August 15 – It’s Back to School Month and Interview with Authors Ann Ingalls & Sue Lowell Gallion

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About the Holiday

It may seem like summer vacation just began, but it’s already time to start thinking about the new school year. The stores are stocked with clothes, supplies, and plenty of gear to make the new school year the best ever. But the “stuff” of going to school is just part of getting ready. Kids are looking forward—eagerly or maybe with a little trepidation—to meeting new friends, having new teachers, and exploring new subjects and ideas. Making the transition to a different grade easier and exciting is what National Back to School Month is all about.

I received a copy of Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway prize package. See details below.

Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak

Written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

It’s the first day of school and Tucker is up and at ‘em as soon as the bell rings, but “the bell scares Tip. He hides” in his little red igloo. As the kids enter the classroom, they immediately notice Tip and Tucker’s cage and come over to take a peek. Their teacher, Mr. Lopez, introduces adventurous Tucker and shy Tip. He even reveals a funny fact about Tucker: he snores!

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mr. Lopez asks Pim to read the five rules pertaining to their classroom hamsters. As he does, Tucker and Tip both listen along. “‘I like the treats rule,’ says Tucker” as he imagines all the apples, carrots, and seeds that await them. “‘I like the quiet rule,’ says Tip.” The last rule is to always make sure the cage door is closed by listening for the click. Mr. Lopez gives Pim a cardboard tube to add to the cage. Then it’s time for music class. As the kids line up, Mr. Lopez gives the hamsters a carrot and closes the door, but there is “no click.”

“‘Hasta luego, chicos,’ says Mr. Lopez” to Tip and Tucker. While everyone is gone, Tucker and Tip talk about school. Tip thinks it’s too noisy, but Tucker likes noise—and naps. He falls asleep on the carrot and begins to snore. Tip goes to the door of the cage. “Tip peeks out. The door opens. PLOP!” The cage is so high up now.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Tip calls for Tucker to help him. Just then Mr. Finch, comes in to change a lightbulb, and Tip runs out the door. Meanwhile, Tucker wakes up. He can’t find Tip. He “zips to the igloo. No Tip there. No Tip anywhere! ‘Where are you, Tip?’” he calls. Tip has zipped down the hall and into the supply closet. It’s quiet and dark, but there’s no Tucker.

Tucker is determined to find his friend. He leaps from the cage and runs down the hall and into a bathroom. One girl thinks he’s a rat, so “Tucker zips down the hall” until he bumps into Mr. Finch. Mr. Finch picks Tucker up and puts him in his shirt pocket. Tucker worries that he’ll never find Tip. In the closet, Tip has gotten hungry and tried chomping on the strings of the mop, but it crashes to the ground. “‘SQUEAK!’” says Tip. Tucker hears him. “‘SQUEAK!’” he answers. Mr. Finch also hears and opens the closet door. He lowers his hand down to Tip. “The hand smells like Tucker.” Tip climbs in and is plopped into Mr. Finch’s shirt pocket with Tucker.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Back in the classroom, Mr. Lopez and the kids are worried and searching for Tip and Tucker. Then “Mr. Finch peeks in.” The kids are happy to see Tip and Tucker. With their pets safely back in their cage, the class circles up on the rug. One child asks how they escaped. “‘Lo siento. I’m sorry,’” Mr. Lopez says and explains how he forgot to listen for the click and will be more careful next time. Tip and Tucker are happy to be back home with extra seeds to munch. In fact, Tip has decided that he “‘might like school…. This is a good home after all,’” he says.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2019, text copyright Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Tip and Tucker are back with their second adventure, following Tip and Tucker, Road Trip in which Mr. Lopez chose them from a pet store and brought them to their new home. As Mr. Lopez’s students are introduced to their classroom pets, new readers get to know this darling duo too. With repeated words and phrases, onomatopoeia, gentle suspense, and humor, Ingalls and Gallion weave a story that will captivate kids while boosting their confidence in their reading ability. When Mr. Lopez discovers that he left the cage door unlocked, he gathers his students and apologizes, demonstrating a good lesson in accepting responsibility and the idea that everyone makes mistakes. Through his unexpected adventure, Tip learns with pride that he has untapped bravery, providing another good example for kids who may be more hesitant or wary of new experiences.

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André Ceolin’s bright and welcoming illustrations invite kids to school, where Mr. Lopez’s diverse class is excited about their new pets and people watch out for each other—and their tiny charges. Ceolin’s pages are packed with action and detailed scenes that help emerging and new readers connect the text to what they see. Tip and Tucker are as cute as can be as they settle into their classroom home. During their separation they display emotions of happiness, wariness, trust, and finally joy in being reunited. 

A delightful entry in this series for early, developing, and newly independent readers, Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak will enchant fans, who will eagerly look forward to these friends’ next adventure. The book is a charming addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110083 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1534110090 (Paperback) 

Discover more about Ann Ingalls and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sue Lowell Gallion and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by André Ceolin and learn more about him and his work, visit his website.

Interview with Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion

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Today, I’m thrilled to be talking with Ann and Sue about their writing partnership, their inspirations for their Tip and Tucker series, and what it’s like living in the same city but two different states.

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Meet Ann Ingalls

 

How did you and Sue team up to write the Tip and Tucker series of early readers?

Lucky for me, I met Sue at a local writers’ group. We hit it off right away and realized that we have the same sort of sensibility about writing for children. We write to engage children, to entertain them, and to teach them. With this group of emergent readers for Sleeping Bear, our aim is to teach them to read.

What inspired you to adopt hamsters as the main characters for the series? Are any real incidents from your years as a teacher reflected in the stories?

I had many, many classroom pets—mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, canaries, finches, turtles, fire-bellied toads, loads of fish, salamanders, and the list goes on. My students especially loved having hamsters. Salamanders were the stinkiest. We kept them in a small wading pool and returned them to the ponds they came from after a period of time, usually about 2 weeks.

Your list of countries visited is quite extensive—Australia, the West Indies, Germany, China, Hungary, Peru, Belgium, Guatemala, and so many more! How did you become such a globe-trotter? Can you share any anecdote from one or more of your trips?

I have always loved to travel, beginning with family trips to northern Michigan as a child and a trip to Mexico as an exchange student in college.

