December 3 – International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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About the Holiday

Today we honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a holiday that raises awareness for people of different physical and mental abilities across the globe. The day was proclaimed an international holiday in 1992 by the United Nations in order to appreciate members of our society who are often marginalized or ignored because of their different abilities. Today we recognize the importance of creating a world in which everyone feels like an active, respected member and cultivating a society that is accessible and designed for all of us. To celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities learn more about the fight for disability education rights or talk to someone you know with a disability about their experiences. You can also visit the IDPWD website to learn about available services, resources, and how you can get involved. We Want to Go to School! is a perfect way to start a conversation with a child about education equality for people with disabilities.

Thank you to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of We Want to Go to School! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights

Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler | Illustrated by Janine Leffler

 

When Janine was born with a disability called cerebral palsy, she had lots of teachers to help her learn. With the aid from different instructors who helped build her speech, her muscles, and her hand coordination, Janine was able to learn, play, study, and graduate school with the rest of her peers. This would not have been true, however, had she been born a decade earlier. Before 1971, millions of kids with disabilities were banned from attending public schools.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Janine explains that the people in charge claimed that children with disabilities shouldn’t go to school with everyone else because it would take too much money to fund education for them, and that those with disabilities would distract the other children. They even tried to say children with disabilities wouldn’t be able to learn. The real reason so many children with disabilities had to stay home or in hospitals instead of going to school was because of people’s prejudice.

Many parents of Black children had also experienced discrimination when they were in school. Before 1954, Black children had to go to separate schools that were not given nearly as many resources or good teachers as the white kids received in public schools. Similarly, children with disabilities in some places could take a test to go to public school, but they then were placed in separate, or segregated, classrooms and not given the same quality of education as the other kids. “But in 1971 in Washington, DC, seven school-age children were tired of hearing NO! They wanted to go to school too.” When other families heard about the lawsuit these seven families had started, they joined in too.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

So many children were not receiving public education because of disabilities, that all together they could file a class action lawsuit, “which meant that it stood up for a lot of children. And I mean a LOT! 18,000 students from the Washington, DC, area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities. Try to imagine 18,000. Then try to imagine 8,00,000 (8 million)! That’s how many children in the United States weren’t getting an education because they had disabilities.”

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Joseph C. Waddy, the judge on the case took eleven long months to deliberate over his decision – “On the one hand, he knew that it would cost a lot of money to provide an education to these children. On the other hand, shouldn’t schools be spending their money on ALL children?” – Finally, Judge Waddy decided, and the families won! “All across the country, millions of students with disabilities could finally go to school and get the education they needed and deserved.” The text concludes with one final note from Janine: “Thank you, Peter, Janice, Jerome, Michael, George, Steven, and Duane. You changed many lives…including mine.”

After the resolution of Janine’s recounting of this landmark case, a page entitled “About Disability Education Rights in the United States” provides more details on the key points for readers and educators. The informational spread includes a direct quote from Judge Waddy’s ruling and a timeline of important landmarks for disability rights and education. In personal notes from Janine Leffler and her mom, Maryann, the authors talk about their connections to the disabled community. This insightful page concludes with a personal note from the last surviving Plaintiff’s Attorney on the case: Paul R. Dimond.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Janine Leffler and Maryann Cocca-Leffler collaborate to tell the important story of the Mills v. Board of Education of the District Columbia case that served as a critical turning point in the fight for disability education rights. Through Janine’s personal narration of the case, the two authors succinctly explain the unfolding of this history in terms that are engaging and easy to understand for young readers. Speech bubbles and intertwined text with illustrations make the story engaging and exciting for young readers to follow. On the page that states how many children with disabilities were not allowed to go to school in DC, and more widely across the US, the whole spread features 1,000 tiny faces of kids, to help readers fathom the enormity of 18,000 people, let alone 8 million. The children in the story represent a diverse crowd of races, genders, and abilities. A joy to read, and an essential story to learn. Education matters.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807535189

You can find an Educator’s Guide to download on the Albert Whitman & Company website here.

Discover more about Maryann Cocca-Leffler, her books, and her musical on her website.

To meet and learn about Janine Leffler and discover the books and other creative endeavors she has inspired, visit Janine’s Party.

