June 15 – It’s National Shark Week

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About the Holiday

It’s Shark Week – one of the most anticipated holiday’s of the year! Kids and adults are fascinated by these denizens of the deep, and especially the Great White, which sports fearsome teeth and intimidates with their imposing size. But there are many more sharks in the sea – about 500 species! – and they are an important part of the world’s ecosystem. If Shark Week is your favorite week of the summer, you’re no doubt enjoying a full schedule of shark-related shows on the Discovery Channel. To learn more information about sharks, including statistics from this year’s coastal shark survey, a chance to cast your vote for “freakiest shark,” a line-up of top videos, and more, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shark Week page. To celebrate sharks and the wonders of the ocean every day, you’ll want to put today’s book at the top of your reading list.

Thanks to Joan Holub for sharing a copy of I Am the Shark with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Joan in a giveaway package that kids will love. See details below.

I Am the Shark

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Laurie Keller

 

Great White Shark is excited to introduce himself, especially since he is “the GREATEST SHARK in this book.” But a voice contradicts Great White. Who begs to differ? It’s Whale Shark, and she loses no time in demonstrating why she is “the greatest shark in this book” due to her enormous size, which can’t be matched anywhere in the undersea world. And if that weren’t enough, she adds this bite: “Compared to me, you are small.”

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

But Great White takes it in stride. If he isn’t the greatest shark, that’s okay because being the smallest has some pretty great perks too. So he’s in the middle of a “smallest shark” victory dance when a voice calls out, “No, you’re not.” It seems there’s a much smaller shark in the sea—Dwarf Lantern Shark, who, besides being the tiniest shark has a rather enlightening ability too. After the long take down from Whale Shark, this time Great White pivots quickly, thinking about how “smart and curious” he is. Could he be “the smartest shark in this book?”

Well, that would be a no. Hammerhead Shark has that one nailed down as well as a unique view of their colorful world. This time, Great White is a little intimidated. “Whoa!” he exclaims. “How can I top that?” But being smart (just not as smart as Hammerhead), Great White has another idea. This one, though, is quashed just like the others in a sneak attack. Turns out Great White isn’t the best hunter, the oldest, or even the “fishiest” shark in this book.

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Undeterred, Great White decides to do a little research in other books to “figure out the greatest thing about [him]. He learns all about his different body parts and even shares a labeled diagram (on graph paper and everything) with you. And he doesn’t stop there. He’s discovered all sorts of awesome facts about their skeletons, senses, teeth, skin, and other cool tidbits that he lets you know about. Great White could probably go on and on, but suddenly there’s a “snack alert” and all the sharks take off at top speed after their prey. Great White’s fast! He’s in the lead! Great White’s the fast..est… “Crumbs.” Great White’s passed up by a faster shark. Who is that anyway?

By this time Great White is feeling pretty down in the dumps. “Maybe I should change my name to Just-Okay White Shark or Not-So-Great White Shark,” he bemoans. But then Dwarf Lantern Shark swims up to him and enlightens him with some perspective and sage advice: “Just be happy being you.” Great White takes it to heart. In fact, it helps him think of a new, can’t-miss quality that finally gives him a “GREATEST in this book” status.

Backmatter includes more details on the eight sharks introduced in the story as well as books and links about sharks for kids wanting to learn more.

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Kids are always fascinated by the superlative—the fastest, the biggest, the smallest, the silliest, the best—and Joan Holub makes superlative use of this fact in her highly entertaining and educational romp. As Great White goes on a rollercoaster of emotions, one moment thinking he’s the best at something while the next moment having his hopes dashed, readers learn eye-opening details about eight sharks, described in engaging ways that will wow kids. Great White’s boundless optimism is infectious while setting up his disappointment for maximum comic effect. Kids will eagerly await the chance to chime in on the “No, you’re not.” asides that are sure to bring plenty of giggles. But this story isn’t all about sharks. Holub masterfully weaves in an important message for kids about self-acceptance, true happiness, and finding their unique qualities and talents.

Laurie Keller uses her prodigious talent for humor in her up-close images (and is there any other way kids would want to see them?) of these competitive sharks. Loaded with attitude, each shark swims onto the pages to demonstrate their “greatest” trait in ways that will stick with kids and have them excited to learn more. Expressive faces and silly antics add personality and laughs to each page spread. Keller’s vivid, textured, and collage-style illustrations are eye-catching, and funny details, such as Tiger Shark’s tattoos, chain bangle, band-aid, and gold tooth, will have kids lingering over the pages. While they’re there, they’ll want to keep a look out for the Dwarf Lantern Shark who finally lets Great White in on a great secret.