One time during a visit to Denmark, I visited an elementary school. I loved seeing that each classroom had its own fruit bowl, and that children go outside for recess even when it rains because they need the exercise and their clothes will dry in the classroom anyway. That same school was attached to a senior care center and the children and adults ate together, read together, and went to recess together.

I’m intrigued by some of your nonfiction titles—Fairy Floss about the invention of cotton candy, J is for Jazz, an alphabetic romp about jazz, and Trails to California about some of the state’s founders. What sparked your interest in these topics, and what do you like best about writing nonfiction?

I am a research nutcase. So often my own curiosity about a particular topic and the reading I do to satisfy that leads me to write a book. That is so very true about the jazz books, a book on piranhas, and even the 8 books on manners I wrote. I now know that if you are walking down the street during a rainstorm with an umbrella and someone else is coming from the opposite direction with an umbrella, the person with the taller or higher umbrella holds it above the lower umbrella as the people pass one another. Who would have thunk it?

The variety of your school presentations sound fantastic! What’s your favorite part of school or other events? Do you have an anecdote from an event that you’d like to share?

I know what I like best is reading to the children in the group. I like watching their expressions and answering any questions they might have. I also love to play silent Hokey Pokey with them. I came up with the idea for that during a time my students had to wait in long lines to have their pictures taken. It’s still a pretty big hit.

One time during a presentation at a local school, a child in the front row was so attentive. I thought he was really interested in my presentation. When it came time for questions, he asked me if I knew that I had hair in my nose. I thought his teacher would die of embarrassment. We all had a good laugh about it, and I told him that he had hair in his nose, too.

What’s up next for you?

I have a few new manuscripts that are out on submission. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed but have no expectations. If they sell, I’ll celebrate. If they don’t, I’ll keep on writing and revising.

You can connect with Ann Ingalls on

Her website | Twitter

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Meet Sue Lowell Gallion

 

It must have been fun collaborating with a friend on this series. What was your process for working together with Ann and crafting the story? Where did Tip and Tucker’s adorable names come from?

Ann and I became critique partners and friends a long time ago. One day, having coffee at a local bagel shop, we started brainstorming characters and story ideas to try writing something together. Einstein Bros. Bagels became our Tip and Tucker headquarters. We do get some funny looks from other customers!

We came up with the personalities of the characters first. Tip’s name emerged early on as we pictured a hamster hiding with just the tip of its tail showing. Ann is very fond of my beloved black lab mix, Tucker, and she suggested that we name our adventurous hamster after my curious pup. I’m not sure how the real Tucker feels about that.

As far as process, we work on a draft together, then head home and start emailing revisions back and forth. I tend to be a procrastinator and Ann’s energetic and prolific. She speeds me up and I slow her down.  All I can say is that it works, thanks to Barb McNally, our wonderful editor at Sleeping Bear Press, and the team there. André Ceolin, who illustrates the series, is the one who brings these two characters and their stories to life. We are enchanted with his work and feel so lucky to be part of this series.

Besides telling a great story, early reader books encourage kids to fall in love with reading while also introducing new vocabulary and sentence structure and giving them a sense of pride and accomplishment at the end. That’s a lot to think about while writing! Where do you start and how do you draft the structure needed?

It’s a challenging form. It’s difficult to work with such a limited vocabulary, plus just a few high-interest words in each book. We also want kids to relate to the animal and human characters and their feelings and experiences. At the same time, we want a lively story arc with humor and great illustration possibilities. The art helps the students in decoding the words. We draft the story first, and then go back and edit, edit, edit. Ann’s deep education background is a huge resource for me. I’ve learned a lot working on these.

Can you talk a little about the Lead to Read program that you’re involved in? What kind of mentoring do you do with students? What kinds of changes and successes do you see in the kids that you mentor?

I’m such a fan of this program. Lead to Read KC organizes community volunteers to read for 30 minutes one-on-one with kids in first, second, and third grade classrooms every week. The goal is to improve third-grade literacy.

I go to my school on Tuesdays at lunchtime along with other volunteers. You work with the same child all year, so you get the opportunity to get to know that student. I love bringing picture books and early readers that might interest them or make them laugh. The student picks out some books from the classroom or from my book bag, and the fun begins.

It’s an absolute thrill to see a student who is struggling with reading experience success. Kudos to all the teachers and librarians who do this critical work every day!

I’d love to see the Lead to Read model replicated all over. There are more than 1,100 volunteers reading every week in Kansas City now. Check it out at leadtoreadkc.org.

You seem to have been born into the writing and publishing business! Can you talk a little about your family’s business, a favorite memory from your childhood, and how it influenced your becoming a writer?

My family had a commercial printing business, so I grew up playing at the plant on Saturday mornings with my sister. We loved to roam around the skids of paper and create things with scraps and rubber cement. We went to work in the bindery and as proofreaders there in the summers when we were teenagers. My sister ended up a writer, too.

Readers know you for your adorable and critically acclaimed Pug Meets Pig and Pug and Pig: Trick or Treat, illustrated by Joyce Wan. Can you share where the idea for this cuddly cute pair came from and the inspiration behind the characters? Can readers look forward to more from Pug and Pig?

Thank you! Joyce Wan is a fabulous book partner along with the whole Beach Lane Books team. The idea for Pug and Pig came from a story a friend told me in a water aerobics class about a family with a pet pug that adopted a pig. I loved the way the words “pug” and “pig” sounded together, and the illustration potential of two round, curly-tailed creatures. I can’t share any details yet, but yes, there’s more to come from Pug and Pig!

What’s up next for you?

Ann and I are at work on book 3 of the Tip and Tucker series, which will come out in 2020. I’ve got several projects in the works that haven’t been announced yet that will come out in the next few years. And I’m looking forward to some solid writing time in the months ahead, as well as lots of school visits in the upcoming year.

And one last question for the two of you!

Ann and Sue share a pretty cool fact! They both live in Kansas City, but the city is divided between Missouri and Kansas. Ann lives on the Missouri side and Sue lives on the Kansas side. In a bit of friendly rivalry, can you each tell me your favorite place in Kansas City and your favorite thing about your state?

ANN: Maybe my favorite place in Kansas City is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I have been there so many times with so many different people. I loved taking my children there when they were small and everything and every space looked large and amazing. They still love to go there. We actually went there to study how to make my son, Kevin’s, Halloween costume as a knight.

