September 22 – National Elephant Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

While today’s holiday was established in 1996 by Mission Media and its owner Wayne Hepburn because of Hepburn’s love for elephants, the day has garnered official recognition and deserves wide acknowledgement. These gentile, giant animals need our protection from environmental and human dangers. To celebrate today’s holiday visit a zoo or animal preserve, watch a documentary on elephants, or consider donating to their cause.

Strictly No Elephants

Written by Lisa Mantchev | Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

 

A little boy, his adorable pet elephant by his side, kneels on his bed and gazes out the window at the brownstones across the street. There he sees other kids with their—more conventional—pets: a bird, a cat, a fish, and dogs. “The trouble with having a tiny elephant for a pet is that you never quite fit in,” the boy reveals. Every day the boy takes his elephant for a walk, but even in this common pet-owner activity, the boy and the elephant show their special relationship. The elephant is thoughtful—protecting the boy with an umbrella on rainy days—and the boy is considerate—carrying his elephant over cracks in the sidewalk that frighten it. Why? Because “that’s what friends do: lift each other over the cracks.”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

On this particular day the boy winds a red scarf around his elephant’s neck and joins the parade of kids on their way to Number 17 where the Pet Club meets. The elephant is reluctant, but the boy is reassuring, even carrying his pet on his back the last few feet. “‘It’ll be fine,’” he says. But when they reach the apartment, there’s a sign on the door that reads “Strictly No Elephants.” There’s even a picture of a crossed out elephant on the sign.

The elephant understands all too well and leads the boy back onto the sidewalk, now ignoring the cracks. “‘That’s what friends do: brave the scary things for you,’” the boy says. The day has suddenly become rainy, and they are caught on the sidewalk without an umbrella. Taking shelter under an awning, the two find a little girl holding her pet skunk. “‘Did you try to go to the Pet Club meeting too?’” she asks. “‘Yes,’” the boy says, “‘But they don’t allow elephants.’”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

While the sign may not explicitly forbid skunks, the little girl says that the other members didn’t want to play with her and her skunk either. Wisely, the boy tells her “‘They don’t know any better.’” The elephant reaches out its trunk toward the skunk with the girl’s reassurance that he doesn’t stink. The two new friends decide to start their own pet club and head down the sidewalk to find a venue. The boy makes sure that his elephant follows because friends “‘never leave anyone behind.’”

On the way the boy, girl, elephant, and skunk encounter a whole crowd of kids with unusual pets—a tiny giraffe, a mini narwhal, an armadillo, a bat, a hedgehog, and a penguin. They come to a park, complete with tree house, that is perfect for their club. The kids and pets eagerly adopt their new play space—swinging on the tire swing, waddling around the balcony, exploring the roof, playing tag, reading, and more. The boy quickly does the most important thing of all: he paints a new sign for the clubhouse door. “Strictly No Strangers, No Spoilsports ALL ARE WELCOME” it reads. And if you need directions to the club, the boy’s tiny elephant will give them to you “‘because that’s what friends do.’”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Lisa Mantchev has written a story addressing the types of isolation and rejection that kids (and adults) can face—sometimes because of a single perceived difference—in an uplifting and productive way. With gentle honesty and thoughtfulness, Mantchev invites kids to consider their actions, attitudes, and responses to others. As Mantchev reveals, more inclusiveness leads to more understanding and better relationships. Her lyrical language and sweet reminders of “what friends do” elevate this tribute to camaraderie and companionship and make it a story kids will want to hear again and again.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Taeeun Yoo’s adorable illustrations of the boy, his tiny pet elephant, and the other animal-and-owner pairs are irresistible. Any reader would want a pet as cute and adaptable as these, which leads to a good opportunity for adults and children to discuss the ideas of and attitudes behind exclusion in this story and in real life. As the boy and his elephant are turned away from the Pet Club door, the day turns dark and stormy. The two-page spread is rendered in somber shades, except for the little boy with his yellow-striped shirt and red scarf, the elephant sporting a matching red scarf, and the soon-to-be-met brown-skinned girl who wears a red and yellow-striped dress, emphasizing the connections between these two children. The final pages in which the new friends meet and play together are joyful, inviting all readers to “join the club.”

Strictly No Elephants gives readers so much to see, think about, and discuss. The book is a must for school and classroom libraries and would be a very welcome addition to children’s home bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster, 2015 | ISBN 978-1481416474

Discover Lisa Mantchev’s books for children, young adults, and adults on her website.

See a gallery of books by Taeeun Yoo on her website!

