October 2 – It’s National Chili Month

Armadilly Chili picture book review

About the Holiday

What could be more satisfying during a cool autumn month than a spicy bowl of chili?  Whether made with meat or veggies, combined with macaroni, or served in potato skins, the simmered flavors make for a scrumptious meal. Although the origins of chili are lost to history, it’s believed that the dish is a southwestern, specifically Texan, concoction. It began to attract attention in the early 1800s, and by the 1880s”Chili Queens” were selling “bowls o’red” at chili stands throughout San Antonio. In 1893 the San Antonio Chili Stand made an appearance at the Chicago World’s Fair. It’s popularity took off across Texas and throughout the west by the 1920s. When the Great Depression hit, chili became one of the only affordable meals for the hungry population. Today chili is a favorite dish of people all over the world. To celebrate this month’s observation why not whip up a batch of your favorite chili or discover some new recipes!

Armadilly Chili

Written by Helen Ketteman | Illustrated by Will Terry

What a hoot! The knee-slappin’, root-a-tootin’ phrasing in Hellen Ketteman’s Armadilly Chili is shor ‘nuf gonna make this a favorite on any child’s bookshelf. While the plot may be familiar, the southwest setting and Miss Billie Armadilly put a fresh, funny twist on it.

“Miss Billie Armadilly skit-skat-skittered down the lane. A blue-norther’s a-blowin’ and my old, cold bones are rattling for a pot of hot armadilly chili,” she says. She’s gathering ingredients when her friend Tex, a many eyed tarantula, tip taps by. Hey, Tex, she calls, how about tapping your toes this way and helping me gather a boxful of beetles?” But Tex just “wiggles his long jiggly legs and says, ‘Shucks, Miss Billie, I’m going dancing today.’” Miss Billie harrumphs and collects the beetles herself.

Next Miss Billie is picking peppers, and when Mackie the bluebird flies in she thinks she has an assistant. “‘How ‘bout whistlin’ up a tune and helping me pick a peck o’ peppers for my armadilly chili?’” Once again, though, she’s left on her own since Mackie says he is “‘shakin’ my tail feathers to the movies.’” When Miss Billie “scurries to the prickly pear cactus and begins chippity-chop-chopin,’” her friend Taffy, the horned toad, complains about the noise and then begs off from helping, saying she’s got plans to go skating.

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Image copyright Will Terry, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

At home, Miss Billie stirs her chili to a scrumptious bubble. The aroma entices first Tex, then Mackie, and finally Taffy to come a’knockin’ at her door looking for a bowlful, but Billie has something to say about that—specifically, “no workin’ with Billie, no sharin’ the chili!”

Billie’s friends hurry away sorry that she feels that way, and Billie sits down to her feast. But after all that work, the chili tastes as “flat as a Texas prairie.” What’s wrong? She realizes what the missing ingredient is just as the doorbell rings. She opens the door to find her friends standing there with bags in their hands. What’s in those sacks? Apologies! As well as hot apple cider, jalapeno biscuits, and homemade chocolate fudge. Now that the friends are all together, the chili tastes just right, and “they talked and laughed into the cold, blustery night.”

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Image copyright Will Terry, text copyright Helen Ketteman, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

What a hoot! Helen Ketteman’s fast-paced Armadilly Chili is a spicy take on the little red hen story  and what it means to be a good friend. Miss Billie is a sassy, no-nonsense heroine who values her work and talents and makes sure others do too. When anger and frustration bubble over, however, the four friends find a way to apologize and make up. The lesson, humorously conveyed as well as Ketteman’s knee-slappin’, root-a-tootin’ phrasing is shor ‘nuf gonna make this a favorite on any child’s bookshelf. 

Will Terry’s vivid illustrations washed with a palette of deep reds, oranges, greens, and yellows bring the Southwest setting to life. Miss Billie and her friends are enchanting versions of their natural counterparts, and kids will love the environmental and homey details on each page, where even the cacti display personalities. Billie’s facial expressions as each of her friends abandon her to her chores are priceless, and their final camaraderie is highly satisfying.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, Illinois, 2008 | ISBN 978-0807504581

Discover more about Helen Kellerman and her books plus fun accompanying activities on her website!

View a portfolio of Will Terry‘s books and artwork on his website!

While I take a few personal days, I am reposting earlier reviews updated with new links and interior art.

National Chili Month Activity

CPB - Chili Pepper Game

Hot, Hot, Hot! Chili Pepper Chili Game

Chili just isn’t chili without a little heat! But can you take 15 chili peppers in your bowl? If you want to win the Hot, Hot, Hot! Chili Pepper Chili Game you’ll have to!

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to collect 15 chili peppers in your bowl before any other player.

Supplies

Rules

  1. Any number of players can play at one time. Print 1 Chili Bowl game board and 1 set of 15 Chili Pepper cards for each player
  2. Give 1 Chili Bowl Game Board to each player
  3. Place the Chili Pepper Cards in a pile or in a bowl
  4. Roll the die to see who goes first. The person with the highest roll goes first
  5. To begin play, the first player must roll a 1, 2, or 3. They should roll until they get one of these numbers.
  6. Players roll the die and collect or lose chili pepper cards by the number of dots on the die. If you roll a:
  • 1 – Pick up 1 chili pepper card and place it on your chili bowl game board
  • 2 – Pick up 2 chili pepper cards and place them on your chili bowl game board
  • 3 – Pick up 3 chili pepper cards and place them on your chili bowl game board
  • 4 – Get a chili pepper card from the player on your left
  • 5 – Give a chili pepper card to the player on your left
  • 6 – Lose a turn

     7. If a player does not have chili pepper cards to give to another player or if the player on           their left has no cards to give, the player rolls again.

