February 27 – International Polar Bear Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-polar-bear-cover

About the Holiday

Today we celebrate polar bears, the largest member of the bear family and a critical part of the Arctic ecosystem. These beautiful creatures spend much of their time at the edge of ice packs, from which they hunt for food. Their excellent sense of smell allows them to sense food up to a mile (1.6 km) away. Increasingly polar bears are under threat from changes in climate which are shrinking their habitat and affecting their quality of life. In honor of today’s holiday take time to research polar bears and consider donating to a cause for their protection.

Little Polar Bear

By Hans de Beer

 

At last little Lars is old enough to go hunting with his father, and they head out into the white, frozen expanse to find the perfect fishing spot. While Lars watched from the edge of an ice pack, his dad disappeared underwater for so long that Lars began to worry. When he finally surfaced, however, he brought with him a large fish for dinner. After dinner it was time to sleep. Lars’ father showed him how to build a wall of snow to lie behind that would protect him from the wind.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-polar-bear-lars-and-father

Copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

During the night as Lars and his father slept, the ice cracked between them, sending Lars floating away by himself. When Lars woke in the morning, he discovered that he was alone and that the warm sun was melting his ice floe little by little. Just as the ice threatened to disappear entirely, a barrel floated by and Lars crawled on top of it. “Then a storm began to rage. As Lars clung to his bobbing barrel he missed his father and his pile of snow more and more.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-polar-bear-sleeping

Copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

By the time the storm subsided Lars was far from home. He found himself in a place with no snow or ice; instead “almost everything was green and the sun was very warm.” Lars left the barrel and padded onto the sandy beach. The hot sand burned Lars’ paws, and he ran to the nearby river to cool them. “But just as he was about to plunge in, a very big, tan animal sprung out of the water.” Frightened, Lars ran away, but the hippopotamus followed him and introduced himself. Henry had never seen a white bear, and Lars had never seen a tan animal.

Lars told Henry about his trip and how he wanted to find father. Henry didn’t know how to help, but he figured that Marcus the eagle would know what to do. With Lars on his back Henry started the long journey across the river, through the jungle, and over the mountains. On the way, Lars loved seeing all the different colors, creatures, and vegetation. He climbed trees, met a chameleon, and sniffed at a butterfly. When they came to the mountains, Henry had trouble climbing, but Lars scampered ahead and showed him where to step.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-polar-bear-lars-on-barrel

Image copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

Finally, Henry couldn’t go any farther. He and Lars found a place to rest for the night. The view of the water made Lars homesick, but Henry reassured him. The next day, high on the mountain, Lars and Henry found Marcus. “The eagle looked at Lars and then said, ‘Well, well, a polar bear in the tropics! You’re a long way from home aren’t you, young man?’”

Marcus explained that he could indeed help Lars get home, but they would need the assistance of Samson. In the morning a gray whale swam near shore, and Lars climbed on his back. While Henry was happy that Lars could find his way home, he was also sad to see him go. He and Lars said goodbye to each other. As Henry looked on, Samson and Lars swam out into the open ocean with Marcus flying “along a bit to set them on their way.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-polar-bear-lars-and-henry

Image copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

After Samson had swum a long distance, icy cliffs once again appeared on the horizon. As they drew closer, Lars spotted his father standing at the edge of the ice scanning the sea. Lars called out to him, and Lars’ father couldn’t believe his eyes. In thanks for bringing back his son, Lars’s father caught a big fish and gave it to Samson. Lars and his father started toward home, and as they walked “Lars talked about all of the amazing things he had seen.” His father was astonished. “‘You didn’t meet anyone who was white?’” he asked. “‘Nobody, except a chameleon,’ said Lars, ‘but that doesn’t count.’” Lars laughed, but his dad couldn’t understand the joke.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-polar-bear-diving

Copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

Hans de Beer’s sweet, adventurous little polar bear has been long beloved by young readers who have followed his journeys and escapades through many books. This favorite introduction to Lars, his father, and the North Pole was reissued in 2016 and is as timely now as when it was first published. De Beer’s straightforward story of a young bear suddenly taken away from home, surviving by instinct, and discovering new places, friends, and ideas, is at once exciting and comforting. As Lars finds himself in unfamiliar territory populated with animals and creatures he’s never seen before, he doesn’t shy away from the experience, but embraces the diversity of what he sees just as the tropical animals accept him. The kindness and camaraderie shared among the animals is a universal lesson for all.

