November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

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The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

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CPB - the family and frog haggadah
 
 

They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

November 14 – It’s Geography Awareness Week

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was instituted in 1994 by National Geographic to get people excited about geography and its importance to education and everyday life. As defined by National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” This discipline includes how humans interact with the environment and the impact of location on people. These important questions affect a wide range of issues. More than 100,000 people across the country participate in Geography Awareness Week through special events, focused lessons and activities in classrooms, and attention by government and business policy-makers. To learn more about the week and discover resources for further education, visit the National Geographic website.

Into the Forest: Wander through Our Woodland World

Written by Christiane Dorion | Illustrated by Jane McGuinness

 

Forests, with their stands of ancient, towering trees capped with leafy canopies and thin saplings reaching for their bit of sun are mysterious, awe inspiring, and home to some of the world’s most fascinating creatures. In Into the Forest Christiane Dorion and Jane McGuinness take readers through coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and tropical rainforests around the world to introduce readers to the life found there.

Readers first learn how a single tree grows from a seed to a full-grown beauty and see how the tree is nurtured and how it nurtures insects and animals in return. But a single tree does not make a forest. Children discover the ways in which many trees work together to create a forest and how the creatures attracted to the forest interact as well.

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

“Deciduous forests are found in places where there is plenty of rain and four distinct seasons through the year.” Animals roost in the trees’ trunks, root systems, and branches. “On the forest floor, small creatures snuffle, crawl, or hop under the thick carpet of fallen leaves in search of food and a safe place to shelter.” These trees have distinctive leaves and undergo changes as the seasons change. Like the trees, the animals that live in a deciduous forest also adapt to the weather, the abundance or scarcity of food, and sheltering needs. Readers learn fascinating facts about the ingenuity of the forest’s insects and animals.

After learning about the deciduous forest, readers will want to discover them for themselves. Through lyrical descriptions and charming, realistic illustrations, Dorion and McGuinness show children and adults how and where to look and listen to find the treasures the forest holds. But there can be so many different trees in a forest—or even in a backyard or neighborhood. How do you know which is which? Dorion and McGuinness provide an illustrated guide to the names, shape, size, and type of leaf of twenty deciduous trees.

Across the northern hemisphere, coniferous forests stand tall and stalwart against bitterly cold winters while attracting some of the most majestic creatures in the animal kingdom. “Most trees in the coniferous forest are evergreens with needle-like leaves” that stay green and shed little-by-little all year round. Instead of flowers, coniferous trees produce their seeds in cones. Squirrels and birds, who can use their sharp beaks and acrobatic flying and hanging skills, find food in these cones during long winters.

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In coniferous forests, the floor is dark, wet, and can be rocky or even frozen year-round. Moss, fungi, lichen, and carnivorous plants are some of the vegetation found here. Readers learn how these plants grow, what they look like, and the animals that thrive on them. How do the forest animals survive the harsh winter conditions? Dorion and McGuinness follow ermine, grouse, a snowshoe hare, bats, chipmunks, bears, and other birds and animals as they navigate their cold home. They then take kids to the west coast to look up, up, up at the mammoth redwoods, some of which “have lived for more than two thousand years.”

There is a wide variety of coniferous trees, and again Dorion and McGuinness present a guide to the size, shape, and type of needles and cones of fourteen trees. And why are evergreens shaped like a triangle? The clever answer to that question is here too.

When you think of colorful birds and animals, you think about tropical rainforests. Dorion and McGuinness. Found near the equator, rainforests are home to “more than half of the know plants and animals in the world” and “more are yet to be discovered.” In a glorious riot of color, climbing vines, vibrant flowers and fruit, Dorion and McGuinness introduce readers to the denizens of these forests, where rain and warm weather provide plenty of food and water; “monkeys leap from tree to tree using their long limbs and gripping tails to move around;” and “screeching macaws, croaking frogs, and howling monkeys make a deafening jungle chorus” to “tell each other where they are in the dense tangle of leaves and branches.”

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Readers will meet animals including the howler monkey, coati, toucan, parrot, poison dart frog, and sloth. Kids also learn about hanging lianas, orchids, and why plants have waxy leaves. All of that vegetation above means that the forest floor is dark and damp, making it the perfect place for some of the world’s most unusual—and feared—creatures, including snakes, spiders, jaguars, the giant centipede, and the Hercules beetle.

