September 20 – It’s World Beach Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate beaches and all of the beauty and recreation they offer. Whether you’re a beachcomber or a swimmer, a sandcastle builder or a sunbather, the beach provides endless ways to enjoy the environment. This month also raises awareness of the types of pollution that mar and endanger the beach as well as the ocean and all of its varied sea life. The world’s coastal areas are irreplaceable habitats and offer crucial resources. Learn what you can do to help our beaches and oceans remain healthy by visiting the Ocean Conservancy website. You can discover more ways to enjoy World Beach Month here.

Constellation of the Deep

By Benjamin Flouw

 

Fox and his cousin, Wolf, spend summer mornings walking along the coast. One day as Fox explores the unusual plants along the path, a seagull lands on a nearby boulder and asks if they have ever heard of the constellation of the deep. The Seagull goes on to tell them that “‘it’s an amazing plant: it grows on the bottom of the ocean, but no one knows exactly where.’” Then he adds that he’s “‘heard that it glows in the dark.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-constellation-of-the-deep-seagull

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hearing this, Fox immediately determines to find the constellation of the deep. Wolf has all the diving equipment he’ll need. Outfitted with a wet suit, snorkel, mask, scuba tank, camera, and all the other equipment, Fox and Wolf return to the ocean. While Fox gets ready and dives into the sea, Wolf discovers a crabs, barnacles, periwinkles, scallops, sea anemones, and even a sea star living among the rocks along the shore.

Fox swims above an underwater meadow of posidonia, which he knows “are flowering plants, but they don’t glow in the dark. He leaves the scorpion fish, conger eels, and damselfish behind and dives more deeply. Here, Fox discovers a forest of algae. He recognizes the tall, slender leaves of macrocystis, the fan-shaped leaves of eisenia, the feather-shaped alaria, and many more. While exploring, Fox meets Otter, who’s hunting for sea urchins. Fox tells Otter about his quest, and Otter tells him about “‘a place full of strange plants’” that he encountered just the other day.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-constellation-of-the-deep-scuba-gear

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Exiting the forest, Fox finds “rocks covered with strange, multicolored sculptures. These aren’t plants, but corals.” Fox is so stunned by their beauty that he gets out his camera and takes some pictures. “He marvels at the different shapes of corals.” He sees “corals that look like brains, trees, tables . . . and curled paper.” Some of the corals are enormous and some are as small as mushrooms.

Still, Fox hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He begins to ask for help. No one has seen the constellation of the deep, but Grouper agrees to help in the search. They glide into the open ocean, where they come upon a mountain jutting up from the ocean floor. Grouper knows of a hole in the mountain. As they approach, Fox sees something glowing inside. He swims closer only to find “a tiny glowworm!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-constellation-of-the-deep-scuba-gear

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Fox wants to take a photograph and reaches for his camera, “but oh no! His camera is gone!” Staring down into the depths of the ocean, Fox spots an unusual shape. He swims down to see what it is. It’s Whale, who has become tangled in a fishing net along with bottles, cans, trash, and even a boot. What else is snagged in the net but Fox’s camera! Whale gives Fox a ride back to the surface. Wolf waves at his friend riding on top of Whale’s back.

Even though Fox hasn’t found the glowing plant, “he has made some wonderful memories.” Back home, he hands his cousin his camera to show him his pictures. Wolf is particularly taken with one that is very beautiful. “‘Look at this one,’” he says to Fox. Fox can’t believe it. His camera had captured a picture of the constellation of the deep when it fell to the ocean floor. Happy, Fox relaxes with a glass of mushroom juice, knowing that the photo of the constellation of the deep will always remind him of “the fabulous beauty of the underwater world.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-constellation-of-the-deep-rocks

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

In his follow up to The Golden Glow, in which plant-loving Fox and readers travel to the top of a mountain to discover a fascinating rare plant and a surprising decision, Benjamin Flouw plumbs the depths of the ocean to introduce kids to the wonders found there. Just as the sea itself, Flouw’s charming and straightforward storytelling is full of mystery and discovery. As Fox swims deeper and deeper through schools of fish, meadows and forests of sea plants, past coral reefs, and finally to an underwater mountain, readers learn about specific sea life found at each level. Interspersed with the story are several glossary-type pages with illustrations and names of scuba diving gear, tidal pool sea creatures, algae, and corals. Fox’s miraculous recovery of his camera and equally astonishing discovery among his photographs is the type of magical happenstance kids love best. Flouw’s understated environmental message is eloquent and effective.

Just as in The Golden Glow, Flouw’s stylized and textured illustrations, rendered in fresh and soothing tones, will get readers excited about discovering more about the environment. Here, the sea beckons with its colorful and varied creatures and plants. Two-page spreads of the algae forest and coral-encrusted rocks are stunning and the image of Whale wrapped in netting offer educators and kids a jumping off place to further research.