Little ones love de Beer’s expressive animals and the caring interactions between them. Kids will laugh when Henry pops out of the river to say “boo!” and giggle to see Lars and the chameleon sticking out their tongues together. The soft pastel palette invites kids to linger over the pages and experience both the frozen tundra and lush jungle with the same awe as Lars. Readers will cheer when Lars is reunited with his father, but will also look forward to traveling with their new friend again in his other adventures.

Ages 3 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2016 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0735842649

International Polar Bear Day Activity

CPB - Polar Bear scarf

CPB - Polar Bear Banner

Polar Bear Scarf or Banner

Polar bears aren’t cold in the winter—and neither should you be! Here are directions and printable templates for making a cute scarf to keep you warm, or—if you’d rather—a banner to warm up your room.

Supplies

  • Printable Polar Bear and Igloo Template
  • 1 Strip of blue fleece 4 ½ feet long x 7 inches wide for the scarf
  • 1 Piece of blue scrapbooking paper for a banner
  • Pieces of white, black, blue, and purple fleece or scrapbooking paper to make the polar bear, igloo, snowflakes, and ice floes.
  • String or twine for banner
  • Scissors
  • Fabric or paper glue

Directions for Scarf

To make the fringe at each end of the scarf

  1. Make 7 cuts about 4 inches long
  2. Tie a knot at the top of each fringe section

To make the pieces for the scarf or banner

  1. Trace the polar bear and igloo sections from the Printable Template onto white fleece and cut out
  2. Trace the two ice floes onto blue fleece and cut out
  3. Trace the door of the igloo onto blue fleece and cut out
  4. Trace the polar bear’s scarf onto purple (or any color) fleece and cut out
  5. Cut out round snowflakes
  6. Cut out a small circle from black fleece for the Polar Bear’s nose

On one end of the scarf

  1. Glue the smaller ice floe on one end of the scarf
  2. Tie the bear’s scarf around its neck before gluing the bear to the scarf
  3. Glue the polar bear onto the scarf with its feet on the ice floe
  4. Glue on the polar bear’s nose
  5. Make a small dot for the polar bear’s eye with a marker
  6. Glue snowflakes above polar bear

On the other end of the scarf

  1. Glue the bigger ice floe to the scarf
  2. Glue the three pieces of the large igloo to the scarf, leaving a little space between sections
  3. Glue the small white door of the igloo on top of the last two igloo sections
  4. Glue the small blue door onto the white door
  5. Glue snowflakes above the igloo

Directions for Banner

  1. Cut a point at the bottom of your banner
  2. Follow the directions above to trace the pieces of the polar bear and igloo from the printable template onto scrapbooking paper
  3. Follow the directions above to glue the pieces of the polar bear and igloo to your banner
  4. Attach string or twine to back of banner to make a hanger

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-polar-bear-cover

You can find The Little Polar Bear at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 24 – National Tortilla Chip Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-round-is-a-tortilla-a-book-of-shapes-cover-2

About the Holiday

If the tortilla-making machine had produced perfect rounds every time back in the 1950s, the world may never have known the crunchy deliciousness of tortilla chips. Back in the day, Rebecca Webb Carranza and her husband owned the El Zarape Tortilla Factory in Los Angeles, California and were one of the first to automate tortilla production. Instead of wasting the odd-shaped ones, Carranza cut them into triangles, fried them, and sold them in bags.They were a hit! People all over began enjoying them dipped in salsa and guacamole and smothering them in cheese. In 1994 Carranza was honored with the Golden Tortilla Award for her contributions to the Mexican food industry, and in 2003 Texas named the tortilla chip the official state snack!

