June 26 – It’s Adopt a Cat Month

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About the Holiday

Just as it sounds, this holiday celebrates all the benefits of owning cat. With so many beautiful breeds of cat to choose from, there’s a perfect pet waiting for you! If you’ve been considering adding a cat or kitten to your family, why not visit an animal shelter and give one – or even two – cats a purr-fect home?

The White Cat and the Monk

Retold by Jo Ellen Bogart | Illustrated by Sydney Smith

 

In the nighttime a white cat approaches a monastery. He slips through a window and pads along a darkened corridor and down stone steps. He creeps behind a barrel, a vase, and a pitcher standing in a row and adds his shadow to the black mosaic on the floor. He leaps the last few steps and hurries along to the doorway that is leaking a bit of light.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-white-cat-and-the-monk-candle-light

Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Jo Ellen Bogart. Courtesy of Groundwood Books.

He slips his paw under the door. This a secret signal alerts the occupant of the room, who opens the door to this playful feline. “I, monk and scholar, share my room with my white cat, Pangur,” the old man explains. He lifts Pangur into his arms and strokes him before releasing him to pursue his “special trade.” The monk also returns to his trade—studying ancient manuscripts to understand their meaning.

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The  monk is a dedicated scholar, revealing, “Far more than any fame, I enjoy the peaceful pursuit of knowledge. I treasure the wealth to be found in my books.” Pangur is a dedicated scholar of another kind, studying “the hole that leads to the mouse’s home.” In that moment both man and cat become hunters—one for meaning and the other for prey.

The two do not disturb each other for each is content in his pursuit. Pangur at last “finds his mouse” as the monk finds “light in the darkness.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-white-cat-and-the-monk-in-window

Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Jo Ellen Bogart. Courtesy of Groundwood Books.

Jo Ellen Bogart’s quiet and graceful retelling of Pangur Bán, a beloved Irish poem from the 9th century is a welcome respite in this age of multitasking and mega-activity. With sparse, but compelling and lyrical language, Bogart uncovers the companionable relationship between the monk and his cat as each follows their heart together.

The fine textured pages of Sydney Smith’s illustrations recall the beauty of parchment as the smooth gray-and-gold line drawings of the monastery’s architecture and characters give way to the vibrant colors of ancient manuscripts and the natural environment. The contentment and friendship of the monk and the cat are sweetly drawn in the characters’ mirrored actions as well as in the depictions of a long-held affection between man and beast in the panels of the manuscript the monk studies. As the monk states, “Ours is a happy tale.”

Reassuring and reaffirming, The White Cat and the Monk honors the individual challenges and quests that make us who we are and would be a wonderful addition to regular quiet-time reading.

Ages 4 and up (this book will be enjoyed by both children and adults)

Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1554987801

You’ll find a gallery of artwork by Sydney Smith on his tumblr!

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cat-toy

Fishing for Playtime Cat Toy

 

Cats love to chase after bouncing, sliding objects, and they love fish. While this toy may not taste as good as fish, it sure smells better and doesn’t require worms or hooks to attain!

Supplies

  • Old or new child’s sock
  • Fiber Fill
  • Yarn or string
  • Fabric paint or markers
  • Small bell (optional)
  • Catnip (optional)

Directions

  1. Paint or draw fins and eyes on the sock
  2. Fill the sock with fiber fill
  3. Add a teaspoon of catnip (optional)
  4. Add a small bell (optional)
  5. Use the yarn or string to close the opening with a strong knot
  6. Leave a long section of yarn or string to pull or dangle the toy

Picture Book Review

June 12 – It’s Adopt a Cat Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lily's-cat-mask-cover

About the Holiday

Cats make wonderful pets! They can be cuddly or completely independent, but their playful personalities make for lots of laughs and love. If you own a cat, spend some extra time with your pet and ensure that all of your feline friend’s health needs are being met and are up-to-date. If you think you might like to adopt a cat into your family, visit your local animal shelter for cats and kittens who are looking for a forever home.