Elephant Appreciation Day Activity

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Spool Elephant and Baby

 

Who wouldn’t like a tiny elephant for a pet?! With this easy craft you can make your own little pal to keep you company.

Supplies

  • Printable Elephant Ears Template
  • 1¾-inch wooden spool with center hole, available at craft stores
  • ¾ -inch wooden spool with center hole, available at craft stores
  • Gray craft paint
  • Chunky gray yarn
  • Gray felt, 1 8 ½ x 11 piece
  • Paint brush
  • Black fine-tip marker
  • Hot glue gun or fabric glue

Directions

To Make the Ears

  1. Print the Elephant Ears Template
  2. Trace and cut out the large and small ears

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the spools with the gray paint, let dry
  2. Glue the tab on the ears to the body of the spool to secure, allowing the ears to stick out on either side of one flat end of the spools
  3. Wind the gray yarn back and forth around the spool, creating several layers of thickness
  4. When the body is as thick as you desire, cut the end and secure with glue

To Make the Trunk

  1. Cut a 2 x 4-inch piece of felt for the large elephant; 1/2 x 2-inch piece for small elephant
  2. Roll tightly and secure with glue
  3. Feed one end of the roll into the hole in the middle of the spool
  4. Cut to desired length

To Make the Tail

  1. Twist a small length of yarn and push it into the hole on the back of the spool
  2. With the marker draw eyes and a mouth on the face

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You can find Strictly No Elephants at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 4 – National Friendship Day

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About the Holiday

Originally founded in 1919 by the Hallmark Card company to encourage people to celebrate their friends by sending cards, the holiday has transitioned into a worldwide event commemorated in multiple ways from sending an emoji-filled text to getting together to share favorite activities. However you choose to celebrate, be sure to let your friends know how much they mean to you!

Bloomsbury Children’s Books sent me a copy of Bear’s Scare to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Bloomsbury in a giveaway of a copy of Bear’s Scare. See details below.

Bear’s Scare

By Jacob Grant

 

Bear was very tidy. Every day, he swept and dusted and took great care to make sure everything was put in its proper place. “There was one thing Bear loved to care for most of all. A small stuffed friend, named Ursa.” Bear and Ursa spent every minute of every day together, and each day they cleaned their house top to bottom.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

One day, Bear discovered a book lying on the floor. He was sure he hadn’t left it there, and when he picked it up, he found a sticky spider’s web attached to it. He was sure that the spider was making his neat house sticky and messy and that the spider was nothing like them at all. He looked the house over more carefully, and “the more he searched, the more messy webs he found. ‘Ursa, we have a spider problem,’ said Bear.”

As the spider knitted a scarf using two legs while pouring tea using two more and then painted a picture of one of Bear’s potted flowers, Bear fretted over the mess the spider was making. He was determined to find the spider. Bear and Ursa searched everywhere but did not find it. Bear even lifted up the sofa to peer underneath. When he lowered the sofa to the floor again, however, Bear did not see that Ursa’s arm became pinned under its leg.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When Bear picked up Ursa, her arm ripped off. “Bear lay there for some time,” sad about what had happened to Ursa and about the mess he’d made. Then he ran to get supplies to “help his friend.” When he got back, though, the spider had already reattached Ursa’s arm with its sturdy web. Bear hugged Ursa tight.

Then, “among the books, Bear found something he never expected.” The bookshelf the spider called home was just as neat as Bear’s house. There were books, and a broom, and even a painting of Bear. “‘I certainly do not mind sharing my home with one more friend,’” Bear said. And Bear and Ursa were content—even when one new friend turned into many.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

For those who embrace the status quo and like things just so, Jacob Grant’s sweet story demonstrates that there’s always room for one—or many—more. While Bear initially thinks the spider is not like him and Ursa, his quiet appreciation for spider’s help as well as his realization that he and the spider do share many of the same attributes models the kind of thoughtful inclusion that builds strong friendships.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Grant’s endearing illustrations show Bear’s love for Ursa as he cradles the little stuffed bear while reading to her, carries her from room to room, appolgizes for the accident, and hugs her when she is fixed. The little round spider who sports a button with a loop of thread for a hat is adorable as it goes about its artistic pursuits. The final double-page spread of the spider lounging in a web hammock attached to Bear’s reading chair while fourteen other spiders play, work, and listen to Bear read to Ursa is heartwarming. Kids will love finding the little spider on each page as well as all the ways in which the spider’s shelf is similar to Bear’s house.

