March 3 – World Wildlife Day

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About the Holiday

This United Nations-sponsored holiday was established in 2013 to celebrate the world’s wild animals and plants and to raise awareness of the perils they face. Since that time, World Wildlife Day has grown to be the most important global event dedicated to wildlife. This year’s theme is “Big cats: predators under threat.” The big cats are some of nature’s most majestic animals, and they are now being threatened by habitat destruction, declining prey populations, conflicts with people, poaching, and illegal trade. It is up to us to protect the animals that share our planet. To commemorate today’s holiday, learn more about the world’s creatures and consider donating to a wildlife cause. To learn more about the holiday, visit the official website of UN World Wildlife Day.

Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals

Written by Gabrielle Balkan | Illustrated by Sam Brewster

 

When you think about bones, you know a lot, right? You know they’re hard and not soft, you know they form your skeleton and that they come in different sizes and various shapes, and you know that all vertebrates have them. But have you ever wondered “which animal has the biggest bone in the world? Or the smallest, Or the spikiest?” Well, you’re about to find out thanks to this big book all about bones.

So, let’s get started! About that biggest bone…would you like to take a guess who it belongs to? Here are some clues: This mandible bone “is a whopping 20 feet long. That means three motorcycles could sit in a row” on it. The animal it belongs to lives in the ocean, swims great distances, and “can live for 100 years.” Just take a look at the skeleton on the next page with one long spine, two flippers, fifteen pairs of ribs and a huge skull. Good guess! Let’s turn the page and see… Yes, it is a Blue Whale!

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Now that you know, you can learn more about the blue whale—like how its mouth is so big that you and one hundred of your friends could fit on its tongue, how it eats 700,000 krill in one gulp, and slurps down 40,000,000 krill every day! Go ahead—touch the illustration of the whale. Feel all of those bones?

Ready for another one? Okay! We did the biggest, how about the smallest bones? Here are some clues from the animal herself: “I am teeny tiny. My skull is smaller than your pinky nail….Inside my ears are the smallest bones in the world: my hammer, anvil, and stirrup bones,” which are about the size of a • . You’d find this animal on farms, in gardens and in olive groves, and even though it’s small, its bite is poisonous. But you’d have to look very closely to find it because its skeleton is “the size of a paperclip and weighs less than a single raisin. What is it? The Etruscan Shrew! You can pet it to feel its bones—this one isn’t venomous.

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Imagine if your bones were as thin as a strand of spaghetti. It might make lifting heavy boxes and throwing baseballs or running on the playground pretty hard, if not impossible. But for this next animal having such thin bones is just right. Let’s see if you can guess what it is from these clues: “I sleep upside down, snuggled with my family. I flit through cool limestone caves. I am an amazing flyer…but can’t walk very well.” You know it—it’s a bumblebee bat!

This bat is as small as its namesake, and its thin finger bones support its wings. “If your finger bones were as long and thin as [the bumblebee bat’s], your pinky would be as thin as a strand of hair and keep going past your toes!”

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

This is fun! How about another? Guess who has the spikiest bones? You’d find these bones covered with keratin on top of the animal’s head to protect its brain—and to keep it from being eaten by snakes or coyotes or other predators. This animal lives in the deserts of Arizona, eats ants, and…can shoot stinky blood from its eyes when threatened! What is it? It’s a Regal Horned Lizard! Now, feel those spiky horns and all of the rib bones that make this lizard so round.

You’re a great guesser! So try them all—there are a lot more animals to discover and fascinating facts to learn in this book! No bones about it! You’ll find out more about the Reticulated Python, Reticulated Giraffe, African Bush Elephant, Peregrine Falcon, Alaska Moose, and Hammerhead Shark. At the end, there’s also a Glossary of Bone Words for you to bone up on!

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Gabrielle Balkan makes learning about the ten animals Book of Bones exciting by including the kinds of facts that kids find most eye-popping and eww-inspiring described in ways that they can relate to. Comparing the size of an animal to a paperclip or the thickness of a bone to a strand of spaghetti creates an immediate visual that makes budding scientists want to learn more. Balkan’s conversational style lends a personal touch to the text—as if the reader is interacting with a wildlife expert one-on-one.

Opening the oversized Book of Bones is like walking into a natural history museum where skeleton exhibits stand side by side with natural habitat dioramas. Sam Brewster introduces each animal with accurately drawn skeletons on black backgrounds that let readers see the placement of each bone. Special features are called out in a whisper of gray, adding to the museum display feel. Turning the page allows children to see each animal in its vibrant, natural habitat. Ingenious printing lets readers feel and see the rough bones beneath the skin.

