August 29 – It’s National Fishing Month

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About the Holiday

Is fishing your thing? Do you like nothing better than heading down to the lake or stream and spending a relaxing day with a fishing pole, some bait, and the possibility of reeling in a “big one?” Perhaps you like fly fishing better, challenging yourself to flick that hook in just the right place. Then again, maybe taking a boat out to deep water and pitting yourself against the truly big fish is more your style. However you like to fish, make some time to enjoy your hobby this month!

Back Roads, Country Toads

Written by Devin Scillian | Illustrated by Tim Bowers

 

Best toady friends, Hank and Buckaroo, were just hanging out in “their favorite drainpipe near Cooper’s General Store” sipping the last drops from a discarded bottle of strawberry soda when they overheard Mr. Cooper and his friends talking about going fly-fishing. Hank and Buckaroo thought FLY-fishing sounded awesome and wanted to go along. They spied the perfect place to catch a ride: the fishermen’s open lunch basket. With a KERPLOP! they jumped in.

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Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2019, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soon they were on their way to what Buckaroo said would be “‘the greatest day of their lives.’” “‘Toadally,’” agreed Hank. While they rode to the fishing stream, Hank and Buckaroo sang “When You Fish Upon a Star,” and as soon as the truck stopped they jumped out and hid in a nearby bush. But Emmitt the raccoon was already there. Hank and Buckaroo were reveling in the glory that was going to be that day’s “‘fly cafeteria’” and “‘down-home big-time fly barbecue’” when Emmitt gave them the bad news. Hank didn’t believe it. He thought “‘fishing WITH flies’” instead of “‘fishing FOR flies’” sounded ridiculous.

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Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2019, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And just then a nice juicy fly sailed by. Hank leaped and released his long tongue, but Emmitt pulled him back just before he grabbed onto the fake fly. The three watched as the fishermen caught fish after fish with the imitation flies. Hank and Buckaroo couldn’t imagine what Mr. Cooper and the rest of the fishermen would want with “‘those smelly fish.’” Emmitt disagreed—he loved smelly fish. To prove his point, he ran up and snatched one from the fishermen’s bucket.

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Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2019, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Seeing the fish, Hank had a brainstorm and asked to “‘borrow’” Emmitt’s fish. He placed it on a rock in the sun and went back to their hiding place in the bushes. Emmitt and Buckaroo were confused. But “before long, a swarm of flies hovered over the fish.” When there was a large cloud of flies, “Hank croaked, ‘Let’s go fishing!’” Their tongues snapped in the air, reeling in dozens of flies. When they were filled to the brim, they gave the fish back to Emmitt and happily made plans to go fly-fishing again the next Saturday.

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Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2019, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Devin Scillian’s clever, pun-filled fish story has everything needed to hook young readers and deliver a funny story time. With the lure of all the flies they can eat, Hank and Buckaroo take action to have the best day of their lives and discover a new hobby. When they meet up with Emmitt the raccoon and learn that their initial idea was a bit off the mark, Hank shows persistence and innovative thinking to make their fishing dreams come true. Demonstrating acceptance of each other’s different tastes and some creative cooperation, the camaraderie among Hank, Buckaroo, and Emmitt serves as a good example for readers. The close bond between Hank and Buckaroo—and their hilarious dialog—will endear them to kids, leaving them wanting more from this “toadally” charming duo.

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Tim Bowers’ energetic toads, with their wide smiles, eager eyes, and spirited personalities are obvious best friends from the first page. Bowers’ vibrant, action-packed illustrations are laugh-out-loud funny as Buckaroo and Hank grow giddy at the thought of all those flies they’re going to catch, flick their loooong tongues, and hobble down the road with overstuffed bellies. Emmitt may chuckle at the toads’ misinterpretation of “fly-fishing,” but he’s a true and trusting friend to rescue Hank from a fisherman’s line and lend his filched treat to attract their lunch. In the background, images of the two fishermen and their young protégés casting their lines and reeling in bucket-loads of fish add depth, interest, and visual clues for readers.

A comical, well-developed tale that will captivate kids, Back Roads, Country Toads is a winner for group story times or one-on-one fun at home, in the classroom, or for public libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-153411039

Discover more about Devin Scillian, his books, music, and journalism on his website.

To learn more about Tim Bowers, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Fishing Month Activity

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Tackle the Tackle Box Board Game

 

A good fisherman always needs a well-stocked tackle box. Play the Tackle the Tackle Box Game to earn lures, bobbers, hooks and more to fill your box. The first player to complete their set is the winner! For more fun, you can color the tackle box items any way you like. There are even three extra cards for you to draw your own tackle box items!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. On card stock, heavy paper, or regular paper, print one Tackle the Tackle Box Game Board for every player
  2. On card stock, heavy paper, or regular paper, print one set of Tackle the Tackle Box Game Cards for every player
  3. Each player can color their set of playing cards (optional)
  4. Three spaces are left blank for kids to design their own lures, bait, and flies too (optional)
  5. Cut the cards apart
  6. Gather all the cards and set in separate piles
  7. Roll the die to determine who goes first, highest roll goes first
  8. The first player rolls the die, and adds the item that corresponds to the number on the die. The list is below.
  9. Play continues with each player rolling the die and collecting cards
  10. If the player rolls a number for a card that he or she already has, the die passes to the next player
  11. The first player to fix their tackle box is the winner!

