September 8 – National Grandparents Day

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About the Holiday

As a child in the 1920s, Marion McQuade accompanied her grandmother as she visited elderly neighbors, offering friendship and help when needed. This early experience sparked Marion’s lifelong concern for the elderly and especially for grandparents. In 1956, Marion helped institute a tribute to octogenarians. It was just the beginning of her work on behalf of the elderly and her hopes to create a special day commemorating the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared the first Sunday after Labor Day to be National Grandparents Day. As Marion envisioned it, the day gives grandparents and grandchildren an opportunity to show their love for one another and for older members of the family to pass down their stories and wisdom to younger generations. 

Love is Kind

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Lison Chaperon

 

Little Owl had been saving up his coins to buy something special for Grammy’s birthday. He even knew exactly what he wanted to give her—“a heart-shaped box of chocolates.” He took the coins out of his pocket to look at them, but just as he did he tripped over a tree root and his money went flying. One, two, three, they rolled down the hill “until wobble PING” they landed right by Beaver’s dam. Little Owl ran after them. Just as he got close, he heard little Beaver excitedly showing her mommy that the tooth fairy had come after all. Seeing the big smile on Beaver’s face, Little Owl just wished her a “tooth-errific day” and headed back home.

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

As luck would have it, though, Little Owl spied a dollar lying among the fallen autumn leaves. He was excited that now he could buy Grammy’s gift, but then he saw the “Missing $1.00” sign on Mrs. Mouse’s house. He picked up the money and rang Mrs. Mouse’s doorbell. Mrs. Mouse was thrilled to see her money again as she and Mr. Mouse needed it to fix up the nursery for the new babies they were expecting. “Little Owl smiled. ‘That’s wonderful news. Congratulations!’” he said.

Little Owl continued on and while cutting through the sunflower field, he ran into Rabbit, who had “THREE heart-shaped boxes of chocolates—” one for Ma, one for Pa, and one Rabbit was going to keep for herself. “Little Owl’s feathers stood on end. You have THREE! That’s not fai…’ Little Owl stopped. Getting angry wouldn’t get Grammy those chocolates.” Instead, he told Rabbit to enjoy her candy, and she hopped happily off. In a moment, though, she was back with a coupon for one free box of chocolates.

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Little Owl skipped all the way to Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe. But when he got there, all of Chipmunk’s chocolates were gone and he was just closing the shop. Once again, Little Owl smiled, gave good wishes, and waved goodbye. Still, little Owl was disappointed. He had nothing to give Grammy.

When he got to Grammy’s house, he tearfully told her about his day. After he was finished, Grammy told him that the love he had shown to Beaver, Mrs. Mouse, Rabbit, and Chipmunk was “‘better than any heart-shaped box of chocolates.’” Little Owl was surprised. Just then he caught his reflection in the window. The white feathers of his face formed a perfect heart. “‘…I guess I gave you a heart-shaped gift after all!’” he said. “‘Me!’” And Grammy thought that was “‘the best gift of all.’”

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Laura Sassi’s tender intergenerational story delves gently and with an endearing main character into what it means to love. Not only does Sassi reveal the true meaning of love, but she shows young readers how to express it by what they do and say (or don’t say). Through each of Little Owl’s encounters, he demonstrates kindness and empathy as he puts the happiness of others ahead of his own desires. Sassi’s genuine storytelling doesn’t shy away from Little Owl’s honest emotions that touch on ownership, disappointment, anger, and sadness, but in each case Little Owl is guided by his strong internal moral code revealed organically through his thoughts and actions.

As Grammy comforts her young grandson, she reinforces the idea that the best gift someone can give an individual, their community, and the world at large is not stuff but a caring and compassionate heart. Little Owl and little readers need not rely only on the words of the story but come to understand this important lesson through Little Owl’s reflection in the window as well. Lines from the poem “Love is Kind,” found in 1 Corinthians 13, are sprinkled throughout the text: in the river that runs past Beaver’s dam, over Mrs. Mouse’s hearth, in the petals of a sunflower, and elsewhere, reminding readers that these ideals can be found everywhere and encouraging them to look for and contribute to universal kindness.

