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

 

January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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About the Holiday

Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell, the first book in her Dragon Keepers Chronicles series. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!

The Book Dragon

Written by Kell Andrews | Illustrated by Éva Chatelain

 

In Lesser Scrump, reading was a chore. To teach the alphabet, the schoolmaster, Mr. Percival, drew on tree trunks with bits of charcoal, scratched on slate with a rock, or drew in the dirt of the schoolyard. One day, Rosehilda said that “‘reading would be more fun if the letters and words were written as stories.’” She even suggested writing them with ink on papers that could be put together. The students were shocked and “Mr. Percival sent Rosehilda home with a stern note scratched onto a leaf.”

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When Rosehilda got home she asked her grandfather what all the fuss was about. He told her about the Book Dragon, who instead of hoarding gold, collected books. Rosehilda had never heard of a book, and her grandfather explained that it was “letters and words written on papers that are attached together.” He pointed out the window to Scrump Mountain and told Rosehilda that the Book Dragon lived deep inside and stole any book brought into the village.  

The next day at school, Rosehilda declared that the school needed books and that she was not afraid of the Book Dragon. Mr. Percival explained that after the dragon snatched a book, she terrorized the villagers the next night, and he sent her home again with another note etched into a candle stub. On the way home, Rosehilda met a peddler who had a book in her pile of wares. She gave it to Rosehilda in exchange for the candle stub.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

That night Rosehilda read a story about a brave knight who defeated a dragon and won its hoard of gold. “For the first time, reading wasn’t tiresome. It was amazing!” In the morning, the book was gone. Rosehilda’s grandfather told her that they and all the villagers would have to lock their windows that night. Rosehilda felt guilty. “She vowed to challenge the dragon and win her book back.”

She went to the top of Srump Mountain and peered into the dragon’s cave. The Book Dragon was lying atop an immense pile of books. She looked surprised to see Rosehilda standing there. Rosehilda summoned her courage and demanded that the dragon return her book. The Book Dragon apologized and explained that because she was too big to live in the village, books were the only friends she had.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Rosehilda scolded the dragon for stealing so many books. The dragon said she only meant to borrow them, but when she tried to return them, the windows were locked and people screamed when she knocked. The dragon agreed to give Rosehilda her book back, but Rosehilda had a hard time finding it among so many books.

While searching for it, Rosehilda and the Book Dragon began stacking the books “by subject and author.” At the end of the day, they had plenty of piles and more books to sort, and Rosehilda hadn’t found her book. The Book Dragon suggested she borrow a different one. She read late into the night, and the next day she went back to the dragon’s cave to help sort books. She left with another book. This went on all week.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Finally, all the books were sorted and Rosehilda found her book. She was excited that she wouldn’t have to come back, but the Book Dragon looked sad and suggested that she “borrow another book…and come back tomorrow.” That gave Rosehilda an idea. The next day at school, Mr. Percival and the other students were horrified to see the dragon outside their window, but Rosehilda explained that she was just returning their books. Now the Book Dragon oversees the “Official Village Library of Lesser Scrump,” and everyone reads as much as they want!

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kell Andrew’s clever story will delight book lovers of all scales with its mix of fantasy, mystery, courage, and friendship. Fearless Rosehilda is a plucky role model for all kids, and the Book Dragon’s desire for company will melt readers’ hearts faster than a breath of fire. Andrew’s storytelling reflects the best of fairy tale lore for a modern audience, with touches of humor, mistaken motives, and a creative resolution.

Éva Chatelain bridges the medieval and the familiar in her bright illustrations that draw on the rich yellows, reds, and greens of leather-bound books, piles of gold, fiery emotions, and woodland villages. Chatelain introduces brave Rosehilda as she challenges her teacher and buys a book,  but she also reveals the trepidation Rosehilda overcomes to confront the Book Dragon, showing readers that even the most courageous people can feel fear too. As Rosehilda reads her treasured book, kids’ suspense will quicken to see the silhouette of the dragon outside her window. The stacks of books that Rosehilda and the Book Dragon build are cunning references to library stacks, and the final images of a happy town and a happy (dragon) librarian will charm readers.

