the people and things that make up our life, sounds we hear every day, music from Navajo chants and West African drumming to Beethoven and Chuck Berry. There was also one “ghostly song, about loneliness and the night….a tune of light and hope” from a blind man named Willie Johnson.

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Who was Willie Johnson? In 1897, he was a newborn baby in a small Texas town wrapped in his mother’s love. narrator picks up the thread of Willie’s story when he’s become a small boy who “loved to sing” and play the cigar box guitar his father made him. But that joy was interrupted when “your mama died, and some light went out of your life.” Then at seven or eight, Willie became blind, “and that’s when things got darker still.” But Willie rose above these hurdles. His blindness didn’t keep him “from singing in church, or on street corners.” Using his voice to uplift people brought him “back in the light.”

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

He sang blues and learned how to play a slide by running the edge of a pocketknife along the steel strings of his guitar. “This made a sound like someone laughing or crying, as if the guitar had a voice of its own.” He traveled from town to town in Texas, wherever farmers came to socialize and shop, setting up on street corners and collecting the coins people tossed into his tin cup. Little by little, people grew to know his name. “Then a man from a music company heard you sing. You were given the chance to make a record….”

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

On that record listeners heard “the sound of one human being reaching out to all the others, telling them not to be afraid of the dark.” That first record was a hit, lauded for its unique sound. One song in particular, “Dark Was the Night,” “touched people deep in their souls” and made Willie “a shining star.” The light Willie brought to people has never dimmed; in fact it continues to shine through the darkness on Earth and through Space.

Back matter includes a discussion on what is known about Blind Willie Johnson and what still remains a mystery as well more information about Voyager I and why Johnson’s song Dark Was the Night was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record. A link to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, where readers can access Voyager I—The Golden Record is also included.

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Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Gary Golio’s ethereal tale of the life of Blind Willie Johnson and his song, which has touched and continues to move so many people, is a stirring tribute to a unique artist and the power of music to change lives. Golio’s use of the second person creates a poignant personal bond between the story and reader, which allows children to put themselves in Willie’s shoes and believe that they, too, can inspire others with their talent and life. Golio’s lyrical storytelling flows with the cadence of the blues, and his evocative vocabulary brings Willie Johnson’s voice and times fully to life for young readers.

E.B. Lewis transports readers to early 1900s Texas in his stunning watercolor paintings rendered in soft washes of grays, blues, and greens punctuated with yellows that reflect the hope and light that spurred Willie on and flowed from his music. As his mother holds him in her arms as a baby, the landscape outside the window blazes with gold that reflects on Willie’s and his mother’s face. As children learn about Willie’s blindness, the page turns dark, except for a swatch of light across Willie’s eyes, representational, perhaps, of his inner sight that sustained him.

Among the realistic depictions of his farm home, the outskirts of a Texas town seen from a train, and a bustling city, where Johnson plays on a street corner to an appreciative audience, his tin cup hanging from a tuner on his guitar, are transcendent images of Willie performing, his face always lifted to the light. As people gather around a radio listening to Blind Willie Johnson, light once again streams into the shop, and as Golio describes how “Dark Was the Night” becomes a hit, Willie is bathed in a golden glow, his face euphoric with the joy of singing.

At once sensitive, rousing, and inspirational, Dark Was the Night is a beautiful book about one man’s talent and dream that will resonate with all readers. The book is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524738884

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about E.B. Lewis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.”

Meet Gary Golio

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Gary Golio is the author of the New York Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrixwinner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with the multi-talented Gary Golio about Dark Was the Night, his love for writing and art, his father’s influence in his life, and the power of music.

Welcome, Gary! To start off, can you tell readers about your journey with this Dark Was the Night from idea to publication?

A few years back I was listening to some early blues songs, and came upon Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.” The song stunned me—and gave me the chills. I knew of Willie’s connection with the Voyager I space probe, but had no idea that blues aficionados and amateur music sleuths were devotedly digging for details of his life through the decades. So much mystery surrounded this man—revered by Jimmy Paige, Eric Clapton, and Lucinda Williams—but what intrigued me the most was that, after dying in poverty and being forgotten, Willie and his work enjoyed a revival of interest during the 1960s Folk Movement. Then, in 1978, “Dark Was the Night” ended up on Voyager‘s Golden Record, hurtling through space. And what that said to me is, you never know how a life, and its effect on others, will play out. It’s a hopeful message that inspired me to write the book.

