February 4 – It’s National Bake for Family Fun Month

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About the Holiday

Mid-winter is a perfect time to gather with family and friends and spend those cold, indoor day baking your favorite recipes! Baking together is a great way to teach valuable cooking skills and a little math. Talking with kids while baking cane fun too! Tell old family stories, favorite recipes, and funny or memorable culinary experiences at school, home, or while eating out. Of course, the best part of baking together is eating the delicious meals or treats afterward!

There Are No Bears in This Bakery

By Julia Sarcone-Roach

 

Muffin, the “whiskers” of the neighborhood assures readers that “there are no bears in Little Bear Bakery.” After all, he works the nightshift and knows everything that goes on. He knows the scratchy sounds of the mice, the clanging that means the raccoons are raiding the trash, and the flip flap of the bats. But he has to admit that last night there was a new sound: “grrrrrrrrrrr.” He went to investigate.

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

“The air was cool and wet like a dog’s nose.” None of the regular creatures were in the alley, but “the bakery’s back window was open like a crooked smile.” And, again, Muffin heard, “grrrrrr.” He entered the bakery thinking that maybe the intruder was a mouse looking for sprinkles. Then he saw it. Was it a huge mouse? No. It was a tiny bear. The bear was surprised; Muffin was surprised; and Muffin’s tale? It “was the most surprised” of all. The “grrrrrrrr” was coming from the bear’s stomach.

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Muffin knew just what to do. He gave the cub a slice of cake, let her choose a doughnut from the bakery case, and toppled over a canister of cookies so she could nibble a few. The bear’s belly stopped grumbling, but then the bakery seemed quiet – too quiet. Muffin looked around and saw something in the darkness. It turned out to be a huge bear, and suddenly Muffin was in the dark as he was enveloped in a big hug. “It was warm, like a bath mat in the sunshine. It smelled like that bath mat needed a bath.”

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

The mama bear was a bit hungry too and scarfed down some sprinkles. As the sun came up, the bears crept out the window and down the alley toward the forest. With the nightshift over, Muffin headed home to wake up his sleeping human and tell his heroic tale. “It was a messy job,” he said, “but I handled it.” And as Muffin curled up on his pillow, he just happened to mention, “By the way, we’re out of donuts.” Among other things….

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Julia Sarcone-Roach’s storytelling is as frisky as a kitten and full of hilarious and oh-so-apropos similes from a cat’s point of view. Sarcone-Roach imbues her little feline security guard with the supreme confidence and guilt-free consciousness that cat lovers will recognize. Kids and adults will enjoy the noir-tone of this wry narrator, and like the best parodies, the suspenseful buildups give way to laughs. Sweet moments abound during the off-hours snackfest, and as readers gaze into Muffin’s wide, “who-me?” eyes, they’ll know that after the clean-up there will still be cuddles for this adorable cat.

Sarcone-Roach’s nighttime illustrations are rich with humor and shadowy atmosphere as Muffin relates her suspenseful tale of how she rid the bakery of bears. Clever perspectives immerse readers in Muffin’s experience while also allowing them to laugh at the feline expressions that make these pets so beloved. The little bear cub is as cute as a mini-cupcake and as endearing as any child. Those readers with a cat “alarm clock” will appreciate the morning scene, and the final spread of the bakery will elicit an “Oh!” or two.

If you love any of these: cats, bears, bakeries, mysteries, or a story wonderfully told that kids will want to hear again and again, you’ll want to add There Are No Bears in This Bakery to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0399556654

Discover more about Julia Sarcone-Roach, her books, and her art on her website

National Bake for Family Fun Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Grandma—and they’ll become your favorite confection too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

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You can find There Are No Bears in This Bakery at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 6 – It’s Sleep Comfort Month

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing that refreshes quite as much as a good night’s sleep. That’s why, during Sleep Comfort Month, people are encouraged to take stock of the amount of sleep they get each night. If you lie awake late into the night (or even early morning) and feel sluggish the next day, you may want to consider changing your nightly routine. Limiting light and screen time before bed, keeping the room at a comfortable temperature, and having a set pre-sleep activity like reading or journaling can help you fall asleep quickly and deeply. Children, especially, benefit from a nighttime routine.

