January 15 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Stompin’ at the Savoy

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About the Holiday

I was thrilled to host the cover reveal of Stompin’ at the Savoy and am now excited to be celebrating the book birthday of this extraordinary biography of one of the greats of Jazz with a review, an interview with Moira and Laura, and a giveaway of the book. Enjoy!

Thanks goes to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details and two ways to enter below.

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums

Written by Moira Rose Donohue | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a child William Henry “Chick” Webb turned everything into a drum. “He tapped rhythms on iron railings. Tinkety-tink! He slapped rhythms on marble steps. Thwapety-thwap!” Years later he would be competing in the “biggest band battle of the century” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. But before that he had to overcome many obstacles. Throughout his life, William suffered with a spinal illness that stunted his growth. After an operation after a fall, the doctor recommended getting him a drum set to strengthen his arms. But drums—even drumsticks—were too expensive, so William used wooden spoons and pots and pans to make music.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2021, text copyright Moira Rose Donohue, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

William’s illness left him with a hunchback and the “kids called him ‘Chicken’—shortened to “Chick”— because of the way he walked. To make money, Chick began selling newspapers when he was nine or ten. Soon he had bought real drumsticks and finally a drum set. Even though Chick only grew to be four feet, one inch that “didn’t stop him from making a giant sound. He just needed a taller chair and a higher bass pedal to do it.”

As a teenager, Chick was hired to play in local bands. He met Duke Ellington. He thought Chick was ready to lead his own band, but Chick waited. In the late 1920s a new kind of music—swing, with its dance-driving beat—came on the scene. “This new music was just right for Chick” and after choosing the best musicians he could find, he began touring the country. On one of these trips he hired Ella Fitzgerald to be the band’s lead singer. By 1937, Chick and his band was playing at the famous Savoy Ballroom. Some even called him the “‘Savoy King.’”

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The Savoy Ballroom was different from most clubs. Here, both Black and White people were welcome to dance. “Working-class people and movie stars danced alongside one another. People jumped and jived to new dances all night long.” At the time, bands competed in live “battles,” which Chick usually won. But then in February 1937, his band lost to Duke Ellington.

Chick didn’t let that get him down. Instead he challenged Benny Goodman—who led the number one big band in the country—to a battle of the bands. Benny laid down some rules: his and Chick’s band would play the same songs, his band would play first, and he would play on the biggest stage at the Savoy. Chick agreed. “That night, four thousand people crowded together on the dance floor” and another five thousand gathered outside in the street. In the crowd were also reporters from music magazines. Before his band went on, Chick laid down just one rule as he talked to his bandmates: “‘I don’t want nobody to miss.’”

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Benny Goodman and his band started off with his smooth, sweet clarinet that set the crowd swaying. But when Chick’s band took the stage, they gave the song a “hotter and faster… Swingier” beat, and the audience bounced along. The music swelled as “back and forth the bands played.” But it may have been “Jam Session” that decided it. As Chick “pounded louder and faster than a speeding train… Benny’s band just shook their heads in disbelief.” Everyone agreed that Chick had won. From that night on, Chick had a new nickname—“the ‘King of Drums.’”

An Authors note telling more about the life of Chick Webb follows the text.

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Thrilling for music-lovers, readers, and dreamers alike, Moira Rose Donohue’s biography of Chick Webb will inspire children to look not at the obstacles they may face but at ways to rise above them to achieve their goals. Donohue’s early focus on Chick’s determination to make music—whether he was using wooden spoons and pots or, much later, real drumsticks and drums—will impress on kids that practice, confidence, and an unfailing vision for the future can move mountains.

An important underlying lesson in Chick’s story is his self-awareness and willingness to wait until he felt ready to find his own niche and create his own band. This example, highlighted in Donohue’s compelling storytelling, will reassure readers who are meticulous, careful, and chafe under a “hurry, hurry” atmosphere. Through Donohue’s lyricism, pacing, and riveting vocabulary, readers can almost hear Chick at his drums as his drumsticks sizzle, whether at home, at venues across the country, or at the Savoy.

Laura Freeman’s rich colors and realistic depictions of Chick Webb—nearly always with drumsticks in his hands—will captivate readers as they watch a little boy with a big talent become the King of Drums. From his childhood kitchen to the school hallway to his natural entertaining spirit while selling newspapers, Freeman shows Chick’s singular focus and the times in which he grew up. Swirled musical bars, floating notes, and shadowed drumsticks give her illustrations movement. The look of rapture on Chick’s face as he plays and images of couples dancing to swing depict how the music transported people from the normal rhythms of life. The final spreads of Chick and Benny Goodman’s battle of the bands are raucous and enthralling and will have kids wanting to hear Chick’s music for themselves.

An absorbing biography of Chick Webb and the era of the big bands as well as a shining example of how one’s belief in oneself can conquer hurdles, Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Book Birthday Activity

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Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

 

You can enjoy coloring a picture of Chick Webb at his drums and challenging yourself with the word search puzzle found in this printable Activity Guide found on the Sleeping Bear Website.

Stompin’ at the Savoy Activity Kit

Meet Moira Rose Donohue

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Moira Rose Donohue has written over 35 books for children, most of them nonfiction, including National Geographic’s Little Kids First Big Book of the Rain Forest and two Junior Library Guild selections: Great White Sharks (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and The Invasion of Normandy (North Star Editions). She loves tap dancing, opera, hockey, and animals. Moira lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her dog, Petunia.

Among the many titles you’ve published are books on nature, history, and many, many biographies of figures from explorers to sports stars to civil rights leaders. What is your favorite thing about writing biographies? What was the initial spark that prompted you to choose Chick Webb as the subject of your newest book?

The thing I like most about writing biographies is that through the extensive research you have to do, you eventually discover the “essence” of the person—that unique quality that guided him/her/them to act in a way that made a difference in the world.

My initial interest in Chick was sparked when I was watching a re-airing of the Ken Burns documentary on jazz music. When the movie reached the evolution of swing and big bands, Chick Webb was mentioned. I have always loved Big Band music, even though it was not the music of my era. I was familiar with all the big band musicians discussed except Chick Webb. So, of course I had to research him. When I saw his life-loving grin and learned that he had to face the challenges of an affliction that left him no taller than an average eight-year-old boy, I was hooked.

Can you talk a little about the story readers will discover in Stompin’ at the Savoy and take readers on the book’s journey from idea to published book?

This book is not a chronicle of Chick’s life. It focuses on his resilient and competitive spirit because that’s what struck a chord with me. I love contests, and so, apparently, did Chick. To showcase his competitiveness, the climax of the book is his legendary band battle with 6-foot tall Benny Goodman, the King of Swing—a contest so exciting that almost 10,000 people showed up, inside the Savoy and outside on Lenox Avenue. You’ll have to read the book to find out who won!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned about Chick Webb during your research?

As a drummer and a band leader, Chick was precise and demanding. He told his musicians to practice and to be perfect. This didn’t surprise me because my daughter is a percussionist and I know that to be successful, practice and discipline are essential. What did surprise me is that, on occasion, Chick was known to give in to his wilder side and ride around town on the back of a motorcycle, standing up.

Researching Chick Webb was tricky because not much has been written about him. I had to call upon librarians, my superheroes, to watch a documentary at the Library of Congress and to find out what his childhood home looked like (thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore).

For an author it must be thrilling to see your story come to life visually. When did you see the cover and illustrations for your story? What was your first reaction?

I have been a big fan of Laura’s work for some time, so I knew when I got the sketches in May, 2020 that they would be wonderful. But the best part was that she completely understood the Big Band era and captured the ethos of the Savoy perfectly. It turns out that she had a connection to it—her father danced at the Savoy Ballroom.

As for the cover, which I didn’t see until early October, 2020, well…it brought tears to my eyes. The purple background is such a perfect choice for the King of Drums. And Laura even managed to put his signature green chicks on his drum set!

What would you like young readers to take away from the story of Chick Webb?

Although I cannot fully understand the magnitude and complexities of Chick’s struggle, as someone who is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and always trying to figure out how to reach things in high places, I relate to the challenges of being a short person. I completely understood his need to make his bass drum pedal higher so he could reach it! And I admired his perseverance. I hope the young readers will see Chick’s story as an inspiration—a story of someone who believed in himself and his music. Chick was a person with short stature who created a giant sound.  

When will readers be able to find Stompin’ at the Savoy on bookstore shelves? Do you have any special events to planned that readers can look forward to?

Stompin’ at the Savoy will be available for purchase on January 15, 2021. We are holding a virtual book release celebration this Monday, January 18 at 3:30 EST with Tombolo Books bookstore. You can register for the event as well as buy signed copies of the book there. You’ll find more information and the link to register on my website, moirarosedonohue.net. And I am hoping to have an in-person event in Baltimore, Chick’s (and my son’s) home, when it’s safe to do so. 

You can connect with Moira Rose Donohue on

Her website | Twitter

Meet Laura Freeman

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Laura Freeman has illustrated many fine children’s books over the years, including Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, and the Coretta Scott King Honor book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling. Laura now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their two children. 

I think readers are fascinated by an artist’s process in translating a manuscript to images that explain, highlight, and enhance the text. Can you talk a little about how you approached the manuscript for Stompin’ at the Savoy and then developed your illustrations.

