May 11 – It’s National Photography Month


About the Holiday

We all know what joy photography brings. Whether you’re looking at professional fine art photos in a gallery or your own vacation pics, those film and digital images can make you see the world in a different way or just as you remember it. The oldest surviving photograph of nature dates back to 1827, when it took days for film to develop properly. Of course, today’s smart phones have changed forever the way we take photos, but the fun of capturing a moment in time will never go out of style.

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Written by Roxane Orgill | Illustrated by Francis Vallejo


In a marvelously conceived and unique book, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph tells the story of how the iconic photograph Harlem, 1958 came together. Through a series of poems, Roxane Orgill reveals the action when fifty-seven jazz musicians posed for Art Kane on an August afternoon in front of an ‘absolutely typical brownstone.’ Over the space of a day, Kane borrowed a camera, blocked off the street, and worked with the musicians who answered the call that went out to the local musicians’ union, recording studios, composers, nightclub owners, and others inviting “all jazz musicians: a photo shoot, no instruments required.”

The day’s beginning is captured in Early: Art Kane, photographer. Art Kane stands in the middle of the deserted street, wondering if his idea to capture The Golden Age of Jazz will become reality: “nobody here yet / it’s only nine / look right / where they come from the train / look left / where they exit a taxi…what if only four come / or five / ‘The Golden Age of Jazz’ / with five guys… / a crazy request / what if nobody shows… / a group from the train / Lester Young cigarette dangling / that funny squashed hat / man with an umbrella rolled tight… / guy in a striped tie / it’s happening.”


Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

As the musicians begin to arrive, they talk and laugh among themselves, not listening to Art Kane as he tries to organize them into Some Kind of Formation. But Kane isn’t the only one with a camera today. In So Glad: Milt “Fump” Hinton, bassist and amateur photographer, Hinton is awed by the talent around him and “Glad I brought my Leica / And the Canon 35 / My little Keystone eight-millimeter too / Gave it to Mona, my wife / ‘Honey, just aim and press the button’” There’s “Chubby, Oscar, Wilbur…” then “Here come the big dogs / Coleman Monk Dizzy Roy / And the beauteous Marian McP… / They’re all here / For some magazine / Me I’m snapping pictures / Lots and lots of pictures / To remember / Later / Forever / So glad”

There are boys, too, sitting on the curb, getting into mischief as Hat: Alfred, a boy reveals: “Nice wool felt / Two-inch snap / Brim / Count’s too beat / to give chase / When / Nelson nabs / His bonnet / I’m / On it quick / Down the block / ‘Hand it over, Nelson, before I—’ / Buff the felt / Set the snap / Brim / ‘Your hat, Count Basie.’”


Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Even though The Invitation Said No Instruments, Rex Stewart, cornetist couldn’t help but bring his silver cornet. And once he saw it, Leroy couldn’t help but run up in his short pants and untied shoes to ask “‘Can I try?’ / Lips to mouthpiece / Nothing.” But Rex shows him how it’s done and all heads turn his way. “Leroy again / ‘Can I try?’ / Rex passed the cornet / ‘Make like you’re going to kiss a girl’ / Lips to mouthpiece / Squeak / (Leroy’s too young for girls) / Rex tucked his horn under his arm / The invitation said no instruments.”

Excitement mounts as everyone realizes She’s Here! Maxine Sullivan, singer who “snagged Your Hit Parade at twenty-six / ‘Loch Lomond’ put her on the high road… / got in with a good band / warbling on the radio / chantoosing in the clubs / all that was years ago” before she became a nurse and married and had a daughter. “but she’s here! / come to hang with the cats / reminding all us bass players / and pianists who kept time / on all her records, tours… / reminding us all / how much we miss her.”


Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

People look out their windows at all the commotion as Eddie Locke strolls up and Thelonious Monk (late as usual) arrives in a taxi. Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, J. C. Heard and Gerry Mulligan make an unlikely quartet, and Willie “the Lion” Smith sits on the stoop holding onto his elephant-head cane. Finally, Art Kane calls out Some Kind of Formation, Please! “A plea so desperate / it’s melodic / shuffle / climb the stoop / fan   out   on   the   sidewalk / talk-laugh-roar / smoke-slap-turn / little by little / fifty-seven musicians form an upside-down T / underlined / by twelve boys / just happen to be sitting on the curb… / click / it has to be perfect / for Esquire / Dizzy sticks out his tongue.”

At last the copy of Esquire lands on newsstands, and Alfred pays for a copy with money he’s saved by missing “a month of matinees.” He thinks it was worth it, though, because “…jeez / I’m in a magazine.”


Image copyright Francis Vallejo, text copyright Roxanne Orgill. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

A fold-out page of the original photograph lets children and adults see the final product of the photo shoot. Children and adults will also have fun matching the portraits that accompany the poems to their real counterparts. Short biographies of each person in the photograph as well as an Author’s Note, an introduction, and further resources for study add to the comprehensive and loving treatment of its subject that Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph provides for readers.

For children (and adults) who love photography, jazz, biographies, history, and/or poetry, Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is a marvelous choice for home libraries and is highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Roxane Orgill recreates the syncopation of jazz and the exhilaration of the photo shoot in twenty poems that capture the sights, sounds, conversations, horseplay, and vibe of that special day that forever commemorated the Golden Age of Jazz. The smooth, cool lines of Orgill’s free verse poetry are a joy to read aloud. Full of personality, captivating details, history, and nostalgia, the poems reawaken the past for a new generation.

