August 3 – It’s Family Fun Month and Interview with Jamie Michalak

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About the Holiday

August is a perfect time to have fun with the family! The days are long and warm, and there are so many activities to discover. Get away from the heat at a pool, the beach, or on the cool shade of a forest path. Explore your adventurous side while camping or traveling to an unfamiliar town, or increase your knowledge by visiting a science, art, history, or other museum. As today’s book shows, a museum might just be the most adventurous place on your list! So, before school starts up for another year, get out there and have fun!

Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter

Written by Jamie Michalak | Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

 

“In the great, big city, in the great, big museum, a clock tick-tocks past midnight.” The guards are on the watch, but they don’t see the tiny mouse that “creeps out of the shadows” and zig-zags her way through the galleries under the peering eyes of the art hung on the walls. Who is this explorer that carries a sack over one shoulder and has her eyes riveted on a map? It’s Dakota Crumb, and “for endless nights, Dakota has searched for a famous priceless treasure.

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Image copyright Kelly Murphy, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak, 2021. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The map reveals that it is in “the Deepest, Darkest Cave. But perils lie ahead. Scurrying past knights in armor, Dakota spies a tiny masterpiece across the room. Using her rope, she swings and picks it up. She places it into her sack and continues on. Into the hall of giants she roams. The only movement is the maintenance worker cleaning the floor. Dakota scans the room and—“aha!”—discovers a forgotten statue. Trying to collect it, she’s nearly swept away with the day’s refuse.

Dakota consults the map again and crawls away. Her journey takes her “to the land of Egypt,” where Dakota is on the hunt for “the famous Purple Jewel of Egypt.” Dakota summons all her courage when she comes eye to claw with “A GIANT… EVIL EYED… MOUSE-EATING… CAT!” She hurries past and into the deep, dark cave. She climbs up, up and “Pull. Pry. Oh, my!”  grabs the treasure she’s been seeking—the Purple Jewel of Egypt. “Oh! how it sparkles!” As dawn colors the glassed rotunda, Dakota tiptoes home, her sack full.

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Image copyright Kelly Murphy, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak, 2021. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The museum opens, but not only for people. Around the corner, a “teeny-tiny door” welcomes visitors of another sort. These city dwellers—insects and mice, raccoons and squirrels, worms and pigeons await the opening of a new museum—the Mousehole Museum, where Dakota Crumb proudly presides over her carefully curated exhibits. The visitors enter and roam the galleries, marveling over all of the wonderful treasures they see. You’re welcome to join them too!

Following the story, Dakota Crumb invites readers to return to the museums—both big and small—to scour their rooms for forty-five items that are cleverly concealed.

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Image copyright Kelly Murphy, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak, 2021. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Charming from beginning to (ingeniously extended) end, Jamie Michalak’s Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter is sure to become a favorite of any child. Michalak’s crafty uses of the types of exhibits seen in major museums not only add intrigue to the story but will thrill those kids who are already museum lovers and entice others to visit their local museums. The hushed sense of suspense that infuses the pages as Dakota Crumb creeps from room to room gathering items in her bag will have kids eagerly turning the pages to discover the provenance of the Purple Jewel of Egypt. What is she doing with all of the things she finds? Michalak’s perfect answer will enchant every collector, artist, scientist, history buff, and explorer.

Kelly Murphy’s wizardry begins on the title page, where the museum is just about to close and they city dwellers are heading home in the purple twilight. Taking in the lush urban landscape, alert readers may pick up on details that tell them the fun is just beginning. As kids follow Dakota through the quiet museum, finding themselves searching for treasure just as she does, they see paintings, ceramics, sculptures, animal exhibits, and finally the regal Egypt room.

Murphy ingeniously incorporates items from the scavenger hunt list kids find at the end of the story into each page spread while adding humorous hints, realistic portrayals of famous exhibits, and even a comical nod to a common cleaning occurrence. But like many museum goers, readers may find themselves catch their breath when they enter the Mousehole Museum. Murphy’s well-imagined exhibits turn everyday items into masterpieces—and who’s to say they’re not? From toys to fasteners to snacks, containers, and trinkets and even an overdeveloped polaroid photograph, the displays in Dakota Crumb’s museum invites readers to look at their surroundings in a brand-new way.

A smart, witty, fun, and thought-provoking book, Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter is a superb book for introducing the excitement of museums to children and engaging them in observation as well as ideas on art, historical value, community inclusion, and collecting. All this and an imaginative scavenger hunt that challenges readers to be as intrepid a treasure hunter as Dakota Crumb. Sure to spark plenty of ideas for teachers, homeschoolers, museum educators, and libraries, Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter is a must for home, school, and library bookshelves as well as for museum gift shops.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Candlewick Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1536203943

Discover more about Jamie Michalak and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kelly Murphy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can download a Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter Activity Kit for teachers, families, librarians, or any book lover here or on the Candlewick Press website.

A Chat with Jamie Michalak

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Jamie Michalak is the author of many children’s books, including Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; Frank and Bean, illustrated by Bob Kolar; the highly praised Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz; as well as the forthcoming picture book Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Jones, and many more.

When not writing, she can often be found singing off-key, drinking too much coffee, or hanging out with her two sons. Jamie lives with her family in Barrington, Rhode Island.

You can connect with Jamie on her website | Instagram | Twitter

Welcome, Jamie! I’m so happy to be part of your book tour for Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter! Visiting museums is one of my and my family’s favorite activities, especially when we travel. They always provide us with wonderful memories. Do you have a favorite memory from a trip you took to research one of your books?

When I was writing Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, in which a mouse searches for tiny objects in a museum, I wanted to scout out the best places to hide them. So I decided to visit an art museum in Manhattan, and I asked my eight-year-old son to come along as my research assistant.