A touching tribute to friendship—old and new—as well as a thoughtful contemplation on preconceived notions for young readers, Bear’s Scare is a delightful book to share at home and in the classroom.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681197203

Discover more about Jacob Grant, his books and his art on his website.

Get caught up in the Bear’s Scare book trailer!

Bear’s Scare Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be partnering with Bloomsbury Children’s Books to offer a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Bear’s Scare by Jacob Grant

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets during this week, August 4 – 10. 

A winner will be chosen on August 11.

Giveaways open to US addresses only | Prizing provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

National Friendship Day Activity

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Friendly Storytelling Bear Craft

 

Bear loved to read stories with Ursa and the spider! Now you can tell your own stories with this Friendly Storytelling Bear Craft! Use the templates and/or make your own expressions to make up great stories! You can also play a game to collect all the parts of the bears face to win.

Supplies

  • Printable Bear Head Template
  • Printable Eyes and Noses Template
  • Printable Eyebrows  and Ears Template
  • Light brown felt or fleece (or color of your choice), 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Dark brown felt or fleece(or color of your choice), 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • White felt or fleece, 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Black felt or fleece, for pupils
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • 1 playing die (optional)

Directions

  1. Print templates
  2. Cut bear head from light felt or fleece
  3. Cut eyes from white felt or fleece
  4. Cut nose and inner ears from dark brown felt or fleece
  5. Cut pupils from black felt or fleece
  6. Glue pupils onto white eyes

Alternately: Color and play with the paper set

For a Fun Story Time

Give the bear different faces and make up stories of why he looks that way!

To Play a Game

Roll the die to collect parts of the bear’s face. The first player to create a full face is the winner.

  • Die dots correspond to:
  • 1—one eyebrow
  • 2—second eyebrow
  • 3—one eye
  • 4—second eye
  • 5—nose
  • 6—inner ears

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You can find Bear’s Scare at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 6 – It’s National Umbrella Cover Day

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About the Holiday

Okay, so this is one of those holidays that just make you say, “Hmmm….” But, really, you know…why not? Made of the same material as the umbrella, and either slippery enough to slide right off or maddeningly tight enough to require superhuman peeling abilities, the umbrella cover is apparently the subject of controversy: Is it useful or just a waste of material? One woman who is firmly on Team Useful is Nancy 3. (formerly Arlene) Hoffman, who–in 1996–founded the Umbrella Cover Museum. First displayed in Hoffman’s kitchen, her collection has grown from “seven or so” covers to more than 700–enough to warrant mention in The Guinness Book of World Records. The museum is now housed in  two rooms on Peaks Island, Maine. Today’s holiday was officially recognized in 2014. To learn more about Nancy Hoffman and her collection, visit the Umbrella Cover Museum’s website.

The Green Umbrella

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Maral Sassouni

 

On a gray and rainy day, Elephant went out walking with his green umbrella. He met a hedgehog who hailed him and said, “‘Excuse me. I believe you have my boat.’” Elephant was perplexed, so Hedgehog expounded on his theory. “‘I crossed deep oceans on my boat and faced the crash of icy waves. I saw dolphins leap two by two and tasted the salty spray of whales. The stars were my guide and my boat a faithful friend.”

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Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This poetic travelogue did not convince Elephant of the umbrella’s provenance, but he offered to let Hedgehog ride along and share in its protection. The two came upon a Cat, who took one look at the green umbrella and recognized it as her tent. Hmmm…said Elephant and Hedgehog. It was true replied Cat, and she related how when she visited the woods to study plants and flowers, she would rest in its shade and drink a cup of tea.

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Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This story seemed no more plausible than Hedgehog’s, but Elephant invited Cat to ride along and share in the umbrella’s protection. As they continued on, the Bear approached, sure that they had his flying machine. “‘Your what?’ asked the Elephant, the Hedgehog, and the Cat.” The Bear got a faraway look in his eyes as he said, “‘I soared through clouds high up in the air and saw Northern Lights glimmer above rolling hills. I floated on wings free and far from the noise of busy towns below.’”

Well, Elephant could play this game too. The umbrella was his and his alone. When he was a child, Elephant said, the umbrella was his pirate sword, his tightrope balance, and his baseball bat. By this time the rain had stopped. Elephant rolled up his umbrella and said good-bye to the Hedgehog, the Cat, and the Bear. The three couldn’t stand to see their boat/tent/flying machine taken away, so they clung to the Elephant.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-tea-party

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A moment later they met an old Rabbit. “‘I believe you have my cane,’” he said. The others thought he was wrong. But this handy stick, the Rabbit explained, had helped him climb pyramids, hike mountains to ancient ruins, and navigate dark caves full of treasure. Again the Elephant objected, but seeing the old Rabbit mopping his forehead, he opened it and shaded the Rabbit from the sun. The Cat offered to make a pot of tea, and the Bear and the Hedgehog helped lay out a picnic lunch.