Working from the actual black-and-white photograph, Francis Vallejo vividly reimagines the scene on 126th Street as well-known and lesser-known jazz musicians came together to represent themselves and their art for Esquire magazine. Vallejo’s acrylic and pastel illustrations bring to life the surprise, camaraderie, and expressions of the men, women, and boys as they mingle, rest, and pass the time until the pose and lighting is right for the shot. As the book opens, readers get a bird’s-eye view of the street and quiet neighborhood, but as the musicians begin arriving the illustrations move in, allowing readers to rub shoulders with the greats of jazz.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Candlewick, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763669546

Learn more about Roxane Orgill and her books on her website!

National Photography Month Activity


Spool Photo Holder


With this easy craft you can make a personalized photo holder for your favorite pictures of friends and family!


  • Wooden spool with hole through the middle, top to bottom. (A spool without a hole also works if you make a hole in the top with a hammer and nail), 1 ½ -inch or larger, available at craft stores
  • Colorful twine or light-gauge yarn, 3 to 4 yards
  • Alternatively: you can buy a wooden spool of colorful twine at some discount stores
  • 3 pieces of light-gauge wire 12 to 15-inches long
  • Clay or play dough
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Glue


  1. Fill hole in spool with clay or play dough, pushing it well in to provide a base for the wire
  2. Wrap the twine or yarn around the spool to desired thickness
  3. Glue down the end of the twine to keep it from unraveling
  4. With the needle-nose pliers, roll down one end of the wire to create a small coil
  5. Repeat with two other lengths of wire
  6. Cut the three wires to different lengths to provide room for all three photographs
  7. Fit the three wires into the center hole on the top of the spool
  8. Push the wires into the clay until they are held securely
  9. Clip photographs into the coils
  10. Display your pictures!

Picture Book Review

February 22 – It’s International Boost Your Self-Esteem Month


About the Holiday

February, on the horizon of sunny spring, is a great time to reflect on your emotional health. A strong sense of self-esteem – what a person thinks of themselves inside – is important for leading a happy life. With all of the pressures of work, school, and other activities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Finding the positive in every day as well as understanding and appreciating one’s strengths and weaknesses can lead to a more peaceful and fulfilling life. One way both kids and adults find acceptance and a boost in self-esteem is by playing with pets or spending time with therapy dogs, like the canine helpers in today’s book.

Toby and Tutter: Therapy Dogs

Written by Kirsten DeBear | Photographs by Laura Dwight


Ten years ago Toby, a mixed breed dog, was adopted from a shelter when he was only six months old and trained to be a therapy dog. He works with his mother, an occupational therapist, helping children learn and play. Like some of the kids themsselves, Toby has a little brother. His name is Tutter and he was adopted when he was four months old. Toby admits that it took awhile to get used to having Tutter around. Tutter is smaller and captures a lot of the children’s attention. He even wiggles in between Toby and the kids “stealing all the affection.”


Photography copyright Laura Dwight, text copyright Kirsten DeBears, courtesy of Toby and Tutter Publishing

Toby explains that when he was young, he “went to school…to study how to behave around children and how to follow directions.” He learned how to work with many different kids. Tutter wants to be a therapy dog too, but Toby is skeptical. He’s not sure that Tutter has the courage or patience it requires. Their mother, though, thinks that with enough training, he will be able to do it.


Photography copyright Laura Dwight, text copyright Kirsten DeBears, courtesy of Toby and Tutter Publishing

Tutter is an Italian greyhound, and while Toby may think he “looks goofy,” Tutter is proud that the kids call him “cute.” Tutter just wants to be like his big brother and help children even if he is small and often afraid. He follows Toby and tries to do what he does,but it’s hard  While Toby is good at lying down and letting the kids pet his fluffy fur, Tutter is just “learning to stay still. If the children sit quietly I will go to them and cuddle up on their laps. But if they’re wild I run away!” says Tutter. Toby likes to play ball with the kids. They throw it to him and Toby gives it back. Tutter doesn’t really like to share his toys. Toby likes to play on the equipment, such as the slide, balance beam, swing, and tunnel, but Tutter is afraid to use them. He prefers the hammock with its gentle motion.


Photography copyright Laura Dwight, text copyright Kirsten DeBears, courtesy of Toby and Tutter Publishing

While Tutter and Toby may seem very different, they are similar is some ways. Tutter likes to wear the necklaces the kids make, so he’s learning to sit still just like Toby while the children put them over his head. Tutter can also play peek-a-boo like Toby; and he tries to encourage the children by letting them know “that doing your best is all that you can do.”

Every day Tutter feels that he’s getting braver, and he knows that he has special talents that Toby doesn’t. Tutter is allowed in the ball pit with the kids, he can pretend to be in a greyhound race, and he can be carried in a bag. He’s also good at teaching the kids to be gentle and quiet and not to be afraid of dogs. Tutter is happy to be who he is and is proud of what he can do; Toby is proud of Tutter too for trying new things even if they are scary. Tutter and Toby are happy to be a team!


Photography copyright Laura Dwight, text copyright Kirsten DeBears, courtesy of Toby and Tutter Publishing

Children will love this story of two therapy dogs helping out at school. Kirsten DeBear’s engaging story of these brothers encompasses the emotions family members often feel, including the sibling rivalry and deep affection of brothers and sisters that readers will recognize. The alternating thoughts of the two dogs—one more mature and easy-going and for whom learning comes easily and the other younger and more hesitant who struggles with some tasks—echo the diversity of children found in any social situation. Toby and Tutter demonstrate that everyone can be proud of their abilities and accomplishments and have much to offer. DeBear’s honest and accessible language will resonate with kids who will be charmed by sweet Tutter and friendly Toby.