I always spend a lot of time looking at photos and researching the character and time period before starting. For Stompin’ I wanted to get in the mood, and so I searched for his music online and was surprised to find that I recognized the title song (which was written in 1933!). Maybe I watch too many old movies, but it really is great! I found great old photos of him at his drum kit and photos of the Savoy nightclub as well as people dancing and swinging to the orchestra. Since it was the ’30’s, all the photos I found were in black and white so I dug into the internet to find out what color his drum kit was… and I found conflicting information. One article stated that the kit was pearlized cream decorated with sparkly green chicks but the accompanying photo showed the chicks as being red. I ended up trusting the words since the photo was obviously hand tinted. I hope I got it right but guess it’s not the end of the world if I’m wrong! 

What were your thoughts as you began to design the interior images for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I wanted to give the illustrations a sense of movement to mimic the way Chick’s music makes me feel. There are a lot of colorful musical notes dancing throughout almost all of the pages. There is one spread in particular where if you look closely you can find them in a pattern in the ironwork of the staircase that Chick falls down as a child. Even though he’s not playing music on this page I wanted the notes to foreshadow his future.

What aspects of Chick Webb’s story did you most want to express in your illustrations? Is there a spread in the book that you particularly enjoyed creating?

Even though he had a tragic accident when he was a child that affected him for the rest of his life, his music is so full of joy – I wanted the book to feel joyful! I wanted it to be bright and colorful. There’s one spread in the book that depicts a battle of the bands. The one where Chick’s band goes up against Benny Goodman’s band. It was one of the last images I tackled because I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. There was just so much going on. I wanted to show the excitement and electricity of the moment – both bands playing their instruments, Chick’s band in white tuxedos, Benny Goodman’s band in black, Chick at his drum kit, Gene Krupka breaking his drum head. All this, but I didn’t want it to look busy and confusing. It ended up being one of my favorite images in the book!

I’ve been fortunate to review several of your picture books. In each one the illustrations are uniquely suited for the subject and yet instantly recognizable as your work. What would you say is your signature style? How did you develop it?

Thank you for saying so! I guess I’d say my illustrations are somewhat realistic in that I do try to capture a likeness. But still not so much so that I can’t deviate from reality to make a point. I guess you could say my work has a collage feel to it since I love to play around with patterns and textures too. I think that the amount of research I do shows up in the illustrations. I try to immerse myself in the time period of the book. I love finding the right clothing and hairstyles. What did the streets look like? The cars? What kind of technology was available? What about the furniture? I collect 100’s of photos of all these things. Very few end up in the books, but the essence of what I’ve seen does… I hope!

What do you hope children will take away from your illustrations for Stompin’ at the Savoy?

I hope that they can see themselves in his story. I love that he didn’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he wanted to do. He had to sit on a high stool to reach the drums. He couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal on the stool, so he had a special one made. He even embraced what surely started out as a derogatory nickname and called himself Chick.

Like Moira, many of your books for children are biographies. What draws you to those projects? What are the challenges and the rewards of working on biographies?

I especially like learning about people I may never have heard of and learning new things about people I have heard of. If I don’t know the information, chances are that most kids don’t either. With a biography there’s the challenge of capturing a likeness. Sometimes there are lots of photos and videos of the person I’m depicting to reference. Other times, not so much. I may need to distill the person’s facial features and try to figure out what they might look like from a different angle or as a child when there really aren’t any reference photos to go by. I want to do them justice because I feel honored to be involved in uncovering their stories.

You can connect with Laura Freeman on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much Moira and Laura for these insightful answers! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums as I am! While we have to wait a little longer to find the book in bookstores, everyone’s invited to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy!

Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums Giveaway

 

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Stompin’ at the Savoy, written by Moira Rose Donohue| illustrated by Laura Freeman 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet OR leave a comment below
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 15 through January 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 22. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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You can preorder Stompin’ at the Savoy: How Chick Webb Became the King of Drums at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 14 – Pandemonium Day and Interview with Author/Illustrator Abi Cushman

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About the Holiday

Do you feel like you’re in a rut? Is life too organized, too sedate? Then what you need is a little pandemonium! If you and your kids have a set plan for today, throw it out and have fun doing whatever comes to mind. Feel like joining the kids in a water balloon fight? Do it! Ever wonder what pickle chocolate-chip cookies taste like? Make them! Today’s holiday is all about freeing yourself from preconceptions and inhibitions that might keep you from letting go and enjoying life to the fullest. Celebrate today by doing something wild with your family. You may even be inspired by today’s book!

By Jakki Licare

Soaked!

By Abi Cushman

 

It is a rainy day and Bear points out that no one is happy. Not even the hula hooping moose! Bear hates when it rains. The rain wrecks all of his favorite things: “ice cream cones, sand castles, cashmere sweaters. What’s that you say?” Bear asks readers. “Why don’t we just go inside my cave until the rain stops?” It’s a good idea, but when Bear and all his friends enter the cave, the Hula-Hooping moose takes up all the space. Bear begins to look for his umbrella. He searches for it everywhere and all his friends help, but no one can find it. Bear explains, “Badger said she found her blue bumblebee umbrella. But not mine.”

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Copyright Abi Cushman, 2020, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Unhappy, Bear sits on a fallen tree wallowing in what a “Blahhhhhhhhhhhhh…” day it is as Moose passes by, cartwheeling and Hula-Hooping at the same time. With a Fwoop, he loses control of the hoop and it flies into a tree. The animals look up, and Bear makes an observation: “Wait a minute. We can’t have a Hula-Hooping moose without a Hula-Hoop, can we.” So they stack up to get moose’s Hula-Hoop out of the tree. Bunny’s juuuuust got it when they lose their balance and all fall into a giant puddle.

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Copyright Abi Cushman, 2020, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

The Hula Hoop falls over Bear’s head and the animals encourage him to try it. Bear gives it a whirl. “There. I did it. Totally unfun. Just like I thought. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a moment to myself.” Bear sneaks around the tree with the Hula-Hoop and twirls it round and round, kicking up big puddle waves. Then all the animals join him and have a blast splashing and Hula-Hooping in the puddles until “everyone is soaked!” Somehow, Bear has acquired everyone’s Hula Hoops, and he’s having so much fun—“It’s so splishy and sploshy! Silly and soggy!” he exclaims—that he hasn’t noticed the rain has stopped. Bear drops the Hula Hoops and shuffles off, grumbling, “Blah. Too sunny.”

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Copyright Abi Cushman, 2020, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Told in first person from Bear’s perspective, Abi Cushman’s Bear humorously reflects every kid’s rainy day blues. Cushman’s humor will bring readers back to read her story again and again. Little kids will giggle at mopey Bear who wishes he could just eat his ice cream cone, Bear’s  hilarious and random Hula-Hooping moose friend, and how no one can fit into Bear’s cave because moose is taking up all the space twirling his hula hoops. Her poignant pauses in the text allow for the momentum of the story to build up to the great big splash! Every child will enjoy diving into this silly story.

Cushman’s soft backgrounds and great animal expressions will pull readers into this soggy adventure. Her illustrations of the melted ice cream cone, rain-drenched fur, and collapsed sandcastles perfectly reflect sad rainy-day blues. Little ones will be sure to pick up on all of the fun illustrative details and the moment when Bear has a change of heart. My kids loved how Badger is sneakily catching Bear’s melting ice cream in his own cup. Also, be on the look out for Bunny who wears Bear’s shrunken cashmere sweater as well as Badger’s broken umbrella after the fall. When the animals tumble into the puddle, Cushman uses a variety of textures and colors that really make the splash jump right off the page. Even the endpapers showcase her visual humor from start to finish. The front endpapers show Badger taking one of the bumblebee umbrellas, and at the end we see Bunny in her oversized cashmere sweater Hula Hooping.

Goofy pandemonium saves the day in the hilarious Soaked!, which is sure to be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1984836625

Discover more about Abi Cushman, her book, and her art as well as a Soaked Bear Craft and a 10-page Activity Kit on her website.

Meet Abi Cushman

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Today I’m excited to talk with Abi Cushman about the inspiration for her debut picture book, her road to publication, and how she developed her distinctive art style.

I’m in love with Soaked! and Bear’s rainy adventure. What was the inspiration for Soaked!? And how did you come up with a hula hooping moose?

Thanks, Jakki! I’m thrilled to share Soaked! with you and all the Celebrate Picture Books readers. The initial idea for Soaked! came to me while out for a walk and got caught in a torrential rainstorm. I was 8 months pregnant and well into the waddling stage of my pregnancy. On my slow, soggy walk home, I realized it was actually quite pleasant to be completely soaked. So I wrote this tidbit into my Ugly Sketchbook (the sketchbook where I keep my story ideas):

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After mulling it over for months, I kept drawing various versions of this sorry-looking wet bear. And at that point, I realized I wanted to write a funny story centered around him.

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As for the hula-hooping moose, the beginning of my story involves a badger and a bunny, and I wanted something absurd to break up the rhythm of woodland animals starting with the letter B. (Bear also starts with the letter B, but he’s the narrator.) So, the first absurd thing I thought of was a dancing moose. I pictured him dancing it up in the cave with glow sticks.

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But in revisions, I changed the dancing moose to a hula-hooping one (but made sure those hoops were glow-in-the-dark).

