September 20 – It’s World Beach Month

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About the Holiday

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

Constellation of the Deep

By Benjamin Flouw

 

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

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

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

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

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

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

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

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

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

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

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

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

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

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

Copyright Benjamin Flouw, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735268968

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

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

World Beach Month Activity

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

Kinetic Sand

 

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

Supplies

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

Directions

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

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

You can find Constellation of the Deep at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-go-to-school-cover

Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-go-to-school-panic

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-go-to-school-hero

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-go-to-school-first-day

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-go-to-school-teacher

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-cover

Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

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

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

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-jelly-fish

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nugget-and-fang-over-and-under

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 9

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

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shark-jar-craft

Shark Organizer Jar

 

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

Supplies

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

Directions

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

Picture Book Review

July 22 – National Summer Leisure Day

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About the Holiday

Ah, summer! Just the word makes you think of leisurely pursuits – wild rides at an amusement park, toasting marshmallows over a campfire, taking in the exhibits at a science, history, or art museum, hiking a mountain trail, or splashing in the surf during a long beach day. No matter what makes a summer day relaxing and fun for you and your kids, why not take today off and enjoy it! 

Down Under the Pier

Written by Nell Cross Beckerman | Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

A group of kids are having fun on the pier. They ride the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster and “gobble clouds of cotton candy” as they walk in the sunshine. On the carousel they vie for the one goat to sit on. “Up on the pier,” they tell readers, “we feed the machines, roll Skee-Balls, whack moles, and trade our tickets for toys.” When their money runs out, “is the fun all done?” Not at all. For these kids, it’s just begun.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-downstairs

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

They pad downstairs and kick off their flip-flops. “Down under the pier, it’s dark and cool. We inhale sea spray and squish slimy sand through toes.” They listen to the waves crash and when the water recedes, they “find creatures clinging. Mussels, barnacles, sea stars, and anemones festoon a forest of pilings.” Gently they touch these creatures, let crabs tickle their palms.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-seaweed

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

“Sanderlings scamper, their stick legs a blur” as they lead the children in a race down the beach. Here they find long strands of kelp, strong enough for a game of tug-of-war, wild enough to make a seaweed monster costume. Down under the pier they “collect seashell souvenirs” and watch the changing rainbow colors of the setting sun in the quiet twilight away from the blinking lights, clanging bells, and ringing voices on the pier. “Fun is free,” they know, “and the world is ours.”

Through an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, readers learn that a portion of the proceeds from Under the Pier are donated to Heal the Bay Aquarium, an educational nonprofit located under the Santa Monica Pier, where visitors can see and touch one hundred local sea creatures. An illustrated guide to seven sea creatures found in an intertidal community follows the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-shells

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

Lyrical, entrancing, and full of the wonder of childhood, Nell Cross Beckerman’s story will transport readers to a languid summer day where a group of friends spend the afternoon reveling in the rides, games, and treats of the pier and then continue their fun under the pier, where nature provides as many delights as the carnival above. Through her detailed and evocative language, readers can hear the thrill of the crowds, taste the cotton candy, and run with the kids to be the first to claim the goat on the carousel.

But it is when the kids “slip down the stairs” to the sand below that Beckerman’s descriptions truly shine with the deep and lasting impressions of new discovery. The children’s mindful awe of the sea creatures they find when the tide goes out and their creative games played out with relished spontaneity reflect this one trip to the beach but also all moments of free play that this group of friends—and readers—will experience and remember as they grow up.

Rachell Sumpter’s glorious artwork blends realism and that feeling of magic that expands a child’s world. Her gorgeous soft pinks, yellows, greens, and blues, embroidered with lacy white accents, swirl with the kids on the carousel and beckon them downstairs. Here, with the page turn, the colors burst into vibrancy as the sea tickles their toes and sea creatures climb the pilings and blanket the rocks and sand. Frothy waves and pearled outlines create a dazzling backdrop to the children’s fun. As they wrap themselves in nature-made costumes and art, the fiery sun sets on a perfect day.

A mesmerizing escapade children will want to join in on, Down Under the Pier is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. The book would pair well with lessons on marine science and United States geography, giving it cross-curricular appeal.

