August 3 – It’s Back to School Month

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About the Holiday

I know, I know…you’re not ready to go back to school yet! But all over the country, teachers, administrators, parents, and…yes, kids…are preparing for the day when school opens again for another year. Now’s the time to pick that folder that’s just right, find a new backpack, buy some new clothes, and decide that this year is going to be the best year yet! And as today’s book shows—even school is getting ready for school!

School’s First Day of School

Written by Adam Rex | Illustrated by Christian Robinson

 

During the summer an empty lot was cleared and leveled. Bricks were brought in and stacked in neat order to become a school. A sign reading Frederick Douglass Elementary was placed above the door. “’That’s a good name for me,’ thought the school.” On most days Janitor came to the empty school to buff floors, wash windows, and spruce up the classrooms for opening day. The school liked the peaceful days with Janitor.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-school's-first-day-of-school-janitor

Image copyright Christian Robinson, 2016, text copyright Adam Rex, 2016. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

It wouldn’t always be this way, though, Janitor told the school. Soon teachers and all kinds of children would arrive, wanting to play and learn. The school didn’t think he liked the sound of that, but Janitor reassured him. Still, the school was wary. On the first day, kids poured off buses and jumped out of cars. They ran through his halls, sat in all the rooms, and opened and closed his doors and lockers. They even scrambled around the jungle-jim.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-school's-first-day-of-school-jungle-jim

Image copyright Christian Robinson, 2016, text copyright Adam Rex, 2016. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Then the school heard some older kids talking on the playground. “‘This place stinks,’ said one, and the school gasped. ‘I hate school,’ said another with puffy hair to the agreement of his friends. The school sagged a little.” There was even one little girl with freckles who didn’t want to come into the school at all and had to be carried in. “‘I must be awful,’ the school whispered to himself.” That afternoon when the puffy-haired kid took a drink from the fountain, the school “squirted him in the face. Then he felt bad about it.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-school's-first-day-of-school-kids-arriving

Image copyright Christian Robinson, 2016, text copyright Adam Rex, 2016. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

In one kindergarten room, the kids were sitting on one of the school’s rugs. When the teacher asked each student to say their name, they all did, except for the freckled girl. “‘I don’t like school,’” she said to herself, and the school thought, “‘Maybe it doesn’t like you either.’” At last, the ruckus died down, and the school felt a little more peaceful. But then, suddenly, his fire alarm rang and all the children had to leave. They all “walked to the other side of the field and stared at him. He was so embarrassed.” When the kids finally came back in, he held his doors open and said, “‘Sorry. Sorry’” to each one—even the girl with freckles.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-school's-first-day-of-school-lunch

Image copyright Christian Robinson, 2016, text copyright Adam Rex, 2016. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

At noon the students ate lunch. At one table a boy told a joke that made another boy blow milk out his nose. While the school thought this a bit icky, he did have to admit it was a pretty funny joke. “Even the girl with freckles liked it.” Back in the kindergarten room, the kids learned about shapes and then drew pictures. The freckled girl drew a picture of the school. The school was impressed. It looked just like him. The teacher even hung the picture on the bulletin board.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-school's-first-day-of-school-girl's-picture

Image copyright Christian Robinson, 2016, text copyright Adam Rex, 2016. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

At 3:30 after the kids had gone home, the janitor returned. The school told him all about the day; about the mistaken fire alarm, and the joke, and the little girl’s picture. Janitor told the school that it sounded as if he’d had a big day. The school was surprised. “‘Do you think you could invite everyone to come back tomorrow? Especially that little freckled girl.’” The janitor thought he could do that. Later, when the work was all done, Janitor and the school watched the sun set together. The school admitted that at first he had thought he was the janitor’s house. He guessed that another building was his house. Yes, the janitor said, “‘but you get to be a school. That’s lucky.’ And the school thought he was probably right about that.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-school's-first-day-of-school-older-kids

Image copyright Christian Robinson, 2016, text copyright Adam Rex, 2016. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Adam Rex performs a pretty neat trick in personifying a new school building on his first day of school. By infusing the school building with the same emotions as children, Rex lets kids see how their comments, actions, fears, nerves, and successes look from the outside and allows them to embrace their own feelings and empathize with others. Happy with the comfortable camaraderie and routines of life with Janitior, Frederick Douglass Elementary is wary of changes that the first day of school will bring. Like any child leaving home for the first time, the school is a little shocked, uncertain, shy, and thoughtful. And to add a bit of humor, Rex gives the school a small attitude of schoolyard justice. The ending rings true while flipping the idea that teachers live at school and revealing that school is a lucky thing all around.

