December 2 – It’s Buy a New Book Month

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Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

For children, picture books provide one of the best ways to interact with facts and feelings. Stories that speak to their experiences, both common and new, alongside illustrations that bring the story to life let them discover the world around them. Today’s stunning nonfiction books are loaded with illustrations or photographs that let kids see exciting details about science, history, biographies, nature, and so much more. This month, take a look for fiction and nonfiction picture books about your child’s passions to add to your home library. And be sure to check out today’s book that incorporates both!

Thanks to Star Bright Books for sharing a digital copy of Leaves to My Knees with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Leaves to My Knees

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

Daddy has a surprise for Camille and her little brother Jayden. They get dressed in their coats—big for Camille and little jacket with a stegosaurus hood for Jayden—and head into the backyard. There, Camille discovers her dad has gotten her a rake of her own. It’s not as big as Dad’s, but it’s bigger than Jayden’s little rake. It’s the perfect size for Camille.

Camille marches right off to rake a pile of leaves. But not just any pile—she has a goal. “‘I’ll rake leave all the way up to my knees!’” she tells her dad. The three get working on the yard. Camille concentrates on gathering leaves, listening to the different sounds that the various sized rakes make: “The leaves go swush when Daddy rakes. They go swish when I rake. They go sweeeee when Jayden tries to rake.”

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Lurking under the leaves are twigs and acorns that clog up Camille’s rake. She worries that she’ll never be able to rake leaves to her knees. She calls for Daddy’s help, and together they clear Camille’s rake. “‘You’re good to go now, Camille,’” Daddy tells her. Back at it, Camille rakes and rakes. Then she steps into the pile she’s accumulated to measure it. Her pile only comes up to her ankles. Camille grabs her rake harder and with determination she collects more leaves. But wait! Jayden is stealing leaves from her pile to add to his! Camille guards her pile with her rake, and sends her little brother over to Daddy’s bigger pile. Camille checks her measurements again. Her pile has grown, but only up to the top of her boots.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Camille rakes ‘bunches of leaves,” and her pile gets taller, until “‘Oh no! A BIG BREEZE!!’” sends lots and lots of leaves swirling “Whoosh!” into the air and scattered to the ground. “I will never rake leaves to my knees!” Camille thinks. And when she measures again, her pile is back to her ankles. Daddy encourages her to keep going, and Camille is committed to achieving her goal. She throws off her coat, grabs her rake, and works on gathering up all the leaves she had, plus more. At last, too tired to rake anymore, Camille wonders. Has she done it? “‘Time for measuring!’ says Daddy.”

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Camille relinquishes her rake to her dad then, holding her breath, steps into her pile. “‘TA-DA!’” Camille raises her arms in victory. She steps out, positions herself a good ways away, and winds up for the run and jump. “‘GO!’ yells Daddy. ‘GO!’ Jayden yells too.” Camille flies through the air and lands, laughing, into her pile. Then Jayden jumps in. And Daddy? He gives Camille  “really big squeeze” for raking “leaves all the way up to [her] knees.”

A note for parents, teachers, and other caregivers written by Marlene Kliman, a mathematics learning expert and senior scientist at TERC, describes how the story incorporates the math of measurement and sizes and how adults can extend the lesson by pointing out elements in the book’s illustrations and while going about their day or doing common chores, such as cleaning up and sorting laundry.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2022, text copyright Ellen Mayer, 2022. Courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Ellen Mayer’s Leaves to My Knees has everything that makes a story a young reader’s favorite—a spunky main character that kids will identify with, an achievable goal, successes and setbacks, suspense, humor, and a child-propelled victory. And it all revolves around an early math concept that comes naturally to children and which invites playful learning not only during the fall, but any time of the year. Shoveling snow and making snowballs in winter, yard cleanup and gardening in spring, and building sandcastles and raking grass clippings in summer as well as in-home fun with laundry piles, toys, and other objects are all ways to extend the story.

Told from Camille’s point of view, the story also engages children’s emotions as they join in to cheer Camille on as her leaf pile grows and commiserate with her when it shrinks. The close relationships among Camille and her dad and little brother ring true with dialogue-rich storytelling that is always encouraging. Strong themes of determination and persistence will also appeal to parents and teachers, who can point to how many times Camille has to start over before accomplishing her goal and her positive, resolute attitude.

