November 19 – Children’s Grief Awareness Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Created in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families in Pennsylvania, Children’s Grief Awareness Day is now recognized by organizations around the world. The day seeks to raise awareness of the painful impact that the death of a loved one has on a child and the fact that receiving support can make all the difference in their life as they grieve. It also provides an opportunity to make sure that these children receive the support they need.

The statistics are sobering. Before graduating from high school, one child out of every 20 children will experience the death of a parent. That number does not include those who experience the death of a sibling, a grandparent, an aunt, uncle or cousin, or a friend.

To learn more information on the needs of grieving children and find available resources, visit the Children’s Grief Awareness Day website.

Thanks to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy of The Boy and the Gorilla for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Candlewick in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers.

She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

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

The Boy and the Gorilla Giveaway

 

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Candlewick Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The Boy and the Gorilla, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer| illustrated by Cindy Derby

To enter:

This giveaway is open from November 19 to November 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on November 26. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Candlewick Press

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 7 – National Bison Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-cover

About the Holiday

Beginning in 2012, a movement grew to name the bison as America’s national mammal and declare the first Saturday of November as National Bison Day to bring together bison supporters, including Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, and educators to celebrate the significance of Bison. On May 9, 2016, President Barak Obama signed into law the proclamation naming the bison our national mammal.

The bison, also known as the American buffalo are considered a historical symbol of the United States and were integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Native American tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies. Bison also play an important role in improving soil and creating beneficial habitat whilst holding significant economic value for private producers and rural communities. Hunted to near extinction, bison now reside in all 50 states in national parks, refuges, tribal, and private lands.

My Bison

By Gaya Wisniewski

 

The first time a little girl meets the bison she was walking with her mother through a field of tall grass. “‘Look!’” her mother said. “‘He’s back!’” Every day after that the girl went out into the field to see the bison, coming a little closer each time until she was able to pet him. Once, she even thought she heard him whisper an invitation to come closer.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-first-time

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The little girl began to feed him food she’d made herself. Sometimes he didn’t like it, but he always tried it and that made her happy. One day it was time for him to move on with the rest of the herd. The girl walked with him as far as she could. When she said goodbye, the bison gave her a long look and she “knew he’d be back when snow covered the ground again.” The girl was lonely without him, but when winter returned she knew he had too without even seeing him. Now, seated together near the fire, the girl told him stories about the forest and what she’d done over the year while he, silent, “listened with tenderness.” She loved everything about him and loved him with her whole heart.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-come-near

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The girl and the bison grew old together, winter to winter, never feeling the cold of the snow. Once, they talked all night about their mothers. The girl remembering the first time her mother had shown her the bison, how she had comforted her and taught her the lessons of nature. She missed her mother so much, she told him, and imagined he missed his mother too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-tea

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

One winter the bison didn’t return and no amount of looking could find him. The girl, now an old woman, went home. She cried with missing him. And then just as in those winters so long ago when she felt his presence without seeing him, she knew he was with her. In her heart she “heard him say, ‘I am in every spring flower, every sound in the forest, and every snowflake.’” And she knew he was with her always.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-night

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Gaya Wisniewski’s stunning and gorgeous story about a friendship between a little girl and a bison is deeply moving, it’s straightforward and metaphorical meanings blending in harmony to settle in a reader’s heart. The girl’s and bison’s relationship is one of mutual respect and trust, and they are in many ways alike. With her shaggy coat and tousled hair, the girl looks like a miniature bison, while the bison is perfectly comfortable sitting at the table near the fire sipping hot chocolate or snoozing in the cozy built-in bed  in the girl’s home. The girl loves the bison the way children love their pets, and the way she takes care of him replicates a mother’s tender affection and attention.

