November 18 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit so much from close relationships to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members. This month and next, as family gathers together for special holiday events, it’s fun for adults to share family history and their own funny or moving stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family is important too. It helps them develop a sense of belonging, a good self-image, and confidence. Reading together is a perfect way to spend time together and get conversations started.

Thanks to Amazon Crossing Kids and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of My GrandMom for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

My GrandMom

By Gee-eun Lee | Translated by Sophie Bowman

Gee-eun’s Grandma sits on the floor, holding her sobbing granddaughter in her lap. Breakfast is on the table and toys are strewn about. A gray cat comes to see what’s going on. “‘Dear me, your mom will have to take a boat to work to get across all these tears,'” she says. Grandma, who Gee-eun calls Halmoni in Korean, distracts her by letting her help make kalguksu. She gives Gee-eun a bit of the noodle dough, and while Halmoni rolls out the dough and slices the noodles, Gee-eun fashions little figures of her, her mom, dad, grandma, and their cat, Mari. When it comes time to make the kalguksu, Gee-eun’s dough family goes into the boiling pot along with the other ingredients. “‘…You tell them to hang on tight to the noodles so they stay afloat,'” Halmoni says.

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Gee-eun has been waiting and waiting for Family Sports Day to arrive, but when it does, her mom has to work and can’t go along as she had promised. Gee-eun was looking forward to doing the cheer dance, the tug-of-war, and the running race with her. Now who can she go with? Halmoni tells her granddaughter that she will go. She then relates tales from her own childhood, when she was so strong at tug-of-war that she “could pull all the other kids over with only one arm,” she was such a fast racer that they called her “Speedy Horse,” and was such a good dancer that it “goes without saying.” Then she shows Gee-eun some of her moves.

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

At Family Sports Day, Gee-eun feels confident in her and her grandma’s chances. But things don’t pan out exactly as she’d hoped, and Halmoni even trips and falls during the race.  Gee-eun is so disappointed that her tears flow freely. Walking home, Halmoni and Gee-eun get a curry bun—and then a second one that is their secret. “No matter how you may be feeling, curry buns are always delicious, especially when shared with Grandma,” Gee-eun says.

They then buy mackerel, bean sprouts, and eggs for dinner, while Gee-eun’s grandma assures her that her father would easily beat a mackerel in a swimming race, that she once bought a bean sprout as big as Gee-eun to season just for her mom, and that a hen always misses her eggs. “‘Halmoni,'” Gee-eun then asks, “‘when will Mom get home?'” The food is on the table when her parents get home, and she runs to the door to greet them so they can eat dinner together…because “nothing beats a mean made by Grandma.”

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Gee-eun Lee’s story is infused with those types of events in life, both inconsequential and significant, that are filled with emotional power that make them memorable. From Gee-eun’s meltdown at her mother’s leaving to her grandma’s quick thinking that leads to bonding over food and creativity to the bravado and disappointment of the Family Sports Day, Lee invites readers into the touching and humorous relationship between Gee-eun and her grandmother. Wily, proud, comforting, and understanding, Gee-eun’s grandmother is the heart of the family, bridging the generations with her wisdom and constant love. Lee’s storytelling draws readers in with her warm and familiar dialogue that ingeniously pivots back and forth in time, tying together moments in Gee-eun’s mother’s life, her grandmother’s life, and Gee-eun’s experiences. 

Gee-eun Lee’s soft colored pencil and paint illustrations are delightfully childlike, as if the character Gee-eun had drawn them. In that vein the expressive depictions of Gee-eun’s adult grandma fiercely besting a dozen children at tug of war, her smooth dance and nimble dance moves, and her and Gee-eun’s “set and ready” stance at the track while other mother/child pairs stretch, play, and tie laces are comical joy. The theme of bridging generations also appears cleverly in the image of Gee-eun’s dough family floating together in the soup and the portrait of Gee-eun brushing her doll’s hair while her grandmother brushes and braids Gee-eun’s, among others.

 Written with a unique voice that echoes universal truths about family relationships, My GrandMom is a humorous, poignant, and heartening read aloud that will quickly become a favorite for parents, grandparents, other caregivers, and children to share. The book is highly recommended for home and classroom libraries and a must for school and public library collections.  

