January 13 – Skeptics Day

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About the Holiday

If you’re attuned to holidays like I am, you may be thinking, “Wasn’t Skeptics Day October 13?”, or even, “I thought Skeptics Day is celebrated on November 4.” And it seems from my research that you’d be right—on both counts, which might lead you to be, well… skeptical about the validity of today’s holiday. But perhaps that was the point the founder or founders of this holiday were trying to make. Instead of simply accepting what you’re told, a skeptic questions what they hear or read and looks for facts to back it up. Kids are born skeptics, always asking “Why?” “When?” “Where?” “Who?” and “How?” To celebrate today, why not spend some time with your kids learning more about a subject you’re interested in.

There Must Be More Than That!

By Shinsuke Yoshitake

 

A little girl stands at the sliding glass doors looking out at the pouring rain. She’s disappointed because her father had said the day would be sunny. She thinks to herself, “…you can’t always trust grown-ups.” Then her big brother comes along and tells her all about the apocalyptic events that may possibly doom the earth and their futures. Things like running out of food, wars, even alien invasions. He heard it from a friend, who heard it from an adult. His sister is shocked and afraid.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-must-be-more-than-that-rain

Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

With a heavy heart, she goes to her grandma’s room and reveals what her brother has told her. “Ah, I see…,” Grandma responds. She reassures her granddaughter that no one really knows what will happen and that along with the bad, good things happen too. “Grown-ups act like they can predict the future… but they’re not always right,” she says. And when there’s a choice to be made, they often provide only two things to pick from, when there are actually many more and it’s okay to choose from those.

The little girl realizes that more choices means more possible futures, and she tells her brother so. She already has lots of ideas about the cool things the future might bring—like “a future where it’s okay to spend the day in pajamas…. A future where someone always catches the strawberry you drop…. A future where your room has a zero-gravity switch.” Her brother thinks the strawberry idea sounds great.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-must-be-more-than-that-future

Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The little girl is jazzed to think about other futures. She thinks about alternatives to throwing away old shoes, hiding uneaten carrots, and even keeping her mom from getting mad if she gets paint on her clothes. “I’m a slow runner,” she confesses, “but does that mean I’ll never come in first place? No! I might be ‘first place’ in a funny-face contest!”

Her thoughts begin to branch out, and she decides that between polar opposites like “‘love it or hate it,’” “‘good or bad,’” “‘friend or enemy,’” there may be many more emotions to choose from. In fact, the little girl is so excited by her new perspective that she tells her grandma that she wants to make a career out of “thinking up different futures.” Her grandma thinks that’s marvelous, but gently tells her that she probably won’t be around to see them. But the little girl is determined and imagines several scenarios that mean a brighter and longer life for her grandmother. Grandma laughs and agrees that “there must be more for me than that!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-must-be-more-than-that-grandma

Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Cheered, the little girl goes to the kitchen to find out what’s for dinner. Although they’re just having leftovers, Mom offers to make her an egg. “Boiled or fried?” she asks. Exasperated, the girl tells her mom about all the other ways an egg can be cooked, used, and played with. They can be scrambled or rolled, painted or stickered, and put in a shoe, a book, or a belly button. They can even be stacked on top of each other or used to make a tall tower. Her mother gets the idea and says she can have her egg made any way she wants. “Hmmm,” the little girl ponders. What do you think she chooses?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-must-be-more-than-that-choices

Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Shinsuke Yoshitake’s profound observations, expressed in kid-friendly, sometimes even silly examples, emboldens children to look beyond the choices they’re given by others and create the present and future they desire. Yoshitake touches on serious subjects that children hear discussed by adults, on the news, and in school that can lead to a frightening sense of no control but flips the narrative to show kids that they do have the power to influence events and change them for the better. The choices Yoshitake poses—love or hate, good or bad, friend or enemy—will get kids thinking about other such pairs they’re presented with every day and the nuanced scales between them that more correctly represent their feelings. After showing the little girl giving her grandma a pep talk and convincing her mom that there are a myriad things to do with eggs, Yoshitake ends the story on a comic note so attuned to kids’ enthusiasm for new ideas.

