July 6 – It’s Wild about Wildlife Month

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About the Holiday

This month we honor wildlife—all those majestic creatures of the air, land, and sea that share the earth with us. But what about all of the creatures that live through mythology, legends, stories, and our imagination? Today, we celebrate one of these unique and wild beings that has been around for a long, long time. Maybe you’ve seen one?

Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Kyle Reed

 

As kids open the cover to this delightful mythologically based story, the narrator asks: “Have you ever zeen a Ziz? Do you wonder what one iz?” Could it be an alien floating through space, or a “giant cat or a prehistoric bat?” It turns out that it’s none of these. A Ziz is a bird with brilliant feathers and a wing span that can block out the sun—or moon.

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

But even though the Ziz is huge, “she’s a kindly, gentle bird. / Big and yellow, sweet…absurd.” She lets children play on her enormous back and helps farmers keep their crops on track. But the Ziz is best know for her lilting zongs, which she zings with great gusto no matter the time or place or who she’s with. But when she sleeps, those zongs turn into loud, LOUD snores.

Now if you happen to see one passing by or you look up and can’t see the sky, you’ll know precisely, exactly why.

An Author’s Note following the story reveals that “the Ziz is a mythological bird found in a collection of ancient Jewish writings” and is even mentioned in the Biblical book of Psalms. Marshall includes more information on this legendary bird as well as a reference work.

Funny and endearing, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz is a joyful read aloud with many applications for classroom lessons and story times. It would be an entertaining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s jaunty, rhyming read aloud is feathered with imagination that will have kids’ own musings soaring. Enchanting in her size, talents, and kindliness, the Ziz will delight readers even as Marshall’s rhythmic storytelling gives teachers and homeschoolers a fun way to interact with language and rhyme schemes, introduce lessons on mythology, and extend story time with an artistic project. After reading, children are sure to want to draw or otherwise create a Ziz or invent a mythological creature of their own. Musical readers may even be inspired to write a song for the Ziz to zing.

Kyle Reed’s collage-style illustrations are whimsical and sweet. As this most unusual bird soars over the ocean, her broad wingspan dwarfs a whale on one side and a crocodile on the other. After seeing a group of friends slide down the Ziz’s loooooong back and neck, kids will wish they had a Ziz at their own playground, and the image of the Ziz standing on the ground with its head in the clouds is a textural beauty. After enjoying Reed’s sightings of the Ziz on mountaintops, skyscrapers, the beach, and anywhere the sky beckons, readers will no doubt be keeping their eyes and ears open for their own view of this spectacular creature.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807531730

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kyle Reed and see a portfolio of his work, visit his website.

Wild about Wildlife Month Activity

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Draw Your Own Wild Creature

 

With a little imagination, kids can create their own mythological creature to roam the earth under the smiling sun on this printable drawing page.

Wild Creature Drawing Page

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You can find Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

January 24 – Global Belly Laugh Day

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About the Holiday

If there’s one thing that unites us all, it’s laughter. A good belly laugh is good for your soul and your health! Today’s holiday encourages and celebrates smiles, laughs, and all the things that bring us joy. It’s also a day to think about and thank those who share their funny stories, fun times, and laughter with us. So celebrate by spending a happy day with friends, telling jokes, watching a funny movie, and reading hilarious books like today’s, which combines a belly and lots of laughs––a perfect match for the holiday!

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse

Written by Mac Barnett | Illustrated by Jon Klassen

 

Early one morning a mouse came face to face with a wolf, “and he was quickly gobbled up.” The mouse was very elegant in his speech and proclaimed, “‘Oh woe!’… ‘Oh me! Here I am, caught in the belly of the beast. I fear this is the end.’” Imagine his surprise when he heard a not-so-elegant voice tell him to “‘Be quiet!’” because the mouse was disturbing his sleep. The mouse demanded to know who was there.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Suddenly, the wolf’s belly was illuminated by the flame of a candle, and the mouse saw a duck sitting up in bed. “‘Oh,’” he said. The duck was a bit perturbed by the mouse’s low-key response, especially since he had been wakened in the middle of the night. Now, though, it was the duck’s turn to be surprised as the mouse told him that it was not the  middle of the night outside, but only morning. The duck admitted that he wished “this belly had a window or two,” and then graciously offered to make breakfast.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The mouse declared the breakfast “‘delicious,’” and inquired where the duck found jam and a tablecloth. He may also have been curious about the dishware, the bread, and even the table, chairs, and framed picture, but he was satisfied with the duck’s answer that “‘you’d be surprised what you find inside of a wolf.’” As the duck continued to talk about his home, the mouse was astonished to learn that the duck lived there. “‘I live well!’” the duck said and went on to explain: “‘I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.’”