    8. Continue play until one player has filled their Chili Bowl with chili peppers!

Picture Book Review

September 8 – International Literacy Day

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About the Holiday

In 1966 UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture) established International Literacy Day on this date to “actively mobilize the international community to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies.” Marking its 50th anniversary, International Literacy Day is this year celebrating the theme “Reading the Past, Writing the Future” to commemorate five decades of efforts to increase in literacy rates around the world and the progress made. “It also looks to innovative solutions to further boost literacy in the future.” With a focus on innovation, International Literacy Prizes are also awarded to people with outstanding solutions that can drive literacy towards achieving future goals.

The World Literacy Foundation also celebrates today’s holiday with the 2016 campaign “The Sky’s the Limit,” which aims to eliminate the digital divide for students in the developing world.

The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read

Written by Curtis Manley | Illustrated by Kate Berube

 

One summer Nick, Verne, and Stevenson did everything together. Nick is a little boy and Verne and Stevenson are two very different cats. Nick and Verne loved to spend time near the water—Stevenson tolerated it. Nick and Verne slept happily in a tent under the stars—Stevenson barely shut his eyes. While Nick rode his bike Verne eagerly sat in the front basket—Stevenson hunkered down in a box on the back. But when Nick sat down to read, both cats had their own ideas of fun—like lying on top of the book—and Nick could hardly read a sentence.

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Image copyright Kate Berube, text copyright Curtis Manley, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

“So Nick decided to teach them how to read. He made flash cards and started with easy words” like “ball,” but Verne and Stevenson just wanted to play with the ball. While the three had a picnic on the lawn, “Nick pointed to the word food. The cats ignored him.” When the cats snoozed Nick woke them with a sign. “‘This is no time for an N-A-P!’” he said. Neither cat responded well, so Nick tried a new tactic. He made word-shaped flash cards. Verne took a nibble of “F-I-S-H,” but Stevenson hid under the bed.

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Nick began to see that Verne liked stories about cats and fish. “Verne loved fish. He followed along as Nick read, learning the sounds of the letters.” He even read by himself, discovering new stories, especially 2,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But Stevenson? When Nick spelled words for him, he merely ran under the porch, hissing. By this time Verne was reading so many books that he got his own library card and Nick needed help carrying all of his books home. Nick and Verne had fun acting out their favorite stories, but they missed Stevenson.

One day “Verne discovered a treasure under the bed—a great stack of Stevenson’s pirate drawings. “‘Wow!’” Nick whispered. “‘Stevenson drew a story.’” Nick and Verne put the pages together and began to write words to go with them. When the story was finished, Nick, Verne, and Stevenson “squeezed under the porch, gave Stevenson an eye patch, and read The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold. Stevenson listened and followed along. He didn’t run away. Or hiss. Not even once.”

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Image copyright Kate Berube, text copyright Curtis Manley, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

 

Suddenly, Stevenson couldn’t get enough of books.  Even before Nick woke up, Stevenson could be found with his nose in Treasure Island or another adventure book, and whenever Nick and Verne played pirates, Stevenson joined in. He helped bring down “scurvy mutineers” and found buried treasure. Now the three readers do everything together. They “hunt for dinosaurs in the lost world behind the garden…race around the yard in eighty seconds…and journey to the center of the basement.” And while they all like to read on their own, they also like it when someone reads to them. “Hmmm…,” Nick thinks, maybe next he could teach his cats to talk. “‘Meow,’ says Stevenson.”

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Image copyright Kate Berube, text copyright Curtis Manley, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Curtis Manley’s adorable tribute to reading and learning to read using cats, with their variety of personalities, is inspired. Just as some people respond more to the words while others are attracted by the pictures, Verne and Stevenson have their own relationships with books. The names of the cats and their preferred reading material are also reminders that books are personal, and disinterest in one type of story does not reflect disinterest in all stories. Manley’s text makes for a joyful read-aloud as his language and phrasing is evocative, lyrical, and imaginative.

In perfect accompaniment, Kate Berube brings this creative story to life, illustrating the tender relationship between Nick and his pets as well as emphasizing the humor and distinct personalities inherent in orange striped Verne and smoky gray Stevenson that influence their journeys to literacy. Depictions of the various books Verne and Stevenson are drawn to highlight the literary references in the trio’s further play. Readers will want to stop and peruse the page of library shelves, where such books as “Harry Picaroon and the Swashbuckler’s Stone”, “Harold and the Purple Canon”, “Millions of Rats”, and “Where the Wild Pirates Are” wait to be checked out in the Pirates section.

Kids will eagerly want to adopt The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, and it will snuggle in nicely on children’s bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-1481435697

Discover “the facts, fictions, poems, and numbers” of Curtis Manley on his website!

View a gallery of Kate Berube‘s art on her website!

