July 12 – National Simplicity Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who was born on this date in 1817 and along with his many other talents and interests advocated for a simplified life. As summer heats up with a full calendar of camps, activities, vacations, work, day trips, and more, take today “off” and just enjoy the simple pleasures around you.

I received a copy of Welcome to Morningtown from Bloomsbury Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m also excited to be partnering with Bloomsbury in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

To learn more about Steven Henry, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Welcome to Morningtown Giveaway

I’m happy to be partnering with Bloomsbury Children’s Books in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Welcome to Morningtown by Blake Liliane Hellman | illustrated by Steven Henry

To be entered to win Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets.

Bonus: Reply with your or your child’s favorite breakfast for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

This giveaway is open from July 12 through July 18 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on July 19.

Giveaways open to US and Canadian addresses only | Prizing provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

National Simplicity Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pancake-game-four-edited

Pancake Flip-Out

 

Pancakes are served in a stack because they’re so delicious each one doesn’t last long! This game gives you the chance to see how many pancakes you can flip onto a plate! You can play this game several ways:

To Play Pancake Toss

  1. Give each player the same number of pancakes and see how many they can toss onto the plate during their turn
  2. Make a target with the plate in the middle and draw 3 concentric circles around it. Hitting the target can earn you 20 points. Getting your pancake in the first circle around the plate earns you 15 point, the second circle is worth 10 points, and the third is worth 5 points. Rotate through the players as many times as you like and add up the points at the end. The player with the most points wins!
  3. Instead of tossing the pancakes with your hands, try throwing them with a spatula!
  4. Make up your own rules—and have fun!

To Play With Dice

  1. Choose a number of pancakes that each player must add to their plate—say, maybe, a baker’s dozen.
  2. Take turns rolling the dice and adding the number of pancakes rolled to the plate. The first player to reach the agreed-upon number is the winner.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print enough copies of the Pancakes and Breakfast Plates for the game you choose and cut them out. Playing pieces can be printed on card stock or on paper. 
  2. If printing on paper, you can glue the pancakes and plate to poster board, cardboard, or foam to give the pancakes more weight for throwing and the plate more support
  3. Once dry, the game pieces are ready for fun!

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

July 10 – Don’t Step on a Bee Day

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About the Holiday

The bee population is in decline around the world due to habitat disruption and destruction, pesticide use, and colony collapse disorder. Bees (and other pollinators) are crucial to the world’s food supply. Today’s holiday is a reminder to protect bees and help preserve their habitats. By planting flowers and herbs that attract bees and providing safe nesting places for them, you can be part of the solution.

Bee & Me

By Alison Jay

 

As you open the cover of Alison Jay’s glorious, wordless Bee & Me, don’t be surprised if your heart skips a little faster when you find yourself in a city that’s familiar but also magical. From a high vantage point, you look down on a main thoroughfare where a café, a music store, a hat shop, an optometrist, a barber, and a shoe shop line the busy street; stylized cars, buses, and trucks pass by; and people—tiny from this distance—walk a dog, ride a unicycle, carry bags, and try to keep up with two running children. Elevated trains traverse their arched track and helicopters and planes dot the sky.

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Copyright Alison Jay, 2017, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Turn the page and you’re looking into a four-story apartment house. On the first floor a woman does battle with a fly as her husband types at his green typewriter; on the third floor a boy tries to coax a pigeon to eat out of his hand; and in the fourth-floor apartment, a woman sits at her easel, painting. And what about the second floor? That’s where the story gets started.

A bee, attracted by flowered curtains, has just flown into a little girl’s window as she’s reading a book about flowers. The little buzzy guy flies right up to her face, causing her to toss the book aside and run away in fright. She procures her weapon and raises the fly swatter into position but reconsiders when she sees the bee’s scared face and little legs waving in his own defense. The girl decides to trap him under a drinking glass, but when the bee weakens and then faints, she reads up on bee culture and offers him a spoonful of sugar water, which he slurps up eagerly. The girl goes to the window and releases the bee under the interested gaze of the little boy upstairs.

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Copyright Alison Jay, 2017, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

That night a storm rages and the rain continues the next day. At her window, the girl finds the bee soaked through. She brings him in, feeds him another spoonful of sugar water, and then, while he sits on a playing die on her vanity, she dries him with her hairdryer and a toothbrush. Happy and fluffy, the bee decides to stay. He and the little girl become fast friends and begin doing everything together. They play checkers, dance, have tea parties, and go places with the bee riding in the girl’s doll carriage or bicycle basket. Nourished with cups of sugar water and popsicles, the bee begins to grow and grow, becoming as tall as the girl, and then taller. They play at the park on the slide and the swing, and the bee even learns how to ride the girl’s bike.

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Copyright Alison Jay, 2017, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

But on a stroll downtown, the bee sees a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a florist’s window. He presses his face to the glass, and the little girl, noticing, buys him a flower. At home, the bee thinks of a meadow of flowers, and his sad face tells the little girl all she needs to know. She gets out a map and shows her friend where there’s open green space. The girl climbs on the bee’s back and they soar from the window, unseen by anyone except the little boy on the third floor.

They fly out of the city, over the river, and into farmland where they find a field of flowers. Carefully, they gather seeds in their bags and on the way back home scatter them across the city. The last seeds in the girl’s bag go into her new window box. Fall has come and the bee and the girl hug and then say goodbye as the bee flies away from her window.

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Copyright Alison Jay, 2017, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

With winter, an invitation comes from the boy upstairs in the form of a yellow-and-brown striped scarf dangled out of his window, and the two build a snow bee outside their apartment building. In the spring, they walk together through the rain under a polka dot umbrella, and summer sees the seeds in the girl’s window box begin to sprout. In fact the whole city has begun to sprout, with colorful gardens blooming on rooftops, along the edges of sidewalks and streets, and in yards sprinkled here and there.

