April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

By 1970 awareness was growing worldwide about the damage that industrialization, pollution, and pesticides were causing people and the environment. On April 22, 1970, millions of people demonstrated for change. In response, in July President Nixon and the US Congress created the Environmental Protections Agency and enacted laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act among others. Earth Day is now celebrated around the globe as a day for political action and civic participation.

Today, it’s more important than ever for citizens to participate in the protection of the environment so that the advances we have made are not rolled back or lost. This year the theme of Earth Day is Protect Our Species. To learn more about endangered and threatened species—from plants to animals to insects, including the Hines emerald dragonfly, and how you can help, visit the Earth Day Network. To celebrate today’s holiday, join an action group in your community dedicated to protecting natural resources.

I received a copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Soar High, Dragonfly!

Written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

 

As winter turns to spring, flowers bloom, baby birds hatch, and “high above, tiny wings hum like wind through the leaves.” The sound comes from dragonflies. In the warm air, the females are looking for places to lay their eggs. They find a pond, where they can lay eggs in the water or within the stem of a plant. While some eggs are eaten, many others hatch into nymphs. Underwater, the nymphs have a special way of swimming that propels them to find food to eat.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As a nymph “he eats, he grows. As he grows, he sheds his casing. Squirt. Gulp! Squirt. Gulp!” At last the nymph is ready to leave the water. During the night, he climbs the stem of a water reed and waits for daylight. The nymph has undergone many casing changes, but finally, his last casing grows too tight. “It cracks. He wiggles and squiggles. Out he crawls!” Although his wings are free, he is too tired to fly.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the warmth of the sun, the dragonfly’s wings dry. “They hum in the morning light.” When he is ready, he takes off into the sky… “he’s flying! Soar high, dragonfly!” Without practice, the dragonfly can fly forward, backward, and even hover. Using his large eyes, he scans for predators, darting away at the last moment.

The dragonfly is a marvel, moving his wings and changing his body to keep warm day and night. Summer brings mating season, and with the autumn the dragonflies migrate to warmer climates to lay their eggs and begin their life cycle again.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Sheri Mabry Bestor’s lyrical text is accompanied by equally engaging factual information about dragonflies, and the green darner dragonfly in particular. Each page contains a sentence or two of fascinating description about egg laying, life stages, feeding customs, movement (“Nymphs squirt water out of their back ends to propel themselves forward.”), body regulation (“Dragonflies have special ways to keep warm. They can capture the heat of the sun by adjusting their four wings just right.”), and migratory habits of these favorite insects.

For young readers interested in insects and nature, Bestor’s captivating storytelling, which uses short sentences that echo the quick, darting movement of dragonflies, will keep them absorbed as they learn about this most intriguing creature.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jonny Lambert brings his talent as a paper engineer to the vibrant, collage-style illustrations that will wow kids with their beauty. The iridescent brilliance of the green darner dragonfly is represented through a green and yellow-mottled head and thorax that gives way to a blue striped abdomen. Light-sage-colored wings mirror the dragonfly’s delicate appearance. A stunning palette of greens and blues usher children into the underwater world of the pond where the nymphs grow among fish, frogs, snails, and other creatures. Each stage and change the dragonfly experiences is clearly shown and enhances learning.

A superb book for general story times as well as STEM learning, Soar High, Dragonfly! would find eager readers at home as well as in classroom and public libraries. Check out the first gorgeous collaboration between Sheri Mabry Bestor and Jonny Lambert, Good Trick, Walking Stick!, too! You can read my review of that book here.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364107

Discover more about Sheri Mabry Bestor and her books on her website.

Soar High, Dragonfly! Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in an Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | illustrated by Jonny Lambert

This giveaway is open from April 22 through April 28 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Just do these things to enter:

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Earth Day Activity

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Dragonfly Decoration

 

Your kids can bring the beauty of nature inside with this easy-to-make dragonfly craft.

Supplies

  • Wooden clothespin
  • Wax paper
  • Bright green craft paint
  • Bright blue craft paint
  • Green glitter
  • Blue glitter
  • Paint brush
  • Thread or fishing line (optional)
  • Adhesive magnet (optional)

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Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the top part of the clothespin (to the point where the metal hinge crosses the wood) green
  2. Sprinkle green glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  3. Paint the bottom part of the clothespin blue
  4. Sprinkle blue glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  5. If the glitter doesn’t completely stick, apply a thin layer of glue with a toothpick and add more glitter

To Make the Wings

  1. Cut two 5-inch-by-3/4-inch strips from the wax paper
  2. Cut a curved edge at each end of the wax paper strips, cutting straight down from the top and curving around the bottom corner
  3. Cut curved notches in the center, top and bottom, of each wing to allow the wings to fit into the clothespin
  4. Open the clothespin and slip the wings in, curved edge down and allowing the top wing to overlap the bottom wing slightly

Attach the thread or fishing line to the dragonfly to hang, or to make a refrigerator magnet, attach an adhesive magnetic strip to the back

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You can find Soar High, Dragonfly! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

March 14 – Moth-er Day and Interview with Author Karlin Gray

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About the Holiday

Did you know that some moths are even more beautiful than butterflies? It’s true! Adorned in vibrant oranges, greens, blues, and reds and with patterns more intricate than the finest fabrics, moths are some of nature’s loveliest creatures. With spring right around the corner, moths will once again be emerging in woods, fields, and gardens, so today take a little time to celebrate these often overlooked insects and learn more about them and their habitats.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth to check out. All opinions are my own. 