Mesmerizing, educational, and conveying a compelling message, Constellation of the Deep is sure to be a favorite. The book is highly recommended for all home, classroom, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735268968

You can find a Constellation of the Deep Activity Kit from Tundra Books here.

Discover more about Benjamin Flouw, his books, and his art on his website.

World Beach Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Kinetic Sand

 

You don’t have to live near the beach to enjoy playing in the sand! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or just let it drip and ooze through your fingers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-constellation-of-the-deep-cover

You can find Constellation of the Deep at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 16 – Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing better than spending the time snuggled up with a new book. Kids love cuddling and sharing laughs, poignant moments, fascinating facts, and the changes life brings through books. If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Read A New Book Month, check out today’s sweet and surprising book for the youngest readers.

Pablo

By Rascal | Translated by Antony Shugaar

Do you see Pablo? No? He’s in the egg, and he’s sleeping. “Ssshhhhh! (This is the last night he’ll be in his shell.)” In the morning Pablo gathers his strength with a “small croissant and a hot chocolate.” Pablo is a little nervous to meet the world, so at first he pecks out only a tiny eyehole. Then a second one! He looks all around him at what awaits.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pablo-morning

Copyright Rascal, 2021, translation copyright Antony Shugaar, 2021. Courtesy of Gecko Press.

He wants to learn more so he pecks two ear holes, first on one side and then on the other. He hears bees, birds, and the wind. These things make him think he’d like to smell the world too. He “pecks a fifth tiny hole for his beak. He discovers the smell of the soil and the perfume of the flowers.”

Pablo thinks “he’d like to wander around.” First one leg and then the other pop out. Pablo can’t wait to discover the world “on his own two feet.” But he doesn’t have to rely only on his feet. He pecks two more holes—his eighth and ninth—for his wings. Pablo is all set to conquer the world. Except, he’s still in his shell. He cracks it open and discards it. Well, the bottom half at least. The top, Pablo thinks, will make a perfect umbrella “for a rainy day.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pablo-eye

Copyright Rascal, 2021, translation copyright Antony Shugaar, 2021. Courtesy of Gecko Press.

Charming from the first peck to the last, Rascal’s sweet story, translated in a voice that fully retains the surprise, wonder, and inclusive narration of the original, offers enchanting opportunities for little ones to interact with the book by guessing what comes next, counting the holes Pablo makes, and even adding their own ideas about what Pablo sees, hears, smells, and discovers with each new experience of the world around him. The thought of Pablo having breakfast in his shell before he makes his appearance instantly endears him to readers—who are also just making their entrance into the world of school or activities—and will spark giggles.

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Copyright Rascal, 2021, translation copyright Antony Shugaar, 2021. Courtesy of Gecko Press.

The striking black-and-white illustrations of Pablo sitting in place as the sun, birds, and dotted clouds pass by will captivate both babies and young readers. A second look at those ingenious clouds reveals that the sky above Pablo is home to various shapes and creatures—just as it is for them. Kids will love turning the book sideways and upside down to use their imaginations and discover what’s there. When adorable Pablo finally emerges from his shell, the pop of yellow is sure to bring “Awww!”s and requests to read the book again.

A smart, clever, and immersive story for little ones that adults will enjoy reading over and over, Pablo is highly recommended for home, preschool, school, and public library collections. The book would make a much-loved gift for baby showers, new babies, and any gift-giving occasion.

Read a New Book Month Activity

CPB - Chick single

Hatch a Chick! Craft

Chicks are so cute and fluffy—you just wish you could have one of your very own! Now you can! Hatch your own chick with this craft.

Supplies

  • Cotton balls, or use large pom-poms
  • Yellow chalk
  • Orange paper
  • Black paper
  • Egg shell
  • Paper grass
  • Cardboard or poster board
  • Cheese grater
  • Green paint, marker, or crayon
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Directions

To make the shell

  1. Crack an egg and save the two halves
  2. Soak the eggshells in soapy water or wash gently with soap
  3. Dry eggshell

To make the chick

  1. Use the cheese grater to grate the chalk into a bowl
  2. Roll the cotton balls in the chalk dust until they are covered
  3. Make the beak from the orange paper by folding the paper and cutting a small triangle
  4. Cut two small eyes from the black paper
  5. Glue the beak and eyes to one of the cotton balls
  6. Glue the head to the second cotton ball
  7. Set the chick into one of the eggshells, glue if desired

To make the stand

  1. Cut a 3-inch by 3-inch square from the cardboard or poster board
  2. If you wish, paint or color the square green
  3. Glue green paper grass to the square
  4. Glue the eggshell to the stand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pablo-cover

You can find Pablo at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

Usually, I match books to existing holidays. Today, though, I have the pleasure of posting a review of a book that established a holiday. On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration. For more information and to join in on a live event starting at 10:00 a.m. PT, visit the International Dot Day website.