The purple, yellow, blue, pink, and white flowers attract butterflies and bees, and the people on the street stop now to enjoy the beauty around them. And the girl’s BeeFF? He, of course, comes back to visit and play.

A Bee Aware! Author’s Note about the importance of bees, the kinds of flower and herb plants that attract bees, and how to create and help bees find places to nest follows the story.

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Copyright Alison Jay, 2017, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

While following the story, which is played out with perfect pacing, humor, and sensitivity, readers can glimpse surprising, delightful, and funny details on every page that tell them more about the people who live in the little girl’s apartment house and the buildings nearby. Alison Jay cleverly uses these snippets of life to show the passage of time and the subplot of what is happening for the little boy who lives upstairs. The girl’s kindness and attention to the needs of the bee, whom she once feared, reminds readers of the benefits of education and opening your heart.

A superb story that encompasses awareness of nature, urban sprawl, the power of friendship, and the change one person can make on another and the world at large all wrapped in stunning art that invites multiple readings, Bee & Me is perfect for cuddly story times with little ones and impactful read alouds with older kids. The book is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 2 – 8

Old Barn Books, Candlewick, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763690106

You can learn more about Alison Jay and her books, and view a portfolio of her art on Children’sIllustrators.com

Don’t Step on a Bee Day Activity

CPB---Busy-Buzzy-Bee-Maze

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze

 

Can you help the little bee find her way through this printable Busy Buzzy Bee Maze? Here’s the Solution!

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You can find Bee & Me at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 28 – It’s Great Outdoor Month

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About the Holiday

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

The Nocturnals Series

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

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

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 2 Books

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The Moonlight Meeting

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1944020149

You can find The Moonlight Meeting at these booksellers

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

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The Slithery Shakedown

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020170

You can find The Slithery Shakedown at these booksellers

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

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The Peculiar Possum

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020194

You can find The Peculiar Possum at these booksellers

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

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 3 Book

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The Chestnut Challenge

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 6 – 8 

Fabled Films Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1944020231

You can find The Chestnut Challenge at these booksellers

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

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

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

Picture Book Review

June 21 – World Giraffe Day & Interview with Author Monica Bond, Illustrator Kayla Harren, and Educator David Brown

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, celebrates the animal with the longest neck on the longest day or night of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. The purpose of World Giraffe Day is to honor these majestic animals while also promote awareness of the dangers and threats they face. Events supporting these gentle giants are held around the world at zoos and conservation organizations as well as by governments, institutions, and companies involved in education about and protection of the giraffe. To celebrate today, learn more about these animals, visit a zoo or wildlife refuge, or consider donating to the cause of giraffe conservation. To learn more visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.

Juma the Giraffe

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Juma, a baby giraffe, loved to play with his friends Upendo and Rafiki on the African safari while their mothers watched. “Upendo likes to explore new places” while “Rafiki jokes and makes everyone laugh with his silly faces. Juma is kind and generous.” With his long neck, he’s able to reach the sweet acacia leaves to share with the dik-diks. One day, though, while the giraffes were at the water hole, Juma caught a glimpse of his reflection.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Looking at himself alongside all the other giraffes, he realized that they all looked the same. “And because they all looked alike, he felt he wasn’t special.” His mama noticed Juma standing alone and sad and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he wished he “looked different from everyone else.”

Juma’s mama gazed at her child lovingly and told him how special giraffes are. “‘There is no other animal in the whole world like us,’” she said. Then she gently reminded him how his long legs and neck help him get food, how his thick tongue and lips protect him from the thorns of the acacia trees, and how his “‘swishy tail sweep away the pesky flies that like to bite us.’” Their brown spots camouflaged them from lions and hyenas.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Then Mama asked Juma to look closely at his spots and notice that “‘each spot is different from the others and every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots.’” Juma saw that Mama was right. He saw one spot “shaped like a star and another like a flower.” Mama’s spots were different too, and so were Upendo’s and Rafiki’s. Mama reassured Juma that each giraffe was unique outside and inside.

Juma was happy and continued to notice other ways that each giraffe was different, including their various personalities. Then Mama nuzzled her little one and told him that to her he was the “‘most special giraffe of all’” because he was her baby and she loved him.

Fascinating facts about the anatomy of giraffes, newborn giraffes, and where giraffes live follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Young readers who are at that stage where they wonder about how they are different from other kids and how they fit into their community will find loving reassurance in Monica Bond’s touching story even as they learn about a giraffe’s distinctive features. The sweet relationship between Juma and Mama, depicted through tender dialogue, will charm little ones. A welcome exchange comes when Mama points out Juma’s unique features and the little giraffe enthusiastically adds more observations of his own. Just as Juma does, young readers will see that they too are special in their own way.

As readers open the cover, Kayla Harren’s stunning panoramic view of the verdant African savanna places them close to zebras, an ostrich, a greater kudu, a grey crowned crane, a stalwart warthog, a family of mongoose, and a herd of elephants. Smiling out from the page is little Juma. As the story progresses, Mama spotlights each of Juma’s attributes, and readers see how he uses them. A shimmering two-page spread of the giraffes lined up at the watering hole and the close-up on the next page will awe kids and adults. Images of smaller animals hiding in rock crevices and big cats and monkeys resting on tree limbs will entice readers to learn more about these creatures. As Mama nuzzles Juma on the book’s final page, adults and little ones are sure to find time to cuddle too.

A sweet story that gives parents, teachers, and other caregivers a way to show the children in their life how special they are, Juma the Giraffe would be an often-asked for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2016 | ISBN 978-0989818292

Learn more about Juma the Giraffe and find videos and teachers resources here.

