June 14 – It’s Adopt a Cat Month

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About the Holiday

Are you a dog person, a cat person, or a little of both? Both dogs and cats make loving and fun pets, but this month is set aside for people to consider adding a kitten or cat to their family by adopting one from a local animal shelter. With their various personalities, cat’s make fascinating, entertaining, and endearing pets. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, June offers the purr-fect time to adopt a cat.

I Am a Cat

By Galia Bernstein

 

Simon, a little gray tabby, proudly introduces himself, saying, “I am a cat. Just like you!” You might think this sweet greeting would be met warmly, but instead, the kitten’s audience stares at him wide-eyed and then…bursts out laughing. The tiger, lion, cheetah, puma, and panther think this is the funnies thing they’ve ever heard.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2018, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The lion protests that the little ball of fluff can’t be a cat because “cats have a mane and a tuft at the end of their tails” and a fierce roar because “they are the king of all beasts.” The cheetah didn’t think the gray cat had the legs or speed to be a cat. The puma had never seen such a small and weak cat living in the mountains like he did, and the panther knew cats were black and lived in the jungle.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2018, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The tiger may have been the most skeptical of all. He thought that the gray creature in front of him might be a rat, but a cat that wasn’t orange? Ha! Simon looked at each cat with their individual traits and wondered aloud how they could all consider each other cats, but not him. Well, replied Lion, it’s “‘because we also have many things in common. We all have small, perky ears and flat noses…long whiskers and long tails.’” They also all showed Simon their teeth and claws and eyes that could see in the dark.

“‘I have all those things,’” Simon said. “‘Only smaller.’” The lion, tiger, puma, cheetah, panther, and tiger took a second look. They couldn’t deny it: Simon was a cat. They even admitted that he was one of the family. Then they played and pounced and prowled, “like cats of all sizes do.”

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2018, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Galia Bernstein’s ingeniously uses a variety of “big cats” to expose the kinds of smug, narrow-minded thinking that leads to prejudice based on color, abilities, social standing, and size. Simon’s polite push-back to the rebuffs he gets from the other cats echos the kind of honest, probing questions that little ones often ask. To their credit, the other cats recognize and admit to their blind spots and welcome Simon into the family. Bernstein’s straightforward storytelling provides a perfect setup for the satisfying and enriching ending.

Bernstein’s bold images of each big cat interacting with adorable and earnest Simon cleverly demonstrates the differences as well as the similarities between them. The lion and Simon lie side by side, their paws crossed and their tails intertwined. The puma and Simon sit next to each other leaning slightly to the left. And the panther and Simon both lounge in a tree batting at the same butterfly. The final spread of all the cats frolicking together is joyful and will make children smile knowingly.

I Am a Cat is a story that’s as fun as it is meaningful and deserves a place on any child or classroom bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Harry N. Abrams, 2018 | ISBN 978-1419726439

Discover more about Galia Bernstein, her book, and her art on her website.

You’ll love watching this I Am a Cat book trailer!

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

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Purr-fect Friends Maze

 

One little kitten wants to play with her friends, Can you help her find her way in this printable puzzle?

Purr-fect Friends Maze | Purr-fect Friends Maze Solution

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You can find I Am a Cat at these booksellers

Abrams BooksAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million|IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 5 – It’s Great Outdoors Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Paul Owen Lewis

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About the Holiday

Getting outside is one of the joys of summer! As schools close, leaving more time for leisure pursuits, it’s fun to explore the great outdoors through hiking, biking, swimming, camping, and just plain playing. Some people even give up their cold-weather vehicles and take to the open road on scooters and motorcycles. Having a variety of summer experiences gives you the opportunity to meet different people and make new friends—just like the mice in today’s book!

I received a copy of Motomice from Beyond Words Publishing to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also happy to be partnering with Beyond Words in a giveaway of Motomice! Details are below.