An enchanting story for book buffs, dragon devotees, and fairy tale fans, The Book Dragon would be a favorite addition to story times and home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454926856

Discover more about Kell Andrews and her books on her website.

To learn more about Éva Chatelain, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Appreciate a Dragon Day Activity

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Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

 

In this group of darling dragons, each dragon has a twin. Can you help them find each other in this printable puzzle?

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

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You can find The Book Dragon at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

January 10 -National Skating Month

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About the Holiday

National Skating Month was instituted by U.S. Figure Skating as a week-long celebration in March 2002 following the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The holiday gives ice-skating rinks, clubs, and programs an opportunity to invite new families to the ice by offering free lessons and skating demonstrations. This month’s theme is Skate to Superheroes and encourages rinks to plan events that show the fun and empowering aspects of ice skating. To celebrate this month head out to a rink with your family and enjoy the day. Not a skater? Now’s the perfect time to learn!

 Little Red Gliding Hood

Written by Tara Lazar | Illustrated by Troy Cummings

 

The depths of winter had settled in and “the river winding through the enchanted forest was frozen solid.” For one little girl, these conditions were just right. She tied on her ice skates then “swizzled and twizzled across the ice,” doing figure eights, loops, jumps, and spins. Who was this girl? “Everyone called her Little Red Gliding Hood.”

Little Red was worried. Her skates were so old that she was afraid they would no longer carry her to Grandma’s house every Sunday. Then she saw a banner announcing a skating pairs competition. The prize was a new pair of skates! But who would be her partner, Little Red wondered. The Dish and the Spoon were already a team, and so were Hansel and Gretel. Little Boy Blue was too cold to skate, the Seven Dwarves were more into hockey, and Old MacDonald couldn’t stay upright on the ice.

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Image copyright Troy Cummings, 2015, text copyright Tara Lazar, 2015. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Little Red decided to go talk it over with Grandma and skated quickly along the river to foil the Big Bad Wolf. Over cups of hot chocolate, Little Red and Grandma discussed the options: the Gingerbread Man? Too fast to catch. Baby Bear? Already matched with Goldilocks. How about one of the Three Little Pigs who had moved next door, Grandma suggested. So Little Red approached the brick house and said, “‘Little pigs, little pigs, let me in!’” Just then the Big Bad Wolf interrupted to tell Little Red she was using his line.

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Image copyright Troy Cummings, 2015, text copyright Tara Lazar, 2015. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Turning around, Little Red found herself staring into the eyes of the wolf. She shrieked and rushed away, but her old laces became untied and “her boots were lopsided and loose.” The wolf was right behind her, but just then one of Little Red’s skates flew off. As Little Red tumbled into the air, the wolf caught her. Little Red trembled.

The Big Bad Wolf howled. “‘You’re wonnnnnderful!’ The wolf gently put Little Red down.” She couldn’t believe it. Then the wolf told her that he had been chasing her just to tell her that her laces were untied. He understood because his own skates were “‘older than Rip Van Winkle.’” Then Little Red had an idea.

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Image copyright Troy Cummings, 2015, text copyright Tara Lazar, 2015. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

On the day of the competition, Little Red took to the frozen pond in her old skates. As all the skaters warmed up, the wolf approached from the other side of the pond. When the skaters saw him, they were terrified, and chaos ensued. “The wolf frightened Miss Muffet away. She bumped Little Jack Horner into the corner. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. And Jack and Jill came tumbling after.” In the midst of it all, Little Red was slipping and sliding. Finally, she cried for help. The Big Bad Wolf hurried over and lifted Little Red high above the mayhem. Seeing Little Red in danger, the woodcutter ran to her rescue, his axe shining.

