December 2 – It’s Buy a New Book Month

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Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

For children, picture books provide one of the best ways to interact with facts and feelings. Stories that speak to their experiences, both common and new, alongside illustrations that bring the story to life let them discover the world around them. Today’s stunning nonfiction books are loaded with illustrations or photographs that let kids see exciting details about science, history, biographies, nature, and so much more. This month, take a look for fiction and nonfiction picture books about your child’s passions to add to your home library. And be sure to check out today’s book that incorporates both!

Thanks to Star Bright Books for sharing a digital copy of Leaves to My Knees with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Leaves to My Knees

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

Daddy has a surprise for Camille and her little brother Jayden. They get dressed in their coats—big for Camille and little jacket with a stegosaurus hood for Jayden—and head into the backyard. There, Camille discovers her dad has gotten her a rake of her own. It’s not as big as Dad’s, but it’s bigger than Jayden’s little rake. It’s the perfect size for Camille.

Camille marches right off to rake a pile of leaves. But not just any pile—she has a goal. “‘I’ll rake leave all the way up to my knees!’” she tells her dad. The three get working on the yard. Camille concentrates on gathering leaves, listening to the different sounds that the various sized rakes make: “The leaves go swush when Daddy rakes. They go swish when I rake. They go sweeeee when Jayden tries to rake.”

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Lurking under the leaves are twigs and acorns that clog up Camille’s rake. She worries that she’ll never be able to rake leaves to her knees. She calls for Daddy’s help, and together they clear Camille’s rake. “‘You’re good to go now, Camille,’” Daddy tells her. Back at it, Camille rakes and rakes. Then she steps into the pile she’s accumulated to measure it. Her pile only comes up to her ankles. Camille grabs her rake harder and with determination she collects more leaves. But wait! Jayden is stealing leaves from her pile to add to his! Camille guards her pile with her rake, and sends her little brother over to Daddy’s bigger pile. Camille checks her measurements again. Her pile has grown, but only up to the top of her boots.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Camille rakes ‘bunches of leaves,” and her pile gets taller, until “‘Oh no! A BIG BREEZE!!’” sends lots and lots of leaves swirling “Whoosh!” into the air and scattered to the ground. “I will never rake leaves to my knees!” Camille thinks. And when she measures again, her pile is back to her ankles. Daddy encourages her to keep going, and Camille is committed to achieving her goal. She throws off her coat, grabs her rake, and works on gathering up all the leaves she had, plus more. At last, too tired to rake anymore, Camille wonders. Has she done it? “‘Time for measuring!’ says Daddy.”

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Camille relinquishes her rake to her dad then, holding her breath, steps into her pile. “‘TA-DA!’” Camille raises her arms in victory. She steps out, positions herself a good ways away, and winds up for the run and jump. “‘GO!’ yells Daddy. ‘GO!’ Jayden yells too.” Camille flies through the air and lands, laughing, into her pile. Then Jayden jumps in. And Daddy? He gives Camille  “really big squeeze” for raking “leaves all the way up to [her] knees.”

A note for parents, teachers, and other caregivers written by Marlene Kliman, a mathematics learning expert and senior scientist at TERC, describes how the story incorporates the math of measurement and sizes and how adults can extend the lesson by pointing out elements in the book’s illustrations and while going about their day or doing common chores, such as cleaning up and sorting laundry.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Ellen Mayer’s Leaves to My Knees has everything that makes a story a young reader’s favorite—a spunky main character that kids will identify with, an achievable goal, successes and setbacks, suspense, humor, and a child-propelled victory. And it all revolves around an early math concept that comes naturally to children and which invites playful learning not only during the fall, but any time of the year. Shoveling snow and making snowballs in winter, yard cleanup and gardening in spring, and building sandcastles and raking grass clippings in summer as well as in-home fun with laundry piles, toys, and other objects are all ways to extend the story.

Told from Camille’s point of view, the story also engages children’s emotions as they join in to cheer Camille on as her leaf pile grows and commiserate with her when it shrinks. The close relationships among Camille and her dad and little brother ring true with dialogue-rich storytelling that is always encouraging. Strong themes of determination and persistence will also appeal to parents and teachers, who can point to how many times Camille has to start over before accomplishing her goal and her positive, resolute attitude.