Ages 4 – 8

Cameron Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1944903862

Discover more about Nell Cross Beckerman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachell Sumpter, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Summer Leisure Day Activity

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

Kinetic Sand

Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

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

Directions

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-cover

You can find Under the Pier at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 15 – It’s National Shark Week

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About the Holiday

It’s Shark Week – one of the most anticipated holiday’s of the year! Kids and adults are fascinated by these denizens of the deep, and especially the Great White, which sports fearsome teeth and intimidates with their imposing size. But there are many more sharks in the sea – about 500 species! – and they are an important part of the world’s ecosystem. If Shark Week is your favorite week of the summer, you’re no doubt enjoying a full schedule of shark-related shows on the Discovery Channel. To learn more information about sharks, including statistics from this year’s coastal shark survey, a chance to cast your vote for “freakiest shark,” a line-up of top videos, and more, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shark Week page. To celebrate sharks and the wonders of the ocean every day, you’ll want to put today’s book at the top of your reading list.

Thanks to Joan Holub for sharing a copy of I Am the Shark with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Joan in a giveaway package that kids will love. See details below.

I Am the Shark

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Laurie Keller

 

Great White Shark is excited to introduce himself, especially since he is “the GREATEST SHARK in this book.” But a voice contradicts Great White. Who begs to differ? It’s Whale Shark, and she loses no time in demonstrating why she is “the greatest shark in this book” due to her enormous size, which can’t be matched anywhere in the undersea world. And if that weren’t enough, she adds this bite: “Compared to me, you are small.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-great-white

Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

But Great White takes it in stride. If he isn’t the greatest shark, that’s okay because being the smallest has some pretty great perks too. So he’s in the middle of a “smallest shark” victory dance when a voice calls out, “No, you’re not.” It seems there’s a much smaller shark in the sea—Dwarf Lantern Shark, who, besides being the tiniest shark has a rather enlightening ability too. After the long take down from Whale Shark, this time Great White pivots quickly, thinking about how “smart and curious” he is. Could he be “the smartest shark in this book?”

Well, that would be a no. Hammerhead Shark has that one nailed down as well as a unique view of their colorful world. This time, Great White is a little intimidated. “Whoa!” he exclaims. “How can I top that?” But being smart (just not as smart as Hammerhead), Great White has another idea. This one, though, is quashed just like the others in a sneak attack. Turns out Great White isn’t the best hunter, the oldest, or even the “fishiest” shark in this book.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-whale-shark

Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Undeterred, Great White decides to do a little research in other books to “figure out the greatest thing about [him]. He learns all about his different body parts and even shares a labeled diagram (on graph paper and everything) with you. And he doesn’t stop there. He’s discovered all sorts of awesome facts about their skeletons, senses, teeth, skin, and other cool tidbits that he lets you know about. Great White could probably go on and on, but suddenly there’s a “snack alert” and all the sharks take off at top speed after their prey. Great White’s fast! He’s in the lead! Great White’s the fast..est… “Crumbs.” Great White’s passed up by a faster shark. Who is that anyway?

By this time Great White is feeling pretty down in the dumps. “Maybe I should change my name to Just-Okay White Shark or Not-So-Great White Shark,” he bemoans. But then Dwarf Lantern Shark swims up to him and enlightens him with some perspective and sage advice: “Just be happy being you.” Great White takes it to heart. In fact, it helps him think of a new, can’t-miss quality that finally gives him a “GREATEST in this book” status.

Backmatter includes more details on the eight sharks introduced in the story as well as books and links about sharks for kids wanting to learn more.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-am-the-shark-smallest

Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Kids are always fascinated by the superlative—the fastest, the biggest, the smallest, the silliest, the best—and Joan Holub makes superlative use of this fact in her highly entertaining and educational romp. As Great White goes on a rollercoaster of emotions, one moment thinking he’s the best at something while the next moment having his hopes dashed, readers learn eye-opening details about eight sharks, described in engaging ways that will wow kids. Great White’s boundless optimism is infectious while setting up his disappointment for maximum comic effect. Kids will eagerly await the chance to chime in on the “No, you’re not.” asides that are sure to bring plenty of giggles. But this story isn’t all about sharks. Holub masterfully weaves in an important message for kids about self-acceptance, true happiness, and finding their unique qualities and talents.