A fun, fact-filled resource for nature lovers, Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals would make a great gift and addition to classroom, school library, public library, and home bookshelves.

Ages 8 – 12

Phaidon Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0714875125

Discover more about Gabrielle Balkan and her books on her website.

To view a portfolio of illustration work by Sam Brewster, visit his website.

World Wildlife Day Activity

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Lion and Lioness Coloring Pages

 

The lion is one of the most majestic of the big cats, and is—of course—the king (and queen) of the jungle. Here are two lion coloring pages for you to enjoy!

Lion Coloring Page | Lioness and Cub Coloring Page

Picture Book Review

February 28 – It’s National Bird-Feeding Month

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About the Holiday

As birds begin coming back to your area during this last bit of winter to build nests, mate, and hatch little cheepers, they still need help finding nutritious food to sustain them. Without the lush vegetation and increased insect activity that will come with warmer weather, birds often rely on backyard feeders for food. Attracting colorful birds to your home can be a rewarding and joyful hobby – one you can enjoy year-round. If you’ve been considering hanging a bird feeder to one of your trees, today is the perfect day to get started!

Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook

Written by Martin Jenkins | Illustrated by Richard Jones

 

It’s early morning and Bird is already chirping. It’s going to be a busy day! To get started she needs breakfast. Of course, “what she wants is a nice, juicy…worm.” What the worm wants, though, is to not be eaten. So while “bird pulls hard…the worm pulls back.” This is one strong worm, and it ends up winning the tug-of-war. Nearby, though, is a smaller and weaker worm that is just as delicious.

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Image copyright Richard JOnes, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Full and satisfied, Bird takes off on her next task. She needs to find twigs. “Lots of twigs.” The first one she finds is more like a branch to the little bird—and is too heavy. The next one is as long as a snake and too heavy too. But there are plenty of perfectly small twigs scattered around, so Bird gets to work. She “can carry one large twig or two medium-size twigs or three or four small twigs (although it’s hard to fit that many in her beak at once).”

What is Bird doing with all of these twigs? Building her nest, of course! It takes time to arrange the twigs she brings back to the branch of her tree. “Carefully, she pushes a twig into the side of the nest and pulls its end back out.” As if weaving a basket, Bird intertwines more and more sticks, making her nest strong. It takes hours to complete her new home. Once in a while a twig falls or she drops one, but there are plenty more to find.

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Image copyright Richard JOnes, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Once the twigs are all in place, Bird searches for soft material to line it. She gathers dried grass and feathers. These are so light that it’s easy to carry a lot at one time. Back in her nest she places the grass and feathers inside and “turning around and around, pushing with her whole body, she makes a snug little cup, smooth and soft on the inside.” Now the nest is comfy and all ready for…the five little eggs that are waiting to hatch!

Bird Builds a Nest is a First Science Storybook for young readers that, while showing how birds build nests also demonstrates various scientific forces. As kids see the baby birds emerge from the nest for the first time, they can also answer a few questions in the Afterward that prompt them to think about pushing and pulling, moving light and heavy objects, and the force of gravity. An Index reveals where in the text these forces can be found.

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Image copyright Richard JOnes, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Spying a nest in a tree, eave, or other tucked-away space is like finding a secret, and is one of the joys of spring. Martin Jenkins’ delightful day out with Bird gives kids…well…a bird’s eye view of the nest-building process. Just like an artist, this sweet, industrious feathered friend gathers her materials and sets to work to make her instinctual vision come true. Jenkins’ step-by-step description is conversational and homey with words such as snug, tuck, fetching, and twigs that lend themselves to the charming alliteration that gives the story a poetic sound and feel.

Richard Jones’ mixed-media illustrations sing with beautiful folk-art inspired scenes of Bird gathering her material and creating her nest. Softly vibrant earth tones of autumn and spring accentuate Bird’s quiet and solitary endeavor. Bird is bright-eyed and cheerful as she flies back and forth carrying twigs and arranging them just so—activities that are clearly shown for budding scientists to see and understand. Readers will enjoy finding small details here and there—a mouse in a tree hole, a tiny ladybug, hearts in the swirls of the tree bark and formed by leaves, and even a bit of foreshadowing of the eggs to come. The male and female bird cuddle together in the finished nest as two ladybugs find each other under a purple heart, and the little chicks venturing out for the first time will enchant children.

Bird Builds a Nest wonderfully weaves together facts and a sweet story to introduce young readers to one particular natural phenomenon and some of the scientific forces involved. The captivating story would be a terrific addition to home libraries and classroom bookshelves for discussions about the natural world.