Christian Robinson captures the heart of the story with his simply drawn yet expressive kids, who smile, scowl, laugh, play, and make friends. The homes and school building are equally emotive, with doors and steps that register happiness or thoughtfulness as the day progresses. Robinson’s bright, distinctive color palette and diverse school population invite readers in to find friends and enjoy a first or another year of school.

School’s First Day of School is a fantastic book to share with kids as the school year approaches and during the first days or when going to school gets tough. The book would be a charming addition to classrooms and home libraries.

Check out more books, art, and other fun stuff by Adam Rex on his website!

Discover more about Christian Robinson, his books, and his artwork on his website!

Back to School Month Activity

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Pencil It In Maze

 

School and pencils go together like, , , kids and a fun puzzle! Find your way through this printable Pencil It In Maze!

Picture Book Review

July 25 – Thread the Needle Day

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About the Holiday

Sometimes life takes a bit of finessing. When you’re stuck between two seemingly opposing positions, it can be hard to know what to do. Do you choose one side over the other, or is there a better way? Today’s holiday promotes the art of negotiation, that delicate “threading the needle” balance that actually does satisfy all sides involved. Many times both sides just want to be heard and understood. Good and open communication can lead to solutions and make everyone feel empowered.

I Am Henry Finch

Written by Alexis Deacon | Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

 

The finches were a talkative bunch. In the morning the flock traded “good mornings”: “‘Good morning, Aziz Finch!’ ‘Good morning, George Finch!’ ‘Good morning, Tiffy Finch!’ ‘Good morning, Henry Finch!’” In the afternoon, they wished each other “Good afternoon!” Evening brought wishes of “Good evening!” And “at night, they said GOOD NIGHT.” The next day the round robin salutations began again. They were only interrupted when the Beast came.

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Image copyright Viviane Schwarz, text copyright Alexis Deacon. Courtesy of vivianesxhwarz.blogspot.com

“Then they would all shout, THE BEAST, THE BEAST! And fly as fast as they could to the top of the nearest tree, where they would sit and shout until the Beast moved on.” It remained this way until one night “a little finch woke up in the dark and quiet. He had a thought, and he heard it. I AM HENRY FINCH, he thought.” He considered this thought as well as many others. He wondered if other finches had thoughts like his. He imagined himself defeating the Beast. “I COULD BE GREAT, thought Henry.”

The next morning the Beast did come. Henry envisioned himself standing atop the vanquished Beast and decided now “was the time for greatness.” Screaming his name, he flew directly at his foe…and was…swallowed. Inside the belly of the Beast, Henry had disparaging thoughts. “YOU ARE A FOOL, HENRY FINCH, he thought.” He regretted becoming the beast’s dinner. His troubled mind raced ahead through what would happen to him in the Beast’s digestion process, and yet he continued to think.

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Image copyright Viviane Schwarz, text copyright Alexis Deacon. Courtesy of vivianesxhwarz.blogspot.com

He pondered, “WHO AM I?”and concluded that even if he wasn’t Henry Finch, he was something. “I AM,” he decided, and then he considered the cyclical nature of…well…nature. “IT IS,” he realized. He listened to the grumbling, gurgling sounds inside the Beast. He could even “hear the thoughts of the Beast.” It was on the hunt for any “crawling, swimming, flying, walking” creature it could find to feed his family. Henry had had enough. “NO!” he thought. The Beast heard Henry’s thought, and the next one and the next one that told the Beast that all creatures have families and that from now on the Beast would eat only plants because they “have parts to spare.”