Nicole Tadgell’s exuberant illustrations shine with personality, and kids will immediately become invested in each character as Dad gets working on a big job that needs doing, Jayden runs, jumps, and copies his big sister, and Camille unwaveringly works on her pile of leaves. Camille’s setbacks are clearly depicted, along with her and her father’s facial expressions that give adults and kids an opportunity to talk about disappointment, frustration, perseverance, and feelings of accomplishment. Each image also demonstrates the math component of measurement and sizes in the story with various-sized rakes, the growing and diminishing leaf pile, big and little jackets, and other objects that invite comparison.

Tadgell’s soft-hued pages are infused with the feeling of fall and hum with activity as cardinals, blue jays, chickadees gather at the bird feeder, squirrels scamper up and along the fence, and leaves continue to float to the ground. Readers will love following little Jayden’s antics and be inspired by Camille’s wide smile as she enjoys the reward of all her hard work.

Leaves to My Knees is a multilayered read aloud infused with the enthusiasm and rhythms of childhood that kids will want to hear again and again. Its mathematics base and themes of determination and perseverance rewarded will appeal to parents, teachers, and other educators as a way to engage children in active, hands-on learning. The book is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Star Bright Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1595729590 (Leaves to My Knees) | ISBN 978-1595729613 (Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Picture Book Month Activities

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Coloring Pages and Teaching Guides

 

You can extend the fun and learning in Leaves to My Knees with these activities, which include three fun coloring pages from the story, a hands-on play-dough art and discovery activity, and a detailed educator’s guide for teachers, homeschoolers, parents, and other caregivers that offers multiple ways to use Leaves to My Knees to explore math, mathematical thinking, and reading comprehension through the story and beyond at home, school, and elsewhere.

Meet Ellen Mayer

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You can find Leaves to My Knees on Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

You can also order from Star Bright Books

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

Picture Book Review

November 21 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. You know what they say—and it’s really true: A book is a gift you can open again and again!

Penguin and Penelope

By Salina Yoon

 

One day while taking a walk, Penguin saw a baby elephant stuck in the mud. “Her name was Penelope.” Penguin helped her out of the mud then gave her food, water, and a much-needed bath. Penguin noticed elephant tracks on the ground, and he and Penelope followed them, hoping to find Penelope’s herd. But when they came to a break in the tracks, they found a wide ravine through which a river flowed. “‘Oh dear,’ said Penguin. ‘We’d better find another way.'”

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Copyright Salina Yoon, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

They walked for days trying to find a way around the ravine, but couldn’t find one. “The world is so big!” Penelope said when they slept under the stars, blanketed with Penelope’s long scarf. The days of searching turned into weeks, and “over time, their friendship grew and grew, and so did Penelope.” One afternoon as they were lying on a beach watching the birds in the sky, Penelope said that she wished she could fly. This gave Penguin an idea.

They went down to the river’s edge. Penguin dived in, but Penelope only waded in carefully. “Penguin asked her to trust him. And she did.” To Penelope, swimming felt like flying. When they reached the other bank, they discovered elephant footprints. They followed them a long way until, finally, they found Penelope’s herd. Penelope and Penguin hugged goodbye with promises never to forget each other, and Penguin gave Penelope his scarf to remember him by. 

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Copyright Salina Yoon, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Penelope’s family was so happy to see her. “‘How we’ve missed you!’ they cried.” Penelope was happy to be back with her herd, but she also missed Penguin. One day, Penelope went back to the riverbank where she and Penguin had come ashore. She found him there, and once again they “flew like the birds” together.

A panel on the back of the cover jacket holds images of Penguin and Penelope for children to cut out and play with. The front and back endpapers offer a river backdrop, where kids can play with Penguin and Penelope while engaging their imagination.

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Copyright Salina Yoon, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Salina Yoon’s latest Penguin adventure begins with a surprise discovery that leads to a fast and forever friendship as Penguin helps Penelope find her way home. Penguin’s kindness and pluck are unwavering as the search extends over time, during which Penelope grows in size and experience while following her new friend. After being welcomed home with excitement and much love, Penelope is happy to be back with her family. Her longing to see Penguin again, however, spurs her to set out on her own adventure, one that demonstrates her growing independence while still guided by her family’s footsteps. This development as well as a beautiful fold-out page that shows Penelope’s family lovingly watching over her from a distance as she swims with Penguin will cheer and reassure young children.