You can connect with Kayla Harren on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram

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Helping Brother Rhinoceros

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Brother Rhinoceros and his friend Father Oxpecker went to the waterhole to cool off on a blazing hot day. When they got there, they saw “that most of the water had dried up, leaving a big patch of gooey, sticky mud.” But Brother Rhinoceros lied down in the cool mud anyway and pronounced it “‘Perfect!’” Then Father Oxpecker nestled in behind Brother Rhinoceros’s ear, folded his wings, and the two drifted off to sleep.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros woke up hungry, but when he tried to leave the waterhole, he discovered that he was stuck in the mud. Father Oxpecker flew off to find help. First he brought back Sister Vervet Monkey, who was good at tying. “She ran around the mud patch looking for something to tie together that might help Brother Rhinoceros. But there was nothing.”

Next, Father Oxpecker brought Grandfather Giraffe, who thought his height could help, but he didn’t know exactly how. So, the bird flew off again in search of someone else. This time he came back with Grandmother Spider, who “produced a delicate thread of beautiful silk from her abdomen. It fluttered in the breeze, of no help whatsoever to Brother Rhinoceros.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Father Oxpecker left once again and returned with Mother Elephant. Although she was big and strong, she could only watch from the sidelines. Last, Father Oxpecker found Brother Weaverbird, who declared that he could “weave anything” if only there was something to weave. All of the animals sat nearby wondering what they could do. “They were all so proud of the things they could do, but none of them could help Brother Rhinoceros out of the mud.”

It was Grandmother Spider who suggested that they combine their talents and work as a team. She began by “spinning long streams of silk.” Brother Weaverbird braided “the silk into a long, strong rope.” Sister Vervet Monkey tied the rope around Brother Rhinoceros, using Grandfather Giraffe’s long neck as a bridge to reach him. Then it was Mother Elephant’s turn. She grabbed the rope, “took a deep breath and began to pull.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros helped push. “Finally, with a big squishy sound, Brother Rhinoceros lifted his body up out of the mud.” He was free! His friends cheered. Brother Rhinoceros thanked each one individually for their special skills that helped to save him. “They certainly made a great team and the best friends a muddy rhinoceros could ever have.”

Back matter reveals facts about Africa’s black and white rhinoceros. A map of Africa shows the historical range and the much smaller current range for each type of rhino.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

With the lyricism of a fable, Monica Bond weaves a story about individuality and teamwork and how every person has the ability to help others. As Father Oxpecker flies off again and again searching for just the right animal to help, readers will enjoy the suspense and learning each animal’s special ability. When Grandmother Spider suggests they all work together, kids will see that by combining their talents with friends and classmates, they can move mountains. The format of the story makes it a multi-layered choice for teaching the elements of a story, prediction, and comprehension.

Kayla Harren’s sun-drenched pages are bathed not only in the heat of a hot African day but in the warmth of friendship these animals share. Harren’s beautifully textured and realistic depictions of the animals and the surrounding savanna will inspire awe and an enthusiastic desire in kids to learn more about the animals, insects, and birds in the story.

A perfect book for social studies, science, and reading classes and for kids who love nature and animals, Helping Brother Rhinoceros makes an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Wild Nature Institute, 2018 | ISBN 978-1732323414

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Our Elephant Neighbors

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Robert and his little sister Mary live on their family’s small farm in Tanzania. There are cattle and goats, which Robert helps watch while Mary helps her mother wash clothes and cook. Sometimes they went to the waterhole to get water. “They splash each other with cool water on hot days.” One day, when it was very hot, they saw something amazing at the waterhole. A family of elephants was enjoying the cool water too. “Robert and Mary climbed up a nearby tree to watch and wait for the elephants to leave.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Soon, two elephants came to stand in the shade of the tree, right under the branch where the two children sat. “The elephants looked up and saw Robert and Mary.” They had been taught to fear people. Nervous, they backed up a few steps. Robert and Mary had been taught to fear elephants, and Mary hid behind her brother. The bigger elephant, Tomas, introduced himself and his little sister, Teresa. Robert introduced himself and Mary.

“Robert looked thoughtfully at the elephants below. ‘You are an elephant, and elephants can hurt people,’ Robert pointed out.” Tomas replied, “‘Well, you are a human, and humans can hurt elephants too.’” Even though Mary knew she should be afraid, she liked the elephants. She reached down and touched Teresa’s upturned trunk. Mary said that she could pick things up with her fingers, and Teresa showed her how she could pick things up with her trunk.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

The elephants and the children talked back and forth about all of their similarities. They were even the same ages. They talked about how all the aunties help out when a baby person and a baby elephant are born, how the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in both human and elephant families teach the children important lessons and protect them, and how all the members of a both families feel sad when another member dies.

When they talked about the food they liked, Robert said that his “‘father gets angry when elephants eat” the vegetables in their garden.’ Then Tomas told Robert and Mary a secret.” He said that “all elephants hate chili pepper powder” and if they hung chili pepper powder on their fences, it would keep the elephants away. One reason elephants were eating from people’s gardens, Tomas said, was because their habitat was getting smaller as people planted more and more farms. Also “more and more of their family members are being hurt by people, because the elephants have fewer places to go.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Robert promised Tomas that when he grew up and had a farm of his own, he would build it where it would not disturb the elephants. He also promised to report anyone who tried to hurt the elephants. Soon it was time for Robert and Mary to get back home with the water, and Tomas and Teresa heard their mother calling for them. “They shook hands and trunks” and hoped they would see each other again. They knew “they would never forget their new friends from the waterhole.”