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes

Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong | Illustrated by John Parra

 

“Round are sombreros. / Round is the moon. / Round are the trumpets that blare out a tune. Round are tortillas and tacos too. / Round is a pot of abuela’s stew. / I can name more round things can you?” With wonderful, lyrical verses, Roseanne Thong introduces children to the shapes—circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, ovals, stars, and more—that make up their multicultural world.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-round-is-a-tortilla-squares

Image copyright John Parra, 2013, text copyright Roseanne Thong, 2013. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Here are round chiming campanas and nests full of swallows, square ventanas for peering through and clocks for telling time. Rectangles are cold paletas to eat on a hot summer day and the ice-cream carts that deliver them, and triangles make tasty quesadillas and gliding sailboats. Each verse ends with an invitation for kids to find more shapes around them—an invitation that’s hard to resist!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-round-is-a-tortilla-triangles

Image copyright John Parra, 2013, text copyright Roseanne Thong, 2013. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Rebecca Thong’s bright, fun-to-read verses shine with evocative words that create a concept book that goes beyond the introduction of shapes to celebrate the sights, sounds, and sensations that make up readers’ lives. Helping children find shapes in household objects, food, and other familiar places, makes them more aware of the math all around them. They will be excited to point out the squares, triangles, circles, and more that they encounter every day. Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story are defined following the text. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-round-is-a-tortilla-star

Image copyright John Parra, 2013, text copyright Roseanne Thong, 2013. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

John Parra’s beautiful folk-art illustrations, which are sure to put a smile on kids’ faces, immerse readers in the daily life of a Latino town. People dance, cook, play games, walk in the park, attend a festival, and more—all while surrounded by colorful shapes. Kids will love lingering over the pages to find all of the intricate details and may well want to learn more about what they see.

Round is a Tortilla is not only a book of shapes, it makes shapes exciting! The book is a wonderful stepping stone to discussions about early math concepts as well as the places, celebrations, symbols, and decorations found on each page. The book would be a welcome addition to any classroom or child’s bookshelf

Ages 3 – 6

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2013 | ISBN 978-1452106168 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1452145686 (Paperback)

Learn more about Roseanne Thong and her books for children and adults on her website!

View a gallery of books and artwork by John Parra on his website!

National Tortilla Chip Day Activity

CPB - Tortilla chips (2)

Homemade Baked Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

 

It’s easy to make these yummy tortilla chips at home! Why not invite your friends over and bake up a batch or two to enjoy while playing or reading together?

Ingredients

  • 2 10-inch flour tortillas
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • Butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the cinnamon and the sugar in a bowl
  3. Butter the tortillas
  4. Sprinkle the tortillas with the cinnamon sugar mixture
  5. Cut the tortillas into 8 pieces
  6. Place pieces on a baking sheet
  7. Bake in 350-degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes
  8. Chips will become crispier as they cool.

Makes 16 chips

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-round-is-a-tortilla-a-book-of-shapes-cover-2

You can find Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes at these booksellers

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

February 22 – National Wildlife Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-red-sky-at-night-cover

About the Holiday

Founded in 2005 by animal behaviorist and philanthropist Colleen Paige, National Wildlife Day was traditionally held on September 4. Today’s date was added to the calendar recently in honor and memory of wildlife activist Steve Irwin’s birthday. The holiday was established to celebrate the diversity of nature and promote the awareness of endangered species worldwide. The day also acknowledges the work of zoos, outstanding animal sanctuaries, and other global organizations in helping to preserve this planet’s animals and educate the public about conservation – especially the children, who are our future conservationists and animal’s caretakers. To celebrate visit an animal sanctuary, zoo, or aquarium—or think about donating your time to a worthy animal cause.