The Way Home in the Night

By Akiko Miyakoshi

 

A mother rabbit carries her little bunny home down familiar lamp-lit streets. As they pass the bookshop and the restaurant, they see the workers closing up for the night. The streets are quiet and deserted, adorned with a golden patchwork of light from the windows along the way. Through the windows the bunny sees and hears the neighbors. A phone rings at Mr. Goat’s, the delicious aroma of a pie wafts from Ms. Sheep’s. “A light flickers” where perhaps “someone is watching TV,” and next door “it sounds like there is a big party.”

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Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2017, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The bunny peers into one window just in time to see two mice saying goodbye. As they approach their own house, the little rabbit’s father joins them. Soon, the bunny knows, it will be time to be tucked into bed. At home Daddy Rabbit pulls up the blankets on his dozing child. Out the window, a crescent moon lights the sky. “Snug under my covers,” the bunny thinks “about the way home. Are the party guests saying goodnight? Is the person on the phone getting ready for bed?” The cook may be taking a long, hot bath, and the bookseller may be “reading on the couch.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-way-home-in-the-night-tucked-into-shop

Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2017, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The bunny wonders if the pie is being shared and whether all the lighted windows are now dark. The last thing the bunny hears before drifting off to sleep are soft footsteps going by and imagines the mouse is walking to the station to take the train home. Throughout town the bright checkerboard windows keep watch as the long, illuminated trains speed past. “Some nights are ordinary, and other nights are special. But every night we all go home to bed.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-way-home-in-the-night-tucked-into-bed

Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2017, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Akiko Miyakoshi sleepy, atmospheric bedtime story reflects all the comfort and mystery that nighttime inspires in little ones. The loving child/parent relationship is sweetly depicted in the beautiful, understated acts of the bunny’s being carried home through the softly lit streets and tucked into bed under warm covers. The glimpses into the neighbor’s windows provides a unifying sense of community as do the final pages that pan out to include the entire town and the idea of the wider world traversed by the bright trains coming and going from the station.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-way-home-in-the-night-carrying

Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2017, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Miyakoshi’s black, gray, and sepia-toned pencil, charcoal, and gouache illustrations are set aglow with the welcoming light emanating from windows and streetlamps and accented with spots of color in clothing and homey touches. The windows frame cozy vignettes of family life, and young readers may like to imagine their own stories of what is happening in each. Gender neutral clothing and a lack of pronouns makes this a universal book.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-way-home-in-the-night-on-the-phone

Copyright Akiko Miyakoshi, 2017, courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The Way Home in the Night is a cozy, quiet book that is just right for soothing little ones to sleep while giving them the happy assurance of love, commitment, and connection to their world. An exquisite addition to bedtime books, The Way Home in the Night would make a wonderful gift and a favorite choice on any child’s home bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 6

Kids Can Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1771386630

To learn more about Akiko Miyakoshi, her work, and her books, visit her website.

Sleep Comfort Month Activity

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Snuggle Buddy Craft

 

It’s easy to make your own snuggle buddy with a few pieces of fleece, some fiber fill, and a needle and thread or fabric glue. The great thing about creating your own friend is you can personalize your pal anyway you want!

Supplies

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

Directions

To Make the Body

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

To Make the Hair

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

To Make a Pocket or Clothes

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

To Make the Face

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

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You can find The Way Home in the Night at these booksellers

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

 

Picture Book Review

 

September 26 – It’s Happy Cat Month

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About the Holiday

 Even though September is winding down, it’s never too late to make sure that your cat is happy. After all, a cat should be happy all the time, right? While this month offers opportunities to make sure that your cat is getting everything they need to be healthy, it’s also a good time to consider your cat’s social interactions. Do they have a stimulating environment to keep their minds sharp? Do they get to spend quality time with you? Do they have high perches and places to hide? Do they get enough exercise? All of these things engage the social needs of cats, who like to play and with and have the attention of their owners. To celebrate this month, think about your cat’s life from their perspective to ensure your cat is a happy cat.

