September 23 – It’s National Dog Week

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About the Holiday

National Dog Week was instituted by Captain William Lewis Judy, founder of Dog World magazine, In 1928. Captain Judy wanted to celebrate the joy and companionship we get from our pups while also reminding people of what it takes to be a responsible dog owner. As members of the family, puppies and older dogs deserve as much love, care, and respect as their humans. To celebrate this week, take your dog for an extra walk or two, get (or make) them a new toy, and don’t forget to give them an extra treat. 

Thanks to Red Comet Press and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites

By Tullio Corda

 

How do you make the ups and downs of learning opposites more exciting for both little ones and their grown-ups? What could be more fun than spending a little time with two natural “opposites”—like a cat and a dog? In his madcap romp, Tullio Corda lets you do just that with a couple of adorable pets. As the story opens, an “awake” cat seems to consider the dog who’s “asleep” on his mat. Could this be Cat’s opportunity to be “brave?” She decides yes. Cat leaps and grabs Dog, who, startled awake, is “afraid.”

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Copyright Tullio Corda, 2021, courtesy of Red Comet Press.

The chase is on! Cat jumps on a shelf and peeks out from behind a flower pot while Dog searches for her. Oops! Now Dog is wearing the flower pot. Does Cat care? Not so much. Dog gets to go “outside” while Cat can only envy him from her perch “inside” on the windowsill. Cat goes to the “closed” door and waits. With Mom’s help, it’s soon “open.”

There are so many birds for Dog and Cat to run after together. Look! There’s one “up high” on a branch. But Cat and Dog are “down low.” Cat knows just what to do. She climbs up and up and onto the branch. She creeps closer . . . and . . . closer . . .. Oops! That branch can’t hold Cat! “Phew!” thinks Bird.

Fortunately, Dog is there to give Cat a “soft” landing. But part of the branch follows and falls on Cat’s “hard” head. Dog is having fun with the stick, but Cat is feeling down. They tussle in the leaves on the ground. Are they “enemies?” or “friends?”

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Copyright Tullio Corda, 2021, courtesy of Red Comet Press.

Preschoolers and kindergarteners will be charmed by this dynamic duo who like to get up to shenanigans both inside and outside. While Dog and Cat chase and play in the yard, little ones learn common opposite words as well as a few pairs that will stretch their vocabulary. Tullio Cardo’s lively illustrations include plenty of spatial and emotional visual clues to help new learners guess at and understand the concepts.

Cardo also uses a variety of perspectives to introduce kids to a variety of special relationships. For children just learning to read, the bold typography facilitates sight reading and will inspire a sense of confidence in their skills and achievements. Cordo’s slapstick humor is sure to prompt lots of giggles along the way, and the sweet ending highlights the idea that opposites often make the best friends.

An engaging and entertaining story that transcends its concept book roots, Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites will grow with kids as they transition from adult read alouds to reading on their own. The book is a top choice for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Red Comet Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1636550022

Discover more about Tullio Corda, his books, and his art on his website. You can learn about how Tullio Cardo brought Cat and Dog to life in this interview in which he talks about and demonstrates his art process.

National Dog Week Activity

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Paw Print Magnet

 

Whether you have a dog or a cat, a print of your pet’s paw makes a cute magnet for your fridge or locker to give you a paw . . . I mean hand . . . holding those important messages and pictures. Here’s how to do this easy craft with your pet.

