July 3 – Apollo 11 Moon Landing Anniversary Month

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About the Holiday

On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong, watched by millions of people around the world, became the first person to step foot on the moon. This month we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of that monumental moment. Since then we have developed a deeper understanding of our universe, but there is still so much more to discover. Who knows how far today’s children will go in exploring the great unknowns of the cosmos.

I received a copy of Marty’s Mission: An Apollo 11 Story from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Marty’s Mission: An Apollo 11 Story  (Tales of Young Americans Series) 

Written by Judy Young | Illustrated by David Miles

 

Ten-year-old Marty and his friend Tomás listened eagerly to the radio broadcast of the Apollo spacecraft liftoff from Marty’s home near NASA’s Tracking Station in Guam. The boys wished they could watch the historic flight, but there was no television reception. Marty and his family had moved to Guam a year ago when Marty’s dad took a job at the tracking station. Although Marty was excited to hear the announcer’s voice counting down to liftoff and then “‘Neil Armstrong talking from inside the spacecraft,’” he wished he could share the experience with his dad. But Marty’s father was busy at the tracking station and would be there for eight days.

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Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Judy Young, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The tracking station, with its huge antenna facing skyward, fascinated Marty. “‘That,’” his dad had told him, “‘is what will pick up communication signals from the spacecraft. And inside the operations building is equipment to rely the signals back and forth between the astronauts and Mission Control in Houston, Texas.’” Marty thought it was awesome that his dad would get to hear everything the astronauts said. Marty wished he could visit the tracking station to hear them too, but he understood that his dad would be too busy and that there was “‘a lot at stake. If communications go down, the astronauts might not make it home,’” his dad had explained.

When Apollo 11 finally entered the moon’s orbit, Marty and Tomás were glued to the radio waiting for the Eagle to land. Then they got a call that the tracking station had set up a TV and was sending a bus to collect family members so they could watch the landing. Marty and Tomás rushed to board the bus. Marty, Tomás, and the rest of the families watched the Eagle touch down on the moon and Neil Armstrong descend the ladder to become the first person to set foot on the moon. They watched as the Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin “bounced around on the moon, taking photos and collecting lunar rocks.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-marty's-mission-tracking-station

Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Judy Young, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The next day the Eagle connected with the Columbia and began the trip back to Earth. “On the last night of the mission,” Marty was suddenly woken up by his mother. She said that his father needed him. Something was wrong. He was driven to the tracking station and met up with his dad and other men outside the huge antenna. “‘The antenna is stuck,’ Dad told Marty,” If they couldn’t get it moving again, Mission Control would lose contact with Apollo 11. It was vital that the antenna work, and time was running out.

But why did they need him? Marty wondered. His dad explained that they thought the problem was in a bearing—”‘a ring with metal balls encased inside it…. The balls have to roll for the antenna to move, but they’re stuck.’” The men thought that if the bearing could be packed with grease, it might move again. But their arms were too big to reach into the tight space. “‘Do you think you can do it?’” Marty’s dad asked. “‘You bet!’ Marty exclaimed.”

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Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Judy Young, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Marty learned what they wanted him to do and crawled into the space where the motor was. He took a glob of grease in one hand and reached in, “but even his arm was too big.” Marty knew he had to find a way to do it. The lives of the three astronauts depended on it. He thought a while and then smiled. “Quickly, Marty smeared grease all over his arm.” Although the space was still tight, his arm slipped in. Marty filled the bearing with grease. When he was finished, his dad called out to try starting the antenna again.

Slowly, it creaked back to life. “Instantly a voice called out from the building. ‘Communications with Apollo 11 intact. All systems working!’” The men cheered and congratulated Marty. Marty joined them in the operations building and listened as a voice from Houston announced, “‘Successful splashdown—task accomplished! Welcome back to Earth, Apollo 11.’” Marty’s father gave him a hug and said, “‘The world wouldn’t have heard those words if it weren’t for you, son.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-marty's-mission-Marty

Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Judy Young, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Based on true events, Judy Young’s compelling story of a child who played a crucial role in one of history’s most astounding accomplishments will thrill young readers. As the first moon landing, the Apollo 11 mission was fraught with danger, excitement, and a level of uncertainty that had people glued to their televisions and radios for the length of the mission. Communication with the astronauts was paramount, and when the link was lost many feared for the three men. Young’s straightforward storytelling  realistically portrays the excitement and fascination of a child for a favorite subject while also demonstrating their pride in and understanding of their parents’ jobs. Through dialogue that always rings true, Young builds the strong relationship and trust Marty and his dad enjoy. Marty’s confidence and quick thinking also mirror the serious nature of the book’s target audience.

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In his realistic and atmospheric paintings, David Miles offers readers a glimpse at a unique part of the Apollo 11 mission: NASA’s tracking station in Guam. As Marty and Tomás hang on every word from the radio, the moon hangs low in the twilight sky and serves as a backdrop to the waving palm trees. Kids interested in engineering, science, and communications will want to linger over the views of the huge antenna that provided the connection between Earth and the astronauts. Period details include images of radios, cars, televisions, and even the grainy broadcast seen by millions. As Marty’s father explains the problem to his son, readers can clearly see what a bearing looked like and where in the antenna Marty had to work. As the men in the operations building celebrate a successful mission, today’s children can feel a sense of kinship with the boy who made a difference in 1969.

Part of the Tales of Young American Series from Sleeping Bear Press, Marty’s Mission: An Apollo 11 Story is an absorbing true story that has impact for young readers today. For children interested in space, science, STEM, history, biographies, news, communications, and a well-told story, Marty’s Mission makes an inspirational addition to home, school, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110144

Discover more about Judy Young and her books on her website.

To learn more about David Miles, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Marty’s Mission Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of

One (1) copy of Marty’s Mission: An Apollo 11 Story written by Judy Young | illustrated by David Miles

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

This giveaway is open from July 3 through July 7 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner for each prize will be chosen on July 8.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Anniversary Activity

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Apollo 11 Moon Landing Coloring Pages

 

With these printable coloring pages you can follow some of the steps of the historic moon landing and the astronauts’ return home..

Blast Off! | Landing! | Astronauts on the Moon | Module Separates | Fiery Reentry

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You can find Marty’s Mission: An Apollo 11 Story at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 28 – It’s Great Outdoor Month

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About the Holiday

The warmer weather begs to be enjoyed—whether you’re playing, working, or just lounging around. Established in 1998 as Great Outdoors Week, the holiday expanded to a month-long celebration in 2004. There’s so much to see and do outside as the wonders of nature are always changing and challenging you in new and surprising ways.

The Nocturnals Series

The Nocturnals series of books—early readers and middle grade novels—brings together a trio of friends for adventures and learning. The three main characters are Dawn, a gentle, kind, and wise red fox; Tobin, a shy, hesitant, and loyal pangolin; and Bismark, a chatty, romantic, impetuous sugar glider. Their distinct personalities serve them well as they meet up with various other woodland animals in mysterious, dangerous, and surprising ways. No matter what challenges they face, however, Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin support each other as best friends should.

Whether children meet the Nocturnal Brigade as an beginning reader or as an established reader, they will love following the friends’ adventures and be charmed by their close relationship, even when squabbles arise. As with any favorite series, kids will look forward to catching up with what this unique group of nighttime animals are doing next.

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 2 Books

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The Moonlight Meeting

Written by Tracey Hecht and Rumur Dowling | Illustrated by Waymond Singleton

 

As the twinkling stars began to appear in the sky, a sweet pangolin by the name of Tobin woke up. “‘Oh my, Tobin said. ‘I smell something delicious!’” He yawned and stretched and went in search of that wonderful smell. It didn’t take long before he bumped into a pomelo—the perfect thing for breakfast. But before he could dig in, he heard a screech from the tree above. “‘Thief!’ it cried.” Tobin was so frightened that he “let out a stinky poof!”

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The small creature in the tree covered his nose. “‘That stench! That odor! That tang!’” he exclaimed. “‘This calls for the flaps!’” In a moment the animal leaped out of the tree and glided to the ground. Although a little scared, Tobin was curious. He wondered if perhaps this creature could become a friend. But it didn’t seem he was interested in anything but the pomelo. As he grabbed the green fruit, he introduced himself. “‘I am Bismark! Sugar glider spec-tac-u-lar! And the owner of this pomelo.’” But before Tobin could reply, a red fox emerged from the bushes.

She had smelled Tobin’s spray of fear and wondered if help was needed. The fox had “kind eyes” and “a warm smile.” Bismark spoke up and told the fox about Tobin and the pomelo and the thievery. The fox asked if all of this was true. “Tobin was shy, but the fox made him feel brave.” He answered that he was not stealing the fruit, but Bismark said he had seen it first.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

The fox thought over the problem and…sliced the pomelo into three pieces. She gave a piece to Tobin and Bismark and kept one for herself. “‘Mmm,’ Tobin said. The pomelo was sweet! ‘Burp,’ Bismark belched. The pomelo was juicy. ‘Perfect,’ the fox declared. The pomelo was delicious!” It seemed the little sugar glider liked more than just the pomelo. After smoothing his hair and giving a deep bow, he introduced Tobin and himself. The fox smiled and told them her name was Dawn. Tobin was smitten.