Ages 3 – 7

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662508257

About the Author

Gee-eun Lee is an award-winning Korean author/illustrator. She recently won the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Award in the comics category for her book, The Story of How the Korean Shaved Ice Dessert Was Born, and is also a top winner of the Korean Young Illustrator Award. She studied design and illustration in Korea and the UK. Her first picture book, Paper Dad, was made into a children’s musical in Korea. My GrandMom is the second book she both wrote and illustrated and is based on her own grandmother.  You can connect with Gee-eun on Instagram: @studio_geeeun

About the Translator

Sophie Bowman is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, studying Korean literature. She was awarded the ICF Literature Translation Fellowship at Ewha Womans University. In 2015, she won the Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Award grand prize for poetry with her translations of Jin Eun-young and co-translated Kim Bo-Young’s I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories. She recently translated the picture book Magic Candies by Heena Baek, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Follow her on Twitter @SophieOrbital.

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You can find My GrandMom at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 11 – It’s Children’s Book Week

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About the Holiday

Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy program in the United States. The history of the holiday goes back to 1913, when Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, toured the country to promote a higher standard in children’s books and proposed a Children’s Book Week. He then enlisted the help of Frederic G. Melcher, editor of Publishers Weekly, who believed that “a great nation is a reading nation,” and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library to help spread the word. This year’s theme is “How Do You Book?” The thought-provoking theme encourages readers to think about what they read, where they read, and how they read. To learn more about this literary holiday, visit Every Child a Reader to find out more about the week, how to join online, and lots of bookmarks and activities to download.

Building an Orchestra of Hope: How Favio Chávez Taught Children to Make Music from Trash

Written by Carmen Oliver | Illustrated by Luisa Uribe

 

As a child, Favio Chávez looked to music as an important touchstone. When he grew up, he was still involved with music, but his profession was as an environmental engineer. He was given a job in “Cateura, Paraguay—a small village built on a landfill—to try to help the families who lived and worked amid the hills of trash.” When trucks came and dumped load after load of trash, recyclers, called gancheros, filled bags of items they could resell. The air was choked with the stench of garbage, and anywhere the gancheros walked “they waded through filth.” It made Favio sad to think of people living this way.

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

As Favio supervised the gancheros, he “became friends with them and their children. He worried about what kind of lives they would live when they grew up. Besides his job at the landfill, “Favio conducted a youth orchestra in a nearby village.” One day, the people he worked with came to listen. They wondered if their kids could also learn to play instruments. Favio was excited by the prospect. 

He even brought his own guitars and violins for the children to play, but soon he had more kids in class than he had instruments. But there was another problem too. The instruments were valuable and could attract thieves to the homes of his students. He needed another idea, and while watching Nicolás “Colá” Gómez, a talented carpenter, picking through the trash, he thought of something that might work. 

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Colá began searching through the piles for anything that he could use to make instruments. He collected cans and pipes, crates and buttons, even X-ray film and eating utensils. As he looked at his materials, Colá envisioned how he could create a violin. Finally with violins and other instruments for each child, Favio began teaching them how to play and how to read music. They practiced and practiced until they were ready to perform for their parents.

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

At a local church, with the audience packed and excited, the notes of the children’s first song ‘”New York, New York’ floated out the windows and into the warm night air.” The adults were overcome with happiness. While their lives had been only about survival, they now “had hope in their hearts and dreams for a better tomorrow.”

Back matter includes further information about Favio Chávez and the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura from 1975, when Favio was born in Argentina to 2006, when he arrived to work at the Cateura landfill to today, when the Orchestra supports more children and families with building projects, food, computers for school, scholarships, and many more humanitarian efforts. A selected bibliography is also included.

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Image copyright Louisa Uribe, 2022, text copyright Carmen Oliver, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

From its earliest days the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura has inspired musicians, authors, movie makers, and listeners from around the world. In Building an Orchestra of Hope, Carmen Oliver tells the story through the lens of a hope fulfilled. As Favio Chávez begins his new job at the landfill educating the gancheros on how to work more efficiently, his initial thought is for the future of the children of the village. Oliver shows how Chávez not only supervised the workers but became their friend, honored to be included. While relating Chávez’s eagerness to share his love of music with the children, Oliver hints at what’s to come with lyrical descriptions of the sounds the glass, metal, and plastic makes as the gancheros rake through the piles of trash. She also includes pertinent facts that allow readers to understand the challenges the community faced and what a monumental undertaking the idea was.

