April 5 – It’s National Garden Month

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About the Holiday

In 1987 National Garden Week sprouted on the calendar to celebrate the beginning of spring and the growing season. But a week just isn’t enough to enjoy all the fun and excitement (and delicious food and glorious flowers) of gardening. In 2002, the National Gardening Association extended the holiday to encompass the full month of April. A perfect activity for the whole family—even the youngest loves playing in the dirt and planting seeds!—gardening is a wonderful way to teach kids about the growth cycle, pollinators, nutrition, patience, and more! If it’s warm enough to start planting where you live, engage your kids in preparing and planting your garden. If it’s still a little chilly, gather the whole family and plan this year’s garden!

Little Yellow Truck

Written by Eve Bunting | Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer

 

At his lumberyard, Riley had four trucks: “a red dump truck, a green flatbed truck, a blue concrete mixer, and a little yellow pickup truck.” One day he announced that together he and his trucks were going to turn a plot of land he’d bought into a children’s park. Little Yellow was excited to be included. Riley and his helpers drove all the trucks to the area. First, they cleaned up all the trash and put the bags in Big Red. “Little Yellow watched.”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When Big Red drove away, Big Blue rolled up, and as his bowl turned he “pumped out concrete” to make a sidewalk that meandered through the land and over the hills, a floor for a picnic shelter and a spot for a fountain: “Squish Squash Slurp Burp.” Next, Big Green drove up with his load of lumber, and Riley and his helpers built the picnic shelter and a fence: “Bang Clang Smack Whack!” Riley thought it was “‘Fabulous!’”

As Big Green sped away with Riley, Little Yellow wondered…and waited. “He flicked his lights on and off.” He didn’t want to be forgotten. He wanted to do an important job. Then Big Green and Riley were back. Throughout the day, Big Green transported the swings, slides, merry-go-round, tables, and benches. Little Yellow stayed silent. “The important job was finished and he had done nothing.” Riley proclaimed it “‘Fabulous!’” But the park wasn’t finished yet, he said.

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Riley walked over to Little Yellow and took the wheel. As they drove down the road, Little Yellow recognized they were going the way back to the lumberyard. Maybe he wasn’t going to be part of the job after all. But then they stopped at Ray’s Garden Shop and the workers began loading Little Yellow up with “plants and shrubs and flowers. There were bags of soil and grass seed and fertilizer.”

As they drove through town, people smiled and waved. One girl even said, “‘Look! It’s a garden in a truck!” Back at the park, Riley and his helpers scattered the grass seed and planted the bushes and flowers. Birds, butterflies, and bees flew over to check them out. There was even a little shower burst to water them. When at last everything was just right, Big Red, Big Green, Big Blue, and Little Yellow all hooted and honked their horns, and kids came running from all over. Little Yellow “even gave an extra-long Toot Toot Tootle Toot” because “the children’s park was open for business. And he was part of it!”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

For every little one who feels like they stand on the sidelines while all the “important jobs” are done, Eve Bunting’s sweet story shows that they play a big role in what happens at home, at school, and elsewhere. As Little Yellow watches while all the bigger trucks get to help out, his doubts will be familiar to readers. The suspense grows as job after job is completed without Little Yellow’s input, and young readers will cheer when his patience is rewarded. Little truck lovers will enjoy seeing their favorites at work and chiming in on the alliterative and rhyming words that accompany each action.

Kevin Zimmer’s happy-to-help trucks will thrill kids who love vehicles of all kinds with their realistic details and anthropomorphic personalities. Zimmer’s vivid colors are as cheery as a day at the park, and little ones will love pointing out and talking about the different jobs and what they entail as well as their favorite playground equipment. A diverse group of children, including a boy in a wheelchair, run and play in the new park.

An engaging story to reassure kids that they make a big difference even if they are small, Little Yellow Truck makes a fun read aloud for home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364077

To learn more about Kevin Zimmer, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Garden Month Activity

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Colorful Garden Coloring Pages

 

Your plants and flowers may not have bloomed—or even sprouted—yet, but you can still enjoy a colorful garden with these printable pages!

Planting the Garden | Colorful Flowers

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You can find Little Yellow Truck at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 3 – National Walking Day and Interview with Author Jane Whittingham

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About the Holiday

The American Heart Association established National Walking Day in 2007 to remind people of the benefits of taking a walk. Even twenty to thirty minutes a day can improve your health and wellbeing. If you have a desk job or spend long hours sitting, getting up and out can make you feel better and even more connected to your community. While walking through your neighborhood, the park, or the woods take time to notice interesting details and the beauty around you. Walking with a friend, your family, or a group can also be fun and motivating. So grab your sneakers and use today to spark a new habit that will pay dividends now and in the future.