Suddenly, they all realized that each of them slept during the day and were awake at night. Bismark exclaimed that they would be “a moonlight trio… a nocturnal brigade”… a…. Dawn broke in. “‘We will be friends,’” she said. Tobin and Bismark were happy. They were friends.

Facts about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

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Image copyright Waymond Singleton, 2017, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2017. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tracey Hecht introduces her unique band of friends in this story that brings a diverse group of animals together over the disputed ownership of a pomelo. The strong personalities of the characters lend humor and intrigue to their quarrel over this favorite fruit, and as Dawn raises her sharp claws to decide the issue, readers may join Tobin and Bismark in a moment of wide-eyed suspense. The fox’s solution, however, is one of inclusion and sharing and sets the tone for the rest of the series. Hecht’s short sentences are composed of active, high-interest vocabulary, and the story moves along at a quick pace, carried by realistic and funny dialogue.

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Kids will love meeting Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin through the illustrations on each page that convey their personalities and the storyline clearly. Tiny Bismark, with his big eyes, dramatic expressions, and energetic attitude is always ready for action. Tobin, the scaly pangolin with long claws, an anxious demeanor, and an inherent sweetness, is devoted and trustworthy. And Dawn, with her sleek red coat and gentle eyes, is caring, intelligent, and the glue that holds the three together. As readers get to know each character better, they’ll look forward to each one’s individual reactions to whatever adventure they encounter.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1944020149

You can find The Moonlight Meeting at these booksellers

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

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The Slithery Shakedown

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

Although nighttime had come, Bismark was still waiting for his friends to arrive. “Bismark tapped his foot. Bismark put his fists to his hips. Bismark scrunched his tiny pink nose. This sugar glider was peeved!” Still, he was more relieved than angry when Tobin, the pangolin, came through the reeds. It wasn’t long before Dawn, a red fox, joined them. Bismark jumped on top of a rock and declared that he was going to take them on an adventure. After all he was “‘Bismark the Brave.’” Tobin and Dawn giggled at their tiny friend.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Before they could get started, though, Dawn noticed something lurking in the bushes. It was a snake—a snake who seemed to have designs on eating Bismark for breakfast. “The snake slithered closer. ‘Sss-scrumptious!’ the snake said. ‘A sss-scrawny, little sss-sugar glider.’” Bismark ran and hit behind Dawn’s legs. Dawn stepped forward and confronted the snake. “Tobin summoned his courage” and joined her.

The snake prepared to attack. “Dawn snarled…. Tobin raised a sharp, taloned claw.” The snake took a look at the stalwart friends and decided it was time to “‘sss-skedaddle.’” Biskmark was trembling as he watched the snake slither away, but he would not admit that he had been scared. Dawn and Tobin reassured him that “‘You can be scared and brave, too.’” In fact, they told him, they had also been afraid of the snake.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Just then something blue and shiny in the bushes caught Bismark’s eye. He went closer. The thing was long and thin, but it did not slither. “‘By the moon!’ Bismark said. ‘Look here! That snake slithered right out of its skin.’” He picked it up and tore it into three pieces. He gave a piece to Tobin and Dawn. They each tied the piece of snakeskin around their neck like a cape and admired themselves. Dawn thought it was the perfect symbol for their brigade. “‘The Nocturnal Brigade!’ Tobin cheered, and Bismark added, “‘Bold in adventure. And best of all, brave!’”

Information about the nocturnal animals in the book and their favorite food, the pomelo, follows the story.

When the three are threatened by a snake, will they be brave enough to send him packing? Even though Bismark considers himself the bravest of the brave, he turns out to be the one most frightened by the slithery bully. With his new friends behind him, Biskmark learns that fear and bravery often go hand in hand. Here, the three solidify their friendship with a physical symbol of the brigade, and their blue snakeskin capes become a regular feature of the series. Using lots of alliteration, dialogue and some sss-snakey onomatopoeia, Tracey Hecht weaves a fast-moving story that shows that sticking together and standing up for others is the best way to defeat a bully.

Josie Yee further develops her characters in this story that sees the usually uber-confident Bismark experience fear that he can’t hide. Tobin demonstrates another level of self-assurance by swallowing his usual shyness to confront the snake, and Dawn, true to her nature, serves as strong example to her friends and readers.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020170

You can find The Slithery Shakedown at these booksellers

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

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The Peculiar Possum

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

It was a bright, beautiful night when Dawn, a fox; Bismark, a sugar glider, and Tobin, a pangolin met under the pomelo tree. Bismark was dismayed because while the tree was usually full of fruit, tonight he could only find one. Just then they heard a strange “cluck cluck clatter! Chit chit chatter!” Bismark was sure it was a prowler who’d come for his pomelos. “Suddenly, the wind blew. The shadows shifted. A strange smell filled the air.”

Dawn looked up into the tree and saw “two shiny, brown eyes. And a paw, holding a pomelo! ‘Popping peepers!’ Bismark bellowed. ‘There is a prowler! And it has one of my precious pomelos!’” Quickly, the eyes disappeared and the pomelo came soaring out of the swaying branches. With a few more clucks and clatter, chits and chatter, the prowler plunked down in front of them. The three friends recognized the interloper as a possum. They gathered around it, but it lay motionless on the ground.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn prodded it with her paw. “‘Perhaps this possum is feeling a bit peaky,’” she said. But the possum opened one eye and told them it was just playing possum. The possum got up and introduced herself as Penny. “‘Pleased to meet you,’” she said, sticking out her paw. But Bismark was not pleased to meet her. He did not like that she “prowls and pillages.” As evidence he pointed to the wayward pomelo.

Dawn gazed at her friend and said, “‘Bismark, these pomelos belong to everyone.’” Well, what about the way Penny chits and chatters? Bismark asked. He thought her way of speaking was strange. Dawn reminded him that he too had a unique way of speaking. Then Bismark pointed out the unusual hairless patch on Penny’s tail. “Dawn smiled gently. She looked down at Bismark’s bald spot. ‘Bismark, Penny is not the only one with a hairless patch.’” Still, Bismark wasn’t keen on Penny’s smell or the way she played possum.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Tobin hurried to Penny’s side to defend her. “‘Penny, I spray a terrible odor when I get scared,’” he reassured her, reaching for her paws. Dawn told Bismark that no one is exactly like someone else. That everyone is unique. Then Penny told Bismark that she was proud of who she is. Bismark looked at Penny, and even though it was hard to admit he’d been wrong, he apologized to her and proclaimed, “‘You are your own possum. And that makes you perfect.’” Then Bismark split the pomelo into four sections and they all had a pomelo picnic.

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, brushtail possums, and pomelos follow the text. Back matter also includes a Language Glossary showing forms of five words in the story as well as the translations of these words into Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, French, and Arabic.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2018, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2018. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

When Bismark encounters Penny, a possum and an animal he’s never seen before, his adverse reaction to her disappoints Dawn and Tobin, who show him the errors in his thinking. Through her story, Tracey Hecht demonstrates that everyone has more similarities than differences and that what makes one person distinctive should be celebrated. Along the way, readers learn how to welcome a new friend.

Ages 5 – 7 

Fabled Films Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1944020194

You can find The Peculiar Possum at these booksellers

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

Grow & Read Early Reader Level 3 Book

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The Chestnut Challenge

Written by Tracey Hecht | Illustrated by Josie Yee

 

After sundown, while other animals slept, Dawn, a red fox; Bismark, a sugar glider; and Tobin, a pangolin “were playing a game of chestnut checkers.” Bismark thought Tobin was taking too long to move his chestnut. He snapped his fingers, tapped his foot, and finally said, “‘Hurry up!’” But Dawn chided Bismark and said Tobin should take the time he needed. At last Tobin moved his piece. Bismark was delighted. Tobin, it seemed, had set him up to win. Bismark moved one of his chestnuts. Now it was Tobin’s turn to be delighted. “Tobin jumped a chestnut across the board—and captured all of Bismark’s chestnuts.” Bismark was crushed. Tobin chuckled and said that it was only a game.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Suddenly, a voice called out and Chandler, a chinchilla, popped out from a nearby bush. He said that he was “‘the real chestnut champion.’” Bismark warned his friends against playing chestnuts with Chandler. He seemed to boastful to the little sugar glider, but Dawn wanted to give him a chance. Chandler chose Tobin to play first. Tobin didn’t like playing competitively; he just liked to have fun.