Nicole Tadgell’s exuberant illustrations shine with personality, and kids will immediately become invested in each character as Dad gets working on a big job that needs doing, Jayden runs, jumps, and copies his big sister, and Camille unwaveringly works on her pile of leaves. Camille’s setbacks are clearly depicted, along with her and her father’s facial expressions that give adults and kids an opportunity to talk about disappointment, frustration, perseverance, and feelings of accomplishment. Each image also demonstrates the math component of measurement and sizes in the story with various-sized rakes, the growing and diminishing leaf pile, big and little jackets, and other objects that invite comparison.

Tadgell’s soft-hued pages are infused with the feeling of fall and hum with activity as cardinals, blue jays, chickadees gather at the bird feeder, squirrels scamper up and along the fence, and leaves continue to float to the ground. Readers will love following little Jayden’s antics and be inspired by Camille’s wide smile as she enjoys the reward of all her hard work.

Leaves to My Knees is a multilayered read aloud infused with the enthusiasm and rhythms of childhood that kids will want to hear again and again. Its mathematics base and themes of determination and perseverance rewarded will appeal to parents, teachers, and other educators as a way to engage children in active, hands-on learning. The book is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Star Bright Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1595729590 (Leaves to My Knees) | ISBN 978-1595729613 (Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Picture Book Month Activities

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Coloring Pages and Teaching Guides

 

You can extend the fun and learning in Leaves to My Knees with these activities, which include three fun coloring pages from the story, a hands-on play-dough art and discovery activity, and a detailed educator’s guide for teachers, homeschoolers, parents, and other caregivers that offers multiple ways to use Leaves to My Knees to explore math, mathematical thinking, and reading comprehension through the story and beyond at home, school, and elsewhere.

Meet Ellen Mayer

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You can find Leaves to My Knees on Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

You can also order from Star Bright Books

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas / Leaves to My Knees: Paperback

Picture Book Review

October 28 – It’s National Eat Better, Eat Together Month

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About the Holiday

National Eat Better, Eat Together Month encourages families to gather around the table for at least one meal a day. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics the benefits of eating together are wide ranging and can include better grades, better health, and fewer behavioral problems. Studies also show that when families get together for a meal, they tend to make more balanced food choices. This important uninterrupted time together allows each member of the family to share stories about their day or talk about issues that concern them, building stronger bonds.

Tiny Spoon Vs. Little Fork

Written by Constance Lombardo | Illustrated by Dan Abdo & Jason Patterson

 

The alarm clock on the kitchen wall “Bringgg! Bringgg! Bringggs” waking the baby’s spoon and fork, who pop out of their respective drawers, each raring to start the day. But it seems that these two have never met. “Wait a minute! Who are you?” they say in unison. Turns out Tiny Spoon and Little Fork both have the same job – to feed the baby. Tiny Spoon and Little Fork start to get into it—how Spoon has been there from the beginning and how much Baby loves to slurp, but now Fork reveals, Baby “wants to BITE! And CHOMP!” But time’s ticking away and Spoon and Fork have to get to the table.

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Image copyright Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, 2022, text copyright Constance Lombardo, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park Books.

They make the daring leap only to continue their brew-ha-ha. Tiny Spoon has lots of great attributes and comes from sturdy stock, as proven by the photo album of “prominent spoons” like Aunt Soup Spoon, Daddy Serving Spoon, Cousin Teaspoon, and Grandpa Scoop. But Little Fork’s not impressed and opens up a photo app to demonstrate some bonafides in Uncle Salad Fork, Mama Carving Fork, Cousin Dinner Fork, and Great Grandma Tuning Fork, who had quite a voice. Tiny Spoon counters with an indisputable fact—”I was there FIRST time Baby ate solid food.”—and regales Little Fork with the fond memory of that day, Vroom, Vroom airplane noises and all.

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Image copyright Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, 2022, text copyright Constance Lombardo, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park Books.

“BORING!” Little Fork says. “I’d like to see you try and twirl spaghetti.” Tiny Spoon volleys, but their pointed (and well-rounded) one-upmanship is interrupted by the “Thump! Thump! Thump! of Baby, who squeals “SPOOD!” and “FROK” as soon as she sees them. And, as she reaches out towards them, the promise of an answer is at hand. Instead, though, both Tiny Spoon and Little Fork are in hand, while Stuffed Bunny is in the other! 

Baby raises her arms! This is not eating posture… this is… “WHEEEEEEEEEEE!… NOT fun” to Spoon while “it’s a little fun” for Fork. Through the air Spoon, Fork, and Stuffed Bunny fly, landing with a bump on the floor just as the alarmed Clock warns that Baby’s hungry. This is dire. How will Tiny Spoon and Little Fork get where they are so needed? They try shimmying, climbing, even having Bunny toss them. up, but they clatter back to earth every time.