Full of facts, action-packed, and loaded with laughs, I Am the Shark is creative non-fiction at its GREATEST. Kids who love learning about sharks, nature, and the ocean or who just love a fantastic read will want to sink their teeth in this charmer. I Am the Shark is a can’t-miss must for homes, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0525645283

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Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated over 150 children’s books, including the Goddess Girls series and the Heroes in Training series (with Suzanne Williams); the New York Times bestselling picture book Mighty Dads, illustrated by James Dean; Little Red Writing, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; and Zero the Hero, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Her board & novelty books include This Little Trailblazer and Fa la la Llama. Joan adores line dancing to the Jaws theme, reading Sharkspeare, and vacationing in Finland.

You can connect with Joan Holub on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-laurie-keller-headshotLaurie Keller is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Scrambled States of America, Potato Pants!, Arnie the Doughnut, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, the Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut chapter book series, and We Are Growing!, part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series and winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. When Laurie isn’t busy making books, she enjoys playing the banjo, traveling, cross-country skiing, and splashing in Lake Michigan, where as far as she knows, there is not a single shark.

You can connect with Laurie Keller on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

I Am the Shark Giveaway

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I’m happy to be teaming with Joan Holub in a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive:

  • One (1) copy of I Am the Shark with an illustrated bookplate signed by Joan Holub and Laurie Keller
  • A kid-sized shark-design art or cooking apron 

To enter:

This giveaway is open from July 15 to July 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on July 22. 

Prizing provided by Joan Holub

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

Shark Week Activity

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Fin-tastic Shark Fun

 

Your kids can make a splash during Shark Week and all year around with this easy-to-make craft! 

Supplies

  • 2 pieces of 8.5 x 11 gray card stock paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

fin outline white

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Directions

  1. Tape the top of the two pieces of paper together
  2. Fold them back together
  3. Measure an inch up from the bottom of the papers (the un-taped side) and trace a straight line across both papers
  4. Trace a shark fin outline onto your paper. The shark outline should stop an inch above the bottom
  5. Cut out the fin on both pieces of paper. If you should cut through the tape, re-tape the tops together
  6. Fold along the lines of both papers so the folds face towards each other.
  7. Tape the folds so the fin becomes a triangle
  8. Cut two slits parallel to the folded lines
  9. Thread ribbon through slits

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You can find I Am the Shark at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 29 – International Day of the Tropics

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About the Holiday

The International Day of the Tropics is a United Nations–sponsored holiday that celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the tropics while putting a spotlight on the unique challenges and opportunities the nations of the Tropics face. The Tropics are a region roughly defined as the area between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn and have in common a warm and typically unvaried seasonal temperature fluctuations and the prevalence of rain  determined by a region’s proximity to the equator. While it is projected that by 2050, the Tropics will be home to most of the world’s population and two-thirds of its children, the area faces challenges due to climate change, deforestation, logging, urbanization, and demographic shifts.  Today’s observance provides individuals, organizations, and governments an opportunity to take stock of progress across the tropics, to share stories and expertise, and to acknowledge the diversity and potential of the region. Today’s book tell the true story of one woman who is working to make a difference.

Thanks to Lee & Low Books for sending me a copy of Galápagos Girl/ Galápagueña for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. 

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Angela Dominguez | Translated by Adriana Dominguez

 

On the day when baby Valentina joined Mamá, Papá, and eleven brothers and sisters, even the sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and iguanas seemed to welcome her to the “island formed by fire.” Valentina loved growing up on the Galápagos Island of Floreana. She explored the lava rocks, where Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled back and forth. She swam with dolphins and manta rays, and even played with penguins.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

“Valentina watched pink flamingoes wading near mangroves. Blue butterflies fluttering on the breeze. Red-and-green iguanas sneezing salt like tiny geysers.” The crashing waves, albatross, and finches created a symphony as Valentina stopped to rest on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean. The lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and twirling sea lions provided young Valentina with a variety of dance partners.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

At home, Valentina’s family shared their home with two giant tortoises—Carlitos and Isabella. One day Papá told Valentina their story as they fed the tortoises plums that had fallen from their backyard trees. Papá had gotten Carlitos and Isabella from a friend when he first moved to Floreana. Although it was nearly impossible to imagine now that the tortoises were grown, at the time they were so small that they fit into Papá’s pockets.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

There was also a sad note to Papá’s story. He said that while giant tortoises still lived on other Galápagos islands, pirates and whalers had wiped out the population on Floreana. Papá went on to tell Valentina that many Galápagos animals were in danger. They were “threatened by other animals that don’t belong here. Threatened by people who don’t understand how to care for our islands.” Valentina promised that she would always protect them.

