September 25 – World Dream Day and Interview with Author Michelle Cuevas

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About the Holiday

World Dream Day is a global participatory holiday that encourages individuals, schools, businesses, and families to focus on their dreams and make them reality. Discovering and acting on your dreams can transform not only your life, but the lives of others. Imagine how the world could change if everyone had the opportunity to live their dreams. Today, feel inspired and empowered to do or become whatever you’ve always dreamed of!

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow

Written by Michelle Cuevas | Illustrated by Sydney Smith

 

Smoot the Shadow was bored. Bored. Bored. For seven and a half years, he’d been doing the same things over and over. Every day, he and his boy—to whom he was firmly connected—“brushed the same teeth, frowned the same frown, and drew the same pictures—always staying perfectly inside the lines.” Smoot’s boy never jumped, ran, or even laughed, so Smoot never did either.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Excet at night. Then, while the boy slept, Smoot dreamed. He dreamed in a multitude of colors about singing, dancing, and having fun. One day, with an unexpected “pop” Smoot became free of his boy. He didn’t waste a moment, but packed a few things and headed out into the world. He jumped rope, rode a carousel and climbed a tree to say hello to a little bird. He even got to dance in a field of multicolored wildflowers just like in his dreams.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Suddenly, other shadows took notice. As they watched Smoot play, they became braver too. “‘If he can follow his dreams, we can too,’” they reasoned. The first shadow to take the plunge was a dandelion. As it soared away into the sky, becoming an indistinct form, people tried to guess what it was. All this attention emboldened the shadows of a cricket and a grasshopper who had “formed a band, but were nervous about playing music in public.” Their shadows, however, picked up their instruments and played “like cool shade on a hot afternoon.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

A frog’s shadow discovered his inner prince, and a dragonfly’s shadow floated out over the city as a ferocious dragon. Even a lowly rock’s shadow had dreams of greatness, transforming into “a cathedral, and then a skyscraper, and finally a castle that reached the clouds.” Smoot began to grow afraid of the imagination he’d unleashed. What if the shadows of zoo animals escaped and roamed through town or if the sun was eclipsed by the shadow of an enormous whale? How would anyone catch them?

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

But Smoot had an idea. He made a castle from the ambitious rock and some others. The frog moved in to live like a prince, and the dragonfly guarded the gate. Then Smoot sang with the grasshopper and cricket to give them more courage, and he blew the dandelion seeds into the air. The shadows all saw that their dreams had come true, so they returned to their owners, who also felt different.

And Smoot’s boy? All the excitement had inspired him to be more like his shadow. After he and his shadow reconnected, they ran, tumbled, jumped in puddles, and played in “singing, ringing, flying, vibrant, dancing color.”

Through her rambunctious shadows, Michelle Cuevas creatively externalizes that small (or loud) voice inside many people that is yearning to be heard and acted on. For many children and adults, giving free reign to their alter ego can feel uncomfortable or even frightening. In her lyrical and uplifting book, Cuevas reveals these dreams for greatness, recognition, or freedom and encourages readers to let go and chase them. She shines a light on how they can take that first step through play, teaming up, or using their imagination and talents to make their dreams come alive.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of sydneydraws.tumblr.com.

Sydney Smith’s striking images immediately orient readers to the monotone world the boy lives in. While outside the window colors abound, inside, the boy sits on a gray sofa with a black-and-white rug and his black-and-white dog nearby. The walls are white, the floor is dull, and even the plant—standing away from the light of the window—is browning. Perhaps, however, the painting above the boy offers hope and a little foreshadowing: Black images play on a white canvas, but a swipe of blue and a red dot add lively, colorful accents. Likewise, the red-covered book the boy reads is a bright spot in this otherwise dreary room.

The boy’s shadow, however, dreams in color. When Smoot pops free of his restraints and goes on a play-filled adventure, the illustrations are full of action and vibrancy. Smoot smiles and exults in his freedom. His joy is infectious, and his antics and clever ways of ensuring that each character gets to fulfill their aspirations will inspire children to uncover their own inner world.

Smoot: a Rebellious Shadow is a heartfelt and empowering book for hesitant and more adventurous children alike. It would make an ideal book for home libraries and classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN  978-0525429692

Discover more about Michelle Cuevas and her books for children and tweens on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork by Sydney Smith on Tumbler!

World Dream Day Activity

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Live Your Dream! Shadow Blackboard

 

Shadows are fun to create and play with! Making a black board from a shadow is a great way to show your imagination while making a useful decoration for your room. Put on your inventive thinking cap and devise a unique shadow by using toys or other objects from home. You can even make a shadow of yourself! Making the blackboard may require two people.

