July 7 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of I Got the School Spirit

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About the Holiday

A new book in a favorite series is always something special as is a child’s first day on their school journey. When you put those events together, you get today’s Book Birthday celebration of a beautiful and inspirational story that will have kids enthusiastic to start the new school year – whether they’ll be in a traditional school environment or homeschooled.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing I Got the School Spirit with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the School Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl gets up and stretches, rummages through her drawers for just the right shirt, and smiles throughout brushing her teeth. Why? She says: “Summer is over. / My first day is here. / I got the spirit to start the new school year!” In fact, this girl has a spirited attitude toward the whole day. She laces up the spirit in her new shoes, eats a good breakfast to keep her going until lunchtime, and fills her backpack with enough positivity to last all day.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

At the bus stop, she waits eagerly for the ride to school and, once on the bus, comforts another little girl next to her who isn’t so sure about this new experience. In the classroom, she answers roll call with enthusiasm then sings about the ABCs and 123s with gusto. At lunch she shares an orange with a new friend across the table, and at recess her kick sends the ball soaring.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Back in the classroom and gathered on the rug, the little girl says, “I listen as the spirit weaves a story. / Once upon a time….” When the bell rings at the end of the day, she packs up, rides the bus home, and runs into her mom’s waiting arms for “the spirit in a big ol’ hug. / Squish, Squeeze!” This smart little girl already knows: “The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. / I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn tomorrow!”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A new book in Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s I Got… series is always a cause for celebration. In her uplifting story of a little girl enjoying her first day of school with a true zest for life, Schofield-Morrison encourages children to find the spirit in each activity and to share their own spirit of kindness and community with others. Heartening feelings of inclusion and openness to new experiences shine on every page, infusing readers with a buoyant optimism and confidence to meet the challenges and opportunities of school. Schofield-Morrison’s storytelling is specially empowering for children who may be hesitant about beginning or returning to school. The jubilant rhythm makes this a perfect read aloud and invites kids to join in on subsequent readings.

As in each book in this series, Frank Morrison’s oil paintings are spectacular representations of home life, friendship, participation, and kids being kids. The little girl and the diverse group of children at the bus stop, flanked by their parents, and in the classroom display a wide range of emotions from casual poses to wide-eyed glee to serious attention to the teacher. At lunch and on the playground, the kids enjoy those well-earned sandwiches and their playtime with expressions that can’t help but make readers smile too. Rich colors, realistic details, and outstanding perspectives, make every page a showstopper that readers will want to linger over.

A must for all kids, whether they’re just beginning their school journey or returning for a new year, I Got the School Spirit will be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602612

You can connect with Connie Schofield-Morrison on Facebook.

To learn more about Frank Morrison, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find I Got the School Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 25 – National Rivers Month

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About the Holiday

Rivers are beautiful, provide recreation, and are crucial to our water supply. Did you know that in the United States 65% of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams? This month environmentalists and others promote awareness of the importance of keeping the nation’s rivers pollution free to protect the fish and animals that call them home and increase enjoyment for all. To help the cause, find out how you can help an environmental organization in your area. This year might be the perfect time to get to know your local river system better and then plan a trip to fish, swim, boat, or just have a picnic on the bank.

River

By Elisha Cooper

 

As a woman begins her solitary trip on a mountain lake, she turns and waves to her family. The familiar shore recedes, and she dips her oar into the blue water under gray skies and in the shadow of the tall mountains. “Three hundred miles stretch in front of her. A faraway destination, a wild plan. And the question: Can she do this?” As she enters the Hudson River, she plucks a pebble from the shallow water and places it beside her gear. Here, she must navigate the scattered rocks—and one that is not a rock at all, but a moose taking a dip.

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Copyright Elisha Cooper, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

Ahead, she rides rapids that steal her hat and threaten to flip her. But she hangs on and makes it out on the other side. Now it’s time to set up camp for the night. Huddled in her tent, “she is alone, but not. The river stays beside her, mumbling to her and to itself all through the night.” With the dawn, she is on the river again, along with “otters, ducks, dragonflies, a kingfisher.” When she stops to pick blackberries, a bear cub ambles by to watch. The woman backs away slowly and continues down the river.