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Image copyright Troy Cummings, 2015, text copyright Tara Lazar, 2015. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

“‘Oh, slippery slush!’ said Little Red. ‘He’s my partner!’” Everyone was shocked. But then the music played and the competition began. Each pair performed their routine. At last it was Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf’s turn. They “swizzled and twizzled across the ice” and did figure eights, loops, jumps, and spins, surprising the crowd. After the judges conferred with each other, the scores for Little Red and the wolf went up. They received a perfect ten from each judge—and new skates! As they left the pond hand in paw, Little Red exclaimed, “‘Oh my, what big skates you have!’” And the wolf answered, “‘All the better to glide with you, my dear.’”

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Image copyright Troy Cummings, 2015, text copyright Tara Lazar, 2015. Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Tara Lazar cleverly brings together an enchanted forest-full of fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters in her perfect 10 of a story. Little Red’s determination to win the skating competition and a new pair of skates to replace her old ones, gives Lazar plenty of opportunities to slide in sly puns and references to well-known fairy tales. Things heat up when the Big Bad Wolf follows Little Red to Grandma’s house, but it only serves to melt readers’ hearts when the wolf turns out to be a sweetie. Lazar’s seamless storytelling glides along like a gold medal-winning performance, each scene building on the previous move and culminating in a surprise pairing and, of course, a happy ending.

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To start things off, Troy Cummings offers up an enchanted forest as enticing as any ice-cream shop. As Little Red glides on the river that winds its way through violet mountains, around familiar homes, and past several castles, readers will love pointing out the characters from their favorite stories and nursery rhymes. Little Red, with her sweet face and big eyes set off by her signature hooded cape, is as plucky a heroine as ever as she hurries through the dark woods to Grandma’s cozy cottage. The Big Bad Wolf, with his long snout and steely glare seems as menacing as we all remember…until he begins to howl Little Red’s praises.

The collection of competitors warming up at the pond will delight kids with more match-ups for them to name. Comic gold ensues when the wolf shows up and sends the skaters into a spin then rescues Little Red—holding her aloft like an Olympic champion. The duo’s performance is charming, the winning skates appropriately shiny, and smiles abound as Little Red and the (not so) Big Bad Wolf skate off into the sunset.

A smart fractured fairy tale with lots of suspense, laughs, and heart, Little Red Gliding Hood would be a well-loved prize on any home, classroom, or library bookshelf.

Ages 2 – 10

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015 | ISBN 978-0385370066

You can discover more about Tara Lazar and her books and find a wealth of resources on her website.

To learn more about Troy Cummings, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Skating Month Activity

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Magnetic Skating Rink Craft

 

Kids can bring the ice skating indoors with this craft that’s easy to make and gives little characters their own turn to show off their moves.

Supplies

  • Cookie Tin top, or other metal surface
  • Small plastic figures or erasers
  • Paper clip
  • Paper
  • Magnet, ½-inch to 1-inch (the stronger the magnet, the better the skater will work
  • Large craft sticks
  • Tape
  • Small spools, blocks, or other items to raise up the skating surface
  • Poly-fill (optional)
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

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Directions

  1. Glue the round magnet to one end of the craft stick
  2. Set the top of the cookie tin on the spools or blocks to raise the surface and provide room to maneuver the magnetic stick, glue in place if desired

To Make a Skater

  1. Cut a strip of paper twice as long as your paperclip
  2. Fold the strip of paper in half and tape the paperclip inside. Tape the ends of the paper closed.
  3. Glue the figure to the paper

To Play with the Skater

  1. Place the skater on the cookie tin lid
  2. Slide the magnetic stick under the cookie tin lid and match up with the skater
  3. As you move the magnetic stick, the skater will glide and turn

Make more and have a skating party with your friends!

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You can find Little Red Gliding Hood at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

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

November 16 -It’s National Young Readers Week

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About the Holiday

Sponsored by Pizza Hut and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress since 1989, this week-long holiday centers on raising awareness of reading. Schools participate in setting reading goals for their students who are then rewarded for meeting them. Principals, teachers, and families get involved too, as kids all over the country get excited about reading.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise

By David Ezra Stein

 

The little red chicken was excited to come home from school and tell her Papa the amazing thing she’d learned that day. “Today,” she said, “my teacher told us every story has an elephant of surprise.” She grabbed her papa’s arm and hurried him to the big comfy chair to read a story and find the elephant. Papa corrected her, saying that her teacher hadn’t mentioned an elephant of surprise but an element of surprise. What’s that? Chicken wanted to know.