Laura Dwight captures the interactions of children playing and learning with Toby and Tutter in colorful photographs full of action and personality. Kids will love seeing how these two brothers perform their jobs by modeling actions, offering comfort, and being ready playmates. The obvious love the children show for their furry friends will make readers smile and wish they were part of the group.

Toby and Tutter: Therapy Dogs is a wonderful choice for opening discussions on empathy and social-emotional topics as well as the work of specially trained companion animals with children. 

Ages 4 – 8

Toby and Tutter Publishing, 2016; Paperback 978-0984781218 | Hardcover 978-0984781201 | Available on Amazon

To learn  more about Kirsten DeBear, her programs, and her work with disabled children and children with Down syndrome, visit her website.

Discover more about Laura Dwight and her photography for children’s books, textbooks, nonprofit agencies, and more on her website.

International Boost Self-Esteem Month Activity


I Love Dogs Word Search


Dogs of all types make great friends and companions and bring joy to life. Can you find the names of all the dogs in this printable I Love Dogs Word Search?

Picture Book Review

December 15 – Lemon Cupcake Day


About the Holiday

Seems particularly specific, doesn’t it? But I have to admit that lemon cupcakes—especially the ones my daughter makes—are my favorite too. Of course, today’s holiday gives you license to enjoy any kind of cupcake you like! Looking for a little cupcake history? Here it is! The first mention of cupcakes was in 1796 in Amelia Simmons’ first American cookbook titled American Cookery. She recommended using small cups to create a small, light cake. The first published mention of “cupcakes” came in 1828 in Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie. We all know that cupcakes have long been a snack and party favorite and how they have exploded in popularity over the past few years. To celebrate, whip up a batch of your favorite cupcakes!

Peanut Butter & Cupcake

By Terry Border


Peanut Butter bread got a soccer ball for his birthday—there was just one problem. While he could balance the ball on his head, he was pretty bad at kicking it. Besides, it “wasn’t much fun playing with a ball all by himself.” Peanut Butter was new in town and hadn’t made friends yet, so he asked his mom if she’d play with him. But she was busy with the laundry and suggested he go outside and find someone to play with.


Image and text copyright Terry Border, courtesy of Philomel Books

Off Peanut Butter went, and “it wasn’t long before he found a someone.” Peanut Butter enthusiastically went right up to this someone who was walking his Hot Dogs, and gave him a winning appeal. “‘Hello. I’m new here and I’d like to play. / Maybe now, maybe later—or even all day. / I’ll make you chuckle deep down in your belly. / And we’ll go together like Peanut Butter and…Hamburger.’” Hamburger was flattered but too busy with his dogs to play. Peanut Butter thanked him anyway, and kept on walking.


Image and text copyright Terry Border, courtesy of Philomel Books

Soon Peanut Butter noticed Cupcake playing by herself with her pail and shovel in the nonpareil box. “He thought she looked sweet, and might make a good friend.” He launched into his spiel and finished up, “‘And we’ll go together like Peanut Butter and…Cupcake!’” Cupcake had some stern words for Peanut Butter. She was building sprinkle castles, she told him, and if he knocked them down with the ball, she’d be mad. Not wanting to upset Cupcake, Peanut Butter moved on.

Next Peanut Butter met Egg rolling along on his unicycle. He started his rhyme and finished with a flourish, “‘And we’ll go together like Peanut Butter and…Egg!’”  Egg thought this was funny. “‘You’re cracking me up!’ Egg laughed. And then he really did crack.” Peanut Butter was afraid to make Egg laugh anymore, so he went on his way.


Image copyright Terry Border, courtesy of Philomel Books

Farther down the path Peanut Butter found Meatball jumping a strand of spaghetti. He got through his welcome only to be shushed by Meatball because he was interrupting his counting. Finding a friend was proving harder than Peanut Butter had thought. He was getting tired and wanted to sit down. Under a tree he found French Fries. After hearing Peanut Butter’s request, however, French Fries begged off, saying that he was late in helping “‘Hamburger with his Hot Dogs’” and now needed to “‘catch up.’”


Image and text copyright Terry Border, courtesy of Philomel Books

Ever persevering Peanut Butter saw Alphabet Soup standing nearby and approached, but before he could even get a word out, Soup dipped in his spoon and came out with “two letters, an ‘N’ and an ‘O.’” Feeling dejected Peanut Butter sat on a bench and thought about giving up. But then he saw a new kid coming his way. “‘Hello,’” the kid said. Peanut Butter brought out his poem one more time. “‘Um…Hello. I’m new here and I’d like to play. Maybe now, maybe later—or even all day. I’ll make you chuckle deep down in your belly. And we’ll go together like Peanut Butter and…Jelly!’”

Jelly thought this sounded great—there was just one thing. While she was good at kicking a ball, she wasn’t good at balancing it on her head. So the two new friends taught each other their special talents and “made each other chuckle deep down in their bellies.” All this laughter attracted the other kids, who came over to play together!


Image copyright Terry Border, courtesy of Philomel Books

Terry Border has mixed the culinary and the cute to create this one-of-a-kind recipe for friendship. Peanut Butter’s endearing self-introduction establishes his sweet personality, and its rhyme scheme ensures that kids will be held in suspense waiting for Peanut Butter to meet Jelly. With visual wit and plenty of puns, Border serves up a unique picture book that offers surprises and laughs on every page. Kids will also empathize with Peanut Butter’s dilemma and cheer when he finally makes a friend.