Laurie Keller uses her prodigious talent for humor in her up-close images (and is there any other way kids would want to see them?) of these competitive sharks. Loaded with attitude, each shark swims onto the pages to demonstrate their “greatest” trait in ways that will stick with kids and have them excited to learn more. Expressive faces and silly antics add personality and laughs to each page spread. Keller’s vivid, textured, and collage-style illustrations are eye-catching, and funny details, such as Tiger Shark’s tattoos, chain bangle, band-aid, and gold tooth, will have kids lingering over the pages. While they’re there, they’ll want to keep a look out for the Dwarf Lantern Shark who finally lets Great White in on a great secret.

Full of facts, action-packed, and loaded with laughs, I Am the Shark is creative non-fiction at its GREATEST. Kids who love learning about sharks, nature, and the ocean or who just love a fantastic read will want to sink their teeth in this charmer. I Am the Shark is a can’t-miss must for homes, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0525645283

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Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated over 150 children’s books, including the Goddess Girls series and the Heroes in Training series (with Suzanne Williams); the New York Times bestselling picture book Mighty Dads, illustrated by James Dean; Little Red Writing, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; and Zero the Hero, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Her board & novelty books include This Little Trailblazer and Fa la la Llama. Joan adores line dancing to the Jaws theme, reading Sharkspeare, and vacationing in Finland.

You can connect with Joan Holub on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-laurie-keller-headshotLaurie Keller is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Scrambled States of America, Potato Pants!, Arnie the Doughnut, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, the Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut chapter book series, and We Are Growing!, part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series and winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. When Laurie isn’t busy making books, she enjoys playing the banjo, traveling, cross-country skiing, and splashing in Lake Michigan, where as far as she knows, there is not a single shark.

You can connect with Laurie Keller on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

I Am the Shark Giveaway

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I’m happy to be teaming with Joan Holub in a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive:

  • One (1) copy of I Am the Shark with an illustrated bookplate signed by Joan Holub and Laurie Keller
  • A kid-sized shark-design art or cooking apron 

To enter:

This giveaway is open from July 15 to July 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on July 22. 

Prizing provided by Joan Holub

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

Shark Week Activity

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Fin-tastic Shark Fun

 

Your kids can make a splash during Shark Week and all year around with this easy-to-make craft! 

Supplies

  • 2 pieces of 8.5 x 11 gray card stock paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

fin outline white

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Directions

  1. Tape the top of the two pieces of paper together
  2. Fold them back together
  3. Measure an inch up from the bottom of the papers (the un-taped side) and trace a straight line across both papers
  4. Trace a shark fin outline onto your paper. The shark outline should stop an inch above the bottom
  5. Cut out the fin on both pieces of paper. If you should cut through the tape, re-tape the tops together
  6. Fold along the lines of both papers so the folds face towards each other.
  7. Tape the folds so the fin becomes a triangle
  8. Cut two slits parallel to the folded lines
  9. Thread ribbon through slits

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You can find I Am the Shark at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 29 – International Day of the Tropics

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About the Holiday

The International Day of the Tropics is a United Nations–sponsored holiday that celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the tropics while putting a spotlight on the unique challenges and opportunities the nations of the Tropics face. The Tropics are a region roughly defined as the area between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn and have in common a warm and typically unvaried seasonal temperature fluctuations and the prevalence of rain  determined by a region’s proximity to the equator. While it is projected that by 2050, the Tropics will be home to most of the world’s population and two-thirds of its children, the area faces challenges due to climate change, deforestation, logging, urbanization, and demographic shifts.  Today’s observance provides individuals, organizations, and governments an opportunity to take stock of progress across the tropics, to share stories and expertise, and to acknowledge the diversity and potential of the region. Today’s book tell the true story of one woman who is working to make a difference.

Thanks to Lee & Low Books for sending me a copy of Galápagos Girl/ Galápagueña for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. 