Within fifteen minutes of our visit, he tugged on my sleeve. He was looking up at me with an expression of shock and horror.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Mom,” he whispered, looking around. “They’re not wearing ANY PANTS!”

I had no idea he hadn’t seen nude Greek or Roman statues before.

In any case, he learned a lot about art, found some perfect hiding spots for mice treasures, and went home with lots to tell his friends.

That’s fabulous! Kids’ reactions to new experiences are such treasures in themselves.

In your school and library programs you share your writing process and give lots of advice for kids and teachers on how to create characters and stories as well as talking about your books. They sound like a blast! This past year, you probably held more virtual programs than usual. What was one funny thing that happened during one of these events this year?

I ended all of my virtual visits with a sing-along of the “Jelly Donut Hole Song” from my early reader Frank and Bean, illustrated by Bob Kolar. I’d play the audio and share the lyrics on my screen, so the class could join in. (Keep in mind I couldn’t see the faces of any of the kids.) During one visit, I’m playing the song, kind of half singing along because I can’t carry a tune AT ALL. Also, I’m clapping every now and then. Aaaand at the very end, the teacher says, “Um, Jamie? We couldn’t hear the audio on our end.” So basically the kids only saw my big head and heard me humming one note or mumbling every other three words. This went on for at least two minutes! Awkward.

Well, that sounds like a story Frank and Bean would love! Perhaps this funny oops! will find its way into one of your books. Thanks for sharing these two humorous events that show just what a varied tapestry being a picture book author is!

 Here’a a little more about Frank and Bean

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Written by Jamie Michalak; Illustrated by Bob Kolar

When the introspective Frank meets the gregarious Bean, can they find a way to make beautiful music together? Dry wit and hilarious illustrations introduce a new unlikely pair.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2019, text copyright Jamie Machalak, 2019. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Candlewick Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-0763695590

Early Reader; Ages 3-7

A 2019 Amazon Best Book of the Year

2019 Junior Library Guild Selection

Florida 2020-2021 SSYRA JR Award Nominee

Cybils Award finalist

Family Fun Month Activity

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Tiny Treasure Hunt

 

This treasure hunt from Jamie Machalak is just like Dakota Crumb’s, but with a twist! And it’s perfect for families to do together! Print and cut out this tiny treasure hunt checklist for your child, so they can gather the objects listed. Then ask them to share what they found, using three adjectives to describe each treasure. What does a button feel like? What does the tiny toy look like? (Magnifying glasses are optional!)

Tiny Treasure Hunt List

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You can find Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 12 – National Get Outdoors Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2008, National Get Outdoors Day was instituted to inspire people – and especially young people – to enjoy healthy, active outdoor fun and exploration. Celebrated in conjunction with national parks, people are encouraged to hike, explore, and enjoy the natural wonders near them. You can also head out into your yard to play games or into your neighborhood with bikes, scooters, skates, or just for a walk. There’s so much for kids to see and discover – even concepts that may seem simple are beautiful and complex in the eyes of a child, as you’ll see in today’s book. 

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Southwest Sunrise with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Southwest Sunrise

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Wendell Minor

 

Jayden mopes all the way from New York to New Mexico, upset about moving from his beloved city to “a place of shadows.” Shadows and drabness are all he sees when he gets off the plane. In the morning, though, he wakes up “to a knife of sunlight slicing through” his room. Here, his window doesn’t have bars, and the view is of a “mountain striped in rainbow.” Jayden is surprised; he didn’t know that was there.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A string of chili peppers brightens the kitchen. Jayden isn’t optimistic that he’ll see any other colors in his new desert surroundings. His mom gives him a field guide to New Mexico at breakfast, and as he pages through it he doesn’t really think he’ll find any of the colorful flowers inside. But then, as he looks around, he spies the burgundy wine-cup and yellow bells that “wake up the desert with their silent ring.” He finds more flowers from the book that add red and purple to the landscape.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jayden walks on, farther away from his new house. The unfamiliar silence is broken by “the mad chatter of winged gossips passing secrets” from one piñon tree to another. He watches the long-tailed magpies swoop through the “deep waves of turquoise overhead” and wonders why he never saw so much sky in New York. Still, he misses looking up and seeing the grandeur of the skyscrapers.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Looking down again, Jayden finds a striped lizard that seems happy to run along his hand, tickle his fingers. Instead of seashells, he finds bones and an abandoned turtle shell. “What stories do they have to tell?” he wonders. He continues his walk and, upon turning the corner, finds himself in the shadow of a different kind of skyscraper—rugged, red, and rocky. On the air, Jayden hears his mom calling. He picks some flowers the colors of sunset to take home to her. He waves as he nears the house and sees her standing on the porch and flashes her “the first smile she’s seen since New York.” He thinks that maybe New Mexico can be Home.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Nikki Grimes’ lyrical story is in plot a tale about moving from one part of the country to another, but in spirit it is a invitation for children and adults alike to open their heart to new experiences, to find the beauty in the unfamiliar and the joy in the unexpected. As Jayden journeys from New York to New Mexico and then around his new environment, Grimes explores honest emotions—the disappointment and anger change can bring, the preconceived ideas about the unknown that can color feelings and actions, and even that moment when a person can reject or accept the new circumstance or opportunity. As a poet, Grimes excels at the perfectly chosen detail and sublime description. Here, her words put readers in the spotlight of New Mexico’s laser sun, let them feel the skittering feet of a lizard, meet a haughty raven, and bask in the rainbow of colors Jayden never expected he’d see. His final smile and resolve to give his new city a chance fulfills the new dawning inherent in the title and is uplifting encouragement for all.