Your father was an artist and you have worked as a fine-artist since you were a teenager. Can you talk about what inspired you to begin writing picture books? Did you always like to write?

My father is an ongoing inspiration in my life. He was a talented amateur artist who provided me with a real-life example of the Art Spirit by how he thought and created. Most importantly, he was a skilled improviser, and didn’t allow himself to be limited by what he didn’t have, something that’s always meant a lot to me. As for writing picture books, I mostly read comics as a boy, and I think it was that combination of pictures and text that really struck a chord. For me, the picture book is a modern descendant of cave painting, Egyptian wall art (images + hieoroglyphs), and Etruscan/Pompeian murals: using words and pictures to tell a story.

In your Author’s Note you talk about the dearth of knowledge about Willie Johnson’s life. Can you share one thing you learned about Willie that didn’t make it into the book?

Willie has a unique voice that somehow manages to balance the rough and the tender. There’s raw power there, but also delicacy, which is very rare. So Willie was in New Orleans at one point—during a recording session there in 1928—and the story goes that he began singing “If I Had My Way I’d Tear this Building Down” in front of the Customs House. A crowd had gathered, listening to him, and a police officer reportedly became so worried—thinking Willie was instigating a riot—that he considered arresting the man. That’s the power of music—to rouse, protest, and stir up human souls—and it’s easy to see why it threatens authority and institutions.

Dark Was the Night is your eighth biography of a musician or entertainer for children. Could you discuss what drew you to write about these musicians?

While there are no actual musicians in my family-of-origin, my parents, grandmother, and maternal aunt all had strong musical interests. Each exposed me to very specific genres and musical tastes—from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole (whom I adore), Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley. Many of these people were Black, and many were strongly influenced by blues and jazz, and I have vivid memories of watching them on TV with my beloved grandmother, even at five and six years old. That openness to all kinds of music really shaped me, and growing up I looked for clues, in the lives of artists, that would help me find my own path and direction. So my books often focus on the early years of an artist’s/musician’s life, highlighting the roots of their artistry—what inspired and shaped them—to provide young readers with roadmaps, of sorts, to a life in the arts.

In addition to being an artist and writer, you also admit to being “a pretty good musician” – something you share with kids on school visits that sound awesome. Which instruments do you play and how do you incorporate music into your book events?

I play acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and very simple piano, but love above all to improvise. Since my first book on Jimi Hendrix came out, I’ve used the guitar (both electric and acoustic) to demonstrate a wide range of effects and possibilities (Hendrix and Santana), but also to accompany singalongs I did for my Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie book. At one school visit, the entire fifth grade and I sang “This Land is Your Land” in Spanish, which was both meaningful and fun.

Each of your books has such distinctive illustrations from incredible illustrators. Can you talk a little about E.B. Lewis’s gorgeous illustrations in Dark Was the Night and how he captured your story and Willie’s personality?

E.B. is truly a master of illustration, and specifically of the watercolor medium. His real superpower, however, lies in his ability to convey human feeling, to mysteriously imbue a person or setting with mood and life. That’s remarkable—reminiscent of watching my father draw an American Indian on horseback, straight out of his head—and it’s what lends E.B.’s work both its power and subtlety. Not surprisingly, he has a real love for human beings, a quality fed by his passion for traveling and teaching all over the world. Though we only met at a bookstore panel five years ago, Earl and I have become close friends, and spend a lot of time on the phone collaborating about the joining of text and image. He’s a pleasure to work with, and his art for Dark Was the Night is truly sublime. This book also gave him the chance to bring his use of color (in his own words) to another level, something that will be obvious to anyone who knows his artwork and sees the new images.

From your bio on your website, you sound as if you were a pretty inventive kid – creating all sorts of cool electronic devices. And I love your story about being “shocked” to find books with Van Gogh’s paintings in them as a child and how formative that was. Could you discuss the importance of nonfiction, and biographies in particular, to children?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gary-golio-childhood-photo

My father could fix most anything, and it was that spirit of improvisation and inventiveness that led me to create little electronic gadgets a la James Bond and The Man from Uncle. For a time, I wanted to be an inventor or electrical engineer, but Art won out. As for van Gogh, watching Lust for Life with my dad had a HUGE impact on me, and seeing a book in the middle school library with all those paintings reproduced made it clear to me—even at 10 years old—that there was gold in reading about the lives of artists.