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You can find We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 9

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

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

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Shark Organizer Jar

 

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

Supplies

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

Directions

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

Picture Book Review

August 5 – Back to School Month Blog Tour Stop for Turkey Goes to School

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About the Holiday

Although we may not know what going back to school will look like this year, we can be sure that the excitement kids feel for seeing their friends and teachers, celebrating special themes and occasions, and reading new books together will be as strong as ever. Sharing today’s featured book – the latest in a favorite series – will make sure kids can look forward to a farm-tastic first day. 

Thanks to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Turkey Goes to School for review consideration. I’m eggs-cited to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Turkey Goes to School

Written by Wendi Silvano | Illustrated by Lee Harper

 

Max and Millie were excited about the first day of school. “So were the animals on Farmer Jake’s farm—especially since the first week’s theme was ‘Farm Days.’” Could an invitation to visit the school be far behind? Turkey imagined all the fun they would have. To make sure everything went smoothly, Turkey engaged the other animals in extensive practice of all the skills he thought they’d need. They read, wrote, counted, and even played recess games.

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

But when the bus pulled up in front of the farm gate, Millie delivered the bad news: “‘Critters aren’t allowed at school.’” Turkey just couldn’t take “no” for an answer, so he gathered up his friends and hitched a ride in the back of a passing pickup truck. When they got to school, the animals decided Turkey should sneak in to class. Turkey had an idea that just might work. Strapped onto Pig’s back in a makeshift backpack, Turkey was ready to go, but Max spied something amiss and told them to go home. But Turkey couldn’t take “no” for an answer. Peeking in the window, Turkey saw that story time had begun, and thought of another great disguise. This time he was able to “‘book it inside,’” but when a little girl pointed him out, the teacher said, “‘I’m page-ing the principal.’”

Back outside, Turkey had another brainstorm. Recess was coming up, so Turkey crossed his wings, folded down his feathers, pulled in his head and feet, and with some help from his friends landed in the middle of the playground. “‘Cool—jumbo soccer!’ cried a boy.” Too bad for Turkey, Millie was the referee. “‘I call a fowl!’” she cried.

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

The other animals were getting into the spirit of Turkey’s subterfuge, and Cow came up with a plan for Turkey to masquerade as a “‘lunch lady in the calf-eteria.’” Side-by-side with the real lunch lady, Turkey was fitting right in, until… he wasn’t. Outside once more, Turkey huddled with the other animals next to a scarecrow advertising Farm Days. Rooster just couldn’t understand why they weren’t “front and center” during Farm Days. That gave Turkey another idea. This time, Turkey put on a disguise that just could not miss. He even got help from the principal.

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

With her endorsement, what could the teacher say but “yes.” Millie and Max cheered as their animals trooped in with instruments, ready to sing a song with the class. And what better song to sing than Old MacDonald… I mean “‘Farmer Jake, he had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.’” (And you can guess which animal came first!) At the end of the song, Millie asked the teacher if they could sing some more. The teacher thought about it, and since it was Farm Days, after all, they were allowed to stay for a “Farm-tastic first—and last—day at school.”

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Turkey is back in Wendi Silvano and Lee Harper’s fifth adventure featuring the animals from Farmer Jake’s farm. All Turkey wants is a chance to go to school with Max and Millie, and he’ll go to any length to make it happen. As Silvano sets up funny obstacles that Turkey continues to overcome by taking advantage of opportunities and through clever school-based disguises, kids will find plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to celebrate Turkey’s ingenious initiative. Stuffed with witty puns that readers will be repeating throughout a school day, Silvano’s storytelling is fresh and dialogue-rich. Each animal gets a chance to shine in this smart and inventive celebration of teamwork.

Laying on lots of slapstick and exaggerated imagery, Lee Harper brings the beloved gang from Farmer Jake’s farm back for another madcap romp. In Harper’s hands, the animals are nothing less than high-spirited kids in sheep’s (Pig’s, Horse’s, Cow’s, Chicken’s and, of course, Turkey’s) clothing. Readers will love poring over the bright, action-packed pages to pick up all of the comical details, visual puns, and allusions to the trappings of school. Kids will cheer along with Turkey’s ultimate triumph and the rockin’ sing-along that makes this a school day for the books.

Whether your kids are already fans of the Turkey Trouble series—which includes Turkey Trouble, Turkey Clause, Turkey Trick-or-Treat, and Turkey’s Eggcellent Easter—or meeting these friends for the first time, Turkey Goes to School will captivate them and make them laugh. A perfect book to share for the first day of school and all the others along the way, Turkey Goes to School is sure to be a much-asked-for favorite and must addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542023641

Discover more about Wendi Silvano and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lee Harper, his books, and his art, visit his website.