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Slouched down in his airplane seat, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Wendell Minor’s Jayden is a picture of despondency. But things begin to look brighter when, in the morning, he notices the mountains and colors he missed the night before. Minor’s sun-washed illustrations allow readers to discover the beauty of the New Mexico desert along with Jayden. His new home is light and open, with a timbered ceiling and windows free of the bars he’s used to. Minor’s use of perspective allows children to view sweeping vistas of the desert landscape as well as images of some of the creatures found there. Putting the raven front and center gives kids an idea of the size and attitude of this striking bird. Fiery reds and oranges, vivid yellows, pinks, and purples, and glorious blues punctuate the sandy backdrop as Jayden’s thoughtful expressions depict his growing appreciation for his new home.

An exquisite book for any child, whether they are moving to a new home, exploring new experiences, or keen observers of their surroundings, Southwest Sunrise would be a joyful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547600823

Discover more about Nikki Grimes  and her books as well as educator guides and resources on her website.

To learn more about Wendell Minor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Get Outdoors Day Activity

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Beautiful Desert Coloring Pages

 

The desert has plants, animals, and landmarks seen nowhere else. Grab your crayons or pencils and give these two printable scenes some of its unique color.

Curious Rabbit Desert Scene | Western Sun Desert Scene

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You can find Southwest Sunrise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

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

By Jakkie Licare

Outside In

Written by Deborah Underwood | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

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

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

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

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Nature Hike Scavenger Hike 

 

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

Nature Hike Scavenger Hike Sheet

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You can find Outside In at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 28 – It’s Wild about Wildlife Month

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About the Holiday

We may be winding down Wild about Wildlife Month, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all that nature has to offer the rest of the summer and all year long. Exploring parks, woodlands, grassy fields, or the shores of lakes, rivers, or the ocean is a fun and educational family activity that is different each time you head out the door. Whether you and your kids like plants, animals, insects, or the rocks that hold everything together, a nature walk provides something for everyone. The best way to enjoy the outdoors is with a relaxed pace that lets you decompress, take it all in, and say “Ahhh!” The little quail in today’s book definitely has the right idea!

Thanks to Pajama Press for sending me a copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up

Written by Jane Whittingham | Illustrated by Emma Pedersen

 

Twice every day Mama Quail led her ten chicks through the meadow, and while nine hurried and scurried along after Mama, Queenie, the smallest, always lagged behind. Mama and the other chicks chirped and cheeped for Queenie to “hurry hurry hurry,” but it was just so hard when there was so much to see. Queenie loved stopping to look at the “pink blossoms and green grass, shiny stones and fuzzy caterpillars, buzzy bumblebees and wiggly worms.”

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

Her papa admonished her to learn to hurry—“It is what we quails do!” he told her. And Queenie promised to try. She really did try too, but she just couldn’t pass by all her favorite things without stopping to enjoy them. One day, in addition to the blossoms, grass, stones, caterpillars, bees, and worms, Queenie spied a feather. And when she stopped to admire it, she saw “an unusual flash of orange.”

As Queenie watched, the “the furry orange slid softly, smoothly, silently through the green grass.” Queenie followed at a careful distance. Suddenly, Queenie saw that she was following a cat—a cat that was stalking her mama and brothers and sisters. Queenie knew just what she had to do. She raced down the path “hurry, hurry, hurrying,” chirping, cheeping, and warning her family.

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

In the nick of time, Papa heard her and swooped down on the cat. Mama came running too. With a hiss, the cat jumped into the grass and fled. “‘You’ve saved us, Queenie Quail!’ Mama Quail chirped.” And Papa and her little siblings praised her too. Now, when the family heads out along the meadow trail and Queenie can’t keep up, they all ask, “‘What have you found, what have you found, what have you found?’” And they stop and hurry hurry hurry over to take a look too.

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

Jane Whittingham’s story of an adorable quail who stops to smell all the roses is a charming, charming, charming read-aloud that adults will love sharing and kids will enthusiastically chime in on during the fun repeated phrases. Whittingham’s agile storytelling shines with lyrical rhythms and alliteration that bounce along like the little stars of her book. The gentle suspense will keep young listeners riveted to the story, and afterward they’re sure to join Queenie and her brothers and sisters in slowing down to enjoy the world around them.

Readers will immediately fall in love with Queenie and her siblings as Emma Pedersen’s cute-as-can-be, tufted quail babies race and bob along the trail to keep up with Mama. With expressive eyes and tiny beaks that form a perpetual smile, they nestle next to Mama and pile on top of Papa. As they watch out for Queenie, one or two often peer out at readers, inviting them along on their excursions. As the heroine of the story, Queenie is a sweetie, fascinated by everything she sees. Pedersen’s lovely gauche paintings are as fresh as a spring meadow and will entice kids and adults to take a nice slow walk together.

A unique and tender story that will have children entranced from the first page, Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up will be a favorite on home, school, and public library shelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Pajama Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1772780673

You’ll discover more about Jane Whittingham and her books as well as blog posts, interviews, and lots more on her website.

To learn more about Emma Pedersen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Jane Whittingham

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Today, I’m excited to be talking with Jane Whittingham an author and librarian from British Columbia, Canada, about the inspiration for her adorable quails, what she loves about being a librarian, and how nature features in her life and books.

I believe Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up was inspired by your dad and a true story. Can you talk about that a little?

My parents moved to a small town on Vancouver Island when they retired, and their backyard is home to all sorts of wildlife, including families of quails that hurry and scurry here and there. My dad  always liked watching them, and he mentioned to me once that quails would make perfect picture book stars with their round little bodies and their amusing personalities and antics. Well, I was inspired! I’d never really thought much about quails, since we don’t have them where I live, so every time I visited my parents I would spend a bit of time watching the quails for inspiration.