Yes, the Beast determined, “I WILL EAT PLANTS,” and when Henry told the Beast to open his mouth wide, the Beast complied. Out popped Henry much to the surprise and delight of the other finches. Henry told them everything that had happened. When he was finished, a small finch piped up, “I HAVE HAD A THOUGHT. GOOD-BYE, EVERYONE. I WILL COME BACK.” She flew off guided by her vision of landing atop a mountain. One by one, every finch envisioned its own great deed and flew away to achieve it, promising to return. And Henry? Gazing up at them as they disappeared into the sky, “he smiled a finch smile. GREAT! thought Henry.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-am-henry-finch-could-be-great

Image copyright Viviane Schwarz, text copyright Alexis Deacon. Courtesy of candlewick.com

Alexis Deacon’s unique tale is sure to raise plenty of giggles and “Oh, no’s!” followed by more giggles and finally cheers as Henry comes to terms with his greatness and, despite his diminutive size, figures out a way to vanquish the Beast. Like René Descartes before him, Henry comes to the conclusion that “I think, therefore I am,” and with pluck and self-confidence decides that his existence warrants attention and respect. Deacon’s inspirational story is perfectly aimed at his young audience who are just beginning to “have thoughts” about who they are, who they want to be, and what they want to do. Henry’s wavering and uncertainty are presented with honesty and humor that will resonate with kids, and his final victory is a joy.

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Image copyright Viviane Schwarz, text copyright Alexis Deacon. Courtesy of vivianesxhwarz.blogspot.com

Viviane Schwarz could not have hit upon a more ideal way to depict Henry and the other finches than in the red fingerprints that determine their individuality. With only a few changes to his sketched-in features, adorable Henry becomes sweet, fearful, resolute, courageous, and of course thoughtful. The blue Beast with its mold-green tongue dominates the pages when it appears and dwarfs the tiny birds and other creatures it slurps up. When Henry is eaten and slides through the Beast’s digestive system, the pages turn appropriately black until Henry decides that “NO!” he is not going to become dinner today. A two-page spread of the life cycle for birds, insects, snakes, rats, plants, and even the Beast is a beauty.

I Am Henry Finch is a book that stirs emotions and stimulates discussion, and Henry—like another literary Finch who refused to accept the status quo—is a terrific hero to add to any home bookshelf.

Ages 5 – 8

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-1406365481 (Paperback) | ISBN 978-0763678128 (Hardcover, 2015)

You can connect with Alexis Deacon on his blog “A Place to Call Home.”

You’ll find more about Viviane Schwarz, her books, and her Cat and Bag web comic as well as videos, worksheets, and other goodies on her website.

Thread the Needle Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-negotiation-printable

Think Before You Speak Coloring Page

 

Everyone can make a difference by taking time to talk to friends or others when problems come up or opinions vary.  How do you keep a conversation productive and possitive? Print out this Think Before You Speak Coloring Page to remember the rules of beneficial communication.

Picture Book Review

July 16 – National Personal Chef Day

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About the Holiday

National Personal Chef Day pays homage to all of the professional chefs and bakers who provide tasty and nutritious meals to families, organizations, and institutions around the country. Through their education, skills, and talent, these chefs enrich the lives of those who can’t cook for themselves and provide comfort for the people who love and care for them. If a professional or personal chef cooks meals for someone you love, take a moment to thank them today.

The Bake Shop Ghost

Written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn | Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

 

For all intents and purposes, Miss Cora Lee Merriweather is Merriweather’s Bake Shop and the bake shop is Cora Lee. “Her Mississippi mud pie was darker than the devil’s own heart,” and her sponge cake was as light as angels’ wings. Her bakery case is stacked with fluffy pies, flaky strudels, and cakes of every size and flavor. In fact, no one’s birthday is complete without a Merriweather cake to celebrate with.

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Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

When Cora passes away, the congregation at her funeral weeps when the preacher reads the bake shop menu and everyone realizes that “all those luscious desserts were now only sweet memories.” It doesn’t take long, however, for a new baker to buy Cora’s business. Gerda Stein stocks the shelves with the ingredients for her strudels and cakes and starts baking, but the ovens burn every dessert, the refrigerator goes on the fritz, and Gerda hears ominous footsteps overhead and frightening clanking behind her. She slowly turns around and finds herself staring straight into the eyes of a ghostly Cora Lee Merriweather who shrieks, “Get out of my kitchen!”

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Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The bake shop goes back on the market and is sold to Frederico Spinelli who is not afraid of ghosts—until the next day when he emerges from the front door drenched in powdered sugar and never returns. Sophie Kristoff, the marzipan queen, takes over next, only to be chased out by flying eggs, three pink marzipan pigs, and a bunch of marzipan grapes.