Supplies

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Cookie cutter (optional)
  • Bowl
  • Wax paper
  • Strong multi-surface glue or hot glue gun
  • Strong magnet, available at craft stores
  • Paint (optional)

Directions

  1. Mix the flour and salt in the bowl
  2. Slowly add the water and mix the dough, kneading it until it is smooth and soft. Add more water if necessary.
  3. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick
  4. Place the dough on the wax paper
  5. Carefully press your pet’s paw into the dough. 
  6. Place the cookie cutter over the print and cut out or shape the dough by hand
  7. Bake the paw print at 250 degrees for 1 to 2 hours depending on thickness of dough
  8. If desired, paint the print, the background, or both
  9. Attach the magnet with the glue

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You can find Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 27 – Banana Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

If you love bananas, you’re not alone! Bananas are the most popular fruit in the United States and one of the most popular worldwide. How popular are they? On average each person eats 100 of these delicious fruits every year. Bananas’ are versatile and nutritious, making them a perfect addition to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time. Today, banana lovers can celebrate by enjoying this appealing fruit in their favorite way. But first, you’ll need to buy a bunch. Make the shopping fun for you and your little ones with today’s book!

Banana for Two

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu

 

As a mother strolls her shopping cart through the grocery store, she engages her toddler, who’s brought along two stuffed bunnies, in choosing the items they need. Mama talks to her child about the one roll of paper towels she puts in the cart, then it’s off to the cereal aisle. Holding up a colorful box, Mama says, “‘Here’s your favorite cereal’” to which her toddler enthusiastically answers, “‘MORE!’” Playfully, Mama holds the box up to one eye and says, “‘we don’t need more—just one box. Peek-a-boo! Can you see just one eye?’”

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2017, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2017. Courtesy of Start Bright Books.

Her little one giggles as they head for the dairy aisle for yogurt. Here, the child’s wish for “‘MORE!’” is granted, and Mama lets her little one hold the containers. “‘One, two—one for each hand,’ says Mama.” The child laughs and kicks, excited to help. As they pass through the fruit section, the toddler grabs a banana from the display and holds it up triumphantly. Mama is happy to add the one banana to the cart to eat later. “‘Look—one banana for one hand!’” she points out.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2017, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2017. Courtesy of Start Bright Books.

At check-out, Mama names each item and the quantity they are buying as she puts the banana, yogurt, carrots, potatoes, milk, and other things on the conveyor belt. But her little one wants to help too! Suddenly, one of the stuffed bunnies is riding toward the smiling clerk on top of the roll of paper towels. Back home, it’s time for a snack. As Mama cuts the banana in half, her toddler proudly exclaims, “‘TWO!’” showing an understanding of the concept of two.

A note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers by early math expert Deborah Stipek is included. Gender neutral clothing and hair and the absence of personal pronouns in the text make this a universal book for all children.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2017, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2017. Courtesy of Start Bright Books.

Ellen Mayer’s joyful math board book for the youngest readers introduces parents and other caregivers to ways that they can add math talk to everyday activities. In Banana for Two, grocery shopping becomes a fun opportunity for an adult and child to talk together about quantity—an important early building block for math understanding and future math success. Connecting concepts a child already knows—such as two containers of yogurt for two hands—as the mother does in Banana for Two is another way to strengthen understanding.

Mayer’s conversational style—indeed the whole story is a conversation between mother and child—is sweet and loving and full of the kinds of moments that may seem routine to adults but that children cherish sharing with parents, grandparents, or other caregivers. And the final image of the little one happily savoring slices of banana will have kids asking for “‘MORE!'”

Ying-Hwa Hu’s exuberant illustrations of mother and child will make little ones and adults smile. Cheerful eye contact between the two shows the love they share and their enjoyment in spending time together. Colorful boxes and containers line the grocery store shelves, giving the pages a fresh and sunny feel. The items Mama adds to the cart are clearly shown in quantities of one and two. Little readers will love the adorable stuffed bunnies and join in the toddler’s pride as they too recognize the ideas of one and two.

Banana for Two will charm little ones and would made a perfect book to share before shopping, at meal or snack time, or during playtime to reinforce the lesson and the fun of learning. The book also makes an excellent shower or new baby gift and is highly recommended for home, preschool classroom, and public library board book collections.

Ages Birth – 2

Star Bright Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1595727886 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595727992 (Bilingual Spanish/English Edition)

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Banana for Two is also available in bilingual editions in these languages. See the Star Bright Books website for more information and how to order. To find all of languages Star Bright Books titles are published in, click here.