Each number of dots on the die corresponds to these cards:

1: FISH LURES

2: HOOKS

3: WORMS

4: FISHING LINE

5: FLIES

6: BOBBERS

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You can find Back Roads, Country Toads at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

July 24 – It’s National Moth Week

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About the Holiday

National Moth Week celebrates the beauty and diversity of moths, their habitats, and their life cycles. Scientists estimate that there are anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 species of moths in the world, with varying markings and sizes. During the week people are encouraged to learn more about these fascinating insects and to join in on mapping moth distribution by observing and reporting moth sightings in parks, woods, neighborhood, and their own backyards. To get involved and learn more about today’s holiday, visit nationalmothweek.org.

I received a copy of Moth for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Moth

Written by Isabel Thomas | Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

 

“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope. It starts with a little moth.” Long ago a peppered moth wiggled out of its cocoon, unfurled its “salt and pepper” wings, its legs, and its antennae and took to the air to avoid predators. It met up with other peppered moths flitting and fluttering among the trees in the night sky. Most of these moths “had speckled, freckled wings,” but some had “wings as dark as charcoal.”

During the day, the peppered moths rested, flattening themselves against the speckled bark of the trees, camouflaged from birds and other animals. But the black-winged moths weren’t so lucky. Easy to spot against the light bark, they began to vanish as birds nipped them up for themselves and their chicks. As the speckled peppered moths had more and more babies, they also sported a mottled pattern.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Over many years, the speckled moths became dominant while the dark-winged variety dwindled. But then, factories, trains, and other machines that burned coal were built. They spewed dark clouds of soot into the air. The soot settled everywhere, turning buildings and trees black. Now, the lighter-colored moths became the meals of birds and other predators, and the black-winged peppered moths had better camouflage. “Now they lived long enough to lay eggs of their own…and their wing color passed on to their offspring…and their offspring’s offspring.”

After decades of pollution and adaptation, the peppered moth population was still strong, but now most of the moths were dark, while the lighter moths were rare. But then, people came together to clean up the pollution. Less coal was burned as new ways to fuel machines were found. In time, the air cleared, the sky was again blue and the clouds white. “The trees shed their sooty bark.” Modern life brought many changes to the landscape, providing places for both dark and speckled peppered moths to hide. Today, a mix of peppered moth can be found flittering and fluttering in the night sky, offering their “story…of survival…and hope.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Isabel Thomas’s superlative nonfiction picture book masterfully combines lyricism with clear descriptions of the science of adaptation and natural selection to create a story that touches on natural history, human history, and the interactions of the two. Thomas’s conversational tone and direct address to the reader makes this a personal story and will captivate children sensitive to nature and the world around them. Her excellent pacing serves to show the passage of time involved in the evolutionary changes within the moth community. Thomas begins and ends her story with a note of hope that living things will adapt to today’s changing world. The underlying lesson may also encourage readers to find ways in which humans can adapt to promote the survival of all living things.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Exquisite mixed-media illustrations by Daniel Egnéus will immediately draw readers—both children and adults—into the nighttime forest where peppered moths take wing, silhouetted against the golden moon and the deep blues and purples of the midnight sky before finding a hiding place from hungry bats and birds. The story’s theme of light and dark in its variations is powerfully presented. In the early pages, images are set against bright, open backgrounds; foliage is vibrant green; and birds dazzle with color. As a bird brings a charcoal-winged moth back to her nest while speckled moths hide, children can easily see natural selection at work.

As the Industrial Revolution alters the skyline and the quality of the air, the images become denser and the hues of the sky, trees, and birds muted. For children who have not grown up with the air pollution of the past—even the near past—double spreads of smog-churning factories and trains will make a strong impression. The introduction of the child at the beginning and end of the story reminds readers of two things: that we owe it to our children to treat the world with kindness and that our children are the hope this story builds on.

Special mention must be made of the magnificent and poignant illustrations of the speckled peppered moths. Looking closely at their outstretched wings, you will see nature—trees, water, dappled sunlight—reflected in them. The stunning cover—with its foil-embossed lettering, stars, and moth—reflects the importance of each reader to our world: touch or look into the shining silver and you will find yourself mirrored there.

A beautiful book to enhance nature and science studies and help children develop an understanding of the impact of change, Moth is a must for school, public library, and home collections.