Motomice

By Paul Owen Lewis

 

When you imagine a biker do you think of someone who wears black, looks tough, and roars through town on a loud motorcycle? Well, let’s take a ride and see what a colorful crew bikers really are! Did you know that some “bikers wear orange. They look like pilots” as they roll through the suburbs. Sometimes “their motorcycles are old.”

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Copyright Paul Owen Lewis, 2018, courtesy of Beyond Words Publishing.

Some “bikers wear pink” like Roxie, who zooms around the track or heads out on a winding country lane on her sleek, fast motorcycle. There are even grandmas and grandpas who are bikers. They travel all over on big, sturdy motorcycles that can carry loads of stuff for camping with friends. Have you ever spied someone in silver and blue with a fancy helmet who looks a bit like an astronaut, it’s a good bet they’re a biker too! And—look!—there’s Sparky refueling her green motorcycle at the electric vehicle charging station. She “cares about the environment.” Her motorcycle is quiet. Then all gassed up and ready to go, the group is off again. But where to? It’s a Motomice Reunion Rally, where “everyone is welcome!”

So whatever road you’re on, take a good look. “Bikers are every color, every style, and every kind of person. If fact, “they are just like you and me.”

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Copyright Paul Owen Lewis, 2018, courtesy of Beyond Words Publishing.

In his heartwarming story, Paul Owen Lewis introduces kids to the welcoming community of bikers, replacing the stereotype of the tough, leather-clad biker with the reality that bikers come from all walks of life. By using different colors, comparing the appearance of bikers and their motorcycles to other professions, and adding that even grandpas and grandmas are bikers, Lewis gives readers concrete ways to relate to bikers even if they’ve only seen bikers passing by on the street. Many kids, of course, have family members and friends who ride motorcycles. Motomice is a joyful book for them to share with their biker buddies.

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Copyright Paul Owen Lewis, 2018, courtesy of Beyond Words Publishing.

Lewis’s stunningly realistic depictions of a variety of motorcycles will thrill detail-oriented and vehicle-loving kids. As the mice roll through beautiful vistas—adding new friends along the way—each double-page spread mirrors the sweeping feeling of the open road. A clever image occurs when the biker dressed like an astronaut hails his friends from a rocky, lunar-esque mountain side. The image of the reunion rally, where motorcycles line both sides of the street as far as the eye can see, is full of cheer and camaraderie. On the final page, the crew welcomes a baby, happy and secure with Mom in her sidecar, to the Motomice family. Young readers will feel the warm embrace as well.

Ages 3 – 7

Beyond Words Publishing, 2018 | ISBN 978-1582706603

Discover more about Paul Owen Lewis, his books, and his art on his website.

Meet Paul Owen Lewis

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Today, I’m happy to be talking with Paul Owen Lewis, who always offers a unique perspective in his work, about being a biker, Northwest Coast Native carving, and how to answer the heart’s questions in a story.

What inspired you to write Motomice?

I was inspired when I discovered there were 25 million active riders in the US and their average age was 52, which means there are millions of grandparents riding out there. But there wasn’t a single quality kid’s book on the market anywhere to share with their grandkids about their passion for motorcycles, and the true nature of the community who ride them (as opposed to the negative stereotype in the media). And being both a biker and an author I thought I had just the credibility to create it.

For a more detailed account, go to http://www.paulowenlewis.com/motomice/behindthestory.html

In Motomice, the different bikers and their motorcycles are described by color. What color biker are you and why?

I suppose I’m a little of all of them. Most true motorcycle enthusiasts would say they would like to collect and ride almost every style or genre (I would!). But the colors in Motomice are more or less arbitrary with the possible exception of Rat’s black bike. I chose black for him since it’s the go-to color of those who want to strike the bad-biker-boy image. And perhaps Roxy’s pink bike is meant to express associations with femininity (FYI, there are lots of female professional racers out there proudly sporting pink gear), but as for me, I’ve worn at least four of them in my 40 years of riding. So far I’ve had red, green, black, and orange motorcycles, café racers, cruisers, and sports bikes, and I wouldn’t rule out something blue and/or yellow in my future. What can I say? It’s an addiction.

