December 2 – Hanukkah Begins

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the celebration. On the first night, the first of the eight candles is lit using the shamash, or attendant, candle. Each subsequent night another candle is lit until at the end of the eight days all the candles are lit. The menorah is displayed in the window of homes and synagogues. Special blessings, traditional songs, prayers, oil-based foods, fun games, and gifts are part of this much-anticipated holiday. 

Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Andy Rowland

 

While enjoying a breakfast of Gorilla Flakes and bananas, Esther viewed her calendar. Time had crept up on her, and she realized with a shock that Hanukkah was only one day away and she hadn’t bought her friends any presents. She hurried out to the Jungle Store and hit the clothing department. There she found a pair of striped and a pair of argyle socks for her friend Sarah. “Then she spotted a bright red turtleneck. ‘I’ll surprise my friend Zack with this,’ she decided.”

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

In the sports department Esther spied a jogging suit. It was even on sale—“marked down from $13.00 to only $12.99.” Esther quickly put it in her cart for her friend Josephine. She also discovered a make-your-own jungle gym that would be perfect for Hal, and it wouldn’t even take that long to build. “Just 10 minutes…or 10 days at the most!” the directions on the box said. “In the book department, Esther picked up a paperback called 100 Jokes About Elephants.” The jokes were so funny that she bought it for her pal Oscar. Back home, Esther wrapped her gifts.

The next night “Esther placed two candles in her menorah. She lit the shamash candle and said the special blessing. Then she lit the candle for the first night of Hanukkah and said the other two blessings. She remembered the story of the Maccabees and the little jug of oil that lasted eight days.” Soon it was time for her to deliver her presents.

She was happy to stop first at Sarah’s house. Esther was sure she would love the socks she had gotten her. But when the little monkey opened her gift she burst out laughing and said, “‘These socks are big enough for an elephant!’” but added that the gifts were not the most important part of Hanukkah. Sarah’s gift for Esther was Gorilla-Vanilla perfume, which was the perfect thing to make Esther smell nice.

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

Next, Esther headed over to Zack’s house. When the zebra unwrapped the red sweater Esther had chosen for him, he frowned. “‘I never, ever wear red clothing,’” he said, citing “‘that terrible riddle.’” When Zack related the riddle, ending with “an embarrassed zebra,” Esther laughed and agreed that red was probably not the best clothing choice. Zebra’s gift to Esther was membership in the Coconut of the Month Club—a perfect, yummy gift. Esther was beginning to feel bad about the gifts she was giving

At Josephine’s house Esther learned that the jogging suit she had picked for her turtle friend missed the mark, while the princess costume Josephine gave her fulfilled her dream of dressing up like a human. A little later when Oscar the Elephant opened the joke book, he gently told Esther that he thought “the book was in very poor taste” and that “there should be a law against elephant jokes.” Poor “Esther wasn’t laughing anymore. In fact she felt more like crying. ‘I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,’ she said.” She felt even worse when she opened Oscar’s thoughtful cookbook 1001 Ways to Serve Bananas.

With one gift left to deliver, Esther was sure there would be something wrong with it too, and when she reached Hal’s house she discovered what that was. “‘Hyenas can’t climb jungle gyms like monkeys can,’” he told her as he handed her two tickets to The Gorilla Theater. As Esther trudged away, she felt miserable, but at home with a cup of tea she had an idea. She sat down and wrote out invitations for all of her friends to join her on the Eighth Night of Hanukkah. “‘Make sure to bring the gift I gave you!’” she added.

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

When her friends arrived, they lit the shamash candle, said the blessings, and sat down to a delicious dinner. Afterward, Esther admitted, “‘I know that my gifts to you were a total disaster, but now you can trade!’” She looked at Sarah. “‘The two pairs of socks I bought you would fit an elephant,’ she said. Sarah smiled and handed the socks to Oscar. Hal’s jungle gym turned out to be just right for Sarah. Zack Zebra was thrilled to get Josephine’s jogging suit, and Hal laughed like the hyena he was at 100 Jokes About Elephants. And that red turtleneck was the exact thing for their turtle friend, Josephine.

After her friends left, Esther thought that her gifts had not been so bad. After all, they brought everyone together for a perfect Hanukkah celebration.

Jane Sutton brings humor and meaning to her Hanukkah story that reveals the true nature of the holiday and friendship. With clever gift choices and a sweet plot twist, Sutton’s Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster will have kids giggling and empathizing as Esther’s plans go awry. Her easy-going delivery invites kids along on Esther’s shopping trip and sets up the jokes and final swap in a natural and engaging way. Sutton’s inclusion of Esther’s and her friend’s honest reactions to the gifts encourages discussion of how to choose gifts, how to make up for mistakes, how to graciously accept gifts, and more topics surrounding gift-giving.

