October 17 – National Pasta Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday celebrates one of the world’s favorite foods. With over 600 different shapes and sizes, pasta offers a wealth of recipe choices, from fancy to plain to that can’t-live-without Mac n’ Cheese. Pasta—the Italian word for dough—has been part of people’s diets since ancient times and was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson in 1789, when he brought the first pasta machine and a supply of macaroni back home from a trip to France. There’s only one way to enjoy this special culinary event—so get the pot boiling or head out to your fav Italian restaurant and eat up!

The Great Pasta Escape

Written by Miranda Paul | Illustrated by Javier Joaquin

 

The pasta was fresh. Oh! I don’t mean that way—I’m just sayin’ they were new to the world. They? Well, yeah—you’ll see. The pasta was…recently made at the factory, and they knew their place. Each type “stuck to their own kind” in their own boxes, and they never talked to one another or the people who worked the machines or the lines. “They didn’t mix, move, or mingle. They were very good noodles.”

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Image copyright Javier Joaquin, 2017, text copyright Miranda Paul, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

They went from shelf to shipping carton thinking of the super places they would end up. For instance, the wagon wheel imagined a home on the range with some cool boots, a ten-gallon hat, and a horse. But one day a piece of fettuccine overheard two workers talking about lunch. One was going to have pasta salad and one had brought leftover Pho.

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Image copyright Javier Joaquin, 2017, text copyright Miranda Paul, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Fettucine immediately called a meeting and expressed his fears (“Aaaaah! They’re going to EAT us!”), but the rest of the pasta thought this scenario was ridiculous. “‘Why would the humans make us, only to get rid of us?’” reasoned Bow Tie. Raman was getting tied up in knots, while Mac was trying to cool things down.

The Rotini gang believed Fettucine, though, and pointed everyone’s gaze in the direction of the directions on their boxes. All the pasta were aghast. Fettucine began crying, “‘Just cover me in Alfredo sauce now.’” While Ramen snarked, “‘You mean Afraid-o sauce.” Bow Tie tried the civilized approach to calm the situation, and chill Mac brought a more laid-back vibe to the scene.

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Image copyright Javier Joaquin, 2017, text copyright Miranda Paul, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

They needed a plan, though. Fettucine suggested hiding; Bow Tie voted for a peaceful sit-in; and Ramen wanted a more forceful opposition. But Mac reminded them to meditate on that “super place we’ve been hearing and dreaming about.’” Rotini was all for action, though, and in a moment had drawn up a schematic that might work if they sacrificed the Ravioli. This idea did not sit well with the Ravioli or the Tortellini. Emotions began to boil over, and a fight broke out on the factory floor.

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Image copyright Javier Joaquin, 2017, text copyright Miranda Paul, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

All seemed lost until…an angel appeared with an ingenious proposal. Everyone stopped wrestling to watch the presentation she’d “cooked up.” It looked good. Spaghetti wrote some signs, and the rest of the pasta hung them in plain sight. The sign on the door announced that the factory was closed. The pasta machines were all “out of order,” and the cartons were all labeled to be shipped to “Super Awesome Island, Paradise.” Then the fettucine, the bow ties, the ramen, the spaghetti, the rotini, the ravioli, and all the rest went back to their own boxes and waited…until they found themselves “on vacation in a very super place.”

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Image copyright Javier Joaquin, 2017, text copyright Miranda Paul, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Miranda Paul dishes up a funny, dough-lightful story that will keep readers laughing while they noodle on the ideas of teamwork and friendship. Paul sprinkles plenty of puns throughout the pages while also stirring in more subtle humor based on each type of pasta’s shape or use in common recipes. The elbow macaroni is hip and calm befitting its use in Chili Mac, the bow tie is formal and mannerly, and it should come as no surprise that the rotini, with his spiral body, should come up with the most convoluted plan. When Angel Hair appears and unites the pasta in a successful bid to replace one “super” place with another, readers will see that by mixing it up and working together they can accomplish super things.