Lily’s Cat Mask

By Julie Fortenberry

 

Lily was starting school so her dad took her shopping. “Lily wasn’t sure she wanted to get new things for school, but her father said it would be fun.” After buying some clothes and meeting a woman they knew who gushed at how much Lily had grown, Lily was tired and wanted to go home. “But then she saw the cat mask.” It was the only one on the shelf, and Lily’s dad surprised her by buying it for her.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Lily put it on immediately and wore it on the way home. She wore it to tea parties with her toys, to family parties “when she wanted to be invisible. And when she wanted to be noticed.” When she wore it to her doctor’s appointment, the doctor spoke in meows. One day she lost her mask. Her dad made her a rabbit costume, and while that was fun for a while, Lily was happy to finally find her cat mask.

Lily wore her cat mask for many occasions. She wore it when she didn’t want to talk—like when she met her new teacher. “She liked to hide her face when she felt mean and couldn’t get nice.” She even blew out her birthday candles and made a wish wearing the mask. When school started, Lily was only allowed to wear her mask on the playground, but once in a while she put it on, hoping no one would notice. Then it was sometimes put in the teacher’s desk drawer.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

One day, the teacher made a very exciting announcement. The class was going to have a costume party, and everyone could wear a mask or dress up however they wanted. On the day of the party, there were characters, animals, and bugs of all kinds. But then Lily looked across the room and saw the best costume of all—another cat! During recess the new friends played on the swings and meowed happily together.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Julie Fortenberry’s story of a quiet, hesitant child who discovers a unique way of interacting with the world around her offers openhearted acceptance and understanding for children who are observant and thoughtful integrators. The reaction of Lily’s father, teacher, doctor, and family members to her cat mask is uplifting and provides excellent modeling. The straightforward storytelling highlights Lily’s sweet personality as well as the empathetic responses her costume elicits.

Fotenberry’s illustrations of adorable Lily and her experiences at home, at school, at the doctor’s office, and at the mall are full of joy. The colors are fresh and vibrant, but also calm and peaceful, mirroring Lily’s feelings when wearing her cat mask. The images demonstrate and validate Lily’s preference to watch and participate in events from her own distance.

Lily’s Cat Mask provides the opportunity for much discussion with children, especially about meeting people, Lily’s birthday wish, where Lily sits and plays at parties and at school, and when Lily makes a friend. The book is highly recommended for classroom and school libraries and would make a welcome addition to home bookshelves as well.

Ages 4 – 7

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0425287996

Discover more about Julie Fortenberry and view a gallery of her books and artwork on her website!

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-Cat's-Meow-Word-Search

The Cat’s Meow Word Search

 

There are so many beautiful types of cats! Can you find the names of twenty-one breeds in this printable The Cat’s Meow Word Search puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

June 2 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

The world’s oceans offer beauty, resources, and mystery. This month we celebrate these vast wonders while committing ourselves to their preservation. Pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction all threaten the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the sea. We also remember the communities that rely on the oceans for economic stability as well as the men and women who work to protect the oceans and their unique creatures. 

Town Is by the Sea

Written by Joanne Schwartz | Illustrated by Sydney Smith

 

A little boy introduces readers to his home by the sea. It is so close that “it goes like this—house, road, grassy cliff, sea.” Early in the morning, his father leaves home and rides the tram that takes him underneath the ocean to his job as a coal miner. The little boy wakes later to the sounds of town—cars on the road, a dog barking, seagulls calling as they soar overhead. He rises from bed and gazes out the window at the vast sea, knowing that his “father is already deep down under that sea, digging for coal.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books.

After breakfast he goes next door to his friend’s house. They run to the playground where only two swings are left—“one for big kids and one for babies.” They swing so high they can see far in the distance where the “waves have white tips. And deep down under that sea,” he thinks, “his father digs for coal.” The boy returns home for lunch—a baloney sandwich, carrots, and milk—and then takes the grocery list his mother gives him and goes to the store, which is only a couple of blocks away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-town-is-by-the-sea-miners

Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books

On the way back home, past the sparkling sea, the boy thinks about his father digging coal. He stops off at the graveyard to visit his grandfather, who was also a miner.  The boy says, “The air smells like salt. I can taste it on my tongue. My grandfather used to say, Bury me facing the sea b’y, I worked long and hard underground.” The grandfather’s stone is so close to the water that during storms, waves batter it. But the boy says, “That’s okay. My grandfather is used to storms.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books.

