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.

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

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 find The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

August 28 – It’s Family Fun Month and Interview with Author Robie H. Harris

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-look-babies-head-to-toe-coverAbout the Holiday

This month-long holiday encourages families to spend time together having fun, learning, and getting to know each other on an all-new level. Having a baby in the family means there are plenty of joyous moments and new experiences to enjoy as the little one learns about the world and their place in it. For children any moment—whether while playing, shopping, or doing chores—can become an exciting and enjoyable opportunity for discovery. Reading together is one of the best ways to nurture a baby’s development—as you’ll see in today’s book!

I received a copy of LOOK! Babies Head to Toe from Abrams Appleseed for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams Appleseed in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

LOOK! Babies Head to Toe

Written by Robie H. Harris | Illustrated by Anoosha Syed

 

With a baby on your lap or cuddled up beside you, you can open the world of self-awareness for your child as you open the cover of this engagingly written and adorably illustrated board book. Little readers will be immediately entranced by the baby who smiles out at them from the first pages as adults exclaim, “Look! A baby!,” show them the baby “Head to toe! Toe to head!” and share a greeting: “Hi, baby!”

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Image copyright Anoosha Syed, 2019, text copyright Robie Harris, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

What baby doesn’t love playing peek-a-boo? Here, babies learn about eyes by playing along with the enthusiastic baby in the book who hides his eyes and then reveals them with a happy smile. What are ears for? Listening, of course! And as the sweet baby on the page listens to her mom play the ukulele, your baby hears “Look! Baby’s ears!” and can be encouraged to repeat “La-la-la!”

Noses are for smelling, but sometimes they’re for sneezing too—“Ah-choo!” Turn the page again and “Look! A baby! Look! Baby’s mouth” is puckered up for a kiss. Moving on, babies “clap-clap-clap” with their hands, discover their tummy, try out their strong legs, and, for a last bit of fun, wiggle their toes.

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Image copyright Anoosha Syed, 2019, text copyright Robie Harris, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

With her delightful, lively text, Robie H. Harris provides parents and caregivers a dynamic way to not only introduce little ones to parts of their body but to help with the development of  language and motor skills. The repeated phrases “Look!,” “A baby!” and mention of particular parts of the body, accompanied with pointing to the baby on the page as well the little reader, orient children to these often-heard words and give them concrete meaning. Active words that echo familiar sounds and motions offer opportunities for little ones to vocalize and play.

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Image copyright Anoosha Syed, 2019, text copyright Robie Harris, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Anoosha Syed’s charming babies are bright-eyed and smiley, sweet friends who are ready to play. Their enthusiasm is infectious as they make direct eye contact with young readers—an important aspect of communicating with children. Each of the ten diverse babies are highlighted on two-page spreads with plenty of white space that allows readers to focus attention on the child and the part of the body being introduced. In each image the children demonstrate a different expression—from welcome and surprise to love and joy to contemplation and uncertainty. Adding this range of emotions reflects studies which have found that looking at pictures such as these can help children form feelings of empathy and understanding.

A cheerful, enchanting book for sharing fun and quality time with babies and toddlers, LOOK! Babies Head to Toe makes a wonderful new baby or shower gift, an engaging take along for outings or times when waiting is expected, and a go-to read at home, in preschool classrooms, and for public library collections.

Ages Birth to 3

Abrams Appleseed, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419732034

Discover more about Robie H. Harris and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anoosha Syed, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Robie H. Harris

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Today, I’m thrilled to be talking with Robie H. Harris about her board books for youngest readers and the importance of reading with babies and toddlers.

You’re well known for your books about growth and development for children and teens. Your recent books with Abrams Appleseed, Who? A Celebration of Babies and LOOK! Babies Head to Toe highlight the development of babies and very young children.

I have always been fascinated by babies and toddlers and how amazing and interesting they are. I have always wanted to write board books for them, especially books with which they could connect and that would engage them. Thanks to Abrams Appleseed, LOOK! and WHO? are out in the world. The words I wrote for each of these books are my way of talking with babies and toddlers and having a conversation with them and, hopefully, drawing them into the book.

Here’s what a mother of an 11-month-old baby emailed me this morning about her infant’s reaction when she shared LOOK! with her baby: “My baby giggled as soon as I opened the first page (a rare reaction, typically he’s either serious or squirmy for story time these days) and giggled right through ‘til the end.” Another parent of a six-month-old infant emailed me: “My baby looked and listened the whole time I read the book to her. She also gurgled and cooed and at times reached and gently touched some of the drawings of the babies that are in LOOK! After I read it to her, she grabbed the book and hugged it and gave it a kiss.” This kind of engagement these infants had with LOOK! was what I was hoping for as I was writing WHO? and LOOK!

Do you feel that there is now more attention being paid to these important early years?

Yes, there is a lot more attention to the early years, and that’s wonderful and can be helpful to authors writing for our youngest children. Thank goodness, the notion that a baby is not a person yet or is just a “blob” has been discarded by most. The abundance of infant and toddler research that is now available and that is continuing to gallop forward has fueled my board books and tells us how powerful babies’ thinking and emotions and brains are. When I am writing, I need to understand what is going on emotionally with an infant or toddler. From my own observations of infants and toddlers and also from research, I try to create words and/or a story that will strike a responsive chord in them. When I finish writing, an artist, such as Anoosha Syed, the illustrator of LOOK!, can find even more ways through art to connect our book with the babies and toddlers for whom I was writing.

What research has contributed to our deeper understanding of babies’ learning?

I will cite one of many studies that deals with shared reading as an example of the type of research that informs my thinking when writing a board book. The principal researcher of this recent study is Alan Mendelsohn, MD, pediatrician, New York University School of Medicine. “The study identifies pathways by which parent-child interactions in shared reading and play can improve child behavioral outcomes.” In addition, as a children’s book author, I continue to have the good fortune of consulting with pediatricians, child development and infancy specialists, child psychologists and analysts about what I am writing to make sure that it will ring true for an infant, toddler, or young child.  

Why is it important for parents and other caregivers to read books to babies, even before they can talk? How can age-appropriate books, like these from Appleseed, help?

This statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics site says it all: “​In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement recommending parent-child home reading beginning at birth and continuing at least through kindergarten. Behavioral evidence has shown that children who are read to, especially before school entry, experience stronger parent-child relationships and learn valuable language and literacy skills.” I would add the following statement of my own: Board books are one way our very youngest children begin to understand not only themselves, but also the people and the world around them. It is also a way for our youngest children and a significant adult in their lives, be it a parent or caregiver, to have a moment together away from the bustle of their everyday lives.

Story time is a time to build a loving relationship with each other and, yes, have some fun together while sharing a book. Additionally, make sure you read to your child once a day, every single day. Find a quiet time to do so, if possible, and don’t be interrupted by a call on your phone or anything else. Just enjoy your special time together. Start early and keep on reading books to them. Have a basket of board books on the floor with just board books in it—nothing else. And it’s okay if your infant or toddler sits on a book, chews on it, puts it on top of their head, drools on it, or opens it and is looking at the book upside down. This is one of the ways books become part of their lives and will continue to be part of their lives as they grow up and grow older. 

