November 10 – It’s Picture Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-cover

About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Matrin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways. They entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding. If you want to learn more about the holiday and read engaging daily posts about why picture books are important by your favorite authors, illustrators, and others in the children’s publishing industry, visit picturebookmonth.com.

How to Make Friends with a Ghost

By Rebecca Green

 

Have you ever thought of ghosts and felt a shiver? Ever been glad you don’t know any ghosts? Well, the little girl narrating this ghostly guide says you should dispel those notions. Ghosts, she assures, “are sweet creatures who need friends too. And who better to befriend them than you?” She even goes on to show potential ghost pals everything they need to know.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-on-log

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of Tundra Books.

First, you must learn to recognize a ghost when you see one. There are many false sightings, like kids in costumes, impressions made by a “dusty camera lens,” and “a towel on a doorknob.” But the leading expert on such matters, Dr. Phantoneous Spookel reveals that instead of searching for ghosts, it’s best to let them find you. To help you recognize them, the little girl provides an easy-to-follow classification guide that can help.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-false-sightings

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of Tundra Books.

If you’ve been approached by a figure that has rosy cheeks, arms but no fingers, a glowing body, and a “wavy bottom for mobility,” you can be pretty sure you’ve seen a ghost. Here are some dos and don’ts for how to proceed. Your first instinct may be to flee, but “do not run! Ghosts are very sensitive creatures.” Just be friendly and “tell the ghost your name.” Invite the ghost into your home, but “never ever put you hand through a ghost. It can cause a serious tummy ache.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-classification-guide

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ghosts require special care and enjoy snacks like “moldy toast, earwax truffles, pickled boogers, mud tarts, and cinnamon-dusted insects.” For a main course, “Floating Spaghetti and Mudballs hits the spot. Wonder how to keep your ghost friend happily occupied? A walk through the woods in search of “leaves, acorns, and worms” is always nice. Ghosts also love scary stories like the ones found in “Tales of the Living by Mort L. Bings.” And they like to laugh at funny jokes and dance to “creepy music.” Of course, a ghost friend fits right in on Halloween.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-dancing

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of myblankpaper.com.

When a ghost gets tired, it’s a perfect time for a long soak in a warm caldron bath. Then off to the dankest corner of the attic for a little snooze and sweet nightmares on some soft moss. If your ghost has trouble falling to sleep, you can sing a lullaby of “eerie hums and wails.” Sometimes your ghost might like to hide when you have company, Good spots include the “tissue box…a sock drawer…or the refrigerator” next to the milk.

Even though ghosts are quick, their soft, white shapelessness can get them into trouble. “Do not let your ghost be used as a tissue!” Getting mixed up with the laundry can cause problems of the soggy or fluffy kind, and ghost should be especially careful in the kitchen, where they can be mistaken for “eggs, whipped cream, sour cream, and marshmallows.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-tissue-box

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Perhaps the best part about having a ghost as a friend is that they will be your buddy for life—and even beyond. As you grow up there are certain things you can do to maintain your friendship. When you leave home and find your own place, make sure it’s comfortable and isn’t haunted. “Ghosts do not like competition.” Make time every day to spend with your ghost, and if you start a family, you should know that “your ghost will love mini versions of you too.” When you grow old, your ghost will still be there to help out and make life better. Yes, “the best part about making friends with a ghost is that you’ll have the sweetest friend…forever.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-say-hi

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of myblankpaper.com.

Rebecca Green’s spirited tribute to true friendship is sweet and funny and applicable to all pals—ghostly or not. Who wouldn’t like the kind of friendship that lasts forever? Through her ghostly guide, Green reveals that a new friend may be of an unexpected sort and might even be someone who has been invisible to you. Her tips show that embracing a new friend is as easy as saying hi and making them feel important with special treatment, understanding, and sharing favorite activities. Friendships can suffer when two people grow up and grow apart because of distance, work, or family, but Green suggests that with careful attention, a friendship can last forever.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-to-make-friends-with-a-ghost-snacks

Copyright Rebecca Green, 2017, courtesy of myblankpaper.com.