When she was older, Valentina left the island to go to school. She didn’t want to leave her beautiful home, but Mamá told her that she was “ready to learn about the world beyond.” And Papá reminded her that “like our islands, you have a heart full of fire.” On school vacations, Valentina always came back to study the wildlife on the Galápagos islands. She had not forgotten her promise to keep them safe.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

After she graduated with a degree in biology, Valentina returned to the islands as a nature guide to teach visitors about the beauty and uniqueness of the Galápagos. Some visitors were even lucky enough to meet Carlitos and Isabella when the plums dropped from the trees and the two old tortoises returned from exploring Floreana to eat them. Because of Valentina’s commitment to the Galápagos, her visitors also made a promise to always remember and protect them.

Extensive backmatter includes an Author’s Note about Valentina Cruz, the tortoises Carlitos and Isabella, and the history of tortoises on Floreana. There is also information on the Galápagos as well as fun facts about all of the animals in the story. A bibliography of sources invites readers to learn more.

Each two-page spread presents the text in English and translated into Spanish by Adriana Dominguez.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s lyrical and buoyant passages sing with the carefree joy Valentina felt as a girl exploring her beloved Galápagos and which brought her back home as a biologist to protect them. After seeing Valentina playing and swimming with the native animals and feeding Carlitos and Isabella, readers will also feel Valentina’s sadness at the dangers they face and want to make a positive difference to the environment and the world around them. Arnold’s dialogue-rich storytelling highlights the personal nature of the subject and will draw children into Valentina’s world.celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Galápagos-Girl-blue-footed-booby

Saturated with glorious color, each of Angela Dominguez’s illustrations is a celebration of the splendor of the Galápagos. Playful sea lions, high-stepping blue-footed boobies, scampering crabs, and even a sneezing iguana will captivate young readers and inspire them to learn more about these creatures and the islands. Images of Valentina camping out to study the animals during school breaks will excite environmentally conscious kids, and pictures of Carlitos and Isabella happily munching on plums will generate smiles and “awwws.”

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña will excite kids to learn more not only about the Galápagos region but about their own local environment, and the call to action will spark an enthusiasm for protecting the earth’s animals. The book would make an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and an excellent way to begin classroom discussions on environmental issues and science lessons. The engaging Spanish translation will delight Spanish-speaking and bilingual families.

Ages 4 – 8

Lee & Low Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0892394135

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website. You can also download activity sheets and teachers’ guides for most of her books here as well.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Welcome Marsha Diane Arnold

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In 2018, I was thrilled to talk with award-winning picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold about the backstory of Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña. Her interview, originally for National Wildlife Day, is just as timely today. Marsha was inspired to write this story after traveling to the Galápagos Islands, where she met Valentina Cruz and had the opportunity to swim with sea lions and dolphins.

Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author whose books have sold over one million copies. Her 21st book, Lights Out, was published in the fall of 2020. Arnold’s other books include Badger’s Perfect Garden, May I Come In? and Mine. Yours. Among Marsha’s honors are the Ridgeway Award for Best First Book, state Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book, and Smithsonian Notable Book. Her bilingual book Galápagos Girl was selected as a 2019 Bank Street Best Books of the Year, a Campoy-Ada honor book, and a 2019 Green Prize in Sustainable Literature. The media has referred to her as, “a born storyteller.” Educators have called her a “true literary artist” whose books show “warmth and respect for one’s self.”  She lives with her family in Alva, Florida.

Thank you, Kathryn, for inviting me to celebrate Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña, along with conservation of wild places and animals!

As a child, would you have enjoyed swimming with sea lions? Feeding plums to giant tortoises by hand? Having warblers fly through your house? That was the life of Valentina Cruz. Galápagos Girl is based on her idyllic life on remote Floreana island in the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago west of Ecuador.

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My photos of actual blue-footed booby and Galápagos marine iguana.

Valentina grew up surrounded by nature, but perhaps more accurately, she grew up in nature. I think when a child grows up seeing wild wonders every day, they grow up respecting and protecting nature and wildlife. Valentina and her siblings certainly did. She grew up to be a biologist and naturalist guide. One brother, Eliecer Cruz, was director of the Galápagos National Park and, later, director of the Galápagos branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Another brother, Felipe, worked on many projects with the Charles Darwin Research Station, including studying the challenges that face the Galápagos petrel. Her sister, Marilyn, is director of Galápagos Biosecurity Agency, which helps control and prevent invasive species in the islands.

In some ways, Valentina’s childhood was similar to mine. She was surrounded by a loving family—her parents and eleven brothers and sisters. I only had one brother, but along with my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, we gathered on many Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s house. Valentina and I both delighted in nature, though hers was a more exotic nature—the distant Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin discovered those famous finches and came up with his theory of natural selection. Mine was a small farm on the Kansas plains—I didn’t see the ocean until I was an adult. Valentina had Galápagos tortoises as pets and swam with sea lions. (Of course, keeping tortoises as pets is not allowed today.) I played with my neighbor’s pet raccoon (also, not allowed today) and listened to the meadowlark’s song from the roof of my house.