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With his soft tufts of autumn-hued feathers and cozy coat and scarf, Little Owl is an adorable friend to follow on a journey. Lison Chaperon’s woodland neighborhood glows with gold and russet leaves, providing a warm backdrop to the snug homes of Little Owl’s neighbors. Children will be enchanted by the Mouse’s tree trunk-and-toadstool house, where a swing set with walnut-shell swings wait in the yard for little mice to play. When Little Owl heads into the sunflower patch, kids will spy a snoozing caterpillar, a bee and a ladybug having a picnic, and a glimpse of the bunny he’s about to bump into.

In Little Owl’s encounters, readers can clearly see what the coins, the dollar bill, and the three boxes of chocolates mean to each respective family. In this way, children discover both sides of each story and can better understand how generosity affects both the giver and the receiver. As Little Owl loses hope of getting a gift for Grammy, the sunny sky turns gray and rainy to reflect his mood, but a rainbow appears when Rabbit pays her good fortune forward by giving Owl a coupon. It’s nighttime when Little Owl reaches Grammy’s, and he’s welcomed by shining lanterns and a starry sky. Inside, Grammy’s just finishing up a delectable cake to share while snuggling in Grammy’s rocking chair.

This lovely, multilayered story is delightful for any story time while also providing many opportunities for adults and children to talk about ideas of love, kindness, empathy, and how one person’s actions and words can make a difference in others’ lives. Love is Kind would be a favorite for grandparents and children to share. Reading it with little ones is also a wonderful way to bring closer grandparents who live far away. The book would make a sweet gift and addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310754893 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0310754848 (Board Book)

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website

Love is Kind Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Zonderkidz in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Love is Kind written by Laura Sassi | illustrated by Lison Chaperon

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from September 8 through September 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on September 15.

Prizing provided by Zonderkidz

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

National Grandparents Day Activity

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Little Owl Cookies (and Grand ones too!)  

Made with Love by Laura and her daughter

 

My 14-year-old daughter loves spending time her grandparents and she thought these LOVE IS KIND owl-themed cookies would be a fun and tasty way to celebrate that special bond between child and grandparent. We hope you enjoy our activity—and after baking and decorating together, we hope you’ll be inspired to spread some love by sharing the cookies with neighbors or friends who perhaps live too far away to be with their grandchildren on Grandparents Day! Enjoy!

Supplies

  • A favorite sugar cookie recipe (or buy pre-mixed cookie dough from the market)
  • Two glasses with different sized rims for cookie cutters (so you can make little and big owls)
  • A bag of confectioners’ sugar, a few splashes of milk, food coloring
  • Several bowls to mix your icing along with a spoon and toothpick for each color
  • Candy eyes (found in baking section at market)

Directions

  1. Roll out the dough, then press circles—both big and small (to represent grandparents and grandchildren) using rims of two different sized glasses. 
  2. Place the dough circles on a cookie sheet. Then, taking little scraps of cookie dough, shape and press triangle-shaped owl tufts atop each circle, as shown.
  3. Bake according to recipe or package directions. Let cool.
  4. Using my sweet daughter’s samples as a model, or following your own owl vision, decide how many colors you will need to decorate your owls. 
  5. For each color, add a generous half cup of confectioners’ sugar and a splash of milk to a small bowl. Add a drop or two of food coloring, or mix two colors to create a new color. Stir gently using a spoon. (The amount of sugar, milk, and color drops you use will depend on how much icing you need.  Also, you will have to play with consistency until you get it just right – not too watery and not too thick.  My daughter apologizes for being so vague, but really mixing it up is part of the fun. Your grandkids will LOVE it!)
  6. To paint the owls, cover the cookie with your base glaze. Add the eyes while the glaze is still wet so they stick in place. Wait for the bottom coat to get a little crusty (so colors don’t bleed) before adding the final details such as beak and feathers.
  7. Finally, arrange a plate of big and little owl cookies for yourselves and another to share (in true LOVE IS KIND fashion)!  Have fun!

