May 16 – National Biographers Day

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About the Holiday

National Biographers Day commemorates a very special meeting that led to one of the most celebrated biographies in English literature. On May 16, 1763, James Boswell met with Samuel Johnson for the first time in a Covent Garden, London bookshop. Thirty years later, Boswell, who was also a poet, essayist, editor, literary critic, and lexicographer, published his biography of Samuel Johnson. Today’s holiday honors all those who delve into the life of others to bring their often fascinating and inspiring stories to readers. To celebrate today, read up on one of your favorite people and introduce your kids to biographies—like today’s book—that can encourage them to follow their dreams.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Written by Leslie Kimmelman | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

 

In September of 1893 Moses and Lena Baline and their six children, including 5-year-old Israel, sailed into New York Harbor hoping “to start a new life in a new country.” They came from Russia, where their home had been burned down by “gangs of angry men” who “rode from village to village in pogroms, destroying Jewish homes and hurting the people who lived in them.” In America, the Balines had a small apartment, little money, and little food. But they did have freedom.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, 2018, text copyright Leslie Kimmelman, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At school, Izzy—as Israel was nicknamed—paid less attention to his schoolwork than to the music in his head. When Izzy was only thirteen, his father died. Izzy knew that money was tight, so he moved out and made his own living singing in saloons, in the chorus line of New York shows, and even as he waited tables.  Irving as Izzy now called himself, became a professional song writer when he was paid 37 cents for his first song.

Irving continued to write the tunes that filled his head. When Ragtime was all the rage during the early 1900s, Irving tried this new, jazzy kind of music, and his “‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ was a smash.”  Irving married, but his wife died only a few months after their wedding. Irving consoled himself by writing. He became an American citizen, and when he was drafted into the US Army during WWI, he wrote songs to encourage his fellow soldiers. When he married again, he was inspired to write a song called “Always” about a love that lasts forever.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, 2018, text copyright Leslie Kimmelman, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Irving never seemed to be without a tune in his head. He “wrote music for plays, for movies, for friends, for strangers. He scribbled ideas on napkins and on the sleeves of his shirt. He wrote songs in elevators and in taxicabs. He wrote songs in the bathtub.” During World War II, one of his older songs—“‘God Bless America’ became a HUGE hit.” In the winter of 1942, Irving wrote “White Christmas.” It’s sentimental words and catchy tune inspired the “American soldiers fighting fierce battles all around the world.”

Since Irving was too old to fight in the war, he developed a show called “This is the Army” that he took around the world to entertain the troops. His “cast was completely integrated—black and white soldiers lived, ate, and traveled together, which was rare in those days.” Even after the war ended, Irving continued to write songs that people still love today.

An Author’s Note about Irving Berlin and his songs as well as books for further reading follow the text.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, 2018, text copyright Leslie Kimmelman, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Leslie Kimmelman brings to life the story of one of America’s most prolific and beloved song writers with enthusiasm and wit and the kinds of details that capture kids’ attention and inspire them to learn more. Timely for this year’s 100th anniversary of the writing of “God Bless America” and the 80th anniversary of its public appearance, Write On, Irving Berlin would make an excellent centerpiece of school music units when paired with Berlin’s songs, many of which kids will recognize. Berlin’s success, as revealed in Kimmelman’s well-paced, upbeat, and converstional storytelling is a powerful motivator for any child with big dreams.

David C. Gardner’s beautiful, softly-washed and detailed paintings take readers from the New York neighborhoods, restaurants, and dance halls of the early 1900s to the battlefields of World Wars I and II to the bright lights of Broadway, where his last musical, “Annie Get Your Gun” is advertised on the marquee. Along the way, kids see Irving as a child, a young man, and an older professional, always with a pencil and paper in hand. Images of the Statue of Liberty seen throughout the book tie together the theme of the immigrant’s experience, Berlin’s love of America, and one of his most famous works, “God Bless America.”

Write On, Irving Berlin! is an excellent biography that should find a home in classroom, school, and public libraries as well as on home bookshelves for children who love history, music, and biographies and who have big ideas of their own.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363803

Discover more about Leslie Kimmelman and her books on her website.

