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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 9

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

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

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Shark Organizer Jar

 

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

Supplies

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

Directions

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

Picture Book Review

July 29 – Celebrating Rain Day with Shelley Johannes

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Shelley Johannes is the author-illustrator of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter-book series. A former architectural designer, she has a fondness for tracing paper, process, and accidental discoveries. She and her family live in Michigan with two feathered friends, Max and Alex, who make every day sunny and birdy. More Than Sunny is her debut picture book.

You can connect with Shelley on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Shelley! I love how you describe all sorts of weather days in your new picture book More than Sunny, so I just couldn’t pass up a chance to share Rain Day with you! Rainy days have their own special fun, and you certainly celebrate that in your book! Of course, when the sun comes out, rainy days also bring rainbows – those beautiful symbols of optimism, something we can all use every day and which shines on every page of More than Sunny. Can you talk about what inspired the story?

Thank you, Kathy! And thank you so much for having me here today. Optimism is always in season, but metaphorical sunshine definitely feels even more precious these days.

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Matthew Johannes

More Than Sunny was inspired by my son Matthew and a first-grade weather project. I’d viewed his daily weather chart—the kind with columns for sunny, cloudy, rainy, windy, snowy—as a mundane task to check off our list, but on the first day, he looked outside and enthusiastically declared, “It’s sunny and birdy today!” When he called the next day “windy and squirrelly”, I knew it had to become a book someday. He turned a routine assignment into something fresh and exciting, and made me pay attention to the beauty I’d forgotten to see. That’s always book-worthy.

In More than Sunny, you describe days with nuances that delight in everything a day can possess. Using your story structure, what would your favorite day have been as a child? How about now as an adult?

I love this question! As a kid, I loved rainy days, and any excuse to curl up with my dog and our special Rainy Day Art Book. So maybe I’d say . . . Dreary and Doggy were my favorite kind of days back then. Rain is so relaxing.

As an adult, it’s a tough call between Springy and Birdy (because May is the most cheerful month, and we are huge bird nerds around here) and Autumn and Squirrelly (because the crisp, colorfulness of fall makes me happy, and we’re huge squirrel nerds too!).

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Before writing children’s books, you worked as an architect. Can you talk about that a little? Do you think being an architect influences your writing and art in any way? If so, how?

There was a time I felt bad about my winding path to making books. I felt bad that I didn’t have the guts to go after my dreams sooner. But these days, I’m so grateful for each part of my life and how it shaped me into the person I am today. My years in architecture helped me find my voice and gain the courage to use it. I also learned so much about my love for creative process and collaboration, and the type of people who inspire me. The desire to create, and to make something meaningful, is the motivational underpinning of both fields, so the transition to books felt very natural. The process of designing a building and building a story are surprisingly similar.

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A rainy and wormy day from More than Sunny by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

There’s also a direct connection in the way I work. I fell in love with tracing paper and felt-tip pens in my early days in architecture, and I’ve only fallen more in love as time passes. I’ve always loved how a loose sketch or a stray line can capture an idea on paper, and that wonder continues to bring me joy in new ways.

Your son Nolan narrates your wonderful book trailer and his pride and love for you and the More than Sunny really shine through. How great is it to share your writing journey with your kids?

Aw, thank you! We loved making that trailer together! And it was so special to capture his sweet voice just before it shifts into a grown-up one. It’s been so wonderful to share each step of the journey with my kids. I first realized I wanted to make picture books while reading to them as toddlers. They’ve been there for all the ups and downs and in-betweens of the creative process ever since, and enjoyed LOTS of celebratory pizza along the way! So much of each them—and they joy they bring into my life— is woven into everything I make. They inspire so many book moments, and are my most treasured critics and art buddies. I hope being part of this process empowers them to go after all the things they dream of doing, too!

What was your favorite place to read (or write or draw) as a child? What is your favorite place now and why?

As a kid, I loved to read and draw in the quiet privacy of my room, because it was personal and I was shy. These days, I like to mix things up. I write best in a crowded place, with headphones on and music blaring, because it’s easier for me to concentrate when I’m surrounded by stimuli and happy hustle-and-bustle. I also enjoy writing on the go as ideas randomly come to me, and use my Notes app like it’s another piece of my brain. I read anywhere and everywhere, and love listening to audiobooks while riding my bike around my neighborhood!

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Though I doodle in sketchbooks all over my house, my studio is still my favorite place to make art. Having a place that’s dedicated to being creative, and filled with my favorite things, makes getting into the zone a bit easier.   

What is your favorite season and seasonal activity?