Supplies

  • Black thick poster board, 1 or 2 pieces or a tri-fold depending on how large your blackboard will be
  • Large sheet of white or light paper
  • Objects to create the shadow
  • Pencil
  • Scissors or x-acto knife
  • Mounting squares or tape
  • Chalk

Directions

  1. To Make a Shadow Blackboard from an object or objects
  2. Choose two or three objects, such as toys, musical instruments, shoes, knick-knacks, etc., that will make interesting shapes or ideas. Arrange the objects in a way to create the picture you want. (In the photo above, a cactus-shaped pillow and a ukulele were used to create the shadow)
  3. Either outside in a sunny spot or inside with a light, lay the white paper on the ground
  4. As one person holds the item or items above the paper, trace the shadow.
  5. Alternately, if the objects are large enough, you can arrange them and trace them on the white paper or directly on the black poster board.
  6. Cut the shadow out of the white paper
  7. Trace the shadow on the black poster board with the chalk
  8. Cut the image out of the black poster board
  9. Attach the shadow blackboard to your wall with the mounting squares or tape
  10. Use colored chalk to write or draw your dreams and doodles on your blackboard

To Make a Shadow Blackboard of Yourself

  1. Lie down on the white paper
  2. Strike a pose
  3. Have someone else trace you
  4. Cut out your figure
  5. Trace the figure onto the black poster board
  6. Cut out the figure from the black poster board
  7. Attach to the wall with the mounting squares

Meet Author Michelle Cuevas

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I’m excited to talk with Michelle Cuevas today about Smoot, her research adventures, and her very innovative Halloween costumes!

What draws you to write quiet picture books about introspective characters?

I actually think about this question a lot! I suppose it has to do with being a bit of a lone wolf as a kid – I loved making up song lyrics, building rock gardens, writing a newspaper about the lives of neighborhood animals. I was good at creating little worlds inside my own world, (I have three brothers, so I had company, but mostly the fighting-over-monopoly kind). I also think that in everyday life, it’s not always the big-bad-villain-monster that we’re up against. Often the things we face are inside – fear, loneliness, grief. I like characters who take on that kind of struggle, who make the everyday ‘okay this is hard but I’m going to keep trying’ feel extraordinary.

What was your inspiration for Smoot?

Smoot came to me when I had a couple candles lit and the shadows made me think I should do a book about shadow puppets… or a shadow puppeteer… something in that world. As I started writing, I realized that the most interesting character by far was the shadow. What were the shadow’s innermost dreams? Thoughts? Ideas? A lot of people ask about his name also. I think it’s a combination of “smudge” and “soot,” (though a child I met suggested it could also be “small” and “foot.” Definitely possible). I have such a great time naming characters in my books, I think I would thoroughly enjoy a career at Crayola in the color-naming department.

If you were a runaway shadow, where would you go or what would you do?

If I were a runaway shadow I might like to try being other things for a while – you could go be the shadow of a galloping horse, a skyscraper, a cloud across the surface of the ocean. The possibilities are pretty endless.

One of your activities is falconry, which conjures up such wonderful images. Could you tell how you became involved in falconry and a little bit about it?

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I like to do research for my books, so falconry started as research for my second novel about a boy who is half bird and hatched from an egg. I got very interested in it, even looking into getting my own Harris Hawk, but it takes many years and several days of hunting every week. Maybe someday!

I’ve also done research by riding elephants, bird banding with ornithologists, interviewing astrophysicists, spending time with butterflies, and more. It’s a really interesting part of my job!

Your research sounds fascinating and such fun! Is there anything you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?

I like to keep trying new things as a writer, and one new adventure I’m trying is artwork. I LOVED Shel Silverstein as a kid, so I’m pretty sure he’s my inspiration. I’ve been afraid to illustrate my own picture book, so far just sticking to little line drawings in my last two novels.

Perhaps I’ll take a cue from Smoot, be brave, and give picture books a try in the near future!

In your beautiful The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, the main character collects and delivers messages sent through bottles tossed into the sea. If you were going to write such a note to your readers, what would you say?

My dedication for Uncorker read:

For the Ocean Bottle Senders and Ocean Bottle seekers:

Try. Want. Wish. Tell

Is everyone as intrigued by book dedications as I am? When I read a book, I love imagining who the people are in the dedications, why did the author choose them? I often think about themes of my books when I write a dedication to a specific person. Since Uncorker is about a man with no name, and since the messages sent in bottles are often to no one in particular, I decided my dedication should reflect both of these feelings too.

As an author of middle grade and picture books, what do you find is the best part of writing for children?

The best part of writing for children… well, from my perspective, the best part is the sense of fun. I started out during my fiction MFA writing stories for adults. I’d often turn in stories with talking plants or deer that broke into houses. These stories confused the other writers in my program. Who were they for? Not serious-thinking adults. My mom sent me care packages, often with books inside, mostly kids’ books I had loved when I was younger or new ones she thought looked cute. I read them and it was a light bulb-over-my-head moment. I started writing my first novel about a prolific painting elephant my last year of graduate school and suddenly, my writing felt like me. I was able to do all the wild, free, magical things I had wanted to do all along in my writing. I was finally having fun.

And I think the best part in the “interacting with the world” category is when a child (or adult) says they connected to a character, or that a character’s tale made them cry. We don’t know one another very well, but I know how it feels when a book makes me cry. It’s a remarkable connection, really blows me away every time.