Kitten and the Night Watchman

Written by John Sullivan | Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

 

On his way out the door, the night watchman “hugs his wife and children…and drives to work” as the sun is setting. As the sky darkens, he patrols the construction site once an hour. There’s a lot to do. He makes sure every door is locked, that the workshop is clear, and that no one is disturbing the vehicles or equipment.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2018, text copyright John Sullivan, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

He rests for a moment with a hot cup of coffee under the twinkling stars and “thinks of his boy and girl, safe and asleep at home.” But the night watchman is not alone. A little gray kitten peeks out from behind a truck’s tire. The kitten approaches the night watchman and follows him as he continues his rounds through the yard, where “an excavator bows like a strange giraffe.”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2018, text copyright John Sullivan, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The kitten knows the night watchman will share his dinner before they are off on their rounds again. They see insects hovering in the light of the lamppost and hear birds call to each other. But when the night watchman goes back to his office and waits for the kitten to follow him through the door, “the kitten isn’t there. She is nowhere to be seen.” The night watchman hears a dog bark, cars roar, and the rattle of the train passing and worries.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2018, text copyright John Sullivan, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A moth flits around the desk lamp, and the night watchman gently carries it outside. When he opens the door, the little kitten is waiting for him. He picks her up and gives her a cuddle. Then it’s time again for their rounds. While the sun breaks on the horizon, the night watchman packs up his things to go home. As he drives through the wakening city, “this time he is not alone.” He talks to the kitten and tells her, “‘I know a boy and girl who will want to give you a name.’”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2018, text copyright John Sullivan, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Through his beautiful and emotionally resonant story, debut author John Sullivan lets kids follow along as a night watchman quietly makes his rounds during those midnight hours that are so mysterious and intriguing to young children. Sullivan’s lyrical phrasing, attention to nighttime creatures, and whimsical transformations of trucks, cranes, and backhoes create poetry and art from the concrete world of a construction site. The endearing relationship between the night watchman and the kitten makes the moment of suspense a tug at the heart, and its quick and loving resolution will charm young readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kitten-and-the-night-watchman-driving-to-work

Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2018, text copyright John Sullivan, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Taeeun Yoo’s soft, textured illustrations envelop readers in fiery sunrises and sunsets, the lovely purple’s and blues of early evening, and the shadowy indigo of midnight. The darkness is broken here and there by the night watchman’s flashlight that throws a grainy and fading beam across the construction site, the full moon and blinking stars, lamplight, and the cozy lit windows of the watchman’s office. Standing silently silhouetted against this backdrop are the buildings and machinery of the construction site.

When the little kitten peeks from behind a truck tire, her little presence is surprising and endearing. An unseen—but heard—dog, speeding car, and rumbling train interrupt the calm night and disquiets the night watchman. Again, the kitten makes a surprising and endearing entrance. The little gray ball of fluff is another bright spot in the night—a friend to keep loneliness at bay—and as the sun rises, the promise of a sunny morning for the watchman’s children will delight readers.

Kitten and the Night Watchman is a quiet, poignant story that would be an often-read choice for home and classroom libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon and Schuster, A Paula Wiseman Book, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481461917

Discover more about Taeeun Yoo, her books, and her art on her website.

Happy Kitten Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wooden-bead-cat-craft

A Little Ball of Kitten

 

This happy little kitten is easy to make and can keep you company on your desk or shelf! Since every kitten is different, you can make yours to look just the way you want. Here’s how I made mine:

Supplies

  • Wooden ball with a flat bottom, available in craft stores and in different sizes
  • Craft paint in any color kitten you’d like (I used red and yellow and mixed it to make a mottled orange)
  • Craft paint in pink or white for the inner ear
  • Scrap of fleece for the ears. Fleece is easily shaped to the rounded ball and when painted is stiff enough to stand up on its own.
  • Thin, colored wire in several colors for the tail (string or twine, wrapped wire, fleece, stiff paper, and other materials could also be used)
  • Paint brush
  • Permanent marker for making the face
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden ball and let dry
  2. Paint the scrap of fleece to match the wooden ball, let dry
  3. Cut out small triangular shapes for the ears. Round the bottom of the ears slightly so they fit the shape of the ball
  4. If making a tail from several colors of thin wire, twist them together, leaving one end untwisted
  5. With the glue gun or strong glue attach the ears to the top of the head
  6. With the glue gun attach the tail to the back of the wooden ball in the center near the base
  7. With the marker, draw eyes, nose, and mouth for the face and semicircles near the bottom for the paws

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kitten-and-the-night-watchman-cover

You can find Kitten and the Night Watchman at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review