Here the text and images take on deeper meanings as the little girl offers the bison homemade food, holding her long-handled spoon to his mouth the way mothers the world over do for their babies. She walks with him to the edge of the clearing as he leaves in the spring, waving goodbye but with the promise of his return like a mother taking her child to the bus stop, seeing them off to college, or watching them move away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-sky

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At other times the bison seems to take on the role of the mother. In the endearing illustration of the bison and the girl talking over cups of hot chocolate, the girl relates how the bison would listen to her stories. Later, readers learn that her mother made her hot chocolate when she couldn’t sleep, letting them imagine how the little girl might have told her mother about her day, about the things keeping her awake. The china cup also holds the bison’s memory of cuddling with his mother, their fur smudged and merging with the steam rising from the hot drink. This blending of roles subtly demonstrates the cycles of life and the reciprocal nature of love.

Readers don’t know when the girl lost her mother; but a snapshot of the girl playing Ring around the Rosie with her and her teddy bear, in which only the mother’s arms are visible at the side of the page and the circle of light highlighting this scene is surrounded by darkness, hints at the loss. As the bison and the girl grow old together and there comes the winter when the bison does not return readers discover that any great love is always with them.

Wisniewski’s charcoal and ink illustrations, punctuated with blue create a mystical, dreamlike atmosphere where the forest and the mountains, the girl and the bison reach out to embrace the reader and invite them into this world of a love like no other.

A tender story to share all types of unending love with children, My Bison would be a poignant addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898861

To learn more about Gaya Wisniewski, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Bison Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bison-coloring-page

Bison Coloring Page

 

Bison are majestic creatures. Enjoy this coloring page of a bison roaming Yellowstone National Park.

Bison Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-cover

You can find My Bison at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

August 31 – We Love Memoirs Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-cover

About the Holiday

In 2013, Victoria Twead and Alan Parks, who have written about their life stories themselves, established today’s holiday to foster a warm and welcoming community for readers and writers of memoirs. The idea took off and now We Love Memoirs Day brings the art and heart of this personal form of writing to people across the world. If you like to read memoirs, today’s a terrific day to visit your local bookstore or library and pick one up. If you’ve ever thought of penning the story of your own life and/or family, today’s holiday gives you the perfect opportunity to start!

Memoirs of a Tortoise

Written by Devin Scillian | Illustrated by Tim Bowers

It’s April and Oliver the tortoise is in his garden with his pet, Ike. Ike has brought him “a plate of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.” Oliver loves Ike and he can tell that Ike loves him too by the way he runs his hand over his shell. “This, this is life and it’s beautiful,” Oliver thinks. In May, Ike throws a stick that Oliver will never fetch, and they laugh over this old, favorite joke. Oliver thinks, “Eighty times I’ve watched spring arrive in the garden, and it’s always perfect.” He spies a bit of red on the other side of the garden and ambles off to investigate.

It’s June by the time he reaches the hibiscus grove. Oliver enjoys taking things slow—just like Ike does. July and August pass with special moments of companionship and fun. As September comes, life begins slowing down. “The days are getting shorter” and Ike is “taking lots of naps in the garden.” Oliver enjoys having Ike nearby and decides that “the next time he throws the stick, I’m going to fetch it.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-april

Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2020, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

October arrives, but the regular routine of the garden has been broken. Oliver hasn’t seen Ike or been fed in several days. Oliver makes due with pumpkin from the garden, but he misses Ike. By November, Oliver is “afraid Ike is gone.” The idea makes him sad. After all, he thinks, Ike was still so young. He was 80 years old.” Oliver had thought they would grow old together and wonders where Ike is. In December, Oliver decides to go talk to someone who has more experience than he does—his mother, who is 137 years old.

It takes Oliver until February to cross the ten gardens between Ike’s house and where his mother lives. When Oliver’s mother sees her son, “she smiles wide and her eyes sparkle.” Oliver tells his mother that Ike is gone. She understands his sadness and tells him how much Ike loved him. But Oliver wonders why Ike couldn’t stay with him.

Oliver’s mother explains “we only get to have pets in our lives for a little while.” Then she offers words of comfort: “And when they’re gone, we count all those beautiful days we were lucky enough to have them with us. We’re so lucky.”