Ages 4 – 6

Candlewick Press, 2018 |ISBN 978-0763693466

To learn more about Richard Jones and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

National Bird-Feeding Month Activity

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Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle

 

When you put up a bird feeder in your yard, you’ll see so many different types of birds come to visit! Find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle.

Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle | Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Solution

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Nothing Day

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About the Holiday

Newspaper columnist Harold Coffin established Nothing Day in 1973 to satirize the proliferation of daily holidays. His purpose was to give people a day to do absolutely nothing. Sounds good to me! Still, does celebrating this holiday constitute doing something? This may be the most baffling holiday on the calendar! Why not find something—or nothing—to do with today’s book?

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

By Beatrice Alemagna

 

A little girl and her mom are “back again” at the cottage—even trudging up the walk in “the same rain”—while Dad is working back at home in the city. While Mom works at her computer, the girl destroys Martians, but she says, “Actually, I was just pressing the same button over and over.” She wishes that her dad were there.

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Mom turns away from her writing and watches her daughter playing her video game. “Is this going to be another day of doing nothing?” she growls. Mom takes the device and hides it—“as usual”—and the little girl finds it—“as usual.” But this time she takes it outside. As the rain pelts down from gloomy skies it looked as if everything in the “garden was hiding from the sun.”

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of HarperCollins.

In the pond at the bottom of the hill she finds a line of flat stones. She hops from one to another, crushing them like the Martians in her game. While jumping, though, her game falls out of her pocket and into the pond. The water is so icy cold that she can’t grab it before it sinks out of sight. Oh no! she thinks, “Without my game, I have nothing to do.” The rain strikes her “like rocks,” and she feels “like a small tree trapped outside in a hurricane.”

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Just then she spies four giant snails slithering by. She asks them if there is anything to do around there, and they tell her yes. She gently feels one of the snail’s antennae. It is “as soft as jello” and makes her smile. She follows the snails and discovers a field filled with mushrooms. Their damp musky smell reminds her of her grandparents’ basement—her “cave of treasures.” She walks on and finds a spot in the earth where she digs her hand into the ground. She feels “thousands of seeds and pellets and kernals, grains and roots and berries touch “her fingers and hand.” When she looks up the sun is shining “through a giant strainer” and blinds her.

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of beatricealemanga.com.

Her heart starts beating fast with energy. She takes off running and runs so quickly that she tumbles down the hill. She lands on her back with a flop, and when she opens her eyes, the world is topsy-turvy new. Energized, she climbs a tree and gazes out at the horizon, breaths deeply in the fresh air, drinks raindrops as they fall from a leaf, and notices bugs she’s never seen before. She talks to a bird, splashes in a puddle, and watches the world through stones as clear as glass.

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of beatricealemanga.com.

She hurries home and takes off her raincoat. When she glances in the mirror, for a moment she thinks she “sees her dad smiling at [her].” Her mom is still writing, but now she looks different to the little girl—“like one of the creatures outside.” Her mom notices how soaked she is and takes her to the kitchen to dry her off in a big, soft towel. The little girl feels like giving her mom a big hug. For a moment she wants to tell her about all the things she saw and did, but she doesn’t.

Instead, they enjoy their hot chocolate quietly together. “That’s it,” she says. “That’s all we did. On this magical do-nothing day.”

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of HarperCollins.

While the protagonist of A Magical Do-Nothing Day may never have looked at the world outside closely, Beatrice Alemagna certainly has. Alemagna’s exquisite illustrations portray the beauty of our environment—both indoors and out—and our connections to it with novel descriptions and stunning color and perspectives. As the girl ventures outside, video game clutched tightly, her face registers sadness and wariness. The Martians from the game crawl over and surround her, even when the game is off, seeming to fill any space that might be open to exploration, and, indeed, her first forays into the wild are taken game-style, hopping from platform to platform, rock to rock.

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Copyright Beatrice Alemanga, 2017, courtesy of HarperCollins.

When the gaming device sinks into frigid water (as cold and impersonal as the gaming experience itself?), the child quickly comes out of her shell with the help of snails that lead her to greater discovery. The story gives readers much to ponder in the relationships between the child and parents and the child’s newfound appreciation for the natural world.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day is a fantastic book to add to home and classroom libraries to spur children’s exploration—both in the natural world and within. While I used the feminine pronoun in my review, the story is told from the first person point of view and the child is drawn with gender neutral clothing and hairstyle, making this a book with universal appeal.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2017 | ISBN 978-0062657602

Discover more about Beatrice Alemanga, her books, and her art on her website.