The Dot

By Peter H. Reynolds

 

At the end of art class, Vashti looked at her paper. It was still as blank as it was at the beginning of art class. Her teacher came over and took a peek. She saw right away that Vashti had drawn “‘a polar bear in a snowstorm.’” Vashti wasn’t fooled by the joke. “‘I just CAN’T draw,’” she said. But her teacher had a suggestion. “‘Just make a mark and see where it takes you.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-dot-vashti-jabs-paper

Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti jabbed at the paper with a marker, making a dot right in the center. Her teacher studied her drawing carefully then told Vashti to sign it. That, at least, was something Vashti could do. She signed her name and gave the paper to her teacher. At the next week’s art class, Vashti was stunned to see her dot framed and hanging above the teacher’s desk. She looked at the tiny mark and decided that she could do better than that.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti opened her watercolor set and began. She “painted and painted. A red dot. A purple dot. A yellow dot. A blue dot.” Then she discovered that blue mixed with yellow made a green dot. Vashti went to the easel and began painting lots of little dots in all sorts of colors. She realized if she could make little dots, she could make big dots. She knelt down on the floor with a big piece of paper and a big brush and created a huge dot.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-dot-experimenting-with-dots

Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Then on an enormous canvas Vashti “made a dot by not making a dot.” At the school art show, Vashti’s dot paintings covered two walls and were quite a hit. Coming around the corner a little boy spied Vashti. He came close and told her, “‘You’re a really great artist. I wish I could draw.’” Vashti was encouraging, but the little boy said he couldn’t even “‘draw a straight line with a ruler.’”

Vashti wanted to see. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. With a quivering pencil, he drew a line and handed the paper back to her. Vashti studied the wavy line for a minute, and then gave the paper back. “‘Please…sign it,’” she said.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-dot-art-show-II

Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Peter H. Reynold’s classic story of a little girl who believes she can’t draw is inspirational for anyone at any age who listens too closely to that voice in their head that stops them from letting go and doing. Whether it’s painting, writing, changing the décor of one’s house, updating a wardrobe, getting healthy, or even taking a class, the project often seems insurmountable. But what if you could start with a YouTube video, one step, a pair of earrings, a pillow, a word, or…a dot? Reynolds says you can! With his straightforward storytelling, Reynolds gives readers permission to play, experiment, and feel free.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-dot-little-boy

Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Reynold’s familiar line drawings that sketch out adorable Vashti and her wise teacher are punctuated by the colorful dots that Vashti draws in profusion. Even Vashti, herself, is surrounded by circular auras of color throughout the story, reflecting her talent and creative spirit. The final scene of the art show gallery is a revelation, showing readers that one’s work or life work adds up to an impressive display of the self.

Through and through The Dot is charming, moving, and encouraging. It is a must addition to home libraries, public libraries, and classrooms.

Ages 5 and up

Candlewick Press, 2003 | 978-0763619619

To learn more about International Dot Day and find ideas and resources for classrooms, libraries, and booksellers, a variety of coloring pages to download, and a gallery of projects, visit the International Dot Day website

You’ll learn more about Peter H, Reynolds, his books, and his art as well as find lots of inspiration and creative tips on his website!

International Dot Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dot-day-mini-poster

Make Your Mark! Mini-Poster Coloring Page

 

Grab your favorite paints, markers, crayons and Make Your Mark with this printable mini-poster from Peter Reynolds!

Make Your Mark! Mini-Poster

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-dot-cover

You can find The Dot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 3 – National Food Bank Day

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About the Holiday

National Food Bank Day was established by St. Mary’s Food Bank, the world’s first food bank, which was founded by John van Hengel in Phoenix, Arizona in 1967. The idea spread throughout the country, and now St. Mary’s Food Bank distributes 250,000 meals daily with the help of staff, volunteers, and partner agencies, making it one of the largest food banks in the United States. Food banks across the country help millions of men, women, and children who live with food insecurity due to job loss, illness, and other circumstances. Many food banks offer educational opportunities that help people change their situation and begin anew. Often, those who have benefited from the programs return to volunteer and contribute to the very food bank that staved off hunger to do the same for others. To learn more about St. Mary’s Food Bank, visit their website. To find a food pantry in your area for help, to donate, or to volunteer, visit the Ample Harvest website.

I’d like to thank Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Saturday at the Food Bank with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Saturday at the Food Pantry

Written by Diane O’Neill | Illustrated by Brizida Magro

 

When Molly came to the table for dinner, she saw that they were having chili—again. She and her mom had eaten chili for two weeks straight. But there was “fancy milk too.” Molly smiled as her mom measured sugar and cinnamon into her glass and added milk.” There was only a splash of milk left when Mom put it back into the almost-empty refrigerator.