Green’s adorable gouache and colored-pencil illustrations have a timeless feel rendered in soft beiges and grays punctuated with red accents. Green’s clever text is enhanced by images of the false ghost sightings, classification guide, ghost snacks, hiding places and hazards, and the expressive little ghost as it laughs, plays, sleeps, and smiles. As the girl grows older, the ghost takes the lead in activities the two enjoy, leaving readers with a satisfying and comforting feeling.

Readers will giggle and “aww” and fall in love with the little ghost and the idea of such a wonderful friendship. How to Make Friends with a Ghost is rich in charm and sage advice and would make a welcome presence on any child’s or classroom bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1101919019

Learn more about Rebecca Green and find a gallery of her illustration work on her website.

Don’t be frightened! It’s just the adorable How to Make Friends with a Ghost book trailer!

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-books-to-read-bag-empty

Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

 

Supplies

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-books-to-love-bag-empty

Directions

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

October 27 – National Black Cat Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-scariest-book-ever-cover

About the Holiday

There may be many pet holidays—and even cat holidays—but today we celebrate one particular feline: the black cat. Sure, black cats are in vogue this week leading up to Halloween because of their shadowy appearance, stealthy moves, and—of course—that superstition. But that’s part of the problem for these loveable animals. The notion that black cats are unlucky make them the least adopted type of cat. Black cats are just as cuddly, sweet, and purrfectly suited to be your companion as any other cat. If you’re considering adopting a cat or kitten, think about giving a black cat a forever home.

The Scariest Book Ever

By Bob Shea

 

On the very first page a little ghost lets kids know just what kind of book they’re holding—a scary one! It’s so scary that even before the first page—back on the title page—there were “dark woods” that are “probably crawling with hungry monsters with smelly breath, sharp fangs, and pointy claws.” At least the ghost hopes so. He also hopes he doesn’t spill his orange juice on himself, but you know how that goes—once you think about something, it happens.

Now the ghost is soaking wet and naked as a window. He can’t go into the forest like that! He sends you off into the woods alone and promises to meet you “in a couple of pages.” You see that the woods are full of pointy trees, whose shadows all create arrows pointing to one particular spot. “Well?” the ghost asks, “What do you see? A dark hole?” The ghost’s wide, owl-like eyes glow from the darkness, and he warns readers that “nothing ever good comes out of a dark hole!” He reassures them that they can stay here and help “with the haunted housework” which includes cleaning the bathroom. “That’s scary, right?”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-scariest-book-ever-forest

Copyright Bob Shea, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

But you go back, and what’s this? Out of the hole pops the cutest little bunny you ever did see! Her cheeks are pink and she’s wearing an adorable coat. A smiling snail, ladybug, and worm have also come to say hello. Back to the ghost who’s now up to his elbows in is rubber gloves (ghosts have elbows, right?). He wants to know all about the scary thing that came out of the hole. He’s even got some guesses: “Snakes made out of bees? A spider in a crabby mood? Broccoli?”

The ghost thinks the whole story of a sweet bunny is some kind of trick to get him into those frightening woods. But he’s happily scared right where he is, thank you very much. Can’t you see the ferocious black kitten lapping up milk with her little pink tongue? But you are pretty brave. Look at you–you just went back into the forest, where the bunny is giving out invitations to a Spooky Party to all of her friends.

The ghost wants to know what you saw…no he doesn’t…yes he does…no he doesn’t! Ok, so when he hears it, he doesn’t believe it. “Whimsical woodland creatures? Invitations? To a party? Nice try. What’s next, pumpkin picking in a pumpkin patch?” But as you’re leaving again, the ghost realizes his skepticism is a bit off-putting, so he tries to lure you back with doughnuts—“Spooooooooky doughnuts.” Meanwhile, the bunny is leading a parade through the forest, where the trees seem to be getting smaller and smaller. Sure enough the “whimsical woodland animals” have been visiting a pumpkin patch and these smiling little gourds are coming along to the party too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-scariest-book-ever-owl-eyes

Copyright Bob Shea, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

“OOOOOOOHHHHH….” No, the ghost isn’t trying to be scary; his belly just aches from all the doughnuts he ate. See them? If you think the story about the pumpkin patch is going to rouse the ghost, you’re sadly mistaken. The ghost thinks it’s just a tall tale and does a bit of scolding: “Gimme a break. You think I died yesterday? I’m not falling for that. I’m staying right here.” And while he’s at it, he’s upset that the kitten has been so frightened that all she can do is pounce and play with a soft pink ball of yarn.