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

As a grayish-brown moth flits among the leaves framed by the full moon, he says, “I’m an ordinary moth, / as you can plainly see. / A dusty, grayish, dull insect— / nothing-special me.”  He compares himself to the Luna Moth “who floats in graceful green” and to the Spider Moth who’s “so cool at Halloween!” He’s nothing like the Hummingbird Moth who mimics its namesake bird, and he can’t hide like the Wood Nymph Moth that looks like “birdy dung.” He’s much smaller than the Atlas Moth and not as pretty as a butterfly. While all of these are special—extraordinary even—this little guy thinks he is just “a dusty, grayish moth— / very ordinary.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then a little boy runs through the yard shouting “‘A moth! A moth!’” The moth freezes against a wall, afraid and unsure and hoping to hide. But when the moth sees the excitement in the boy’s eyes, he moves “toward his joyful light.” He lands in the boy’s hands, uncertain still if he’ll be shooed away. And sure enough, the boy’s sister screams, “‘Ew, a bug!’” When she knocks her brother’s hand away, the moth flies off.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The moth hears the boy tell his sister, “‘Hey, it’s an insect—not a bug— / and my favorite kind!’” then he sees the boy trailing him “all through the yard. / with her two steps behind.” She thinks the moth is nothing special, but her brother disagrees. And as the moth alights on his finger, he shows her why. What looks like dust are really “‘scales that keep him warm at night. / And they flake off in a web so he escapes all right.’”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The little girl’s a bit more interested but thinks his color is “kind of blah.” The boy explains that the moth is the color of tree bark and can camouflage himself during the day while he sleeps. Then at night he’s ready to fly, guided by moonlight and the scents he smells through his antennae. Now the little girl thinks the moth is pretty cool. She calls their mom to come and see, and when Mom wants to know what bug they found, “the girl says, ‘Mom—a moth’s an insect, / and out favorite kind!’”

Hearing that, the moth soars in the moonlight with a new self image—“So how ‘bout THAT?! / I’m someone’s FAVORITE! / Little grayish me— / proof of how / EXTRAORDINARY / ordinary can be.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ten Extraordinary Facts about Moths, as well as an activity for constructing a moth observation box follow the text.

Through her vivacious rhymes, Karlin Gray elevates the “ordinary” back-porch moth to star status with fascinating facts that will lure kids to discover more. The conversational verses echo a sweet sibling relationship while the moth, overhearing them, begins to appreciate himself. The bookending of the children’s story with the moth’s thoughts—first comparing himself to other moths and later realizing his own merits—will encourage readers to think about the nature of nature and about the importance of positive interactions with others. Told from the moth’s point of view, the story also has a deeper meaning, reminding readers that, like this moth, people also have special talents  that make them exceptional. Taking extra time to really learn about another’s unique qualities and to get to know them is exciting and has benefits for all.  

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Steliyana Doneva’s gorgeous illustrations of moths and butterflies will dazzle insect-loving kids and convert the more squeamish. Doneva captures each delicate marking and texture of the little grayish moth as it flits in the light and camouflages itself on the wall and tree. The moth is also well spotlighted against Doneva’s vibrant backyard oasis where the little boy and his sister discover him. Nighttime scenes sparkle with starlight, and the full moon brings out the rich blues of an evening sky. The boy’s enthusiasm for moths and nature is infectious and will captivate young readers, enticing them to look closer at the world around them.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth is a beautiful, eye-opening book that would spur further discovery for nature and science lovers at home and in science or STEM classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1-58536-372-8

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

View a portfolio of work by Steliyana Doneva and learn more about her on her website.

Download and have fun with these An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Activity Sheets!

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Matching | An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Fill in the Blank

Moth-er Day Activity

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Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

Meet Karlin Gray

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Today I’m excited to talk with Karlin Gray about how moths became extraordinary in her eyes, what types of characters she’s drawn to, and what might be the best holiday in the world

Did you like to write as a child? How did you get started writing books for children?

Yes, I did like to write as a child. When I was little, I would retell stories like Alice in Wonderland, changing the names and some details. Someone must have explained ‘plagiarism’ to me and, eventually, I learned to write my own stories.

I started writing picture books when my son was a toddler (about seven years ago). I joined a local writing center where I workshopped all three of my contracted books, including AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH.