While this story revolves around Favio Chávez, his idea could never have been brought to fruition without the talents of Nicolás “Colá” Gómez, who could envision the instruments and even hear their sound as he pored through the trash for materials. Oliver provides a satisfyingly detailed list of the types of items Colá repurposed and later reveals which items were used to create violins, drums, violas, flutes, saxophones, and trumpets, pages that are sure to pique young crafters’ interest. The emotional ending to this true story will swell the hearts of readers—those who already know about the orchestra and those being introduced to it for the first time.

Louisa Uribe’s soft-hued illustrations realistically depict the village of Cateura and the landfill it is built upon. They meet Favio Chávez and Nicolás Gómez and witness the idea of creating instruments from trash come to life. Uribe’s close up of a violin lets kids see how disparate items are used creatively to replicate each part of the instrument. As instruments are made, the number of children filling the courtyard grows until their hard work and practice is rewarded on a real stage, a microcosm of the growth and impact of one man’s caring and creativity.

Special Note: The inspirational back matter, worthy of its own picture book, will astound readers with just how far-reaching one idea when explored in collaboration with others can be. Themes of the vital importance and life-changing impact of the arts, persistence, determination, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges and odds, and the power of hope are what this true story is built on, and this factual back matter is sure to affect readers and get them thinking about how they can make a difference to a cause they believe in.

Powerful, accessible, and impactful, Building an Orchestra of Hope is a must for all home, school, and library collections, not only to tell this compelling, ongoing story but to remind them that their actions, too—from a single kind word or smile to large community effort—can change lives. 

Ages 4 – 9 

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0802854674

You can learn more about Luisa Uribe, her books, and her art on her website.

You can connect with Carmen Oliver on Twitter.

Children’s Book Week Activity

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Bookworm Bookmark

 

Are you a bookworm? If so, then this bookmark is for you! Just print, color, and cut along the dotted line. This little worm will happily save your page for you!

Bookworm Bookmark Template

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You can find Building an Orchestra of Hope at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 24 – National Food Day

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About the Holiday

Established by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Food Day is celebrating its fourth anniversary with 8,000 events across the country, including festivals, film screenings, and even massive apple crunches. Other events will take place on university campuses, in public school systems, in restaurants, at farmers markets, and online. National Food Day aims to shed light on issues of food justice, including access to healthy food and food production that is mindful of the environment, farm animals, farmers, and food workers.

The holiday also aims to raise awareness of nutrition issues and encourage people to “Eat Real,” which means “cutting back on sugary drinks, overly salted packaged foods, and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein.” Prominent food activists help people discover where they can find food that is healthy and affordable. Another goal is to promote food production that is mindful of the environment, farm animals, and farmers. The efforts of National Food Day continue year round and culminate on October 24. To learn more about the Center for Science in the Public Interest and National Food Day, visit the CSPI website. 

Thanks to Twirl Books and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of Mr. Bear’s World of Food with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Mr. Bear’s World of Food

By Virginie Aracil

 

Do you have a little one who’s just discovering how many types of food there are? Is your child eager to try anything on their plate, or are they a bit more picky? No matter how your child interacts with food, they’ll be fasciated by Virginie Aracil’s whimsical Mr. Bear’s World of Food, a charming and boldly illustrated menu to tastes and flavors. 

Mr. Bear meets readers outside the Bakery, where’s he’s already bought a loaf of bread. “When I take a bite of bread all my senses wake up! What happens is wonderful,” he says. Young children may want to know what these senses are, and Mr. Bear is very accommodating in teaching them. Flaps at his ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and heart reveal the five senses—and a sixth: “feelings.”

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Copyright Virginie Aracil, 2022, courtesy of Twirl Books.

Mr. Bear and a sweet muffin then invite kids to explore … well … foods that are Sweet, such as carrots, honey, sweet potatoes, candy, and more. Next, a saltshaker joins Mr. Bear to exhibit some Salty foods, like popcorn, cold cuts, and cod fish. Yum! But, sometimes, foods make your nose crinkle and your mouth pucker. Those would be foods that are Bitter, such as grapefruit or dark chocolate, and Sour, such as lemons, pickles, and others.