I’m torn between Fall and Spring. It’s hard to beat a cider mill on a crisp Autumn day, especially here in Michigan. Fresh donuts. Crisp apples. Bubbling steam running through the colorful trees. It’s pretty perfect. But then this Spring, we found a nature trail at a local park where wild birds fly down and eat out of your hands, and now we’re addicted to the wonder of that experience too.

Will you be doing any book events this summer that you’d like to tell readers about?

It’ll be a fairly quiet summer (see the answer to the next question!), but I’m doing a virtual event with wonderful Belmont Books on August 26th at 6:30pm ET, and I’d love for everyone to join us! We also had an amazing virtual launch event for More Than Sunny as part of Literati Bookstore’s At Home with Literati series. Jarrett Lerner and I talked about creative process, seeing the world with fresh eyes, and the making of the book. You can watch our conversation here anytime:

What’s up next for you?

This week I am starting the final artwork for my second picture book! I can’t wait to start experimenting with materials and see where it leads me!

Thanks for this wonderful chat and for sharing so many insights. I wish you all the best with More than Sunny and am really looking forward to your next book!

National Rain Day Review

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate rainy days—but not just any rainy days. Rain Day commemorates an odds-busting record that began in 1874 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania when one resident remarked to William Allison, the pharmacist at JT Rogers & Co drug store, that it always rained on his birthday—July 29. After that, Allison began keeping an annual record, and all eyes have been on Waynesburg to see if the remarkable run—115 years out of 147—continues. Now weather reporters around the country keep track of this remarkable statistic and broadcast “yes” or “no” to their audiences. As for the people of Waynesburg, they celebrate their notoriety with a huge festival that includes live musical entertainment, arts and crafts and food booths, kids’ games, and, of course, an umbrella-decorating contest. To learn more visit the Rain Day Website. And don’t forget to watch the skies!

More than Sunny

By Shelley Johannes

 

A girl knocks on her brother’s door and, before he’s even fully awake, she bursts in and announces with exuberance that this spring day is “sunny.” Yawning and rubbing his eyes, her brother adds “and early.” But his big sis pulls him outside to show him all the birds at the feeder and birdhouse. It’s not only sunny, she tells him “it’s sunny and birdy!” They head down to the pond, where the siblings have different ideas of what the day’s like. Little brother finds the day “sunny…and mucky!” But his sister, with feathers in her “wings,” states, “I say it’s sunny and ducky!”

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

On another day, these two compatible siblings head outside to discover what summer brings besides heat. The sunny day takes them to a field, a tree, and a dock, where they explore, relax, and use their imaginations. But not all summer days are sunny, and that’s okay because being inside when it’s “stormy” these kids make it cozy. And when the storm tapers off a bit, they grab their raincoats and big umbrella and go outdoors, where the girl exclaims, “it’s rainy and wormy!” and her brother inspects the mud and greets a small worm, “Hello squirmy.” The rainy day brings lots of fun with Mom and their dog too.

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

But summer days turn into autumn days with wind and squirrels and piles of leaves to jump in. The kids read and make paper snowflakes, waiting for winter to come. And, finally, the flakes fall. They taste so good. “Can we? Can we?” the siblings ask, eager to be out in the snow. “But I’m warm and socksy,” says Mom. But her kids, tiptoeing and playing, lure her out with “Let’s be snowy and foxy!”

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

They take a walk in the woods and, while sledding, see Daddy coming home. “Are you ready and sleddy?!” they ask, but there’s shoveling to be done. That’s all right; there are other ways to have fun in the snow. Tired out and chilly, the family goes inside for bedtime. Now there’s a knock at the sister’s door. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she goes to see who it is. It’s her brother, and he has something magical to show her.

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Shelley Johannes’s exuberant call to play and explore is a perfect jumping off place for kids to look at and interact with their surroundings with new eyes, imagination, and creativity. Hopping from season to season, Johannes touches on moments of freedom and wonder and those happy discoveries so formative in childhood. Her playful rhymes and bouncy rhythm echo kids’ delighted banter, and her sprightly adjectives invite readers to come up with their own descriptions of their day.

Johannes’s bright, energetic, and cheery illustrations dazzle with lively depictions of the siblings playing outside in all weather. Her smile-inducing portrayals of the siblings mirror real kids and each page is loaded with details readers will love lingering over. Mom and Dad make warm cameos to create a book the whole family will enjoy.

More than Sunny is a generously sized picture book that kids and adults will find themselves joyfully sharing throughout the year. For teachers and homeschoolers, Johannes’s storytelling provides a spark for writing prompts, grammar lessons, and observational skills. Sure to become a quick favorite, More than Sunny is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Harry N. Abrams, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419741814

Discover more about Shelley Johannes and her books on her website.