In his bold, colorful illustrations, Javier Joaquin provides each type of pasta with a distinct and expressive personality that readers will respond to. As the boxes of pasta sit on the factory shelf, waiting to be loaded into cartons, observant kids will see the heroes of the story hanging out in their respective packages. The vibrant dreams of each pasta stand in stark contrast to the sterile factory environment, spurring readers to cheer when their clever plan to escape comes true.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1499804805

Discover more about Miranda Paul and her books on her website.

View a portfolio of illustration and graphic design work by Javier Joaquin on his website.

National Pasta Day Activity

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Noodle On This! Puzzle

 

Four pasta dishes are on the stove. Can you find which type of pasta goes to each container in this printable Noodle On This! Puzzle?

Picture Book Review

October 13 – World Egg Day

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About the Holiday

What an amazing thing the egg is! Today’s holiday celebrates its role in feeding families the world over. From ancient times people have relied on the protein and other nutrients in this compact package to stay healthy at an affordable price or from their own farm. World Egg Day was declared at the International Egg Commission Conference in Vienna in 1996 to recognize and promote the benefits of eggs.

Egg

By Kevin Henkes

 

As this sophisticated paneled picture book opens, four eggs await their fate. One is pink, one is yellow, one is blue, and one is green. On the next page three of the eggs begin their journey with a crack, crack, crack; but the last one? The green one? It remains a smooth egg. With a “surprise!” a pink baby bird hatches from the pink egg. The yellow egg breaks open and a yellow bird chirps “surprise.” When the blue egg breaks a blue baby bird pops free with one more “surprise!” But the last egg? The green one? It remains an intact egg.

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Copyright Kevin Henkes, 2017, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

The pink bird strides away from her former home with a quick “good-bye.” The yellow bird takes to the sky with a cheery “good-bye.” And the blue bird skips off  with a joyful cheep “good-bye.” But the last egg? The green one? It still remains a silent egg. All alone now, the green egg waits. It waits and waits and waits through a full sixteen-day calendar.

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Copyright Kevin Henkes, 2017, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Finished with her walk, the pink bird is back to check on the green egg. She hails the yellow chick, who is also returning, and calls out to the blue bird, who runs in to see what’s up. They discuss this anomalous egg and come up with a plan. They lay their ears against the shell and “listen.” Then they begin tapping away. “Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck.” This egg has one tough exterior! They peck and peck until, finally, they hear a “crack.”

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Copyright Kevin Henkes, 2017, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

The egg splits to reveal an eye-popping “surprise!” The last egg? The green one? It doesn’t hold a green chick, but a green crocodile! The birds fly away from the dangerous snout. Now the baby croc is “alone” and “sad.” The little birds see how “lonely” the crocodile is and slowly, one-by-one they return. They fly closer and closer until they are all sitting atop the crocodile’s back.

The crocodile takes his new friends on a ride down to the water’s edge. He wades in and follows where the pink bird directs. Then these new friends sit quietly and watch the sun set. The orange sun sinks lower and lower toward the horizon, changing shape and beginning the journey all over again.

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Copyright Kevin Henkes, 2017, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Kevin Henkes’ adorable read-aloud is as complex as the egg itself. On the surface it is a comforting and touching tale of friendship, but crack it open and the story takes on deeper meaning. Themes of patience, working together, diversity, acceptance, and even ideas of expectations and preconceived danger are waiting to be explored during repeat readings. The graphic-novel nature of the illustrations allow readers to form bonds with the four eggs as a ready-made group, increasing kids’  curiosity and interest in that fourth egg that just won’t hatch.

Pastel colors differentiate each bird as do simple gestures that little ones will recognize as personality traits. In the final pages, the lines separating the panels disappear as the four friends gather to watch the sun go down, and their life together begins.

Ages 3 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-0062408723

You can meet Kevin Henkes, learn about his books, and discover resources, videos, and more on his website.