Under the cool umbrella, the five “shared their stories, drank tea, planned adventures, and became fast friends.” From then on when it was sunny, they went “Sailing, Camping, Flying, and Hiking” together. “And when it rained they stayed dry under the green umbrella.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-friends

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Jackie Azúa Kramer’s multi-layered story delves into the large points and small nuances of relationships old and new. The Elephant’s green umbrella is both a subject of envy and a uniting object. It also serves to demonstrate Elephant’s ability to stick up for himself as well as his willingness to share. As each animal presents an imaginative and compelling reason why the green umbrella belongs to them, the Elephant rejects the story while accepting the friend. In each animal’s lushly described imagination, Kramer does a beautiful job of showing readers how each of these friends are similar. She reveals that while friends can have different opinions, they can still find common ground.

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Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Maral Sassouni’s dream-like illustrations are both exotic and homey. Village houses give way to turreted and domed towers, and the imaginative stories the animals tell are accompanied by details as free, cozy, or eccentric as their tales. The Elephant’s account is cleverly rendered in sepia tones, showing the age of the memories and who the original owner of the coveted umbrella really is. The final images of the five new friends sharing adventures in the green umbrella are sure to delight little ones.

The Green Umbrella is a perfect book to share on rainy days or sunny days. With humor and creativity, the book provides an opportunity to talk about the nature of friendship and sharing with children. It would make an often-read addition to public, classroom, and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-0735842182

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer, her books, and a fun book-related activity on her website!

Learn more about Maral Sassouni and her artwork on her website!

Don’t wait for a rainy day to watch The Green Umbrella book trailer!

National Umbrella Cover Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-umbrella -friends-match-upUmbrella Friends Match Up Puzzle

 

These friends are all enjoying a day out! Can you find the matching pairs in this printable Umbrella Friends Match Up Puzzle?

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You can find The Green Umbrella at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 5 – It’s Great Outdoors Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Paul Owen Lewis

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About the Holiday

Getting outside is one of the joys of summer! As schools close, leaving more time for leisure pursuits, it’s fun to explore the great outdoors through hiking, biking, swimming, camping, and just plain playing. Some people even give up their cold-weather vehicles and take to the open road on scooters and motorcycles. Having a variety of summer experiences gives you the opportunity to meet different people and make new friends—just like the mice in today’s book!

I received a copy of Motomice from Beyond Words Publishing to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also happy to be partnering with Beyond Words in a giveaway of Motomice! Details are below.

Motomice

By Paul Owen Lewis

 

When you imagine a biker do you think of someone who wears black, looks tough, and roars through town on a loud motorcycle? Well, let’s take a ride and see what a colorful crew bikers really are! Did you know that some “bikers wear orange. They look like pilots” as they roll through the suburbs. Sometimes “their motorcycles are old.”

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Copyright Paul Owen Lewis, 2018, courtesy of Beyond Words Publishing.

Some “bikers wear pink” like Roxie, who zooms around the track or heads out on a winding country lane on her sleek, fast motorcycle. There are even grandmas and grandpas who are bikers. They travel all over on big, sturdy motorcycles that can carry loads of stuff for camping with friends. Have you ever spied someone in silver and blue with a fancy helmet who looks a bit like an astronaut, it’s a good bet they’re a biker too! And—look!—there’s Sparky refueling her green motorcycle at the electric vehicle charging station. She “cares about the environment.” Her motorcycle is quiet. Then all gassed up and ready to go, the group is off again. But where to? It’s a Motomice Reunion Rally, where “everyone is welcome!”

So whatever road you’re on, take a good look. “Bikers are every color, every style, and every kind of person. If fact, “they are just like you and me.”

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Copyright Paul Owen Lewis, 2018, courtesy of Beyond Words Publishing.

In his heartwarming story, Paul Owen Lewis introduces kids to the welcoming community of bikers, replacing the stereotype of the tough, leather-clad biker with the reality that bikers come from all walks of life. By using different colors, comparing the appearance of bikers and their motorcycles to other professions, and adding that even grandpas and grandmas are bikers, Lewis gives readers concrete ways to relate to bikers even if they’ve only seen bikers passing by on the street. Many kids, of course, have family members and friends who ride motorcycles. Motomice is a joyful book for them to share with their biker buddies.