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Image copyright Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, 2022, text copyright Constance Lombardo, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park Books.

But Baby’s needs are more important than ranking themselves, and Spoon and Fork find a clever way to work together and propel them to the table top, where Baby reacts with glee and surprise and immediately snatches them—one in each tiny fist—so that Tiny Spoon can scoop up oatmeal and Little Fork can grab the scrambled eggs. And Baby? She can “nom nom nom nom nom…” 

Happily food-encrusted and content with a good meal satisfactorily relayed, Tiny Spoon and Little Fork congratulate each other. They don’t have much time to relax, though, as Baby snatches them up again and they take another airborne trip across the kitchen to…could it be?…the dishwasher!

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Image copyright Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson, 2022, text copyright Constance Lombardo, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park Books.

Constance Lombardo’s madcap romp will have kids laughing out loud as Tiny Spoon and Little Fork try to outdo each other and claim the title of Baby’s favorite utensil. The comical repartee between Spoon and Fork lends itself to dramatic readings that kids will love chiming in on. As Tiny Spoon and Little Fork realize that their responsibility to feed Baby transcends their competition, they work together to ensure Baby’s needs are met, providing a humorous lesson on teamwork and friendship.

Dan and Jason know just what kids think is funny, and they bring all their talent for visual silliness to this rollicking story. Tiny Spoon and Little Fork’s expressive faces that accentuate the competition between them, Clock’s frantic Bringggg-ing, hand waving and alert that “BABY WANTS BREAKFAST NOW!” and baby’s boisterous actions will make any child or older sibling laugh out loud. The vivid, comics-style illustrations, dramatic text, and non-stop action will have kids shouting “again, Again, AGAIN!” for these two tiny superheroes.

A rollicking story that’s pure fun for lively story times, Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork is highly recommended. The book would be an often-asked-for favorite on home bookshelves and is sure to be in constant rotation at school and public libraries. If you’re looking for a gift for any child and especially an older sibling, you can’t go wrong with this book!

Ages 4 – 8

Hippo Park Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640063

About the Author

Constance Lombardo is the author/illustrator of four books, including the three books in the Mr. Puffball series and the picture book, Everybody Says Meow, which was a 2020 Anna Dewdney Read Together Award Honor Book. Her passion for classic movies and classic comedy shines through in her work. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina. You can learn more about her books on her website and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.

About the Illustrators

For the past 10 years, award-winning duo Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson have developed numerous animated campaigns, network TV and web series, and critically acclaimed commercial work. Their extensive portfolio has garnered them industry-wide recognition, while their humorous sensibility and diverse skill set has landed them jobs for top global brands. Dan and Jason have set up properties at Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, and Nickelodeon as well as a feature animated film through Paramount Pictures. The well-versed storytellers have developed original content for a wide variety of platforms, including print (Nickelodeon Comics, The New Yorker), theater (Pilobolus), and digital. Learn more about their work on their website. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

National Eat Better, Eat Together Month Activity

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Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork Printable Placemat

 

What’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner – or a snack – without a placemat? Messy! And what’s a placemat without fun puzzles to do? Boring! With this printable placemat from Hippo Park, you can spend mealtime with Tiny Spoon, Little Fork, and all their friends! Choose from full-color and black-and-white placemats here:

Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork Super Fun Printable Placemat

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You can find Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 25 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Herbert on the Slide

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Thanks to Hippo Park Books and Deborah Sloan for sending me a copy of Herbert on the Slide for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Herbert on the Slide (A Hippo Park Pals Book)

By Rilla Alexander

 

“Herbert loved everything about the slide.” Rilla Alexander’s first sentence speaks directly to the hearts of little ones who fully understand its simple, lovely truth. As Herbert climbs to the top, his teddy bear and truck in tow; settles in on his high perch; launches his “test run” with first Teddy and then truck—”clanky-clank-clank”—and finally counts down to his turn, kids will follow along, entranced by Herbert’s adventure and memories of their own.

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Copyright Rilla Alexander, 2022, courtesy of Hippo Park.

Of course, a slide is never just a slide, and Herbert goes “…again! And again! … sliding down, down, down…into his imagination!” One time, on his belly, “Herbert and Teddy are diving into a deep, purple sea!” Next time, “Herbert is a truck climbing up, up, up a mountain. Chug-chug-chug!” But Herbert isn’t the only one at the playground. His little sister is ready for her turn—and so is mouse and frog and turtle. There’s just one thing to do. “Line up and you can start all over again!”