You can download More than Sunny activities from the Abrams website!

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You can find More Than Sunny at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 29 – International Day of the Tropics

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About the Holiday

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

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

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Lee & Low Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0892394135

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

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

Welcome Marsha Diane Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Valentina showing us the lay of the land.

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

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

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Valentina and her father on Floreana

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Valentina, her mother, and her sister

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

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

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

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One of eleven species of Galápagos tortoise

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

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

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

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her Website | Earth’s Voices | Facebook

International Day of the Tropics Activity

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Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

 

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

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 17 – International Haiku Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

Small things are amazing—and surprising! We all know good things come in small packages, and just look at the wisdom, humor, and capacity for love of children. The same goes for haiku—the smallest form of poetry in size but never in impact. During National Poetry Month, today is set aside to especially celebrate the haiku. The simple 5-7-5 rule that we all learn in school doesn’t begin to define the complexity of these three-line beauties that distill the world into little nuggets that make readers see life in amazing and surprising ways.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Written by Sydell Rosenberg | Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

 

In her lovely and delightfully whimsical poems, Sydell Rosenberg holds moments in the palms of her hands, letting readers immerse themselves in the tender, humorous, and wistful flashes of a day before they shift, evolve, or fade away. H is for Haiku begins, appropriately, with Adventure and its dreamy memory for a worn-out kitten as he slumbers.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

The journey continues as readers meander along a city sidewalk and see a “Boy on a mailbox / perched like a solitary bird / watching the sunset.” Walking on, readers peek into car backseats, queue for ice-cream on a sweaty summer day, and visit a barbershop where you always ask for Xavier. Down country lanes, you’ll spy a pale moon, turn the heads of sunflowers, share bike rides and car rides, and watch as “Munching on acorns / a squirrel sweeps up sunbeams / with her transparent tail.”

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

Rosenberg’s studied eye for connections makes her poems especially enchanting. Leaves and flowers, birds and insects, rain and thunder interact with those in their midst, adorning hair, scurrying away, playing musical backup, meeting danger, and creating transformations like the one at Y: “Yesterday’s cool rain / left this flat puddle smoothing / the wrinkled leaves.” A trip to the fish market is infused with humor, and an optical illusion makes you look twice at the flamingos in a pond.

Even in her observations of the routine, Rosenberg reminds readers that there is music and poetry in common actions. For example, at U we hear: “Up and down the block / homeowners mate the covers / of gusted trash cans.” As a teacher sits grading papers to close out the book, readers can’t be faulted for wishing our alphabet had a few more letters.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

As a teacher Sydell Rosenberg was attuned to the spirit of children, and her sophisticated and fun haiku are particularly accessible for young readers. Touching on a wide range of subjects, Rosenberg invites kids to look and look again. Her keen observations and lilting imagery will inspire them to do just that. 

Sawsan Chalabi’s charmingly quirky illustrations and stylized lettering present each poem with dash and personality that will enchant kids. Her delicately lined drawings are infused with vibrancy from a gorgeous color palette. Just like Rosenberg’s haiku, Chalabi’s pages are animated with a love for life that will resonate with kids—and adults.

H is for Haiku will spark a love for this special form of poetry and inspire kids to write their own. A terrific gift for poetry lovers and an imagination-boosting addition to homeschool lessons, the book makes a wonderful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 11 (and up)

Penny Candy Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0998799971

Discover more about Sawsan Chalabi and view a portfolio of her work on her website.

 Amy Losak talks about her mom, Sydell Rosenberg

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Sydell Rosenberg and her daughter Amy enjoying the park n 1961.

SYDELL ROSENBERG (1929-1996) lived, wrote and taught in New York City. Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 and served as HSA’s Secretary in 1975. Her short poems – notably haiku and senryu – as well as other poetry, were published in various magazines and anthologies. Syd received her M.A. in English as a Second Language from Hunter College in 1972. It was Syd’s dream to publish a book of haiku for children.

Compiled by her daughter, Amy Losak, H is for Haiku is the fulfilment of the late poet Sydell Rosenberg’s dream to write a book of poetry for children. I was excited to talk with Amy about her mother, her journey with H is for Haiku, and her own poetry.

Can you talk a little about your mother and her love for haiku and senryu?

Sydell Rosenberg was a New York City teacher (various grades; substitute, English, literacy; and also adult ESL). I think Syd Rosenberg “discovered” haiku and senryu in the early-to-mid 1960s. How she may have stumbled upon these poetic forms, I wish I knew. Mom always was a writer – short stories, poetry, literary and word puzzles, and more. Syd wrote in English and in Spanish and translated literature from and into Spanish too. In her early 20s, she published a racy novel, “Strange Circle,” under a male pseudonym, Gale Sydney (a reversal of the initials of her maiden name, Sydell Gasnick). This was in the early 1950s! This potboiler sold a respectable number of copies. In fact, “Strange Circle” is still floating around online.