Ahhh! Now it’s time for some foods that just taste delicious and fill your tummy with warmth like roast chicken, roast beef, or scalloped potatoes. Feeling too warm now? Kids will enjoy cooling down with Fresh yogurt, cucumber, watermelon, or lettuce. Do you smell something? I smell something—something Pungent! It must be the blue cheese, sauerkraut, century egg, or durians. 

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Copyright Virginie Aracil, 2022, courtesy of Twirl Books.

Now perhaps it’s time for a dish that’s a little bland—but still tasty! Matzo bread, crackers, tofu, or mozzarella will hit the spot, along with a glass of water, of course! Mr. Bear has some Favorite Foods, including French fries, milk and cookies, and mac and cheese. And, finally, there are foods that are perfect for Sharing, such as pizza, kebabs, paella, and even that loaf of bread Mr. Bear bought at the beginning of this sensory trip!

Now that his tour through the different flavors and tastes is over, Mr. Bear has one last question for readers. In a large-scale, double-page pop-up, Mr. Bear, wearing a chef’s hat and coat, has arranged an array of foods in front of him and wonders, “What is your favorite food?” and “What do you want to eat today?” Kids will love answering and will most likely want to go back to point out their favorite dishes!

In addition to the above-mentioned categories, Mr. Bear also introduces kids to the flavors Umami, Rich, and Smoky. There’s also a page of Seasonings that highlight or enhance a food’s flavor, such as ginger and chili peppers. 

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Copyright Virginie Aracil, 2022, courtesy of Twirl Books.

Virginie Aracil’s delightful guide to foods and tastes from around the world is well conceived, with large and realistically illustrated images that immediately make each type of food recognizable and appealing to her young audience. Vivid colors and attractively designed pages of board book quality will hold readers’ attention while enticing them to try foods that might be unfamiliar to them. Children who are learning to recognize letters and those who are beginning to read will enjoy testing their new skills with the names of each food, which are presented in a prominent and clear typeface.

Each flavor profile is portrayed in a two-page spread. On the left Mr. Bear is joined by a representative of the category for a short, humorous conversation that will get little ones giggling, while the foods appear on the right. The size of the book is perfect for lap reading or for sharing on the floor or at a table, and an attached baguette-shaped bookmark will hold your place between tasting sessions.

A fun foodie adventure that’s sure to get kids excited about trying new foods and different tastes—and even going to the grocery store or farmers market—Mr. Bear’s World of Food would be a welcome addition to home bookshelves as well as to preschool and kindergarten classrooms, where it would make a terrific introduction to lessons about food and taste-testings. School and public libraries will also find it to be a popular choice among patrons.

Ages 3 – 5

Twirl Books, 2022 | ISBN 979-1036345173 (Board Book)

Discover more about Virginie Aracil, her other Mr. Bear books, and her design work on her website.

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You can find Mr. Bear’s World of Food at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 11 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Madani’s Best Game

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Thanks to Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for sharing a copy of Madani’s Best Game with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Madani’s Best Game

Written by Fran Pintadera | Illustrated by Raquel Catalina | Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel

 

“Our whole neighborhood knows it: no one plays soccer like Madani does.” Thus, a teammate of Madani’s begins the story about this friend who captivates the neighborhood (and sometimes it seems the whole world) with his barefoot ball-handling prowess. Madani has elevated the team’s game to “the best soccer we’ve ever seen.” After Madani has scored a “Gooooal!” the sound of the cheers soars above the playing field and “…crosses through doorways, rushes past the magazine stand, slips down alleyways, swirls around the fountain, and, growing fainter and fainter, climbs the steps up to Madani’s house.” 

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

There, his mother hears it and knows the cheers are for Madani. She wishes she could attend his games, but she’s a seamstress and has so many garments to sew by hand. After the game, Madani’s teammates can only imagine how much better he would play if he only had a good pair of cleats. Their team might even be able to beat the Southside team—their biggest rival.

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

The members of the team know that Madani’s saving up money in a special tin that gets heavier every time he declines to buy a snack, walks to away games instead of riding the bus, and makes other sacrifices. They know that when the box is full, Madani’s going shopping. “…then our games will be better than ever!’” he says, and they all dream of the day Madani buys his new cleats.

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

The big game against Southside is only a day away, but Madani doesn’t come to practice. Instead, his friends watch him head downtown with the tin under his arm. Without Madani at practice, the team falls apart, but they don’t worry. Finally, they thought, their dreams of new cleats and beating Southside would come true!