Ages 6 – 10

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1547600205

Discover more about Isabel Thomas and her books on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Egnéus and his work, visit his website.

Take a look inside Moth with this beautiful book trailer.

National Moth Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tree-branch-with-white-cocoons

Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

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You can find Moth at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 27 – It’s National Zoo and Aquarium Month

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About the Holiday

This month’s observance pays tribute to the role of zoos and aquariums and the work they do for education, conservation, and research to protect the world’s animals. As zoos and aquariums build exhibits that more closely resemble the animals’ natural habitats and offer interactive and hands-on programs, more visitors can learn about the environments and science of each amazing creature. These institutions are also reaching out with personal and online visits to schools by zoologists and other experts, increasing the interest in biology and animal science to students. Nearly 175 million people—50 million of which are children—visit zoos and aquariums each year. To celebrate today, visit your local zoo or aquarium!

Be Nice to Spiders

By Margaret Bloy Graham

 

One morning as the Zoo Keeper was about to open the gate, he noticed a matchbox with a note attached to it. The “note read: ‘Please look after Helen. I’ve had her since she was a baby, but I can’t keep her anymore. We have to move to an apartment that won’t take pets. Thanks, Billy.” When the Keeper opened the box, out jumped eight-legged Helen. She scurried into the maple tree and then “quickly spun a long silk thread and lowered herself into the ventilator of a big building” that turned out to be the Lion House. The poor lions—a father lion, a mother lion, and four cubs—were beset by flies. “The lions were annoyed, but Helen was delighted. She loved to eat flies.” Right away she wove a big, sticky web. “One by one the flies got caught…. And one by one Helen ate them.”

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

After a week, the Lion House was free of flies and the lions were comfortable. Helen moved on to the Elephant House. She set up her web, and in a week the elephants were happy too. Next, Helen went to the Zebra House and after she “had caught all the flies there, the zebras were able to eat their hay in peace.” In fact, the zoo turned into a peaceful place for all the animals. Helen was very content too.

One morning, the Keeper called all the workers together and told them that the Mayor was coming for a visit that day. He wanted them to clean up all the cages and especially “‘get rid of all those spider webs.’” Joe said that he thought spiders were beneficial, but the Keeper thought the spider webs made the zoo look a mess. With their brushes, brooms, and hoses, the workers scrubbed the cages clean. When they got to the Camel House, they found one of Helen’s webs loaded with flies. He swiped at the web, but Helen had vanished.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

When the Mayor arrived, he declared that he’d never seen the zoo looking “‘so neat and the animals looking so well.’ Meanwhile Helen was still in the Camel House, hiding in a crack in the ceiling.” She was afraid to come out. Days passed and Helen grew hungry. Flies returned and began to bother the camels again. One night, Helen was so hungry that she came out and spun a web. She decided to stay in the Camel House—“she didn’t dare go anywhere else.” This was good for the camels, but not good for all the other animals.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Keeper couldn’t understand what had happened. As he and Joe walked through the zoo, the animals and even the visitors were under clouds of flies and looking miserable. But then they went into the Camel House. Here there were no flies, and the camels were peaceful and happy. Then Joe spied one of Helen’s webs. “‘Look, Chief,’ Joe shouted. ‘Now I know what’s going on! See that spider up there? It’s eating all the flies…. Spiders are useful. That’s what I tried to tell you the other day.’”

The Keeper called all the workers together and told them about Joe’s discovery. He also had a new rule for the zoo: “‘Be nice to spiders.’ Soon the Zoo became famous for its happy, healthy animals, and Helen was treated like a queen.” One day, Helen even got her picture on the front page of the newspaper under the headline: “Local Zoo Named Best of Year; Three Cheers for Spider! Says Keeper.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

One of the people reading the newspaper was Billy’s dad. He showed the article to Billy, and the next day Billy went to visit Helen. He introduced himself to the Keeper, and then noticed something special in Helen’s web. It was an egg sac. “‘I bet there’ll be plenty of baby spiders soon,’” exclaimed Billy. And sure enough, a few days later Helen became the proud mother of lots and lots of little spiders. “From then on, Helen and her children and all the animals in the Zoo lived happily ever after.”

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Margaret Bloy Graham’s classic story has been a kid-favorite since 1967—I know it was a favorite of mine and I was happy to pull my Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club Edition copy out of my collection for this review. Billy’s sweet concern for his pet spider, Helen’s initiative in dropping into the Lion House, and the natural solution to the zoo’s fly problem all combine to make this a story that is ever-fresh and appealing to kids. Graham’s smooth and straightforward narration is sprinkled with realistic dialogue and builds to a suspenseful turn that is riveting to children. Kids with pets of their own will cheer when Billy learns that Helen is a hero. The idea of natural, environmentally safe solutions to pest control is still relevant and resonant today.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Graham’s illustrations have lost none of their charm, in fact kids will be enchanted by the vintage look and adore little Helen who, with a smile on her face, snares plenty of flies in her webs. Readers will like seeing just how a spider goes about constructing a web and will enjoy spying where Helen is on each page. You can bet there will be a chorus of “noooo!” as a zoo worker raises his broom to sweep away Helen and one of her webs and an enthusiastic “yesss!” when Joe points out just how vital she is to the zoo. The illustrations also give adults and kids an opportunity to talk about how things have changed at zoos over the intervening years.