Frequent rain is the lifeblood of these tropical forests, and Dorion and McGuinness describe and depict their unique atmosphere as well as the ingenious adaptations some animals use to hide in plain sight and fool predators and the way nighttime transforms the forest into a feeding ground for nocturnal animals. The guide to fourteen tropical trees introduces readers to a wide variety from palm trees to fruit trees, like mango and avocado, to trees that produce nuts, cinnamon, cacao, and chicle for gum.

Dorion and McGuinness close out their book with discussions on how plants, insects, and animals work together to ensure the growth and heath of a forest; the ways in which a forest benefits the planet; and how to plant a tree so that it will thrive. Readers will love the illustrated prompt to find twenty-seven creatures within the pages of the book, giving them an exciting way to turn back to discover all the gems included in the text.

A glossary defines twenty-two terms found in the text, and a list of organizations and links to their websites complete the back matter.

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Image copyright Jane McGuinness, 2020, text copyright Christiane Dorion, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Christiane Dorion’s beautiful language and richly detailed narration take children into the three types of forests to see and hear how these natural communities of trees, plants, animals, birds, insects, and even weather patterns work together to maintain what are indispensable parts of our earth. The facts Dorion chooses to present will captivate young learners, telling them enough about each subject to educate while sparking a desire to know more. Perfectly paced, her text creates a lovely flow and visual accompaniment to Jane McGuinness’s gorgeous illustrations.

McGuinness astounds on every page with lush images of the various types of forests in warm weather and the coldest of conditions, during daylight and nighttime, during quiet periods and busy times. Her realistically portrayed intense textures, vivid colors, unique shapes, and furtive or carefree movements of nature invite readers into the depths of the forests to truly see what is there.

Lingering over the pages rewards readers with hidden delights, such as tiny animals peeking from the knot hole of a tree, little caterpillars inching their way across leaves, a nest with three eggs secured within the branches of a spring-green tree, and masters of camouflage motionless and nearly undetectable. Spotlighted facts and the intermittent detailed guides to specific trees, creatures, and the science of forests not only teach readers about these particular features but reinforce how nature collaborates to survive and grow.

Superbly conceived, Into the Forest is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections for nature lovers, school and homeschool lessons, and anyone who would like to learn more about our planet.

Ages 7 – 15

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1526600707

Discover more about Christiane Dorion and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jane McGuinness, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Geography Awareness Week Activity

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Wonderful Wildlife Board Game

 

Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice below
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!
  • 1 = Flamingo – South America
  • 2 = Emperor Penguin – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 3 = Giraffe – Africa
  • 4 = Bald Eagle – North America
  • 5 = Ibex – Europe
  • 6 = Kangaroo – Australia
  • 7 = Panda – Asia
  • 8 = Orca – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 9 = Toucan – South America
  • 10 = Buffalo – North America
  • 11 = Koala – Australia
  • 12 = Lion – Africa
  • 13 = Etruscan Shrew – Europe
  • 14 = Manta Ray – Pacific Ocean
  • 15 = Sea Turtle – Atlantic Ocean
  • 16 = Tiger – Asia

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You can find Into the Forest at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

October 27 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of This Is a Flying Rat

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About the Holiday

Celebrating a new book on its birthday is always exciting. Just like the kids they’re written for, each book has its own personality and take on the world. Today’s book is funny, smart, clever, and educational. Take a look!

This Is a Flying Rat

Written by Andrew Cangelose | Illustrated by Josh Shipley

 

As a narrator begins a recitation on pigeons, a very vocal pigeon breaks in to extoll the awesomeness of his breed, especially their flying power. “Everyone calls me Ace,” he says, “because I’m one of the best fliers around.” He can’t wait to prove it. “Pigeons are a member of the same bird family as doves. In fact, they are sometimes called ‘rock doves,’” the narrator intones.

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2020, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2020. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Ace is wholeheartedly agreeing that he does, indeed, rock when a raccoon interrupts to point out a flying rat. Ace is offended, but it turns out that the raccoon doesn’t mean him, but the rat with a jet pack spewing pink and blue ink coming their way. Just as the narrator is getting to the good part: “Pigeons are considered some of the best fliers in the world,” the rat crosses out “Pigeons” and writes “Flying rats” in pink ink.