Queenie, the little quail who is just too easily distracted to keep up with her siblings, is definitely inspired by me, and the fact that I’m always falling behind because I have to stop and look at everything! The book is a bit bittersweet to me because my father passed away before it was published, but I know he would’ve gotten a real kick out of it, and he would have probably introduced himself to everyone as my muse!  

Have you always liked to write? Can you talk a little about your process? Do you have a favorite place to write?

I’ve always been a writer, and even before I could physically write I was a storyteller. I was an only child and spent a lot of time using my toys to tell epic stories, which I would then recount breathlessly to my parents in an endless stream of words.

I don’t really have a process – like many people I fit writing around my full-time job (I’m a librarian) and into my busy life, so I snatch moments here and there whenever I can. I write on my phone, I write on scraps of paper, I write on my computer. I write on my commute, at coffee shops, and in grocery store lineups. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Besides Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up,  you have two more very well-received books out from Pajama Press—Wild One and A Good Day for Ducks. The outdoors features in all of your books in some way. Are you inspired by the outdoors? What is your favorite outside activity or a memorable experience you’ve had?

I am absolutely inspired by the outdoors – even though my childhood wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things, I do feel like I had a very different childhood than many kids experience today. I spent a lot of my free time outdoors, wandering or biking around the neighborhood with a band of kids, making (and falling out of) tree forts, playing kickball on the street, and turning local playgrounds into the settings for all sorts of imaginary worlds. My parents often had no idea where I was, but that was totally normal for the time—I never left the neighborhood, and they knew I would come home when it started to get dark.

Sometimes it feels like I grew up in a whole other era! Through my books I really want to encourage families to get outside, to explore, to learn through doing and through experiencing. Nature is such an incredible source of inspiration, of knowledge, of enjoyment, and even of healing, and we really miss out on so much by cooping ourselves up in front of our screens all day long!

In doing a little research for this interview, I raided your wonderful website and discovered that you made a few resolutions this year. One is to read outside your comfort zone, which includes murder mysteries, historical fiction, and narrative nonfiction. How is that going? Can you give me one mystery title in your comfort zone and one “departure” book you’ve dipped your toes (eyes?) into?

Oh dearie me, you’re holding me accountable! I recently finished a YA novel, which is very, very unusual for me—I never read young adult fiction even when I was a young adult, so this was a major departure for me! It’s called The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, and tells the story of a young Muslim lesbian whose family discovers her secret girlfriend and sends her off to Bangladesh to straighten her out, as it were. It’s definitely an eye-opening look into a culture and experience very different from my own, and I really enjoyed it.

As for my taste in mysteries, I tend to favour the classic British who-dunnit style, with authors like Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh being particular favorites. I also really enjoy mysteries with historical settings, which allow me to check off two favorite genres at once!

Queenie is an adorable little quail! What was your reaction to seeing Emma Pedersen’s illustrations for the first time? In your blog post “Queenie Quail and the Road to Publication,” you talk about needing to cut your original manuscript. Can you describe one place where the illustration reflects the text that is no longer there? Can you describe a place where Emma included something that surprised or particularly delighted you?

I was absolutely floored when I first saw Emma’s illustrations, they’re beyond wonderful, and even more adorable than I ever could have imagined! It’s a funny thing, being a picture book author, because you craft these characters and this environment, and then you hand the whole thing over to a stranger to make real—it can be a bit nerve-wracking, not knowing what your little characters will end up looking like! I was immensely relieved when I saw Queenie and her siblings, and I think Emma’s classic artistic style perfectly complements my old-fashioned writing style.

One of the aspects of the text that was really shortened related to all the things that distracted Queenie on her daily walks with her family. I described the worms and the bees and the flowers in great detail, which turned out to be entirely unnecessary, since everything appeared so beautifully in Emma’s illustrations!

And as for an illustration that particularly delighted me, there’s a spread where Mama and Papa quail nuzzle Queenie as they thank her for saving the day, and the loving expressions on everyone’s faces really just melted my heart, I loved them so much!

What drew you to becoming a librarian? What is a favorite part of your day?

I am a children’s librarian for an urban library system here in British Columbia, Canada, and I’m responsible for developing and facilitating programming for children and families in an older residential neighborhood. I get to do a lot of fun things in my job—I lead story times for caregivers and their babies, facilitate writing and book clubs for tweens, and get to host and visit local preschools, daycares and elementary schools. I think my favourite part of the entire year is Summer Reading Club, which runs from June – August every year. We spend the entire year planning all sorts of exciting programs to get kids reading all summer long, and it’s so much fun! Sometimes I can’t quite believe I get to do this as my job. I also manage the physical collections in the library, organizing and weeding the books to make sure the collection is in tip- top shape and helps meet the reading needs of my community.

I was raised in a family of voracious readers and I love working with people, so librarianship always seemed like a natural fit, but it took me quite a while to get here. I worked in various jobs for about six years following my initial graduation from university, before finally feeling confident enough to take the plunge and go back to school to do my masters in librarianship. It was a real leap of faith, quitting a well-paying, stable but unfulfilling job to take a chance on a career that everyone around me said was dying out, but it’s certainly paid out for me, so far at least! I can’t stress enough that simply loving books is not enough of a reason to become a librarian, especially not a public librarian – you really do need to love working with people more than anything, because it’s definitely not for the faint of heart sometimes!

On your website you have a gallery of pictures from libraries you’ve visited. How many libraries have you been to? Which library is the farthest from home? Which was your favorite and why?

I love visiting libraries at home and abroad, I find so much inspiration from looking at how other libraries organize their collections, decorate their spaces, and plan their events. I’m not even sure at this point how many libraries I’ve visited. I need to update my website to include the ones I visited on my most recent trip to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick!