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Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

After her departure the shop stands vacant for years, growing dim and dusty. One day Annie Washington, fresh off her stint as a cruise ship pastry chef, strolls by the dilapidated storefront. She falls in love with it as soon as she steps through the door. Annie buys the old bakery and scrubs and polishes everything until it shines.

That night Annie goes straight to work on a puff pastry. Around midnight footsteps creak overhead, a cold wind sweeps the room, and mixing bowls topple to the floor. Annie keeps working. When she’s finished she dusts off her hands, turns around, and finds herself staring into ghostly eyes. “‘Miss Cora Lee Merriweather, I’ve been expecting you,” she says.

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Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Get out of my kitchen!” Cora says. But Annie is not intimidated. “This is my kitchen now,” she tells Cora. And what’s more, even though Cora may have been the best baker in the state, Annie tells her that she was the best pastry chef to ever sail on the Sea Star cruise ships. Come typhoon, tsunami, or shipwreck, she never left a kitchen until she was finished.

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Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Cora tries every trick in the book—she shrieks, flings utensils, rises up through the dough Annie’s kneading, shatters eggs, and as dawn breaks scatters a 50-pound bag of flour across the kitchen. All right, Annie says, “What can I do so you’ll leave me in peace?” Cora has a ready answer: “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.” “Piece of cake,” replies Annie.

Annie makes every cake she knows and Cora critiques them. But none fill her up or bring a tear to her eye. Annie grows to respect the ghost’s advice, but she wants her kitchen back. After a month and hundreds of cakes, Annie is out of ideas. She goes to the library to research more recipes. There she finds a small book on town history, and after reading it, she knows just what kind of cake to bake.

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Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

That night at midnight Cora appears, and Annie is ready. She lifts the cover on a very special cake. “Across the top, in piped icing, it read, ‘Happy Birthday, Cora Lee.’” The ghost looks at Annie with tears in her eyes. “‘How did you know?’” Cora asks. Annie reveals the secrets of her research then adds, “Besides, who ever makes a cake for the baker?” With tears streaming down her face, Cora eats her slice of cake. When Annie offers her another, she declines. “‘I do believe I’m full.’”

Now everyone in town enjoys Washington and Merriweather Bake Shop, where the cakes are almost as good as Cora’s. But they never suspect that Cora Lee helps out in the kitchen. And the most beautiful cakes? Those are the birthday cakes Annie and Cora make for each other.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-cake

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

A recipe for Ghost-Pleasing Chocolate Cake follows the story.

The Bake Shop Ghost was first published in 2005 and made into a short film in 2009 starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Despite its age, however, this is a story that seems fresh every time it’s read. Jacqueline K. Ogburn plays out the story with such excellent pacing and details that the twist ending is a true surprise. Her descriptions of Cora Lee’s delicacies are mouthwatering and her metaphors just as downhome and tantalizing. Ogburn’s Annie will inspire young readers with her confidence, kindness, generosity, and enduring friendship. 

Marjorie Priceman illustrates The Bake Shop Ghost with verve and delicious colors that will make readers wish they could visit Merriweather’s to sample the desserts in the well-stocked cases. The sophisticated shop is no less inviting, with its delicate chandeliers, French café chairs, and homey details. Priceman infuses her pages with humorous details as well: as Cora is distracted with a sale, a dog licks icing off a wedding cake, and at Cora’s funeral the preacher, choir, and congregation shed copious tears as ethereal visions of the cakes they will miss float in the air. The scenes in which Cora’s ghost menaces the new shop owners are cleverly depicted with swoops of white that bear Cora’s face and hands floating above the disaster she causes.

Ages 4 -9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Paperback edition, 2008 | ISBN 978-0547076775

National Personal Chef Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Cora Lee Merriweather—and they’ll become one of your favorite confections too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

Picture Book Review

July 15 – National Give Something Away Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday celebrates the joy of giving. Whether you donate items from home to charity, volunteer your time in your community,or bring a friend a homemade treat, generosity will make both recipient and you feel good!

Hooray for Hat!