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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

SUE: State Line Road actually is just a few blocks from my house. One of my favorite things about Kansas City on both sides of the state line is all of our parks and fountains. Visitors often are surprised that there are so many trees and gardens. We do have hills also!

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Kansas City, Kansas Children’s Fountain

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Carl J Dicapo Fountain in Kansas City, Kansas.

ANN AND SUE: For our friendly rivalry, anyone from Kansas City has a favorite barbecue place. Ann loves Q39 on the Missouri side. My favorite is Brobeck’s on the Kansas side!

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Thanks, Ann and Sue for this fun chat! You’ve definitely made me want to visit Kansas City! I wish you both all the best with all of your books and your upcoming projects!

You can connect with Sue Lowell Gallion on

Her website | Goodreads | Pinterest | Twitter

Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak Giveaway

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

  • One (1) copy of Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak, written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Gallion | illustrated by André Ceolin 
  • One Hamster Plush

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Sleeping Bear Press 
  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your child’s classroom pet or your favorite animal for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry)

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

A winner will be chosen on August 22.

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

Back to School Month Activity

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Fill Your Backpack Game

 

Make sure you’re ready for school with this fun, printable board game! As players take turns rolling the die to acquire supplies for their backpack, they get closer and closer to being prepared. The first player to fill their backpack with all six supplies is the winner!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print one game board and set of playing pieces for each player
  2. Print one playing die
  3. Players can color their backpack game board if they’d like
  4. Cut out individual game cards and give a set to each player
  5. Cut out and assemble playing die
  6. Players roll the die to place items on their backpack
  7. The first player to get all six items is the winner

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You can find Tip and Tucker, Hide and Squeak at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 9 – Cow Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

While today’s holiday started out as a clever ruse to entice people to eat more chicken, it also gives us an opportunity to think about the world’s bovine citizens. These gentle animals deserve healthy and humane treatment as they provide our diets with needed protein as well as delicious treats. Cows appear in untold numbers of stories and songs for little ones, making them a favorite of young readers everywhere!

Cows Can’t Jump

Written by Dave Reisman | Illustrated by Jason A. Maas

 

In this early literacy/beginning reader picture book, Dave Reisman introduces kids to nineteen animals and the way they can move. The repeated refrain, which begins with “cows can’t jump, but they can swim,” leads to young readers meeting a gorilla who can’t swim but who can swing, a galloping giraffe, a slithering snake, a stampeding bull, and many other favorite animals reacting to the previous interloper in humorous ways. Reisman presents active, evocative, and high-interest verbs that will capture the attention and imagination of young readers and help with their vocabulary development.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

The short, simple sentences will have even the youngest child joining in on the repeated phrases, and with repeat readings, they’ll begin to remember how each animal moves and be able to happily read along. The underlying theme of the story—that each animal is unique—will resonate with adult readers and their little ones.

Jason A. Maas’s bright, textured paintings put the focus on each animal and their movements. Page turns are cleverly designed so that the animals meet under startling and funny circumstances. The cartoon-inspired drawings will delight kids and elicit plenty of giggles as each animal responds to the newcomer with wide eyes and quick getaways, until…the lizard leaps onto a branch that is already occupied and discovers that “sloths can’t leap…but they can sleep.”

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Cows Can’t Jump will be released in a bilingual English/Spanish edition: Las vacas no pueden saltar in August, 2019.

Ages 2 – 7

Jumping Cow Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0980143300 (Paperback) | ISBN 978-0998001005 (Stubby and Stout Board Book)

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Cows Can’t Quack

Written by Dave Reisman | Illustrated by Jason A. Maas

 

Following the same format as Cows Can’t Jump, Dave Reisman brings together a gaggle of animals all making their own unique sounds. Here twenty-two animals from the farm, forest, ocean, and air show off their vocal stylings with funny results. As the moose grunts, the donkey hee-haws, the hippo brays, the goose cackles, and the day ends with a puppy snoring, little ones will be eager to learn more about these creatures.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Just as in Cows Can’t Jump, Reisman enchants with verbs that invite kids to participate in the reading with their own interpretations of the sounds. Children will also enthusiastically read along on the repeated phrasing. While each animal speaks in its own language, children are reminded of the diversity and richness of the world’s languages.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Once again Jason A. Maas’s animals, with their rakish charm and humorous responses that cause feathers to fly, a baby penguin to hatch, and a donkey to kick up his heels, will have little ones laughing along with their language learning.

Ages 3 – 7

Jumping Cow Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0980143348 | ISBN 978-0998001012 (Stubby and Stout Board Book)

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Cows Can’t Spin Silk

Written by Dave Reisman | Illustrated by Jason A. Maas

 

Little ones will be happy to see their cow friend from Cows Can’t Jump and Cows Can’t Quack in this third book in the Cows Can’t… Series. This time, she looks on astonished as a silk worm drops down into the barn doorway on a long, silky thread. Cows may not be able to “spin silk…but they can make milk.” The woodpeckers in the nearby tree look astonished at this talent, but in the next moment they return to what they do best: “hammer holes.” The surprised alligator can’t do that, but he “can dig gator-ponds.”

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

The alligator in their midst sends the rest of the animals scurrying—from the spider that weaves a web to the chickens that “lay eggs” to the ants that “build bridges.” Joining the animals are some other talented insects—caterpillars that “construct cocoons, wasps that “craft paper,” and bees that create honey”—and a few sea creatures like squid that “can squirt ink,” oysters that “can produce pearls,” and octopuses that “can erect barricades.”

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

The inclusion of some more unusual animals and their impressive talents in Cows Can’t Spin Silk offer adults and kids an opportunity to discover more about the animal kingdom and what each animal can do. In addition to presenting new vocabulary, and a read aloud treat, the book can encourage families to get outdoors to see if they can find evidence of any of the animal creations mentioned in the story.

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Copyright 2019, Jumping Cow Press.

Readers familiar with Jason A. Maas’s illustrations for the series will be delighted with the gentle suspense that carries the story as the alligators, skunks, chipmunks, beavers, bears and fourteen other animals use their smarts to create homes, defend themselves, make tools, and display other skills.

Connecting this story to the idea that each person has their own special talent or talents extends the educational language and literacy learning of the book to personal discussions and explorations adults can share with their kids.