Yoshitake accompanies his story with laugh-out-loud illustrations of a little girl who cycles through emotions from anger to doomed to thoughtful to determined and finally to joyful after her brother reveals bad news about the future. Kids will be fully onboard for the fantastical future the girl envisions and the whimsical ways Yoshitake depicts the multitude of options that are available with just a little more thought. A two-page spread with twenty-three different types of eggs will set kids giggling and no doubt wanting to try them all. Likewise, the book’s cover hints at what’s inside with a display of many things a simple piece of cloth can become.

There Must Be More Than That! is a smart, sophisticated, and lighthearted way to shift a child’s perspective and empower them to shed the burdens of the world and create the life they want—on both a small and large scale. The book is sure to be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1452183220

Skeptics Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-find-the-differences-kids-reading

Find the Differences Puzzles

 

Are you someone who looks at things skeptically? Do you want to learn the facts before you believe what you see or hear? If so, you’ll enjoy these printable puzzles and see for yourself whether they are the same or different.

Kids Reading Puzzle (easier) | Kid’s Bedroom Puzzle and Solution | Girl Selling Flowers Puzzle and Solution

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You can find There Must Be More Than That! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 11 – Heritage Treasures Day

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About the Holiday

Heritage Treasures Day is an initiative established in the United Kingdom by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1994 to preserve important parts of human history. Since that time nearly eight billion pounds raised through the national lottery have been dispersed to support more than 40,000 projects. Multiple funds have been created to support various types of programs. For example, “Sharing Heritage” provides money for local heritage sites ranging from personal memories to the conservation of an area’s wildlife, while “Our Heritage” is used to preserve archaeological sites, endangered wildlife, and museum collections. Heritage Grants are given to large projects such as the preservation and restoration of Stonehenge. Today’s holiday celebrates these efforts and raises global awareness of the importance of protecting and passing on our shared history. To celebrate on a smaller scale, take an opportunity to talk about your family’s stories, history, and legacy with your kids.

Maud and Grand-Maud

Written by Sara O’Leary | Illustrated by Kenard Pak

 

On certain Saturdays Maud gets to sleep over at Grand-Maud’s house. She sleeps in a special nightgown that Grand-Maud made for her. “The nightgown goes all the way to the floor, and is made out of plaid flannel, and is softer than anything.” Grand-Maud even made herself one to match. Once dressed, they have breakfast for dinner eaten on trays in front of the TV, where they watch old black and white movies. Maud thinks everything was black and white when Grand-Maud was a child.

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Image copyrigh Kenard Pak, 2020, text copyright Sara O’Leary, 2020. Courtesy of Random House.

At bedtime, Maud snuggles into the extra twin bed in Grand-Maud’s room. In this bed Maud always has good dreams, and under the bed hides a wooden chest in which “there is always something new for Maud placed inside, even when Grand-Maud doesn’t know she will be visiting.” Sometimes the thing is something bought new for Maud to use or play with. Other times Grand-Maud has made something for Maud, like “…a pair of mittens, or some cookies to take home so the time between visits is sweeter.”

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Image copyrigh Kenard Pak, 2020, text copyright Sara O’Leary, 2020. Courtesy of Random House.

But the best times are when the chest holds “something from when Grand-Maud was a little girl herself.” Once Maud found a heart-shaped stone that Grand-Maud had carried in her pocket for a whole year. Now Maud carries it in hers. This time, Maud pulls out a book of fairy tales that Grand-Maud had written her name in. Maud was happy to see her own name in it.

That night, with the lights dimmed, Grand-Maud and Maud talked about the future. Maud said she wants to be a writer and have at least seven children. She imagines living in “‘…a very tall house so that the children can have bunk beds that go up and up and up.’” Grand-Maud says that later Maud will have her own granddaughter. The thought makes Maud smile. In her dream she lives in an apartment just like Grand-Maud’s and is standing at the doorstep to welcome Maud for a special visit.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maud-and-grand-maud-bunkbeds

Image copyrigh Kenard Pak, 2020, text copyright Sara O’Leary, 2020. Courtesy of Random House.