Oliver has enjoyed his visit with his mother, but in March he’s on his way back home. When he arrives in his own garden, the door of the house opens. Oliver turns instinctively expecting to see Ike, but it’s Ted, Ike’s son. He brings Oliver “a tray of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.” He rubs Oliver’s shell just like Ike used to do and tells Oliver he’s glad he came home. Ted tosses a stick and the two laugh. “This, for me and Ted, this is life,” Oliver thinks. And he knows his mother was right when she said they were so lucky.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-july

Image copyright Tim Bowers, 2020, text copyright Devin Scillian, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Devin Scillian’s Memoirs of a Tortoise has it all—humor, poignancy, and a life lesson about the precious moments we share with loved ones. Using the longevity of tortoises, Scillian flips the script on the pet and human relationship with tender and emotional effect. When Ike passes away and Oliver is confused and sad, he confidently sets out to find answers and comfort from someone he can trust—his mother. The ten gardens between their homes may not seem far to us, but to Ike and his mom it’s the equivalent of towns, states, or even countries for us.

This seamless blending of the tortoises’ experience and that of readers’ is both the charm and genius of Scillian’s story. Oliver’s straightforward comments and questions about loss echo those of children and will resonate with them. As Oliver’s mother reminds him to enjoy every day and be thankful for the time he spends with his pets and as Ted enters his life, readers will understand that her advice to embrace all the parts of life applies to them as well.

Tim Bowers’ endearing Oliver is a sweet companion on this journey through a formative experience. As Oliver spends time and enjoys inside jokes with kindly Ike, readers will recognize not only the pet and owner bond but the relationship between children and grandparents. Bowers’ lush depictions of Ike’s garden where he and Oliver play or sit quietly side by side portray the beauty of life that Oliver’s mother so wisely recognizes. Ike’s slowing down and passing away are drawn with sensitivity and through images that allow adults and children to discuss facts and feelings about death, mourning, acceptance, and the cycles of life.

Uplifting and full of wisdom, Memoirs of a Tortoise, is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110199

Discover more about Devin Scillian, his books, journalism, music, and more on his website.

To learn more about Tim Bowers, his books, and his art, visit his website.

We Love Memoirs Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-shell-game

Follow the Turtles! Game

You can make this fun game from recycled materials and a little creativity! When you’re finished making the turtle shells, have fun guessing where the marble, bead or bean is hiding!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Green tissue paper in different hues
  • Green construction or craft paper
  • A marble, bead, or bean
  • Glue
  • Scissors

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-game

Directions

  1. Cut the egg carton apart into individual cups. You will need 3 cups for each game made.
  2. Cut the rims of the cups so they sit flat on a table.
  3. If the cups have open sides, fit two cups inside one another to fill the gaps
  4. Cut the tissue paper into small shapes
  5. Brush glue on a cup (I used a paper towel to apply glue)
  6. Cover the egg cup with pieces of tissue paper. Repeat with other cups.
  7. Let dry
  8. Cut a head and feet from the green craft paper
  9. Tape or glue the edges of head and feet to the inside of the cups
  10. Add a face to the head

To play the game:

  1. Line up the cups on a table
  2. Put a bead, bean, or marble under one of the cups
  3. Show the other player which cup the object is under
  4. Quickly move the cups around each other several times
  5. Ask the other player which cup they think the object is under
  6. Take turns playing

Extra Game: Make three more and play turtle tic-tac-toe! 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memoirs-of-a-tortoise-cover

You can find Memoirs of a Tortoise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 26 – National Tell a Story Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to celebrate the art of storytelling. Highlighting the tradition of oral storytelling, the day encourages families to get together and have fun remembering and sharing family tales. Reading together is another wonderful way to discover your own stories and those of others around the world.