In the evening “it goes like this—” the boy’s father comes home from work with “black smudges on his face from working the coal.” Even though he is tired, he gives his son a smile and a hug. The little boy is happy to have him home “safe and sound.” The family eats dinner together and later the boy’s mother and father sit on the porch, talking. The boy falls asleep to the sound of the waves washing the shore. He thinks about his father and “the bright days of summer and the dark tunnels underground, knowing that one day, it will be his turn.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books

In Joanne Schwartz’s graceful tribute to a coal-mining town settled on the coast, the sea is as much a character as the little boy and his family. Sustaining the townspeople over generations, the sea wakes them, feeds them, provides beauty and challenges, and in its fluid consistency mirrors the love and security of family. The repetition of the boy’s thoughts that wander to join his father in the dark tunnels throughout the day demonstrate both the strong bond between father and son and also the developing identity of the boy, who is also destined for those underwater tunnels. Schwartz’s sure, straightforward storytelling provides details that are familiar to all readers, making it a universal tale, rooted in the heart.

Sydney Smith’s ink and watercolor illustrations gorgeously depict the dual nature of this town built solidly on a rocky coastline and surviving on the dusty, back-breaking work of coal-mining while overlooking the constantly flowing wash of the sea. The sunny sky and daily activities of the boy give way every so often to two-page spreads of the black tunnel, where the miners push carts, drill, and recoil from a sudden rock slide. The ocean, rendered in sage and blue with pearlescent waves, is always in sight, the lifeblood of this special town.

Town Is by the Sea is a beautiful reminder of both the constancy and change inherent in life and would be a lovely addition to home libraries for quiet times and family time.

Ages 4 – 9

Groundwood Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1554988716

View a portfolio of artwork by Sydney Smith on his tumblr!

National Oceans Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Kinetic Sand

 

Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or its loose consistency makes it fun to drip, drabble, and let run through your fingers.

Picture Book Review

April 29 – National Go Birding Day

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About the Holiday

With all the bird activity going on right now as these little creatures build nests, lay eggs, and take care of new families, it’s a perfect time to go bird watching. The weather promises to be warm, and with a little stealth, a good sense of observation, and perhaps some binoculars, you should be able to spot quite a few lovely species. As the subject of today’s book found, if your home—or your hat—is inviting, feathered friends will come! So head out to a park, forest, beach—or even your backyard—and enjoy the beauty of the birds in your area.

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

By Ayano Imaí

 

Mr. Brown lived alone and, if you asked him, he’d tell you he liked it that way. He “had no friends and he didn’t want any.” If you were privy to his secret thoughts, however, you’d learn that Mr. Brown was actually very lonely. Mr. Brown liked to take long walks, and when he went out, he always wore his “smart,” distinctive hat. “One day while Mr. Brown was sleeping, a woodpecker flew down and started tapping a hole in his hat, thinking, ‘What a wonderful nest this hat would make!’”

When Mr. Brown woke up he was shocked to discover that a bird had moved into his hat. Someone living this close to him was not what Mr. Brown had in mind at all. Then to Mr. Brown’s dismay the “woodpecker soon told all his friends about the wonderful new home and invited them all to join him.” Soon Mr. Brown’s hat was full of holes—and birds! You might think a regular hat would not have enough room for so many residents—but Mr. Brown’s hat was no ordinary one. As more and more birds moved in, his hat grew taller and taller!

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition, 2014

As the days went on Mr. Brown discovered that he was beginning to enjoy the birds’ singing and their company. Now Mr. Brown had renewed purpose in his daily walks: “He loved to show off his hat. Everywhere he went it was full of the music of singing birds.” People on the street took notice and wanted to emulate Mr. Brown. All over town people began wearing tall hats, “but the birds preferred to stay with Mr. Brown no matter how hard people tried to persuade them.”

One day as autumn settled in, Mr. Brown noticed that all the birds had flown away. He was sad and didn’t understand where they had gone or why they had left him. He wondered if he would see them again. The idea of a quiet life no longer held the appeal it once did, and Mr. Brown missed his friends. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care that the birds had left, but he continued to fill the feeders and watch out for them every day.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition, 2014

Even though it was time for Mr. Brown to take a long winter’s nap, he tried to stay awake, worried that there would be no one to care for the birds if they returned. But nature took its course, and Mr. Brown fell into a deep sleep. One morning after a particularly vivid dream in which Mr. Brown could hear the birds singing, he woke to a tapping sound. He went to the door and peered out.