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Making lunch was a joint effort, and when the mouse asked if the duck missed living outside, he emphatically stated, “‘I do not!’” It seemed that when he was outside, the duck was full of the fear of being eaten. Inside, he was free of that worry. The mouse considered the wisdom of this notion and asked if he could live there too. The duck agreed and then played a record and danced a celebratory jig.

All this commotion was making the wolf feel sick. He attributed his aches and pains to something he ate. The duck was no doctor, but he was clever. He shouted up from the depths of the wolf’s belly and gave him “the cure.” According to the duck, ingesting “‘a hunk of good cheese…a flagon of wine…and some beeswax candles’” would do the trick and make him better.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

That night the mouse and the duck ate like kings and toasted the wolf’s good health. But the wolf was not feeling robust. In fact, he felt worse. A passing hunter heard the wolf groaning. He raised his gun and pulled the trigger, but he missed. Realizing what the blast meant, the duck yelled for the wolf to “‘run for our lives!’” In trying to escape, however, the wolf got tangled in the roots of an old tree.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The duck and the mouse determined that that very night they would “‘ride to defend [their] home.’” When they were ready, the wolf opened his mouth, and the mouse and duck—armed with a hockey stick, protected with sauce pan and colander helmets, and yelling “‘Charge!’”—flew out and chased the hunter. “‘Oh woe!’” he cried. “‘Oh death! These woods are full of evil and wraiths!’” He ran and ran until he left the forest, and he never returned.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The wolf was humbled by the sacrifice the mouse and the duck had made for him and offered to grant any request. “You can guess what they asked for.” And while they continue to dance the never-ending night away, “the wolf howls at the moon. ‘Oh woe! Oh woe!’ Every night he howls at the moon.”

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Remember when the Big Bad Wolf gobbled up Granny and Little Red Riding Hood and they survived in his belly until the huntsman cut them out? How was that possible? Mac Barnett reveals the inner workings of this conundrum in this laugh-out-loud fable. The archaic, melodramatic dialog will have readers giggling and participating aloud, as they have to agree with the ingenious duck’s “when life gives you lemons…” philosophy. It’s a good attitude to adopt as we all “get swallowed up” at some point. The trick is learning how to turn misfortune into fortune—or at least a fortunate happenstance. The suitably silly, non-sentimental circumstances will delight kids who relish a bit of the macabre—and, really, who doesn’t?

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, 2017, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Jon Klassen brings his signature deadpan style to this funny story, enhancing the humor with his matter-of-fact drawings that let the scenes speak eloquently and humorously for themselves. As the recently gobbled-up mouse sits gazing forlornly into the wolf’s cavernous belly, readers will experience a tickle of suspense imagining what else lies within. When kids see the stash of good stuff the duck has amassed, their little eyes will grow wide with delight. This amusingly dark tale is fittingly lit with candlelight, the errant blast of the hunter’s gun, and the full moon that hears the wolf’s lament. 

Put the The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse on your bookshelf and it won’t stay idle long. For quirky, comical home, classroom, and library story times this book can’t be eat…I mean beat.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763677541

Discover more about Mac Barnett and his books on his website.

You’ll find a gallery of illustration work by Jon Klassen on tumblr.

You know you want to gobble up this The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse book trailer! 

Global Belly Laugh Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-made-you-laugh-word-search

Made You Laugh! Word Search Puzzle

 

Humor and laughing are such a part of our lives that there are lots of words for this universal emotion. Can you find all the words for laughter in this printable puzzle?

Made You Laugh! Word Search PuzzleMade You Laugh! Word Search Solution

Picture Book Review

December 19 – Look for an Evergreen Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday gives people an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the variety of evergreen trees that grow locally and around the world. During the winter these giants stand out against snowy landscapes with their deep-green needles that retain their color all year around and always offer the hope of spring. For those who celebrate Christmas, the evergreen is a highlight of the celebration. Decorated with lights and sparkly ornaments, the tree is where family and friends gather to exchange gifts and share time together. Look for an Evergreen Day was created by the National Arborist Association to encourage people to enjoy the beauty of these special trees.

Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves

Written by Annemarie Riley Guertin | Illustrated by Helena Pérez Garcia

 

Little Redbird was taking her last sleep before flying south for the winter when she was thrown from her nest onto the hard ground by a strong gust of wind. When she got up, the pain in her wing told her she would not be able to fly. “‘How will I survive the long, harsh winter winds? Surely I will perish,’” she thought. But then she saw all the trees in the forest and “chirped with relief.” She could build a new nest on a low branch of one of them and find shelter.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The first tree she hopped to was a birch. Politely, she told the tree her predicament and asked, “‘May I live in your warm branches until spring returns?’” But the birch only wanted to look out for itself and told Little Redbird to “‘move along.’” Next, Little Redbird came to a large oak tree. She explained about her injured wing and asked if she could spend the winter in the oak’s strong branches. The oak was surprised by the request and suspicious that the little bird would also want to eat up all of its acorns. The oak shooed Little Redbird away. When she came to the maple tree, Little Redbird repeated her request. The maple told her that it was “‘too busy making sap for maple syrup. I have no time for little birds,’” it continued and sent Little Redbird on her way.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Afraid and uncertain, Little Redbird began to cry. Then she heard a voice offering to help. She looked up and saw “a smiling fir tree.” She approached and told her story again. At once, the fir tree offered Little Redbird a safe and warm place to stay within its many branches. Little Redbird thanked the fir tree, but said that she didn’t have the strength to fly up into the branches. The fir told the little bird not to worry as he reached out his lower branches.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Overhearing this exchange, a nearby blue spruce called out that he would help shield Little Redbird from the wind with his strong branches. “‘How kind of you!’ replied Little Redbird.” Then another voice came whispering on the breeze. It was the juniper tree offering berries to heal the little bird’s wing. Little Redbird happily “built a warm nest inside the fir tree’s branches and waited for winter’s arrival.”

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

One evening soon after, the Frost Queen and her son Jack came strolling through the forest. Jack wondered if he could touch the leaves on every tree. His mother pointed to the fir, the blue spruce, and the juniper and explained that he could touch the leaves on every tree except these. “‘They were very kind to one of my precious birds who had injured her wing,’” the Frost Queen told Jack. “‘They may keep their green leaves all year round. And they shall forevermore be called evergreen.’” It is also said that these acts of kindness inspired these little red birds to stay and keep these trees company all winter long.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Annemarie Riley Guertin offers a charming and well-rounded telling of the legend of how evergreens got their name and their unique feature that also provides a heartwarming reason for why cardinals do not fly south for the winter. This delightful pairing deepens the meaning of the story by demonstrating that kindness is recognized and often comes back to those who give it. Guertin’s clear and emotionally rich dialogue allows readers to fully appreciate Little Redbird’s distress, the rebuffs of the deciduous trees, and the acceptance of the others. The appearance of the Snow Queen and her son Jack bring a human element to the story that will resonate with children, who are themselves learning to be kind.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Helena Pérez Garcia’s vibrant, folk-art inspired illustrations are simply gorgeous. Set against a black forest floor, the autumn flowers, fallen leaves, and trees in full fiery color pop off the page. Just as in any real-life garden, the red cardinal immediately catches the eye, putting readers’ focus on Little Redbird and her plight. The image of Little Redbird crying is touching, making the fir tree’s offer of help and outstretched branches all the more emotional. Garcia’s imaging of the Snow Queen and her son Jack will enchant any lover of fairy tales, and the final image of a flock of cardinals keeping the evergreens company during the winter is a sight we can all hope to see.

A beautiful tale to share during the winter season or along with other fairy tales or fables, Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves would make a terrific addition to home, classroom, and public library collections. Pair with a bird feeder or small evergreen tree to plant to make a gift any child would love.

Ages 5 – 8 

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701587

Discover more about Annemarie Riley Guertin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Helena Pérez Garcia, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Look for an Evergreen Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Find-the-Perfect-Pine-Tree-maze

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze

 

Can you help the kids sled their way to find the evergreen tree in this printable maze?

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze | Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze Solution

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You can find Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 8 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

All this month people are reading and celebrating their favorite books—both old and new. It’s also a terrific time to honor independent bookstores that serve their community with carefully chosen titles for all ages of readers. Some indies focus on one genre or age of reader, offering a vast array of familiar and surprising books for customers to explore. Others are known for a particular ambience—mysterious, scholarly, fun! But all give readers a sense of community and a feeling of awe and wonder at all of the stories to discover. This month make a stop into your local bookstore a family event and pick up a new book (or several) for everyone!