Bismark was all for Tobin taking up Chandler’s challenge, while Dawn said it was up to him to play or not. Chandler wanted an answer. Tobin decided to play—but just for fun. “Chandler and Tobin started to play. Chandler’s brow wrinkled. Tobin’s jaw tightened. No one seemed to be having fun.” Just then, Chandler shouted and pointed to the bushes. Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn all turned to look. “That’s when Chandler reached forward—and moved one of Tobin’s chestnuts!” When the three friends turned back, Chandler took his turn and Tobin’s chestnut that he had moved.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

Dawn thought something looked suspicious. Bismark begged Tobin to win against the “cheeky challenger.” Tobin was nervous. Suddenly, Chandler sneezed right in their faces. While their eyes were closed, he moved two chestnuts. He laughed when he saw that no one had seen him. Chandler only grew bolder. When Tobin closed his eyes for a moment, the chinchilla stole one of his pieces. This time Bismark caught him. He called on Dawn and Tobin, but Chandler denied it. Dawn, however, had also seen him steal the piece. She looked directly into his eyes and asked if he had stolen Tobin’s chestnut.

Now it was Chandler’s turn to be nervous. His cheeks reddened, his teeth chattered, “and then from Chandler’s paw, out dropped the chestnut.” With tears in his eyes, he admitted that he was a cheater. Dawn told him that champions don’t use tricks, and Tobin told him no one wins all the time and practice helps. Then they offered Chandler a second chance. So with Tobin cheering him along and Bismark keeping an eye on the board, “the four friends settled into a cheerful game of chestnut checkers.”

Fun facts about pangolins, red foxes, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and chestnuts follow the story.

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Image copyright Josie Yee, 2019, text copyright Tracey Hecht, 2019. Courtesy of Fabled Films Press.

As the three friends meet a chinchilla with competitive streak, Tracey Hecht shows readers that cheating to win deprives all participants—even the champion—of the fun and pleasure of playing a game. In today’s super-charged world of competition at all levels, Hecht’s reminder that good sportsmanship wins out is welcome, and Tobin, Bismark, and Dawn, with their various personalities and generous offer to give him Chandler a second chance, make good companions as developing readers increase their skills while learning to play fair and for fun.

Josie Yee’s nighttime illustrations, rendered in dark blues, plums, and deep greens, take kids to the heart of a heated chestnut checkers match where they watch as Chandler concocts false alarms to cheat his way to victory. When Chandler is caught red-handed, readers see the positive effect his confession and the brigade’s offer of another chance have on him.

Ages 6 – 8 

Fabled Films Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1944020231

You can find The Chestnut Challenge at these booksellers

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

You can learn more about The Nocturnals series; watch videos of games, face painting, and other activities; find educational language arts and science guides; download activity kits; and even join the Brigade by visiting The Nocturnals website.

You can find information about the Grow & Read program, Educator’s Guides, and The Nocturnals Book Club Kits with printable coloring pages and masks at Grow & Read.

Picture Book Review

June 21 – World Giraffe Day & Interview with Author Monica Bond, Illustrator Kayla Harren, and Educator David Brown

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, celebrates the animal with the longest neck on the longest day or night of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. The purpose of World Giraffe Day is to honor these majestic animals while also promote awareness of the dangers and threats they face. Events supporting these gentle giants are held around the world at zoos and conservation organizations as well as by governments, institutions, and companies involved in education about and protection of the giraffe. To celebrate today, learn more about these animals, visit a zoo or wildlife refuge, or consider donating to the cause of giraffe conservation. To learn more visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.

Juma the Giraffe

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Juma, a baby giraffe, loved to play with his friends Upendo and Rafiki on the African safari while their mothers watched. “Upendo likes to explore new places” while “Rafiki jokes and makes everyone laugh with his silly faces. Juma is kind and generous.” With his long neck, he’s able to reach the sweet acacia leaves to share with the dik-diks. One day, though, while the giraffes were at the water hole, Juma caught a glimpse of his reflection.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Looking at himself alongside all the other giraffes, he realized that they all looked the same. “And because they all looked alike, he felt he wasn’t special.” His mama noticed Juma standing alone and sad and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he wished he “looked different from everyone else.”

Juma’s mama gazed at her child lovingly and told him how special giraffes are. “‘There is no other animal in the whole world like us,’” she said. Then she gently reminded him how his long legs and neck help him get food, how his thick tongue and lips protect him from the thorns of the acacia trees, and how his “‘swishy tail sweep away the pesky flies that like to bite us.’” Their brown spots camouflaged them from lions and hyenas.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Then Mama asked Juma to look closely at his spots and notice that “‘each spot is different from the others and every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots.’” Juma saw that Mama was right. He saw one spot “shaped like a star and another like a flower.” Mama’s spots were different too, and so were Upendo’s and Rafiki’s. Mama reassured Juma that each giraffe was unique outside and inside.

Juma was happy and continued to notice other ways that each giraffe was different, including their various personalities. Then Mama nuzzled her little one and told him that to her he was the “‘most special giraffe of all’” because he was her baby and she loved him.

Fascinating facts about the anatomy of giraffes, newborn giraffes, and where giraffes live follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Young readers who are at that stage where they wonder about how they are different from other kids and how they fit into their community will find loving reassurance in Monica Bond’s touching story even as they learn about a giraffe’s distinctive features. The sweet relationship between Juma and Mama, depicted through tender dialogue, will charm little ones. A welcome exchange comes when Mama points out Juma’s unique features and the little giraffe enthusiastically adds more observations of his own. Just as Juma does, young readers will see that they too are special in their own way.

As readers open the cover, Kayla Harren’s stunning panoramic view of the verdant African savanna places them close to zebras, an ostrich, a greater kudu, a grey crowned crane, a stalwart warthog, a family of mongoose, and a herd of elephants. Smiling out from the page is little Juma. As the story progresses, Mama spotlights each of Juma’s attributes, and readers see how he uses them. A shimmering two-page spread of the giraffes lined up at the watering hole and the close-up on the next page will awe kids and adults. Images of smaller animals hiding in rock crevices and big cats and monkeys resting on tree limbs will entice readers to learn more about these creatures. As Mama nuzzles Juma on the book’s final page, adults and little ones are sure to find time to cuddle too.

A sweet story that gives parents, teachers, and other caregivers a way to show the children in their life how special they are, Juma the Giraffe would be an often-asked for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2016 | ISBN 978-0989818292

Learn more about Juma the Giraffe and find videos and teachers resources here.

You can connect with Kayla Harren on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram

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Helping Brother Rhinoceros

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Brother Rhinoceros and his friend Father Oxpecker went to the waterhole to cool off on a blazing hot day. When they got there, they saw “that most of the water had dried up, leaving a big patch of gooey, sticky mud.” But Brother Rhinoceros lied down in the cool mud anyway and pronounced it “‘Perfect!’” Then Father Oxpecker nestled in behind Brother Rhinoceros’s ear, folded his wings, and the two drifted off to sleep.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros woke up hungry, but when he tried to leave the waterhole, he discovered that he was stuck in the mud. Father Oxpecker flew off to find help. First he brought back Sister Vervet Monkey, who was good at tying. “She ran around the mud patch looking for something to tie together that might help Brother Rhinoceros. But there was nothing.”

Next, Father Oxpecker brought Grandfather Giraffe, who thought his height could help, but he didn’t know exactly how. So, the bird flew off again in search of someone else. This time he came back with Grandmother Spider, who “produced a delicate thread of beautiful silk from her abdomen. It fluttered in the breeze, of no help whatsoever to Brother Rhinoceros.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Father Oxpecker left once again and returned with Mother Elephant. Although she was big and strong, she could only watch from the sidelines. Last, Father Oxpecker found Brother Weaverbird, who declared that he could “weave anything” if only there was something to weave. All of the animals sat nearby wondering what they could do. “They were all so proud of the things they could do, but none of them could help Brother Rhinoceros out of the mud.”

It was Grandmother Spider who suggested that they combine their talents and work as a team. She began by “spinning long streams of silk.” Brother Weaverbird braided “the silk into a long, strong rope.” Sister Vervet Monkey tied the rope around Brother Rhinoceros, using Grandfather Giraffe’s long neck as a bridge to reach him. Then it was Mother Elephant’s turn. She grabbed the rope, “took a deep breath and began to pull.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros helped push. “Finally, with a big squishy sound, Brother Rhinoceros lifted his body up out of the mud.” He was free! His friends cheered. Brother Rhinoceros thanked each one individually for their special skills that helped to save him. “They certainly made a great team and the best friends a muddy rhinoceros could ever have.”

Back matter reveals facts about Africa’s black and white rhinoceros. A map of Africa shows the historical range and the much smaller current range for each type of rhino.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

With the lyricism of a fable, Monica Bond weaves a story about individuality and teamwork and how every person has the ability to help others. As Father Oxpecker flies off again and again searching for just the right animal to help, readers will enjoy the suspense and learning each animal’s special ability. When Grandmother Spider suggests they all work together, kids will see that by combining their talents with friends and classmates, they can move mountains. The format of the story makes it a multi-layered choice for teaching the elements of a story, prediction, and comprehension.