A Quick Chat with Wendi Silvano

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Wendi Silvano was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has lived in Oregon, Colorado, and Peru. The author of the Turkey Trouble series, she has a BA in early childhood education and taught preschool and elementary school for eleven years. She is the mother of five children and the owner of an assortment of odd pets that are not nearly as clever as Turkey. She now writes from her home in Colorado, where she enjoys hiking, reading, and playing the piano. Visit her online at www.wendisilvano.com.

Hi Wendy! It’s so wonderful to see Turkey and his friends back… off the farm, I suppose we can say! They’re eager to make school-time memories, but we still have a little bit of summer left, so I was wondering, Do you have a favorite summer memory?

One summer, my kids and I were camping with some family friends. My son David and his friend Sean (who were about 7) were exploring near our campsite. They were hanging out under a very tall pine tree and goofing off a bit. They must have worried some chipmunks who were up in the tree. All of sudden, the chipmunks started bombing them with pinecones from the tree! We were all watching and laughing our heads off.

Of course, being boys, they didn’t just move to another spot to calm the chipmunks, but rather started trying to throw the pinecones back up at the chipmunks. They didn’t get them anywhere near high enough and the chipmunks won the battle in the end. As a children’s writer, my imagination immediately pictured that pair of chipmunks up high in the tree catching sight of the intruders,  planning their attack, carrying it out and eventually celebrating their victory. (Come to think of it… maybe I should write a story about that!).

I’d say readers will be pining for that picture book! What a hilarious experience! Animals truly are incredible. Thanks so much for sharing that story with us!

Back to School Month Activity

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Smile! It’s a Back to School Fun Word Search Puzzle

 

There are twenty school-related words in this happy word search puzzle. Can you find them all?

Back to School Fun! Word Search PuzzleBack to School Fun! Word Search Solution

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You can find Turkey Goes to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 14 – Isabel and Her Colores Go to School Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m happy to be joining the blog tour for Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, a beautiful picture book about starting a new school year, making friends, and finding a way to share what’s in your heart – even when it’s difficult. I also had a chance to talk briefly with Alexandra and Courtney!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sharing a digital copy of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School with me for this review. All opinions on the book are my own.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

 

It’s the night before Isabel’s first day of school, and she’s sitting “cross-legged on her bed, coloreando with her favorite crayons: rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.” Isabel was ready for the next day, but there was something that worried her. She “didn’t speak much inglés. English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites. Isabel preferred the pinks and yellows and purples of español.”

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Isabel didn’t want to go to school, but Mami drove her there anyway. At the door, she kissed Isabel on the head and reminded her: “‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.’” But Isabel’s face showed sadness and worry. As class started, Isabel followed along, unsure of what it all meant. During stretching time, the kids counted “‘One, two, three.’” Instinctively, Isabel repeated “‘Uno, dos, tres.’” The colors of their voices “[crashed] against each other.” All the kids stared at Isabel, and she could feel her face getting hot.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When it was story time, all the kids took their regular spots on the rug, which left no room for Isabel. Then a girl told her she could sit “‘here’” next to her. Isabel understood the word “here” and sat down. “‘I’m Sarah,’” the girl said. “‘Me llamo Isabel,’” Isabel told her. Then Sarah asked Isabel if she’d like to be friends. The harsh words filled her brain and she shook her head to clear them. She blushed again. “‘No entiendo,’” she said. Misunderstanding herself, Sarah looked as if she might cry. Isabel felt that way too.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When lunchtime came, Isabel sat alone and tried to make herself feel better by coloring on her napkin, but tears came anyway. Back in the classroom, Isabel’s teacher announced that it was “coloring time.” Isabel looked up. “Coloring sounded very much like colorear.” When she got a blank sheet of paper and crayons, “Isabel knew she had understood.” As she worked on her picture, she used all of her favorite colors and she remembered Mami’s advice.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she was finished, she showed Sarah. She had drawn herself and Sarah holding hands and surrounded by hearts and stars. “‘Amigas,’” Isabel said, pointing from girl to girl. Sarah understood. “‘Friends,’” she said. When their teacher showed Isabel’s picture to the other kids, all of her classmates were impressed. Their smiles and compliments softened the stormy colors of English “to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home,” and Isabel thought school might be okay after all.

