November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

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The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

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They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

National 17 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Ten Rules to Flying Like a Superhero

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About the Holiday

What better time to celebrate the launch of a new book than during National Picture Book Month?! A sequel to a favorite book is always something to eagerly look forward to, so I’m excited today to be featuring Deb Pilutti’s companion book to her acclaimed Ten Rules for Being a Superhero.  With these two clever books in hand, there’s no telling how high or how far a child can soar.

Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero

By Deb Pilutti

 

With his yellow suit, red cape, and red eye mask, Lava Boy and his toy sidekick Captain Magma are saving the earth (well, at least Lava Boy’s bedroom-floor town) from marauding dinosaurs by day. By night Captain Magma is proving his superstrength by hoisting the bar of soap above his head and out of the whittling tub water and using his flashlight “lava vision” to rescue a lost elephant from under the bed. At all times Captain Magma “and his friendly personality has won over even the most evil of the supervillains.”

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

But while he’s sleeping, Captain Magma still dreams of the one time a bird picked him up and took him on an amazing journey of flight. He longs to repeat this feat, not only because it was fun but because Lave Boy has been fascinated by a new superhero, Meteor Shower, who can fly for real. Captain Magma thinks that with a plan and his smart sidekick Lava Boy’s help, he can learn to fly too.

First they lay out the steps they need to take and then with all the necessary materials (especially plenty of glitter), they get to work. They pay particular attention to Step 3 (even though Captain Magma feels a little ridiculous) and Step 4, which will bolster their chances of success. Then it’s time to launch—but not on some rickety tower of toys. Lava Boy takes Captain Magma to the stable railing of their tree house and… after the good advice at Step 6, he’s ready to “FLY!”

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

But what is that straight ahead? Captain Magma flaps his arms as hard as he can, but lands head first in a bird’s nest. “I should have learned to turn,” he tells the birds, who gaze at their uninvited guest curiously. Fortunately, Lava Boy was a very smart sidekick and had “prepared for anything.” Except… can you prepare for everything? That’s where a new friend (like Meteor Shower and her sidekick Star Girl) can come to the rescue and make trying again even more fun.

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

With humor and imagination, Deb Pilutti outlines terrific advice on how children can achieve their goals and soar. Her straightforward steps, which can apply to any situation, are charmingly paired with specifics for helping Captain Magma fly and always-useful reminders—like never “skimp on the glitter.”

Kids will appreciate Lava Boy’s toy-strewn floor, where action, peril, animals, and people on the go (except one lone figure trapped in a laundry-basket prison) will capture their imagination as much as it does Lava Boy’s. Captain Magma offers up lots of funny looks and asides (appropriately expressed in sunny yellow speech bubbles) that kids will recognize and empathize with. Hints to Lava Boy and Captain Magma’s new like-minded friends and can be glimpsed early in the story through Lava Boy’s window and while he’s out playing with his toys.

A super way to teach kids steps that lead to success wrapped in an exuberant story, Ten Steps to Flying like a Superhero would be a favorite for story times as well as times when encouragement is needed. The book would be a welcome addition to home bookshelves and a go-to story for classroom and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Henry Holt & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-1627796507

Discover more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art on her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Reading is Super! Maze

 

A super reader wants to bring books to his friends so they can all read together. Can you help him get through this printable Reading is Super Maze to reach his friends?

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You can find Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 13 – World Kindness Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 1998 by a coalition of nations, World Kindness Day is an international celebration that encourages people around the world to be mindful of others through mutual respect, inclusion, empathy, and gratitude. To celebrate, people are asked to perform acts of kindness—big or small. A simple “hi,” a smile, or an offer of help or support goes a long way in making the world a kinder and better place to live in. But don’t limit your care and concern to just one day. Promoters of the holiday hope that kindness becomes infectious, inspiring good relationships every day of the year.

Thanks to Two Lions for sending me a copy of Bird Hugs for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Bird Hugs

By Ged Adamson

 

Bernard had a feature quite unlike other birds, but as a baby, he didn’t know there was anything different about his extremely long wings. He made them work for him: he pretended to be a sleeping bat, wrapping his wings around his body as he hung from a tree. And he chased after his friends, waving his wings spookily. But when his friends learned to fly, Bernard knew something was amiss. “No matter how many times he tried, it was something he couldn’t seem to do himself.”