World Egg Day Activity

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Egg Carton Chickens and a Basket Full of Games

 

With twelve little chickens you can come up with lots of games to play! This fun craft and game activity is eggs-actly what you need to start hatching some real fun!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • White craft paint
  • Markers: red, yellow, black for the face; any colors you’d like for wings and eggs
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Construction or craft paper in white and a color of your choice

Directions

  1. Cut the notched flap off the egg carton and set aside
  2. Cut the top off the egg carton
  3. Cut apart all the egg cups and trim slightly so they sit flat
  4. Paint the egg cups with the white paint, let dry
  5. Add the face, comb and wings to the chicken with the markers. Make six chickens with one color wings and six chickens with another color wings.
  6. From the egg carton flap cut thirteen small egg-shaped playing pieces
  7. With the markers, decorate twelve of the eggs in pairs—each egg in the pair with the same design
  8. Color one egg yellow and add a beak, eyes, and wings to make it a chick

Games to Play

Tic-Tac-Toe (2 players)

  1. On a 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper draw a regular tic-tac-toe board or make it fancy – like the picket fence-inspired board in the picture
  2. To make the fence-inspired board on a colored background, cut 2 9-inch-long x 3/4-inch wide strips of white paper, cutting a pointed tip at one or both ends. Cut 2 white  8-inch x 3/4-inch strips of paper with a pointed tip at one or both ends. Glue the strips to the background.
  3. Each player chooses a set of chickens with the same colored wings
  4. Play the game as you usually do

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Find the Matching Eggs (2 or more players)

  1. Have one player hide one egg under each chicken
  2. Shuffle the eggs around and form them into three lines of 4 chickens each
  3. Another player lifts one chicken at a time to find matching eggs. If the eggs don’t match, put both chickens back and start again

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Where’s the Chick?

  1. Use as many chickens and eggs as you want (fewer for younger children, more for older)
  2. One player hides the chick under one of the chickens and eggs under the others.
  3. Another player has three chances to find the chick

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I’m sure you can also design your own games for your adorable chickens to play! With more chickens you can even make a checkers set or replicate another of your favorite board games!

Picture Book Review

October 2 – World Day of Bullying Prevention

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to raise awareness of the pervasive and growing societal problem of bullying and to bring people together to change the culture that allows for it to exist. It’s up to every individual to speak out against bullying in all its forms and for kindness and acceptance. For more information on what you can do or how you can find help, visit the STOMP Out Bullying website.

Come With Me

Written by Holly M. McGhee | Illustrated by Pascal Lemaître

 

A little girl watches the television news, taking in all the “anger and hatred—people against people.” She was “frightened by everything she heard and saw and felt.” She wanted to make “the world a better place,” and asked her papa what she could do. He told her, “‘Come with me.’” They went outside and down the stairs to the subway platform. There, as they waited for the train, her father tipped his hat to those passing by. Seeing this, the little girl did it too.

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Image copyright Pascal Lemaître, 2017, courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

As they rode the train they were kind to the people around them. The little girl felt brave as she and her papa “won a tiny battle over fear for themselves and for the people of the world.” But the little girl continued to see stories of hatred on the news, so she asked her mother for advice. Her mama said, “Come with me.”

They walked down to the international grocery store on the corner with its bins full of fresh fruit and vegetables. There they met people from all over the world buying food for their meals and products for their homes. The little girl understood that “one person doesn’t represent a family or a race or the people of a land.” At home, while her mother cooked dinner, the little girl set the table as she always did.

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Image copyright Pascal Lemaître, 2017, courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

As they ate, the girl scratched her puppy behind the ears and thought about what she had seen and done with her parents. She wanted to do something by herself and asked if she could walk the dog. Her parents looked at each other and decided to let her go to show their child and the world that “they would not live in fear.”

Just as the little girl was leaving her apartment, the boy across the hall opened his door. He wondered where she was going. “‘Come with me,’” she said. The two children were happy to be outside, and they began to understand that if they were “brave, gentle, strong—and kind…to one another and all living things,” the world would be a better place.

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They smiled at a mother and her young son as the little boy pet her dog. Then the boy shared his box of chalk, and the three kids drew pictures on the sidewalk. The single flowers and hearts became a garden as more and more children joined in. From all around, doors opened and children and adults approached. They took a piece of chalk and bent down to add their own flowers to the growing picture.

What you do matters too—even if your part seems small, it makes a difference. Listen! The little girl is calling, “‘Come with me.’”