In the 1960s, as a still-young wife and mother, perhaps she was restless and searching for a challenging format to test her talents and reflect, or give credence to, her singular way of viewing the world around her. Syd was a native New Yorker who loved nature and found marvels in mundane moments. Perhaps the lucid qualities of haiku and senryu, with their concise yet intense focus on such things, gave her—paradoxically—the amplitude she wanted to express her vision and ideas.

What is the difference between the two forms?

I’m no expert on haiku and senryu. Poets spend years studying and they labor over their work. These are difficult forms to write well. Like any creative art, it takes practice. It seems as though the definitions can get “in the weeds”—and then there are some poets who don’t get too “hung up” on the distinctions. Here are topline definitions from the Haiku Society of America, and readers can go to this Haiku Society of America page for more details:

The Haiku Foundation also is a great source of information, and there are many other fine resources in books, online and in social media.

HAIKU: A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition.

SENRYU: A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.

Were the poems in H is for Haiku originally written as an alphabet-inspired collection?

Yes, some of the poems in H Is for Haiku were in one (or more, possibly) alphabet-themed manuscripts I located among mom’s many materials. And some were previously published in journals decades ago.

It was Syd’s lifelong dream to publish a book of haiku for children. Can you talk about the journey you’ve taken with H Is for Haiku?

Mom was submitting at least one of her kids’ poetry manuscripts (I’m not sure how many she created, and I don’t think they were all haiku) to publishers since the 1980s. My fuzzy memory tells me she may have submitted as far back as the 1970s. This has been a long and zigzagging timeline, by any measure.

Mom’s poetry was well-anthologized in a variety of media over several decades (including classic texts such as The Haiku Anthology, The Haiku Handbook, The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, among others). Syd was a teacher, and she had this desire to publish a poetry picture book, preferably a haiku A-B-C reader. I think she wanted kids to illustrate it, although she also had illustrators she liked in mind (in one old cover letter I found, she mentions Arnold Lobel).

After her sudden death in October of 1996, her family promised to try and publish her dream book. But it wasn’t until around 2011 that I knuckled down—and even then, the process of collecting and organizing some of her work was, to be frank, tortuous. But I managed to curate a good compilation.

In the meantime, I spearheaded other projects to revive some of her work for today’s audiences, especially children. For example, I’ve been in a partnership for several years with a terrific nonprofit arts education organization in NY, Arts for All which brings a variety of arts programs into public schools. Teaching artists have used mom’s “word-picture” haiku to convey the basics of painting, drawing and collage; music; and theater to young students.

In 2015, I finally started to send out her manuscript to publishers that didn’t require agents. In 2016, I connected with the wonderful Penny Candy Books, thanks to a poet and teacher, Aubrie Cox Warner. Penny Candy’s Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera have been such a joy; and Sawsan Chalabi’s dynamic illustrations vividly augment the gentle playfulness in mom’s poems.

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Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America. Can you talk about her work with the HSA?

 HSA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Syd attended the founding meeting in October of 1968. She also served as HSA secretary in 1975 and twice on committees for HSA’s Merit Book Awards “for excellence in published haiku, translation and criticism.” Of course, mom’s work was published in HSA’s beautiful journal, Frogpond, and a good number of other journals and publications, including (but not limited to) Modern Haiku, Wind Chimes, and Haiku West. HSA memorialized Syd by reading some of her work shortly after her death in 1996. In addition, Frogpond published a lovely memorial page in its December 1996 issue. It also published one of her posthumous haiku in a 1997 issue. Her first published haiku in a journal was in 1967 in American Haiku (although I believe she may have published haiku even earlier, in the poetry column of a now-defunct newspaper).

HSA and all things haiku—and writing overall—were important, even essential, components of her life. Creative expression was aa important to her as breathing.

The haiku in H Is for Haiku have such a wonderful sense of active observation and eye for personality and fun. Do you remember this as a quality of your mom while you were growing up?

Yes! Mom had a playful, offbeat, and I think an innate optimistic spirit. Mom was a “knowledge-adventurer.” Her intellect sometimes had an almost childlike quality. She tried to instill this expansive sense of curiosity in my brother Nathan and me. I have come to realize that mom looked forward to each new day as jam-packed with the possibilities for new experiences. And she sought them out for herself and her family.

I read that you also write poetry. Can you share a little about your work?