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Angela Dominguez | Translated by Adriana Dominguez

 

On the day when baby Valentina joined Mamá, Papá, and eleven brothers and sisters, even the sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and iguanas seemed to welcome her to the “island formed by fire.” Valentina loved growing up on the Galápagos Island of Floreana. She explored the lava rocks, where Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled back and forth. She swam with dolphins and manta rays, and even played with penguins.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

“Valentina watched pink flamingoes wading near mangroves. Blue butterflies fluttering on the breeze. Red-and-green iguanas sneezing salt like tiny geysers.” The crashing waves, albatross, and finches created a symphony as Valentina stopped to rest on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean. The lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and twirling sea lions provided young Valentina with a variety of dance partners.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

At home, Valentina’s family shared their home with two giant tortoises—Carlitos and Isabella. One day Papá told Valentina their story as they fed the tortoises plums that had fallen from their backyard trees. Papá had gotten Carlitos and Isabella from a friend when he first moved to Floreana. Although it was nearly impossible to imagine now that the tortoises were grown, at the time they were so small that they fit into Papá’s pockets.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

There was also a sad note to Papá’s story. He said that while giant tortoises still lived on other Galápagos islands, pirates and whalers had wiped out the population on Floreana. Papá went on to tell Valentina that many Galápagos animals were in danger. They were “threatened by other animals that don’t belong here. Threatened by people who don’t understand how to care for our islands.” Valentina promised that she would always protect them.

When she was older, Valentina left the island to go to school. She didn’t want to leave her beautiful home, but Mamá told her that she was “ready to learn about the world beyond.” And Papá reminded her that “like our islands, you have a heart full of fire.” On school vacations, Valentina always came back to study the wildlife on the Galápagos islands. She had not forgotten her promise to keep them safe.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

After she graduated with a degree in biology, Valentina returned to the islands as a nature guide to teach visitors about the beauty and uniqueness of the Galápagos. Some visitors were even lucky enough to meet Carlitos and Isabella when the plums dropped from the trees and the two old tortoises returned from exploring Floreana to eat them. Because of Valentina’s commitment to the Galápagos, her visitors also made a promise to always remember and protect them.

Extensive backmatter includes an Author’s Note about Valentina Cruz, the tortoises Carlitos and Isabella, and the history of tortoises on Floreana. There is also information on the Galápagos as well as fun facts about all of the animals in the story. A bibliography of sources invites readers to learn more.

Each two-page spread presents the text in English and translated into Spanish by Adriana Dominguez.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s lyrical and buoyant passages sing with the carefree joy Valentina felt as a girl exploring her beloved Galápagos and which brought her back home as a biologist to protect them. After seeing Valentina playing and swimming with the native animals and feeding Carlitos and Isabella, readers will also feel Valentina’s sadness at the dangers they face and want to make a positive difference to the environment and the world around them. Arnold’s dialogue-rich storytelling highlights the personal nature of the subject and will draw children into Valentina’s world.celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Galápagos-Girl-blue-footed-booby

Saturated with glorious color, each of Angela Dominguez’s illustrations is a celebration of the splendor of the Galápagos. Playful sea lions, high-stepping blue-footed boobies, scampering crabs, and even a sneezing iguana will captivate young readers and inspire them to learn more about these creatures and the islands. Images of Valentina camping out to study the animals during school breaks will excite environmentally conscious kids, and pictures of Carlitos and Isabella happily munching on plums will generate smiles and “awwws.”

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña will excite kids to learn more not only about the Galápagos region but about their own local environment, and the call to action will spark an enthusiasm for protecting the earth’s animals. The book would make an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and an excellent way to begin classroom discussions on environmental issues and science lessons. The engaging Spanish translation will delight Spanish-speaking and bilingual families.

Ages 4 – 8

Lee & Low Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0892394135

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website. You can also download activity sheets and teachers’ guides for most of her books here as well.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Welcome Marsha Diane Arnold

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In 2018, I was thrilled to talk with award-winning picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold about the backstory of Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña. Her interview, originally for National Wildlife Day, is just as timely today. Marsha was inspired to write this story after traveling to the Galápagos Islands, where she met Valentina Cruz and had the opportunity to swim with sea lions and dolphins.

Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author whose books have sold over one million copies. Her 21st book, Lights Out, was published in the fall of 2020. Arnold’s other books include Badger’s Perfect Garden, May I Come In? and Mine. Yours. Among Marsha’s honors are the Ridgeway Award for Best First Book, state Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book, and Smithsonian Notable Book. Her bilingual book Galápagos Girl was selected as a 2019 Bank Street Best Books of the Year, a Campoy-Ada honor book, and a 2019 Green Prize in Sustainable Literature. The media has referred to her as, “a born storyteller.” Educators have called her a “true literary artist” whose books show “warmth and respect for one’s self.”  She lives with her family in Alva, Florida.

Thank you, Kathryn, for inviting me to celebrate Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña, along with conservation of wild places and animals!

As a child, would you have enjoyed swimming with sea lions? Feeding plums to giant tortoises by hand? Having warblers fly through your house? That was the life of Valentina Cruz. Galápagos Girl is based on her idyllic life on remote Floreana island in the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago west of Ecuador.

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My photos of actual blue-footed booby and Galápagos marine iguana.

Valentina grew up surrounded by nature, but perhaps more accurately, she grew up in nature. I think when a child grows up seeing wild wonders every day, they grow up respecting and protecting nature and wildlife. Valentina and her siblings certainly did. She grew up to be a biologist and naturalist guide. One brother, Eliecer Cruz, was director of the Galápagos National Park and, later, director of the Galápagos branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Another brother, Felipe, worked on many projects with the Charles Darwin Research Station, including studying the challenges that face the Galápagos petrel. Her sister, Marilyn, is director of Galápagos Biosecurity Agency, which helps control and prevent invasive species in the islands.

In some ways, Valentina’s childhood was similar to mine. She was surrounded by a loving family—her parents and eleven brothers and sisters. I only had one brother, but along with my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, we gathered on many Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s house. Valentina and I both delighted in nature, though hers was a more exotic nature—the distant Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin discovered those famous finches and came up with his theory of natural selection. Mine was a small farm on the Kansas plains—I didn’t see the ocean until I was an adult. Valentina had Galápagos tortoises as pets and swam with sea lions. (Of course, keeping tortoises as pets is not allowed today.) I played with my neighbor’s pet raccoon (also, not allowed today) and listened to the meadowlark’s song from the roof of my house.

Valentina loves nature, home, and family, but has the soul of an adventurer. I’m much the same. When I grew up I yearned to see as much of the world as possible. When my long-time traveling buddy, Jean Gallagher, asked me to travel with her to the Galápagos, one of my long-time dreams came true.

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The Galápagos Gang – fellow travelers to a far-off land. Jean is 3rd to right in front. I am 4th.

It was on that 2007 trip that I met Valentina, one of our naturalist guides. With her, we visited Floreana and saw the home where she grew up. I was enamored. I thought how wonderful a book about the islands and their unique wildlife, woven together with Valentina’s childhood, would be. Yet it wasn’t until April 2009 that I emailed Valentina and told her of my dream to write a picture book based on her life. Over months and years, Valentina generously shared her stories with me.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-galapagos-girl-valentina-showing-lay-of-land

Valentina showing us the lay of the land.

Valentina got her sense of adventure and love of nature from her father, Eliecer Cruz Cevallos, who first arrived in the Galápagos in 1939. He was one of only 100 people living in the Galápagos at that time!

Eliecer returned to Ecuador and married Valentina’s mother, Emma Bedon. She made him promise they would never live in the Galápagos. Who can blame her? They’d have almost no human neighbors! But in 1944, she changed her mind. Emma sailed to Floreana with Eliecer to build a life together. Valentina told me that even living in the wild, her mother taught her children “to keep all the rules of a city so we do not grow up wild.”

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Valentina and her father on Floreana

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Valentina, her mother, and her sister

Two Galápagos tortoises were a big part of Valentina’s childhood, so I had to include them in Galápagos Girl. Floreana tortoise had long been extinct (or so it was thought).  So when Eliecer moved to Floreana, his friend gave him young tortoises from other islands. Eventually, the family released the tortoises to roam free. One of the most exciting things that happened to Valentina as a child was seeing the tortoises return to their farm that first year after their release. The main reason was the tasty plums dropping from the trees. Every year after that, when the plums ripened, the family waited for the tortoises to return. They always did!