Chinese/English | Hindi/English | Hmong/English | Punjabi/English | Somali/English | Spanish/English

To discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books as well as  find lots of resources for adults and fun activities for kids, visit her website.

Learn more about Ying-Hwa Hu and her art, and her books, visit her website.

Banana Lovers Day Activity

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Math Fun Is in the Bag Grocery Shopping Game

 

Little ones love to pretend to go grocery shopping! With the printable game pieces and instructions here, you and your child can fill a bag with items in quantities of one and two and share some math fun!

Supplies

Directions

To Make a Bag

  1. Fold the 8 ½” by 11” piece of paper in half and tape on the side and at the bottom
  2. Your child may enjoy decorating your homemade bag or a paper sandwich bag with crayons

To Play the Game

  1. After printing the Math Fun Is in the Bag template, talk with your little one about the quantity of items in each picture. Even if your child is not talking yet, they are listening and learning.
  2. Help your child cut the pictures apart
  3. Ask your child to find a picture of one banana and put it in the bag
  4. Continue with the other pictures, noting the quantity of the item
  5. For older children, print two (or more) copies of the Math Fun Is in the Bag template and have them add two bananas, two cartons of milk, four carrots, and four containers of yogurt to the bag.
  6. Older children may also enjoy paying for their groceries with pennies in quantities of one or two (or more). Set a price for each item and help children count out the coins needed to pay for them.

More Math Fun!

You’ll find more Math Fun, including printable bunny puppets to make, pretend play suggestions, and tips for talking about two on Ellen Mayer’s Website

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You can find Banana for Two at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 17 – Get Ready for Preschool

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About the Holiday

Not only are kindergarteners and “seasoned” elementary-school kids getting ready to go to school—or already back in the classroom—the youngest students are beginning their school career with preschool. Some children eagerly look forward to this new adventure, while others are more hesitant about the transition from home to school. Books like today’s warm and funny story that shows how teachers welcome and care for their students and the fun that’s waiting with new friends in a new, exciting environment.

Thanks to Tundra Books for sharing a copy of What Does Little Crocodile Say? with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

What Does Little Crocodile Say?

By Eva Montanari

 

It’s that time! “The alarm clock goes Ring Ring.” Big Crocodile comes into Little Crocodile’s room and tickles their child awake. A quick splash in the tub, a zip of the overalls, and a messy breakfast later, the pair are out the door. Zipping along the street, “the car goes vroom vroom.” When they get where they’re going, Big Crocodile locks the car, rings the bell, and—at her little one’s urging—carries them up the stairs to where “the Elephant says Good Morning!”

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hugging Mom tight, the little crocodile looks around the room full of toys and other kids. The piglet, kitten, bird, frog, and wolf all say hello in their own way. “And what does little crocodile say” as Mom puts them down? “WWWWAAH WWWWAAH.” But Elephant is there to soothe the tears and read a story. The teacher helps Little Crocodile beat the drum. By the time the kids ting the triangle, Little Crocodile is feeling comfortable, and when they have a trumpet parade, the little crocodile is first in line.

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

At lunch time, “the food goes nom nom nom” and “the milk goes glug glug glug” and Little Crocodile is right at the table with the other kids. They nap, play with bubbles, and then… “the door goes knock knock. Big Crocodile says Peekaboo!” Little Crocodile is surprised. There are kisses and kisses “muah muah muah muah muah” for Big Crocodile and a wave and “See you tomorrow!” for the new friends.

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Eva Montanari’s delightful step-by-step story envelops little ones in the experience of preschool through the sounds—from the morning ring of the alarm clock to the cheerful farewell at the end of the day—and the sights of home and preschool classrooms. In Montanari’s enchanting pencil and pastel illustrations, a messy bath and messy breakfast lead with gentle humor to the suspenseful page turn in which readers see that the handoff from Big Crocodile to Elephant is a bit messy too.