International Literacy Day Activity

CPB - Cat Bookmark (2)

Feline Fine about Reading Bookmark

 

This want-to-be literary lion feels fine about reading! Let it hold your page while you’re away! Print your Feline Fine about Reading Bookmark and color it!

Picture Book Review

September 5 – Cheese Pizza Day and Q&A with Author/Illustrator Claire Lordon

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About the Holiday

Once considered the food of Italy’s poorer classes who could not afford the prices of meat, cheese pizza has risen in stature to become a favorite of all. While perfect all on its own, cheese pizza is also a delicious beginning to any combination of ingredients—well, maybe not all, as the characters in today’s book discover!

Lorenzo the Pizza-Loving Lobster

By Claire Lordon

 

Lorenzo is one adventurous lobster! Not only does he like exploring new places, he loves getting his claws on new foods. One day while at the beach, Lorenzo meets a seagull who has found a tasty slice of pizza to nosh on. “‘What’s that?’” Lorenzo asks, “‘It smells amazing!’” The seagull tells him and invites him to try it. Lorenzo takes a nibble…and then a bigger bite. He loves this pizza thing so much that he eats it all up.

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Image copyright Claire Lordon, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

On his way home to tell his friends about his discovery, Lorenzo runs into Kalena, his turtle friend, and tells her all about the triangular food that is “‘crispy and chewy at the same time; salty, tangy, and full of flavor, too!’” Kalena is intrigued and suggests they try to make one themselves. At Lorenzo’s house they begin gathering the ingredients, but when Kalena asks what was in the pizza Lorenzo can’t remember. Kalena looks in the cupboard and pulls out seaweed cake and kelp paste. “‘Perfect!’” agrees Lorenzo. For the “stringy” part, Kalena suggests eelgrass, which also has the benefit of being extra salty. And the “round things on top”? Sand dollars sound delicious!

So the pair bake up their green concoction, and when the timer rings they dig in only to find that it “‘isn’t quite right.’” Not one to give up, Kalena offers a new set of ingredients: “‘kelp dough, squid ink, algae, and coral rings.’” This pizza isn’t right either—in fact, Kalena says, “‘This tastes icky! And the algae is stuck in my teeth!’” Suddenly, Lorenzo has a brainstorm. He remembers that the pizza was made of “‘sponge patties, jellyfish jelly, seaweed noodles, and seashells.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lorenzo-the-pizza-loving-lobster-making-pizza

Image copyright Claire Lordon, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Listening to that recipe, Kalena isn’t so sure, but they make it anyway. When this creation comes out of the oven, one small nip convinces Kalena that this one is “‘gross.’” Poor Lorenzo—he so badly wanted to make a delicious pizza with his friend. Kalena leaves Lorenzo’s house with the distinct impression that pizza is terrible. But as she heads up the beach toward home, she smells a delicious aroma. Coming closer she spies a “round food,” and buys one.

With one bite, she’s smitten! This round food is “‘so chewy, and salty, and…wait a minute.’” It dawns on Kalena that this might be the very pizza Lorenzo was talking about. There’s just one thing—why is it a circle? Even though Kalena wants to devour the whole thing, she thinks about how sad Lorenzo was and hurries back to his house with the steaming box. Sure enough, Lorenzo is moping about the afternoon’s debacle.

“‘Hey Lorenzo, look what I found!’” Kalena calls. “‘Holy anchovy!’” Lorenzo exclaims when he tastes it, “‘This is exactly like the pizza I had earlier, but this time it’s big and round!’” They are so excited to dig into their treat, but they carefully study the pizza’s ingredients before eating it all up. One pizza just isn’t enough, so Lorenzo and Kalena make another…and another…and another—and share them with all their friends at a huge pizza party.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lorenzo-the-pizza-loving-lobster-telling-kalena

Image copyright Claire Lordon, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Who knew pizza and the ocean had so much in common—the same salty tang, the same appealing aromas, the same recognizable shapes? Claire Lordon, that’s who! In her funny culinary adventure, Lordon captures the enthusiasm children have to share and replicate a new discovery  but also presents the moments of disappointment when reality and memory don’t match. Kids will “ewww…ohhh…yuck…and yuck it up at the alternative pizza ingredients Lorenzo and Kalena combine in their attempts at a “normal” pizza. These two friends are sweetly supportive of each other through kelp paste and pepperoni and know how to share life’s ups and downs.

Lordon’s adorable sea creatures populate very vivid underwater and beach environments that will be as vibrantly familiar to kids as their own homes and playgrounds with an oceanic twist. Images of the alternate ingredients are clever adaptations of the elements of a normal pizza as Lorenzo remembers the shapes but not the names of the fixings.

Lorenzo, the Pizza-Loving Lobster is a delicious ingredient to add to any child’s bookshelf, and kids will no doubt want to build their own pizzas just like Lorenzo—a crustacean who really knows his crust!

Ages 3 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499802283

Learn more about Claire Lordon and her work on her website!

Cheese Pizza Day Activity

CPB - Pizza Day Toppings

Create Your Pizza Game

 

Play this fun game to build your pizza ingredient by ingredient before the others! For 2 – 8 players.

Supplies

Directions

Q & A with Claire Lordon

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Today I’m thrilled to feature a fun interview with the delightful Claire Lordon in which she discusses her influences, her work, and one special “Rhodie” who turned out to be a very lucky lobster!