Interesting facts about African elephants follows the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Through Monica Bond’s charming story of a sister-brother pair and their elephant counterparts, young readers learn surprising ways in which they and elephants are alike. With similar abilities, family units, and even feelings, people and elephants should be friends, but too often they come into conflict, and the result has been a decrease in the elephant population and at times danger for humans as well. As the adorable Robert and Mary talk with Tomas and Teresa, Bond’s enchanting storytelling and realistic dialogue, draw in children, giving them even more reasons to love these popular animals. A major take-away is how people can protect and care for these gentle and intelligent animals and their habitats now and in the future.

Against gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania and its savanna, forests, and mountains, Kayla Harren depicts one family’s simple farm and a family of elephants enjoying a day at the nearby waterhole. At nine and five years old, Robert and Mary will steal readers’ hearts with their infectious smiles, sweet sibling relationship, and enthusiastic interactions with elephants Tomas and Teresa. Harren juxtaposes illustrations of the elephants’ family with those of Robert and Mary’s family in similar situations, showing readers how alike we really are. The pages are washed in soft-blue skies and glowing peach-hued sunsets, as realistic portrayals of the elephants, birds, and other animals create detailed and awe-inspiring panoramas.

Our Elephant Neighbors is an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to further understanding of elephants, conservation, and nature.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2017 | ISBN 978-1732323407

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Nature’s Giants Magazine

In this new magazine from the Wild Nature Institute, an enthusiastic dung beetle named Doug invites kids to learn about animal and plant giants of the African savanna through articles, games, crafts, and other activities that will keep them busy having fun and learning for a long time. Let’s get rolling and see what’s inside! Kids love finding stuff and right on the first pages they’re prompted to spot five differences on two identical (?) giraffes and search the pages for five beetles to see which one will would win a beetle race.

Along the way kids will enjoy:

Comics:

  • Doug engages kids in funny and interesting banter about the dung beetle’s ecological importance, including facts on their very, very long family history, three different dung beetle lifestyles, how dung beetles roll their dung balls in a straight line, and various job sites where dung beetles do their work.

Articles:

  • Ele-Fence!: About new ways farmers are protecting their crops from elephant raiders without engaging in Human-Elephant Conflict
  • Lions vs. Giraffes: About ways scientists use scars found on giraffes to study predation
  • Black Mambas: about the women rangers who patrol the Balule Nature Preserve to stop poaching of black and white rhinoceros and who teach environmental education programs in local schools. Since the group was formed “poaching of all species has decreased by 79%.”
  • Barking up the Right Tree: about the beautiful, sprawling baobab trees.
  • Infographic: on elephants, giraffes, termites and a surprising fact about biomass

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Activities:

  • Ideas for backyard or neighborhood science exploration
  • A savanna word search puzzle
  • An illustrated search-and-find animal puzzle
  • Craft instructions for making an Insect Hotel and an African Savana Scene
  • Jokes
  • A maze
  • How to draw an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros
  • A Giant Birds coloring page

Meet the Team Behind the Books and Magazine

I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk with Kayla Harren, Monica Bond, and David Brown about the work of the Wild Nature Institute, their lovely books that combine nature science with enchanting writing, and their new magazine for children.

Meet Monica Bond

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Hi, Monica! It’s nice to be chatting with you today! The love you have for Tanzania comes through in your stories so clearly and touchingly. Can you talk a little about your work and what brought you to this area?

My partner Dr. Derek Lee—quantitative ecologist and population biologist—and I chose to live and work in Tanzania because this country has some of the best wildlife experiences on Earth. As wildlife scientists, the lure of the African savanna is very strong; it is truly a wildlife paradise. In Tanzania there is incredible biological diversity combined with an extremely high density of mammals and birds, and we still have the full suite of predators and scavengers which means that the food web is intact. Tanzania also holds some of the best habitat for the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna — elephant, rhino, and giraffe.

Derek and I are studying giraffes in Tanzania using a computer program that matches each individual’s unique spot patterns from photographs. We are monitoring thousands of giraffes in northern Tanzania, and learning where they spend their time, which other giraffes they hang out with, and how they move around the ecosystem. Our goal is to understand the things that hurt or help giraffes so we can help to preserve these magnificent animals for the future.

What is it like to live so closely to these majestic animals?

Every time I go to the bush and interact with these creatures, I am awed anew. They are so very special. Every day I feel that I am living the dream and I cannot get enough of watching them in their beautiful savanna habitat. Although we work in the bush, we often go back out to the bush on our days off!

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How did the Wild Nature Institute get its start? Can you talk a bit about the organization?

Formed in 2010, Wild Nature Institute conducts scientific research on endangered wildlife and inspires the public to protect wild nature. Next year we will celebrate a decade of work! The Institute was started as a platform for two dedicated wildlife scientists to realize our dream of doing interesting and bold science that protects the earth’s remaining bits of wild nature. The Wild Nature Institute is me and Derek at the core, but with lots of other partners and cooperators in our network (like David Brown and Kayla Harren) who are all critical to accomplishing our important work.

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. As we celebrate World Giraffe Day today, could you talk about the giraffe—it’s importance to its ecosystem, the threats and pressures the animal faces from human and environmental factors, and how people can help protect them?

The gentle, iconic giraffe is popular around the world, but scientists know surprisingly little about them in the wild. We chose to work with giraffes because they are amazingly beautiful and peaceful animals, but they are vulnerable to extinction because people have taken so much of their wild natural habitat for human uses like farming and houses. Poaching is also a serious problem for giraffes. They need our help.

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Tanzania in East Africa is a stronghold for giraffes, supporting more than any other country. Although the Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, populations have declined here since the 1980s—yet few people are aware of the plight of the beloved giraffe in the wild. It is our job as scientists to bring this problem to light.