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Soon all of his friends had flown away to other places. Longing to do the same, Bernard decided he just needed another approach. He had his friend Lawrence fling him into the air from a palm tree catapult. And for a glorious moment Bernard was flying. And then…he wasn’t. “Embarrassed by his useless wings, he tried to make them smaller.” He rolled them under and tied them up; he made them into a scarf, and he created a fancy headdress by tying them in a bow on the top of his head. But nothing worked.

“Bernard felt utterly sorry for himself.” He chose a branch where his wings could hang to the ground and “made it his home.” There he sat, day and night, all through the seasons feeling sorry for himself as the world went on around him. But one day he heard someone sobbing. Bernard left his branch to find out who was crying. He discovered an orangutan, who wailed, “‘I feel very sad and I’m not sure why!’”

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

In an instant Bernard had wrapped his long wings around the orangutan in a “BIG HUG.” In a bit the orangutan felt better and thanked Bernard. Bernard was happy too. He began to think that “maybe his wings were good for something after all.” And he was right. In the morning a long line of animals was waiting for him—all looking for a hug. Bernard was busy all day…and the next day…and the next. Besides wanting hugs, “the animals told Bernard their problems.”

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

All this hugging made Bernard happier too. His wings even felt stronger. He began to think maybe they were strong enough to fly. Bernard leaped from a cliff top and for a moment he was flying. And then…he wasn’t. But Bernard was philosophical: there was more to life than flying, he decided. And all the new friends he’d helped knew how they could help him. Taking him by the wings, they showed him that with a little support, anyone can soar.

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Trailing wings as long as a knitted winter scarf, little Bernard is an unforgettable cutie who only wants to be like all the other birds and fly. But is that his only talent? His only option? During Bernard’s year-long funk, it seems he finds the answers to these questions as his quick response to the orangutan’s sobs reveals, Bernard discovers that far from useless, his wings give him a gift more precious than flying––the opportunity to help his fellow animals. It’s a talent that brings him love in return. Readers can take comfort in and a lesson from Bernard’s hard-won but keen sense of empathy by embracing and using whatever makes them unique.

As in his other books, Adamson’s profound message is wrapped in images that combine kid-pleasing silliness, a bit of slapstick humor, and a diverse array of emotive characters. As Bernard mopes on his branch feeling lonely and sorry for himself, kids will notice that he’s not as alone as he might think. An anteater keeps him company on a rainy day, wide-awake nocturnal animals watch over him at night, and even the bees make room for him in their flight pattern. Bernard’s realization that life is filled with more than one might expect is welcome and heartening, and Adamson’s finale is wonderfully surprising and pitch perfect.

Bird Hugs is highly recommended for all kids and has multiple applications for story times at home, in classrooms, and for public libraries. The book would quickly become a favorite on any bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542092715

To learn more about Ged Adamson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

World Kindness Day Activity

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Kindness Cards

 

Here are some cheery cards that are sure to make the recipient’s day happier! Give them to a friend, a family member, your teacher, or your bus driver to show them that you care and that they mean a lot to you!

Random Acts of Kindness Cards Sheet 1 |  Sheet 2 | Sheet 3

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You can find Bird Hugs at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

 

November 11 – It’s National Gratitude Month

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About the Holiday

November has been designated as a time for reflecting on our lives and being grateful for our family, friends, opportunities, and the things we have. To celebrate Gratitude Month, take time to count your blessings and thank those who are important in your life.

Thanks to Two Lions for sending me a copy of  Duck and Hippo Give Thanks for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Duck and Hippo Give Thanks

Written by Jonathan London | Illustrated by Andrew Joyner

 

As Hippo raked leaves, he was “dreaming of a good, old-fashioned Thanksgiving,” but his reveries were interrupted by Duck, who landed with a plop right in the middle of Hippo’s leaf pile. When Hippo asked his friend what he was doing, Duck answered that she was having fun and invited Hippo to join her, but with a huff he said, “‘I’m trying to make the pile all nice and tidy!’” Just then, Hippo was bonked on the head by a falling apple. He handed it to Duck as a snack, who said, “‘Thanks, Hippo!’”