By Brian Won

 

Elephant wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. He’s hardly had a chance to fully shake off sleep when the doorbell rings. He clomps down the stairs yelling, “‘Go away! I’m grumpy!’” But there’s no one at the door. Instead Elephant finds a prettily wrapped present on his doorstep. Unwrapping it, Elephant finds the grandest hat he’s ever seen. It has everything – A pompom, a star, a feather, a mortar board with a tassel, a crown, a coo-coo clock bird, and even a cup holder! Elephant puts it on. How can he be grumpy with such a hat on his head? He can’t! “‘Hooray for Hat!’” he cheers and goes off to show Zebra.

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Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

Elephant finds Zebra sitting alone on a tree stump. She doesn’t even turn around when her friend approaches. “‘Go away! I’m grumpy!’” she states. Elephant removes the top hat from his own new chapeau—a party hat with the pompom—and gently places it on Zebra’s head. Zebra can’t help but smile. “‘Hooray for Hat!’” they both cheer and head out for Turtle’s house.

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Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

Oh, but Turtle is so grumpy that they won’t even come out of their shell. Elephant lifts down the cowboy hat with the star and feather from his own towering hat and gives it to his pal. Out pops Turtle who proudly joins the parade. “‘Hooray for Hat!’” they all cheer and march off to show Owl. “But Owl did not want to see them or their hats. ‘Go Away! I’m grumpy!’” she hoots from her tree trunk hole.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hooray-for-hat!-hat-for-turtle

Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

Elephant is as wise as Owl, however, and thinks the striped mortar board is just the thing to change her mood. “‘Hoo-Hoo-Hooray for Hat!’” Owl says, leading the way to find Lion. Lion’s frowning face peers out at them from his den, and he shoos the group away with the familiar “‘Go Away! I’m Grumpy!’” Down comes the golden crown from Elephant’s hat and while Lion loves it, he’s more concerned with their friend Giraffe who isn’t feeling well. “‘What can we do?’” Lion asks the group.

They all know exactly what to do. They pack up the very special hat and take it to Giraffe, who is standing with her head hidden in a treetop. “Do Not Disturb” reads the sign hanging on the trunk. As soon as Giraffe dons that hat, though, a toothy smile breaks out, and the six best buddies cheer, “‘Hooray for Friends!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hooray-for-hat!-hat-for-owl

Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

Brian Won’s joyful celebration of the power of surprise, friendship, and a great hat is a day brightener for anyone, whether they wake up grumpy or feeling fine. His adorable animal friends don’t mind a little grumpiness—they’ve experienced it themselves—but only want to make each other happier. The repeated phrasing throughout the story invites kids to read along, and the absence of pronouns offers open interpretation and inclusiveness. The confetti-colored hats will make kids smile, and the tribute to friendship will have them cheering along with this fun picture book.

A cheer-ful book, Hooray for Hat! would make a happy addition to children’s home libraries for those days when they need a little more encouragement or inspiration. Kids will want to get together with Elephant, Zebra, Turtle, Owl, Lion, and Giraffe again and again and will no doubt love to create a magnificent hat of their own!

Ages 3 – 7

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers, 2014 | ISBN 978-0544159037

Visit the world of Brian Won on his website

Hooray for this book trailer!

 National Give Something Away Day Activity

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-review-hat-match-game

Hats Off to You! Matching Game

 

These hats come in pairs. Can you find the two that match before you give them away?

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print 2 pages of the Hats Off to You! game cards (or more to make the game harder)
  2. Cut the cards apart
  3. Shuffle the cards
  4. Lay the cards face down on a table
  5. By turning one card over at a time, find all the matching pairs

Picture Book Review

July 11 – Cow Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

While today’s holiday started out as a clever ruse to entice people to eat more chicken, it also gives us an opportunity to think about the world’s bovine citizens. These gentle animals deserve healthy and humane treatment as they provide our diets with needed protein as well as delicious treats. Cows appear in untold numbers of stories and songs for little ones, making them a favorite of young readers everywhere!