Before you began working in the publishing field and writing for children, you worked for newspapers. Can you talk a little about that experience? What did you like most about it? Has it influenced your work for children?

After college, my first two jobs were graphic design positions at weekly newspapers in Northern Virginia and D.C. I loved learning about the publishing process—how words and images were selected, designed, printed, and distributed. It’s a fast-paced, exhausting business. But those jobs taught me to work on a deadline which helps me as a children’s book writer, for sure!

What inspired you to write about moths?

My son. When he was three, he announced that the moth was his favorite insect. I imagined that moth was having a bad day—comparing himself to “cooler” moths like the Luna moth or Spider moth—and then overheard my son’s statement. It’s a nice reminder that sometimes it takes just one kind comment to improve someone’s day.

What do you think makes the “ordinary” extraordinary?

Perspective. My son saw something special in a creature that I never really considered. But his interest piqued my interest, so I did some research. That led me to learning several amazing things about moths. Now, instead of shooing them away, I celebrate moths in An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth.

What was your process in writing An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth?

Once the first line popped into my head—“I’m an ordinary moth, as you can plainly see…”—the story was set in rhyme. Usually, I research then write a story. But here, I did my research as I wrote the manuscript. The first draft took a couple days and was MESSY. I workshopped the manuscript on and off for two years, tightening the story, rhyme, and meter. I eliminated a whole stanza where the ordinary moth compares itself to other moths like the poodle moth. Trust me, it wasn’t easy cutting out the poodle moth! But, like they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

Do you have a favorite place to write? If so, can you describe it a little? Do you have a favorite thing on your desk or in your writing space?

In my house I have an office but I don’t do much writing there. I usually move from the dining table to the kitchen table to the outside table when it’s warm.

In an earlier interview, you mentioned that you had “stories about presidents, magicians, explorers, athletes, mermaids, monsters, scarecrows, cats, mice, and one sad moth” in your desk drawer. What types of characters—or personalities—attract your creative interest? Do you have a preference for nonfiction? If so, why?

Oh yeah, I guess I’ll have to change that since the “sad moth” is out of the drawer and on the cover of a book. I’m a sucker for characters whose “flaws” are really their strengths, and I love a good finding-your-tribe story. Both nonfiction and fiction stories appeal to me but I enjoy the challenge of taking a true story and translating it into a picture book—selecting a character and timeframe, finding dialogue and active details, setting the tone and style, and staying true to the facts as well as the heart of the story.

In your website biography you have links to “things you like.” These are amazing and range from The American Mural Project to Storyline Online to the Landfill Harmonic. Can you talk about what draws you to these types of projects? Why do you think they are important not only for those directly involved in them, but for all kids—and adults?

Those two projects have a lot of heart. I met Ellen—she is a tiny person who has a big personality and a HUGE dream. The fact that one person had a goal to make the biggest indoor art installation is worthy of a book right there! And the Landfill Harmonic group—kids making music with trash!—was made into a book, Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood. I think both of those stories appeal to kids because it shows them that there are no limitations in art.

What’s the best part about writing for kids?

So many things…but probably the best is when kids tell me that they want to be a writer when they grow up. My response is always: “If I could do it, you can do it.”

You share your books at school and bookstore events. Do you have any anecdote from an event you’d like to share?

Twice a month I volunteer at a nearby school where I read books selected by the teacher. When I read my first book NADIA to the kids, the first graders had a hard time believing that I was the author. They knew me as someone who visited every other week and read a book from their shelves. They didn’t know me as a writer so that was a fun surprise for them.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book is a biography of Serena Williams—SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER—and will be published in early 2019.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Probably New Year’s Eve. We can see the town fireworks from our back deck so we invite a few families over for a casual get-together. It’s a nice way to end the year and the kids love staying up past midnight.

And, until your email, I didn’t know there was a Moth-er Day. (Not to be confused with Mother’s Day.) Very cool. The moth is also celebrated during National Moth Week in July: http://nationalmothweek.org

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

When I was 10-14 years old, I lived in Japan because my dad worked with the military. I remember feeling sorry for Japanese kids because they didn’t celebrate holidays like Christmas or Halloween. But once I discovered that they had an even better holiday—Children’s Day!!—then I just felt sorry for myself.

Thanks so much for this great chat, Karlin! I wish you all the best with An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth and all of your books!

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You can find An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

You can connect with Karlin Gray on

Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Picture Book Review

October 4 – World Animal Day and Q&A with Author Jess Keating

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About the Holiday

We love animals, but do we take care of them the way we should? Today’s holiday was established in 1931 to promote global awareness of animals and the issues surrounding their welfare. From pets to domesticated animals to wild creatures, humans must protect and advocate for their companions and fellow travelers on this earth. Issues such as pollution, habitat destruction, and poaching threaten the world’s wide variety of species, while closer to home spaying and neutering controls the population of feral animals that often suffer from a lack of resources.