When she comes to a dam, she must carry her canoe. She trips, falls, and bloodies her knee, but on the other side of the dam, she returns to her paddling. When she comes to a waterfall, she gets in line for her turn to go through the lock. Once on her way again, she moves on to “farms with faded barns, to villages with white clapboard houses, to chimneyed factories on the outskirts of a town. Here, she pulls her canoe onto a levee where two boys are fishing. They ask her where she’s going, and she tells them. “It feels funny to talk.” As she walks into town, her legs also feel funny beneath her. She buys supplies and replaces her hat. That night is spent on a small island.

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Copyright Elisha Cooper, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

When she wakes, the white fog has blanketed everything. She can’t see the river, but she watches an eagle high in a tree eating its breakfast. She takes out her sketchbook and draws. The fog lifts and she continues her journey. The days and nights are marked by her hardening callouses and darkening suntan, shortening pencils and waning sketchbook pages. She paddles past “craggy hills” and “around bell-ringing buoys, next to railway tracks and a clattering freight train.”

She dodges a tugboat oblivious to her presence and makes it to another village, where she mails postcards and buys a cookie. A rain drop falls just as she climbs back into her canoe. The raindrop turns into a drizzle and then “a single sheet blowing sideways. A squall.” Her canoe capsizes, “dumping her into the raging water.” When she is able, she drags her canoe and herself onto a rocky shore. “Shivering, she takes stock. Tent, gone, Clothes, soaked. Sketchbook, safe.”

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Copyright Elisha Cooper, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

In the morning she starts again. As she rounds a bluff, the city spreads out in front of her. Far above her a gull watches as she makes her way past skyscrapers and boats large and small to the harbor and on to the boatyard, where “a bearded man in overalls—the builder of her canoe”—eagerly waits to hear about her trip and the sturdiness of her craft. After a cup of coffee, she launches her canoe for the last leg of her journey.

She is now in the open ocean with its wild waves. The horizon beckons, “but closer in she sees the lighthouse, and she knows it is time for her to be home.” She paddles harder and faster. “She can’t wait to be with them again. Can’t wait to tell them about moose and eagles, rapids and storms…to turn her sketches into paintings and her words into a story.” Her family is on shore waving, her dog running into the surf to greet her. She scuds into the shallows “…and brings the canoe to shore.”

An Author’s Note about the creation of River as well as a Note on the Hudson River and a list of sources and reading resources follows the text.

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Copyright Elisha Cooper, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books, Scholastic, Inc.

Elisha Cooper’s loving and lyrical tribute to nature, courage, and self-reliance is nothing short of spectacular. His fluid storytelling plays out with the rhythm of an oar cutting and pushing a canoe along while transporting readers smoothly through this most evocative journey. With exquisite descriptions and compelling obstacles that will leave children wide-eyed and holding their breath, River is an expansive adventure story of one woman pitting herself against the power of the Hudson River and her own tenacity. The story is also one of love—respect for the environment, awe for community, and devotion to family and the support found there.

Cooper’s soft and sprawling watercolors envelop readers in the river setting, where the woman appears tiny against the rocky coastline, towering mountains, waterfalls, dams, and cityscapes. Double-page spreads swell the heart and invite wanderlust in even the most ardent homebodies. And there may be no better way to share this personal and universal journey than by gathering together and reading River in one sitting or—for younger children—breaking away at one of the many cliffhangers that will have everyone yearning to dip into the story again.

A must for school and public library collections, River is highly recommended for all home bookshelves as well for its inspiration for personal goals, it’s reflections on nature, and its encouragement that anything is possible.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338312263

To learn more about Elisha Cooper, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Rivers Month Activity

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World Rivers Word Search Puzzle

 

The world’s rivers provide homes for fish, animals, and birds; offer opportunities for recreation; and supply drinking water for millions. Can you find the names of twenty rivers of the world in this printable puzzle? Then learn where each river runs!

World Rivers Word Search | World Rivers Word Search Solution

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You can find River at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

June 11 – Making Life Beautiful Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to celebrate all of those people who make life more fun, meaningful, joyful—more beautiful—for someone else. This can be done in so many ways, from spending more time talking with someone to using your talents to make something you know a friend, family member, or coworker would love, to just giving a smile to those you meet during the day. Making someone else feel good will make life more beautiful for you too!