Red Sky at Night

By Elly MacKay

 

The weather is a powerful force of nature, affecting animals, vegetation, and people in beneficial and detrimental ways. Watching and reacting to weather patterns is a specialty of animals as they prepare for long, cold winters, protect themselves from storms, and take advantage of food grown during fair, sunny days. People, too, have paid attention to the weather since earliest times, devising instruments that continue to improve as technology advances to measure rainfall, air pressure, and wind. Long before mechanical instruments took over the forecasting duties, however, sailors, farmers, and others “learned from experience by watching the shapes of clouds or noticing the behavior of animals.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-red-sky-at-night-evening-red-morning-gray

Copyright Elly MacKay, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

They looked to the sky, the ground, and other elements of nature and came up with catchy phrases that reflected cause and effect weather changes. “This wisdom was passed down through sayings like the ones in this book,” which Elly MacKay pairs with her resplendent mixed media illustrations. Perhaps the most well-known saying is “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” and as two children and their grandpa look out their window at the glorious setting sun, readers will be happy to see—along with the little boy who is eagerly holding his fishing pole—that they won’t need the umbrellas in the stand next to the shelf that contains a book on the weather.

Out in their sailboat, Cloud Nine, the grandpa reveals another truism that promises a nice day for fishing on the lake: “When the mist creeps up the hill, fishers, it’s time to try your skill.” As they steer their little boat away from the shore, they can be sure that the sun will smile on them as they see the tiny red insects flying behind them that confirm: “When ladybugs swarm, expect a day that’s warm.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-red-sky-at-night-wind-from-west

Copyright Elly MacKay, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

But if “ring around the moon, rain will come soon” is true, their calm overnight camping trip, may end in a shower. As the children play leapfrog on a grassy hill early in the morning, the sky dawns pink and red—a sure warning! And if the sky isn’t warning enough, the fish leaping to capture a moth for breakfast shows just how true “trout jump high when rain is nigh” is.

The little boat begins to make its way back home, but the wind whips up, and as “seabirds fly to land, / there truly is a storm at hand.” Just as the winds begin to roar, Grandpa and the kids dash for home carrying a net full of the fish they caught. Safe and cozy inside, they sit down to a steaming dinner and smile at each other, happy to be home because they know “the more rain, the more rest. / Fair weather’s not always best.”

Following the story, Elly MacKay offers a fascinating explanation of each of the twenty-three sayings in the book. There is also a short discussion on how MacKay creates her distinctive illustrations created through intricate photographed dioramas.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-red-sky-in-the-morning

Copyright Elly MacKay, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Readers will love following this family as they go about a fishing trip in tranquil weather and come back home just in time to enjoy a hearty meal as the rain pelts down outside. The Mama cat and her five little kittens are also adorable as they pop up here and there throughout the pages and play a part in one particularly interesting saying. Various perspectives and charming details (look for the nod to the picture book This Is Sadie, the pelican motif, and mystical cloud shapes) makes Red Sky at Night a book to dip into whatever the weather at home and in the classroom.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1101917831

To learn more about Elly MacKay, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Wildlife Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wonderful-wildlife-board-game

Wonderful Wildlife Board Game

 

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

Supplies

Directions

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-red-sky-at-night-cover

You can find Red Sky at Night at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 9 – National Bagel Day

the-bagel-king-cover-celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review

About the Holiday

With its deliciously soft, doughy inside and crusty outside, the boiled-then-baked bagel is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, and snacks! Bagels come in all sorts of flavors and varieties and with toppings for every taste, there’s no denying that the bagel is comfort food at its best. To celebrate today’s holiday, visit your favorite bakery and enjoy!

The Bagel King

Written by Andrew Larsen | Illustrated by Sandy Nichols

 

“Every Sunday morning Zaida went to Merv’s Bakery for bagels.” Sometimes his young grandson, Eli, went with him. When he did, Mrs. Rose always gave him a pickle from the big jar behind the counter. When he didn’t, “Zaida delivered his bagels right to his door.” Zaida went to Merv’s every Sunday no matter what the weather. The “warm, chewy, salty bagels were the best thing about Sunday.”

the-bagel-king-pickles-celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review

Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

One Sunday, though, the familiar knock on the door never came. Later, Zaida called Eli and told him he had “slipped on some schmutz at Merv’s” and had gone to the doctor. Zaida had hurt his tuches and was ordered to relax at home for two weeks. Eli ran right over. As they sat together, both Eli’s and Zaida’s stomach rumbled with missing the usual bagels.