Ages 3 – 7

Jumping Cow Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0998001029 (Paperback ) | ISBN 978-0998001036 (Stubby and Stout Board Book)

Recommended by early literacy organizations, such as the Parent-Child Home program, the Cows Can’t Series offers little learners and beginning readers familiar, reassuring, and fun encouragement as they begin learning the structures of language and developing confidence in their own skills. The books would be welcome additions to home, classroom, and public library collections for read aloud story times or for beginning readers.

To learn more about Jumping Cow Press and find  printable activities, visit their website. And watch for the newest title in the Cows Can’t… Series: Cows Can’t Blow Bubbles, coming in August 2019.

Discover more about Jason A. Maas, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Cow Appreciation Day Activity

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Cows Can’t Jump Word Search

 

Each animal in Cows Can’t Jump has a special way of moving. Can you find seventeen words that describe how different animals get around in this printable puzzle?

Cows Can’t Jump Word Search Puzzle | Cows Can’t Jump Word Search Solution

You can find the Cows Can’t Series at these booksellers

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Cows Can’t Spin Silk

Amazon 

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Cows Can’t Quack

Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

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Cows Can’t Jump

Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Picture Book Review

 

June 28 – It’s Great Outdoor Month

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About the Holiday

The warmer weather begs to be enjoyed—whether you’re playing, working, or just lounging around. Established in 1998 as Great Outdoors Week, the holiday expanded to a month-long celebration in 2004. There’s so much to see and do outside as the wonders of nature are always changing and challenging you in new and surprising ways.

The Nocturnals Series

The Nocturnals series of books—early readers and middle grade novels—brings together a trio of friends for adventures and learning. The three main characters are Dawn, a gentle, kind, and wise red fox; Tobin, a shy, hesitant, and loyal pangolin; and Bismark, a chatty, romantic, impetuous sugar glider. Their distinct personalities serve them well as they meet up with various other woodland animals in mysterious, dangerous, and surprising ways. No matter what challenges they face, however, Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin support each other as best friends should.

Whether children meet the Nocturnal Brigade as an beginning reader or as an established reader, they will love following the friends’ adventures and be charmed by their close relationship, even when squabbles arise. As with any favorite series, kids will look forward to catching up with what this unique group of nighttime animals are doing next.

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 2 Books

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The Moonlight Meeting

Written by Tracey Hecht and Rumur Dowling | Illustrated by Waymond Singleton

 

As the twinkling stars began to appear in the sky, a sweet pangolin by the name of Tobin woke up. “‘Oh my, Tobin said. ‘I smell something delicious!’” He yawned and stretched and went in search of that wonderful smell. It didn’t take long before he bumped into a pomelo—the perfect thing for breakfast. But before he could dig in, he heard a screech from the tree above. “‘Thief!’ it cried.” Tobin was so frightened that he “let out a stinky poof!”

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The small creature in the tree covered his nose. “‘That stench! That odor! That tang!’” he exclaimed. “‘This calls for the flaps!’” In a moment the animal leaped out of the tree and glided to the ground. Although a little scared, Tobin was curious. He wondered if perhaps this creature could become a friend. But it didn’t seem he was interested in anything but the pomelo. As he grabbed the green fruit, he introduced himself. “‘I am Bismark! Sugar glider spec-tac-u-lar! And the owner of this pomelo.’” But before Tobin could reply, a red fox emerged from the bushes.

She had smelled Tobin’s spray of fear and wondered if help was needed. The fox had “kind eyes” and “a warm smile.” Bismark spoke up and told the fox about Tobin and the pomelo and the thievery. The fox asked if all of this was true. “Tobin was shy, but the fox made him feel brave.” He answered that he was not stealing the fruit, but Bismark said he had seen it first.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The fox thought over the problem and…sliced the pomelo into three pieces. She gave a piece to Tobin and Bismark and kept one for herself. “‘Mmm,’ Tobin said. The pomelo was sweet! ‘Burp,’ Bismark belched. The pomelo was juicy. ‘Perfect,’ the fox declared. The pomelo was delicious!” It seemed the little sugar glider liked more than just the pomelo. After smoothing his hair and giving a deep bow, he introduced Tobin and himself. The fox smiled and told them her name was Dawn. Tobin was smitten.

Suddenly, they all realized that each of them slept during the day and were awake at night. Bismark exclaimed that they would be “a moonlight trio… a nocturnal brigade”… a…. Dawn broke in. “‘We will be friends,’” she said. Tobin and Bismark were happy. They were friends.

Facts about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tracey Hecht introduces her unique band of friends in this story that brings a diverse group of animals together over the disputed ownership of a pomelo. The strong personalities of the characters lend humor and intrigue to their quarrel over this favorite fruit, and as Dawn raises her sharp claws to decide the issue, readers may join Tobin and Bismark in a moment of wide-eyed suspense. The fox’s solution, however, is one of inclusion and sharing and sets the tone for the rest of the series. Hecht’s short sentences are composed of active, high-interest vocabulary, and the story moves along at a quick pace, carried by realistic and funny dialogue.

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Kids will love meeting Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin through the illustrations on each page that convey their personalities and the storyline clearly. Tiny Bismark, with his big eyes, dramatic expressions, and energetic attitude is always ready for action. Tobin, the scaly pangolin with long claws, an anxious demeanor, and an inherent sweetness, is devoted and trustworthy. And Dawn, with her sleek red coat and gentle eyes, is caring, intelligent, and the glue that holds the three together. As readers get to know each character better, they’ll look forward to each one’s individual reactions to whatever adventure they encounter.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1944020149

You can find The Moonlight Meeting at these booksellers

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-slithery-shakedown-cover

The Slithery Shakedown

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

Although nighttime had come, Bismark was still waiting for his friends to arrive. “Bismark tapped his foot. Bismark put his fists to his hips. Bismark scrunched his tiny pink nose. This sugar glider was peeved!” Still, he was more relieved than angry when Tobin, the pangolin, came through the reeds. It wasn’t long before Dawn, a red fox, joined them. Bismark jumped on top of a rock and declared that he was going to take them on an adventure. After all he was “‘Bismark the Brave.’” Tobin and Dawn giggled at their tiny friend.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-slithery-shakedown-late

Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Before they could get started, though, Dawn noticed something lurking in the bushes. It was a snake—a snake who seemed to have designs on eating Bismark for breakfast. “The snake slithered closer. ‘Sss-scrumptious!’ the snake said. ‘A sss-scrawny, little sss-sugar glider.’” Bismark ran and hit behind Dawn’s legs. Dawn stepped forward and confronted the snake. “Tobin summoned his courage” and joined her.