How are can families and organizations around the world help in the mission?

What can you do to help save giraffes and wild nature? (1) You can donate money or time to conservation groups like Wild Nature Institute and others. People can use their skills by providing advice, services, or goods in their personal area of expertise that can help the cause. (2) You can raise awareness about the silent extinction of giraffes. Speak up within your social circles and encourage others to donate money or time to saving giraffes. You can raise awareness in your home communities by writing, speaking, and contributing to the global conversation about our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises. (3) You can plant native trees.

Giraffes, elephants, and many other species need native trees, but deforestation continues worldwide. Planting native trees helps fight the global climate crisis and helps biodiversity too! (4) You can support legal protections for wildlife. Laws like the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws make the world safer for wildlife and people. Call and write to your congressperson, senator, governor, and president telling them you support strong law enforcement to protect wildlife. (5) You can commit to not buying body parts, and if you live in Africa you can commit to not eating bushmeat.

The programs that the Institute sponsors and supports—from education in schools and communities to environmental conservation of animals and land to publishing materials for children—is extensive. How has your work been received? What successes have been achieved and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?

To save wild nature, we must know it and love it, so Wild Nature Institute and our partners developed environmental educational materials for children and teachers. The materials teach biology, geography, science, math, and language skills using focal animals and fun, beautifully illustrated stories. Our first book, The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest, was a tri-lingual children’s book about wildebeest migration, and the ecological and economic benefits of conservation. The book was so successful that we created our “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” program to use environmental education to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

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We now produce and distribute our four multi-lingual storybooks, two Swahili activity books, and seven posters, as well as learning activities to accompany the books and posters, to tens of thousands of children throughout Tanzania. These materials teach ecological and social lessons, build national pride in Tanzanian wildlife, and motivate children to read and learn about their natural world. The learning activities help Tanzanian teachers meet environmental education curricula requirements, and also meet Next Generation Science Standards for American schools.

To ensure the materials are used to their best advantage, we host workshops for teachers, led by our education consultant Lise Levy, a retired high school biology teacher with 32 years of experience in education. At the workshops, teachers have a wonderful time learning the stories and practicing the hands-on activities that they will use in the classroom to accompany the books and posters.

Can you talk a little about the impact that these books and the new Nature’s Giants Magazine have on the children and families in Tanzania?

Every year since we introduced our education program, we have expanded its reach and impact through word-of-mouth. Our books and posters are now recognized and requested by Tanzanian educators throughout Tanzania, from Ruaha and Ruvuma in the south to Serengeti in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east. We hired a Tanzanian education coordinator who regularly visits classrooms, orphanages, and community centers and brings “Giraffe in a Box,” “Elephant in a Box,” and “Rhino in a Box” with all of the materials needed to implement the activities. We made our storybooks into videobooks which are playing on Tanzanian television. We organize “fun days” at the schools to celebrate Africa’s giants where we do tree-planting, sports, drama and arts, and creative learning. 

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We are constantly dreaming up new and fun ways to spread the word about the fascinating animals of the African savanna. Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation to love and care for their wildlife and conserve the environment.

On your website you talk about the importance of zoos in supporting the environmental work in Tanzania. How do/can zoos help?

Zoos have an important role to play both in providing financial support for field conservation as well as promoting the conservation of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros through environmental education directed at visitors. Many zoos are using our Celebrating Africa’s Giants education program. Zoos also conduct their own scientific research. We couldn’t do our work without our zoo partnerships and we are really grateful for their support.

To learn more about Monica Bond and the work of the Wild Nature Institute, visit their website.

Meet Kayla Harren

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Welcome back, Kayla! I’m thrilled to be talking with you about these three beautiful books and Nature’s Giants Magazine.

How did you get involved with the Wild Nature Institute and this project? What does it mean to you to be part of it?

In 2015 my husband, Peter, who is also an artist, was asked to illustrate a picture book about a baby giraffe that was written by a friend of a friend. He wanted to pursue a different path in his illustration career, so he passed the job to me. I fell immediately in love with the story of Juma. My passions have always been art and animals. Being able to combine those two loves feels incredible.

I feel so lucky to be involved with the Wild Nature Institute because I get to help wildlife in my own way even though I am not a scientist. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to wildlife education and hopefully spark a love for nature in other people. It feels like fate the way the first book found me through a friend of a friend of a friend and now it has turned into an amazing partnership.

Your artwork in Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbors, and Helping Brother Rhinoceros is stunning and full of such wonderful detail and personality. What kind of research did you do to bring the characters to life? Do Juma—or any of the animals—depict real giraffes, elephants, or rhinos in the area?

Thank you! Monica was incredibly helpful with providing plenty of photographs that she and the other scientists had taken of the scenery and wildlife in Tanzania. It made my job so much easier to know that people who actually lived in Tanzania and knew the area were checking all the details of my work to make sure it was accurate. For each book I was able to look through images provided by Wild Nature Institute of people, landscapes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and plenty of birds and animals to add in the background of each illustration. I did study the spot patterns of many giraffes, but Juma is a made-up combination of many giraffes I studied.

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Readers of your many books know what realism and sensitivity you bring to your illustrations of animals. Do you have a special affinity for animals and nature? Where did that come from?

Absolutely! Animals are my favorite. It started with my love of stuffed animals when I was very young. I had a huge collection, and I would spread them all out on my bed so none were hidden and they all got equal attention from me. I was introduced to many animal species through my toys. I remember fondly a stuffed white Bengal tiger that was bigger than me and a plump little panda bear. I loved the zoo, nature shows, and all the pet cats and dogs my family had. I feel most comfortable and relaxed in nature. I love going for walks with my dog because she stops every few steps to sniff something and that makes me pause and look around at all the beautiful shapes and textures and colors of the plants surrounding me. Nature is infinitely inspiring.