As a fine artist, what attracted you to become a picture book author?

Right after art school, when I was doing my student teaching, Chris Van Allsburg’s books started appearing (Jumanji, The Polar Express, etc.) and I was struck by how solid, opaque, and strong his images appeared. Not at all like the usual dreamy, tentatively pencil-drawn images washed with faint tints of watercolor I was used to seeing in children’s book illustrations in my youth. And I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s what picture book art is like now? Awesome stuff. Maybe that’s what I’ll do with my artistic skills at some point; illustrate picture books in that in-your-face solid style that argues for its own believable reality.”

You have a very interesting artistic career that includes carving chests and totem poles in the Northwest Coast Native style. Can you describe how you began carving and a bit about your work? Are any of your carvings on public display?

In the early 90s I started noticing Northwest Coast Native art in and around Seattle. It seemed to be everywhere. And, being someone who is fascinated by the origins of things, I realized this was the unique art that originated from this unique region (as say, Egyptian art emerged from Egypt), and, being a “native” of the Northwest myself, felt like it was something I should know more about. Well, one thing led to another and soon I was taking carving lessons from some of the finest artists of the region. Then I thought to ask myself, “Has anyone done a picture book with this amazing cultural art?” So with the help and guidance of my artist friends and scholars, Storm Boy was soon born. After its publication in 1995 I became quite well-known among these circles and was offered many more opportunities to further my carving and cultural experiences. It’s truly been one of the great privileges of my life.

Your earlier books, including Storm Boy, Frog Girl, and Davy’s Dream, as well as your fine art (some examples can be seen on Paul’s website) seem to blur the distinction between earth and universe, wakefulness and dreams, allowing reality to be defined by the reader or viewer. Can you talk about your perspective a little and also why children are attracted to this perception?

Well, “blurring distinctions” is pretty much what a lot of art is about, or existing in a place in between realities. At least much of my art and interests are. I don’t think you have to look further than my own childhood for possible clues to its genesis. Both my parents succumbed relatively early in their lives to catastrophic illnesses. So, unlike so many of my middle class, suburban peers with stable home lives, I grew up with absolute uncertainty at home. And now that I’m no longer a child, I can see that I wasn’t unusual. I know now that lots of children, perhaps a majority of them, are struggling with similar questions and circumstances. So stories and art that reflect this circumstance, their reality of blurred distinctions, are bound to be of interest.

You’re well known for your inspirational school visits. Can you talk a little about your presentations? Do you have an anecdote from any presentation you’d like to share? Do you ever hear later from any of the kids that heard you speak?

When I speak at a school it is not merely to entertain (though they get that, too). I’m speaking to that kid who was me, that kid who finds him or herself in a confusing, complicated, even dangerous place and dreams of something better, but who has no way to express or see their way to it. So I tell them that writers write stories to answer the questions of their hearts. I steer them there and urge them to write the kind of story they would like to live, the kind of story that would answer the questions of their hearts.

I also tell them that writing is first storytelling, and every human being tells stories. It’s who we are. It’s what makes us human. So if you can tell a story you can write a story – and so, yes, you too can be a writer if you really want. For those who are intimidated by the writing process (words first, in sequence, on paper) I say don’t write first but tell; tell your story any way you can—whether that’s talking, acting, singing, or drawing—and capture the main points with notes, sketches, recordings, whatever, and then apply the beginning-middle-ending form of standard narrative sequence to it later. To illustrate I share slide images of myself working on my books onscreen, from first inspiration to sketching the main events to arranging them in order and then to writing the words. Once they see me do it, they feel confident that they can do it.

I’ve been a popular speaker at schools for 30 years. Now I meet teachers at schools who were once students who saw me years ago, and they can repeat back what I said to them verbatim. It’s unnerving!

What’s up next for you?