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Soaked! is your debut book. Can you talk about your path to publication?

In 2018, I entered the Portfolio Showcase at the New England SCBWI Conference in Springfield, MA. I included a rough dummy of Soaked! with my portfolio. To my complete amazement, I ended up winning the showcase.

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One of the judges was Jim Hoover, art director at Viking. He asked to see the dummy again and shared it with Tracy Gates, an editor he thought would get my quirky sense of humor. At that point, I introduced them to my agent, Kendra Marcus from BookStop Literary, and she handled all the communications from then on. Jim and Tracy offered feedback on the dummy, so I did some revisions based on their notes. And happily, they loved the revision, and I got an offer for a two-book deal!

Later in the year, I started working with Jim and Tracy on the book. And I can say that making the book was such a collaborative effort, and the final book is so much better than I ever could have imagined because of the experience, knowledge, and talent that Jim and Tracy brought to the table. I finished up all my final art in the fall of 2019, and I finally got to hold the real book in my hands at the end of June this year. It’s a dream come true.

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I know you have your hands full taking care of two little ones. How do you manage making time for your art, writing and creativity in general? Also, has being a mother changed your approach to creating picture books or the content in your picture books?

Yes, life with small children is intense! But, luckily, I have a very supportive husband, which makes all the difference. He’s a teacher and has summers off and he definitely takes the brunt of the childcare/housework in the summer months. Also, I have always been a night owl, so my natural inclination is to work late at night. And that is how I balance home life with work and art. I do most of my writing and art after the kids go to sleep, and the house is quiet.

Being a mother has definitely influenced my writing/illustrating career. For one thing, I’m really well-versed in current picture books. Before the quarantine, my kids and I would visit the library every week. I always took the opportunity to read all the new kids’ books. It was great. And of course, I love that I get to experience the world anew with my kids. Their unbridled curiosity and enthusiasm is infectious. And I think being in touch with kids’ sense of wonder and their sense of humor is so important when you’re writing for kids.

Were there any books that inspired you as a child to become a writer or illustrator or both?

I loved poring over the illustrations in books by Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter when I was a kid. I would try to draw characters in their style. I always loved that their stories featured animal characters with a lot of personality because I always gravitated toward drawing animals myself. But I never thought of myself as a writer growing up, to be honest. I gained confidence that I could write my own stories when I enrolled in Storyteller Academy in 2016.

Your portfolio is full of lovable creatures who are positively brimming with personality. My favorites are the skydiving hippo and the buffalo standing in the tall grass on a windy day. How did you develop your illustrative style? What mediums do you work in?

Thank you! I am so hopeful that I will come up with a story for both the sky diving hippo and the highland cow. I did both of those pieces as illustration prompts for SCBWI’s DrawThis challenge.

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It took me years to figure out a drawing style that would work for me for kids’ books. When I graduated from college, I was doing a fairly realistic style. My favorite medium was pastels. I later experimented with a cartoonier style that was all digital. I loved the realistic style/traditional approach for the textures and the organic feel. But it was hard for me to work small enough and neat enough.

The cartoony style/digital approach was fun and really easy to correct mistakes and adjust the layout. But it lacked the expressiveness that children’s book illustrations need. When I learned that Mike Curato (Little Elliott) and Sam Garton (I Am Otter) worked in a hybrid manner, it was a game changer for me. I now draw all my characters with a mechanical pencil on computer paper. I scan those into Photoshop, then I color in the characters and paint in the backgrounds using the pastel brush with a Wacom Cintiq tablet. It’s the best of both worlds!

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Can you walk us through how you create your stories? As an author/illustrator do you usually start with writing or sketching or does it depend on the story?

In general, I start with sketches of characters and scenes. I also jot down funny lines. Then I piece those parts together like a puzzle. I’ll draw little thumbnails, and then I put together a little mini-dummy by cutting some computer paper in half and then folding it into a booklet. There’s a lot of cutting and pasting that happens to get the pacing right. Usually, I don’t even sit down to type out the manuscript until I have the story figured out in dummy form first.

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What’s next for you?

I am wrapping up final art for my second book with Viking called Animals Go Vroom!, which comes out next summer and combines animal sounds with transportation. It has die-cut peekaboo windows and challenges readers to guess what goes roar, hiss, and honk. I think kids will have a lot of fun yelling out the answers as they read along.

Thanks so much, Abi, for chatting with me and sharing so many pictures! This has been great fun. I wish you all the best with Soaked! and can’t wait to see Animals Go Vroom!

You can connect with Abi Cushman on

Her websiteInstagram | Twitter

You’ll also enjoy Abi’s two websites

Animal Fact Guide | My House Rabbit 

Pandemonium Day Activity

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Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head Craft

 

Looking for a rainy-day activity to keep the kids busy? Create this active picture that will wow kids even after the craft is done. Blue beads slide on thread making it look like it is actually raining

Supplies

  • Printable Umbrella Template
  • Picture of child pretending to hold umbrella
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Blue Beads
  • White thread, Yarn or Pipe Cleaners (pipe cleaners will work better for pre-school aged children)

Directions

  1. Print out Template
  2. Cut out picture of your child
  3. Tape picture under the umbrella
  4. Cut a small horizontal slit at the top about an inch down
  5. Cut another slit 3″ down
  6. Cut another 1/4″ down
  7. Cut another slit 3″ down
  8. Cut another 1/4″ down
  9. Cut another slit 3″ down
  10. Repeat slits about 2” over. Make about 10 slits total
  11. Tape string/thread/pipe cleaner to the back of picture
  12. Pull string/thread/pipe cleaner to the front
  13. Add a bead or two or three!
  14. Weave string to back through the next slit and then to front again
  15. Add another bead
  16. Repeat till you reach the bottom
  17. Tape string/thread/pipe cleaner to the back
  18. Repeat for the rest of the slits.
  19. Move the picture around and beads will mimic rain falling!

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You can find Soaked! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 9 – International Unicorn Day COVER REVEAL of Unicorn Yoga

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About the Holiday

If you ask a child—maybe even an adult—to name a magical creature, chances are they’ll say, “a unicorn!” Unicorns have been part of legend since ancient times, undergoing changes from an image of fierceness and power to a representation of strength and true love to today’s more glittery superstar. To celebrate today, I’m thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal for a book about a very special—and nimble!—trio of unicorns that kids will fall in love with!

Unicorn Yoga

Written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard | Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler

 

The healing, restorative power of yoga has been known for centuries, and more people than ever are active practitioners. Now even the youngest of readers can learn this mind and body exercise, helping them set up a lifetime of healthy habits. Through clear, easy-to-follow instructions, a unicorn yogi, along with two energetic students, leads children through a ten-pose class. Kid-friendly back matter provides additional information on yoga, as well as tips on mindfulness, encouraging readers to develop their own daily practice.

Children reap tremendous benefits from learning the mindfulness that yoga has to offer—from stress reduction to better concentration in school. The adorable unicorns in Unicorn Yoga make giggly and supportive companions for kids learning this health-boosting exercise.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534111066

Unicorn Yoga will be released on July 15. The book is available for preorder with these booksellers

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

I was delighted to talk with authors Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard and illustrator Jennifer Sattler about Unicorn Yoga, their inspirations, the best part of writing for children, and so much more!

Meet Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard

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Photograph by Cari Ellen Hermann

Gina Cascone is the author of 30 books in several different genres, and has written for screen and television. Around the World Right Now is her first picture book, a joyful collaboration with her daughter inspired by her granddaughter’s unrelenting curiosity. She lives with her husband in central New Jersey. They have two grown children, two grandchildren, and three cats.

Bryony Williams Sheppard holds a degree in Theater Education from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and a master’s degree in educational psychology. She has been teaching since the age of 17 and loves bringing different stories to life with her students. She is also a teacher near Princeton, New Jersey, where her favorite part of lesson planning is choosing the best book for each class. When not working, Bryony enjoys spending time in her noisy house with her husband, two children, two cats, and a dog.

Welcome, Gina and Bryony! I’m really happy to be talking with you about your book! Before we jump into questions about Unicorn Yoga, let’s let readers get to know you both a little better.

Gina, When did you become interested in being a children’s writer?

My first published book was actually a memoir, Pagan Babies and Other Catholic Memories, a humorous, child’s eye view of parochial education. Then I wrote fiction for adults, until an editor asked if I could write thrillers for teens. So, I did that for a while and enjoyed it very much. Until yet another editor asked for scary chiller stories for middle-grade readers. That was great fun and a great fit for me since Bree insists that I have the soul of an eight-year-old boy – which is probably why I am so happy and comfortable in the company of children.

You’re known for your middle-grade Deadtime Stories series and young adult thrillers.  What have you found to be the challenges and rewards of writing picture books?

For me, the greatest challenge of writing picture books is the economy of the medium.  To convey an idea that could fill many pages in just a few, well-chosen words to teach, entertain, and inspire is hard work. The reward is the great joy of being able to read an entire book in one sitting to the best audience in the world – children.

Bree, You have a degree in theater education as well as a Master’s degree in educational psychology and work as an elementary school teacher. How does your theater background influence your teaching style? Does it have an impact on your writing?