I received a copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up from Pajama Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Pajama Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up

Written by Jane Whittingham | Illustrated by Emma Pedersen

 

Twice every day Mama Quail led her ten chicks through the meadow, and while nine hurried and scurried along after Mama, Queenie, the smallest, always lagged behind. Mama and the other chicks chirped and cheeped for Queenie to “hurry hurry hurry,” but it was just so hard when there was so much to see. Queenie loved stopping to look at the “pink blossoms and green grass, shiny stones and fuzzy caterpillars, buzzy bumblebees and wiggly worms.”

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

Her papa admonished her to learn to hurry—“It is what we quails do!” he told her. And Queenie promised to try. She really did try too, but she just couldn’t pass by all her favorite things without stopping to enjoy them. One day, in addition to the blossoms, grass, stones, caterpillars, bees, and worms, Queenie spied a feather. And when she stopped to admire it, she saw “an unusual flash of orange.”

As Queenie watched, the “the furry orange slid softly, smoothly, silently through the green grass.” Queenie followed at a careful distance. Suddenly, Queenie saw that she was following a cat—a cat that was stalking her mama and brothers and sisters. Queenie knew just what she had to do. She raced down the path “hurry, hurry, hurrying,” chirping, cheeping, and warning her family.

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

In the nick of time, Papa heard her and swooped down on the cat. Mama came running too. With a hiss, the cat jumped into the grass and fled. “‘You’ve saved us, Queenie Quail!’ Mama Quail chirped.” And Papa and her little siblings praised her too. Now, when the family heads out along the meadow trail and Queenie can’t keep up, they all ask, “‘What have you found, what have you found, what have you found?’” And they stop and hurry hurry hurry over to take a look too.

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

Jane Whittingham’s story of an adorable quail who stops to smell all the roses is a charming, charming, charming read-aloud that adults will love sharing and kids will enthusiastically chime in on during the fun repeated phrases. Whittingham’s agile storytelling shines with lyrical rhythms and alliteration that bounce along like the little stars of her book. The gentle suspense will keep young listeners riveted to the story, and afterward they’re sure to join Queenie and her brothers and sisters in slowing down to enjoy the world around them.

Readers will immediately fall in love with Queenie and her siblings as Emma Pedersen’s cute-as-can-be, tufted quail babies race and bob along the trail to keep up with Mama. With expressive eyes and tiny beaks that form a perpetual smile, they nestle next to Mama and pile on top of Papa. As they watch out for Queenie, one or two often peer out at readers, inviting them along on their excursions. As the heroine of the story, Queenie is a sweetie, fascinated by everything she sees. Pedersen’s lovely gauche paintings are as fresh as a spring meadow and will entice kids and adults to take a nice slow walk together.

A unique and tender story that will have children entranced from the first page, Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up will be a favorite on home, school, and public library shelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Pajama Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1772780673

You’ll discover more about Jane Whittingham and her books as well as blog posts, interviews, and lots more on her website.

To learn more about Emma Pedersen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Jane Whittingham

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Today, I’m excited to be talking with Jane Whittingham an author and librarian from British Columbia, Canada, about the inspiration for her adorable quails, what she loves about being a librarian, and how nature features in her life and books.

I believe Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up was inspired by your dad and a true story. Can you talk about that a little?

My parents moved to a small town on Vancouver Island when they retired, and their backyard is home to all sorts of wildlife, including families of quails that hurry and scurry here and there. My dad  always liked watching them, and he mentioned to me once that quails would make perfect picture book stars with their round little bodies and their amusing personalities and antics. Well, I was inspired! I’d never really thought much about quails, since we don’t have them where I live, so every time I visited my parents I would spend a bit of time watching the quails for inspiration.

Queenie, the little quail who is just too easily distracted to keep up with her siblings, is definitely inspired by me, and the fact that I’m always falling behind because I have to stop and look at everything! The book is a bit bittersweet to me because my father passed away before it was published, but I know he would’ve gotten a real kick out of it, and he would have probably introduced himself to everyone as my muse!  

Have you always liked to write? Can you talk a little about your process? Do you have a favorite place to write?

I’ve always been a writer, and even before I could physically write I was a storyteller. I was an only child and spent a lot of time using my toys to tell epic stories, which I would then recount breathlessly to my parents in an endless stream of words.