Yoon’s storytelling is gentle and sprinkled with dialogue that conveys the characters’ emotions in ways that even the youngest child will appreciate and understand. Penguin is as adorable as ever, and Penelope is sweet and expressive as Penguin feeds her, makes her giggle while giving her a tickle-y bath, and discovers how big the world is. Yoon’s imagery, drawn with vibrant colors and boldly outlined dynamic shapes highlights adorable Penguin and Penelope, and little ones will laugh when Penguin—with just an “Oof!”—lifts Penelope out of the mud. Penelope’s homecoming is poignant, and the panoramic fold-out will thrill readers.

A sweet story of friendship found and never forgotten on life’s journey, Penguin and Penelope will enchant fans of the series as well as those just discovering it. The book is a must addition for school and library collections and for anyone looking for a charming and tender story their child will want to hear again and again.

Ages 3 – 6 

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1681193441

Discover more about Salina Yoon, her books, and her art on her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Penguin and Penelope Activity Kit

 

You can join Penguin and Penelope in some fun with the coloring page, maze, and connect-the-dots page  you’ll find on Salina Yoon’s website!

Penguin and Penelope Activity Kitcelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-penguin-and-penelope-cover

You can find Penguin and Penelope at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 3 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Martin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways as they entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding.

I’d like to thank Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of A Head Full of Birds for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Head Full of Birds

Written by Alexandra Garibal | Illustrated by Sibylle Delacroix | Translated from the French by Vineet Lal

 

Nanette is a little girl with “a head full of birds.” She mixed strange foods together, can spend hours looking at an empty spider’s web and “rocks back and forth, to and fro, fluttering her fingers like butterflies.” The kids at school taunt her, calling her “stupid” and treating her meanly. But Nanette doesn’t pay attention to them. One boy in her class, Noah, joins in. But one day while tossing paper airplanes during class, the teacher catches him and makes him sit up front.

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Image copyright Sibylle Delacroix, 2022, text copyright Alexandra Garibal, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

This means sharing a table with Nanette, which makes him angry. While pulling out his chair, “he pushes her out of irritation,” which causes her pencil to slide across her drawing of a bird. Nanette is disappointed, whispering “Oh. He won’t fly anymore.” Noah finds this ridiculous and tells her that drawings of birds can’t fly, but Nanette already knows. “‘The drawing doesn’t fly, the bird does,'” she answers.

That day after school, Noah watches as Nanette sets colorful little origami boats to sail down the rain-washed curb. He thinks it looks “so pretty.” The next day, it’s still raining, and during recess Noah sees Nanette standing in the middle of the school yard without her boots catching raindrops. His friends are calling him stupid, but he grabs her shoes and rushes out to bring her back in. But Nanette is happy. She takes her boots and fills them with water running off the roof. They both hide a boot in their coats and run back inside for class.

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Image copyright Sibylle Delacroix, 2022, text copyright Alexandra Garibal, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

On the stairs, someone bumps into Noah, spilling his boot. Noah is angry that their plan is ruined, but Nanette tells him it’s okay, that one is enough. She passes him a tiny origami boat, and he drops it into her boot. “The boat twists and twirls, dancing merrily across the water. And it’s so pretty.” Now Noah and Nanette are friends, and “together, they look after the birds that nest in their heads.”

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Image copyright Sibylle Delacroix, 2022, text copyright Alexandra Garibal, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

While quietly straightforward, Alexandra Garibal’s story affects poignancy on multiple levels. Readers are first introduced to Nanette, a girl with neurodiversity who is happy in her observations and interactions with the world while also self-confident enough to ignore the comments of her classmates. Readers see Noah participating in the ridicule, but when he is moved to sit next to Nanette, readers begin to understand that it is he who needs to see the world differently, not Nanette. Children may feel that Noah already embodies this empathy as it doesn’t take long before he appreciates the beauty Nanette brings to their world. 

While he at first feels he must protect her, running out with her boots and aiming to take her back inside from the rain, he again learns that her actions have meaning, and when the boot he’s carrying spills on the way back to class, he now feels the same disappointment of a project ruined that Nanette felt with her bird drawing. With Nanette and Noah’s conspiratorial goofing off in class (and, bravely, in the front row!), Garibal brings the story full circle while infusing it with growth and joy for both characters as they go forward as friends.

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Image copyright Sibylle Delacroix, 2022, text copyright Alexandra Garibal, 2022. Courtesy of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Sibylle Delacroix’s lovely colored-pencil illustrations reveal Nanette as a shining light in the world and in her classroom. She is first shown gazing upward as if the sun is on her face, next with colorful butterflies, and then at school in a bright yellow raincoat, while the background is drawn in gray and the other kids in a single shade of red, all except Noah, who has brown hair and blue glasses, signifying to readers that perhaps he is a bit different as well. 