Kayla Harren’s sun-drenched pages are bathed not only in the heat of a hot African day but in the warmth of friendship these animals share. Harren’s beautifully textured and realistic depictions of the animals and the surrounding savanna will inspire awe and an enthusiastic desire in kids to learn more about the animals, insects, and birds in the story.

A perfect book for social studies, science, and reading classes and for kids who love nature and animals, Helping Brother Rhinoceros makes an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Wild Nature Institute, 2018 | ISBN 978-1732323414

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Our Elephant Neighbors

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Robert and his little sister Mary live on their family’s small farm in Tanzania. There are cattle and goats, which Robert helps watch while Mary helps her mother wash clothes and cook. Sometimes they went to the waterhole to get water. “They splash each other with cool water on hot days.” One day, when it was very hot, they saw something amazing at the waterhole. A family of elephants was enjoying the cool water too. “Robert and Mary climbed up a nearby tree to watch and wait for the elephants to leave.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Soon, two elephants came to stand in the shade of the tree, right under the branch where the two children sat. “The elephants looked up and saw Robert and Mary.” They had been taught to fear people. Nervous, they backed up a few steps. Robert and Mary had been taught to fear elephants, and Mary hid behind her brother. The bigger elephant, Tomas, introduced himself and his little sister, Teresa. Robert introduced himself and Mary.

“Robert looked thoughtfully at the elephants below. ‘You are an elephant, and elephants can hurt people,’ Robert pointed out.” Tomas replied, “‘Well, you are a human, and humans can hurt elephants too.’” Even though Mary knew she should be afraid, she liked the elephants. She reached down and touched Teresa’s upturned trunk. Mary said that she could pick things up with her fingers, and Teresa showed her how she could pick things up with her trunk.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

The elephants and the children talked back and forth about all of their similarities. They were even the same ages. They talked about how all the aunties help out when a baby person and a baby elephant are born, how the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in both human and elephant families teach the children important lessons and protect them, and how all the members of a both families feel sad when another member dies.

When they talked about the food they liked, Robert said that his “‘father gets angry when elephants eat” the vegetables in their garden.’ Then Tomas told Robert and Mary a secret.” He said that “all elephants hate chili pepper powder” and if they hung chili pepper powder on their fences, it would keep the elephants away. One reason elephants were eating from people’s gardens, Tomas said, was because their habitat was getting smaller as people planted more and more farms. Also “more and more of their family members are being hurt by people, because the elephants have fewer places to go.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Robert promised Tomas that when he grew up and had a farm of his own, he would build it where it would not disturb the elephants. He also promised to report anyone who tried to hurt the elephants. Soon it was time for Robert and Mary to get back home with the water, and Tomas and Teresa heard their mother calling for them. “They shook hands and trunks” and hoped they would see each other again. They knew “they would never forget their new friends from the waterhole.”

Interesting facts about African elephants follows the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Through Monica Bond’s charming story of a sister-brother pair and their elephant counterparts, young readers learn surprising ways in which they and elephants are alike. With similar abilities, family units, and even feelings, people and elephants should be friends, but too often they come into conflict, and the result has been a decrease in the elephant population and at times danger for humans as well. As the adorable Robert and Mary talk with Tomas and Teresa, Bond’s enchanting storytelling and realistic dialogue, draw in children, giving them even more reasons to love these popular animals. A major take-away is how people can protect and care for these gentle and intelligent animals and their habitats now and in the future.

Against gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania and its savanna, forests, and mountains, Kayla Harren depicts one family’s simple farm and a family of elephants enjoying a day at the nearby waterhole. At nine and five years old, Robert and Mary will steal readers’ hearts with their infectious smiles, sweet sibling relationship, and enthusiastic interactions with elephants Tomas and Teresa. Harren juxtaposes illustrations of the elephants’ family with those of Robert and Mary’s family in similar situations, showing readers how alike we really are. The pages are washed in soft-blue skies and glowing peach-hued sunsets, as realistic portrayals of the elephants, birds, and other animals create detailed and awe-inspiring panoramas.

Our Elephant Neighbors is an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to further understanding of elephants, conservation, and nature.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2017 | ISBN 978-1732323407

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Nature’s Giants Magazine

In this new magazine from the Wild Nature Institute, an enthusiastic dung beetle named Doug invites kids to learn about animal and plant giants of the African savanna through articles, games, crafts, and other activities that will keep them busy having fun and learning for a long time. Let’s get rolling and see what’s inside! Kids love finding stuff and right on the first pages they’re prompted to spot five differences on two identical (?) giraffes and search the pages for five beetles to see which one will would win a beetle race.

Along the way kids will enjoy:

Comics:

  • Doug engages kids in funny and interesting banter about the dung beetle’s ecological importance, including facts on their very, very long family history, three different dung beetle lifestyles, how dung beetles roll their dung balls in a straight line, and various job sites where dung beetles do their work.

Articles:

  • Ele-Fence!: About new ways farmers are protecting their crops from elephant raiders without engaging in Human-Elephant Conflict
  • Lions vs. Giraffes: About ways scientists use scars found on giraffes to study predation
  • Black Mambas: about the women rangers who patrol the Balule Nature Preserve to stop poaching of black and white rhinoceros and who teach environmental education programs in local schools. Since the group was formed “poaching of all species has decreased by 79%.”
  • Barking up the Right Tree: about the beautiful, sprawling baobab trees.
  • Infographic: on elephants, giraffes, termites and a surprising fact about biomass

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Activities:

  • Ideas for backyard or neighborhood science exploration
  • A savanna word search puzzle
  • An illustrated search-and-find animal puzzle
  • Craft instructions for making an Insect Hotel and an African Savana Scene
  • Jokes
  • A maze
  • How to draw an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros
  • A Giant Birds coloring page

Meet the Team Behind the Books and Magazine

I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk with Kayla Harren, Monica Bond, and David Brown about the work of the Wild Nature Institute, their lovely books that combine nature science with enchanting writing, and their new magazine for children.

Meet Monica Bond

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Hi, Monica! It’s nice to be chatting with you today! The love you have for Tanzania comes through in your stories so clearly and touchingly. Can you talk a little about your work and what brought you to this area?

My partner Dr. Derek Lee—quantitative ecologist and population biologist—and I chose to live and work in Tanzania because this country has some of the best wildlife experiences on Earth. As wildlife scientists, the lure of the African savanna is very strong; it is truly a wildlife paradise. In Tanzania there is incredible biological diversity combined with an extremely high density of mammals and birds, and we still have the full suite of predators and scavengers which means that the food web is intact. Tanzania also holds some of the best habitat for the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna — elephant, rhino, and giraffe.

Derek and I are studying giraffes in Tanzania using a computer program that matches each individual’s unique spot patterns from photographs. We are monitoring thousands of giraffes in northern Tanzania, and learning where they spend their time, which other giraffes they hang out with, and how they move around the ecosystem. Our goal is to understand the things that hurt or help giraffes so we can help to preserve these magnificent animals for the future.

What is it like to live so closely to these majestic animals?

Every time I go to the bush and interact with these creatures, I am awed anew. They are so very special. Every day I feel that I am living the dream and I cannot get enough of watching them in their beautiful savanna habitat. Although we work in the bush, we often go back out to the bush on our days off!

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How did the Wild Nature Institute get its start? Can you talk a bit about the organization?

Formed in 2010, Wild Nature Institute conducts scientific research on endangered wildlife and inspires the public to protect wild nature. Next year we will celebrate a decade of work! The Institute was started as a platform for two dedicated wildlife scientists to realize our dream of doing interesting and bold science that protects the earth’s remaining bits of wild nature. The Wild Nature Institute is me and Derek at the core, but with lots of other partners and cooperators in our network (like David Brown and Kayla Harren) who are all critical to accomplishing our important work.

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. As we celebrate World Giraffe Day today, could you talk about the giraffe—it’s importance to its ecosystem, the threats and pressures the animal faces from human and environmental factors, and how people can help protect them?

The gentle, iconic giraffe is popular around the world, but scientists know surprisingly little about them in the wild. We chose to work with giraffes because they are amazingly beautiful and peaceful animals, but they are vulnerable to extinction because people have taken so much of their wild natural habitat for human uses like farming and houses. Poaching is also a serious problem for giraffes. They need our help.

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Tanzania in East Africa is a stronghold for giraffes, supporting more than any other country. Although the Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, populations have declined here since the 1980s—yet few people are aware of the plight of the beloved giraffe in the wild. It is our job as scientists to bring this problem to light.

How are can families and organizations around the world help in the mission?

What can you do to help save giraffes and wild nature? (1) You can donate money or time to conservation groups like Wild Nature Institute and others. People can use their skills by providing advice, services, or goods in their personal area of expertise that can help the cause. (2) You can raise awareness about the silent extinction of giraffes. Speak up within your social circles and encourage others to donate money or time to saving giraffes. You can raise awareness in your home communities by writing, speaking, and contributing to the global conversation about our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises. (3) You can plant native trees.