But you know how readers are—always turning the page! So here we are, and everyone is doing crafts and eating treats. The ghost figures since he “didn’t hear any screaming” and there were just crafts and cupcakes that the “woods aren’t that scary after all.” He decides to drop in—but just to “save you from the cupcakes.” He means “the super scary monsters.” But what’s this?! Horrible monsters like bats and Frankenstein and bandits and jack o-lanterns. There’s even another ghost. “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”

The ghost zips away, giving you a very stern tougue lashing, “Why didn’t you warn me? Are you trying to scare me more to death?” But the kitty sets him straight about the whole costume party thing, so he goes back—kitty first though. And when he gets back, everyone’s taken off their costume, and the ghost can see who’s underneath. “Oh, ha, ha, ha! Very funny,” he chuckles. No one loves a costume party more than a naked ghost.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-scariest-book-ever-party

Copyright Bob Shea, 2017, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Bob Shea has written one scary funny book for little readers, who will guffaw at the juxtaposition of frightening and cute and the ghost’s examples of some pretty scary stuff. Shea’s chatty ghost who sends readers into the woods and then wheedles, scoffs, and chides them afterward is an adorably sympathetic spirit—one that kids will take to heart from the first page.

Shea’s unique style and humor as well as one very cool printing trick that allows for a “naked ghost” to appear on the page will make readers Oooo and Ahhhh—in a good way. Black- and blue-toned pages alternate with candlelight-yellow ones to mirror the little ghost’s deep, dark fears and the festive reality of the bunny’s party. The final reveal not only puts the ghost at ease but also any readers who may feel a bit of trepidation about Halloween or the unseen in general.

The Scariest Book Ever is not just for Halloween as readers will love the garrulous ghost and the giggly, gentle nudge to try something new any time of the year. The book makes for fun and dramatic read-aloud story times at home, in classrooms, and at the library.

Ages 4 – 7

Disney-Hyperion, 2017 | ISBN 978-1484730461

This could be the scariest The Scariest Book Ever book trailer!

National Black Cat Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cat-and-pumpkin-coloring-page

Cats and Pumpkin Coloring Page

 

Halloween may be scary, but these two kittens and happy pumpkin are sweet! Give yourself a treat and enjoy this printable Cats and Pumpkin Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

September 30 – National Ghost Hunting Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-cover

About the Holiday

On the last Saturday in September, The ScareFest in Lexington, Kentucky kicks off a coast-to-coast simultaneous ghost hunt by teams investigating paranormal phenomenon in various venues. They collecting supporting evidence with EMF meters, digital thermometers, handheld and static digital video cameras, audio recorders and computers. The hunt ushers in a month of mysteries, haunted attractions, and other autumn festivals.

Goldfish Ghost

Written by Lemony Snicket | Illustrated by Lisa Brown

 

In a big round bowl in a certain boy’s room in a seaside town, “Goldfish Ghost was born.” For a while, Goldfish Ghost just hung out looking at the ceiling, but he got lonely, “so Goldfish Ghost floated out of the bowl and drifted toward the window to find some company.” He drifted over the compact little town nestled near the ocean and watched over by a lighthouse that “everyone said was haunted.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-bedroom

Image copyright Lisa Brown, 2017, text copyright Lemony Snicket, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

At the pier seagulls screeched, waiting for a snack. They weren’t interested in talking to Goldfish Ghost, so he caught the breeze into town. The sidewalks and shops were busy with locals and tourists “buying sweaters and postcards and pets and groceries, but everybody there was with somebody else, so no one was looking for company.” Goldfish Ghost kept drifting and soon reached the beach. No one there noticed him either.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-beach

Image copyright Lisa Brown, 2017, text copyright Lemony Snicket, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The swimmers and sunbathers also didn’t seem to notice the “ghosts of creatures who had lived in the sea” that were now floating in the air just above the surface of the ocean. Goldfish Ghost might have joined them, but he didn’t feel comfortable among these wild fish. “It can be hard to find the company you are looking for.” Goldfish Ghost stopped for a moment, perching on top of a beach umbrella as he pondered his next move. Finally, he returned home to his bowl.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-above-the-ocean