The two children’s growing friendship takes place against a gray-scale background, putting the focus on both their separation from their environment as well as their similarity to each other. Other visual clues in clothing and other elements also point to Nanette and Noah’s similarity, which can invite kids to find and talk about them. A particularly moving spread comes as the two children watch the little boat float in the boot, their two smiling faces reflected in the water. Turning the page, readers see the imagination Nanette and Noah share as they ride in an origami boat pointing out paper bird above.

This beautiful friendship story speaks not only to the acceptance and understanding of neurodiversity but of all the creative and different ways in which people see the world. A Head Full of Birds will fill your heart and resonate long after the story is over. The book invites multiple re-readings and will generate much thought and discussion. It is a must for all home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0802855961

About the Author

Alexandra Garibal is a French children’s author and editor. She has written over sixty picture books, novels, and magazine articles, and her titles have been translated for Chinese and Spanish readers. A Head Full of Birds is Alexandra’s English-language debut. Follow her on Instagram @alexandragaribal.

About the Illustrator

Sibylle Delacroix is the illustrator of Tears, Prickly Jenny, Grains of Sand, and Blanche Hates the Night (all Owlkids). She graduated from the ERG Saint-Luc School of Graphic Research in Brussels and worked for many years as a graphic designer before becoming a full-time illustrator. Sibylle lives in France. Follow Sibylle on Instagram @sibylledelacroix.

About the Translator

Vineet Lal is a literary translator of books from French to English, including A Perfect Spot (Eerdmans) and The Secret Life of Writers (Weidenfeld & Nicholson). He studied French at Princeton University and the University of Edinburgh. Vineet lives in Scotland. Follow him on Twitter @vineet_uk.

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You can find A Head Full of Birds at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 25 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Herbert on the Slide

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Thanks to Hippo Park Books and Deborah Sloan for sending me a copy of Herbert on the Slide for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Herbert on the Slide (A Hippo Park Pals Book)

By Rilla Alexander

 

“Herbert loved everything about the slide.” Rilla Alexander’s first sentence speaks directly to the hearts of little ones who fully understand its simple, lovely truth. As Herbert climbs to the top, his teddy bear and truck in tow; settles in on his high perch; launches his “test run” with first Teddy and then truck—”clanky-clank-clank”—and finally counts down to his turn, kids will follow along, entranced by Herbert’s adventure and memories of their own.

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Copyright Rilla Alexander, 2022, courtesy of Hippo Park.

Of course, a slide is never just a slide, and Herbert goes “…again! And again! … sliding down, down, down…into his imagination!” One time, on his belly, “Herbert and Teddy are diving into a deep, purple sea!” Next time, “Herbert is a truck climbing up, up, up a mountain. Chug-chug-chug!” But Herbert isn’t the only one at the playground. His little sister is ready for her turn—and so is mouse and frog and turtle. There’s just one thing to do. “Line up and you can start all over again!”

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Copyright Rilla Alexander, 2022, courtesy of Hippo Park.

Rilla Alexandra’s endearing story for little ones, matched page-by-page by her adorable, “awww”-inspiring art is snuggle-up story time reading at its best. Perfectly reflective of a child’s playfulness and imagination, Herbert on the Slide is not only a story that will captivate them time and time again but a wonderful entry into the world of literature.

A subtle subplot involves Herbert’s younger sister, Fiona (soon to be the star of her own Hippo Park Pals book, Fiona in the Sandbox, coming February 7, 2023). She is at first unidentified and only seen in the distance, heading to the sandbox with her pail, a detail sure to pique kids’ interest. She’s later heard telling Herbert—who, mesmerized by an imagined chase and its successful conclusion, is resting on the bottom of the slide—that it’s her turn. Turning the page, kids see that she’s sitting atop the slide with a line of other wanna-be sliders waiting behind her. Alexander’s encouragement for Herbert to get in line and start again is a gentle and reassuring life lesson.

Sweet smiles and a sunny ambiance welcome readers on every clean, slide-focused page. Each scene is colored with the texture of crayons in bright shades and with the “messy” enthusiasm of children’s art.