Tomorrow, Mom said, they’d go shopping. “Molly’s eyes lit up” as she imagined “chicken and spaghetti and ice cream.” But Molly’s mom tempered her expectations, saying that they’d be going to a food pantry. A food pantry, she explained, is “‘a place for people who need food…. Everybody needs help sometimes,’” she added. That night there was no warm milk before Molly went to bed and her stomach growled.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In the morning when Molly and her mom got the food pantry there was already a line waiting for it to open. Molly had brought paper and crayons and sat down to draw. Then she saw a girl who was in her class at school. She called out hi, but “Caitlin looked away.” When Molly ran over, Caitlin told her she didn’t want anyone to know that she and her grandmother needed help.

Molly went back to her mom, wondering if there was “something wrong with needing help.” She wanted to go home, but she was also hungry. Molly’s mom suggested she draw a picture, and the woman in front of them asked if she’d draw one for her too. Then everyone in line seemed to want a picture. Molly ran back to Caitlin to ask for help. Caitlin sat down and began to draw too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-saturday-at-the-food-pantry-hungry

Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

When the door opened, Molly and Caitlin each had a picture for the woman who welcomed them in too. Molly noticed that her mom had to sign in before she got a cart and they could begin shopping. They didn’t do that at the grocery store. The shelves at the food pantry were stocked with items she recognized from the store they usually shopped with. She ran over and took a box of sugar cookies off the shelf, but her mom told her “‘They—the people in charges—they’ll want us to take sensible stuff.’” Molly felt embarrassed and couldn’t understand why the cookies were there if they couldn’t take them. She sadly returned them to the shelf. As they went to look for food, Molly thought her mom didn’t want to be seen there, either—just like Caitlin. In a whisper, Molly reminded her that everyone needs help sometimes.

They went through the store taking one can, bag, or box of the food they needed. Then Molly’s mom reached for a box of powdered milk. They could have fancy milk that night. When they got to the checkout desk, Molly and Caitlin found their drawings hanging on the wall. The man at the counter bagged their groceries and then handed Molly’s mom a box of sugar cookies. “‘Saw your little girl looking at these. She can have them, if that’s okay with you, ma’am,’” he said. Molly noticed that her mom looked like she might cry.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-saturday-at-the-food-pantry-line

Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

As they were walking home, Molly saw Caitlin and her grandmother coming the same way. They were all happy to discover that they were neighbors. Molly’s mom explained that she’d been looking for work since the factory closed, and Caitlin’s grandma said she’d been sick. Caitlin understood, but wished they didn’t have to shop at a food pantry. But then Molly told her that “everybody needs help sometimes” and reminded her that they had helped make the man at the checkout counter feel happy with their drawings. Caitlin hadn’t thought about it that way. She smiled. Then Molly invited her and her grandmother to have lunch with them—with sugar cookies for dessert.

A note for adults, parents, and other caregivers from Kate Maehr, the Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository about food insecurity, including recent statistics and a resource where people can find help and more information, follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-saturday-at-the-food-pantry-shopping

Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Diane O’Neill’s well-executed story about two families who need the help of a food pantry is a poignant reminder of the many people—perhaps even readers’ classmates—who face food insecurity every day. Through the experiences of Molly and her mother and Caitlin and her grandmother, readers discover what it’s like to go to bed hungry, miss out on treats, and feel ashamed to ask for help. As this is Molly and her mother’s first trip to a food pantry, Molly’s questions and observations well reflect children’s own or reassures those who are familiar with these important resources. O’Neill’s straightforward storytelling emphasizes the fact that at one time or another everyone needs help and demonstrates simple ways that children make things better through their generosity, optimism, and acceptance. Molly and Caitlin’s budding friendship makes for an uplifting and hopeful ending and may spur readers to recognize need in their midst and extend kindness.

Through her realistic illustrations of two families in need of assistance from a food bank, Brizida Magro helps children see and understand what food insecurity and food pantries look like. At home, Molly and her mom eat small portions of leftover chili and the last full glass of milk. When Molly’s mom puts the carton in the refrigerator, the shelves are nearly empty, and Molly lies awake in bed, too hungry to fall asleep. The line outside the food pantry is made up of people from all walks of life, and inside the displays of food replicate a grocery store with the exception of signs asking shoppers to take one item only. These images can lead to meaningful discussions on the enormity of the issue. When Molly and Caitlin draw pictures that cheer up everyone in line as well as the food pantry workers, kids will recognize not only different ways of helping but their own role in making the world a kinder place.