Andy Rowland’s purple gorilla Esther is sweetly expressive even as she is a bit oblivious to the needs of her friends and clearly disgruntled when her gifts don’t work out. Kids will love the brightly colored illustrations loaded with details appropriate to Esther’s world, especially the bowls, drawers, and hangers of bananas, banana cookbooks, banana-decorated table cloth and even a banana-shaped teapot in her kitchen. The Jungle Store is a riff on big-box stores with multiple departments where shoppers finding everything from fish for a pelican to a book of Antelope Recipes for a lion to Ele-Wellie boots for an elephant.

Esther’s nighttime neighborhood is likewise beautifully drawn with lush foliage; hanging lanterns; wood, bamboo, and stone homes; and even a waterfall. The window of each friend’s home frames a menorah.

With its humorous take on a common mishap and loveable characters, Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster is a book kids will enjoy no matter what the gift-giving occasion is!

Ages 4 – 7

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761390435

Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books as well as book-related activities on her website!

Become wrapped up in this swinging Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster book trailer!

Hanukkah Activity

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Festival of Lights Word Search

 

Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 26 – It’s Sweet Potato Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

Sweet potatoes are yummy and satisfying—and they’re healthy! Full of vitamins A and C, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties, sweet potatoes make delicious side dishes for almost any meal. Sweet potato fries, muffins, pies, and—of course—casserole are just a few of the ways you can enjoy this natural treat. To celebrate today’s holiday, cook up your favorite recipe and discover some new ones!

Little Chef

Written by Matt Stine & Elisabeth Weinberg | Illustrated by Paige Keiser

 

Lizzie is a little girl who has always loved to cook. In fact, her mom and dad call her “their Little Chef.” She has her own chef’s uniform, complete with hat, and doesn’t mind the long hours a chef has to keep. Today, Lizzie is extra excited because “Grandmas is coming over for dinner!” Lizzie has learned all of her cooking skills from her Grandma, and tonight she is going to prepare a special dinner just for her.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Lizzie knows she’ll need extra energy today, so she’s starting off by making her “famous scrambled eggs.” She whips eggs in a bowl with a fork and adds salt and pepper. After breakfast, Lizzie and her mom get ready to go to the farmers’ market to buy the ingredients for “Grandma’s Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes.” Lizzie wants Grandma to see that she “can cook just like her.” At the farmers’ market, Lizzie picks out the freshest sweet potatoes she can find. Back home, Mom and Dad peel and chop the potatoes and help Lizzie put them into the big pot of boiling water. When the potatoes are soft, it’s time for “the best part about making Smashed Sweet Potatoes. Smashing them!”

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Then “it’s time to add the secret ingredient! Grandma says every great recipe has one. It makes a chef’s food taste extra special and delicious.” But when Lizzie consults the recipe, no secret ingredient is listed. Lizzie decides she will just have to add one of her own. She looks in the spice cabinet and after going through bottle after bottle, she finds the perfect one. Lizzie gives her finished Smashed Sweet Potatoes a taste and waits for Grandma. Finally, Grandma arrives and everyone sits down to dinner. When Daddy tastes the sweet potatoes, he says, “‘Mmm!’” Mommy says, “‘ Mmmm!’” too.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

But what will Grandma say? Grandma takes a bite and exclaims, “‘These are even BETTER than my own Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes.’” Then Grandma wants to know what Lizzie’s secret ingredient is. But of course Lizzie can’t tell her that! Grandma picks up Lizzie and gives her a big hug. “‘…being with you is the best ingredient of all,’” she says. And as Lizzie lies in bed later that night, reading her cookbook by flashlight, she wonders what she’ll cook tomorrow.

A recipe for Chef Lizzie’s (Grandma’s) Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes that encourages young chefs to experiment with their own secret ingredient follows the story.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Kids who love to cook or help out in the kitchen will be delighted by Matt Stine and Elisabeth Weinberg’s story of a little girl who wants to impress the grandmother who inspires her. Lizzie’s enthusiasm for cooking and her confidence in her skills make this an uplifting tale for children of all talents. Lizzie’s special bond with her grandmother adds a tender family element to the story and her big-hearted nature makes her a sweet companion for little readers. The recipe included in the back of the book invites children to make Lizzie’s Smashed Sweet Potato recipe and find their own secret ingredient—an invitation few will be able to resist.