My Bison

By Gaya Wisniewski

 

The first time a little girl meets the bison she was walking with her mother through a field of tall grass. “‘Look!’” her mother said. “‘He’s back!’” Every day after that the girl went out into the field to see the bison, coming a little closer each time until she was able to pet him. Once, she even thought she heard him whisper an invitation to come closer.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-first-time

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The little girl began to feed him food she’d made herself. Sometimes he didn’t like it, but he always tried it and that made her happy. One day it was time for him to move on with the rest of the herd. The girl walked with him as far as she could. When she said goodbye, the bison gave her a long look and she “knew he’d be back when snow covered the ground again.” The girl was lonely without him, but when winter returned she knew he had too without even seeing him. Now, seated together near the fire, the girl told him stories about the forest and what she’d done over the year while he, silent, “listened with tenderness.” She loved everything about him and loved him with her whole heart.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-come-near

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The girl and the bison grew old together, winter to winter, never feeling the cold of the snow. Once, they talked all night about their mothers. The girl remembering the first time her mother had shown her the bison, how she had comforted her and taught her the lessons of nature. She missed her mother so much, she told him, and imagined he missed his mother too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-tea

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

One winter the bison didn’t return and no amount of looking could find him. The girl, now an old woman, went home. She cried with missing him. And then just as in those winters so long ago when she felt his presence without seeing him, she knew he was with her. In her heart she “heard him say, ‘I am in every spring flower, every sound in the forest, and every snowflake.’” And she knew he was with her always.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-night

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Gaya Wisniewski’s stunning and gorgeous story about a friendship between a little girl and a bison is deeply moving, it’s straightforward and metaphorical meanings blending in harmony to settle in a reader’s heart. The girl’s and bison’s relationship is one of mutual respect and trust, and they are in many ways alike. With her shaggy coat and tousled hair, the girl looks like a miniature bison, while the bison is perfectly comfortable sitting at the table near the fire sipping hot chocolate or snoozing in the cozy built-in bed  in the girl’s home. The girl loves the bison the way children love their pets, and the way she takes care of him replicates a mother’s tender affection and attention.

Here the text and images take on deeper meanings as the little girl offers the bison homemade food, holding her long-handled spoon to his mouth the way mothers the world over do for their babies. She walks with him to the edge of the clearing as he leaves in the spring, waving goodbye but with the promise of his return like a mother taking her child to the bus stop, seeing them off to college, or watching them move away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-sky

Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At other times the bison seems to take on the role of the mother. In the endearing illustration of the bison and the girl talking over cups of hot chocolate, the girl relates how the bison would listen to her stories. Later, readers learn that her mother made her hot chocolate when she couldn’t sleep, letting them imagine how the little girl might have told her mother about her day, about the things keeping her awake. The china cup also holds the bison’s memory of cuddling with his mother, their fur smudged and merging with the steam rising from the hot drink. This blending of roles subtly demonstrates the cycles of life and the reciprocal nature of love.

Readers don’t know when the girl lost her mother; but a snapshot of the girl playing Ring around the Rosie with her and her teddy bear, in which only the mother’s arms are visible at the side of the page and the circle of light highlighting this scene is surrounded by darkness, hints at the loss. As the bison and the girl grow old together and there comes the winter when the bison does not return readers discover that any great love is always with them.

Wisniewski’s charcoal and ink illustrations, punctuated with blue create a mystical, dreamlike atmosphere where the forest and the mountains, the girl and the bison reach out to embrace the reader and invite them into this world of a love like no other.

A tender story to share all types of unending love with children, My Bison would be a poignant addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898861

To learn more about Gaya Wisniewski, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Tell a Story Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tell-a-story-maze

Tell a Story Maze

 

This puzzle may look like a regular maze, but there’s a secret to it! Within this maze is any story you’d like to make up. Why do you go left instead of right? Are you avoiding a zombie or a rain shower? Why do you go up instead of down? Is it because you can you float? What lurks in that dead end you’ve entered? There are as many cool stories as you can imagine right in those little pathways. And when you find your way to The End, you’ll have written a story with this printable puzzle!

Tell a Story Maze | Tell a Story Maze Solution 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-bison-cover

You can find My Bison at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

October 14 – It’s Black Cat Awareness Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-cover

About the Holiday

If you look at an annual calendar of pet holidays, you’ll see that cats reign supreme. This month, though, we celebrate one particular kind of feline: the black cat. While black cats are just as cuddly and sweet as any other cat, the superstition that they bring bad luck make them the least adopted of all cats. If you’re considering adopting a cat or kitten, think about giving a black cat a forever home.