Nothing Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rainy-day-with-mushroom-and-cricket-coloring-pageNothing To Do Coloring Pages

 

Rainy days are perfect “do-nothing” days. The next time you have an indoor day, grab your crayons or colored pencils and enjoy these printable coloring pages

Splashing in the Rain Coloring Page | Cricket Hiding from the Rain Coloring Page

Picture Book Review

September 7 – Buy a Book Day and Interview with Sara Levine

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About the Holiday

Today is one of the best days of the year! Anyone who loves books will want to take the opportunity of the holiday to visit their favorite bookstore and buy one of those books you’ve been hearing and reading about. And why stop at just one? Winter is coming—that time when there’s nothing more cozy than snuggling in with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and reading late into the night. As the school year begins, children benefit from having new books in their home libraries that reflect their changing interests and maturing thoughts. Take a little time to look through the children’s or tween sections of the bookstore and let your kids pick out some new favorites! Yes, today is a wonderful day, no bones about it! 

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth

 

Can you imagine if we sloshed through life like soup without a bowl? What would we set our hats on? Where would we carry our phones? How could we sit in class or the office or perform our favorite activities? And what would happen to our organs, our hair, our homes? It’s all a little disturbing! Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that scenario because “we’re vertebrates, animals with bones. Our bones hold us up.” Phew!

There are different kinds of vertebrates—mammals, reptiles, fish, and more—but many of our bones are similar. For example, “all vertebrates have skulls and ribs. And we all have vertebrae. Vertebrae stack up one on top of another to make the spine, or backbone.” Humans have vertebrae that end…well…you know where, but imagine for a minute if your vertebra kept on going. What if they poked a hole right through your shorts? Yes! You’re right—you’d have a tail. Tails are pretty helpful for some animals. They help them swim, communicate, even keep their balance.

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

Good job! Let’s try again…how about if you only had a skull, vertebrae, and ribs. No arm bones; no leg bones. You’ve got it! A slithery snake! Nah…really…you’d look great! Okay, maybe you’d prefer if you had a skull, vertebrae, and arm bones—but no leg bones—and your nose was transferred to the top of your head. Sounds fishy? Maybe, but not quite. Oh! Did I give it away? Yep, you’d be a whale or a dolphin, and you’d use those powerful vertebrae to propel yourself to the ocean’s surface to grab a breath.

Imagine what kind of gloves and shoes you’d need if your “middle fingers and middle toes were so thick that they supported your whole body.” Hey, you’re good at this! It was a trick question. You wouldn’t need gloves, but you’d wear horse shoes (or no shoes if you’re a less domesticated animal like a zebra). Now, let’s take a trip through a room full of fun-house mirrors. What kind of animal would you be if your neck was reeeaally long and each vertebrae was “as big as your head?” Or if your legs were muuuuuch longer than your arms? Or your “finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Seeing those transformations is definitely worth the price of admission, right?

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

But getting back to the bowl of soup: “Could you be an animal if you didn’t have any bones at all?” Sure! Some insects and sea creatures “have their hard parts on the outside,” and some are just “mushy.” Think of worms, slugs, and jellyfish, just to name a few. But bones make life more fun, don’t ya think? So if all vertebrates have bones, what makes humans different? Well, for one thing we (as well as some apes and monkeys) have opposable thumbs, which means that “we can move our thumbs in a special way that allows us to do many things, including turning the pages of a book,” using tools, and picking up objects. “Did you get that one? If so, give yourself a thumbs-up!”

An Author’s Note including more about bones, the types of vertebrates, a glossary, and resources for further reading follow the text.

With humor and a kid’s sensibility of the bizarre, Sara Levine presents an anatomy lesson that young readers will respond to. Juxtaposing individual bony features of humans and animals is a brilliant idea to give children perspective on the differences in animal skeletons and the uses of each unique trait. Levine’s quiz-like format engages readers, encouraging independent thought and active participation as well as building suspense for what transformation comes next. Kids will laugh and learn and be on the lookout for other ways human and animal skeletons differ as they become more aware of the natural world around them.

With illustrations of tailbones sticking out of pants, empty socks, two fingered hands and two toed feet, a neck that needs two scarves, and more, T. S Spookytooth illuminates what it means to be human in an animal world or an animal in a human world. Kids will laugh imagining themselves as Spookytooth depicts them with animal features and “Ewww” when their portrayal dissolves into a muddy mess. The accurate drawings of human and animal skeletons educate readers on the names and placement of particular bones.

