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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-Cat's-Meow-Word-Search

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

 

September 27 – It’s Fall Hat Month

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About the Holiday

As the weather turns cooler in certain parts of the world, it’s time to pull out those old favorite cozy hats or buy a stylish new one to keep your head and ears warm! Whether you like wearing felt hats, knit hats, furry hats, or even top hats—like the character in today’s book—this is the season for you!

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

By Ayano Imaí

 

Mr. Brown lived alone and, if you asked him, he’d tell you he liked it that way. He “had no friends and he didn’t want any.” If you were privy to his secret thoughts, however, you’d learn that Mr. Brown was actually very lonely. Mr. Brown liked to take long walks, and when he went out, he always wore his “smart,” distinctive hat. “One day while Mr. Brown was sleeping, a woodpecker flew down and started tapping a hole in his hat, thinking, ‘What a wonderful nest this hat would make!’”

When Mr. Brown woke up he was shocked to discover that a bird had moved into his hat. Someone living this close to him was not what Mr. Brown had in mind at all. Then to Mr. Brown’s dismay the “woodpecker soon told all his friends about the wonderful new home and invited them all to join him.” Soon Mr. Brown’s hat was full of holes—and birds! You might think a regular hat would not have enough room for so many residents—but Mr. Brown’s hat was no ordinary one. As more and more birds moved in, his hat grew taller and taller!

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

As the days went on Mr. Brown discovered that he was beginning to enjoy the birds’ singing and their company. Now Mr. Brown had renewed purpose in his daily walks: “He loved to show off his hat. Everywhere he went it was full of the music of singing birds.” People on the street took notice and wanted to emulate Mr. Brown. All over town people began wearing tall hats, “but the birds preferred to stay with Mr. Brown no matter how hard people tried to persuade them.”

One day as autumn settled in, Mr. Brown noticed that all the birds had flown away. He was sad and didn’t understand where they had gone or why they had left him. He wondered if he would see them again. The idea of a quiet life no longer held the appeal it once did, and Mr. Brown missed his friends. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care that the birds had left, but he continued to fill the feeders and watch out for them every day.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

Even though it was time for Mr. Brown to take a long winter’s nap, he tried to stay awake, worried that there would be no one to care for the birds if they returned. But nature took its course, and Mr. Brown fell into a deep sleep. One morning after a particularly vivid dream in which Mr. Brown could hear the birds singing, he woke to a tapping sound. He went to the door and peered out.

Spring had come and with it Mr. Brown’s hat had grown roots and sprouted branches and leaves. The old holes were filled with their previous tenants. The sight filled Mr. Brown with joy, and he finally could admit to himself that sharing his life with friends “was better than being alone.”

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

Ayano Imaí’s gloriously beautiful book plumbs the nature of solitude and loneliness as well as the value of friendship with an honesty that is at once heartrending and uplifting. For so many quiet, introspective people—children and adults alike—navigating the world of small talk, casual relationships, and making friends is similar to traveling uncharted territory, where the language and mores are foreign. It can become easier to tell oneself that it doesn’t matter, when in reality it matters a great deal. Many times happiness comes when one finds their niche or, in some surprising way, a niche finds them.

Imaí tells the story of Mr. Brown and his fantastical hat in straightforward narration, but more profound meaning is revealed in her illustrations. Mr. Brown, it is discovered, is a brown bear who has taken on the aspects of humans. He walks upright, carries an umbrella and bag, owns a home, and wears a hat. His fur is even the same color as the townspeople’s clothing. But while he may be among people, he is not of them. His home has a grass floor which sprouts mushrooms and weeds; another weed pokes out from the bristles of his brush; a tree branch juts from a wall; and mushrooms share space with the laundry on the drying line.

Mr. Brown comes from nature and belongs with nature, so it is no surprise that the birds flock to him and prefer him to humans, who in an ironic twist long to be like Mr. Brown. I especially like the ending of Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat, in which Mr. Brown stays true to himself. He does not suddenly discover his “wild” side and become someone that he is not. He is able to remain a quiet, introspective bear while also embracing his friends, his love for them, and his place in the world. He finds inner happiness and loved ones to share it with.

Ages 3 – 8 (and up)

minedition, 2014 | ISBN 978-9888240845

Fall Hat Month Activity

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Favorite Fall Hat Matching Puzzle

 

Each child has a favorite hat for cooler weather. Follow the paths in this printable Favorite Fall Hat Matching Puzzle to find out which hat each child chooses!

Picture Book Review

August 18 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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About the Holiday

Starting kindergarten is a huge step toward future learning and fun! This milestone can take a lot of preparation—from buying backpacks and school clothes to establishing different routines to becoming a new member of the school community. Most school years start during August and this month gives families an opportunity to talk about the changes, go shopping together, and look forward to the new experiences to come!