Ray

By Marianna Coppo

 

At the bottom of the staircase there’s a closet. This is where Ray lives. Ray is a lightbulb. Before taking up residence in the closet, Ray lived in the family room (which was fun) and in the bathroom (which was not so much). Now, though he hung above a collection of stuff—like winter hats and scarves, books, cleaning supplies, an elephant-shaped watering can, some old toys, and a spider—that gave him something to count when he was bored. Sometimes, the child made a fort in the closet and hid out reading books.

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Copyright Marianna Coppo, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

But there’s a downside: “The closet, the thing, and even Tom the spider often disappear. Ray does not like this.” These times were even more boring; even Ray’s sleep was “dreamless.” Then one day, Ray felt a twist. Then he was moving and seeing the world pass upside down. When the car stops, he finds himself outside in a place he’s never seen before. “Ray can’t tell where it begins or where it ends,” and there are way too many things to count.

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Copyright Marianna Coppo, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

When the man and the child go to sleep now, Ray stays awake. He makes a wish on a shooting star just before he falls asleep, just before dawn. “When he wakes up, right there in front of him, shines the biggest light bulb in the world.” Seeing the sun gives Ray a whole new perspective on the world. Soon, the man and the boy and Ray are heading back home. The same closet awaits. But for Ray, it will never be dark or boring again.

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Copyright Marianna Coppo, 2020, courtesy of Tundra Books.

To read Marianna Coppo’s Ray for the first time is to feel all the wonder of new discovery, imagination, and creativity. When reading Ray for the second time (which kids will beg to do after Ray’s new perspective is revealed), the story unfolds with new enlightenment that invites readers to linger on each page. Ray, with his bright eyes, rosy cheeks, little smile, and filament that creates a tuft of hair is an endearing character that kids will love.

Coppo’s story is a sweet metaphor for discovering the wonders of the wider world and the value of engaging kids in stimulating experiences. It also reminds us that too often we can be “in the dark” and that looking at things differently results in new perspectives and more appreciation. Coppo’s clever illustrations invite interaction and close observation as the items in the closet transform into so much more after Ray’s return from the camping trip. Ray’s vision of himself has also changed: in his dreams he is now the sun shining on his little world.

A unique story that encourages the exploration and introspection that sparks imagination and self-esteem, Ray would be a favorite for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735265776

Discover more about Marianna Coppo, her books, and her art on her website.

Making Life Beautiful Day Activity

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Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

Do you sometimes have a lightbulb moment when an idea seems just right? Use this printable Share Your Bright Idea! Page to write about or draw your idea!

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You can find Ray at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

May 8 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

The Get Caught Reading campaign was initiated in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers with the idea to promote literacy and language development through reading to children and encouraging them to read on their own. As part of the campaign, posters of celebrities, dignitaries, and even fictional characters enjoying a book are available for schools, libraries, and other organizations to hang where kids will see them. The excitement of reading also takes over social media all month long, which this year is more important than ever. To celebrate this holiday, make sure you stock up on new and favorite books or download ebooks or audiobooks from your library and get caught reading! Learn more by visiting the Get Caught Reading website and the Every Child a Reader website.

I received a copy of Two Tough Trucks from Orchard Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Two Tough Trucks

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez | Illustrated by Hilary Leung

 

One morning, two trucks are ready “for their first day of class.” But Rig’s “riding the brakes” while Mack’s “hitting the gas.” In their classroom, their teacher Miss Rhodes pairs these two up for a practice run on the track. First up is the circuit, with twists and a hairpin turn. Rig feels shaky, but Mack’s “a speedy red blur.” Mack picks up speed going into the turn and keeps on going, but Rig hits the brakes and skids off the course.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Next comes learning to downshift while climbing a hill. Mack breezes up as Rig carefully inches along. First to the top, Mack gloats, “‘I knew I was fast.’” And although Rig tried his best he “finished dead last.” Mack thought Rig was just dragging him down. For Rig, Mack just seemed liked a braggart. As he vroomed, Mack fumed and left Rig “in the dust.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

The students moved on to practicing backing up. As they moved around traffic cones,  “they veered and corrected, / they turned and reversed. / Rig had good instincts, but Mack was… the worst.” Rig aced the course, but Mack? He was ready to quit until Rig steered him right. “Vroom! Zoom! / They backtracked and bumped. / A Mack making progress, / a Rig feeling pumped!”