I often say that teaching preschool is a lot like being in theater. You always have to be on and ready to entertain your crowd because the moment you lose them, they turn on you! Many of the skills that you gain from being involved in theater can develop academic abilities and are general skills. Reading comprehension, public speaking, confidence, team building, creativity, and so much more, are developed through theater. I often use lessons and games I’ve learned in theater over the years in my class to help challenge my students both socially and academically.

Since your mom is a writer, have you also always been interested in writing?

Honestly, no.  It never really crossed my mind until she asked me – well, told me actually – to write Around the World Right Now with her. It was such a wonderful experience!

Thanks so much! It’s wonderful to see how in sync you two are and what fun you have together. Now I just have to ask: unicorns and yoga make an intriguing pair!  What was the spark for this adorable concept?

Because yoga provides so many benefits, it seems only logical to introduce the practice to children as early as possible.  So, we approached our editor with a picture book to do just that. She shared it with the wonderfully creative team at Sleeping Bear Press and came back to us with the idea that unicorns might encourage children to become engaged.

The concept was not as far-fetched as our editor feared we might find it. After all, both yogis and unicorns are joyful, playful, and magical. There is an even more concrete correlation. In the Indus River Valley, in India, five-thousand-year-old bronze seals have been found; some depicting yogis and some depicting unicorns.

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Unicorn Yoga is the second picture book, after Around the World Right Now (Sleeping Bear Press) that you’ve collaborated on. What inspired you to begin writing picture books?

When I first started writing children’s books, Bree was a child herself.  She was my perfect little creative consultant. When she’d come home from school, after we’d chatted about her day, I’d ask her to read what I’d written and tell me what she thought. Her feedback always pointed me in the right direction.

When Bree became a teacher, she was sometimes frustrated that she couldn’t find just the right book for her lessons. So, she decided that we should write picture books.

But it was Bree’s daughter, my Sydney Rose, who brought the idea to fruition. When Syd was about six years old, she became obsessed with time zones. “What time is it in China?” “What time is it in Italy?”  “What time is it … What time is it?” Her questions were driving Bree crazy. She told me that she was going to put up a big map covered with clocks set to the correct times so she wouldn’t have to keep doing the math to figure it out. Around the World Right Now is the result of three generations of girl brain power.

As a mother/daughter team, Gina, what’s the best part of working with Bree?

The laughter. We always find ourselves giggling about something. And learning and creating together gives a wonderful sense of continuity to my life.  Seeing my daughter as my equal and even my better is an incredibly rewarding experience.

Bree, what do you love best about working with your mom?

I have spent my life watching her write and create. Being a part of the process with her has been so much fun because I get to see her excitement over an idea take shape and grow.

Can you each talk a little about your process in writing Unicorn Yoga together? Gina, would you like to take the lead?

I have been practicing yoga for ten years, taking classes at least five times a week with truly amazing teachers who are very generous with their knowledge. So, we had a wealth of resources. Bree’s teaching experience tailored my practices to a kid-and-unicorn-friendly experience. I do think, however, that her constant demands for demonstrations of poses, requiring me to get on the floor, were more for her amusements than edification.

What was your first impression when you saw Jennifer Sattler’s amazing cover?

We were absolutely charmed.  And we are so excited to be working with such a celebrated and talented artist.

What’s your favorite part about the cover and Jennifer’s illustrations of your story?

The softness and playfulness of Jennifer’s illustrations set exactly the right tone for a children’s practice.  And we love that while the unicorn students provide comic relief, the teacher’s poses are spot-on.  Namaste to Jennifer!

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Image copyright Jennifer Sattler, 2020, text copyright Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

You also team up to give presentations at schools.  What do your visits entail?

We usually visit a school for a full day, spending about forty-five minutes with each grade, level K-5.  We discuss developing an idea, doing research, writing and rewriting. We like to spend most of our time answering students’ questions, to relate to their experiences and encourage their interests and creativity. The goal is always to engage and inspire children.

Do you have an anecdote from a school presentation or other event you could share?

One of the most touching things about school visits is that students treat us like rock stars.  The little ones all want hugs.  And the older students bombard us with questions.

When I was writing Deadtime Stories, the schedule was challenging – a book a month and there were seventeen in all. It was hard to keep track of every plot line. At a school visit, one very careful reader asked a specific question about one of the earlier books – his favorite. I couldn’t remember the character. I couldn’t remember the plot. I could barely remember the title. I took a deep breath and asked him what he thought about it and if he would have done anything differently. The conversation changed immediately to the process of storytelling and how writers make creative choices.

I learned then what Bree knows all too well, in the classroom you’ve always got to be fast on your feet.

It’s National Unicorn Day.  How do you think your Unicorn would spend the holiday?

Enjoying all the magic this world has to offer in deepest gratitude. And eating ice cream.

What a sweet way to end our chat! Thanks, Gina and Bryony! I can’t wait until Unicorn Yoga hits bookstores on July 15!

You can connect with Gina and Bree on their Website | Facebook | Twitter

Meet Jennifer Sattler

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Jennifer Sattler is the award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including the new board books Dirty Birdies and Jungle Gym, the picture book Sylvie, and the Pig Kahuna and the Chick ’n’ Pug series. She lives in upstate New York, where she delights in embarrassing her children and having meaningful conversations with her dog, Henry.

Hi Jennifer! I’m excited to be talking with you today about this special book. When I first saw the cover, I was immediately drawn to the unicorn’s eyes. I love how they promise lots of fun while also inviting kids to join in practicing yoga.

Thanks! I’m glad you see that in her eyes. Because this is the teacher, she had to be doing a pose “correctly,” but I also wanted to hint at the fun and silly ways that the other unicorns do these poses. It’s not all serious business.

Did you need to do any special research for drawing yoga poses or did you rely on your own knowledge?

I’ve done yoga for years. But, having a UNICORN do yoga is a whole different thing! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but their bodies are slightly different than ours…plus there’s the issue of the horn. It tends to get in the way in certain poses. I had a lot of different solutions to that, but we settled on the horn being “bendy.” The younger ones have shorter horns, so they don’t get in the way as much.

You’re also the author/illustrator of many books that are sweet and funny and make kids laugh—which you say is your passion. Has humor always been a big part of your life?

I have always loved the earnest try that ends up in laughs. It cracks me up every time, whether it’s a “grown up” or a kid…or a unicorn. Laughter is the most important part of my life, it makes me happy when nothing else can. I hope I can share some of it.

On your website, you mention that part of your school presentations includes talking to kids about the mistakes and changes that are made along the way to finishing a book and how fun—and funny—those can be. Were there any mistakes or surprising changes that occurred while you created the illustrations for Unicorn Yoga? Can you share a bit about it?

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As I always do when starting a new book, I went through tons of sketches to try to get the look of my characters. I assumed I knew what a unicorn looked like, but it took a LOT of drawings to realize, “wait a minute, they just look like horses with party hats on. That’s not right!”  I look back at those early drawings and they crack me up. It’s best for me not to take myself too seriously!

What’s the best part of being a children’s author and illustrator for you?

Kids,kids,kids! I was a painter for years, making big oil paintings to hang on the wall, teaching college students. I was trying to be taken very seriously! But it wasn’t much fun. As soon as I started doing children’s books I thought, “YES! This is what I should’ve been doing the whole time!”

Thanks for talking with me, Jennifer! I’m sure readers—both young and young at heart—are looking forward to doing yoga with your charming unicorns. I know I am!

You can learn more about Jennifer Sattler, her books, and her art on her website.

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You can preorder Unicorn Yoga with these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 22 – Celebration of Life Day COVER REVEAL of Finding Beauty and Interview with Talitha Shipman

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About the Holiday

I’m excited to be sharing the cover of Finding Beauty on Celebrate Life Day. The holiday is all about honoring what makes each of our children and grandchildren truly unique. It’s also a wonderful day to think about all the beautiful things in the world that make you celebrate life. Reading Finding Beauty, coming from Beaming Books in October 2020, with your children will inspire them to discover their own exceptional character. 

Finding Beauty

By Talitha Shipman

 

You are beautiful from the top of your head to the tip of your toes—but beauty is far more than something you can have. It’s also something you have to find. In other people. In nature. In acts of kindness. In math, and art, and music, and sports.

In this beautiful inspirational book for girls, author-illustrator Talitha Shipman turns the concept of beauty inside out, transforming girls into beauty-seeking adventurers charging out into the world with confidence and ambition to find beauty and make beauty wherever they go.

Ages 4 – 8 

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506463797

Finding Beauty releases on October 20, 2020. The book is now available for preorder.

When a book is this stirring, you just can’t wait to see it! But before I reveal the cover of Finding Beauty, I talk with author and illustrator Talitha Shipman.

A Talk with Talitha Shipman

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Talitha Shipman is a picture book author and illustrator born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her favorite subjects to paint are wild kids and wild animals. Nature inspires Talitha’s painting, and she hopes her work encourages curiosity and creativity in children of all ages.

Talitha has worked with publishers large and small. Her books include the Sidney Taylor Honor recipient Everybody Says Shalom by Leslie Kimmelman (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015); an American Farm Bureau Recommended Read, Applesauce Day by Lisa Amstutz (Albert Whitman, 2017); a 2019 IPPY Silver Medalist, First Snow by Nancy Viau (Albert Whitman, 2018); and On Your Way written by John Coy and published by Beaming Books. Finding Beauty is Talitha’s first author/illustrator adventure.

