October 2 – It’s National Chili Month

Armadilly Chili picture book review

About the Holiday

What could be more satisfying during a cool autumn month than a spicy bowl of chili?  Whether made with meat or veggies, combined with macaroni, or served in potato skins, the simmered flavors make for a scrumptious meal. Although the origins of chili are lost to history, it’s believed that the dish is a southwestern, specifically Texan, concoction. It began to attract attention in the early 1800s, and by the 1880s”Chili Queens” were selling “bowls o’red” at chili stands throughout San Antonio. In 1893 the San Antonio Chili Stand made an appearance at the Chicago World’s Fair. It’s popularity took off across Texas and throughout the west by the 1920s. When the Great Depression hit, chili became one of the only affordable meals for the hungry population. Today chili is a favorite dish of people all over the world. To celebrate this month’s observation why not whip up a batch of your favorite chili or discover some new recipes!

Armadilly Chili

Written by Helen Ketteman | Illustrated by Will Terry

What a hoot! The knee-slappin’, root-a-tootin’ phrasing in Hellen Ketteman’s Armadilly Chili is shor ‘nuf gonna make this a favorite on any child’s bookshelf. While the plot may be familiar, the southwest setting and Miss Billie Armadilly put a fresh, funny twist on it.

“Miss Billie Armadilly skit-skat-skittered down the lane. A blue-norther’s a-blowin’ and my old, cold bones are rattling for a pot of hot armadilly chili,” she says. She’s gathering ingredients when her friend Tex, a many eyed tarantula, tip taps by. Hey, Tex, she calls, how about tapping your toes this way and helping me gather a boxful of beetles?” But Tex just “wiggles his long jiggly legs and says, ‘Shucks, Miss Billie, I’m going dancing today.’” Miss Billie harrumphs and collects the beetles herself.

Next Miss Billie is picking peppers, and when Mackie the bluebird flies in she thinks she has an assistant. “‘How ‘bout whistlin’ up a tune and helping me pick a peck o’ peppers for my armadilly chili?’” Once again, though, she’s left on her own since Mackie says he is “‘shakin’ my tail feathers to the movies.’” When Miss Billie “scurries to the prickly pear cactus and begins chippity-chop-chopin,’” her friend Taffy, the horned toad, complains about the noise and then begs off from helping, saying she’s got plans to go skating.


Image copyright Will Terry, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

At home, Miss Billie stirs her chili to a scrumptious bubble. The aroma entices first Tex, then Mackie, and finally Taffy to come a’knockin’ at her door looking for a bowlful, but Billie has something to say about that—specifically, “no workin’ with Billie, no sharin’ the chili!”

Billie’s friends hurry away sorry that she feels that way, and Billie sits down to her feast. But after all that work, the chili tastes as “flat as a Texas prairie.” What’s wrong? She realizes what the missing ingredient is just as the doorbell rings. She opens the door to find her friends standing there with bags in their hands. What’s in those sacks? Apologies! As well as hot apple cider, jalapeno biscuits, and homemade chocolate fudge. Now that the friends are all together, the chili tastes just right, and “they talked and laughed into the cold, blustery night.”


Image copyright Will Terry, text copyright Helen Ketteman, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

What a hoot! Helen Ketteman’s fast-paced Armadilly Chili is a spicy take on the little red hen story  and what it means to be a good friend. Miss Billie is a sassy, no-nonsense heroine who values her work and talents and makes sure others do too. When anger and frustration bubble over, however, the four friends find a way to apologize and make up. The lesson, humorously conveyed as well as Ketteman’s knee-slappin’, root-a-tootin’ phrasing is shor ‘nuf gonna make this a favorite on any child’s bookshelf. 

Will Terry’s vivid illustrations washed with a palette of deep reds, oranges, greens, and yellows bring the Southwest setting to life. Miss Billie and her friends are enchanting versions of their natural counterparts, and kids will love the environmental and homey details on each page, where even the cacti display personalities. Billie’s facial expressions as each of her friends abandon her to her chores are priceless, and their final camaraderie is highly satisfying.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, Illinois, 2008 | ISBN 978-0807504581

Discover more about Helen Kellerman and her books plus fun accompanying activities on her website!

View a portfolio of Will Terry‘s books and artwork on his website!

While I take a few personal days, I am reposting earlier reviews updated with new links and interior art.

National Chili Month Activity

CPB - Chili Pepper Game

Hot, Hot, Hot! Chili Pepper Chili Game

Chili just isn’t chili without a little heat! But can you take 15 chili peppers in your bowl? If you want to win the Hot, Hot, Hot! Chili Pepper Chili Game you’ll have to!