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Copyright Rilla Alexander, 2022, courtesy of Hippo Park.

Rilla Alexandra’s endearing story for little ones, matched page-by-page by her adorable, “awww”-inspiring art is snuggle-up story time reading at its best. Perfectly reflective of a child’s playfulness and imagination, Herbert on the Slide is not only a story that will captivate them time and time again but a wonderful entry into the world of literature.

A subtle subplot involves Herbert’s younger sister, Fiona (soon to be the star of her own Hippo Park Pals book, Fiona in the Sandbox, coming February 7, 2023). She is at first unidentified and only seen in the distance, heading to the sandbox with her pail, a detail sure to pique kids’ interest. She’s later heard telling Herbert—who, mesmerized by an imagined chase and its successful conclusion, is resting on the bottom of the slide—that it’s her turn. Turning the page, kids see that she’s sitting atop the slide with a line of other wanna-be sliders waiting behind her. Alexander’s encouragement for Herbert to get in line and start again is a gentle and reassuring life lesson.

Sweet smiles and a sunny ambiance welcome readers on every clean, slide-focused page. Each scene is colored with the texture of crayons in bright shades and with the “messy” enthusiasm of children’s art.

A Special Note: The book’s small size (5 1/4-inches by 4 3/4-inches) makes it a perfect take-along, easily slipped into a backpack, diaper bag, or even a pocket for picnics, snack time, or just reading-time fun at the playground, park, beach, farmers market, or anywhere waiting may be required.

Cute as a button and perfectly reflecting the excitement and imagination of children’s free play, Herbert on the Slide is a must for any baby’s or preschooler’s home bookshelf as well as for school and public library collections. The book would be a favorite story time read aloud for daycare, preschool, and kindergarten classrooms as well as for public libraries’ preschool programs. It would also make a much-loved gift for baby showers, new siblings, birthdays, and the holidays. 

Ages 2 – 5

Hippo Park Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640117

Discover more about Rilla Alexander, her books, and her art on her website.

Herbert on the Slide Book Birthday Activity

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Herbert on the Slide Coloring Pages

 

You can find three fun coloring pages from Herbert on the Slide to print on the Hippo Park homepage at Astra Publishing House or here.

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You can find Herbert on the Slide at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 28 – It’s National Camping Month

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About the Holiday

June is the perfect month to explore the great outdoors up close through camping. Whether you enjoy pitching a tent, renting a cabin, or parking an RV, all the enjoyment of hiking, fishing, swimming, and of course toasting marshmallows and singing around the campfire await! If you’re more of a stay-at-home camper, the wilds of the backyard (or even the family room) offer plenty of adventure!

Wild About Camping

Written by Jane Whittingham | Illustrated by Bryanna Chapeskie

 

Two kids are excited to be “out the door, down the stairs,” and on their way to the woods for a camping trip. Winding roads take this sister and brother into the heart of the forest, but they’re not the only ones who are ready for an adventure. As the little girl secures the guy rope at the front of the tent, two “pulling, tugging moose” assist in the back.

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With the tent set up, brother and sister run to the beach and begin building a sandcastle while not far away a pair of industrious “digging, scurrying squirrels” try to hide their piles of acorns before the seagull descends. And, of course, swimming is enjoyed by kids and loons alike!

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Image copyright Bryanna Chapeskie, 2022, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2022. Courtesy of Nimbus Publishing Limited.

Dinner time is just the beginning of a full night of treats and songs and spooky stories – all echoed by woodland creatures who add their own take on after-dinner snacks, nighttime music, and “eerie sounds.” Too soon, it’s time for sleeping bags for a tired sister and brother as well as a family of “tunnelling, burrowing moles” below.

Of course, summer camping trips aren’t made for turning in early, but for late-night laughs under a star-filled sky for all “wishing, dreaming kids.”

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Image copyright Bryanna Chapeskie, 2022, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2022. Courtesy of Nimbus Publishing Limited.

Jane Whittingham’s bouncy, rhythmic story delights with surprising and funny juxtapositions that bring kids and forest animals together to enjoy a favorite summer activity. Her short, exuberant sentences will spur kids to read along – and maybe even add their own woodland creatures to the party. 

The vivacious kids and lively animals in Bryanna Chapeskie’s vibrant illustrations will entice readers to keep turning the pages to discover who is joining the camping trip next. The brother and sister’s ear-to-ear smiles are infectious, and there are plenty of humorous details to keep the giggles going right up to the starry end, when they can join in with the brother and sister as they “Hee Hee! Ha Ha!” into the night.