I’m a beginner as a poet. I think I always will be, and I’m fine with this. There’s a lot to learn.

I especially enjoy the process of trying to write haiku and senryu. It allows me to “be in the moment” and dial down distracting “chatter” that can bombard and dull my senses. Some of my work has been published. I’m slowly improving.

Thanks to social media, I find inspiration in the work of other poets today, especially haiku and senryu poets (and others, as well). There’s so much great poetry out there! I also have learned to find “bits” of inspiration in my daily life. Our pixilated cats, for example, were a wellspring of inspiration! And New York City, of course, offers an inexhaustible supply of both small and big moments. Even something as routine as my bus commute can sometimes trigger “slices” of awareness that lead to a short poem. Or I will be walking to the bagel shop for an iced coffee, and something out of nowhere—the peep of a sparrow in a forsythia bush, a squashed pine cone on the pavement—will draw my attention. Maybe this “haiku moment” will result in a poem. Or maybe not, but I’m still richer because of these “slivers” of experience.

And mom, it turns out, has had more of an influence on me that either one of us could have imagined. Syd’s spirit resonates today. I like to think she would be pleased with this book. And of course, kids and their parents!

The poetry and kidlit communities are caring and supportive. I’m grateful for all their encouragement over the years. And I’m grateful to my husband, Cliff, brother, Nathan; sister-in-law, Debbie; other loving family members; friends; colleagues, etc. So many terrific people! They’ve kept me going, and I can’t thank them enough.

Thanks, Amy, for sharing so much about your mom. I wish you all the best with H is for Haiku and your own work.

International Haiku Poetry Day Activity

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Haiku Wall Art

 

The haiku you write deserves to be shared with others! With this easy craft you can display your poem in style.

Supplies

  • Colorful heavy stock paper, 2 or three colors
  • Ribbon
  • Glue or glue dots, or double-sided tape
  • Dowel or wire for hanging
  • Paint to paint the dowel (optional)

Directions

  1. Write a haiku and print the lines on colored paper
  2. Cut the lines apart, making the first and third line shorter than the second line
  3. Glue or tape the lines to the ribbon, leaving about a half inch between them
  4. To make the hangers, fold the tops of the ribbon over and glue or tape it closed
  5. If using a dowel to hold the poem, you can paint it to match or contrast with the paper
  6. Hang the poem from a dowel or wire

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You can find H is for Haiku at these booksellers:

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

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February 6 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week and Interview with Author Sally Nicholls

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About the Holiday

If you’re a fan of children’s authors and illustrators, then this week is one you’ll want to celebrate. All week long, authors and illustrators visit bookstores, schools, and other venues to share their love of children’s literature and get kids and adults excited about reading and writing. Some of these events include storytelling, writing workshops, readings, and presentations. To find out more about the Children’s Authors Network and discover classroom resources to use throughout the year, visit the Children’s Authors Network website.

The Button Book

Written by Sally Nicholls | Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

 

A squirrel comes across a red button on the forest floor. He nudges it with a stick and then gives it a good press just to see what will happen. Ha! The button’s lid opens and a little horn rises on a pole. “Beep!” it says. A dog and a bird appear from behind a tree and a bush to find out what the noise is all about. Now the three of them find an orange button. The squirrel gives it a push. “It’s a clapping button! Everybody clap!”

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

When the dog, the bird, and the squirrel find a blue button in the forest, they wonder how they’ll ever press it. This button is so big all three could stand on it and there would still be room. Luckily, an elephant is passing by. This blue button is “a singing button!” Two more animals wander by to listen to the trio sing. Down the road, the five friends find a green button that makes everyone giggle—well, almost everyone.

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But the yellow button is one everyone likes. “It’s a bouncing button!” Wow! Everyone’s bouncing and tumbling—right off the page. Time to settle down to some cuddles with the pink button. Ahhh. Maybe this would be a good time to stop pressing buttons. Well…there is a purple button right over there. Everyone’s a little unsure—should they press it or not?

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

No! Stop! “Ha ha! Hee hee! That tickles! “Please, press the pink button, quick!” Oh no! Not the green button again! “Have you learned any manners yet?” Oh, good. This is more like it––the blue button! Yay! Let’s sing and play some instruments. The red button wants a little attention again too! Hey, look! There’s a new white button on the wall. What does that one do? Wait! It’s dark now. What are we supposed to…. Oh! “Goodnight, everyone.”