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Image copyright Pascal Lemaître, 2017, courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Amid all the noise and fear that children are exposed to comes Holly McGhee’s quiet and powerful book that shows them that even small gestures have great reach and make a big impact. Like self-seeding gardens, one small act can take root and grow, displacing the weeds of fear, anger, and misunderstanding. McGhee’s honest, lyrical text is refreshing as it demonstrates the role of adults as well as children in changing not only outward behavior but inner feelings as well. Young readers will want to accept the little girl’s invitation to change the world they live in.

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Image copyright Pascal Lemaître, 2017, courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Pascal Lemaître’s colorful line drawings on white backgrounds provide a sense of openness and clarity that is the perfect accompaniment to McGhee’s story. Lemaître’s city is vibrant and diverse, and as people go about their business, they smile at one another, happily interact, and are excited to join in the fun of chalk drawing. At home, members of the family watch TV, cook and eat dinner, and take care of their pet, just as families do around the world. Careful observers will note that as the little girl sets the table, she studies the fork—a single utensil made up of many tines that work together. Each of Lemaître’s pages likewise invites readers to take another look at their own homes and neighborhoods to see the goodness there and to work with others to make the world a better place.

Come With Me is a moving story that can comfort and inspire children who have questions and want to help. The book would be a welcome addition to classroom and home libraries.

Ages 5 – 8 and up

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1524739058

Discover the world of Holly M. McGhee and her children’s and middle-grade books on her website

View a portfolio of illustration work for children and adults by Pascal Lemaître on his website.

View a portfolio of illustration work for children and adults on his website.

World Day of Bullying Prevention Activity

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Friendship Chalk Garden

 

Just like the little girl in today’s book, you can make a positive change in the world through simple acts of kindness and cheer. Drawing a Friendship Chalk Garden is a great way to show your love, compassion, and courage—and to make your home, neighborhood, or school a better place!

Adults and kids, join in making a positive change! Draw a garden—or even just one flower— and post a picture on Twitter using the hashtag #FriendshipChalkGarden. Adults can help children post their pictures.

Here are some ideas:

  • Create your garden by yourself
  • Gather your friends
  • Invite other kids and adults in the area to draw with you
  • Ask your teacher to make it a class—or school—project

Places to Draw

Outside:

  • Find a spot in your driveway
  • Draw on the sidewalk outside your home or school
  • Use the school playground
  • Go to the park

Inside:

  • Use black or white poster board attached to the wall
  • Draw on the school blackboard or white board
  • Make flowers for a classroom or hall bulletin board

Picture Book Review

September 21 – It’s Self-Awareness Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Cale Atkinson

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About the Holiday

Self-Awareness Month was established to encourage people to get to know themselves, not as others see them but as they really are. Only when a person really knows who they are, where they’ve come from, and what they want can they achieve happiness. While it can be hard not to compare oneself to others, each person’s value comes from their own spirit, talents, and thoughts. Once people accept themselves, they can find their place in the world and accomplish wonderful things. To celebrate this month’s holiday, take some time to reflect on your life and see if you are being true to yourself.

Where Oliver Fits

By Cale Atkinson

 

Opening the book, you might feel as if you’ve upended a jigsaw puzzle box. But as you look at all the pieces spilled across the page, you’ll realize that each one is so different—and they have legs and faces! So you look at the words: “Do you ever wonder where you fit?”, and you think, “yeah, I do.” Well, “Oliver wondered too.” Who’s Oliver? He’s the little roundish piece down in the corner. Yep, that’s him—the cute one (sure, they’re all cute in their own way, but you know what I mean).

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Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Oliver was just getting started on this journey called life, and he “couldn’t wait to see where he fit. He wanted to be part of something exciting…Something wild…Something out of this world!.” Maybe he’d sail the seas as part of a pirate kraken, rock out as the central piece of a guitar-shredding monster, or zoom to the moon as the heart of an astronaut unicorn.