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You can find Love is Kind at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 5 – National Be Late for Something Day

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About the Holiday

Established by the Procrastinator’s Club, this holiday encourages people to slow down and even allow themselves to be a little late to that meeting, class, lunch date, or whatever event is on your calendar. Got nothing scheduled for today? Then just take the opportunity to relax. Of course some causes of being late are due to unforeseen circumstances. Still, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the delay—as the family in today’s book shows!

I received a copy of Sunny’s Tow Truck Saves the Day! from Abrams Appleseed to check out. All opinions are my own. 

Sunny’s Tow Truck Saves the Day!

Written by Anne Marie Pace | Illustrated by Christopher Lee

 

It’s nine o’clock in the morning and a family’s packed up a picnic lunch, clambered into their minivan, and headed out on the open road. “But halfway there…THUMP-BUMPTY…SPLAT! / What’s going on? Our tire’s flat!” No worries, they think—there’s always the spare. But when they look, they discover that tire’s flat too. They check a list of roadside helpers and pick Sunny’s Towing. They make the call and begin to wait.

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Image copyright Christopher Lee, 2019, text copyright Anne Marie Pace, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

At nine thirty the little boy hears a truck approaching. Is it Sunny? No—it’s a hauler carrying lumber. At ten o’clock the little girl spots another vehicle while her brother munches his sandwich. “Is that her truck? / Just a pickup. Out of luck.” By ten thirty the road is getting busy with construction workers making repairs and other cars traveling here and there. Over the hills black smoke from a fire billows into the sky while Dad enjoys a bite of his lunch.

Mom calls Sunny, who says that she’s so busy it might be noon before she gets to them. In a moment firetrucks and police cars with their sirens blaring speed by. As time passes, they see more trucks—“Tractor trailers, rough and rumbly. / Concrete mixers, tough and tumbly. / Dump trucks filled with piles of muck. But no tow truck. We are stuck.” It’s a good time to have a snack the girl thinks.

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Image copyright Christopher Lee, 2019, text copyright Anne Marie Pace, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

It’s getting close to noon and the family counts down the minutes. Suddenly, they see Sunny approaching. She tows them to her garage, where the tire is changed lickity-split. Finally, the family is ready to enjoy their picnic, but when they look in the cooler all the food has disappeared! Sunny has an idea. She shows the family where the best ice cream is sold, and, with cones in hand, they enjoy a perfect picnic in the park.

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Image copyright Christopher Lee, 2019, text copyright Anne Marie Pace, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

With perky rhymes, Anne Marie Pace takes readers on a picnic that doesn’t quite come off as planned. As the family waits by the side of the road for the tow truck to arrive, the little girl and boy enthusiastically point out other vehicles passing by and take in the excitement of the construction work going on beside them. Pace’s verses shine with cleverly paired words, realistic dialog, names of various kinds of cars and trucks, and dynamic verbs that will captivate kids. Readers will love the humor sprinkled throughout that leads to the “Oh, no!” moment when the family discovers they’ve already eaten their picnic. Sunny—with an appropriately sunny personality—saves the day with her delightful dessert idea.

Christopher Lee lends a charming retro feel to his vivid illustrations with funky home decor, old-fashioned ads, and stylized cars and trucks. The family’s emotions are clearly evident—from their smiles as they pack their picnic to the shock of having a flat tire and finding the spare flat as well to their cheerful patience. Images of the various trucks, emergency vehicles, and other cars will thrill vehicle enthusiasts, and the two-page spread of Sunny’s garage, loaded with action and tools, will spark discussion. Humor and details abound on each page, prompting kids to linger, laugh, and learn.

A sweet story that incorporates a love for vehicles, a family outing, and a fresh lesson on patience, Sunny’s Tow Truck Saves the Day! will be a favorite story time read and a fun addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Abrams Appleseed, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419731914

Discover more about Anne Marie Pace and her books on her website.