Mack was surprised that Rig had helped him, but for Rig it was just the right thing to do. They headed back to the track and took it by storm. These two trucks were “now the fastest of friends.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Like life’s road itself, this original story of two trucks with distinct personalities and different strengths has many twists and turns and takes little ones on a multilayered journey of discovery. While Mack is rarin’ to go on his first day of truck school, Rig is more hesitant. When these two are teamed up for the day, Mack’s fast and daring approach to the track seems to be the right one as he nails the sharp curve and is the first to reach the peak of the hill, leaving Rig far behind. These early successes cause him to honk his own horn and complain about Rig.

But then in a clever literal and metaphorical reversal, Rig’s thoughtful restraint makes backing up his forte. In Mack’s reaction to being last, Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca Gomez gently ramp up life lessons about perseverance and losing gracefully. Rig then goes on to demonstrate another winning trait in his generosity to teach Mack the finer points of driving in reverse. Mack’s acceptance of Rig’s kindness shows that the experience has taught him to be humble. Kudos to Miss Rhodes for creating a track that leads to strong bonds and friendship.

A book by Schwartz and Gomez always charms with smart rhyming and jaunty rhythms and Two Tough Trucks is no exception. Ingenious puns, evocative and active vocabulary, and plenty of “vrooms” and “zooms” for kids to chime in on make this book a lively read aloud.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Hilary Leung’s textured and boldly colored pages will thrill little readers as Mack and Rig take center stage on the dusty, western track. Mack’s confidence shows in his straight, crisp lines and grinning grill while Rig’s wariness takes the form of wobbly tires, bent frame, furrowed brow, and grimacing grill. Fittingly, the Truck School building is shaped like a parking garage, complete with a spiral ramp that takes students to the second and third story. Cacti, roadrunners, and craggy rock formations dot the sun-drenched desert track where Mack, Rig, and the rest of the students strut their stuff.

A joy to read out loud and a story kids will want to hear again and again, Two Tough Trucks is highly recommended for home bookshelves, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338236545

Discover more about Corey Rosen Schwartz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca J. Gomez and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Hilary Leung and learn more about his work, visit her website.

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Racing for Friendship Game

 

Here’s a racing game that kids will love! With poster board, paper, and chalk or other art supplies, kids can place their track in a city, the country, the desert, or even in outer space! Once the scene is ready, get out your own toy cars or trucks to play with or use the printable truck game pieces included below. Use a traditional playing die or the included printable 8-sided playing die. The first player to the finish line wins—or shake it up a bit and make the last person to the line the winner.

The track can be laid out on the floor and taped in place or created on poster board or paper with the supplies below:

Supplies

  • Poster board or tri-fold display board. I used a 12-inch by 4-foot section of a tri-fold board in my example. This allows you to fold up the board for easier storing.
  • White paper
  • Chalk, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Toy trucks or cars
  • Printable Truck Game Pieces (optional)
  • Printable 8-sided Playing Die

Directions

  1. Cut 30 4- or 5-inch by 1½-inch strips from the white paper
  2. Have kids lay out a track on the board using the white paper strips (each strip is one space) leaving room in between the rows for scenery
  3. Glue or tape the strips in place
  4. Draw scenery around the track OR cut trees, buildings, landmarks, or other scenery from paper and color. Glue or tape to board. 
  5. Print and assemble 8-sided playing die with tape (optional)
  6. Give each player a toy truck or car. Alternately, print and cut out included Truck Game Pieces. (To make them sturdier, print on heavy paper or glue them to cardboard)
  7. Choose a player to go first
  8. Players take turns rolling the die and moving the appropriate number of spaces
  9. The first (or last) player to the finish line is the winner

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You can find Two Tough Trucks at these booksellers

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

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Vroom and zoom with Mack and Rig in Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!, a new  adventure coming on September 1! You can preorder it here

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

 

May 6 – It’s National Bike Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1956 and sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month celebrates all the fun and benefits of cycling. Communities around the country usually celebrate with special events, tours, and safety lessons. This year the League of American Bicyclists is encouraging riders to ride solo or with family and share their experiences online with #BikesUnite. For a list of ideas on ideas for making this year’s Bike Month fun, meaningful, and special, visit the League of American Bicyclists website.