The snake prepared to attack. “Dawn snarled…. Tobin raised a sharp, taloned claw.” The snake took a look at the stalwart friends and decided it was time to “‘sss-skedaddle.’” Biskmark was trembling as he watched the snake slither away, but he would not admit that he had been scared. Dawn and Tobin reassured him that “‘You can be scared and brave, too.’” In fact, they told him, they had also been afraid of the snake.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-slithery-shakedown-peeved

Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Just then something blue and shiny in the bushes caught Bismark’s eye. He went closer. The thing was long and thin, but it did not slither. “‘By the moon!’ Bismark said. ‘Look here! That snake slithered right out of its skin.’” He picked it up and tore it into three pieces. He gave a piece to Tobin and Dawn. They each tied the piece of snakeskin around their neck like a cape and admired themselves. Dawn thought it was the perfect symbol for their brigade. “‘The Nocturnal Brigade!’ Tobin cheered, and Bismark added, “‘Bold in adventure. And best of all, brave!’”

Information about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

When the three are threatened by a snake, will they be brave enough to send him packing? Even though Bismark considers himself the bravest of the brave, he turns out to be the one most frightened by the slithery bully. With his new friends behind him, Biskmark learns that fear and bravery often go hand in hand. Here, the three solidify their friendship with a physical symbol of the brigade, and their blue snakeskin capes become a regular feature of the series. Using lots of alliteration, dialogue and some sss-snakey onomatopoeia, Tracey Hecht weaves a fast-moving story that shows that sticking together and standing up for others is the best way to defeat a bully.

Josie Yee further develops her characters in this story that sees the usually uber-confident Bismark experience fear that he can’t hide. Tobin demonstrates another level of self-assurance by swallowing his usual shyness to confront the snake, and Dawn, true to her nature, serves as strong example to her friends and readers.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020170

You can find The Slithery Shakedown at these booksellers

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-peculiar-possum-cover

The Peculiar Possum

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

It was a bright, beautiful night when Dawn, a fox; Bismark, a sugar glider, and Tobin, a pangolin met under the pomelo tree. Bismark was dismayed because while the tree was usually full of fruit, tonight he could only find one. Just then they heard a strange “cluck cluck clatter! Chit chit chatter!” Bismark was sure it was a prowler who’d come for his pomelos. “Suddenly, the wind blew. The shadows shifted. A strange smell filled the air.”

Dawn looked up into the tree and saw “two shiny, brown eyes. And a paw, holding a pomelo! ‘Popping peepers!’ Bismark bellowed. ‘There is a prowler! And it has one of my precious pomelos!’” Quickly, the eyes disappeared and the pomelo came soaring out of the swaying branches. With a few more clucks and clatter, chits and chatter, the prowler plunked down in front of them. The three friends recognized the interloper as a possum. They gathered around it, but it lay motionless on the ground.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn prodded it with her paw. “‘Perhaps this possum is feeling a bit peaky,’” she said. But the possum opened one eye and told them it was just playing possum. The possum got up and introduced herself as Penny. “‘Pleased to meet you,’” she said, sticking out her paw. But Bismark was not pleased to meet her. He did not like that she “prowls and pillages.” As evidence he pointed to the wayward pomelo.

Dawn gazed at her friend and said, “‘Bismark, these pomelos belong to everyone.’” Well, what about the way Penny chits and chatters? Bismark asked. He thought her way of speaking was strange. Dawn reminded him that he too had a unique way of speaking. Then Bismark pointed out the unusual hairless patch on Penny’s tail. “Dawn smiled gently. She looked down at Bismark’s bald spot. ‘Bismark, Penny is not the only one with a hairless patch.’” Still, Bismark wasn’t keen on Penny’s smell or the way she played possum.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-peculiar-possum-bismark

Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tobin hurried to Penny’s side to defend her. “‘Penny, I spray a terrible odor when I get scared,’” he reassured her, reaching for her paws. Dawn told Bismark that no one is exactly like someone else. That everyone is unique. Then Penny told Bismark that she was proud of who she is. Bismark looked at Penny, and even though it was hard to admit he’d been wrong, he apologized to her and proclaimed, “‘You are your own possum. And that makes you perfect.’” Then Bismark split the pomelo into four sections and they all had a pomelo picnic.

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, brushtail possums, and pomelos follow the text. Back matter also includes a Language Glossary showing forms of five words in the story as well as the translations of these words into Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, and Arabic.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-peculiar-possum-tobin

Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

When Bismark encounters Penny, a possum and an animal he’s never seen before, his adverse reaction to her disappoints Dawn and Tobin, who show him the errors in his thinking. Through her story, Tracey Hecht demonstrates that everyone has more similarities than differences and that what makes one person distinctive should be celebrated. Along the way, readers learn how to welcome a new friend.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020194

You can find The Peculiar Possum at these booksellers

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

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 3 Book

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The Chestnut Challenge

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

After sundown, while other animals slept, Dawn, a red fox; Bismark, a sugar glider; and Tobin, a pangolin “were playing a game of chestnut checkers.” Bismark thought Tobin was taking too long to move his chestnut. He snapped his fingers, tapped his foot, and finally said, “‘Hurry up!’” But Dawn chided Bismark and said Tobin should take the time he needed. At last Tobin moved his piece. Bismark was delighted. Tobin, it seemed, had set him up to win. Bismark moved one of his chestnuts. Now it was Tobin’s turn to be delighted. “Tobin jumped a chestnut across the board—and captured all of Bismark’s chestnuts.” Bismark was crushed. Tobin chuckled and said that it was only a game.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Suddenly, a voice called out and Chandler, a chinchilla, popped out from a nearby bush. He said that he was “‘the real chestnut champion.’” Bismark warned his friends against playing chestnuts with Chandler. He seemed to boastful to the little sugar glider, but Dawn wanted to give him a chance. Chandler chose Tobin to play first. Tobin didn’t like playing competitively; he just liked to have fun.