Giraffes, elephants, and many other species need native trees, but deforestation continues worldwide. Planting native trees helps fight the global climate crisis and helps biodiversity too! (4) You can support legal protections for wildlife. Laws like the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws make the world safer for wildlife and people. Call and write to your congressperson, senator, governor, and president telling them you support strong law enforcement to protect wildlife. (5) You can commit to not buying body parts, and if you live in Africa you can commit to not eating bushmeat.

The programs that the Institute sponsors and supports—from education in schools and communities to environmental conservation of animals and land to publishing materials for children—is extensive. How has your work been received? What successes have been achieved and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?

To save wild nature, we must know it and love it, so Wild Nature Institute and our partners developed environmental educational materials for children and teachers. The materials teach biology, geography, science, math, and language skills using focal animals and fun, beautifully illustrated stories. Our first book, The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest, was a tri-lingual children’s book about wildebeest migration, and the ecological and economic benefits of conservation. The book was so successful that we created our “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” program to use environmental education to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

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We now produce and distribute our four multi-lingual storybooks, two Swahili activity books, and seven posters, as well as learning activities to accompany the books and posters, to tens of thousands of children throughout Tanzania. These materials teach ecological and social lessons, build national pride in Tanzanian wildlife, and motivate children to read and learn about their natural world. The learning activities help Tanzanian teachers meet environmental education curricula requirements, and also meet Next Generation Science Standards for American schools.

To ensure the materials are used to their best advantage, we host workshops for teachers, led by our education consultant Lise Levy, a retired high school biology teacher with 32 years of experience in education. At the workshops, teachers have a wonderful time learning the stories and practicing the hands-on activities that they will use in the classroom to accompany the books and posters.

Can you talk a little about the impact that these books and the new Nature’s Giants Magazine have on the children and families in Tanzania?

Every year since we introduced our education program, we have expanded its reach and impact through word-of-mouth. Our books and posters are now recognized and requested by Tanzanian educators throughout Tanzania, from Ruaha and Ruvuma in the south to Serengeti in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east. We hired a Tanzanian education coordinator who regularly visits classrooms, orphanages, and community centers and brings “Giraffe in a Box,” “Elephant in a Box,” and “Rhino in a Box” with all of the materials needed to implement the activities. We made our storybooks into videobooks which are playing on Tanzanian television. We organize “fun days” at the schools to celebrate Africa’s giants where we do tree-planting, sports, drama and arts, and creative learning. 

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We are constantly dreaming up new and fun ways to spread the word about the fascinating animals of the African savanna. Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation to love and care for their wildlife and conserve the environment.

On your website you talk about the importance of zoos in supporting the environmental work in Tanzania. How do/can zoos help?

Zoos have an important role to play both in providing financial support for field conservation as well as promoting the conservation of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros through environmental education directed at visitors. Many zoos are using our Celebrating Africa’s Giants education program. Zoos also conduct their own scientific research. We couldn’t do our work without our zoo partnerships and we are really grateful for their support.

To learn more about Monica Bond and the work of the Wild Nature Institute, visit their website.

Meet Kayla Harren

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Welcome back, Kayla! I’m thrilled to be talking with you about these three beautiful books and Nature’s Giants Magazine.

How did you get involved with the Wild Nature Institute and this project? What does it mean to you to be part of it?

In 2015 my husband, Peter, who is also an artist, was asked to illustrate a picture book about a baby giraffe that was written by a friend of a friend. He wanted to pursue a different path in his illustration career, so he passed the job to me. I fell immediately in love with the story of Juma. My passions have always been art and animals. Being able to combine those two loves feels incredible.

I feel so lucky to be involved with the Wild Nature Institute because I get to help wildlife in my own way even though I am not a scientist. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to wildlife education and hopefully spark a love for nature in other people. It feels like fate the way the first book found me through a friend of a friend of a friend and now it has turned into an amazing partnership.

Your artwork in Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbors, and Helping Brother Rhinoceros is stunning and full of such wonderful detail and personality. What kind of research did you do to bring the characters to life? Do Juma—or any of the animals—depict real giraffes, elephants, or rhinos in the area?

Thank you! Monica was incredibly helpful with providing plenty of photographs that she and the other scientists had taken of the scenery and wildlife in Tanzania. It made my job so much easier to know that people who actually lived in Tanzania and knew the area were checking all the details of my work to make sure it was accurate. For each book I was able to look through images provided by Wild Nature Institute of people, landscapes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and plenty of birds and animals to add in the background of each illustration. I did study the spot patterns of many giraffes, but Juma is a made-up combination of many giraffes I studied.

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Readers of your many books know what realism and sensitivity you bring to your illustrations of animals. Do you have a special affinity for animals and nature? Where did that come from?

Absolutely! Animals are my favorite. It started with my love of stuffed animals when I was very young. I had a huge collection, and I would spread them all out on my bed so none were hidden and they all got equal attention from me. I was introduced to many animal species through my toys. I remember fondly a stuffed white Bengal tiger that was bigger than me and a plump little panda bear. I loved the zoo, nature shows, and all the pet cats and dogs my family had. I feel most comfortable and relaxed in nature. I love going for walks with my dog because she stops every few steps to sniff something and that makes me pause and look around at all the beautiful shapes and textures and colors of the plants surrounding me. Nature is infinitely inspiring.

Have you ever visited Tanzania?

Not yet. Visiting Tanzania is very high on my list of things I need to do. Seeing a giraffe in the wild would be an absolute dream come true.

I’m going to let David Brown answer the next few questions about “Nature’s Giants Magazine.” David is a biologist, wildlife conservationist, and environmental educator—and he’s the co-creator and major writer of “Nature’s Giants.”

Welcome, David! As a nature lover, puzzle doer, and crafter myself, I love “Nature’s Giant’s Magazine!” There’s so much for kids to fall in love with!

“Nature’s Giants” magazine is full of fascinating articles (I learned a lot!), fun crafts, science prompts, challenging puzzles, and even a funny dung beetle named Doug. Can you talk about how the magazine came to be, what your role in the magazine is. and about how it can be used in the classroom? 

A group of conservationists and educators were meeting about how we could make Celebrating Africa’s Giants accessible and interesting to kids who love giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. We discussed how magazines like “Ranger Rick” and “National Geographic Kids” helped spark and sustain our love of nature when we were young, and we realized that there wasn’t really anything like that for even the most popular animals like giraffes and elephants. We decided to start our own nature magazine to fill that gap. We decided that our host of the magazine should be a dung beetle named Doug Beetle.  Doug Beetle helps show that there are many ways to be a giant in nature beyond physical size.

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My role is to help coordinate the creation of the magazine, develop story and activity ideas, and write the articles that bring those ideas to life. I also write the Doug Beetle comics. Megan Strauss, a wildlife biologist and illustrator, creates activities, crafts, and provides content for the magazine with her scientific expertise.  Kayla creates illustrations to accompany the articles and designs the layout of each page.

Accessible and interesting are perfect adjectives for Nature’s Giants! The magazine really promotes exploration and hands-on activities to engage kids in science learning. Can you describe some of the elements parents, teachers, and kids will find inside?

The magazine can be enjoyed casually for its art, stories, and activities. We also designed it for use in classrooms, zoo education programs, and other learning environments. In the first issue, we have a story about how scientific information can be visualized with infographics and how that helps us see the world in different ways.

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We also have a story about how a scientist makes an observation, asks questions about what she observed, and then solves a scientific mystery. Readers will learn how scientists study animals in the field, and hopefully get inspired to take part in citizen science themselves. 

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Environmental issues around the world are important to all of us. In what ways can children help from home or in their own communities?

The young people of the early 21st century are going to be the deciders of whether big animals like giraffes, elephants, and rhinos and their habitat survive this century and beyond. These animals are beloved around the world. They are the biological equivalent of the great works of art, architecture, and popular culture that are the common heritage of people around the world.

The young people in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where these species and their habitats live, are the primary decision makers, but these animals need a global constituency of conservationists. They need people to help pay attention to them and keep their conservation needs visible in the world. Just as we pay constant attention to our favorite sports teams, celebrities, and technology products, we need to find ways to keep attention on giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

If you love a species, then helping your local social network of family and friends be aware of the animal is a meaningful conservation action. Our goal for “Nature’s Giants” is to help connect young people with these animals and their conservation challenges and find ways to keep that connection growing.

What are the future plans for the magazine? How can teachers or other organizations order copies?

The first issue of “Nature’s Giants” is themed about African animals and plants. If the magazine finds an audience and there is an appetite for future issues, we would love to do a theme issue for each continent. We have also thought about doing an issue about the oceans. There are endless possibilities for issue themes. We would love to explore the future adventures of Doug Beetle.