Prudence the Part-Time Cow

Written by Jody Jensen Shaffer | Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

 

Out in the pasture swatting flies with her tail and lumbering along with the rest of the herd, “Prudence looked like a full-time cow.” But when she had a little time off from her bovine duties, Prudence “was a part-time cow.” While being milked she was a scientist, finding a book on the milking process “udderly amazing.” Salt licks were perfect blocks for architect Prudence’s wondrous structures. Engineer Prudence experimented with automatic lighting, even if the results were a bit electrifying.

celebrate-picture-books-pciture-book-review-prudence-the-part-time-cow-farm

Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2017, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2017. Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co,

The other cows didn’t like it. They wanted Prudence to be more like them. She would never fit into the herd, they whispered to each other. Prudence fretted. She wanted to have friends and fit in, so “she decided to try to be like the others.” Dutifully, she went down to the pond for a little refreshment and was doing fine until… “she calculated the water temperature and wind speed. ‘Sixty-eight degrees and four miles per hour.’”

celebrate-picture-books-pciture-book-review-prudence-the-part-time-cow-tree-huddling

Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2017, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2017. Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co,

The other cows were miffed, especially Bessie, who carefully made sure she had all her calves as she moved them along. Another day as the herd lazed under a tree, Prudence joined them, leaving only once to create a hat from an old wagon wheel, scrap of cloth, and piece of rope she found nearby. The other cows snorted, especially Patty, who jockeyed for a better position in the shade.

Even sleeping the same way as the others was difficult for Prudence when she had a brainstorm in the middle of the night. Spotz, the bull, was not happy with the noise she made with her latest invention. The herd had given up. Alone and sad, Prudence thought and thought of ways to make the others like her. Then it hit her! That night the barn rang with the sounds of her idea. But it wasn’t only one idea! When the herd woke and saw yet another contraption, they rolled their eyes. Until…

celebrate-picture-books-pciture-book-review-prudence-the-part-time-cow-cow-power

Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2017, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2017. Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co,

Bessie saw the “cow-culator” Prudence had made to help her keep track of her calves. Patty was thrilled with the “portable shade tree” made from an umbrella, a saddle, and some dangly adornments. And Spotz thought his new guitar made from a shovel and fishing line was “gnarly.” Prudence was suddenly pretty popular! Even though “she knew she would always be a part-time cow,” she was happy to feel like a “full-time member of the herd.”

celebrate-picture-books-pciture-book-review-prudence-the-part-time-cow-happy-animals

Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2017, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2017. Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co,

Jody Jensen Shaffer’s moooving and funny story of a cow with a scientific bent will delight kids. Little ones who think differently will empathize with Prudence’s wish to be herself while also fitting in with the herd. As the cows stand around in a pond and huddle under a tree, Shaffer offers a wink to the crowd mentality and peer pressure that can foster inaction and clone-like behavior. Prudence makes a gentle, but determined role model as a thinker who won’t be cowed by others’ opinions.

Stephanie Laberis’s cartoon-inspired illustrations of a herd of very distinct cows are a perfect accompaniment to this humorous story with a meaningful message. Prudence, with her fluff of pink hair, is happiest when fulfilling her creative visions. As the other cows disparage her efforts and isolate her from the herd, Prudence’s sad eyes and droopy tail and ears make the effect of their words obvious. Each page offers an opportunity for readers to discuss diversity, individuality, and what it means to be a friend.

Prudence the Part-Time Cow would be a wonderful addition to school and classroom libraries as well as to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt and Co, 2017 | ISBN 978-1627796156

Find out all about Jody Jensen Shaffer and her books and magazine writing for children on her website!

Discover a gallery of illustration and craft work by Stephanie Laberis on her website!

Cow Appreciation Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cow-mug-craftMooo Mug

 

Milk—regular or chocolate!—will taste so much better in a Mooo Mug  you make yourself! 

Supplies

  • White ceramic mug, available at craft stores
  • Black permanent marker or paint for ceramics
  • Pink permanent marker or paint for ceramics
  • Brown permanent marker or paint for ceramics

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cow-mug-craft-back

Directions

  1. With the pink marker or paint, draw an oval shape for the nose near the bottom of the mug. Let dry.
  2. With the brown marker or paint, draw two angled nostrils inside the pink oval and color them in. Let dry.
  3. Color in the nose with the pink marker or paint.
  4. With the black marker, color the top tip of the handle where it meets the mug to make the tail.
  5. With the black marker or paint, draw two wavy lines on either side of the face starting at the top, angling toward the middle and returning to the bottom of the mug. Leave white space between the lines.
  6. Draw circles for eyes within the black lines. Add black pupils at the bottom of the eyes.
  7. Color inside the black lines and around the eyes to make the face markings.
  8. With the black marker or paint, make two or three splotches on the back of the mug.
  9. Let the mug dry and follow the directions for the markers or paint to set the color.
  10. Pour yourself a mooo mug of milk and enjoy!