The unique approach to the study of human and animal skeletons, the wide range of animals presented, and the enticing writing and illustrations make Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons a wonderful choice for libraries and home bookshelves of budding scientists and nature lovers.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-0761384649

To learn more about Sara Levine and her books, visit her website! You’ll also discover fun Bone by Bone activities to enhance your reading!

View a gallery of artwork by T. S Spookytooth, plus videos and more on his website!

Buy a Book Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-x-ray-craft-dog-paw

Dog Paw and Human Hand X-Ray Craft

 

X-rays are cool to look at, but they always stay at the doctor’s office! With this craft you can simulate an X-ray of a dog’s paw and a human hand!

Supplies

  • Printable skeleton templates: Human Hand Template | Dog Paw Template
  • Black chalkboard drawing paper, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches
  • White colored pencil
  • White chalk
  • Clear Plastic Report Sheet Protectors
  • Magnetic clip to hang your x-ray on the refrigerator or other metal surface (optional) OR
  • String or wire, adhesive squares, and clothes pins to hang x-ray on the wall (optional)
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Print the Human Hand and Dog Paw Templates (you may want to print two—one to cut and one to follow when transferring the bones to the black paper)
  2. Cut the bones apart
  3. Lay the bones on the black chalkboard paper
  4. Trace the bones with the white colored pencil
  5. Color in the bones with the white chalk
  6. Slip the black paper into the plastic report sheet protector
  7. If desired, hang the x-ray on the refrigerator with the magnetic clip or on the wall using string, adhesive squares and clothespins

 

Q & A with Author Sara Levine

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Today, I’m thrilled to talk to Sara Levine about her writing as well as to learn about her early experiences with animals and to discover a kid’s-eye-view of women in science.

Your writing for kids is so infused with humor that really captures their attention. What were some of the books that you liked best as a child?

When I was younger, one of my favorite picture books was Katerine and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch. I’ve noticed that this book has gone back into print; I was so happy to find it online. It’s basically about creativity. A girl and her friend keep finding new uses for a large cardboard box—a house, a car, a dance platform. I can still recall my feeling of excitement when hearing it read to me—it made me want to go make something. It’s actually a feeling very similar to what I have today when I think of a new idea for a book. There was also a book called Wisher, which was about difference—about a cat who dreamt he was really a fish. I remember that the illustrations were beautiful and somewhat scary—just done in blues, browns and yellows.  As an older child, I loved Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater and pretty much everything by Judy Blume.

I don’t suppose any of these books are like the books I write. I used to tell people that I liked my science and my books separate. I just wanted to go outside to learn about science. But, I wanted stories in my books. I don’t think there were any of the sorts of books I write about science out for kids when I was young. At least I didn’t find them. But if I had, I think I would have enjoyed them—the fact that they were funny and interactive. But here’s a picture book I LOVE that I found as an adult that is certainly infused with humor and captures a kid’s (and a grown-up’s) attention: Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer. I think this is currently my favorite picture book.

You grew up on a farm in Guilford, Connecticut. Can you tell me a little about the farm and how or if it influenced your current work?

Calling it a “farm” might be a bit of a stretch. My parents were two kids who grew up in Brooklyn and then moved to CT and decided to get some animals, cheered on by their enthusiastic offspring. First there was a goat, who got lonely. So then there was another goat. And they had a baby. And there was a chicken at school who needed a place to go for the summer. And then never went back to school… And so on. We ended up having over 100 named animals—a horse, a cow, peacocks, geese, a donkey and more. I loved taking care of the animals, with my siblings. It was a wonderful experience, one that I’m very grateful for. But it wasn’t at all lucrative. I think the only money made was by my brother who would sell extra eggs to his teachers.

How did it influence my current work? I’m not sure. Certainly my interest in animals is a lifelong one. I think the stories about the animals actually show up more in my writing for adults than in my picture books. The ideas for the books for children come more from teaching ideas that I think will translate well into a picture book format.

You have a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a masters in fine art. When and how did the two merge into your work as an author?

What a great question. I have always had this science side and this humanities side. A lot of my life, I’ve been struggling with how to balance and feed both sides of myself. It’s taken me a long time to find a way to merge the two interests, and it’s been very satisfying to do so in writing about science, especially for kids.

You offer four different school and library programs, all of which sound fascinating. Do you have any anecdotes from a presentation you’d like to share?