To order copies of the magazine and all three storybooks, you can contact Monica Bond: monica@wildnatureinstitute.org

If you are interested in ordering Juma the Giraffe, Helping Brother Rhinoceros, and/or Our Elephant Neighbors for your classroom, organization, or yourself, contact Monica Bond monica@wildnatureinstitute.org. Individual copies of the books cost $12.00. Substantial discounts are offered when ordering multiple copies. All prices include shipping and handling.

Individuals, schools, and other organizations can also order single and/or multiple copies of “Nature’s Giants Magazine” for $4.25 each, plus shipping and handling.

You can also download printable posters with illustrations and information about giraffes, rhinos, and elephants from the Africa’s Giants website: www.africasgiants.org

To find the books with major online booksellers, see the information and links below.

Nature’s Giants Books & Magazine Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to be partnering with Wild Nature Institute in a giant giveaway! You could win this prize package that includes

  • One (1) copy of Juma the Giraffe signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Helping Brother Rhinoceros signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Our Elephant Neighbors signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of “Nature’s Giants Magazine”

To be entered to win Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets.

Bonus: Reply with your favorite African animal for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

The giveaway will be held from June 21 to June 27.

A winner will be chosen on June 28

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

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You can find Helping Brother Rhinoceros at these booksellers

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

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You can find Our Elephant Neighbors at these booksellers

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

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You can find Juma the Giraffe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 15 – National Dinosaur Day

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate dinosaurs—those beasts that, although they are of a distant past, remain ever present in our hearts. Their size, diversity, and shear awesomeness make them a favorite of kids, and ongoing discoveries continue to fascinate adults as well. Dinosaurs, in fact, are so huge that Dinosaur Day takes place twice—today and on June 1. To celebrate, visit a national history museum, watch your favorite dinosaur movies or TV shows, join your kids in playing with their dinos (you know you want to!), and pick up today’s book!

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex

Written by Toni Buzzeo | Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

 

Sue Hendrickson was an expert at finding things. The lure of buried or lost treasures kept her busy in her hometown of Munster, Indiana. “Born shy and incredibly smart,” Sue devoured books, discovering everything she could about the things that interested her. One of her favorite places was the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There, she reveled in the treasures others had found and dreamed of the day when she could “search the wide world for hidden treasure on her own.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

When she was seventeen, Sue began her life of treasure hunting, joining teams that searched for sunken boats, airplanes, and even cars. She went to Dominican amber mines looking for prehistoric butterflies and deserts of Peru searching for whale fossils. Finally, she headed to South Dakota to dig for dinosaurs.

She spent four summers unearthing duck-billed dinosaurs, using more and more delicate tools to expose the bones. But near the end of her fourth summer, “Sue Hendrickson felt pulled to a sandstone cliff far off in the distance.” When she had the opportunity, she took her golden retriever and hiked the seven miles to the rock.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Walking around the perimeter, she noticed what looked like bones lying on the ground. When she looked up, she was astonished to see “three enormous backbones protruding from the cliff.” The size told her they must be from a Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue hurried back to her campsite and told her team the exciting news. They “immediately named the dinosaur Sue the T. rex.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-sue-found-sue-ocean

Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

It took five full days for the team to expose the skeleton. Then they mapped the location of each bone, photographing and drawing them. At last they began removing them, and after three weeks the bones were trucked to the Black Hills Institute. Eventually, Sue the T. rex was moved to the Field Museum in Chicago. If you visit the museum today, you will see Sue towering over you. “She is the world’s largest, most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far”—discovered by a woman who was born to find things.

An Author’s Note about Sue Hendrickson and the battle over the T. rex skeleton as well as resources for further study and a photograph of Sue the T. rex follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-sue-found-sue-excavating

Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Toni Buzzeo’s inspiring story of how Sue Hendrickson discovered the most complete and best-preserved T. rex fossil delves into more than the finding and excavating of the skeleton. Buzzeo also emphasizes Hendrickson’s personality and long-held love of treasure hunting, qualities that informed and aided her career choice. Readers who also harbor dreams outside the mainstream and have a steady focus will find much to admire in Buzzeo’s storytelling and Sue’s example. Kids will be awed by Sue’s early treasure-hunting exploits and fascinated by the painstaking process of unearthing fossils. When Sue follows her intuition to the cliff—without explanation or facts—readers will be reminded that they can rely on their own curiosity, experience, and ideas to carry them forward. With nods toward the value of teamwork and sprinkled with Sue’s own words about her moment of discovery, the story exposes the bones of a life well-lived and points children in the right direction.

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Diana Sudyka opens the story of Sue Hendrickson with a lovely collage of the treasures she found and studied as a child and that led to her life-long love of discovery. As Sue grows, she visits the Field Museum, with its exhibits of a Triceratops and Hadrosaurus. Fast-forward several years and she’s swimming in a sea dotted with colorful coral toward an old sunken ship. But the centerpiece of the story takes place in the South Dakota hills, the layers of rock painted in stripes of earthy brown, rust, rose, and ivory. As the team works late nights to excavate the bones, a T. rex constellation appears above the team in the starry sky, urging them on. A two-page spread of how Sue the T. rex fossil appeared in its entirety in the ground is sure to elicit plenty of “Wows!,” and a rendition of Sue on exhibit in the Field Museum will no doubt inspire some travel wishes.

A book about a modern-day scientist that will engage and inspire children with scientific aspirations of their own as well as a celebration of individuality and big dreams and a must for dinosaur lovers, When Sue Found Sue would be a T. riffic addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419731631

Discover more about Toni Buzzeo and her books on her website.

To learn more about Diana Sudyka, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Dinosaur Day Activity

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Hatch Your Own Dinosaur Eggs

 

Think there are no more dinosaur eggs to be found? Think again! You can make your own with this easy craft that will have you hatching some T.-rex-size fun! All you need are a few simple ingredients!

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Supplies

  • Old clothes or apron
  • Large box of baking soda (makes between 6 and 8 eggs)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Plastic dinosaur toys
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Spoon
  • Wax paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Plastic or metal spoon, stick, popsicle stick, or other implement to chisel with
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Spray the egg with vinegar to hatch your dinosaur

Directions

  1. Wear old clothes or an apron
  2. Cover work surface with wax paper, parchment paper, newspaper, or other protection. Food coloring can stain some surfaces
  3. Pour baking soda into the bowl
  4. Add drops of food coloring in whatever color you’d like your eggs to be. The eggs will darken when baked.
  5. Mix in the food coloring with the fork. You may want to use your hands, too
  6. When the baking soda is the color you want it, begin adding water a little at a time
  7. Add water until the baking soda holds together when you squeeze it in your hand
  8. When the baking soda is the right consistency, spoon some out into your hand or onto wax paper
  9. Push one plastic dinosaur into the middle
  10. Cover the dinosaur with more of the baking soda mixture
  11. Carefully form it into an egg shape
  12. Repeat with other dinosaurs
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Chisel the egg open to hatch your dinosaur

To Bake the Eggs

  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 200 to 225 degrees
  2. Set the eggs on a baking sheet lined with foil
  3. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, check
  4. Turn the eggs over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes
  5. Remove from oven and let cool

To Hatch the Eggs

  1. Eggs can be hatched by chiseling them with a spoon, stick, or other implement
  2. Eggs can also be hatched by spraying or sprinkling them with vinegar

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You can find When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 3 – Wild Koala Day

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About the Holiday

If you love koalas, you’ll want to join in on this Australian holiday that’s dedicated to celebrating koalas and protecting their habitats. Koalas survive by eating the gum leaves of eucalyptus trees, but these forests are threatened by deforestation, fire, and climate change. Conservationists are calling for the preservation and replanting of these important forests. To show solidarity with the cause and koalas, people are encouraged to wear gum leaves (or any leaf), plant a tree, and post a picture of a wild koala on social media, using #wildkoaladay. You can learn more about today’s holiday by visiting the Wild Koala Day website.

I received a copy of Koala Is Not a Bear from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sterling Children’s Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Koala Is Not a Bear

Written by Kristin L. Gray | Illustrated by Pachel McAlister

 

Koala couldn’t wait to go to camp, meet the other campers, and have lots of fun. Since this was her first trip away from home, she packed some of her favorite things in case she felt homesick. When she got to camp, she found a cabin for birds, one for crocodiles, and one for cats, but she couldn’t find her cabin. Just as she was about to ask for directions, Grizzly came running out to meet her and welcome her to Bear Cabin.

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Koala was introducing herself when, “‘Hold it!’ said a voice. ‘Koala is NOT a bear.’” It was Kangaroo, who, Grizzly said, was “‘a bit of a know-it-all.’” Koala was tired from looking for the right cabin and only wanted a place to put her gear and relax. She showed off her “‘sharp teeth and claws,’” and Grizzly agreed that Koala must be a bear. But then Kangaroo reminded them that “‘crocodiles have sharp teeth and claws’” too.