What were some of the books you enjoyed most as a child and why?

I had many favorite books growing up!  One of my favorites was The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Steven Kroll. I think I liked this book so much because it had a competition in it and it was also about Halloween (two things I love!). I also enjoyed The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear; Corduroy; Tops and Bottoms; Madeline; Curious George; Clifford the Big Red Dog; the Dr. Seuss books; and SO many more.

Lorenzo the Pizza-Loving Lobster is your debut picture book. What influenced you to write it?

Many people have asked me how I got my inspiration for this unique idea – a pizza-loving lobster! The answer is a bit silly and has a story behind it.

It started when I was back in college and my boyfriend and I were at a gift shop that sells Rhode Island merchandise (we went to school in Rhode Island).  My boyfriend noticed a cute lobster stuffed animal and said how much he liked it because it reminded him of a pet crawfish he had growing up.

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When his birthday came around I decided to give him the stuffed animal lobster that he had admired months earlier.  We chose the name “Rhodie” for the lobster stuffed animal because his backstory is that he is from Rhode Island.  Somehow, one day when we were eating pizza we decided that Rhodie was Italian and loved pizza. It became a joke and I thought how ridiculous it was that a lobster loved pizza!

I thought this would make a great character in a children’s book.  After many revisions and many sketches later Lorenzo, the Pizza-Loving Lobster is now an actual book!

What have you found to be the best part of writing and illustrating a picture book?

The best part, at least recently, has been having others contact me about my book. It could be a simple tweet showing it on the shelves in California or an e-mail saying how much a grandchild loves ‘Lorenzo’. It makes me so happy to know that others love my work too!

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Your slogan is “Made with a Smile.” Can you talk about your philosophy and what influences your illustration work?

I strive to create art that makes me, and others, happy. My hope is that my art brings the viewer joy and even make them laugh. The influences for my work include traveling, being in nature, and reading many children’s books. I like to have my work be bold and fun.

Can you describe your work space a little?

My studio space is in my apartment in Brooklyn. It consists of a computer, a Cintiq monitor, and a desk for drawing and painting. I also have a giant printer and a scanner.

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Do you have any other books on the horizon?

At the moment I am ‘shopping’ around a book about a penguin named Bento who is apprehensive about school picture day. I also have two more manuscripts that I’m storyboarding.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-related questions.

What is your favorite holiday? 

My favorite holiday by far is Halloween. I love that it’s during the fall, with all the changing colors of leaves. My favorite parts are dressing up as a fun character as well as decorating and carving pumpkins. I also like to celebrate small holidays that I discover, such as grilled cheese sandwich day!

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?

Growing up I never had a store-bought Halloween costume. I would design my own costume and my mom and I would go to the fabric store to see how we could create the design. Then my mom would work her magic and sew a unique costume for me. I’ve been a candy corn, a Beanie Baby, a fairy, and more!

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

One of my new manuscripts I’m storyboarding now is about Christmas. My family always had a great collection of Christmas books when I was growing up, and I hope this one can make it into the collection someday!

Thanks, Claire! I wish you all the best with Lorenzo, the Pizza-Loving Lobster and your future books!

RhodieReading

You can find Lorenzo, the Pizza-Loving Lobster at:

little bee books | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-MillionIndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 2 – It’s Children’s Good Manners Month

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About the Holiday

As kids go back to school and interact with other students, teachers, coaches, group leaders, and others, this month is dedicated to the kinds of manners that promote good relationships and cohesive gatherings. Thinking about others and how your actions will affect them is part of being a great friend, teammate, or participant in any activity. Family life with parents and siblings is also better when everyone treats each other with good manners. So this month (and afterward) remember to say “please, thank you, you’re welcome, may I” and all the rest of the polite words!

Interrupting Chicken

By David Ezra Stein

 

It’s time for a certain little red chicken to go to sleep, and Papa is about to plunk his chick into bed when the subject of a bedtime story comes up. Papa agrees to read one of his daughter’s favorites—after being reassured that she won’t interrupt the story tonight. “‘Oh no, Papa. I’ll be good,’” she says.

So Papa opens Hansel and Gretel and begins to read. He’s related that Hansel and Gretel were very hungry and that while out in the woods they found a house made of candy. “Nibble, nibble, nibble; they began to eat the house, until the old woman who lived there came out” and invited the children in. “They were just about to follow her when—”… the little chicken can’t help herself: “Out jumped a little red chicken, and she said, ‘DON’T GO IN! SHE’S A WITCH!’ So Hansel and Gretel didn’t. THE END!”

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Image copyright David Ezra Stein, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Papa peers over the top of his story book and he and his daughter give each other a long look. “‘Chicken.’” “‘Yes, Papa?’” “‘You interrupted the story. Try not to get so involved.’” “‘I’m sorry, Papa. But she really was a witch.’” Papa understands, but he also tells little chicken that she should relax and try to fall asleep. His daughter agrees to be good if he reads another story.

Papa turns the page to Little Red Riding Hood. He reads about how Little Red Riding Hood’s mother gave her a basket of goodies to take to Grandma and warns her about the dangers in the woods. “By and by she met a wolf who wished her ‘Good Morning.’ She was about to answer when—”…the little avid reader can’t help herself again! “Out jumped a little red chicken, and she said, ‘DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS!’ So little Red Riding Hood didn’t. THE END!”