King Mouse

Written by Cary Fagan | Illustrated by Dena Seiferling

 

In a wordless spread, a child with a tricycle cart full of various shaped crowns wheels through a field, spilling crowns as she goes. Later, a mouse creeps out of his hole in the ground and looks for something to nibble. He finds no food but does spy a small crown “glittering in the grass.” After inspecting it, he places the crown on his head. “It was a perfect fit.” Just then a bear walks up and asks the mouse if he is a king. The mouse replies that he is. The bear bows and cries, “‘Hail to the king!’”

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Soon a crow lands on a nearby branch. The bear introduces the mouse king. When the crow learns that the mouse is hungry, the crow immediately sets to looking for food to offer him. As the bear and the crow gather food, a tortoise approaches. Thrilled to learn that they “at last” have a king, he joins in. The mouse gobbles up all the seeds the trio brought.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

After he was full, the mouse announces that he is bored. As the three are deciding what to do, a fox appears. She suggests they perform a play. The mouse is delighted with the drama. He applauds. “‘I haven’t been this amused for ages,’ he said. ‘I like being king.’” Meanwhile, a snake slithering through the woods spies another crown. She puts it on her head.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As soon as she does the other animals hail her as their queen. Everyone, that is, except the mouse who isn’t too happy. When the animals bow to the queen, the fox, the tortoise, and the crow each find a crown just their size hiding in the grass and proclaim themselves royalty. The bear searches for a crown for himself but can’t find one. He plods away while the others dance around singing their own praises. The bear finds a tree stump and sits down, dejected about his lack of good luck.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Discovering that the bear is no longer with the group, the mouse goes in search of him. When he finds him, the mouse removes his crown and begins picking dandelions. He creates a wreath and gives it to the bear. The two sit quietly together. When the sun begins to set, the mouse hints that he might have a better vantage point “from up there.” The bear obliges and lifts the mouse to his shoulder. “‘I’m not really a king,” the bear sighs. The mouse agrees and then notes the beautiful sunset. Now it’s the bear’s turn to agree, and “they sat for a long time.” Returning through the field, the child, her tricycle cart now empty, spies a pile of five crowns discarded on an old tree stump.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cary Fagan’s modern fable has much to say and, as the genre often affords, offers much for readers to ponder and talk about. It is a fitting time for this story that, among other themes, questions the nature of leadership. When the mouse finds the first crown, not only does he proclaim himself king but he demands food and entertainment from his sudden subjects, unconcerned with their needs. But, yet, the animals mechanically bow to him and rush to fulfill his whims. When the snake, crow, and tortoise also find crowns, they gleefully decree their own sovereignty, forgetting the bear.

The mouse, however, seems to have learned a lesson. When he finds the bear, he removes his crown and offers one of his own creation to the bear, making him the only “king” independently chosen. Wiser than the others, the bear understands that he does not rule the others, and the mouse too sees that the equality of friendship and the grandeur of nature that is beholden to no one is more majestic than any crown. The introduction of the child in the wordless spreads give kids and adults the opportunity to discuss the possibility that the main story is one of imaginative play. Fagan’s dialogue-rich storytelling spotlights themes of pride, envy, disappointment, friendship, inclusion, and modesty and makes this a perfect tale for a school class, drama troupe, or other group to act out.

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Dena Seiferling’s soft, sepia-toned illustrations give the story a magical, dream-like quality while also anchoring it in the “real world.” Small snapshots that accompany the text on the left-hand pages introduce each animal as they come on the scene while full-page images clearly show the progression of the story and the changing attitudes of the animals. Early on, the mouse is uncertain, nibbling at the unknown object he finds. But once the crown is settled on his head, it takes only three pages for him to be accepting tributes and one more to find him lounging and demanding.

Children will be enchanted by the dramatic scenes of the play the animals put on for the mouse, and the tall crown the snake wears is a cunning stroke of suspense and one-upmanship. The illustration of the bear leaving the group as the others, oblivious to his feelings, parade around provides an opportunity for adults to talk about empathy and inclusion. As the bear and the mouse watch the setting sun together, readers can imagine that a new and more thoughtful day will dawn tomorrow.

A profound and affecting book, King Mouse is a story that will move and inspire children to think about interacting with others. The book would be have multiple applications for home, classroom, and school libraries and is a must for public libraries.