Koala was not to be deterred and scampered up a tree just like a bear. Kangaroo countered with the example of lemurs, who also climb trees but are not bears. Koala had another bear-like trick up her sleeve, though, and let out a growl a bear could be proud of. Kangaroo brought up tigers. Koala then got down on all fours and crawled along accompanied by Grizzly. Duck had a sage observation that went like this: “‘If she walks like a bear and talks like a bear, she must be a bear.’”

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“‘Tail?’” questioned Kangaroo, and while Koala didn’t have a proper tail, she did have thick fur that kept her warm and dry. Grizzly figured the issue was settled and they all went into the cafeteria to eat. But not so fast. Kangaroo had a book, which she said proved Koala was not a bear. And instead of similarities, Koala began to see the differences between her and Grizzly. She didn’t like berries or fish and she didn’t hibernate during winter. Suddenly, Koala thought she “didn’t belong in Bear Cabin. Maybe she didn’t even belong at camp.”

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Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Koala began to feel homesick and went off to a corner to look at the picture of her family she’d brought along. She had just opened her pouch to get out the photograph when, right behind her, Koala heard that familiar voice. “‘Aha! I knew it,’ cried Kangaroo. ‘Koala has a pouch! Like ME.” But when Kangaroo got a glimpse of Koala’s photograph, she recognized her great-aunt Quokka. “‘Your great-aunt?’” said Koala. “‘Quokka’s my great-aunt.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-koala-is-not-a-bear-crocodile

Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Koala had a feeling…and asked some more questions: had Kangaroo ridden in her mother’s pouch, been called a joey, and come from Australia? Yes, yes, yes, answered Kangaroo. Suddenly, Koala and Kangaroo knew exactly what Koala was—a marsupial—which made her and Kangaroo family! They both got a bear hug from Grizzly and went off to settle into Marsupial Cabin, just as Platypus arrived looking for Duck Cabin….

A short Author’s Note about marsupials follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-koala-is-not-a-bear-kangaroo

Image copyright Rachel McAlister, 2019, text copyright Kristin L. Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

In her funny and layered story of mistaken identity, Kristin L. Gray reveals facts about koalas and the order marsupials while also making the point that we all embody more similarities than differences. As Koala narrows in on which cabin is hers, alert readers will enjoy besting Kangaroo in discovering who Koala will be bunking with. Duck provides humorous asides that will keep kids giggling, and the pitch-perfect surprise ending promises to send young animal lovers scurrying to do some research.

Through vibrant, action-packed illustrations, Rachel McAlister showcases all the ways in which Koala is like a bear—as well as crocodiles, lemurs, and tigers—but ultimately belongs in the marsupial family. Grizzly’s stalwart support of her new friend is endearing as she also shows her claws and teeth, climbs a tree, growls fiercely, crawls beside her, and in the end clasps her in a big bear hug when it’s discovered that Koala is actually a marsupial. The cafeteria scene shows happy camaraderie and invites readers to learn which scientific families the other campers fall into.

A fun story for animal lovers or to accompany science and STEM lessons in the classroom, Koala Is Not a Bear would make for an engaging story time at home or at school.

Ages 4 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454927457

Discover more about Kristin L. Gray and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachel McAlister, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Koala Is Not a Bear Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Koala Is Not a Bear written by Kristin L. Gray | illustrated by Rachel McAlister

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

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

A winner will be chosen on May 10.

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books

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

Wild Koala Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-koala-coloring-page

Cute Koala Coloring Page

 

For a koala, a eucalyptus leaf is the perfect snack! Here’s a printable coloring page of a koala in its natural habitat to help you celebrate Wild Koala Day!

Cute Koala Coloring Page

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You can find Koala Is Not a Bear at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

By 1970 awareness was growing worldwide about the damage that industrialization, pollution, and pesticides were causing people and the environment. On April 22, 1970, millions of people demonstrated for change. In response, in July President Nixon and the US Congress created the Environmental Protections Agency and enacted laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act among others. Earth Day is now celebrated around the globe as a day for political action and civic participation.

Today, it’s more important than ever for citizens to participate in the protection of the environment so that the advances we have made are not rolled back or lost. This year the theme of Earth Day is Protect Our Species. To learn more about endangered and threatened species—from plants to animals to insects, including the Hines emerald dragonfly, and how you can help, visit the Earth Day Network. To celebrate today’s holiday, join an action group in your community dedicated to protecting natural resources.

I received a copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Soar High, Dragonfly!

Written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

 

As winter turns to spring, flowers bloom, baby birds hatch, and “high above, tiny wings hum like wind through the leaves.” The sound comes from dragonflies. In the warm air, the females are looking for places to lay their eggs. They find a pond, where they can lay eggs in the water or within the stem of a plant. While some eggs are eaten, many others hatch into nymphs. Underwater, the nymphs have a special way of swimming that propels them to find food to eat.

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Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As a nymph “he eats, he grows. As he grows, he sheds his casing. Squirt. Gulp! Squirt. Gulp!” At last the nymph is ready to leave the water. During the night, he climbs the stem of a water reed and waits for daylight. The nymph has undergone many casing changes, but finally, his last casing grows too tight. “It cracks. He wiggles and squiggles. Out he crawls!” Although his wings are free, he is too tired to fly.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-soar-high-dragonfly-nymph

Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the warmth of the sun, the dragonfly’s wings dry. “They hum in the morning light.” When he is ready, he takes off into the sky… “he’s flying! Soar high, dragonfly!” Without practice, the dragonfly can fly forward, backward, and even hover. Using his large eyes, he scans for predators, darting away at the last moment.

The dragonfly is a marvel, moving his wings and changing his body to keep warm day and night. Summer brings mating season, and with the autumn the dragonflies migrate to warmer climates to lay their eggs and begin their life cycle again.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-soar-high-dragonfly-laying-eggs

Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Sheri Mabry Bestor’s lyrical text is accompanied by equally engaging factual information about dragonflies, and the green darner dragonfly in particular. Each page contains a sentence or two of fascinating description about egg laying, life stages, feeding customs, movement (“Nymphs squirt water out of their back ends to propel themselves forward.”), body regulation (“Dragonflies have special ways to keep warm. They can capture the heat of the sun by adjusting their four wings just right.”), and migratory habits of these favorite insects.

For young readers interested in insects and nature, Bestor’s captivating storytelling, which uses short sentences that echo the quick, darting movement of dragonflies, will keep them absorbed as they learn about this most intriguing creature.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-soar-high-dragonfly-pond

Image copyright Jonny Lambert, 2019, text copyright Sheri Mabry Bestor, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jonny Lambert brings his talent as a paper engineer to the vibrant, collage-style illustrations that will wow kids with their beauty. The iridescent brilliance of the green darner dragonfly is represented through a green and yellow-mottled head and thorax that gives way to a blue striped abdomen. Light-sage-colored wings mirror the dragonfly’s delicate appearance. A stunning palette of greens and blues usher children into the underwater world of the pond where the nymphs grow among fish, frogs, snails, and other creatures. Each stage and change the dragonfly experiences is clearly shown and enhances learning.

A superb book for general story times as well as STEM learning, Soar High, Dragonfly! would find eager readers at home as well as in classroom and public libraries. Check out the first gorgeous collaboration between Sheri Mabry Bestor and Jonny Lambert, Good Trick, Walking Stick!, too! You can read my review of that book here.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364107

Discover more about Sheri Mabry Bestor and her books on her website.

Soar High, Dragonfly! Giveaway

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

  • One (1) copy of Soar High, Dragonfly! written by Sheri Mabry Bestor | illustrated by Jonny Lambert

This giveaway is open from April 22 through April 28 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Just do these things to enter:

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

Earth Day Activity

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Dragonfly Decoration

 

Your kids can bring the beauty of nature inside with this easy-to-make dragonfly craft.

Supplies

  • Wooden clothespin
  • Wax paper
  • Bright green craft paint
  • Bright blue craft paint
  • Green glitter
  • Blue glitter
  • Paint brush
  • Thread or fishing line (optional)
  • Adhesive magnet (optional)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragonfly-craft

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the top part of the clothespin (to the point where the metal hinge crosses the wood) green
  2. Sprinkle green glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  3. Paint the bottom part of the clothespin blue
  4. Sprinkle blue glitter on the wet paint, let dry
  5. If the glitter doesn’t completely stick, apply a thin layer of glue with a toothpick and add more glitter

To Make the Wings

  1. Cut two 5-inch-by-3/4-inch strips from the wax paper
  2. Cut a curved edge at each end of the wax paper strips, cutting straight down from the top and curving around the bottom corner
  3. Cut curved notches in the center, top and bottom, of each wing to allow the wings to fit into the clothespin
  4. Open the clothespin and slip the wings in, curved edge down and allowing the top wing to overlap the bottom wing slightly

Attach the thread or fishing line to the dragonfly to hang, or to make a refrigerator magnet, attach an adhesive magnetic strip to the back

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-soar-high-dragonfly-cover

You can find Soar High, Dragonfly! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

March 25 – It’s National Reading Month and Interview with Illustrator Scott Brundage

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About the Holiday

No matter whether you live in a house or an apartment, in a city, in a small town, or on a farm, but you can travel anywhere through books. The magic of reading lies in its ability to transport readers through history, into emotional landscapes, and to far-away places – even into outer space as today’s book shows!