Talitha lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her husband and their three-year-old wild child, Coral.

You can connect with Talitha Shipman on her website.

Welcome, Talitha! I’m so thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal of your latest book and to get this opportunity to chat with you about your inspiration and what what you hope children will take away from Finding Beauty.

The message in Finding Beauty is so important for children and, really, adults too. What inspired you to write this story?

My daughter is my greatest inspiration for Finding Beauty. I’ve been turning over the concept of how we perceive beauty for a long time, though. This book is me trying to express something that often feels overwhelming for me to put into words, but I’m trying my best! In the past few years, there has been an admirable effort to widen what we call beautiful among women. You see much more diversity in advertising and even clothing catalogs, but I wanted to go further, to shift my thinking outward instead of inward. As women, we still are bombarded by messages that you have to work towards this unattainable standard of beauty to be fulfilled. It can result in focusing on ourselves rather than the world around us, but what if we could train ourselves to see that outside beauty more often? Would we be less likely to fall into those traps that culture lays for us? Would we develop a notion of beauty that didn’t depend on our looks? I hope this book can ask some of those questions for my daughter and other young girls. 

As the author and the illustrator of the book, which came first, the story or the imagery?

For me, words usually come first. The central idea of this story hit me early in the morning. Most of my book ideas come to me right when I wake up! But some of the visual elements in the book—floating dandelion seeds and what I’m calling “beauty sparkles”, a visual representation of an abstract idea—came pretty soon after the initial concept landed in my mind. 

Could you talk about your illustration process in bringing the story to life? 

I tend to work in very rough sketches first to get ideas out of my head and onto the paper. They are not pretty, but they help me get started. I do many sketches to figure out a character’s design. I do a lot of research too. For this book, I observed friends’ kids and my own daughter to develop character designs. After I finish rough drawings, I refine my ideas into tighter sketches that I use as a base for my final illustrations.

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With this book, I’m doing something a little different and adding traditional watercolor to my illustrations. For years I’ve painted digitally, so this is a big step for me, going back to traditional techniques. I’m melding hand-painted elements with digital painting; it’s the best of both worlds because you get the spontaneous nature of watercolor, but you can always go back and fix things in photoshop. 

The cover for Finding Beauty is so expressive and full of joy. How was this particular image chosen? 

Early on, when I was first pitching the manuscript, I did an illustration of a girl painting a mural. The editor at Beaming loved it, so we knew we were going to use a modified version of that illustration. I did three sketches with the girl in various poses.

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She was painting in a couple of examples, but in one sketch, she was skipping along looking over her shoulder at the beauty sparkles and some floral elements. The editor loved the movement in this piece, so we went with that instead of the painting concept. There are still some subtle elements of the mural present, and the mural shows up in an interior spread as well. 

As an artist, I imagine you see beauty everywhere. What is something that you find beautiful that might surprise readers?

I must be part crow because I love anything sparkly! Sparkly concrete is fantastic. If you’ve never noticed it before, start paying attention to sidewalks. Some sidewalks have crunched up minerals mixed in, probably quartz, that makes them glitter in the sun. I tend to find most of my inspiration in nature. I love walking in the woods in winter. It can seem dreary, but if you start paying attention to details, you see that the forest isn’t dead. There are little plants huddled under the fallen leaves, and there are buds on branches just waiting for spring to come.

Thanks for sharing how Finding Beauty and especially the cover came to be! I’m sure that readers are looking forward to October when this book finds its way to bookstores. I know I am!

And now I’m thrilled to reveal…

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On Your Way Giveaway

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I’m excited to partner with Beaming Books in a Twitter giveaway of 

  • Five (5) copies of On Your Way, written by John Coy | illustrated by Talitha Shipman. This sweet book follows the milestones of a child and the endearing and enduring pride and love every parent feels as they watch their child grow up.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Follow Beaming Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with something you find beautiful for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 22 through January 28 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Winners will be chosen on January 29. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Beaming Books.

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You can preorder Finding Beauty at these booksellers

AmazonBooks-a-Million | IndieBound

January 8 – COVER REVEAL! Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

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Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Yas Imamura

 

For hundreds of years as butterflies with orange-and-black wings as intricate as stained glass came and went in communities across North America, many people wondered “Where are they going?” In 1976, this question was finally answered—it was the Great Monarch Butterfly Migration! Each year, people discovered, millions of monarchs flew thousands of miles from Canada to a roosting place in the Sierra Madre mountains in central Mexico.

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery reveals the diverse community of people who worked together to track the butterflies and find their migration path. Through vibrant illustrations, readers are taken on a journey following the monarchs and meeting the people they encounter along the way.

Backmatter includes an Author’s Note explaining more about the Monarch Migration as well as information on ways that readers can help sustain the Monarch population, making Winged Wonders a stirring book to share with nature lovers, young conservationists, backyard gardeners, and students in STEM/STEAM-related lessons.

When a book is this intriguing, you just can’t wait to see it! But before I reveal the cover of this book, which KIRKUS—in their starred review—calls “riveting” and “a fascinating and inspiring STEAM-driven tale,” let’s chat with author Meeg Pincus and illustrator Yas Imamura who have brought this extraordinary story to kids.

Meet Meeg Pincus

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Meeg Pincus is a children’s author and speaker who loves telling stories about real people who have helped others, animals, and the planet. She lives in San Diego, California. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website.

 

 

 

 

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery presents such a fascinating way to look at monarch butterflies. Can you describe the story a little and talk about what inspired you to write it from this perspective?

Thank you, Kathy! Well, I got sucked into the history of the mysterious monarch migration several years ago when I took my kids to see a movie about it at our San Diego science museum’s amazing domed IMAX theatre. (I went back two more times!) I originally started researching a person on the 1970s tracking team for a picture book biography, but then a series of events led me to rethink that. I came to realize that an even more interesting approach was a collective one. It took many people to put the pieces together of this great “discovery”—from scientists to citizen scientists to everyday folks paying attention to nature—and that’s an important lesson for kids. So, using questions, my story takes kids on a journey to meet different people who each played a part, large or small, in solving the great monarch mystery. Then, it comes back around to asking kids what part they might be able to play in keeping the (now threatened) monarchs alive today.

How did you go about researching this story?

To get information on the people involved in tracking the migration, I collected every primary source I could, from articles they wrote to interviews they gave (so, words from their own mouths) and photos of them during that time. I also found secondary sources—articles about the monarchs’ roosting place “discovery” in the 1970s as well as a whole book about all the drama in the world of monarch science (who knew?!). By the way, I use the term “discovery” in quotes because it’s important to realize that there were people in Mexico who knew the whereabouts of the monarchs’ remote roosting place for generations. I also turned to the citizen science organization Monarch Watch, at the University of Kansas (descended from the original tracking team), for information as well; and we were fortunate that one of their experts agreed to serve as the book’s fact-checker.

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This is the 1976 National Geographic issue that broke the story of the Great Monarch Migration, with a story by the main scientist credited with the “discovery.”

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing Winged Wonders?

Honestly, it was that drama in the world of monarch research. There’s been competition over who gets credit for what, over the sharing (or not sharing) of information, etc. For me, this was actually all the more reason to focus my picture book not just on one person but on how it takes a lot of people working together to further scientific knowledge—and protect species.

This gorgeous cover is just a peek at Yas Imamura’s illustrations. Can you give readers a taste of what they have to look forward to? Do you have a favorite spread?

Oh, we could not have asked for more gorgeous and spot-on illustrations than what Yas created for this book! The whole team at Sleeping Bear Press has been thrilled with her vibrant images, which feel both 1970s and totally today, all at once. I like so many, it’s hard to pick just one—I love how she shows the monarchs flying through Dia de los Muertos celebrations, to them roosting in the trees of central Mexico, to the diversity of citizen scientists she created. I think readers are going to just eat up her illustrations!

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Image copyright Yas Imamura, 2020, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On your website, you talk about your work as a Humane Educator. Can you describe Humane Education and its goal? Does being a Humane Educator influence your writing? In what way?

Sure! Humane education teaches about making conscious choices that help people, animals, and the planet. It focuses on empathy and compassion as means to taking action for a more humane, healthy, and just world. I found humane education when my kids were very young and it just brought together all my values and studies. So, I trained with two nonprofit organizations (The Institute for Humane Education and HEART) and started going into local classrooms as a humane educator to do lessons with the kids. As part of my lessons, I decided to read the kids picture book biographies about real people who’ve made a difference for people, animals, and the planet. I fell in love with these books, and realized they also perfectly brought together my background of 20+ years writing/editing nonfiction and my work in humane education—so, I decided to dive into writing them myself as my next career step as nonfiction writer/humane educator!

You also talk about teaching children to be solutionaries. I love that term! Would you define what a solutionary is? You also say that you now write “solutionary stories.” How does Winged Wonders fit into that description and how do you hope the book will influence young readers?

I love the term, too! I got it from my training in humane education. The full definition of a solutionary is “a person who identifies inhumane and unsustainable systems, then develops healthy and just solutions for people, animals, and the environment.” I simplify it for younger kids (I like to use the idea of “solutionary super powers” that we all possess to help others!). Kids really embrace being problem-solvers for people, animals, and the planet. As in Winged Wonders, I focus my books on solutionary people, ideas, and issues—ways people are helping, or can help, create that healthy, kind, and just world for all. I hope my books help inspire kids to find whatever issue affecting people, animals, or the planet sparks their own inner fire and then use their own unique talents and ideas to make a positive impact on it.