Adorable little Lizzie, with her wild frizz of hair is energetic, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and a free spirit. With dashes of humor, Paige Keiser follows her through a day of creating the perfect dinner for Grandma. Dressed in her chef’s uniform, Lizzie splashes her dog with egg, sends him sneezing in a cloud of pepper, and turns him orange as she whacks away at the soft chunks of sweet potatoes. Images of Mom and Dad happily encouraging and supporting Lizzie in her cooking are heartwarming, and Grandma’s big hug is as sweet as it gets.

A charming and inspiring story, Little Chef is a fun read for culinary kids and any child experimenting with their talent and striving to do their best. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public libraries and a great gift for grandmothers and grandkids to share.

Ages 2 – 6

Feiwel & Friends, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250091697

Discover more about Elisabeth Weinberg, executive chef and owner of Miss Elisabeth’s Catering in New York and a Food Network “Chopped” Champion on her website.

Find out more about Matt Stine and his work as a music producer and composer for Broadway and Off-Broadway on his website.

To view a portfolio of artwork by Paige Keiser, visit her website.

Sweet Potato Awareness Month Activity

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We Love to Cook! Coloring Pages

 

Add your secret ingredient and get cooking on these printable coloring pages!

Baking with Grandma | Cooking with Dad

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You can find Little Chef at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 22 – Thanksgiving Day

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About the Holiday

While holidays exist all around the world to give thanks for our many blessings, today’s celebration commemorates the traditional American Thanksgiving Day. Its roots go back to 1621 when 50 Pilgrims gathered with 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe to celebrate the settlers’ surviving the first year in their adopted country. The fourth Thursday in November was not officially recognized as a national holiday until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln, convinced by the letters and appeals by Sarah Josepha Hale (writer of the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), signed the proclamation.

During the Great Depression, president Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday in the month, hoping to jump-start the gift-buying season and thus help the struggling economy. That idea never caught on, though, and the Thanksgiving was moved back to its original calendar spot. To lean more fascinating facts about Thanksgiving, visit allParenting.

Thankful

Written by Eileen Spinelli | Illustrated by Archie Preston

 

When Thanksgiving Day dawns we contemplate the things we are thankful for. Our thoughts often go to the large, all-encompassing ideas: we’re thankful for our families, our friends, our jobs. But Eileen Spinelli points out those smaller, concrete, more personal things that make us happy or make life better in immeasurable ways. To begin, “The waitress is thankful for comfortable shoes. The reporter is thankful for interesting news.”

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Image copyright Archie Preston, 2015, text copyright Eileen Spinelli, 2015. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Gardeners are happy when their crops begin to grow, and firemen are glad when the fire goes out. “The poet is thankful for words that rhyme. The children for morning story time.” Without color and light, the artist could not paint, doctors give thanks “when their patients get well,” and travelers are thankful when they find a nice place to stay. Dancers give thanks for music that inspires them, and tailors for their sewing machines.

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Image copyright Archie Preston, 2015, text copyright Eileen Spinelli, 2015. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Chefs are happy when diners clean their plates, the honey maker for the busy bees, and the sailor for his “sturdy boat.” “The birder is thankful to list a new bird. The pastor is thankful for God’s loving word.” Crafters? Well, they’re “thankful for glitter and glue.” And the reader, the listener? They’re “ever so thankful for you!”

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Image copyright Archie Preston, 2015, text copyright Eileen Spinelli, 2015. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Eileen Spinelli’s endearing story of thanks for all of the objects, ideas, actions, and feelings that make every person unique and each situation just a little bit better is a heartfelt reminder of life’s joys for Thanksgiving Day and every day of the year. Her easy-flowing, rhyming verses depict a wide range of particular moments and broader experiences—each of which make the world a richer place. The final pages reveal what every little reader wants to hear and share—the mutual love between parent and child.

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Image copyright Archie Preston, 2015, text copyright Eileen Spinelli, 2015. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Archie Preston accompanies each couplet with a humorous illustration starring two adorable siblings playing out each scenario. Preston’s colorful, detailed line drawings show all the industrious, playful, and thoughtful togetherness that makes children and adult readers thankful for every day.

Ages 4 – 8

Zonderkidz, 2015 |ISBN 978-0310000884 (Hardcover); 978-0310761402 (Board Book, 2017)

Discover more about Eileen Spinelli and her many books on her website.

Thanksgiving Day Activity

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Thanksgiving Tree Activity Page

 

There are so many things to be thankful for! Fill in the leaves on this printable Thanksgiving Tree Activity Page with the things you’re thankful for then color the page!

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You can find Thankful at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 18 – It’s Family Literacy Month

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About the Holiday

National Family Literacy Month was designed to encourage parents and other adults to read together with the children in their life. Studies show that children who are read to are better prepared to read on their own and do better in school. Cuddling together before bedtime or during special story times with favorite books instills a love of reading that can last a lifetime. To celebrate, plan some special reading-related activities: take a trip to a local bookstore and let your child pick a book; if your child is old enough, visit the library to sign up for a library card; and schedule extra reading time, especially with grandparents or other family members who may be visiting for the holidays. 