What’s Up Next for You?

Up next for me are visiting schools to talk about my new books Smoot and The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. In April 2018 I have a new picture book out with Catia Chien called Town of Turtle. It’s about a turtle who decides to do some renovations to his shell, which of course get wildly out of hand.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I have to ask: what is your favorite holiday, and do you have any stories you’d like to share?

My favorite holiday… I’ve always loved making costumes and the idea of getting to be a character on Halloween. Even in the last few years I’ve been… a pro wrestler, a deer with branch antlers, Cindy Lou-Who, a falconer… the list goes on. Last year I was Lydia Deetz from the movie Beetlejuice. When I was Cindy Lou-Who I spent a couple days making a wire-rigged headpiece with some very architectural hair. Making the costume is half the fun. I have several glue gun burns to prove it.

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I also got my Bernese Mountain dog a backpack to hand out candy. I don’t usually let him wear clothing, but made an exception for lollipop duty.

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Thanks, Michelle, for the fun and inspiring interview—and all of the fantastic pics! I wish you all the best with Smoot and all of your other books!

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You can find Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow at these booksellers

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

You can connect with Michelle on: her website | Twitter

Picture Book Review

September 13 – National Quiet Day

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About the Holiday

We’re surrounded by noise every day. Cars whoosh by on the street, TVs drone on, and voices fill the air in the office and at school. Sometimes it seems as if you don’t hear the constant din, but you do. Quiet Day was established to give people an opportunity to experience the benefits found in silence. Not only did the founders envision a day in which you sought out quiet places, they suggest that you don’t speak at all for the day. Reconnecting with yourself and your thoughts can make you feel more relaxed and give you new perspectives that can stimulate creativity and better communications.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin | Illustrated by Sara Woolley

 

Charlotte is a girl who likes quiet, but she lives in a noisy world. Everywhere she goes, it seems, it’s impossible to escape from sounds that disturb her peace. At home the hallway creaks where “the floorboards groan,” the living room is like an arcade where the “TV bellows and blares,” and the kitchen is filled with Otto’s barks for his dinner. Even in Charlotte’s bedroom, “which is supposed to be a quiet place, the old steam radiator hisses, whistles, and whines. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, courtesy of sarawoolley.com

When Charlotte goes to school, things are no better. In the classroom kids are boisterous and bells ring; the lunchroom echoes with clattering trays and scuffing chairs; and the playground blares with big voices and stomping feet and also with little squeaks and rattle of the swings. “Even in the library, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the children giggle, yammer, and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, courtesy of sarawoolley.com

The outside world resounds with the din of jackhammers, horns, sirens, shouts, cars, music, and the “screeches, rumbles, and roars” of the subway. “Even in the park, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the leaf blower buzzes, blusters, and hums.” Charlotte puts her hands to her ears. “‘Nooo!’” she cries, “‘I have to find a quiet place!’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

On Saturday Charlotte takes her dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, Otto spies a squirrel and takes off running, wrenching his leash out of Charlotte’s hand. She chases after him down a hill, over a bridge, and into the middle of a grove of trees. Out of breath, Charlotte and Otto sit beneath a tree. Gasping, Charlotte’s “belly rises up and down, up and down. Her breath goes in and out, in and out. Hooooo ahhhhh. Hooo ahhh.”

Slowly, Charlotte’s breath comes easier and “her mind slows down.” In this state, she discovers another, even quieter place. It is a place deep inside where her breath is soft and her “thoughts are hushed and low.” It is “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

In a little while, Charlotte and Otto leave the grove, but now whenever home or school or the neighborhood is too loud, Charlotte remembers where she can find a quiet place. She simply closes her eyes and pays attention to that place deep in her belly and deep in her mind—“that quiet place inside.”

For so many children the world is a blaring, clattering place where their thoughts are drowned out by the noises around them. Deborah Sosin’s award-winning Charlotte and the Quiet Place validates these feelings and offers children a way to discover inner peace wherever they are. As a tonic to today’s hyper-stimulated environment, kids and adults alike will benefit from the method of mindful reflection Sosin presents. Sosin’s combination of evocative verbs and repetition makes the story fresh and an excellent read-aloud while also mirroring the sounds that are a part of our everyday life.

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

Sara Woolley’s beautiful watercolor illustrations vividly depict not only Charlotte’s world but the sounds that disturb her peace. Amid the fully realized home, school, and neighborhood environments, complete with realistic details kids will recognize, sharp cracks of equipment, blaring bells and whistles, high-pitched voices, and other noises spark the page. Portrayals of Charlotte, her hands over her ears and her eyes sad, express her distress in a way kids will understand. When Charlotte finds the grove of trees in which she first experiences inner peace, Woolley’s color palette turns softer, with peaceful tones of green, blue, and yellow where, previously, “louder” purples, reds, and golds predominated.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a very welcomed book for those times when peace seems elusive and will give comfort to children who prefer quiet places and have more introverted natures. The book would make a wonderful addition to all children’s book shelves as well as to school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Parallax Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1941529027

Visit Charlotte and the Quiet Place on her own webstite! You’ll find resources, images and videos, news about events, and more!