Oliver was excited to start looking around for his perfect place. He met a group of blue and red guys who had a roundish space waiting to be filled, but when he asked about joining, it seemed his colors weren’t a good match. On his second attempt at friendship, Oliver was told he wasn’t square enough. (Didn’t that used to be a good thing?) The third group Oliver approached had a bumpy, angled space to fill. They just laughed when they saw him coming.

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Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Oliver was getting frustrated and feeling down. He decided that he had to change. “Maybe I have to be more like them and less like me,” he thought. Remembering the first group—the one that wanted “more red,” Oliver took a red marker and colored himself in. At first, when they saw him, the group accepted him happily. When the marker began to run, though, he was booted out. Maybe changing his color didn’t work, but what if he altered his shape?

He covered himself with connecting blocks and went in search of the square guys, but when he found them, they told him he was now “too square!” Oliver tried disguise after disguise. Some made him “too tall”; some made him “too short,” and others were just wrong, wrong, wrong. Poor Oliver was at his wit’s end. “If someone else is what they want, someone else is what they’ll get!” he determined.

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Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

He took some cardboard, glue, tape, and paint and fashioned himself the perfect bumpy, angled suit. Then he went back to the third group he’d met. Ohhh! They greeted him as an old friend. They loved his shape and his color and invited him to join them. At last Oliver had found a place to fit. In fact, “he fit so well that no one had a clue it was really him.” Oliver was happy—or was he? As he watched other pieces come and go, rejected for not being just right, Oliver began to wonder, “am I really still me?”

The fun of fitting in began to wear off, so he removed his disguise and left the group. While it was good to be himself again, he was back to square one with nowhere to go. Oliver felt dejected. All of his plans to be part of something wild and wonderful were falling apart. He was alone. Suddenly, Oliver saw two other pieces who had also changed to fit in. When they came near and took off their disguises, Oliver saw that he could join them in a—truly—perfect fit. Through his experiences, Oliver “discovered that you can’t rush or force your fit. All you can do is be yourself.” Then the exciting, wild, and out-of-this-world part will take care of itself, because the world isn’t complete without you—or Oliver.

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Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Kids will fall in love with little Oliver the moment they see him. Excited, earnest, and sweet, Oliver is navigating his way through the world, looking for the place he fits best—just the same as they are. Cale Atkinson understands the way children—and adults—try out various groups and even personas while forming friendships and even a sense of self. His conversational style will resonate with readers, many of whom have asked or will ask themselves the same questions as Oliver.

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Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Atkinson’s use of a puzzle piece as his main character is smart, sophisticated, and fun too. Young readers will giggle at some of Oliver’s disguises even while they recognize that each costume doesn’t “fit.” The image of Oliver encased in his bumpy, angled costume is particularly moving as he comes to the conclusion that hiding himself is not the answer. The final image of the completed puzzle is a delight that children will want to linger over. They’ll enjoy discovering little Oliver in the midst of the life he had imaginated as well as flipping back and forth through the pages to find how each group of pieces fits into the whole.

Where Oliver Fits is a fantastic book for classrooms and a child’s home library for fun story times and for those days when a little more encouragement is needed.

Ages 3 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1101919071

Discover more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art as well as some pretty amazing animation on his website!

Self-Awareness Month Activity

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I Am… Jigsaw Puzzle

 

Everyone is made up of various talents, personality traits, and feelings that make them unique. With this I Am… Jigsaw Puzzle, you can celebrate the things that make you…you!

Supplies

  • Wooden jigsaw puzzle, available at craft stores
  • Child’s wallet-size photo
  • Paint in various colors
  • Markers
  • Magnetic squares or strips (optional)
  • Paint brush
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Paint the puzzle pieces in any colors or patterns you like, let dry
  2. Glue the picture of yourself to the center puzzle piece
  3. On the other pieces write words that describe you
  4. Attach magnetic squares or strips to the back of the pieces (optional for hanging on a refrigerator)
  5. Put the puzzle together or use the individual pieces as separate magnets to display all of your wonderful qualities!

Q & A with Cale Atkinson

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Today I’m happy to talk with Cale Atkinson about Where Oliver Fits, a major benefit of being a children’s author and illustrator, and his own early self-awareness.