This Little Turkey

Written by Aly Fronis | Illustrated by Migy Blanco

 

Perhaps you know about “this little piggy” and his cohorts and the way they spend a day, but have you heard of “this little turkey” and his friends and their shenanigans on Thanksgiving Day? Well, let me tell you! “This little turkey went to market”… Wait? Isn’t that what the first little piggie did? Do you think they might have met there? What do you think they bought? Oh, right, I’m getting off track. What about the second little turkey?

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Image copyright Migy Blanco, 2016, text copyright Aly Fronis, 2016. Courtesy of little bee books

“This little turkey swept the floor.” And did it need it! Wow! So much dust! And the sneezing! Maybe it’s best to see what the third little turkey’s up to. Awww!—“This little turkey drew some pictures” while a little snacking turkey “wanted more.” Elsewhere, a creative turkey is preparing for cold weather, and a sneaky turkey is up to a little mischief!

At home the dinner table is being set in a most entertaining way, but will there be enough plates left for all the little turkeys? You’ll have to read on to see…. Finally, a little turkey calls, “‘Let’s eat!’” and all the turkeys come running to say, “we…we…we…wish you a happy Thanksgiving!’”

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Image copyright Migy Blanco, 2016, text copyright Aly Fronis, 2016. Courtesy of little bee books

Little ones love the excitement of a holiday! Special planning and traditions mingle with delicious, sometimes once-a-year aromas, and relatives and friends gather to have fun and swap stories. Aly Fronis’s sweet take on the familiar “This Little Piggie” rhyme invites the youngest children to take part in the preparations and enjoyment of Thanksgiving with phrases that are joyful to read and easy to memorize for read alongs. Young readers will giggle at the foibles and tricks of these little turkeys and recognize common activities they partake in themselves during the holiday weekend.

Migy Blanco’s vibrant pages, populated with an array of cute turkeys and their squirrel and bird friends, are whimsically eye-catching, perfect for the book’s young audience. Depicting the traditions of the holiday—from cleaning and cooking by older family members to drawing and table setting by younger members—each scene is both cozy and playful. Kids will love the small details, such as family portraits hinting at the family’s history, and the tiny plates for the bird and squirrel on the festive dinner table.

Young children will love repeating the holiday-themed verse in This Little Turkey. Drawing turkey faces on children’s fingertips could also turn this book into a fun game that kids will gobble up!

Ages 2 – 5

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499803020

Discover more books and illustration for children as well as for adults by Migy Blanco on her website!

National Family Literacy Month Activity

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Gobble! Gobble! Turkey Craft

 

Every Thanksgiving needs a little turkey—to invite to your party, of course! With this easy craft, little ones can make a decoration or even centerpiece for the family dinner.

Supplies

  • Full-size paper plate
  • Toilet paper or paper towel tube
  • Paint in yellow, orange, red, and brown (or whatever colors your child likes)
  • Small buttons or googly eyes
  • Construction paper for the beak in yellow, red, or orange
  • Sponge

Directions

  1. Place the tube on the plate so that the top of the tube meets the ring around the edge and mark the bottom for cutting
  2. Cut the bottom of the plate off at the mark to make the turkey’s feathers
  3. Cut cubes to paint with from the sponge. Tip: If the sponge is hard, soften with a little water before painting
  4. Kids paint the feathers by dipping each sponge cubes into a different color of paint and dotting the paint onto the plate. Tip: After dipping the sponge into the paint, dab lightly on newspaper or paper towel to remove a bit of the paint. This helps create the mottled look of the feathers. 
  5. Let Dry
  6. Make the beak by cutting a small triangle from the construction paper
  7. If using small buttons for the eyes, the child can color the center black with a marker if desired
  8. Glue the tube to the center of the plate
  9. Glue the eyes and beak onto the tube
  10. Display!

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You can find This Little Turkey at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

November 14 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

The fall and winter holidays usher in months of growing excitement as the weather changes, lights go up, and families prepare to share special times together. Reading holiday books with kids makes the time even better as you count down to each wonderful day. Even though the days get busy, take time to find and read funny and poignant books this month!

Bloomsbury Children’s Books sent me a copy of A Christmas Advent Story to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with them on a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Christmas Advent Story

Written by Ivy Snow | Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

 

The weather has turned frosty and the decorations are going up. “It’s nearly Christmastime, and the countdown has begun” in this delightful, eye-catching Advent calendar in a book. A boy and a girl pull on their winter coats and boots to get ready for an outdoor adventure. At the door behind flap number 1 waits their dog, dressed in a jaunty scarf and wearing festive reindeer antlers.