Discover more about Deborah Sosin, her writing for children and adults, writing workshops, mindfulness services, and more on her website!

View a gallery of artwork for books, comics,  and other illustration work by Sara Woolley on her website!

Quiet Day Activity

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Share a Smile Cards

 

If you’re taking a quiet day, but still want to communicate with others, print these Share a Smile Cards and give them to your friends, family, and others. Why not slip one into your dad’s pocket or your mom’s purse, put one in your friend’s backpack, or sneak one onto your teacher’s desk? You can even leave one somewhere for a stranger to find! Have fun sharing your smiles, and see how much better you and the others around you feel!

Click here to print your Share a Smile Cards.

June 12 – It’s Adopt a Cat Month

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About the Holiday

Cats make wonderful pets! They can be cuddly or completely independent, but their playful personalities make for lots of laughs and love. If you own a cat, spend some extra time with your pet and ensure that all of your feline friend’s health needs are being met and are up-to-date. If you think you might like to adopt a cat into your family, visit your local animal shelter for cats and kittens who are looking for a forever home.

Lily’s Cat Mask

By Julie Fortenberry

 

Lily was starting school so her dad took her shopping. “Lily wasn’t sure she wanted to get new things for school, but her father said it would be fun.” After buying some clothes and meeting a woman they knew who gushed at how much Lily had grown, Lily was tired and wanted to go home. “But then she saw the cat mask.” It was the only one on the shelf, and Lily’s dad surprised her by buying it for her.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Lily put it on immediately and wore it on the way home. She wore it to tea parties with her toys, to family parties “when she wanted to be invisible. And when she wanted to be noticed.” When she wore it to her doctor’s appointment, the doctor spoke in meows. One day she lost her mask. Her dad made her a rabbit costume, and while that was fun for a while, Lily was happy to finally find her cat mask.

Lily wore her cat mask for many occasions. She wore it when she didn’t want to talk—like when she met her new teacher. “She liked to hide her face when she felt mean and couldn’t get nice.” She even blew out her birthday candles and made a wish wearing the mask. When school started, Lily was only allowed to wear her mask on the playground, but once in a while she put it on, hoping no one would notice. Then it was sometimes put in the teacher’s desk drawer.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

One day, the teacher made a very exciting announcement. The class was going to have a costume party, and everyone could wear a mask or dress up however they wanted. On the day of the party, there were characters, animals, and bugs of all kinds. But then Lily looked across the room and saw the best costume of all—another cat! During recess the new friends played on the swings and meowed happily together.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Julie Fortenberry’s story of a quiet, hesitant child who discovers a unique way of interacting with the world around her offers openhearted acceptance and understanding for children who are observant and thoughtful integrators. The reaction of Lily’s father, teacher, doctor, and family members to her cat mask is uplifting and provides excellent modeling. The straightforward storytelling highlights Lily’s sweet personality as well as the empathetic responses her costume elicits.

Fotenberry’s illustrations of adorable Lily and her experiences at home, at school, at the doctor’s office, and at the mall are full of joy. The colors are fresh and vibrant, but also calm and peaceful, mirroring Lily’s feelings when wearing her cat mask. The images demonstrate and validate Lily’s preference to watch and participate in events from her own distance.

Lily’s Cat Mask provides the opportunity for much discussion with children, especially about meeting people, Lily’s birthday wish, where Lily sits and plays at parties and at school, and when Lily makes a friend. The book is highly recommended for classroom and school libraries and would make a welcome addition to home bookshelves as well.

Ages 4 – 7

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0425287996

Discover more about Julie Fortenberry and view a gallery of her books and artwork on her website!

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

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The Cat’s Meow Word Search

 

There are so many beautiful types of cats! Can you find the names of twenty-one breeds in this printable The Cat’s Meow Word Search puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

March 23 – Near Miss Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates a most auspicious moment in history that never happened! On March 23, 1989 a huge asteroid missed hitting Earth by only 500,000 miles. Did you feel the breeze as it blew by? Yeah, me too! I think we can all remember exactly where we were when we happily escaped suffering the same fate as the dinosaurs. So drink a toast to serendipity and the gravity of natural forces.

Oh No, Astro!

Written by Matt Roeser | Illustrated by Brad Woodard

 

Astro was not a typical asteroid. Instead of zooming around crashing into obstacles, he believed in “personal outer space” and had for millions of years. One day when Astro spies an approaching satellite, he greets him cordially and lays down the rules: “please keep your distance” and “stay in your orbit.” But the satellite ignores him and comes closer and closer until…

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Image copyright Brad Woodard, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

“‘Good gravity! You’ve struck me!” Astro exclaims. He’s just about to “point out to the satellite that it had done considerable damage to one of his favorite craters” when he discovers that he is spinning out of his orbit and out of control. How humiliating! The usually unflappable space rock suddenly finds himself hurtling past Mars. At the same time young astronomer, Nova, is “enjoying a quiet night of stargazing” through her telescope. She catches sight of Astro as he zips past an astronaut, rushes past the Moon, and finds himself on an inevitable collision course with Earth.