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to collect 15 chili peppers in your bowl before any other player.



  1. Any number of players can play at one time. Print 1 Chili Bowl game board and 1 set of 15 Chili Pepper cards for each player
  2. Give 1 Chili Bowl Game Board to each player
  3. Place the Chili Pepper Cards in a pile or in a bowl
  4. Roll the die to see who goes first. The person with the highest roll goes first
  5. To begin play, the first player must roll a 1, 2, or 3. They should roll until they get one of these numbers.
  6. Players roll the die and collect or lose chili pepper cards by the number of dots on the die. If you roll a:
  • 1 – Pick up 1 chili pepper card and place it on your chili bowl game board
  • 2 – Pick up 2 chili pepper cards and place them on your chili bowl game board
  • 3 – Pick up 3 chili pepper cards and place them on your chili bowl game board
  • 4 – Get a chili pepper card from the player on your left
  • 5 – Give a chili pepper card to the player on your left
  • 6 – Lose a turn

     7. If a player does not have chili pepper cards to give to another player or if the player on           their left has no cards to give, the player rolls again.

    8. Continue play until one player has filled their Chili Bowl with chili peppers!

Picture Book Review

August 29 – Get Ready for Kindergarten Month


About the Holiday

Children of kindergarten age are looking forward to starting school like “the big kids,” and teachers all over the country are preparing to welcome their new students on the first day. All the desks or tables have the same supplies laid out, the same chairs pushed in, and the same promise of learning. Are all the kids the same? Yes…and no. Yes: They are all about the same age, wonder what the future holds, and want to make friends. No: they all come with different personalities, different histories, and different talents and abilities. And it is these differences that give each child their unique perspective on the world and will determine their unique contribution to it. Today celebrate each child’s distinct skills and gifts.

Be Quiet, Marina!

Written by Kirsten DeBear | Illustrated by Laura Dwight


Marina and Moira are four years old and in the same class at school. Marina was born with cerebral palsy; Moira has Down’s Syndrome. They like many of the same things. Both girls like to dance, play ball, dress up, and play with dolls. But when it comes to noises or rushing around, Marina and Moira are different. Marina likes loud noises. She often screams and shouts, and when she and Moira play together, Marina likes to tell Moira what to do.


Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of starbrightbooks.org

Moira, on the other hand, likes to sit quietly, and she can often be found taking a break in her cubby. She also likes to play alone with the little people figures. While both girls like to take walks outside, Moira stays with the teachers and the other students while Marina runs ahead. One of Moira and Marina’s favorite activities is when the teachers swing the kids in a big blanket. Then each student has to wait their turn. Moira can wait patiently, but for Marina waiting is hard; she gets angry and screams or cries. When Moira hears Marina scream, she feels scared. She covers her ears and leaves the room.

While Moira and Marina like to build towers and castles with blocks together, they have different feelings about cleaning up afterward. Marina doesn’t want to help and shows it by yelling. Moira runs from the room with her hands over her ears. “One day on the playground Moira was on the see-saw. Marina wanted to get on too, but she couldn’t…So she started to scream. She screamed so loudly that Moira covered her ears and walked away. Now Marina could get on the see-saw, but it was no fun alone.”


Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of starbrightbooks.org

Another day Marina started to get upset while the girls were playing with the telephone. This time Moira didn’t run away. Instead she looked at Marina and said, “Please don’t scream!” Marina listened. She became quiet and the two continued to play together. Later in the week when Marina asked Moira to play, Moira told her she would, but only if Marina didn’t scream. Marina said, “Okay, I won’t.”

The two girls came to an understanding. Instead of being afraid of Marina, Moira now knows she is trying to be friends, and Marina realizes that if she wants Moira to play with her, she can’t scream. And they both know that if they need help they can ask their teachers. Now Marina and Moira are best friends, which means they can have fun playing dolls and building with blocks, dancing and dressing up and even going up and down on the see-saw. And when Marina screams, “‘It’s fun!’” Moira makes a little noise herself and shouts “Be Quiet, Marina!”


Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of starbrightbooks.org

With simple, straightforward language, Kirsten DeBear reveals the story of how two little girls with what might be considered opposing personalities overcame their differences to become friends. While drawn to each other, these differently abled girls had trouble playing together. Through perseverance and communication, however, they came to understand each other. DeBear brings honesty and humor to this true story that applies to all children who need to accommodate other’s preferences while staying true to themselves when playing or working in a group. The happy resolution shows that there is room for all in our friendships and our hearts.