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Copyright Paul Owen Lewis, 2018, courtesy of Beyond Words Publishing.

Lewis’s stunningly realistic depictions of a variety of motorcycles will thrill detail-oriented and vehicle-loving kids. As the mice roll through beautiful vistas—adding new friends along the way—each double-page spread mirrors the sweeping feeling of the open road. A clever image occurs when the biker dressed like an astronaut hails his friends from a rocky, lunar-esque mountain side. The image of the reunion rally, where motorcycles line both sides of the street as far as the eye can see, is full of cheer and camaraderie. On the final page, the crew welcomes a baby, happy and secure with Mom in her sidecar, to the Motomice family. Young readers will feel the warm embrace as well.

Ages 3 – 7

Beyond Words Publishing, 2018 | ISBN 978-1582706603

Discover more about Paul Owen Lewis, his books, and his art on his website.

Meet Paul Owen Lewis

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Today, I’m happy to be talking with Paul Owen Lewis, who always offers a unique perspective in his work, about being a biker, Northwest Coast Native carving, and how to answer the heart’s questions in a story.

What inspired you to write Motomice?

I was inspired when I discovered there were 25 million active riders in the US and their average age was 52, which means there are millions of grandparents riding out there. But there wasn’t a single quality kid’s book on the market anywhere to share with their grandkids about their passion for motorcycles, and the true nature of the community who ride them (as opposed to the negative stereotype in the media). And being both a biker and an author I thought I had just the credibility to create it.

For a more detailed account, go to http://www.paulowenlewis.com/motomice/behindthestory.html

In Motomice, the different bikers and their motorcycles are described by color. What color biker are you and why?

I suppose I’m a little of all of them. Most true motorcycle enthusiasts would say they would like to collect and ride almost every style or genre (I would!). But the colors in Motomice are more or less arbitrary with the possible exception of Rat’s black bike. I chose black for him since it’s the go-to color of those who want to strike the bad-biker-boy image. And perhaps Roxy’s pink bike is meant to express associations with femininity (FYI, there are lots of female professional racers out there proudly sporting pink gear), but as for me, I’ve worn at least four of them in my 40 years of riding. So far I’ve had red, green, black, and orange motorcycles, café racers, cruisers, and sports bikes, and I wouldn’t rule out something blue and/or yellow in my future. What can I say? It’s an addiction.

As a fine artist, what attracted you to become a picture book author?

Right after art school, when I was doing my student teaching, Chris Van Allsburg’s books started appearing (Jumanji, The Polar Express, etc.) and I was struck by how solid, opaque, and strong his images appeared. Not at all like the usual dreamy, tentatively pencil-drawn images washed with faint tints of watercolor I was used to seeing in children’s book illustrations in my youth. And I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s what picture book art is like now? Awesome stuff. Maybe that’s what I’ll do with my artistic skills at some point; illustrate picture books in that in-your-face solid style that argues for its own believable reality.”

You have a very interesting artistic career that includes carving chests and totem poles in the Northwest Coast Native style. Can you describe how you began carving and a bit about your work? Are any of your carvings on public display?

In the early 90s I started noticing Northwest Coast Native art in and around Seattle. It seemed to be everywhere. And, being someone who is fascinated by the origins of things, I realized this was the unique art that originated from this unique region (as say, Egyptian art emerged from Egypt), and, being a “native” of the Northwest myself, felt like it was something I should know more about. Well, one thing led to another and soon I was taking carving lessons from some of the finest artists of the region. Then I thought to ask myself, “Has anyone done a picture book with this amazing cultural art?” So with the help and guidance of my artist friends and scholars, Storm Boy was soon born. After its publication in 1995 I became quite well-known among these circles and was offered many more opportunities to further my carving and cultural experiences. It’s truly been one of the great privileges of my life.

Your earlier books, including Storm Boy, Frog Girl, and Davy’s Dream, as well as your fine art (some examples can be seen on Paul’s website) seem to blur the distinction between earth and universe, wakefulness and dreams, allowing reality to be defined by the reader or viewer. Can you talk about your perspective a little and also why children are attracted to this perception?

Well, “blurring distinctions” is pretty much what a lot of art is about, or existing in a place in between realities. At least much of my art and interests are. I don’t think you have to look further than my own childhood for possible clues to its genesis. Both my parents succumbed relatively early in their lives to catastrophic illnesses. So, unlike so many of my middle class, suburban peers with stable home lives, I grew up with absolute uncertainty at home. And now that I’m no longer a child, I can see that I wasn’t unusual. I know now that lots of children, perhaps a majority of them, are struggling with similar questions and circumstances. So stories and art that reflect this circumstance, their reality of blurred distinctions, are bound to be of interest.