As he enters Earth’s atmosphere he begins to break apart, shedding bits of the past, as the universe watches. He lands on Earth with a SMASH! Reeling from the impact Astro slowly opens one eye and then the other. He finds that he’s smaller but in one piece. Standing by is Nova, waiting to welcome him to his new home. “‘My stars,’” he mutters. “‘Dare I say that was…FUN?!’”

And as Astro gazes at the night sky from a fresh perspective with Nova by his side, he asks, “‘What on Earth shall we do next?!’”

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Image copyright Brad Woodard, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

For anyone stuck in the rut of their own orbit, Matt Roeser’s story of the unwitting space traveler is a humorous invitation to explore the universe around them. Roeser’s language—from calling asteroids “rambunctious” and the satellite a “celestial wanderer” to exclamations of “good gravity!” and “Pluto’s revenge!”—is an inspired treat. Kids and adults will laugh at Astro’s attempts to handle his undesirable predicament with dignity. Complacent Astro with his dry-as-space-dust wit and sparkling puns makes a stellar guide on this journey to more self-discovery and life enjoyment.

In the hands of Brad Woodard, deep space is a very cute and cool place! Rendered in flat tones of black, aqua, yellow, red, and white, Woodard’s illustrations give Oh No, Astro! a retro feel for a space-savvy audience. The oblivious satellite floats through Astro’s orbit with wide eyes and a sweet grin, while angular Astro with his stick arms, expressive face, and boldly displayed “No loitering” banner would be a welcome alien intruder in any back yard. Inquisitive and inclusive Nova, in her ponytails and Saturn-patterned dress, is the perfect companion to greet him! The night sky abounds with constellations, but Astro is the real star!

In the final pages, Astro leads readers in a “A Selection of Space Facts” from the  very Manual of the Cosmos, 2nd edition that he used to sort things out in  his own life. A short list of suggested reading is also included.

Kids would love to find Oh No, Astro! on their bookshelf for story times of cosmic fun!

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-1481439763

Visit Matt Roeser’s Website to discover his gallery of book jacket designs!

You can learn more about design and illustration work by Brad Woodard at Brave the Woods!

Near Miss Day Activity

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Name That Asteroid! Word Search

 

Can you find the names of 20 asteroids floating around in this printable Name That Asteroid! Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

January 7 – It’s Hot Tea Month

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About the Holiday

I must confess that this may be my favorite holiday. There’s nothing better than waking up with a well-steeped cup of tea, writing with a favorite mug brimming with hot tea with honey sitting nearby, enjoying scones with clotted cream and jam and a hot cuppa…well…you get the picture. People have drunk tea since earliest times for its soothing and medicinal properties. Mellower than coffee and available in endless varieties and tastes, hot tea is just the thing for relaxing moments. Today, enjoy your favorite tea or try a new kind!

The Tea Party in the Woods

By Akiko Miyakoshi

 

Because snow had fallen overnight Kikko’s father was off to her grandmother’s house to shovel the walk. After he left, Kikko noticed that he had forgotten to take the pie her mother had made for Grandma. “‘I can still catch up to him,’” said Kikko. Carefully, carrying the boxed pie, Kikko followed “her father’s tracks in the fresh snow. The woods were very still. And so quiet. Kikko’s footsteps were the only sound.”

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Spying a coated figure in the distance, Kikko began to run, but she fell in the deep snow, crushing the pie. Still, she picked up the box and hurried on. She watched as her father entered a strange house. “Has it always been here? Kikko wondered. She couldn’t remember having seen it before.” Kikko crept to the window and peered inside, just as her father took off his hat and coat. But—he wasn’t her father at all!” He was a bear!

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A little lamb approaching the house found Kikko looking through the window and asked if she were there for the tea party. Taking Kikko’s hand, the lamb led her into the house. When Kikko saw all of the animals gathered there, she couldn’t believe it. The animals cheered and welcomed Kikko enthusiastically. “‘We’re about to serve the tea,’ said the rabbit. ‘You’re just in time.’” After the animals seated themselves around a long table, a doe stood, thanked everyone for coming, and asked Kikko to introduce herself.

She told then her name and why she was in the forest. The animals thought she was very brave, and Kikko began to feel braver herself. When the animals learned that Kikko’s pie had been ruined, they all contributed a piece of their own pie from the party. “Slice by slice they assembled a new pie on a pretty plate. Each piece had a different filling of seeds and nuts and fruit and other delicious things gathered from the woods.” They found a new box, placed the plate inside, and tied it with a red ribbon.

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Kikko was so excited to bring her Grandma this gift that she wanted to leave right away. The animals said they would come too. The woods rang with music, talking, laughing, and singing as the group “paraded to Grandma’s house.” When they reached Grandma’s house, the animals encouraged Kikko to go to the door. Grandma and Kikko’s father were surprised to see her. “‘My dear, did you come all this way on your own?’ asked Grandma, stepping inside.” Kikko could not see the animals anywhere. “‘You’re never alone in the woods,’” Kikko answered, smiling. She was sure her new friends were listening.”