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, text copyright Jonathan London, 2018. Courtesy of Two Lions.

That reminded Hippo that tomorrow was Thanksgiving and he asked Duck to celebrate with him. Duck suggested they invite all of their friends. They went to the grocery store to buy supplies. The shopping went quickly as Hippo whooshed down the aisles with Duck in the cart grabbing food as they went. When Hippo wanted a ride in the cart, though, he got stuck. Elephant rushed over and got him out. To thank him, Duck and Hippo invited him to their Thanksgiving feast.

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, text copyright Jonathan London, 2018. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At the bakery, Turtle let them skip ahead of him in line, so he was invited too. For lunch, Duck and Hippo went to Pig’s Pizza. To thank her for the delicious slices, Duck invited her to their dinner the next day. “‘Yummy!’ cried Pig. ‘I can’t wait!’” Back home, they began preparations. They helped each other gather leaves, pumpkins, squash, and apples then decorated the table together. Duck even “did a dance on the tabletop and sang, ‘TA-DA!’” before going home with the promise of seeing Hippo tomorrow.

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Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, text copyright Jonathan London, 2018. Courtesy of Two Lions.

While Hippo was dreaming of his big old-fashioned Thanksgiving, Duck had called together Elephant, Pig, and Turtle. “‘Let’s make something special for Hippo!’” he told them. Thanksgiving morning Hippo was up early. He baked apple and pumpkin pie, acorn squash, and other goodies. Then he sat down to wait for his friends. He waited and waited. The sun went down and the moon rose. Still, Hippo’s friends hadn’t arrived. Finally, they burst through the door with a surprise for Hippo. Hippo eagerly wondered what it was.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-duck-and-hippo-give-thanks-hippo-dreaming

Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions.

One by one, they showed what they had brought. Turtle held a tray of Chinese egg rolls, Elephant had made sea-cucumber sushi, Pig had created one of her famous pizza napoletanas, and Duck offered a plate of peanut-butter-and-jelly tacos. “‘SURPRISE!’” they all cheered. Hippo frowned. This was not the Thanksgiving feast he had imagined.

But then he saw how happy all of his friends looked. “He spread his arms wide and said, ‘WELCOME!’ And thank you for being who you are!’” They all sat around the table, held hands, and gave thanks for “being together, and for sharing natures bounty.” Then they gobbled up the best Thanksgiving feast ever. And when they were done? They went outside and dove into the leaves!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-duck-and-hippo-give-thanks-friends

Image copyright Andrew Joyner, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions.

In his warmhearted Thanksgiving story, Jonathan London presents gentle conflicts which are resolved with generosity, friendship, and understanding as Duck, Hippo, and their friends prepare what each considers the perfect Thanksgiving feast. The spirit of the story lies in Hippo’s quick realization that a “good old-fashioned Thanksgiving” doesn’t lie solely in one type of meal, but in including friends, new traditions, and togetherness. Other examples of acceptance, of thoughtfulness, and of shaking off trivial accidents and minor complaints between the characters show young readers that happiness can be achieved when one fully considers a situation from both sides.

Andrew Joyner’s bright, action-packed illustrations clearly show the fond friendship between Duck and Hippo as they plan Thanksgiving dinner together. Duck’s carefree personality contrasts and complement’s Hippo’s more fastidious nature. Through the wide smiles, playfulness, and generous acts of the supporting characters young readers will understand that instead of ruining Hippo’s feast, they are excited to participate and contribute to it. Clear facial expressions and highlighted text also spotlight the strong bonds among these friends.

A feel-good story with humor and a positive message about the true meaning of Thanksgiving, Duck and Hippo Give Thanks—the latest in the Duck and Hippo series, which includes Duck and Hippo in the Rain and Duck and Hippo Lost and Found—is a wonderful addition to the series for fans and a terrific holiday book for home and classroom libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2018 | ISBN 978-1503900806

To learn more about Andrew Joyner, his books, and his art, visit his website.