Little Crocodile’s meltdown, however, lets little ones who may also be unsure about this transition in their life see how their teacher will care for them and all the friends and fun activities that await. The correlating page spread in which Little Crocodile jumps back into Big Crocodile’s arms with kisses instead of tears is comfort at its best and is sure to inspire plenty of “Muahs” all around. Adults will love sharing this read aloud over and over and kids will have a giggly blast chiming in on all of the sounds. What will little ones say to this book? “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Captivating and interactive, What Does Little Crocodile Say? transends its concept book roots to reassure little ones just beginning their school journey and celebrate all the love and new friends they’ll find along the way. The book is a must for home, classroom, and library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 5

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735268135

Discover more about Eva Montanari and her books on her website.

Get Ready for Preschool Activity

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Crocodiles on the Loose! Matching Puzzle

 

These crocodiles have gotten separated from their twins. Can you help them find each other again in this printable puzzle?

Crocodiles on the Loose! Matching Puzzle

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You can find What Does Little Crocodile Say? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

CPB - overnight success sign

The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

CPB - maddie the mitzva clown
 
CPB - the family and frog haggadah
 
 

They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

CPB - Pinochio

every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-cover

You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

November 3 – It’s Family Literacy Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s observance was established in 1994 to promote family and community involvement in teaching and supporting children to read more. Literacy really does begin at home during those cuddly moments when you and your child share a book. Reading with kids from birth helps them develop the skills to become proficient readers and instills a life-long love for books of all kinds. Even before babies can talk, they’re listening and learning, and as they grow children continue to love spending special times with parents and grandparents hearing stories and discovering the world through books. Interactive board books like the three I’m reviewing today are a great place to start!

Sharing

By Yusuke Yonezu

 

Pairs of adorable animals engage little readers in helping them with a big problem. They only have one piece of food but they’re both so hungry! How can the two kittens eat one fish? Turn the page and a cleverly placed die cut allows the one fish to be shared between the kittens. “Now we each get some,” they say with wide smiles. Two bunnies… one carrot? What to do? Kids will love turning the page so that each bunny can take half.

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Copyright Yusuke Yonezu, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Instead of squabbling over one banana or one apple, the monkeys and the piglets are happy to discover that they can “split it instead.” After all, “half is better than none.” But what if two siblings both “want Mommy?” No worries! Just flip that page! “Now we can all share a hug!”

Yusuke Yonezu’s sweet interactive board book presents a gentle message about sharing that little ones will have fun participating in. Ingeniously designed two-page spreads create a rich learning experience. Yonezu’s storytelling provides a different vocabulary to express the idea of sharing on each page spread. Being introduced to these words here invites kids to listen and understand when adults use them.

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Copyright Yusuke Yonezu, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Visually, Sharing is fun and exciting for young readers. On the left, the text appears on a vivid solid background which matches the color of the food item on the facing page. When children turn the page, each animal now has their own page and half of the food item, thanks to a specifically shaped die cut. Yonezu’s animals are adorable, and their simply drawn faces clearly express the emotions of sadness, puzzlement, and happiness, which allows adults to talk about these feelings with children. The final example addresses another common family conundrum and shows that there is always enough love to go around.

A delightful way to introduce the joy of sharing with family and friends, Sharing would make a go-to book for teaching this important skill to preschoolers in home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 2 – 4

minedition, 2020 | ISBN 978-1662650000

You can find Sharing at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-very-hungry-wolf-cover

A Very HUNGRY Wolf

By Agnese Baruzzi

 

Looking for a way to get your little one (and maybe even older kids) to eat their fruit and vegetables? Open up Agnese Baruzzi’s story wide and watch the laughs tumble out of readers as they also begin to think that maybe those carrots, peas, bananas, plums, and—yes—even broccoli aren’t so bad. How does Baruzzi accomplish this feat? With a long-snouted, insatiably hungry wolf that eats every animal that comes near with a “CHOMP, CHOMP, down it went!”