In one of my workshops, the one for Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, I bring in an articulated skeleton for the kids to see and a disarticulated skeleton in a box. The kids learn the bones, and I then hand them each a bone which they take up to the standing skeleton to figure out which bone it is, and then work together to put together the second skeleton on the floor. Inevitably, someone asks if the skeletons are real. They are. I literally found them in the closets, when I started my teaching at Wheelock. There are all sorts of questions about that, generated by the kids, and then, often, someone will ask if the skeletons are “boys or girls.” Recently, at a school near Boston, I was explaining to a group of second graders that both were female, that we could tell by the shape of the hips, and I heard one girl, going, “YES!” and pumping her arm up and down, in victory. The boy next to her says, “Why are you so happy? That means a girl died.” To which she responds, “That’s true. But it also means one more girl in science!”

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Sara Levine leads a workshop at Cold Spring School

What’s the best thing about writing for kids?

I enjoy trying to think of engaging and interactive ways to teach something that hasn’t been taught before. I like the creativity involved. And, of course, reading it to the kids when I’m done and seeing them respond!

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Students at Al Hamra Academy examine a skeleton

You also write articles for adults and were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007. Can you tell me more about your writing for adults?

I write science related essays for adults. The writing comes more from my own experiences.  I do have a handful of essays published. I think the one that was nominated for the Pushcart, “What Hands Can Do” is still available to read online. Here’s a link to it on Fictionaut. It’s about spaying a dog. And more, of course. I think my most successful essay is “The Body of a Cow” which originally appeared in the Massachusetts Review. It’s also on Fictionaut, if anyone wants to have a look. Eventually, I hope to work the essays into a memoir for adults.

What’s up next for you?

I have a book on dinosaur bones which will be published by Lerner next year. I also have three children’s books written which I’m trying to find homes for at the moment—one on animal classification (but interactive, written like a “do your own adventure” story), one on how plants communicate with animals, and one very funny one (if I can say so myself) called “Breakfast at the Omnivore Café,” which is about what animals eat. This one might never get published because it falls into the cracks between nonfiction and narrative fiction, but I haven’t given up on it yet. The book I’m currently working on is an attempt to explain climate change through stories of the carbon cycle. Doesn’t sound very interesting when put that way, but it’s written as an interactive story, and is also actually quite funny in parts, so I think kids will like it.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you what your favorite holiday is…

Passover. You get to tell a story to children in a way that is interactive and engaging for kids, AND it involves food. What could be better?

Thanks so much for chatting and sharing your unique perspective on the natural world, Sara! I, for one, would love to read Breakfast at the Omnivore Café—that would be one interesting menu, I bet! I wish you the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Sara Levine on:

Her Website | FacebookTwitter

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Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons and Sara’s other books can be found at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Lerner Publishing

About Sara Levine

Sara Levine is an assistant professor of biology at Wheelock College and a veterinarian.  Her science books for children include Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (2013) and Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks and Chompers (2016).  Her third book, Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones will be published in 2018.  Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons has received much recognition, including the Utah Beehive Book Award, selection as a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, and finalist for the Cook Prize for best STEM picture book.

Sara also writes science-related essays for adults, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007.  Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Review, Bayou, and in the anthology And Baby Makes More. In addition to teaching college students, she has taught children’s environmental education classes for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and other nature centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut for over 15 years. 

Sara holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) from Tufts University, a master of fine arts degree (MFA) in creative nonfiction writing from Lesley University and a bachelor of arts degree (BA) in English from Haverford College.  She is a native New Englander and lives with her daughter and their dogs and cat in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

Picture Book Review

August 19 – World Honey Bee Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 1990 by American beekeepers and once known as Honey Bee Awareness Day, this holiday has grown to world-wide stature. The importance of honey bees to sustainable farming cannot be overstated. In recent years the mysterious depletion of bee colonies has threatened not only the population of these beneficial insects but also the industries that rely on them. There are many ways to celebrate! If you have a yard or garden, plant bee-attracting plants such as lavender or marjoram, have a cup of tea—with honey, of course, or consider donating to the preservation of bees.

Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book

By Britta Teckentrup

 

As the sun comes up over the meadow of poppies, a bee gets ready for her day. She flits through the forest, blending her quiet buzz with the songs of the birds in the trees. “As she travels here and there, / A gentle humming fills the air.” With no map to guide her, the bee knows exactly what route to take to visit each colorful flower. “Gathering nectar as she goes, / From every foxglove, every rose, / Dusty with pollen, the little bee / Buzzes, buzzes, busily.”

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Copyright Britta Teckentrup, 2017, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

The flowers attract the little bee with their sweet perfume, and with the sun as her compass, she finds them all. As she flies from flower to flower, tree to tree, she picks up and leaves bits of pollen that will create more blossoms.  But when she looks out over the field, the bee sees more flowers than she could ever hope to visit. The bee hurries back to her hive to tell the others about the smorgasbord waiting for them.