Look! Babies Head to Toe includes repetitive phrases and onomatopoeia such as “La-la-la” and “Achoo!” How do these aspects of the story benefit a baby’s developing language skills? How can adults expand on that type of learning?

I purposely use repetitive phrases such as “La-la-la, Achoo!, Kiss-kiss. Clap-clap-clap” and others in LOOK! because they are sounds that infants have heard and may have uttered out loud. While writing LOOK!, I believed infants and toddlers would mimic these sounds and words and have fun doing it while at the same time expanding the words they learned and could eventually use to communicate with others. I felt it could also be a way of engaging infants and toddlers in the  book. I purposely use repetitive sounds and words in WHO? for the very same reasons. Adults can expand on that type of learning by continuing to share a book with a child each and every day.

What are the long-term benefits of engaging babies in language and activities?

There are many. Here are two: Sharing a board book such as LOOK! is early literacy in the making and helps to create a love of language, art, and books for years to come. Reading a book with an infant or toddler also gives that child and their parent or caregiver the chance to spend time together, which can help to build a loving and caring bond between them and with others in the years ahead.

Anoosha Syed’s illustrations of babies are adorable while also being realistic. She also includes actions and gestures, such as crawling, hiding and revealing eyes, and smiling. Can you talk a little about how babies and toddlers react to seeing photographs or illustrations of children and how that helps their physical and emotional development?

Anoosha’s pitch-perfect drawings of babies do draw infants and toddlers into the book. Parents and caregivers have told me that while reading LOOK! babies gurgle and coo and often touch the drawings of babies in the book. They’ve also said that their toddlers sometimes kiss the drawings or pat their tummies or clap their hands just as the babies in the book do. The fact that this happens delights me as an author and as a person who feels that infants, toddlers, and young children are true learners.

You love to meet your readers of all ages! Have you held readings or events for parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers? What do these consist of? Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I have held some readings for parents and have given talks at conferences for infant and toddler professionals. These revolve around the benefits of sharing board books such as WHO? and LOOK! with infants and toddlers as well as the benefits of sharing picture books with young children. I show a video of a parent reading WHO? to a six-month-old infant, who is responding to the book in many ways both verbally and physically. The response from the parents and professionals who watched that video surprised me. Here’s why: Many parents and professionals were amazed to find out that sharing a board book with a baby does engage the infant at such an early time in their life. Many told me that they would now start sharing board books with babies.   

Do you have any other books for this age group in the works?

Yes. I can’t seem to keep myself from coming up with yet more ideas for another board book. One is almost fully written. I am just fiddling with the end of the book and need some more time to work on that. I read it out loud to myself this morning. This is something I do often to hear whether the words or the story I wrote work. Work for whom? Work for the age-range of the children who would be the audience for that particular book. I also have extensive notes on another board book idea. I have written only a few words for that book and am just at the beginning of my process of writing it. A lot more work is needed to move this book along. But I’m too busy with other books under contract to spend much time on it now.

Thanks, Robie, for this fascinating talk! I wish you the best with Look! and Who? and all of your books!

LOOK! Babies Head to Toe Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Abrams Appleseed in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of LOOK! Babies Head to Toe, written by Robie H. Harris | illustrated by Anoosha Syed

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from August 28 through September 3 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on September 4.

Prizing provided by Abrams Appleseed

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

Family Fun Month Activity

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Child’s Sensory Board

 

Toys or objects that provide many opportunities for sensory experimentation and observation stimulate a baby and young child to learn while having fun. You can make a sensory board for your own child using household items and that have a variety of textures, sizes, shapes, and movement. When you create your own sensory board, you can personalize it for your child by adding their name, pictures of family members, and other special items. While you play with your child, take time to talk about all of the objects on the board, what they do, and how they work. Count the objects. If you include words or your child’s name, spell them outloud and say them. There are so many ways to use a sensory board. Even if children can’t yet talk, they are listening and soaking in the rich language learning you are providing!

**When making your board always ensure that you use items that are not a choking hazard or can catch tiny fingers. Make sure that items are firmly attached to the board. Never leave a baby unattended while playing.**

Supplies

  • A board large enough to hold the items you want to attach. Boards that can be used include: those found at hardware stores or craft stores; large cutting boards; shelves; old table tops; etc.

Sample items for your sensory board can be age appropriate and include:

  • Large swatches of various textured material. (I used fur, a scrubbing sheet, and a piece of carpeting)
  • Wooden or thick cardboard letters and numbers, painted in a variety of colors. Letters can be used to add a child’s name to the board.
  • Figures cut from sheets of foam or wooden figures found at craft stores in a variety of numbers that you can count with your child (I used sets of 1, 2, and 3 fish cut from foam to go along with the numbers 1, 2, and 3)
  • Mirror
  • Push button light
  • Chalk board to write on
  • Castor or other wheel
  • Door latches
  • Door knockers
  • Mop heads
  • Paint rollers
  • Cranks
  • Drawer handles
  • Hinges (I attached a tennis ball to a hinge that children can push back and forth)
  • Pulleys
  • Paint in various bright colors
  • Paint brushes
  • Scissors
  • Screws
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Velcro
  • Super glue

Directions

  1. Assemble your items
  2. Paint wooden or cardboard items
  3. Arrange item on the board so that your baby or child can easily reach or manipulate each one
  4. Attach items with screws, nuts and bolts, or super glue
  5. Push button lights or other objects that take batteries can be attached with strong Velcro. Ensure items attached with Velcro are large and not a choking hazard.
  6. Set up board where you and your baby or child can enjoy playing with it together

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You can find LOOK! Babies Head to Toe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

April 3 – National Walking Day and Interview with Author Jane Whittingham

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About the Holiday

The American Heart Association established National Walking Day in 2007 to remind people of the benefits of taking a walk. Even twenty to thirty minutes a day can improve your health and wellbeing. If you have a desk job or spend long hours sitting, getting up and out can make you feel better and even more connected to your community. While walking through your neighborhood, the park, or the woods take time to notice interesting details and the beauty around you. Walking with a friend, your family, or a group can also be fun and motivating. So grab your sneakers and use today to spark a new habit that will pay dividends now and in the future.

I received a copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up from Pajama Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Pajama Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up

Written by Jane Whittingham | Illustrated by Emma Pedersen

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 7

Pajama Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1772780673

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

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

Meet Jane Whittingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A view of a bridge and beyond in Nikko, Japan

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

What is your favorite holiday and why?

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

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

You can connect with Jane Whittingham on:

Her website | Instagram

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Pajama Press in an Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up written by Jane Whittingham | illustrated by Emma Pedersen

This giveaway is open from April 3 through April 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

It’s easy to enter! Just:

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

National Walking Day Activity

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Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

These kids are getting out and enjoying nature! Can you help them find the right shoes so they can start their adventures in this printable puzzle?

Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

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

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

Picture Book Review

November 20 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Paul Schmid

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About the Holiday

Fall is giving way to winter and kids’ thoughts turn to snow days, sledding, snowmen, and all sorts of frosty things. There’s a book for that…and that…and all those things too! Kids love following the seasons through the books they read. There’s nothing better during the cold-weather months than snuggling indoors with a stack of books and a steamy mug of hot chocolate. During Picture Book Month and all through the year, introduce your children to the joys of reading!

Phaidon Press sent me a copy of Little Bear Dreams to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Phaidon in a giveaway of the book! See details below.

Little Bear Dreams

By Paul Schmid

 

A baby polar bear rides atop Mom’s back, catching snowflakes on a little pink tongue. As the snowflakes change to twinkling stars in the dark night sky, a question hangs in the air—“Of what do little bears dream?” Perhaps it’s the frothy sweetness of “hot chocolate” or the delicious spiciness of “cold pizza.”

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

As the day brightens once more, maybe the baby imagines all kinds of things that lie beyond those “straight horizons” or giggles at wearing tickly, “curly moustaches.” There are so many things to discover, both big and small, short and tall, and blue—lots of blue in the frozen north. But night has come around again and it’s time for sleep. So, curl up with “soft, snowy beds. Warm fur…and frosty nights” and drift off to sleep.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Paul Schmid’s snuggly story about an adorable polar bear pair rendered with soft curves, quiet blues, and sweet surprises is, simply, love in a book. The gentle text lulls little ones toward sleep while reminding them of the wonders of life. Images of opposites—hot and cold, straight and curly, big and small, and others—are full of charm and wit and give little readers lots to talk about or an invitation to fill in their own details.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Schmid’s beautiful use of line, shape, and color expresses the loving relationship between baby and adult as the little one peeks from behind Mom, hides underneath her during a game of hide-and-seek, and nuzzles noses in a little bear kiss. Marshmallow-plump bunnies wait silently to play, and pudgy little polar bear twists to try and spy a stubby tail. Gorgeous perspectives show the magnitude of the night sky and the mother bear’s protective power. The moving image of the pair curled into a ball for sleep underneath a full moon and then risen to replace it as a little one’s shining light is the perfect ending to this story so rich in cuddles, caring, and comfort.

An excellent book for baby shower, birthday, and holiday gifts as well as an endearing addition to home libraries, Little Bear Dreams is a book you will find yourself reaching for again and again. It’s a sweet book for preschool classrooms and a must for public libraries.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877242

To learn more about Paul Schmid, his books, and his art, visit his website

Meet Paul Schmid

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I’m thrilled to be chatting with Paul Schmid today about his the inspirations of winter, following where ideas lead, and the role of that curly moustache in Little Bear Dreams.

Readers are always interested in the creative process that goes into a book. Can you talk us through how Little Bear Dreams came to be?

Little Bear Dreams started in a somewhat dreamlike way. I just began playing with the dramatic, graceful shapes of winter landscapes without knowing where I was going with it. I love winter, and since childhood have been fascinated by its stark simplicity and seeming contradiction of severity and softness.

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This was the start of it all. Roughly sketched musings on a bear in her environment.

As dreams will do, the book evolved as it progressed. It took hundreds of sketches to bring this book to life. At one early point it was called “Black and White and Blue.” The more I sketched my characters, though, the more they began to assert their personality. We all eventually settled into a gentle, loving mother bear and her rather impish and imaginative little bear.

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Sketches, sketches, sketches!

Ideas for stories can come from anywhere, but what for you makes an idea stick so that you develop it further?

DH Lawrence wrote: “If you try to nail anything down in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail.”

I follow ideas perpetually. “Follow” being the operational word here. Many times I’ve tried to force an idea, and it generally ends up looking so. 

I follow until an idea becomes something or peters into nothing. Some ideas I’ve been following for years and haven’t arrived anywhere wonderful—yet. Some ideas drag me after them at a speed which shocks me. I guess the key is to always be receptive. Ideas will rudely wake me at 2 a.m., obliging me to creep into my studio and sketch or write.

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There are so many ways to convey an idea! I jokingly call the first few months of developing a book “The Period of Ten Thousand Decisions.” Here are explorations on just one spread from Little Bear Dreams: “Blue water.”

Little Bear Dreams began as an indulgence to play with simplicity in color and shape, visual and verbal rhythms and contrasts, but evolved also into a story of love and connection. Of gentleness and playfulness.

The idea is the boss. Not me. I just obey.

Your illustration style is very distinctive, and your adorable characters immediately inspire readers to feel empathy for them. Can you talk a little about the role of different shapes, line, white space, and even the use of small features in your illustrations?

I have a compulsion to express as much as possible in the simplest manner possible. It is a great pleasure to me to strip an illustration or sentence of all that gets in the way of advancing the story or mood or character of the book.

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Although my illustrations seem simple, I’ve found simplicity a very complicated feat to achieve. With no busyness, what is there must be perfect. For me that requires a lot of drawing and redrawing.

But it must connect with a reader! Children live real, dramatic, joyous, painful, confused, confident, knowing, learning lives. I feel my job as a storyteller for children is to reflect and connect with the vitality of life they dwell in.

So when I draw a character in a situation or emotion I feel that emotion myself as I draw. The great illustrator Howard Pyle was quoted as saying: “Project your mind into your subject until you actually live in it.” 

In 2010 you were chosen as one of four illustrators to attend a fellowship with Maurice Sendak. What is the most memorable thing that he told you? What is your favorite memory from that experience?

Maurice was to me a shining example of emotional courage and depth and intelligence. I’ve never met anyone more brilliant and intuitive. He was unafraid of his feelings, of complexity, of embracing sadness and joy. 

For all he was a superstar, he was also amazingly generous and one of the most caring, attentive listeners I’ve ever known.

It is how he was as a person that has inspired me rather than any one thing he said.

My favorite memory of Maurice was a visit I paid to him about a year after the Fellowship. We took a walk and for hours discussed how elusive happiness is for an artist, the difficulty in waking our muses, the impossibility of not continuing to always create and express ourselves, the challenge and imperative of being truthful to kids, loss, death, life, beauty. The whole of our love for life and creating. 

As a speaker at  the 2015 Words, Writers, and West Seattle” series of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, you talked about several of your books, including Oliver and His Alligator, which involves a surprising turn of events, and mention that kids love being shocked. In Little Bear Dreams, the baby polar dreams of things she would naturally see in her environment juxtaposed with things like cold pizza and curly mustaches. Can you discuss the benefits for young children of unexpected moments that cause surprise or giggles?

Kids are still putting the puzzle pieces together on their perceptions of “What is this thing called life?” Incongruities help reinforce our understanding of reality. As a little girl my own daughter enjoyed pointing out when something was not right. It is a source of humor for children and adults.