Ages 3 – 8

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264045

Discover more about Cary Fagan and his books on her website.

To learn more about Dena Seiferling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-book-love-word-search-puzzle

Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-cover

You can find King Mouse at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 14 – It’s National Goat Cheese Month

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About the Holiday

Launched in 1998 by the American Cheese Society, National Goat Cheese Month promotes the delicious variety of cheeses made from goat’s milk. With less fat, cholesterol, and calories than cheese made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk cheese—or Chèvre—offers delectable options for all types of recipes and cooking. Goat cheese has been enjoyed since around 5000 BC, when the Greeks first domesticated the goat. Since then, goat’s milk cheese has been embraced by people around the world. To celebrate, add your favorite type of goat’s milk cheese to your meals. If you’ve never tried goat’s milk cheese, now’s the time!

El Chupacabras

Written by Adam Rubin | Illustrated by Crash McCreery

 

“This all happened a long time ago, en una granja de cabras. / Todo esto ocurrió hace mucho tiempo, on a goat farm.” There, a young girl named Carla lived with her father, Hector. While Hector tended to the goats, Carla tended to her bicicleta. Every day, they were up early—con el sol—to feed and milk the goats. Hector even sang to the goats. One night, while they were sleeping, Hector and Carla heard a strange sound that sounded like “THHHBBBBTTZFFFFF!.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-el-chupacabras-goat-farm

Image copyright Crash McCreery, 2018, text copyright Adam Rubin, 2018. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

“A la mañana siguiente, one of the goats había desaparecido. / The following morning, una de las cabras had disappeared.” Carla took off on her bicycle to find it. What she discovered was “a goat pancake”—“una tortita de cabra.” As soon as Hector saw the goat, he knew El Chupacabras, the goat sucker, had struck. While legend had it that el chupacabras was a frightening monster, the reality was that he was “a tiny gentleman”—“un caballero diminuto.” Mostly he enjoyed churros dipped in a mug of chocolate, but sometimes he just had a hankering to suck a goat.

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Image copyright Crash McCreery, 2018, text copyright Adam Rubin, 2018. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

As she was strolling her cart of flowers past the farm, the flower lady heard Hector’s fury. She offered him a bag of magic dust that could protect his goats. “Try a little,” she said. Hector doused the goats with the magic powder. When he gave the empty bag back to the flower lady, she gasped. “I said un poquito!” Just then the goats began to grow…and grow…and grow. With each step they destroyed more and more of the farm.

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Image copyright Crash McCreery, 2018, text copyright Adam Rubin, 2018. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Carla jumped on her bicycle and rode through the forest calling “¡Chupacabras! ¡Socorro!”—“Goat Sucker! Help!” The dapper little creature suddenly appeared, asking what had happened. Carla told him about the gigantic goats, and el chupacabras was happy to help. They reached the town just in the nick of time. One by one, el chupacabras sucked each goat down to size. And the goat sucker? He was fat and happy.

In the end, everything turned out well. Hector and the flower lady fixed the damage in the town, and “Carla spent many happy years on the farm with her father and his new friend. / Carla pasó muchos años felices en la granja con su padre y su nueva amiga.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-el-chupacabras-the-goat-sucker

Image copyright Crash McCreery, 2018, text copyright Adam Rubin, 2018. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

I picked up this book with joy in my heart after reading just the first blended language line. Adam Rubin’s mix of English and Spanish/Spanish and English sentences immediately immerses readers in this bilingual story in a way that they can clearly understand the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases. Part mystery, part melodrama, and complete laugh-out-loud pandemonium, Rubin’s retelling of the legend of El Chupacabras will have kids begging to hear or read the story again and again. Phrases like “goat pancake” and “goat sucker” will illicit extended giggles as will the description of the diminutive creature at the center of the action.

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Image copyright Crash McCreery, 2018, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Accompanying Rubin’s storytelling to maximum effect are Crash McCreery’s mix of realistic and humorous illustrations. While Hector and Carla tend to their neat, quiet goat farm, the wide-eyed goats warily look around, hide out in a leafless tree, and suffer the indignities of a blast of magic powder and, of course, the necessary goat sucking that returns them to normal size. The first glimpse of the goat pancake is a showstopper, and the portrayal of Hector carrying home the poor goat draped in his arms like a folded blanket is hilarious. The fact that the goat still has the wherewithal to eat Hector’s handkerchief is comic gold. But this is the story of el chupacabras, and the hairy, scaly, and monocled “tiny gentleman” is a rib-tickling delight.