Bismark was all for Tobin taking up Chandler’s challenge, while Dawn said it was up to him to play or not. Chandler wanted an answer. Tobin decided to play—but just for fun. “Chandler and Tobin started to play. Chandler’s brow wrinkled. Tobin’s jaw tightened. No one seemed to be having fun.” Just then, Chandler shouted and pointed to the bushes. Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn all turned to look. “That’s when Chandler reached forward—and moved one of Tobin’s chestnuts!” When the three friends turned back, Chandler took his turn and Tobin’s chestnut that he had moved.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-chestnut-challenge-bismark

Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn thought something looked suspicious. Bismark begged Tobin to win against the “cheeky challenger.” Tobin was nervous. Suddenly, Chandler sneezed right in their faces. While their eyes were closed, he moved two chestnuts. He laughed when he saw that no one had seen him. Chandler only grew bolder. When Tobin closed his eyes for a moment, the chinchilla stole one of his pieces. This time Bismark caught him. He called on Dawn and Tobin, but Chandler denied it. Dawn, however, had also seen him steal the piece. She looked directly into his eyes and asked if he had stolen Tobin’s chestnut.

Now it was Chandler’s turn to be nervous. His cheeks reddened, his teeth chattered, “and then from Chandler’s paw, out dropped the chestnut.” With tears in his eyes, he admitted that he was a cheater. Dawn told him that champions don’t use tricks, and Tobin told him no one wins all the time and practice helps. Then they offered Chandler a second chance. So with Tobin cheering him along and Bismark keeping an eye on the board, “the four friends settled into a cheerful game of chestnut checkers.”

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and chestnuts follow the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-chestnut-challenge-game

Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

As the three friends meet a chinchilla with competitive streak, Tracey Hecht shows readers that cheating to win deprives all participants—even the champion—of the fun and pleasure of playing a game. In today’s super-charged world of competition at all levels, Hecht’s reminder that good sportsmanship wins out is welcome, and Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn, with their various personalities and generous offer to give him Chandler a second chance, make good companions as developing readers increase their skills while learning to play fair and for fun.

Josie Yee’s nighttime illustrations, rendered in dark blues, plums, and deep greens, take kids to the heart of a heated chestnut checkers match where they watch as Chandler concocts false alarms to cheat his way to victory. When Chandler is caught red-handed, readers see the positive effect his confession and the brigade’s offer of another chance have on him.

Ages 6 – 8 

Fabled Films Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1944020231

You can find The Chestnut Challenge at these booksellers

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

You can learn more about The Nocturnals series; watch videos of games, face painting, and other activities; find educational language arts and science guides; download activity kits; and even join the Brigade by visiting The Nocturnals website.

You can find information about the Grow & Read program, Educator’s Guides, and The Nocturnals Book Club Kits with printable coloring pages and masks at Grow & Read.

Picture Book Review

May 23 – It’s Mystery Month

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About the Holiday

The month of May is dedicated to mysteries! Established ten years ago by Booklist, part of the American Library Association, Mystery Month highlights all things mysterious and offers webinars, articles, awards, recommendations and more! Mysteries, with their unusual situations, puzzling clues, suspect suspects, and plenty of unexplained phenomena, are great for getting kids—even reluctant readers—to fall in love with books. With so many classic and new mysteries to investigate, this month’s celebration may just last all summer! And if you like your mysteries funny, you’ll love today’s book!

Betty’s Burgled Bakery: An Alliterative Adventure

By Travis Nichols

 

“Ahoy!” Antoine hails the caller to the control center when the red alert button lights up. He listens carefully as Betty the Panda describes the crime. “A bread bandit burgled by bakery before breakfast!” It seemed her “counters and cupboards were completely cleared of carrot cake, cornbread, and crackers. This is a considerable crummy crime,” she sums up with aptly punny indignation.

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Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Antoine is immediately on the case, calling in his detectives from their various pursuits to “dutifully deal with [the] distressing dilemma.” When they arrive at Betty’s Bakery, she shows them the empty shelves and is assured that they will “find the fully fed, fiendish foe.” The detectives fan out across the store and are surprised that anyone could have broken in without tripping the powerful security system.

Josie believes the “key to catching this kitchen crook” is in examining what they left behind—namely the “kale crumpets” and a cash register full of money. The gumshoes have been so hard at work trying to crack the case that Quentin has gone to the market next door and brought back snacks to sustain them. Everyone digs in, except Betty who’s “in need of nary a nibble.” When Morgan the chicken is finished with his snack, he inquires whether perhaps Betty didn’t hear something since she lives right above the bakery. But Betty, it seems, is a deep sleeper and heard nothing.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-betty's-burgled-bakery-Gumshoe-Zoo-control-board

Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Antoine looks around and has a quick question for Quentin about how long he thinks it would take to “acquire this quantity of baked goods.” Josie notices that the racks are so high that “no runt could ransack this room.” Meanwhile, Steve the monkey has discovered a clue. He thinks they could track the tooth marks in a tasty tart.

Steve is just about to match the distinctive notch in the half-eaten cookie to one sharp tooth in a snoozing Betty’s lower jaw when…swipe!…Betty grabs the cookie and gobbles it up. The detectives look on in astonishment. “Sleepwalking?” suggests Mike the bull. “Sleep eating,” corrects Josie. Just then Betty wakes up to see all the detectives staring at her, ready to solve the case.

Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

“You yearn for sleep, yes?” asks Steve. Sharon, the duck reminds Betty that she last ate yesterday, yet she wanted no snack, and Quentin reveals, “you ate your yield of yummies yourself.” Betty’s surprised… astounded… asleep! But the Gumshoe Zoo has a bit of celebrating to do since they “zipped this zany, zigzagging zinger with zeal! The press celebrates them too with an article in the 1000% True News. But what’s this on Page 2? A valuable painting has been stolen! It seems there’s a new case for the Gumshoe Zoo to solve!

Notes about alliteration and some very hungry animals follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-betty's-burgled-bakery-g-words

Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Travis Nichols’ witty alliterative alphabetic mystery will have little ones giggling at the zany language and big words that trip off the Gumshoe Zoo detectives’ tongues, while adults will laugh along and shake their head in appreciation of the clever construction of the story. Detective-story tropes, including the round-up of detectives caught in the middle of chores or play, a clueless member of the team, and the locked-room mystery, add to the fun. The panel illustrations set a quick pace for the investigation and clearly show the objects or ideas being alliteratively alluded to to boost younger readers’ understanding.