Laura Dwight’s black and white photos take a storyteller’s approach to chronicling the evolving friendship between Marina and Moira as they participated in schoolroom activities. The smiling girls are shown dancing, dressing in fancy hats, playing with dolls and a ball, building with blocks, and doing other fun things together. The photographs also depict moments of friction between the girls when Maura becomes upset and screams and Moira covers her ears and runs away. At the end of the book Dwight’s lens captures the experiences that led to better understanding between the two girls and their strengthening friendship.

Readers may recognize themselves as a “Maura” who likes loud noise and exploring on her own ahead of the group, or a “Moira” who prefers quiet and staying close to the group. Through the story of these two very smart little girls, all kids may learn to understand and appreciate themselves and alternate viewpoints.

Ages 4 – 7

Star Bright Books, 2014 | ISBN 978-1595726650

Visit Star Bright Books for a vast array of inclusive titles for children that embrace diverse ethnicities and abilities, promote literacy, and are widely available in 24 languages.

View a gallery of photography work by Laura Dwight on her website!

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity


Threads of Friendship Photograph Holder


In the same way that thread holds clothes, blankets, and other material goods together, friendship holds people together. Make this easy Threads of Friendship Photograph Holder to keep pictures of your friends close by!


  • Wooden Spool of twine, available at craft stores and some discount retailers
  • Thin-gauge wire, no heavier than 18 gauge
  • Small gauge nail
  • Hammer
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Pencil
  • Photographs


To make the photograph holders:

  1. Holding one end of a wire with the needle-nose pliers, wrap it around the pencil four or five times
  2. Remove the wire from the pencil
  3. Squeeze the coils of wire together with the needle-nose pliers
  4. Cut the wires to different lengths so the pictures stand at various heights

To make the stand:

  1. Make two or three holes in the center of the wooden spool of twine with the nail and hammer, holes should be about ½-inch deep to steady wire.
  2. Place the coiled wires in the holes
  3. Put photos in the coils


Even young children can help hammer the nail, place the wire in the holes, and choose photographs. Adults should coil the wire, cut the wire, and help with hammering.

Picture Book Review

August 25 – Kiss and Make Up Day


About the Holiday

Even the best friends and closest relatives get into spats once in a while. The important thing is trying to see the issue from the other person’s point of view and finding a way to patch things up. Today’s holiday is all about saying “I’m sorry” or explaining the situation that started the argument in the first place. On the other side, it’s all about listening and accepting the apology.

Best Frints in the Whole Universe

By Antoinette Portis


Yelfrid and Omek live on the planet Boborp. They have been best frints since they were little blobbies. Staying frints on Boborp can be hard because “teef are long and tempers are short.” Which makes Boborp a little different than Earth, right? Hmmm… But just like here on Earth having frints is a good thing. And as “Yelfred and Omek know, best frints are the best frints of all.”


Image copyright Antoinette Portis, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

Yelfred and Omek do everything together, like eating streeeetchy noodles for yunch and playing eye ball in the peedle pit. The peedle pit is full of dangerous spikes and sometimes the eye ball gets stuck in the middle of the pit. “‘Bad frow! You go get it!’” Yelfred says. To which Olmek answers “‘Bad kratch! You go get it!’” This can go on for hours—even until nighttime when Boborp’s two moons rise in the sky.

Of course there are blurfdays on Boborp and frints share their blurfday presents. Like if one frint got a spossip they’d let their best frint fly it, right? Hmmm…. But the spossip owner might say “‘No! You’ll schmackle it to bits’” while the other counters, “‘I’m the best driver on Boborp! Let me have a turp!’” But sometimes frints can’t take “No” for an answer, and they borrow the spossip anyway, and sure enough the spossip might get schmackled.


Image copyright Antoinette Portis, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

That’s when the teef can come out easier than the words, and things get a bit messy. One frint might even lose their tail, and the words, when they do come out, may not be so polite: “‘YOU SMACKLED BY SPOSSIP, you double-dirt bleebo!’” Frintship can be pretty hard under those circumstances. But real frints find a way to make up. Tails can grow back (even better than before), and spossips can be fixed with a spewdriver, glume, a sturpler, twire, and lots of taypo.

And on planet Boburp, frintships can grow back too—just like on plant Earth!


Image copyright Antoinette Portis, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

What kid won’t love hearing and saying the words “blobbies,” “yunch,” “peedle pit,” “spossip,” and all the others?! Antoinette Portis’s tribute to the diversities and commonalities of friendship will have kids rolling with laughter. Portis’s made-up vocabulary promotes literacy while introducing the concept of foreign language learning. Portraying arguments and positive resolutions shows kids that while differences occur even between the best friends, mutual cooperation and loyalty wins out.