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Copyright Agnese Baruzzi, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

When that innocent red bird hops the wolf’s way, with the lift of a flap the wolf opens his jaws, bares his sharp, white teeth and… “CHOMP, CHOMP, down it went!” Squirrel? Yep! Swallowed right down. A couple more unsuspecting meals come by, “but it wasn’t enough. The wolf still felt hungry.” Then the wolf meets a morsel that turns out not to be so tasty. The wolf turns queasy, but kids know what he should do. “Oh wolf, spit them out!” With nothing now in his belly, the wolf needs something… anything… to satisfy him. “What do you think he should eat?” Those fruits and vegetables are looking mighty delicious….

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Copyright Agnese Baruzzi, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Agnese Baruzzi will make kids laugh all the way to the healthy food with her witty repetition that will have them reading along with verve and plenty of dramatic Chomp, Chomping. Vibrant colors, smiling animals, and a determined, beady-eyed wolf add up to full engagement. And when the wolf realizes he’s made a mistake, kids will giggle at his distressed expression and answer the call for help coming from the wolf’s tummy.

Definitely a book to add to your shelf at home, school, or public library, A Very HUNGRY Wolf will be an often-asked for favorite.

Ages 2 – 4

Minedition, 2020 | ISBN 978-9888342051

You can find A Very Hungry Wolf at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Masquerade Party

By Giuliano Ferri

 

The fun starts on the front cover when little readers are met by Little Red Ridinghood… or is it? When they lift the flap, They discover “Oh no, it’s the wicked wolf!” Well… this wolf looks too cute to be bad. Let’s see who else is inside. Yo ho ho! There’s a pirate brandishing a sword.  “Who is this plucky pirate? / It’s a playful pig.” Watch out for the “cuddly cowboy” who’s about to lasso you with this rope. Wait! It’s just “a brilliant bunny playing dress up.

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Copyright Giuliano Ferri, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Have a wish? You need a “sly sorcerer.” Check under the turban to see who will grant your wish. Little ones will also discover who is dressed up as a handsome hero, wondrous wizard, and noble knight. Which brings us round again to a wily wolf…with a basket and red collar? Who is that really?

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Copyright Giuliano Ferri, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Giuliano Ferri infuses his lift-the-flap board book with playfulness and strong literacy-building vocabulary and alliteration that will enchant young readers and make them proud to know fun-to-say words like “plucky,” “sly,” and “wondrous.” Ferri’s soft, smudgy illustrations are cuddliness at its best. While each animal’s face is partially hidden by a fancy, well-embellished hat and mask, clues to their real identity are found in their paws or feet, noses, and face shape, and little ones will love guessing who’s playing firefighter, cowboy, and all the rest. The circular storytelling that brings kids back to Little Red Riding Hood will delight kids.

A fun book to share with kids, especially babies, Masquerade Party would make a great take-along book for outings or anywhere waiting is expected.

Ages 2 – 4

Minedition, 2020 | ISBN 978-9888342068

You can find Masquerade Party at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

September 23 – International Day of Sign Languages

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About the Holiday

Coming mid-way through International Week of the Deaf, which was instituted by the World Federation of the Deaf in 1958, today’s holiday is observed by the United Nations every year on September 23 to “celebrate the linguistic identity and diversity of deaf people and sign language uses across the world.” With more than 300 different sign languages around the globe, the UN recognizes sign languages equal status to spoken languages. The theme for 2020 is “Sign Languages are for everyone,” with the goal of enabling national associations of deaf people to work in conjunction with political leaders to promote sign language. For more information, visit the World Federation of the Deaf website and the United Nations website.

Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents

Written by Kathy MacMillan | Illustrated by Sara Brezzi

 

Following the popular Nita’s First Signs, the first Little Hands Signing book, Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents brings parents and caregivers ten more ASL signs to share with their babies and toddlers to give them the power and joy of non-verbal communication. Through a sweet story that takes Nita and little readers through a fun day with Mom and Dad, kids learn the signs for wake up, change, eat, potty, clothes, go, play, bath, book, and bed.

