November 21 – National Entrepreneurs’ Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2010, today’s holiday celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well in so many people and that helps advance knowledge and technology, solve problems, and make life better. The third Tuesday of November has been set aside to honor those thinkers and inventors of the past as well as to encourage those now working to see their ideas come to fruition. With their supple minds and unique way of looking at the world, children are natural entrepreneurs, as today’s book shows!

Norton and Alpha

By Kristyna Litten

 

Norton was a very particular kind of collector. He loved finding the kinds of things most people threw away. “Battered wheels, rusty cogs, broken springs…and best of all were the things Norton didn’t have a name for.” Nearly everywhere he went, Norton found useful things. He took them all home and “made the most amazing inventions.”

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

One day Norton found a little springy thing that he added “to his latest project.” It was the perfect final touch, and Norton named his invention Alpha. Alpha accompanied Norton on all of his hunts, following “his little robot nose down unknown paths.” He was small enough to get into all those places Norton couldn’t reach—ones where amazing items lurked.

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

One day “Alpha’s nose felt slightly odd. It tickled and tingled and led him to something very unusual.” Norton had no idea what it was, but he took it along home. In his workshop he tested it in all of his usual ways, but this object didn’t react in any way familiar. In fact, the longer Norton had it, the less useful it appeared to be until Norton finally threw it out the window. As it fell it scattered bits of itself all over the ground.

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As Norton and Alpha cleaned up, “they found a little round something their mysterious discovery had left behind.” Norton placed it in a jar just in case. The next day rain kept Norton and Alpha indoors, and the next day after that it was too hot to go out. Friday turned out to be just right, so Norton “oiled their joints and got everything ready for a long day’s collecting.”

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When they opened the doors they were greeted by the most beautiful, colorful sight. Norton and Alpha ran and played in the field and collected samples of all “the blue, pink, and orange things.” At home Norton didn’t experiment on them or even try to figure out what they were. Instead, he just used them to decorate his shelves, pipes, boxes, and bins because they “made him smile.”

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kristyna Litten’s inventive story of a little robot who loves to tinker and collect odd objects and his constant companion, Alpha, will charm children who are always intrigued by the unknown and ready to incorporate found objects into their world. The idea that industrious efforts can coexist with the simple enjoyment of the earth’s beauty may inspire kids and adults to also appreciate those special “found moments” that can bring much happiness to life.

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Copyright Kristyna Litten, 2017, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Litten’s Norton and Alpha are adorable friends, inviting little readers into their lab, where kids will love lingering over the gears, dials, machines, and shelves stacked with recognizable springs, tacks, nails, washers, hooks, hinges and other items. Readers will “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” when Norton and Alpha open their doors—accomplished through a marvelous double gate-fold spread—and the once-bleak landscape has been transformed into a gorgeous field by the flowers Norton has helped to grow. Children will also enjoy following what happens to the little seed Norton has saved as it is watered by an undetected leak in a nearby bottle and germinated on that very hot day.

With its cute illustrations and inspiring story, Norton and Alpha would be a much-asked-for book on any child’s home bookshelf and a terrific lead-in to inventive classroom playtimes or units.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1454924999

Discover more about Kristyna Litten, her art, and her books on her blog.

National Entrepreneur’s Day Activity

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Inventor’s Box

 

For young inventors or tinkerers, having bits and pieces and some tools to work with all stored in one place encourages creative thinking. Filling the drawers of a tool case, a tool box, or a tackle box with items like springs, brads, wheels, hinges, plastic piping, pieces of wood, glue, tape, and simple tools can spark a child’s imagination. Take your child along to the craft or hardware store and choose items together!

Picture Book Review

May 30 – Loomis Day

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About the Holiday

On Loomis Day we remember Mahlon Loomis, a Washington DC dentist working in the mid-1800s who had a very inventive mind. Not only did he invent artificial teeth, he also had some revolutionary ideas on communication. He understood about the electrical properties of the atmosphere and experimented with sending signals long distances using kites flown many miles apart but at the same height. In July of 1872 he received a U. S. patent for “An Improvement in Telegraphing” on wireless telegraphy. Further research revealed that while his wireless telegraphic system worked, it did not work the way Loomis thought. His experiments, however, advanced the science at the time, leading to one of the world’s most transformative discoveries and an ongoing quest for better and faster communications.

Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph

Written by Lucy Margaret Rozier | Illustrated by Leo Espinosa

 

Anyone who looked at the baby with legs “so long they looped like a pretzel” and required a stroller with “an extra axle” knew that he’d been born to run. In fact, his legs grew so fast that if his mother dressed him in long pants in the morning, they were shorts by that evening. Little Jack McCabe used those legs to chase “whatever would run: hogs, dogs, even his own shadow” and “as he got older, he raced trains flying past his house in Windy Flats. By the time he turned eighteen, he’d beat every stagecoach, antelope, and locomotive in the territory.”

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Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The people of Windy Flats called him Jackrabbit and relied on him to deliver messages that were urgent. On Sundays he joined the horses on the track, making money when people bet on him to come in first. One day, though, the electric telegraph came to Windy Flats. The poles and wires already crossed the eastern part of the country. Each connected city had “a telegraph and an operator who sent and received messages in Morse code, an alphabet of dots and dashes.”

The people of Windy Flats didn’t think this newfangled contraption could carry messages faster than Jackrabbit, so the telegraph man suggested, “‘How ‘bout a race between your fella and this here electric telegraph? Sandy Bluff’s just got themselves an operator, That’s pert near twenty-five miles, as the crow flies.’” Jackrabbit was all for it.

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Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

On the day of the race, the whole town of Windy Flats came out with flags, banners, and even a brass band. “The mayor carefully wrote down the same message on two slips of paper. He handed one to the telegraph man and the other to Jackrabbit.”  On the shout of “GO!” the telegraph man plunked his finger on the key sending the pulses through the wire while Jackrabbit took off down the road toward Sandy Bluff “like a tornado.”

The townspeople watched as in only a few moments “a reply came clattering back as that telegraph key jumped and smacked all on its own.” The telegraph man read the code and yelled, “‘Message received. Stop. Sandy Bluff Operator.’” But where was Jackrabbit McCabe? Although he made it to Sandy Bluff in only 9 ½ minutes, it was still too long to beat the telegraph. When he stopped short at the door of the depot, he was met by a telegram tacked to the door. Jackrabbit read it and then pulled the paper that contained the mayor’s message out of his pocket. The two were the same.

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Image copyright Leo Espinosa, text copyright Lucy Margaret Rozier. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Riding home in a stagecoach, “Jackrabbit felt lower than a snake’s navel.” The mayor also felt pretty low, thinking of Jackrabbit, until he realized that if Jackrabbit’s fingers were as fast as his legs, he’d make an excellent telegraph operator. When Jackrabbit stepped out of the stagecoach and heard the mayor’s offer, he whooped with joy. It didn’t take long for Jackrabbit to learn the new code, and soon “his fingers flew like a banjo player’s strumming that telegraph key.” Every day he sent and received messages. He even “teamed up with the local typesetter, who printed the news that came over that wire, linking Windy Flats to the whole entire country,” and whenever a telegram or the newspaper needed to be delivered, Jackrabbit was there in a flash!

An Author’s Note outlining the pivotal event that sparked Samuel F. B. Morse’s interest in a quicker communication method and the history of the telegraph as well as a Morse code key and a riddle to translate follow the text.

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Image copyright Leo Espinosa, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Lucy Margaret Rozier has written a funny and fact-based addition to the fine American tradition of tall tales with Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph. From her folksy delivery to her humorously exaggerated details, Rozier presents an engaging history of the telegraph through the story of one man affected by this new technology. Kids will love the fast-paced story full of crackling dialog and gripping suspense.

Leo Espinosa infuses his brightly colored, vintage-style illustrations with the charm and innocence of the mid-1800s while highlighting the humor of Rozier’s yarn. Jackrabbit’s looong legs take up a whole page—sometimes two—as he runs with dogs and hogs, sprints past steam trains, speeds off at the starting line, and wedges himself into the stagecoach, with one foot hanging out the window. The small town of Windy Flats and the townspeople are decked out in period details, and the enthusiasm of the time is infectious.

Jackrabbit McCabe & the Electric Telegraph will become a favorite read lightening quick. The book would make a fun addition to children’s bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-0385378437

Discover more about Lucy Margaret Rozier plus book-related resources on her website!

View a gallery of illustration work by Leo Espinosa on his website!