The boldly colored alien landscape of BoBurp with its oddly familiar toys, celebrations, games, food, and other objects will captures kids’ imaginations, and all the spikey mountains, plants, noodles, and peedle pits give physical form to the theme that sometimes friendship is fraught with danger, but relationships can be smoothed out.

Ages 3 – 7

Roaring Brook Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1626721364

Follow the little bunny on Antoinette Portis‘s website to discover more of her books!

Kiss and Make Up Day Activity


Otherworldly Friends Template


Imagine you and your friends lived on another planet. What would you look like there? What would you be called? Use this printable Otherworldly Friends Template to create this otherworldly world!

Picture Book Review

August 18 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month


About the Holiday

Starting kindergarten is a huge step toward future learning and fun! This milestone can take a lot of preparation—from buying backpacks and school clothes to establishing different routines to becoming a new member of the school community. Most school years start during August and this month gives families an opportunity to talk about the changes, go shopping together, and look forward to the new experiences to come!

Sophie’s Squash Go to School

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf


Backed up by her parents and clutching her best friends, two squash named Bonnie and Baxter, Sophie peeks into her classroom on the first day of school. She sees kids running everywhere, talking and laughing. Her parents assure Sophie that she’ll make a lot of friends and have tons of fun, but Sophie is adamant: “‘I won’t,’” she says. And Sophie’s right. “The chairs were uncomfortable. The milk tasted funny. And no one appreciated her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter.”


Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The other kids surround her with questions about Bonnie and Baxter. “‘Are they toys? Do they bounce? Can we EAT them?’” Sophie has had enough. “‘No, no, no! I grew them in my garden. They’re my FRIENDS.’” And then there’s Steven Green. He sits near Sophie at circle time, plays near her on the playground, and stands over her breathing down her neck during art time. Ms. Park, the teacher, tells Sophie Steven is just being nice, but Sophie isn’t interested.

Steven does not give up so easily. He returns to show Sophie his best friend—Marvin, a stuffed frog that he got when the toy was just a tadpole. “‘Then you don’t need me,’” Sophie says and decides “that’s that.” But that isn’t that. The next day Steven is back, building a block tower near Sophie, reading her book over her shoulder, and even offering facts about fruit and vegetables during Sophie’s show and tell.

When her parents hear about Steven, they encourage Sophie to make a friend, but Sophie just clings tighter to Bonnie and Baxter. “Still, Sophie knew that Bonnie and Baxter wouldn’t last forever,” so when the other kids dance, spill their milk, or tell jokes, Sophie considers joining in. On the playground Sophie plays hopscotch while the other kids play tag, jump rope, and play other games together. When Steven asks if he can join Sophie, Bonnie, and Baxter, she refuses, leaving Steve and Marvin to sit alone.


Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

When the weekend comes Bonnie and Baxter look “too tired to hop. Or build towers. ‘It’s time,’” says Sophie’s mother. Sophie digs a hole to make “a garden bed and tucked her squash in for their winter nap. ‘Sleep tight,’” she says. “‘See you soon.’ But spring seemed very far away.” On Monday Ms. Park asks the class to tell her what makes a good friend. The kids answer that friends play with you, help you, and think you’re funny. Steven answers “‘They like what you like.’” Ms. Park sends the kids off to draw pictures of their friends.

When Steven wants to see Sophie’s drawing of Bonnie and Baxter, the two get into a scuffle over the paper and it tears in half. “‘You are NOT my friend,’” Sophie says as she walks away. On the way home from school, Sophie tells her mom what happened. “‘Sweet potato,’” her mom says. “‘That adorable boy didn’t mean to tear your picture.’” But Sophie’s not so sure.

The next morning Sophie finds Marvin and a note in her cubby. She ignores it, and by lunchtime, Marvin is gone. Later that night, though, Sophie and her dad discover Marvin and the note inside her backpack. The note contains a drawing of Bonnie and Baxter as well as a packet of seeds.  “‘Do friends really like the same things you like?’” Sophie asks her dad. When he answers “Sometimes,” Sophie begins to think. She takes Marvin outside and sits near Bonnie and Baxter to think some more.


Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

The next day Sophie runs up to Steven to tell him the great idea that Marvin had. They then tell Ms. Park. The next day, Ms. Park hands each child “a cup, some dirt and one small seed.” “‘Can we EAT them?’” a classmate asks. “‘No!’” says Sophie, and Steven adds, “‘You never eat a friend.’” The kids plant the seeds and put the pots on the windowsill. Soon tiny shoots appear in the cups and Sophie and Steven invite the kids to do a new-plant dance.