Empathy shines on every page of O’Neill’s necessary and welcome story. Saturday at the Food Pantry is timely, heartfelt, enlightening and a must-buy addition to home, classroom, and school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807572368

Discover more about Diane O’Neill and her work on her website.

You can connect with Brizida Magro on Instagram.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-saturday-at-the-food-pantry-cover

You can find Saturday at the Food Pantry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 2 – It’s National Friendship Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-cover

About the Holiday

Friendship Month was instituted about ten years ago by the Oddfellows – or, as they are officially called, The Grand Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS) – an international organization dedicated to philanthropy and charity believed to have established in England in the 1730s. The holiday encourages people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and to reach out to others who are alone or need a friend. As school gets underway, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet new people and form friendships – some of which may last a lifetime.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Aven Green Baking Machine with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Aven Green Baking Machine

By Dusti Bowling | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

Hot off her stint as a sleuth, Aven Green has discovered another activity to conquer—baking! When she learns of a baking competition at the county fair the next weekend, Aven determines not only to enter, but to win the blue ribbon. She’s sure she will win because one, she’s an expert baker, having made a carrot cake last week; two, she’s a supertaster; and three, she has an excellent sense of smell. Now, as a pro, she calls her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata to come to her house prepared to each make a recipe of their choice. They will then choose which one to enter in the contest.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-mixing

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the girls all assembled at Aven’s house, they turn their attention to whose recipe to make first and focus on the ingredients Sujata brought to make her favorite Indian dessert, milk barfi. The other girls make fun of the dessert’s name, and Sujata retreats, crying, to Aven’s room. Aven’s mom appears to find out what happened. She asks the girls some pointed questions about whether they’d ever tried milk barfi before and if they had asked Sujata “what it tastes like or why it’s important to her.” She sends them in to Aven’s room to apologize. The friends make up and return to the kitchen to whip up the recipe, which Aven says smells like “spicy heaven.”

Next, they make Aven’s mint chocolate chip pie and then Emily’s peachy fluff, which Aven renames “peachy floof.” With these desserts all in the fridge, Kayla realizes they haven’t actually baked anything yet. And while the contest rules only call for an original dessert, Kayla thinks they should bake something. Aven suggests chocolate chip cookies until she discovers that the bag she thought held chocolate chips actually holds raisins for the raisin clafouti Kayla wants to make.

Aven has an unwavering loathing for raisins and tells Kayla, “‘Yeah, we’re totally not making that.’” The other girls defend Kayla’s choice. Hearing the shouting, Mom reappears and Kayla tells her how Aven won’t let her make clafouti—“‘raisin toefooty,’” Aven says, interrupting. Aven’s mom looks at her and tells her that she’s so disappointed in her behavior. Aven doubles down on her opinion and stomps off to her room to sulk. After the clafouti is in the oven, the girls all play together until it’s time to sample the desserts.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-pie

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

They love the Sujata’s milk barfi, and Emily’s peachy fluff turned out to be soupy—delicious, but more of a drink. Aven’s chocolate chip mint pie was deemed too minty, and Kayla’s raisin clafouti was declared the winner. Still, Aven wouldn’t try it. After everyone left, Aven’s mom sits down with her and explains that “‘the Aven I know would try something, even if she didn’t want to, so as not to hurt her friends’ feelings…. You did not act like a good friend.’”

When Aven goes to apologize the next day at school, the other girls tell her they don’t want to enter the contest with her because she is “too difficult. ‘It’s your way or nothing,’” Emily tells her. As Aven sits alone on the playground, Ren comes over to see if she’s all right. Aven tells him about the contest and he tells her about his favorite dessert, manju—sweet bean paste steamed cakes. Aven makes a “yuck face” and Ren, sad, walks away. At home, Aven decides she’ll make something for the contest by herself and bakes a chocolate cake with mint frosting. But when the cake comes out of the oven, it is less than perfect. Aven cries because she knows she can’t win with that cake and her friends are all mad at her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-fair

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

She goes to visit her great-grandmother, who gives Aven some perspective while making another unusual cake that Aven thinks she’s not going to like but ends up loving. The next day, Aven asks Ren to be her partner in the contest, telling his she wants to make manju. At first Aven is reluctant to try the steamed cakes they make, but one nibble later, she’s ready for more. She even decides that “from this moment in history until the end of time, I would forever be Aven Green, trier of new things, even the weirdest things anyone ever heard of.” The night before the contest, Aven made I’m sorry cards for Kayla, Sujata, and Emily, using all of her best stickers and glitter glue.

The day of the contest finally arrives. Aven and Ren make a fresh batch of manju and take it to the fair. Aven gives out her cards and wishes her friends good luck. They all wait to hear the judges’ decisions and… First place went to an apple caramel cake. Second prize went to a chocolate cream pie. And Third Place went to… Sujata, Emily, and Kayla for their raisin clafouti. Aven cheered and cheered for them, and when they left the stage, they offered Aven one of the yellow ribbons. She thought it would look lovely hanging on her wall, but she declined, telling her friends, “‘I didn’t win it. Not only that, but I had a bad attitude about the raisin clafouti, which did win.’”