I received a copy of Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride from Oni Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

 

Maybe you’ve been criticized for your hair or your body shape; told that “you are not enough.” Bessie heard that over and over. When the boys gathered after school to race on their bikes, they rode past Bessie, laughing that she wasn’t fast enough. But Bessie wanted to join them. The boys just laughed harder and said, “Silly little Bessie! Girls can’t ride bikes!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fast-enough-Bessie

Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

Bessie asked her mama if girls could ride bikes, and she suggested Bessie “ask the Man Upstairs.” That night Bessie said her usual prayers and then asked “if girls are supposed to ride bikes.” That night in her dreams she rode up and down hills, through cities, by the ocean, and even on top of the waves. She rode through cities and up into space.

In the morning, Bessie knew just what she was going to do that day. When the boys got together, she was there, hanging behind. As the leader of the group started the countdown to race, Bessie waited. And when he shouted “Go!” “Bessie zoomed past the boys. She sailed over the concrete like it was the ocean in her dream. She was fast enough.” She zipped past the ladies walking their dogs as if they were skyscrapers in the city and tore up the track with the speed of a comet.

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

When the boys saw that, they called for her to wait up, and when they reached her there were high-fives all around. From then on Bessie could be found speeding around town on her bike until the day she heard “ROOOAAAR VAAROOM!,” saw…a motorcycle, and “realized she could be even faster.”

Extensive back matter continues Bessie’s story as a pioneer for women in motorcycling in the early and mid-twentieth century. Also a nurse, Bessie traveled all over the United States, following the Negro Motorist Green Book to find safe accommodations, as well as the world. She was “the only woman on a team of civilian motorcycle couriers for the U.S. military” and became “the first woman to ride a motorcycle across America.” Children will be fascinated by her adventurous life and captivated by the various versions of her life and legend. 

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

Joel Christian Gill introduces children to Bessie, a determined, brave, and pioneering woman at a formative time in her life. Told that girls don’t ride bikes and that she wasn’t good enough or fast enough anyway, Bessie Stringfield wrestled with self-doubt, but she took control of what she wanted and ultimately proved to herself and others that she was more than capable. Gill’s first pages set the stage for readers to contemplate ways in which they may doubt themselves, before encouraging them to find inspiration and confidence in Bessie’s story.

Gill’s vivid illustrations clearly show Bessie’s sadness as she internalizes the boy’s taunts, her tenacity, and finally her jubilation is besting them and achieving her goal. Images of Bessie’s dream and its resulting reality creatively play on the dual meaning of the word dream while a change in Bessie’s room décor while she sleeps is a clever touch.

A singular story about a trailblazing black woman, Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride encourages children to embrace their own identity instead of letting others define them. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

To learn more about Joel Christian Gill, his books, and his cartoons, visit his website.

National Bike Month Activity

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Ride with Me! Maze

 

These two girls want to ride bikes together. Can you help them find each other in this printable maze?

Ride with Me! Puzzle | Ride with Me! Puzzle Solution

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You can find Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 7 – It’s National Poetry Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate poets and the poetry they create to illuminate our lives in new and often surprising ways. National Poetry Month is a world-wide event, bringing together tens of millions of poets, readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, and other poetry lovers in readings, school visits, and special events. To celebrate, check out some events in your area and enjoy reading the work of your favorite—or a new—poet. You might even try writing your own poetry! Get inspired with today’s book!

I received a copy of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks from Abrams Books for Young Readers for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

 

Growing up in Chicago, Gwendolyn Brooks’ family didn’t have a lot of money but they did own “great treasure—a bookcase filled with precious poems.” Every night Gwendolyn’s father read aloud from those books, and, mesmerized, Gwendolyn memorized poems to recite for her visiting aunts. “When she was seven, Gwendolyn began arranging words into poems of her own.” One day, her mother read her poems and declared that one day she would be as great as Paul Laurence Dunbar—Gwendolyn’s favorite poet.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Gwendolyn loved to sit on her porch and watch the clouds float by. She filled notebooks about them and about her “paper dolls, ticktock clocks, raindrops, sunsets, and climbing rocks.” When Gwendolyn was eleven, she sent four of her poems to a newspaper, and, much to her delight, they were printed. A poem she sent to a national magazine also appeared in print.