Valentina loves nature, home, and family, but has the soul of an adventurer. I’m much the same. When I grew up I yearned to see as much of the world as possible. When my long-time traveling buddy, Jean Gallagher, asked me to travel with her to the Galápagos, one of my long-time dreams came true.

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The Galápagos Gang – fellow travelers to a far-off land. Jean is 3rd to right in front. I am 4th.

It was on that 2007 trip that I met Valentina, one of our naturalist guides. With her, we visited Floreana and saw the home where she grew up. I was enamored. I thought how wonderful a book about the islands and their unique wildlife, woven together with Valentina’s childhood, would be. Yet it wasn’t until April 2009 that I emailed Valentina and told her of my dream to write a picture book based on her life. Over months and years, Valentina generously shared her stories with me.

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Valentina showing us the lay of the land.

Valentina got her sense of adventure and love of nature from her father, Eliecer Cruz Cevallos, who first arrived in the Galápagos in 1939. He was one of only 100 people living in the Galápagos at that time!

Eliecer returned to Ecuador and married Valentina’s mother, Emma Bedon. She made him promise they would never live in the Galápagos. Who can blame her? They’d have almost no human neighbors! But in 1944, she changed her mind. Emma sailed to Floreana with Eliecer to build a life together. Valentina told me that even living in the wild, her mother taught her children “to keep all the rules of a city so we do not grow up wild.”

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Valentina and her father on Floreana

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Valentina, her mother, and her sister

Two Galápagos tortoises were a big part of Valentina’s childhood, so I had to include them in Galápagos Girl. Floreana tortoise had long been extinct (or so it was thought).  So when Eliecer moved to Floreana, his friend gave him young tortoises from other islands. Eventually, the family released the tortoises to roam free. One of the most exciting things that happened to Valentina as a child was seeing the tortoises return to their farm that first year after their release. The main reason was the tasty plums dropping from the trees. Every year after that, when the plums ripened, the family waited for the tortoises to return. They always did!

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An illustration of one of the family’s tortoises eating a plum treat by Angela Dominguez

The tortoise story changed several times during the writing of my book due to Valentina’s remembering more over time, checking facts with her family, and a discovery near Wolf Volcano on Isabela, another Galápagos Island. What’s in my book isn’t exactly the way things were, but it’s close to the real story. As Valentina wisely shared: “Each of us remember things in different ways. Our memory is like pictures of what impresses us in that specific moment, so everything can be true and everything can be fiction.”

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One of eleven species of Galápagos tortoise

Regarding the exciting discovery on Wolf Volcano, scientists recently found tortoises there that carry some of the Floreana tortoise genes! There is a project now to bring these tortoises back to Floreana. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have partial Floreana tortoises wandering freely, restoring the ecology of Floreana?

You may ask, “How did Floreana tortoises get on Isabela Island?” That’s one more fascinating question about the Galápagos. If I visit your school, you can ask me and I’ll share more.

Thanks so much, Marsha, for sharing the fascinating story behind Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her Website | Earth’s Voices | Facebook

International Day of the Tropics Activity

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Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

 

There are so many fascinating animals that live in the Galápagos! Can you match the picture of each animal to its description in this printable Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle? You can find and download the activity sheet from the Lee & Low Books website:

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 8 – World Oceans Day

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About the Holiday

Since 1992, The United Nations has sponsored World Oceans Day on this date to raise awareness of the importance of the Earth’s seas. Institutions, science centers, schools, research centers, businesses, governments, and communities around the world take part in special events, webinars, meetings, a photography contest, and other programs. This year’s theme is “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods” and sheds “light on the wonder of the ocean and how it is our lifesource, supporting humanity and every other organism on earth.” This year’s virtual program begins at 10:00 a.m. and features a line up of thought-leaders, celebrities, community activists, entrepreneurs, and industry experts. The day ends with a concert given by musical artists from around the world. For more information on World Oceans Day, visit the UN World Oceans Day website. For educational resources, click here. To see the schedule of events, click here.

Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea

Written by Meeg Pincus | Illustrated by Lucy Semple

 

“From afar the vast ocean appears pure and clean. / How if sparkles and shimmers—a beautiful scene.” But what will you find if you look at just a small portion of the ocean—even a tiny drop—up close? Under a microscope, “the sea looks more like…soup” with “ingredients” that have been simmering for decades. And what’s in this soup? Many “chefs” have created it with Styrofoam cups and their lids; single-use bottles, bags, and straws; microbead soaps, synthetic materials, and balloons.