Pretty soon there was a knock on the door and three of Zaida’s elderly neighbors came in. All three were just as hungry as Eli and Zaida. It turned out that Zaida had been hosting a bagel feast for the four of them for years. When Zaida told them about his tuches, they said “‘Oy! Are you all right?’” But they were all disappointed about the bagels.

the-bagel-king-dog-celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review

Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

As the week went on, Eli visited his grandfather every day. He brought chicken soup one day, another day he brought chicken soup and a book, and on yet another day, he brought chicken soup and a canine friend for company. On Saturday night, though, it wasn’t chicken soup Eli was thinking about, but bagels. “Even the moon looked like a bagel all smothered with cream cheese.”

the-bagel-king-surprise-celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review

Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The next morning, Eli woke up early and walked down to Merv’s with a list in his hand. When he reached the counter, he handed Mrs. Rose the list. As she read it, she said, “‘This looks very familiar. Except for the last item.” Eli told her that it was a surprise. With the big bag hugged close, Eli left Merv’s and went to Zaida’s. When Zaida saw the big bag of bagel, he was surprised! His friends were delighted. “‘The boy’s a prince,’” said Mr. Goldstck, but “Zaida proudly declared, ‘He’s the Bagel King!’”

Then Eli reached in and brought out his surprise—a jar of Merv’s pickles. As Eli ate his “warm, chewy, salty” bagels, he knew “bagles were the best thing about Sunday. The best thing, that is, except for Zaida.”

A glossary of the Yiddish words used in the story and a bit about bagels and chicken soup precede the text.

the-bagel-king-best-thing-celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review

Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

With a sprinkling of Yiddish words and an old neighborhood atmosphere, Andrew Larsen depicts a close relationship between a grandfather and grandson who bond over bagels, pickles, and a deep love for one another. While Zaida is the one who begins the Sunday bagel tradition, this is Eli’s story as he takes it upon himself to help his grandfather recuperate and makes sure that he, Zaida, and Zaida’s friends don’t miss their favorite day for a second time. Young readers will find in Eli a peer role model for showing care and concern for family members and friends. Larsen’s straightforward storytelling peppered with realistic and humorous dialogue is as warm and cozy as sitting down to a Sunday family breakfast.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 8.58.13 PM

Sandy Nichols’ fresh, retro illustrations stylishly bridge the generations while also reveling in the friendly city neighborhood feeling that provides a backdrop and context for Eli’s emotional growth within the story. Images of Eli hanging over the arm of his grandfather’s sofa in boredom and disappointment, wistfully dreaming of bagels on Saturday night, and proudly making his list, buying the bagels, and delivering them—complete with a surprise—to Zaida and his friends will delight readers.

The Bagel King is an uplifting, joyful for all kids coming into their own and desiring to make a difference. The book would make a sweet gift for grandparents or grandkids, a snug family story to add to home libraries, and a terrific choice for classroom or library storytimes.

Ages 4 – 8

Kids Can Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1771385749

Discover more about Andrew Larsen and his books on his website.

National Bagel Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cd-doughnut-craft

CD (Compact Doughnuts) Decoration

 

Do you have an old CD that could use an upgrade? With this easy craft, you can turn it into a cute doughnut (or bagel) hanging.