When Madani shows up at the game the next day, “he looks radiant,” but he’s still barefoot. His teammates question him about his new cleats, but Madani doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The money wasn’t for shoes but for a present for his mother so that “‘she’ll be able to finish her work faster and come watch me play every Saturday.’”

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Madani’s friends still don’t quite get it, but the game begins, and in moments Madani has already stolen the ball away from the Southside players, run downfield and scored. He looks into the stands, sees his mother, and shouts “‘This goal is for you, Mom!’” Madani makes another goal, but Southside scores too, and the game ends in a tie. It’s okay, though, Madani’s teammate says, “‘because now more than ever, everyone in the neighborhood knows … There’s no player like Madani!’”

Back matter consists of notes from Fran Pintadera and Raquel Catalina that reveal their creative journeys and connections to this story.

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Image copyright Raquel Catalina, 2022, text copyright Fran Pintadera, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Fran Pintadera, who based Madani’s Best Game on his experiences as a social educator in new immigrant housing, tells his story with open-hearted affection for his subject as well as the relationships between teammates and mother and child. Through his perceptive and humorously observed details and lyrical language, Pintadera captures the wide-eyed wonder of children in awe of a great player (or artist, singer, scientist, or other talent). When Madani gets the ball, readers will hold their breath along with the neighbors, traffic, and even pigeons while he entertains the crowd and scores a goal. Then the action begins again, but this time the suspense revolves not around the game but on what Madani will buy. The answer is joyous, affirming family devotion and revealing the pure giving nature of a child’s heart.

From their first introduction to Madani, smiling out from the page, his bare foot on a soccer ball, readers will be captivated by him, his teammates, his neighborhood, and the game. Raquel Catalina’s endearing pencil, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations charm with realistic images of kids on the soccer field surrounded by city onlookers. Catalina creates not only gorgeous visuals of Madani’s supportive neighborhood, but an almost auditory experience as well.

Readers can almost hear the players’ running feet, the sudden cheers, the flap of the rising pigeons’ wings, and – as the celebration reaches Madani’s mother’s ears – even the whisper of her sewing needle through the fabric on her knees. Catalina deftly weaves the theme of friendship, between people both young and old, throughout the pages, enhancing the bond between Madoni and his mom as well as Madani’s teammates’ understanding of the true importance of that long-awaited game.

A beautiful poignant, joyful, and affirming story of family and friendship, Madani’s Best Game is a read aloud that adults and kids will love to share over and over. The book is a must for all home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 9

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0802855978

You can discover more about Fran Pintadera and his work on his website and connect with him on Instagram.

To learn more about Raquel Catalina, her books, and her art, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Instagram.

You can connect with Lawrence Schimel and learn more about his writing and his translating work on Instagram and Twitter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madani's-best-game-cover

You can find Madani’s Best Game at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Revi

May 18 – International Museum Day

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About the Holiday

International Museum day was created in 1977 by the International Council of Museums to raise awareness that “museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.” The theme for this year is “The Power of Museums.” Museums are not just repositories of the past. They are vital and active members of the communities they serve and as such can be leaders in tackling some of society’s biggest issues. This year the International Council of Museums aimsto “explore the potential of museums to bring about positive change in their communities through three lenses: the power of achieving sustainability, the power of innovating digitalization and accessibility, and the power of community building through education. To learn more about these initiatives, visit the ICOM website. Celebrate International Museum Day by visiting a museum near you – or visit many world-famous museums through today’s book.

The Ultimate Art Museum

By Ferren Gipson

A blurb on the cover of this astounding book sums up the lofty goals it achieves: “40,000 years of the world’s most amazing art in one dream museum!” Indeed, once readers open the cover and accept the “ticket” offered, they can peruse the museum map that lays out the three wings, 18 galleries, and 128 rooms, plus a cafe and garden, that await them. An note from author Ferren Gipson introduces readers to the range of ways art can influence and reflect their times and the people who lived during different eras.