Besides, Aven says, “‘I didn’t lose…. I won a whole new friend! And now I have my old friends back, too. Best day ever!’” Then she tasted the raisin clafouti, and even though she didn’t like it, she praised it for being an award-winner. Then the friends took in the fair and the bluegrass music, and Aven discovered another activity to conquer. “‘Watch out, world!’” she cried. “‘Here comes Aven Green, Music Machine!’”

A glossary of baking words found in the story as well as recipes for milk barfi, mint chocolate chip pie, peachy floof, raisin clafouti, tomato soup cake, and manju follow the text.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Dusti Bowling’s second Aven Green story for young readers is infused with her protagonist’s distinct personality, infectious enthusiasm, and big heart. Realistic dialogue, situations, and emotions make it a book that will easily resonate with kids. While it’s easy to focus on the humor in Bowling’s story—which is delivered with snappy, rapid-fire dialogue and observations—the story also packs a punch in its message about the injustice of preconceived notions, the effects of thoughtless comments, ultra-competitiveness, and the true meaning of acceptance.

Just one of the joys of Bowling’s series is how Aven Green smashes wrong assumptions while being fearless and self-confident. Here, Aven discovers that while she promotes acceptance for herself, she must also extend the same appreciation to others. All of Bowling’s characters possess strong opinions, enough self-assurance to reject behavior that hurts, and the ability to recognize when they’ve been wrong and make amends. These qualities make them excellent role models for readers. As the girls separate into different teams for the baking contest and, ultimately, make a new friend, readers learn important lessons on standing up for oneself, making informed opinions instead of snap judgements, and what true friendship is all about.

Gina Perry’s engaging illustrations bring the story to life as readers see Aven cooking, eating, and creating cards for her friends with her feet as well as participating in all the other activities at school and the county fair. Her line drawings also capture the emotions of the characters as they argue, make up, and cheer each other on. Cameos by Aven’s mom and great-grandmother portray a steadying and caring influence.

Aven Green Baking Machine is a multi-layered story that will make kids think as they enjoy the humor, close relationships, and invitation to discover and bake recipes from around the world. This book is a good choice for kids and adults to read together while discussing the issues presented. Fans of the series will want to catch up on what Aven is conquering next and new readers will be happy to discover this empowering series.

Ages 6 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454942207

Discover more about Dusti Bowling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find Aven Green, Baking Machine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 17 – Get Ready for Preschool

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About the Holiday

Not only are kindergarteners and “seasoned” elementary-school kids getting ready to go to school—or already back in the classroom—the youngest students are beginning their school career with preschool. Some children eagerly look forward to this new adventure, while others are more hesitant about the transition from home to school. Books like today’s warm and funny story that shows how teachers welcome and care for their students and the fun that’s waiting with new friends in a new, exciting environment.

Thanks to Tundra Books for sharing a copy of What Does Little Crocodile Say? with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

What Does Little Crocodile Say?

By Eva Montanari

 

It’s that time! “The alarm clock goes Ring Ring.” Big Crocodile comes into Little Crocodile’s room and tickles their child awake. A quick splash in the tub, a zip of the overalls, and a messy breakfast later, the pair are out the door. Zipping along the street, “the car goes vroom vroom.” When they get where they’re going, Big Crocodile locks the car, rings the bell, and—at her little one’s urging—carries them up the stairs to where “the Elephant says Good Morning!”

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hugging Mom tight, the little crocodile looks around the room full of toys and other kids. The piglet, kitten, bird, frog, and wolf all say hello in their own way. “And what does little crocodile say” as Mom puts them down? “WWWWAAH WWWWAAH.” But Elephant is there to soothe the tears and read a story. The teacher helps Little Crocodile beat the drum. By the time the kids ting the triangle, Little Crocodile is feeling comfortable, and when they have a trumpet parade, the little crocodile is first in line.

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

At lunch time, “the food goes nom nom nom” and “the milk goes glug glug glug” and Little Crocodile is right at the table with the other kids. They nap, play with bubbles, and then… “the door goes knock knock. Big Crocodile says Peekaboo!” Little Crocodile is surprised. There are kisses and kisses “muah muah muah muah muah” for Big Crocodile and a wave and “See you tomorrow!” for the new friends.

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Eva Montanari’s delightful step-by-step story envelops little ones in the experience of preschool through the sounds—from the morning ring of the alarm clock to the cheerful farewell at the end of the day—and the sights of home and preschool classrooms. In Montanari’s enchanting pencil and pastel illustrations, a messy bath and messy breakfast lead with gentle humor to the suspenseful page turn in which readers see that the handoff from Big Crocodile to Elephant is a bit messy too.