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Jane visits one of her favorite libraries – the Nikko Library – in Japan

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A view of a bridge and beyond in Nikko, Japan

Some of the furthest libraries I’ve visited have been in New Zealand and Japan (which I’ve visited on three separate occasions so far), though I’ve visited libraries in different US states and Canadian provinces, too. I don’t know that I have a single favorite library, but I do particularly enjoy visiting rural libraries – they can be so creative with their often-limited resources, and really do serve as the hearts and souls of their communities. 

What’s the best part about being a children’s author? Can you share an anecdote from an author’s event you’ve held or been part of?

I love everything about writing for kids! I really am a big kid at heart, which is why I’m a children’s librarian, too! I’ve had wonderful experiences reading my books to kids at different author events, and it’s so much fun to get everyone involved.

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Jane and kids act out animals during an exciting author visit.

With Wild One I like to get kids to guess which animal they think the protagonist is pretending to be, and then we act out the animals together, which is heaps of fun, and with A Good Day for Ducks we act out all sorts of fun raining day actions, then talk together about all the things you can do, inside and outside, on a rainy day. I live in a very rainy place, so it’s important to find the joy in even the gloomiest of days! One of the most meaningful events I’ve done was a visit to a local children’s hospice, where I was able to connect with a small group of really amazing children who have been through so much in their short lives. To be able to share my stories with them, and listen to their stories, was an incredibly inspiring and moving experience.

What’s up next for you?

I’m not quite sure! I’ve got a couple of manuscripts that I’m still working on, and some that I’m waiting to hear back about from editors, so I don’t really know yet what’s coming down the pipeline. But I’ll always keep on telling stories, no matter what. 🙂

What is your favorite holiday and why?

My favourite holiday is definitely Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the music, the baking, the food, the decorating, the music, the family get-togethers, I love it all! I don’t actually do any of the decorating or baking or cooking myself, I mostly just listen to Christmas carols for a month straight and watch hours of Christmas movies on TV, but I love it all the same!

Thanks, so much, Jane! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about you and am sure readers have too! I wish you all the best with Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up and all of your books!

You can connect with Jane Whittingham on:

Her website | Instagram

Wild about Wildlife Month Activity

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

Supplies

Directions

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

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You can find Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 13 – Go West Day

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About the Holiday

On this date in 1865, Horace Greeley, a writer and editor of the New-York Daily Tribune, is purported to have stated, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” He was, supposedly, reacting to the adverse living conditions he found in his own city and echoing the sentiments of many, who did pack up their family and all of their possessions and begin the long, arduous trek across the country to find a better life. Those intrepid souls expanded our nation, and the idea to “go west” is now synonymous with a certain determination, bravery, and sense of adventure.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Southwest Sunrise with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Southwest Sunrise

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Wendell Minor

 

Jayden mopes all the way from New York to New Mexico, upset about moving from his beloved city to “a place of shadows.” Shadows and drabness are all he sees when he gets off the plane. In the morning, though, he wakes up “to a knife of sunlight slicing through” his room. Here, his window doesn’t have bars, and the view is of a “mountain striped in rainbow.” Jayden is surprised; he didn’t know that was there.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A string of chili peppers brightens the kitchen. Jayden isn’t optimistic that he’ll see any other colors in his new desert surroundings. His mom gives him a field guide to New Mexico at breakfast, and as he pages through it he doesn’t really think he’ll find any of the colorful flowers inside. But then, as he looks around, he spies the burgundy wine-cup and yellow bells that “wake up the desert with their silent ring.” He finds more flowers from the book that add red and purple to the landscape.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jayden walks on, farther away from his new house. The unfamiliar silence is broken by “the mad chatter of winged gossips passing secrets” from one piñon tree to another. He watches the long-tailed magpies swoop through the “deep waves of turquoise overhead” and wonders why he never saw so much sky in New York. Still, he misses looking up and seeing the grandeur of the skyscrapers.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Looking down again, Jayden finds a striped lizard that seems happy to run along his hand, tickle his fingers. Instead of seashells, he finds bones and an abandoned turtle shell. “What stories do they have to tell?” he wonders. He continues his walk and, upon turning the corner, finds himself in the shadow of a different kind of skyscraper—rugged, red, and rocky. On the air, Jayden hears his mom calling. He picks some flowers the colors of sunset to take home to her. He waves as he nears the house and sees her standing on the porch and flashes her “the first smile she’s seen since New York.” He thinks that maybe New Mexico can be Home.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Nikki Grimes’ lyrical story is in plot a tale about moving from one part of the country to another, but in spirit it is a invitation for children and adults alike to open their heart to new experiences, to find the beauty in the unfamiliar and the joy in the unexpected. As Jayden journeys from New York to New Mexico and then around his new environment, Grimes explores honest emotions—the disappointment and anger change can bring, the preconceived ideas about the unknown that can color feelings and actions, and even that moment when a person can reject or accept the new circumstance or opportunity. As a poet, Grimes excels at the perfectly chosen detail and sublime description. Here, her words put readers in the spotlight of New Mexico’s laser sun, let them feel the skittering feet of a lizard, meet a haughty raven, and bask in the rainbow of colors Jayden never expected he’d see. His final smile and resolve to give his new city a chance fulfills the new dawning inherent in the title and is uplifting encouragement for all.

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Slouched down in his airplane seat, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Wendell Minor’s Jayden is a picture of despondency. But things begin to look brighter when, in the morning, he notices the mountains and colors he missed the night before. Minor’s sun-washed illustrations allow readers to discover the beauty of the New Mexico desert along with Jayden. His new home is light and open, with a timbered ceiling and windows free of the bars he’s used to. Minor’s use of perspective allows children to view sweeping vistas of the desert landscape as well as images of some of the creatures found there. Putting the raven front and center gives kids an idea of the size and attitude of this striking bird. Fiery reds and oranges, vivid yellows, pinks, and purples, and glorious blues punctuate the sandy backdrop as Jayden’s thoughtful expressions depict his growing appreciation for his new home.