To learn more about Christopher Lee, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Nationa Be Late for Something Activity

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Tow Truck to the Rescue! Matching Puzzle

 

These four cars are going to be late! Can you show the tow truck drivers the way to the right cars in this printable puzzle?

Tow Truck to the Rescue! Matching Puzzle

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You can find Sunny’s Tow Truck Saves the Day! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 27 – It’s Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

It’s all up to you to make his month-long holiday happen. It offers an opportunity for each person to ask: What makes me happy? As the summer comes to a close and the hustle-bustle of school and extracurricular activities starts up again, be sure to include those things that truly bring you and your children joy. Spending more time with siblings and friends may be at the top of the list—just like in today’s book!

Twins

By Mike Ciccotello

A little boy and a giraffe love being twins. In fact, they are so alike, the boy says, that “sometimes our friends can’t tell us apart.” Having a twin means there’s always someone to play games—“and piano duets”—with. While it’s true that twins like many of the same things, the way they do activities is way different. Take the little boy and his giraffe twin, for instance. The boy’s tricycle is short, while his twin’s is looong, and the snowman the boy makes has three sections while the giraffe’s snowman has six—and antlers.

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Copyright Mike Ciccotello, 2019, courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

As you might imagine, salad is high on the list of favorite foods. Other faves include dancing, reading, and drawing. But who does these best? That question sometimes causes squabbles. And when there’s, say, only one tool to share or a big issue like “who is stronger,” sometimes that “disagreement…might last all afternoon, and turn into a big, rotten fight.”

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Copyright Mike Ciccotello, 2019, courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

But after a little alone time, the boy and his twin and the giraffe and his twin “can never stay mad for very long.” Then they end up compromising because they know that they “work best together.” Yes, “it’s great being a twin, knowing there’s someone who’s just like you.”

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Copyright Mike Ciccotello, 2019, courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Mike Ciccotello’s sweet tribute to twins, whether they’re siblings, best friends, or even pet-and-people pairs will have kids giggling at the juxtapositions of the little boy and his extra-tall twin as they play and work together. The two are exuberant partners, smiling, laughing, and making knowing eye contact, as they dress the same, share the same activities, and talk in their bunk beds before going to sleep. When the inevitable quarrels come, readers will recognize the mixed emotions that ultimately bring these two best friends back together. Ciccotello’s emphasis on resolving disputes, compromise, and staying mindful of all the benefits to having a twin or “near twin” gives the story deeper resonance for building bonds between siblings and friends.

Ciccotello’s vibrant illustrations are clever and cheerful, touching on kid-favorite year-round events and everyday routines. They also give a sly wink to the idea that twins are always identical and highlight the individuality of not only these twins but each reader too. The wide-open pages and spotlighted vignettes allow the youngest readers to focus on the relationship between the boy and the giraffe and offer opportunities for adults and kids to talk about that special bond.

A funny book with a lot of heart, Twins would be an endearing addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 6

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0374312121

To learn more about Mike Ciccotello and his work, visit his website.

Happiness Happens Month Activity

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Happiness Is…Game

 

Happiness is all around you! Grab one or more friends to play a game that reveals what things make you happy. Here are two ways to play:

  1. Like the “Geography” game: the first player names something that makes them happy, the next player must think of something that starts with the last letter of the word the previous player said. The game continues with each player continuing the pattern. Players drop out as they cannot think of a word. The last player left is the winner.
  2. Using a time limit (depending on age): players must think of something that makes them happy. Players drop out if they cannot think of a word within the time limit. The last player left is the winner.

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You can find Twins at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 13 – It’s Happiness Happens Month and Interview with Illustrator Talitha Shipman

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About the Holiday

Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact paying attention to those little moments during each day, going on spontaneous outings with friends or family, or taking time to do a favorite activity may be all you need to feel happier every day! And there are always those times of achievement, large and small, to celebrate—just like the one in today’s book!