While I love fantasy, myth, and good stories, the thing about nonfiction is that you’re reading about real people—with all their talents and troubles—and so it’s easier to believe that if someone else muddled through to achieve something, you can also. That’s why I don’t shy away from talking about a person’s “faults” and failures (particularly in my books about John Coltrane and Billie Holiday), because I want kids to see that great people and artists are just as human as everyone else.

What’s up next for you?

Author-wise, I’ve a book coming out next year on the revered jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins (based on many phone conversations we’ve shared), to be illustrated by the great James Ransome. I’ve also sold, just this year, two new picture book texts: one on Roy DeCarava—a gifted artist who photographed the people of Harlem in all their humanity—and another on Walt Whitman, focused on his remarkable and moving nursing experience during the Civil War. After that, who knows where Destiny will lead me?

International Music Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-musical-instruments-word-search

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle

 

International Music Day celebrates all types of music and instruments. Can you find the eighteen different instruments in this printable word search puzzle?

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle | I Love Music! Word Search Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-cover

You can find Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars at these booksellers

The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, NY | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

January 31 – Inspire Your Heart with Art Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-cover-2

About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the feeling you get inside when you create or experience art. Art can inspire, gladden, sadden, anger, teach, and compel action. It can also provide joy and inspiration when you need it most. Celebrate today’s holiday by visiting a museum, bookstore, library, concert, or gallery.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-young-gwen

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”

While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-school

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.

She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-gwen-in-nature

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”

An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-drawing

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 6.54.39 PM

Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.

An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053

Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.

American Artist Appreciation Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature-coloring-page

Nature Coloring Pages

 

If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.

Meadow Coloring PageOcean Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-cover-2

You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 22 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-cover

About the Holiday

From the earliest days of the exploration and settlement of America, artists have been creating works that reveal the beauty, complexity, and meaning of this country and her people. Over the years American artists have developed innovative styles and delved into universal subjects in new ways. This month we celebrate these artists of the past and present who, through their work, make us see the world in fresh ways.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-young-gwen

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”

While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-school

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.

She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-gwen-in-nature

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”

An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-drawing

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 6.54.39 PM

Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.

An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053

Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.

American Artist Appreciation Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature-coloring-page

Nature Coloring Pages

 

If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.

Meadow Coloring PageOcean Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature's-friend-the-gwen-frostic-story-cover

You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 6 – It’s International Assistance Dog Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-cover

About the Holiday

International Assistance Dog Week was established by Marci Davis, the author of Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook, host of PetLifeRadio.com’s internet radio show “Working Like Dogs, and a paraplegic, to honor these loyal companions that through training and constant love transform the lives of those with disabilities. The holiday also promotes awareness and educates the public about service dogs and recognizes those who raise and train them from puppyhood. To commemorate today’s holiday, learn more about assistance dogs and the heroic deeds they perform. To learn about events in your area, visit the International Assistance Dog Week website.

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship

Written by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes | Illustrated by Scott Magoon

 

When the puppy, Rescue, a Seeing Eye dog in training, heard his trainer say “‘You aren’t meant to be a Seeing Eye dog,’” he worried. His family had always been Seeing Eye dogs, and he didn’t know what else he could do. But his trainer did. “‘The service dog team is better for you,’ his trainer said. ‘Service dogs work beside their partners, instead of in front of them.’” Rescue hoped he would make a good service dog. “He didn’t want to let anyone down.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-Rescue-training

Image copyright Scott Magoon, 2018, text copyright Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Courtesy of scottmagoon.com.

In the nearby city, a girl named Jessica had been hurt. Her right leg seemed to be healing, but “the doctors had to remove part of her left leg so she could be healthy again.” The doctors told her that she would have to use a wheelchair or prosthetic leg for the rest of her life. Jessica worried about how she would walk and do things by herself. “She didn’t want to let anyone down.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-hospital

Image copyright Scott Magoon, 2018, text copyright Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Courtesy of scottmagoon.com.