You’re invited to watch the Duck and Hippo Give Thanks book trailer!

National Gratitude Month Activity

celebrate-picture-bks-picture-book-review-thanksgiving-worksheets-i-spy-alphabet

Alphabet I Spy Gratitude Game

 

Things to be thankful for are all around you! What do you see? Find an entire alphabet of favorite things with this printable game!

Alphabet I Spy Gratitude Game

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You can find Duck and Hippo Give Thanks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 7 – National Bison Day

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About the Holiday

Beginning in 2012, a movement grew to name the bison as America’s national mammal and declare the first Saturday of November as National Bison Day to bring together bison supporters, including Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, and educators to celebrate the significance of Bison. On May 9, 2016, President Barak Obama signed into law the proclamation naming the bison our national mammal.

The bison, also known as the American buffalo are considered a historical symbol of the United States and were integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Native American tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies. Bison also play an important role in improving soil and creating beneficial habitat whilst holding significant economic value for private producers and rural communities. Hunted to near extinction, bison now reside in all 50 states in national parks, refuges, tribal, and private lands.

My Bison

By Gaya Wisniewski

 

The first time a little girl meets the bison she was walking with her mother through a field of tall grass. “‘Look!’” her mother said. “‘He’s back!’” Every day after that the girl went out into the field to see the bison, coming a little closer each time until she was able to pet him. Once, she even thought she heard him whisper an invitation to come closer.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The little girl began to feed him food she’d made herself. Sometimes he didn’t like it, but he always tried it and that made her happy. One day it was time for him to move on with the rest of the herd. The girl walked with him as far as she could. When she said goodbye, the bison gave her a long look and she “knew he’d be back when snow covered the ground again.” The girl was lonely without him, but when winter returned she knew he had too without even seeing him. Now, seated together near the fire, the girl told him stories about the forest and what she’d done over the year while he, silent, “listened with tenderness.” She loved everything about him and loved him with her whole heart.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The girl and the bison grew old together, winter to winter, never feeling the cold of the snow. Once, they talked all night about their mothers. The girl remembering the first time her mother had shown her the bison, how she had comforted her and taught her the lessons of nature. She missed her mother so much, she told him, and imagined he missed his mother too.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

One winter the bison didn’t return and no amount of looking could find him. The girl, now an old woman, went home. She cried with missing him. And then just as in those winters so long ago when she felt his presence without seeing him, she knew he was with her. In her heart she “heard him say, ‘I am in every spring flower, every sound in the forest, and every snowflake.’” And she knew he was with her always.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Gaya Wisniewski’s stunning and gorgeous story about a friendship between a little girl and a bison is deeply moving, it’s straightforward and metaphorical meanings blending in harmony to settle in a reader’s heart. The girl’s and bison’s relationship is one of mutual respect and trust, and they are in many ways alike. With her shaggy coat and tousled hair, the girl looks like a miniature bison, while the bison is perfectly comfortable sitting at the table near the fire sipping hot chocolate or snoozing in the cozy built-in bed  in the girl’s home. The girl loves the bison the way children love their pets, and the way she takes care of him replicates a mother’s tender affection and attention.

Here the text and images take on deeper meanings as the little girl offers the bison homemade food, holding her long-handled spoon to his mouth the way mothers the world over do for their babies. She walks with him to the edge of the clearing as he leaves in the spring, waving goodbye but with the promise of his return like a mother taking her child to the bus stop, seeing them off to college, or watching them move away.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At other times the bison seems to take on the role of the mother. In the endearing illustration of the bison and the girl talking over cups of hot chocolate, the girl relates how the bison would listen to her stories. Later, readers learn that her mother made her hot chocolate when she couldn’t sleep, letting them imagine how the little girl might have told her mother about her day, about the things keeping her awake. The china cup also holds the bison’s memory of cuddling with his mother, their fur smudged and merging with the steam rising from the hot drink. This blending of roles subtly demonstrates the cycles of life and the reciprocal nature of love.