Loomis Day Activity

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Morse Code Decoder

 

Sending secret messages in code is cool! Use this printable Morse Code Decoder to learn how to write your name and those notes you don’t want anyone else to read in this early method of communication.

Picture Book Review

April 9 – National Inventor’s Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventor’s Digest Magazine to promote awareness of and celebrate the achievements of those creative individuals who make our lives better—or, in some cases, at least interesting. Every day there are kids and adults, professionals and amateurs pondering solutions to problems and just “what ifs?” Would you like to join them? You can celebrate this month by acting on one of your great ideas and by learning more about inventors like the subject of today’s book!

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Written by Chris Barton | Illustrated by Don Tate

 

Lonnie Johnson had a way with stuff. In his hands bolts and screws, gears and springs, spools, clothespins, “spare parts his dad let him bring in from the shed, and various other things he’d hauled back from the junkyard” fueled Lonnie’s ideas for inventions and rocket ships. The kids at school loved to watch him launch the rockets he’d devised on the playground. Lonnie wanted to have a career as an engineer. Getting there took a lot of determination and courage. Once, the results of a standardized test said that he would not make a good engineer. Lonnie felt discouraged, but he knew that the person who had graded his test didn’t know him—or Linex.

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Linex was the robot Lonnie had built from scrap metal. “Compressed–air cylinders and valves allowed Linex’s body to turn and its arms to move. The switches came from an old, broken jukebox. Lonnie used a tape recorder to program Linex, and as a bonus the reels looked like eyes.” Lonnie’s goal was to enter Linex in a science fair, but first he wanted to be able to program it. It took several years before he discovered how. Using his little sister’s walkie-talkie, Lonnie solved the problem and took Linex to the “1968 science fair at the University of Alabama—where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed.” Lonnie’s team won first place.

Lonnie went to college at Tuskegee Institute, where he realized his dream of becoming an engineer. His career “took him beyond Alabama—way beyond.”  He went to work for NASA. Before the orbiter Galileo could be sent to Jupiter, Lonnie developed a system that would ensure the craft would have a constant supply of power for its computer memory in case the main power was lost. Some fellow scientists doubted his idea would work, but it did. “As it photographed Jupiter and its moons, Galileo was supported by the power package that Lonnie designed.”

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Even though Lonnie worked for NASA, he continued tinkering with his own ideas—in his own workshop. One problem he was trying to solve involved the need for the world’s refrigerators and air conditioners to have a cooling system that didn’t use the damaging chemical R-12. “He had an idea for using water and air pressure instead.” He built a prototype and experimented with it in his bathroom sink. When he turned his pump and nozzle on, though, he got a surprise as a stream of water blasted across the room.

Suddenly, Lonnie saw another use for his invention—as a water gun. He created a design small enough for children’s hands, and tested it at a picnic, where it was a hit. Lonnie took his idea to a toy company…and another…and another. Finally one company agreed to make his water gun. Spurred on by this success, Lonnie found investors to help him build other original inventions: “a water-propelled toy airplane, two kinds of engines, and his cooling system” that had led to the water gun. He even quit his day job to devote his time to inventing.

But things don’t always work out. Each project fell through—even the water gun. It was a scary time as he and his family had to move out of their house and into an apartment. But Lonnie believed in himself. He took his water gun to another toy company. In 1989 he found a toy company willing to take a look. Lonnie made the trip to Philadelphia and wowed the executives with his invention.

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Image copyright Don Tate, courtesy of charlesbridge.com

Now kids everywhere enjoy the fun of the Super Soaker. Today, Lonnie can be found in his workshop doing what he loves: “facing challenges, solving problems and building things” because “his ideas just keep on flowing.”

Chris Barton’s biography of Lonnie Johnson is a fascinating look at a man who succeeds in turning “No” into “Yes” by the power of his intelligence, ideas, and determination. Kids will love hearing about how one of their favorite toys came to be and will be inspired to chase their own dreams despite challenges and setbacks. Barton’s detailed narration provides a full picture of Lonnie Johnson and his times, specifics that attract and inform like-minded kids. Including the results of Lonnie’s exam should encourage kids who think differently. The story is enhanced by the conversational tone that makes it accessible to kids of all ages.