A fun and lively read aloud, Wild About Camping is a spirited romp that will get kids excited about camping trips long or short, outdoors or in. A charming addition for home and library bookshelves for summer story times or winter warmups.  

Ages 4 – 8

Nimbus Publishing Limited, 2022 | ISBN 978-1774710432

Discover more about Jane Whittingham and her books on her website.

You can connect with Bryanna Chapeskie on Instagram.

National Camping Month Activity

CPB - campfire craft 2

Pretend Campfire

 

Kids and their friends and family can enjoy the cozy fun of a campfire in their own family room with this craft that’s easy to make from recycled materials. While the supplies might make the campfire artificial, kids will love it if the marshmallows are the real thing!

Supplies

  • Three or four paper or cardboard tubes
  • Cylindrical bread crumbs or oatmeal container
  • Tissue paper in red, orange, and yellow
  • Brown craft paint
  • Brown marker
  • Brown construction paper or white paper
  • Strong glue or hot glue gun
  • Chopsticks (one for each person)
  • Marshmallows

CPB - campfire craft container

Directions

To Make the Logs

  1. Cover the ends of the tubes with circles of brown construction paper or white paper and glue into place
  2. Paint the tubes and the ends if needed, let dry
  3. Paint the sides of the cylindrical container with the brown paint, let dry
  4. With the marker draw tree rings on the ends of the tubes. Decorate the sides with wavy lines, adding a few knot holes and swirls.

To Make the Fire

  1. Cut 9 squares from the tissue paper (3 in each color, about 8 to 6-inch square)
  2. Layer the colors and gather them together at one tip. Fold over and hold them together with a rubber band.
  3. To Assemble the Campfire
  4. Stack the tube logs
  5. Put the tissue paper fire in the middle of the logs

To “Roast” Marshmallows

  1. Stick marshmallows on chopsticks for “roasting” and eating!

You can keep your logs and fire in the cylindrical log until the next time!

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You can find Wild About Camping at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support you’re local, independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 27 – It’s Pride Month

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About the Holiday

To commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which took place in Manhattan on June 28, 1969 as a protest demanding the establishment of places where LGBTQ+ people could go and be open about their sexual orientation without fear of arrest, Brenda Howard instituted Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade in 1970. These events later inspired the New York City Pride March, which became a catalyst for the formation of similar parades and marches across the world. Pride Month was officially recognized in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. During the month of June the LGBTQ+ community celebrates diversity, cultural accomplishments and influence, and the strides that have been made politically and socially.

The month also highlights the need for renewed vigilance to protect hard-won rights while moving forward to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community achieves full equality and acceptance. Globally, activists work year-round to end abuses and advocate for laws and policies to protect all. Around the world, the rainbow flag, designed in 1978 by American artist, gay rights activist, and U.S. Army veteran Gilbert Baker, flies proudly over a variety of events, including parades, marches, concerts, book readings, parties, and workshops.

Sam Is My Sister

Written by Ashley Rhodes-Courter | Illustrated by MacKenzie Haley

 

All summer long, brothers Evan, Sam, and Finn “played with trains, climbed trees, and fished in the river behind Grandpa’s house.” They made a rocket from a cardboard box and shot into outer space. “‘Zoom! Zoom! Brothers to the moon!’ Evan cheered.” When they went to the library, they gathered all the books about space they could find and headed to the check-out desk. But on the way, Sam spied a “glittery book that had a long-haired princess on the cover.” He took it from the shelf and checked that one out too.

Outside the library, Evan wanted to know why Sam wanted “‘a girl book instead of a space book.'” Their mom said “‘Books are for everyone to enjoy,'” and Sam said that girls could go to space too, but Evan still didn’t understand why Sam wanted that book. Soon it was time to get haircuts before school began. Evan and Finn had their hair cut short, like dad’s, but Sam was happy with long hair. Mom and Dad said okay. Evan quietly asked Dad why Sam didn’t want to look like them anymore. Dad told him that was up to Sam. Evan did see how happy Sam looked.

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Image copyright MacKenzie Haley, 2021, text copyright Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

On the first day of school, Sam asked to wear a dress instead of shorts. Evan protested, saying “‘Dresses are for girls…. Why do you want to dress all wrong?'” Sam answered, “‘I want to wear what I like.'” Instead of a dress, Mom brought Sam a hair bow to wear. Sam loved it. But at school some of the older kids made fun of Sam and tried to grab the bow. One boy asked why Sam was wearing it and another said “‘Boys don’t put stuff in their hair.'” Sam shouted back, “‘Well, I do!'” and went to sit under the climbing dome. Evan chased after Sam and suggested they play spaceship, but Sam didn’t want to.