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Akiko Miyakoshi’s reassuring story about a little girl venturing out into strange territory on her own for the first time is a delight. The straightforward narrative offers just the right amount of familiarity for young readers to allow them to be fully charmed by the magical elements that provide surprise and suspense. Little ones will be entranced by the warm welcome Kikko receives at the splendid and well-attended tea party. They will also find comfort in realizing that even when travels become hard, they can still discover wondrous things and that friends and help are always available – sometimes where they least expect it.  

Miyakoshi’s stunning black-and-white drawings, done in charcoal and pencil, are gorgeous in their portrayal of the woodland animals and their tea party. The long table they crowd around is laden with pies, bowls of fruit, vases of flowers, and of course teapots and teacups. At first Kikko offers the only color on the pages with her red cap and skirt and yellow hair. Later, however, when the animals suggest sharing their pie, the plate dazzles with mouthwatering brilliance, and hints of red and yellow brighten the next page. As the parade marches through the woods, the animals’ red and yellow clothes and musical instruments make a festive party. But as Kikko goes on to her Grandma’s house alone, the color fades from the animals, highlighting her achievement.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-177138107

Discover more about Akiko Miyakoshi and a portfolio of her work on her website!

Tea Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ceramic-mug-craft

Decorate Your Own Mug

 

It’s fun to drink tea (or hot chocolate—shhh!) from a mug you’ve designed yourself. Personalized mugs also make fantastic presents for friends and family.

Supplies

  • Plain ceramic mug
  • Bakeable markers or paint

Directions

  1. Design and color your mug
  2. Follow directions on the markers or paint to properly bake on your decoration and make it permanent.

Picture Book Review

November 7 – Job Action Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2008 and now sponsored by LiveCareer to empower employees and job seekers to assess their careers, make plans, and take action, Job Action Day gives people a chance to reflect on their true goals in life. Are you doing the job you’re passionate about? Are you bringing your passions to the job you are doing? If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with your position, step back and take another look, broaden your horizons. Discover the possibilities and opportunities that lie within your current job and pursue them. You never know where a particular job will lead you if you put all your creativity, knowledge, and—most importantly—unique personality—into it. Job Action Day brings together experts across the web and in participating companies to provide the latest in career advice.

A Crow of His Own

Written by Megan Dowd Lambert | Illustrated by David Hyde Costello

 

When fame and fortune came calling for Larry, the charismatic rooster of Sunrise Farm, the daily routine turned upside down. “The animals overslept and no one knew what to do.” But while the cow, horse, sheep, chickens, and goose fretted, Farmer Jay and Farmer Kevin had a plan. One day they gathered all the animals and introduced Clyde, the new rooster. Looking at the “scrawny little guy” as he stammered his hello, the cow, horse, and sheep expressed doubt in his abilities, already comparing him to their beloved Larry.

Roberta, the goose, stepped forward, however, and reassured him that “they just miss Larry.” When Clyde asked who Larry was, the animals gasped. “Only the best rooster ever,” claimed the sheep. “Take it straight from my mouth: he was more than that,” said the horse. “He was a genius,” the cow chimed in.” And the chickens? In the dirt they scratched a heart with Larry and XOX in the center.

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Image copyright David Hyde Costello, text copyright Megan Dowd Lambert. Courtesy of Charlesbridge

Clyde was worried—how could he ever live up to Larry? Roberta tried to soothe him. “‘Larry wasn’t a genius…he just made quite a show of it.” Emboldened and with an inkling of what he needed to do, Clyde thanked Roberta and dashed off. “Clyde spent the whole day gathering props, designing his costume, and choreographing a sublime two-step.” As Clyde gave himself one last look in the mirror in his top hat and cloak, he had misgivings. “Could he put on a show of a crow?” He went to bed, but hardly slept at all.

In the morning…well…Clyde overslept. The animals were not happy. “Who ever heard of a rooster sleeping in?” baaad mouthed the sheep. “What a worthless chicken,” complained the horse. And the cow had issues of her own. Once again Roberta came to Clyde’s defense. With a wagon full of new props and material, Clyde rushed away to prepare for the next day. Up bright and early and balanced on a unicycle atop the coop while surrounded by promotional signs, Clyde “opened his beak, and…promptly fell to the ground with an undignified croak.”

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Image copyright David Hyde Costello, text copyright Megan Dowd Lambert. Courtesy of Charlesbridge

Poor Clyde! Humiliated and hurt he once again had to endure the slights of the farmyard animals, but their comments only spurred him on. Vowing to go bigger and better, Clyde built himself a ramp, ordered roller skates for birds and a parachute, and designed a colorful Western-theme set. “‘Oh, my!’” remarked Farmer Jay as he walked by. “‘Try, try again,’ encouraged Farmer Kevin.” But in the morning Clyde’s spectacular trick left him hanging upside down from the chicken coop, and the animals more “disgruntled and dismayed” than before.