An exquisite book for any child, whether they are moving to a new home, exploring new experiences, or keen observers of their surroundings, Southwest Sunrise would be a joyful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547600823

Discover more about Nikki Grimes  and her books as well as educator guides and resources on her website.

To learn more about Wendell Minor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Go West Day Activity

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Beautiful Desert Coloring Pages

 

The desert has plants, animals, and landmarks seen nowhere else. Grab your crayons or pencils and give these two printable scenes some of its unique color.

Curious Rabbit Desert Scene | Western Sun Desert Scene

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You can find Southwest Sunrise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 13 – National Get Outdoors Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2008, National Get Outdoors Day was instituted to inspire people – and especially young people – to enjoy healthy, active outdoor fun and exploration. Celebrated in conjunction with national parks, people are encouraged to hike, explore, and enjoy the natural wonders near them. You can also head out into your yard to play games or into your neighborhood with bikes, scooters, skates or just for a walk. There’s so much for kids to see and discover – even concepts that may seem simple are beautiful and complex in the eyes of a child, as you’ll see in today’s book. 

Round

Written by Joyce Sidman | Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

 

A little girl spies an orange on the ground and bends to pick it up. She sees more—many more—of the brightly colored orbs hanging from a tree and reaches up to touch them. “I love round things,” she says. “I like to feel their smoothness. My hands want to reach around their curves.” The girl continues on her singular scavenger hunt for round things that grow.

She scatters some seeds in a hole and parts tall grasses to peek in on a turtle waiting for her eggs to hatch. On a hillside, a little patch of mushrooms “swell into roundness,” while tiny, plump blueberries beckon on a nearby bush and fill the family’s baskets. On the bike ride home, the girl and her crew pass fields of sunflowers with their dark, mysterious round centers.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2017, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

At the beach the little girl finds seashells in the sand near the tall craggy rocks which some day, whittled by water and wind, will become round when “all the edges wear off.” Back on dry land, the girl watches a dung beetle transport a ball, persistently moving it with its legs, and body motions. The girl stands by, fascinated. She loves “to watch round things move. They are so good at it! Rolling, spinning, bouncing.” She always wonders “where they’re headed.”

An old, old tree, chopped down now, reveals its secret age as the little girl counts the rings in the trunk. She’s excited to discover hidden round things—like the tiny ladybugs and snails concealed beneath green leaves. As the rain splatters a pond, the little girl, safe in her yellow slicker, reveals, “I love how water can be round, gathered in beads of silver…or falling in wet splats leaving circles of ripples behind.”

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2017, text copyright Joyce Sidman, 2017. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The sun sets, turning the sky yellow and orange, while the girl blows transparent bubbles and watches them float toward the clouds. When the sun is gone and the sky is dark, she gazes through a telescope at the twinkling dots of light that “spin together slowly…and last billions of years” while she waits for that one constant celestial body that grows “rounder and rounder, until the whole sky holds its breath.”

The girl shares the beauty of roundness with her friends as they hold hands in a never-ending circle of friendship, and when she is alone she curls up into a cozy ball to read or feels arms around her in a loving hug.

An explanation of why so many things in nature are round—including the shape’s sturdiness, balance, and ability to spread and roll—follows the text.

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Image copyright Taeeun Yoo, 2017, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Joyce Sidman’s lyrical story of discovery is a perfect introduction for little ones to the wonders of nature. Focusing on a shape that is familiar to children, Sidman takes them on a walk from grove to field to beach where they can find circles in common and surprising places. After coming home, kids discover an even more poignant idea—the circular beauty of love and friendship.

Taeeun Yoo’s delicate illustrations gorgeously depict examples of circles in nature. Bold sunflowers, tiny insects, snowball-white eggs, expanding ripples, and smooth boulders invite readers to notice the shapes and colors of the wild world around them. Children will be enticed to hunt for all the circles on each page as lily pads, fireflies, polka dots, balloons, the sun, and other objects create an exciting journey of exploration. The little girl’s pets—a dog (appropriately spotted) and a duck—add humor and companionship along the way.

Round would be an excellent take-along book for nature hikes, waiting times, or other outdoor activities and could spur at-home scavenger hunts for circles and other shapes. This original concept book is a wonderful introduction to shapes and nature for little ones.

Ages 3 – 7

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 | ISBN 978-0544387614

Learn more about Joyce Sidman and her books on her website! 

View a gallery of artwork by Taeeun Yoo on her website!

Get Outdoors Day Activity

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Personalized Painted Pail

 

A trip to the beach isn’t complete without a pail to make a sandcastle with or to collect shells, seaweed, sea glass, or other things in. But why should all the cool stuff be on the inside? With this craft you can decorate your pail to show your unique personality!

Supplies

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

Directions

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

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You can find Round at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 1 – May Day and Interview with Author Denise Brennan-Nelson

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About the Holiday

May Day has for centuries celebrated the coming of spring. In ancient calendars May 1 heralded the first day of summer. Often celebrated with flowers and dancing, May Day has ushered in many traditions, such as dancing around a Maypole and May Day baskets, which are cone-shaped baskets filled with flowers. A May Day basket is usually given in secret as the giver hangs it on a friend’s doorknob and then rings the doorbell and runs away. (Which sounds like a perfect way to celebrate the holiday in these days of social distancing.) Whether nature is blooming in full or just starting to bud where you live, May Day offers the promise of brighter days ahead. Today’s book—and its adorable character Mae—shows us how to celebrate that feeling every day.