Bambino and Mr. Twain

Written by P. I. Maltbie | Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

 

On a particular November day in 1904, a crowd gathered outside the brownstone where Samuel Clemens, known to readers as Mark Twain, had recently come to live. Reporters, readers, and neighbors had come to wish Sam a happy birthday. But they were shooed away by his housekeeper, Katy. Since his wife, Livy, had died five months earlier, Samuel had not felt happy; he didn’t want to see anyone or even leave the house.

“From an upstairs window an old man with wild white hair and a black cat watched the crowd walk away. ‘Everyone wants to meet witty Mark Twain,’ the man said. ‘But tell me, Bambino, would they want to meet sad, old Samuel Clemens?’” Soon his daughter Jean entered the room and persuaded her father to come downstairs for cake and ice cream with the promise that Bambino, their black cat, could have some too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-brownstone

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

In the middle of the cake stood a single candle—a tradition that Livy had started so that Samuel would “‘never grow old.’” With a dish of ice-cream to himself, Bambino took the place of Sam’s older daughter, Clara, who couldn’t be with them that night. Friends had invited Sam for dinner, but he did not want to go. As winter settle in, so did Samuel. He rarely left his bed, littering the covers with papers and books—so many “that the cat had difficulty finding a soft place to sleep.”

As Christmas approached, instead of attending the parties he was invited to, Samuel wandered around his big house, gazing at pictures of Livy and playing games—like billiards—with Bambino. When spring arrived, Katy rushed around opening windows to air out the house. In a sunlit upstairs room, “Bambino attacked the sunbeam dancing on the wardrobe door. Sam opened the door. The sunbeam shone on a white suit. Bambino swatted at it.” Sam lifted the suit from the closet and looked at it fondly. While Livy was alive he had worn that suit every summer. “‘Those were happy days,’” he recalled.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-window

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012, text copyright P. I. Maltbie, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Just then, outside the open window, Bambino saw a squirrel that had been chattering at him for days. With a leap Bambino was chasing the squirrel down the street. “‘Bamb-i-i-i-n-o-o-o!’ Sam’s voice echoed over the city noises.” Sam and Jean put up Lost Cat posters offering a $5.00 reward (a week’s wages) for Bambino’s return. Sam didn’t know how he would tell Clara that Bambino was gone, but Jean reassured him that someone would find their cat.

“Soon a steady stream of people appeared on Sam’s doorstep with cats and kittens of every size, color, and breed.” Seeing the crowd, Sam came out onto his stoop. One little girl offered to let Sam borrow their family’s cat until Bambino returned, and others brought him cats they thought would comfort him. But Sam thought Bambino would not “‘take kindly to finding a foreign cat in his kingdom.’” Reporters wanted to talk to this beloved author about Bambino too, “and this time Sam talked to them.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-grieving

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Four days later, Katy found Bambino on the doorstep as if nothing had happened. Sam was overjoyed. “‘To celebrate, we’ll feast on the fatted salmon,’” he said. Sam’s experience with his kindly friends, neighbors, and readers had given him a new perspective. He was ready to rejoin the world and enjoy what it had to offer. An announcement in the newspaper let people know that Bambino had returned, but they continued to drop by to wish Sam well. Now, Sam smiled and talked with them.

Sam had several white suits made, and they became his trademark. At his home in Connecticut, he held a musical gala and talked and joked the way he used to. Jean and Clara had not seen their father this happy in a long time. And Bambino? He just “blinked his eyes and purred.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-musical-gala

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

P. I. Maltbie’s focus on a particular year in Samuel Clemens’ life provides a deeper portrait of this author known for his wit, wisdom, and social commentary. Maltbie’s detailed and compassionate storytelling reveals the stages and effects of grief and the way a pet or a good friend can help in a way that is accessible and understandable for children. His tracing of the passage of time from fall to summer allows readers to see that recovery from sadness or other events is a personal journey, but one that is made easier with the enduring love and reassurance of family and friends. Readers who love the stories and novels of Mark Twain will appreciate this touching glimpse into Samuel Clemens’ life.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain

Daniel Miyares’ crisp, mixed-media and digital illustrations resonate with muted, yet saturated colors that reflect Samuel Clemens’ mourning. Perky Bambino is a constant presence, celebrating Sam’s birthday, playing billiards with Sam, and curled up on Sam’s bed. Bambino’s dramatic leap out the window will wow kids, and they will empathize with Sam as pages without the black cat reflect Sam’s feeling of loss. Young readers will be inspired by the little girl who offers her own family cat to comfort Sam and be cheered to see the positive effect Bambino’s return has on Sam as he again embraces the world dressed in the iconic white suit, which signals Sam’s lightening mood and regained good humor.

Bambino and Mr. Twain is an excellent biography to share with children at home and school to show that everyone undergoes good and bad times, but with faithful and loving family and friends, problems can be resolved and happiness restored.

Ages 5 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2012 | ISBN 978-1580892728 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1580892735 (Paperback)

To learn more about Daniel Miyares, his books, and his art on his website

Black Cat Awareness Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-match-the-kittens-puzzle

Match the Kittens Puzzle

 

These kittens all have a twin, but they got mixed up while playing! Can you find the pairs again in this printable Match the Kittens Puzzle?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-cover

You can find Bambino and Mr. Twain at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 9 – It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-cover

About the Holiday

Beginning on September 15th  and running through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation. From the military, to business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment Hispanic Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. First observed in 1968 as a week-long holiday, the commemoration was expanded to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. To celebrate, learn more about Hispanic Americans who have influenced our culture, attend a special event, and enjoy great books by Hispanic authors like today’s book! You can learn more about the holiday at the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln

Written by Margarita Engle | Illustrated by Rafael López

 

Growing up in Venezuela, Teresa listened to her mother’s lullabies and learned how to play the piano from her father. It wasn’t always easy “to make the stubborn music behave as she practiced gentle songs that sounded like colorful birds…and powerful songs that roared like prowling jaguars, beside towering waterfalls in a mysterious green jungle.” But by the time she was six, she was composing her own songs and at seven, she played in the cathedral.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-papa

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

When Teresa was eight, however, her world was rocked by war, and she and her family escaped by ship to America. In New York, she felt lost among all of the strangers, who didn’t speak Spanish and gawked at her and her family as if they “belonged in a museum of oddities.” Even here, they had not escaped conflict as the Civil War waged, pitting the North against the South and family against family.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-jungle

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Teresa found refuge in her new piano and began to make friends with musicians who came to her home to listen and play along. Teresa practiced all types of music, “her strong hands accepting the challenge of life’s many dark and light moods.” She became well known as “the Piano Girl” and performed with big orchestras and in theaters. She became so famous that she was even invited to play for President Abraham Lincoln and his family at the White House.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-cathedral

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

At the time Washington DC was awash in suffering, torn by war and weariness. President Lincoln’s young son had recently become sick and died. How, Teresa wondered, “could music soothe so much trouble?” Holding tightly to Papá’s hand, she entered the White House and was ushered into a room “as red as a storm or a sunrise.” As she sat at the piano, Teresa recalled past challenges and her discover that life was a “mixture of all sorts of feelings, happy and sad.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-ship

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

She began to play, but the piano was out of tune, “making her music sound ugly.” She stopped, but then President Lincoln requested she play his “favorite song, ‘Listen to the Mockingbird.’” This was a song Teresa could play on this imperfect piano. “Her fingers leaped across all the dark and light keys, improvising the way mockingbirds do, the melody changing as she went along.” Lincoln closed his eyes and was taken away on the soaring notes.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-new-york

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

When the song ended, the President rose and applauded. He smiled at Teresa and she smiled back, understanding that “her music had brought comfort to a grieving family, at least for one brief, wonderful evening of dancing hands.” Teresa continued to share her gift with the world, always bringing “beautiful dark and light moments of hope” to her listeners.