A Special Note: The book’s small size (5 1/4-inches by 4 3/4-inches) makes it a perfect take-along, easily slipped into a backpack, diaper bag, or even a pocket for picnics, snack time, or just reading-time fun at the playground, park, beach, farmers market, or anywhere waiting may be required.

Cute as a button and perfectly reflecting the excitement and imagination of children’s free play, Herbert on the Slide is a must for any baby’s or preschooler’s home bookshelf as well as for school and public library collections. The book would be a favorite story time read aloud for daycare, preschool, and kindergarten classrooms as well as for public libraries’ preschool programs. It would also make a much-loved gift for baby showers, new siblings, birthdays, and the holidays. 

Ages 2 – 5

Hippo Park Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640117

Discover more about Rilla Alexander, her books, and her art on her website.

Herbert on the Slide Book Birthday Activity

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Herbert on the Slide Coloring Pages

 

You can find three fun coloring pages from Herbert on the Slide to print on the Hippo Park homepage at Astra Publishing House or here.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-herbert-on-the-slide-cover

You can find Herbert on the Slide at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 6 – It’s Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

Friendship Month was established by the Oddfellows (shortened from The Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS)), an international fraternity that dates back to 1730s England with the hope of encouraging people to make friends. Now dedicated to philanthropy and charity, the Oddfellows still promote Friendship Month each September to urge people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and, especially, 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.

I’d like to thank Carolrhoda Books and Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of Big Bear and Little Fish with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Big Bear and Little Fish

Written by Sandra Nickel | Illustrated by Il Sung Na

 

At the fair, Bear approached the basketball game booth, where the grand prize was a huge teddy bear. It was almost as big as Bear, herself. But Bear took away the consolation prize: a goldfish. “It was small. It was very small. It was so small it lived in a bowl.” Bear peered into the bowl, but when Fish woke up and said “‘Hello, Bear. Is this my new home?'”, Bear only nodded, afraid her big voice would scare little Fish.

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Image copyright Il Sung Na, 2022, text copyright Sandra Nickel, 2022. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

When lunchtime came, Bear made herself a sandwich with syrup that was as gold as she was. Bear didn’t know what to feed Fish, who was orange and probably liked “carrot muffins … or tangerines and pumpkins.” After lunch, Bear always measured herself. Today, she was over nine feet big! Bear didn’t know how she could measure Fish, so she left home for her regular afternoon walk, wishing – and not for the first time – that Fish was a teddy bear.”

While walking, Bear contemplated how inconvenient Fish might find the outdoors. Things could fall into her bowl and get caught in her tail. If she had a teddy bear Bear thought again, she wouldn’t have to worry about such things as tails. Bear began to regret ever bring Fish home from the fair. When Bear got home again, Fish greeted her with a “‘Hello” and a comment on how much she liked their porch.

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Image copyright Il Sung Na, 2022, text copyright Sandra Nickel, 2022. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

In response, Bear gave Fish the bad news that she couldn’t stay. When Fish asked why, Bear laid out her reasons: Fish was orange and ate orange foods; Fish had a tail that made it impossible for her to go on walks with Bear; and finally that Fish was too small. Fish was undaunted. She pointed out that Bear was orange too, and when Bear inspected her belly, she agreed that it “was an orangey sort of gold” kind of “like a carrot muffin.” Fish then added that Bear had a tail, and when Bear looked over her shoulder, she saw a tiny tuft. As to the assertion that she is “small,” Fish was surprised. 

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Image copyright Il Sung Na, 2022, text copyright Sandra Nickel, 2022. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

“Am I?” she asked then welcomed being measured. She stretched herself out, and Bear measured her: three inches long. Fish was happy with this result; she wasn’t so small after all. “‘I am not one inch. I am not two inches. I am three inches,'” she said proudly. Still, Bear couldn’t get over the idea that Fish was so tiny she had to live in a bowl. 

But Fish was philosophical. “‘Don’t you live in a bowl too?'” she asked. Bear had never thought of it that way before, and as she looked around at the big, blue sky, she suddenly felt small too. Fish reassured her and offered another perspective on physical size compared to how big one could feel inside. Bear considered this and then decided she’d like to take another walk – this time accompanied by Fish. And so they set off in search of a very big carrot muffin.

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Image copyright Il Sung Na, 2022, text copyright Sandra Nickel, 2022. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

In her seemingly odd “fellows” friendship story, Sandra Nickel presents a multi-layered look at what it means to be a true friend. She cleverly offers readers a variety of lenses for them to engage in perspective, from the character’s viewpoints to their own. Bear, alone at home and on her walks, focuses only on herself. At the fair, she wants to win a teddy bear that is a twin to herself but for which she would not need to be responsible in any real sense.