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2020, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2020. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Again, Ace protests, so the rat decides he’ll just be a pigeon too. But Ace isn’t going to let him get away with that that easily. To be a pigeon, the rat has to do other pigeon stuff too. The narrator goes on to describe a pigeon’s eating habits, which can include garbage. The rat is happy to oblige this dietary quirk. Pigeons also have feathers and wings, the narrator reveals. Out of the trash come…you guessed it…check! and check!

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2020, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2020. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Finally, the narrator gets to flying. But thanks to the jet pack, the rat is just as agile and persevering as Ace. The two are just in a race to the top of a skyscraper when the rat’s fuel burns out. Now he’s not so much a flying rat as a falling rat. Down he plummets just as the narrator reveals that pigeons are social flyers—never found alone. Ace gets it and rockets toward the ground, rescuing the rat just before….

The rat is grateful and apologetic for trying to take over the book, and he acknowledges that Ace is the real pigeon. On Ace’s side, he’s warmed up to having a friend while the narrator’s next chilling fact about pigeon predators has Ace considering joining the other side.

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2020, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2020. Courtesy of Oni Press.

Andrew Cangelose’s pitch-perfect mashup of sedate nature programming and laugh-out-loud interruptions is education at its ingenious best. As the rat challenges Ace’s claims to flying glory, kids are the winners, learning facts about pigeons they won’t soon forget. Cangelose has given Ace and the rat distinct personalities and plenty of attitude to keep the giggle’s going. The combination of straightforward narration and dialogue makes the story a joy to read and would even lend itself to turning the text into a classroom play. The resulting friendship between Ace and the rat is a natural outgrowth of pigeons’ flocking behavior and makes a case for pigeons being a bit like humans too.

Josh Shipley feathers the story with urban details as the rat attempts to prove he’s really a pigeon. Ace, with his squared-off head and familiar multihued sheen, is a portrait of pride, indignation, and knowing looks that will delight kids. The rat, clinging to his jet pack, is sure to win over converts with his ever-present smile and bold self-assurance. The appearance of a pompadour-wearing squirrel clutching an armful of garbage will draw lots of laughs. Shipley depicts Ace’s change of heart about the rat with a sweetness that will charm kids.

Humorous creative nonfiction that kids will really respond to, This Is a Flying Rat would be a fun addition to home bookshelves and a high-interest accompaniment to classroom nature and science lessons, making it a great choice for school and public libraries as well.

Ages 4 – 8

Oni Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620107751

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-this-is-a-flying-rat-cover

You can find This Is a Flying Rat at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

September 21 – International Day of Peace

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-cover

About the Holiday

The International Day of Peace is a United Nations sponsored holiday, which is dedicated to strengthening the ideals of peace by observing twenty-four hours of non-violence and ceasefire. Each year the holiday focuses on a theme. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s theme is “Shaping Peace Together” The 2020 theme for the International Day of Peace is “Shaping Peace Together,” with the idea that people celebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope as the world struggles with a common problem. People are also asked to stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination or hatred. To learn more, visit the United Nations website. Of course, for little ones, the values of peace and harmony begin at home. With today’s book, you can pass this comfort on to your children.

Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Ag Jatkowska

 

In her sweet ode to shalom bayit—a Hebrew phrase that means “peace of the home,” and celebrates the Jewish value of the home as a sanctuary from the stresses, worries, and noise of the outside world—Linda Elovitz Marshall gives parents and caregivers a book to share with their youngest children that shows that no matter whether a home is a den or a castle, it is a place where they can find contentment. With tranquil rhyming verses, Marshall introduces little ones to cozy nests, dens, underground tunnels, and other places where animals make their snug homes. “Shalom bayit, / bayit shalom! / Quiet places, / peaceful homes.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-robins

Image copyright Ag Jatkowska, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

In her nest on a high branch, a mother robin and father robin watches over their five babies, while below a squirrel fills a hole in the tree trunk with soft leaves and a mouse snoozes in a small cave in the roots. Turtles, worms, frogs, and a fox also happily make their homes in the pond and grounds nearby. From this calm, bucolic scene, Marshall takes children into a house, where three children spend time with their family, cuddled up with Mom as Dad reads a story. “A home’s a cozy, restful place, / a safe and loving family space,” Marshall says. “Shalom bayit, / bayit shalom.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-home

Image copyright Ag Jatkowska, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Ag Jatkowska accompanies Marshall’s gently flowing verses with lovely illustrations of the sun-dappled banks of a pond and the natural places a variety of animals call home. The adorable squirrels, turtle, frogs, fox, worms, robins, and mice as well as the trees and flowers are painted in a calming, yet vibrant color palette that will enchant little readers. Jatkowska’s final spread of a happy home, where a fire burns in the fireplace as the family enjoys a relaxing evening together is a loving portrayal of the meaning of shalom bayit.