The wildlife kingdom is majestic and awe-inspiring. Today celebrate the world’s animals by taking a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or animal preserve, consider adopting a shelter animal, or donating your time or talents to your favorite animal cause.

Pink is for Blob Fish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals

Written by Jess Keating | Illustrated by David DeGrand

 

Pink is sweet like cotton candy, right? Pink is pretty like a rose, isn’t it? Pink is quiet like twightlight, don’t cha think? Well…yes, and…maybe not so much. You’d be pardoned for squirming in the presence of a pinktoe tarantula which is found in the rain forests of Matinique and Guadeloupe and can defeat predators with their spiky hairs, and if you can’t make heads or tails of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, which looks like a cross between a lobster tail and a shag rug, no one will blame you.

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Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

But the world is full of pink, and for each of these grimace-inducing bubble-gum-hued creatures there are plenty who simply take your breath away with their beauty. Imagine watching a duo-toned light-and-dark-pink Roseate Spoonbill take off and soar over marshland along America’s Gulf Coast or a river in South America or the West Indies like a valentine on the wind. You will likewise marvel when you see the delicate form of the Orchid Mantis. This variety of praying mantis found in the rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia is so identical to real orchids that other insects can’t tell the difference and often land in the grasp of their tricky predator.

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Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Seas and rivers also teem with pink wildlife. Pygmy Seahorses swimming in the waters of the South Pacific blend in to their coral surroundings like a spiky ball among hedgehogs. With white-and-pinkish bodies dotted with strawberry-colored knobs, these seahorses are perfectly camouflaged against predators. The rose-colored Amazon River Dolphin hunts for piranhas, crustaceans and bottom dwelling fish with its long snout in the freshwater rivers of South America. The rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Sahara Africa are home to Hippopotamuses, which “ooze thick pink oil all over their skin. This pink ‘sweat’ acts like an antibiotic sunscreen, so hippos can stay out in the sun all day without getting burned.” Imagine if you could do that!

Of course, there is also the Blobfish, recently voted as the world’s ugliest animal. But isn’t this little glob of gelatinous goo really so ugly it’s cute? Found in deep waters off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, this fish survives where others cannot by simply opening its mouth and gobbling down whatever floats by.

With many more examples of pink wildlife in this captivating book, it’s guaranteed that after flipping through the pages of Pink is for Blobfish you will never look at pink the same way again! 

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Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Jess Keating highlights a host of fascinating pink animals in this volume that is sure to delight kids and get them excited about the world less seen. The first in the World of Weird Animals series, Pink is for Blobfish is loaded with scientific facts, remarkable trivia, and humorous asides to pique the interest of readers’ inner zoologist. Each two-page spread provides a spectacular up-close photograph of the animal, insect, or fish described as well as its common name, species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators or threats. Keating also taps into her audience’s love of the unique and even the bizarre with conversational paragraphs that reveal unusual habits, traits, survival mechanisms, and more for each creature featured.

David DeGrand lends his unique illustration style to the pages with funny cartoon portrayals of the creatures and one of their signature traits. These humorous depictions will not only make kids and adults laugh but will promote better understanding of each unique animal.

Pink is for Blobfish is a perfect addition to personal libraries for budding environmental scientists or anyone interested in the wider, wilder animal world and is an exciting title for school libraries and classrooms, where it could inspire scientific study.

Ages 5 – 10

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553512274

You’ll discover books, videos, creature features, resources, and lots more on Jess Keating’s website!

You will find the world of David DeGrand‘s art and comics on his website!

Pink is for book trailers—at least this one!

World Animal Day Activity

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Play the Wonderful Wildlife Board Game! Animal tokens images copyright Conor Carroll

Wonderful Wildlife Board Game

 

Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice below
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!
  • 1 = Flamingo – South America
  • 2 = Emperor Penguin – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 3 = Giraffe – Africa
  • 4 = Bald Eagle – North America
  • 5 = Ibex – Europe
  • 6 = Kangaroo – Australia
  • 7 = Panda – Asia
  • 8 = Orca – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 9 = Toucan – South America
  • 10 = Buffalo – North America
  • 11 = Koala – Australia
  • 12 = Lion – Africa
  • 13 = Etruscan Shrew – Europe
  • 14 = Manta Ray – Pacific Ocean
  • 15 = Sea Turtle – Atlantic Ocean
  • 16 = Tiger – Asia

Q&A with Author Jess Keating

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Today I’m tickled pink to talk to Jess Keating about her work as a zoologist and an author, her favorite animals, and a very cool holiday tradition.

In your work, your books, and your online presence, you bring kids and adults closer to the animal kingdom. What in your early years inspired you to become a zoologist?

I wish there was one poignant answer to this question! The truth is, all my life I’ve been enamored with animals. A physicist I admire once said this: The world is beautiful to look at, but it’s even more beautiful to understand. To me, that sums it all up perfectly.