Papa puts the story book down and gazes into his daughter’s wide-awake eyes. She apologizes for interrupting a second time and suggests “one more little story” and promises to behave. Papa picks a most appropriate story for the third go-around: Chicken Little. He starts off with the unfortunate event when Chicken Little is hit on the head by an acorn and mistakenly thinks that the sky is falling. “She was about to run off and warn Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, Henny Penny, and everyone on the farm the sky was falling when—”…the little chicken loses control yet again. “Out jumped the little red chicken, and SHE said, ‘DON’T PANIC! IT WAS ONLY AN ACORN.’ So Chicken Little didn’t. THE END!”

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Image copyright David Ezra Stein, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Papa is now flat out tired and—even though his little chick hugs him and vows that with only one more story she’ll fall asleep—out of stories. Little chicken exclaims, “‘Oh no, Papa. I can’t go to sleep without a story!’” Yawning, Papa suggests that his daughter tell him a story. She grabs her notebook and crayons and begins. “Bedtime for Papa by CHiKn Once there was a little red chicken who put her Papa to bed. She read him a hundred stories. She even gave him warm milk, but nothing worked: he stayed wide awake all—”

Suddenly, the sounds of snoring interrupt her storytelling. She looks up from her page to find her father fast asleep in her bed. She pats him on the head “‘Good night, Papa.’” she whispers before finally falling asleep herself.

David Ezra Stein’s Caldecott Honor book is a hilarious retelling of the nightly bedtime story scene in so many households. One story just isn’t enough, and familiar stories just beg to be finished by excited little voices. The father/daughter relationship in Interrupting Chicken is sweet and endearing, as the day-weary dad reads story after story and his daughter chimes in. Any parent or caregiver has gazed at their little charge in just the way Papa does, and they have all received the same knowingly innocent eyes back.

Stein’s glowing blue, green, and red illustrations of the adorable little chicken with her very tall comb tucked into bed and her father’s equally as long comb and waddles, cozy bathrobe and slippers will make kids fall in love with this duo. The stories Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Chicken Little are cleverly depicted in vintage black, brown, and white hues that are brilliantly interrupted by the little chicken and her well-timed warnings. In each even the original stories’ characters react to being so “rudely interrupted” and are left with dubious expressions as our little heroine saves the day.

Animated readings (there’s no way you’ll get away with just one!) will make Interrupting Chicken one of the favorite books on your child’s bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2010 | ISBN 978-0763641689

Don’t’ interrupt this funny book trailer!

Children’s Good Manners Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-good-manners-matter-word-search

Good Manners Matter! Word Search

 

Using good manners makes you and those around you smile! Find the 20 manners-related word in this Printable Good Manners Matter! smiley-faced-shaped puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

September 1 – World Letter Writing Day

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About the Holiday

Remember the thrill of receiving a letter—a real letter full of exciting news, lovey-dovey stuff, photos, or a highly anticipated answer to some inquiry or application? The footsteps of the postal carrier on the stoop, the creak and small bang of the mailbox lid opening and closing, and the view of a long envelope sticking out the top could all set the heart racing. Or perhaps you were the letter writer, pouring your experiences, heart, and hopes onto a piece of paper that might have been colored or even scented. World Letter Writing Day celebrates those missives that allow for the development of higher vocabulary and story-telling skills and provided physical souvenirs of a life well lived.

Dear Dragon

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo

 

In a bit of cross-curriculum creativity, the teachers in two distinct school districts have combined the annual poetry units and pen pal projects. Not only do the kids get to make new friends, they must write their letters in rhyme. George Slair has been matched up with Blaise Dragomir. What George doesn’t know—but readers do—is that Blaise is a dragon; and what Blaise doesn’t know—but readers do—is that George is a boy.

In his first missive, George begins boldly and honestly: “Dear Blaise Dragomir, / We haven’t met each other, and I don’t know what to say. / I really don’t like writing, but I’ll do it anyway. / Yesterday my dad and I designed a giant fort. / I like playing catch and soccer. What’s your favorite sport? / Sincerely, George Slair”

As Blaise reads the letter he interprets George’s cardboard box, blanket, and umbrella fort as a medieval stone fortress with an iron gate and whittled-to-a-point log fencing. Blaise writes back: “Dear George Slair, / I also don’t like writing, but I’ll try it, I suppose. / A fort is like a castle, right? I love attacking those. / My favorite sport is skydiving. I jump near Falcor Peak. / Tomorrow is my birthday, but my party is next week. / Sincerely, Blaise Dragomir”

In his next letter, dated October 31, more earth-bound George tells Blaise that parachuting is awesome, that his dog destroyed his fort, and that he is trick-or-treating as a knight—a revelation to which Blaise has a visceral response. But what is scary to one pal is tame to the other. On November 14th Blaise relates: “Knights are super scary! I don’t like trick-or-treat. / Brushing teeth is such a pain, I rarely eat a sweet. / My pet’s a Bengal Kitten and tonight she needs a bath. / What’s your favorite class in school? I’m really into math!”