As I write I imagine a parent reading the book with their child and discussing it together. “Do polar bears eat pizza?” “No, that’s silly!” I endeavor to create those moments for a parent and child. My books such as A Pet for Petunia and Oliver and his Alligator are full of such opportunities. Surprise, along with the comfort of seeing true familiar things is the balance I sought for Little Bear Dreams.

Putting the child in the position of knowing something the book affects not to know is great fun for a young reader too.

As I watched the Word, Writers, and West Seattle event, I was thrilled to see you present The Story of Ferdinand as one of your childhood favorites. That book was also one of my favorites—the first one I remember truly loving. For me, as a quiet child, it was the story that was so validating, and for you, you said that even as a child you appreciated the perfection of the illustrations. Could you talk a bit about that relationship between a child and a book that is a beloved “first” in some way. Is that an idea you are aware of when creating a book?

One of the most gratifying results of creating books for kids is getting a note from a parent telling me it is their child’s favorite book; that they have to sleep with it under their pillow, or they’ve memorized the whole book. I love knowing I made something that touched a child so deeply.

I believe this profound connection is because a child reads so much more intensely than an adult. They seek in books information and affirmation of what they are feeling or thinking. They find adventure and discover possibility. Reading for kids is not just a distraction, it is an important part of their world.

Oh, and because of this I have a small personal conviction that the only reviewers of kid’s books should be kids. Ha!

What’s up next for you?

I am always working on new manuscripts! I’m having a great time this week with a particularly fun story I am sketching up. Not a bad way to spend my days.

A new endeavor I am also enjoying is designing images for greeting cards. One company, Great Arrow Graphics, has picked up about a dozen or so of my designs which are available in select stores or on line here: https://www.greatarrow.com/cards/cardlist/did/494

I have also set up a shop at society6, where you can buy quality prints of images from my books and some other fun stuff I’ve illustrated.

The shop lives here: https://society6.com/paulschmid

New designs are always on the way.

What’s your favorite holiday? Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

I find Winter Solstice particularly appealing, since for me it represents the paradox of life. Solstice marks the end of the shortening days, the return of light and warmth, of renewal. At the same time it also means the beginning of Winter, of coldness, hardship and patience. This is not a conflict to me but a lovely insight. Up cannot exist without down, it is its opposite that makes a thing itself be. 

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Paul hiking with Mount Rainier in the distance.

So at the moment of Winter Solstice we are able to feel simultaneously both joy and sadness, hope and fear. That is a concept I find strangely satisfying.

Wow! Thanks, Paul, for such an insightful talk! I wish you all the best with Little Bear Dreams and all of your books!

Little Bear Dreams Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Phaidon Press in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Little Bear Dreams by Paul Schmid

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, November 20 – November 26. Already a follower? Thanks! Just Retweet for a chance to win. 

A winner will be chosen on November 27.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Phaidon Press.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Opposites Sensory Tin

Little ones love touching and feeling different objects and trying to guess just what they are or how they’re the same or different than other things. Putting together a sensory tin is a quick and easy way to keep kids occupied with a fun activity while they also learn!

With a six-cup tin for youngest readers and a twelve-cup tin to try and stump older kids, you have plenty of space to add items that are soft and hard, cold and warm, crunchy and crumbly, spiky and smooth, and so many more!

To make the tin into a game, have kids close their eyes or blindfold them and let them feel the different items and guess what they are.

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You can find Little Bear Dreams at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 1 – Commitment Day and Interview with Author/Illustrator Lindsay Ward

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About the Holiday

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to think about your relationships and let all of the special people in your life know how much they mean to you. It’s easy to let time go by without telling friends, coworkers, and family members that they are important to you and that you appreciate everything they do for you and with you. Little ones are  committed not only to family and friends but—often with the same fervor—to their favorite toys as well. And vice versa? Perhaps—as today’s book shows!

Don’t Forget Dexter!

By Lindsay Ward

 

In an empty pediatrician’s waiting room, a little dinosaur calls out “Hello? Is anyone there?” Then he sees you! Yes, you, and he needs your help. It seems Dexter (that’s the dino’s name) has lost his best friend, Jack. Jack was just there a minute ago coloring with Dexter, but now he’s gone. Dexter’s been waiting “a really long time. Like forever.” He thinks that “maybe you’ve seen him?” Oh, right! You don’t know what Jack looks like! Dexter draws a quick picture of a kid with curly hair, stick arms, stick legs, and a smile. Have you seen Jack?

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions Publishing.

Maybe you and Dexter need a little more help. Suddenly, Dexter has an idea of who to ask. “Excuse me. Hello? Mr. Fish? Have you seen my best friend, Jack?” Or maybe the lady behind the window knows where Jack is. But she’s on the phone and doesn’t even seem to hear or see Dexter. Wait! Dexter knows what to do—he’ll sing his and Jack’s favorite song! “Dexter Dino, stomp through the swamp. Dexter Dino, Chomp, Chomp, Chomp!”

No Jack? Dexter sings louder, but still no Jack. Poor Dexter! He just doesn’t understand. Could it be…”Oh no! What if he left me here ON PURPOSE?” Dexter thinks, as his eyes with tears. But then denial kicks in. That can’t be…after all Dexter says, “I’m Dexter T. Rexter. The toughest, strongest, coolest dinosaur there has ever been. EVER!” And he’s pretty much right! He’s got a swishy tail, chompy teeth, pretty sharp claws, and feet that “make this really cool sound.”

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions Publishing.

But oh, dear…did you really just suggest the unthinkable? That maybe Jack “likes something more? Like another toy?” You know what kinds of great toys are out there—all sorts of cars, trucks, trains, and planes that have fancy moving parts, blinking lights, and swell sounds. “Wait, what did you say? You think dinosaurs ARE awesome?” Just that thought has given Dexter more oomph and confidence. So much, in fact, that he’s going to escape from this waiting room through the window and find Jack.

Dexter builds a pile of books to reach the supply closet handle, grabs some sturdy bandages to make a climbing rope, and—under the watchful gaze of the swimmy “unhelpful spectator,” swings into action and…into the fish tank! Oh no! As Dexter sinks to the bottom, he sees all of his favorite moments sinking with him. “No more playtime. No more bath time. No more bedtime snuggles. No more Jack.” Dexter’s tears mix with the aquarium water.

But what’s this? What is that sound? “DEXTEEERRR!” Dexter recognizes that voice. It’s Jack! See? “And you were so worried.”  But Dexter knew all along he’d never be forgotten. And now as Jack pushes him around the waiting room in a cool sports car, he and Jack even have a new song to sing!

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2018, courtesy of Two Lions Publishing.

What child can resist the roar of a dinosaur who needs help? The opportunity to be bigger, braver, and fiercer, than T-rex is irresistible, and in Lindsay Ward’s hilarious direct-address friendship story, it’s irresistible fun. As Dexter takes readers along on his roller coaster of emotions, asking readers for help and reassurance, kids will empathize with this lost toy who’s feeling small and alone. There will be plenty of giggles when Dexter draws his stick-figure portrait, rappels into the fish tank, and melts into a puddle of dinosaur tears. A spirited reading (and singing) will bring the story fully to life.