Spring had come and with it Mr. Brown’s hat had grown roots and sprouted branches and leaves. The old holes were filled with their previous tenants. The sight filled Mr. Brown with joy, and he finally could admit to himself that sharing his life with friends “was better than being alone.”

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition, 2014

Ayano Imaí’s gloriously beautiful book plumbs the nature of solitude and loneliness as well as the value of friendship with an honesty that is at once heartrending and uplifting. For so many quiet, introspective people—children and adults alike—navigating the world of small talk, casual relationships, and making friends is similar to traveling uncharted territory, where the language and mores are foreign. It can become easier to tell oneself that it doesn’t matter, when in reality it matters a great deal. Many times happiness comes when one finds their niche or, in some surprising way, a niche finds them.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of midedition, 2014

Imaí tells the story of Mr. Brown and his fantastical hat in straightforward narration, but more profound meaning is revealed in her illustrations. Mr. Brown, it is discovered, is a brown bear who has taken on the aspects of humans. He walks upright, carries an umbrella and bag, owns a home, and wears a hat. His fur is even the same color as the townspeople’s clothing. But while he may be among people, he is not of them. His home has a grass floor which sprouts mushrooms and weeds; another weed pokes out from the bristles of his brush; a tree branch juts from a wall; and mushrooms share space with the laundry on the drying line.

Mr. Brown comes from nature and belongs with nature, so it is no surprise that the birds flock to him and prefer him to humans, who in an ironic twist long to be like Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown’s hat is also symbolic of one’s heart, in that as a person embraces friends, their ability to accept and love others continues to grow.

I especially like the ending of Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat, in which Mr. Brown stays true to himself. He does not suddenly discover his “wild” side and become someone that he is not. He is able to remain a quiet, introspective bear while also embracing his friends, his love for them, and his place in the world. He finds inner happiness and loved ones to share it with.

Ages 3 – 8 (and up)

minedition, 2014 | ISBN 978-9888240845

National Go Birding Day Activitycelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-browns-fantastic-hat-lets-go-birding-bird-species-word-search

Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle

 

You don’t need a pair of binoculars to find the twenty kinds of birds in this printable Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

March 13 – National Napping Day

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About the Holiday

If there’s one day a year when you should be easy on yourself and take a nap when the feeling strikes, today is it! Held annually on the Monday after the spring time change, National Napping Day allows us to recapture that lost hour of sleep and reset our body clocks. So if you start feeling that can’t-keep-my-eyes-open  weariness, go ahead and kick off your shoes, get comfy, and….

Twenty Yawns

Written by Jane Smiley | Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

 

A little girl and her mom and dad are out for a day at the beach. Along the curving coastline they found the perfect spot to plant their umbrella and unfold their chairs. While Lucy dug a hole near the foaming waves, her mom and dad read in the shade of the umbrella. When the hole was big enough to hold her dad, Lucy “covered him up and they laughed and laughed.” Later, Lucy’s dad took her hand and swung “her into the sky” just as a wave crashed onto the shore.

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Image copyright Lauren Castillo, text copyright Jane Smiley. Courtesy of laurencastillo.com

In the afternoon Lucy, Mom, and Dad walked “all the way to the end of the beach,” stopping here and there to chase seagulls, fly a kite, and play. Coming back, Lucy rolled “down the soft warm dunes,” never wanting the day to end. Returning to their umbrella, the three built a sandcastle and headed for home only when the sun began to set. “Lucy yawned. Mom yawned. Dad yawned.” Everyone was ready to go to bed early.

When they reached home, “Lucy put on her pajamas inside out, climbed into bed, and yawned a big YAWN.” Lucy’s mom began to read her a story about a little boy named Fred. Lucy yawned and began to doze, but soon she no longer heard her mom’s voice. She peeked at her mom. “She was asleep!” Lucy stared out into her room. “The moon shone through the window, a silver veil that fell across the floor. Everything looked mysterious, even Lucy’s own hands on the bedspread.”