On Your Way

Written by John Coy | Illustrated by Talitha Shipman

 

On a glorious morning as the sun rises, a mom sits under an apple tree while her son climbs its branches and recounts a momentous day. It was a glorious day, just like today, and she and her little one sat together in the rocker on the front porch. But then he began to squirm, wanting to crawl. As he made his way down the long porch, he watched the action near the barn: “cats and kittens crept round a corner. Ducks and ducklings waddled to water.” Rabbits and their bunnies and dogs and their puppies also bounded in the yard.

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When the baby reached his own little chair, he pulled himself up and “steadied for balance.” Perhaps there was a certain look in her son’s eyes that told her that day was the day. She tells him, “I knelt down and held out my arms. You wobbled, tumbled, plopped.” For inspiration they watched the sheep and her lamb ramble and the goat and her kid trot near the brook. Out in the yard now, the little boy tried again and fell again.

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Mom picked him up and they watched their horse and her filly galloping. A deer and her fawn even jumped over the fence of the coral. With resolve and his mom’s encouragement, the tyke stood on his own again and with a “serious look” took one step and then another. With a smile of pride, he reached his mom’s outstretched arms. Then, she remembers, “We walked in the grass, where you practiced over and over.”

As he grew, his mom tells him, he took off, hopping and bounding, jumping and galloping. “Now,” she says, “you’re big and move in so many ways.” And even as she recalls his first halting steps, she imagines how far he will go.”

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

John Coy’s sweet reminiscence of a child’s first steps is a tender book for parents and children to share as they grow and achieve milestones both large and small. Coy’s encouraging storytelling juxtaposes the little boy’s progress with that of the baby animals on the family farm, a touching connection for children with nature and the wider world. The open ending is a heartening and emboldening look to the future for both children and adults.

Talitha Shipman pours heart and soul into her vibrant, cheerful illustrations that follow a child as he successfully accomplishes a major milestone. The soon-to-be toddler displays uncertainty, resolve, and pride in his expressive eyes, while his mom has that look of encouragement and love so familiar to parents and other caregivers. Each scene captures just the right gestures from Mom, who is caught rising from her chair as she realizes what her son is contemplating, kneeling down to meet him with welcoming arms, and holding his hands as he marches through the wispy grass. The toddler wobbles and high steps and in the blink of an eye—just as it seems in real life—is stomping through puddles and running with his dog. The shining dawn sun illuminates this new beginning and the child’s bright future ahead.

An adorable book to share with children just starting out on life’s road or to celebrate their accomplishments, On Your Way makes a delightful gift for new parents or other caregivers and a tender story time read at home, in the classroom, or for libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Beaming Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1506452586

Discover more about John Coy and his books on his website.

To learn more about Talitha Shipman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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Meet Talitha Shipman

Today, I’m happy to be talking with Talitha Shipman, an award-winning illustrator whose work appears in picture books, board books, magazines, and on greeting cards and other stationery products, about her inspirations, interacting with readers, and depicting emotion in illustrations.

What inspired you to become a children’s illustrator?

I have loved art all my life, and I was the “kid who could draw” all through elementary and high school. I went to college for Fine Art, but I realized after I graduated that what I loved most was telling stories through my art. That’s when I went back to school to get an MFA in illustration. The picture book illustration classes were my favorite. I knew I wanted to focus on that market.

Which artists were influential for you when you were growing up? Which picture books or illustrated books were your favorites? 

My absolute favorite artist growing up was James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. I spent a lot of time redrawing his dinosaur illustrations. I also loved Bill Peet a former Disney artist who illustrated many picture books, and Steven Kellogg, who wrote and illustrated the Pinkerton series.

What drew you to John Coy’s story when you first read the manuscript?

My daughter had just learned to walk about two years beforehand when I received John’s manuscript, so the process of babies taking those first few wobbly steps and all those crazy mixed emotions that come with them were fresh in my mind. There was that immediate emotional connection with the story that I hope other parents and caregivers of babies will make.

Your illustrations really shine with details that show a loving connection between characters. What, for you, are the keys to depicting the joy of being together or empathy between characters?