I don’t really have a process – like many people I fit writing around my full-time job (I’m a librarian) and into my busy life, so I snatch moments here and there whenever I can. I write on my phone, I write on scraps of paper, I write on my computer. I write on my commute, at coffee shops, and in grocery store lineups. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Besides Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up,  you have two more very well-received books out from Pajama Press—Wild One and A Good Day for Ducks. The outdoors features in all of your books in some way. Are you inspired by the outdoors? What is your favorite outside activity or a memorable experience you’ve had?

I am absolutely inspired by the outdoors – even though my childhood wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things, I do feel like I had a very different childhood than many kids experience today. I spent a lot of my free time outdoors, wandering or biking around the neighborhood with a band of kids, making (and falling out of) tree forts, playing kickball on the street, and turning local playgrounds into the settings for all sorts of imaginary worlds. My parents often had no idea where I was, but that was totally normal for the time—I never left the neighborhood, and they knew I would come home when it started to get dark.

Sometimes it feels like I grew up in a whole other era! Through my books I really want to encourage families to get outside, to explore, to learn through doing and through experiencing. Nature is such an incredible source of inspiration, of knowledge, of enjoyment, and even of healing, and we really miss out on so much by cooping ourselves up in front of our screens all day long!

In doing a little research for this interview, I raided your wonderful website and discovered that you made a few resolutions this year. One is to read outside your comfort zone, which includes murder mysteries, historical fiction, and narrative nonfiction. How is that going? Can you give me one mystery title in your comfort zone and one “departure” book you’ve dipped your toes (eyes?) into?

Oh dearie me, you’re holding me accountable! I recently finished a YA novel, which is very, very unusual for me—I never read young adult fiction even when I was a young adult, so this was a major departure for me! It’s called The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, and tells the story of a young Muslim lesbian whose family discovers her secret girlfriend and sends her off to Bangladesh to straighten her out, as it were. It’s definitely an eye-opening look into a culture and experience very different from my own, and I really enjoyed it.

As for my taste in mysteries, I tend to favour the classic British who-dunnit style, with authors like Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh being particular favorites. I also really enjoy mysteries with historical settings, which allow me to check off two favorite genres at once!

Queenie is an adorable little quail! What was your reaction to seeing Emma Pedersen’s illustrations for the first time? In your blog post “Queenie Quail and the Road to Publication,” you talk about needing to cut your original manuscript. Can you describe one place where the illustration reflects the text that is no longer there? Can you describe a place where Emma included something that surprised or particularly delighted you?

I was absolutely floored when I first saw Emma’s illustrations, they’re beyond wonderful, and even more adorable than I ever could have imagined! It’s a funny thing, being a picture book author, because you craft these characters and this environment, and then you hand the whole thing over to a stranger to make real—it can be a bit nerve-wracking, not knowing what your little characters will end up looking like! I was immensely relieved when I saw Queenie and her siblings, and I think Emma’s classic artistic style perfectly complements my old-fashioned writing style.

One of the aspects of the text that was really shortened related to all the things that distracted Queenie on her daily walks with her family. I described the worms and the bees and the flowers in great detail, which turned out to be entirely unnecessary, since everything appeared so beautifully in Emma’s illustrations!

And as for an illustration that particularly delighted me, there’s a spread where Mama and Papa quail nuzzle Queenie as they thank her for saving the day, and the loving expressions on everyone’s faces really just melted my heart, I loved them so much!

What drew you to becoming a librarian? What is a favorite part of your day?

I am a children’s librarian for an urban library system here in British Columbia, Canada, and I’m responsible for developing and facilitating programming for children and families in an older residential neighborhood. I get to do a lot of fun things in my job—I lead story times for caregivers and their babies, facilitate writing and book clubs for tweens, and get to host and visit local preschools, daycares and elementary schools. I think my favourite part of the entire year is Summer Reading Club, which runs from June – August every year. We spend the entire year planning all sorts of exciting programs to get kids reading all summer long, and it’s so much fun! Sometimes I can’t quite believe I get to do this as my job. I also manage the physical collections in the library, organizing and weeding the books to make sure the collection is in tip- top shape and helps meet the reading needs of my community.