I’m about to have surgery to reattach the bicep on my right arm—my writing and art making arm—and will be more or less out of action for six months. I’ve been meaning to take a break. I guess this is it.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

New Years. I like the idea of new beginnings. That maybe this year things will turn around, work out, etc.

Has a holiday ever inspired your writing or art?

Yes! See my counting book, P. Bear’s New Year’s Party.

Thanks, Paul! It’s been enlightening and inspirational chatting with you. I wish you all the best with Motomice and all of your work!

You can find Motomice at these booksellers 

Amazon | Beyond Words Publishing

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Motomice Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Beyond Words Publishing in this giveaway of

  • One copy of Motomice  by Paul Owen Lewis

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, June 5 – 11. Already a follower? Thanks! Just  Retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on June 12.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Beyond Words Publishing.

Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Let’s Go! Maze

 

These four friends want to ride their scooters together. Can you help the girls find their way along the path to the boys?

Let’s Go! Maze | Let’s Go! Maze Solution

Picture Book Review

June 2 – National Trails Day

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About the Holiday

This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of America’s National Trails System Act as well as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. National Trails Day invites people of all ages to discover the joys of hiking. With over 200,000 miles of trails to explore, there’s sure to be an adventure waiting for you! The American Hiking Society organizes events across the country to bring together hiking enthusiasts, introduce new hikers to this fun outdoor activity, and encourage people to become trail advocates and stewards of the land. To learn more about the day and fine an event near you, visit the American Hiking Society website.

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service

Written by Annette Bay Pimentel | Illustrated by Rich Lo

 

Tie Sing, born in Virginia City, Nevada, grew up during a time when “America was a tough place to be Chinese.” Most worked in restaurants or laundries and were paid less than white employees. Tie Sing had big plans, though. “He got a job cooking for mapmakers as they tramped through the mountains, naming peaks. With sky for his ceiling and sequoias for his walls, he stirred silky sauces, broiled succulent steaks, and tossed crisp salads.” He quickly became known as the best trail cook in California.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel, 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com.

In 1915 Steven Mather was trying to convince politicians to create a national park system even though many business people were against it. Mather invited journalists, tycoons, congressmen, and others to go camping for ten days to show them the wonder of America. He knew that the trip had to be perfect, so he hired Tie Sing as his chef. Tie Sing planned gourmet menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that would satisfy the 30 campers. Each day he rose before dawn, cooked eggs and sizzling steaks, and packed box lunches.

As the group hiked across beautiful scenery to the next site, Tie Sing and his assistant washed the dishes, put out the fires, packed the mules, and started the dinner’s sourdough bread. By the time Tie Sing arrived at the new campsite, it was time to begin cooking dinner. “He assembled sardine hors d’oeuvres, sliced juicy cantaloupe, and squeezed lemons to make tart-sweet lemonade. He grilled steaks and venison, fried fish and chicken, and baked sourdough rolls” as good as any fine restaurant. One morning Tie Sing was able to pack the mule early before he served breakfast. When he went back to the mule, however, he discovered it had wandered away—taking all of the best food with it.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel, 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com.

Steven Mather shrugged it off as he left for the day’s hike, but Tie Sing was upset. All of his planning was ruined. That night the dinner wasn’t as fancy, but it was delicious and topped off with “all-American apple pie.” The campers, happily satisfied, talked late into the night about the possibilities of a national park service. The next day, Tie Sing carefully led the mules along a narrow ridge. As the stones crumbled underneath their feet, one mule strayed too close to the edge. He tumbled backward and down the cliff. Bags, boxes, and food went flying. The mule got up and shook itself off, but much of the food, utensils, and equipment was lost.

Hours later Tie Sing limped into camp with “the battered boxes and bent knives and bruised apples he’d salvaged.” The men were ravenous; Tie Sing had to think quickly. He knew just how to use those apples, and under the glow of paper lanterns, the crew enjoyed the most delicious applesauce they’d ever had. Tie Sing knew his job was to fill the party with delicious meals, but “Steven Mather wasn’t the only one who loved the mountains; Tie Sing had the Sierra singing in his blood. He too planned to fill the campers with memories.”