Sara O’Leary’s story about the connection between a grandmother and her granddaughter who share the same name is sweet and endearing. With homey details—a homemade nightgown, breakfast for dinner, and especially the wooden chest that always holds a surprise, O’Leary perfectly captures the comforting love and sense of adventure children feel when spending time with their grandparents. The old movies Maud and Grand-Maud watch together, the treasures Grand-Maud passes down to Maud, and the interest Grand-Maud shows in her granddaughter’s future all demonstrate simple but meaningful ways for older and younger generations to share their experiences and build understanding and strong bonds. O’Leary’s straightforward and lovely storytelling, highlighted with realistic dialogue, makes for rich and cuddly story times that can lead to discussions between kids and adults about their own family heritage. Her moving ending charms with a look toward a future of continued family ties.

Kenard Pak’s soft illustrations in warm browns, reds, and blues will enchant readers as they are invited into Grand-Maud’s cozy brownstone apartment to share a sleepover with Maud. Pak alternates between images of the close-knit grandmother and granddaughter, happy to be sitting side by side while sharing meals, memories, and talks of the future, with pages that give children a closer look at their breakfast supper, the enticing wooden chest and past items it has contained, and Maud’s imaginings, including the stories she’ll write, her future children’s bunkbeds, and that childlike idea that the world in the era of black-and-white movies was also black and white.

As snug and as full of love as a hug, Maud and Grand-Maud is a tender book for grandparents and grandkids to read together or for parents and children to cuddle up with whenever they’re missing Grandma. The book would make a favorite read to spark conversations about family history and family stories. Maud and Grand-Maud is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Random House / Penguin Random House Canada, 2020 | ISBN 978-0399554582

Discover more about Sara O’Leary and her books on her website

To learn more about Kenard Pak, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Heritage Treasures Day Activity

CPB - Cookie Jar Museum (2)

Create a Family Story Exhibit

 

Every item has a story. A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is for family members to each create an exhibit of favorite or meaningful objects in your home. Tags can tell how each item was obtained, any funny or interesting story that is attached to it, and what it means to the owner. Displaying and talking about the exhibits can be a fun way to spend time together while seeing common objects in a whole new light.

Supplies

  • A number of household 
  • Paper or index cards
  • Marker, pen, or pencil
  • 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 Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, like toys, plants, tools, or artwork.
  2. Using the paper or cards, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children can 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, and when and how it was used in the past. 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 on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or other app.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maud-and-grand-maud-cover

You can find Maud and Grand-Maud at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 5 – National Cuddle Up Day

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About the Holiday

As the icy days of January settle in, National Cuddle Up Day reminds us that snuggling up with someone you love warms you, warms your heart, and builds strong relationships. Children especially love the comfort and security that hugs bring. And what would bedtime be without snuggling in with a good book – like today’s sweet sure-to-be favorite.

Little Owl’s Bedtime

Written by Debi Gliori | Written by Alison Brown

 

“It was late o’clock” when Little Owl was cuddled up next to Mommy for a bedtime story. Mommy read, “‘Then all the little bunnies closed their eyes and fell fast asleep. The end.’” As she closed the book, she told Little Owl that it was time for him to go to sleep too. But Little Owl wasn’t having it. “‘NO, NO, NO!’” he stated. He didn’t want to close his eyes, fall asleep, or have the day end. What he did want was another story.

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Image copyright Alison Brown, 2020, text copyright Debi Gliori, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Mommy Owl made a bargain with Little Owl that involved one more book and then sleep. Little Owl agreed. The little mice were all tucked in and dreaming when Mommy read “‘The End,’” and Little Owl snuggled down into bed, where… what with the lumpy pillow and hot blanket, Little Owl just could not get comfortable enough to go to sleep. Plus, why was it sooo dark? Little Owl called for Mommy.