As a kid, animals sparked my curiosity, my imagination, and even my creativity. The diversity they represent is so amazing to me—they all live their lives so differently, with different senses, abilities, and environments, yet it works perfectly for them. I instantly felt a kinship with them, and as a kid, I wanted to know everything about them.

As I got older and was able to really get into zoology, my goal shifted. The world of animals is so endlessly fascinating, and I now I want to take every opportunity to share it with others, especially young readers.  

All animals are amazing, but do you have a soft spot for one particular animal or species? If so, why?

Now this is such a hard question! My favorite animal has always been the wolf. I was lucky enough to see one in the wild once, and it’s pretty hard to come away from that experience without believing in magic!

Lately, I also have a soft spot for nudibranchs! I included one (the Hopkins’ rose nudibranch) in my last book, but there are so many other species that we know so little about! As I mentioned above, it’s the diversity that takes my breath away. Some of them look like bunnies:

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Image courtesy of crawl_ray on flickr.com

Some even look like pizzas!

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Image courtesy of Arthur Anker on flickr.com

You do such a great job of reaching out to kids through videos, KeatingCreature on Twitter, your YouTube Channel: Animals for Smart People, personal appearances, and Skype visits. Can you describe a funny or favorite anecdote from one of your events?

Thank you for the Youtube shout out! I really hope teachers find my videos useful! As for a favorite event, when you mix animals and kids, the results are often hilarious. Usually, my visits involve a lot of dead things. I bring a collection of skulls, animal bones, and animal track castings with me. Every so often, we get lucky with some live specimens.

One of my favorite events was a library visit that involved a 10+ foot python. I had her resting on my shoulders (as you do), and I remember laughing because almost all of the adults in the room were skittish, backing off toward the door.

When I asked who else wanted to hold this lovely python, every adult shook their head. There was no way they were going near it! But then, a tiny six year old girl rushed up to the front, with a massive smile on her face. She wasn’t afraid at all as she held that snake—and I’m pretty sure that her big moment meant as much to me as it did to her!   

What inspired you to write Pink is for Blobfish?

 Pink is for Blobfish is a book so close to my heart! I know that sounds strange, because it’s essentially a book filled with weirdos!

As you can probably guess, I’ve been reading animal books my whole life. I loved them all, but what I really wanted was to write something that says as much about us as it does about the wild animals on each page. A book that not only shares amazing animals with kids, but also gets them thinking critically about how they view the world, especially regarding their assumptions and judgments. Pink is for Blobfish is my way of getting readers to look at gender expectations, while (hopefully) instilling them with a little wonder about the natural world.

There’s so much humor in your writing and videos. How does your love of comedy help you connect to readers?

The short answer is, I’m just a big ham and love making people laugh. There’s also the added bonus with nonfiction: we’re much more likely to remember something if we connect with it emotionally. My way of accomplishing that is to be funny and get kids laughing. Fiction or nonfiction, one of the easiest ways for me to reach readers is through a well-timed joke.

But, you can also get a little deeper with it. I once heard that Jim Carrey doesn’t think of his job as “making people laugh.” Instead, he views it as “freeing people from concern.” The minute I heard that, it resonated with me. For those few moments, when you’ve got a reader laughing, they’re free from any concern in their lives. It’s a reprieve, a bright moment. It’s true for us as adults too—it’s pretty much impossible to be stressed out when you’re reading about a pigeon that wants to drive a bus!

Now, when I approach my writing, I look for those moments. If I can make myself laugh, that’s half the battle.

What’s the best part about writing books for kids?

For both fiction and nonfiction, my favorite part is seeing the look on a kid’s face when you open a door for them into a whole new world. Sometimes, it’s the ridiculously colorful world of nudibranchs. And sometimes, it’s helping them to the realization that they aren’t alone, no matter how weird they feel.

What’s up next for you?

I’m so glad you asked! I just received F&Gs of the second book in the World of Weird Animals series! I can’t give away the title just yet, but I can say we are going to look at MONSTERS. This isn’t just going to be a book of creepy creatures. We’re going to dig into why we see certain animals as monsters, and how those judgments and assumptions affect how we think of them. I was blown away with the discussions that Pink is for Blobfish prompted with kids, and I can’t wait to see how they respond to this book!

I also have my first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, coming out next year! I’ve always been a fan of sharks, and I was thrilled to tell the story of Eugenie Clark, one of the world’s first female shark scientists. Eugenie is one of those incredible women that changed the world just by being her fearless self, and I am so eager to share this book with everyone. Look for it around June!

I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-themed questions, so…

You told me that World Animal Day is one of your favorite holidays. Can you talk a little about that?

What could be better than a day devoted to animals!? World Animal Day is a day to chat about animals all over the world, and how we can best protect them and their futures. A funny thing happens when you start talking about animals in the global sense—you can’t help them without also helping us. Education and awareness can accomplish so much!