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel, 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

As the pots bubbled on the camp stove, Tie Sing “bent over tiny slips of paper and wrote in English and Chinese.” Following dinner he handed out fortune cookies, each one holding a handwritten message: “Long may you search the mountains.” “Long may you build the paths through the mountains.” “Where but in the mountains would such a man become a spirit with the mountains?”

In the months following the trip, the members of the group “wrote magazine articles, published books, and made movies about America’s national parks.” Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s efforts worked. On August 25, 1916 Congress created the National Park Service. “Today, if you visit Yosemite National Park, you can hike to Sing Peak. It was named for Tie Sing, a mountain-loving American who knew how to plan.”

Three pages of back matter, complete with photographs of Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s actual 1915 trip, answer readers’ questions about Tie Sing, how he kept food fresh in the mountains, details of the trip, and short bios on the members of the mountain party.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel., 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

Annette Bay Pimentel’s fascinating and timely story of the establishment of the National Park Service highlights the contributions of a Chinese American dreamer who had big plans for himself and the country he loved. Her detailed storytelling enhanced by lyrical phrasing (a linen tablecloth is washed in an icy snowmelt stream and spread “brighter than white-water foam” over a table) reveals the marvel of Tie Sing’s art. Readers will be awed by the dedication and careful planning it took for the gourmet meals and elegant table settings to come together in such rough surroundings. As food and supplies are lost along the way, children will be held in suspense, wondering if Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s strategy worked.

Rich Lo’s beautiful detailed and realistic watercolors transport readers to the mountains and trails of early 1900s California. With vivid imagery Lo lets children see the day-to-day preparations that went into Sing’s meals as well as the dangerous conditions he faced. Lo captures the hazy purple majesty of the mountain peaks, the glow of the campfire in the dark of night, and the vastness of the California environment. Kids may well wonder how Sing managed to create a five-star restaurant atmosphere and menu in the wild, and Lo shows them how it was accomplished.

Mountain Chef gives a unique perspective on an important historical moment—one that still resonates today—and is a compelling book for any classroom as well as for kids interested in history, culinary arts, and the environment and for those who just love a good story.

Ages 6 – 9

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580897112

Discover more about Annette Bay Pimentel and her work as well as a Teacher’s Guide on her website!

Learn more about Rich Lo and view a portfolio of his artwork on his website!

National Trails Day Activity

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We Love Hiking! Coloring Page

 

These kids are having fun discovering nature along a beautiful hiking trail! Enjoy this printable We Love Hiking! Coloring Page then get out on a trail yourself!

Picture Book Review

June 1 – National Say Something Nice Day

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About the Holiday

Starting off the month of June with a compliment, encouragement, or praise for the people in your life can only make the summer brighter for everyone. In today’s world where too often bullying and negativity are evident, a single nice word or action can make a tremendous difference in how people feel about themselves and those around them. To celebrate today’s holiday, look for opportunities to say something nice to your family members, friends, and those you meet during the day. But don’t just make this a one-day thing, whenever you see that you can share a smile or a laugh, tell someone they’re doing a good job, or help out—do it!

Be Kind

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Jen Hill

 

At school during snack time when Tanisha spilled grape juice on her new dress, the class burst out laughing. One student remembered that their mom always taught them to be kind and tried to make Tanisha feel better by saying, “Purple is my favorite color.” The student thought Tanisha would smile, but she just ran away. All during art class, Tanisha’s classmate thought about what they should have done instead, wondering, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