I was raised in a family of voracious readers and I love working with people, so librarianship always seemed like a natural fit, but it took me quite a while to get here. I worked in various jobs for about six years following my initial graduation from university, before finally feeling confident enough to take the plunge and go back to school to do my masters in librarianship. It was a real leap of faith, quitting a well-paying, stable but unfulfilling job to take a chance on a career that everyone around me said was dying out, but it’s certainly paid out for me, so far at least! I can’t stress enough that simply loving books is not enough of a reason to become a librarian, especially not a public librarian – you really do need to love working with people more than anything, because it’s definitely not for the faint of heart sometimes!

On your website you have a gallery of pictures from libraries you’ve visited. How many libraries have you been to? Which library is the farthest from home? Which was your favorite and why?

I love visiting libraries at home and abroad, I find so much inspiration from looking at how other libraries organize their collections, decorate their spaces, and plan their events. I’m not even sure at this point how many libraries I’ve visited. I need to update my website to include the ones I visited on my most recent trip to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick!

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Jane visits one of her favorite libraries – the Nikko Library – in Japan

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A view of a bridge and beyond in Nikko, Japan

Some of the furthest libraries I’ve visited have been in New Zealand and Japan (which I’ve visited on three separate occasions so far), though I’ve visited libraries in different US states and Canadian provinces, too. I don’t know that I have a single favorite library, but I do particularly enjoy visiting rural libraries – they can be so creative with their often-limited resources, and really do serve as the hearts and souls of their communities. 

What’s the best part about being a children’s author? Can you share an anecdote from an author’s event you’ve held or been part of?

I love everything about writing for kids! I really am a big kid at heart, which is why I’m a children’s librarian, too! I’ve had wonderful experiences reading my books to kids at different author events, and it’s so much fun to get everyone involved.

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Jane and kids act out animals during an exciting author visit.

With Wild One I like to get kids to guess which animal they think the protagonist is pretending to be, and then we act out the animals together, which is heaps of fun, and with A Good Day for Ducks we act out all sorts of fun raining day actions, then talk together about all the things you can do, inside and outside, on a rainy day. I live in a very rainy place, so it’s important to find the joy in even the gloomiest of days! One of the most meaningful events I’ve done was a visit to a local children’s hospice, where I was able to connect with a small group of really amazing children who have been through so much in their short lives. To be able to share my stories with them, and listen to their stories, was an incredibly inspiring and moving experience.

What’s up next for you?

I’m not quite sure! I’ve got a couple of manuscripts that I’m still working on, and some that I’m waiting to hear back about from editors, so I don’t really know yet what’s coming down the pipeline. But I’ll always keep on telling stories, no matter what. 🙂

What is your favorite holiday and why?

My favourite holiday is definitely Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the music, the baking, the food, the decorating, the music, the family get-togethers, I love it all! I don’t actually do any of the decorating or baking or cooking myself, I mostly just listen to Christmas carols for a month straight and watch hours of Christmas movies on TV, but I love it all the same!

Thanks, so much, Jane! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about you and am sure readers have too! I wish you all the best with Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up and all of your books!

You can connect with Jane Whittingham on:

Her website | Instagram

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up Giveaway

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

  • One (1) copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up written by Jane Whittingham | illustrated by Emma Pedersen

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

It’s easy to enter! Just:

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

National Walking Day Activity

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Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

These kids are getting out and enjoying nature! Can you help them find the right shoes so they can start their adventures in this printable puzzle?

Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

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You can find Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 2 – International Children’s Book Day

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About the Holiday

Since 1962, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) has been held on April 2 to commemorate the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen. Part of the International Board on Books for Young People, which promotes understanding through children’s books, works to ensure that children everywhere have access to books, and helps to protect the rights of children worldwide in accordance to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ICBD is sponsored each year by a different member country. This year Lithuania is the sponsor and encourages readers to slow down and enjoy a good book. You can learn more on the IBBY website.

Remarkably You

Written by Pat Zeitlow Miller | Illustrated by Patrice Barton

 

In her stirring Remarkably You, Pat Zeitlow Miller celebrates each child’s individuality and gifts. She talks directly to the reader assuring them that they are exceptional, whether they’re bold, timid, small or “practically grown.” She then fills them with confidence, telling them that they are smart, have power, and can change the world.

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Image copyright Patrice Barton, 2019, text copyright Pat Zeitlow Miller, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With encouragement Miller beckons each child to find their place in the world and do what they can; and when that is done to “choose a new problem and do it again.” How do kids know where they fit in? “Just look for the moments that let you be you.” Miller goes on to validate each child, saying, “You have your own spirit, unparalleled flair. / So rock what you’ve got—every day everywhere.”