Simultaneous translations of the English story are presented in colorful boxes on each page. A Spanish-to-English translation glossary of words typeset in bold throughout the book is found at the end of the story.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Alexandra Alessandri’s emotionally resonant story shines with her unique invitation to readers to understand how language barriers feel from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaking child as well as her English-speaking classmate who wants to be friends. Children’s fondness for drawing and favorite colors gives Alessandri the perfect palette to present initial feelings of worry, disappointment, and frustration as well as a meaningful way for children to bridge differences and discover hope, encouragement, and common ground. Alessandri’s dialogue and interactions between Isabel and Mami as well as between Isabel and Sarah ring true with honesty and the types of small moments that can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and others that unite. Isabel’s love for and descriptions of the rhythms and beauty of her native language are a highlight and can give teachers, parents, and other adults an excellent way to talk to their children about languages, diversity, and communication.

Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations enliven the pages as swoops of color swirl around Isabel and through the classroom, depicting her feelings from moment to moment as well as how English sounds to her and how English and Spanish together clash in her ears. Readers will recognize the colorful elements of a classroom and the routines of a day. Dawson clearly depicts the characters’ emotions as well as how excitement and confidence can change to embarrassment and uncertainty with a word or in a moment—and, happily, vice versa.

Lovely, poignant, and with a unique perspective on themes of language, fitting in, and friendship that will resonate with all kids, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a must for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110632

A Chat with Alexandra and Courtney

Hi Alexandra and Courtney! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog tour for your gorgeous book! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat!

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Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!(Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School(Sleeping Bear Press, 2021). 

You can connect with Alexandra Alessandri on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

My favorite summer memories are from the years I went to Colombia in the summer. We didn’t go every year because we couldn’t afford it, but the years we did go were always spent seeing family and cousins across several cities—Medellín, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá—and farms. Several family members had farms in different towns. Of those, one of my favorite memories is from the year my parents sent me to Colombia on my own to stay with family and close friends. I was nine.

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Alexandra in Colombia visiting family when she was nine years old.

 

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Alexandra riding horses in Colombia when she was nine years old.

There were many adventures that summer, but my favorite consisted of riding in the back of a jeep to my tío’s farm near Manizales, playing with cousins, riding horses to the edge of a forest, hiking down to a creek, and following that to a wonderful lagoon and waterfall. It was such a wonderful time!

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have and why?

If I wasn’t a writer (or a teacher!), I would be a librarian. I still remember playing librarian as a kid with my dad’s old pencil mic. I would take my library books and “scan” the barcode with the mic, stacking them up and handing them off to my invisible guests. Libraries held a special place in my heart, as I spent many days there with my mom, looking through books, finding nooks in which to read, and participating in library events. Now, I love connecting readers with books and helping them find the right book to foster that same excitement I remember feeling as a child. Being a librarian would be a natural extension of this!

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Courtney Dawson is an illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She lives with her family in Ventura, California. Picture books she has recently illustrated include Help Wanted, Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020), and The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Philomel Books, 2021).

You can connect with Courtney Dawson on her website | Instagram

What’s your favorite non-book summer activity?

Spending time with my two kids and my partner is my favorite summertime thing to do! We love riding bikes and having picnics at the park. My favorite alone time activity during the summer though, is drawing outdoors and listening to music.

Thanks, Alexandra and Courtney! I hope you both have a wonderful summer and I wish you all the best with Isabel and Her Colores Go to School!

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You can order signed copies of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School from Books and Books

 

You can find Isabel and Her Colores Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 11 – Making Life Beautiful Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established by Apriori Beauty in 2015 to recognize all those people who make life more fun, meaningful, joyful—more beautiful—for someone else. This can be done in so many ways. Spending more time talking with someone lets them know you care. Sharing your talent for baking, art, music, gardening, home repair, or any skill with a friend, family member, or coworker brings joy to them and you. Even just giving a smile to those you meet can brighten someone’s day. Making someone else feel good will make life more beautiful for you too!

The Color Collector

Written by Nicholas Solis | Illustrated by Renia Metallinou

 

A boy notices a new girl, Violet, at school. He knows what it’s like to be the new kid, so he waves to her as she sits on a bench alone, reading. She gives him a small smile—he thinks—but doesn’t say anything. He knew that Violet lived near him because they always “walked home the same way,” although he “was on one side, she on the other.” She was “always quiet. Always alone.”