Readers don’t know when the girl lost her mother; but a snapshot of the girl playing Ring around the Rosie with her and her teddy bear, in which only the mother’s arms are visible at the side of the page and the circle of light highlighting this scene is surrounded by darkness, hints at the loss. As the bison and the girl grow old together and there comes the winter when the bison does not return readers discover that any great love is always with them.

Wisniewski’s charcoal and ink illustrations, punctuated with blue create a mystical, dreamlike atmosphere where the forest and the mountains, the girl and the bison reach out to embrace the reader and invite them into this world of a love like no other.

A tender story to share all types of unending love with children, My Bison would be a poignant addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898861

To learn more about Gaya Wisniewski, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Bison Day Activity

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Bison Coloring Page

 

Bison are majestic creatures. Enjoy this coloring page of a bison roaming Yellowstone National Park.

Bison Coloring Page

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You can find My Bison at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 6 – It’s Picture Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-awesomely-emma-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s picture books are amazing! Offering inspiration, characters that really speak to kids, moments to laugh out loud or reflect, glimpses into history, revelations in science, and much of the best art currently being produced, picture books defy their slim appearance with content that can change young lives. Reading a wide variety of books to children from birth on up is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Make choosing the books to read a family affair! Kids love picking out their own books and sharing cozy and fun story times with you!

Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story

Written by Amy Webb | Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

 

Emma loved making art of all kinds, she also loved laughing, her big sister, Chloe, and her mom and dad. Emma had limb differences. “She had no hands and used a wheelchair to get around.” When she drew or painted she held the pencil or paint brush with her toes. Today, Emma was painting a picture of herself. “Emma looked at her drawing and said, ‘No bodies are wrong. All bodies are right. We’re all different colors, sizes, and heights.’” Emma knew that her body worked differently, and she loved who she was.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-awesomely-emma-painting

Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When Emma’s class went to the art museum, Emma hoped to find a painting by her favorite artist, Matisse, who also used a wheelchair. But when they got to the museum, there was no ramp out front for Emma to use. Instead, she and her teacher would have to go around back and meet up with the class inside. Emma felt sad and frustrated because she wanted to use the front door, but she put on a smile and reminded herself “‘My body works differently – I love being me! Because ME is an awesome thing to be.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-awesomely-emma-drawing

Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Once inside, the kids raced all over the museum looking at the different types of art. At last, Emma found a painting by Matisse. Gazing at it, Emma dreamed that one day maybe her art would hang in a museum. Her musings were suddenly interrupted when Charley grabbed hold of her wheelchair and began pushing. Emma had to remind him that she liked to drive herself. Then at lunch, before she could even unpack her bag, Charley started doing it for her. And when they stopped to draw, Charley was right there again to help. It made Emma angry, and she told Charley to stop.

Charley apologized and said he felt bad about her not being able to use the front door and about other things Emma couldn’t do. Emma explained to him that everyone is different and that she loves who she is. Emma said that it was okay if she couldn’t do everything. No one can do everything, she told Charley. Then she reminded him of all the things she could do on her own and with her feet.

Suddenly, Emma had an idea. In her sketchpad she wrote a letter, and the whole class signed it. Before they left, Charley handed it to a museum worker. Several weeks later, a letter arrived for the class. In it the museum director agreed that there should be a ramp out front and promised to begin building one right away. Everyone cheered, and Emma “felt awesome.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-awesomely-emma-museum

Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Positive, straightforward, and empowering, Amy Webb’s book about a girl with limb differences and a strong sense of self-confidence and self-esteem is both a compelling story and an excellent way for adults and children to discuss the wide range of abilities people possess, inclusivity, and individuality. Emma, displaying talent, poise, and enthusiasm as well as the courage to speak up for herself, is a delight. She is a superb role model for all children.

Merrilee Liddiard’s charming illustrations show Emma as a regular kid, drawing, painting, at school with friends, and enjoying the trip to the museum—just differently. Her happiness and self-possession are evident in her expressions and interactions with her friends. When no ramp is available at the front door of the museum and Charley begins taking over, Emma’s expression registers her frustration, allowing readers to see and understand how these experiences make her feel. Images of Emma in her wheelchair and performing tasks with her bare feet demonstrate Emma’s independence and abilities.