Border’s vibrant photographic illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to his story. Peanut Butter, slathered on bread and sporting wire arms and legs, is an immediately loveable hero. The other kids he meets, especially hamburger walking his two Hot Dogs and Soup, are inspired characters, and the background props make playful use of kid-favorite items.

Peanut Butter & Cupcake is a wonderful addition to kids’ bookshelves for story time, playtime, or any time a laugh or the inspiration of creative art is needed.

Ages 3 – 7

Philomel Books, 2014 | ISBN 978-0399167737

Discover the very original world of Terry Border on his website!

Lemon Cupcake Day Activity


Cupcake Wrapper Tree


Today’s paper cupcake cups are so pretty that it’s a shame they just get thrown away. Here’s a way to use cupcake liners to make an attractive winter decoration. You can use various sizes of cones to create a multi-tree decoration.


  • Styrofoam or cardboard cone, available from craft stores
  • Cupcake wrappers with a winter or favorite design
  • Straight pins (for Styrofoam cones), glue dots, or small clear mounting squares (for either Styrofoam or cardboard cones)
  • Scissors
  • Glue


  1. Cut the bottoms out of the cupcake wrappers
  2. Using the ribbed sides of the cupcake wrappers, start from the bottom of the cone and attach the cup to the cone with the straight pins, glue dots, or mounting squares, putting them along the top rim of the wrapper
  3. You may need to use two or more wrappers to cover the cone. Fill in gaps by overlapping with smaller cuts from the cupcake wrappers
  4. Overlap the first row of cupcake papers a bit with the second row of cupcake papers. Attach at the top rim
  5. Continue moving up the cone, overlapping and attaching cupcake wrappers
  6. At the top, overlap the sides of the wrapper to cover the tip of the cone and make a sharp point. Glue seam together if needed
  7. Attach the top wrapper to the layer below near the bottom of the wrapper

Picture Book Review

October 4 – World Animal Day and Q&A with Author Jess Keating


About the Holiday

We love animals, but do we take care of them the way we should? Today’s holiday was established in 1931 to promote global awareness of animals and the issues surrounding their welfare. From pets to domesticated animals to wild creatures, humans must protect and advocate for their companions and fellow travelers on this earth. Issues such as pollution, habitat destruction, and poaching threaten the world’s wide variety of species, while closer to home spaying and neutering controls the population of feral animals that often suffer from a lack of resources.

The wildlife kingdom is majestic and awe-inspiring. Today celebrate the world’s animals by taking a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or animal preserve, consider adopting a shelter animal, or donating your time or talents to your favorite animal cause.

Pink is for Blob Fish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals

Written by Jess Keating | Illustrated by David DeGrand


Pink is sweet like cotton candy, right? Pink is pretty like a rose, isn’t it? Pink is quiet like twightlight, don’t cha think? Well…yes, and…maybe not so much. You’d be pardoned for squirming in the presence of a pinktoe tarantula which is found in the rain forests of Matinique and Guadeloupe and can defeat predators with their spiky hairs, and if you can’t make heads or tails of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, which looks like a cross between a lobster tail and a shag rug, no one will blame you.


Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

But the world is full of pink, and for each of these grimace-inducing bubble-gum-hued creatures there are plenty who simply take your breath away with their beauty. Imagine watching a duo-toned light-and-dark-pink Roseate Spoonbill take off and soar over marshland along America’s Gulf Coast or a river in South America or the West Indies like a valentine on the wind. You will likewise marvel when you see the delicate form of the Orchid Mantis. This variety of praying mantis found in the rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia is so identical to real orchids that other insects can’t tell the difference and often land in the grasp of their tricky predator.


Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Seas and rivers also teem with pink wildlife. Pygmy Seahorses swimming in the waters of the South Pacific blend in to their coral surroundings like a spiky ball among hedgehogs. With white-and-pinkish bodies dotted with strawberry-colored knobs, these seahorses are perfectly camouflaged against predators. The rose-colored Amazon River Dolphin hunts for piranhas, crustaceans and bottom dwelling fish with its long snout in the freshwater rivers of South America. The rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Sahara Africa are home to Hippopotamuses, which “ooze thick pink oil all over their skin. This pink ‘sweat’ acts like an antibiotic sunscreen, so hippos can stay out in the sun all day without getting burned.” Imagine if you could do that!

Of course, there is also the Blobfish, recently voted as the world’s ugliest animal. But isn’t this little glob of gelatinous goo really so ugly it’s cute? Found in deep waters off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, this fish survives where others cannot by simply opening its mouth and gobbling down whatever floats by.

With many more examples of pink wildlife in this captivating book, it’s guaranteed that after flipping through the pages of Pink is for Blobfish you will never look at pink the same way again! 


Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Jess Keating highlights a host of fascinating pink animals in this volume that is sure to delight kids and get them excited about the world less seen. The first in the World of Weird Animals series, Pink is for Blobfish is loaded with scientific facts, remarkable trivia, and humorous asides to pique the interest of readers’ inner zoologist. Each two-page spread provides a spectacular up-close photograph of the animal, insect, or fish described as well as its common name, species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators or threats. Keating also taps into her audience’s love of the unique and even the bizarre with conversational paragraphs that reveal unusual habits, traits, survival mechanisms, and more for each creature featured.

David DeGrand lends his unique illustration style to the pages with funny cartoon portrayals of the creatures and one of their signature traits. These humorous depictions will not only make kids and adults laugh but will promote better understanding of each unique animal.