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Image copyright Lauren Castillo, text copyright Jane Smiley. Courtesy of laurencastillo.com

Suddenly, all the people in her pictures—Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Elizabeth, Mom, Dad, and even Fred in the book on the floor—seemed to be looking at her. Lucy wanted her teddy bear, Molasses. She crept out of her room, past her dad sleeping in a living room chair, and over to the bookcase, where Molasses hid under a pile of toys. As Lucy pulled at Molasses, Hornet the giraffe, Juno the horse, Mathilda the alligator, Frank the kangaroo, and his baby, Leonard all tumbled to the floor.

As Lucy started back to her room, she saw her toys watching her. They looked so lonely. One by one she carried them to her bed and “dropped them in a patch of moonlight.” She tucked them in and gave each a kiss. She thought they all “looked sleepy and happy.” Lucy cuddled up next to her toys and yawned. They in turn yawned too. So did Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Elizabeth, Mom, Dad, and even Fred. Lucy hugged Molasses tight, “gave one last YAWN…and fell asleep.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-twenty-yawns-lucy-kissing-toys-goodnight

Image copyright Lauren Castillo, text copyright Jane Smiley. Courtesy of laurencastillo.com

Jane Smiley’s Twenty Yawns perfectly captures the deep-down happy tiredness after a day in the sun. While Mom and Dad surrender to sleep, Lucy’s awareness is heightened in the strangely quiet house and can only be alleviated by sharing her bedtime routine with her stuffed animal friends. Beautiful lyrical passages paint word pictures of the tropical setting and Lucy’s imagination, while Lucy’s tender care for her toys replicates the love her parents show her.

Lauren Castillo’s blue sea and golden beach glows with the warmth of the sun and a family’s togetherness. Lucy and her dad play in the surf, Lucy’s parents walk hand-in-hand as Lucy runs after seagulls on their walk, and they all help build a sandcastle. Back home in their cozy house, Lucy and her mom gaze out a window as their house is cast in shadow by the setting sun. Tall palm trees wave against a blue, purple, pink, peach, and yellow sky. Little Lucy is adorable as she plays in the dunes, creeps through her sleeping house, and kisses her toys goodnight. Young readers will contentedly join Lucy and her family in their fun day as well as their yawny snoozing. 

Little ones who wonder if there are indeed 20 yawns in the book will be rewarded by counting each sigh.

Twenty Yawns is a sweet, quiet book for naptimes, bedtimes, indoor days, and any time when a little relaxation is just what’s needed.

Ages 2 – 7

Two Lions, 2016 | ISBN 978-1477826355

You can connect with Jane Smiley on Facebook.

Learn more about Lauren Castillo, her books, and her art on her website.

Napping Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snuggle-buddy-craft

Sleepy Buddy Craft

 

It’s easy to make a one-of-a-kind sleepy buddy for naptime or any time. With just a few materials and your own creativity, you’ll soon have a new friend to snuggle with!

Supplies

  • 1 8-inch by 11-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the body (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project). A larger piece of fleece can be used to make a larger buddy
  • 1 5-inch by 8-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the hair (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project)
  • 1 small piece of fleece or other material for a pocket, clothes, or blanket
  • Small scraps of fleece or other material for the face
  • Fiber Fill
  • Thread and sewing needle OR fabric glue
  • Scissors

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Fold the large piece of fleece in half lengthwise and sew along the open side and along the bottom. Alternatively, if using a larger size piece of fleece, fold upward and sew or glue the two sides closed.
  2. Turn the form inside out

To Make the Hair

  1. Cut a piece of fleece as wide as your buddy and about 7 – 8 inches long
  2. Fold the fleece lengthwise
  3. Insert both ends of the fleece into the opening at the top of the body
  4. Sew or glue the opening shut, securing the hair
  5. Cut strips about ¼-inch wide from the top of the hair to close to where the hair is sown into the body

To Make a Pocket or Clothes

  1. Cut a piece of fleece in the shape of a pocket, shirt, pants, diaper, or blanket
  2. Sew or glue the pocket or clothes to the buddy

To Make the Face

  1. Cut eyes, a nose, and a mouth in whatever way you would like your buddy to look. (My buddy is sleeping.)
  2. Sew or glue the face to the buddy
  3. Snuggle up!