You’re well known for your inspirational school visits. Can you talk a little about your presentations? Do you have an anecdote from any presentation you’d like to share? Do you ever hear later from any of the kids that heard you speak?

When I speak at a school it is not merely to entertain (though they get that, too). I’m speaking to that kid who was me, that kid who finds him or herself in a confusing, complicated, even dangerous place and dreams of something better, but who has no way to express or see their way to it. So I tell them that writers write stories to answer the questions of their hearts. I steer them there and urge them to write the kind of story they would like to live, the kind of story that would answer the questions of their hearts.

I also tell them that writing is first storytelling, and every human being tells stories. It’s who we are. It’s what makes us human. So if you can tell a story you can write a story – and so, yes, you too can be a writer if you really want. For those who are intimidated by the writing process (words first, in sequence, on paper) I say don’t write first but tell; tell your story any way you can—whether that’s talking, acting, singing, or drawing—and capture the main points with notes, sketches, recordings, whatever, and then apply the beginning-middle-ending form of standard narrative sequence to it later. To illustrate I share slide images of myself working on my books onscreen, from first inspiration to sketching the main events to arranging them in order and then to writing the words. Once they see me do it, they feel confident that they can do it.

I’ve been a popular speaker at schools for 30 years. Now I meet teachers at schools who were once students who saw me years ago, and they can repeat back what I said to them verbatim. It’s unnerving!

What’s up next for you?

I’m about to have surgery to reattach the bicep on my right arm—my writing and art making arm—and will be more or less out of action for six months. I’ve been meaning to take a break. I guess this is it.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

New Years. I like the idea of new beginnings. That maybe this year things will turn around, work out, etc.

Has a holiday ever inspired your writing or art?

Yes! See my counting book, P. Bear’s New Year’s Party.

Thanks, Paul! It’s been enlightening and inspirational chatting with you. I wish you all the best with Motomice and all of your work!

You can find Motomice at these booksellers 

Amazon | Beyond Words Publishing

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Motomice Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Beyond Words Publishing in this giveaway of

  • One copy of Motomice  by Paul Owen Lewis

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, June 5 – 11. Already a follower? Thanks! Just  Retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on June 12.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Beyond Words Publishing.

Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Let’s Go! Maze

 

These four friends want to ride their scooters together. Can you help the girls find their way along the path to the boys?

Let’s Go! Maze | Let’s Go! Maze Solution

Picture Book Review

May 30 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

Get Caught Reading Month was established in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers to encourage people of all ages to read more. Authors, illustrators, celebrities, athletes, and others participate by sharing pictures of themselves reading an old favorite or new book on social media. Schools, libraries, bookstores, and community venues hold special programs throughout the month. For more information and to find resources, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

Albie Newton

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Ester Garay

 

Albie Newton was something of a prodigy. As a tyke, he retrofitted his stroller into a racecar, tried counting to infinity, and “learned to speak a language almost every week: / English, Spanish, Hindi, Klingon, Gibberish, then Greek.” When he moves to a new town and a new school, his classmates are excited to meet him. Albie is also revved up to start making friends, and he has a plan he thinks the other kids will love.

But as they all settle in to work, “the students noticed Albie was a whiz. / Albie wrote a sonnet while they took a spelling quiz.” During art class, the kids were likewise astounded (and a little dismayed) when, while they scribbled, drew swirls, and made handprints, Albie painted like Van Gogh. When free time rolled around, and some kids played dress up, Albie “sifted through the trash,” to build a science lab, leaving a mess for Arjun to clean up.

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Image copyright Ester Garay, 2018, text copyright Josh Funk, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Then things began to disappear. “Hamilton the hamster tried to run but had no wheel. / Albie needed extra sprockets made of stainless steel.” While Sona and Shirley created paper masks, the glue went missing, and Albie “didn’t even ask.” The wings from Dave’s propeller plane were suddenly broken off, and reading time became impossible when “booming pandemonium descended on the school.” Albie, though, intent on his invention, didn’t notice the trouble he was causing or the crowd of angry kids rushing to complain.

Before they could reach Albie, though, Shirley stopped them, saying “‘maybe Albie didn’t know. Let’s look at what he made.’ Curious, the children headed straight to where he played.” When they say all the inventions Albie had made, they stopped and stared. Albie had made the class a gift—a spaceship, and with the push of a button, an amazing time machine!