Little Crocodile’s meltdown, however, lets little ones who may also be unsure about this transition in their life see how their teacher will care for them and all the friends and fun activities that await. The correlating page spread in which Little Crocodile jumps back into Big Crocodile’s arms with kisses instead of tears is comfort at its best and is sure to inspire plenty of “Muahs” all around. Adults will love sharing this read aloud over and over and kids will have a giggly blast chiming in on all of the sounds. What will little ones say to this book? “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Captivating and interactive, What Does Little Crocodile Say? transends its concept book roots to reassure little ones just beginning their school journey and celebrate all the love and new friends they’ll find along the way. The book is a must for home, classroom, and library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 5

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735268135

Discover more about Eva Montanari and her books on her website.

Get Ready for Preschool Activity

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Crocodiles on the Loose! Matching Puzzle

 

These crocodiles have gotten separated from their twins. Can you help them find each other again in this printable puzzle?

Crocodiles on the Loose! Matching Puzzle

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You can find What Does Little Crocodile Say? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

August 16 – Celebrating Back-to-School Month with Tammi Sauer

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Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is the full-time author of many popular picture books, including Quiet Wyatt, illustrated by Arthur Howard, and Nugget and Fang and Nugget and Fang Go to School, both illustrated by Michael Slack. Getting kids excited about reading and writing is her passion. Her other passion is tropical tea. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

You can connect with Tammi on her website | Facebook | Twitter

Hi Tammi! I’m really happy you could help me celebrate kids going back to school with your best-of-friends, Nugget and Fang! This minnow and shark don’t seem like they’d be natural friends, but they make really supportive besties. Many of your books explore friendships and themes of being out of your comfort zone – and always with a liberal sprinkling of humor that really appeals to kids. How has a previous job or jobs influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

I am a former pre-k teacher and library media specialist. Both of those positions exposed me to hundreds of picture books. How lovely is it that the more you read, the better you write? Plus, being in the classroom and the library helped me to see what books really resonated with kids.

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My role as Mom has also been a big benefit to me as a writer. I used to read stacks and stacks of picture books to my kids. My son, Mason, was a tough audience—especially when he was four. After every book I read, he would either give it a double thumbs up or say, “Wow, that’s a dud.” I always keep four-year-old Mason in mind as I write. I want to create something that little Mason would have readily endorsed.

How great is it for a picture book writer to have a seasoned and discerning critic in residence?! Thanks so much, Tammi for sharing your experience with readers—and for all of your double-thumbs-up books!

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Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

When most fish and sea creature saw Fang, they swam or scuttled off in fear. But the mini minnows knew Fang was just a softie – and a vegetarian – because he once had saved them and his best friend Nugget from a fisherman’s net. In fact the mini minnows liked Fang so much, they thought he should go to school with them at Mini Minnows Elementary School. Nugget thought this was a great idea too.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Fang was excited until the first day of school arrived. He felt seasick and thought his skin was turning blue. “‘Your skin is always blue,’ said Nugget. ‘You’ll be fine.'” When the first bell rang, Nugget had to drag Fang in by the fin as Fang rattled off questions: “‘What if I lose a tooth? Or two? Or twenty? What if I sit on a jellyfish?'” He was afraid of swallowing someone while yawning, and getting swallowed by a whale himself. As the teacher, a hermit crab, introduced herself, Fang still worried. “‘She looks crabby,’ whispered Fang.'”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Nugget tried to reassure his friend. “‘You’ll be fine,'” he said, but things did not go well in reading, math, or science. Music, art and The Brief History of Minnows were also disasters. Fang thought the day couldn’t get any worse, but it did. At the end of the day, the teacher invited each student to the front of the class to share something special. After the horrible day he’d had, Fang did not want to do it. After students had shared their hobbies, talents, or special things from home, it was Fang’s turn. He stood in front of the class nervously trying to think of something to share. Then he noticed Nugget, who was smiling, nodding, and holding the lunchbox the mini minnows had given him that read “Fang, Our Hero!”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Suddenly, Fang did feel fine. And he knew just what to say. With a big toothy grin, Fang announced, “‘I have the best friend in the whole underwater world!'” Everyone was so impressed that the teacher even gave Fang a gold star. Now Fang didn’t want to leave school, but Nugget grabbed him by the fin and led him home anyway.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Tammi Sauer dives deep into the ways true friends help and support each other in her story that takes on first-day-of-school jitters and shows that even awkward days turn out fine with a bit of encouragement. Little readers will appreciate Sauer’s straightforward storytelling that focuses on children’s common fears when beginning school or any new extracurricular activity with a light touch and plenty of punny humor to get them giggling. To calm those fears, Sauer shows that reassurance and kindness come from many places, including best friends, new friends, and teachers. 