Picture Book Review

 

March 1 – Horse Protection Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2005 by pet lifestyle expert and animal behaviorist/advocate Colleen Page, Horse Protection Day raises awareness of horses that are treated cruelly or are unwanted and abandoned or euthanized. Horses are loving pets and work animals with a proud history of crucial participation in the building and farming of our nation and others. To honor today’s holiday, consider donating to the cause of protecting horses or—if you have the land and means—to adopting a homeless horse.

Tony

Written by Ed Galing | Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

 

Tony “was such a wonderful horse.” Every morning, long before the sun came up, Tom would hitch him to the wagon and they would deliver milk, butter, and eggs to customers around town. “Tony was all white, large, sturdy, with wide gentle eyes and a ton of love….” While Tom jumped out of the wagon and carefully carried the products to waiting doorsteps, Tony stood silently by.

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Image copyright Erin E. Stead, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

At one house the lights were always already burning even though it was only 3:00 a.m. The occupant of the house would come out and gently pat Tony, whose eyes shone as he bowed his head to receive the daily affection. Before moving on to the next house, Tom and the narrator always exchanged pleasantries. “Wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,” the customer would respond, adding compliments for Tony. 

These kind words made Tom smile as he seated himself once again in the wagon, and while the narrator watched them continue down the street, he “knew that Tony did a little dance.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tony-pulling-wagon

Image copyright Erin E. Stead, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

Ed Galing’s touching memoir to a special horse and a daily routine that brought camaraderie and comfort to the story’s narrator reminds readers that happiness can be found in the simplest of actions, and profound love in the connections between people and animals. Implicit in this minimalist snapshot of a short, early morning meeting are all the mornings—perhaps years-worth—carried out in exactly the same fashion that have forged the bond between Tony and the narrator.

Underlining the story is the basis for this bond—the affection and respect the narrator gives Tony and receives in return. It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to imagine a young child similarly encouraged by such compliments. The early morning setting (also prime time for many babies) lends a dreamy mystery to the tale—who is the narrator, why are they up so early, and how old are they? (certain illustrations give intriguing clues)—that children will enjoy imagining and discussing.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tony-houses

Image copyright Erin E. Stead, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

Erin E. Stead’s pencil-drawn illustrations, beautifully introduced by a page of vellum that sets the tone, are quiet, peaceful vignettes of Tony as he hitches up in the morning and takes Tom on his rounds. Bathed only in the glow of the light over the barn, a street light, or the light from the narrator’s open door, Tony makes his way through the dim streets with graceful dignity. Tony is gorgeously and expressively drawn.

As he waits outside the narrator’s house, Tony’s head is turned toward the doorway in expectation, and again as he pulls away from the curb, he gives one last look back. Children will love seeing the way milk and other farm products were once delivered and will respond to the gauzy sage and amber backdrop that makes Tony a perfect quiet time or bedtime book.

Tony is gentle, heartwarming triumph and a wonderful book to spur family-history stories. It would be a welcome addition to any child’s bookshelf.   

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626723085

Learn more about Erin E. Stead and view a gallery of her illustration work on her website!

National Horse Protection Day

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Horse Coloring Page

 

Horses are such beautiful creatures! Enjoy this printable Horse Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review

January 30 – Chinese New Year

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About the Holiday

Chinese New Year celebrations began on the eve of January 28, ushering in the Year of the Rooster. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities including lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations.The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations  end on the 15th day of the new year with the Lantern Festival.  People born in the Year of the Rooster are said to be honest, energetic, intelligent, flexible, and confident.

