July 14 – Isabel and Her Colores Go to School Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m happy to be joining the blog tour for Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, a beautiful picture book about starting a new school year, making friends, and finding a way to share what’s in your heart – even when it’s difficult. I also had a chance to talk briefly with Alexandra and Courtney!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sharing a digital copy of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School with me for this review. All opinions on the book are my own.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

 

It’s the night before Isabel’s first day of school, and she’s sitting “cross-legged on her bed, coloreando with her favorite crayons: rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.” Isabel was ready for the next day, but there was something that worried her. She “didn’t speak much inglés. English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites. Isabel preferred the pinks and yellows and purples of español.”

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Isabel didn’t want to go to school, but Mami drove her there anyway. At the door, she kissed Isabel on the head and reminded her: “‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.’” But Isabel’s face showed sadness and worry. As class started, Isabel followed along, unsure of what it all meant. During stretching time, the kids counted “‘One, two, three.’” Instinctively, Isabel repeated “‘Uno, dos, tres.’” The colors of their voices “[crashed] against each other.” All the kids stared at Isabel, and she could feel her face getting hot.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When it was story time, all the kids took their regular spots on the rug, which left no room for Isabel. Then a girl told her she could sit “‘here’” next to her. Isabel understood the word “here” and sat down. “‘I’m Sarah,’” the girl said. “‘Me llamo Isabel,’” Isabel told her. Then Sarah asked Isabel if she’d like to be friends. The harsh words filled her brain and she shook her head to clear them. She blushed again. “‘No entiendo,’” she said. Misunderstanding herself, Sarah looked as if she might cry. Isabel felt that way too.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When lunchtime came, Isabel sat alone and tried to make herself feel better by coloring on her napkin, but tears came anyway. Back in the classroom, Isabel’s teacher announced that it was “coloring time.” Isabel looked up. “Coloring sounded very much like colorear.” When she got a blank sheet of paper and crayons, “Isabel knew she had understood.” As she worked on her picture, she used all of her favorite colors and she remembered Mami’s advice.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she was finished, she showed Sarah. She had drawn herself and Sarah holding hands and surrounded by hearts and stars. “‘Amigas,’” Isabel said, pointing from girl to girl. Sarah understood. “‘Friends,’” she said. When their teacher showed Isabel’s picture to the other kids, all of her classmates were impressed. Their smiles and compliments softened the stormy colors of English “to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home,” and Isabel thought school might be okay after all.

Simultaneous translations of the English story are presented in colorful boxes on each page. A Spanish-to-English translation glossary of words typeset in bold throughout the book is found at the end of the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-isabel-and-her-colores-go-to-school-amigas

Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Alexandra Alessandri’s emotionally resonant story shines with her unique invitation to readers to understand how language barriers feel from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaking child as well as her English-speaking classmate who wants to be friends. Children’s fondness for drawing and favorite colors gives Alessandri the perfect palette to present initial feelings of worry, disappointment, and frustration as well as a meaningful way for children to bridge differences and discover hope, encouragement, and common ground. Alessandri’s dialogue and interactions between Isabel and Mami as well as between Isabel and Sarah ring true with honesty and the types of small moments that can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and others that unite. Isabel’s love for and descriptions of the rhythms and beauty of her native language are a highlight and can give teachers, parents, and other adults an excellent way to talk to their children about languages, diversity, and communication.

Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations enliven the pages as swoops of color swirl around Isabel and through the classroom, depicting her feelings from moment to moment as well as how English sounds to her and how English and Spanish together clash in her ears. Readers will recognize the colorful elements of a classroom and the routines of a day. Dawson clearly depicts the characters’ emotions as well as how excitement and confidence can change to embarrassment and uncertainty with a word or in a moment—and, happily, vice versa.

Lovely, poignant, and with a unique perspective on themes of language, fitting in, and friendship that will resonate with all kids, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a must for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110632

A Chat with Alexandra and Courtney

Hi Alexandra and Courtney! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog tour for your gorgeous book! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat!

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Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!(Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School(Sleeping Bear Press, 2021). 

You can connect with Alexandra Alessandri on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

My favorite summer memories are from the years I went to Colombia in the summer. We didn’t go every year because we couldn’t afford it, but the years we did go were always spent seeing family and cousins across several cities—Medellín, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá—and farms. Several family members had farms in different towns. Of those, one of my favorite memories is from the year my parents sent me to Colombia on my own to stay with family and close friends. I was nine.