Pink is for Blobfish is a perfect addition to personal libraries for budding environmental scientists or anyone interested in the wider, wilder animal world and is an exciting title for school libraries and classrooms, where it could inspire scientific study.

Ages 5 – 10

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553512274

You’ll discover books, videos, creature features, resources, and lots more on Jess Keating’s website!

You will find the world of David DeGrand‘s art and comics on his website!

Pink is for book trailers—at least this one!

World Animal Day Activity


Play the Wonderful Wildlife Board Game! Animal tokens images copyright Conor Carroll

Wonderful Wildlife Board Game


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



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

Q&A with Author Jess Keating


Today I’m tickled pink to talk to Jess Keating about her work as a zoologist and an author, her favorite animals, and a very cool holiday tradition.

In your work, your books, and your online presence, you bring kids and adults closer to the animal kingdom. What in your early years inspired you to become a zoologist?

I wish there was one poignant answer to this question! The truth is, all my life I’ve been enamored with animals. A physicist I admire once said this: The world is beautiful to look at, but it’s even more beautiful to understand. To me, that sums it all up perfectly.

As a kid, animals sparked my curiosity, my imagination, and even my creativity. The diversity they represent is so amazing to me—they all live their lives so differently, with different senses, abilities, and environments, yet it works perfectly for them. I instantly felt a kinship with them, and as a kid, I wanted to know everything about them.

As I got older and was able to really get into zoology, my goal shifted. The world of animals is so endlessly fascinating, and I now I want to take every opportunity to share it with others, especially young readers.  

All animals are amazing, but do you have a soft spot for one particular animal or species? If so, why?

Now this is such a hard question! My favorite animal has always been the wolf. I was lucky enough to see one in the wild once, and it’s pretty hard to come away from that experience without believing in magic!

Lately, I also have a soft spot for nudibranchs! I included one (the Hopkins’ rose nudibranch) in my last book, but there are so many other species that we know so little about! As I mentioned above, it’s the diversity that takes my breath away. Some of them look like bunnies:


Image courtesy of crawl_ray on

Some even look like pizzas!


Image courtesy of Arthur Anker on

You do such a great job of reaching out to kids through videos, KeatingCreature on Twitter, your YouTube Channel: Animals for Smart People, personal appearances, and Skype visits. Can you describe a funny or favorite anecdote from one of your events?

Thank you for the Youtube shout out! I really hope teachers find my videos useful! As for a favorite event, when you mix animals and kids, the results are often hilarious. Usually, my visits involve a lot of dead things. I bring a collection of skulls, animal bones, and animal track castings with me. Every so often, we get lucky with some live specimens.

One of my favorite events was a library visit that involved a 10+ foot python. I had her resting on my shoulders (as you do), and I remember laughing because almost all of the adults in the room were skittish, backing off toward the door.

When I asked who else wanted to hold this lovely python, every adult shook their head. There was no way they were going near it! But then, a tiny six year old girl rushed up to the front, with a massive smile on her face. She wasn’t afraid at all as she held that snake—and I’m pretty sure that her big moment meant as much to me as it did to her!   

What inspired you to write Pink is for Blobfish?

 Pink is for Blobfish is a book so close to my heart! I know that sounds strange, because it’s essentially a book filled with weirdos!

As you can probably guess, I’ve been reading animal books my whole life. I loved them all, but what I really wanted was to write something that says as much about us as it does about the wild animals on each page. A book that not only shares amazing animals with kids, but also gets them thinking critically about how they view the world, especially regarding their assumptions and judgments. Pink is for Blobfish is my way of getting readers to look at gender expectations, while (hopefully) instilling them with a little wonder about the natural world.

There’s so much humor in your writing and videos. How does your love of comedy help you connect to readers?

The short answer is, I’m just a big ham and love making people laugh. There’s also the added bonus with nonfiction: we’re much more likely to remember something if we connect with it emotionally. My way of accomplishing that is to be funny and get kids laughing. Fiction or nonfiction, one of the easiest ways for me to reach readers is through a well-timed joke.

But, you can also get a little deeper with it. I once heard that Jim Carrey doesn’t think of his job as “making people laugh.” Instead, he views it as “freeing people from concern.” The minute I heard that, it resonated with me. For those few moments, when you’ve got a reader laughing, they’re free from any concern in their lives. It’s a reprieve, a bright moment. It’s true for us as adults too—it’s pretty much impossible to be stressed out when you’re reading about a pigeon that wants to drive a bus!

Now, when I approach my writing, I look for those moments. If I can make myself laugh, that’s half the battle.

What’s the best part about writing books for kids?

For both fiction and nonfiction, my favorite part is seeing the look on a kid’s face when you open a door for them into a whole new world. Sometimes, it’s the ridiculously colorful world of nudibranchs. And sometimes, it’s helping them to the realization that they aren’t alone, no matter how weird they feel.

What’s up next for you?

I’m so glad you asked! I just received F&Gs of the second book in the World of Weird Animals series! I can’t give away the title just yet, but I can say we are going to look at MONSTERS. This isn’t just going to be a book of creepy creatures. We’re going to dig into why we see certain animals as monsters, and how those judgments and assumptions affect how we think of them. I was blown away with the discussions that Pink is for Blobfish prompted with kids, and I can’t wait to see how they respond to this book!

I also have my first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, coming out next year! I’ve always been a fan of sharks, and I was thrilled to tell the story of Eugenie Clark, one of the world’s first female shark scientists. Eugenie is one of those incredible women that changed the world just by being her fearless self, and I am so eager to share this book with everyone. Look for it around June!