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Image copyright Ester Garay, 2018, text copyright Josh Funk, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With his inimitable style, Josh Funk creates a rambunctious tale of invention and creativity, but one that also has a deeper message about the way some kids see the world and communicate with peers and others. In the first pages, readers are introduced to the precocious Albie, who from birth has demonstrated a talent for learning and doing. When he enters a new school, however, his single focus doesn’t translate into the kinds of social interactions his classmates are used to. Albie gathers materials for his present unaware of the mayhem he’s causing, just as the other kids are unaware of Albie’s real goal. Only Shirley is sensitive to the idea that Albie may not be causing havoc on purpose but for a purpose. Her calming defense of Albie allows the other kids to see Albie in a new light and appreciate his gift—and his gifts.

While Funk’s rhyming verses are focusing on Albie and his actions, Ester Garay’s bright illustrations depict the other kids’ reactions to his talents and also his disruptions. A first hint at how Albie fits in with his new class comes as the kids welcome him with cheer and smiles. Instead of facing them to accept the welcome, Albie is faced away from them, happily imagining the gift he will make for them.

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Image copyright Ester Garay, 2018, text copyright Josh Funk, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Throughout the day, Shirley follows Albie, and as she watches and wonders, her facial expressions demonstrate dismay at some of Albie’s antics but also a growing understanding and acceptance. Garay captures the close camaraderie of a preschool or kindergarten classroom, and her close-up view of Albie toiling away on his invention will have readers eager to see the result. The reveal of Albie’s spaceship time machine and the final spread of the kids frolicking on a distant planet with the likes of Freda Kahlo, William Shakespeare, Amelia Earhart, and a helpful dino, are sure to produce some oohs and ahhhs.

Albie Newton is a doubly impactful story that would be a welcome addition to home and, most especially, classroom bookshelves. It can be read as a boisterous story of innovation for lively story times, but it also provides adults and children an opportunity to discuss the ideas of social interaction and various personalities. Most children know someone like Albie who as naturally quiet, on the spectrum, or singularly focused on one area or another, communicates and socializes differently than others. Reading Albie Newton can help kids better understand different behaviors and, like Shirley, become more sensitive to all their classmates and friends.

Ages 5 – 9

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454922582

Discover more about Josh Funk and his books as well as find fun activities and lots of resources on his website.

To learn more about Ester Garay, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Check out the Albie Newton book trailer!

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Initial Bookends

 

You can keep your books neat and tidy on the shelf with this easy-to-make bookend that displays your talents and personality!

Supplies

  • Wooden letter block in the child’s first initial or both initials
  • Chalkboard paint
  • Chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden letter with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write words that your think best describe you on the letter
  3. Display your letter on your bookshelf!

April 20 – National Look Alike Day

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About the Holiday

Do people say you look like someone else—a family member or friend or maybe a celebrity or historical figure? If so, today is the day to embrace that dopplegänger and perhaps have a little fun with the resemblance. The holiday got started in 1980 when television news reporter Jack Etzel was looking for a feature story on a slow news day. Out on the sidewalk with his camera crew, Etzel spotted a man who looked like Humphrey Bogart. He stopped him and asked him who people said he looked like. Etzel and his crew went on to ask more people about their look-alikes. The next day, Etzel contacted the people who organize the Chase Calendar of Events and proclaimed April 20 as Look Alike Day. Why not join in the fun and go all out? Dress up as your look alike, talk and act like them, and enjoy a day of fame!

Quackers

By Liz Wong

 

Quackers, a little orange tabby, wants to say hello! “Meow.” Quackers is a duck. “He knows he’s a duck because he lives at the duck pond with all the other ducks.” Not only that, but all of his friends are ducks. Sometimes, though, when he looks around at all the white feathers and orange beaks, he feels a bit out of place, and communicating is sometimes difficult. There’s also the issue of food—some of the things he’s given to eat are pretty slimy or tiny or hard to chew, and duckweed seems to be on the menu all the time. The worst, though? Getting wet.

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Copyright Liz Wong, 2016, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

One day, Quackers meets another duck who looks like him and sounds like him. In his joy, Quackers blurts out, “‘I’ve never met a duck who understands me!’” The gray kitten, Mittens, is confused at first and then understands and then laughs. At last, she invites Quackers to follow her. They end up at a farm where Mittens lives with “a whole flock of strange ducks. Ducks just like Quackers.”