“‘See?’” Sophie tells Steven. “‘Sometimes growing a friend just takes time.’”

Pat Zietlow Miller’s sequel to her award-winning Sophie’s Squash is a heartfelt story for kids for whom the definition of friendship runs deep. Sophie’s hesitancy to join in the freewheeling play of other kids echoes the feelings of many children entering new classrooms, joining unfamiliar groups, or meeting any new challenge. The excellent pacing of the story as well as Sophie’s honest emotions allow for development of the theme that sometimes friendship takes time. Steven’s persistence sets a positive example for not passing judgement too quickly. Sophie’s transition from squash friends to human is treated sensitively and with cleverness. In the end Sophie learns how to make a friend while still staying true to herself.


Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Anne Wilsdorf’s cartoon-inspired illustrations perfectly depict the world that Sophie reluctantly inhabits. Her classroom is boldly colorful, full of books, toys, separate spaces, and of course all sorts of kids. Sophie’s reactions to the comments and actions of her classmates are clearly registered on her face and will make kids giggle even while they recognize her feelings. Steadfast Steven is, as Sophie’s mom says, adorable, and readers will empathize with his plight in just wanting to make a friend. The nighttime scene beautifully sums up Sophie’s dilemma and provides her and readers a moment to reflect on the story’s ideas.

On so many levels, Sophie’s Squash Go to School makes a wonderful addition to children’s and school bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Schwartz & Wade, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553509441

Discover much more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website!

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity


Smile for School! Word Search


Find 20 words about school in this printable Smile for School! Word Search. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

August 6 – Sandcastle Day


About the Holiday

While pinning down the official date of Sandcastle Day is as hard as holding back the tide, any sunny summer day is perfect for going to the beach and letting your artistic abilities take over! These days sandcastles are so much more than creations made with a few buckets full of wet sand and a few shells. Elaborate sculptures of every imaginable subject and character soar into the blue sky—some up to 50 feet! So whether you celebrate today, August 19, or any other day, every day is perfect for this distinctive art form!

The Critter Club: Liz and the Sand-Castle Contest

Written by Callie Barkley | Illustrated by Marsha Riti


In a summertime adventure for one of the girls in the Critter Club, Liz Jenkins, her brother Stewart, and their parents take a long weekend vacation at the beach. Liz is excited about visiting a new place, but knows that she’ll miss her friends, Ellie, Amy, and Marion.

With the car packed with beach supplies, sports equipment and food, the Jenkins family heads for Luna Beach. Next to Liz in the seat compartment are her drawing supplies. Both she and Stewart can’t wait to get out on the water to surf, boogie board, and swim. And of course, Liz is looking forward to building a sand castle. As the car travels down the highway, Liz imagines the castle she might build and remembers all the photos of past sand castles she’s built.


Image copyright Marsha Riti, courtesy of Little Simon

As soon as the Jenkins family settles into the cottage they have rented, they walk to the beach, ready for a fun weekend. Suddenly, a boy whizzes past Liz on his bike, almost hitting her. He pedals on, but looks back and Liz thinks she sees him smirk. The afternoon at the beach goes quickly. On the way back to the cottage, Liz spies a sign advertising a sand castle building contest. Thrilled, Liz and Stewart go to the lifeguard station to sign up. Liz is about to give the lifeguard her name when a boy rudely interrupts, demanding to sign up for the contest. It’s the same boy Liz encountered earlier.

It seems the one open spot will have to be given to either Liz or Tommy based on a toss of a coin, but just then the lifeguard receives a call from a contestant who is dropping out. The next morning Liz assembles her sand-castle-building tools and is shown to her square on the beach by the lifeguard. In the square next to her is Tommy. Liz says “Hi” and tries to engage him in conversation, but Tommy remains silent and sullen.

Liz decides to build a replica of The Critter Club barn, complete with animals, for her entry. She’s happy with the way her castle is turning out, but is amazed to see that the walls of Tommy’s castle look like real stone. “‘Wow!’” she says “‘That looks awesome!’” Tommy mumbles a “thanks” and returns to trying to build a sand horse. When the horse collapses, Liz offers to help Tommy build it again. He rejects her suggestion, and pointing to her barn says, “‘You call that a castle?’… ‘It looks like a plain old barn to me.’” Liz tries to turn the insult into a teachable moment and tells Tommy about the Critter Club and rescuing animals, but Tommy gets angry and throws his bucket. A gust of wind carries it into Liz’s square, where it lands on her sculpture of Rufus, crushing it.