Gipson’s conversational style follows visitors to this unique museum from page to page, prompting them to look, consider, understand, and make connections. On some pages, a question or comment marked by an eye sends readers to another gallery or room to compare artworks, subjects, or themes across time and cultures. Some of these give a page number to consult, while others allow readers to study a room or gallery to find the artwork referred to.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Wing 1, appropriately, presents “treasures from the world’s earliest civilizations and the earliest art ever made.” Here, children and adults will find cave art; figurines carved from ivory, bone, and stone; treasures from ancient empires, carved reliefs, the painted, sculpted, and gilded wonders of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The intricate art of the Byzantine, early Islamic, and Medieval worlds demonstrate important aspects of these cultures as do works from ancient East Asia well as South and Southeast Asia. Readers then cross the Atlantic Ocean to discover the pottery, sculptures, and fabrics created by Native societies of North and South America. Each artwork is accompanied by a paragraph that will draw children in with clear, concise, and fascinating descriptions of the artwork, what it means, and, sometimes, even secrets that it holds.

Time for a break? Turn the page and enter the Café, where the “menu,” consisting of “Snacks, Mains, and Dessert” offers delectable choices depicted in paintings and sculpture. Refreshed, readers can step into Wing 2, where the galleries hold treasures from the 1200s to the 1800s created in Asia, including book illustrations, a palepai cloth, a puppet, scholar paintings, porceline, folding screens, carpets, and even the Taj Mahal.

The Renaissance comes to Europe with an impressive display of curiosity and learning that resulted in many changes to society and art. “Artists came up with better ways to mix oil paints and began to paint on canvas for the first time. And what scientists learned about the human body helped them paint and sculpt people who looked very real.” The subjects of artworks expanded too to include “portraits, mythology, and everyday life.” Dragon lovers can take up the challenge to compare two dragons – one created by an Italian master and the other found on a Chinese vase from the Yuan Dynasty.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

From 1600 – 1850, dramatic and lifelike paintings became popular. Dark shadows and highlighted areas gave paintings an atmospheric feel that invited viewers to look closely. In one of Diego Velázquez’s famous Las Meninas painting, all of the people portrayed seem to be looking out from the canvas at you. But who are they really looking at? The answer can be found reflected in a mirror on the back wall. In addition to realistic family and town life, landscapes also became popular during this time.

Moving to another room, readers will find that the art of the Pacific Islands is distinctively different in its depictions of “images of gods, spirits, and ancestors of the people who lived there.” Those works created from stone and wood have survived through the ages while “others, such as objects made from delicate spider webs or flowers, have disappeared.” Art from the continent of Africa is up next. With its many unique kingdoms and communities, Africa has produced unique artworks that “celebrate leaders and tell the stories of Africa’s great empires and civilizations.” Clay, wood, metal, ivory, and cloth have been used to “create art with spiritual and practical purposes.”

Ah! Time for a walk through the garden. Which path will you take? The one past Georgia O’Keefe’s “Red Poppy” or one where you can see a moth and a caterpillar on the branch of a citrus tree? Perhaps you’d like to stroll through a hurricane with a tiger on your trail with Henri Rousseau’s “Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised)” or maybe you’d like a fragrant walk through Gustav Klimt’s “Flower Garden.”

 
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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Wing 3 takes readers to modern times, when “almost anything is possible in art!” In this wing, visitors will see “art that does not have a set purpose.” Instead, the artists represented here “created works that were experimental and personal. They used unusual materials and tried exciting techniques.” In these rooms, readers will encounter the Impressionists, who were interested in capturing a moment in time,  and Post-Impressionists, who experimented with color, techniques, and subject matter. Readers will no doubt recognize paintings by Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, and Georges Seurat.

American realist painters took city scenes, sports events, tender moments between family members, and many other topics. The Cubist period began when some artists experimented in showing their subject from a variety of angles at one time. Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque are just a few of the famous artists who “chopped up and rearranged images” to make a new style of art.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Visitors will also learn about the Dada movement, Expressionism, and American Regionalism. Photography took center stage as cameras became lighter and easier to use. The art of the Harlem Renaissance by Black Americans is reflected in a painting of Harriet Tubman by William H. Johnson, a bronze bust of a boy by Augusta Savage, and a quilt by Harriet Powers – one of only two that still exist.