She then channels how every parent or caregiver feels about their child—“You are a blessing, / a promise, a prize. / You’re capable, caring, courageous, and wise.”—and emboldens kids to embrace who they are and get out there and enjoy life—their own, remarkable life.

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Image copyright Patrice Barton, 2019, text copyright Pat Zeitlow Miller, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

You will absolutely love reading this book to your child, grandchild, students, or any child who captures your heart. In her lovely and imaginative rhymes, Pat Zeitlow Miller celebrates each child as a special individual with unique traits that are valuable and an asset to the world. She reveals that the secret to happiness is staying true to yourself and using those traits to forge your own path. A glorious story, Remarkably You is an instant boost for any child—and no one could blame an adult for peeking inside for a little lift from time to time too.

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Patrice Barton’s rakish, enthusiastic, thoughtful, and freewheeling kids will melt your heart as they dip a toe into the sprinkler, wobble on skates, create a funny face with post-it notes, and gather to help each other and their neighborhood. Her softly hued pencil and mixed-media illustrations rejoice in diversity of all kinds, and each page shines with the acceptance and freedom all kids should feel while growing up and discovering themselves.

Remarkably You is a book you’ll love giving to new parents, caregivers, and the children in your life (even if they’re not so young any more). It would be a favorite go-to book to add to home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062427588

Discover more about Pat Zeitlow Miller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Patrice Barton, her books, and her art, visit her website

Children’s Book Day Activity

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You’re Amazing Magnets

 

You can remind your kids about how special they are with these complimentary sayings. Print them out and attach adhesive magnet strips to create decorations for a child’s room, their locker, the fridge or anywhere they’ll see them and take the message to heart. You can also use heavy paper or poster board, markers, and stickers to create your own encouraging magnets.

You’re Amazing Magnet Templates

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You can find Remarkably You at these booksellers

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

 

 

 

March 21 – Absolutely Incredible Kid Day

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About the Holiday

Every kid is incredible! This special day, established by Camp Fire USA in 1997, gives adults an opportunity to tell the kids in their life how much they mean to them. Whether you write your special young person a letter or just sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk, your words of encouragement and appreciation will make a difference.

The Amazing Idea of You

Written by Charlotte Sullivan Wild | Illustrated by Mary Lundquist

 

Have you ever thought that a tiny apple seed holds “the idea of a tree?” And that if planted it “might take root / sprout / shoot up / into the blue?” Beginnings always contain the promise of a future filled with the excitement of more, the way “the caterpillar / creeping through grass / carries inside / the color and flutter / of a butterfly.”

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Image copyright Mary Lundquist, 2019, text copyright Charlotte Sullivan Wild,, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

You began that way too. First as an idea and then, much loved and anticipated, as a promise growing and changing until you were born. “And look at you! What ideas are hidden inside of you?” Will you be musical? Love dancing or painting or adventure? Or perhaps you will create something brand new “for the whole world to share.”

You know what to do! Plant your ideas and tend them carefully as they grow and develop while you experience life with its sunny days and rainy days, warm days and cold. When you grow up, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished and the fruit your ideas have borne—for yourself and the world.

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Image copyright Mary Lundquist, 2019, text copyright Charlotte Sullivan Wild,, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Charlotte Sullivan Wild inspires children to find the promise that’s waiting inside each of them as they experiment with life and discover their special talents. Her cheerful, lyrical text uses examples kids will readily recognize. The lilting rhythm will mesmerize young readers as they take the message to heart. As they go out into the world, they’ll remember and reflect when they see an apple, a butterfly, a bird, and all the promise of nature.

Mary Lundquist’s tranquil and bucolic illustrations give a little girl free reign to play, strum, run, learn, and think as she grows from a curious baby and toddler to a creative and motivated teen to a mother herself who shares the abundant fruits of her labor with friends, neighbors, and others while continuing the natural cycle and her natural talents with her own children. Soft greens highlighted with vivid apple reds, rain-slicker yellows, and spring-sky blues make this a perfect book for quiet, contemplative story times.

An inspiring story that adults will love sharing with the children in their life, The Amazing Idea of You makes a wonderful gift for new babies, teachers, and anyone with a young child. The book is sure to be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681191836

Discover more about Charlotte Sullivan Wild and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mary Lundquist, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Absolutely Incredible Kid Day Activity

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Incredible You! Measuring Stick Craft

 

Looking for a unique way to measure your growth? This nature-inspired measuring stick can keep track of small and big growth spurts. You can even use it to record an idea or two as you age! 