Image copyright Marsha Riti, courtesy of Little Simon

When Tommy gives her a half-hearted “sorry,” she almost says “‘That’s okay,’” but she doesn’t, choosing instead to walk to the ocean’s edge for a break. There she finds a baby octopus floating in the shallow water. When she tries to move it into deeper water, the octopus doesn’t swim away, and Liz knows something is wrong. She puts it in her bucket with water, and when Tommy joins her and asks about the creature, Liz explains.

Liz is now on a mission to save the baby octopus. Forgetting the sand castle contest for the day, she calls Dr. Purvis, the veterinarian, for help. Following Dr. Purvis’s instructions to keep the baby octopus safe in a container until it can regain its strength, Liz watches over her rescue animal carefully. Another run-in with Tommy later that evening at the miniature golf course, only serves to increase their conflict.

The next morning, Liz returns to the beach, and while her parents take care of the octopus, heads to her sand castle. When she reaches her square, she’s devastated to discover that it was destroyed overnight. Tommy is staring at her with a strange look on his face. Liz tries to stay calm, but remembering all the times he was mean to her and the accidental incident at the golf course, she demands, “‘Did you do this? Hitting you with the golf ball was an accident. You did this on purpose!”

Before Tommy can respond, the lifeguard appears and tells Liz that her castle was blown down by big winds during the night. Her castle was, unfortunately, the only one not protected by the seawall. Suddenly, Tommy blurts out a suggestion. He asks Liz if she would like to help him finish his castle. He even gives her a “real, warm smile.” Liz jumps at the chance and helps Tommy build animals for his castle while he lets her add a replica of the Critter Club barn.


Image copyright Marsha Riti, courtesy of Little Simon

While the judges check out all the entries, Tommy finally explains his attitude. “‘Every summer I enter this contest. And I’ve never won. Not even close! I really wanted to win, finally—all on my own.’” Liz understands and tells him it was nice of him to let her help. Tommy admits that he could never have made the animals by himself without learning her trick.

Finally the ribbons are handed out. Third place goes to a skyscraper, second place to a replica of a Sphynx, and third place to a castle complete with working drawbridge. Tommy and Liz shrug and smile. But wait…one more prize is being awarded. An honorable mention award goes to…Liz and Tommy! They cheer and jump up and down.

One more exciting moment awaits. After the contest Liz carries her bucket down to the water’s edge. As soon as Liz places the bucket in the ocean, the octopus propels itself into the open sea and swims away. With the promise of a sand castle rematch next year, Liz and Tommy part as friends.

Enjoyed by early independent readers and any child who likes a longer story, Callie Barkley’s Critter Club books offer excitement, adventure, and purpose. Liz and the Sand Castle Contest sets up a commonly experienced conflict between children (and adults). Exposing honest emotions, this story reveals that there is often more to a situation than meets the eye and that good communication between people is important. The facts about the baby octopus rescue are organically introduced and incorporated into the plot, and the ongoing friendship between Liz, Marion, Amy, and Ellie makes a comfortable and reaffirming beginning to the story.

Marsha Riti’s grayscale illustrations beautifully bridge the gap between picture books and longer chapter books for the series’ young readers. Allowing readers to see the facial expressions of the characters, to view details of perhaps unfamiliar settings, and to develop relationships with Liz, her family, her friends, and those she meets increases understanding and enhances the reading experience. The baby octopus is adorable as it floats in Liz’s bucket and pool and will have kids cheering as it swims safely away in the end.

The Critter Club: Liz and the Sand-Castle Contest and the rest of the books in the series will find their way into readers’ hearts and are a great addition to early independent readers’ bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 9

Little Simon, Simon & Schuster, 2015 | ISBN 978-1481424059

To see a gallery of art and more books by Marsha Riti, visit her website!

Sandcastle Day Activity


Dig This Beachy Dot-to-Dot


Enjoy this printable Beachy Dot-to-Dot Page! Follow the dots to discover the hidden picture and have fun coloring it in!

Picture Book Review

July 30 – International Day of Friendship


About the Holiday

First established in 2011 by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Day of Friendship asserts the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. The UN resolution places particular emphasis on involving young people in community activities that include different cultures and promote respect for individual diversity. On this day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges everyone, especially young people who will be our future leaders, “to resolve to cherish and cultivate as many warm relationships as possible, enriching our own lives and enhancing the future.”

The day is celebrated with special initiatives, events, and activities that promote dialogue, education, understanding, and cooperation.