I received a copy of Mae the Mayfly from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Mae the Mayfly

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Florence Weiser

 

“Near the bank of the river one warm spring day / a new life began, and her name was Mae.” Before her mama said goodbye, she hugged her daughter and told her that she had her “whole life—a day, perhaps more” to explore her world. As Mae flitted along the river, a large, hungry trout waited for just the right moment to lure her in. It smiled deceitfully and beckoned to her, and, even though her inner voice told her not to, Mae flew down closer to take a look.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That’s when the trout leapt from the water to snatch Mae from the air. But she darted and dodged and got away. Shaking with fear, Mae found a hole in a hollow tree and flew in. “I’ll stay here forever! I’m not coming out!” she told herself.  But once her heart stopped beating so loud, she heard a happy tweet and peeked out of the tree. She saw a mother robin feeding her chicks and a spider web glittered in the sun. “The mist on the river was a fine, pink cloak. / A bullfrog bellowed his morning croak.” 

Mae remembered what her Mama had said and “launched herself from the dark, hollow place.” She followed the river, where she saw flowers and birds, a deer and a bear and one “stubby toad.” Then, she came to a clearing where she found “a singing, dancing jamboree… a wild mayfly jubilee! / Joining in, Mae danced with glee!”

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As morning turned to afternoon, Mae was floating on the breeze when she heard a call for help. She went in search of who it was and found Trout lying motionless and barely breathing. Fearful that he might leap at her again, she carefully went closer to inspect. “But Trout was weak, no flip or flail. / Tangled line had caught his tail.” Then Mae noticed something else—his shimmering “rainbow stripes in every hue, silver, pink, and shades of blue.” And in his eyes she saw his fear and realized that she and Trout were alike.

Mae went to work to try to free him. The knot was tight, but Mae worked patiently until the line slipped free and Trout swam away with the current. Mae hoped that he would be okay. Just then she saw a flash as Trout returned and with a flip of his tail said, “Thank you.” As nighttime settled over the river and the moon rose high, Mae settled on a cattail leaf. She listened to the bullfrogs and watched the fireflies glow. “The stars came out early for  sweet, little Mae. / She counted each one… then called it a day.”

Back matter includes a message about mindfulness, an exercise to try and facts about mayflies.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soaring and uplifting, Denise Brennan-Nelson’s unique story reminds children and adults alike to live each day to the fullest and reveals where the treasures that make life so fulfilling can be found. The short lifespan of a mayfly gives Brennan-Nelson a perfect canvas for compressing the lessons of a lifetime into one day, and her superlative storytelling incorporates parental love, fear, appreciation for our surroundings, courage, selflessness, and friendship. Her language is triumphant, carried breezily on rhyming couplets that are a joy to read aloud. The pitch-perfect ending may bring a tear to the eye but spur readers to find the beauty in every day.

Through Florence Weiser’s lovely textured illustrations, readers can almost feel the breeze ruffling the tall grasses, the spray of river water, and the warmth of the sun as they follow Mae on her adventure. Mae is a cutie with lacy wings and a sweet, expressive face. A powerful image of empathy comes in a close-up, two-page spread in which Mae, looking into Trout’s frightened eye, sees her own reflection. Whereas up to now Mae has been an observer of life, she now becomes an active participant by helping a fellow creature. Working in perfect tandem with Brennan-Nelson’s text, Weiser’s pages take readers on a journey of growth and discovery they’ll take to heart. Calming shades of green dotted with subtle pinks, purples blues, and browns reflect Mae’s mindful approach to life, making this a delightful book to share for quiet story times.

Beautiful and resonant, Mae the Mayfly is highly recommended and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110519

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Florence Weiser, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Denise Brennan-Nelson

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Denise Brennan-Nelson has written a number of books for children, including Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes, Leopold the Lion, Someday Is Not a Day of the Week, My Momma Likes to Say, Santa’s Secret, and the popular Willow series. As a national speaker, Denise encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She travels the country, sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob. She strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be talking with Denise Brennan-Nelson about her inspiring story, her journey in writing it, and how we can all appreciate the life around us. My blog partner Jakki’s sons, Jack and Steve, also loves Mae the Mayfly and had a few questions of their own. 

Jack wonders: What inspired you to write about a mayfly? 

The inspiration to write about a mayfly came when I discovered that they live, on an average, only one day. I started digging and discovered that while mayflies have many interesting qualities, it was their life cycle that reeled me in and set the basis for the story: a mayfly begins as an egg, then hatches into a nymph. It then lives as a nymph for one to three years before emerging from the water as an adult. Once they have molted––the only insect known to molt twice!––they only have about a day to live. ONE DAY? How do you live your entire life in ONE day? Where would you go? What would you do? I had so many questions. And so, the journey began!

Steve would like to know: Where is your favorite place to go and enjoy nature?

Our backyard has many trees and a few paths to meander on. One of those paths leads to a playhouse that my husband built years ago for our children, Rebecca and Rachel. I love to sit on the steps and take it all in––especially the forever-changing trees and the way the light filters through them. It’s quiet and I watch the birds and the chipmunks, squirrels, and occasionally deer show up. It’s far enough away from our house that I can forget about my “to-do” list and relax.

There are also a couple of parks nearby that have trails and lakes and offer a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Jack and Steve asked if you spent a lot of time at a pond while creating the story.

No, I didn’t spend a lot of time at a pond, but I did a lot of research to help me visualize the setting.

In early drafts, I pictured Mae’s life beginning on a pond but as the story emerged it turned into a river. Unlike a pond, a river “flows.” It seemed to fit with the ebb and flow of Mae’s life.

The river became integral to the story; Mae’s life began there, she experiences a harrowing ordeal with Trout, which causes her to flee the river out of fear, but ultimately, Mae returns “home” to the river and completes her life. (This was in keeping with a mayfly’s lifecycle.)  