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Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, courtesy, Viking Books for Young Readers

Reading December’s letter Blaise learns that George likes art and imagines George’s table-top volcano science project as a roaring, lava-spewing mountain while in January George is impressed to learn that Blaise’s father is a fire-breather. He conjures up images of a dad in a fancy, caped costume creating fire out of nothing while the truth is a lot more explosive. February brings word that there is a pen pal picnic planned for June, and in March Blaise tells George about a special outing with his dad: “Soon he’s gonna take me flying, once it’s really spring. / It’s such a rush to ride the air that flows from wing to wing.”

Springtime also sees the two becoming better friends. The formal “Sincerely, George” or “Sincerely, Blaise” sign-off of the first letters has evolved into “Your friend”  as George expresses his wonder at Blaise’s parents: “Hi, Blaise! / Skydiving and flying? Wow, your parents rock! / I’m lucky if my father lets me bike around the block.” Then it appears that this project has been a success in all areas as George asks, “Once the school year’s over and this project is complete, / should we continue writing? ‘Cause it could be kind of neat….”

Blaise is all in. In his May letter, he writes, “Hey, George! / I’m psyched about the picnic and I can’t wait to attend. / Who’d have thought this pen pal thing would make me a new friend? / Writing more sounds awesome. I was gonna ask you, too! / I’ve never liked to write as much as when I write to you.”

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Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers

With a growing sense of anticipation, readers know that with a turn of the page June will come, and that June brings the long-awaited picnic. How will George and Blaise react when they see each other? As the kids approach the Pen Pal Picnic spot, their mouths hang open and their eyes grow wide. One even has his hands to his face. And as the dragons peek out from behind the trees, their mouths hang open and their eyes grow wide. One even has her hand to her face.

“‘Blaise?’” George ventures, as a slice of tomato drops from his hamburger. “‘George?’” Blaise presumes, although he wrings his tail. “‘My pen pal is a dragon?’”… “‘My pen pal is a human?’”

These two-page spreads say it all—or do they? Well, not quite…

Huge grins burst out as George and Blaise exchange high fives (and fours). The other kid- and-dragon pals are having a blast too! And the teachers? “‘Our plan was a success, my friend, or so it would appear!’ / ‘The Poetry and Pen Pal Project! Once again next year?’”

With his usual aplomb, Josh Funk charms with rhyme and reason in this clever tribute to friendship, diversity, and writing (on paper!). The letters between the two pen pals are endearingly kid-like, full of the subjects that are important in a child’s life, including pets, school, hobbies, and parents, and that can be brilliantly open to interpretation—or misinterpretation. Blaise Dagomir and George Slair’s names are similarly inspired, and may introduce kids to the ancient legends of Saint George and the Dragon and the poem by Alfred Noyes, St George and the Dragon. Kids will enjoy seeing how George and Blaise’s friendship grows over the school year, evidenced in the openings and closings of their letters. The letters are a joy to read aloud as the rhymes swoop and flow as easily as Blaise soars through the air.

Following the alternating sequence of the letters, Rodolfo Montalvo depicts each pen pal’s perception of the message along with the reality in his illustrations that are—as George exclaims—“as awesome as it gets.” Both characters are sweet and earnest, and while surprised by what they think the other’s life is like, happily supportive. The full-bleed pages and vibrant colors dazzle with excitement and humor and ingenious details. Kids will love the juxtaposition of George’s idea of Blaise’s Bengal “kitten” and the reality of a nearly full-grown tiger. The two views of fire-breathing will also bring a laugh, and readers will enjoy picking out features of the two homes. The final spreads build suspense as to how George and Blaise will react to each other, and the resolution is a delight.

One striking aspect of both the text and the illustrations is the similarity between the two pen pals. While their activities and experiences may be on different scales, they are comparable and understandable to each child. Likewise, everywhere in the paintings, Montalvo uses complementary colors to unite George and Blaise. This cohesiveness beautifully represents the theme of inclusiveness.

Dear Dragon is released September 6 and is certain to be a book children treasure. The fun dual meaning rhymes and endearing illustrations make Dear Dragon a must for kids’ (and dragon’s) bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0451472304

From more books to activities for kids, there’s so much to see and do on Josh Funk’s website!

Discover the world of Rodolfo Montalvo’s books and artwork on his website!

Dear Reader, check out this blazing hot book trailer!

World Letter Writing Day Activity

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Dependable Dragon Pencil Case

 

U-knight-ing all your pens, pencils, and other supplies in this Dependable Dragon Pencil Case will fire up your imagination! Have a blast making this fun craft!

Supplies      

  • Printable Dragon Pencil Case Template – Wings | Face
  • Sheets of felt, 8 ½-inch by 11-inch
  • 2 Dark green
  • 1 Light green
  • 1 white
  • 1 black
  • 1 yellow
  • 1 purple
  • Fabric Glue
  • Glitter glue or Fabric paint (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Velcro
  • Green Thread (optional if you would like to sew instead of glue your case)
  • Needle (optional, needed if sewing)

Directions

  1. Print the Dragon Templates
  2. Cut out alternating rows of scales from the dark and light green felt (7 each). For one row, cut a rounded top (instead of straight across) to make the top of the head (see picture). (One row of scales is longer so you can tile them. You will trim them later: see the double row of scales on the template for how the scales should look)
  3. Cut the eyes from the white felt, pupils and nostrils from the black felt, horns from the yellow felt, and wings from the purple felt. Set aside.