A Historical Note about the life of Teresa Carreño follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-war

Image copyright Rafael López, 2019, text copyright Margarita Engle, 2019. Courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Margarita Engle’s soaring biography introduces readers to an astounding woman who, even as a child, had not only a prodigious talent for the piano but a gift for understanding life as well. Engle, the 2017 -2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, infuses her story with beautiful lyricism and stirring metaphors that evoke the power of music in Teresa’s heart and hands. On these pages, music becomes a living thing, capable of forming friendships, soothing grief, providing escape, and offering hope. Engle’s focus on the meeting between Teresa Carreño and Abraham Lincoln is significant and offers inspiration to young readers. Like Teresa, who, concerned with playing just right, was presented with an imperfect piano but encouraged by Lincoln’s kindness, they too can learn that with a steady and courageous heart, anyone can use their talents to overcome challenges.

In Rafael López’s crisp, stylish illustrations, Teresa Carreño’s love of music and its emotional power serves as a counter point to the distress of war and anguish of grief. Using vibrant greens, pinks, oranges, and blues, Lopez surrounds Teresa with lush vegetation, dazzling birds, and the security of home. Muted variations of  these colors depict the bleakness of war. A moving image, washed completely in gray except for an approaching vivid bird and a tinge of soft rose dawn shows a mourning Abraham Lincoln alone in his office but soon to be comforted by Teresa’s music.

A beautiful and uplifting biography for kids of all talents, Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln would be an inspiring addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481487405

Discover more about Margarita Engle, her books, and her poetry on her website.

To learn more about Rafael López, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Hispanic Heritage Month Activity

CPB - Tortilla chips (2)

Homemade Baked Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

 

It’s easy to make these yummy tortilla chips at home! Why not invite your friends over and bake up a batch or two to enjoy while playing or reading together?

Ingredients

  • 2 10-inch flour tortillas
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • Butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine the cinnamon and the sugar in a bowl
  3. Butter the tortillas
  4. Sprinkle the tortillas with the cinnamon sugar mixture
  5. Cut the tortillas into 8 pieces
  6. Place pieces on a baking sheet
  7. Bake in 350-degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes
  8. Chips will become crispier as they cool.

Makes 16 chips

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dancing-hands-cover

You can find Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 29 – National Cat Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-cover

About the Holiday

Cat lovers get it! The mercurial personalities of felines keep us laughing, shaking our heads, and, of course, loving these singular pets. Cats are the stars of social media, they inspire fashion statements, decorate mugs and dish ware, and are cuter than cute. But there are many cats and kittens that don’t have a forever home. National Cat Day was established in 2005 by pet and family lifestyle expert and animal welfare advocate, Colleen Paige. Her goal was to raise awareness of the number of rescue cats that need permanent homes while also celebrating the unique relationship between cats and those who love them. Today’s book is simply purr-fect for those who love cats and books!

Bambino and Mr. Twain

Written by P. I. Maltbie | Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

 

On a particular November day in 1904, a crowd gathered outside the brownstone where Samuel Clemens, known to readers as Mark Twain, had recently come to live. Reporters, readers, and neighbors had come to wish Sam a happy birthday. But they were shooed away by his housekeeper, Katy. Since his wife, Livy, had died five months earlier, Samuel had not felt happy; he didn’t want to see anyone or even leave the house.

“From an upstairs window an old man with wild white hair and a black cat watched the crowd walk away. ‘Everyone wants to meet witty Mark Twain,’ the man said. ‘But tell me, Bambino, would they want to meet sad, old Samuel Clemens?’” Soon his daughter Jean entered the room and persuaded her father to come downstairs for cake and ice cream with the promise that Bambino, their black cat, could have some too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-brownstone

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

In the middle of the cake stood a single candle—a tradition that Livy had started so that Samuel would “‘never grow old.’” With a dish of ice-cream to himself, Bambino took the place of Sam’s older daughter, Clara, who couldn’t be with them that night. Friends had invited Sam for dinner, but he did not want to go. As winter settle in, so did Samuel. He rarely left his bed, littering the covers with papers and books—so many “that the cat had difficulty finding a soft place to sleep.”