To learn more about David C. Gardner, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Write On, Irving Berlin! Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Write On, Irving Berlin!

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, May 16 – 22. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on May 23.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

National Biographer’s Day Activity

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I Am…  Biography Page

 

How well do you know yourself – or your friends? This printable I Am… Biography Page can be fun to fill out and share with friends. Make a game of it and see if you can answer the questions for someone else in your family or among your friends!

 

Picture Book Review

April 18 – It’s Celebrate Diversity Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 2004, Celebrate Diversity Month encourages people to learn more about the world’s cultures and religions. Learning more about our global family and celebrating our differences and our similarities can lead to better relationships between people, more inclusion, and a happier future for the world’s children.

W is for Welcome: A Celebration of America’s Diversity

Written by Brad Herzog | Illustrated by nationally acclaimed artists

 

A journey around America impresses with its natural grandeur of rocky shores, majestic mountains, quilts of fertile fields, and wide-open prairies. More inspiring than these, however, is our diverse population that lends a wealth of knowledge, traditions, language, celebrations, food, music, and experiences to our country, making it a vibrant place to live and work.

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Image copyright Michael Glenn Monroe, 2018, text copyright Brad Herzog. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Brad Herzog has collected twenty-six words to describe the United States and has used them to create lyrical verses and a full compendium of information about the immigrants and their experiences that have molded America from her earliest days and continue to do so today. Starting off, A is for America—that “dreamer’s destination,” and readers learn a bit about the millions of people who have come to our shores.

At C for Culture and D for Diversity, children learn about food, clothing, musical instruments, and even sports that have come to be favorites and were brought here or invented by people from other countries as well as “‘the most diverse square mile’” in America. Because of our country’s innovative spirit, “K is for Knowledge. “From all over the globe, / in a quest to know much more, / brilliant thinkers come here / and continue to explore.” Want to know more? Just check out Y for how immigrants continue to advance our knowledge.

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Image copyright Laura Knorr, 2018, text copyright Brad Herzog. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When immigrants want to make the United States their new home, they learn about N, Naturalization, and O, the Oath they take. And P is for the Poem by Emma Lazarus that has “come to define America’s long tradition of welcoming immigrants”: “A ‘world-wide welcome’ states, / ‘Give me your tired, your poor.’ / And then it adds, ‘I lift my lamp / beside the golden door!’”

All those who have taken comfort from that poem make up the narrative of our land, which is why V is for Voices: “Each immigrant has a tale to tell / about how and why they came / to live in the United States. / No two stories are the same.”

Along the way from A to Z young readers learn more about the people, ideas, and places that define America in verses and fascinating information that expands on the history and future of the United States in letter-perfect fashion.

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Image copyright Pam Carroll, 2018, text copyright Brad Herzog. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Brad Herzog has created a compelling look at immigration, its history, and all the ways America has benefited from her philosophy of welcome. His fascinating informative passages and inspiring verses enlighten readers about past and present contributions by immigrants and also educate children about the law and processes involved in adopting America as a new home.

Thirteen illustrators lend their talents to interpreting Herzog’s verses with images full of color and vitality that are as diverse as America itself. Beautiful scenery from around the country reminds readers of the beauty of this vast land. It is the happy, hopeful, and expressive faces of those who have come and continue to journey here looking for a better life that most inspire and reveal that we are all neighbors.

W is for Welcome is an excellent book to use for leading discussions about American history and immigration at home or in the classroom.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364022

Discover more about Brad Herzog and his books on his website.

You can learn about these illustrators of W is for Welcome on their websites:

Doug BowlesMaureen K. BrookfieldPat CarrollDavid C. Gardner | Barbara Gibson  | Renée GraefSusan GuyVictor JuhaszLaura KnorrMichael Glenn MonroeGijsbert van Frankenhuyzen | Ross B. Young 

Celebrate Diversity Month Activity 

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A World of Friends! Word Search

 

There are people all over the world just waiting to be friends! Learn how to say “friend” in twenty-one languages with this printable word search.