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Alexandra in Colombia visiting family when she was nine years old.

 

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Alexandra riding horses in Colombia when she was nine years old.

There were many adventures that summer, but my favorite consisted of riding in the back of a jeep to my tío’s farm near Manizales, playing with cousins, riding horses to the edge of a forest, hiking down to a creek, and following that to a wonderful lagoon and waterfall. It was such a wonderful time!

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have and why?

If I wasn’t a writer (or a teacher!), I would be a librarian. I still remember playing librarian as a kid with my dad’s old pencil mic. I would take my library books and “scan” the barcode with the mic, stacking them up and handing them off to my invisible guests. Libraries held a special place in my heart, as I spent many days there with my mom, looking through books, finding nooks in which to read, and participating in library events. Now, I love connecting readers with books and helping them find the right book to foster that same excitement I remember feeling as a child. Being a librarian would be a natural extension of this!

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Courtney Dawson is an illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She lives with her family in Ventura, California. Picture books she has recently illustrated include Help Wanted, Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020), and The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Philomel Books, 2021).

You can connect with Courtney Dawson on her website | Instagram

What’s your favorite non-book summer activity?

Spending time with my two kids and my partner is my favorite summertime thing to do! We love riding bikes and having picnics at the park. My favorite alone time activity during the summer though, is drawing outdoors and listening to music.

Thanks, Alexandra and Courtney! I hope you both have a wonderful summer and I wish you all the best with Isabel and Her Colores Go to School!

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You can order signed copies of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School from Books and Books

 

You can find Isabel and Her Colores Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 1 – New Year’s Day Book Birthday of First Day of Unicorn School

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About the Holiday

Starting a new year and discovering a new book make a perfect pair, so I’m happy to be celebrating the book birthday of First Day of Unicorn School by Jess Hernandez and Mariano Epelbaum. Sharing today’s book, which is full of the same kinds of dreams, new experiences, friendships, and even laughs that await kids over the next twelve months, with your kids is a terrific way to start 2021.

Thanks to Capstone Press for sending me a copy of First Day of Unicorn School for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

First Day of Unicorn School

Written by Jess Hernandez | Illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum

 

When the acceptance letter from Unicorn School finally arrived, Milly was thrilled. “Unicorn School taught only the best and the brightest unicorns.” Milly knew she was the “best” and the “brightest,” but Milly also knew that she wasn’t a unicorn—she was “a donkey in a party hat.” While the pictures of her wearing a cone-shaped hat had fooled the admissions counselors, Milly began to worry that the other students would notice something amiss. For a moment, Milly considered staying home. But then she remembered the school’s rainbows, “sparkling fountains…and dragon-taming class.”

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

With her hat firmly in place, Milly confidently entered the gates of Unicorn School on her first day. As Milly looked around at her fellow classmates, she was taken with their sparkly hooves and shiny horns. Just then she bumped into “a big unicorn with a tall horn.” Milly apologized, but with an odd look and a cry of “‘Mooo-ve it!’” the big unicorn stomped away. Milly was so distracted that she ran into a wooly unicorn, collided with a three-horned unicorn, and just got too close to a lumpy unicorn who actually spat at her. They all warned her to stay away with the same unusual expression.

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

Teary-eyed and with her hat slipping sideways, Milly decided to leave school. “She was a donkey. And that’s all she’d ever be.” Then Milly took one last glance back and was shocked to see that all of the unicorns’ “horns were crooked.” She had to know the answer to a very particular question and asked, “‘Are any of you real unicorns?’” The animals hemmed and hawed until one horse finally admitted that his horn was “‘an ice cream cone.’” Then the other animals revealed that they weren’t unicorns either and told how they’d each fashioned their glittery horns. They all had a good laugh together, and Milly realized she’d finally found where she belonged.

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

In her silly and insightful story, Jess Hernandez reveals that readers don’t need to pretend to be something they aren’t in order to be their “best” and “brightest.” She also touches on the prevalent and distorting notion that  beauty is found only within a narrow spectrum or even a single ideal. As Milly comes close to exposing the other animals’ disguises and sets off their harsh rebukes, Hernandez demonstrates that transformations can extend past the physical to affect one’s personalities and the way they treat others. When the animals can be their true selves again, however, they’re able to become friends and create a happy community where all are welcome. For children facing a new experience or worried about fitting in, Hernandez’s story shows them that everyone has the same types of feelings at one time or another.