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Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

“The real problem is plastic; it’s in all that stuff. Whether hard or elastic, that plastic is tough!” Dumps around the world are overflowing with plastic, and much of it ends up in the ocean “churning round the five gyres— / the huge saltwater whirlpools / where breakdown transpires.” As the plastic churns under the sun, it turns into “specks” that can’t be removed. This plastic soup is “…gulped by the dolphins, the whales, and the seals, / and it’s slurped by the fish, / and the plankton and eels.”

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Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

This confetti of plastic is found above the water in icebergs and deep on the ocean floor. If it’s in the fish that we eat, “is it in you and me” too? To clean up the oceans, we need new chefs and a new recipe for ending the manufacturing of plastic, practicing new habits with sustainable, reusable materials, and refusing products packaged in plastic. “Ocean soup may have simmered before we were here, / but the call for us all to pitch in rings out clear.”

Extensive backmatter includes an author’s note; a discussion about the invention of plastics and the astounding amount of “‘plastic smog'” that is in the ocean, as well as a description of how gyres break down plastic into tiny particles. Readers also learn what eight types of plastic are the worst polluters and are given ten steps for reducing daily plastic use. 

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Image copyright Lucy Semple, 2021, text copyright Meeg Pincus, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Meeg Pincus’s eye-opening comparison between the ocean and a pot of soup gives young readers crucial information about the plight of our oceans that is easy to understand and visualize. Her entreaty to look closely at what lies beneath the shimmering blue surface of the water grabs readers’ attention, and her short history of how and when plastics came on the scene provides context and perspective. The plastics Pincus mentions show the magnitude of the problem, and kids will be familiar with most if not all of these products. Pincus’s unstinting rhyming verses present the science of how plastic is shredded by the sea, where it ends up, and how it is ingested by ocean creatures in a way that is sure to spur readers to action. Her examples of ways we can reduce our plastic use within the story and in the backmatter empowers readers of all ages to make changes to protect the Earth’s oceans now and for future generations.

Lucy Semple’s bold illustrations show kids exactly how pervasive the kinds of containers, toys, wrappers, and other plastic products that are polluting our oceans really are and how blithely we use them. Through successive panels she demonstrates how plastic bags, bottles, straws, and cups break apart due to sun and water currents, and a double-spread map orients kids to where the five gyres are found. Images of sea creatures gulping down the tiny shards of plastic are effective and will resonate with children, as will the final pages where readers will find reinforcement for new habits of using and promoting recycled and reusable products.

An excellent overview of and introduction to the crisis of plastics in the world’s oceans, Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea will spark in readers a desire to embrace more sustainable products, adopt better recycling habits, and take action to reduce plastics use. The book would be an impactful way to begin science, environment, history, and other cross-curricular lessons as well as a jumping off place for more extensive research in classrooms and for homeschoolers. Ocean Soup is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111189

Discover more about Meeg Pincus and her books on her website.

You can connect with Lucy Semple on Instagram and Twitter.

World Oceans Day Activity

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Sea Creatures Coloring Pages

 

Grab your crayons and enjoy these printable coloring pages of favorite sea creatures!

Fish | Octopus | Seahorse | Turtle

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You can find Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 22 – Earth Day and National Poetry Month

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About the Holidays

Earth Day

Earth Day was created in 1970 by a US Senator, Gaylord Nelson. Nelson created the day because he was worried about how humans were harming the environment through their actions. Heard of this holiday before? We certainly hope so! In 1990, environmental leaders mobilized to make the holiday go global. And now, according to earthday.org, 1 BILLION people mobilize on Earth Day every year, to help save and celebrate our beloved planet. You can watch an educational animated video on Gaylord Nelson here. Learn more about Earth Day and how you can make a difference all year around at Earthday.org.

National Poetry Month

2021 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Poetry Month. The holiday was launched by the Academy of American Poets to celebrate writers, poets, poetry lovers and the positive impact poetry has on our culture, literacy and lives. Check out the 2021 National Poetry Month Poster here. You can learn more about National Poetry Month at Poets.org.

Today’s book celebrates both of these holidays with a collection of ocean poems for children. Not a huge lover of poetry? Perhaps the following collection will sway you like an ocean tide. Crafted by The Writers’ Loft Authors and Illustrators, Friends and Anemones is truly as dazzling as a sea-floor pearl.

Thanks to The Writers’ Loft for sending me a copy of Friends and Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children

By The Writers’ Loft Authors & Illustrators

 

Dive headfirst into poetry month by exploring “the very, very, bottom of the deep blue sea. With: Salty snails and tuna tails. Bottle caps and lobster traps. Popped balloons, Plastic spoons…” and everything in between! (The Bottom of the Ocean by Kristen Wixted.) In honor of Earth Day AND National Poetry month, Celebrate Picture Books presents a book that deserves to be celebrated twice over: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Seventy New England authors and illustrators joined ship with the Rozalia Project to create a treasure-worthy collection of ocean-themed poems and illustrations.