A World of Friends! Word Search Puzzle | A World of Friends! Word Search Solution

Picture Book Review

March 6 – It’s Irish-American Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

First celebrated in 1991, Irish-American Heritage Month commemorates the many contributions of Irish immigrants in America’s early days and the continuing influence Irish-Americans have on the arts, politics, sports, business, education, and all areas of American culture. The month of March was chosen to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, one of the most enthusiastically honored holidays, with parades, parties, and ceremonies held in cities and town all across the country.

Fiona’s Lace

By Patricia Polacco

 

In Fiona’s Lace author-illustrator Patricia Polacco weaves a tale of family love and America’s early immigrant heritage that is as intricate and lovely as the lace the family makes. The story begins in Ireland, where Fiona and her sister Ailish live with their muther and da. They live happily in Glen Kerry, where their father works in the textile mill and their mother teaches Fiona her art of lace making.

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Copyright Patricia Polacco, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

In the evenings the girls are entertained by family stories, especially their favorite about how, when their parents first met, their mother left a trail of lace from the factory to her house for her young suitor to follow.

When the textile mill closes, Fiona’s family signs a contract indenturing themselves to a family in Chicago. The voyage to America is long and arduous, but when they arrive in Chicago they marvel at the grand houses and elegant clothes, imagining that this awaits them too in their new home. The reality, however, is much different. Their two-room apartment is ramshackle, and only by working two jobs can their parents make enough money to live on.

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Copyright Patricia Polacco, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Fiona wants to help and soon finds that dressmakers will pay handsomely for the lace she makes. The family’s money tin begins to fill up and they are prospering. One night while Muther and Da are away working, a fire rages through Chicago. Fiona and Ailish escape with only the money tin and Fiona’s lace. They run far from home, but worry—how will their parents find them?

Remembering their favorite story, Fiona cuts her lace into strips and ties bits of it along their route to their hiding place. The girls cower in fear until they hear the familiar voices of their parents. Happily reunited, the family lets go of what they have lost, but Ailish cries over the now sooty, torn lace. Ma reassures her and brings comfort, revealing that far from being ruined, this scorched lace is the most valuable and cherished of all because it saved the family.

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Copyright Patricia Polacco, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Patricia Polacco’s heartwarming and harrowing story of an Irish immigrant family is a beautiful reminder of the unique talents and strong bonds that built America and continue to help her prosper today. Readers will be enthralled by Polacco’s realistic dialogue and detailed storytelling in this compelling and suspenseful tale and will cheer as Fiona cleverly uses her ma and pa’s trick and her own skills to save her family.

Polacco’s gorgeous illustrations bring the time period alive for young readers, portraying the intricate art of lacemaking and the clothing styles that made use of this delicate trimming. Her depictions of tenement living are realistic, yet reveal the love and close family ties within through a warm color palette and the inclusion of cozy comforts brought from Ireland.

Fiona’s Lace is a heartfelt and thoughtful family and immigration story and would be a wonderful addition to classroom and home libraries.

Ages: 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young People, 2014 | ISBN 978-1442487246

Discover more about Patricia Polacco and her many, many books on her website!

Irish-American Heritage Month Activity

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Follow the Lace Game

 

While Fiona and her sister used a lace trail to lead their parents to their hiding place, you can have fun making a hide-and-seek game for your friends. This game can be played inside or outside

Supplies

  • 1 or 2 yards of lace, cut into sections about 6-inches each. You can use lace to celebrate Lace Day or use string, ribbon, or other kinds of material
  • Choose something to hide – this can be a toy, a secret letter, a snack, or anything

Directions

  1. Hide the item you choose in a secret place
  2. Determine the starting place for your hide-and-seek game
  3. Along the route from the starting point to the hidden item, tie the sections of lace onto things like lamps, furniture, stair banisters, door knobs, etc. if  you’re playing inside. If you are playing outside, tie it onto trees, bushes, bird feeders, swing sets, etc.
  4. For very young children the trail of lace can be straightforward; for older children the trail can be longer and more difficult