Gwendolyn was looking forward to a bright future when the Great Depression hit. But Gwendolyn kept writing. In high school she was an outsider, never seeming to fit in despite trying several schools. “Gwendolyn felt invisible. But when words flowed from her pen, she became invincible.” After college she took whatever jobs she could find and continued writing. She got married and had a baby boy. Even though she was busy, she took poetry classes about modern poems and wrote in a new style herself.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

She wrote about what and who she saw in her South Side Chicago neighborhood, Bronzeville. She began to win poetry contests and had some poems published in a well-known poetry journal. She and her family were still poor, but that didn’t stop her from writing “‘what she saw and heard in the street’” even when there was no electricity. Just as when she was a little girl, Gwendolyn “kept dreaming about a future that was going to be exquisite.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

One day, she gathered her best poems and submitted them to a book publisher in New York. Soon after, they wrote asking for more. She wrote and wrote until she had enough to send. With the next letter from the publisher, she learned that they “loved her poems!” They were published with the title A Street in Bronzeville. After that book, came a second, Annie Allen. Her poems were now read all over the world. They “helped people better understand others” and “changed the way some people thought and acted.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Even with two books published, money was scarce. And yet she kept writing because “everywhere she looked, Gwendolyn saw more stories that needed to be told.” One day two things happened in Gwendolyn’s apartment: the electricity was turned off—again. And the phone rang. The reporter on the phone had one question for her: “‘Do you know that you have won the Pulitzer Prize?’” She and her young son danced around the apartment as “outside, exquisite clouds exploded in the sunset sky, because Gwendolyn had won the greatest prize in poetry!”

“Clouds,” a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks when she was fifteen, follows the story. An Author’s Note giving more information about Brooks’ work, a timeline of her life, and resources are also included.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In her outstanding biography, Suzanne Slade highlights the prodigious talent of Gwendolyn Brooks, illuminating the influences, continual study, and inborn voice that informed and created her poetry. Gwendolyn’s self-confidence, unique perspective, and the support she received throughout her youth and career are strong themes that will inspire readers. Slade focuses on the awe Brooks found in her subjects, demonstrating her singular vision and how poetry is found in the everyday aspects of life. Beginning with Gwendolyn’s childhood, Slade links the events of Brooks’ life with beautiful imagery of the clouds she once likened to her exquisite future. Quotes are sprinkled throughout Slade’s lyrical text, allowing children to hear Brooks’ own voice and the dreams and pride had for her work.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s acrylic paintings are stunning representations of Gwendolyn’s life. Her family life with her well-read and supportive family comes alive with images of their home, where the large glass bookcase has pride of place, portraits hang on the walls, Gwendolyn practices the piano while her mother exclaims over her poetry, and the family gathers for a meager dinner during hard times. For young readers, Cabrera visualizes the parts of Gwendolyn’s life that fed her imagination and work and the copious amounts of poetry that she created—even as a child. Images of Gwendolyn’s early publishing successes give way to the changes brought by the Depression, school, marriage, and motherhood, but a pen, paper, and books are still her constant companions. Scenes from Chicago give children a look at the city that inspired Gwendolyn’s poetry, and intermittent views of the pastel clouds let readers dream along with her.

A stirring biography to inspire the dreams of any child, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks is a story that children will want to hear again and again. On its own or paired with Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, the book also makes an impactful lesson for homeschooling. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1419734113

Discover more about Suzanne Slade and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cozbi A. Cabrera, her books, and her art on her website.

Watch the Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks book trailer

National Poetry Month Activity

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You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the twenty poetry-related words in this printable puzzle then write a poem of your own!