Don Tate illuminates Lonnie Johnson’s life story with his bold, full-bleed paintings that follow Lonnie from his being a child with big ideas to becoming a man who has seen these ideas through to success. With an eyebrow raised in concentration, young Lonnie demonstrates confidence and skill as he works on an invention, and kids will love seeing the tools of his trade laid out on the kitchen table. With his eyes narrowed in frustration and disappointment, Lonnie reads the results of his childhood exam. As Lonnie grows older and designs systems for NASA, the illustrations depict the schematics of the Galileo power package and Lonnie’s surprise at the strength of the water stream in his prototype cooling design. As all kids know, the spurt of a Super Soaker is awesome, and this fact is demonstrated in a “Wowing” fold-out page.

WHOOSH! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions is a welcome biography of the man who designs systems for the greater world but has never lost his youthful enthusiasm to invent.

Ages 5 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580892971

Check out more fiction and nonfiction books by Chris Barton on his website!

Discover more books written and illustrated by Don Tate as well as a portfolio of his work and book-related activity guides on his website!

National Inventor’s Month Activity

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Invention Dot-to-Dot Puzzles

 

Many inventions have changed the world and continue to be used long after they were first created. Connect the dots on these printable puzzles to discover three remarkable inventions!

Invention Dot-to-Dot 1 | Invention Dot-to-Dot 2 | Invention Dot-to-Dot 3

Picture Book Review

March 6 – International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

The onset of spring with its  wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. International Ideas Month also invites would-be inventors and clever folk alike to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know – there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out! 

The Secret Subway

Written by Shana Corey | Illustrated by Red Nose Studio (Chris Sickels)

 

In the 1860s the streets of New York were…well, not to put too fine a point on it…disgusting. Made of cobblestone and filled with trash, waste, horse manure, dust, dirt, and throngs of people, the roads made for rough travel. Many people had ideas about what could be done to make the streets safer and cleaner. Some thought a moving sidewalk would work, others talked about double-decker roads or an elevated train system. But while there was a lot of talk, nothing ever got done.

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Image copyright Chris Sickles, courtesy of rednosestudio.com

Alfred Ely Beach, however, peered down from his high office room and studied the street below him. Alfred Beach was a thinker, a publisher, and an inventor. He put his clever mind to work and came up with a solution. He envisioned a train powered by an enormous fan that would travel underground. “People would get where they needed to go as if by magic!” he thought. He couldn’t wait to start building. There was just one problem—he didn’t own the streets. And getting permission to dig them up would be hard. “So Beach hatched a sneaky plan. He would propose building an underground tube to carry mail instead.” As he had imagined, no one objected to this project when he proposed it—not even Boss Tweed, who unofficially ran the city.

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Image copyright Chris Sickles, courtesy of rednosestudio.com

Given the okay, Beach rented the basement of Devlin’s Clothing Store. Every day he sent in workers to dig and every night wagons took away the debris. For 58 days and nights Beach’s men tunneled under the city, moving forward 8 feet each day. At last the tunnel was finished. It was 8 feet across and 294 feet long—large enough to hold a train full of people.

Beach then decorated the basement to be a beautiful, welcoming waiting room. Gaslight lamps and paintings dotted the walls, flowers added color, and a grandfather clock rang out the time. There was even a fountain with goldfish, a man playing a grand piano, and a delicious lunch. When everything was ready, Beach invited reporters, government officials, and distinguished citizens to join him on February 26, 1876 at the “Beach Pneumatic Transit Company.”

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Image copyright Chris Sickles, courtesy of rednosestudio.com

That first day Alfred Beach’s guests only admired the train, but they gave it glowing praise. Soon Beach opened his train to the public. With a WHOOSH from a gigantic fan, the train zipped down the track and then back again. “Beach’s train was a SENSATION! All winter while wagons slipped and slid on the slushy streets above, people poured into Devlin’s for the twenty-five-cent ride.”

While riders loved it, some people objected. Shop keepers didn’t want potential buyers underground. Property owners were afraid the digging would hurt their buildings, and some felt Beach wanted too much power. Even Boss Tweed no longer supported it since some of his friends had their own ideas on building a subway. When the governor of New York refused to let Beach expand his train, the project came to a halt.