Image copyright Lisa Brown, 2017, text copyright Lemony Snicket, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

When he got there, however, he found a new goldfish swimming happily in the bowl. While she seemed okay, Goldfish Ghost thought they wouldn’t have much in common, so he continued his search for the right companion. In the still night air, he heard a voice say, “‘I’ve been looking for company.’” Goldfish Ghost followed the sound to the lighthouse, where he found the ghost of the old keeper. She was also lonely and looking for someone to talk to.

She held Goldfish Ghost gently “and placed him where the light had once shone for sailors at sea.” Then in silent happiness, the two ghosts gazed out at the world together.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-lighthouse-keeper

Image copyright Lisa Brown, 2017, text copyright Lemony Snicket, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Lemony Snicket, most fortunately, interprets the world through a singular lens. In Goldfish Ghost he gives quirky, yet comforting, meaning to the sad reality of aquarium ownership while connecting Goldfish Ghost to the world’s natural lifecycle. Inherent in the story is also the idea of friendship and the idea that while some kids (and adults) may feel invisible to others at times, there is someone out there who will make a perfect companion, if you just keep looking.

Lisa Brown’s soft-hued, matte watercolor illustrations set a snug, soothing atmosphere as young readers follow Goldfish Ghost on his journey. From the little boy’s room and its seascape décor to the inviting lighthouse on the edge of the shore, Brown gives kids plenty to discover on every page. Alert readers will notice other ghosts on the pier and on the beach, see the little boy leaving the pet store holding a familiar plastic bag, and recognize the ghostly creatures floating above the ocean. When Goldfish Ghost finally finds a friend in the lighthouse keeper (whose reading runs to the same interests as the little boy’s), kids will be cheered to see that he gets new “life” in the golden glow of the Fresnel lens.

With a splash of humor and a lot of heart, Goldfish Ghost makes a tender choice for story times as well as for children who have lost a pet or are navigating the world of friendships.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626725072

You’ll discover the world of Lisa Brown, her books, comics, and illustrations, on her website!

National Ghost Hunting Day Activity 

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ghost-coloring-page

Cute Ghost Coloring Page

 

If all ghosts were this adorable, who would be afraid of them? Color this printable Cute Ghost Coloring Page then let it hang around your room.

Picture Book Review

July 16 – National Personal Chef Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-cover

About the Holiday

National Personal Chef Day pays homage to all of the professional chefs and bakers who provide tasty and nutritious meals to families, organizations, and institutions around the country. Through their education, skills, and talent, these chefs enrich the lives of those who can’t cook for themselves and provide comfort for the people who love and care for them. If a professional or personal chef cooks meals for someone you love, take a moment to thank them today.

The Bake Shop Ghost

Written by Jacqueline K. Ogburn | Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

 

For all intents and purposes, Miss Cora Lee Merriweather is Merriweather’s Bake Shop and the bake shop is Cora Lee. “Her Mississippi mud pie was darker than the devil’s own heart,” and her sponge cake was as light as angels’ wings. Her bakery case is stacked with fluffy pies, flaky strudels, and cakes of every size and flavor. In fact, no one’s birthday is complete without a Merriweather cake to celebrate with.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-bakery

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

When Cora passes away, the congregation at her funeral weeps when the preacher reads the bake shop menu and everyone realizes that “all those luscious desserts were now only sweet memories.” It doesn’t take long, however, for a new baker to buy Cora’s business. Gerda Stein stocks the shelves with the ingredients for her strudels and cakes and starts baking, but the ovens burn every dessert, the refrigerator goes on the fritz, and Gerda hears ominous footsteps overhead and frightening clanking behind her. She slowly turns around and finds herself staring straight into the eyes of a ghostly Cora Lee Merriweather who shrieks, “Get out of my kitchen!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-frightening

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The bake shop goes back on the market and is sold to Frederico Spinelli who is not afraid of ghosts—until the next day when he emerges from the front door drenched in powdered sugar and never returns. Sophie Kristoff, the marzipan queen, takes over next, only to be chased out by flying eggs, three pink marzipan pigs, and a bunch of marzipan grapes.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-annie-comes

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

After her departure the shop stands vacant for years, growing dim and dusty. One day Annie Washington, fresh off her stint as a cruise ship pastry chef, strolls by the dilapidated storefront. She falls in love with it as soon as she steps through the door. Annie buys the old bakery and scrubs and polishes everything until it shines.