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Copyright Britta Teckentrup, 2017, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In droves they leave the hive, gliding over a pond, navigating an orchard, and continuing on. “The bees pass over a woodland stream. / Droplets sparkle and pebbles gleam. / Water trickles, bubbles, and weaves. / A weeping willow trails its leaves.” As the bees stop here and there along the way, they give life to new flowers and plants, expanding the wildflower meadow that is home to so many creatures.

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Copyright Britta Teckentrup, 2017, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

Readers can see that Britta Teckentrup’s beautiful tribute to bees is something special before they even open the book. On the cover, a sunset-hued flower stretches into the blue sky. Through its die-cut center, children can see the complexity of the flower and, in its very middle, a honey bee harvesting nectar. Teckentrup’s lyrical story of a bee’s day is complemented by gorgeous illustrations of the vibrant wildflowers that call to the little bee. Each page is rendered in a breathtaking palette that surrounds young readers with the mysteries of the natural world—and in the center is the bee, going about her job as squirrels scamper, deer silently look on, and butterflies flutter nearby.

Children will adore following the bee—and later, more and more bees—through open windows to the final two-page spread of a meadow in full bloom. All along the journey, the bee has made friends with woodland, pond, and orchard creatures, and young readers will delight in finding each of them hidden in this glorious field.

Ages 3 – 7

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1524715267

Discover more about Britta Techentrup, her books, and artwork on her website!

World Honey Bee Day Activity

CPB---Busy-Buzzy-Bee-Maze

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze

 

Can you help the little bee find her way through this printable Busy Buzzy Bee Maze? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

August 16 – It’s Water Quality Month

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About the Holiday

Water is one of earth’s most precious resources. Worldwide, millions of people do not have access to clean water. Climate change is also contributing to alterations in water temperature which affects sea life and coastal animals. Pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides, and a disregard for the crucial importance of this limited resource all threaten not only the quality of water, but the quality of life on this planet. To get involved in the solution, volunteer to clean up waterways, be mindful of the products you use, and consider donating to the cause.

Over and Under the Pond

Written by Kate Messner | Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

 

A mom and her son have taken their rowboat out on the pond, where they “slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.” As they gaze over the side of their little boat, they can see the sun, the clouds, and themselves reflected in the still surface. But the little boy wonders what is below, where they can’t see. His mom tells him there is a “hidden world of minnows and crayfish, turtles and bullfrogs.”

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

On top the two can see tall grasses that break the water’s surface and little beetles and skaters making their way along the water. Below, a brook trout waits for his dinner. As the mom and her son paddle between thick stands of cattails, three painted turtles take turns slipping from their sunny perch back into the safety of the pond. Hidden in the cattails is a small nest, just a pocket of sticks and grass for red-winged blackbird babies.

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

There are babies under the pond, too. “A secret shelter of pebbles and sand” that hold the larva of a caddisfly. Along the shore, trees cast shadows on the water as a moose makes a lunch of water lilies. It’s also mealtime under the pond, where three beavers pull up roots to chew on. The weather is turning breezy over the pond, making the current stronger and blowing leaves here and there. All around animals are maturing: “a new goldfinch teeters, finally ready to fly” while tadpoles are “losing tails, growing legs, growing up.”

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Carefully picking his way in the muddy shallows, a great blue heron searches for food. He spies a minnow and with a flash snaps it up with his long, pointy beak. Way up in the trees the tat-tat-tat of a woodpecker looking for ants echoes through the air while down below an otter has her eyes set on a passel of mussels. The sun is beginning to set, and an iridescent dragonfly takes a rest on the little boy’s knee. Perhaps it is related to the dragonfly larvae underwater who has just grabbed a minnow for its dinner.

The nocturnal animals begin making an appearance in the spindly grasses. “Ospreys circle on quiet wings. Raccoons and mink stalk the shoreline for supper.” In the blue-black evening, the mother and her son head home as “a far-off loon calls good night.”

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

An Author’s Note about the ecosystem of a pond and the animals that live in and around the water follows the text.

Kate Messner’s lyrical environmental books invite young readers to discover the world around them through the eyes of their peers. In Over and Under the Pond, Messner takes children on a leisurely afternoon boat ride that compares and contrasts what is happening on top of and below the water. Along the way, kids learn fascinating facts while absorbing the feel and beauty of the outdoor world.

Christopher Silas Neal gorgeously depicts the mysteries of a pond environment in his matte, mixed media illustrations that allow readers to view the birds, fish, insects, plants, and animals in action as they go about their day. The mixture of familiar and new creatures will engage children interested in learning more about the natural world. As the sun goes down and evening falls with its comforting starlit sky, young readers will feel happy to be part of this wonderfully complex world.