Mariano Epelbaum’s candy-colored illustrations are a unicorn-lover’s paradise. Milly luxuriates in a room as pink as cotton candy and filled with the fluff and glitz of glamour. Likewise, Unicorn School—with its rainbows, shining stars, manicured grounds, and dragon to be vanquished—has all the trappings of a child’s sweetest daydream. As Milly and the other students trot up the pathway to the school building, kids will love finding and guessing at the false horns on each animal’s head. Epelbaum’s clever variety of headgear will bring plenty of giggles and is sure to inspire kids to create their own horn from household items. The final page reminds readers that they fit in just the way they are, unadorned with pretense.

A light-hearted look at a subject many kids grapple with, First Day of Unicorn School gives children and adults a charming way to talk about being yourself and finding where you fit in, whether it’s at school, sports, or other activities. The book would be a delightful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Capstone Editions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684462797

Discover more about Jess Hernandez and her writing on her website.

To learn more about Mariano Epelbaum, his books, and his art, visit his website.

First Day of Unicorn School Book Birthday Activity

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Unicorn Mask and Coloring Page

 

How do you think it would feel to be a unicorn? Color and cut out this printable unicorn mask, cut out the eyes, and add a string or elastic to pretend to be a unicorn. You can also enjoy coloring this printable unicorn picture. And don’t forget to use plenty of glitter!

Unicorn Mask | Unicorn Coloring Page

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You can find First Day of Unicorn School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 7 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of I Got the School Spirit

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About the Holiday

A new book in a favorite series is always something special as is a child’s first day on their school journey. When you put those events together, you get today’s Book Birthday celebration of a beautiful and inspirational story that will have kids enthusiastic to start the new school year – whether they’ll be in a traditional school environment or homeschooled.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing I Got the School Spirit with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the School Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl gets up and stretches, rummages through her drawers for just the right shirt, and smiles throughout brushing her teeth. Why? She says: “Summer is over. / My first day is here. / I got the spirit to start the new school year!” In fact, this girl has a spirited attitude toward the whole day. She laces up the spirit in her new shoes, eats a good breakfast to keep her going until lunchtime, and fills her backpack with enough positivity to last all day.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

At the bus stop, she waits eagerly for the ride to school and, once on the bus, comforts another little girl next to her who isn’t so sure about this new experience. In the classroom, she answers roll call with enthusiasm then sings about the ABCs and 123s with gusto. At lunch she shares an orange with a new friend across the table, and at recess her kick sends the ball soaring.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Back in the classroom and gathered on the rug, the little girl says, “I listen as the spirit weaves a story. / Once upon a time….” When the bell rings at the end of the day, she packs up, rides the bus home, and runs into her mom’s waiting arms for “the spirit in a big ol’ hug. / Squish, Squeeze!” This smart little girl already knows: “The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. / I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn tomorrow!”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A new book in Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s I Got… series is always a cause for celebration. In her uplifting story of a little girl enjoying her first day of school with a true zest for life, Schofield-Morrison encourages children to find the spirit in each activity and to share their own spirit of kindness and community with others. Heartening feelings of inclusion and openness to new experiences shine on every page, infusing readers with a buoyant optimism and confidence to meet the challenges and opportunities of school. Schofield-Morrison’s storytelling is specially empowering for children who may be hesitant about beginning or returning to school. The jubilant rhythm makes this a perfect read aloud and invites kids to join in on subsequent readings.

As in each book in this series, Frank Morrison’s oil paintings are spectacular representations of home life, friendship, participation, and kids being kids. The little girl and the diverse group of children at the bus stop, flanked by their parents, and in the classroom display a wide range of emotions from casual poses to wide-eyed glee to serious attention to the teacher. At lunch and on the playground, the kids enjoy those well-earned sandwiches and their playtime with expressions that can’t help but make readers smile too. Rich colors, realistic details, and outstanding perspectives, make every page a showstopper that readers will want to linger over.

A must for all kids, whether they’re just beginning their school journey or returning for a new year, I Got the School Spirit will be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602612

You can connect with Connie Schofield-Morrison on Facebook.