I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-themed questions, so…

You told me that World Animal Day is one of your favorite holidays. Can you talk a little about that?

What could be better than a day devoted to animals!? World Animal Day is a day to chat about animals all over the world, and how we can best protect them and their futures. A funny thing happens when you start talking about animals in the global sense—you can’t help them without also helping us. Education and awareness can accomplish so much!

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

I have one that ties in really well here! When I was a teen, I had a really cool Christmas tradition that I highly recommend to parents of animal lovers. On Christmas morning (or any special holiday morning for you!) I would go to my local humane society, bring treats, and walk the dogs. Usually, these centers have lots of volunteers, but busy holidays are often pretty slow for them and there’s not a lot of help. I guarantee the dogs will love the company, and you’ll get to spend an hour surrounded by wagging tails! You can’t lose.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Yes! A very savvy bookstore (DDG Books!) organized a “Valentine for Blobfish” event when Pink is for Blobfish came out. So many young readers felt bad that the blobfish was voted the world’s “Ugliest Animal” (true story!) and they wanted to send him valentine cards to make him feel better!

You can see more about it here in this video:


And read some blobfish poetry here. Or, you can see some of the adorable cards on my blog.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

Thank you, Jess! It’s been so much fun! I wish you all the best with all of your books and your other ventures!

Learn more about Jess Keating!

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her MY LIFE IS A ZOO series earned two Kirkus stars, a Red Maple nomination, a Rocky Mountain Book Award nomination, and a spot on the LA Times Summer Book Pick List. 

Her quirky nonfiction picture book series kicked off with PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, with a sequel to follow in 2017. Her first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, will also be published in 2017. 

Jess is also the creator, writer and host of Animals for Smart People, a Youtube series about animals, science, and nature. Subscribe today and bring Jess into your classroom!

Connect with Jess Keating:

You can  find Jess on Twitter @Jess_Keating and on Facebook @JessKeatingBooks!

Pink is for Blobfish can be found at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndigoIndieBound | PenguinRandom House

Picture Book Review


August 29 – Get Ready for Kindergarten Month


About the Holiday

Children of kindergarten age are looking forward to starting school like “the big kids,” and teachers all over the country are preparing to welcome their new students on the first day. All the desks or tables have the same supplies laid out, the same chairs pushed in, and the same promise of learning. Are all the kids the same? Yes…and no. Yes: They are all about the same age, wonder what the future holds, and want to make friends. No: they all come with different personalities, different histories, and different talents and abilities. And it is these differences that give each child their unique perspective on the world and will determine their unique contribution to it. Today celebrate each child’s distinct skills and gifts.

Be Quiet, Marina!

Written by Kirsten DeBear | Illustrated by Laura Dwight


Marina and Moira are four years old and in the same class at school. Marina was born with cerebral palsy; Moira has Down’s Syndrome. They like many of the same things. Both girls like to dance, play ball, dress up, and play with dolls. But when it comes to noises or rushing around, Marina and Moira are different. Marina likes loud noises. She often screams and shouts, and when she and Moira play together, Marina likes to tell Moira what to do.


Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of

Moira, on the other hand, likes to sit quietly, and she can often be found taking a break in her cubby. She also likes to play alone with the little people figures. While both girls like to take walks outside, Moira stays with the teachers and the other students while Marina runs ahead. One of Moira and Marina’s favorite activities is when the teachers swing the kids in a big blanket. Then each student has to wait their turn. Moira can wait patiently, but for Marina waiting is hard; she gets angry and screams or cries. When Moira hears Marina scream, she feels scared. She covers her ears and leaves the room.

While Moira and Marina like to build towers and castles with blocks together, they have different feelings about cleaning up afterward. Marina doesn’t want to help and shows it by yelling. Moira runs from the room with her hands over her ears. “One day on the playground Moira was on the see-saw. Marina wanted to get on too, but she couldn’t…So she started to scream. She screamed so loudly that Moira covered her ears and walked away. Now Marina could get on the see-saw, but it was no fun alone.”


Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of

Another day Marina started to get upset while the girls were playing with the telephone. This time Moira didn’t run away. Instead she looked at Marina and said, “Please don’t scream!” Marina listened. She became quiet and the two continued to play together. Later in the week when Marina asked Moira to play, Moira told her she would, but only if Marina didn’t scream. Marina said, “Okay, I won’t.”

The two girls came to an understanding. Instead of being afraid of Marina, Moira now knows she is trying to be friends, and Marina realizes that if she wants Moira to play with her, she can’t scream. And they both know that if they need help they can ask their teachers. Now Marina and Moira are best friends, which means they can have fun playing dolls and building with blocks, dancing and dressing up and even going up and down on the see-saw. And when Marina screams, “‘It’s fun!’” Moira makes a little noise herself and shouts “Be Quiet, Marina!”


Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of

With simple, straightforward language, Kirsten DeBear reveals the story of how two little girls with what might be considered opposing personalities overcame their differences to become friends. While drawn to each other, these differently abled girls had trouble playing together. Through perseverance and communication, however, they came to understand each other. DeBear brings honesty and humor to this true story that applies to all children who need to accommodate other’s preferences while staying true to themselves when playing or working in a group. The happy resolution shows that there is room for all in our friendships and our hearts.

Laura Dwight’s black and white photos take a storyteller’s approach to chronicling the evolving friendship between Marina and Moira as they participated in schoolroom activities. The smiling girls are shown dancing, dressing in fancy hats, playing with dolls and a ball, building with blocks, and doing other fun things together. The photographs also depict moments of friction between the girls when Maura becomes upset and screams and Moira covers her ears and runs away. At the end of the book Dwight’s lens captures the experiences that led to better understanding between the two girls and their strengthening friendship.