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Image copyright Hannah Tolson, 2017, text copyright Ivy Snow, 2017. Courtesy of hannatolson.com. (Page shown without flaps.)

A sled ride down a snowy hill takes the kids past a frozen pond where skaters twirl and a deer hides behind flap number 5. The downtown shops look warm and inviting with colorful displays and glowing lights inside. The kids point out the toys they like—a ship, a dollhouse, a castle. But what could be wrapped in the box with the purple bow? Lift the flap to see!

Soon it’s time to choose the perfect Christmas tree at the cut-your-own lot. “Christmas trees are all around. Big ones and bushy ones, tall ones and thin ones, decorated with colorful twinkling lights.” Which one will they pick? Carolers ring the town square as snow drifts down and “the stars are sparkling in the sky.” The lucky dog now gets a ride on the sled through the snow-filled streets. Does he see the cat? Do you?

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Image copyright Hannah Tolson, 2017, text copyright Ivy Snow, 2017. Courtesy of hannatolson.com. (Page shown without flaps.)

In the house on the hill, putting up and decorating the tree is such fun! The cat naps on the rug near the fire and the dog wraps himself in gold garland. The boy and girl are hanging the last of the ornaments. But what will go on the tree top? Find out under flap 13! Now it’s time to wrap some presents. Can you help the little girl with her special present before baking cookies? Now let’s head to the kitchen to “make different kinds of cookie shapes. How many can you see? / Ice them and eat them, / wrap them and give them, or hang them on the tree.”

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Image copyright Hannah Tolson, 2017, text copyright Ivy Snow, 2017. Courtesy of hannatolson.com. (Page shown without flaps.)

At last it’s Christmas Eve and time to go to sleep. The girl reads one more page in her book before turning out the light, while the boy snuggles under his blanket cozy and warm—not seeing that special traveler passing by his window far away. The boy and girl wake to a bright sun and a fire in the fireplace. “Hooray! It’s Christmas day! What has Santa brought you? What wilL you find under the tree?” Even the dog has gotten a new toy. Help him unwrap it under flap 22! After the presents have all been opened, join the kids outside making snowmen and snow angels, sledding and playing, and enjoying the day. “Merry Christmas!”

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Image copyright Hannah Tolson, 2017, text copyright Ivy Snow, 2017. Courtesy of hannatolson.com. (Page shown without flaps.)

Ivy Snow invites children to enjoy a month of anticipation and preparations for Christmas day with her engaging story that hits all the highlights and wonder of the season. Along the way, prompts intrigue children to lift the twenty-five flaps, have fun counting the trees in at the Christmas tree farm, find beautiful ornaments on the tree, point out all the different cookies, and open presents under the tree.

Hannah Tolson’s smart, brightly colored illustrations brim with all the joy and warmth of Christmas and the Advent season. Young readers will eagerly follow the two children as they happily go about their holiday preparations with their dog in tow and look forward to opening each of the twenty-five flaps to reveal surprises that will make them smile. The children’s home, shop windows, the tree farm, and the winter wonderland outside are loaded with little details that will keep kids lingering over each page during multiple readings, They also offer opportunities to talk about traditions new and old. Images of the downtown, busy with shoppers and carolers, evoke the community bonding that the holidays bring, and the cozy illustrations of home will inspire kids to join in all the fun.

With a sparkly cover and sturdy pages, this lovely advent calendar in a book would make a much-loved gift as the Advent season starts on December 2 and a bright star in home libraries.

Ages 1 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681198514

To learn more about Hannah Tolson, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Christmas Advent Story Giveaway

I’m happy to be partnering with Bloomsbury Children’s Books to offer a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of A Christmas Advent Story by Ivy Snow | illustrated by Hannah Tolson

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets during this week, November 14 – 19. 

A winner will be chosen on November 20.

Giveaways open to US addresses only | Prizing provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Picture Book Month Activity

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Cupcake Wrapper Tree

 

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

Supplies

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

Directions

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

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You can find A Christmas Advent Story at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

October 30 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

It’s been a terrific month of celebrating the joys of reading at home, in the classroom, and at the library! Every book read to and with a child enriches their life and helps to foster a life-long love of learning. Whether your child likes books that are fiction or nonfiction, stories or poetry, funny or poignant, there are a vast array of new and old books to teach them about the world and get them excited about being part of it. There really is a book for every child—as you’ll see in today’s review!