Picture Book Review

June 27 – It’s Effective Communications Month

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About the Holiday

Sure, body language can say a lot, but effectively expressing yourself in words and writing helps decrease misunderstandings, misinterpretations, hurt feelings, and conflict. Learning to handle important relationships and work obligations with thoughtful care, consideration, and empathy can take patience and practice. This month people are invited to work on their communications skills to enhance their life with family, friends, co-workers, and others.

The Bear Who Stared

By Duncan Beedie

 

Bear loves to stare…and stare…and stare. One morning he emerges from his den to find a family of ladybugs having a picnic breakfast. He can’t help but gaze at them intently. “‘What are you staring at?’” the daddy ladybug demands before he and his family pack up to find a more private leaf. Bear continues on his way. In a bit he climbs a tree and stares at a bird feeding her chicks. “‘Can I help you?’” the mother bird asks, but Bear remains silent. The chicks don’t like Bear interfering with their meal, so the mother bird angrily tells him to “‘sshhhooooo!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bear-who-stared-interior-art-ladybugs

Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

At the bottom of the tree Bear spies a badger hole and sticks his head inside. The badger, particularly irritated at Bear’s badgering stare while he is shaving, bites poor bear on the nose. Sore and dejected, Bear wanders through the forest to a large pond. He sits down on a log to ponder his situation. He doesn’t mean to be annoying, he’s “just curious but too shy to say anything.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bear-who-stared-ladybugs-yelling

Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

A little frog floating on a lily pad in the middle of the pond pipes up, “‘I’ve seen that look before.’” Bear stares at the frog and the frog stares back. “‘Not much fun being stared at, is it?’” he says. Bear confesses that he just doesn’t know what to say to anyone. Just then Bear catches a glimpse of another bear staring back at him from the mossy water of the pond. This bear looks exactly like Bear, except that he is green and wavy. Suddenly, the green bear smiles. “‘You see?’” says the frog. “‘Sometimes a smile is all you need.’” The frog dives off his lily pad into the pond, and the green bear disappears too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bear-who-stared-interior-art-staring

Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

The next day Bear leaves his den and discovers the ladybug family breakfasting again. As soon as they spot Bear, they begin to gather their things. “‘Hello!’” Bear says with a big smile on his face. The ladybugs are surprised and happy. “‘Oh, hello!’” replies the dad, smiling back. With renewed confidence Bear wanders into the forest. He smiles at the birds and smiles at the badger, and they smile at him in return. Bear makes a lot of new friends that day. And there’s even that friend down at the pond who likes to stare as much as he does!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bear-who-stared-frog

Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Duncan Beedie highlights the awkward feeling many kids—and even adults—often feel in social situations. Nothing pops immediately to mind to say and yet there’s a desire for connection. As Bear discovers, staring is not the answer—so what is? In The Bear Who Stared, Beedie offers a simple, but universal solution through an engaging and humorous story. Bear, sporting a bemused expression that aptly depicts his predicament, is such an endearing character that readers will wish they could give him a hug as he suffers slights from the woodland creatures.

The full-bleed, oversized pages put readers at eye level with bear and his subjects, and the very up-close look into Bear’s staring eyes will make kids laugh. The green, rust, and blue palette on matte paper is bold, but muted, giving the pages an organic, environmental feel that is perfect to carry the story.

The Bear Who Stared is a funny story time read with a heart that kids will ask for again and again.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499802856

Check out more of Duncan Beedie’s illustration and animation work on his website!

Take a good looong look at this The Bear Who Stared book trailer!

Effective Communications Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-craft

Expressive Bear Craft

 

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or how to express your emotions and thoughts. With this easy-to-make felt (or paper) set, you can give the bear different emotions and talk about them, make up stories to go with each facial expression, or play a fun game. Below, you’ll find a couple of ideas!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print templates
  2. Cut bear head from light felt or fleece
  3. Cut eyes from white felt or fleece
  4. Cut nose and inner ears from dark brown felt or fleece
  5. Cut pupils from black felt or fleece
  6. Glue pupils onto white eyes

Alternately: Color and play with the paper set

To Play a Game

Roll the die to collect parts of the bear’s face. The first player to create a full face is the winner.