Mittens shows Quackers how they “chase mice,” which Quackers prefers to swimming; “drink milk,” which is more delicious than duckweed; and clean themselves, which Quackers is a bit iffy on. Soon, Quackers is napping with his new friends. As much as he enjoys being a cat, Quackers starts to miss the duck pond. He even finds that he has a craving for duckweed. He scampers back and discovers that “most of all, he missed his friends.”

Now Quackers splits his time at the pond and the farm. Sometimes he’s a duck, and sometimes he’s a cat. But all the time “he’s just Quackers, and that makes him completely happy.”

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Copyright Liz Wong, 2016, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

As mom to a cat who thinks he’s part person and possibly part dog, I fell in love with Liz Wong’s little Quackers and little readers will too. Kids will giggle as Quackers sits contentedly on a lily pad, accepts slugs and snails as snacks with a meow-nimum of fuss, and explains to Mittens that he’s a duck.  Readers, who are beginning to develop their own identity, will be cheered when Quackers embraces both his duck and cat sides. They’ll understand that it’s what’s inside a person that matters and that being yourself is the best thing you can be. Wong’s adorable kittens and ducks will charm kids, and her simple hand-lettered text and speech bubbles create a cozy reading experience that’s like a sweet hug in a book.

Full of humor, self-acceptance, and inclusion, Quackers should find a home on any child’s and classroom’s bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553511543

Discover more about Liz Wong, her books, and her art on her website.

National Look Alike Day Activity

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Match the Kittens Puzzle

 

These adorable kittens all have a twin, but they’ve gotten mixed up while playing. Can you find the matching pairs in this printable Match the Kittens Puzzle?

Picture Book Review

March 24 – It’s National Umbrella Month

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About the Holiday

The rainy season is coming—do you know where your umbrella is? March, with its unpredictable weather has been designated National Umbrella Month to commemorate those useful objects that keep us dry in the rain and shaded from the sun’s rays. Invented in China over 4,000 years ago, the umbrella underwent many changes before becoming the pocket-sized helper it is today. To celebrate this month, check on the condition of your umbrella or treat yourself to a new one!

The Big Umbrella

By Amy June Bates | Cowritten with Juniper Bates

 

A red umbrella sits at the front door, waiting…. “It is a big, friendly umbrella.” No matter if raindrops or sunshine or even autumn leaves are falling, the umbrella is ready to go to work. “It likes to spread its arms wide” and offer shelter to whomever needs it.

Under the umbrella there’s room for four—and more. The umbrella welcomes anyone, no matter what you look like or what you’re wearing or “how many legs you have.” And if it seems crowded, don’t worry—there’s always room for more. So come on under! You’ll be amazed at what you find!

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

In Amy June and Juniper Bates’ sparing text, there’s a world of freedom and welcome. Amy June’s gorgeous watercolors of a rain-soaked day complete the story as a walk down a city street creates a microcosm of life under the umbrella.

The sweet, red umbrella smiles at every one who comes by  looking for shelter, always stretching to accommodate another. When a ballerina and a runner need protection from the pelting rain, they easily join two already under the umbrella with room to spare. The very tall webbed creature the four meet next doesn’t even fit on the page, but it does fit nicely under the umbrella. And the cute hairy guy who’s carrying a briefcase and is as tall as the bus stop sign? Sure! There’s plenty of room!

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

As the group continues on its way, readers can see the legs of young and old, cowboys and roller skaters, dogs and chicks all walking together and protected by the ever widening umbrella. Children will like to predict what will happen when the umbrella passes a crowded crosswalk. In a double-page spread the sun begins to peek out from behind the clouds just in time for this diverse group to enjoy an afternoon at the park—all shaded by the red umbrella.

When readers turn from the mottled blue and green rainy-day pages where the faces of the fellow travelers are hidden onto Bates’ final light and bright two-page park scene, they can’t help but smile and feel their heart lift even more. As the individuals are revealed, the sense of inclusion is heartening and affirming. The park, dotted with daisies, bustles with kids and adults of all ethnicities, abilities, and personalities playing, talking, biking, painting, and gathering together.

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Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The Big Umbrella is an uplifting and inspiring story that children of all ages will respond to. The book would be an excellent choice for classroom libraries to open discussions of inclusion and a sweet addition to home bookshelves for rainy day or sunny day story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1534406582

To learn more about Amy June Bates and see portfolios of her art and books, visit her website.

National Umbrella Day Activity

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Find the Matching Umbrellas

 

These umbrellas and raincoats were mixed up in the wind! Can you find the matching pairs? Look carefully! How will you match them up?

Rainy Day Mix Up Umbrellas Matching Puzzle

Picture Book Review