That night Annie goes straight to work on a puff pastry. Around midnight footsteps creak overhead, a cold wind sweeps the room, and mixing bowls topple to the floor. Annie keeps working. When she’s finished she dusts off her hands, turns around, and finds herself staring into ghostly eyes. “‘Miss Cora Lee Merriweather, I’ve been expecting you,” she says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-haunting

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Get out of my kitchen!” Cora says. But Annie is not intimidated. “This is my kitchen now,” she tells Cora. And what’s more, even though Cora may have been the best baker in the state, Annie tells her that she was the best pastry chef to ever sail on the Sea Star cruise ships. Come typhoon, tsunami, or shipwreck, she never left a kitchen until she was finished.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-annie-battles-cora

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Cora tries every trick in the book—she shrieks, flings utensils, rises up through the dough Annie’s kneading, shatters eggs, and as dawn breaks scatters a 50-pound bag of flour across the kitchen. All right, Annie says, “What can I do so you’ll leave me in peace?” Cora has a ready answer: “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.” “Piece of cake,” replies Annie.

Annie makes every cake she knows and Cora critiques them. But none fill her up or bring a tear to her eye. Annie grows to respect the ghost’s advice, but she wants her kitchen back. After a month and hundreds of cakes, Annie is out of ideas. She goes to the library to research more recipes. There she finds a small book on town history, and after reading it, she knows just what kind of cake to bake.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-cora-lounges

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

That night at midnight Cora appears, and Annie is ready. She lifts the cover on a very special cake. “Across the top, in piped icing, it read, ‘Happy Birthday, Cora Lee.’” The ghost looks at Annie with tears in her eyes. “‘How did you know?’” Cora asks. Annie reveals the secrets of her research then adds, “Besides, who ever makes a cake for the baker?” With tears streaming down her face, Cora eats her slice of cake. When Annie offers her another, she declines. “‘I do believe I’m full.’”

Now everyone in town enjoys Washington and Merriweather Bake Shop, where the cakes are almost as good as Cora’s. But they never suspect that Cora Lee helps out in the kitchen. And the most beautiful cakes? Those are the birthday cakes Annie and Cora make for each other.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-bake-shop-ghost-cake

Image copyright Marjorie Priceman, 2008. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

A recipe for Ghost-Pleasing Chocolate Cake follows the story.

The Bake Shop Ghost was first published in 2005 and made into a short film in 2009 starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Despite its age, however, this is a story that seems fresh every time it’s read. Jacqueline K. Ogburn plays out the story with such excellent pacing and details that the twist ending is a true surprise. Her descriptions of Cora Lee’s delicacies are mouthwatering and her metaphors just as downhome and tantalizing. Ogburn’s Annie will inspire young readers with her confidence, kindness, generosity, and enduring friendship. 

Marjorie Priceman illustrates The Bake Shop Ghost with verve and delicious colors that will make readers wish they could visit Merriweather’s to sample the desserts in the well-stocked cases. The sophisticated shop is no less inviting, with its delicate chandeliers, French café chairs, and homey details. Priceman infuses her pages with humorous details as well: as Cora is distracted with a sale, a dog licks icing off a wedding cake, and at Cora’s funeral the preacher, choir, and congregation shed copious tears as ethereal visions of the cakes they will miss float in the air. The scenes in which Cora’s ghost menaces the new shop owners are cleverly depicted with swoops of white that bear Cora’s face and hands floating above the disaster she causes.