Fans of Nugget and Fang will be happy to reunite with Michael Slack’s rainbow-hued minnows and blue Fang. As Nugget and Fang approach the school, Fang’s fears swirl around him, replicating the way thoughts whirl through a worried mind. Slack’s uncluttered illustrations make it easy for kids to understand Fang’s predicaments as well as the comical touches. Slack uses the ocean environment for plenty of clever interpretations of a classroom setting. The science food chain poster in Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—or Snack Time? gets a history update in this version, adding to Fang’s embarrassment. Just as in the first book of this series, readers will cheer on Fang and Nugget’s unusual but strong friendship. 

Nugget & Fang Go To School will quickly become a favorite for kids just beginning their school journey, starting a new grade, or going back to in-person learning after a virtual year. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

Deep in the ocean two friends do everything together and life is almost perfect as they swim over ship wrecks, under reefs, and all around. Nugget and Fang are as close as two friend can be—there’s just one thing: Nugget is a minnow while Fang is a shark. Neither of them consider their friendship unusual—until Nugget goes to school. There during Reading, Nugget hears the story of The Three Little Minnows and the Big, Bad Shark. “‘Ha!’” says Nugget. “‘Impossible!’”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

During Math class the students solve a word problem: “What if there were ten minnows and a shark came along and ate four of them? How many minnows are left?” Nugget is scandalized. “‘A shark would never do that!’” he says. During Science period when Nugget learns the facts of the Marine Food Chain, he protests that sharks aren’t scary and announces that his best friend is a shark. “Have you lost your gills?” one classmate asks as another snarks, “Hello—sharks eat minnows!” Nugget can’t believe it.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Back home Nugget gives Fang the bad news. “‘Sounds fishy to me,’” says Fang. Nugget assures him it’s true before swimming far away. “Fang’s heart sank.” As Nugget stayed away, Fang determined to get his best friend back. He tried dressing like a mermaid, inviting Nugget for dinner, and even performing a song and dance routine, but nothing could sway Nugget. Fang was so upset that he didn’t didn’t notice when a fishing net floated toward the sea floor, capturing Nugget and the other minnows.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

When Fang realizes what has happened, he doesn’t know what to do. Then he has an idea. With his big sharp teeth he chomps and chews and tears the net to pieces, allowing Nugget and the minnows to swim to safety. They all stare at Fang wide-eyed. He knows just what they’re going to say. But Nugget has a new math problem for him: “‘There were ten minnows, and a very special shark came along. How many friends are there altogether?’” Now eleven friends live happily deep in the ocean, and everyone—especially Fang—are all smiles.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Tammi Sauer’s tribute to true friendship reveals the danger when “facts” take precedence over what you know in your heart to be true. Her reminder to listen to your inner voice is approached with humor and the honest types of doubts that can niggle and cloud judgement. Throughout the story, her language is accessible and kid-conversational, including puns that will elicit laughs. Sauer’s use of a math word problem to both highlight contrary thinking and provide a solution underscores the value of education as well as making new—and keeping old—friendships.

In Michael Slack’s vibrant illustrations, tiny Nugget and imposing Fang make a happy, nonchalant pair. They play together through vivid reefs unaware of marine animal stereotypes. When Nugget gets “schooled,” his astounded expressions and those of his classmates humorously depict their conundrum. The ocean setting gives Slack an opportunity for lots of visual jokes and innovation. Kids will laugh at Fang’s attempts at reconciliation with Nugget, and cheer when he becomes a hero.

Ages 4 – 9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013 ISBN 978-0544481718 | Lap Board Book, 2018 ISBN 978-1328768391

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever – Or Snack Time? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

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Shark Organizer Jar

 

Are some of your favorite school supplies scattered here and there? Would you like to be able to get a good chomp on them? Then here’s a craft you can really sink your teeth into! This shark organizer jar is easy and fun to make and a fin-tastic way to keep your stuff tidy!

Supplies

  • Wide-mouth plastic jar, like a peanut-butter jar
  • Gray craft paint
  • White craft paint
  • Black craft paint
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Find a point in the middle of the jar on opposite sides of the jar
  2. Mid-way between these points on the other sides of the jar, find a point about 1 1/2 inches above the first points
  3. From the first point draw an angled line up to the higher point and down again to the lower point to make the shark’s upper jaw
  4. Repeat Direction Number 3 to make the shark’s lower jaw
  5. With the gray paint fill in the jar below these lines to make the shark’s head
  6. Along the jawline, paint jagged teeth with the white paint
  7. Add black dots for eyes on either side of the shark’s head
  8. Let dry

Picture Book Review