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

It was always the same until one day when the wind blew a red candy wrapper Violet’s way and the boy watched her pick it up and put it in her backpack. When she looked up, Violet saw the boy watching. “She looked at me,” he says. “She waved. Then her eyes went down and she turned the corner.” Now, the boy noticed how many things Violet picked up along the way home. “Bright blue cookie wrappers. Yellow pieces of paper. Green bottle caps. Red fall leaves. All disappearing into the gray backpack.”

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

One day the boy crosses the street and asks Violet what she does with the things she picks up. Violet invites him to come see. They come to a brownstone and up a few flights of stairs, Violet takes him inside her home and opens the door to her room. “Here in her room, the sun comes to shine,” the boy says. “It reaches in and makes her glow. It makes her collection glow as well.”

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What the boy sees—on the walls, the ceiling, the door—is “her sky, her beach, her village” recreated from the wrappers, paper, leaves, caps, and other bits she’s found. “We came here for a better life,” Violet tells the boy. “I miss home, though. I miss the sounds and smells. And I miss the colors.” The boy tells her the mural is beautiful. Then Violet tells him stories about her village, the people there, and the ocean. The boy and Violet “sit and talk. Then laugh. Then talk some more.” The boy sees that Violet is not so sad or alone anymore, and he’s glad to be her friend. When he leaves, he and Violet wave goodbye and “smile the same.” One the way home, the wind blows a red leaf his way. He picks it up and puts it in his backpack.

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Poignant and honest, Nicholas Solis’s multilayered story touches on friendship, loneliness, new experiences, immigration, creativity, and how acts of welcome, empathy, and kindness can change perspectives and bring joy to life. Told from the boy’s point of view in short, straightforward observations, the story captures readers’ emotions and curiosity as they walk with him and Violet, waiting to see why the reason for her collection. As days and maybe weeks or months pass before the boy speaks to Violet, readers on “both sides of the street” (those who are hesitant to talk and share as well as those who would like to get to know someone better) learn that friendship takes time, patience, trust, and sincere interest. 

Renia Metallinou adds visual eloquence to the story with his gray- and dun-hued illustrations, which pick up increasing hints of color as Violet and the boy grow closer to Violet’s house and finally explode with vibrancy when she opens the door to her room. The first clue of the importance of color to the “new girl” is in her name, and to punctuate this fact, Metallinou gives Violet purple hairbands for her braids. As Violet walks home on a parallel track to the boy, purple tints the pots and flowers decorating the sidewalk, a woman’s purse, and her dog’s collar as if to show that Violet is already assimilating and contributing to her new community.

After she picks up the red wrapper, red flowers, and accents dot the next page, and after the boy describes the blue, yellow, and green items she finds, the trees gain red and yellow leaves, container gardens overflow with greenery, an orange cat watches a trio of red-bellied birds, and blue curtains hang in a downstairs room. But it’s when Violet opens her bedroom door that the real magic happens.

Readers are treated to one more two-page spread of suspense, heightened by the boy’s look of wonder and Violet’s proud gaze. Surrounded by light, Violet smiles. Her gray-and-white-striped shirt turns green and yellow, her brown skin glows with joy. Then readers turn the page and, like the boy, step into a sun-drenched coastal village with candy-colored buildings, lush foliage, a sparkling sea, and a woman – perhaps Violet’s grandmother – looking toward the horizon, maybe looking for Violet herself. Metallinou has made Violet’s mural a masterpiece of art, life, longing, and love. As Violet’s stories pour forth, she and the boy discover how to let their true colors show.

A beautiful and evocative story about the power of friendship, empathy, and kindness, The Color Collector provides a unique and highly effective way for kids and adults to talk about feelings of loneliness, homesickness, making new friends, opening up to others, and many other feelings kids experience. The book could spark meaningful art projects for classrooms and homeschoolers and would be an excellent addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111059

Discover more about Nicholas Solis and his books on his website.

To learn more about Renia Metallinou, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Making Life Beautiful Day Activity

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Initial Bookend or Decoration

 

Today’s holiday is all about making someone feel special. With this easy craft, kids can make a gift for a family member, friend, or teacher that shows them why they think the person makes the world more beautiful. And don’t forget to make one for yourself too!

Supplies

  • Wooden letter block of the recipient’s first initial or both initials
  • Chalkboard paint
  • Chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden letter with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write words on the letter that you think best describe the person you’re giving it to
  3. Wrap and give your letter!