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Image copyright Chris Sickles, courtesy of rednosestudio.com

The idea didn’t die, however, and “many years later drilling could be heard once again under the streets of New York City” as a train system powered with electricity was being built. Diggers discovered many unusual things buried under the city. Perhaps the most surprising was a brick wall behind which stood a little railroad car rusting in its tracks, a memorial to innovation and the future.

Alfred Ely Beach was one clever man, and Shana Corey tells his story with historical perspective, wit, and suspense. Corey’s language crackles with evocative alliteration, stealth, and action. Kids will be excited to learn of the intrigue and imagination that led to this remarkable snippet of America’s history.

Fans of Claymation will love Chris Sickels’ multimedia artwork that combines sculpted characters, specially built props, photographs, and illustration. Sickels’ characters are nothing short of astounding. Their period clothing, hairstyles, and expressive faces lend an engaging and realistic dimension to the vintage scenes. Sickels cleverly depicts early New York City and people’s alternative ideas to the traffic problem with sketched in schemetics. His use of color and lighting sets the perfect tone for this highly entertaining and educational picture book. Kids will want to linger over each page to catch all the details of The Secret Subway.

For kids interested in transportation, history, inventions, and claymation and other arts, The Secret Subway would be a wonderful addition to their home library.

Ages 4 – 10

Schwartz & Wade, Random House Kids, 2016 | ISBN 978-0375870712

Discover more about Shana Corey and her books for kids on her website!

You will be amazed by the art, books, and animation by Chris Sickels on his Red Nose Studio website!

This Secret Subway book trailer is just the ticket!

International Ideas Month Activity

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Chris Sickels’ Secret Subway

Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio invites you to build your own Secret Subway with this printable play set, complete with Alfred Ely Beach and a passenger! Click here to download your printable Secret Subway Activity!

Build a Super Subway Car

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Every day, millions of people all over the world travel to work, school, and other activities by subway. Here’s an easy and fun way to build your own subway train from recycled materials. You can make just one car or make a few and connect them to create a long train worthy of any big city!

Supplies

  • Printable Subway Car Template
  • Medium or long toothpaste box
  • Silver paint
  • Glue
  • Paintbrush
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Paint the toothpaste box with the silver paint, let dry
  2. Cut out the windows, doors, and stripe templates
  3. Trim the stripes to fit your box
  4. To make the little sign near the door, trim a small aquare from one of the stripes
  5. Glue the templates to the box

Picture Book Review

January 17 – Kid Inventors’ Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday celebrates all those ingenious kids who have improved the world with their inventions. This date was chosen to commemorate another child inventor—Benjamin Franklin—who designed the first swim fins when he was just 12 years old! (Seriously, is there nothing this man didn’t or couldn’t do?). With their supple minds and can-do attitudes, kids have changed the ways things are done in the fields of medicine, technology, communications, and even food—as today’s book shows! To learn more about the day and find resources for young inventors, visit the K.I.D website.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut

Written by Pat Miller | Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

 

In 1844 at the tender age of 13, Hanson Gregory left the family farm and went to sea as a cabin boy on the schooner Isaac Achorn. He quickly became the cook’s assistant and also learned how to rig the sails and “steer a ship over trackless waves by sun and stars.” By the age of 19 Gregory had become the captain of the schooner Hardscrabble, and within a few more years was racing “his cargo from Maine to California as commander of a clipper, the fastest ship on any ocean.”

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Image copyright Vincent X. Kirsch, courtesy of vincentxkirsch.com

Hanson Gregory may have been one of the best captains to sail the seas—once awarded a medal for heroism for rescuing seven shipwrecked Spanish sailors even though his own ship and crew were endangered. But his greatest achievement was not attained because of his seafaring skills—it was his ingenuity in the galley that people remember.

On June 22, 1847 as a 16-year-old cook’s assistant, Hanson was rustling up the crew’s breakfast—coffee and fried cakes, the same as every morning. While the pot of lard bubbled on the stove, Gregory formed balls of sweetened dough and dropped them in. They sizzled and crisped—at least around the edges. The centers were raw, heavy with grease, and they dropped like cannonballs in the stomach. “Sailors called them Sinkers.” But this morning Gregory had an idea. He removed the lid from the pepper can and cut out the center of the balls. “Then he tossed the rings into the bubbling lard.”