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An illustration of one of the family’s tortoises eating a plum treat by Angela Dominguez

The tortoise story changed several times during the writing of my book due to Valentina’s remembering more over time, checking facts with her family, and a discovery near Wolf Volcano on Isabela, another Galápagos Island. What’s in my book isn’t exactly the way things were, but it’s close to the real story. As Valentina wisely shared: “Each of us remember things in different ways. Our memory is like pictures of what impresses us in that specific moment, so everything can be true and everything can be fiction.”

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One of eleven species of Galápagos tortoise

Regarding the exciting discovery on Wolf Volcano, scientists recently found tortoises there that carry some of the Floreana tortoise genes! There is a project now to bring these tortoises back to Floreana. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have partial Floreana tortoises wandering freely, restoring the ecology of Floreana?

You may ask, “How did Floreana tortoises get on Isabela Island?” That’s one more fascinating question about the Galápagos. If I visit your school, you can ask me and I’ll share more.

Thanks so much, Marsha, for sharing the fascinating story behind Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her Website | Earth’s Voices | Facebook

International Day of the Tropics Activity

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Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

 

There are so many fascinating animals that live in the Galápagos! Can you match the picture of each animal to its description in this printable Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle? You can find and download the activity sheet from the Lee & Low Books website:

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 8 – World Oceans Day

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About the Holiday

Since 1992, The United Nations has sponsored World Oceans Day on this date to raise awareness of the importance of the Earth’s seas. Institutions, science centers, schools, research centers, businesses, governments, and communities around the world take part in special events, webinars, meetings, a photography contest, and other programs. This year’s theme is “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods” and sheds “light on the wonder of the ocean and how it is our lifesource, supporting humanity and every other organism on earth.” This year’s virtual program begins at 10:00 a.m. and features a line up of thought-leaders, celebrities, community activists, entrepreneurs, and industry experts. The day ends with a concert given by musical artists from around the world. For more information on World Oceans Day, visit the UN World Oceans Day website. For educational resources, click here. To see the schedule of events, click here.

Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Lucy Semple

 

“From afar the vast ocean appears pure and clean. / How if sparkles and shimmers—a beautiful scene.” But what will you find if you look at just a small portion of the ocean—even a tiny drop—up close? Under a microscope, “the sea looks more like…soup” with “ingredients” that have been simmering for decades. And what’s in this soup? Many “chefs” have created it with Styrofoam cups and their lids; single-use bottles, bags, and straws; microbead soaps, synthetic materials, and balloons.

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Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

“The real problem is plastic; it’s in all that stuff. Whether hard or elastic, that plastic is tough!” Dumps around the world are overflowing with plastic, and much of it ends up in the ocean “churning round the five gyres— / the huge saltwater whirlpools / where breakdown transpires.” As the plastic churns under the sun, it turns into “specks” that can’t be removed. This plastic soup is “…gulped by the dolphins, the whales, and the seals, / and it’s slurped by the fish, / and the plankton and eels.”

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Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

This confetti of plastic is found above the water in icebergs and deep on the ocean floor. If it’s in the fish that we eat, “is it in you and me” too? To clean up the oceans, we need new chefs and a new recipe for ending the manufacturing of plastic, practicing new habits with sustainable, reusable materials, and refusing products packaged in plastic. “Ocean soup may have simmered before we were here, / but the call for us all to pitch in rings out clear.”

Extensive backmatter includes an author’s note; a discussion about the invention of plastics and the astounding amount of “‘plastic smog'” that is in the ocean, as well as a description of how gyres break down plastic into tiny particles. Readers also learn what eight types of plastic are the worst polluters and are given ten steps for reducing daily plastic use. 

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Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Meeg Pincus’s eye-opening comparison between the ocean and a pot of soup gives young readers crucial information about the plight of our oceans that is easy to understand and visualize. Her entreaty to look closely at what lies beneath the shimmering blue surface of the water grabs readers’ attention, and her short history of how and when plastics came on the scene provides context and perspective. The plastics Pincus mentions show the magnitude of the problem, and kids will be familiar with most if not all of these products. Pincus’s unstinting rhyming verses present the science of how plastic is shredded by the sea, where it ends up, and how it is ingested by ocean creatures in a way that is sure to spur readers to action. Her examples of ways we can reduce our plastic use within the story and in the backmatter empowers readers of all ages to make changes to protect the Earth’s oceans now and for future generations.