Ward’s bright, bold illustrations set Dexter center stage as his emotions play out on his very sweet face. From page to page, Dexter’s expressive eyes register uncertainty, hope, worry, bravado, angst, bravery, despair, and finally joy. Orange Dexter is a cutie with his scattered polka dots and kindergarten-style, writing-paper belly. Kids will recognize the doctor’s office with its universal fish tank; the “better” toys Dexter compares himself to are appropriately menacing; and Dexter’s memories of fun times spent with Jack show readers just how strong the bond between these two friends is. As Jack, wearing a Dexter t-shirt and also with tears in his eyes, searches for Dexter, readers will see that the love between toy and child goes both ways. Children will cheer when Jack reunites with Dexter with a huge hug.

Don’t Forget Dexter! is a funny and heartfelt choice for dinosaur lovers and for introducing discussions of various emotions and the nature of love for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2018 |ISBN  978-1542047272

Two Lions sent me this book to check out. All opinions are my own.

Discover more about Lindsay Ward, her books, and her art on her website.

Commitment Day Activity

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I Love You Jar

 

You can show the people you love how much they mean to you by giving them your heart! Make this I Love You Jar so you always have a little love on hand to share!

Supplies

  • A decorative clear glass jar, mason jar, or other kind of jar
  • Red felt (or other desired color or colors)
  • Heart stencils or cookie cutter (optional)
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Cut 10 to 20 heart shapes from the red felt 
  2. Place the hearts in the jar for safe keeping
  3. When you want to tell someone that they are special to you, give them a heart!

Meet Lindsay Ward

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Today I’m excited to talk with Lindsay Ward about the text that inspired Dexter, the best part of meeting with students, and what makes Ohio home.

What inspired you to write Don’t Forget Dexter!?

My husband and I were pregnant with our first child and my husband was required to get a T-DAP booster shot prior to our son’s birth. He went to get the shot and while he was waiting to be seen he texted me a photo with of a toy dinosaur lying underneath a chair with the line “well, they left me here.” I laughed out loud when I read the text and immediately sat down to write Dexter’s story. To this day it’s still the fastest idea-to-story moments I’ve ever had. I ended up writing the first draft within an hour and the rest is history.

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When did you know you wanted to write books for children? Has becoming a mom changed the way you work or the themes of your work? If so, in what way?

I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind, but I never thought about writing. That actually happened by accident years later once I was already published as an illustrator. When I was 15 I got my first job working in a children’s book store. After meeting authors and illustrators who would come do signings at Hicklebee’s (where I worked), I realized I wanted to illustrate children’s books. I loved the idea of working from a narrative. After I graduated high school I went on to study illustration in college and began trying to get published.

My books have always been connected in some way or another to personal experiences. Now that I have two boys, I definitely get inspired by them. I’m also a lot more critical of books as a mom than I was before. Prior to having kids, I would really only care about the quality of the art when I purchased a book for my home library. Now I expect a book to have the full package— great writing and illustrations. Seeing first hand which books my kids respond to has been really interesting too.

When you’re working on a project, does the story come first or the art?

With the exception of Dont Forget Dexter! and Henry Finds His Word, the story has always come first. Those two titles are the only books where I had a character in my head before the story was written. Generally, I come up with a concept first and then I consider all the directions I can take the story in before I settle on one. Writing is a very instinctual experience for me, I trust my gut to tell me when I’m heading in the right direction.

You hold many readings and events at schools, libraries, and book festivals. Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

I love meeting with students and visiting schools and libraries. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job. So often I’m in my own head working on an idea, so when I get the chance to meet my readers, it’s such a wonderful experience. I don’t necessarily have a particular anecdote, but I have experienced more than once going into a school where the students have never met an author or illustrator before. I love being able to show them that they can do something creative with their lives and nothing is impossible. I think that’s a very important lesson for kids to learn. I was lucky enough to have a mom that always supported my dreams, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to pursue this career if she hadn’t been so supportive.

What’s the best part of writing and illustrating children’s books?

I think that moment where you know you’ve tapped into something great creatively and the idea begins to really come together— that’s a wonderful feeling. I love getting to meet my readers too, that’s the best!

Your book Please Bring Balloons, a mystical story about a little girl who rides a carousel polar bear into a magical arctic dreamscape, has been made into a play and had a recent run at the New York Children’s Theater. Can you talk a bit about that and how it came to be?

I didn’t really have much to do with the process of Please Bring Balloons becoming a play. My agent called one day to let me know they were interested in adapting my book and next thing I know it was a production in New York. I remember my husband brought home a dozen roses for me the day we found out—it was incredibly sweet, saying “this is what they give actors on stage.” Months later, my husband and I had the opportunity to go to New York and see the play—which is one of the best moments of my career as a children’s book author/illustrator. I was so proud of what I had created, and so impressed with the writer, director, and actors who put it all together. Seeing my story come to life was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.

Can you describe your studio a little? What’s your favorite thing in it? Why?

Currently, my studio is in a small bedroom in my house. It’s very cozy and has a beautiful view of the woods and river behind my house. I’m very type-A so I like to keep it organized, the only time it’s usually messy is if I’m working in cut paper on a book—then it looks like a bomb has gone off.  My favorite thing in it is my blue scissors that I’ve used on every book I’ve ever published. I’m a bit superstitious about them.

You grew up in California, lived in New York and Boston, and now live Ohio. What would you say are the three biggest differences in the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest?

I get this question a lot, mostly from Clevelanders, who are fascinated by the fact that I grew up in California but choose to live in Ohio (sometimes I don’t think they realize how good they have it here). For me, the West Coast is laid back and goes with the flow, the East Coast is always moving, and the Midwest feels like home. I think the reason I fell in love with Cleveland is because the odds are always against it, a lot of people make fun of it or look down on it, but it’s got a lot of heart. Midwesterners are warm and passionate people. I’ve had the opportunity to live in many places and they’ve all given me wonderful experiences and shaped me into who I am today.

What’s up next for you?

I just wrapped up the sequel to Dont Forget Dexter!, titled Its Show-and-Tell, Dexter!, which will come out July 17th, 2018. I’ll be working on a new picture book about the relationship of colors, as told by the color Gray, titled This Book Is Gray, with Two Lions starting in January. And I’m thrilled to be starting a new original board book series, I Go, with HarperCollins next year.

What is your favorite holiday?

Hands down, Thanksgiving! Cooking for my family on a day filled with turkey, pie, and football…it doesn’t get better than that!

Thanks, Lindsay! It’s been fun getting to know more about you and your work! I wish you all the best with Don’t Forget Dexter! and all of your books!