Fish, however, immediately wants to interact with Bear. She talks to him and asks questions. At first, it may seem that Bear will simply ignore Fish, but the idea of her has begun to make Bear think and even worry (here, Nickel creates a complex mix of emotions that invites discussion). Equally thought-provoking are Fish’s counter arguments when Bear tells her she can’t stay. While promoting how similar they are, Fish prompts Bear to reevaluate her view of herself and the world she lives in. Once Bear realizes that she, too, can be considered small and that the full measure of a person (or Fish or Bear) is found inside oneself, she embraces Fish – responsibilities, friendship, muffins, and all.

Il Sung Na plays with perspective and color to subtly guide readers through the stages of this endearing friendship. As Bear walks home from the fair, dejectedly carrying Fish in her bowl, the hilly landscape is washed in shades of blue and the twiggy, leafy, mushroomy vegetation replicates an ocean bottom. This evocative effect continues throughout the book, prompting kids to find other similarities between Bear and Fish and their environments. Readers will also enjoy pointing out examples and comparisons of big and small.

An endearing and thought-provoking story that boosts self-confidence while promoting friendship, empathy, and new perspectives, Big Bear and Little Fish will become a quick favorite on home bookshelves, a go-to book for classrooms, and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Carolrhoda Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1728417172

Discover more about Sandra Nickel and her books on her website.

To learn more about Il Sung Na, her books, and her art on her website.

Dive in to this book trailer for Big Bear and Little Fish!

Friendship Month Activity

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Measuring Stick Craft

 

Bear and Fish loved getting measured. If you’re looking for a unique way to measure how big you are, here’s a craft for you! This nature-inspired measuring stick can keep track of your big and small growth spurts whenever you sprout up. You can even add leaves to record thoughts, favorite things, and other ideas as you age! 

Supplies

  • 50-inch wooden stake, available at craft stores
  • Dark and light green foam sheets or 45 – 50 small wooden leaves, available at craft stores
  • Green paint, light and dark
  • Black marker
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue
  • Flower pot
  • Oasis or clay
  • Ruler
  • Pencil

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Directions

  1. Paint the wooden stake with the green paint, let dry
  2. With the ruler mark the stake in 1-inch increments along the edge of the stake

How to Make the Leaves

  1. If using wooden leaves, paint half light green and half dark green
  2. If using foam, cut 1 3/4-inch-long tear-drop shaped leaves (half from light green foam, half from dark green foam), 45 – 50 or as needed
  3. Cut two larger leaves, one from each color to decorate the top of the stake
  4. Draw a line down the center of each leaf

For Measuring Growth: Write the inch 1 through 45 or higher on each leaf with the black marker, alternating colors

For Recording Ideas: You can write favorite ideas, hobbies, or hopes on the leaves too and measure your growth that way!

How to Attach the Leaves

  1. Glue the leaves to the stake, attaching the odd-numbered inch leaves to the left side of the stake and the even-numbered leaves to the right side of the stake.
  2. Attach half of the leaf to the stake, letting the tip stick out from the side
  3. Glue the two larger leaves to the top of the stake

How to Store Your Yardstick

  1. Put the oasis or clay in the flower pot
  2. Stick the stake into the flower pot to keep it handy

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To get a copy of Big Bear and Little Fish personalized by Sandra Nickel

Visit Watermark Books to request a signed and personalized copy. When ordering, simply note your desired dedication in the Comments section. Sandra will sign on September 24, 2022, so be sure to order in plenty of time.

You can also find Big Bear and Little Fish at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 2 – 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. This year, a record number of families (nearly 150,000 in August alone) have sought help. 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 helped them. To learn more about St. Mary’s Food Bank, visit their website. To find a food pantry in your area to get help for yourself, 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 to 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 a hello, 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.

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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 charge—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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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 1 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

The beginning of a new school year is a terrific time to celebrate Read a New Book Month—especially for kids. Whether their reading tastes have broadened, their reading level has changed, or they’ve discovered new and fascinating topics to explore over the summer months, there are new books just waiting for them! The books may be recently published—like today’s book—or just new to your child, there are countless fictional stories and nonfiction books ready to inspire learning, to laugh or cry with, and to share with friends. This month visit your local bookstore and library and stock up on books for your kids and everyone in the family! 