Have you ever visited Tanzania?

Not yet. Visiting Tanzania is very high on my list of things I need to do. Seeing a giraffe in the wild would be an absolute dream come true.

I’m going to let David Brown answer the next few questions about “Nature’s Giants Magazine.” David is a biologist, wildlife conservationist, and environmental educator—and he’s the co-creator and major writer of “Nature’s Giants.”

Welcome, David! As a nature lover, puzzle doer, and crafter myself, I love “Nature’s Giant’s Magazine!” There’s so much for kids to fall in love with!

“Nature’s Giants” magazine is full of fascinating articles (I learned a lot!), fun crafts, science prompts, challenging puzzles, and even a funny dung beetle named Doug. Can you talk about how the magazine came to be, what your role in the magazine is. and about how it can be used in the classroom? 

A group of conservationists and educators were meeting about how we could make Celebrating Africa’s Giants accessible and interesting to kids who love giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. We discussed how magazines like “Ranger Rick” and “National Geographic Kids” helped spark and sustain our love of nature when we were young, and we realized that there wasn’t really anything like that for even the most popular animals like giraffes and elephants. We decided to start our own nature magazine to fill that gap. We decided that our host of the magazine should be a dung beetle named Doug Beetle.  Doug Beetle helps show that there are many ways to be a giant in nature beyond physical size.

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My role is to help coordinate the creation of the magazine, develop story and activity ideas, and write the articles that bring those ideas to life. I also write the Doug Beetle comics. Megan Strauss, a wildlife biologist and illustrator, creates activities, crafts, and provides content for the magazine with her scientific expertise.  Kayla creates illustrations to accompany the articles and designs the layout of each page.

Accessible and interesting are perfect adjectives for Nature’s Giants! The magazine really promotes exploration and hands-on activities to engage kids in science learning. Can you describe some of the elements parents, teachers, and kids will find inside?

The magazine can be enjoyed casually for its art, stories, and activities. We also designed it for use in classrooms, zoo education programs, and other learning environments. In the first issue, we have a story about how scientific information can be visualized with infographics and how that helps us see the world in different ways.

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We also have a story about how a scientist makes an observation, asks questions about what she observed, and then solves a scientific mystery. Readers will learn how scientists study animals in the field, and hopefully get inspired to take part in citizen science themselves. 

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Environmental issues around the world are important to all of us. In what ways can children help from home or in their own communities?

The young people of the early 21st century are going to be the deciders of whether big animals like giraffes, elephants, and rhinos and their habitat survive this century and beyond. These animals are beloved around the world. They are the biological equivalent of the great works of art, architecture, and popular culture that are the common heritage of people around the world.

The young people in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where these species and their habitats live, are the primary decision makers, but these animals need a global constituency of conservationists. They need people to help pay attention to them and keep their conservation needs visible in the world. Just as we pay constant attention to our favorite sports teams, celebrities, and technology products, we need to find ways to keep attention on giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

If you love a species, then helping your local social network of family and friends be aware of the animal is a meaningful conservation action. Our goal for “Nature’s Giants” is to help connect young people with these animals and their conservation challenges and find ways to keep that connection growing.

What are the future plans for the magazine? How can teachers or other organizations order copies?

The first issue of “Nature’s Giants” is themed about African animals and plants. If the magazine finds an audience and there is an appetite for future issues, we would love to do a theme issue for each continent. We have also thought about doing an issue about the oceans. There are endless possibilities for issue themes. We would love to explore the future adventures of Doug Beetle.

To order copies of the magazine and all three storybooks, you can contact Monica Bond: monica@wildnatureinstitute.org

If you are interested in ordering Juma the Giraffe, Helping Brother Rhinoceros, and/or Our Elephant Neighbors for your classroom, organization, or yourself, contact Monica Bond monica@wildnatureinstitute.org. Individual copies of the books cost $12.00. Substantial discounts are offered when ordering multiple copies. All prices include shipping and handling.

Individuals, schools, and other organizations can also order single and/or multiple copies of “Nature’s Giants Magazine” for $4.25 each, plus shipping and handling.

You can also download printable posters with illustrations and information about giraffes, rhinos, and elephants from the Africa’s Giants website: www.africasgiants.org

To find the books with major online booksellers, see the information and links below.

Nature’s Giants Books & Magazine Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to be partnering with Wild Nature Institute in a giant giveaway! You could win this prize package that includes

  • One (1) copy of Juma the Giraffe signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Helping Brother Rhinoceros signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Our Elephant Neighbors signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of “Nature’s Giants Magazine”

To be entered to win Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets.

Bonus: Reply with your favorite African animal for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

The giveaway will be held from June 21 to June 27.

A winner will be chosen on June 28

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

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You can find Helping Brother Rhinoceros at these booksellers

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-our-elephant-neighbors-cover

You can find Our Elephant Neighbors at these booksellers

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-juma-the-giraffe-cover

You can find Juma the Giraffe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 19 – World Sauntering Day

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About the Holiday

In 1979 running was sweeping the world. In response, W.T. “Bill” Rabe established today’s holiday to remind people to slow down and really notice the things around them. At the time, Rabe worked at the the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, which boasts the world’s longest porch at 660 feet (200 m)—a lovely place to take, or start, a stroll. To celebrate World Sauntering Day, gather your family and/or friends and take a long walk. You’ll be amazed at how relaxing a slower pace can be.