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You can find Don’t Forget Dexter! at these booksellers:

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

You can connect with Lindsay Ward on:

Her Website | Facebook | InstagramTwitter

Picture Book Review

September 25 – World Dream Day and Interview with Author Michelle Cuevas

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About the Holiday

World Dream Day is a global participatory holiday that encourages individuals, schools, businesses, and families to focus on their dreams and make them reality. Discovering and acting on your dreams can transform not only your life, but the lives of others. Imagine how the world could change if everyone had the opportunity to live their dreams. Today, feel inspired and empowered to do or become whatever you’ve always dreamed of!

Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow

Written by Michelle Cuevas | Illustrated by Sydney Smith

 

Smoot the Shadow was bored. Bored. Bored. For seven and a half years, he’d been doing the same things over and over. Every day, he and his boy—to whom he was firmly connected—“brushed the same teeth, frowned the same frown, and drew the same pictures—always staying perfectly inside the lines.” Smoot’s boy never jumped, ran, or even laughed, so Smoot never did either.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Excet at night. Then, while the boy slept, Smoot dreamed. He dreamed in a multitude of colors about singing, dancing, and having fun. One day, with an unexpected “pop” Smoot became free of his boy. He didn’t waste a moment, but packed a few things and headed out into the world. He jumped rope, rode a carousel and climbed a tree to say hello to a little bird. He even got to dance in a field of multicolored wildflowers just like in his dreams.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Suddenly, other shadows took notice. As they watched Smoot play, they became braver too. “‘If he can follow his dreams, we can too,’” they reasoned. The first shadow to take the plunge was a dandelion. As it soared away into the sky, becoming an indistinct form, people tried to guess what it was. All this attention emboldened the shadows of a cricket and a grasshopper who had “formed a band, but were nervous about playing music in public.” Their shadows, however, picked up their instruments and played “like cool shade on a hot afternoon.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

A frog’s shadow discovered his inner prince, and a dragonfly’s shadow floated out over the city as a ferocious dragon. Even a lowly rock’s shadow had dreams of greatness, transforming into “a cathedral, and then a skyscraper, and finally a castle that reached the clouds.” Smoot began to grow afraid of the imagination he’d unleashed. What if the shadows of zoo animals escaped and roamed through town or if the sun was eclipsed by the shadow of an enormous whale? How would anyone catch them?

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of Dial Books.

But Smoot had an idea. He made a castle from the ambitious rock and some others. The frog moved in to live like a prince, and the dragonfly guarded the gate. Then Smoot sang with the grasshopper and cricket to give them more courage, and he blew the dandelion seeds into the air. The shadows all saw that their dreams had come true, so they returned to their owners, who also felt different.

And Smoot’s boy? All the excitement had inspired him to be more like his shadow. After he and his shadow reconnected, they ran, tumbled, jumped in puddles, and played in “singing, ringing, flying, vibrant, dancing color.”

Through her rambunctious shadows, Michelle Cuevas creatively externalizes that small (or loud) voice inside many people that is yearning to be heard and acted on. For many children and adults, giving free reign to their alter ego can feel uncomfortable or even frightening. In her lyrical and uplifting book, Cuevas reveals these dreams for greatness, recognition, or freedom and encourages readers to let go and chase them. She shines a light on how they can take that first step through play, teaming up, or using their imagination and talents to make their dreams come alive.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, 2017, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, 2017. Courtesy of sydneydraws.tumblr.com.

Sydney Smith’s striking images immediately orient readers to the monotone world the boy lives in. While outside the window colors abound, inside, the boy sits on a gray sofa with a black-and-white rug and his black-and-white dog nearby. The walls are white, the floor is dull, and even the plant—standing away from the light of the window—is browning. Perhaps, however, the painting above the boy offers hope and a little foreshadowing: Black images play on a white canvas, but a swipe of blue and a red dot add lively, colorful accents. Likewise, the red-covered book the boy reads is a bright spot in this otherwise dreary room.

The boy’s shadow, however, dreams in color. When Smoot pops free of his restraints and goes on a play-filled adventure, the illustrations are full of action and vibrancy. Smoot smiles and exults in his freedom. His joy is infectious, and his antics and clever ways of ensuring that each character gets to fulfill their aspirations will inspire children to uncover their own inner world.

Smoot: a Rebellious Shadow is a heartfelt and empowering book for hesitant and more adventurous children alike. It would make an ideal book for home libraries and classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN  978-0525429692

Discover more about Michelle Cuevas and her books for children and tweens on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork by Sydney Smith on Tumbler!

World Dream Day Activity

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Live Your Dream! Shadow Blackboard

 

Shadows are fun to create and play with! Making a black board from a shadow is a great way to show your imagination while making a useful decoration for your room. Put on your inventive thinking cap and devise a unique shadow by using toys or other objects from home. You can even make a shadow of yourself! Making the blackboard may require two people.

Supplies

  • Black thick poster board, 1 or 2 pieces or a tri-fold depending on how large your blackboard will be
  • Large sheet of white or light paper
  • Objects to create the shadow
  • Pencil
  • Scissors or x-acto knife
  • Mounting squares or tape
  • Chalk

Directions

  1. To Make a Shadow Blackboard from an object or objects
  2. Choose two or three objects, such as toys, musical instruments, shoes, knick-knacks, etc., that will make interesting shapes or ideas. Arrange the objects in a way to create the picture you want. (In the photo above, a cactus-shaped pillow and a ukulele were used to create the shadow)
  3. Either outside in a sunny spot or inside with a light, lay the white paper on the ground
  4. As one person holds the item or items above the paper, trace the shadow.
  5. Alternately, if the objects are large enough, you can arrange them and trace them on the white paper or directly on the black poster board.
  6. Cut the shadow out of the white paper
  7. Trace the shadow on the black poster board with the chalk
  8. Cut the image out of the black poster board
  9. Attach the shadow blackboard to your wall with the mounting squares or tape
  10. Use colored chalk to write or draw your dreams and doodles on your blackboard

To Make a Shadow Blackboard of Yourself

  1. Lie down on the white paper
  2. Strike a pose
  3. Have someone else trace you
  4. Cut out your figure
  5. Trace the figure onto the black poster board
  6. Cut out the figure from the black poster board
  7. Attach to the wall with the mounting squares

Meet Author Michelle Cuevas

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I’m excited to talk with Michelle Cuevas today about Smoot, her research adventures, and her very innovative Halloween costumes!

What draws you to write quiet picture books about introspective characters?

I actually think about this question a lot! I suppose it has to do with being a bit of a lone wolf as a kid – I loved making up song lyrics, building rock gardens, writing a newspaper about the lives of neighborhood animals. I was good at creating little worlds inside my own world, (I have three brothers, so I had company, but mostly the fighting-over-monopoly kind). I also think that in everyday life, it’s not always the big-bad-villain-monster that we’re up against. Often the things we face are inside – fear, loneliness, grief. I like characters who take on that kind of struggle, who make the everyday ‘okay this is hard but I’m going to keep trying’ feel extraordinary.

What was your inspiration for Smoot?