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Sally Nicholls’ fresh take on interactive picture books will have kids in stitches as they beep and clap, sing and dance, jump and hug, and do all the moves while eagerly wanting to see which button they get to press next. Nicholls’ prompts are irresistibly enticing and become funnier and more personal with every page turn. Her cyclical storyline gives readers the chance to revisit their favorite buttons while leading to the surprising, but just-right ending (or is it really the end?). Along with all of this fun, kids are also introduced to various colors, shapes, sizes and spatial relationships. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to count and talk about different types of buttons as well.

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Image copyright Bethan Woollvin, 2020, text copyright Sally Nicholls, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Young readers will be enchanted with Bethan Woollvin’s curious, bubbly, talented, fun-loving kids…I mean…characters as they discover button after button on pages that mirror each button’s color. As if by magic, the squirrel, dog, bird, and other friends also change color as they press and respond to every button, inviting readers to follow along. While kids will egg on the animals to press all the other buttons, when they come to the white switch on the wall, children may very well let out a plaintive Noooooo…! But Woollvin has them covered here too. A little exploration of the nighttime bedroom will reward readers with a “Wake Up!” button so they can start all over again.

If you’re looking for a lively read aloud to spark interactive story times that will be asked for again and again, you’ll want to add The Button Book to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735267152

Discover more about Sally Nicholls and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bethan Woollvin, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Sally Nicholls

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I’m thrilled to have this chance to talk to Sally Nicholls today about her adorable and fun picture book, its journey, and what she’s looking forward to in sharing it with readers.

You burst into the book world with your debut middle grade novel Ways to Live Forever, which won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and was made into a movie in 2010. Since then you’ve published many more novels, including your latest middle-grade, A Chase in Time. The Button Book is your first picture book. What inspired you to write this story?

Reading to my baby! He loved books, but until he was about eighteen months, he didn’t like any that were just story. He wanted books he could interact with. I used to go to the library and look for anything with a button or a flap or touchy-feely bits. We read a lot of picture books, and I was fascinated by which ones worked and which ones didn’t – why exactly were Fox’s Socks and Where’s Spot? so successful but other books weren’t?

I decided I’d like to have a go at writing one myself. I know paper engineering and fur and so forth is expensive for publishers, and realistically that wasn’t my area of expertise anyway. So I set myself the challenge to write a book a baby would enjoy in the same interactive way, but only using words.

I love how active and funny The Button Book is! Kids are definitely going to be giggling, up on their feet, and playing along. It also has a wonderful cyclical storyline. How did you choose what the buttons do and infuse your story with so much reader interaction?

The Button Book is basically all the things my baby loved the most. If I wanted to make him laugh, I would pretty much just blow raspberries at him or tickle him or get him to clap. So that part was very easy.

The cyclical storyline came from watching programmes like The Teletubbies which really play on repetition. And also having my own baby who liked to say “Again!” Of course, the joy of The Button Book, which I hadn’t really realised until I read it with my second child, is that the child can have as much ‘again’ as they want just by pressing the button.

Bethan Woollvin’s adorable illustrations really invite camaraderie and play. What was your reaction to seeing her illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread and if so, what do you love about it?

I love Bethan’s work. My British publisher asked if I’d like to work with her and it was an instant yes. I’m not a very visual thinker, so I didn’t really have any expectations for how the book would look when it was illustrated. It’s been so exciting to see it take shape.

I think my favourite spread is probably the cover. It looks so colourful and inviting and unusual.

How has the experience of publishing a picture book differed from publishing your novels? Was there any part of the process that surprised you?

How long it took! I was sent finished artwork about eighteen months before the book was published. Printing picture books is so expensive that publishers need to get as many co-editions as possible to reduce the cost. So there’s a very long lead time.

What’s the best part about being an author for children? What are you most looking forward to as you promote The Button Book and share it with readers?

Books matter so much to young children. I’ve seen how much they matter to my family, and one of the most joyful things about The Button Book is how much my second baby loves it. (My eldest likes it too, but he’s a bit old for it now. Also, my baby has no idea that his mum wrote the book, which makes his love even more special.) So that, and also hearing from readers who have been touched by my books in particular ways, perhaps if the storyline resonates with them, or helps them through a difficult time, or just helps them learn to read!

Do you have any anecdote from a book event that you’d like to share?

I took The Button Book in to share with my eldest son’s class, and I got the children to help me make up a story. It was Halloween, so the children said they wanted a story about a vampire who likes flowers. One little boy objected (I think because he wanted his own idea to be picked) which my son took as a misogynistic slight. “Boys can like flowers!” he told him. I felt very proud.

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently finishing off a YA novel about a teen mother whose baby is being raised as her youngest brother. It’s a romance and a family story, and it’s set in a Yorkshire village in Christmas 1919, so there’s a ball, and a young man in an army greatcoat, and lots of chilblains. I don’t know if that’s going to find an American publisher though.