The Boy and the Mountain

Written by Mario Bellini | Illustrated by Marianna Coppo

 

“There once was a boy who always looked at a mountain.” It was the first thing he looked at in the morning and the last thing he said good night to before going to bed. The boy loved to draw, and one day he “decided to draw the mountain.” His first attempt didn’t look anything like the mountain he saw out his window. When he looked closer, he realized “the mountain was covered with trees,” so he added trees. 

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Image copyright Marianna Coppo, 2022, text copyright Mario Bellini, 2022. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Still, his picture wasn’t quite right. Next, he noticed the sky and clouds around the mountain and drew those, but his picture “still didn’t look the same as the real thing.” He tried drawing the mountain at different times of day and in different weather, but “he was never happy with what he had drawn.” 

One day, the boy decided to get a closer look. He took his dog and headed out. One the way, he met a goat and drew a picture of it in his sketchbook. The goat decided to come along. When a flock of birds flew by, the boy drew those too. One bird left the flock to follow the boy and his dog and the goat. When they stopped at a stream for a drink of water, the boy drew that too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-mountain-trees

Image copyright Marianna Coppo, 2022, text copyright Mario Bellini, 2022. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

It was fall, and the ground was covered in leaves. The boy “wanted to draw them all,” but even though he drew many of them, there was no way they would all fit on the page. He continued on up and up into the forest and beyond. Along the way, he picked up other followers, including a frog, a bear, and a beaver. When he had left the trees behind, there was very little to draw “until he looked more closely” and saw a tiny white flower poking up between some rocks. He drew it.

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Image copyright Marianna Coppo, 2022, text copyright Mario Bellini, 2022. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

At last he came to the mountain’s peak. He sat down and flipped through his sketchbook, but he still wasn’t satisfied with his drawings. It was then that he became aware of the goat, the bear, the frog, the bird, the beaver, and a snail who had joined him. “‘Ohhh … hello!'” he said. They played until it was time to go home. The bear gave the boy a ride home on his shoulders. Once home, the boy promised that he would see them all again soon. That night before going to sleep, the boy drew the mountain again with his new perspective. This time his drawing was complete—and the boy was completely satisfied with it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-mountain-goat

Image copyright Marianna Coppo, 2022, text copyright Mario Bellini, 2022. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Mario Bellini’s thoughtful and well-paced adventure gently guides readers to consider not only their perspective on big and small topics of life but where and how they fit into the wider world. Just as children observe the world from their vantage points of home, school, and activities, the boy in the story looks at the mountain and tries to make sense of it by drawing it. Then, like kids slowly adding bits of what the world has to offer to their lives, the boy includes trees, clouds, and different times of day to his drawing. But he thinks there must be something more, and, now braver and more knowledgeable, he ventures out to get a better look. 

Along the way he sees more of the world and interacts with what he encounters in the way that means the most to him. Some of these experiences turn out well, and others don’t, but he persists. When it appears that he’s finally come to the end of his journey, he sits down (alone, or so he thinks) and ponders his single-subject, disjointed pictures. When he finally notices all of the animals who have joined him on his trek and embraces them as friends, the boy discovers an interconnectedness that has been missing for him all along. At last, with his final drawing, the boy is able to be satisfied with his knowledge, understanding, and place in his world.

Marianna Coppo’s delightful rounded illustrations lend a quiet elegance to the story while allowing readers to view the boy’s drawings for themselves and then join him on his journey to see the mountain up close. Kids will enjoy noticing the animals that begin to populate the boy’s sphere, even while he is unaware that they are following him. The boy’s drawings of the river, the leaf-strewn forest floor, and the hidden mountain peak give kids and adults an opportunity to talk about times when things go wrong, when life seems overcrowded or overwhelming, and when goals seem elusive. Coppo also helps kids see that surprises can be found in the most unlikely of places as well as when you least expect them. 

A multi-layered story that invites thought, observation, conversation, and discovery (of both the self and the world), The Boy and the Mountain would be a favorite read for quiet story times or as a prelude to any new experience at home or in school. The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves as well as classroom, school, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-0735270251

You can connect with Marianna Coppo on Instagram and Twitter.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Take a Bookworm Trek! Maze

 

These two friends love reading! Can you help them through the maze to meet the bookworm? 

Take a Bookworm Trek! Maze Puzzle | Take a Bookworm Trek! Maze Solution

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You can find The Boy and the Mountain at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review