Smoot came to me when I had a couple candles lit and the shadows made me think I should do a book about shadow puppets… or a shadow puppeteer… something in that world. As I started writing, I realized that the most interesting character by far was the shadow. What were the shadow’s innermost dreams? Thoughts? Ideas? A lot of people ask about his name also. I think it’s a combination of “smudge” and “soot,” (though a child I met suggested it could also be “small” and “foot.” Definitely possible). I have such a great time naming characters in my books, I think I would thoroughly enjoy a career at Crayola in the color-naming department.

If you were a runaway shadow, where would you go or what would you do?

If I were a runaway shadow I might like to try being other things for a while – you could go be the shadow of a galloping horse, a skyscraper, a cloud across the surface of the ocean. The possibilities are pretty endless.

One of your activities is falconry, which conjures up such wonderful images. Could you tell how you became involved in falconry and a little bit about it?

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I like to do research for my books, so falconry started as research for my second novel about a boy who is half bird and hatched from an egg. I got very interested in it, even looking into getting my own Harris Hawk, but it takes many years and several days of hunting every week. Maybe someday!

I’ve also done research by riding elephants, bird banding with ornithologists, interviewing astrophysicists, spending time with butterflies, and more. It’s a really interesting part of my job!

Your research sounds fascinating and such fun! Is there anything you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?

I like to keep trying new things as a writer, and one new adventure I’m trying is artwork. I LOVED Shel Silverstein as a kid, so I’m pretty sure he’s my inspiration. I’ve been afraid to illustrate my own picture book, so far just sticking to little line drawings in my last two novels.

Perhaps I’ll take a cue from Smoot, be brave, and give picture books a try in the near future!

In your beautiful The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, the main character collects and delivers messages sent through bottles tossed into the sea. If you were going to write such a note to your readers, what would you say?

My dedication for Uncorker read:

For the Ocean Bottle Senders and Ocean Bottle seekers:

Try. Want. Wish. Tell

Is everyone as intrigued by book dedications as I am? When I read a book, I love imagining who the people are in the dedications, why did the author choose them? I often think about themes of my books when I write a dedication to a specific person. Since Uncorker is about a man with no name, and since the messages sent in bottles are often to no one in particular, I decided my dedication should reflect both of these feelings too.

As an author of middle grade and picture books, what do you find is the best part of writing for children?

The best part of writing for children… well, from my perspective, the best part is the sense of fun. I started out during my fiction MFA writing stories for adults. I’d often turn in stories with talking plants or deer that broke into houses. These stories confused the other writers in my program. Who were they for? Not serious-thinking adults. My mom sent me care packages, often with books inside, mostly kids’ books I had loved when I was younger or new ones she thought looked cute. I read them and it was a light bulb-over-my-head moment. I started writing my first novel about a prolific painting elephant my last year of graduate school and suddenly, my writing felt like me. I was able to do all the wild, free, magical things I had wanted to do all along in my writing. I was finally having fun.

And I think the best part in the “interacting with the world” category is when a child (or adult) says they connected to a character, or that a character’s tale made them cry. We don’t know one another very well, but I know how it feels when a book makes me cry. It’s a remarkable connection, really blows me away every time.

What’s Up Next for You?

Up next for me are visiting schools to talk about my new books Smoot and The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole. In April 2018 I have a new picture book out with Catia Chien called Town of Turtle. It’s about a turtle who decides to do some renovations to his shell, which of course get wildly out of hand.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I have to ask: what is your favorite holiday, and do you have any stories you’d like to share?

My favorite holiday… I’ve always loved making costumes and the idea of getting to be a character on Halloween. Even in the last few years I’ve been… a pro wrestler, a deer with branch antlers, Cindy Lou-Who, a falconer… the list goes on. Last year I was Lydia Deetz from the movie Beetlejuice. When I was Cindy Lou-Who I spent a couple days making a wire-rigged headpiece with some very architectural hair. Making the costume is half the fun. I have several glue gun burns to prove it.

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I also got my Bernese Mountain dog a backpack to hand out candy. I don’t usually let him wear clothing, but made an exception for lollipop duty.

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Thanks, Michelle, for the fun and inspiring interview—and all of the fantastic pics! I wish you all the best with Smoot and all of your other books!

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You can find Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow at these booksellers

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

You can connect with Michelle on: her website | Twitter

Picture Book Review

January 10 – It’s International Quality of Life Month and Q & A with Deborah Sosin

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About the Holiday

How one achieves their definition of a good quality of life may differ for every person, but in general it encompasses being happy and satisfied with one’s relationships, work, living conditions, and self. Whether you find happiness and quality of life in outdoor or indoor pursuits, with others or alone, at work or at home, this month’s holiday gives you time to get in touch with your inner quiet place and reflect on changes or improvements to bring you more peace and happiness in life.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin | Illustrated by Sara Woolley

 

Charlotte is a girl who likes quiet who lives in a noisy world. Everywhere she goes, it seems, it’s impossible to escape from sounds that disturb her peace. At home the hallway creaks where “the floorboards groan,” the living room is like an arcade where the “TV bellows and blares,” and the kitchen is filled with Otto’s barks for his dinner. Even in Charlotte’s bedroom, “which is supposed to be a quiet place, the old steam radiator hisses, whistles, and whines. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

When Charlotte goes to school, things are no better. In the classroom kids are boisterous and bells ring; the lunchroom echoes with clattering trays and scuffing chairs; and the playground blares with big voices and stomping feet but also with the little squeaks and rattle of the swings. “Even in the library, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the children giggle, yammer, and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

The outside world resounds with the din of jackhammers, horns, sirens, shouts, cars, music, and the “screeches, rumbles, and roars” of the subway. “Even in the park, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the leaf blower buzzes, blusters, and hums.” Charlotte puts her hands to her ears. “‘Nooo!’” she cries, “‘I have to find a quiet place!’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

On Saturday Charlotte takes her dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, Otto spies a squirrel and takes off running, wrenching his leash out of Charlotte’s hand. She chases after him down a hill, over a bridge, into the middle of a grove of trees. Out of breath, Charlotte and Otto sit beneath a tree. Gasping, Charlotte’s “belly rises up and down, up and down. Her breath goes in and out, in and out. Hooooo ahhhhh. Hooo ahhh.”

Slowly, Charlotte’s breath comes easier and “her mind slows down.” In this state, she discovers another, even quieter place. It is a place deep inside where her breath is soft and her “thoughts are hushed and low.” It is “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

In a little while, Charlotte and Otto leave the grove, but now whenever home or school or the neighborhood is too loud, Charlotte remembers where she can find a quiet place. She simply closes her eyes and pays attention to that place deep in her belly and deep in her mind—“that quiet place inside.”

For so many children the world is a blaring, clattering place where their thoughts are drowned out by the noises around them. Deborah Sosin’s award-winning Charlotte and the Quiet Place validates these feelings and offers children a way to discover inner peace wherever they are. As a tonic to today’s hyper-stimulated environment, kids and adults alike will benefit from the method of mindful reflection Sosin presents. Sosin’s combination of evocative verbs and repetition makes the story fresh and an excellent read-aloud while also mirroring the sounds that are a part of our everyday life.