  • Die dots correspond to:
  • 1—one eyebrow
  • 2—second eyebrow
  • 3—one eye
  • 4—second eye
  • 5—nose
  • 6—inner ears

For a Fun Story Time

Give the bear different faces and make up stories of why he looks that way!

Picture Book Review

June 20 – World Refugee Day

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About the Holiday

On World Refugee Day, first celebrated in 2001, we commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. The annual commemoration is marked by a variety of events in more than 100 countries, involving government officials, humanitarian aid workers, celebrities, civilians and the forcibly displaced themselves.

The Journey

By Francesca Sanna 

 

A child begins the story with a place—the family’s home in a city by the sea. The family used to visit the beach often, but not anymore, “because last year our lives changed forever,” the child reveals. “The war began,” the narrator says, turning their once-peaceful life into “chaos.” Not only was their city torn apart, the family was also, as “one day the war took [their] father.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-journey-friend

Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

The child’s mother is afraid of the darkness that has descended on them. One of her friends told her that many people are leaving, escaping to another country with high mountains. The two children ask their mother where and what this place is. She answers that “‘it is a safe place’” an then shows them pictures that contain unfamiliar trees and animals. She sighs and tells her son and daughter, “‘We will go there and not be frightened anymore.’”

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Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

Even though the children don’t want to leave, they pack up all their belongings and say goodbye to their friends. They leave at night so they won’t be caught. They travel for many days, taking various modes of transportation. With each change the family must leave more and more of their things behind.

When they reach the border, they are met by an enormous wall that they must climb over. But before they can, a guard stops them and tells them they cannot cross, that they must go back. The family has nowhere else to go, however, and they are very tired. They find a spot in the woods to sleep, but the strange noises keep the children awake. Their mother tells them not to be afraid, and in her arms they finally fall asleep as she cries silent tears.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-journey-leaving-things-behind

Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

Suddenly, they hear shouting and see that the guards are looking for them. They run and run until they meet a man who takes them over the border. They come to the shores of a huge body of water that stretches far into the distance. The family must cross this water to be safe. They board a ferry loaded with other families and sail for days. On the way, they tell stories of the creatures who lurk in the waters below, “ready to gobble [them] up if the boat capsizes.” Other times they tell stories about magic fairies who live in the land they are going to—ones who have “magic spells to end the war.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-journey-mother-protecting-at-night

Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

In the dawn light, the children and their mother finally see land. They are close to the place where they will be safe, the mother says, but it requires many more days of train travel across many more borders. On the journey the child watches birds migrating just as they are and hopes that one day, like the birds, they will find a new home where they “can be safe and begin our story again.”

Francesca Sanna’s moving compilation of true immigrant stories into a powerful narrative that speaks for so many provides a compelling and sensitive way to discuss the world’s refugee crisis with children. Sanna’s straightforward storytelling allows children to understand the cause and effect relationship of the war on those it displaces. Her focus on the length and difficulty of the family’s journey gives young children—for whom even short times and distances can seem long—a starting point for deeper comprehension. Sanna tempers frightening aspects of the story with her calm delivery and peppering of courage on the part of the mother and children along the way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-journey-packing

Copyright Francesca Sanna, 2016. Courtesy of Flying Eye Books.

Sanna’s stunning and emotionally resonant artwork deftly presents the experiences of loss and love the story contains. Her use of the amorphous, seeping black images demonstrate the movement of the war and the ravages it imposes. Collage-like aspects to the illustrations gives readers much to talk about at varying age-appropriate levels. As the family’s journey begins, their suitcases and trunks filled with belongings are piled high, but as it continues, their luggage dwindles until only the most precious valuables remain—the two children and their mother. Sanna’s color pallet of oranges, reds, yellows, and greens are eye-catching and convey the urgency of the family’s plight. The final image of the mother, son, and daughter carried on the wind by a majestic bird offers the opportunity to talk about hope with young readers.

Ages 3 – 8

Flying Eye Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1909263994

Learn more about Francesca Sanna and her work on her website!

World Refugee Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-welcome-sign

Learn to Say “Welcome” in Different Languages

 

With this printable Welcome sign, you can learn how to greet others in their native language!

Picture Book Review