“Mom and Dad started letting Sam wear dresses after school and on the weekends. … Evan had never seen Sam so happy.” One day while drawing, Evan asked Sam about wanting to look like a girl. Sam explained, “‘Because I am a girl…. On the inside.'” Evan still didn’t understand, so Sam explained that it was like trying to draw with the wrong hand. When Evan tried it, he grew frustrated and understood that it just didn’t feel right. He was glad he didn’t have to do that all the time.

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Image copyright MacKenzie Haley, 2021, text copyright Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

That night Mom and Dad sat down with Evan, Sam, and Finn and said they had talked with some doctors and experts. They explained what they had learned about how even though called a boy at birth, Sam identified as a girl. “‘The word for that is transgender,'” Mom said. “‘Yes, that’s me!’ said Sam.” Dad affirmed Sam’s right to choose what was best for her, and Mom said their job was making sure Sam, Evan, and Finn were “‘happy and healthy.'”

Later, while the kids were playing, Evan asked if they’d still be able to do all the same things they had always done together, and Sam said, “‘of course!'” When Sam began wearing dresses to school, neither the boys nor the girls wanted to play with her. Evan stood up for Sam, telling the kids, “‘Hey, don’t talk like that to my sister!'” Sam was happy to hear Evan call her his sister. That night as the three watched the moon rise, Finn and Evan wondered if Sam would still want to come with them. “‘Princesses can go to the moon,’ Sam whispered back. ‘Yes they can,’ Evan said. ‘Zoom! Zoom! Family to the moon!'”

Back matter includes an Author’s Note about her own family, on whom the story is based. as well as resources for adults looking for more information on organizations that support the LGBTQ community.

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Image copyright MacKenzie Haley, 2021, text copyright Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her sweet and thoughtful story, Ashley Rhodes-Courter offers validation and acceptance for transgender children and their families. Through realistic dialogue and Evan’s often pointed questions and observations, Rhodes-Courter invites siblings and other family members, friends, and readers to engage in thinking, discussing, and understanding the feelings and experiences of a transgender child. She also depicts the types of hurtful comments and ostracizing that transgender children experience at school and in their communities. Rhodes-Courter uses these occurrences, however, to also demonstrate how supportive siblings can stand up for their sister or brother. Sam’s family’s strong and loving acceptance is a highlight of the story. As Sam begins to show a preference for long hair, princess books, and dresses, Rhodes-Courter demonstrates the steps, through language and actions, that parents and other adults can take to affirm a child’s autonomy and ultimately build a happy and inclusive family with unbreakable bonds.

MacKenzie Haley’s expressive illustrations will draw readers in with her depictions of imaginative play and the consistency of the siblings’ relationship throughout the changes taking place for Sam and within the family. Portrayals of Evan’s confusion lead into welcome images of his conversations with Mom and/or Dad as well as his unstinting embrace of and support for his sister. Images of the courage that Sam and Evan display in responding to the playground taunts will tug at readers’ hearts, and the family’s unity is inspiring.

An uplifting and heartwarming story that resonates with understanding for transgender children and beautifully depicts the acceptance all children should receive from family and their community. Sam Is My Sister is a must for inclusive family bookshelves and for all school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807506516

Discover more about Ashley Rhodes-Courter and her books and her advocacy work on the behalf of children on her website.

To learn more about MacKenzie Haley, her books, and her art on her website.

Pride Month Activity

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Rainbow Magnet

 

If you’re stuck on rainbows, you can make this mini rainbow to stick on your fridge or locker!

Supplies

  • 7 mini popsicle sticks
  • Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, Indigo, violet (ROYGBIV)
  • Adhesive magnet
  • A little bit of polyfill
  • Paint brush
  • Glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Paint one popsicle stick in each color, let dry
  2. Glue the popsicle sticks together side by side in the ROYGBIV order, let dry
  3. Roll a bit of polyfill into a cloud shape and glue to the top of the row of popsicle sticks
  4. Attach the magnet to the back of the rainbow

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sam-is-my-sister-cover

You can find Sam Is My Sister at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 24 – National Brothers Day

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About the Holiday

Today we take time to celebrate brothers! Whether you grew up with one brother or a few or have a friend you love like a brother, today’s holiday gives you a terrific reason to spend time together or get in touch and make some new memories! This year, as we’re spending more time working and playing with family, today’s book is certainly a home run!