To learn more about Frank Morrison, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find I Got the School Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 8 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

The Get Caught Reading campaign was initiated in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers with the idea to promote literacy and language development through reading to children and encouraging them to read on their own. As part of the campaign, posters of celebrities, dignitaries, and even fictional characters enjoying a book are available for schools, libraries, and other organizations to hang where kids will see them. The excitement of reading also takes over social media all month long, which this year is more important than ever. To celebrate this holiday, make sure you stock up on new and favorite books or download ebooks or audiobooks from your library and get caught reading! Learn more by visiting the Get Caught Reading website and the Every Child a Reader website.

I received a copy of Two Tough Trucks from Orchard Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Two Tough Trucks

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez | Illustrated by Hilary Leung

 

One morning, two trucks are ready “for their first day of class.” But Rig’s “riding the brakes” while Mack’s “hitting the gas.” In their classroom, their teacher Miss Rhodes pairs these two up for a practice run on the track. First up is the circuit, with twists and a hairpin turn. Rig feels shaky, but Mack’s “a speedy red blur.” Mack picks up speed going into the turn and keeps on going, but Rig hits the brakes and skids off the course.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Next comes learning to downshift while climbing a hill. Mack breezes up as Rig carefully inches along. First to the top, Mack gloats, “‘I knew I was fast.’” And although Rig tried his best he “finished dead last.” Mack thought Rig was just dragging him down. For Rig, Mack just seemed liked a braggart. As he vroomed, Mack fumed and left Rig “in the dust.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

The students moved on to practicing backing up. As they moved around traffic cones,  “they veered and corrected, / they turned and reversed. / Rig had good instincts, but Mack was… the worst.” Rig aced the course, but Mack? He was ready to quit until Rig steered him right. “Vroom! Zoom! / They backtracked and bumped. / A Mack making progress, / a Rig feeling pumped!”

Mack was surprised that Rig had helped him, but for Rig it was just the right thing to do. They headed back to the track and took it by storm. These two trucks were “now the fastest of friends.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Like life’s road itself, this original story of two trucks with distinct personalities and different strengths has many twists and turns and takes little ones on a multilayered journey of discovery. While Mack is rarin’ to go on his first day of truck school, Rig is more hesitant. When these two are teamed up for the day, Mack’s fast and daring approach to the track seems to be the right one as he nails the sharp curve and is the first to reach the peak of the hill, leaving Rig far behind. These early successes cause him to honk his own horn and complain about Rig.

But then in a clever literal and metaphorical reversal, Rig’s thoughtful restraint makes backing up his forte. In Mack’s reaction to being last, Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca Gomez gently ramp up life lessons about perseverance and losing gracefully. Rig then goes on to demonstrate another winning trait in his generosity to teach Mack the finer points of driving in reverse. Mack’s acceptance of Rig’s kindness shows that the experience has taught him to be humble. Kudos to Miss Rhodes for creating a track that leads to strong bonds and friendship.

A book by Schwartz and Gomez always charms with smart rhyming and jaunty rhythms and Two Tough Trucks is no exception. Ingenious puns, evocative and active vocabulary, and plenty of “vrooms” and “zooms” for kids to chime in on make this book a lively read aloud.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Hilary Leung’s textured and boldly colored pages will thrill little readers as Mack and Rig take center stage on the dusty, western track. Mack’s confidence shows in his straight, crisp lines and grinning grill while Rig’s wariness takes the form of wobbly tires, bent frame, furrowed brow, and grimacing grill. Fittingly, the Truck School building is shaped like a parking garage, complete with a spiral ramp that takes students to the second and third story. Cacti, roadrunners, and craggy rock formations dot the sun-drenched desert track where Mack, Rig, and the rest of the students strut their stuff.

A joy to read out loud and a story kids will want to hear again and again, Two Tough Trucks is highly recommended for home bookshelves, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338236545

Discover more about Corey Rosen Schwartz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca J. Gomez and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Hilary Leung and learn more about his work, visit her website.

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Racing for Friendship Game

 

Here’s a racing game that kids will love! With poster board, paper, and chalk or other art supplies, kids can place their track in a city, the country, the desert, or even in outer space! Once the scene is ready, get out your own toy cars or trucks to play with or use the printable truck game pieces included below. Use a traditional playing die or the included printable 8-sided playing die. The first player to the finish line wins—or shake it up a bit and make the last person to the line the winner.