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

Sara Woolley’s beautiful watercolor illustrations vividly depict not only Charlotte’s world but the sounds that disturb her peace. Amid the fully realized home, school, and neighborhood environments, complete with realistic details kids will recognize, sharp cracks of equipment, blaring bells and whistles, high-pitched voices, and other noises spark the page. Portrayals of Charlotte, her hands over her ears and her eyes sad, express her distress in a way kids will understand. When Charlotte finds the grove of trees in which she first experiences inner peace, Woolley’s color palette turns softer, with peaceful tones of green, blue, and yellow where, previously, “louder” purples, reds, and golds predominated.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a very welcomed book for those times when peace seems elusive and will give comfort to children who prefer quiet places and have more introverted natures. The book would make a wonderful addition to all children’s book shelves as well as to school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Parallax Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1941529027

Visit Charlotte and the Quiet Place on her own webstite! You’ll find resources, images and videos, news about events, and more!

Discover more about Deborah Sosin, her writing for children and adults, writing workshops, mindfulness services, and more on her website!

View a gallery of artwork for books, comics,  and other illustration work by Sara Woolley on her website!

International Quality of Life Activity

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Share a Smile Cards

 

Life is better when you share smiles with those you know—and those you don’t! Try it! When you’re out today at school or other places, look someone in the eye and smile. You’ll probably get a smile back—and you can be sure that you will have made the other person’s and your day better!

Here are some Smile Cards that you can share. Why not slip one into your dad’s pocket or your mom’s purse, put one in your friend’s backpack, or sneak one onto your teacher’s desk? You can even leave one somewhere for a stranger to find! Have fun sharing your smiles, and see how much better you and the others around you feel!

Click here to print your Share a Smile Cards.

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Photo by Kevin Day Photography

Q&A with Author Deborah Sosin

 

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with Debbie Sosin, a writer, editor, and clinical social worker who specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy, about her first picture book, her choral singing, and how kids respond to her presentations.

In your career you write for adults and children, work within the publishing industry, provide publicity services, and teach. How did you get started? Did you always want to write?

I kept a diary starting at around age ten and always loved writing for school or for fun. I started getting more serious about writing for publication in the past ten years, studied at GrubStreet, attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and eventually went back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. I wish I had started earlier, but it’s been rewarding to finally follow my true passion.

What influenced you to write Charlotte and the Quiet Place?

I wrote the book as an independent project as part of my MFA studies at Lesley University. They say “write what you know,” so I thought about my childhood growing up in kind of a noisy house, where my brother played the piano, my father had a radio and TV on simultaneously, and my mother was on the phone a lot. And then I thought about my longtime meditation practice and how tuning in to my breathing has helped me find a quiet place inside. So I wanted to write a story about children finding their own quiet place inside themselves.

You give school presentations on mindfulness and your picture book Charlotte and the Quiet Place for various ages. Is there an experience from any of these that you would like to share?

School visits are my favorite part of being an author! No matter what age the students are, they love to help me tell the story by repeating the “noisy” sounds and the “hoo ahh” breathing sounds. We usually do a few calming/breathing exercises together and, without fail, even the squirmiest group will settle into a beautiful, shared, often profound silence. Once, when asked where Charlotte finds her quiet place, one kindergarten girl said, “In her belly and in her brain, where it’s calm.” Many kids get that idea. What could be better? I also love showing them my early scribbles and illustrator Sara Woolley’s wonderful sketches and storyboards, and sharing the step-by-step process of publishing the book, from concept to completion

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Deborah Sosin reads Charlotte and the Quiet Place to students at Newton Montessori School. Photo courtesy of Newton Montessori School.

Can you talk a little about mindfulness and how it can benefit children?

Mindfulness has become a catchword these days, but my favorite definition is from Dr. Amy Saltzman: “Noticing what’s happening right here and now, with a friendly, curious attitude, then choosing what to do next.” Many top-notch scientific studies show that mindfulness can help kids with concentration, attention, self-soothing, anxiety, depression, sleep, mood, compassion, confidence…I could go on. Compared with adults, most kids are naturally mindful, that is “in the moment,” but kids do get stressed out and worried about the past or the future, so mindfulness helps. I sometimes worry that parents and teachers might use it for disciplinary reasons (“Enough! Go be mindful in the corner!”), which is not the point. It’s a whole-life practice, not a technique or intervention. And, as the book shows, mindfulness can lead us to a quiet place inside that we can access whenever we want.

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Students at the Cottage Montessori School in Arlington, Massachusetts play the Silence Game with director Karen Wagner, watching the sand in the hourglass. Photo courtesy of Stacey Moriarty.

Can you tell me a little about your work with Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston?

I started taking classes at GrubStreet in 2008; my first class was “Six Weeks, Six Essays,” and from that class, I helped form a longtime regular writing group. I started blogging soon after and then submitted personal essays for publication, with some good luck. GrubStreet is a fantastic, inclusive community, with excellent faculty and a huge range of motivated, smart, and enthusiastic students, from beginners to veterans. After a few years, I applied to teach classes there and am proud to be on their instructor and consultant rosters now.

You are an accomplished choral singer, having performed at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and on an international tour. When did you begin choral singing? Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share from any of your experiences?

I’ve been singing my whole life and have been in choruses since elementary school. Singing with other people is extremely gratifying and, after all the “verbal”-type things I do, including my work as a psychotherapist, it’s a lovely change of pace. I spent about 15 years in the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which specializes in Jewish choral music. Our tours to Eastern Europe, Italy, and Israel were extraordinary. In 1999, when we sang at Auschwitz and Terezin, the sites of former concentration camps, it was hard to keep our emotions in check, but it felt important to revive the voices of the Jewish people that the Nazis had attempted to quell. A PBS documentary film, “Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland,” chronicled our tour that summer. I think it’s still available through the Zamir Chorale website.

What’s the best part about writing for children?

After having focused almost exclusively on nonfiction for most of my writing career, it’s been wonderful to work in the very precise and rich world of picture-book writing with so many lovely, funny, imaginative, and supportive fellow writers I’ve met through SCBWI and the amazing Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass.

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Debbie’s niece Mollie and a friend draw a noisy thing at The Oblong Bookstore event. Photo courtesy of AM Media Group

What’s up next for you?

I have a couple of Picture Book manuscripts in progress and I’m participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) this month, so I hope to generate more ideas and get some new work out there soon.

Since this is a holiday-themed blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one question about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite, as it means getting together with my family, which is now spread far and wide, and having an opportunity to express our gratitude.

Thanks, Debbie, for stopping by and chatting! I wish you all the best with Charlotte and the Quiet Place and all of your future endeavors!

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You can find Charlotte and the Quiet Place at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Parallax Press |Porter Square Books (signed copies available)

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Her Website | charlotteandthequietplace.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review