Ages 5 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1452145426

To learn more about Kate Messner and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Christopher Silas Neal on his website!

Water Quality Month Activity

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Busy Pond Coloring Page

 

There’s so much going on at the pond! Get your pencils, markers, or crayons and have fun with this printable Busy Pond Coloring Page! You can even add tissue paper grass, real sand, and other materials to make it look realistic!

Picture Book Review

July 18 – It’s Park and Recreation Month

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About the Holiday

We’ve hit mid-summer, and maybe you’re looking for something to do. This month’s holiday encourages people to get out and enjoy some exercise and fun in parks, at home, at the gym, in the pool, on tennis courts, or wherever you like to play. Biking is another wonderful activity that adults and kids can share, whether you live in a small town or the city.

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World

By Allan Drummond

 

If you were to visit the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, you’d be amazed at the number of bicyclists sharing the roads with cars and trucks. In fact, if you could count all of the bicycles going here, there, and everywhere, you’d see that “bikes rule the road.” It wasn’t always like this. Back in the 1970s cars were still king, making the roads unsafe for cyclists.

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Copyright Allan Drummond, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

But then “young moms like Maartje Rutten and her friends—and their children” decided to make a change. They called their friends, who called their friends, and word started to get around that roads should be shared by all. People in Amsterdam and all over the Netherlands started protesting. “At first the demonstrations were great fun. People even held parties in the middle of the road.” People sang songs, made human chains across streets, and talked to the media.

Then a tragedy made people look at the issue more seriously. A little girl riding her bike to school was killed by a car. Her father was a newspaper reporter, and he wrote a story revealing that just in that year alone five hundred children had been killed on the roads and “many of them were riding bikes.” This situation made people angry. More and more citizens joined the protests.

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Copyright Allan Drummond, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

At the same time, gas prices were rising and fuel was becoming scarce. The government even banned cars from the roads on Sundays. “That gave Maartje an incredible idea.” She gathered her friends and told them her plan: they would ride their bikes through the new tunnel that was strictly for cars. Many people were wary but they came anyway, and on a quiet Sunday they pedaled through the darkness.

As they neared the mouth of the tunnel, they could see the police waiting for them. Some of the riders wanted to turn around and go back, but Maartje pushed on and they followed. When they reached the end, the cops told them they had broken the law. The cyclists were taken to the police station. There, they were given lemonade and cookies. Maartje even “noticed that the policemen were smiling just a little bit. Maybe all of this protesting is working, she thought.”

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Copyright Allan Drummond, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

She was right! After that Maartje and her friends thought of other ways cars and bikes could share the roads. “They proposed special bike lanes on busy routes, traffic bumps and curves in the roads to slow down vehicles, and new laws giving bikes the right-of-way over cars.” Finally, it all came together. Now Amsterdam is known as the bike capitol of the world. Their ideas, including bike lanes, bike sharing, and new laws, are used in countries all over the globe.

Biking offers so much more than just less-crowded streets. It provides exercise, a quiet form of transportation, and a pollution-free way to get around. And, of course, bikes don’t require fuel to go. If you visit Amsterdam, you might even see Maartje riding around town on her bike. “Now that’s pedal power!”

An Author’s Note about how Pedal Power came to be and about the past and future of city biking follows the text.

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Copyright Allan Drummond, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

Allan Drummond’s city bike-ography is an interesting look at the revolution and evolution of bike-friendly roads in Amsterdam and other large cities. By following the story of Maartje Rutten and how she transformed the mindset of both local drivers and government officials, Drummond allows young readers to see how one person can make lasting changes that benefit all.

Drummond’s colorful and clearly depicted illustrations take children into the heart of Amsterdam—and Amsterdam traffic—to understand the problem and join in the protests. As Maartje and her friends ride through the dark tunnel to face the police, readers will wait in suspense to learn how this peaceful demonstration played out.

Pedal Power would be a great addition to Social Studies units and an engaging read for kids interested in biking, history, and environmental issues.

Ages 4 – 8

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017 | ISBN 978-0374305277

Discover more about Allan Drummond, his books, and his art on his website!

Park and Recreation Month Activity

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Everything on a Bicycle Coloring Page

 

Riding a bicycle is a fast, fun way to exercise, do shopping, and spend time with friends. This printable Everything on a Bicycle Coloring Page combines them all and then some! Grab your colored pencils, crayons, or markers and give it a go!

Picture Book Review