Lucy Semple’s bold illustrations show kids exactly how pervasive the kinds of containers, toys, wrappers, and other plastic products that are polluting our oceans really are and how blithely we use them. Through successive panels she demonstrates how plastic bags, bottles, straws, and cups break apart due to sun and water currents, and a double-spread map orients kids to where the five gyres are found. Images of sea creatures gulping down the tiny shards of plastic are effective and will resonate with children, as will the final pages where readers will find reinforcement for new habits of using and promoting recycled and reusable products.

An excellent overview of and introduction to the crisis of plastics in the world’s oceans, Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea will spark in readers a desire to embrace more sustainable products, adopt better recycling habits, and take action to reduce plastics use. The book would be an impactful way to begin science, environment, history, and other cross-curricular lessons as well as a jumping off place for more extensive research in classrooms and for homeschoolers. Ocean Soup is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111189

Discover more about Meeg Pincus and her books on her website.

You can connect with Lucy Semple on Instagram and Twitter.

World Oceans Day Activity

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Sea Creatures Coloring Pages

 

Grab your crayons and enjoy these printable coloring pages of favorite sea creatures!

Fish | Octopus | Seahorse | Turtle

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You can find Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 22 – Earth Day and National Poetry Month

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About the Holidays

Earth Day

Earth Day was created in 1970 by a US Senator, Gaylord Nelson. Nelson created the day because he was worried about how humans were harming the environment through their actions. Heard of this holiday before? We certainly hope so! In 1990, environmental leaders mobilized to make the holiday go global. And now, according to earthday.org, 1 BILLION people mobilize on Earth Day every year, to help save and celebrate our beloved planet. You can watch an educational animated video on Gaylord Nelson here. Learn more about Earth Day and how you can make a difference all year around at Earthday.org.

National Poetry Month

2021 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Poetry Month. The holiday was launched by the Academy of American Poets to celebrate writers, poets, poetry lovers and the positive impact poetry has on our culture, literacy and lives. Check out the 2021 National Poetry Month Poster here. You can learn more about National Poetry Month at Poets.org.

Today’s book celebrates both of these holidays with a collection of ocean poems for children. Not a huge lover of poetry? Perhaps the following collection will sway you like an ocean tide. Crafted by The Writers’ Loft Authors and Illustrators, Friends and Anemones is truly as dazzling as a sea-floor pearl.

Thanks to The Writers’ Loft for sending me a copy of Friends and Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children

By The Writers’ Loft Authors & Illustrators

 

Dive headfirst into poetry month by exploring “the very, very, bottom of the deep blue sea. With: Salty snails and tuna tails. Bottle caps and lobster traps. Popped balloons, Plastic spoons…” and everything in between! (The Bottom of the Ocean by Kristen Wixted.) In honor of Earth Day AND National Poetry month, Celebrate Picture Books presents a book that deserves to be celebrated twice over: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Seventy New England authors and illustrators joined ship with the Rozalia Project to create a treasure-worthy collection of ocean-themed poems and illustrations.

As described in the title page, “Rozalia Project works to conserve a healthy and thriving marine ecosystem—the plants and animals need our help to keep human debris out of their homes.” Through this partnered anthology, children will learn about subject matter ranging from unique sea creatures and beach dwellers – like cuttlefish, vampire squids, red knots, and rainbow lobsters – to the habits of more well-known ocean dwellers, like whales taking off debris, sharks getting their teeth cleaned, and sea turtles hatching eggs.

They’ll also find poems about human additions to the ocean scene in odes to lighthouses, ships’ remnants, sea litter, and more. Each poem contains deep knowledge to share with readers about poetry, the ocean, and marine life. Little pieces of advice float in between hysterical ocean puns. This perfect concoction of sea-worthy information is also backed by all types of fin-tastic and crabulous art.