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Image copyright Sara Brezzi, 2020, text copyright Kathy MacMillan, 2020. Courtesy of Familius Publishing.

Nita’s day starts with her mom and dad lovingly gazing into her crib. “Good morning, Nita! Time to wake up!” they say. “WAKE UP, signs Nita.” Nita recognizes that she needs a diaper change and lets her parents know with the sign for “change” that she’s learned. Next, it’s time for breakfast then getting dressed and going to the park with Dad to fly a kite. When she wants to play, Nita “extends the thumb and pinky of each hand and twists [her] wrists back and forth.”

After her busy afternoon, a bath feels nice and warm. Then it’s time for one of Nita’s favorite parts of the day. “It’s time for a story book!” Dad tells her. She puts her outstretched palms together then opens them like the cover of a book “BOOK, signs Nita.” Now Nita is getting sleepy. “BED, Nita signs.” Her mom snuggles her into her crib and says “Good Night.”

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Image copyright Sara Brezzi, 2020, text copyright Kathy MacMillan, 2020. Courtesy of Familius Publishing.

A Note for Grown-ups on the back cover explains how using signs with children helps them to make sense of their activities during the day and can provide comforting grounding if used when they are away from their regular routines. Adults are also referred to a website where they can find a video demonstration of all of the signs in the book.

The structure of these Little Hands Signing books is a highlight of these chunky board books. Slightly larger than typical board books, the format allows for tabs that clearly depict the page on which each sign can be found. Opening to these spreads, readers can then pull on the tab to open the page and find Nita demonstrating how to make each ASL sign. A written description of the actions accompanies the images.

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Image copyright Sara Brezzi, 2020, text copyright Kathy MacMillan, 2020. Courtesy of Familius Publishing.

Kathy MacMillan’s enthusiastic story is perfect for all children and helps them to communicate with parents and caregivers whether they are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or not verbal or fully verbal yet. The repeat phrasing will charm little readers and acclimates them to the uses of each sign as well as giving adults a way to prompt signs during everyday activities.

Sara Brezzi’s vibrant and whimsical illustrations are infused with love and Nita’s pride in her accomplishments. In each two-sign spreads, Nita is a happy helper, holding her bottle at breakfast, alerting her mom that she’s ready for toilet paper, grasping the kite string at the park, and playing with her duck during bath time. Scattered toys and items on shelves, racks, and counters give little ones and adults things to name, match, and talk about.

Whether you’re adding to the series or new to signing with your baby or toddler, Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries to inspire early bonding and communication between babies and adults.

Ages 1 – 3

Familius, 2020 | ISBN 978-1641701488

Discover more about Kathy MacMillan and her books on her website.

You can connect with Sara Brezzi on Instagram.

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You can find at these Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 21 – National CleanUp Day

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About the Holiday

Did you know that people are more likely to pick up litter if they see someone else doing it? That’s the idea behind today’s holiday. Instituted by Clean Trails, a nonprofit begun by Steve Jewett and Bill Willoughby after they noticed that their favorite hiking trails were being marred with trash and wanted to make a difference. At first they made a game of picking up the litter they saw, which attracted more people to their cause. Now, National CleanUp Day is a global event, encouraging people all around the world to get out into their communities and make them better. To learn more about the day, find a clean up crew in your area, and discover more about Clean Trails, visit the Clean Trails website.

Clean Up, Up, Up!

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu

 

It’s clean up time for Daddy and his toddler! As they put the books back on the shelf, Daddy says, “‘Let’s reach up high—your books go up on the top shelf.’” He then prompts, “‘What goes down below?’” With the blocks all stacked on the bottom shelf, the pair move on to putting away the train engine, which has its own special place next to the little station. “‘Choo-choo!’” says the child.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Playing with Daddy makes cleaning up even more fun, and the little one pretends to take a nap with the teddy bears when they’re put inside the cardboard playhouse. The tot giggles and jumps up with a “‘Wake up-up-up!’” just in time to find the train’s caboose hiding behind the chair.