A charming board book to inspire comforting story times or bedtimes—especially during these challenging times—Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home would be a favorite on home bookshelves and is highly recommended for school and public library collections. The book would also make an excellent gift.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541542471

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ag Jatkowska and see a portfolio of her work, visit her page at The Bright Agency.

International Day of Peace Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peaceful-home-craft

Peaceful Home Craft

 

Kids squabbling over what to do or bored because there’s nothing to do? With this easy-to-make craft, kids can find activities to do with siblings, parents, or other caregivers to pass the time and have fun together. Kids can recreate their own house or make a house from their imagination.

Supplies

  • Small recycled box
  • Paper
  • Tape
  • Colored Pencils, crayons, or markers
  • Wide craft sticks

Directions

  1. Tape closed the open end of a small box 
  2. Wrap box in white or colored paper
  3. Cut a wide slot on one side of the roof for the sticks
  4. Draw features of the house on the front, sides, and back
  5. Think of ideas that kids can do together by themselves or with an adult and write one on each stick
  6. Put the sticks in the slot
  7. When there’s free time, choose a stick and have fun with that activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-cover

You can find Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 16 – Collect Rocks Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday allows anyone who just can’t resist picking up a particularly pretty or unusual stone to indulge their whims and fancies. Rock collecting can be a fun and educational hobby as each type of stone has its own fascinating history and science to learn about. Why not go on a hike today and discover the unique shapes, colors, and feel of the rocks below your feet.

I received a copy of Old Rock (is not boring) from G. P. Putnam’s Sons for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Old Rock (is not boring)

By Deb Pilutti

 

It seemed that Old Rock had been sitting in the same spot forever. Tall Pine and Spotted Beetle thought being a rock must be pretty boring. Hummingbird wondered, “‘Don’t you ever want to go anywhere?’” She knew she would be if she couldn’t fly all over the world and taste exotic nectars. But Old Rock had flown once, and he began to tell his story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-hummingbird

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

It was during the time when he was surrounded by darkness, but then the volcano erupted and Old Rock “‘soared through a fiery sky into the bright light of a new world.’” Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird weren’t very impressed. They still thought Old Rock must be bored. Spotted Beetle told him how much he might see if he climbed to Tall Pine’s very highest branch.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-volcano

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Old Rock countered that he had seen a lot. He’d watched dinosaurs pass by and had even hidden a spinosaurus from a hungry T. rex. He’d traveled in a glacier and been left teetering on a ridge overlooking a vast desert, where he “could see the place where the sky touches the earth.” Spotted Beetle and Hummingbird were intrigued, but Tall Pine dismissed these experiences as “ages ago.” He wanted to know about now. Didn’t Old Rock feel like moving? Tall Pine showed Old Rock how his limbs could dance in the wind.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-dinosaurs

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

While Old Rock couldn’t dance, he did recall how he’d turned somersaults off the ridge, landing in a prairie where mastodons grazed near a lake. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird were mesmerized by Old Rock’s story and wanted to know what had happened next. Out of the prairie, sprang a pine forest, Old Rock revealed. And from one of the pine trees a pinecone fell and a seed was released. That seed grew “to be the tall pine who dances in the wind and keeps me company.” Sometimes, he continued, a spotted beetle and a hummingbird meander by. Old Rock was very pleased with his spot, and the others had to agree that it was “very nice” and “not boring at all.”

An illustrated timeline of Old Rock’s life from 18 billion years ago to the present day follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-time-line

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

So much clever thought went into Deb Pilutti’s Old Rock as she reveals to kids what a fascinating and active life the rocks and boulders we see every day have had. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird’s skepticism keeps the suspense building as Old Rock rolls out stories of his various travels and talents. Once he has them hooked, they—like young readers—want to hear more, leading to the just-right ending that sweetly encompasses shared history, happiness with one’s place in life, and friendship. The trio’s questions to Old Rock and their related experiences also engage children to think about issues and opinions from a variety of perspectives.