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

I have one that ties in really well here! When I was a teen, I had a really cool Christmas tradition that I highly recommend to parents of animal lovers. On Christmas morning (or any special holiday morning for you!) I would go to my local humane society, bring treats, and walk the dogs. Usually, these centers have lots of volunteers, but busy holidays are often pretty slow for them and there’s not a lot of help. I guarantee the dogs will love the company, and you’ll get to spend an hour surrounded by wagging tails! You can’t lose.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Yes! A very savvy bookstore (DDG Books!) organized a “Valentine for Blobfish” event when Pink is for Blobfish came out. So many young readers felt bad that the blobfish was voted the world’s “Ugliest Animal” (true story!) and they wanted to send him valentine cards to make him feel better!

You can see more about it here in this video:

 

And read some blobfish poetry here. Or, you can see some of the adorable cards on my blog.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

Thank you, Jess! It’s been so much fun! I wish you all the best with all of your books and your other ventures!

Learn more about Jess Keating!

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her MY LIFE IS A ZOO series earned two Kirkus stars, a Red Maple nomination, a Rocky Mountain Book Award nomination, and a spot on the LA Times Summer Book Pick List. 

Her quirky nonfiction picture book series kicked off with PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, with a sequel to follow in 2017. Her first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, will also be published in 2017. 

Jess is also the creator, writer and host of Animals for Smart People, a Youtube series about animals, science, and nature. Subscribe today and bring Jess into your classroom!

Connect with Jess Keating:

You can  find Jess on Twitter @Jess_Keating and on Facebook @JessKeatingBooks!

Pink is for Blobfish can be found at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndigoIndieBound | PenguinRandom House

Picture Book Review

 

October 3 – World Architecture Day

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About the Holiday

Originally observed on July 1, World Architecture Day was moved to the first Monday in October to coincide with the United Nations World Habitat Day. Today we take time to consider the importance of architecture in our lives and the impact architects have in making our cities, towns, homes, and other buildings comfortable and functional. A focus on sustainability gives architects new challenges and goals for a brighter future. To celebrate today take a walk around your town or city and study the buildings and how they fit into the vision for your area or research a famous building – there are so many to choose from!

Roberto the Insect Architect

By Nina Laden

 

Even as a little bugger Roberto the termite “went against the grain.” While he liked the usual meal fare of oak, maple, and pine, Roberto would be more likely to play with his food than eat it, building tall towers on his plate. The other termites didn’t understand and laughed at him. Roberto knew that if he wanted to build the life he wanted, he would have to leave town.

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Image and text copyright Nina Laden, courtesy of Chronicle Books

Roberto moved to the city, dreaming of using his talents and being accepted, “but hope didn’t come cheap in the big city. Neither did a place to live. Roberto had no choice but to rent a room in a flea-bag hotel run by a nervous tick.” The next day he hit the pavement looking for a job. He talked to Hank Floyd Mite, who was only interested in what buildings Roberto had already designed. Fleas Van Der Rohe dismissed Roberto, saying “‘There are no termites in my houses’” and Antonia Gaudi rudely “blurted out, ‘Don’t bug me!’”

As Roberto dejectedly headed home, he was swarmed by other bugs with bigger problems than his: a fly had no home, a carpenter ant was trying in vain to fix his ramshackle shed, roaches were fleeing a diner, and “a frantic ladybug flew into his arms crying, ‘My house is on fire and my children are gone!’” Roberto wanted to help them all, “but what could one termite do? ‘A lot of damage,’ Fleas Van Der Rohe had told him.”

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Image and text copyright Nina Laden, courtesy of Chronicle Books

Roberto vowed to show Fleas and all the others what he could do. He drew up blue prints for a one-of-a-kind neighborhood then went in search for the perfect location. When he found a block of abandoned buildings, Roberto got to work. He built day and night and “transformed the block of junk into a street of extraordinary homes, each one unique and a work of art.” Roberto anonymously sent the keys to the homes to the insects he had met earlier.

Each home perfectly matched the need of its owner. Soon the city was abuzz with the news of these amazing homes, and everyone from Barbara Waterbugs to Steve Shieldbug wanted to tell the architect’s story—but who was it? Bounty-hunting butterflies, paper wasps, and bold weevils went in search of the builder’s identity. Finally, “a click beetle got the shot.” The next morning Roberto was all over the news. He became a celebrity with job offers, book offers, offers of love, and parties galore. A statue in his honor was even placed in the city park.

With all the acclaim he had attracted, Roberto established his own company. He became more than a famous architect, he became a role model for other aspiring little mites. Now when they “play with their food,” their parents encourage them: “‘Be creative!’ Maybe someday you’ll grow up to be just like Roberto.’”

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Employing a perfect swarm of insect puns, plays on words, and riffs on insect habits, Nina Laden swats it out of the park in her laugh-out-loud termite-out-of-woodwork story. The straight narration of Roberto’s quest for architectural greatness is tinged with the tones of noir private-eye novels, and his encounters with “famous” architects and insects in need give Laden the perfect palette for her visual and literary humor.