Hi Denise! I love your answers to Jack and Steve’s questions! What an amazing character a mayfly makes. You’ve published many, many books for kids. What inspired you to become a children’s writer? What’s the best part about your job?

I had been happily writing for myself – journals and poetry mostly – when inspiration came knocking at my door in the form of a documented study about bumblebees. According to scientists, bumblebees are not “equipped” to fly. Aeronautically, their wings are too small for their bodies. Upon hearing that, I was compelled to write what was in my head and my heart. I wanted to answer the questions I had: What would happen if bumblebees found out about their small wings? Would fear and doubt stop them from doing what they love to do? Once it was written, I felt I had written something that I wanted to share with others. Four years and many rejection letters later, my first book, Buzzy the Bumblebee was published.

The best part about my job is creating something – taking an idea and turning it into something new that entertains and inspires children and adults. I also love the freedom to work when and where I want to, often in my pajamas in the wee hours of the morning.

Mae the Mayfly is a gorgeous, poignant reminder for both kids and adults to look around and appreciate the beauty all around us. Not only the mayfly, but all of the sights that Mae sees are ephemeral parts of nature. How did you choose each of these?

I felt they had to be simple, yet remarkable acts of nature that would draw Mae out from the hollow of a tree. You know that awe-inspiring feeling you get when you discover a bird’s nest or a spider’s web? That was the basis for the sights and sounds Mae encountered.

I also drew from a trip to Yellowstone where the vivid images of rivers, flowers, bear cubs, and other magnificent acts of nature are forever embedded in my mind.

The rhymes of Mae the Mayfly are as light as she is, and your rhythm is as jaunty as a mayfly’s flight. Could you describe your journey in writing this story?

After learning of a mayfly’s short lifespan, the mulling-over period ensued. A lot of thinking and dialogue in my head takes place before taking pen to paper. Often, I share my initial thoughts with family and friends which helps the pieces come together.

I did more research, too. I watched a video showing how some mayfly nymphs resist the pull to come to the surface when it is time to shed their outer covering and expose their wings. After spending years at the bottom of the dark river, why would they resist? I wondered. Why would they want to stay at the bottom of the river when they could break through the surface into the light, and fly––if only for a day?

Ah, fear.

It was starting to come together – I would write about a mayfly and how beautiful and meaningful one day could be, if she can overcome her fears.

Initially, the story was written in prose and then I wrote it in verse. At one point, I even wrote a funny version for my kids about Mae being stubborn and not listening to her mama. That version didn’t end well for Mae, because, well, she didn’t listen to her mama! My kids got a kick out of it.

Before she was Mae, she was Martha. From Martha to Marvin. Then I changed it to May. And then May became Mae.

My first submission was declined. So, I gave it a rest. The idea was there but I needed to start over. I believed in this story with my whole being and I wasn’t giving up. In June 2018, I resubmitted it and in August I learned that Sleeping Bear Press wanted to move forward with it. I signed the contract in September and it was released in March of 2020 amid a pandemic. It wasn’t the launch I envisioned, but the story is about appreciating the simple things and living life to the fullest. It is also about empathy, fear, and gratitude. Perhaps the timing was just right.

Florence Weiser’s illustrations are adorable while truly highlighting the beauty of what Mae sees. Do you have a favorite spread? Why do you love it?

I love the cover and the end sheets, and the illustration of Mama saying good-bye to Mae tugs at my heart. But my favorite is the spread where Mae encounters Trout tangled in fishing line and Mae sees herself – literally and figuratively – in Trout’s eyes. Mae is confronted with a difficult decision between fear, or courage and compassion. This was a pivotal part of the story and Florence did a remarkable job capturing the emotion of both Mae and Trout.

You encourage people to be aware of and open to inspiration and those small moments in life that make them the best version of themselves they can be. How can kids and adults practice this kind of mindfulness while at home during this time of self-isolating and social distancing?

In a robust and enthusiastic voice my dad often proclaims, “This is living!” He says it with such conviction that you might think he won the lottery. On the contrary, he says it to express his delight over life’s simple/small pleasures; a sunset, eating a fresh-picked tomato from the vine, watching the birds, the daffodils sprouting, a delectable meal, a rainstorm . . .

I am by no means an expert on mindfulness, but I have learned a few things that help me enjoy life a little bit more:

  • Be aware/pay attention – the list of things to delight over is endless when we notice what is going on around us
  • Make room for quiet time and stillness every day
  • Focus on one thing at a time and do it with intention and purpose
  • Write down 3-5 things daily that you are grateful for. Do it as a family with a “family journal” or get a notebook for every member and make it a nightly ritual

Lately I’ve been asking people, “What do you like most about the shelter-in-place order that we are being asked to follow?” Over and over, I’ve heard, “It feels good to slow down . . . less hectic . . .” I hope we emerge from this unique experience with the realization that life is not a race, it’s a gift.

What’s up next for you?

My publisher is currently reviewing two stories that I have submitted. Fingers crossed that they accept both of them!

What inspires you each time you start a new story?

When I have an idea that interests me I feel invigorated and purposeful. What can I do with it? Where will it take me? What can I learn from it?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its only little lighthouse.”

Each time I begin a story I am hopeful that what I write “will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”

Thanks so much, Denise! This has been such a wonderful talk! I wish you all the best with Mae, the Mayfly and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

You can connect with Denise Brennan-Nelson on 

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

May Day Activity

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Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

 

Like Mae, you can calm your mind and be present in the moment as you enjoy your surroundings. Use this printable activity to get into that peaceful state of mind. Just look at the picture inside the star and follow the breathing directions as you trace each arm. You can download it from the Sleeping Bear Press Website under Teachers Guides here:

Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

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You can find Mae the Mayfly at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

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