Some of the poems are sure to make you laugh out loud. Deep-Sea Jellyfish by Cindy Cornwall opens with: “Jelly of the sea, not jam for your toast. It’s deep in the water, a silky scarf ghost.” Seal of disApproval by Lynda Mullay Hunt fills a whole page with the rhyming, pun-y story of a seal who becomes a dentist and stands up to sharks.

Other poems are less humorous and more pensive; the last of the series, Sea Serenity by Luke Hargraver, holds an existential truth for readers to swim through: “The world is like water / Easily disturbed by ripples / But when still, / Beautiful.” Under a short and sweet poem called Minnow, by Brook Gideon, a message to ocean explorers reads: “It’s very important to release everything you catch back into the ocean right away!”

Each spread is distinctly created in the individual poets’ and artists’ styles. Yet, the whole compilation works together in perfect, charming harmony. Some poems mirror each other in content. Horseshoe Crabulous by Doreen Buchinski is followed by Red Knots by Jane Sutton, in which: “In the sand their goal is chiefly / To dart—and swerve —on twiggy legs / In mad search for horseshoe eggs.” The two beautifully crafted poems are followed by a third gem, Mollusk Mansions by Charlotte Sheer, and accompanied with an illustration featuring horseshoe crabs, red knots, and mollusk shells—all painted by Doreen Buchinski herself!

Children will explore the deep cerulean sea through a range of sincere rhyming couplets, honest haikus, positively silly prose, magical motifs, and everything in between. All poems and artwork share with readers a deep admiration for under the sea creatures, while spreading ocean knowledge, and a love for poetry and beauty.

The watercolors, collages, and digital art pieces mesh beautifully while each achieving a distinctly artistic picturesque scene. Some illustrations run horizontally across the spread to create poster-like, masterful images. On page 23 illustrator Julia Young Cuffe paints a long, horizontal lighthouse against a watery dark blue sky, littered with stars. A person stands at the top, waving a piece of cloth, illuminated by the lighthouse light. The poem, Boston Light by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, is artfully placed running vertically down the lighthouse.

Others run across the two-page spreads to create one image that ties together the poems featured on the separate pages into a collective unit. An example of this can be seen in Marlo Garnsworthy’s opening spread of deep ocean waves intermingling with whales, and Amanda Davis’s DEEP deep sea spread that features spookily realistic vampire squids, angler fish, and sea plumes. Each piece stands out as thoughtfully crafted to instill in readers a sense of awe for the beauty of marine life and ocean ecology.

Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children would make a wonderful addition to classroom science and language arts lessons as well as a fun collection to share at home, especially in conjunction with trips to the beach or aquariums. 

The Writers’ Loft is a community based in Sherborn, Massachusetts which helps local writers foster their creativity, strengthen their spirit, and grow professionally by providing them with quiet writing space, educational programs, opportunities to connect with supportive colleagues, and access to industry experts, as well as opportunities to give back to the greater writing community. To learn more about The Writers’ Loft, visit their website.

The Rozalia Project runs educational programs, ocean cleaning initiatives and research projects focused on how to aid ocean clean-up and maintain sustainability of ocean and shoreline ecosystems. The Rozalia Project, along with the “Writer-and-Artist-Ocean-Protectors from the Writers Loft” hopes to use this book to “foster an appreciation of the importance, beauty, and wonder of the ocean in the change-makers of tomorrow.”

To learn more about the Rozalia Project, or get involved with them on this Earth Day, check out their website. You can also watch this video on their Expedition CLEAN.

Earth Day and National Poetry Month Activities

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Color pages from Friends & Anemones in your OWN style with these black and white versions of the illustrations. You can find 18 more pages to print or download to your iPad to color on The Writers’ Loft website.

Manatee and Mermaid Coloring Page | Kids on the Beach Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-under-the-sea-word-search

Find ten ocean critters’ names in this printable sea-star shaped word search.

Under the Sea Word Search Puzzle | Under the Sea Word Search Solution

Explore some poems specifically written for younger readers at Poets.org and write your own poetry if you feel inspired.

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To support The Writers’ Loft, you can order Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children from their website.

You can find Friends & Anemones at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review