Laden’s mixed-media illustrations are layered with allusions to classic art, the world’s great cities, and products from the past. It all adds up to a stunning visual feast, whether you have two eyes or eight. Kids will love discovering all the hidden jokes on each page, and adults will appreciate the nods toward celebrities as well as the fads of their childhood.

Newly published in paperback, Roberto the Insect Architect offers a fresh take on the idea that you should follow your dreams and your heart. The book would make a fun addition to a child’s library and could jumpstart a study of architecture and its designers as well as an entomology unit in school classrooms.

Ages 5 – 9

Chronicle Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1452156460

To view a gallery full of books by Nina Laden, visit her website!

World Architecture Day Activity

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World Monuments Word Scramble

 

Use the clues to unscramble the names of 16 world-famous buildings and landmarks in this printable World Monuments Word Scramble Puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

August 20 -World Honey Bee Day

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About the Holiday

In 2009 beekeepers in the United States petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture to establish an official day to commemorate honey bees and beekeeping. Since then the holiday has expanded world wide, and the plight of the bee population has become a global concern. Bees are a crucial component in sustainable farming, and even home gardeners know their harvest will be successful when they see bees hovering nearby. Bee enthusiasts commemorate the day by planting flowers that will attract these tiny dynamos, such as lavender, marjoram, and borage. To celebrate, why not try some local honey—you might fall in love with the taste, like Fred in today’s book!

The Honeybee Man

Written by Lela Nargi | Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

 

At dawn on a July morning, Fred awakes to begin his day with his “enormous” family. His morning routine consists of a cup of tea and a climb back upstairs and through a hatch in the ceiling that takes him to the roof. “All around is quiet Brooklyn city—brownstones and linden trees, a tall clock tower, and bridges in the distance.” But nearby is another, tiny city. It consists of only three houses, but inside are “thousands of tiny rooms made of wax.”

The summer morning smells of “maple leave and gasoline and the river and dust. He turns to the tiny city and inhales its smaller, sweeter smell—a little like caramel, a little like ripe peaches.” He bends down to the three houses to wake their residents. “‘Good morning, Queen Mab. Good morning, Queen Nefertiti. Good morning, Queen Boadicea,’” he calls before greeting the rest of his family: “‘Good morning, my bees, my darlings!’”

Inside the houses the bees are busy. The queens are laying eggs while the workers build wax rooms, nurse bees feed the babies, and others are getting ready to find fields of flowers for nectar. Fred dreams of the marvelous flowers the bees may find to flavor their honey. He imagines the bees flying low over the flowers moving among them and wishes he could soar with them too.

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Image copyright Kyrsten Brooker, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Fred watches the young bees uncertainly leave the hive and swirl off into the air. The older bees “zip out of the hives and throw themselves at the air, embracing it with their wings.” When a few land on Fred’s arm, he gently flicks them on their way. He spies on them from his rooftop as they disperse into his backyard garden, other neighborhood gardens, and perhaps, if Fred is lucky, to “blueberry bushes somewhere across town.” He sees the bees “dive into sweet pea and squash flowers. If he were closer, he could see them using their tubelike tongues to drink in flower nectar, which they store in honey sacs inside their bellies.”

The bees fly slowly home weighted down with their treasure. Fred knows that inside the hive the bees will go to work, some will do the waggle dance that tells other bees where the flowers are, some will take the nectar and store it in the wax rooms, and others will fan “their wings to evaporate the water from the nectar so it will turn to honey.”

At the end of August Fred knows it’s time to collect the honey. He carefully enters the tiny houses, removing the honeycomb from the top. In his own home he cuts the wax caps of the comb and the honey begins to flow. A special spinning machine squeezes every drop from the honeycomb. He pours the honey into jars and labels them “Fred’s Brooklyn Honey, Made by Tireless Brooklyn Bees.” In the evening Fred sits on his stoop chatting with the neighbors. He gives each a jar of golden honey.

As night falls Fred opens a jar of honey as the bees huddle “back in their own city, waiting for the rays of tomorrow’s sun to call them up and away over Brooklyn.” Fred dips a finger into the honey and tastes. “It is sweet, like linden flowers. It is sharp, like rosemary. It is ever-so-slightly sour. “‘Ah,’ says Fred, absorbing these happy flavors. ‘Blueberries!’”

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Image copyright Kyrsten Brooker, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Lela Nargi’s lovely city-based nature book brilliantly likens the tightly packed, exhilarating environs of Brooklyn to the stirring realm of the beehive. Through Fred’s love of his bee family, Nargi lyrically and with marvelous metaphors and verbs reveals the fascinating world of bees as well as the rich and satisfying life of one particular beekeeper. Readers organically learn fascinating facts about the ways bees collect nectar and transform it into delicious honey as well as why honey can have so many flavors.