Supplies

  • 50-inch wooden stake, available at craft stores
  • Dark and light green foam sheets or 45 – 50 small wooden leaves, available at craft stores
  • Green paint, light and dark
  • Black marker
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue
  • Flower pot
  • Oasis or clay
  • Ruler
  • Pencil

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Directions

  1. Paint the wooden stake with the green paint, let dry
  2. With the ruler mark the stake in 1-inch increments along the edge of the stake

How to Make the Leaves

  1. If using wooden leaves, paint half light green and half dark green
  2. If using foam, cut 1 3/4-inch-long tear-drop shaped leaves (half from light green foam, half from dark green foam), 45 – 50 or as needed
  3. Cut two larger leaves, one from each color to decorate the top of the stake
  4. Draw a line down the center of each leaf

For Measuring Growth: Write the inch 1 through 45 or higher on each leaf with the black marker, alternating colors

For Recording Ideas: You can write favorite ideas, hobbies, or hopes on the leaves too and measure your growth that way!

How to Attach the Leaves

  1. Glue the leaves to the stake, attaching the odd-numbered inch leaves to the left side of the stake and the even-numbered leaves to the right side of the stake.
  2. Attach half of the leaf to the stake, letting the tip stick out from the side
  3. Glue the two larger leaves to the top of the stake

How to Store Your Yardstick

  1. Put the oasis or clay in the flower pot
  2. Stick the stake into the flower pot to keep it handy

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You can find The Amazing Idea of You at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 13 – National Good Samaritan Day

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About the Holiday

A Good Samaritan is a person who sees someone in need of help or kindness and generously offers assistance or a smile. For today’s holiday, people are encouraged to notice those moments when someone could use a hand and go to their aid. You never know when a small gesture can have far-reaching effects. Children are particularly good at noticing those who need help or cheering up. You can foster their natural kindness by supporting their ideas and actions for helping their community.

The Princess and the Café on the Moat

Written by Margie Markarian | Illustrated by Chloe Douglass

 

There once was a little princess who lived in a very busy castle. Every morning knights brought news of “enemies defeated, dragons seized, and citizens rescued.” Upstairs, ladies-in-waiting were given their duties for “silks to sew, invitations to ink, and chandeliers to shine.” The princess wanted a special job too, but her voice was never heard above the din, so she went in search of something to occupy her time.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she met the court jester, he told her he was too busy learning a routine for the evening’s guests to teach her how to juggle. The wandering minstrel who was playing his mandolin told her, “‘Your fingers are too delicate to pluck these wiry strings.’” And the wise wizard banished her from the tower because his potions were too dangerous. Even the royal baker thought her kitchen was no place for a princess. “The princess’s kind heart and eager spirit were not easily discouraged.” As she wandered past the front gate, she wondered if there were people beyond it who could use her help. Just then the drawbridge descended, and when the guard turned away for a moment, the princess crept by him and ran outside.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Right outside the castle, she met a “sad old man holding a scrolled parchment.” She approached him and asked why he was so sad. He told her that he had a letter from his far-away son, but because of his weak eyesight, he couldn’t read it. “‘I have time to read your letter and sit awhile,’ said the princess, happy to have found a task so quickly.” Next, she met a worried widow with five children coming down the path. The princess asked why they looked so tired.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The woman told her that she had no one to watch her children as she traveled the long way to the village market. The princess happily offered to watch the woman’s children. Soon, “a brave squire limped by the palace where the princess, the old man, and the widow’s children were telling stories and playing games.” When the princess asked the squire what pained him, he told her “‘I gashed by knee in a skirmish many miles ago but have not stopped to tend to it.’” The princess quickly cleaned and bandaged the squire’s knee so he could continue on to the castle.

Back at the castle, though, everything was in an uproar as the king and queen and staff hunted everywhere for the princess. Through a window the king suddenly heard laughter and singing. When the king looked out, he saw that the sound was coming from the princess. Everyone in the castle paraded out through the drawbridge to join the princess and her friends.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The princess ran to her mother and father and told them about all the things she had done for the old man, the widow, and the squire. The king and queen “were proud to have such a kindhearted daughter.” The king suggested that they “all celebrate together with treats and refreshments.” From that day on in the afternoon, the drawbridge was dropped and tables and chairs set up. Then the “princess welcomed townspeople and travelers from far and wide to her café on the moat.”

Here, the court jester practiced his juggling, the minstrel shared his music, the wizard made drinks, and the baker created delicious treats. The old man and the widow with her children often came by to meet new friends and relax. And the brave squire enjoyed refreshments while he guarded the castle. The café on the moat welcomed everyone, and “indeed, they all lived happily and busily ever after.”