I think life is so much better when we focus on those little joyful moments that happen throughout the day. In my art, I try to really feel the emotions and moments I’m trying to portray. There’s that feeling when my daughter comes running at me full tilt and throws her arms around me. I can tuck that away and pull it out later to make an illustration more authentic. I think when we draw on life experiences, good and bad, and are vulnerable enough to express them somehow in art, we are able to pass that feeling along to an audience.

You count many greeting card companies among your clients. Can you talk a little about the process of designing cards and other products like notepaper?

Greeting cards are fun to create, but there are usually two avenues for artwork to get picked. Many illustrators will create designs that are finished, and card companies will buy them at trade shows or through the artist’s agent. They add text later on. Sometimes they will commission art, and they usually have a pretty good idea of what they want to be depicted, right down to the color palette. They’ll send reference images as well.

Meeting your readers at a book event must be a joy! Can you talk about one of your favorite events or visits? Why is this one memorable?

Hands down, doing an interactive art workshop with kids is the best. I want to inspire kids to pursue their own creative passions. Last year I did a winter-themed workshop with @KidLitCrafts in my hometown of Fort Wayne, and we created a wall of snowflakes and snowmen on black paper using white and blue paint. It was so amazing to watch the paper fill up with all the kids’ beautiful art.

One thing you love is helping kids find their style of creativity. How do you encourage children to develop their special talent? Do you have any anecdote from these interactions with kids that you’d like to share?

I’m going to tell a story about an adult. I recently met a woman at a state park nature preserve. She watched me sketch some turtles in a terrarium and then approached me and told me that when she was little, she loved drawing. One day her art teacher gave the class an assignment of drawing a turtle. She didn’t consider herself artistic, but she tried her best and was so proud of that turtle. All of the kids’ work was going to be on display for a special art night. She was so excited to share her turtle drawing with her parents. When they got there, she couldn’t find her drawing. So she asked her teacher where it went. The teacher told her that she accidentally spilled some coffee on it and threw it away. This deviated her so much that she didn’t do anything artistic until recently. This is tragic. One careless teacher changed this girl’s life and not for the better. Teachers, parents, tell your children that they are creative, and prove you mean it by valuing their work. If kids are bummed that they can’t draw as well as one of their classmates, help them practice and improve, or try some other way to express themselves artistically. Don’t ever tell them that art may not be their thing. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be a working artist, but everyone can incorporate art into their lives and reap the benefits. Don’t be the person who shuts that down in a child.

Which classic story would you like to illustrate? How would you portray a pivotal scene?

This isn’t a classic fairy tale, but we sing Silent Night to my daughter every night before bed. I’d love to illustrate a picture book version as a poem with visuals reminiscent of Austria, where the carol was written. I think there’d have to be a scene with snow softly falling and Christmas tree lights shining in village windows.

What’s up next for you?

I am working on my first Author/Illustrator book. It’s called Finding Beauty and it’s about a mother hoping to open her daughter’s eyes to the beauty in the world around her.

What is your favorite holiday?

Christmas all the way. I love the lights, the snow (if we’re lucky), Christmas carols, (as mentioned before) Christmas movies (Polar Express), and candlelight Christmas Eve services. The Christmas season encompasses so many happy memories and traditions in my family.

A holiday-themed event you recently participated in was Paddles Aweigh in Fort Wayne, Indiana that coincided with National Rivers Day. The paddle you painted is lovely with its depiction of river animals.

Can you tell readers about this project?

This was such a fun project and a bit out of my wheelhouse. I haven’t painted traditionally for a long time. Most of my work is digital art, so it was a bit scary to break out the paintbrushes again. There’s no delete button! I wanted to create a paddle that featured Indiana wildlife that you might see on or near rivers. I painted a beaver, a bullfrog, some minnows, a painted turtle, a northern water snake, and some Indiana wildflowers. 

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Fort Wayne sits at the confluence of three rivers, the Maumee, the Saint Joseph, and the Saint Mary’s. I was just one of over a hundred artists who painted a paddle. They’re all going to be on display at our new riverfront Promenade Park from the end of September through October. The project is also going to help fund field trips for kids on Fort Wayne’s restored canal boat the Sweet Breeze.