Supplies

  • Unused CDs
  • Craft paint in tan, black, pink, yellow, white (or any colors you want for the doughnut and the icing)
  • Ribbon, any color and length you want
  • Fine-tip markers in bright colors
  • Glue
  • Glue dots (optional)
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint a wavy edge around the CD, let dry
  2. Paint the center of the CD, leaving the clear circle unpainted
  3. When the icing paint is dry, draw sprinkles on the icing with the markers
  4. With the ribbon make a loop hanger and attach it to the back of the CD with glue or glue dots
  5. Hang your decoration

the-bagel-king-cover-celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review

You can find The Bagel King at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 6 – It’s Black History Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-cover

About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events and commemorations in schools, churches, and community centers.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-flower

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-jump-rope

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-parents

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-typing

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-pulitzer

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her own sterling verses, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life of Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature—taking readers to the Chicago neighborhoods that informed and inspired Brooks’ ideas and the words and rhythms with which she defined them. Along an arc that takes Gwendolyn from a child contemplating the potential of a flower to becoming that blossom herself, Duncan pays tribute to those who recognized Gwen’s genius and helped her fulfill her talent. For readers who themselves may be poets, writers, or other types of artists, Duncan’s beautifully crafted phrases about the artistic process of revision are inspirational and welcome. Standing side-by-side with Duncan’s storytelling are four of Brooks’ poems—The Busy Clock, Forgive and Forget, Ambition, and the children of the poor—Sonnet #2. From cover to cover, Duncan’s book sings with Gwendolyn Brooks’ positivity, confidence, uniqueness, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-portrait

From the portrait of Gwendolyn Brooks that graces the title page and throughout the book, Xia Gordon’s distinctive artwork creates a masterpiece of motion and stillness that mirrors Brooks’ penchant for watching and listening to the sounds and sights that filled her mind and ultimately her notebooks. Downy swoops of violets, pinks, browns, and grays provide backdrops to images of Gwendolyn as a young girl and an adult rendered in lines that show her as down to earth but soaring in her thoughts. Her intelligence and spark shine through on every page. Gwendolyn’s parents appear often, always watchful and supportive. Her friends, her husband, her son, and her readers also populate the pages, giving the book an embracing warmth.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a must for school, classroom, and public library collections, and for children who are discovering their talents and the parents who nurture them, the book would be an inspirational and invaluable addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454930884

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in this Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks written by Alice Faye Duncan | illustrated by Xia Gordon

It takes just these two steps to enter:

A winner will be chosen on February 12.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

Black History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-writing-journal-craft-1

My Writing Journal

 

With this easy craft, kids can make a journal that will reflect their personality and inspire them to jot down ideas for poems or stories. 

Supplies

  • Two 9-inch by 6-inch pieces of foam or heavy paper
  • Plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper, as many pieces as you’d like
  • Twine or ribbon
  • Foam letters and objects, stickers, play jewels, or other decorations
  • Small scissor, paper hole puncher, or other instrument to make a hole through the foam and paper

Directions

  1. Fold the plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper in half
  2. Place the paper between the sheets of foam
  3. Make a hole through the foam covers and paper near the top and bottom for the twine to tie the journal together
  4. Slip the twine or ribbon through the holes and tie the journal together
  5. Decorate the cover
  6. Start writing!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-cover

You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 5 – Chinese New Year

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-cover

About the Holiday

Chinese New Year begins today—ushering in the Year of the Pig—and celebrations take place until February 19. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities that include lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations. The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations end each year with the Lantern Festival. To learn more about the history of Chinese New Year, how to celebrate, and the signs of the zodiac, click here.

Ruby’s Chinese New Year

Written by Vickie Lee | Illustrated by Joey Chou

 

Every year Grandmother would come to visit Ruby for Chinese New Year. “Together they celebrated, eating special foods and making drawings for good luck.” But this year Grandmother couldn’t make the trip, so Ruby decided to visit her grandmother instead. As a gift, Ruby drew a picture of her family enjoying a special dinner. She put it into a red envelope and tucked it away in her pocket. Soon after leaving, Ruby spied Cat and Rat and asked if they would like to come along too. They did, but Cat wondered how they would “cross the meadow and the pond.” Ruby suggested that they ask Ox.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-drawing