As described in the title page, “Rozalia Project works to conserve a healthy and thriving marine ecosystem—the plants and animals need our help to keep human debris out of their homes.” Through this partnered anthology, children will learn about subject matter ranging from unique sea creatures and beach dwellers – like cuttlefish, vampire squids, red knots, and rainbow lobsters – to the habits of more well-known ocean dwellers, like whales taking off debris, sharks getting their teeth cleaned, and sea turtles hatching eggs.

They’ll also find poems about human additions to the ocean scene in odes to lighthouses, ships’ remnants, sea litter, and more. Each poem contains deep knowledge to share with readers about poetry, the ocean, and marine life. Little pieces of advice float in between hysterical ocean puns. This perfect concoction of sea-worthy information is also backed by all types of fin-tastic and crabulous art.

Some of the poems are sure to make you laugh out loud. Deep-Sea Jellyfish by Cindy Cornwall opens with: “Jelly of the sea, not jam for your toast. It’s deep in the water, a silky scarf ghost.” Seal of disApproval by Lynda Mullay Hunt fills a whole page with the rhyming, pun-y story of a seal who becomes a dentist and stands up to sharks.

Other poems are less humorous and more pensive; the last of the series, Sea Serenity by Luke Hargraver, holds an existential truth for readers to swim through: “The world is like water / Easily disturbed by ripples / But when still, / Beautiful.” Under a short and sweet poem called Minnow, by Brook Gideon, a message to ocean explorers reads: “It’s very important to release everything you catch back into the ocean right away!”

Each spread is distinctly created in the individual poets’ and artists’ styles. Yet, the whole compilation works together in perfect, charming harmony. Some poems mirror each other in content. Horseshoe Crabulous by Doreen Buchinski is followed by Red Knots by Jane Sutton, in which: “In the sand their goal is chiefly / To dart—and swerve —on twiggy legs / In mad search for horseshoe eggs.” The two beautifully crafted poems are followed by a third gem, Mollusk Mansions by Charlotte Sheer, and accompanied with an illustration featuring horseshoe crabs, red knots, and mollusk shells—all painted by Doreen Buchinski herself!

Children will explore the deep cerulean sea through a range of sincere rhyming couplets, honest haikus, positively silly prose, magical motifs, and everything in between. All poems and artwork share with readers a deep admiration for under the sea creatures, while spreading ocean knowledge, and a love for poetry and beauty.

The watercolors, collages, and digital art pieces mesh beautifully while each achieving a distinctly artistic picturesque scene. Some illustrations run horizontally across the spread to create poster-like, masterful images. On page 23 illustrator Julia Young Cuffe paints a long, horizontal lighthouse against a watery dark blue sky, littered with stars. A person stands at the top, waving a piece of cloth, illuminated by the lighthouse light. The poem, Boston Light by Heidi E.Y. Stemple, is artfully placed running vertically down the lighthouse.

Others run across the two-page spreads to create one image that ties together the poems featured on the separate pages into a collective unit. An example of this can be seen in Marlo Garnsworthy’s opening spread of deep ocean waves intermingling with whales, and Amanda Davis’s DEEP deep sea spread that features spookily realistic vampire squids, angler fish, and sea plumes. Each piece stands out as thoughtfully crafted to instill in readers a sense of awe for the beauty of marine life and ocean ecology.

Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children would make a wonderful addition to classroom science and language arts lessons as well as a fun collection to share at home, especially in conjunction with trips to the beach or aquariums. 

The Writers’ Loft is a community based in Sherborn, Massachusetts which helps local writers foster their creativity, strengthen their spirit, and grow professionally by providing them with quiet writing space, educational programs, opportunities to connect with supportive colleagues, and access to industry experts, as well as opportunities to give back to the greater writing community. To learn more about The Writers’ Loft, visit their website.

The Rozalia Project runs educational programs, ocean cleaning initiatives and research projects focused on how to aid ocean clean-up and maintain sustainability of ocean and shoreline ecosystems. The Rozalia Project, along with the “Writer-and-Artist-Ocean-Protectors from the Writers Loft” hopes to use this book to “foster an appreciation of the importance, beauty, and wonder of the ocean in the change-makers of tomorrow.”

To learn more about the Rozalia Project, or get involved with them on this Earth Day, check out their website. You can also watch this video on their Expedition CLEAN.

Earth Day and National Poetry Month Activities

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Color pages from Friends & Anemones in your OWN style with these black and white versions of the illustrations. You can find 18 more pages to print or download to your iPad to color on The Writers’ Loft website.