Ask Me

Written by Bernard Waber | Illustrated by Suzy Lee

 

Even before Dad has finished tying his shoes, his daughter has leaped from the front steps, eager to walk. As the pair stroll through the park, the little girl twirls in front of her dad and says, “Ask me what I like.” Dad obliges, and his daughter presents him with a list that includes dogs, cats, turtles, and geese. “Geese in the sky or geese in the water?” Dad asks as they pass a pond that’s alive with a smattering of both. The girl decisively answers “Geese in the sky.” But then she has a change of heart for those floating peacefully in the pond, and finally settles on “both.”

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Image copyright Suzy Lee, 2015, text copyright Bernard Waber, 2015. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

The little girl likes this game and asks for more. She reveals she likes frogs and bugs and flowers. She also likes horses… well, “riding horses.” Her dad is surprised to learn that she’s ridden a horse. “You remember,” she says, reminding him of the horse she rode on the merry-go-round. “I remember,” her dad says. As they pass an ice cream truck, the little girl tells her dad to ask if she likes ice cream cones, and when he does, she says “No. I love love love ice cream cones.” With strawberry ice cream cones in hand and the little girl riding on her father’s shoulders, they keep walking and talking.

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Image copyright Suzy Lee, 2015, text copyright Bernard Waber, 2015. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

It turns out the girl loves digging in the sand, collecting sea shells, and starfish. As they enter a forest of maple trees decked out for autumn and with a red balloon in tow, the little girl answers “some more likes.” She likes the color red, “splishing, splashing, and splooshing” in the rain, and making up words. Next, she wants to hear a “how come” as in “How come birds build nests?” But the little girl doesn’t want to answer this one, she wants to hear her dad’s explanation even though she already knows what he’s going to say. She just likes hearing him tell it.

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Image copyright Suzy Lee, 2015, text copyright Bernard Waber, 2015. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Back on their front steps, the little girl tells her dad to ask one more “I like.” She likes next Thursday, she says at last and prompts her dad, “Do you know why I like next Thursday?” Her dad plays along, pretending not to know. Next Thursday, she happily reminds him, is her birthday—and she likes balloons, hats, and a cake. Dad assures his daughter he won’t forget. Then it’s time for the little girl to go to sleep. With her favorite stuffed toys and one more “I like”—a second kiss goodnight, the girl drifts off to sleep.

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Image copyright Suzy Lee, 2015, text copyright Bernard Waber, 2015. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Bernard Waber perfectly captures the rapid-fire banter of children while making this father-daughter outing joyfully unhurried and carefree. The father’s simple responses and gentle prompts that echo his daughter’s tone and enthusiasm demonstrate the strong trust and understanding between the two and offer a terrific model for adult readers. Children will love hearing the back-and-forth conversation between father and daughter that affirms their own curiosity and favorites. The sweet final request and answer are heartwarming and reassuring.

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Suzy Lee’s vibrant settings spotlight the line-drawn figures, giving the story a wonderful mixture of whimsy and reality with a lighthearted sense of movement. Just looking at the pages, readers can imagine the sounds of conversation, geese honking, bugs humming, the ice cream truck chiming, and the rustle of leaves as the little girl and her dad slush through the woods. Each image also, however, draws readers in with a peaceful, comforting feeling where all intrusions fall away and the focus is on the love between adult and child.

Ask Me is a heartfelt book for parents, grandparents, and other caregivers to share with the children in their life. The book would make an often-asked-for addition to home bookshelves for sweet and fun story times (that may lead to outside excursions) and a terrific classroom book to jumpstart short writing or drawing prompts, outdoor jaunts, or conversations.

Ages 4 – 7

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015 | ISBN 978-0547733944

Discover more about Bernard Waber, his books, and his art on his website

To learn more about Suzy Lee, her books, and her art, visit her website.

World Sauntering Day Activity

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I Like Walking Journal Page

 

Print this I Like Walking Journal Page, find a walking buddy, and head out! When you see something you like or that makes you excited, add it to your list!

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You can find Ask Me at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 12 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

During National Oceans Month, we celebrate the wondrous diversity of sea life. A majority of the earth’s surface is covered in water and yet we know only a fraction of what the oceans have to show us. With new technology scientists are diving deeper and deeper and discovering some of the most unique creatures in the world. The holiday also gives us an opportunity to pledge our help to preserving the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the world’s oceans from climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction. To join in on this month’s holiday, visit a beach or aquarium, learn more about the animals and resources of the sea, and consider donating to or volunteering with an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore

Written by Susan Wood | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

A day at the beach includes a bit of animal tracking as a brother and sister and their puppy romp and play as ocean creatures go about their day. Near the ocean’s edge, they find “wading feet, / sandpiper hops, / water curls and sprays. / Crawling feet, / click-clack crab scuttles on its way.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Seagulls and pelicans looking for a snack leave webbed prints on the sandy shore while underwater “wriggling feet, / on five orange legs, sea star makes its way.” A turtle on her way to dig her nest mingles her distinctive track with familiar five-toed footprints that run back and forth from the water to a tall sand castle. But the most surprising feet are “buried feet, / children laugh, / Daddy’s toes poke through.” At last, as the sun sets, tired feet head home.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Back matter includes a short discussion about ecology and prompts children to become “ecology detectives” at home, observing the tracks of creatures who live nearby, or on a hike to the forest, beach, or park. Photographs and descriptions of the sea creatures mentioned in the text teaches children more about these animals and how they move.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2019, text copyright Susan Wood, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Susan Wood’s short, dynamic rhyming verses are a perfect way to entice young scientists to keep their eyes on the ground and observe tracks that can tell them about the creatures that traverse their backyard, playground, beach, park, or woods. Wood’s evocative vocabulary mirrors the action of the ocean as it “curls and sprays” and the animals who hop, scuttle, and wriggle to find food and shelter. Readers will also enjoy following the family who has come to spend the day at the beach with their lively dog in tow.