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Soon, they found Ox, who was bringing rice cakes and candy to the farmer for the New Year celebration. When she heard that Ruby, Cat, and Mouse were going to Grandmother’s house, she offered to let them ride on her back. Just then, Tiger and Rabbit “bounded out of the bushes, streamers flying behind them.” They also wanted to go to Grandmother’s house, so Cat rode on Tiger’s back and Rat nestled between Rabbit’s furry ears, and they all headed down the path.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-rat

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

They came to where Dragon and Snake “were making paper lanterns.” They were both excited to come along too. “Snake loved Grandmother and was happy to visit her,” and Dragon “was always ready for an adventure.” They packed up the lanterns they had made and the friends started off again. Horse and Goat were grazing in the nearby meadow, and they too wanted to come along. They picked flowers for Grandmother, and then the little parade was off.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-ox

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

When Ruby and all the rest reached the pond, they saw Monkey and Rooster fishing for their holiday dinner from an overhanging branch. Grandmother’s house was just on the other side of the pond. Ruby was so excited that “with a leap and a bound, Ruby dove into the pond. She would swim to Grandmother’s. She was so close!” But when she jumped, the red envelope flew out of her pocket and drifted into the pond. All of the other animals dove into the pond to save Ruby’s gift. Monkey snatched it with his fishing hook, and Rooster flew across the water with the card in her beak. They all met Ruby on the other side of the pond and sadly showed her the drenched card. “‘Oh no,’ Ruby cried. ‘It’s ruined. Everything is ruined!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-streamers

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

“‘It’s not ruined!’ cried Rooster.” And then each animal reminded Ruby that they had fish and flowers, lanterns and streamers, rice cakes and sweets, and most especially, “‘…we have our family,’ said Cat and Rat, looking toward the house.” Suddenly, Dog and Pig bounded out and “covered Ruby’s face with kisses and tickled her until she shrieked with joy.” The happy sounds brought Grandmother to the door. She was thrilled to see Ruby. When Ruby gave her the gift she thought was “ruined,” Grandmother assured her that it would dry and that seeing Ruby and all of her friends was “the best gift of all.” Then they all sat down at the long table decorated with streamers and lanterns and celebrated the New Year with a delicious dinner—“except for Cat, who had fallen fast asleep.”

Following the story, readers will enjoy learning one legend of the Chinese zodiac and discovering the  traits for each animal. Children will also find directions for making a paper lantern, a paper fan, and good luck banners.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-pond

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Inspired by one legend of the Chinese Zodiac and how each animal came to be included in the calendar, Vickie Lee tells an engaging cumulative story that keeps readers excited to discover who will be the next to join Ruby on her trip to Grandmother’s house. The fate of Ruby’s special gift reveals many truths about friendship and family as the animals work together to save the card and Grandmother reassures Ruby while showing her that love is the best gift of all. Readers may also enjoy talking about which of each animal’s trait—as found in the back matter—is reflected in their role in the story. Older children may like discussing references to Chinese New Year traditions and how Lee reimagined the legend to tell her story. And why is Cat sleeping through the delicious dinner? Legend has it that….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-legend

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Joey Chou’s delightfully cheerful illustrations are packed with action as each animal—included into the group in the order of the Chinese zodiac—adds a special ingredient to the New Year celebration. His lovely color palette sparkles with glowing reds, cool aquas, lush blues, and shadowy violets that create a homey atmosphere for this very special holiday. Scenes of togetherness and friendship include smiles and joy at being together as well as empathy for Ruby when her card gets wet.

A beautiful book to share with children for Chinese New Year and throughout the year, Ruby’s Chinese New Year would be a charming addition to home, school, and library bookshelves for its story and included activities.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250133380

To learn more about Joey Chou, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Chinese New Year Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chinese-new-year-word-search

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle | Chinese New Year Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-cover

You can find Ruby’s Chinese New Year at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 30 – It’s Creativity Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-goat's-valentine-cover

About the Holiday

This month we celebrate all things creative! There are so many ways to be creative, from the arts to how you organize and manage your life at home and at work. Sometimes, special events, unusual problems, or particular people inspire—or necessitate—creative thinking. Today’s sweet story is one example! 