The track can be laid out on the floor and taped in place or created on poster board or paper with the supplies below:

Supplies

  • Poster board or tri-fold display board. I used a 12-inch by 4-foot section of a tri-fold board in my example. This allows you to fold up the board for easier storing.
  • White paper
  • Chalk, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Toy trucks or cars
  • Printable Truck Game Pieces (optional)
  • Printable 8-sided Playing Die

Directions

  1. Cut 30 4- or 5-inch by 1½-inch strips from the white paper
  2. Have kids lay out a track on the board using the white paper strips (each strip is one space) leaving room in between the rows for scenery
  3. Glue or tape the strips in place
  4. Draw scenery around the track OR cut trees, buildings, landmarks, or other scenery from paper and color. Glue or tape to board. 
  5. Print and assemble 8-sided playing die with tape (optional)
  6. Give each player a toy truck or car. Alternately, print and cut out included Truck Game Pieces. (To make them sturdier, print on heavy paper or glue them to cardboard)
  7. Choose a player to go first
  8. Players take turns rolling the die and moving the appropriate number of spaces
  9. The first (or last) player to the finish line is the winner

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You can find Two Tough Trucks at these booksellers

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

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Vroom and zoom with Mack and Rig in Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!, a new  adventure coming on September 1! You can preorder it here

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

 

April 21 – National Kindergarten Day

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About the Holiday

National Kindergarten Day honors the birthday of Friedrich Wilhelm August Frobel who was born April 21, 1782 and is credited with starting the very first Kindergarten in Germany in 1837. Recognizing that children learn through play and experience, Frobel established a foundation for modern education. The first kindergarten in America was opened by Margarethe Schurtz in 1856 in Watertown, Wisconsin. Kindergarten became part of some public school systems in 1873. Even though kids aren’t in their regular classes right now, we still celebrate all of their achievements, creativity, and love of fun. Little ones’ enthusiasm and natural empathy can make them great teachers too—as today’s book shows.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of Kindergarrrten Bus to check out. All opinions are my own.

Kindergarrrten Bus

Written by Mike Ornstein | Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry

 

As the little tykes climb the plank into the kindergarten school bus, they’re met by a most unusual driver. He has a hook hand, a peg leg, a curly beard, a broad-brimmed hat with a parrot perched on the edge, and he greets the first little boy like this: “Ahoy, boy! What? It be ye first day of kindergarrrten? Well, don’t worry, laddie—it be me first day as a bus driverrr!” The pirate shows the kids to their seats and lays down the rules. Any infractions…. Well, Polly will tell ya: “Raaaaa, mutiny!”

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The kids don’t seem too sure of this turn of events. They each talk about how they miss their family, their pets, their toys, and how it’s all a little scary. But the pirate will have “no blubberin’ on me bus! Pirates don’t get scared! We eat bones for supperrr!” he tells them. And as far as them missing their moms and dads? “We ain’t got time for that fluffy stuff!” he says. So the bus takes off, and the driver sings a ditty about brave these little buccaneers are as they go.

But the route turns as bumpy as a churning sea with potholes that rattle Polly so much she flies out the window…I mean “winderrr.” The pirate wails after his parrot, “Waaaa arrrgh waaaa arrrgh!” Then the bus comes to a screeching halt amid a pirate melt-down. “I can’t drive me bus without me sweet snuggly Polly! I can’t do it, I tells ya! I can’t! I can’t I can’t!”

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Everyone piles out, and the kids try to reassure the poor driver, reminding him of all the things he told them. Turns out that ol’ pirate “was only hornswogglin’” and that he considers himself “nothin’ but a scared, blubberin’ boob of a buccaneer.” The kids are empathetic and reassuring, and pretty soon the pirate is feeling better about things.

Back on the bus, the little ditty is less bravado and more true bravery. As they pull up at the X, where “the treasure of all treasures” awaits the kids, the pirate gives one more lesson before letting all those little “scoundrels walk the plank—errr, I mean, exit the bus.” But why is a pirate driving a school bus? one little boy wants to know. Well, that answer may surprise you and it be somethin’ ye just have to see for yourself!

An afterword from the author discussing tips for talking with kids about fears and worries follows the story.