An impactful story with lots of heart, Be Nice to Spiders will be a favorite of kids who love spiders, zoos, and the environment.

Ages 4 – 7

HarperCollins, 1967

National Zoo and Aquarium Month Activity

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Splendid Spider Coloring Page

Having a spider in the house is lucky! Here’s an alert spider just waiting for some flies. Grab your crayons or pencils and feed him – or be a little silly. What else can this spider catch in his web?

Splendid Spider Coloring Page

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You can find Be Nice to Spiders at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

By 1970 awareness was growing worldwide about the damage that industrialization, pollution, and pesticides were causing people and the environment. On April 22, 1970, millions of people demonstrated for change. In response, in July President Nixon and the US Congress created the Environmental Protections Agency and enacted laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act among others. Earth Day is now celebrated around the globe as a day for political action and civic participation.

Today, it’s more important than ever for citizens to participate in the protection of the environment so that the advances we have made are not rolled back or lost. This year the theme of Earth Day is Protect Our Species. To learn more about endangered and threatened species—from plants to animals to insects, including the Hines emerald dragonfly, and how you can help, visit the Earth Day Network. To celebrate today’s holiday, join an action group in your community dedicated to protecting natural resources.

I received a copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Soar High, Dragonfly!

Written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

 

As winter turns to spring, flowers bloom, baby birds hatch, and “high above, tiny wings hum like wind through the leaves.” The sound comes from dragonflies. In the warm air, the females are looking for places to lay their eggs. They find a pond, where they can lay eggs in the water or within the stem of a plant. While some eggs are eaten, many others hatch into nymphs. Underwater, the nymphs have a special way of swimming that propels them to find food to eat.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As a nymph “he eats, he grows. As he grows, he sheds his casing. Squirt. Gulp! Squirt. Gulp!” At last the nymph is ready to leave the water. During the night, he climbs the stem of a water reed and waits for daylight. The nymph has undergone many casing changes, but finally, his last casing grows too tight. “It cracks. He wiggles and squiggles. Out he crawls!” Although his wings are free, he is too tired to fly.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the warmth of the sun, the dragonfly’s wings dry. “They hum in the morning light.” When he is ready, he takes off into the sky… “he’s flying! Soar high, dragonfly!” Without practice, the dragonfly can fly forward, backward, and even hover. Using his large eyes, he scans for predators, darting away at the last moment.

The dragonfly is a marvel, moving his wings and changing his body to keep warm day and night. Summer brings mating season, and with the autumn the dragonflies migrate to warmer climates to lay their eggs and begin their life cycle again.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Sheri Mabry Bestor’s lyrical text is accompanied by equally engaging factual information about dragonflies, and the green darner dragonfly in particular. Each page contains a sentence or two of fascinating description about egg laying, life stages, feeding customs, movement (“Nymphs squirt water out of their back ends to propel themselves forward.”), body regulation (“Dragonflies have special ways to keep warm. They can capture the heat of the sun by adjusting their four wings just right.”), and migratory habits of these favorite insects.

For young readers interested in insects and nature, Bestor’s captivating storytelling, which uses short sentences that echo the quick, darting movement of dragonflies, will keep them absorbed as they learn about this most intriguing creature.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jonny Lambert brings his talent as a paper engineer to the vibrant, collage-style illustrations that will wow kids with their beauty. The iridescent brilliance of the green darner dragonfly is represented through a green and yellow-mottled head and thorax that gives way to a blue striped abdomen. Light-sage-colored wings mirror the dragonfly’s delicate appearance. A stunning palette of greens and blues usher children into the underwater world of the pond where the nymphs grow among fish, frogs, snails, and other creatures. Each stage and change the dragonfly experiences is clearly shown and enhances learning.

A superb book for general story times as well as STEM learning, Soar High, Dragonfly! would find eager readers at home as well as in classroom and public libraries. Check out the first gorgeous collaboration between Sheri Mabry Bestor and Jonny Lambert, Good Trick, Walking Stick!, too! You can read my review of that book here.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364107

Discover more about Sheri Mabry Bestor and her books on her website.

Soar High, Dragonfly! Giveaway

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

  • One (1) copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | illustrated by Jonny Lambert

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

Just do these things to enter:

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

Earth Day Activity

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Dragonfly Decoration

 

Your kids can bring the beauty of nature inside with this easy-to-make dragonfly craft.