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You can find The Color Collector at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 6 – It’s Teacher Appreciation Week

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About the Holiday

Every May as schools begin to wind down for the year, students, parents, and school systems across the country celebrate the role teachers play in providing quality education from preschool through college and beyond. Established in 1984 by the National PTA, this week-long holiday also inspires a wide range of businesses to honor teachers with freebies and discounts. As Teacher Appreciation Week comes to a close, don’t forget to thank your teacher! To learn more about Teacher Appreciation Week and how you can show your gratitude this week and all through the year, visit the PTA website.

Thank you to HarperCollins for providing a digital copy of Dear Teacher, A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Dear Teacher, A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us

Written by Paris Rosenthal | Illustrated by Holly Hatam

 

As the school year winds down, kids in schools everywhere are beginning to wonder, How do I tell my teacher how much I love them? And parents, grandparents, or other caregivers are thinking, How can I truly express my gratitude for all the care, concern, understanding, education, and inspiration my child’s or children’s teachers show every day? The answer comes in Dear Teacher, A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us, a beautiful picture book letter to school teachers, music teachers, coaches, instructors, and anyone who helps kids discover who they are and encourage them to become their best selves.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Paris Rosenthal, 2021. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Paris Rosenthal begins each two-page spread with “Dear Teacher,” and then focuses on one action, inspiration, or lesson that teachers of all kinds use to engage their students. Some of these show appreciation for lessons that carry kids into the future, such as encouraging them to “dream big,” explore many paths, “think outside the box,” and be a team player. For this last lesson, Holly Hatam depicts a child throwing the basketball to her teammate in a wheelchair as the coach stands on the sidelines, saying “Pass the ball.” The letter reads, “Dear Teacher, You taught me to pass the ball, even when I think I have the shot.”

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Paris Rosenthal, 2021. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Other letters reveal a moment that sparks concrete, at-the-moment feelings of self-confidence that can make all the difference. In one spread, a music teacher conducts a small orchestra in which all the children except one are wearing black and playing string or wind instruments. The standout is dressed in yellow and plays the triangle. The accompanying text reads, “Dear Teacher, You make me feel like I matter. no matter what.”

Other letters express their appreciation to their teacher for always “lifting me up,” “being there wherever I land,” and most especially for “sending me on my way!” The book ends with a final tribute to that steadfast teacher you’d like to thank: “You are a gift that keeps on giving and this book is my gift to you.” Inside the front cover there is an opportunity for the child to inscribe the book to their teacher: “TO ______ who I admire. FROM ______ who you inspire.”

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Paris Rosenthal, 2021. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With charm, sincerity, and enthusiasm Paris Rosenthal gives children the words to express their thoughts in ways that are sweet, conversational, and sound like kids and which will touch teachers’ hearts. The various types of teachers portrayed in Holly Hatam’s illustrations make this a wonderfully universal gift for any teacher, coach or instructor in your child’s life.

Holly Hatam’s vibrant and enchanting illustrations show children engaged in a wide variety of activities in clever and meaningful ways that reflect realistic experiences inside and outside of the classroom, on the court, at the gym and the pool, and while kids are playing together and using what their teachers have taught them. Hatam’s diverse children are happy, curious, proud, creative, and ready to face the future with confidence all because of the support and help their teachers give.

Dear Teacher, A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us would make a poignant, joyful, and much-appreciated gift for any teacher. The book would also be a terrific addition to home and public library bookshelves for families to share feelings of gratitude for teachers throughout the year.

Ages 4 – 8 

HarperCollins, 2021 | ISBN 978-0063012745

Discover more about Paris Rosenthal and her books on her website.

You can connect with Holly Hatam on Twitter.

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You can find Dear Teacher, A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 4 – National Teacher Day

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About the Holiday

This school year has been like no other – for students and teachers. Switching from in-person, in-the-classroom learning to virtual learning and zoom classes to hybrid models has been a head-spinning experience for all. Yet our teachers have adapted, designing new lesson plans and devising creative ways to engage their students online. This week (National Teacher Appreciation Week) and today in particular, we honor and thank the teachers that make a difference in our and our children’s lives. Teachers open the world to their students by instilling a love of learning through their enthusiasm, caring, and creativity. Before you move on to a new class next year, don’t forget to tell your teacher or teachers how much they’ve meant to you. You can find 51 ways to thank your teacher on Waterford.org and a Teacher Appreciation Week toolkit, complete with virtual and printable thank-you cards and certificates and other ideas to download on the National PTA website.