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Could Mike Ornstein actually be a pirate? I’m thinking yes! His ease with Pirate-ese makes this dialogue-rich story a comical treasure that will have kids “Harrr, harrr, harrr-ing” at every twist and turn in the book—and lucky for them, there’s a whole loot of those. Scrumptious words like “blubberin’, hornswogglin’, landlubbers,” and “blue-footed booby bird” as well as a liberal sprinkling of rrrrs make this book a joyful read-aloud that kids will clamor to participate in. Nuggets of reassurance about “rrrespect,” admitting fears and worries, and enjoying school are pure gold.

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Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kevin M. Barry’s wide-eyed, rakish kids and scallywag of a bus driver are the perfect companions on this hilarious journey to the first day of kindergarten. The school bus—a wooden jalopy with porthole windows, a ship’s wheel steering wheel, and a teddy bear jolly roger—comes to a tipping point when the pirate’s beloved Polly flies the coop. As the pirate dramatically looks to the skies and admits his false bravado, the kids—skeptical, astonished, and empathetic—look on. While one curly-haired little girl reassures the pirate, the other kids channel their own bravery and get ready to have a fun day at school. Readers will love the expressive faces, small details (a fish-skeleton belt buckle, a girl’s “I Got This” t-shirt), and, of course, ruffled Polly.

Kindergarrrten Bus is a rip-roarin’ yarn with a heart of gold that will get kids and grown-ups laughing and talking about feelings, fears, and the fact that everyone gets scared sometimes. A go-to book for fun story times and moments when a little more encouragement is needed, Kindergarrrten Bus would be a favorite on home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363988

To learn more about Kevin M. Barry, his books, and his art on his website.

National Kindergarten Day Activity

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Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze

 

Join the crew of scallywags to pick up supplies on your way to finding a treasure chest full of gold in this printable maze.

Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze Puzzle | Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze Solution

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You can find Kindergarrrten Bus at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 17 – It’s Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

Established by the Oddfellows, an organization dedicated to philanthropy and charity, about ten years ago, Friendship Month encourages people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and especially to reach out to others who are alone or need a friend. As school gets underway, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet new people and form friendships – some of which may last a lifetime.

I received a copy of Two Tough Trucks from Scholastic for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Scholastic in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Two Tough Trucks

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez | Illustrated by Hilary Leung

 

One morning, two trucks are ready “for their first day of class.” But Rig’s “riding the brakes” while Mack’s “hitting the gas.” In their classroom, their teacher Miss Rhodes pairs these two up for a practice run on the track. First up is the circuit, with twists and a hairpin turn. Rig feels shaky, but Mack’s “a speedy red blur.” Mack picks up speed going into the turn and keeps on going, but Rig hits the brakes and skids off the course.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Next comes learning to downshift while climbing a hill. Mack breezes up as Rig carefully inches along. First to the top, Mack gloats, “‘I knew I was fast.’” And although Rig tried his best he “finished dead last.” Mack thought Rig was just dragging him down. For Rig, Mack just seemed liked a braggart. As he vroomed, Mack fumed and left Rig “in the dust.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

The students moved on to practicing backing up. As they moved around traffic cones,  “they veered and corrected, / they turned and reversed. / Rig had good instincts, but Mack was… the worst.” Rig aced the course, but Mack? He was ready to quit until Rig steered him right. “Vroom! Zoom! / They backtracked and bumped. / A Mack making progress, / a Rig feeling pumped!”

Mack was surprised that Rig had helped him, but for Rig it was just the right thing to do. They headed back to the track and took it by storm. These two trucks were “now the fastest of friends.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-two-tough-trucks-blundering-mack

Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Like life’s road itself, this original story of two trucks with distinct personalities and different strengths has lots of twists and turns and takes little ones on a multilayered journey of discovery. While Mack is rarin’ to go on his first day of truck school, Rig is more hesitant. When these two are teamed up for the day, Mack’s fast and daring approach to the track seems to be the right one as he nails the sharp curve and is the first to reach the peak of the hill, leaving Rig far behind. These early successes cause him to honk his own horn and complain about Rig.