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Steliyana Doneva takes kids to the seashore in her lovely illustrations in which the aqua sea froths and bubbles, inviting swimmers, and the peach-hued sand preserves footprints, turtle eggs, and a growing sand castle—all overseen by a stalwart lighthouse. Kids get an up-close look at sandpipers, crabs, seagulls, pelicans, sea stars, barnacles, a turtle, and other fish as well as ocean and dune grasses. At the end of the day as the family heads home, Doneva’s beautiful sunset offers a perfect moment of quiet cuddle time during which readers can happily match the footprints on the final spread to the animals they’ve learned about in the story.

A terrific take-along for trips to the beach or a primer for outdoor jaunts, Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? makes for a fun and educational addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-158536409

Discover more about Susan Wood and her books on her website.

National Oceans Month Activity

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Personalized Painted Pail

 

A trip to the beach isn’t complete without a pail! It’s perfect for collecting shells, seaweed and sea glass or to use when making a sand castle. But why should all the cool stuff be on the inside? With this craft you can decorate your pail to show your unique personality!

Supplies

  • Plastic or metal pail
  • Craft paint in various colors
  • Crystal Clear Acrylic Coating, for multi-surface use
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint designs on the pail
  2. When paint is dry spray with acrylic coating to set paint
  3. Let dry

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sandy-feet-whose-feet-cover

You can find Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 30 – National Water a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

If the showers of April have dried up where you are and the May flowers are getting a bit thirsty, today’s holiday makes the perfect reminder to fill the watering can or turn on the sprinkler and give them a drink. Colorful flowers are some of the joys of summer and provide food for birds and insects all season long. If you haven’t begun your garden yet, it’s not too late! Grab a packet of seeds or visit your local nursery and see what a wonderful, wild patch you can grow!

The Curious Garden

By Peter Brown

 

“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.” People didn’t notice because they spent most of their time inside—working, going to school, or at home. “As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.” There was one boy, though, who loved being outside. One rainy day Liam discovered a stairway leading to a bridge that held unused railway tracks. Of course, he was curious, and when he reached the top he discovered a scrawny patch of wildflowers. They needed water; they needed a gardener.

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Liam wasn’t officially a gardener, “but he knew that he could help.” After a few false starts and a mis-snip here and there, the plants began to look better. After several weeks, “Liam began to feel like a real gardener, and the plants began to feel like a real garden.” Now that the garden was healthy, it began to be curious about what lay up and down the railway track. The weeds and mosses crept down the tracks while the “more delicate plants” plucked up their courage and followed. During the next few months, Liam and the garden explored all the nooks and crannies of the railway bridge. Liam looked out over his city with a new perspective.

When winter came, the garden lay under a blanket of snow and Liam stayed below, sledding and preparing for spring. With warmer weather, Liam gathered his new shovel, hoe, pruners, and watering can in his red wheelbarrow and went back to the railway. “Winter had taken a toll on the garden.” The grass and moss were brown, the flowers were just brittle twigs, and the little tree was dull and unkept. But Liam watered, snipped, and even sang to the plants, and soon they “awoke from their winter sleep.”

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Now the garden was even more curious about the rest of the city, and the brave weeds and mosses led the way. “They popped up farther and farther from the railway and were closely followed by the more delicate plants.” They explored “old, forgotten things,” wiggled their way into sidewalk cracks, and even poked their heads out of broken basement windows. When some plants planted themselves where they didn’t belong, Liam moved them. He also began leaving them in surprising spots around town.

This led to an even more surprising thing: new gardeners also popped up all over the city. Now there were rooftop gardens, backyard gardens, and even gardens that climbed walls. Plants created soft carpets for stairs, huge lily pad boats, an animal parade, and high-rise tree houses for neighbors to share. “Many years later, the entire city had blossomed.” But Liam still loved his patch on the railway line the best.

An Author’s Note following the text reveals the true-life inspiration for the story.

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Peter Brown’s classic story about a little boy who brings new life to a city that has shut itself off from the natural world, reminds readers of the importance of the environment and getting outside to enjoy it and participate in its survival and growth. But Brown’s story is about so much more too. As Liam’s garden begins to branch out, readers see how one person can be instrumental in spreading ideas, happiness, good news, kindness, in fact any number of life-changing events. In the title and the description of the garden, Brown taps into a dual nature of “curious.” What may seem odd or new or even forgotten sparks interest and exploration and new, often better, perspectives that can bring people together.

Brown opens the story with a two-page, aerial-view spread of the drab city dotted in only two places with a bit of color and giving readers a bit of foreshadowing of the transformation to come. The scrubby patch of greenery next to the rotted tracks includes a tiny tree, cleverly imbued with personality. As the garden spreads, kids will love hunting for the itty-bitty birds, bees, and beetles that appear among the colorful flowers. Kids will “ooh” and “ahh” over the pages that show how and where the garden has spread (a parking lot reclamation is a bright spot) and its influence on new gardeners. The final spread completes the promise held in the first and is a true showstopper.

Ages 4 – 9

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009 | ISBN 978-0316015479

To learn more about Peter Brown, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Water a Flower Day Activity

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Spoon Flowers Craft

 

Plastic spoons aren’t just for enjoying yummy treats, they make cute flowers too! With this easy and quick craft, you can give everyone you love a bouquet!

Supplies

  • Colorful plastic spoons
  • Heavy stock paper or construction paper in various colors, including green for leaves
  • Multi-surface glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut petals from the heavy stock paper or construction paper
  2. Glue the petals to the bowl of the spoon
  3. Cut leaves from the green paper (optional)
  4. Glue leaves to the handle of the spoon (optional)

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You can find The Curious Garden at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review