Ages 4 -9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Paperback edition, 2008 | ISBN 978-0547076775

National Personal Chef Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Cora Lee Merriweather—and they’ll become one of your favorite confections too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

Picture Book Review

June 19 – It’s National Zoo and Aquarium Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-cover

About the Holiday

This month’s observance pays tribute to the role of zoos and aquariums and the work they do for education, conservation, and research to protect the world’s animals. As zoos and aquariums build exhibits that more closely resemble the animals’ natural habitats and offer interactive and hands-on programs, more visitors can learn about the environments and science of each amazing creature. These institutions are also reaching out with personal and online visits to schools by zoologists and other experts, increasing the interest in biology and animal science to students. Nearly 175 million people—50 million of which are children—visit zoos and aquariums each year. To celebrate today, visit your local zoo or aquarium!

Goldfish Ghost

Written by Lemony Snicket | Illustrated by Lisa Brown

 

In a big round bowl in a certain boy’s room in a seaside town, “Goldfish Ghost was born.” For a while, Goldfish Ghost just hung out looking at the ceiling, but he got lonely, “so Goldfish Ghost floated out of the bowl and drifted toward the window to find some company.” He drifted over the compact little town nestled near the ocean and watched over by a lighthouse that “everyone said was haunted.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-bedroom

Image copyright Lisa Brown, text copyright Lemony Snicket. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

At the pier seagulls screeched, waiting for a snack. They weren’t interested in talking to Goldfish Ghost, so he caught the breeze into town. The sidewalks and shops were busy with locals and tourists “buying sweaters and postcards and pets and groceries, but everybody there was with somebody else, so no one was looking for company.” Goldfish Ghost kept drifting and soon reached the beach. No one there noticed him either.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-beach

Image copyright Lisa Brown, text copyright Lemony Snicket. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The swimmers and sunbathers also didn’t seem to notice the “ghosts of creatures who had lived in the sea” that were now floating in the air just above the surface of the ocean. Goldfish Ghost might have joined them, but he didn’t feel comfortable among these wild fish. “It can be hard to find the company you are looking for.” Goldfish Ghost stopped for a moment “atop a beach umbrella and wondered what to do.” Finally, he returned home to his bowl.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-above-the-ocean

Image copyright Lisa Brown, text copyright Lemony Snicket. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

When he got there, however, he found a new goldfish swimming happily in the bowl. While she seemed okay, Goldfish Ghost thought they wouldn’t have much in common, so he continued his search for the right companion. In the still night air, he heard a voice say, “‘I’ve been looking for company.’” Goldfish Ghost followed the sound to the lighthouse, where he found the ghost of the old keeper. She was also lonely and looking for someone to talk to.

She held Goldfish ghost gently “and placed him where the light had once shone for sailors at sea.” Then in silent happiness, the two ghosts gazed out at the world together.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldfish-ghost-lighthouse-keeper

Image copyright Lisa Brown, text copyright Lemony Snicket. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Lemony Snicket, most fortunately, interprets the world through a singular lens. In Goldfish Ghost he gives quirky, yet comforting, meaning to the sad reality of aquarium ownership while connecting Goldfish Ghost to the world’s natural lifecycle. Inherent in the story is also the idea of friendship and the idea that while some kids (and adults) may feel invisible to others at times, there is someone out there who will make a perfect companion, if you just keep looking.

Lisa Brown’s soft-hued, matte watercolor illustrations set a snug, soothing atmosphere as young readers follow Goldfish Ghost on his journey. From the little boy’s room and its seascape décor to the inviting lighthouse on the edge of the shore, Brown gives kids plenty to discover on every page. Alert readers will notice other ghosts on the pier and on the beach, find the little boy leaving the pet store holding a familiar plastic bag, and may want to name the ghostly creatures floating above the ocean. When Goldfish Ghost finally finds a friend in the lighthouse keeper (whose reading runs to the same interests as the little boy’s), kids will be cheered to see that he gets new “life” in the golden glow of the Fresnel lens.

With a splash of humor and a lot of heart, Goldfish Ghost makes a tender choice for story times as well as for children who have lost a pet or are navigating the world of friendships.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626725072

You’ll discover the world of Lisa Brown, her books, comics, and illustrations, on her website!

National Zoo and Aquarium Month Activity

Fill a Fishbowl Coloring Page

 

With these printable pages you can color your favorite fish and fill a bowl to decorate your room!

Fish Bowl | Friendly Fish

Picture Book Review