Papa explained that the element of surprise is the part that “makes you say, ‘Whoa! I didn’t know that was going to happen.’” That sounded like an elephant to Chicken, so she urged her papa to start reading. Papa opened the book with a caution that he didn’t think there were any elephants in the story. Papa began reading The Ugly Duckling. He had just gotten to the part where the ugly duckling peered into the pond at his reflection and discovered that… “Surprise! I’m an Elephant!” The blue elephant with pink wings and a waterlily hat thanked Chicken for finding him.

Papa looked askance at Chicken, but Chicken was undaunted and argued that her teacher had said that every good story had an elephant, that The Ugly Duckling was a good story, and therefore The Ugly Duckling “must have an elephant of surprise.”

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Copyright David Ezra Jones, 2018, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Next Chicken picked out the story of Rapunzel. Papa read, and the Prince had just climbed up the tower and was gazing at his love while she said… “Surprise! I’m an Elephant!” The elephant was impressed by Chicken’s powers of detection. Papa considered his little chicken and told her that the idea of an elephant in Rapunzel was “ludicrous.” But Chicken just looked at him with eyes sad and sorry for the poor elephant “waiting for someone to find him.”

Chicken told Papa she had to read one more story and find the elephant for homework. Papa was resigned. Chicken pulled The Little Mermaid off the shelf and Papa began to read. The little mermaid drank the magic potion, crawled from the sea, and fainted. When she awoke, the prince was there, and she saw that her dream had come true—she had… “elephant legs! Wow! That was a surprise!” Chicken exclaimed.

Now that Chicken had found her three elephants, Papa was ready to tell her a story that could in no way have elephants in it. Chicken was ready with her pencils to draw the pictures. Papa’s story was about a daughter who loved elephants so much she saw them everywhere—even when there were no elephants. There were no elephants when she got dressed or when she had breakfast before she went to… “Elephant school!” Chicken was so happy to find an elephant right at the end of the story that she gave Papa a big hug before asking him to help her with her math homework.

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Copyright David Ezra Jones, 2018, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

You can feel the giggles forming in giddy anticipation of where the elephant of surprise will appear from the very first page of David Ezra Stein’s adorable sequel to Interrupting Chicken. The little red chicken’s glee at her certainty that an elephant lives in every good story is infectious, and empathetic readers will be on the lookout for this well-placed pachyderm. Stein expertly wrings droll humor from the juxtaposition of the flowery retellings of The Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel, and The Little Mermaid with the weighty substitution of the elephant at the moment of greatest suspense.

The endearing relationship between Papa and his little chicken is one of the sweetest charms of this series, and Stein fills every page with this warmth through his color palette of rich reds and blues and the little details of home: a steaming cup of tea sits on a small table next to Papa’s chair, Chicken brings in a snack of chips and dip to munch while listening, and a single lamp throws a cozy glow over the room. It’s easy to see by the gleam in little chicken’s eyes that she cherishes not only the stories but her special time with Papa. Young readers will embrace Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise with the same zeal.

For laugh-out-loud, snuggly story times, Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise can’t be beat. Whether your child is a fan of Interrupting Chicken or just meeting the little red chicken for the first time, David Ezra Stein’s sequel makes a perfect gift and will be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick, 2018 | ISBN 978-0763688424

National Young Readers Week Activity

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Elephant Coloring Pages

 

Color these pages and put them in your favorite books to make sure you can always find an elephant of surprise inside!

Elephant Coloring Page 1 | Elephant Coloring Page 2

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You can find Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 15 – National Relaxation Day

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About the Holiday

In 1985, when Sean Moeller was in fourth grade, he looked around and saw everyone rushing here and there, cooking, cleaning, toiling away, and, maybe, doing piles of homework and thought, enough is enough—at least for one day. As the founder of National Relaxation Day, Moeller encouraged people to slow down and take it easy. Taking time to relax is an important component in feeling healthy and happy. Our bodies and brains need downtime to deal with the stresses of everyday life and be rejuvenated. How will you spend the day? Taking a break for tea and treats with friends is a great way to celebrate—as today’s book shows!