They think, “Maybe it’s giving.” Like baking treats for someone who lives alone, or giving away old clothes to someone who can use them. Helping out might also show kindness. For instance, “putting dirty dishes in the sink” or taking care of a pet. Paying attention to others could be another way to show you care. Like noticing someone’s new shoes, offering to be the new girl’s partner in class, or even just listening to someone’s stories—even if you’ve heard them before. Sometimes being kind is easy, but there are other times when it can be challenging or even scary—“like sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind.”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The child decides that maybe all they can do for Tanisha is to sit near her and paint her a picture of purple and green—of pretty violets. They hope that small acts like these will join with other people’s and that they will expand, fanning out from school into the community, across the country, around the world, and back. “So we can be kind. Again. And again. And again.”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Miller’s tender prose is perfect for planting the seeds of kindness and opening discussions about what it means to be caring and compassionate. With more and more children speaking up and creating change, Miller’s gentle and affirming story shows readers that it’s often the little things that count the most. Some of the examples she gives are acts that many children may do already, confirming their innate sensitivity, while others may spark new ideas and expand readers’ definition of kindness.

Jen Hill’s soft-hued illustrations beautifully depict the emotional tug at the heart that Tanisha’s spilled grape juice sets in motion for the protagonist and young readers. As one caring child wonders what kindness really is, Hill clearly portrays diverse children helping out at home, at school, and in their community locally and—as the kindness spreads—around the world. Hill draws the caring student with gender neutral clothing and hair, allowing all children to relate to the story’s main character. 

Be Kind is a lovely perceptive and sensitive book that would be an asset to any home or classroom library.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1626723214

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jen Hill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Say Something Nice Day Activity

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Say Something Nice! Cards

 

Do you want to give someone a nice surprise? Print out these cards and give one to a friend, to someone you’d like to know, or to anyone who looks like they need a pick-me-up! If you’d like to make your own cards, print out the blank template and write and/or draw your own message! You can also print these on adhesive paper and make your own stickers.

Say Something Nice! Cards | Say Something Nice! Cards Blank Template

Picture book review

May 30 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

Get Caught Reading Month was established in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers to encourage people of all ages to read more. Authors, illustrators, celebrities, athletes, and others participate by sharing pictures of themselves reading an old favorite or new book on social media. Schools, libraries, bookstores, and community venues hold special programs throughout the month. For more information and to find resources, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

Albie Newton

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Ester Garay

 

Albie Newton was something of a prodigy. As a tyke, he retrofitted his stroller into a racecar, tried counting to infinity, and “learned to speak a language almost every week: / English, Spanish, Hindi, Klingon, Gibberish, then Greek.” When he moves to a new town and a new school, his classmates are excited to meet him. Albie is also revved up to start making friends, and he has a plan he thinks the other kids will love.

But as they all settle in to work, “the students noticed Albie was a whiz. / Albie wrote a sonnet while they took a spelling quiz.” During art class, the kids were likewise astounded (and a little dismayed) when, while they scribbled, drew swirls, and made handprints, Albie painted like Van Gogh. When free time rolled around, and some kids played dress up, Albie “sifted through the trash,” to build a science lab, leaving a mess for Arjun to clean up.

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Image copyright Ester Garay, 2018, text copyright Josh Funk, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Then things began to disappear. “Hamilton the hamster tried to run but had no wheel. / Albie needed extra sprockets made of stainless steel.” While Sona and Shirley created paper masks, the glue went missing, and Albie “didn’t even ask.” The wings from Dave’s propeller plane were suddenly broken off, and reading time became impossible when “booming pandemonium descended on the school.” Albie, though, intent on his invention, didn’t notice the trouble he was causing or the crowd of angry kids rushing to complain.

Before they could reach Albie, though, Shirley stopped them, saying “‘maybe Albie didn’t know. Let’s look at what he made.’ Curious, the children headed straight to where he played.” When they say all the inventions Albie had made, they stopped and stared. Albie had made the class a gift—a spaceship, and with the push of a button, an amazing time machine!