Sophie’s Squash Go to School

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

 

Backed up by her parents and clutching her best friends, two squash named Bonnie and Baxter, Sophie peeks into her classroom on the first day of school. She sees kids running everywhere, talking and laughing. Her parents assure Sophie that she’ll make a lot of friends and have tons of fun, but Sophie is adamant: “‘I won’t,’” she says. And Sophie’s right. “The chairs were uncomfortable. The milk tasted funny. And no one appreciated her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter.”

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The other kids surround her with questions about Bonnie and Baxter. “‘Are they toys? Do they bounce? Can we EAT them?’” Sophie has had enough. “‘No, no, no! I grew them in my garden. They’re my FRIENDS.’” And then there’s Steven Green. He sits near Sophie at circle time, plays near her on the playground, and stands over her breathing down her neck during art time. Ms. Park, the teacher, tells Sophie Steven is just being nice, but Sophie isn’t interested.

Steven does not give up so easily. He returns to show Sophie his best friend—Marvin, a stuffed frog that he got when the toy was just a tadpole. “‘Then you don’t need me,’” Sophie says and decides “that’s that.” But that isn’t that. The next day Steven is back, building a block tower near Sophie, reading her book over her shoulder, and even offering facts about fruit and vegetables during Sophie’s show and tell.

When her parents hear about Steven, they encourage Sophie to make a friend, but Sophie just clings tighter to Bonnie and Baxter. “Still, Sophie knew that Bonnie and Baxter wouldn’t last forever,” so when the other kids dance, spill their milk, or tell jokes, Sophie considers joining in. On the playground Sophie plays hopscotch while the other kids play tag, jump rope, and play other games together. When Steven asks if he can join Sophie, Bonnie, and Baxter, she refuses, leaving Steve and Marvin to sit alone.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

When the weekend comes Bonnie and Baxter look “too tired to hop. Or build towers. ‘It’s time,’” says Sophie’s mother. Sophie digs a hole to make “a garden bed and tucked her squash in for their winter nap. ‘Sleep tight,’” she says. “‘See you soon.’ But spring seemed very far away.” On Monday Ms. Park asks the class to tell her what makes a good friend. The kids answer that friends play with you, help you, and think you’re funny. Steven answers “‘They like what you like.’” Ms. Park sends the kids off to draw pictures of their friends.

When Steven wants to see Sophie’s drawing of Bonnie and Baxter, the two get into a scuffle over the paper and it tears in half. “‘You are NOT my friend,’” Sophie says as she walks away. On the way home from school, Sophie tells her mom what happened. “‘Sweet potato,’” her mom says. “‘That adorable boy didn’t mean to tear your picture.’” But Sophie’s not so sure.

The next morning Sophie finds Marvin and a note in her cubby. She ignores it, and by lunchtime, Marvin is gone. Later that night, though, Sophie and her dad discover Marvin and the note inside her backpack. The note contains a drawing of Bonnie and Baxter as well as a packet of seeds.  “‘Do friends really like the same things you like?’” Sophie asks her dad. When he answers “Sometimes,” Sophie begins to think. She takes Marvin outside and sits near Bonnie and Baxter to think some more.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The next day Sophie runs up to Steven to tell him the great idea that Marvin had. They then tell Ms. Park. The next day, Ms. Park hands each child “a cup, some dirt and one small seed.” “‘Can we EAT them?’” a classmate asks. “‘No!’” says Sophie, and Steven adds, “‘You never eat a friend.’” The kids plant the seeds and put the pots on the windowsill. Soon tiny shoots appear in the cups and Sophie and Steven invite the kids to do a new-plant dance.

“‘See?’” Sophie tells Steven. “‘Sometimes growing a friend just takes time.’”

Pat Zietlow Miller’s sequel to her award-winning Sophie’s Squash is a heartfelt story for kids for whom the definition of friendship runs deep. Sophie’s hesitancy to join in the freewheeling play of other kids echoes the feelings of many children entering new classrooms, joining unfamiliar groups, or meeting any new challenge. The excellent pacing of the story as well as Sophie’s honest emotions allow for development of the theme that sometimes friendship takes time. Steven’s persistence sets a positive example for not passing judgement too quickly. Sophie’s transition from squash friends to human is treated sensitively and with cleverness. In the end Sophie learns how to make a friend while still staying true to herself.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Anne Wilsdorf’s cartoon-inspired illustrations perfectly depict the world that Sophie reluctantly inhabits. Her classroom is boldly colorful, full of books, toys, separate spaces, and of course all sorts of kids. Sophie’s reactions to the comments and actions of her classmates are clearly registered on her face and will make kids giggle even while they recognize her feelings. Steadfast Steven is, as Sophie’s mom says, adorable, and readers will empathize with his plight in just wanting to make a friend. The nighttime scene beautifully sums up Sophie’s dilemma and provides her and readers a moment to reflect on the story’s ideas.

On so many levels, Sophie’s Squash Go to School makes a wonderful addition to children’s and school bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Schwartz & Wade, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553509441

Discover much more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website!

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-smile-for-school-word-search

Smile for School! Word Search

 

Find 20 words about school in this printable Smile for School! Word Search. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review