What inspired you to write Where Oliver Fits?

As I was walking home one afternoon I watched everyone around me busily rushing around. Some were going this way, others that way, some in a group, some alone. It made me think how we are all running around, trying to find our fit in life and our fit in the world, much like a bunch of puzzle pieces.

How did you get involved in illustrating and writing picture books?

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Adorable characters inspire and keep Cale company while working.

Ever since I was young I was eager to tell my own stories, be it in the form of comics, cartoon strips, or picture books. I’ve been writing stories from an early age but only started to seriously attempt writing picture books years later, once I had been working as a professional artist and began to understand how to go about it.  I’m still amazed to see a book I’ve written sitting in a bookstore!   

You’ve said that you believe in tea more than sleep. As a fellow tea enthusiast, I’d love to know what your favorite tea is.

I’m actually a simple straight up Orange Pekoe guy! Give me a big box of that Tetley, and I’m happy. As my tea drinking friends dubbed it, I like my peasant tea!

In a letter you once wrote as a child, you show such self-confidence and self-awareness as an artist. Can you talk about that a little?

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Cale Atkinson’s studio – where the magic happens

I honestly don’t really know where that came from! I truly wasn’t a confident kid in most aspects, but for some reason I was always 100% confident that I would become an artist/storyteller in some form or another. I’ve always loved creating as well as sharing my latest story, drawing or idea. I was a shy child, but felt with art I could let the drawings do the talking for me.

If you were a puzzle piece would you rather be an edge piece or one in the center? Why?

I think I would be a corner piece, so I could still be near other pieces to hang out with, but also have my own space when I need it. Rather than being all crammed up on all sides somewhere in the middle!  I would also be able to glimpse the world beyond the puzzle’s edges, and let everyone know what’s out there!

What’s the best thing about writing and illustrating for kids?

Not having to pretend to be an adult.

Do you have an anecdote from a book signing or school visit you’d like to share?

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Copyright Cale Atkinson, courtesy of Cale Atkinson

I always love sharing examples of the various things I’ve worked on in my school visits. When I showed a slide of SpongeBob SquarePants from a game I helped work on, the entire group of kids broke out into singing the SpongeBob theme song!

What’s up next for you?

I’m happy to report I have two written/illustrated books coming in 2018!

The first is titled Off & Away, published through Disney Hyperion.  It’s a story of courage, overcoming fears, and larger than life adventures.

The second is titled Sir Simon – Super Scarer, published through Tundra Books.  Simon the ghost introduces us to the world of haunting, what it means to be a ghost, and how much he dreads doing his ghost chores.

What is your favorite holiday?

Halloween, hands down! I love the fun of it! Costumes! Pumpkins! Candy! Old scary movies! What’s not to love?!

Do you have an anecdote from a holiday you’d like to share?

My dad was always into Halloween just as much as my brother and I.  Every year we would add more and more decorations out onto the front lawn. One year we added dry ice, making everything all foggy! Another year my dad made a giant, fully functioning Guillotine, which could cut a full pumpkin in half! Not the safest, but we thought it was amazing (and happy to report none of us lost our heads).

Thanks, Cale, for stopping by today! I’ve really enjoyed our fun, funny, and insightful chat. I wish you all the best with Where Oliver Fits and all of your other books!

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You can find Where Oliver Fits at these Booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Mosaic Books (signed copies available for order)

You can connect with Cale Atkinson on his:

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Picture Book Review

August 25 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

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

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

By Javaka Steptoe

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 10

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

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

American Artist Appreciation Day Activity

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Make Art from Found Objects

 

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

Picture Book Review

August 13 – What Will Be Your Legacy Month

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About the Holiday

As you grow and have difference experiences, it’s fun and instructive to look back and reflect on your life: are you doing the things that make you  happy? Are you performing your job and other responsibilities the way you want to be? What impact you are making? This month’s holiday encourages people to think about their legacy and make changes if desired. 

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum

By Zack Rock

 

Everything has a story, the narrator tells readers, especially the Homer Henry Hudson Curio Museum, which, he says, has been described as “a colossal collection of curios, discovered, described, and displayed by that eccentric explorer extraordinaire: Homer Henry Hudson.”