Pilutti’s mixed-media illustrations are nicely textured to bring out Old Rock’s grainy surface while highlighting nature’s vivid colors. Her vignettes from the dinosaur eras, the ice age (where the skeletons of dinosaurs are also swept up and away in the same glacier as Old Rock), and beyond impress upon readers the long time-frame involved, how the earth has changed, and even the fascinating science of the fossil record.

A multi-layered story, perfect for general story times or as a lead in to science lessons and to promote discussion and research in the classroom, Old Rock (is not boring) would be an original and exciting addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525518181

To learn more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Collect Rocks Day Activity

CPB - rock painting craft

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give talented artists like yourself a natural canvas for your creativity! So collect some rocks and use your imagination to design rocks to leave for people to find on paths or sidewalks, near a store, or anywhere in your neighborhood. You may even want to leave one outside your local library. That’s where I found the rock pictured here!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

  1. Find stones in your yard or neighborhood or buy them at a craft store or garden center
  2. Wash and dry rocks as needed
  3. Design and paint an image on the stone
  4. Have fun finding spots to leave your works of art!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-cover

You can find Old Rock (is not boring) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-outside-in-cover

About the Holiday

You’ve heard the saying “Too Many Books, Too Little Time,” right? Well, this truism has spawned not only one, but two Read a New Book Month celebrations! Both September and December have been designated as times to make special plans to search out and read new books. These can be books that are newly published or books that are new to you. And if you find yourself putting a few old favorites in the pile, that’s okay too! It’s also never too early to think about adding books to those upcoming holiday gift lists!

By Jakkie Licare

Outside In

Written by Deborah Underwood | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

“Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us,” the narrator reminds readers.Once we walked through a forest to get somewhere else, but now? A little girl sits strapped into her family’s car as they quickly pass through the forest. She’s concentrating on the toy in her lap, too busy to enjoy the outdoors through the window. She and her mother move directly from the car to the house, unaware of the vibrant colors and wildlife close by.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-outside-in-outside

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Luckily, nature sends her lots of reminders. As she ties her shoe, a hummingbird hovers at the glass doors. If she’d turn from her homework, she’d see the beauty of the outdoors through her window or maybe catch a peek of the caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly. Nature also sends shadows to sneak along her walls and floors, begging for her to come out and play. Birds call out to her with their songs, while flowers perfume the air enticing her to come out. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-outside-in-car

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

“Outside feeds us,” the narrator says. “Sun, rain, and seeds become warm bread and berries.” She wears what was  “…once puffs of cotton” to keep warm and sits in a chair that was “once trees.” Even her pet’s fur and warmth remind her of the importance of the outdoors. The outdoors keeps time for her, reminding her when to sleep and when to wake up.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-outside-in-chair

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

The outdoors sneaks inside her house as small bugs seek refuge and food and remind the girl to enjoy the outdoors. Even rivers rush into the house through pipes and return to their deep depths. When she considers going leaving her house, Outside holds its breath and celebrates as she joins in.

The end pages are filled with beautiful wispy images of trees and birds in green paint.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-outside-in-dog

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Deborah Underwood, 2020. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Deborah Underwood’s evocative story reminds readers that nature is always calling us to come out and play, to appreciate and relish its marvels. The idea that the sun’s shadows, birds’ calls, and even intrusive bugs are all nature’s sneaky way of trying to grab our attention is unique. Underwood’s gentle tone and lyrical writing allow the reader to contemplate their own interactions with nature and her invitation. Thoughtful and emotionally resonant, Outside In is a beautiful story of how nature wishes to be a child’s favorite playmate. 

Cindy Derby brings the outdoors inside this book with her use of thread soaked in ink, watercolors, and powder graphite. Derby plays with perspective, giving children a new view of how they fit into the world. In the beginning of the book, from a bird’s eye perspective, we see a small car driving through an immense forest. Then on the next page, we are inside the car and can only see a tiny bit of the forest through the car’s window, but even this glimpse goes unnoticed by the young passenger. The girl’s home, it seems, is made almost entirely of glass, and yet, as readers see, the girl and her mother are nearly always shown with their heads down, preoccupied with homework, the computer, baking, and just hanging out—bored.

In Derby’s lush, sun-dappled illustrations, children can also see the wild and vibrant trees, animals, birds, and insects that all keep vigil, willing and waiting for the little girl to come out. In contrast to these exquisite images, Derby paints the car and surrounding houses in dull washed-out tones; the mother too is portrayed in gray while the girl wears a bright red sweater. When the girl does finally notice the view from her window, readers will be enveloped in the same sense of freedom and wonder as the little girl as she steps outside with her head held high and her eyes on the fiery sunset that mirrors the colors in her sweater.