The Princess and the Café on the Moat

Written by Margie Markarian | Illustrated by Chloe Douglass

 

There once was a little princess who lived in a very busy castle. Every morning knights brought news of “enemies defeated, dragons seized, and citizens rescued.” Upstairs, ladies-in-waiting were given their duties for “silks to sew, invitations to ink, and chandeliers to shine.” The princess wanted a special job too, but her voice was never heard above the din, so she went in search of something to occupy her time.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-kingdom

Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she met the court jester, he told her he was too busy learning a routine for the evening’s guests to teach her how to juggle. The wandering minstrel who was playing his mandolin told her, “‘Your fingers are too delicate to pluck these wiry strings.’” And the wise wizard banished her from the tower because his potions were too dangerous. Even the royal baker thought her kitchen was no place for a princess. “The princess’s kind heart and eager spirit were not easily discouraged.” As she wandered past the front gate, she wondered if there were people beyond it who could use her help. Just then the drawbridge descended, and when the guard turned away for a moment, the princess crept by him and ran outside.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Right outside the castle, she met a “sad old man holding a scrolled parchment.” She approached him and asked why he was so sad. He told her that he had a letter from his far-away son, but because of his weak eyesight, he couldn’t read it. “‘I have time to read your letter and sit awhile,’ said the princess, happy to have found a task so quickly.” Next, she met a worried widow with five children coming down the path. The princess asked why they looked so tired.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-minstrel

Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The woman told her that she had no one to watch her children as she traveled the long way to the village market. The princess happily offered to watch the woman’s children. Soon, “a brave squire limped by the palace where the princess, the old man, and the widow’s children were telling stories and playing games.” When the princess asked the squire what pained him, he told her “‘I gashed by knee in a skirmish many miles ago but have not stopped to tend to it.’” The princess quickly cleaned and bandaged the squire’s knee so he could continue on to the castle.

Back at the castle, though, everything was in an uproar as the king and queen and staff hunted everywhere for the princess. Through a window the king suddenly heard laughter and singing. When the king looked out, he saw that the sound was coming from the princess. Everyone in the castle paraded out through the drawbridge to join the princess and her friends.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-kitchen

Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The princess ran to her mother and father and told them about all the things she had done for the old man, the widow, and the squire. The king and queen “were proud to have such a kindhearted daughter.” The king suggested that they “all celebrate together with treats and refreshments.” From that day on in the afternoon, the drawbridge was dropped and tables and chairs set up. Then the “princess welcomed townspeople and travelers from far and wide to her café on the moat.”

Here, the court jester practiced his juggling, the minstrel shared his music, the wizard made drinks, and the baker created delicious treats. The old man and the widow with her children often came by to meet new friends and relax. And the brave squire enjoyed refreshments while he guarded the castle. The café on the moat welcomed everyone, and “indeed, they all lived happily and busily ever after.”

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

An Afterword about fairy tales and a kindness activity for children follow the story.

Margie Markarian’s sweet story is an enchanting fairy tale for today’s socially conscious and active kids. Instead of needing rescue, this princess looks for opportunities to help others. When she’s turned away inside the castle, she leaves the comfort of home and reaches out to her community, an idea that children will embrace. Through her cheerful storytelling, Markarian also shows readers that in their talents and kind hearts they already have what it takes to make a difference to others. As the princess opens her café on the moat, children will see that the adults also find ways to support her efforts. Markarian’s language is charmingly “medieval,” making the story fun to read aloud while inspiring listeners.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-inside-castle

Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Chloe Douglass’s adorable princess is a terrific role model for young readers. Her eagerness to help and positive spirit are evident in her smiles and persistent requests for a job to do. When she ventures out of the castle, she displays obvious empathy for the people she meets, and children will recognize her joy at being able to brighten the townspeople’s day. Despite their busy days, the king and queen are happy and supportive of their daughter. Children will love the bright and detailed images of the castle and town, where the crest of love rules.