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Copyright Zack Rock, 2014, courtesy of The Creative Company

Come in and experience the wonders inside. A dignified bulldog dressed in a dapper tweed suit and leaning on a crooked cane will greet you. His job is to keep the place clean and dusted. Although the museum is stuffed floor to ceiling, he knows the placement of every object, knick-knack, and curiosity. As you explore the museum’s holdings—its portraits, musical instruments, ancient artifacts, taxidermy animals, and other treasures, the caretaker sits silently, hoping you will read the display cards that Homer Henry Hudson has lovingly written out with a description and personal note. He even has his favorite “bits and bobs” that he would like you to see.

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Copyright Zack Rock, 2014, courtesy of The Creative Company

One of these is Item #0001, the Conausaurus Skull of a small dinosaur from the late Jurassic Period that HHH found in the soil of his family’s farm. This bony discovery made Homer Henry wonder what else the world held and sparked his love of exploration. Another is Item #0023, a Radial Tide Diviner once used by Calypsonian seers to predict the future based on tidal patterns. It was the discovery of the lost Calypsonian civilization with its valuable artifacts that funded Homer’s further explorations.

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Copyright Zack Rock, 2014, courtesy of The Creative Company

Item #3412, a Temple Montepaz Choir Finch with a C sharp trill that chanted to accompany the parrot priest, was a most unusual gift. It was bestowed on HHH for convincing the Parrot Priest to release a piece of wood stripped from the temple wall. This shard turned out to lead Homer Henry Hudson into his future—for better or worse. With renewed fire, HHH charged toward the promise of riches only to fly his plane into a mammoth stone figurehead, which resulted in injury and his life-long limp.

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Copyright Zack Rock, 2014, courtesy of The Creative Company

Item #3415, The Manneken Mort of King Ingmar, is perhaps Homer Henry’s most treasured possession. Composed of fabric bands that represent the stories friends and family tell when someone dies, this Manneken Mort contains hundreds of bands relating the life of King Ingmar. This object HHH acquired for bravery and self-sacrifice when he was younger and still full of enthusiasm for life.

The old bulldog thinks of this curio most. He wonders what his Manneken will look like and whether all the bands of his life have been woven. He likes to think his Manneken Mort “would be  hundreds—thousands—of feet tall. It’d tower over the Taj Mahal, shame the Sphinx!” But he knows “few memorable tales are told of rusty old codgers who spent their days…leaning upon fear like a crutch.”

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Copyright Zack Rock, 2014, courtesy of The Creative Company

Though blind in one eye and nagged by trepidation, the old bulldog packs his suitcase, dons his hat and throws away his cane. As he walks out the door, past pictures of himself on his early expeditions of discover, he knows he might “meet with catastrophe,” be “swallowed by quicksand,” or “gnawed on by piranhas.” But he also knows “there’s no success without failures,” and he has had many successes.

Homer Henry Hudson boards the cruise liner Phoenix and sets out for adventure once more. After all, he well knows that everything has a story. So if you come by the Homer Henry Hudson Museum today, you will see a sign hanging on the door: The Curio Museum is CLOSED Until Further Notice.

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Copyright Zack Rock, 2014, courtesy of The Creative Company

Zack Rock has written a compelling and unique picture book for adventurers of all types and ages. Part motivation and part cautionary tale, this story of the once intrepid explorer turned tremulous caretaker has a mysterious, treasure-around-every-corner quality that will appeal to kids. The life of Homer Henry Hudson is told through the display cards that accompany some of the museum’s curios. As the story develops through the cards’ personal notes, readers learn of the museum’s true owner and the life-altering decision he makes.

Rock’s illustrations in greens and parchment-paper golds and browns have a high “Oh, Cool!” factor as the odd, ancient, and unusual objects of the museum invite kids to explore every nook and cranny of the pages. The exhibits serve not only to fill the museum, however; they remind us how easily the future can get overshadowed and crowded out by the past.