Mommy Owl explained about the “Bashful Frog Chorus” and how the shy frogs would only come out to sing when it was completely dark. But she gave Little Owl a tiny nightlight to make him feel better. Little Owl tried again, but he tossed and turned and suddenly realized that Hedge, his favorite toy, was missing. He could never sleep without Hedge. Mommy thought Hedge may have gone in search of a snack at the Acorn Bakery, but a few minutes later Little Owl found her under his pillow.

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Image copyright Alison Brown, 2020, text copyright Debi Gliori, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

All was quiet until Little Owl heard a strange “‘quiet, snorty kind of noise.’” Mommy knew right away that this was the gentle snoring of the butterflies slumbering “in their flower beds”—a lucky sound to hear. Once more, Mommy and Little Owl said goodnight. But the next minute brought more complaints. Mommy Owl came to her son’s bedside and said, “‘Look, you’ve woken up Hedge. Poor Hedge! Let’s tuck her back in.’”

As they were settling Hedge in, Little Owl had a confession. He couldn’t fall asleep because he was “too excited about seeing Grandma and Grandpa Owl” the next day. Now that Mommy knew what was really on Little Owl’s mind, she had a secret: “‘Tomorrow will come much faster when you fall asleep.’” Little Owl was surprised to hear this, and with a kiss from Mommy, he nestled into bed. He read Hedge a story, calmed her fears about the dark, and explained that the sound she heard was just Mommy singing in the bathtub. Then he snuggled deep into his covers and fell asleep, not even waking for the one last kiss Mommy gave him.

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Image copyright Alison Brown, 2020, text copyright Debi Gliori, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Adorable from beginning to end and full of sweet and creative on-the-fly explanations for the darkness, strange sounds, and lost toys that can disrupt a child’s sleep, Debi Gliori’s story will enchant both fans of the Little Owl series and new readers. Kids and adults will be charmed by the relationship between Little Owl and Mommy built on patience, trust, and love. Little Owl’s real reason for his wakefulness couldn’t be more endearing, and the way he repeats his and Mommy’s bedtime routine with Hedge shows the comfort of multigenerational bonds.

Alison Brown invites kids into Little Owl’s cozy tree-trunk home for cuddly bedtime routines that may remind them of their own “Goodnights.” Little Owl is sweetly expressive as he asks for just one more book and wrestles with sleeplessness, while Mommy answers his calls with cheerfulness and warmth. Brown’s lovely illustrations bring to life Mommy’s inventive stories of the Bashful Frog Chorus, Acorn Bakery, and snoozing butterflies with beautiful details that will delight kids and adults. Little Owl’s thoughts of visiting his grandparents come with hugs and happiness and a special cake made just for him and his little sister.

A loving hug in a book, Little Owl’s Bedtime is sure to bring cuddly comfort and sweet dreams and will be a favorite for children and adults to share at bedtime or any story time. The book would make a treasured gift and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections. Readers will also want to check out the other two books in the series, Little Owl’s First Day and Little Owl’s Egg.

Ages 2 – 5 

ISBN 978-1547604494

Discover more about Debi Gliori and her books on her website.

To learn more about Alison Brown, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Cuddle Up Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snuggle-buddy-craft

Snuggle Buddy Craft

 

Kids find going to sleep so much easier with a buddy to snuggle with! With this easy-to-make craft, your child can make a friend to dream with and personalize their pal anyway they want!

Supplies

  • 1 8-inch by 11-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the body (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project). A larger piece of fleece can be used to make a larger buddy
  • 1 5-inch by 8-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the hair (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project)
  • 1 small piece of fleece or other material for a pocket, clothes, or blanket
  • Small scraps of fleece or other material for the face
  • Fiber Fill
  • Thread and sewing needle OR fabric glue
  • Scissors

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Fold the large piece of fleece in half lengthwise and sew along the open side and along the bottom. Alternatively, if using a larger size piece of fleece, fold upward and sew or glue the two sides closed.
  2. Turn the form inside out

To Make the Hair

  1. Cut a piece of fleece as wide as your buddy and about 7 – 8 inches long
  2. Fold the fleece lengthwise
  3. Insert both ends of the fleece into the opening at the top of the body
  4. Sew or glue the opening shut, securing the hair
  5. Cut strips about ¼-inch wide from the top of the hair to close to where the hair is sown into the body