Hector and Hummingbird

By Nicholas John Frith


Deep in the mountains of Peru Hector and Hummingbird have forged an unbreakable friendship. “Mostly.” Hummingbird has lots of energy and loves to hover around his best bear pal. Which is ok, except sometimes Hector would just like a little quiet time, and Hummingbird won’t stop talking: “Hey, Hector! Is that a custard apple? I love custard apples! I’m going to eat this one! Oh, no! I’m going to eat that one! Shall I eat your one! Hector? Hec-torrr!” Sometimes a simple alone-time scratch would be just perfect, but Hummingbird copies him on a tree nearby: “Hey, Hector! Are you scratching? I’m going to scratch too!…” And nap time? Forget it! Hummingbird always keeps Hector awake with some story. It’s enough to make Hector cross with Hummingbird!

One day Hector can’t take it anymore—“‘Arrgh!!’” he roars. “‘Leave me alone!’”—and he takes off into the forest to find some peace. Hector’s outburst comes as a surprise to Hummingbird. He needs to find out what’s wrong, so he follows Hector into the woods, his constant hum filling the air. “‘Stop following me!’” Hector says. And Hummingbird complies—mostly. From behind leaves and tree trunks Hummingbird spies on his friend.


Image copyright Nicholas John Frith, courtesy of zoetucker.co.uk

As Hector delves deeper and deeper into the woods, he feels an unfamiliar excitement and also a bit of trepidation. Perhaps he’s just hungry, Hector thinks. He picks a custard apple to quell the gnawing in his stomach. The fruit tastes delicious, but Hector also feels funny eating alone. He imagines how much Hummingbird would enjoy the apple too.

The scratchiest tree Hector has ever seen beckons to him, and he settles in for a nice, quiet scratch. But again he experiences that twinge of loneliness. As the forest becomes dark, Hector finds a branch to snooze on. The night air is full of strange noises, and Hector is a little scared. “‘I wish Hummingbird were here,’” sniffs Hector. “‘He could tell me a story.’”

That’s all Hummingbird needs to hear. “A story? Yay! You should have said! I love telling stories! Once upon a time…” This time Hector doesn’t roar or run away. He exclaims, “‘Hummingbird! You’re here! I missed you!’” Hummingbird admits that he missed Hector too, and that he was there all the time. “Here all along?” says a surprised Hector. “I thought I told you not to follow me!”


Image copyright Nicholas John Frith, courtesy of zoetucker.co.uk

“But why?” Hummingbird asks. This time Hector doesn’t keep his thoughts inside. “‘Because you never stop talking!’” he answers. “‘And you’re always copying me!” Hummingbird has ready reasons. He’s only being friendly, he explains. And he loves Hector’s ideas. “‘Oh,’” says Hector. “‘Really?’” Then Hector has a brain storm. He asks Hummingbird if he can copy his being really, really quiet. “Absolutely!” Hummingbird says. And he does—in his Hummingbird sort of way, which sounds like this: “Hey, Hector? This is fun, isn’t it? We’re being really, really quiet, aren’t we? I love being quiet, don’t you? Hector? Hec-torrr?”

Nicholas John Frith humorously exposes the niggling burrs of true friendship with his endearing and inspired pairing of a quiet bear and an energetic hummingbird. While best friends love to spend time together, have lots in common, and share a history, they also share moments of frustration, misunderstanding, and vexation. Through Hector and Hummingbird, Frith reveals what happens when communication breaks down and resentments build up. Readers will see that true friendship consists of both honest dialogue and accepting people for who they are.

Frith’s jungle environment, rendered in a palate of vintage aqua, pink, green, brown, and black on a white background gives the story a fresh, bold appeal while highlighting the emotional responses of the characters to maximum effect. As day turns to night, Hector—having gone off in a huff—realizes that he misses his friend and moreover misses the very things that annoyed him about Hummingbird. His expressions of sadness and loneliness, delight at seeing Hummingbird again, and then confusion as to why Hummingbird is there in the first place can lead kids into an understanding that even the best of friends have differences.

Hector and Hummingbird offers kids both amusing and teachable moments with two funny, charming characters to escort them on the journey. An animated storyteller will have kids asking for this book again and again. It’s a great addition to the family library.

Ages 4 – 8

Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2015 | ISBN 978-0545857017

Have fun perusing Nicholas John Frith’s online portfolio of illustrations, projects, and products!

International Day of Friendship Activity


Best Friends Coloring Pages


Friends like to play together and color together! Here are two printable pages for you to have fun with. Why not text a friend and color them together?