Readers may recognize themselves as a “Maura” who likes loud noise and exploring on her own ahead of the group, or a “Moira” who prefers quiet and staying close to the group. Through the story of these two very smart little girls, all kids may learn to understand and appreciate themselves and alternate viewpoints.

Ages 4 – 7

Star Bright Books, 2014 | ISBN 978-1595726650

Visit Star Bright Books for a vast array of inclusive titles for children that embrace diverse ethnicities and abilities, promote literacy, and are widely available in 24 languages.

View a gallery of photography work by Laura Dwight on her website!

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity


Threads of Friendship Photograph Holder


In the same way that thread holds clothes, blankets, and other material goods together, friendship holds people together. Make this easy Threads of Friendship Photograph Holder to keep pictures of your friends close by!


  • Wooden Spool of twine, available at craft stores and some discount retailers
  • Thin-gauge wire, no heavier than 18 gauge
  • Small gauge nail
  • Hammer
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Pencil
  • Photographs


To make the photograph holders:

  1. Holding one end of a wire with the needle-nose pliers, wrap it around the pencil four or five times
  2. Remove the wire from the pencil
  3. Squeeze the coils of wire together with the needle-nose pliers
  4. Cut the wires to different lengths so the pictures stand at various heights

To make the stand:

  1. Make two or three holes in the center of the wooden spool of twine with the nail and hammer, holes should be about ½-inch deep to steady wire.
  2. Place the coiled wires in the holes
  3. Put photos in the coils


Even young children can help hammer the nail, place the wire in the holes, and choose photographs. Adults should coil the wire, cut the wire, and help with hammering.

Picture Book Review

August 19 – World Photography Day


About the Holiday

Photography is all about providing information through images. A picture really can be worth a thousand words in capturing a moment of surprise, joy, danger, or even sadness. Well-placed photographers, videographers, and cinematographers have given voice to some of society’s pivotal moments, allowing the whole world to witness change, sometimes as it happens. Today we celebrate photographers who often put themselves in danger to get the story as well as those who bring us much-needed lighter moments.

Breaking News: Bear Alert

By David Biedrzycki


Jean Louis, a television host on Our Furry Planet looks out from the screen at a little boy and his teddy bear watching from their family room. He’s brought the video camera into a bear’s den “somewhere in North America.” With a pointy stick he motions towards a sleeping bear as he explains the facts about hibernation. “Look,” he says, poking his stick into the bear’s nose, “even when prodded they don’t wake up. But spring is a busy time for brown bears. Soon they will emerge from their den, hungry for food, hungry for adven—AAAAAAAAAAH!!!” The bear grabs the reporter’s stick as the screen goes dark.

The Skycam 3 News Helicopter takes over as two bears escape into the wider community. They catch a ride on the top of the Our Furry Planet truck carrying the reporter who scans the area and is relieved to find they have outrun the bears. Close observers will notice a pair of suspicious-looking characters first seen out the boy’s window now riding a motorcycle with a sidecar.

The bears are next spotted by the Main Street traffic camera. In an inset the Our Furry driver describes his encounter with the bears as the cameraman stands disheveled behind him: “Well, that big ol’ bear came at us with his claws out like this. I told him to scoot and chased both of them away!” But is this bragging warranted? The reality may be more that the driver and cameraman ran away screaming while the bears peacefully took in the sights.


Image copyright David Biedrzycki, courtesy of

The bears are later found on security video at Teddy’s Diner, where the sign specifically states that “No Bare Feet” are allowed. The diner’s owner and head chef, Teddy Bahr, reveals that he’ll “cook for anyone as long as they’re not barefoot and that the bears were barefoot.” According to the scrolling alert, the bears “demanded to be fed” and indeed are shown gulping down a bowl of porridge at the counter. The golden-haired waitress, Mrs. Locks exclaims for the camera, “I almost had a heart attack…Those bears had no manners, and they paid me with acorns.”

Hmmm…the diner’s TV is relating a story about cat burglars that seem awfully familiar. And is that them again entering an electronics store at Pooh Street and Main Street, where the bears have just turned the corner? A boy yells for his mom as the bears take over his kiddie ride, but she’s too busy on her phone and discovering she’s on TV to pay attention. The scrolling alert warns parents to be on the lookout as the bears “are wild and could be extremely dangerous.”

The bears continue their journey through town, dancing to street a performer while a “cat burglar” raids the band’s donation box, taking their pictures in a photo booth, and watching all the commotion as agents of Animal Control sprea through the streets. The Paddington Department Store spies the bears on the escalator, but does it also catch something—or someone—else at the jewelry department?


Image copyright David Biedrzycki, courtesy of

Suddenly, a police officer bursts out of the department store door to chase the robbers as the Breaking News report declares that there has been a burglary at the store. Skycam 3 spots the suspects fleeing on foot! And in a moment the perpetrators have been caught! Breaking News: “Bears nab burglars.” Once the scourge of the town, the bears are now heroes. The Breaking News reports “Crowd applauds departing bear heroes. We now return you to your regularly scheduled story.”

There’s so much going on in David Biedrzycki’s Breaking News: Bear Alert, that the minimal text doesn’t begin to hint at all the hidden surprises and silliness that kids will love on each page. Bear puns and other jokes abound on every page and in nearly every illustrated detail. Characters’ names, menu items, framed pictures, street names, and more offer up humorous allusions to other bear-related people, books, and entertainment for adults and kids.