In her gorgeous illustrations, Kyrsten Brooker uses the golden hues of honey to paint not only the beehive but Brooklyn as well, giving the two “cities” a sense of cohesiveness and equality. Fred, older, with his cup of tea and blue slippers is shown gently and lovingly taking care of his bees, even as he still has their spirit of adventure. Brooker’s combination of oils and collage fuse the dreamy quality of the text with the concreteness of its facts to create a unique book that would be perfect for quiet story times, rainy afternoons, or bedtime.

If there is such a thing as a child’s nature cozy, The Honeybee Man is it, and it would make a wonderful gift and a delightful addition to anyone’s library.

The endpapers provide detailed diagrams of the various types of bees, beehives, flowers, the waggle dance, and even a bee’s stinger. Nature lovers will relish the two pages of “amazing facts about honey, honeybees, and beekeepers” that follow the story.

Ages 5 – 10

Schwartz & Wade, Penguin Random House | ISBN 978-0375849800

You can find books for children, articles for adults, and so much more on Lela Nargi’s website!

World Honey Bee Day Activity

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Bees and Hive Coloring Page

 

The world of the honeybee is mysterious and marvelous! Here’s a printable Bees and Hive Coloring Page for you to enjoy!

Picture Book Review

June 16 – Dump the Pump Day

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About the Holiday

There’s no better time than early summer to consider “dumping the pump” and traveling by foot, bicycle, scooter, skates, skateboard…there are so many options! Leaving the car at home saves on gas costs, is better for the environment, and leads to a great exercise workout. Today, grab your walking or tennis shoes and with a friend or alone, take an example from the subject of today’s book and enjoy the pleasure of traversing the outside world!

Good Trick, Walking Stick!

Written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

 

The walking stick is one insect that knows a thing or two about tricks. Even before it’s born wile plays a part in its survival. A mother walking stick drops her eggs where they will be buried by autumn leaves—and found by ants that think they are delicious seeds to eat. Why would a mother purposefully do this?! She knows that the ants will take the eggs to their colony, where they will eat only the tops leaving the baby walking sticks undisturbed. The ants will then drag the remains of the “seeds” to their garbage dump area, where they will spend a warm winter safe from predators until spring.

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In the spring a baby hatches. It look like a tiny twig—a twig that can walk! The baby searches for food and munch, munch, munches the leaves it finds. As it becomes bigger it molts, shedding its old skin and growing a new one. The walking stick looks just like the branches that it lives on. It is perfectly camouflaged! “Good trick, walking stick!”

But a bird with keen eyesight swoops down and in an instant grabs the walking stick in its beak. Quickly, the walking stick squirts out a bad-smelling juice. The bird spits it out, but has gained a snack while the walking stick has lost a leg! It’s okay, though; the walking stick will just grow a new one! “Good trick, walking stick!”

The walking stick finds a tree with others of her kind hidden in its branches. The leaves make delicious meals. During the day the walking stick can change color to blend in with the sunlit bark of the tree and stay cooler. At night the walking stick becomes darker to hide in the shadows and stay warm. “Good trick, walking stick!”

When a squirrel brushes past, looking for a meal, the walking stick “pulls in her legs and drops to the forest floor, just like a stick falling off a larger branch. The stick insect is safe.” All day the insect lies on the ground, not moving, pretending to be just another cutting. At nightfall the walking stick climbs back into the tree. The squirrels and birds are resting now, so the stick insects “Munch munch. Crunch. Munch.”

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With the onset of fall stick insects begin looking for mates. The females “spritz their perfume into the cooling air.” Males find them. Even if a walking stick does not have a mate, she can still produce eggs which will all develop into females. The eggs settle into the fallen leaves, ready to begin their unique life. “Good trick, walking stick!”

Stick insects are some of the most unusual creatures in the world. Measuring from an inch or two to 21 inches (53 centimeters), they can be found in forests, parks, even your own backyard! Sheri Mabry Bestor’s story of a year in a walking stick’s life is filled with action, suspense, and the clever ploys stick insects use to survive. Bestor’s enthusiastic, conversational tone and evocative language will engage kids over a wide range of ages. Each page also contains fascinating scientific sidebars that expand on the events in the story.

Jonny Lambert’s collage-style illustrations are a perfect match for the text. The mottled hues and textures of nature are beautifully represented in the vibrantly colored two-page spreads. The scientific details of the stick insect’s life are clearly and organically depicted, making it easy for kids to understand and enjoy the concepts: on one page ants carry away eggs with missing tops while on the next baby walking sticks emerge from the same images. Illustrations of the stick insect’s camouflage are particularly effective, and the cyclical quality of the story and the insect’s life are well portrayed.

For teachers and for kids who love the natural world and are curious about its unique creatures, Good Trick, Walking Stick is a wonderful addition to their school or personal library.

Ages 5 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369430

Dump the Pump Day Activity

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Take a Stroll Puzzle

 

You can see so many amazing things when you take a walk! But can you spot the 15 differences between the two pictures in this printable Take a Stroll puzzle?