The Princess and the Café on the Moat is a charming flip on the traditional fairy tale—one that children will want to hear again and again. It would make a great spring gift and an enriching addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363971

To discover more about Margie Markarian and her picture book and to find fun activities, visit her website. 

Learn more about Chloe Douglass, her books, and her art on her website.

National Relaxation Day Activity

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The Princess and the Café on the Moat Activities

 

The Princess likes to help people relax and have fun together! You can help her too with these four activity pages!

The Princess and the Café Coloring Page |Castle Matching PageStory Sequencing Page Write a Fairy Tale Page

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You can find The Princess and the Café on the Moat at these booksellers

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

March 20 – World Storytelling Day

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About the Holiday

Storytelling has been around as long as people have. We seem to have a natural desire to communicate our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a factual way as well as creatively. Today’s holiday celebrates both the storytellers and their stories that enrich our lives. Sometimes, of course, there are two sides to a story—as you’ll see in today’s book!

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

 

You know the drill—Once upon a time there was a poor boy named Jack…. One day this waif woke up to a moo-tivating kiss from his cow Bessie and… Wait, wait! Kids, cover your eyes! And, Jack, “put on some pants!” Phew! Disaster averted! Now where were we? Oh, right. So Jack (now well-dressed) was told that because Bessie had stopped making milk, he had to sell her. He protested, but the mysterious narrator protested right back: “I didn’t WRITE the story, Jack. I’m just telling it.”

Down at the market, Jack received five beans in exchange for Bessie. Of course, this is a fairy tale, and the beans are magic. Jack tried all the magical words he knew to get them to work, but they just sat in the bowl smiling up at him. Yeah, these beans have faces. Overcome by hunger, Jack determined to eat the beans, but there was that pesky narrator again ordering him to throw the beans out the window and then go to bed. As you can imagine—what with selling his best friend and hunger gnawing at his belly—Jack was a bit testy and complainy and countered, “Aww, but I’m not tired. This story keeps getting worse and worse.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-not-jack-and-the-beanstalk-wake-up

Image copyright Edwardian Taylor, 2017, text copyright Josh Funk, 2017. Courtesy of Two Lions Publishing.

In the morning, Jack discovered that an enormous beanstalk had grown up overnight. It was so tall that Jack couldn’t even see the top. The narrator told him to start climbing. At first, Jack balked, then he tried to stall by offering to get his climbing gear, but the narrator had already determined that Jack “had no possessions.” Finally, Jack agreed to go, but only if the narrator changed the beanstalk’s size. In a classic “be careful what you wish for” maneuver, the beanstalk suddenly began to grow bigger. “Seriously?” Jack said.

Jack was actually enjoying his climb, especially when he spied Cinderella’s castle with Cindy waving from her balcony. Her voice rang across the distance, inviting Jack to a ball that very night. The narrator was not happy with this delay and urged Jack on. Finally, he reached the top, where “he found himself in front of a humongous house.” Jack pegged it right away as a giant’s abode, but he went inside anyway. As he was looking around at all the mammoth furnishings, he heard the giant’s voice: “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman.”

Heck, Jack knew about poetry and recognized immediately that “that doesn’t even rhyme” and offered an alternative: “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I can see the giant’s bum.” This bit of wordplay just enraged the giant—that, plus his fear that Jack was trying to steal all his best stuff. The giant grabbed Jack and was about to…well, listen for yourself: “Be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.” Pretty chilling stuff, but even though Jack was facing imminent danger, he was pretty impressed with the giant’s new rhyme.

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Image copyright Edwardian Taylor, 2017, text copyright Josh Funk, 2017. Courtesy of Two Lions Publishing.

That made the giant happy, and Jack thought this moment of camaraderie was the perfect time to let slip to the giant that “there’s a good chance that you’re going to die at the end of this story.” The giant put on a frowny face, and his eyes began to tear up. It seemed the giant didn’t want to die, so he suddenly decided to become a vegan. Listening to this emotional roller coaster, the narrator started to get steamed because he was losing control of the story. “ENOUGH!!!” he shouted.