To Make a Pocket or Clothes

  1. Cut a piece of fleece in the shape of a pocket, shirt, pants, diaper, or blanket
  2. Sew or glue the pocket or clothes to the buddy

To Make the Face

  1. Cut eyes, a nose, and a mouth in whatever way you would like your buddy to look. 
  2. Sew or glue the face to the buddy

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-little-owl's-bedtime-cover

You can find Little Owl’s Bedtime at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Get Ready for New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

It’s safe to say we’re all happy to be saying goodbye to 2020 and looking forward to 2021 with hope and resolve. A new year offers opportunities for reflection and growth as well as sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong no matter what challenges we face. Today’s book celebrates all three of these parts of life at the New Year or any time.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-abuelita

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-kitchen

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-mamá

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-new-years-eve

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-new-years-coloring-page

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-cover

You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 6 – Mitten Tree Day

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About the Holiday

It’s a tradition here at Celebrate Picture Books to commemorate the holiday with the book that started it all. Originally published in 1997, The Mitten Tree has endured and continues to spark programs in schools, libraries, and communities around the country. The feel of a cozy mitten on freezing fingers is one of the luxuries of wintertime. But where did mittens come from? You might be surprised to discover that the word “mitten” comes from the French word mitaine, which was an old nickname for a cat, because early mittens were typically made of animal fur. The earliest mittens, dating to around 1000 AD, were used as sheaths for gloves, adding extra protection for cold hands. So now that it’s time to get out favorite mittens or buy (or knit) a new pair, enjoy the season with today’s book!

The Mitten Tree

Written by Candace Christiansen | Illustrated by Elaine Greenstein

 

In a small house at the end of a lane Sarah lives all alone. Her own children have grown and moved away, but as she watches the kids gather at the blue spruce tree to wait for the school bus she remembers all the years that she walked her son and daughter to this same spot. As she makes her way down the lane to her mailbox, she wishes the children will wave and smile, but they never seem to notice her. Still, it makes Sarah smile to see them.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-mitten-tree-sarah

Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

One winter morning Sarah notices all the kids throwing snowballs and making snowmen—all except one little boy dressed all in blue who lacks the mittens needed to join his friends. All day Sarah worries about the boy with no mittens. As the sun goes down Sarah digs “through the basket of yarn scraps she had saved for many years.” She finds her needles and four shades of blue wool. Then Sarah begins to knit.

With the rising sun Sarah hurries to the bus stop and hangs the new blue mittens on the spruce tree. Then she hides behind a hedge to watch. The little boy in blue is the first to arrive at the bus stop. When he sees the mittens hanging there, he tries them on and finds that they fit perfectly. With a big smile he makes “a perfect snowball” and throws “it high into the winter sky.” Soon Sarah sees a little girl with mismatched mittens. That night she finds the perfect color of wool and knits a pair to match the girl’s red coat.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Every morning Sarah watches the children, looking for any who have no mittens. During the day her needles are busy making gifts for these children. The next morning before anyone else is up she rushes to the spruce tree and adorns it with the mittens she has knitted. The children have warmed to the “game,” and each day search “under every branch and bough for another pair of mittens.” Once or twice Sarah thinks the boy with her blue mittens sees her, but his eyes don’t linger.

On the day before the school’s winter break Sarah fills her knitting basket with the latest mittens she’s knit. She heads out the door and down the lane. When she reaches the blue spruce, she hangs “mittens on every branch.” When the children arrive, they stand “very still for a few minutes looking at the mysterious, beautiful mitten tree.” As they board the bus, each child is wearing a new pair of mittens. Sarah sees them appear one by one in the bus windows, but none see Sarah.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-mitten-tree-basket

Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Sarah goes home feeling happy and with her heart as full as it was “when the sounds of her own children had filled her house.” But what awaits Sarah? As she climbs the stairs to her porch, she notices a “basket woven with thick brown vines and decorated with a large white bow.” She’s surprised to see that it is filled to the brim with balls of colorful yarn. Even today Sarah knits new mittens for all the children in town, and “every time her basket is empty, a new full one appears.” Sarah doesn’t know who brings the basket, just as the children don’t know who supplies the mittens. “But someone must….”