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Image copyright Ester Garay, 2018, text copyright Josh Funk, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With his inimitable style, Josh Funk creates a rambunctious tale of invention and creativity, but one that also has a deeper message about the way some kids see the world and communicate with peers and others. In the first pages, readers are introduced to the precocious Albie, who from birth has demonstrated a talent for learning and doing. When he enters a new school, however, his single focus doesn’t translate into the kinds of social interactions his classmates are used to. Albie gathers materials for his present unaware of the mayhem he’s causing, just as the other kids are unaware of Albie’s real goal. Only Shirley is sensitive to the idea that Albie may not be causing havoc on purpose but for a purpose. Her calming defense of Albie allows the other kids to see Albie in a new light and appreciate his gift—and his gifts.

While Funk’s rhyming verses are focusing on Albie and his actions, Ester Garay’s bright illustrations depict the other kids’ reactions to his talents and also his disruptions. A first hint at how Albie fits in with his new class comes as the kids welcome him with cheer and smiles. Instead of facing them to accept the welcome, Albie is faced away from them, happily imagining the gift he will make for them.

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Image copyright Ester Garay, 2018, text copyright Josh Funk, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Throughout the day, Shirley follows Albie, and as she watches and wonders, her facial expressions demonstrate dismay at some of Albie’s antics but also a growing understanding and acceptance. Garay captures the close camaraderie of a preschool or kindergarten classroom, and her close-up view of Albie toiling away on his invention will have readers eager to see the result. The reveal of Albie’s spaceship time machine and the final spread of the kids frolicking on a distant planet with the likes of Freda Kahlo, William Shakespeare, Amelia Earhart, and a helpful dino, are sure to produce some oohs and ahhhs.

Albie Newton is a doubly impactful story that would be a welcome addition to home and, most especially, classroom bookshelves. It can be read as a boisterous story of innovation for lively story times, but it also provides adults and children an opportunity to discuss the ideas of social interaction and various personalities. Most children know someone like Albie who as naturally quiet, on the spectrum, or singularly focused on one area or another, communicates and socializes differently than others. Reading Albie Newton can help kids better understand different behaviors and, like Shirley, become more sensitive to all their classmates and friends.

Ages 5 – 9

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454922582

Discover more about Josh Funk and his books as well as find fun activities and lots of resources on his website.

To learn more about Ester Garay, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Check out the Albie Newton book trailer!

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Initial Bookends

 

You can keep your books neat and tidy on the shelf with this easy-to-make bookend that displays your talents and personality!

Supplies

  • Wooden letter block in the child’s first initial or both initials
  • Chalkboard paint
  • Chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden letter with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write words that your think best describe you on the letter
  3. Display your letter on your bookshelf!

May 28 – Memorial Day

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eBook

About the Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

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

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

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Trivia Page

 

Learn a little more about Memorial Day with this printable Memorial Day Trivia Page!

Picture Book Review

April 29 – International Dance Day

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About the Holiday

International Dance Day was founded in 1982 by the Dance Committee of the International Theater Institute. This date was chosen to commemorate the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, who was born in 1727 and is credited with creating modern ballet. Today’s holiday encourages people to celebrate dance and “revel in the universality of this art form.” There are so many styles of dance to watch and participate in. Today, enjoy a performance or find a venue where you can kick up your heals in your favorite kind of dance!

Feel the Beat: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing

Written by Marilyn Singer | Illustrated by Kristi Valiant

 

The rhythms of dance and the cadence of poetry create a natural pairing as these seventeen poems that celebrate the moves, music, and thrill of dances from around the world demonstrate with toe-tapping joy.

In Cha-Cha a boy attending his Uncle Nate’s birthday party learns the cha-cha from his grandma. At first he says “I don’t / know these moves. / My fee / feel like hooves.” But then “something clicks! / Okay, it’s old school. / I say, / cha-cha’s cool!”

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Image copyright Kristi Valiant, 2017, courtesy of kristivaliant.com

While the kids at school brag about their parents’ jobs, one boy has them beat in Hip-Hop: “No fumbling, no bumbling, / my pops is tops at tumbling. / He’s elastic, so fantastic. / Papa’s so gymnastic!” But while Dad “will swipe and windmill” and “slide on his knees, / do lots of flares and coin-drops” and “boomerang and freeze,” the boy adds “…wait / until you see my mom!”