Calvin Gets the Last Word

Written by Margo Sorenson | Illustrated by Mike Deas

 

Calvin’s dictionary is well-positioned to know all about (and describe) Calvin’s life because from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed, that dictionary is in his hands. “Why? Because Calvin loves words—I mean REALLY loves words,” the dictionary says. And Calvin won’t rest until he’s found the perfect “word for everything—especially his rascally brother.” Take this morning, for example. Calvin grabs his dictionary, as usual, and heads to the kitchen for breakfast. At the table, Calvin takes a big gulp of milk. It’s just the moment his brother’s been waiting for to tell his super funny, nose-snorting joke. You can imagine what happens—and that’s why the dictionary’s page that contains the word revenge is soaked.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

But is revenge the right word for Calvin’s brother? Not quite. On the school bus as the kids are tossing a backpack, talking, laughing, and hanging over the seats, Calvin’s dictionary offers up mayhem, but that doesn’t completely describe his brother either. As Calvin struggles in geography class and passes notes during library story time, his dictionary helps describe the mood, but the words it comes up with don’t really apply to his brother. Calvin does discover a good word for himself, though, when, on the way home from school, he stands up to a bully and helps a kindergartener.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

At Little League practice, the dictionary tells readers, Calvin “loves to crush the ball during batting practice, sending it over the fence. That’s why the page that reads pulverize has grass stains on it.” Could pulverize be the right word for his brother? While Calvin thinks it could be fun, it’s not exactly right.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

That night dinner turns into a repeat of breakfast—only in broccoli green. When Calvin goes to bed, he sits for a while, thinking. Then he grabs his exhausted dictionary and a glass of water and sneaks into his brother’s room. The dictionary thinks it knows what’s going to happen and riffles through its pages to find the right word, unconcerned whether it stays dry or not. And then, there on the page, is the perfect word! But wait, what’s going on? The word the dictionary offered no longer fits because now the brothers are laughing. The dictionary tries flipping to another page and a better word, but Calvin has it beat as he turns the pages and discovers the exact right word to describe his brother. What are all of the words the dictionary and Calvin have found? Come flip through Calvin Gets the Last Word yourself to find out!

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

In her funny and unique mashup of sibling rivalry and vocabulary, Margo Sorenson offers kids an engaging story of the singular type of love brothers share uncovered little by little through word-building. Calvin’s dictionary makes a sincere and charming guide through high-interest words that lend panache and nuance to events throughout Calvin’s day even if they don’t quite describe his brother. Astute kids may notice that the words the dictionary chooses for Calvin’s brother proves his loyalty to his favorite reader. Calvin’s spewed milk, whispered secrets, and home run batting add up to a real kid that readers will love. The words that the dictionary finds are fun to learn and say and will spark an enthusiasm in readers to do their own flipping through the dictionary and thesaurus. Sorenson’s endearing ending rings true with a word kids are sure to embrace.

Mike Deas’ glasses-wearing and sweat suit-clad Calvin, whose dictionary is always at the ready to define his experiences, is a character readers will respond to. Images of the sprayed milk and broccoli, rockin’ school bus, library story rug, and baseball field are full of familiar details and plenty of action. As Calvin prepares to play his trick on his brother Deas gives kids a cutaway view of the house from above, letting them tiptoe through the maze of rooms with Calvin. The final scenes of the brothers checking out the dictionary together in the light of a bedside lamp is sibling devotion at its best.

A delightful family story that can stir a love of language, Calvin Gets the Last Word would be a favorite addition to home libraries. The book is highly recommended for school and classroom bookshelves to enhance language arts, writing, grammar, and vocabulary lessons and for public library collections as well.

Ages 6 – 8

Tilbury House Publishers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0884488224

Discover more about Margo Sorenson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mike Deas, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Brother’s Day Activity

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Best Brother Award Certificate

 

Today is all about how great your brother is! Print and fill out this Best Brother Award Certificate and give it to your brother—or brothers! And if you’d like an activity to do with your brother (or sister, Mom, and/or Dad), today, here’s a puzzle to do together! 

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“Big Words” Word Search

 

Knowing and using a wide range of words allows you to express yourself in exact—and often—fun ways. Find the 26 “big” words—one for each letter of the alphabet—in this printable word search puzzle.

“Big Words” Word Search Puzzle“Big Words” Puzzle Solution!