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

With everything “put away up, down, inside, and under,” it’s time to get ready for dinner. The little one knows just what to do—“‘Wash up-up-up!’” Hands clean, the toddler sits at the table eager to help some more. “‘Would you like to help set the table too?’” Mommy asks. The child happily agrees and is excited to show some new understanding. “‘Spoon DOWN…,’” the little one says, and then with a big scoop of dinner. “‘…and spoon UP!’”

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

A note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers from childhood education expert Susan C. Levine on how they can find opportunities to talk about spatial relations during everyday activities is included.  Gender neutral clothing and hairstyle as well as an absence of pronouns makes this a universal story.

Clean Up, Up, Up! is also available in a bilingual Spanish/English edition: ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up! translated byAudrey Martinez-Gudapakkam and Dr. Sabrina De Los Santos

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Image copyright Ying-Hwa Hu, 2018, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2018. Translation by Audrey Martinez-Gudapakkam and Dr. Sabrina De Los Santos. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Ellen Mayer continues to add to her sweet and joyful series of books for little ones and the adults in their lives that model ways parents, grandparents, and caregivers can talk with children to help them develop language and math literacy at the youngest ages. In Clean Up Up Up!, the concept of spatial relations is organically introduced to toddlers through the motions and words used while putting items in their proper place, stepping up on a stool to use something out of the child’s reach, and even when eating. Research shows that talking with children at all ages about math concepts such as positions and locations improves their understanding and leads to better success in school and beyond.

The loving relationship between father and child in Mayer’s early language development book A Fish to Feed, is expanded on here as the same interracial family enjoys clean-up and dinner time. The engaging dialogue between Daddy, Mommy, and their toddler will captivate young readers and inspire adults to continue the story in their own daily lives.

Ying-Hwa Hu’s adorable toddler giggles and plays while soaking up the rich language of positions and locations that the father clearly points to while cleaning up. Little readers will be charmed by the enthusiastic child and the little puppy that follows along. Images of books, toys, washing up, and dinnertime all demonstrate the positions and locations referred to in the story, while other details provide an opportunity for adults and children to expand on the text (the fish from A Fish to Feed swims inside its bowl and balls sit inside a bin, for example). Hu’s vivid colors as well as the smiles and enthusiasm with which Daddy, Mommy, and their child interact make Clean Up, Up, Up! a feel-great educational read.

Clean Up, Up, Up! would make a wonderful gift and would be an excellent addition to home, daycare and preschool classrooms to spark playful learning experiences.

Ages 1 – 3

Star Bright Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1595728012

Discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ying-Hwa Hu, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National CleanUp Day Activity

CPB - Playhouse craft

Come Inside! Playhouse

 

What can you do with some of those clean things your and your kids have picked up at home, in your yard, or around your neighborhood? Use them to make and decorate this playhouse! Kids love pretending with their toys in playhouses. With this craft you and your child can make a playhouse with recycled items and lots of imagination. While making the house, talk with your child about the building process using spatial relation words and ask for their ideas on what it should look like.

Once finished, you and your child can make up stories using words that use spatial relations as characters come in the house, go out of the house, peek in or out of a window, sit on the roof, wait under the window, sit next to a friend while having tea, and so much more!

Supplies

  • Cardboard box
  • Craft paint
  • Markers
  • Glue

Plus Recycled items, such as:

  • Bottle caps for door knobs,
  • Small boxes for a chimney
  • Use the cardboard cut from the windows to make shutters
  • Scraps of cloth for curtains

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You can find Clean Up, Up, Up! at these booksellers

English Edition

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

Spanish/English Bilingual Edition: ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!

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

Picture Book Review

 

Picture Book Review