A New Year’s Reunion

Written by Yu Li-Qiong | Illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang

 

Maomao’s papa works far away as a house builder and can only return home once a year—during Chinese New Year. Today, Maomao and her mother wake up early and get ready because “Papa is coming home.” When Papa arrives, Maomao peers at her father from a distance. He seems unfamiliar, and when he picks her up in his arms she calls for her mama in alarm. But Papa has come with gifts—a hat for Maomao and a coat for Mama.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, courtesy of Candlewick Press

After catching up and eating lunch, Papa takes Maomao with him to the barber shop, where he gets a haircut and a shave. As Maomao watches, the Papa in the mirror is getting more like Papa the way he used to be.” Back home, Papa helps the family decorate their house and later they make sticky rice balls for the next day. “Papa buries a coin in one of the balls and says, ‘Whoever finds the ball with the coin will have good luck.’” As she falls asleep to the whispers of her parents, Maomao hears firecrackers snapping in the night air.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, text copyright Zhu Cheng-Liang. Courtesy of Candlewick Press

In the morning while eating the sticky rice balls, Maomao bites down on something hard. “‘The fortune coin! It’s the fortune coin!’” she exclaims. Her papa tells her to put it in her pocket so that the good luck will not escape. She places it in her coat pocket and then they all join the crowd in the square going on holiday visits. On the way she meets her friend Dachun, who shows her the red envelope he has gotten. Maomao proudly shows Dachun her lucky coin.

On the second day of New Year’s while Papa is doing chores around the house, he takes his little daughter to the roof. From here she can see Dachun’s house and hear the dragon dance over on Main Street. Maomao stands on tiptoe as tall as she can, but she can’t see the parade. Papa swings her onto his shoulders. “‘Now can you see it?’ he asks. ‘Yes, I can. They’re coming!’” she answers with excitement.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, courtesy of Candlewick Press

The third day of New Year’s brings snow, and Maomao, Dachun, and the other neighborhood children build a tall snowman and have a snowball fight in the courtyard. When Maomao comes in at the end of the day, she reaches into her coat pocket, but her fortune coin is gone! She runs outside, but the courtyard is covered in snow, and she can’t find it anywhere. Papa tries to give her another coin, but it isn’t the same.

Later, feeling miserable, Maomao climbs into bed and takes off her jacket. Suddenly, she hears a clink as something falls to the floor. “‘It’s the coin! My fortune coin!’” she cries. ‘‘Papa come quick—come and see! I haven’t lost the fortune coin. It’s been with me all the time.’” Maomao falls asleep happy. The next morning, she wakes to see Mama packing Papa’s things. Soon, he will return to work. He crouches down and with a promise to bring Maomao a doll hugs her tight. But Maomao shakes her head. “‘I want to give you something…,’” she says. She puts the coin in Papa’s hand and tells him, “‘Here, take this. Next time you’re back, we can bury it in the sticky rice ball again!’” Papa is silent and gives Maomao another hug before they say goodbye for another year.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Yu Li-Qiong’s touching story of a little girl’s reunion with the father she rarely sees is a heartfelt reminder that love continues over miles and days or months. Just as the fortune coin was with Maomao all the time, Maomao’s papa is always in her heart and she in his. Little ones, especially, will be captivated by the day-to-day activities of Maomao’s New Year festivities and appreciate the importance of her coin. Li-Qiong’s sweet story, filled with homey details of child and parent interactions, resonates beyond the holiday theme of the story and is a beautiful book for the many children who have parents who travel frequently with their jobs.

The quiet grace and wonder of Zhu Cheng-Liang’s gouache illustrations perfectly convey the loving relationship between father and daughter and the excitement of a family being together after a long absence. Although the Chinese New Year provides a frame for the story, Cheng-Liang’s paintings predominately focus on the day-to-day activities Maomao and her papa share—getting a haircut, fixing the house, cooking, meeting and playing with friends, and special hugs—emphasizing the universal scope of the story. The enchantment of the New Year’s festivities shines in a two-page spread where a fiery red-and-orange dragon puppet cavorts over the village bridge followed by a throng of people as others watch from homes and windows. Adorable Maomao may raise a lump in readers throats as she hugs her papa and gives him her treasured fortune coin.

A brief Author’s Note following the text pays tribute to the millions of migrant workers in China who often do not see their families except once each year.

A New Year’s Reunion would be a welcome book on any child’s bookshelf as a reminder that love overcomes any absence, long or short.

Ages 3 – 7

Candlewick Press, 2013 (paperback) | ISBN 978-076366748

Chinese New Year Activity

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Lantern Festival Coloring Page

 

Chinese New Year festivities end with a brilliant festival of lights. Enjoy this printable Lantern Festival Coloring Page to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Picture Book Review