After visiting a room of modern works from India and Mexico, readers enter the dizzying world of the Surrealists. Surrealism “shows real objects but in a completely fantastical way. It explores how dreams, imaginations, and the inner workings of the mind can be shown in art.” A train emerging from the “tunnel” of a fireplace, a fur teacup, saucer, and spoon, and Salvador Dali’s “drooping” clocks are a few of the works you’ll find here.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ultimate-art-museum-cubism

Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

In Wing 3, readers will also learn about Collages, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptual art, and Op art that boggle the eyes and mind with their optical illusions. Pop art, Installations, contemporary sculptures large and small as well as Alexander Calder’s mobiles and artwork created from light stand side-by-side with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s outdoor wrapping installations, Aboriginal Australian art, Feminist art, Chicanx art, performance art, video art, contemporary art, and so much more. If you’re a fan of selfies, you’ll want to stop at the Hall of Selfies and see how four artists anticipated and/or reflect this very modern art form.

Helpful maps accompany each wing and gallery change to show readers where the art in that gallery comes from or its influence. A smaller map inset often orients readers to where the region represented is situated in the world at large.

Back matter includes an Author’s Note, a map of 54 major museums around the world, a glossary of terms found in the text, and an index.

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Copyright Ferren Gipson, 2021, courtesy of Phaidon.

Ferren Gipson is the “cool” docent every visitor wants as their tour leader on a trip to a museum. Full of enthusiasm for art and its impact, gifted with a wealth of knowledge, and quick with a fun fact, a humorous aside, or an intriguing nugget of perspective, Gipson will wow kids and adults alike with her love of all kinds of art. Open The Ultimate Art Museum to any page and readers will immediately be absorbed by whatever style of art or time in history they’ve hit upon and will eagerly wander from gallery to gallery, room to room, page to page to learn more.

The Ultimate Art Museum has applications for strong cross-curricular study for teachers and homeschoolers, expertly connecting history, art, changing societies, and more visually and textually. Gipson’s entertaining and thorough treatment of her topic will get kids excited about visiting museums of all kinds, and arm-chair travelers will wile away many happy hours wandering its pages. 

The Ultimate Art Museum is a must for classrooms and school and public libraries and would be a much-loved addition to home bookshelves or coffee tables.  

Ages 8 and up

Phaidon, 2021 | ISBN 978-1838663780

Discover more about Ferren Gipson, her books, work, and podcast “Art Matters” on her website.

International Museum Day Activity

CPB - Cookie Jar Museum (2)

Create a Museum Exhibit

Every item has a story. Maybe there’s a funny anecdote behind that knick-knack on your shelf. Perhaps your favorite serving dish holds sentimental value. How about your child’s best-loved toy or a drawing or craft they’ve made? A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is to create a museum exhibit of objects in your home.

For teachers this can be a fun classroom activity that incorporates writing, art, and speaking as well as categorizing skills. Students can use objects in the classroom or bring items from home to set up museum exhibits. This activity can be done as a whole-class project or by smaller groups, who then present their exhibit to the rest of the class.

Supplies

  • A number of household or classroom items
  • Paper or index cards
  • Markers
  • A table, shelf, or other area for display

Directions

  1. To get started help children gather a number of items from around the house to be the subjects of their exhibit. An exhibit can have a theme, such as Grandma’s China or Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, such as toys, plants, tools, even the furniture they see and use every day.
  2. Using the paper or cards and markers, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children will be able to write the labels themselves; younger children may need adult help.
  3. Spend a little time relating the story behind each object: where it came from, how long you’ve had it, when and how it was used in the past, and include any funny or touching memories attached to the item. Or let your child’s imagination run free, and let them create histories for the objects.
  4. When the labels are finished, arrange the items on a table, shelf, or in a room, and let your child lead family members or classmates on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on social media.
  5. If extended family members live in your area, this is a wonderful way for your child to interact with them and learn about their heritage.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ultimate-art-museum-cover

You can find The Ultimate Art Museum at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 21 – International Day of Forests

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About the Holiday

International Day of Forests was instituted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 to raise awareness of the importance of trees in vast woodlands or in your neighborhood or yard. Trees contribute to the quality of the air we breathe, improve the local climate, reduce noise pollution, shelter wildlife, and provide food for people and animals. This year’s theme is “Forests and sustainable production and consumption.” So many aspects in our lives – from the materials for building homes, making tools, developing new household items, and more to the medicines we take, the water we drink, and the clothes we wear rely on healthy and sustainable forests. This year’s theme encourages people to think about the ways forests benefit not only human life but the wildlife and the earth as a whole. For more information visit the UN International Day of Forests website and The Geneva Environment Network.