Supplies

  • Wooden clothespin
  • Wax paper
  • Bright green craft paint
  • Bright blue craft paint
  • Green glitter
  • Blue glitter
  • Paint brush
  • Thread or fishing line (optional)
  • Adhesive magnet (optional)

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Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the top part of the clothespin (to the point where the metal hinge crosses the wood) green
  2. Sprinkle green glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  3. Paint the bottom part of the clothespin blue
  4. Sprinkle blue glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  5. If the glitter doesn’t completely stick, apply a thin layer of glue with a toothpick and add more glitter

To Make the Wings

  1. Cut two 5-inch-by-3/4-inch strips from the wax paper
  2. Cut a curved edge at each end of the wax paper strips, cutting straight down from the top and curving around the bottom corner
  3. Cut curved notches in the center, top and bottom, of each wing to allow the wings to fit into the clothespin
  4. Open the clothespin and slip the wings in, curved edge down and allowing the top wing to overlap the bottom wing slightly

Attach the thread or fishing line to the dragonfly to hang, or to make a refrigerator magnet, attach an adhesive magnetic strip to the back

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-soar-high-dragonfly-cover

You can find Soar High, Dragonfly! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

March 12 – National Plant a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

Spring is right around the corner and with it the beautiful blooms that color our yards, neighborhoods, and communities. In some places the flowers are already blossoming, while in others, people are eagerly waiting for the snow to melt so seeds and plants can grow again. If you’re looking forward to flower gardening—indoors or out—today’s the perfect day to start planning. Why not take a trip to your local nursery or garden supply store and stock up?

I received a copy of Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate from Millbrook Press to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Millbrook Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Masha D’yans

 

Do you hear something? Yeah, me too. Oh! It’s the little purple prickly pear down there with all the other cacti. It seems it has something to say about plants. Okay, we’re listening.

“I want to clear up some of your crazy ideas about what the colors of our flowers mean.” You’ve got it all wrong if you think “red roses stand for love and white ones are good for weddings.” While that may be how you interpret the colors, that’s not what they’re really for.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

“We use our flowers to talk to the animals” so that we can make seeds and more plants. To do that each plant needs pollen from another plant that’s the same kind. Our flowers are like big ads that attract just the right birds, bees, or butterflies to help us out. Lots of times if they’re hungry they fly from flower to flower and bring pollen along with them.

How does each bird or butterfly or bee know which flowers to visit? That’s where our colors come in! And it’s pretty fascinating. Birds can see a color that insects can’t, and they don’t have a good sense of smell. Can you guess which flowers they’re attracted to? How about bees? Which colors do you think they like the best? I’ll give you a hint: “scientists just figured out that bees have three favorite colors.” Of course, we flowers “have known this for ages. That’s why so many of us make flowers in these colors. We like the reliable help.” This is fun, right?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flower-talk-insects

Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

How about moths and bats—which flowers do you think they visit? The flowers even assist them in finding their way by putting “out perfume as an extra guide.” You may not like flies buzzing around you, but these color flowers love it. They put out a smell too, but I wouldn’t call it perfume—I don’t think you would either. There’s even a certain color flower that doesn’t talk to animals or insects at all. Go on, try to guess….

Colors aren’t the only trick flowers have either. Some are just the right shape—like mine. In fact, I’ve got to get going. “I’m making a new flower” and “I’m just about done with it.” Oh—what are the answers to the game we were playing? You’ll have to read my book and see!

Back matter includes an illustrated discussion about pollination, information on how to protect pollinators, and a list of other books for further reading.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flower-talk-field

Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

With appropriate attitude, Sara Levine’s hilarious and knowledgeable prickly pear narrator engages kids in witty banter while taking them on a colorful garden tour. As the cactus explains a plant’s growing cycle and the need for pollinators, the information it imparts is eye-opening for children and adults. Why and how each flower’s color and scent attract just the right pollinator is clearly described in conversational language that kids will laugh along with and learn from. Every page contains an “ah-ha” moment that will spark discussion and an excitement to plant a garden and watch nature at work.

Like a riotous field of wildflowers, Masha D’yan’s dazzling illustrations put colors on glorious display as the flowers lure insects and animals to them. D’yan’s detailed images provide a great place for young naturalists to start researching the various plants introduced. Depictions of the prickly pear, birds, and bees match the humor of Levine’s text . Kids will love lingering over the two-page spreads to point out the various animals and insects and how they interact with the plants. They’ll also like following the growth of the prickly pear’s bud as it grows bigger and blossoms.