Clyde was distraught. “‘Forget about Larry.’” Roberta said. “‘Just crow your own crow.’” Clyde considered her advice. The next morning as the sky turned pink and orange with the rising sun, Clyde stood tall atop the chicken coop. He quietly cleared his throat and then—“COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!” The newly awakened animals came running. Even Farmer Jay and Farmer Kevin came to see this new Clyde. The horse summed up their collective feeling: “It’s not so much like crowing, but crooning.” Roberta agreed. “‘Enough to give you goose bumps!’” she exclaimed. As an encore, “Clyde took a deep breath, gave a shake of his comb, and called out another crow of his own.”

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Image copyright David Hyde Costello, text copyright Megan Dowd Lambert. Courtesy of Charlesbridge

These days it’s nearly impossible for kids not to compare themselves or be compared to others—even those they’ve never met. All they need to do is jump on the Internet and discover that so-and-so has double, triple, or more friends and/or followers than they do; go to class and get their grade on that assignment they worked so hard on; or simply stand by their locker, go to lunch, or head out to gym and overhear the comments of other students. Avoidance isn’t the answer, but a good base of self-confidence and personal identity is. In A Crow of His Own Megan Dowd Lambert offers readers such a base in her entertaining and meaningful tribute to self-acceptance and love that hits all the right notes.

As soon as scrawny Clyde walks out of his crate to the scorn of his farm mates, kids will root for this underchicken. With a light touch and plenty of wordplay, Dowd deftly presents honest portrayals of the opposition Clyde is up against as well as Clyde’s distressed reactions. Clyde’s three attempts to act like Larry humorously demonstrate the difficulties of trying to be someone you’re not. When Clyde finally musters the courage to “crow his own crow” and is met with praise, readers will see that their own unique talents will find an appreciative audience.

David Hyde Costello knows how to put on a show! His Sunrise Farms is a gentle, bucolic spread still under the thrall of Larry. Humorous details, such as the valentines to Larry the chickens draw in the dirt, the movie house-style posters on the side of the barn, and the surprised and exasperated expressions of the animals, testify to Larry’s enduring legacy. But careful observers will notice that while Larry is a rather bland white rooster with some black tail feathers, Clyde is distinctively colorful from his comb to his feet. Kids will giggle at Clyde’s increasingly complex morning shenanigans even as they sympathize with his plight. When Clyde finally reveals his magnificent crow, readers will cheer.

A Crow of His Own is a winner on so many levels. It offers parents and children a way to discuss and begin building the strong sense of self so important to a happy and successful life. The book also presents a positive visual representation of diversity, and in Roberta and Farmer Jay and Farmer Kevin it shows that finding support helps. And it does all of this in a story that stands on its own as a funny, laugh-inducing romp. Because kids will want to hear this story over and over, A Crow of His Own would be a wonderful addition to libraries and home book collections.

Ages 4 – 9

Charlesbridge, 2015 | ISBN 978-1580894470

To learn more about Megan Dowd Lambert, her picture books, her Whole Book Approach to Reading, and more visit her website!

On David Hyde Costello‘s website you’ll find a gallery of artwork, a portfolio of picture books, videos, and more!

Job Action Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chicken-craft

A Chicken to Crow About

 

A long-handled wooden turner makes a plucky decoration for your room or kitchen—and a great reminder to bring your passions to every job! In a few simple steps, you’ll have a cute companion you’ll want to crow about!

Supplies

  • Printable Comb and Scarf Template
  • Long-handled wooded turner, available in kitchen supply stores
  • Red felt
  • Yellow bakable clay
  • Fabric, 12 inches square
  • A small piece of white felt or fleece (optional)
  • White paint (or any color you would like)
  • Black marker
  • Fabric glue
  • Glue gun
  • Paint brush

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Directions

  1. Paint the wooden turner, let dry
  2. Cut the scarf from the piece of fabric
  3. Make a beak from the yellow clay and bake it according to package directions

To make the comb

  1. Cut out the comb from the red felt
  2. Fold the felt in half and glue the end together with the fabric glue
  3. Cut short strips from the folded top of the felt, about ½-inch to ¾ -inch in length
  4. Round the corners of the strips slightly

To make the scarf

  1. Fold the fabric in half
  2. With the long, straight edge of the scarf template along the fold, cut out the scarf
  3. With the fabric glue, glue the two sides of the scarf together so that you have two “right” sides
  4. Let dry

To assemble the chicken

  1. Pinch the bottom of the comb together so that the strips open and the felt pleats a little
  2. With the glue gun attach the comb to the back of the painted turner, keeping the bottom pinched together
  3. Attach the beak to the front of the turner
  4. Draw eyes on the chicken with the black marker
  5. Tie the scarf around the neck of the handle, hold in place with a drop of glue in the back if necessary
  6. To make tail feathers in a turner with a hole in the handle, pinch together a small folded piece of white felt or fleece and push it through the hole in the handle of the turner.
  7. Cut or arrange to look like feathers

Picture Book Review

September 28 – Good Neighbor Day

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About the Holiday

With our busy lifestyles it’s sometimes hard to get to know our neighbors. We might give them a quick wave and smile as we’re driving in and out, but finding time to stop and chat can be more difficult. Today’s holiday encourages us to get to know our neighbors and become friends. Why not take the opportunity to say “hi” to someone on your block or in your building or even share a special note of thanks for being a great neighbor!