Brilliant bilingual writing and sublime silliness make El Chupacabras an exceptional addition to home and classroom libraries. The blended sentences will spark enthusiasm for language learning during fun and funny story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-0399539299

Discover more about Adam Rubin and his books on his website.

National Goat Cheese Month Activity

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Hungry Goat Coloring Page

 

Goats are famous for their appetites! The goat in this printable coloring page is happy to be munching on flowers. Can you give the scene a little color?

Hungry Goat Coloring Page

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You can find El Chupacabras at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 25 – National Florida Day and Interview with Author B. J. Lee

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About the Holiday

Today, we recognize Florida—the 27th state to enter the Union. Did you know that Florida is home to the oldest established city in the country? Founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, St. Augustine remains a fascinating city that combines an intriguing history of religious settlements, pirate treasure hunters, and a tug of war over ownership among Britain, Spain, and France with the modern beauty of a thriving community. Of course, Florida is well-known as an international tourist destination for its theme parks, wide open beaches, and warm weather. The state is also home to animals, insects, and reptiles unseen in the rest of the United States—a fact that today’s book riffs on.

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth

Written by B.J. Lee | Illustrated by David Opie

 

“There was an old gator who swallowed a moth. I don’t know why he swallowed the moth. It made him cough.” And with this culinary choice, readers are off on a wild jaunt full of suspense, humor, and big, sharp teeth. To catch that moth, the gator gobbled down a crab, but that scuttling bugger just filled his tummy with pain. To “nab the crab” the gator decided to “swallow an eel. / Quite an ordeal to swallow an eel!”

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Image copyright David Opie, 2019, text copyright B.J. Lee, 2019. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

But the eel didn’t help, and the cough persisted. What could the old gator do? He swallowed creature after creature to resolve a cascading number of problems until “he swallowed a manatee.” It was clear “he lost his sanity to swallow a manatee!” Because now that old gator’s stomach was getting pretty cramped. There wasn’t a lot of nabbing or catching going on in there, and there was still that moth to take care of. The distressed gator then spied just the enforcer that might get the job done and gulped it down too.

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Image copyright David Opie, 2019, text copyright B.J. Lee, 2019. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

After such a big meal, the gator needed a bit of a drink, and the lagoon looked so refreshing! Just then, when that old gator was fully…well…full, that pesky moth fluttered its wings and made the poor guy “cough! Cough! Cough!” And what did that one little last cough do? Well, let’s just say the story has a splashing…I mean smashing…ending!

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Image copyright David Opie, 2019, text copyright B.J. Lee, 2019. Courtesy of Pelican Publishing Company.

B.J. Lee gives the favorite cumulative rhyming There Was an Old Lady story a reptilian remodeling that kids will find irresistible as the old gator guzzles down a host of Florida denizens with hilarious results. Lee, an award-winning poet, has an engaging way with words and phrasing that creates surprising rhymes and rib-tickling rhythms. Clever alliteration and action-packed verbs move the story along at a clip that mirrors an alligator’s voracious appetite and will keep young readers on the edge of their seat to see which animal becomes the gator’s next snack. Kids may even enjoy trying to come up with their own rhyming line to add to the story.

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David Opie’s illustrations of the anguished alligator and his unsuspecting “remedies” are a hoot. Opie accomplishes just the right combination of suspense and humor with his juxtaposition between realistic depictions of the coastal animals and gut-busting portrayals of these creatures crammed into the gator’s belly. As the gator grows rounder and rounder, readers will be wondering how it will all end. The final spreads of the tormented gator are sure to elicit an “Oh!” or “Ew!” or two and plenty of guffaws.

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth is a fun and funny choice for story time, and its comical repetition will prompt enthusiastic read-alongs. The book would be a sunny choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 and up

Pelican Publishing Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-1455624416

Discover more about B.J. Lee, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about David Opie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Author B. J. Lee

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Thank you, Kathryn, for having me on your blog! There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth is getting a lot of love and I appreciate that! I also appreciate that you asked me about my poetry since, even in my picture books, I try to incorporate some aspect of poetry, such as lyrical language, rhyme and, in the case of Gator, cumulative rhyme.

There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth is your debut picture book. What drew you to creating a Florida-themed version of this well-known classic?

It wasn’t so much that I set out to write a Florida themed version of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, it was more that I had a gator character in mind and he pretty much chose this classical structure.