A superb book for teaching children about this fascinating feature of flowers and plants as well as providing a guide for gardeners interested in attracting a variety of pollinators, Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate would be an outstanding addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 11

Millbrook Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1541519282

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Masha D’yans, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Flower Talk Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Millbrook Press in a Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate written by Sara Levine | illustrated by Masha D’yans

This giveaway is open from March 12 through March 18 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 19.

Prizing provided by Millbrook Press

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

National Plant a Flower Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flower-pot-stake-craft

Flower Garden Stakes

 

It’s fun to start a garden from seeds, but how do you remember what you’ve planted where? With these easy to make garden stakes, you can mark your pots with style! 

Supplies

  • Wide craft sticks
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Colorful chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the stakes with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write the name of the different flowers or plants
  3. After planting your seeds, stick the stake in the pot 
  4. Wait for your seeds to grow!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flower-talk-cover

You can find Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 25 – It’s National Moth Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-cover

About the Holiday

Did you know that some moths are even more beautiful than butterflies? It’s true! Adorned in vibrant oranges, greens, blues, and reds and with patterns more intricate than the finest fabrics, moths are some of nature’s loveliest creatures. There are even moths that mimic hummingbirds—right down to the fast-beating wings and a looong proboscis that looks like a beak. During the summer, moths love visiting fragrant flower gardens. This month take a little time to really look at the moths in your yard and learn more about them and their habitats.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth to check out. All opinions are my own. 

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

As a grayish-brown moth flits among the leaves framed by the full moon, he says, “I’m an ordinary moth, / as you can plainly see. / A dusty, grayish, dull insect— / nothing-special me.”  He compares himself to the Luna Moth “who floats in graceful green” and to the Spider Moth who’s “so cool at Halloween!” He’s nothing like the Hummingbird Moth who mimics its namesake bird, and he can’t hide like the Wood Nymph Moth that looks like “birdy dung.” He’s much smaller than the Atlas Moth and not as pretty as a butterfly. While all of these are special—extraordinary even—this little guy thinks he is just “a dusty, grayish moth— / very ordinary.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-luna

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then a little boy runs through the yard shouting “‘A moth! A moth!’” The moth freezes against a wall, afraid and unsure and hoping to hide. But when the moth sees the excitement in the boy’s eyes, he moves “toward his joyful light.” He lands in the boy’s hands, uncertain still if he’ll be shooed away. And sure enough, the boy’s sister screams, “‘Ew, a bug!’” When she knocks her brother’s hand away, the moth flies off.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-hiding

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The moth hears the boy tell his sister, “‘Hey, it’s an insect—not a bug— / and my favorite kind!’” then he sees the boy trailing him “all through the yard. / with her two steps behind.” She thinks the moth is nothing special, but her brother disagrees. And as the moth alights on his finger, he shows her why. What looks like dust are really “‘scales that keep him warm at night. / And they flake off in a web so he escapes all right.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-web

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The little girl’s a bit more interested but thinks his color is “kind of blah.” The boy explains that the moth is the color of tree bark and can camouflage himself during the day while he sleeps. Then at night he’s ready to fly, guided by moonlight and the scents he smells through his antennae. Now the little girl thinks the moth is pretty cool. She calls their mom to come and see, and when Mom wants to know what bug they found, “the girl says, ‘Mom—a moth’s an insect, / and out favorite kind!’”

Hearing that, the moth soars in the moonlight with a new self image—“So how ‘bout THAT?! / I’m someone’s FAVORITE! / Little grayish me— / proof of how / EXTRAORDINARY / ordinary can be.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-mom

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ten Extraordinary Facts about Moths, as well as an activity for constructing a moth observation box follow the text.

Through her vivacious rhymes, Karlin Gray elevates the “ordinary” back-porch moth to star status with fascinating facts that will lure kids to discover more. The conversational verses echo a sweet sibling relationship while the moth, overhearing them, begins to appreciate himself. The bookending of the children’s story with the moth’s thoughts—first comparing himself to other moths and later realizing his own merits—will encourage readers to think about the nature of nature and about the importance of positive interactions with others. Told from the moth’s point of view, the story also has a deeper meaning, reminding readers that, like this moth, people also have special talents  that make them exceptional. Taking extra time to really learn about another’s unique qualities and to get to know them is exciting and has benefits for all.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-moonlight

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Steliyana Doneva’s gorgeous illustrations of moths and butterflies will dazzle insect-loving kids and convert the more squeamish. Doneva captures each delicate marking and texture of the little grayish moth as it flits in the light and camouflages itself on the wall and tree. The moth is also well spotlighted against Doneva’s vibrant backyard oasis where the little boy and his sister discover him. Nighttime scenes sparkle with starlight, and the full moon brings out the rich blues of an evening sky. The boy’s enthusiasm for moths and nature is infectious and will captivate young readers, enticing them to look closer at the world around them.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth is a beautiful, eye-opening book that would spur further discovery for nature and science lovers at home and in science or STEM classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1-58536-372-8

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

View a portfolio of work by Steliyana Doneva and learn more about her on her website.