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Image copyright Vincent X. Kirsch, courtesy of vincentxkirsch.com

The cook and the sailors took one look at this odd concoction and…ate them up! “The cakes were brown, and sweet, and fully cooked. Sighs of delight rose above the noisy sea. A new breakfast tradition was born.” Gregory told his mom about his invention, and she fried up large batches of these ‘holey cakes’ that became a sensation at a friend’s store and on the docks.

You might think this is a pretty interesting tale in itself, “but sailors like their stories bold” and so they “spun legends worthy of such a delicious treat.” One tale had Captain Gregory inventing the doughnut while he saved his ship from disaster. Another told how Gregory, distraught over the drowning of five sailors pulled to the ocean floor by their “sinker” breakfast, punched holes in every cake to make them look like life rings and vowed, “‘Never again!’”

Captain Gregory had a sense of humor about his accomplishment. During an interview he once stated that “he had invented ‘the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes.’” Gregory lived to be 89 and is buried “overlooking the sea where stormy weather can be spotted as readily as it once was from the quarterdeck of the Hardscrabble.”

An author’s note expanding on the story of Captain Gregory, the doughnut, doughnut shops, a timeline, and a selected bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Vincent X. Kirsch, courtesy of vincentxkirsch.com

Doughnuts have never been so evocative! In Pat Miller’s humorous, informative history of this favorite pastry treat, readers can smell the salt air, feel the ocean swell and roll under their feet, and even ache a little for those poor sailors forced to eat “sinkers.” Seamlessly interwoven into this foodography is a fascinating look at the early days of sail. Miller’s language is immediately stirring: the Ivanhoe bucks and plunges, the sea becomes a monster, and Captain Gregory spears a sinker on the wheel spoke. Kids will marvel at a 13-year-old going off to sea and becoming an inventor at 16.

Vincent X. Kirsch provides just the right touch to this captivating true story with his cartoon-inspired watercolor and cut paper artwork. Ingeniously incorporating Hanson Gregory’s innovation of removing the center of the fried cakes, Kirsch’s illustrations are “cored” to allow for text, while the extracted section appears on the facing page as a glimpse through a porthole. The maritime atmosphere—from ship to shore—of the mid-1800s is beautifully represented in the folk-style sketches, and the humor that is so intrinsic to this story is wonderfully embraced.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut will delight foodies and history buffs alike and would make a fun gift and a delectable addition to personal libraries for all ages.

Ages 5 – 12

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544319615

Vincent X. Kirsch’s website is full of illustrations from his books for children—take a look at his portfolio!

Spend some time with Pat Miller on her website that offers activities, tips, resources and many more books!

Kid Inventors’ Day Activity

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CD (Compact Doughnuts) Decoration

 

Are some of  your CDs a little passé? Not if you can turn them into cute décor like this doughnut hanging.

Supplies

  • Unused CDs
  • Craft paint in tan, black, pink, yellow, white (or any colors you want for the doughnut and the icing)
  • Ribbon, any color and length you want
  • Fine-tip markers in bright colors
  • Glue
  • Glue dots (optional)
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint a wavy edge around the CD, let dry
  2. Paint the center of the CD, leaving the clear circle unpainted
  3. When the icing paint is dry, draw sprinkles on the icing with the markers
  4. With the ribbon make a loop hanger and attach it to the back of the CD with glue or glue dots
  5. Hang your decoration

Picture Book Review

January 9 – It’s International Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

There’s no better time than the beginning of the year to start letting your creative juices flow! Quick fixes or long-leisurely projects are all within your grasp! Want to repaint a room? Build a tree house in the spring? Learn some new recipes? Discover a new hobby? Start planning today how you will accomplish the inventive inspirations that swirl through your imagination.

The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation

By Gilbert Ford

 

In 1943, during World War II, the United States Navy asked one of their engineers, Richard James, to “invent a device that would keep fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.” Richard tried all kinds of springs, but none worked just right. “One day a torsion spring fell from a shelf onto his desk, and “its coils took a walk…” This sparked Richard’s imagination. While Richard knew the spring wasn’t right for his Navy work, he recognized that it might be perfect for something else. But what?