Betty’s Burgled Bakery will be a favorite of little linguists-in-the-making as well as for mystery lovers. It’s a book that will be asked for again and again. It makes a fun and unique addition to home bookshelves and a terrific English or writing lesson lead-in for classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1452131832

Learn more about Travis Nichols, his books, and his art on his website

Mystery Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bake-up-some-fun-word-search

Bake up Some Fun! Word Search Puzzle

 

Before this pan goes into the oven, can you find the eighteen baking-related words in this printable word search puzzle?

Bake up Some Fun! Word Search PuzzleBake up Some Fun! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-betty's-burgled-bakery-cover

Betty’s Burgled Bakery can be found at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 8 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

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About the Holiday

This week was established to raise awareness and promote literacy and the joys and benefits of reading. During the week, children’s authors and illustrators attend special events at schools, bookstores, libraries, and other community centers to share their books and get kids excited about reading. To learn more about how you can instill a lifelong love of learning, visit ChildrensAuthorsNetwork!

Where Are the Words?

Written by Jodi McKay | Illustrated by Denise Holmes

 

A little purple period feels like writing a story. He goes to visit Pencil and Paper and tells them his plan. They want to help, but Pencil says, “We are at a loss for words.” So the three set off to find some. Question Mark sees Period searching here and there and asks what he’s doing. When he finds out about Period’s plan, Question Mark has, well… lots of questions and joins the hunt.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-are-the-words-story

Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

Exclamation Point is excited to learn about the story writing idea and is eager to help. “What do you know about words?” Question Mark wonders. “Lots!” Exclamation Point answers as he heads off the page. “Let me get them for you!” While Exclamation Point is gone, Question Mark and Period meet up with Quotation Marks, who have sage advice for these two. “‘Seek and ye shall find,’” they offer. Just then Exclamation Point comes back with an armload of words: Once, Upon, A, and Time. Just as he’s about to pass them over, though, he trips and the words scatter in a jumble of letters. Undeterred, Exclamation Point hurries off to get more words.

Then Parentheses meanders by. Question Mark thinks maybe they know where words hang out. “I might,” one says, raising everyone’s hopes. But then she adds, “(although I doubt it).” Period is disappointed and even a little miffed when he sees Exclamation Point rushing around waving a net. But Exclamation Point’s just trying to corral some rather active words who would rather “run, jump, skip, hop” freely. Colon offers aid as long as there are peanuts, but Period thinks the whole thing is getting out of hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-are-the-words-disappointed

Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

In fact, Period decides to quit. But not so fast! Exclamation Point has something to show everyone. “Look!” Exclamation Point says, and they all gaze upward to find all the words they’ve said hanging in the air. “They were here all along,” Period says. Now Period has everything to write a story—except an idea. Exclamation Point suggests they all write the story together.

And so each one contributes a little bit to the story while Pencil writes it all down on Paper. Their own hunt for words and a little imagination inspires them to write a story that they all think is… “Wonderful?” offers Question Mark. “Incredible!” says Exclamation Point.  But Parentheses thinks something is missing. What is it? Pictures! But where will they find them? Everyone agrees when Period says, “Pencil could draw us the perfect pictures.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-are-the-words-write-together

Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

Jodi McKay’s adorable set of punctuation marks take kids on a whirlwind ride to find words that Period can use to write a story. As each punctuation mark joins the search, McKay gives them personalities and conversation to match their grammatical uses. Readers will giggle at the mishaps and setbacks that beset Period’s creative process but empathize with him as his dream of writing a story seems to slip away. When the friends discover that the words they’re searching for are right at hand, children will see that they too have the words they need to express themselves creatively and even in social situations.

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Punctuation has never been so cute! With their sweet smiles and expressive stick arms and legs, Denise Holmes’s colorful, ready-to-help punctuation marks, pencil, and paper are true friends as they take on Period’s wish and make it their own. Dialogue bubbles make it easy for kids to understand how the various punctuation marks are used in a sentence, and dynamic typography sprinkled throughout the pages show action and add to the humor. Readers will also have fun guessing why Colon is so fond of peanuts in a clever running joke.

A charming way for children to engage with writing and punctuation, Where Are the Words is a grammatical mystery that would make its mark on home, classroom, and library bookshelves for fun story times and composition lessons.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman and Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807587331

Discover more about Jodi McKay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Denise Holmes, her books, and her art, visit her website

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-out-the-punctuation-word-search

Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search

 

Can you find the twelve types of punctuation in this printable puzzle?

Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search | Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-are-the-words-cover

You can find Where Are the Words? at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

February 6 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events and commemorations in schools, churches, and community centers.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-flower

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-jump-rope

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-parents

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-typing

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-pulitzer

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her own sterling verses, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life of Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature—taking readers to the Chicago neighborhoods that informed and inspired Brooks’ ideas and the words and rhythms with which she defined them. Along an arc that takes Gwendolyn from a child contemplating the potential of a flower to becoming that blossom herself, Duncan pays tribute to those who recognized Gwen’s genius and helped her fulfill her talent. For readers who themselves may be poets, writers, or other types of artists, Duncan’s beautifully crafted phrases about the artistic process of revision are inspirational and welcome. Standing side-by-side with Duncan’s storytelling are four of Brooks’ poems—The Busy Clock, Forgive and Forget, Ambition, and the children of the poor—Sonnet #2. From cover to cover, Duncan’s book sings with Gwendolyn Brooks’ positivity, confidence, uniqueness, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

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From the portrait of Gwendolyn Brooks that graces the title page and throughout the book, Xia Gordon’s distinctive artwork creates a masterpiece of motion and stillness that mirrors Brooks’ penchant for watching and listening to the sounds and sights that filled her mind and ultimately her notebooks. Downy swoops of violets, pinks, browns, and grays provide backdrops to images of Gwendolyn as a young girl and an adult rendered in lines that show her as down to earth but soaring in her thoughts. Her intelligence and spark shine through on every page. Gwendolyn’s parents appear often, always watchful and supportive. Her friends, her husband, her son, and her readers also populate the pages, giving the book an embracing warmth.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a must for school, classroom, and public library collections, and for children who are discovering their talents and the parents who nurture them, the book would be an inspirational and invaluable addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454930884

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in this Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks written by Alice Faye Duncan | illustrated by Xia Gordon

It takes just these two steps to enter:

A winner will be chosen on February 12.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

Black History Month Activity

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My Writing Journal

 

With this easy craft, kids can make a journal that will reflect their personality and inspire them to jot down ideas for poems or stories. 