Download and have fun with these An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Activity Sheets!

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Matching | An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Fill in the Blank

National Moth Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tree-branch-with-white-cocoons

Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-cards

Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-cover

You can find An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth at these booksellers

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

March 14 – Moth-er Day and Interview with Author Karlin Gray

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-cover

About the Holiday

Did you know that some moths are even more beautiful than butterflies? It’s true! Adorned in vibrant oranges, greens, blues, and reds and with patterns more intricate than the finest fabrics, moths are some of nature’s loveliest creatures. With spring right around the corner, moths will once again be emerging in woods, fields, and gardens, so today take a little time to celebrate these often overlooked insects and learn more about them and their habitats.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth to check out. All opinions are my own. 

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

As a grayish-brown moth flits among the leaves framed by the full moon, he says, “I’m an ordinary moth, / as you can plainly see. / A dusty, grayish, dull insect— / nothing-special me.”  He compares himself to the Luna Moth “who floats in graceful green” and to the Spider Moth who’s “so cool at Halloween!” He’s nothing like the Hummingbird Moth who mimics its namesake bird, and he can’t hide like the Wood Nymph Moth that looks like “birdy dung.” He’s much smaller than the Atlas Moth and not as pretty as a butterfly. While all of these are special—extraordinary even—this little guy thinks he is just “a dusty, grayish moth— / very ordinary.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-luna

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then a little boy runs through the yard shouting “‘A moth! A moth!’” The moth freezes against a wall, afraid and unsure and hoping to hide. But when the moth sees the excitement in the boy’s eyes, he moves “toward his joyful light.” He lands in the boy’s hands, uncertain still if he’ll be shooed away. And sure enough, the boy’s sister screams, “‘Ew, a bug!’” When she knocks her brother’s hand away, the moth flies off.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-hiding

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The moth hears the boy tell his sister, “‘Hey, it’s an insect—not a bug— / and my favorite kind!’” then he sees the boy trailing him “all through the yard. / with her two steps behind.” She thinks the moth is nothing special, but her brother disagrees. And as the moth alights on his finger, he shows her why. What looks like dust are really “‘scales that keep him warm at night. / And they flake off in a web so he escapes all right.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-web

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The little girl’s a bit more interested but thinks his color is “kind of blah.” The boy explains that the moth is the color of tree bark and can camouflage himself during the day while he sleeps. Then at night he’s ready to fly, guided by moonlight and the scents he smells through his antennae. Now the little girl thinks the moth is pretty cool. She calls their mom to come and see, and when Mom wants to know what bug they found, “the girl says, ‘Mom—a moth’s an insect, / and out favorite kind!’”

Hearing that, the moth soars in the moonlight with a new self image—“So how ‘bout THAT?! / I’m someone’s FAVORITE! / Little grayish me— / proof of how / EXTRAORDINARY / ordinary can be.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-mom

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ten Extraordinary Facts about Moths, as well as an activity for constructing a moth observation box follow the text.

Through her vivacious rhymes, Karlin Gray elevates the “ordinary” back-porch moth to star status with fascinating facts that will lure kids to discover more. The conversational verses echo a sweet sibling relationship while the moth, overhearing them, begins to appreciate himself. The bookending of the children’s story with the moth’s thoughts—first comparing himself to other moths and later realizing his own merits—will encourage readers to think about the nature of nature and about the importance of positive interactions with others. Told from the moth’s point of view, the story also has a deeper meaning, reminding readers that, like this moth, people also have special talents  that make them exceptional. Taking extra time to really learn about another’s unique qualities and to get to know them is exciting and has benefits for all.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-moonlight

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Steliyana Doneva’s gorgeous illustrations of moths and butterflies will dazzle insect-loving kids and convert the more squeamish. Doneva captures each delicate marking and texture of the little grayish moth as it flits in the light and camouflages itself on the wall and tree. The moth is also well spotlighted against Doneva’s vibrant backyard oasis where the little boy and his sister discover him. Nighttime scenes sparkle with starlight, and the full moon brings out the rich blues of an evening sky. The boy’s enthusiasm for moths and nature is infectious and will captivate young readers, enticing them to look closer at the world around them.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth is a beautiful, eye-opening book that would spur further discovery for nature and science lovers at home and in science or STEM classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1-58536-372-8

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

View a portfolio of work by Steliyana Doneva and learn more about her on her website.

Download and have fun with these An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Activity Sheets!

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Matching | An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Fill in the Blank

Moth-er Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tree-branch-with-white-cocoons

Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-cards

Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

Meet Karlin Gray

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-interview-with-karlin-gray-headshot

Today I’m excited to talk with Karlin Gray about how moths became extraordinary in her eyes, what types of characters she’s drawn to, and what might be the best holiday in the world

Did you like to write as a child? How did you get started writing books for children?