Uplifting and inclusive, Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story is highly recommended and would be an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. Don’t miss the first book in this series: When Charley Met Emma.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506464954

Discover more about Amy Webb and her books on her website.

To learn more about Merrilee Liddiard, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-awesomely-emma-cover

You can find Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 26 – Howl at the Moon Day

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About the Holiday

Wolves, with their gleaming eyes, sharp teeth, and eerie resonating howl, evoke strong emotions in many people. Playing the role of both hero and villain in mythological tales, feared by farmers and ranchers, and well known as “big and bad” to children everywhere, wolves are part of our lives whether we’ve ever seen or heard one or not. While many people may have a negative view of wolves, the founders of today’s holiday want to change that. They want people to see the beauty, power, and environmental benefits of these majestic animals. Wolves don’t actually howl at the moon; they howl to communicate with the rest of their pack, but the inspirational nature of an image of the full moon framing the upturned head of a wolf cannot be denied. To celebrate today? Sure! Go out and howl your loudest at the moon!

There’s Something about Sam

Written by Hannah Barnaby | Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

 

Max was inviting all the boys in his class to his sleepover birthday party. All except the new kid Sam, that is. “‘There’s something different about him,’” Max told his mom, but she said “‘I’m sure you’ll like him when you get to know him better,’” so Max wrote out the invitation. At school all the boys were excited to go. All except Sam, that is. He wasn’t sure because there was going to be “a full moon that night.”

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, 2020, text copyright Hanna Barnaby, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

The other boys thought Sam’s abilities to run really fast and know what the cafeteria would be serving for lunch were awesome. Still, Sam wanted to know what made him seem so different, and he was determined to figure it out at his party. At dinner, Max was mesmerized by Sam’s very rare burger. While they played games, Max thought it was amusing when Sam took a nip at Jeremy, and while all the other boys changed into their pajamas in the family room, Sam did it privately.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, 2020, text copyright Hanna Barnaby, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

When Max’s mom brought out cookies, all the boys grabbed for them. That’s when Max noticed Sam’s hairy hands and long, sharp claws. The other kids screamed and hid, but Max thought it was cool. Sam was just about to explain, when “the room was flooded with moonlight.” Sam ran out of the house, growling, with Max right behind him. The boys had wild fun in the backyard all night…until they fell asleep up in a big tree.

As Max and his mom watched the boys head home, Max’s mom had to agree that Sam was “an unusual boy.” “‘Yep,’ Max said, ‘he sure is something.’” Then he ran to his room to schedule monthly sleepovers with Sam.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there's-something-about-sam-burgers

Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, 2020, text copyright Hanna Barnaby, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Hannah Barnaby’s unique tale of friendship and individuality will enchant rambunctious kids for whom the lure of all things wild is irresistible. Quickly paced, Barnaby’s story will entice readers to guess at Sam’s alternate personality and watch eagerly for his transformation. Along the way Barnaby tucks in plenty of traits—from athletic ability to liking the same things to just sharing unstructured play time—that draw friends together and reminds readers to give everyone a chance to show their true selves before making judgements.

Anne Wilsdorf’s delightfully freewheeling boys will charm kids from the first page. When readers first meet Sam, with his scruffy hair, they may begin to get an inkling of just how he is so different. Other hints add to the fun too. Details like monster backpacks, monster-themed toys, pajamas and sleeping bags, and a scary movie on TV leave it up to readers to decide whether Sam is really a werewolf or not.

Simply lots of fun with a welcome message, There’s Something about Sam will be an often-asked for addition to bedtime story times—full moon or not. The book would be  an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1328766809

Discover more about Hannah Barnaby and her books on her website.

Howl at the Moon Day Activity

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Werewolf Coloring Page

 

You can have a howling good time with this printable coloring page, and you don’t even need to wait for the full moon!

Werewolf Coloring Page

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You can find There’s Something about Sam at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review