Is it meringue or Merengue? Maybe a bit of both…because doing it right means “Moving sideways, / turning wrists, / while we do / our pretzel twists. / We sway our hips, we shift our legs, like we’re whipping / lots of eggs.”

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Image copyright Kristi Valiant, 2017, text courtesy of Marilyn Singer. Courtesy of kristivaliant.com

It’s fun to let go when learning the Salsa. All you need is to “Feel the beat / in your feet, / in your heart. / Then you start.” So “Don’t be shy. / Come on try. / In this class, / show some sass.” If only shopping could be so entertaining…. But, wait! Maybe Conga is the solution. “We’re at the MALL. / I’m very BORED. / I hate the STORES, / I hate the HORDE…. / ‘Just one more SHOP’ / turns into FOUR. / I’m gonna SCREAM, / I’m gonna ROAR.” Then music starts and a line grows long—“Uh uh uh, KICK! / You cannot WHINE / when you are ON / a conga LINE! / Uh uh uh, KICK! / A flash mob BALL! / Keep shopping, MOM! / I love the MALL!”

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Image copyright Kristi Valiant, 2017, courtesy of kristivaliant.com

The library may be a quiet, staid place most of the time, but Swing Dance takes over one special library. “On the plaza in July, / underneath the summer sky / where you can get to hear good bands, / kick your feet, wave your hands, / we’re gonna swing. / That’s our new thing / We’re gonna swing!” A boy and his mom have joined lots of other dancers having fun on the square— “We step…step… / rock step. / we’re full… / of pep. / We Lindy hop. / Bibbidy-bop! / We Lindy hop!”

And for those kids who look at the Square Dance unit in PE with trepidation, this girl feels the same: “Got a partner, lost my shoe. / Allemande left? I haven’t a clue….Did that caller give a cue? / Don’t promenade me. Shoo, boy, shoo!…Bow to Francisco, bow to Sue. / One more swing. It’s over! Whew! / I tried real hard, but alas, it’s true. / I’m flunking out of square dance!”

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Image copyright Kristi Valiant, 2017, courtesy of kristivaliant.com

Other poems introduce the Foxtrot, Hora, Samba, Two-Step, Argentine Tango, Waltz, Bhangra, and Polka. Notes about each dance, giving a description, a bit of history, and basic rhythms and steps, follow the text. A CD of dance music is also included.

Marilyn Singer begins her exuberant celebration of dances from around the world with a pair of the reverso poems for which she is well known: All Over the World, Dancing is Joy and Joy is Dancing All Over the World. With this start, Singer invites readers to put on their dancing shoes and enter ballrooms, classrooms, and outdoor spaces filled with music. From birthdays to bar mitzvahs to weddings to spontaneous parties, Singer imbues each experience with the beats, steps, and sometimes missteps of dance with expressive vocabulary and humorous asides. Reading the poems aloud offers its own special treat as the meter of each poem reflects the rhythm of the dance described.

Kristi Valiant’s vibrant two-page spreads put kids in the center of the action where individuals, couples, and groups enjoy groovin’ to the music in their own style. Dancers swirl, stomp, hop, twirl, sway, dip, and kick up their heels on sunny days and under glowing nighttime light. So join in—no experience or partner necessary!

For kids who love music and dance and for those who love poetry of all kinds, Feel the Beat; Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing is a fun addition to home libraries—and may spark an interest in learning how to perform these dances.

Ages 5 – 9

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0803740211

Discover more about Marilyn Singer and her books on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork by Kristi Valiant on her website!

International Dance Day Activity

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Toe-Tapping Word Search Puzzle

 

People all around the world love to dance! Can you find the names of twenty types of dances in this printable Toe-Tapping Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review