You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Puzzle | You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Solution

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You can find Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

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

March 24 – International Day for Achievers

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate those who set goals and then work towards achieving them in any field. Particularly, it is a day to honor those unsung heroes who make the world a better place: teachers, scientists, doctors, nurses, conservationists, your hometown business owners, and many others who improve the lives of other people. To partake in today’s holiday, think about those people who have made a difference in your life, and if you can give them a call, send a text, or write an email and thank them, letting them know how much they mean to you.

The Big Book of Super Powers

Written by Susanna Isern | Illustrated by Rocio Bonilla

 

We all have our favorite superhero or two. Someone with a cape or cool costume who has extraordinary eyesight or flexibility or strength. But did you know that you are a superhero too? And that every day as you talk to your friends, help out at home, and do your schoolwork that you’re performing superhuman feats? Like what? Well, like the eighteen superpowers the kids have in today’s book. Some of them may not sound like super powers, but they are! Let’s take a look at some of them!

Marc is always smiling. “He walks with a spring in his step, humming a happy song to himself.” For him the glass is always half full, never half empty. And if it starts raining? “Marc grabs an umbrella and gets on his bicycle. He pedals and pedals until he finds the sunlight.” What do you think Marc’s superpower is? ** The answer is at the end of this post.

Lucía loves to laugh whether it’s at a funny joke or she’s slipped on a banana peel. “If a bird leaves a little ‘gift’ in her hair, she thinks that’s a sign of good luck.” She’s a clever “but always harmless” prankster, and she always has “brilliant ideas to deal with small problems with laughter and good cheer.” What do you think Lucía’s superpower is?**

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Image copyright Rocio Bonilla, 2020, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Alberto remembers everything. Really! Tell him your phone number or address, and it’s in his brain forever. Every detail is tucked away for later. Want to know “the colors of all the socks of all the students in his class” or “the names of all the dogs on his block?” Alberto can tell you just like that. Alberto can also learn lots things to help with school, at home, and his friends and family. What would you say Alberto’s superpower is?**

Sofia is a planner and can put everything in its place so she can find it again lickety-split. Looking for a tiny bead, a book, a favorite toy? Sofia knows just where it is. She can also put together a party that “everyone wants to attend” with activities and treats that everyone will enjoy. “But best of all, Sofia can plan her weekly schedule so well that she always has time left over to read, play, rest, or visit her friends. What could Sofia’s superpower be?**

You might have one of these superpowers, or maybe you have one of the other twelve awesome abilities in this book. It’s possible—even probable!—that you don’t have just one superpower, either, but lots of them. Discover what makes you extraordinary—no cape required!

Back matter includes a list of the eighteen superpowers in the book with an invitation to check off which ones the reader has. There’s also a prompt for readers to think about their own superpowers and write a story about themselves that’s similar to the stories in the book.

What is Each Child’s Superpower?

Marc’s superpower is Optimism | Lucía’s superpower is Humor | Alberto’s superpower is Memory | Sophia’s superpower is Organization

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Image copyright Rocio Bonilla, 2020, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Susanna Isern inspires kids to think of their special talents and aspects of their personalities as what they are: powers that will take them far and help them change their world. The eighteen examples of superpowers that Isern presents will have children exclaiming, “I didn’t know that was a superpower!” and “I can do that!” while gaining self-confidence and self-assurance. Her stories about each child are full of lyrical language and creative details that will resonate with readers about themselves and others they know. A wide range of children’s experiences found throughout the stories gives readers an opportunity to talk about how people develop some of the traits that become their superpowers and how others natural parts of their personality.

Rocio Bonilla’s lively mixed-media illustrations are full of humor, imaginative perspectives, and kids being kids while engaging in their superpower. Readers will love lingering over the pages and talking about how the particular images reflect each superpower. The collage illustrations may inspire kids to create their own collages made up of images that reflect their lives and their superpowers.

A thoughtful book for helping children develop self-esteem and an appreciation for their own and others’ unique talents, The Big Book of Superpowers makes an original and captivating addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506463193

Discover more about Susanna Isern and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rocio Bonilla, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Day for Achievers Activity

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Reading is Super! Maze

 

Did you know that reading is an awesome superpower? This boy is a reading superhero. Can you help him through this printable Reading is Super Maze to reach his friends?

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You can find The Big Book of Superpowers at these booksellers

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