I Wish You Knew/Ojalá Supieras

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Magdalena Mora

 

As a little girl approaches her school building, she tells the reader, “Our school wraps around a hundred-year-old oak tree.” The students mark the passage of time by the changes in the leaves. The school has a garden with cabbages, tomatoes, and sunflowers that the girl’s father helped her class plant. “One day,” the girl says, her father told her “that because he wasn’t born here like me, he must return to his native country.”

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Image copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Before he left he hugged her and said, “Te quiero mucho, Estrella…my little star.” He promises to come back one day “to see the sunflowers bloom. Until then, Estrella skips between the tall flowers and “think[s] of his smile.” In her thoughts she addresses her teacher: “I wish you knew that when I forget my homework or sit alone at lunch or cry over little things, it’s because I miss him.” And it is not only these things that have changed. Everything at home, for her mother and her brother, too, is different.

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Image copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As Estrella’s teacher enters the classroom one day, she says she is also proud that her school surrounds the old oak tree. Her favorite place is in her classroom, where her students are busy and curious. She also loves to watch them play on the playground. The students may not realize it, but the teacher sees when they are sad and understands when they are without their homework. She wishes they knew that “they are not alone.”

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Image from Ojalá Supieras, copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

The teacher starts a new tradition, a “sharing circle called I Wish You Knew.” There the kids can tell their classmates how they are feeling, what they’re thinking about, and other “secrets” they are ready to share. Estrella’s teacher lets her students know she’s there if they need help. One student reveals that they are “hungry a lot.” Another student’s mom is in the military and another explains that he lives in a shelter.

But not all of the children’s sharing is sad. Estrella likes to talk about all the things her dad taught her and what they did together. And while she waits to be together with her father again, she and her friends plant more sunflower seeds and “wait for them to bloom.”

I Wish You Knew is also available in a Spanish Version with the title Ojalá Supieras.

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Image copyright Ojalá Supieras, Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

In her moving story Jackie Azúa Kramer embraces the many children affected by hardships, whose parents are absent for a variety of reasons, or who live with difficult family situations. Through Estrella, whose father has been deported, Kramer dives deep into the hearts of children grappling with strong feelings, hunger, homelessness, and otherwise disrupted home lives while still trying to succeed in school. Using “I wish you knew” from a variety of points of view, Kramer first draws children into Estrella’s confession as she directly addresses the reader. With the tenor of a confidant, Estella gives readers a tour of the favorite parts of her school. It is here, among the sunflowers that she feels comfortable talking about her father. During lunch, Estrella wishes her teacher knew what had happened at home.

The perspective then shifts to the teacher who shows her favorite parts of the school while revealing that, while she may not know the exact situation, she does recognize when something is wrong and hopes her students understand she is there to empathize and help. These two storylines merge when the teacher establishes the sharing circle and three students share their wishes straightforwardly, addressing the reader as much as their teacher and creating a poignant reading experience for all. Echoing the resilience of children, Kramer ends her story with a message of hope.

Magdalena Mora uses warm earth tones in her evocative mixed-media illustrations, mirroring the ideas of growth and renewal found in Kramer’s story. Estrella’s school building is a green-and-glass structure that looks out on the old oak tree, a symbol of steadfastness and strength for the students and teachers alike. The events and situations the children share are rendered in gray, giving them a feeling of distance from the children’s school day. Mora’s stylized sunflowers grow in profusion, framing the students and teacher on various pages and appearing in the background on others, an ever-present reminder that friendship and understanding are nearby and that better days lie ahead.

A moving story of empathy, sharing, and kindness, I Wish You Knew is a must for classrooms and is highly recommended for home and public library collections to help children and adults initiate difficult discussions about emotions and events or experiences affecting their lives.

Ages 4 – 7 

Roaring Brook Press | ISBN 978-1250226303 (I Wish You Knew) | ISBN 978-1250814784 (Ojalá Supieras)

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Magdalena Mora, her books, and her art on her website.

I Wish You Knew Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Jackie Azúa Kramer in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of I Wish You Knew written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | illustrated by Magdalena Mora

To enter:

This giveaway is open from May 4 to May 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 11. 

Prizing provided by Jackie Azúa Kramer.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-cover      celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ojalá-supieras-cover

You can find I Wish You Knew at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

You can find Ojalá Supieras here

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order I Wish You Knew from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Order Ojalá Supieras here

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review