One last thing: We’re doing a special Winged Wonders Pre-order Offer with San Diego indie bookstore, Run for Cover—a signed hardback copy with a solutionary sticker and monarch bookmark—which can be sent anywhere in the U.S.

You can connect with Meeg Pincus on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Meet Yas Imamura

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Yas Imamura is an illustrator, graphic designer, and owner of the stationary company Quill & Fox. She grew up in Manila, Philippines, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Discover more about her work on her website.

What about this story particularly resonated with you?

What I love most about the story is the community aspect to the monarch search—how every person from all walks of life came together in shared curiosity and helped get to the bottom of the monarch mystery.

Can you describe the process for creating and choosing this beautiful cover?

I started with a few sketches, focusing in different imagery. Some early concepts honed in on the monarch butterfly, some with playing on the mystery of their flight. But eventually I ended up emphasizing the people in the story as well, as they play such a huge part in tracking the monarch migration.

Many of your stationery products from your company Quill and Fox as well as your other illustration work incorporate nature themes. What is it about nature that inspires you?

What inspires me most about nature is how incredibly challenging it is for me to really capture. It can be simplistic and incredibly mercurial at the same time, which I think is the beauty of it. As an artist, I feel like I’m always trying to climb that hill.

What kind of research did you do to bring this story to life?

Researching this book was a lot of fun. I was fortunate enough to be given a lot of take-off point resources that I built from. I looked up Catalina’s story a lot to gain insight on her character, her clothes, the era. The movie Flight of the Butterflies also inspired me greatly in pushing the narrative visually. There was so much color to the whole story as we trace the journey of these butterflies, and I really wanted to incorporate all that.

What feelings from the story did you most want to express in your illustrations? What do you hope readers will take away from them?

I want to evoke a sense of fascination and curiosity for these butterflies. And that perhaps learning about the incredible journey and impact of the monarch butterflies could lay the groundwork for us, as caretakers of nature, to give respect and reverence for even the smallest members of our ecosystem.

What do you love about being a picture book illustrator?

Seeing readers, young and old, pour over the pages that I’ve illustrated, especially when they’re reading it to someone else, will never, never get old. It’s the ultimate payoff for me.

You can connect with Yas Imamura on

Her website | Instagram | Instagram: Quill and Fox | Twitter

Thanks so much Meeg and Yas! I’m sure readers are as excited to read Wings of Wonder: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery as I am! We might have to wait a little bit longer until the book releases in March to read it, but we don’t have to wait any longer to see the stunning cover! 

And now I’m thrilled to reveal…

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Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, written by Meeg Pincus| illustrated by Yas Imamura 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of butterfly for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).
  • This giveaway is open from January 8 through January 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 15. Prize book will be sent from Sleeping Bear Press in February.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

To learn more about Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery and other marvelous books from Sleeping Bear Press, visit their website.

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You can preorder Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery from these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound |Run for Cover

Picture Book Review

 

September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 21 – World Giraffe Day & Interview with Author Monica Bond, Illustrator Kayla Harren, and Educator David Brown

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, celebrates the animal with the longest neck on the longest day or night of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. The purpose of World Giraffe Day is to honor these majestic animals while also promote awareness of the dangers and threats they face. Events supporting these gentle giants are held around the world at zoos and conservation organizations as well as by governments, institutions, and companies involved in education about and protection of the giraffe. To celebrate today, learn more about these animals, visit a zoo or wildlife refuge, or consider donating to the cause of giraffe conservation. To learn more visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.

Juma the Giraffe

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Juma, a baby giraffe, loved to play with his friends Upendo and Rafiki on the African safari while their mothers watched. “Upendo likes to explore new places” while “Rafiki jokes and makes everyone laugh with his silly faces. Juma is kind and generous.” With his long neck, he’s able to reach the sweet acacia leaves to share with the dik-diks. One day, though, while the giraffes were at the water hole, Juma caught a glimpse of his reflection.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Looking at himself alongside all the other giraffes, he realized that they all looked the same. “And because they all looked alike, he felt he wasn’t special.” His mama noticed Juma standing alone and sad and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he wished he “looked different from everyone else.”

Juma’s mama gazed at her child lovingly and told him how special giraffes are. “‘There is no other animal in the whole world like us,’” she said. Then she gently reminded him how his long legs and neck help him get food, how his thick tongue and lips protect him from the thorns of the acacia trees, and how his “‘swishy tail sweep away the pesky flies that like to bite us.’” Their brown spots camouflaged them from lions and hyenas.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Then Mama asked Juma to look closely at his spots and notice that “‘each spot is different from the others and every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots.’” Juma saw that Mama was right. He saw one spot “shaped like a star and another like a flower.” Mama’s spots were different too, and so were Upendo’s and Rafiki’s. Mama reassured Juma that each giraffe was unique outside and inside.

Juma was happy and continued to notice other ways that each giraffe was different, including their various personalities. Then Mama nuzzled her little one and told him that to her he was the “‘most special giraffe of all’” because he was her baby and she loved him.

Fascinating facts about the anatomy of giraffes, newborn giraffes, and where giraffes live follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Young readers who are at that stage where they wonder about how they are different from other kids and how they fit into their community will find loving reassurance in Monica Bond’s touching story even as they learn about a giraffe’s distinctive features. The sweet relationship between Juma and Mama, depicted through tender dialogue, will charm little ones. A welcome exchange comes when Mama points out Juma’s unique features and the little giraffe enthusiastically adds more observations of his own. Just as Juma does, young readers will see that they too are special in their own way.

As readers open the cover, Kayla Harren’s stunning panoramic view of the verdant African savanna places them close to zebras, an ostrich, a greater kudu, a grey crowned crane, a stalwart warthog, a family of mongoose, and a herd of elephants. Smiling out from the page is little Juma. As the story progresses, Mama spotlights each of Juma’s attributes, and readers see how he uses them. A shimmering two-page spread of the giraffes lined up at the watering hole and the close-up on the next page will awe kids and adults. Images of smaller animals hiding in rock crevices and big cats and monkeys resting on tree limbs will entice readers to learn more about these creatures. As Mama nuzzles Juma on the book’s final page, adults and little ones are sure to find time to cuddle too.

A sweet story that gives parents, teachers, and other caregivers a way to show the children in their life how special they are, Juma the Giraffe would be an often-asked for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2016 | ISBN 978-0989818292

Learn more about Juma the Giraffe and find videos and teachers resources here.

You can connect with Kayla Harren on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram

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Helping Brother Rhinoceros

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Brother Rhinoceros and his friend Father Oxpecker went to the waterhole to cool off on a blazing hot day. When they got there, they saw “that most of the water had dried up, leaving a big patch of gooey, sticky mud.” But Brother Rhinoceros lied down in the cool mud anyway and pronounced it “‘Perfect!’” Then Father Oxpecker nestled in behind Brother Rhinoceros’s ear, folded his wings, and the two drifted off to sleep.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros woke up hungry, but when he tried to leave the waterhole, he discovered that he was stuck in the mud. Father Oxpecker flew off to find help. First he brought back Sister Vervet Monkey, who was good at tying. “She ran around the mud patch looking for something to tie together that might help Brother Rhinoceros. But there was nothing.”

Next, Father Oxpecker brought Grandfather Giraffe, who thought his height could help, but he didn’t know exactly how. So, the bird flew off again in search of someone else. This time he came back with Grandmother Spider, who “produced a delicate thread of beautiful silk from her abdomen. It fluttered in the breeze, of no help whatsoever to Brother Rhinoceros.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Father Oxpecker left once again and returned with Mother Elephant. Although she was big and strong, she could only watch from the sidelines. Last, Father Oxpecker found Brother Weaverbird, who declared that he could “weave anything” if only there was something to weave. All of the animals sat nearby wondering what they could do. “They were all so proud of the things they could do, but none of them could help Brother Rhinoceros out of the mud.”

It was Grandmother Spider who suggested that they combine their talents and work as a team. She began by “spinning long streams of silk.” Brother Weaverbird braided “the silk into a long, strong rope.” Sister Vervet Monkey tied the rope around Brother Rhinoceros, using Grandfather Giraffe’s long neck as a bridge to reach him. Then it was Mother Elephant’s turn. She grabbed the rope, “took a deep breath and began to pull.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros helped push. “Finally, with a big squishy sound, Brother Rhinoceros lifted his body up out of the mud.” He was free! His friends cheered. Brother Rhinoceros thanked each one individually for their special skills that helped to save him. “They certainly made a great team and the best friends a muddy rhinoceros could ever have.”

Back matter reveals facts about Africa’s black and white rhinoceros. A map of Africa shows the historical range and the much smaller current range for each type of rhino.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

With the lyricism of a fable, Monica Bond weaves a story about individuality and teamwork and how every person has the ability to help others. As Father Oxpecker flies off again and again searching for just the right animal to help, readers will enjoy the suspense and learning each animal’s special ability. When Grandmother Spider suggests they all work together, kids will see that by combining their talents with friends and classmates, they can move mountains. The format of the story makes it a multi-layered choice for teaching the elements of a story, prediction, and comprehension.