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

An Afterword about fairy tales and a kindness activity for children follow the story.

Margie Markarian’s sweet story is an enchanting fairy tale for today’s socially conscious and active kids. Instead of needing rescue, this princess looks for opportunities to help others. When she’s turned away inside the castle, she leaves the comfort of home and reaches out to her community, an idea that children will embrace. Through her cheerful storytelling, Markarian also shows readers that in their talents and kind hearts they already have what it takes to make a difference to others. As the princess opens her café on the moat, children will see that the adults also find ways to support her efforts. Markarian’s language is charmingly “medieval,” making the story fun to read aloud while inspiring listeners.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Chloe Douglass’s adorable princess is a terrific role model for young readers. Her eagerness to help and positive spirit are evident in her smiles and persistent requests for a job to do. When she ventures out of the castle, she displays obvious empathy for the people she meets, and children will recognize her joy at being able to brighten the townspeople’s day. Despite their busy days, the king and queen are happy and supportive of their daughter. Children will love the bright and detailed images of the castle and town, where the crest of love rules.

The Princess and the Café on the Moat is a charming flip on the traditional fairy tale—one that children will want to hear again and again. It would make a great spring gift and an enriching addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363971

To discover more about Margie Markarian and her picture book and to find fun activities, visit her website. 

Read an interview with Margie Markarian.

Learn more about Chloe Douglass, her books, and her art on her website.

National Good Samaritan Day Activity

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The Princess and the Café on the Moat Activities

 

The Princess likes to help people relax and have fun together! You can help her too with these four activity pages!

The Princess and the Café Coloring Page |Castle Matching PageStory Sequencing Page Write a Fairy Tale Page

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You can find The Princess and the Café on the Moat at these booksellers

Amazon | An Unlikely Story | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

February 6 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events and commemorations in schools, churches, and community centers.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her own sterling verses, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life of Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature—taking readers to the Chicago neighborhoods that informed and inspired Brooks’ ideas and the words and rhythms with which she defined them. Along an arc that takes Gwendolyn from a child contemplating the potential of a flower to becoming that blossom herself, Duncan pays tribute to those who recognized Gwen’s genius and helped her fulfill her talent. For readers who themselves may be poets, writers, or other types of artists, Duncan’s beautifully crafted phrases about the artistic process of revision are inspirational and welcome. Standing side-by-side with Duncan’s storytelling are four of Brooks’ poems—The Busy Clock, Forgive and Forget, Ambition, and the children of the poor—Sonnet #2. From cover to cover, Duncan’s book sings with Gwendolyn Brooks’ positivity, confidence, uniqueness, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

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From the portrait of Gwendolyn Brooks that graces the title page and throughout the book, Xia Gordon’s distinctive artwork creates a masterpiece of motion and stillness that mirrors Brooks’ penchant for watching and listening to the sounds and sights that filled her mind and ultimately her notebooks. Downy swoops of violets, pinks, browns, and grays provide backdrops to images of Gwendolyn as a young girl and an adult rendered in lines that show her as down to earth but soaring in her thoughts. Her intelligence and spark shine through on every page. Gwendolyn’s parents appear often, always watchful and supportive. Her friends, her husband, her son, and her readers also populate the pages, giving the book an embracing warmth.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a must for school, classroom, and public library collections, and for children who are discovering their talents and the parents who nurture them, the book would be an inspirational and invaluable addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454930884

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in this Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks written by Alice Faye Duncan | illustrated by Xia Gordon

It takes just these two steps to enter:

A winner will be chosen on February 12.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

Black History Month Activity

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My Writing Journal

 

With this easy craft, kids can make a journal that will reflect their personality and inspire them to jot down ideas for poems or stories. 

Supplies

  • Two 9-inch by 6-inch pieces of foam or heavy paper
  • Plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper, as many pieces as you’d like
  • Twine or ribbon
  • Foam letters and objects, stickers, play jewels, or other decorations
  • Small scissor, paper hole puncher, or other instrument to make a hole through the foam and paper

Directions

  1. Fold the plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper in half
  2. Place the paper between the sheets of foam
  3. Make a hole through the foam covers and paper near the top and bottom for the twine to tie the journal together
  4. Slip the twine or ribbon through the holes and tie the journal together
  5. Decorate the cover
  6. Start writing!