A stirring celebration of the wonders of nature and an exhilarating reminder of the joys that being outside brings, Outside In is a must-have for all bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 7

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1328866820

Discover more about Deborah Underwood and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nature-scavenger-hunt

Nature Hike Scavenger Hike 

 

Take a nature hike and collect the items on this printable sheet. When you get home, use the item to

Nature Hike Scavenger Hike Sheet

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-outside-in-cover

You can find Outside In at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 9 – It’s National Honey Month

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About the Holiday

Established by the National Honey Board in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture in 1989, National Honey Month celebrates beekeepers, bees, and of course honey. September was chosen for this honor because here in the US, it’s the time when bees begin to secure their hive and prepare for winter and well as the month when the majority of honey is harvested. To celebrate this month, explore a variety of honey flavors, try a few new recipes that incorporate honey, and learn all the buzz about bees, honey, and beekeeping with today’s book!

I’d like to thank Sleeping Bear Press for sharing H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet with me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet

Written by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

If your garden or yard is anything like mine, the bees are humming around late-summer blooms and tracing their circuitous route to nearby or far-flung hives. The mystery and marvel of how honey bees convert powdery pollen into sweet honey never fails to awe and delight. In H is for Honey Bee, readers of all ages discover fascinating facts and stories about Bees from Apis mellifera (“Apis is the clue that we’re talking about a bee. / And mellifera means it’s all about honey”) to Z “for Zen and BUZZZZ.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-A-and-B

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In between children learn all about a bee hive, its resident bees (from Drones to Guards to the Queen), how bees communicate, and at E how organized beekeeping dates back to 2400 BC and how important it was to Egyptian culture. “Found on hieroglyphs in the sun temple of Pharaoh Ne-user-re near Cairo, Egypt, an Egyptian peasant is depicted smoking stacked hives while other workers are storing and sealing honey in jars.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-N-and-O

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At L kids learn about Lorenzo Langstroth, “the father of humane, practical beekeeping.” After discovering that natural hives had small passages that allowed bees to move freely though them, he invented a hive with removable frames that didn’t upset the other bees or damage the combs. Langstroth’s hive paved the way for other innovations, such as the Observation Hive at O, that gives people a clear view of bees at work. “You can watch the queen lay eggs, workers fan moisture from the nectar, and observe the bees dancing on the comb” and other marvels of a bee’s day.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-T-and-U

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Humans aren’t the only innovative ones, and readers will be fascinated to learn about Propolis at P, which bees make from their own saliva and other natural ingredients to protect their hive. V is for Venom—the bee’s defense that is more fun to learn about than experience. If you’re interested in where Beeswax comes from, just flip to W, and if you want to know how to tell if a hive is happy, Z is where you’ll find it.

Back matter includes resources on how you can create a safe and productive atmosphere for bees in your own yard, tips for becoming a beekeeper, and fun facts about busy bees.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-Z

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Through charming and informative four-line rhymes and a column of detailed facts for each letter of the alphabet, Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen presents a full and exhilarating look at bees, honey, and the job of beekeeping. She describes the behavior of bees—from how they communicate to how they survive winter temperatures to how the queen rules the hive and more—as well as the dangers bees face, from inside the hive and out, in vivid language that will captivate kids. Discussions on the healthy properties of honey as well as the joys of amateur beekeeping are here as well.

Accompanying the text are Eileen Ryan Ewen’s vibrant illustrations that give readers an up-close view of honey bees developing from egg to adult, gathering nectar, and working in their hive. Kids also meet Lorenzo Langstroth, see beekeepers working at their hives in yards and on rooftops, and travel down the Nile River with ancient beekeepers who moved their hives to continually provide them with the nectar and pollen they needed. Each page invites lingering to see and discuss all the details.

A well-rounded and comprehensive resource for those interested in bees and insects, gardeners of any age, and kids who love nature as well as for elementary and middle-grade science classes, H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110700

Discover more about Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Honey Month Activity

CPB---Busy-Buzzy-Bee-Maze

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze

 

Can you help the little bee find her way to the flower and her friend in this printable maze?

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze PuzzleBusy Buzzy Bee Maze Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-cover

You can find H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet at these bookseller

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review