Kayla Harren’s sun-drenched pages are bathed not only in the heat of a hot African day but in the warmth of friendship these animals share. Harren’s beautifully textured and realistic depictions of the animals and the surrounding savanna will inspire awe and an enthusiastic desire in kids to learn more about the animals, insects, and birds in the story.

A perfect book for social studies, science, and reading classes and for kids who love nature and animals, Helping Brother Rhinoceros makes an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Wild Nature Institute, 2018 | ISBN 978-1732323414

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Our Elephant Neighbors

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Robert and his little sister Mary live on their family’s small farm in Tanzania. There are cattle and goats, which Robert helps watch while Mary helps her mother wash clothes and cook. Sometimes they went to the waterhole to get water. “They splash each other with cool water on hot days.” One day, when it was very hot, they saw something amazing at the waterhole. A family of elephants was enjoying the cool water too. “Robert and Mary climbed up a nearby tree to watch and wait for the elephants to leave.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Soon, two elephants came to stand in the shade of the tree, right under the branch where the two children sat. “The elephants looked up and saw Robert and Mary.” They had been taught to fear people. Nervous, they backed up a few steps. Robert and Mary had been taught to fear elephants, and Mary hid behind her brother. The bigger elephant, Tomas, introduced himself and his little sister, Teresa. Robert introduced himself and Mary.

“Robert looked thoughtfully at the elephants below. ‘You are an elephant, and elephants can hurt people,’ Robert pointed out.” Tomas replied, “‘Well, you are a human, and humans can hurt elephants too.’” Even though Mary knew she should be afraid, she liked the elephants. She reached down and touched Teresa’s upturned trunk. Mary said that she could pick things up with her fingers, and Teresa showed her how she could pick things up with her trunk.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

The elephants and the children talked back and forth about all of their similarities. They were even the same ages. They talked about how all the aunties help out when a baby person and a baby elephant are born, how the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in both human and elephant families teach the children important lessons and protect them, and how all the members of a both families feel sad when another member dies.

When they talked about the food they liked, Robert said that his “‘father gets angry when elephants eat” the vegetables in their garden.’ Then Tomas told Robert and Mary a secret.” He said that “all elephants hate chili pepper powder” and if they hung chili pepper powder on their fences, it would keep the elephants away. One reason elephants were eating from people’s gardens, Tomas said, was because their habitat was getting smaller as people planted more and more farms. Also “more and more of their family members are being hurt by people, because the elephants have fewer places to go.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Robert promised Tomas that when he grew up and had a farm of his own, he would build it where it would not disturb the elephants. He also promised to report anyone who tried to hurt the elephants. Soon it was time for Robert and Mary to get back home with the water, and Tomas and Teresa heard their mother calling for them. “They shook hands and trunks” and hoped they would see each other again. They knew “they would never forget their new friends from the waterhole.”

Interesting facts about African elephants follows the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Through Monica Bond’s charming story of a sister-brother pair and their elephant counterparts, young readers learn surprising ways in which they and elephants are alike. With similar abilities, family units, and even feelings, people and elephants should be friends, but too often they come into conflict, and the result has been a decrease in the elephant population and at times danger for humans as well. As the adorable Robert and Mary talk with Tomas and Teresa, Bond’s enchanting storytelling and realistic dialogue, draw in children, giving them even more reasons to love these popular animals. A major take-away is how people can protect and care for these gentle and intelligent animals and their habitats now and in the future.

Against gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania and its savanna, forests, and mountains, Kayla Harren depicts one family’s simple farm and a family of elephants enjoying a day at the nearby waterhole. At nine and five years old, Robert and Mary will steal readers’ hearts with their infectious smiles, sweet sibling relationship, and enthusiastic interactions with elephants Tomas and Teresa. Harren juxtaposes illustrations of the elephants’ family with those of Robert and Mary’s family in similar situations, showing readers how alike we really are. The pages are washed in soft-blue skies and glowing peach-hued sunsets, as realistic portrayals of the elephants, birds, and other animals create detailed and awe-inspiring panoramas.

Our Elephant Neighbors is an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to further understanding of elephants, conservation, and nature.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2017 | ISBN 978-1732323407

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Nature’s Giants Magazine

In this new magazine from the Wild Nature Institute, an enthusiastic dung beetle named Doug invites kids to learn about animal and plant giants of the African savanna through articles, games, crafts, and other activities that will keep them busy having fun and learning for a long time. Let’s get rolling and see what’s inside! Kids love finding stuff and right on the first pages they’re prompted to spot five differences on two identical (?) giraffes and search the pages for five beetles to see which one will would win a beetle race.

Along the way kids will enjoy:

Comics:

  • Doug engages kids in funny and interesting banter about the dung beetle’s ecological importance, including facts on their very, very long family history, three different dung beetle lifestyles, how dung beetles roll their dung balls in a straight line, and various job sites where dung beetles do their work.

Articles:

  • Ele-Fence!: About new ways farmers are protecting their crops from elephant raiders without engaging in Human-Elephant Conflict
  • Lions vs. Giraffes: About ways scientists use scars found on giraffes to study predation
  • Black Mambas: about the women rangers who patrol the Balule Nature Preserve to stop poaching of black and white rhinoceros and who teach environmental education programs in local schools. Since the group was formed “poaching of all species has decreased by 79%.”
  • Barking up the Right Tree: about the beautiful, sprawling baobab trees.
  • Infographic: on elephants, giraffes, termites and a surprising fact about biomass

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Activities:

  • Ideas for backyard or neighborhood science exploration
  • A savanna word search puzzle
  • An illustrated search-and-find animal puzzle
  • Craft instructions for making an Insect Hotel and an African Savana Scene
  • Jokes
  • A maze
  • How to draw an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros
  • A Giant Birds coloring page

Meet the Team Behind the Books and Magazine

I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk with Kayla Harren, Monica Bond, and David Brown about the work of the Wild Nature Institute, their lovely books that combine nature science with enchanting writing, and their new magazine for children.

Meet Monica Bond

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Hi, Monica! It’s nice to be chatting with you today! The love you have for Tanzania comes through in your stories so clearly and touchingly. Can you talk a little about your work and what brought you to this area?

My partner Dr. Derek Lee—quantitative ecologist and population biologist—and I chose to live and work in Tanzania because this country has some of the best wildlife experiences on Earth. As wildlife scientists, the lure of the African savanna is very strong; it is truly a wildlife paradise. In Tanzania there is incredible biological diversity combined with an extremely high density of mammals and birds, and we still have the full suite of predators and scavengers which means that the food web is intact. Tanzania also holds some of the best habitat for the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna — elephant, rhino, and giraffe.

Derek and I are studying giraffes in Tanzania using a computer program that matches each individual’s unique spot patterns from photographs. We are monitoring thousands of giraffes in northern Tanzania, and learning where they spend their time, which other giraffes they hang out with, and how they move around the ecosystem. Our goal is to understand the things that hurt or help giraffes so we can help to preserve these magnificent animals for the future.

What is it like to live so closely to these majestic animals?

Every time I go to the bush and interact with these creatures, I am awed anew. They are so very special. Every day I feel that I am living the dream and I cannot get enough of watching them in their beautiful savanna habitat. Although we work in the bush, we often go back out to the bush on our days off!

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How did the Wild Nature Institute get its start? Can you talk a bit about the organization?

Formed in 2010, Wild Nature Institute conducts scientific research on endangered wildlife and inspires the public to protect wild nature. Next year we will celebrate a decade of work! The Institute was started as a platform for two dedicated wildlife scientists to realize our dream of doing interesting and bold science that protects the earth’s remaining bits of wild nature. The Wild Nature Institute is me and Derek at the core, but with lots of other partners and cooperators in our network (like David Brown and Kayla Harren) who are all critical to accomplishing our important work.

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. As we celebrate World Giraffe Day today, could you talk about the giraffe—it’s importance to its ecosystem, the threats and pressures the animal faces from human and environmental factors, and how people can help protect them?

The gentle, iconic giraffe is popular around the world, but scientists know surprisingly little about them in the wild. We chose to work with giraffes because they are amazingly beautiful and peaceful animals, but they are vulnerable to extinction because people have taken so much of their wild natural habitat for human uses like farming and houses. Poaching is also a serious problem for giraffes. They need our help.

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Tanzania in East Africa is a stronghold for giraffes, supporting more than any other country. Although the Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, populations have declined here since the 1980s—yet few people are aware of the plight of the beloved giraffe in the wild. It is our job as scientists to bring this problem to light.

How are can families and organizations around the world help in the mission?

What can you do to help save giraffes and wild nature? (1) You can donate money or time to conservation groups like Wild Nature Institute and others. People can use their skills by providing advice, services, or goods in their personal area of expertise that can help the cause. (2) You can raise awareness about the silent extinction of giraffes. Speak up within your social circles and encourage others to donate money or time to saving giraffes. You can raise awareness in your home communities by writing, speaking, and contributing to the global conversation about our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises. (3) You can plant native trees.

Giraffes, elephants, and many other species need native trees, but deforestation continues worldwide. Planting native trees helps fight the global climate crisis and helps biodiversity too! (4) You can support legal protections for wildlife. Laws like the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws make the world safer for wildlife and people. Call and write to your congressperson, senator, governor, and president telling them you support strong law enforcement to protect wildlife. (5) You can commit to not buying body parts, and if you live in Africa you can commit to not eating bushmeat.