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Candace Christiansen’s heartwarming story of kindness given and reciprocated will inspire kids to see that anyone can make a difference in the lives of others by using their talents to fill a need. This gentle, quiet tale offers suspense that will pique readers’ curiosity from page to page, and the mystery surrounding the never-empty basket of wool provides a satisfying and moving ending that also reassures kids that deeds of thoughtfulness and compassion are noticed. The grandmotherly Sarah and familiar school bus stop setting and winter activities will resonate with readers.

Elaine Greenstein’s softly colored, folk-style illustrations give the story a cozy feeling—perfect for cold-weather reading, The variety of intricately knitted mittens, with their hearts, stripes, snowflakes and cables, are charming, and the enchanting image of the blue spruce decorated with mittens makes it easy to see how The Mitten Tree continues to inspire so many acts of kindness and charity.

Ages 3 – 7

Fulcrum Publishing, 2009 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1555917333

Mitten Tree Day Activity

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Mitten Match & Coloring Page

 

Mittens often get lost or mismatched in the fun of winter activities. Find the pairs in this printable Mitten Match & Coloring Page and then decorate them!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-mitten-tree-cover

You can find The Mitten Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 7 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

Beginning on September 15th  and running through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future. From business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment, Hispanic Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. First observed in 1968 as a week-long holiday, the holiday was expanded to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. learn more about the holiday, find resources for classrooms and homeschooling, videos, and more to use not only this month but throughout the year, visit the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-abuelita

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-kitchen

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-mamá

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Ańo Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-new-years-eve

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Albert Whitman & Company in a giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela, written by Alexandra Alessandri | illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

To enter:

  • Follow me @CelebratePicBks 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Reply with a holiday tradition for extra entry. Each response gives you one more entry.

This giveaway is open from October 7 through October 13 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on October 14.

Prizing provided by Albert Whitman

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

Hispanic Heritage Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-we-are-all-family-word-search

We Are All Family English/Spanish Word Search

 

Find the names of family members in both English and Spanish in this printable heart- shaped word search puzzle.

We Are All Family Word Search PuzzleWe Are All Family Word Search Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-cover

You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

August 31 – We Love Memoirs Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-cover

About the Holiday

In 2013, Victoria Twead and Alan Parks, who have written about their life stories themselves, established today’s holiday to foster a warm and welcoming community for readers and writers of memoirs. The idea took off and now We Love Memoirs Day brings the art and heart of this personal form of writing to people across the world. If you like to read memoirs, today’s a terrific day to visit your local bookstore or library and pick one up. If you’ve ever thought of penning the story of your own life and/or family, today’s holiday gives you the perfect opportunity to start!

Memoirs of a Tortoise

Written by Devin Scillian | Illustrated by Tim Bowers

It’s April and Oliver the tortoise is in his garden with his pet, Ike. Ike has brought him “a plate of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.” Oliver loves Ike and he can tell that Ike loves him too by the way he runs his hand over his shell. “This, this is life and it’s beautiful,” Oliver thinks. In May, Ike throws a stick that Oliver will never fetch, and they laugh over this old, favorite joke. Oliver thinks, “Eighty times I’ve watched spring arrive in the garden, and it’s always perfect.” He spies a bit of red on the other side of the garden and ambles off to investigate.

It’s June by the time he reaches the hibiscus grove. Oliver enjoys taking things slow—just like Ike does. July and August pass with special moments of companionship and fun. As September comes, life begins slowing down. “The days are getting shorter” and Ike is “taking lots of naps in the garden.” Oliver enjoys having Ike nearby and decides that “the next time he throws the stick, I’m going to fetch it.”