Have you always loved to write? When did you publish your first poem? Can you tell readers a bit about your journey to becoming a published writer?

Yes, I have always enjoyed writing. My sixth-grade teacher encouraged me to write plays! But I didn’t really realize I was a writer until, as an adult, I started writing a novel, which I never finished because my health intervened. In 2006 I had a shoulder operation which left me with severe bicep tendinitis, and for two years I couldn’t write, couldn’t even hold a pencil. My husband said “Write something shorter. Write poetry.”  But I didn’t know how to write poetry. He had planted something in my mind, though. I started studying poetry and then began to write it. My first poem was published in the SCBWI Bulletin in 2010. And so, I became a poet quite by accident. In a way I’m almost grateful for the bicep tendinitis, because I would not have become a poet without that hiccup in my journey. And I’ve picked up the novel again, resurrecting it as a verse novel.

I wasn’t surprised when I saw that you worked as a librarian at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and play the piano since your poetry has such a musical quality to it. Did you ever consider becoming a musician or songwriter? How does your musical background influence your poetry?

Thank you for saying that my poetry has a musical quality. I have heard that before but I am unaware of trying to incorporate any musicality into my poetry. I am a pianist, jazz singer, and even enjoyed a brief stint as lead singer in a local rock ‘n’ roll band. Recently, I have written some songs for a current work in progress in which the main character is a singer-songwriter.

What is your favorite form of poetry to write and why? Do you write poetry for adults as well as children? What do you find satisfying about both?

I enjoy writing many forms of poetry but I guess I like the challenge of writing in repeating forms, such as the villanelle, the triolet, the pantoum and the roundel. I blog at Today’s Little Ditty, where I am an authority on poetic forms. 

However, I am continually challenging myself to write new forms of poetry, like free verse and performance poetry such as rap. I have written poetry for adults; however, since I am a children’s author, I try to stick with children’s poetry, including work for very young children through young adult and have over 100 poems published in anthologies and magazines.

The breadth of subjects you’ve written about—from sea glass to termites to naughty poodles and so many more—is truly inspiring! Can you talk about how and why certain subjects spark your creativity and how you follow that to a completed poem?

As far as subject matter, I’m very interested in the natural world and animals, so those subjects often show up in my work. Sometimes I write to prompts from anthologists. Once I have a subject that begs a poem, I simply try to find the best form to present it. Sometimes the poem may not work at all, and I’ll have to select a new form. Sometimes poems just start in my head and I have to be very quick to capture them.

Your poetry appears in children’s magazines, including Highlights and Spider, in publications for schools and many others, and in anthologies such as those published by National Geographic and Wordsong. Do you ever hear from young readers about your work? Do you have an anecdote from a letter or reading event that you’d like to share?

Yes, I do hear from young readers, which is very gratifying. In one case a Vietnamese teacher contacted me telling me that her phonics students are using my poem, A Garden Prayer, to learn English. That was when I realized that my poetry has gone around the world.

In another case, a woman contacted me from St. John’s, Nova Scotia, to ask me if they could use my poem, Moored, on a sculpture in Bannerman Park for a woman who died at a young age and who had always loved sailing. Of course I said yes! The proposed sculptor is Luben Boikov.

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I’ve read some of your very clever poems that have been finalists—and winners!—in the Think, Kid, Think! Madness Poetry Tournament held in April on thinkkidthink.com. Can you talk a little about the tournament and being an authlete?

Yes, the Think Kids Think March Madness poetry tournament is a wonderful event for children’s poets. I loved being an authlete and competing but it’s very difficult to write a quality poem in a short amount of time. It was like pulling college all-nighters!

Do you have any advice for aspiring poets—children or adults?

My advice for aspiring poets, both children and adults, is: find the metaphor.

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently writing a verse novel as well as picture books and poetry collections.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day because: love.

Can you talk about one of your poems that incorporates a holiday theme?

I’ve written a few holiday poems including “Groundhognostication,” which appears in National Geographic’s Poetry of US.

Thanks for this wonderful chat, B.J.! I’ve loved learning more about your poetry and other work. I wish you all the best with There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth!

You can connect with B.J. Lee on:

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Florida Day Activity

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Fabulous Florida! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the names of twenty mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects in this printable puzzle.