Ages 6 – 10

The Creative Company/Creative Editions, 2014 | ISBN 978-1568462608

To discover more about Zack Rock and his books and to view a gallery of his artwork, visit his website!

What Will be Your Legacy Month Activity

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Legacy Letter Page

 

If you were building a museum about your life, what would you put in it? Write or draw about what you would put in your museum on this printable Legacy Letter Page

 

Picture Book Review

August 12 – International Youth Month

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About the Holiday

International Youth Day was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 in 2015. Since then there has been “growing recognition that as agents of change, young people are critical actors in conflict prevention and sustaining peace.” The theme for 2017 is Youth Building Peace and celebrates “young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.” Children and young adults have many paths to travel as they grow up. We should all work to make the world a better and safer place to live in as they journey through life.

Wherever You Go

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

 

“When it’s time for a journey, to learn and to grow, / roads guide your footsteps wherever you go. / Roads give you chances to seek and explore. / Want an adventure? / Just open your door.”

So opens this lovely, inspirational picture book that looks at life through the metaphor of those sometimes straightforward, sometimes winding, but always intriguing roads. In these pages “Roads…go” over hills, under bridges, and through valleys. They can take you past vast seas and small streams. “Roads…zoom” through brightly lit cities, and “bend,” taking you on detours “you wouldn’t expect, / showing you various ways to connect.”

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Image copyright Eliza Wheeler, 2016, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Roads can bring you closer to your dreams or veer away, giving you choices on whether “to go? / Or to stay?” “Roads…reach” from shore to shore or mountain to mountain, “attaching two places that once were apart.” You can “choose to cross over. Follow your heart.” Some roads are small—built with only one lane, but they merge with another “and the two become one.”

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Image copyright Eliza Wheeler, courtesy of hachettebookgroup.com

With time and change “Roads…grow,” becoming longer and wider and more populated with people you know and those you don’t—yet. Often “Roads…wait. For click-clacking trains / and boats with tall sails. / Slow-going hay wagons carrying bales. / Stoplights and crosswalks, a deer with a friend. / Roads sometimes pause, or just come to an end.”

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Image copyright Eliza Wheeler, 2015, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Roads also rise to dizzying heights and the sense of accomplishment is well worth the climb. From on top “Roads…remember. Every life landmark, the big and the small. / The moments you tripped, the times you stood tall.” At last when you’re ready there are roads that will help you find your way home. So… “Which path should you choose? / That’s easy to see. / The one that will take you / where you wish to be.”

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Image copyright Eliza Wheeler, 2015, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Pat Zietlow Miller’s lyrical journey down the paths life presents is an enchanting quiet-time and story-time read. Wherever You Go also offers parents, caregivers, and teachers a wonderful opportunity to discuss the concepts of self-confidence and self-respect and also the idea that life is made up of many different experiences that can be accepted or rejected like alternate routes on a map. Miller’s rhymes flow as smoothly as a wide open country road, soaring and winding on her exquisite descriptions and word choices. Adult readers may well find a catch in their throat as they read the last line to their children.

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Image copyright Eliza Wheeler, 2016, text copyright Pat Zietlow  Miller. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Eliza Wheeler captures not only the literal meanings of the lines in Wherever You Go, but also the heart and thoughts of life’s travels. Her soft-hued watercolor-and-ink illustrations glow with the promise and possibilities encountered on life’s roads. Intricate details fill every page to show readers that their journeys are shared with others. Children will enjoy following the main character, a rabbit who rides a bike along a chosen path, but they will also love keeping track of traveling companions met along the way.

Wherever You Go is a fabulous book for all children and makes a wonderful gift for baby showers, new babies, and graduations. The gender-neutral text offers inclusiveness for all.

Ages 4 – 9 (and up)

Little Brown and Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0316400022

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller, her books, and her writing life on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork and a gallery of books by Eliza Wheeler on her website!

Before taking off on your journey, watch this Wherever You Go book trailer!

International Youth Day Activity

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Kids around the World Poster

 

Kids all around the world are working to make the world a more peaceful place. Print, color, and hang this Kids around the World Poster to remind you that you can make a difference through the various roads you choose to take!

Picture Book Review