Manatee and Mermaid Coloring Page | Kids on the Beach Coloring Page

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Find ten ocean critters’ names in this printable sea-star shaped word search.

Under the Sea Word Search Puzzle | Under the Sea Word Search Solution

Explore some poems specifically written for younger readers at Poets.org and write your own poetry if you feel inspired.

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To support The Writers’ Loft, you can order Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children from their website.

You can find Friends & Anemones at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 29 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

During National Oceans Month, we celebrate the wondrous diversity of sea life. A majority of the earth’s surface is covered in water and yet we know only a fraction of what the oceans have to show us. With new technology scientists are diving deeper and deeper and discovering some of the most unique creatures in the world. The holiday also gives us an opportunity to pledge our help to preserving the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the world’s oceans from climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction. To join in on this month’s holiday, visit a beach or aquarium, learn more about the animals and resources of the sea, and consider donating to or volunteering with an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. To learn more about the world’s oceans, including information on ocean health, life, science, and trivia; find education resources, podcasts, videos, and more, visit the National Ocean Service website.

Down Under the Pier

Written by Nell Cross Beckerman | Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

 

A group of kids are having fun on the pier. They ride the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster and “gobble clouds of cotton candy” as they walk in the sunshine. On the carousel they vie for the one goat to sit on. “Up on the pier,” they tell readers, “we feed the machines, roll Skee-Balls, whack moles, and trade our tickets for toys.” When their money runs out, “is the fun all done?” Not at all. For these kids, it’s just begun.

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Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

They pad downstairs and kick off their flip-flops. “Down under the pier, it’s dark and cool. We inhale sea spray and squish slimy sand through toes.” They listen to the waves crash and when the water recedes, they “find creatures clinging. Mussels, barnacles, sea stars, and anemones festoon a forest of pilings.” Gently they touch these creatures, let crabs tickle their palms.

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Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

“Sanderlings scamper, their stick legs a blur” as they lead the children in a race down the beach. Here they find long strands of kelp, strong enough for a game of tug-of-war, wild enough to make a seaweed monster costume. Down under the pier they “collect seashell souvenirs” and watch the changing rainbow colors of the setting sun in the quiet twilight away from the blinking lights, clanging bells, and ringing voices on the pier. “Fun is free,” they know, “and the world is ours.”

Through an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, readers learn that a portion of the proceeds from Under the Pier are donated to Heal the Bay Aquarium, an educational nonprofit located under the Santa Monica Pier, where visitors can see and touch one hundred local sea creatures. An illustrated guide to seven sea creatures found in an intertidal community follows the story.

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Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

Lyrical, entrancing, and full of the wonder of childhood, Nell Cross Beckerman’s story will transport readers to a languid summer day where a group of friends spend the afternoon reveling in the rides, games, and treats of the pier and then continue their fun under the pier, where nature provides as many delights as the carnival above. Through her detailed and evocative language, readers can hear the thrill of the crowds, taste the cotton candy, and run with the kids to be the first to claim the goat on the carousel.

But it is when the kids “slip down the stairs” to the sand below that Beckerman’s descriptions truly shine with the deep and lasting impressions of new discovery. The children’s mindful awe of the sea creatures they find when the tide goes out and their creative games played out with relished spontaneity reflect this one trip to the beach but also all moments of free play that this group of friends—and readers—will experience and remember as they grow up.

Rachell Sumpter’s glorious artwork blends realism and that feeling of magic that expands a child’s world. Her gorgeous soft pinks, yellows, greens, and blues, embroidered with lacy white accents, swirl with the kids on the carousel and beckon them downstairs. Here, with the page turn, the colors burst into vibrancy as the sea tickles their toes and sea creatures climb the pilings and blanket the rocks and sand. Frothy waves and pearled outlines create a dazzling backdrop to the children’s fun. As they wrap themselves in nature-made costumes and art, the fiery sun sets on a perfect day.

A mesmerizing escapade children will want to join in on, Down Under the Pier is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. The book would pair well with lessons on marine science and United States geography, giving it cross-curricular appeal.

Ages 4 – 8

Cameron Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1944903862

Discover more about Nell Cross Beckerman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachell Sumpter, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Oceans Month Activity

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Kinetic Sand

 

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

Supplies

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

Directions

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

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You can find Under the Pier at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 27 – National Sunglasses Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday has been long in the making. Tinted glasses have been around since judges in ancient China used them to disguise their emotions. Modern sunglasses were first sold in 1929 by Sam Foster on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Bausch and Lomb was commissioned in the 1930s by the Army Air Corps to create glasses to ease the high-altitude glare pilots faced. In 1936 Polaroid filters were first used to protect eyes from  damaging UV rays in Ray Ban sunglasses.Since the 1970s movies have helped escalate the popularity of many styles of sunglasses as fans strive to look like their favorite actors and actresses. Today, grab your sunglasses or shop for new ones because—you know why…sing it with me… “The future’s so bright, I gotta have shades!”