Supplies

  • Two 9-inch by 6-inch pieces of foam or heavy paper
  • Plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper, as many pieces as you’d like
  • Twine or ribbon
  • Foam letters and objects, stickers, play jewels, or other decorations
  • Small scissor, paper hole puncher, or other instrument to make a hole through the foam and paper

Directions

  1. Fold the plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper in half
  2. Place the paper between the sheets of foam
  3. Make a hole through the foam covers and paper near the top and bottom for the twine to tie the journal together
  4. Slip the twine or ribbon through the holes and tie the journal together
  5. Decorate the cover
  6. Start writing!

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You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 18 – National Thesaurus Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate that most marvelous, stupendous, spectacular, cool, awe-inspiring, remarkableand—one from my early youth—groovy book, the thesaurus! Without its incredible cross-referenced lists of synonyms and antonyms, the world would be much more boring, dull, lackluster, monotonous place. Today, spice up your speech and writing with the perfect word to express all the nuances of life!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

Written by Jen Bryant | Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

 

While just a young child, Peter, along with his mother, his uncle, and his baby sister Annette, travel to their new home following the death of his father. It would not be his first move, and in the absence of long-time friends, Peter found companionship in books. When he was eight years old, he began writing his own book titled: Peter, Mark, Roget. His Book. But this was not a book of stories or even one story; it was a book of lists. The first list was divided in two. On one side were the Latin words he knew; on the other were their definitions.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Peter’s mother hovered and worried over her son, and he always told her he was “fine.” “Although, to be honest, Peter thought, fine wasn’t quite the right word.” As the years went by, Peter added lists to his book, prompting his mother to complain about his constant “scribbling.” But Peter looked at his lists differently. “Words, Peter learned, were powerful things. And when he put them in long, neat rows, he felt as if the world itself clicked into order.”

As a teenager Peter was shy, preferring to wander the London gardens alone, “making lists of all the plants and insects,” as in one of his favorite science books by Linnaeus. His “mother didn’t approve, and Peter told her not to worry—but “perhaps worry wasn’t quite the right word. What was the right word? Peter began a new list: Worry, fret, grieve, despair, intrude, badger, annoy, plague, provoke, harass. Enough to drive one mad. How wonderful it felt to find just the right word.”

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

An idea crept into Peter’s mind for a book where “all the ideas in the world could be found in one place,” and people could “find the best word, the one that really fit.” When Peter was 14 he entered medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Upon graduation at 19, his uncle told him that patients would be wary of a doctor so young. To gain a bit of experience and maturity, Peter became a tutor to two teenage boys.

At last Peter set up his medical practice in Manchester, England, where he took care of the factory workers, who “were poor and often sick.” At night Peter worked on his book of lists, and in 1805 he declared it finished. “It had about one hundred pages, one thousand ideas, and listed more than fifteen thousand words!” Eventually, Peter moved back to London where he joined science societies and attended lectures. “Before long, he was asked to give lectures too,” and once-shy Peter astonished his audiences with his knowledge of math, magnetism, and other scientific subjects. He even invented a portable chess set.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

When Peter was 45 years old, he married Mary Hobson, and they had two children, Kate and John. As he grew older, he visited fewer patients, but he continued to take walks and work on his lists. While some other writers had published their own word lists to help people “to speak and to write more politely,” Kate and John “thought their father’s book was much better. Peter agreed.” For three years he rewrote his book. “He made it larger, more organized, and easier to use. Long ago Peter had discovered the power of words. Now he believed that everyone should have this power—everyone should be able to find the right word whenever they needed it.”

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, text copyright Jen Bryant, 2014. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

“In 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus, a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek.” It was an instant best seller, and Peter became a popular author. But he never stopped making lists.

Following the text, a timeline of principal events in Peter’s life as well as world events allow readers to better understand the historical period in which Peter worked. Extensive Author’s and Illustrator’ Notes also expand on Roget’s biography, and resources for further reading and research are included.

Jen Bryant’s biography of a brilliant boy who grew up to give the world its most fascinating and comprehensive collection of word lists, is a spritely telling of Roget’s life and revelation into his personality, which was perfectly suited to his scientific and written accomplishments. Children will appreciate Roget’s reactions to his mother’s worries as well as the message in his well-rounded pursuit of science and writing. Through Bryant’s captivating and lyrical storytelling, children will be inspired by Roget’s journey from shy child to much-accomplished adult.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, 2014, courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Melissa Sweet beguiles readers with her mixed media, collage, and watercolor illustrations that are as jam-packed with ideas, images, portraits, and typography as Roget’s thesaurus is full of words. In the early pages describing Peter’s childhood, the pages contain simple framed pictures of Roget and his family. As he grows, however, his lists of words are transformed into vibrant artwork that jostles for position from corner to corner of the pages. In the midst of these, delicate watercolors portray Peter as he strolls through a garden, takes his young charges to Paris, treats his patients, lectures, marries, and finally publishes his thesaurus. A special mention must be made of the typography, which at times in the text runs down the center of the page in one- or two-word lines, mirroring Roget’s love of lists, and in the illustrations presents the myriad synonyms in a mixture of colorful block letters, fine print, and calligraphy.

For bibliophiles, wordsmiths, scientists, and history buffs, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is just the right book for home libraries.

Ages 6 – 18

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014 | ISBN 978-0802853851

Discover more about Jen Bryant and her books as well as news, contests, and events, visit her website!

Learn more about Melissa Sweet and her books and have fun with the downloadable activities you’ll find on her website!

Watch this The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus book trailer!

Thesaurus Day Activity

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Word Words Word Search Puzzle

 

When you’re looking for just the right word, where do you go? To the thesaurus of course! Can you find the 25 synonyms for “Word” in this printable Word Words Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

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You can find The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review