Fabulous Florida! Word Search Puzzle | Fabulous Florida! Word Search Puzzle Solution

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You can find There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth at these booksellers

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

 

December 15 – International Tea Day

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About the Holiday

International Tea Day was created in 2005 in New Deli, India to raise awareness within the governments of tea-growing countries of tea workers, their conditions, and their economic contributions. Today, the holiday is commemorated widely in tea-growing nations. Some issues include wages, medical care, and education for women tea workers. Of course, winter is a perfect time to enjoy steaming cups of tea – maybe with a cookie or two!

The Tea Party in the Woods

By Akiko Miyakoshi

 

Because snow had fallen overnight Kikko’s father was off to her grandmother’s house to shovel the walk. After he left, Kikko noticed that he had forgotten to take the pie her mother had made for Grandma. “‘I can still catch up to him,’” said Kikko. Carefully, carrying the boxed pie, Kikko followed “her father’s tracks in the fresh snow. The woods were very still. And so quiet. Kikko’s footsteps were the only sound.”

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Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2015, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Spying a coated figure in the distance, Kikko began to run, but she fell in the deep snow, crushing the pie. Still, she picked up the box and hurried on. She watched as her father entered a strange house. “Has it always been here? Kikko wondered. She couldn’t remember having seen it before.” Kikko crept to the window and peered inside, just as her father took off his hat and coat. But—he wasn’t her father at all!” He was a bear!

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Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2015, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

A little lamb approaching the house found Kikko looking through the window and asked if she were there for the tea party. Taking Kikko’s hand, the lamb led her into the house. When Kikko saw all of the animals gathered there, she couldn’t believe it. The animals cheered and welcomed Kikko enthusiastically. “‘We’re about to serve the tea,’ said the rabbit. ‘You’re just in time.’” After the animals seated themselves around a long table, a doe stood, thanked everyone for coming, and asked Kikko to introduce herself.

She told then her name and why she was in the forest. The animals thought she was very brave, and Kikko began to feel braver herself. When the animals learned that Kikko’s pie had been ruined, they all contributed a piece of their own pie from the party. “Slice by slice they assembled a new pie on a pretty plate. Each piece had a different filling of seeds and nuts and fruit and other delicious things gathered from the woods.” They found a new box, placed the plate inside, and tied it with a red ribbon.

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Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2015, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Kikko was so excited to bring her Grandma this gift that she wanted to leave right away. The animals said they would come too. The woods rang with music, talking, laughing, and singing as the group “paraded to Grandma’s house.” When they reached Grandma’s house, the animals encouraged Kikko to go to the door. Grandma and Kikko’s father were surprised to see her. “‘My dear, did you come all this way on your own?’ asked Grandma, stepping inside.” Kikko could not see the animals anywhere. “‘You’re never alone in the woods,’” Kikko answered, smiling. She was sure her new friends were listening.”

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Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2015, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Akiko Miyakoshi’s reassuring story about a little girl venturing out into strange territory on her own for the first time is a delight. The straightforward narrative offers just the right amount of familiarity for young readers to allow them to be fully charmed by the magical elements that provide surprise and suspense. Little ones will be entranced by the warm welcome Kikko receives at the splendid and well-attended tea party. They will also find comfort in realizing that even when travels become hard, they can still discover wondrous things and that friends and help are always available – sometimes where they least expect it.  

Miyakoshi’s stunning black-and-white drawings, done in charcoal and pencil, are gorgeous in their portrayal of the woodland animals and their tea party. The long table they crowd around is laden with pies, bowls of fruit, vases of flowers, and of course teapots and teacups. At first Kikko offers the only color on the pages with her red cap and skirt and yellow hair. Later, however, when the animals suggest sharing their pie, the plate dazzles with mouthwatering brilliance, and hints of red and yellow brighten the next page. As the parade marches through the woods, the animals’ red and yellow clothes and musical instruments make a festive party. But as Kikko goes on to her Grandma’s house alone, the color fades from the animals, highlighting her achievement.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-177138107

Discover more about Akiko Miyakoshi and a portfolio of her work on her website!

International Tea Day Activity

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Decorate Your Own Mug

 

It’s fun to drink tea (or hot chocolate—shhh!) from a mug you’ve designed yourself. Personalized mugs also make fantastic presents for friends and family.

Supplies

  • Plain ceramic mug
  • Bakeable markers or paint

Directions

  1. Design and color your mug
  2. Follow directions on the markers or paint to properly bake on your decoration and make it permanent.

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You can find The Tea Party in the Woods at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review