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To make the head

  1. Fold one dark piece of felt in half lengthwise
  2. Cut a wavy line along the bottom of the felt to make lips (see picture)
  3. Glue a ½-inch-wide strip along open side and along bottom (or you can sew it)

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To add the scales

  1. Starting at the bottom, lay on row of scales a little above the wavy bottom. Glue the top to the base.
  2. Overlap an alternating green row of scales on the first row, glue the top
  3. Continue alternating dark and light green scales until you reach 9 inches
  4. Use the rounded row of scales for the top of the head (see how to insert horns before attaching top of head)

To insert the horns

  1. On the rounded row of scales, mark where you want the horns to be
  2. Cut two small slices in the felt where the horns will go
  3. Insert the bottoms of the horns into the slits

To finish the head

  1. Glue the top of the head to the base
  2. Trim any longer rows of scales to meet the edges of the base
  3. Add the eyes and nostrils to the face

To make the closure for the case

  1. Cut the base following the line of the rounded row of scales
  2. Glue or sew strips of Velcro along the inside edges

To attach the wings

  1. Turn the dragon case to the back
  2. Glue or sew the wings to the center of the back, attaching them at the center edge
  3. Outline the wings in glitter glue (optional)

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Picture Book Review

August 30 – Frankenstein Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the birthday of Mary Shelley who was born on August 30, 1797. Shelley is well-known as the author of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, one of the most read and most influential novels of all time. And she published it at the age of 22! The novel depicts the story of Victor Frankenstein, who creates a human-like creature from cadavers, only to be repulsed by it and reject it once he has brought it to life. The “monster” is much more than the sum of its parts, however, and begins a quest for education and understanding. While the “Creature” had a dual personality, its greatest wish was to be looked on not as a monster, but as a thinking, feeling person. The novel leads many to ask, “who is the real monster, anyway?”

Quit Calling Me a Monster!

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Bob Shea

 

A purple, hairy guy with long stick legs and arms and long bent toes and fingers rides his bike along the street, catching a butterfly on his finger and carefully transporting a basketful of flowers. But all the kids on the school bus see as he passes is the purple, the legs, the arms, the fingers and the toes. And all the guy sees is the wide eyes and fearful expressions of the kids in the windows.

So he stands his ground, craggy hands on hips and says, “Quit calling me a monster! Just…stop it, right this minute!” He’s serious! In fact he throws a bit of a fit, rolling on the ground and spouting, “It really hurts my feelings. I’m no monster!” Just because he may have a few monster-ish qualities like horns and fangs and wild eyes and crazy hair. And yes, he knows he has “a huge toothy smile that glows in the dark.” And, yeah, ok, so he’s not exactly a wallflower and can “roar, holler, scream, whoop, and cackle,” and likes to hide where his discovery will frighten someone most…he still says, “It really bothers me when you call me a monster without even thinking about it.”

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image copyright Bob Shea, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

Kids are always yelling, “‘Mommy, save me from that monster!” when he’s just trying to shop or complaining that there’s a monster under the bed when he’s just trying to sleep. Can he help it that his claws reach upward or that he growls when he dreams? Does he ever call kids names? Does he ever taunt someone as a “meat snack?” No! And that’s because he’s “a monster with excellent manners!”

Umm…Well, I mean…he doesn’t “mean monster, exactly….” Oh, all right, if you’re going to get persnickety about it, he does have all those monster-ish traits and his parents are monsters, but he really doesn’t “like being called a monster one little bit.” If you want to call him, you can use his name, which is a very respectable Floyd Peterson. Now that that is settled, our purple friend is going to bed…in your closet. So if you hear him snoring in the middle of the night, you can rest assured that there is no monster in your closet, it’s just Floyd Peterson.

Jory John gives hilarious voice to the frustrations of being labeled as someone or something you’re not while also affirming that it’s okay to be who you really are. Snap judgements based on preconceived notions or stereotypes limits a person’s world view and the friends they can make. And what’s wrong with being a “monster” or “Floyd Peterson” or (insert word here) anyway? Kids and adults will laugh as Floyd lists page after page of his monster-ish qualities while also denying that he is, indeed, a monster. The ending is sweet and kid-like and puts to bed fear of the unknown.

Bob Shea’s monster, aka Floyd Peterson, is a frighteningly endearing character that kids will whole-heartedly embrace. Floyd’s coarse purple hair, scrawny legs and arms, and big grin along with his range of personas, from alarming to loveable, will make kids giggle. The bright solid backgrounds put the focus on Floyd and all of his roaring, flailing, and leaping—just as Floyd (and all little monsters) sometimes want and need.

Ages 3 – 7

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0385389907

Jory John has a whole gallery of books for you to discover on his website!

Discover Bob Shea‘s “Books for Really Smart Kids” on  his website!

Quit what you’re doing and watch this book trailer!

Frankenstein Day Activity

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Merry Monsters Coloring Page 

 

These two cute monsters want to play, but first they need a little color! Get out your crayons, markers, or pencils and fix them up! Here’s your printable Merry Monsters Coloring Page! Now, it’s your turn – if you were a monster, what would you look like? Draw yourself as a Magnificent Monster!