You can see more about this project on Talitha’s Instagram!

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Thanks so much, Talitha, for this fun chat! I wish you all the best with On Your Way and your upcoming Finding Beauty, also with Beaming Books!

You can connect with Talitha on

Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Twitter

Happiness Happens Month Activity

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Happiness Cards

 

Happiness can happen anywhere, and you can help make someone’s day extra happy with these printable Happiness Cards. Just give them to a friend, someone in your family, or someone who looks as if they need a pick-me-up. It’ll make you feel happy too!

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You can find On Your Way at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 12 – National Middle Child Day

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About the Holiday

Elizabeth Walker, feeling that middle children were often overlooked, established National Middle Children’s Day in the 1980s. The holiday was initially celebrated on the second Saturday in August, but became associated with the 12th and so it stuck. The name was later shortened to National Middle Child Day. To commemorate the day, let all the middle kids you know how terrific they are.

Bunny in the Middle

Written by Anika A. Denise | Illustrated by Christopher Denise

 

Being right between the oldest and the youngest means that “there’s someone bigger who helps you and someone smaller who needs you.” When you’re that middle child, you learn when to stand your ground, when to relent, and “how to solve sticky situations.”

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, 2019, text copyright Anika Denise, 2019. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

There are times when you’re the leader and times when you’re the follower. But there are also those times when you can strike out on your own—even if you are wearing hand-me-downs and just left your siblings in a room you share. But being in the middle has its perks, too. You grow up just a little more quickly, making you “not too small for the big stuff,” while you’re still little enough to enjoy “the small stuff.” 

But what’s the very best thing about being in the middle? Always being surrounded by love!

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, 2019, text copyright Anika Denise, 2019. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

Anika and Christopher Denise created Bunny in the Middle as a loving tribute to their middle child, and their love glows on each page with storytelling that embraces the reader like a snuggled heart-to-heart in a comfy chair and art that is beyond adorable. Anika’s sweet insights remind middle kids of the advantages of their position and the benefits they reap from their older and younger siblings.

Christopher’s three bunnies charmingly display recognizable personalities of their birth order as the oldest takes up more than her third of the reading chair, helps her sister with her math homework, and is the head cupcake baker to her sister’s recipe-reading assistant. The middle bunny helps her tiny brother onto the swing, relents with rolled eyes to his crying entreaty to wear her chef’s hat, and gazes skeptically into the mirror at her reflection in a too-big, hand-me-down dress. Meanwhile, their little brother meditates on his toes, plays with the flour sifter on the floor, and concentrates on running his train around the track (and his younger sister).

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, 2019, text copyright Anika Denise, 2019. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

Interspersed with these experiences, are images of the middle bunny displaying her confident, sensitive nature as she connects directly with the reader (probably a middle child like herself), licks a spoonful of icing, is blissfully alone to spy a butterfly at the pond and play with her toys, and is bravely the first in line to enter school. The final two spreads are as cozy as it gets as the three siblings share a book in bed before drifting off to cuddled-up sleep.

An enchantment for quiet and heartening story times at home with a middle child alone or with the whole gang as well as uplifting reassurance for preschool and kindergarten classrooms, where at any given time a student might feel like a middle kid. Bunny in the Middle would be a touching addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1250120366

Discover more about Anika Denise and her books on her website.

To learn more about Christopher Denise, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Middle Child Day Activity

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Triple the Fishy Fun!

 

These fishy siblings have three times the fun swimming together. Grab your crayons or pencils and give them and their world some color with this printable page.

Triple the Fishy Fun Coloring Page

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You can find Bunny in the Middle at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

August 9 – National Book Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

Simply stated today’s holiday gives those who love to read an opportunity to indulge their passion. With so many amazing books available, both old and new—like today’s book—it’s easy to fill the day reading for yourself and with your kids!