But then in a clever literal and metaphorical reversal, Rig’s thoughtful restraint makes backing up his forte. In Mack’s reaction to being last, Schwartz and Gomez gently ramp up life lessons about perseverance and losing gracefully. In addition, Rig goes on to demonstrate another winning trait in his generosity to teach Mack the finer points of driving in reverse. Mack’s acceptance of Rig’s kindness shows that the experience has taught him to be humble. Kudos to Miss Rhodes for creating a track that leads to strong bonds and friendship.

A book by Schwartz and Gomez always charms with smart rhyming and jaunty rhythms and Two Tough Trucks is no exception. Ingenious puns, evocative and active vocabulary, and plenty of “vrooms” and “zooms” for kids to chime in on make this book a lively read aloud.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Hilary Leung’s textured and boldly colored pages will thrill little readers as Mack and Rig take center stage on the dusty, western track. Mack’s confidence shows in his straight, crisp lines and grinning grill while Rig’s wariness takes the form of wobbly tires, bent frame, furrowed brow, and grimacing grill. Fittingly, the Truck School building is shaped like a parking garage, complete with a spiral ramp that takes students to the second and third story. Cacti, roadrunners, and craggy rock formations dot the sun-drenched desert track where Mack, Rig, and the rest of the students strut their stuff.

A joy to read out loud and offering so much repeat readability, Two Tough Trucks is highly recommended for home bookshelves, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338236545

Discover more about Corey Rosen Schwartz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca J. Gomez and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Hilary Leung and learn more about his work, visit her website.

Friendship Month Activity

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Racing for Friendship Game

Here’s a racing game that kids will love making and playing with friends or family! With poster board, paper, and chalk or other art supplies, kids can place their track in, a city, the country, the desert, or even in outer space! Then get out your own toy cars and trucks to play with or use the printable truck tokens included below. Use a traditional playing die or the included printable 8-sided playing die. The first player to the finish line wins—or shake it up a bit and make the last person to the line the winner.

Supplies

  • Black poster board, thick poster board, or tri-fold display board. I used a 12-inch by 4-foot section of a tri-fold board in my example. This allows you to fold up the board for easier storing.
  • White paper
  • Chalk, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Toy trucks or cars
  • Printable Truck Tokens (optional)
  • Printable 8-sided Playing Die

Directions

  1. Cut about 30 4- or 5-inch by 1½-inch strips from the white paper
  2. Have kids lay out a track on the board using the white paper strips (each strip is one space) leaving room in between the rows for scenery
  3. Glue or tape the strips in place
  4. Cut trees, buildings, landmarks, or other scenery from paper and color. Glue or tape to board. Alternately, draw scenery on the board with chalk
  5. Print and assemble 8-sided playing die with tape (optional)
  6. Gather one toy truck or car for each player. Alternately, print and cut out included Truck Tokens. (To make them sturdier, print on heavy paper or glue them to cardboard)
  7. Choose a player to go first
  8. Players take turns rolling the die and moving the appropriate number of spaces
  9. The first (or last) player to the finish line is the winner

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You can find Two Tough Trucks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 6 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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About the Holiday

It’s the day you and your child have been waiting for! Preschool is in the rearview mirror and kindergarten is full-steam ahead! As you and your child do the shopping for backpacks, new clothes, and other necessary items and excitement grows, there could also be a little nudge of worry or nervousness just below the surface. Today’s holiday can be a reminder for adults to talk with their kids about starting school or entering a new class to see how they’re feeling about the changes ahead. Sharing picture books about school, making friends, and having a new kind of independence can help ease the transition. Today’s book is a great place to start!

I received a copy of Butterflies on the First Day of School from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Butterflies on the First Day of School

Written by Annie Silvestro | Illustrated by Dream Chen

 

Rosie had been looking forward to school for ages. She’d already picked out her backpack and practiced all the skills she’d need on that first day. “But the night before her first day, Rosie couldn’t sleep.” The next morning, she couldn’t eat her breakfast, her stomach hurt, and she worried her baby sister would be lonely without her. At last, her dad told her it was time to go. As he took a picture of her, she said that she didn’t feel well. “‘You just have butterflies in your belly,’ said her mother, hugging her tight.” Rosie was going to ask about those butterflies, but just then the bus pulled up.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-butterflies-on-the-first-day-of-school-backpack