Yes, I did like to write as a child. When I was little, I would retell stories like Alice in Wonderland, changing the names and some details. Someone must have explained ‘plagiarism’ to me and, eventually, I learned to write my own stories.

I started writing picture books when my son was a toddler (about seven years ago). I joined a local writing center where I workshopped all three of my contracted books, including AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH.

Before you began working in the publishing field and writing for children, you worked for newspapers. Can you talk a little about that experience? What did you like most about it? Has it influenced your work for children?

After college, my first two jobs were graphic design positions at weekly newspapers in Northern Virginia and D.C. I loved learning about the publishing process—how words and images were selected, designed, printed, and distributed. It’s a fast-paced, exhausting business. But those jobs taught me to work on a deadline which helps me as a children’s book writer, for sure!

What inspired you to write about moths?

My son. When he was three, he announced that the moth was his favorite insect. I imagined that moth was having a bad day—comparing himself to “cooler” moths like the Luna moth or Spider moth—and then overheard my son’s statement. It’s a nice reminder that sometimes it takes just one kind comment to improve someone’s day.

What do you think makes the “ordinary” extraordinary?

Perspective. My son saw something special in a creature that I never really considered. But his interest piqued my interest, so I did some research. That led me to learning several amazing things about moths. Now, instead of shooing them away, I celebrate moths in An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth.

What was your process in writing An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth?

Once the first line popped into my head—“I’m an ordinary moth, as you can plainly see…”—the story was set in rhyme. Usually, I research then write a story. But here, I did my research as I wrote the manuscript. The first draft took a couple days and was MESSY. I workshopped the manuscript on and off for two years, tightening the story, rhyme, and meter. I eliminated a whole stanza where the ordinary moth compares itself to other moths like the poodle moth. Trust me, it wasn’t easy cutting out the poodle moth! But, like they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

Do you have a favorite place to write? If so, can you describe it a little? Do you have a favorite thing on your desk or in your writing space?

In my house I have an office but I don’t do much writing there. I usually move from the dining table to the kitchen table to the outside table when it’s warm.

In an earlier interview, you mentioned that you had “stories about presidents, magicians, explorers, athletes, mermaids, monsters, scarecrows, cats, mice, and one sad moth” in your desk drawer. What types of characters—or personalities—attract your creative interest? Do you have a preference for nonfiction? If so, why?

Oh yeah, I guess I’ll have to change that since the “sad moth” is out of the drawer and on the cover of a book. I’m a sucker for characters whose “flaws” are really their strengths, and I love a good finding-your-tribe story. Both nonfiction and fiction stories appeal to me but I enjoy the challenge of taking a true story and translating it into a picture book—selecting a character and timeframe, finding dialogue and active details, setting the tone and style, and staying true to the facts as well as the heart of the story.

In your website biography you have links to “things you like.” These are amazing and range from The American Mural Project to Storyline Online to the Landfill Harmonic. Can you talk about what draws you to these types of projects? Why do you think they are important not only for those directly involved in them, but for all kids—and adults?

Those two projects have a lot of heart. I met Ellen—she is a tiny person who has a big personality and a HUGE dream. The fact that one person had a goal to make the biggest indoor art installation is worthy of a book right there! And the Landfill Harmonic group—kids making music with trash!—was made into a book, Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood. I think both of those stories appeal to kids because it shows them that there are no limitations in art.

What’s the best part about writing for kids?

So many things…but probably the best is when kids tell me that they want to be a writer when they grow up. My response is always: “If I could do it, you can do it.”

You share your books at school and bookstore events. Do you have any anecdote from an event you’d like to share?

Twice a month I volunteer at a nearby school where I read books selected by the teacher. When I read my first book NADIA to the kids, the first graders had a hard time believing that I was the author. They knew me as someone who visited every other week and read a book from their shelves. They didn’t know me as a writer so that was a fun surprise for them.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book is a biography of Serena Williams—SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER—and will be published in early 2019.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Probably New Year’s Eve. We can see the town fireworks from our back deck so we invite a few families over for a casual get-together. It’s a nice way to end the year and the kids love staying up past midnight.

And, until your email, I didn’t know there was a Moth-er Day. (Not to be confused with Mother’s Day.) Very cool. The moth is also celebrated during National Moth Week in July: http://nationalmothweek.org

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

When I was 10-14 years old, I lived in Japan because my dad worked with the military. I remember feeling sorry for Japanese kids because they didn’t celebrate holidays like Christmas or Halloween. But once I discovered that they had an even better holiday—Children’s Day!!—then I just felt sorry for myself.

Thanks so much for this great chat, Karlin! I wish you all the best with An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth and all of your books!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-cover

You can find An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

You can connect with Karlin Gray on

Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Picture Book Review