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

He took the spring home from work that day, showed it to his wife Betty, and gave it to his young son Tom. Tom took it to the top of the stairs and let it go. “The family watched in astonishment as it…walked all the way down!” They lost no time in realizing that this spring made a marvelous toy. But what to call it? “Betty thumbed through a dictionary for two days, underlining words. None really caught her fancy, until she came to ‘slinky,’ which means “‘graceful’ and ‘curvy in movement.’” It also “sounded like the swish and clink of the spring’s coils in motion.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-marvelous-thing-that-came-from-a-spring-spring-walks-downstairs

Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Richard and Betty thought they had a unique hit on their hands, so Richard went to the bank and borrowed five-hundred dollars to make 400 Slinkys. But while Richard and Betty loved their Slinky, toy store managers did not. Finally, Richard went to Gimbels, the big department store. The manager there didn’t see the merits of the Slinky either, but when Richard begged to be allowed to demonstrate it just once, he relented.

It was now November 1945 and the Christmas shoppers were out looking for stocking stuffers. Richard set up a ramp in the middle of the toy department and placed the Slinky at the top. He looked around for Betty, but she was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Betty was still at home worried that no one would like their toy. She was so concerned that she convinced a friend to “pose as an excited shopper” and buy one with the dollar Betty gave her. At Gimbels, however, time—and shoppers—were passing, so Richard let go of the Slinky. The astonished faces of the children and adults crowded around the ramp said it all. By the time Betty and her friend reached Gimbels, all 400 Slinkys had been sold—in only 90 minutes!

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

With the end of the war that same year, troops returned home and a baby boom soon followed. “Demand for the Slinky skyrocketed.” Production needed to speed up, so Richard devised a “machine that could coil eighty feet of steel wire into a Slinky in ten seconds.” The Slinky business became a family business with Betty filling orders and doing the accounting while Richard made and delivered Slinkys. Pretty soon they needed a factory to satisfy demand. That demand still exists today as kids all over the world love the Slinky.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-marvelous-thing-that-came-from-a-spring-spring-walks-spring-at-gimbels

Copyright Gilbert Ford, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

An extended Author’s Note picks up the story of the Slinky where the text leaves off, revealing other creative ways the Slinky has been used and the fact that when Richard went to Bolivia in 1960 to do missionary work, Betty took over the business, relocated the factory to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, and gave the toy a rebirth in popularity. More than 250 million Slinkys have been produced, and in 2001 Betty was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

Gilbert Ford’s Slinky-ography of the man and woman behind one of the world’s most beloved toys is a skip, jump, and bounce through the ingenious brainstorm that transposed a simple spring into a phenomenon. The down-to-earth details of how this invention came to be harken back to a simpler time but also reaffirm that even today there are dreamers sitting in homes across the world imagining the next big thing. Ford’s story is well paced, leading readers through the production process to experience cheerful surprise when the Slinkys sell out at Gimbels. Kids will appreciate the easy-going language that suits its subject perfectly and the emphasis on the teamwork of both Richard and Betty James that made the Slinky possible.

Ford’s illustrations are ingenious in themselves. Careful observation reveals that each page is not merely a drawing, but a 3D experience. As the front matter explains, the illustrations were drawn and colored then printed, assembled into dioramas that incorporate found objects and other popular toys of the period, such as dominoes, jacks, and pick-up sticks, and finally photographed. The effect drops readers into the middle of a 1940s home and department store, giving them a personal stake in the drama.

The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring is a fun book for would-be-inventors and kids interested in the history of objects they use and play with.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, 2016 | ISBN 978-1481450652

Discover a portfolio of work by Gilbert Ford for books, book jackets, advertising, and more on his website!

International Creativity Month Activity

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National Archives Coloring Book of Patents

 

The people at the National Archives of the United States in Washington DC chose some of their favorite patents from the past to share with you as a coloring book. As you have fun coloring these pages of ideas, let yours fly too!

Click here to get your printable National Archives Coloring Book of Patents

Picture Book Review

December 29 – Tick Tock Day

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About the Holiday

As the year winds down Tick Tock Day reminds us of the passage of time and encourages us to examine our life and find opportunities to accomplish the things we really want to. While the day only has 24 hours, a little creative scheduling, letting go of those tasks that aren’t so important, and even saying “no,” can help us achieve the things that matter.