Image copyright Dream Chen, 2019 text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Rosie felt nervous as the bus rumbled on. Then a girl sat next to her and introduced herself as Violet. Rosie introduced herself. “As she spoke, a butterfly flew from her mouth.” When Rosie revealed she had the same teacher as Violet, two more butterflies flew out. “Violet didn’t seem to notice.” In the classroom, everyone gathered on the rug, and Mrs. Mancini asked the kids to tell a little bit about themselves. In turn, each one said something. Rosie waited nervously. Then suddenly it was her turn. She stood up and words tumbled out. As she spoke, “three butterflies flitted into the air.” Later, Rosie painted two pictures of flowers—one for her and one for Violet—and played with the other kids. Sometimes a butterfly would flutter out. “But by recess, she could barely feel them anymore.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-butterflies-on-the-first-day-of-school-can't-sleep

Image copyright Dream Chen, 2019 text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

While everyone was playing tag on the playground, Rosie noticed one girl standing alone by a tree. Rosie went over and asked if she wanted to play. As they introduced themselves, Isabella’s butterflies “soared into the sky.” At the end of the day when Rosie got off the school bus, she ran to her mom and told her how much fun she’d had. Her mom hugged her and told her that she wanted to hear all about it as “the words floated out on a shimmering butterfly’s wings.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-butterflies-on-the-first-day-of-school-breakfast

Image copyright Dream Chen, 2019 text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Annie Silvestro’s sweet story of a little girl on her first day of school is a sensitive and insightful portrayal of the nervousness that can accompany any new experience. Acknowledging those “butterflies” that can emerge to dampen even the most ardent enthusiasm, Silvestro gives adults and children a positive way to discuss and manage these feelings. Her reassuring imagery will captivate the reader’s imagination while showing them that accepting and offering friendship and participating in classroom or other activities are effective ways to release apprehension and embrace opportunities. Silvestro’s last line is a tug at the heart, and little ones may be surprised but also comforted to learn that they are not alone in their feelings.

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Dream Chen’s delightful and vibrant illustrations glow with warmth and the camaraderie of a kindergarten class, while also highlighting Rosie’s uncertainty and her growing confidence as the butterflies she feels flutter away. Alert readers will notice another classmate who’s also experiencing butterflies on the bus and in the classroom. In Chen’s busy classroom gives adults and kids an opportunity to discuss common things they will likely see in their own room, including a rug for gathering on, a bulletin board, an easel, books, toys, and games. Rosie’s butterflies are beautiful and varied, suggesting that these feelings are a natural part of life and as you watch them flutter away, you can be proud of being brave and seizing opportunities.

Butterflies on the First Day of School is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections not only for first-day-of-school jitters but for any new activity or experience that sets the butterflies fluttering.

Ages 3 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454921196

Discover more about Annie Silvestro and her books on her website.

To learn more about Dream Chen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Butterflies on the First Day of School Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Butterflies on the First Day of School, written by Annie Silvestro | illustrated by Dream Chen

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

This giveaway is open from August 6 through August 12 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on August 13.

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books

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

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-butterfly-craft-vivid-filter-2

Colorful Clothespin Butterfly Craft

 

With this easy Colorful Clothespin Butterfly Craft, you can make and display your own butterfly that will always remind you of the opportunities you’ve taken.

Supplies

  • Wooden pin clothespin
  • Tissue paper in a choice of colors
  • Craft paint in a choice of colors
  • Black craft paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Toothpick
  • Scissors
  • Fishing line, thread, or string for hanging (optional)
  • Adhesive magnet for hanging (optional)

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the clothespin, let dry
  2. When dry add accent dots or lines and eyes. I used a toothpick with the point cut off to make the dots on the purple butterfly. I used the pointy end of a toothpick to make the eyes and the lines on the pink butterfly.

To Make the Wings

  1. For the top wings, cut a 6 ½ -inch circle from tissue paper
  2. For the bottom wings, cut a 5 ¼ – inch circle from tissue paper
  3. With the head of the clothespin facing down, insert the larger circle into the split in the clothespin so that half of the circle shows on either side.
  4. Gently pull the circle down tightly into the split, pulling it as far in as possible—about half way
  5. Next insert the smaller circle into the split and repeat the above step.
  6. Gently fan out the wings if necessary

If hanging the butterfly, attach fishing line, threat, or string

If making a magnet, attach the adhesive magnet to the back of the butterfly.

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You can find Butterflies on the First Day of School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Picture Book Review