My next picture book is called Who Makes a Forest? It’s an ecological story about the power of small things to come together to make great changes.

What is your favorite holiday? Why is it your favorite?

This sounds weird, but I love the dead days between Christmas and New Year. All the stress of Christmas is over, everyone is off work and school, families are together, and it’s understood that your job is just to snuggle up by the fire and eat leftover turkey and Christmas cake and mince pies.

Thanks, Sally! It’s been wonderful chatting with you! I wish you all the best with The Button Book and all of your books and am looking forward to seeing Who Makes a Forest? when it’s released.

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You can find The Button Book at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

January 21 – National Hugging Day and Interview with Vikki VanSickle

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About the Holiday

Hugs are good medicine! Giving and receiving hugs releases oxytocin, a hormone that provides a wide-range of health benefits. Getting a hug can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower one’s risk of heart disease. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public, National Hugging Day gives people the opportunity to give—or ask for—a nice, big hug!

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Tundra Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know if you have any events coming up and what’s up next for you.

I am hosting a whole bunch of Teddy Bear’s Picnics, which you can see posted below. Attendees are invited to bring their own teddy and together we will read the story, have some snacks, and hold our own Teddy Bear Service Awards complete with diplomas for the teddies and stickers and colouring sheets for the kids. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone’s beloved toys! Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit on the Tundra website.

National Hugging Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 3 – National Day of Giving and a Chat with Author Carole Gerber

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About the Holiday

Since 2012 the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been designated as a day to celebrate generosity and giving to others. 92nd Street Y in New York City created the holiday for people to think about charitable giving to those less fortunate not only for one day or one month, but all year round. How you give can take many forms—from time, voice, dollars, or goods to kindness or talent. Participants can be found across the United States and in more than 100 countries. The spirit of today’s holiday will fill you with cheer every day! To learn more about how individuals or organizations can get involved in the US or globally, visit the Giving Tuesday website.

I received a copy of The Gifts of the Animals from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

After the animals in a Bethlehem stable watch Joseph help Mary dismount from their donkey’s back, they go to work to prepare a place for the soon-to-be-born baby Jesus to sleep. “The ox that stands in the drafty shed / drops straw into a manger bed.” The sheep and lambs add bits of wool to make the bed “feel soft and full.”

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Using downy feathers from the sparrows, chickens, and little chicks, the mice make a plump pillow for Jesus’ head. The cow finds a blanket, and with the help of the ox they lay it over the manger. “Then in this place, humble and warm, Christ, the Prince of Peace, is born.” Mary wraps Him in swaddling clothes then Joseph lays Him in the manger to sleep.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

On a distant hillside, shepherds are startled by the brightening stars but listen to the angel who tells them of Jesus’ birth. Then the sky fills with a choir of angels singing “‘Peace on earth. Good will toward men. / Go now, shepherds, worship him.’” The shepherds hurry to Bethlehem to join in the joy of Mary, Joseph, and the gentle animals and to sing “‘Glory to our newborn king!’”

A condensed version of the Christmas story from the King James version of the book of Luke, chapter 2 follows the story.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The wonder of that first Christmas night glows in Carole Gerber’s beautiful story that follows the animals in the stable as they make a warm and soft bed for Jesus to sleep in. Young readers will be mesmerized by the gentle generosity of the ox, cow, sheep, birds, and mice as they all work together to provide for the baby to come. As the shepherds are visited by the angels and go to worship Jesus, Gerber uses the lyrical language and flowing cadence of the King James version of the biblical story to create a tender and glorious read aloud for the whole family. 

Yumi Shimokawara’s gorgeous, soft-hued illustrations are breathtaking in their detail and inspiration. Pride, fellowship, and diligence shine on the animals’ faces as they create a manger bed worthy of the baby Jesus. Realistic and traditional images of the stone stable, the shepherds and their flock blend poignantly with the depiction of the singing angels that could come from any diverse modern choir. The final illustration in which the animals and the shepherds gather around Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in adoration reveals the promise and hope of the true meaning of Christmas.

Sure to become a favorite Christmas story to share year after year, The Gifts of the Animals would be a beloved addition to home bookshelves and a beautiful inclusion for library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

A Chat with Carole Gerber

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Poet and author Carole Gerber has written sixteen picture books, three chapter books, and more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. Her picture book, A Band of Babies, was named a 2017 Best Book for Children by Amazon editors. She holds a BS in English education and an MA in journalism from Ohio State, and has taught middle school and high school English as well as college news writing and factual writing at OSU.

I’m thrilled to be talking with Carole Gerber again about her newest book for Christmas.

What inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals?

In my random travels around the Internet, I came across a site called “The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.” One post contained the words to a song called “The Friendly Beasts.” The notes said “This song originally hails from a 12th century Latin song,” which was later known in England as “The Animal Carol.” It began: “Jesus our brother kind and good/was humbly born in a stable rude/and the friendly beasts around him stood/Jesus our brother, kind and good.” Here’s one more verse: “I,” said the cow all white and red / “I gave Him my manger for His bed;/I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”/ “I,” said the cow all white and red.

The song also mentions a dove cooing Jesus to sleep, the sheep giving him a blanket. It ends: “Thus every beast by some good spell/in the stable dark was glad to tell/of the gift he gave Emmanuel/The gift he gave Emmanuel.” What I wrote sounds nothing like the original, but it gave me the idea that sparked my story. I then developed my story into a 32-page picture book by including Mary and Joseph, other animals with useful gifts, the angels announcing the birth, and the arrival of the shepherds.

“The Animal Carol” sounds lovely. Do you know if it’s still performed?

After the book went to press, I found that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had performed the exact words of the original song. There’s a YouTube video that lasts about six minutes. I had no idea that it was famous! A man named Brian Stokes Mitchell was the main singer. He and the choir actually tweet and baa, making some of the animal sounds.  

Such a feeling of peace and love flows through your book. How do you go about choosing words and phrasing and even the poetic form to create that mood?

I wrote and revised it many times, of course. But I never felt frustrated and truly did feel peaceful and loving as I wrote. The art director, David Miles, was great to work with. We brainstormed about other animals that would live in a stable and might contribute to preparing the manger. I came up with mice to carry the feathers from the birds perched on the rafters. Nothing appropriate rhymes with “manger” so I came up with “ox” to rhyme with “manger box.” A sweet result of involving more animals (besides getting enough pages to fill the book) was that they all worked cooperatively.

The Gifts of the Animals is absolutely gorgeous, from the glowing gold-embossed cover to the images of the gentle animals that are happily helping to the jubilant angels that mirror a modern choir. Can you tell me about Yumi Shimokawara and how she was chosen to illustrate your book?

David Miles met her at the Bologna Book Fair in 2017, and was absolutely blown away by her talent. She lives in Japan and had won many awards, including the grand prize at her art school. Yumi had written and illustrated several books published in Japan. My favorite title is Potsu, posu, potsu daijobu, which translates in English to Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Are You All Right? The title makes me smile. Yumi is not fluent in English so she worked with a Japanese friend who helped her translate David’s emails containing art directions. She did the cover first and it is beautiful. But she had given the baby blond hair and pale skin. My comment was, “We can’t have Jesus looking Swedish!” David replied, “No worries. I will fix this with Photoshop.” He darkened the baby’s hair and skin a bit and directed Yumi as she worked on the interior pages, to make all the people more authentically Middle Eastern.

Each spread is so beautiful on its own, but do you have a favorite? What makes that illustration special to you?

I love how happy and expressive the animals are, especially in the last spread when the people and animals are gathered around the Holy Family. Jesus is not the only baby in that picture. Yumi put baby chicks in that spread, too, which makes it even more touching. I also smile at the inside cover page, which has at the bottom an adorable illustration of a small choir of mice and birds. One little mouse is clasping his paws as he sings his heart out.

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

At the end of your story you include a condensed version of Chapter 2 from the Biblical book of Luke in the King James Version. How did you choose which version of the story to include?

I earned a King James Bible when I was about eight years old as a reward for attending Sunday School for 10 Sundays straight. Ever since, I have loved the grandeur of the language in the King James Bible. Compare the words between the King James and The New International Version.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The New International Version of the Bible states:

“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

No guest room available? It sounds like what a desk clerk in a motel would say. Bah!

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

Every time I get a new book published, my husband makes a Christmas tree ornament of the cover. This started years ago when my daughter Jess was in middle school. She secretly used my husband’s power tools – EEEK! – to cut to size a small piece of plywood on which she glued a small photocopied cover of one of my first published books. She put a doll house size clothes hanger on the back to attach it to the tree. After that, every Christmas, the last things we put on our tree are the miniature covers of my books.

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What a sweet and supportive tradition! It’s such a nice idea to adapt with photos or drawings for any family wanting to celebrate achievements from the past year. Thanks so much for this chat, Carole! I wish you all the best with The Gifts of the Animals and a very Merry Christmas with your family.

National Day of Giving Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the sixteen words about the first Christmas in this printable puzzle.

Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle | Tell the Good News! Word Search Solution

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You can purchase The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale at Familius

Picture Book Revie