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets in the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “a shelter for animals and people, / a recycler and provider of water, / a creator of food and oxygen, / an inventor of medicine/ a soldier against climate change.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

International Day of Forests Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Climb-a-Tree-Word-Search-Puzzle II

Climb a Tree! Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of trees that make our world beautiful. Can you find the names of twenty threes in this printable puzzle?

Climb a Tree! Word Search Puzzle | Climb a Tree! Word Search Solutio

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-leaf-detective-cover

You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 10 – It’s National Hot Tea Month

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About the Holiday

I must confess that this is one of my favorite holidays. To me there’s nothing better than waking up with a well-steeped cup of tea, writing while a favorite mug brimming with hot tea sweetened with honey sits nearby, enjoying scones with clotted cream and jam and a hot cuppa…well…you get the picture. People have drunk tea since earliest times for its soothing and medicinal properties. Mellower than coffee and available in endless varieties and tastes, hot tea is just the thing for relaxing moments. Today, enjoy your favorite tea or try a new kind! There’s a world of tea to be discovered – as today’s book reveals!

Thank you to Greystone Books for sharing a copy of Teatime Around the World with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Teatime Around the World

Written by Denyse Waissbluth | Illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne

 

Two women sit at a table with steaming cups of tea in front of them, talking. “Tea for one. Tea for two.” To the side sits a teapot, its contents still warm. At their feet a child is having a tea party with a bear, jauntily clad in a feathered hat. Cookies, strawberries, and croissants fill out this feast served from a special tea set. “Tea for me. Tea for you.” Tea time continues in Morocco, where a father and child kneel on pillows. The father pours out three cups of mint tea. Made with green tea, mint, and sugar, each cup of tea will have “a slightly different taste.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

In India a street vendor sells a cup of masala chai to a woman, who’s looking for a peaceful break during her day. The “strong tea and spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and pepper…boiled with milk and sweetened” will hit the spot. Hot tea is relaxing, but on a hot day there’s nothing more refreshing than a glass of iced tea. In Thailand, locals and tourists enjoy cha yen, sold from street vendors’ carts. This “strongly brewed sweet tea is poured over ice and drunk from a bag through a straw. Indigenous people in North America soothe fevers, colds, sore muscles, and even sleepless nights with tea made from “berries, plants, and roots.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

Special tea times—like chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony during which matcha, a powdered green tea is served, and afternoon tea, enjoyed with trays of treats world wide—bring people together for comforting respites. You’ll be interested to discover the origins of afternoon tea too! Tea can be served quietly or dramatically, like “teh tarik, or pulled tea…the national drink of Malaysia,” is “poured from up high, or ‘pulled’ between two mugs, to make it frothy.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

Tea is as old as its discovery thousands of years ago in China and as new as bubble tea, created in Taiwan in the 1980s. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, yerba maté tea is served in hollowed-out gourds with a “special straw called a bombilla,” while in Jamaica sorrel, made from roselle hibiscus buds, “spiced with ginger, cloves, and sugar,” is perfect for any festive occasion. No matter where you live, what flavors of tea you enjoy, or how you serve it, you can always count on “tea for one. / Tea for two. / Loved by all / the whole world through.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

With a lilting poem that flows from page to page, Denyse Waissbluth introduces unique flavors, special brew methods, and the comforting feeling a cup of hot or iced tea infuses into a day. The shared experience of tea drinking provides a fascinating touchstone for Waissbluth’s travelogue that takes kids around the world to experience the rituals, recipes, and traditions from each country that make their tea unique. Waissbluth’s conversational style will appeal to kids looking to learn how global cultures are similar to and different from their own.

Chelsea O’Byrne’s lovely matte illustrations take children to cities, the countryside, and the seaside around the globe, revealing not only diverse scenes of how tea is made, served, and enjoyed, but homes, food, and clothing as well. Children will be excited to see such homey and intimate portraits of their peers around the world.

Sure to spur readers to learn more about the countries featured and entice them to try their signature teas, Teatime Around the World would enhance geography, history, and multicultural lessons for school and homeschooling and is highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Greystone Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1771646017

You can connect with Denyse Waissbluth on Instagram.

To learn more about Chelsea O’Byrne, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Hot Tea Month Activity

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Tea for You! Word Search

 

Can you find the names of eighteen delicious teas from around the world in this printable puzzle?

Tea for You! Word Search Puzzle | Tea for You! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-teatime-around-the-world-cover

You can find Teatime Around the World at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review