As Christmas approached, instead of attending the parties he was invited to, Samuel wandered around his big house, gazing at pictures of Livy and playing games—like billiards—with Bambino. When spring arrived, Katy rushed around opening windows to air out the house. In a sunlit upstairs room, “Bambino attacked the sunbeam dancing on the wardrobe door. Sam opened the door. The sunbeam shone on a white suit. Bambino swatted at it.” Sam lifted the suit from the closet and looked at it fondly. While Livy was alive he had worn that suit every summer. “‘Those were happy days,’” he recalled.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-window

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012, text copyright P.I. Maltbie, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Just then, outside the open window, Bambino saw a squirrel that had been chattering at him for days. With a leap Bambino was chasing the squirrel down the street. “‘Bamb-i-i-i-n-o-o-o!’ Sam’s voice echoed over the city noises.” Sam and Jean put up Lost Cat posters offering a $5.00 reward (a week’s wages) for Bambino’s return. Sam didn’t know how he would tell Clara that Bambino was gone, but Jean reassured him that someone would find their cat.

“Soon a steady stream of people appeared on Sam’s doorstep with cats and kittens of every size, color, and breed.” Seeing the crowd, Sam came out onto his stoop. One little girl offered to let Sam borrow their family’s cat until Bambino returned, and others brought him cats they thought would comfort him. But Sam thought Bambino would not “‘take kindly to finding a foreign cat in his kingdom.’” Reporters wanted to talk to this beloved author about Bambino too, “and this time Sam talked to them.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-grieving

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Four days later, Katy found Bambino on the doorstep as if nothing had happened. Sam was overjoyed. “‘To celebrate, we’ll feast on the fatted salmon,’” he said. Sam’s experience with his kindly friends, neighbors, and readers had given him a new perspective. He was ready to rejoin the world and enjoy what it had to offer. An announcement in the newspaper let people know that Bambino had returned, but they continued to drop by to wish Sam well. Now, Sam smiled and talked with them.

Sam had several white suits made, and they became his trademark. At his home in Connecticut, he held a musical gala and talked and joked the way he used to. Jean and Clara had not seen their father this happy in a long time. And Bambino? He just “blinked his eyes and purred.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-musical-gala

Image copyright Daniel Muyares, 2012. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

P.I. Maltbie’s focus on a particular year in Samuel Clemens’ life provides a deeper portrait of this author known for his wit, wisdom, and social commentary. Maltbie’s detailed and compassionate storytelling reveals the stages and effects of grief and the way a pet or a good friend can help in a way that is accessible and understandable for children. His tracing of the passage of time from fall to summer allows readers to see that recovery from sadness or other events is a personal journey, but one that is made easier with the enduring love and reassurance of family and friends. Readers who love the stories and novels of Mark Twain will appreciate this touching glimpse into Samuel Clemens’ life.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain

Daniel Miyares’ crisp, mixed-media and digital illustrations resonate with muted, yet saturated colors that reflect Samuel Clemens’ mourning. Perky Bambino is a constant presence, celebrating Sam’s birthday, playing billiards with Sam, and curled up on Sam’s bed. Bambino’s dramatic leap out the window will wow kids, and they will empathize with Sam as pages without the black cat reflect Sam’s feeling of loss. Young readers will be inspired by the little girl who offers her own family cat to comfort Sam and be cheered to see the positive effect Bambino’s return has on Sam as he again embraces the world dressed in the iconic white suit, which signals Sam’s lightening mood and regained good humor.

Bambino and Mr. Twain is an excellent biography to share with children at home and school to show that everyone undergoes good and bad times, but with faithful and loving family and friends, problems can be resolved and happiness restored.

Ages 5 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2012 | ISBN 978-1580892728 

Coming in paperback in May, 2019. Available for preorder | ISBN 978-1580892735

To learn more about Daniel Miyares, his books, and his art on his website

National Cat Day Activity

Purr-fect Friends Maze

 

One little kitten wants to play with her friends. Help her find her way in this printable maze!

Purr-fect Friends Maze Puzzle |  Purr-fect Friends Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bambino-and-mr-twain-cover

You can find Bambino and Mr. Twain at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review