Picture Book Review

August 28 – Pony Express Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the intrepid souls who risked life and limb to bring our ancestors important letters in a timely manner. Towns across America hold special, fun events to remember the riders who took to heart the postal carrier’s motto: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Find a local festival or maybe reenactment and have a little Old West fun!

You Wouldn’t Want to be a Pony Express Rider! A Dusty, Thankless Job You’d Rather Not Do

Written by Tom Ratliff | Illustrated by Mark Bergin

 

So, you’re 16 years old and lookin’ for a job. There’s not much out there, and the pay stinks. Then you see a broadside advertising jobs with a newfangled technology. The description seems pretty good, exciting even—just up your alley. “WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” And here’s the kicker—you make $25 per week! Heck most people only make $25 a month!

You decide to apply for this Pony Express position, and your life takes off in a whole new direction—to California, to be exact! William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell own the company. It’s real name is the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company, but that’s quite a mouthful, so the enterprise is fondly known as The Pony Express. It’s a rapid mail-delivery system that promises letters and packages will go from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California (2,000 miles/3,200 km) in only 10 days. Can you imagine?!

Planning begins in January of 1860 and is completed in less than four months. Hundreds of horses are bought and about just as many riders are trained (they have to learn how to change horses in two minutes or less). Along the route 157 relay stations are also constructed. All this is to supply communication for the many pioneers who are steering their Conestoga Wagons out West, battling floods, snow, disease, and those pesky obstacles called the Rocky Mountains to find a better life for themselves and their families. 

You’re young, enthusiastic, and want to be part of this new landscape. You strap on your company-given “two revolvers, rifle, and Bowie knife,” have your horse shod, and take the Rider’s Oath: “While in the employ of A. Majors, I agree not to use profane language, get drunk, gamble, treat animals cruelly, or do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman.” Well, Dang! (Oops!)

The route West is fraught with danger, so forts and trading posts pop up along the way to protect and supply Pony Express riders. The pioneers also keep an eye out for you, so it’s handy to get to know them. While you ride you can be assured that you have the latest in mail-carrying gear. A special saddle modeled on those used by Spanish vaqueros (cowboys) is more comfortable for the long miles, and a mochila (a leather pouch that fits over the saddle) is stuffed full of the mail.

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Image copyright Mark Bergin, courtesy Scholastic

You were right about the job being exciting! Every day brings a new experience: dehydration, heat exhaustion, blizzards, frostbite, floods, 6-to-10-hour hard rides, plus you’re a target for outlaws and bandits. It’s worth it all, though, to bring a smile to someone’s face when they open a letter from their far-away sweetheart—and all for only $5.00 a letter (that’ll be about $120 in 2016). Just be thankful it’s not a business letter—that’ll set ya back $30, which is…uh…umm…well, a heck of a lot (oops!).

In 1844 some upstart named Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph that uses a code of electrical signals to deliver messages. It only takes 5 years for all the major cities to be connected, and as more people move west, so do the poles and electrical wires.”In June 1860, congress authorizes construction of a telegraph line to California. If the telegraph ever reaches the West Coast, you will most likely be out of a job.” One thing about this Morse Code, though. Because “messages sent long distances have to be copied and recopied several times, mistakes are common.” Betcha in the future, though, there will be some kinda automatic correction system, and errors will be left back here in the past.

It’s 1860—a presidential election year—and the campaign has been ugly and hard fought. The country is divided, and fast delivery of the election results is crucial to keeping the United States together. You are part of saving the country, as the news of Abraham Lincoln’s victory reaches California from Washington in only 7 days and 17 hours—a cross-country delivery record! Within a year, the U.S. is at war and danger looms for the Pony Express riders. To protect the riders and the mail, the Overland Stage Company (soon to be known as Wells Fargo) and their enclosed stagecoaches take over.

And the Pony Express? Well, as you probably know, it’s losing money and limping along, what with the competition and the war and all. In October 1861 the transcontinental telegraph is completed and the Pony Express stables its horses. And you? You’ll be fine. With all the experience you’ve gained, you can easily find a job as a scout to guide folks over the trails to their new Western homes.

These “You Wouldn’t Want to Be…” series of books brings history to life by revealing the seamy side of events—and aren’t those really the most fascinating? Tom Ratliff corrals a heap o’ info on the Pony Express and the pivotal changes the United States experienced during the 1860s. While the text trots out fun sidebars, the short chapters are loaded with concrete facts about the development of the American West as it grappled with the need for faster and better communication.

Mark Bergin depicts the concepts presented with bold, vivid cartoon-inspired illustrations of the pioneers, riders, inventors, and townspeople who made up the Pony Express system. The people’s faces register well-earned skepticism, fright, and weariness, but also pride and excitement to be on the cutting edge of technology. Maps portray the 2,000-mile route from America’s middle to its western sea.

The Pony Express may be long gone, but as this book affirms, the more things change the more they stay the same. Teachers, researchers, and anyone interested in history will want to hoof it to add You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pony Express Rider! to their collection.

Ages 7 – 10

Scholastic, Inc., 2012 | ISBN 978-0531209479

Pony Express Day Activity

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Pony Express Mail Carrier Coloring Page

 

Can you color this printable Pony Express Mail Carrier Coloring Page as quickly as a rider could deliver the post? You’ve got 10 days—so don’t rush!

Picture Book Review