I received a copy of Everybody’s Favorite Book from Imprint to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Macmillan Publishing in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Everybody’s Favorite Book

Written by Mike Allegra | Illustrated by Claire Almon

 

You are quite lucky, the narrator greets you, to be holding the world’s most favorite book. What makes it everybody’s favorite? Well, “lots of great books have cool heroes.” But these are heroes with just one talent—“like spacemen! Or ninjas! Or cowgirls!” In this book, though, the hero multitasks! What is he? “A space ninja cow!” and “his name is Bob.”

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Of course, a hero needs a villain to vanquish, and Bob is lucky because instead of a one-dimensional bad guy, he gets to pit himself against a fierce mash up of a robot, a dragon, and a pirate. What’s this horrible marauder’s name?. Are you ready? It’s Corky! So Bob and Corky fight. It’s thrilling…it’s dangerous…it’s stopped? Ah, the narrator sees now— “everybody doesn’t like violent books” and since this is Everybody’s Favorite Book, the story needs to be a bit more… Well, let’s see if Princess Glittersprinkles can help!

Yes! A tea party would be splendid. Bob and Corky and the princess sit down to a lovely spread with the adorable but really, really, really, really BIG guinea pig, Snuggy. But, wait! We’re forgetting about babies. Baby’s love books too, right? Now might be a good time to offer a bit of ABC fun. “A is for Apple. B is for Bob.” By the way…where is Bob? Is that a suspicious bulge in Snuggy’s cheeks? 

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Finding Bob’s going to require spies, especially cool ones. Now, while they’re out spying, let’s give it up for those teachers and librarians who love big, educational words like “Gallimaufry, Codswallop, and Frippery.” Sure, the narrator knows the definitions, but the book will be more fun and educational if you read them for yourself. Oh, dear! Are those words too educational? Then maybe a poop jok…wait a minute! Do you see a suspicious bump in Snuggy’s belly? No, me either.

If this really is Everybody’s Favorite Book, it seems that “we are still missing so many things that everybody likes. Things like wizards! And a fairy tale!” And so many other characters and things to do…. Hey! Why is everyone fighting? There’s plenty of room for everybody, but right now “this is nobody’s favorite book.” What’s needed is a hero. “Oh wait! There’s Bob,” launching from Snuggy’s HUGE burp just in time! “Maybe he has an idea.” Bob suggests a “sweet ending.” This is more like it! All the hugs and smiles and cooperation is so sweet. Sweet, Snuggy. Not sweets! Oh dear….

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Mike Allegra will have kids laughing out loud with every page turn in his riotously clever genre mash-up. Allegra’s well-meaning narrator offers up droll juxtapositions of characters and situations while riffing on favorite books and movies, fads and fantasies with some crafts, coloring, and craziness to boot. The fast pace, abrupt interruptions, and zigzagging storyline keep kids guessing and eager to find out what comes next. As the action devolves into a free-for-all, the promise of a book for everybody is fulfilled with inclusive hugs and teamwork.

Claire Almon’s cartoon-inspired illustrations are bold, dynamic, and full of action with plenty of humor thrown in. Ingenious details, comically used tropes, and familiar styles of graphics from kids favorite TV shows and movies give young readers a feeling of shared experiences and culture that underline the theme of friendship. Readers will love following Bob’s journey to escape from Snuggy’s belly, and cutaways and character involvement from page to page keeps everybody reacting to the narrator’s directions until the big finale.

For book lovers of all stripes, Everybody’s Favorite Book will be a much-asked for addition to home, classroom, and library bookshelves. The book makes a terrific gift for all those readers on your list.

Ages 3 – 7 

Imprint, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250132765

Discover more about Mike Allegra, his books, and other projects on his website.

To learn more about Claire Almon, her books, and her art, visit her tumblr.

Meet Mike Allegra

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I’m excited to be chatting with Mike Allegra today about his inspiration for his most original book, what kind of mash-up character he’d be, and his role in a family holiday tradition.

What was the inspiration or spark for Everybody’s Favorite Book?

The idea came to me while wandering around the children’s book section of Barnes & Noble. In the picture book area, I stumbled upon a huuuuge display dedicated to ninjas. Everything you could imagine was ninja-related: ninja pigs, ninja school, ninja camp, ninja grandma, ninja notary public… It was crazy. So I thought, “Hmm…I wonder if I can write a book about a ninja? Then I saw another display dedicated to astronauts and a third display dedicated to cowboys—and thought, “Hmm…I wonder if I can put ninjas and spacemen and cowboys into a single book?” That thought soon evolved into, “I wonder if I can cram a spaceman and ninja and cowboy into a single character?”

And Bob the Space Ninja Cow was born.