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Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2020, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

October arrives, but the regular routine of the garden has been broken. Oliver hasn’t seen Ike or been fed in several days. Oliver makes due with pumpkin from the garden, but he misses Ike. By November, Oliver is “afraid Ike is gone.” The idea makes him sad. After all, he thinks, Ike was still so young. He was 80 years old.” Oliver had thought they would grow old together and wonders where Ike is. In December, Oliver decides to go talk to someone who has more experience than he does—his mother, who is 137 years old.

It takes Oliver until February to cross the ten gardens between Ike’s house and where his mother lives. When Oliver’s mother sees her son, “she smiles wide and her eyes sparkle.” Oliver tells his mother that Ike is gone. She understands his sadness and tells him how much Ike loved him. But Oliver wonders why Ike couldn’t stay with him.

Oliver’s mother explains “we only get to have pets in our lives for a little while.” Then she offers words of comfort: “And when they’re gone, we count all those beautiful days we were lucky enough to have them with us. We’re so lucky.”

Oliver has enjoyed his visit with his mother, but in March he’s on his way back home. When he arrives in his own garden, the door of the house opens. Oliver turns instinctively expecting to see Ike, but it’s Ted, Ike’s son. He brings Oliver “a tray of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.” He rubs Oliver’s shell just like Ike used to do and tells Oliver he’s glad he came home. Ted tosses a stick and the two laugh. “This, for me and Ted, this is life,” Oliver thinks. And he knows his mother was right when she said they were so lucky.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-july

Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2020, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Devin Scillian’s Memoirs of a Tortoise has it all—humor, poignancy, and a life lesson about the precious moments we share with loved ones. Using the longevity of tortoises, Scillian flips the script on the pet and human relationship with tender and emotional effect. When Ike passes away and Oliver is confused and sad, he confidently sets out to find answers and comfort from someone he can trust—his mother. The ten gardens between their homes may not seem far to us, but to Ike and his mom it’s the equivalent of towns, states, or even countries for us.

This seamless blending of the tortoises’ experience and that of readers’ is both the charm and genius of Scillian’s story. Oliver’s straightforward comments and questions about loss echo those of children and will resonate with them. As Oliver’s mother reminds him to enjoy every day and be thankful for the time he spends with his pets and as Ted enters his life, readers will understand that her advice to embrace all the parts of life applies to them as well.

Tim Bowers’ endearing Oliver is a sweet companion on this journey through a formative experience. As Oliver spends time and enjoys inside jokes with kindly Ike, readers will recognize not only the pet and owner bond but the relationship between children and grandparents. Bowers’ lush depictions of Ike’s garden where he and Oliver play or sit quietly side by side portray the beauty of life that Oliver’s mother so wisely recognizes. Ike’s slowing down and passing away are drawn with sensitivity and through images that allow adults and children to discuss facts and feelings about death, mourning, acceptance, and the cycles of life.

Uplifting and full of wisdom, Memoirs of a Tortoise, is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110199

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

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

We Love Memoirs Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-shell-game

Follow the Turtles! Game

You can make this fun game from recycled materials and a little creativity! When you’re finished making the turtle shells, have fun guessing where the marble, bead or bean is hiding!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Green tissue paper in different hues
  • Green construction or craft paper
  • A marble, bead, or bean
  • Glue
  • Scissors

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-game

Directions

  1. Cut the egg carton apart into individual cups. You will need 3 cups for each game made.
  2. Cut the rims of the cups so they sit flat on a table.
  3. If the cups have open sides, fit two cups inside one another to fill the gaps
  4. Cut the tissue paper into small shapes
  5. Brush glue on a cup (I used a paper towel to apply glue)
  6. Cover the egg cup with pieces of tissue paper. Repeat with other cups.
  7. Let dry
  8. Cut a head and feet from the green craft paper
  9. Tape or glue the edges of head and feet to the inside of the cups
  10. Add a face to the head

To play the game:

  1. Line up the cups on a table
  2. Put a bead, bean, or marble under one of the cups
  3. Show the other player which cup the object is under
  4. Quickly move the cups around each other several times
  5. Ask the other player which cup they think the object is under
  6. Take turns playing

Extra Game: Make three more and play turtle tic-tac-toe! 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-cover

You can find Memoirs of a Tortoise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review