Readers of all ages will want to linger over every vivid, full-bleed page to catch all the hilarious happenings and allusions, and especially to follow the subplot that is cleverly inserted along the way. The frame of an animal discovery television show is a sly wink at the genre and one that kids and adults will be familiar with and enjoy.

Bear in mind that kids may be clawing to read this book again and again, and not having Breaking News: Bear Alert on the shelf may pose a very hairy situation indeed!

Ages 4 – 10

Charlesbridge, 2014 | ISBN 978-1580896634

To learn more about David Biedrzycki and his books and to view a gallery of his artwork, visit his website!

Don’t hbernate! Watch this beary funny book trailer!

World Photography Day Activity


Picture Perfect Bear Coloring Page


Imagine you’re taking a picture of this bear in a tree. What else do you see? Draw in the details and then color your printable Picture Perfect Bear Coloring Page.

May 25 – National Photography Month


About the Holiday

Established in 1987 by the United States Congress to commemorate the importance of photos to present and future generations, National Photography Month encourages photographers to really look at their subjects and become more intentional about making photos that will be meaningful in the future. Once you’ve taken your pictures, don’t just leave them on your phone, in the cloud, or on your hard drive. Print them and document the place, people, and time of each picture for future generations.

Pictures from Our Vacation

By Lynne Rae Perkins


Just before a family leaves on vacation, a girl and her brother each receive a Polaroid camera and a notebook from their mom so they can document their trip. The first picture the little girl takes is of her feet by mistake. During the two-day trip to the old farm where their dad grew up, the kids play with games from the activity bag and look out the window at the passing landscape. Her second photo taken through the car window reveals “there was not anything to look at out there,” although she does see an orange truck labeled “Yellow” and a motel with a red roof. 

She thinks that if she owned a motel it would be called the Blue Motel, and she begins to imagine in detail the accommodations she would offer. In the Jungle Cottage people would sleep in hammocks and shower under a waterfall. In the Sun Cottage, the bed would glow like the sun but turn off for sleeping. The floor of the Flower Garden Cottage would be real grass, and she thinks up many more.

Her reveries last until the family begins searching for a real motel. They stop at the Shangri-La, which advertises POOL, but as the girl’s photograph shows, “it didn’t have water in it.”

When the family reaches the farm, Dad sees happy memories everywhere. They find an old badminton set with warped racquets (shaped like potato chips, the girl says in her picture’s caption) and begin to play. But one minute into the game the rain comes down. It rains for days and the family spends the time playing cards, reading, and drawing.

After the rain stops, Dad takes the family to a hidden swimming spot. They forge their way through the now-overgrown secret path only to find a KEEP OUT sign and a guard dog.  They backtrack to the car and drive around and around, having trouble finding the lake. They stop at a park, where the girl takes a picture of hills that were built in ancient times to look like a snake from the air and one of a leftover Chinese food container where a squirrel was eating before it ran away.

At last they find the lake and run out to the end of the dock. But a boy warns them of an impending storm. Suddenly, the storm breaks and as the family shelters in the dock gazebo, the girl learns that tomorrow they are attending a memorial service. The next day the old farmhouse fills up with relatives who have traveled there for a memorial service for Great-aunt Charlotte.

At the service family members tell stories about Charlotte’s brave escapades and afterward the whole crew go back to the farmhouse to spend a several days. They eat dinner and tell more stories, and the cousins play. They roll down the hill, climb trees, and explore. That night as the kids sleep upstairs, murmurs of continued conversation float up through the grate. After a few days, the families disperse and only the girl and her brother and parents stay behind, but the memories and feeling of the full house remain.

Finally the girl’s family leaves too, and as they drive home she looks at the pictures she has taken. “‘These don’t remind me much of our vacation,’” she says. She snaps one last picture as they pass a row of huge electrical towers along the highway. When she looks at the photograph, however, the towers don’t look like the giant robots she imagined. She realizes that “it’s hard to take a picture of a story someone tells, or what it feels like when you’re rolling down a hill or falling asleep in a house full of cousins and uncles and aunts. There are a lot of things like that. But those kinds of pictures I can keep in my mind.”

Lynn Rae Perkins’ paean to formative old-fashioned vacations in which extended family members gathered to pass on history and traditions through stories told around the picnic table is a welcome reminder in this digital age that some “pictures” are better stored in one’s memory than on a device. Perkins’ choices of details seen on the two-day road trip, the incessant rain, and the changed landscape that lead to wrong directions are just the kinds of childhood events that often stick in a person’s memory for life. The story is charmingly told from a child’s point of view with realistic dialogue and a tone of heartfelt nostaligia.

Perkins’ realistic drawings of the family are homey and evocative. The kids lounge in the backseat of the car while the little girl conjures up the décor of her Blue Motel; the old house and fields of the family farm are rendered in warm golds and greens with humor and comfort; and you can almost hear the shouts and laughter of the family members gathered on the lawn at the reunion. This is a vacation kids will love to take.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins, 2007 | ISBN 978-0060850975

National Photography Month Activity


Fantastic Frame!


Your photographs show your unique personality, why shouldn’t the frame you put them in? Today, you can make a frame that perfectly suits your décor or snapshot!


  • Cardboard or bare wood frame, available at craft stores
  • Stickers
  • Buttons
  • Jewels
  • Beads
  • Glue
  • Paint in your favorite color
  • Paint brush


  1. Paint the frame (optional), let dry
  2. Attach stickers, beads, buttons, or other objects
  3. Fill with your favorite picture