“GIANT!” he hollered and ordered him to chase Jack down the beanstalk. “JACK!” he yelled and told him to chop down the beanstalk. All this shouting only served to bond Jack and the Giant in an oversized friendship. They commiserated together and planned to make a taco salad from one of the giant’s recipes. After that they went to Cinderella’s party, where they told everyone about their adventure. And who’s complaining now? You got this—the narrator!

P.S. And, of course, they all lived happily ever after by splitting the giant’s fortune and opening a restaurant named Where Have You Bean? for a whole host of fairy tale customers!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-not-jack-and-the-beanstalk-beanstalk-grows

Image copyright Edwardian Taylor, 2017, text copyright Josh Funk, 2017. Courtesy of Two Lions Publishing.

In Josh Funk’s newest romp, Jack takes matters into his own hands as he revamps his famous story into one that turns out “happily ever after” for all the characters. Along the way readers will laugh at Jack’s feisty repartee with the unseen narrator as he’s swept up in a larger-than-life scenario and uses his wits—and wit—to finally tell his own story in his own way. Young readers will appreciate Jack’s independent spunk, and adults will respond to his sweet nature.

Edwardian Taylor’s noodle-limbed, big-eyed Jack knows how to tug at readers’ heartstrings. Soulfully saying good-bye to Bessie, gazing at his nearly empty plate in anguish, and warily approaching the giant’s castle, Jack will quickly have readers empathizing with his plight and cheering him on as he outwits the gigantic red-bearded giant and turns him into a friend and business partner. And while the giant may be big, kids will soon see that he’s really a softy. Children will love all the big and small details on every page, from the leafy beanstalk to cute Cindy-rella to the gold-coin-laying goose. And if you’ve never seen a purple cow…here’s your chance. The final spread of a packed Where Have You Bean? restaurant gives kids an opportunity to show their knowledge of fairy-tale characters.

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk makes for a spirited and funny read aloud, and would be super performed by a group in classrooms or by clubs, or even by friends or siblings.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2017 | ISBN 978-1542045650

Enter the world of Josh Funk and discover more about him and his books as well as plenty of book-related activities on his website!

Learn more about Edwardian Taylor and view a portfolio of his artwork on his website!

World Storytelling Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-beanstalk-craft-with-top

 

This is Not a Yardstick! Yardstick Craft

 

Need to measure something—like the height of your garden, the amount of rain that fell, or even the number of books you have? You can do it in style with your very own This is Not a Yardstick! yardstick craft.

Supplies

  • 50-inch wooden stake, available at craft stores
  • Small wooden leaves, 45 – 50, available at craft stores 

OR

  • Light green and dark green foam sheets 
  • Green paint, light and dark
  • Black marker
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue
  • Flower pot
  • Oasis or clay
  • Ruler
  • Pencil

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Directions

  1. Paint the wooden stake with the green paint, let dry
  2. With the ruler mark the stake in 1-inch increments along the edge of the stake

How to Make the Leaves

  1. If using wooden leaves, paint half light green and half dark green
  2. If using foam, cut 1 3/4-inch tear-drop shaped leaves (half from light green foam, half from dark green foam), 45 – 50 or as needed
  3. Cut two larger leaves, one from each color to decorate the top of the stake
  4. Draw a line down the center of each leaf’
  5. Write the number of the inch marked on each leaf, from 1 to 45 or higher with the black marker, alternating colors

How to Attach the Leaves

  1. Glue the leaves to the stake, attaching the odd-numbered inch leaves to the left side of the stake and the even-numbered leaves to the right side of the stake.
  2. Attach half of the leaf to the stake, letting the tip stick out from the side
  3. Glue the two larger leaves to the top of the stake

How to Store Your Yardstick

  1. Put the oasis or clay in the flower pot
  2. Stick the stake into the flower pot to keep it handy

Picture Book Review