Coloring Page 1

Coloring Page 2

July 18 – Get Out of the Doghouse Day


About the Holiday

Being “in the dog house” means that somehow you’ve upset someone, made them mad or in some other way fallen out of favor with them. Maybe you owe them an apology or at least an explanation. Today’s holiday gives people a chance to say “I’m sorry” and patch up any hurt feelings. Like the bear in today’s book, you may find yourself out of the doghouse and on the path to better friendships!

The Bear Who Stared

By Duncan Beedie


Bear loves to stare…and stare…and stare. One morning he emerges from his den to find a family of ladybugs having a picnic breakfast. He can’t help but gaze at them intently. “‘What are you staring at?’” the daddy ladybug demands before he and his family pack up to find a more private leaf. Bear continues on his way. In a bit he climbs a tree and stares at a bird feeding her chicks. “‘Can I help you?’” the mother bird asks, but Bear remains silent. The chicks don’t like Bear interfering with their meal, so the mother bird angrily tells him to “‘sshhhooooo!’”


Image copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

At the bottom of the tree Bear spies a badger hole and sticks his head inside. The badger, particularly irritated at Bear’s badgering stare while he is shaving, bites poor bear on the nose. Sore and dejected, Bear wanders through the forest to a large pond. He sits down on a log to ponder his situation. He doesn’t mean to be annoying, he’s “just curious but too shy to say anything.”

A little frog floating on a lily pad in the middle of the pond pipes up, “‘I’ve seen that look before.’” Bear stares at the frog and the frog stares back. “‘Not much fun being stared at, is it?’” he says. Bear confesses that he just doesn’t know what to say to anyone. Just then Bear catches a glimpse of another bear staring back at him from the mossy water of the pond. This bear looks exactly like Bear, except that he is green and wavy. Suddenly, the green bear smiles. “‘You see?’” says the frog. “‘Sometimes a smile is all you need.’” The frog dives off his lily pad into the pond, and the green bear disappears too.


Image copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

The next day Bear leaves his den and discovers the ladybug family breakfasting again. As soon as they spot Bear, they begin to gather their things. “‘Hello!’” Bear says with a big smile on his face. The ladybugs are surprised and happy. “‘Oh, hello!’” replies the dad, smiling back. With renewed confidence Bear wanders into the forest. He smiles at the birds and smiles at the badger, and they smile at him in return. Bear makes a lot of new friends that day. And there’s even that friend down at the pond who likes to stare as much as he does!

Duncan Beedie highlights the awkward feeling many kids—and even adults—often feel in social situations. Nothing pops immediately to mind to say and yet there’s a desire for connection. As Bear discovers, staring is not the answer—so what is? In The Bear Who Stared Beedie offers a simple, but universal solution through an engaging and humorous story. Bear, sporting a bemused expression that aptly depicts his predicament, is such an endearing character that readers will wish they could give him a hug as he suffers slights from the woodland creatures.

The full-bleed, oversized pages put readers at eye level with bear and his subjects, and the very up-close look into Bear’s staring eyes will make kids laugh. The green, rust, and blue palette on matte paper is bold, but muted, giving the pages an organic, environmental feel that is perfect to carry the story.

The Bear Who Stared is a funny story time read with a heart that kids will ask for again and again.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499802856

Check out more of Duncan Beedie’s illustration and animation work on his website!

Get Out of the Doghouse Day Activity


Expressive Bear Craft


Sometimes it’s hard to manage or even recognize various emotions that land you in the doghouse. With this easy-to-make felt (or paper) set, you can try out different emotions and talk about them, make up stories to go with each facial expression, or play a fun game. Below, you’ll find a couple of ideas!


  • Printable Bear Head Template
  • Printable Eyes and Noses Template
  • Printable Eyebrows Template
  • Light brown felt or fleece, 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Dark brown felt or fleece, 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • White felt or fleece, 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Black felt or fleece, for pupils
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • 1 playing die (optional)


  1. Print templates
  2. Cut bear head from light felt or fleece
  3. Cut eyes from white felt or fleece
  4. Cut nose and inner ears from dark brown felt or fleece
  5. Cut pupils from black felt or fleece
  6. Glue pupils onto white eyes

Or: Color and play with the paper set

To Play a Game

Roll the die to collect parts of the bear’s face. The first player to create a full face is the winner.

  • Die dots correspond to:
  • 1—one eyebrow
  • 2—second eyebrow
  • 3—one eye
  • 4—second eye
  • 5—nose
  • 6—inner ears

For a Fun Story Time

Give the bear different faces and make up stories of why he looks that way!

Picture Book Review