Ticktock Banneker’s Clock

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

 

With winter approaching Benjamin Banneker has finished up his autumn chores and is looking forward to time to indulge his creative dreams. He finds his favorite spot under the chestnut tree—the place where during the summer he plays his violin and flute, “blending his soft music with the bird’s songs”—and pulls out a pocket watch he has borrowed from a gentleman. Benjamin is fascinated by the ticking and the movement of the small hands. He carefully opens the back of the watch and discovers “a world of wonderful whirls. There were gears of all shapes and sizes. Such a tiny maze!”

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

The miniature timepiece is mesmerizing, but Benjamin’s mind holds a challenge—a big challenge. He envisions a large clock, one that chimes to tell the time. Remembering his math skills, Benjamin mulls over the scale needed to turn “something small into something big.” As the snow falls, Benjamin goes to work. First, he dismantles the pocket watch and draws careful diagrams of the gears and workings. Then he begins transposing these into larger drawings.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

With the coming of spring and his drawings finished, Benjamin plans how he will build his clock. While the little pocket watch is made of metal, that material is much too expensive for a large version. As he ponders the problem under his favorite tree, Benjamin looks around him. Suddenly he knows! The answer is “right in front of him, even in his hands! The very instrument he played was made of wood!” There is a forest of trees on his farm, and this material is free.

During the summer between farm chores, Benjamin uses “every spare moment he had to find the perfect pieces of wood.” Once he has enough he begins to convert his drawings into carvings, whittling the gears and other pieces he will need. Soon, however, he becomes discouraged. The wood begins to split and come apart. Benjamin thinks about how his family cures tobacco leaves—drying them out until all the moisture evaporates. Perhaps, he thinks, he can do the same with wood to make it stronger. The process would take months, but Benjamin is patient.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

Winter has come around again, and the wood is finally ready. In his warm house Benjamin sets about carving again. During the day he carves near the sunny window, and at night he works by candlelight. At last he has all the parts he needs to build his clock. Gears, wheels, tiny pins, and the boards that will become the case are scattered across Benjamin’s work table. There is only one piece missing. A piece that cannot be made of wood—the bell!

Benjamin buys a bell from a metalsmith, and back home begins to build his clock. With his drawings to guide him, he fits the gears together and then sets the hands to “match up perfectly with the second, minute, and hour of each day. It took more than one try, but Benjamin had learned to be patient.” Using the sun to determine the correct time, Benjamin positions the hands and steps back. His clock works! “The little iron bell chimed every hour, on the dot, for the next forty years.” Benjamin becomes famous, and neighbors from near and far come “to see his amazing invention.”  

An Author’s Note expanding on Benjamin Banneker’s life and work follows the text.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

With lyrical language that glides as smoothly as a well-oiled timepiece, Shana Keller reveals the remarkable story of Benjamin Banneker, born free during the time of slavery, who possessed exceptional math and scientific skills and used them to help his friends and neighbors and to make real his vision of a striking clock. Keller’s detailed and descriptive storytelling animates this life story, allowing readers to take the journey with Banneker as he experiences excitement, setbacks, and ultimately success. Banneker, embodying determination, persistence, and creativity, is an excellent role model for kids with big dreams of their own.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, courtesy of flyingdogstudio.com

David C. Gardner’s lovely full-page and two-page-spread illustrations gloriously portray Benjamin Banneker’s farm and home as well as his dedicated commitment to building a striking clock despite—or perhaps spurred on by—the challenges he faced. Gardner’s detailed images set the biography firmly in its time period, letting children experience farm and home life in the 1750s. Banneker carries wooden buckets to feed the animals, tobacco leaves hang in a dry shed, a fire blazes in a large, open fireplace, and a candle flickers as Banneker whittles wheels and gears with his pocket knife. The realistic paintings that depict Banneker’s emotions as he imagines creating a large clock, overcomes obstacles, and studiously works on his drawings and carvings will inspire readers to attempt their own inventions—whatever they may be.

For any would-be inventors, history lovers, tinkerers, and science buffs, Ticktock Banneker’s Clock is a stirring biography that would make a wonderful addition to school and home libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1585369560

Learn more about Shana Keller and her work on her website!

Discover a portfolio of picture book art, fine art, animation, and videos by David C. Gardner on his website!

Tick Tock Day Activity

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Cuckoo Clock Coloring Page

 

The chirp of a cuckoo clock keeps you on time—or at least aware of the passing of time! Here’s a printable Cuckoo Clock Coloring Page for you to enjoy!

Picture Book Review