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

Written by Michelle Cuevas | Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

 

A man in a red stocking cap and clam digger pants sits at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee, sharing space with a tabby cat. His day as the “uncorker of ocean bottles” is about to begin. He follows the path from his isolated house on the hill down to the water’s edge, where he keeps “his eyes on the waves, watchful for a glint of glass.” When he sees a bottle floating past, it is his job to retrieve it and read the message inside.

“Sometimes to deliver a bottle, he needed only to stroll to the nearest village. Other times, he would journey until his compass became rusty and he felt loneliness as sharp as fish scales.” Some messages have been buffeted by the seas for a long time, and while some messages are sad, most make their recipients very happy, “for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl.”

Although the man doesn’t mind living alone and loves his job, he sometimes feels a niggling wish to receive a letter himself. It is a fleeting dream, however, and as likely as finding a mermaid’s toenail on the beach,” because the man “had no name and no friends who would ever write him a letter.” One day, thoiugh, the man opens a very singular message: “I’m not sure you will get this in time, but I am having a party. Tomorrow, evening tide, at the seashore. Will you please come?”

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Image copyright Erin E. Stead, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Without a name or an address the Uncorker is at a loss as to how to deliver this very important invitation. It is such an intriguing invitation, in fact, that the man finds that he wants to go himself. With reasoned purpose, the Uncorker rides his bicycle into town to investigate who might know something about the letter. The maker of cakes studies the note but can offer no insight beyond the fact that he, too, would like to attend such a get- together.

At the candy shop neither the owner, nor a woman buying candy, nor a young girl know anything about the note, but they too wish they had been invited. The Uncorker meets others—a sailor, a seagull, and a one-man band—but no one can help him. The man goes home feeling dejected. Never before has he failed to deliver a message. Lying awake in bed he decides the only thing he can do is to meet the sender of the letter the next night at the seaside and apologize.

He arrives early with a gift of seashells and discovers the seashore “draped in seaweed and starfish. Candles floated in clamshells, There were sand sculptures and umbrellas.” Standing in the festive atmosphere are the maker of cakes, the candy shop owner, the woman and her daughter, and all the others the Uncorker had met in his search the previous day. As the rest of the group play music, the little girl asks the Uncorker to dance, and although the man says he isn’t sure he knows how, he twirls the little girl on the golden sand.

Later, sitting quietly the party gazes out at the ocean that has brought them together. The Uncorker has opened a gift chosen specifically for him and is enjoying a piece of cake while “his heart was a glass vessel filled to the brim.”

Michelle Cuevas’s unique story of a man adrift in life without the anchor of family or friends is a gorgeously written reminder that companionship is often waiting if we just invite it in. With moving language and fresh, evocative metaphors—in two of my favorites, loneliness is “as sharp as fish scales,” and some messages are “very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall”—Cuevas gently nudges readers to acknowledge the little voice inside and discover what else the world has to offer.

Erin E. Stead’s warm green, gold, and gray-hued illustrations rendered in delicate lines and gossamer washes are as wistful as the Uncorker himself. The man’s calm resolve is echoed in the serene ocean water, the soft companionship of his cat, and the tidy seaside town. There is a wonderful quiet, unhurried feeling to each page which seems to allow not only the Uncorker but the reader to enjoy contemplative moments. The final scene of the party happily enjoying the view and each other’s company fulfills not only the Uncorker’s deepest longing, but that of readers as well.

For it’s beauty and message The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles should find a place on every child’s and school library’s book shelf. Adults will enjoy this book as much as children and it would make a wonderful coffee table book.

Ages 4 and up

Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin, 2016 | ISBN 978-0803738683

Discover more books by Michelle Cuevas on her website!

View a gallery of artwork and children’s book illustration by Erin E. Stead on her website!

Good Neighbor Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bottle-of-friendship-craft

Bottle of Friendship

 

Sometimes a small gesture means so much more! With this easy craft you can make a unique-to-you message for a neighbor or friend that can later also be used as a vase. After making the Bottle of Friendship, take it to a recipient or leave it on the doorstep as a nice surprise!

Supplies

  • Recycled glass or plastic bottle, or a decorative bottle from a craft store
  • Glitter (Or Glitter Glue)
  • Glue
  • Real or imitation flowers
  • Small piece of paper
  • Thread or string

Directions

  1. Wash and dry the bottle
  2. Along the bottom (or in any design you’d like) spread the glitter glue. If using glue and glitter separately, spread glue and sprinkle with glitter.
  3. Let the bottle dry
  4. Write a note of thanks or friendship on a small piece of paper
  5. Roll and tie with thread or string
  6. Add flowers and the note to your bottle
  7. Deliver!

Picture Book Review