Then the creative floodgates opened wide. I giddily zipped around the children’s section looking for characters and genres and themes I could shoehorn into a single picture book. It was a blast!

If you were a mashup hero like Bob or even a mashup villain like Corky, what would you be? What would your name be?

I would want to be a mastodon-sized guinea pig like Snuggy. And I’d want to fly. And solve mysteries.

And they would call me Wondersnug, The Flying Pigamajig.

You’ve done a bit of everything in the writing field—plays, journalism, essay-writing, communications, editing—what do you like about writing for children?

Writing for children is like giving yourself permission to let your creative spirit soar. The possibilities are almost endless. I can write about a Space Ninja Cow! Or a dragon who knits! Or a boy who turns into a Kafka-esque giant bug! My mind can move in the wildest, weirdest directions. It’s wonderful.

You wrote so much as a child that a teacher predicted you’d become a writer. Was your work always funny?

No, but I always tried to make it funny, which is not the same thing.

My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Snelback, was the first person outside of my own family to say that I could write “funny.” And Mrs. Snelback was not one of those teachers who spouted compliments. Quite the opposite, really. She was pretty miserly, compliment-wise.

So when she told my parents that I should pursue a career as a writer, it really meant something. Mrs. Snelback didn’t say anything unless she absolutely, positively, 100% believed it. That’s why Mrs. Snelback will always be my favorite teacher. She shoved me onto the writing path and it has been an amazing journey.  

How do you tap into the humor and rhythms that really make kids laugh?

I’d love to say something profound here—like: “I try to see the world through the wondrous eyes of a child”—but the truth is a lot simpler: I like writing silly things and kids like reading silly things. So it works out for both of us!

I love hearing about how holidays inspire picture books. Can you talk a little about your first published children’s picture book, Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday?

Ah, the great Sarah Josepha Hale. She is so awesome. She was a celebrated and prolific writer. She edited the most widely read magazine in America. She founded charities, led patriotic fundraising drives, championed college educations for women, and used her magazine to influence public opinion on a wide spectrum of topics—the most famous of which was a nationalized Thanksgiving, which at that time was rarely celebrated outside of New England.

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And she did all these things in the early- to mid-1800s, when women were widely seen as second-class citizens. And she also did all of these things while raising five children by herself! 

See what I mean? Awesome!

Once I learned about Sarah, I just had to write about her. 

This summer two books in your Prince Not-So-Charming series were released. Can you introduce readers to this prince with other dreams and the very capable princess he encounters?

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Prince Carlos Charles Charming is the young prince of the happy and peaceful land of Faraway Kingdom and the sole heir to the kingdom’s throne. But Carlos would much rather be a jester, so he’s forced to live a double life of sorts, performing dangerous princely duties to satisfy his mom and dad (the queen and king) while also searching out venues to perform his juggling routine and road-test his impressive collection of fart jokes.

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Princess Pinky, from the neighboring kingdom of Ever After Land, is in a similar situation; she would happily give up her crown to be an artist.

So Carlos and Pinky become fast friends who pursue their passions while going on princely and princessly adventures. (Oh, and Carlos has a pet dragon named Smudge who likes to knit. So there’s that, too.)

Any sneak peek into the prince’s future?

Carlos is going to be very busy. In future books he’ll joust, get turned into a frog, lead a search-and-rescue expedition, and attempt to stop a war.

What’s up next for you?

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Well, I have another picture book coming out in March titled Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist, which I’m excited about. I just recorded the audiobook for it—which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you think of my voice.

I’m also writing a middle grade murder mystery novel.

What’s your favorite holiday?

I love Christmas, but as I get older, I find myself gravitating toward holidays that contain a lot less hoopla. Thanksgiving is the holiday for me. I get to eat my favorite food on a crisp fall day. (Oh, how I love the fall with its pumpkin-spiced everything!) Also, I was born on November 25th, so I can celebrate my birthday on Thanksgiving, too! Thanksgiving is pretty much perfect.

In other words, Sarah Josepha Hale was a very wise woman.

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

Sure! When I was a kid, every Christmas the entire family would assemble at my grandparents’ house to open presents and eat dinner.

One year—I think I was about seven—I noticed that every time a present was opened, half the room would say, “Ooh,” the other half would say, “Ahh,” and my grandmother would say, “Isn’t that nice!”

No joke; this happened every single time for every single present.

The problem, as I saw it, was that it these responses were too disorganized; everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over everyone else. It was a big ol’ mess of noise. So I stood up and asked if I could conduct my family’s reactions like Leopold Stokowski. They happily agreed.