Mr. Goat’s Valentine

Written by Eve Bunting | Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer

 

When Mr. Goat read in the newspaper that it was Valentine’s Day, he jumped up, grabbed his phone and favorite hat, and headed out, determined to show his first love how much she meant to him. On the way he stopped off at Miss Nanny Goat’s weed stall and bought a “mixed bouquet” of “crabgrass, pigweeds, and ragweed” beautifully arranged in a “nice, rusty can.” Mr. Goat knew his first love liked ragweed salad, and Miss Nanny Goat assured him that she would like the can too. Mr. Goat agreed. There was nothing like a rusty can with a pinch of salt.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-goats-valentine-newspaper

Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The aroma from Mr. Pygmy-Little Goat’s stand enticed Mr. Goat to stop and look over his treats. The sample rotten egg looked so yummy—black and oozing on the plate—that Mr. Goat bought four. They have been “rotted for two years” and are “guaranteed foul and disgusting,” Mr. Pygmy-Little Goat boasted as he placed the four eggs carefully into a red, heart-shaped box and tied it up with a red ribbon. Not only would the eggs make the perfect dinner, the red bow would be a delicious dessert.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-goat's-valentine-head's-out

Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mr. Goat walked on, passing up the fruit and vegetable stand with its fresh oranges, apples, and pears, but made time to talk to Miss Skunk when she approached him with her Eau de Skunk perfume cart. As she spritzed Mr. Goat with a sample of her special perfume, she reminded him that a Valentine’s card would be just right for his first love.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-goats-valentine-bouquet

Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mr. Goat continued on with just the faintest alluring reek and thought about what Miss Skunk had said. He didn’t have a card, but, he decided he could “‘compose a song and serenade her.’” It didn’t take long for Mr. Goat to write his ditty. He hurried on to his first love’s house. Standing at the door, he “burst into song. When I was a little kid / It didn’t matter what I did. / If I climbed too high and fell / You’d kiss the hurt and make it well. / You have loved me from the start / I love you with all my heart!”

Suddenly, the door opened, and Mr. Goat’s first love smiled at him. Mr. Goat handed her the bouquet and red box and exclaimed, “‘Happy Valentine’s Day, Mother!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-goats-valentine-eggs

Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2018, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Eve Bunting’s exceptional flair for engaging children is on full display in her funny, ewww-ful tribute to Valentine’s Day. The hearts of little ones swell with love around this holiday, and Bunting taps into their enthusiasm to get just the right gift for Mom. Readers will laugh at what might seem unusual gifts while also appreciating Mr. Goat’s thoughtfulness. Young children may wonder who Mr. Goat’s “first love” is as he shops from stall to stall, but as he makes up his song, most will figure it out and be happy to be in on the twist ending.

Kevin Zimmer’s cheery digital art showcases the sweet emotions that Mr. Goat has for his first love. His eyes grow wide at the delectable weed bouquet and rotten eggs, he contemplates the perfect words for his song, and smiles adorably when his mom opens the door. The less-than-fresh take on the idea of a Farmers Market will delight kids familiar with these types of stands. The other goats out shopping on this Valentine’s Day are equally as cute as Mr. Goat and provide camaraderie among this community that likes things a little bit rotten. As the door opens in the final spread, revealing Mr. Goat’s first love, children will be happy to know that the love between parent and child continues even when a “kid” is no longer a kid.

Mr. Goat’s Valentine is a sweet, original story for Valentine’s Day and throughout the year that is perfect for humorous home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585369447

Learn more about Kevin Zimmer and his art on his website.

Creativity Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-entangled-hearts-matching-puzzle

Entangled Hearts Matching Puzzle

 

These friends are collecting valentines! Can you help them follow the paths to find more in this printable puzzle?

Entangled Hearts Matching Puzzle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-goat's-valentine-cover

You can find Mr. Goat’s Valentine at these booksellers

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

EnPicture Book Review