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You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 26 – National Seed Swap Day

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About the Holiday

If you love to garden, you may want to get involved with National Seed Swap Day! The first Seed Swap Day was held in Washington DC in 2006. Since then it has grown to be a nation-wide event as gardeners get together to trade the seeds from their best plants. Not only does this improve the biodiversity in your local area, it’s a great way to make new friends! To learn more about what events are planned in your area, visit the official National Seed Swap blog.

The Bad Seed

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Pete Oswald

 

A sunflower seed stares straight off the page and admits it: “I’m a bad seed. A baaaaaaaad seed.” He knows that all the other seeds would agree. They point him out and mumble, “There goes a baaaad seed.” You might wonder just how bad a seed he can be. Well…pretty bad. In fact, he’ll tell you himself. Are you ready? Take a listen: “I never put things back where they belong. I’m late to everything. I tell long jokes with no punchlines.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Heard enough? Still think this seed may not be so bad? Well, what if you knew he was unhygienic, a little untruthful, and sometimes a lot inconsiderate. Why does he do this stuff? You know why: he’s “a bad seed. A baaaad seed.” You might ponder if he was always this way. The answer’s No. In fact, he “was born a humble seed on a simple sunflower in an unremarkable field.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

He just hung out with his big family of seeds until the flower began to droop, the seeds scattered, and then…he found himself in a bag. In a terrifying moment, he was almost eaten by a giant with a big, scary mouth, but he was “spit out at the last possible second.” He landed under some bleachers, and when he woke up he found his life changed forever. He had “become a different seed entirely.” He’d “become a bad seed.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

He was in unknown territory, and all by himself. He’s happy to share the sad details: “I stopped smiling. I kept to myself. I drifted. I was friend to nobody and bad to everybody. I was lost on purpose. I lived inside a soda can. I didn’t care. And it suited me.” That is it did suit him until recently. This seed did some soul searching, and decided to be better.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

So now he still does some of that bad stuff (did you hear someone talking during a movie? That was probably him), but he does some good stuff too—like having good manners and smiling at people. Now, he says, “even though I still feel bad, sometimes, I also feel kind of good. It’s sort of a mix.” He’s just going to keep trying, and thinking, and readjusting his behavior and view of himself. Now when he’s walking down the street, he still hears, “There goes that bad seed.” But he also hears, “Actually, he’s not all that bad anymore.”

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Jory John’s sly look at bad behavior is a sophisticated psychological thriller for the youngest set. With a light touch, John explores some of the events that can cause sadness, loneliness, and even personality changes. As the once-happy seed loses his home, scatters from family, and ends up a bit bruised and battered, he sees his once sunny life turn dark.

With a hardened heart, he goes about his days, acting badly and letting the comments of others define him. To his credit, however, this seed has the presence of mind—and enough honesty—to recognize his bad behavior and also to know that only he can change it. The niceties that the seed foregoes will have kids and adults laughing out loud as his reputation seems more roguish than the reality. And the authentic ending holds a reassuring kernel of truth—life is a bit of a mix, but happiness often wins out.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2017, text copyright Jory John, 2017. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Looking at Pete Oswald’s adorable illustrations, it’s understandable if you don’t quite believe the sunflower seed when he says he’s a baaaad seed. Sure, he scowls and furrows his brow, butts in line, and gets a bit stinky, but underneath that hard shell, lies the heart of a softie. The other seeds in the neighborhood—pistachios, peanuts, almonds, chestnuts, cashews, and more—are fed up with him, though, registering fear, dismay, and even anger over the sunflower’s behavior. When the sunflower seed has a change of heart, however, others take note, and he gets another crack at life.

The Bad Seed is a funny book that kids will love to hear again and again. It also provides many teachable moments for those times when life gets a little discouraging. If you’re looking for an original book that has a bit of everything to add to a home, classroom, or public library, The Bad Seed is a good—no, great—choice.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2017 | ISBN 978-0062467768

Discover more about Jory John and his books on his website

Learn more about Pete Oswalk and view a portfolio of his artwork on his tumblr.

How good is this The Bad Seed book trailer? Take a look!

National Seed Swap Day Activity

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Seed Packet Coloring Pages

 

All of your favorite veggies come from seeds, of course!, and those seeds come in packets that are little bits of art. Grab your crayons or pencils and color these printable Seed Packet Coloring Pages.

Carrots Seed Packet | Peas Seed Packet | Broccoli Seed Packet | Corn Seed Packet

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You can find The Bad Seed at these booksellers:

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

Picture Book Review