So whenever a present was opened, I would wave my arms to cue the “Ooh-ers,” the “Ahh-ers,” and Grandma’s “Isn’t that nice!” I never felt more powerful in my life. More importantly, almost everyone in the room was practically peeing their pants laughing. And, from that point forward, an Allegra Christmas tradition was born.

Everybody’s Favorite Book Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Macmillan Publishing in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra  | illustrated by Claire Almon

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, October 30 – November 5. Already a follower? Thanks! Just Retweet for a chance to win. Quote your Retweet with your favorite kind of book for an extra entry.

A winner will be chosen on November 6.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Macmillan Publishing.

National Book Day Activity

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Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

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You can find Everybody’s Favorite Book at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 24 – It’s Arts and Humanities Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1993 as a celebration of culture and the arts, National Arts and Humanities Month encourages people to begin a lifelong love of exploring and participating in the arts. Throughout the month, special events are held by arts organizations in communities around the country. A terrific way to instill an appreciation of the arts and humanities in children is to share books like today’s with even the youngest readers.

Squares & Other Shapes: with Josef Albers (First Concepts with Fine Artists)

Paintings by Josef Albers

 

Opening Squares & Other Shapes, readers encounter a vibrant magenta square nesting in an autumn maple leaf-hued square which floats in a square of clear, winter-sky blue. On the next page two orange squares beckon you to follow into the glowing, yellow center square. Could it be a doorway or window leading somewhere?

In another painting, a bold yellow rectangle and an equally bold blue rectangle host guests: “two little rectangles lying down for a nap.” But the calm is shattered on the next page as stacks of red and blue rectangles shake and tumble: “Watch Out! It’s raining rectangles!”

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Now circles want a turn, and they want to have fun! In a large black rectangle a white circle and a red circle play stoplight: “Circle, Circle, Stop!” while on the next page blue, black and spirally circles jump and frolic—“Bounce, Circles, Bounce!” Turn the page—can you count all of the little circles in the rectangle or all of the baby circles in the rectangle on the right-hand page? Some of the babies are leaping away—or are they just joining the group? What do you think?

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Next the black rectangle is back, but this time with two white squares inside. Wait a minute—how did those little yellow circles get into the bottom square? “Hey circles, get out of that square!” Of course triangles don’t want to be left out. Dusky triangles in many sizes connected tip to tip enjoy their light, white background, but on the next page they’re left in shadow—“Hey triangles, who turned out the lights?”

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Be careful turning the page to look at the two intersecting triangles: “Ouch, these triangles look sharp!” Maybe it’s better to move on to the big, vivid triangle on the right. Oooh, so many colors! Nine, in fact! Hmmm… “Is this one big triangle, or lots of little triangles?” These paintings are getting more complex! Now there are “blue squares in pink squares, pink squares in blue squares; rectangles in rectangles, circles in circles, and more triangles in triangles. But here’s a different painting: the rectangles are perfect rectangles, but the squares are a little off, and what kinds of shapes do those curved lines make?—“Funny shapes in funny shapes!” And the last painting? Back to squares. Red, purple, and blue squares. “Beautiful squares.”

Following the paintings, the last page provides a captivating biography about Josef Albers’ life and work aimed at the book’s young audience.

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Courtesy of phaidon.com

Imagine being able to own a stunning collection of famous paintings by a world-renowned artist and educator to teach your child about shapes, color, and art. With Squares & Other Shapes by Josef Albers you can! The second in the First Concepts with Fine Artists series, Squares & Other Shapes presents readers with more than 30 painting by Josef Albers, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Most well-known for his Homage to the Square paintings, Albers worked with color and shapes to challenge perceptions and promote creative thinking.

Shapes are one of the earliest concepts introduced to babies and young children. Even the youngest readers will be riveted by the beautifully reproduced paintings in this large board book that present squares, circles, rectangles, and trianges in clear but creative ways. The easily understood labels, repetition, and recognizable patterns offer key strategies that are known to build strong reading and comprehension skills. Kids will love the humorous text that brings the paintings to life, helping them to also see that art is not static, but active and open to interpretation by each viewer.

Squares & Other Shapes with Josef Albers is a wonderfully conceived concept book that can grow with children as it offers readers enjoyment and education on so many levels. The book would be an often-sought-out addition to home and library bookshelves and also makes a perfect present for baby showers and other gift-giving holidays.

Ages birth – 5 (and up)

Phaidon Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0714872568

National Arts and Humanities Month Activity

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Shapes Art

 

To make art like Josef Albers, kids can use these printable shapes to create their own pictures!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the shape templates on white or colored paper
  2. Have kids color the shapes 
  3. Cut out the shapes and let kids put them together in various patterns. This is a fun activity for adults to share with younger children too!

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You can find Squares & Other Shapes with Josef Albers at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review