Meanwhile Rescue was learning all of the skills he’d need as a service dog. He learned how to fetch things and open doors. Jessica was also learning new skills. She practiced using a wheelchair, getting out of bed, putting on her prosthetic leg, and walking. Even though she made progress every day, Jessica felt frustrated about the things she could no longer do.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-service-dog

Image copyright Scott Magoon, 2018, text copyright Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Courtesy of scottmagoon.com.

One day, a visitor brought her service dog to meet Jessica. Jessica was so impressed by everything the dog could do, that she filled out an application to receive a dog of her own as soon as her visitor left. After Jessica left the hospital, she “got some very exciting news. Rescue got exciting news too.”

At last, the day arrived for Jessica and Rescue to meet. They liked each other immediately. After Rescue showed Jessica all the things he could do, they went back to the city to begin working together. Rescue brought her things she needed, he barked when Jessica needed someone, he could even push the walk button at street crosswalks.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-meeting

Image copyright Scott Magoon, 2018, text copyright Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Even though Rescue was a strong worker, Jessica knew he was also a dog who liked to have fun. “She made sure that Rescue had playtime every day.” Then one day, Jessica’s “doctor told her that her right leg would have to be removed too. She would need to wear two prosthetic legs.” Jessica was very sad, but Rescue knew just what to do to help her. As Jessica slept, Rescue cuddled up next to her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-park

Image copyright Scott Magoon, 2018, text copyright Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Once again, Jessica and Rescue went into training together. “They did chores together, played together, and snuggled together.” Both Jessica and Rescue felt happy. “‘You changed my life, Rescue,’” Jessica told her companion. “‘I couldn’t have done this without you.’” Rescue was proud of them both.

An Author’s Note from Jessica Kensky and her husband Patrick Downes, both injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, follows the text and provides more information about the story, their Service Dog, Rescue, and the NEADS organization.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-bridge

Image copyright Scott Magoon, 2018, text copyright Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes. Courtesy of scottmagoon.com.

Based on Jessica Kensky’s real-life partnership with Rescue, Rescue & Jessica offers children a thoughtful and honest portrayal of loss, hope, and recovery. Jessica’s story will touch young readers while answering questions that many have as they interact with and see similar partnerships of Service Dogs and children or adults with physical disabilities. The Boston Marathon bombing is never mentioned in the story, leaving it up to adult readers to explain the details depending on the age and sensitivities of the listener. The addition of Rescue’s point of view gives readers a window into the intelligence and loyalty of these valiant animals. While not shying away from the difficulties that Jessica faced, each page is infused with courage and the resiliency of the human spirit.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 5.52.46 PM

Scott Magoon’s realistic, digitally created illustrations will rivet children to the story with clear depictions of Rescue’s training and Jessica’s stay at the hospital. As Jessica suffers grief and worry, she is surrounded by darkness, but even here, spots of light are given in images of her parents’ vigil at her hospital bedside, a physical therapist’s encouragement, and the comfort Rescue provides on a starlit night. As Jessica learns to walk again with her prosthetic leg, black storm clouds give way to gray showers seen outside the therapy room window and the city—her home and ultimate destination is seen across the river in the distance.

A sunburst accompanies Jessica’s first experience with a Service Dog, and as she and Rescue become partners, the gray-tone images acquire a bit of green grass that blossoms into spring and then full-fledged summer when Jessica resumes some of her past activities with her family. The final two-page spread of Jessica, with Rescue by her side, leaving gray skies behind and walking across a bridge toward home and the glowing promise of a sunny day is moving and triumphant.

A poignant and uplifting story, Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship is highly recommended for any young reader and a must for pubic and school or classroom libraries.

Candlewick, 2018 | ISBN 978-0763696047

To learn more about Scott Magoon, his books, and his art, visit his website.

International Assistance Dog Week Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Biscuits

 

These homemade dog biscuits are fun to make and a special treat for your dog at home, a neighbor’s pet, or dogs waiting for forever homes at your local shelter. Why not get together with your friends and make a batch? Then share them with your pets or dogs who need a little extra love.

Children should get help from an adult when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog bones or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, one Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jessica-and-rescue-cover

You can find Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review