The programs that the Institute sponsors and supports—from education in schools and communities to environmental conservation of animals and land to publishing materials for children—is extensive. How has your work been received? What successes have been achieved and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?

To save wild nature, we must know it and love it, so Wild Nature Institute and our partners developed environmental educational materials for children and teachers. The materials teach biology, geography, science, math, and language skills using focal animals and fun, beautifully illustrated stories. Our first book, The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest, was a tri-lingual children’s book about wildebeest migration, and the ecological and economic benefits of conservation. The book was so successful that we created our “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” program to use environmental education to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

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We now produce and distribute our four multi-lingual storybooks, two Swahili activity books, and seven posters, as well as learning activities to accompany the books and posters, to tens of thousands of children throughout Tanzania. These materials teach ecological and social lessons, build national pride in Tanzanian wildlife, and motivate children to read and learn about their natural world. The learning activities help Tanzanian teachers meet environmental education curricula requirements, and also meet Next Generation Science Standards for American schools.

To ensure the materials are used to their best advantage, we host workshops for teachers, led by our education consultant Lise Levy, a retired high school biology teacher with 32 years of experience in education. At the workshops, teachers have a wonderful time learning the stories and practicing the hands-on activities that they will use in the classroom to accompany the books and posters.

Can you talk a little about the impact that these books and the new Nature’s Giants Magazine have on the children and families in Tanzania?

Every year since we introduced our education program, we have expanded its reach and impact through word-of-mouth. Our books and posters are now recognized and requested by Tanzanian educators throughout Tanzania, from Ruaha and Ruvuma in the south to Serengeti in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east. We hired a Tanzanian education coordinator who regularly visits classrooms, orphanages, and community centers and brings “Giraffe in a Box,” “Elephant in a Box,” and “Rhino in a Box” with all of the materials needed to implement the activities. We made our storybooks into videobooks which are playing on Tanzanian television. We organize “fun days” at the schools to celebrate Africa’s giants where we do tree-planting, sports, drama and arts, and creative learning. 

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We are constantly dreaming up new and fun ways to spread the word about the fascinating animals of the African savanna. Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation to love and care for their wildlife and conserve the environment.

On your website you talk about the importance of zoos in supporting the environmental work in Tanzania. How do/can zoos help?

Zoos have an important role to play both in providing financial support for field conservation as well as promoting the conservation of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros through environmental education directed at visitors. Many zoos are using our Celebrating Africa’s Giants education program. Zoos also conduct their own scientific research. We couldn’t do our work without our zoo partnerships and we are really grateful for their support.

To learn more about Monica Bond and the work of the Wild Nature Institute, visit their website.

Meet Kayla Harren

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Welcome back, Kayla! I’m thrilled to be talking with you about these three beautiful books and Nature’s Giants Magazine.

How did you get involved with the Wild Nature Institute and this project? What does it mean to you to be part of it?

In 2015 my husband, Peter, who is also an artist, was asked to illustrate a picture book about a baby giraffe that was written by a friend of a friend. He wanted to pursue a different path in his illustration career, so he passed the job to me. I fell immediately in love with the story of Juma. My passions have always been art and animals. Being able to combine those two loves feels incredible.

I feel so lucky to be involved with the Wild Nature Institute because I get to help wildlife in my own way even though I am not a scientist. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to wildlife education and hopefully spark a love for nature in other people. It feels like fate the way the first book found me through a friend of a friend of a friend and now it has turned into an amazing partnership.

Your artwork in Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbors, and Helping Brother Rhinoceros is stunning and full of such wonderful detail and personality. What kind of research did you do to bring the characters to life? Do Juma—or any of the animals—depict real giraffes, elephants, or rhinos in the area?

Thank you! Monica was incredibly helpful with providing plenty of photographs that she and the other scientists had taken of the scenery and wildlife in Tanzania. It made my job so much easier to know that people who actually lived in Tanzania and knew the area were checking all the details of my work to make sure it was accurate. For each book I was able to look through images provided by Wild Nature Institute of people, landscapes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and plenty of birds and animals to add in the background of each illustration. I did study the spot patterns of many giraffes, but Juma is a made-up combination of many giraffes I studied.

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Readers of your many books know what realism and sensitivity you bring to your illustrations of animals. Do you have a special affinity for animals and nature? Where did that come from?

Absolutely! Animals are my favorite. It started with my love of stuffed animals when I was very young. I had a huge collection, and I would spread them all out on my bed so none were hidden and they all got equal attention from me. I was introduced to many animal species through my toys. I remember fondly a stuffed white Bengal tiger that was bigger than me and a plump little panda bear. I loved the zoo, nature shows, and all the pet cats and dogs my family had. I feel most comfortable and relaxed in nature. I love going for walks with my dog because she stops every few steps to sniff something and that makes me pause and look around at all the beautiful shapes and textures and colors of the plants surrounding me. Nature is infinitely inspiring.

Have you ever visited Tanzania?

Not yet. Visiting Tanzania is very high on my list of things I need to do. Seeing a giraffe in the wild would be an absolute dream come true.

I’m going to let David Brown answer the next few questions about “Nature’s Giants Magazine.” David is a biologist, wildlife conservationist, and environmental educator—and he’s the co-creator and major writer of “Nature’s Giants.”

Welcome, David! As a nature lover, puzzle doer, and crafter myself, I love “Nature’s Giant’s Magazine!” There’s so much for kids to fall in love with!

“Nature’s Giants” magazine is full of fascinating articles (I learned a lot!), fun crafts, science prompts, challenging puzzles, and even a funny dung beetle named Doug. Can you talk about how the magazine came to be, what your role in the magazine is. and about how it can be used in the classroom? 

A group of conservationists and educators were meeting about how we could make Celebrating Africa’s Giants accessible and interesting to kids who love giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. We discussed how magazines like “Ranger Rick” and “National Geographic Kids” helped spark and sustain our love of nature when we were young, and we realized that there wasn’t really anything like that for even the most popular animals like giraffes and elephants. We decided to start our own nature magazine to fill that gap. We decided that our host of the magazine should be a dung beetle named Doug Beetle.  Doug Beetle helps show that there are many ways to be a giant in nature beyond physical size.

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My role is to help coordinate the creation of the magazine, develop story and activity ideas, and write the articles that bring those ideas to life. I also write the Doug Beetle comics. Megan Strauss, a wildlife biologist and illustrator, creates activities, crafts, and provides content for the magazine with her scientific expertise.  Kayla creates illustrations to accompany the articles and designs the layout of each page.

Accessible and interesting are perfect adjectives for Nature’s Giants! The magazine really promotes exploration and hands-on activities to engage kids in science learning. Can you describe some of the elements parents, teachers, and kids will find inside?

The magazine can be enjoyed casually for its art, stories, and activities. We also designed it for use in classrooms, zoo education programs, and other learning environments. In the first issue, we have a story about how scientific information can be visualized with infographics and how that helps us see the world in different ways.

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We also have a story about how a scientist makes an observation, asks questions about what she observed, and then solves a scientific mystery. Readers will learn how scientists study animals in the field, and hopefully get inspired to take part in citizen science themselves. 

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Environmental issues around the world are important to all of us. In what ways can children help from home or in their own communities?

The young people of the early 21st century are going to be the deciders of whether big animals like giraffes, elephants, and rhinos and their habitat survive this century and beyond. These animals are beloved around the world. They are the biological equivalent of the great works of art, architecture, and popular culture that are the common heritage of people around the world.

The young people in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where these species and their habitats live, are the primary decision makers, but these animals need a global constituency of conservationists. They need people to help pay attention to them and keep their conservation needs visible in the world. Just as we pay constant attention to our favorite sports teams, celebrities, and technology products, we need to find ways to keep attention on giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

If you love a species, then helping your local social network of family and friends be aware of the animal is a meaningful conservation action. Our goal for “Nature’s Giants” is to help connect young people with these animals and their conservation challenges and find ways to keep that connection growing.

What are the future plans for the magazine? How can teachers or other organizations order copies?

The first issue of “Nature’s Giants” is themed about African animals and plants. If the magazine finds an audience and there is an appetite for future issues, we would love to do a theme issue for each continent. We have also thought about doing an issue about the oceans. There are endless possibilities for issue themes. We would love to explore the future adventures of Doug Beetle.

To order copies of the magazine and all three storybooks, you can contact Monica Bond: monica@wildnatureinstitute.org

If you are interested in ordering Juma the Giraffe, Helping Brother Rhinoceros, and/or Our Elephant Neighbors for your classroom, organization, or yourself, contact Monica Bond monica@wildnatureinstitute.org. Individual copies of the books cost $12.00. Substantial discounts are offered when ordering multiple copies. All prices include shipping and handling.

Individuals, schools, and other organizations can also order single and/or multiple copies of “Nature’s Giants Magazine” for $4.25 each, plus shipping and handling.

You can also download printable posters with illustrations and information about giraffes, rhinos, and elephants from the Africa’s Giants website: www.africasgiants.org

To find the books with major online booksellers, see the information and links below.

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You can find Helping Brother Rhinoceros at these booksellers

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

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You can find Our Elephant Neighbors at these booksellers

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

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You can find Juma the Giraffe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review