Chu’s Day at the Beach

Written by Neil Gaiman | Illustrated by Adam Rex

 

As readers of this series know, “when Chu sneezed, big things happened.” With this tantalizing and slightly-ominous-in-a-way-kids-love statement, Chu’s latest adventure begins. Turning the page kids discover that Chu and his family have headed out to the beach. Chu is having a great time: the octopus selling ice-cream gives him an extra scoop of vanilla, and Chu meets a crab in a rock pool; even Chu’s mom is enjoying a book under the umbrella and his dad is wading in the ocean.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Chu takes his sunglasses off to better enjoy the bright, sunny day, but suddenly Chu’s nose tickles. The tickle grows until it fills his whole head and he can’t hold it in anymore—“AAH- AAAAH- AAAAAH- CHOoOoOoOO!” Chu looks out to sea. “‘Uh-oh,’” he says. Everyone on the beach comes down to the water’s edge to look at the huge suspended wave Chu has sneezed up.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Like standing in front of an aquarium exhibit, the beachgoers find themselves eye-to-eye with sea creatures who are suddenly encased in the wall of water. The fish, turtles, whales, and merpandas are sad—“‘With the sea broken, I cannot go home,’” one whale explains. The ice-cream vender tells Chu to sneeze again and put the sea “‘back the way it was.’” But try as he might, Chu can’t sneeze. A seagull tickles Chu’s nose with a wing feather and the octopus offers Chu a fizzy drink with bubbles that go up his nose, but nothing elicits a sneeze.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

All seems lost until Tiny the snail reveals that sometimes he sneezes when he looks at the sun. Chu removes his sunglasses and gazes into the light. “AAAAACHOOOOO!” “‘There, said Chu. Everything is back just as it was before.’” The sea creatures are happy that they get to return to their homes, the ice-cream seller is so pleased that she scoops up another cone for Chu, and Chu? He declares that it was the best day at the beach ever.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With his singular style Neil Gaiman conjures up a story for kids that combines just the right amount of sweetness and absurdity to keep the giggles going from the first page to the last. We all experience those uncontrollable mishaps and “oh no!” moments where a little help and empathy is appreciated. And what child wouldn’t love to stop the ocean, even if only for a moment? Gaiman’s repeated sneezes will have kids “Aah-chooing” along, and an animated reading of the chorus “AAH. AAAAH. AAAAAH. NO.” is sure to bring laughs and requests for “Again! Again!”

If only the beach was as full of interesting creatures as Adam Rex portrays in his vivacious illustrations! Crossing the dunes Chu and his family encounter an intriguing array of animals stretched out on towels—from a tiny cricket to a pangolin to a hunky frog with his clever insect-snack-strip-adorned umbrella and more. Ice-cream vendors no doubt wish they had the eight arms of Rex’s frozen-treat seller, and there’s even an ostrich with his head in the sand. Chu’s tidal wave teems with surprised sea creatures, some stuck mid-way between their ocean world and the dry outside. Chu remains as cute as ever, inviting kids to join him on his latest adventure.

Chu’s Day at the Beach makes for fun summer reading and would be a favorite on home bookshelves. Check out Chu’s Day, and Chu’s First Day of School too!

Ages 2 – 7

HarperCollins, 2015 | ISBN 978-0062223999 (Hardcover) | HarperFestival (Board Book, 2016) | ISBN 978-0062381248

Discover more about Neil Gaiman, his books for children, and all of his work on his website.

To learn more about Adam Rex, his books, and his art on his website.

National Sunglasses Day Activity

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Perfect Sunglasses Matching Puzzle

 

The summer sun is so bright that these friends need sunglasses before they go out to play! Can you follow the paths to match each child with the perfect pair? Get the printable Perfect Sunglasses Matching Puzzle and have fun!

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You can find Chu’s Day at the Beach at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

April 22 – Earth Day and Interview with Author Shana Keller

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About the Holiday

Celebrating 50 years of raising awareness of threats to the environment and spurring global action to combat them, Earth Day is the world’s largest civic-focused event. The initiative began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans (10% of the population) demonstrated against the industrialization, pollution, and pesticides that were damaging people and the environment. 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. This year’s theme is Climate Action, and the day will be commemorated with a global digital mobilization encompassing conversations, video teach-ins, special performances, calls to action, and more. To learn how you can participate or access resources in your area, visit the official Earth Day website.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

CBP Shana Keller Toad Image

A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Earth Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

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