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You can find Calvin Gets the Last Word at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

P

December 21 – National Flashlight Day

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About the Holiday

The founders of Flashlight Day chose the Winter Solstice to shine a little more light on today’s celebrated object. As today is the winter solstice and the shortest of the year, you may find that a flashlight comes in handy during that extra bit of darkness. If you’re wondering about the history of the flashlight, it all goes back to the invention of the dry-cell battery in 1887. These portable power sources inspired new products, such as the flashlight or torch (as it’s called outside of North America), which was invented in 1899. So indispensable is the flashlight, that it is even incorporated into our phones! To celebrate today’s holiday, why not turn off the lights tonight and tell stories, play games, or go exploring illuminated only by your flashlight!

Flashlight Night

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine | Illustrated by Fred Koehler

 

Three brave explorers—a boy, a girl, and a little brother—set out from their tree house at night armed only with their flashlight. In the golden beam, the picket fence turns dilapidated and overgrown as it weaves in and out among the gnarled trunks of a dense forest. The children follow “past old post and rail / along a long-forgotten trail / into woods no others dare, / for fear of what is waiting there.” Soon, they find a crawlspace under the deck of their house and venture in. They can hear the sound of rushing water and the yowl of a big cat. Before joining his friend and her little brother, the boy shines his flashlight around the yard, illuminating a wild waterfall and a tiger on the prowl where a tabby had dozed just minutes ago.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

The three friends crawl deep into the dusty crevices of the tunnel, where the flashlight shows them bones and lost treasures of ancient Egypt “as inky shadows rise and fall, / dancing… / to no sound at all.” They come to “a peculiar door that opens to… / a foreign shore.” From the pool stairs they step into a rubber boat and sail across the sea to the pirate ship dead ahead in the circle of light. A parrot swoops low and a kraken reaches its writhing tentacles from the roiling waves just as the treasure chest is found.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

With the ship engulfed and sinking, the stream of light from the “shows a stealthy way to flee—….” The three kids run across the sandy beach and around the umbrella palm then scramble up a steep slope. But the angry pirate, brandishing his sword, is looking for his treasure; the kraken has scaled the wall and nabbed the girl; and the tiger approaches with a hungry look in its eyes.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flashlight-night-kraken

Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Quickly, the older boy swings himself onto the ramparts of an old stone castle and reaches for the outstretched hand of his friend as she dangles upside down in the kraken’s arm. Her brother distracts the beast with his teddy bear, which transforms into a mighty grizzly that scares off the tiger, the pirate, and the astonished kraken. The littlest explorer is hailed as a hero as he is lifted through the window to safety.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Happily back in the tree house, the three snuggle under a blanket, reading 20,000 Leagues under the Sea while flanked by stacks of the classics, including Around the World in 80 Days, Treasure Island, and Mysteries of Egypt. And even though “weary eyes fight off the sleep, / adventure lingers, stirs about— / “until a voice says, ‘Shhh…lights out.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flashlight-night-shhh

Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Flashlight Night is that perfect combination of text and illustrations that creates a reading experience that immerses a reader in an alternate world. Matt Forrest Esenwine’s rhyming story entrances with an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue created with language that sets the imagination racing—inky shadows, time-forgotten tomb, slyly sneak, and craggy mountainside is just the beginning.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Accompanying this beguiling narration are Fred Koehler’s masterful, dual-duty illustrations. Outside of the flashlight’s beam, charcoal-colored images depict the reality of the children’s yard and treehouse. Inside the beam, the children’s imaginary game is fully illuminated. At the sharp edges between the two, reality and imagination blend together as seamlessly as children traverses both worlds. Under the deck, a forgotten baseball meshes with the rounded body of Egyptian pottery, the wall of the deck morphs into a rocky cliff, the stern of the rubber raft gives way to a wooden dinghy, and the top of the treehouse stretches to become the ledge on a castle.

The classic stories the children read in their tree house inform the friends’ nighttime jaunt and come to life in Koehler’s engrossing illustrations that are themselves scavenger hunts for small details, foreshadowing clues, bits of humor, and literary allusions.

Flashlight Night is a beautiful tribute to adventure classics. It is a fantastic book to cuddle up with for cozy bedtime reading (flashlight highly recommended), to take along for campfire storytelling, or to spark imaginary play. Flashlight Night would be a great gift and welcome addition to any child’s home bookshelf or classroom library.

Ages 4 – 8

Boyds Mill’s Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1629794938

Discover more about Matt Forrest Esenwine and his books on his website.

To learn more about Fred Koehler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Flashlight Day Activity

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Flashlight Fun Maze

 

Three friends want to do a little nighttime reading. Can you help the glow of the flashlight reach them so they can enjoy their favorite book in this printable Flashlight Fun Maze? Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Flashlight Night at these booksellers

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

YouPicture Book Review