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of The First Men Who Went to the Moon to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The First Men Who Went to the Moon

Written by Rhonda Gowler Greene | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

As Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin enter the spacecraft, they wear excited smiles and wave. “These are the first men who went to the Moon.” Panning back to where the enthralled crowd watches from across the water, watch as a rocket roars skyward, trailing flames. “This is the spacecraft, Apollo 11, that lifted off and soared through the heavens / and carried the first men who went to the Moon.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The astronauts get a view of Earth as they reach for the blackness of space. The Lunar Module Eagle touches down on the surface of the Moon in “…the Sea of Tranquility / where the astronauts made history….” First Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin descended onto the Moon carrying an American flag. “This is their mark, a ‘leap for mankind.’ / And this is the flag they left behind / there in the Sea of Tranquility.”

In a spectacular show of human achievement, the Command Module Columbia returned in a “…splashdown that brought them home, / safe and sound from a vast unknown, / where they made their mark, a ‘leap for mankind.’” With ticker tape parades attended by thousands of people, the astronauts were celebrated in New York City and Chicago.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In addition to Rhonda Gowler Green’s poem, many of the double-spread illustration contain facts about the mission, features of the Moon, the astronauts’ work, and splashdown.

Back matter includes information on where the Eagle and Columbia are now; more facts about the mission, the astronauts, and the equipment; resources; and a list of other books for young readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-first-men-who-went-to-the-moon-moon

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gowler Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mirroring the circular mission that took the astronauts to the Moon and back, Rhonda Gowler Greene’s lyrical verses build on each other, overlapping to create depth in her storytelling and awe in the scientific achievement of NASA in 1969. As the poem reverses, readers engage in the feeling of pride and relief that Americans and people all around the world experienced as they watched Columbia splash down safely into the Pacific Ocean. Greene peppers the story with beautiful images take readers from “swirls of clouds” to a  “desolate land” to “the dust of lunar ground” and helps them recapture the mystery and amazement of those days 50 years ago.

Scott Brundage’s illustrations are remarkable for their detail and ability to transport readers to the heart of the Apollo 11 mission. Today’s children, familiar with satellite images and feeds from space and who have grown up with the International Space Station, cannot fully appreciate with what wonder and trepidation the world watched the mission on television. Choosing a variety of perspectives, Brundage allows kids to watch the rocket launch from the pad in Florida, look out of the spacecraft’s window as the astronauts leave Earth behind, see the Eagle light up the Moon’s surface as it lands, and view Neil Armstrong take that first step onto the Moon. Space lovers will want to linger over every two-page spread to take in all of the minute details as well as the inspiration that space stirs in the dreams of many.

A lyrical and gorgeous tribute to the Apollo 11 mission for its 50th anniversary, The First Men Who Went to the Moon would make a lovely addition to home, classroom, and public library collections for science and space lovers, STEM lessons, and story time.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364121

Discover more about Rhonda Gowler Greene and her books on her website.

To learn more about Scott Brundage, his books, his art, and more, visit his website.

You can download and print a fun The First Men Who Went to the Moon Activity Sheet!

Meet Illustrator Scott Brundage

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Scott Brundage’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, the Washington Post, and many others. He is the illustrator of A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet. He lives in New York City.

Today I’m happy to be talking with Scott Brundage about capturing the beauty and mystery of space, his talent for humor, and the surprising start to his art career.

The First Men Who Went to the Moon, written by Rhonda Gowler Greene, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Your illustrations are astounding for their perspective and sense of action that captures the thrill and wonderment of the time. Can you talk about the research you did, how you approached creating these images, and your process?

Well thank you for those generous words about my work. I’m happy people have responded to the illustrations so positively. 

When researching this book, I was lucky enough to have A is for Astronaut fresh in my mind. The Apollo 11 mission is a bit more specific than A is for Astronaut, being a specific time and year, but I’d already learned a lot about how to find good NASA references. 

I faced the same challenge as last time: since NASA’s photography is public domain and already gorgeous, what could I bring to this book that hasn’t been seen already? I couldn’t riff as much as last time, but I could at least try to capture what it might have been like to be in the Apollo 11 crew’s shoes (space boots?). Some illustrations  also were simply trying to capture the emotion that Rhonda Gowler Greene was expressing with her words. The moon is beautiful, but distant, cold and still. I wanted to show all of that if I could.

Which illustration in the book is your favorite and why?

I think the spread on pages 22-23 is my favorite, the one depicting all the footprints in the shadow of the planted flag. I like when I can get away with not quite showing the subject of a painting, but the audience knows what they’re seeing. And without getting too

artsy, I thought it was a good metaphor for the book itself. We went to the moon, left our mark, and came back. The footprints are still there on the cold surface in the shadow of our flag.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-first-men-who-went-to-the-moon-moon-foot-prints

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2019, text copyright Rhonda Gower Greene, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What were your favorite books as a child and whose art or illustration work did you admire growing up?

I had to ask my mom for this answer. I don’t remember having a favorite, all I could think of are cool picture books I appreciate now as an adult. Turns out, according to my mom, I much preferred to just look through our encyclopedia and then report dinosaur facts to whoever would listen. 

How did you get into illustrating children’s books and what do you enjoy most about the work?

I got into picture books relatively organically, having touched on almost every other type of illustration market first. I started out doing small illustrations for magazines and newspapers. That slowly led me to book covers and middle grade chapter books that had a lot of interior black and white illustration. Along the way, I would help a couple independent authors with their self-published picture books. After a while, I just had a stack of children’s picture book illustrations in my portfolio. So when my agent asked if I was interested in doing a picture book with a real publisher, I was more than ready to jump in. 

Picture books are great because you can really chew on a subject or set of characters way longer than you can for a book cover or spot illustration. I know way more about how space suits work, I’m familiar with a weird number of features on the International Space Station, and know exactly what color suits the Apollo 11 crew were wearing in their ticker tape parade. It’s really fun to get that deep for a book. 

Is it true you got your start professionally by designing a bicycle helmet? How did that come about? What was your design?

This is true. My first paying gig was a Bell Helmet’s kid’s helmet design. My art school instructor, the great children’s book illustrator Brian Biggs, had a contact with the designer at Bell Helmets and set up a contest among his students to submit designs for a possible helmet. They’d pick the winner and see if it could get produced. I send in two designs, one of happy robots on an alien landscape, another of cute little lizards attacking a city. Somehow both designs won the contest  The timing, however, was a little unfortunate for the lizards attacking the city since it was just after 9/11, but the robots ended up adorning the heads of dozens of kids nationwide.

I was fortunate enough to review A is for Astronaut: Blasting through the Alphabet—your picture book with author and former astronaut Clayton Anderson. I was blown away by the stunning details—including spacecraft, the NASA control room, and space itself—on every page. What kinds of choices did you make in creating the illustrations to make the information come alive for kids? 

A is for Astronaut was a blast to work on. I had a bit of freedom in interpreting each chapter, so a lot of it was figuring out I could make an image portray the idea of each letter clearly. For the more straightforward words like galaxy or blastoff, showing how it is to be a kid experiencing those awe-inspiring event/sights for the first time. And, when possible, if I could find a way to blend two words/ideas into a single spread, that was even more fun. 

Your editorial illustrations have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and other publications, and you’re now working as an animator for the Showtime series Our Cartoon President. Do you have a natural knack for humor and infusing it into your art or how did that develop? 

When I was in school, I was really into dark scary artwork and literature. Loved creepy drawings and painting, reading horror stories, listening to dark music. I tried my hand at doing some moody paintings in oil about serious subjects. But, my personality is that of a very silly man. And if you looked at my sketchbooks at the same time, it was all goofy drawings to make myself and others laugh. Eventually I realized I should just lean into what came naturally, and that was the funnier whimsical stuff. I’m definitely much more suited to making a weird face, taking a photo of myself, then applying that face to a character than I am at trying to scare someone.

What’s up next for you?

I’m just starting up a new picture book about a guy and his dog. No astronauts this time around.  

And I’m also working on the second season of Our Cartoon President. 

Thanks, Scott! It’s been so great chatting with you! I wish you all the best with The First Men Who Went to the Moon and all of your work!

You can connect with Scott Brundage on

His website | Twitter | Instagram

The First Men Who Went to the Moon Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The First Men Who Went to the Moon written by Rhonda Gower Greene | illustrated by Scott Brundage

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

This giveaway is open from March 25 through March 31 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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

National Reading Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-maze-puzzle

Rocket to the Moon! Maze

 

Help the rocket find its way through space and land on the moon in this printable puzzle!

Rocket to the Moon! Puzzle | Rocket to the Moon! Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-first-men-who-went-to-the-moon-cover

You can find The First Men Who Went to the Moon at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review