I received a copy of A Boy Like You from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Boy Like You

Written by Frank Murphy | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

In his loving tribute to all the things a boy can be, Frank Murphy speaks directly to his boy readers, telling them that out of all the billions of people in the world, “you are the only YOU there is! And the world needs a boy like you.” What kind of boy does he mean? One who is “kind and helpful…smart and strong.” But “strong” doesn’t only mean tough and muscled, instead Murphy says, “maybe your ‘strong’ is making sure everyone has a chance to play.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And while you’re playing, always do your best, play fair, be complimentary, and be a good teammate. But boys shouldn’t look only to sports. There are so many other amazing things they can do—like gardening and baking, music and writing, science and exploring. Learning to do these things takes smarts and bravery. The kind of bravery it takes to jump off the high-dive, but also the willingness to “take a risk and raise your hand” because “smart kids ask questions,” and “the more you know—the less you’ll fear.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

While learning and exploring, boys are told, don’t forget to dream…and “dream big” then work hard to make it happen. Listen to others—all kinds of people—and learn their stories, and “don’t forget to tell your own story too.” While growing up boys will want a support group too, so they’re encouraged to stay close to their family and friends while also meeting new people. By keeping their head up and eyes open, they’ll see opportunities to leave every place they visit better than it was and “every person better than [they] found them.” 

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But the most important thing, Murphy says is to be you—“the you that is ALL you…. Not a little you and a little someone else.” After all, “you are an original” and “the world needs…a smart boy, a brave boy, a kind boy. Oh boy, a boy like YOU!”

An Author’s Note from Frank Murphy—an elementary school teacher, coach, and parent of boys—about what it means to be strong and the messages boys receive about masculinity follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Frank Murphy’s appeal to boys—and the adults who raise, teach, coach, and befriend them—is a timely and welcome discussion on the often overlooked or rejected ideas that “real” boys and men embody a full range of emotions, thoughts, talents, and dreams. As Murphy presents examples and reassurance from page to page, he also reveals how much boys—and the world—miss out on when they are held to a narrow definition of boyhood, manhood, and masculinity. Many boys—some perhaps hearing words like these for the first time—may be surprised and feel a sense of relief to have their true views validated. Murphy’s conversational and caring tone draws readers in while his direct address to the child allows the words to sound as if they are coming from the parent, teacher, or other caregiver reading the story, reinforcing the message in a personal way.

As readers open the book to the first page, a sea of diverse people from around the world with all manner of abilities, skin color, dress, and hairstyles welcomes readers and the little boy who carries the story. Kayla Harren, an artist who masterfully depicts people in action and displaying emotion, goes on to show this boy playing sports for fun and friendship, helping his mom in the garden and his dad in the kitchen, playing music with his baby sister, and creating a volcano with his lab partner at school. In all of these illustrations, the boy’s enthusiasm shines. At school, he ask a question, and while learning to ride his bike he shows uncertainty and wipes a tear away as his mom bandages a scraped knee.

A two-page spread takes readers into the mind of the boy as he considers all the professions and looks he can aspire to. In snapshots and lush panoramas, Harren populates the world of A Boy Like You with real kids and adults and realistic situations in which one person can make a difference, whether it’s tying a sibling’s shoes, holding a door open for a bag-laden shopper, alerting someone to a lost wallet, hugging a friend goodbye, or bringing a grandparent a cup of tea. Harren’s color palette glows with warmth and happiness, inviting all children to become the best they can be.

Gorgeous in story, art, and spirit, A Boy Like You is highly recommended and belongs in all classrooms and public libraries. The book is also an inspirational addition to home bookshelves for boys and girls and makes an empowering gift for kids as they go back to school.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110465

Discover more about Frank Murphy and his books on his website.

To learn more about Kayla Harren, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Boy Like You Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of

One (1) copy of A Boy Like You written by Frank Murphy | illustrated by Kayla Harren

To enter:

This giveaway is open from August 9 through August 15 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on August 16.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National Books Lovers Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-book-bag-craft

Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

Has your state gone plastic bag free? Here’s an easy craft for turning a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag! 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-boy-like-you-cover

You can find A Boy Like You at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Picture Book Review