June 15 – Fly a Kite Day

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About the Holiday

When Fly a Kite Day and Global Wind Day occur on the same day, you know it’s time to get outside and send a kite soaring. A terrific activity to do with kids – especially in this time of social distancing, kite flying is not only fun but it teaches concepts about the wind, flight, and distance. And if you make your own kite, kids get a lesson in design and engineering with some practice with tools thrown in too. So celebrate today with the kite of your choice and keep the fun going all summer long. 

Bear Out There

By Jacob Grant

 

While Bear had tea, Spider was showing him the kite he had made. “He was very excited to fly it out in the yard.” Spider loved everything about the outdoors—the sun, the gentle breeze, the plants, and even the bugs. Bear loved everything about staying indoors. He was looking forward to cleaning up his house and having another cup of tea.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But then Spider’s kite took off on its own and because Bear was a good friend, he said he would help look for it. But he reminded Spider: “…you know I do not like the forest.” In fact, Bear did not like anything about the forest—the “filthy ground…the itchy plants…the pesky bugs.” Spider, on the other hand, thought a search through the forest would be fun.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As they walked, Bear grumbled and complained about the fragrant weeds, the noisy owls, and all the other “unpleasant” things all around them. They had still not found the kite when it started to rain. Now, not even Spider was having a good time, and Bear was more miserable than before. “‘Surely this search cannot get any worse!’ he said. But it could.”

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Bear gave up. He was ready to go home and have a cup of tea in his comfy chair. But then he saw Spider sitting on a rock. Rain drops splashed off his tiny button hat and he looked bedraggled and disappointed. Bear relented. “‘Maybe we could look just a little farther,’” he said. Spider was happy just to be with Bear.

The rain lessened and Bear and Spider looked up at the clearing sky. There, stuck in the branch of a tree, was Spider’s kite. Back home, they soaked in a hot bath, patched the rips in Spider’s kite, made one for Bear, and, of course, had tea—which they enjoyed while flying their kites from Bear’s comfy chair out in the yard.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jacob Grant’s seemingly odd-couple friendship between a big black bear and an itty-bitty spider is as charming and comforting as it gets. While Spider loves the outdoors, Bear is a homebody; but when his friend needs help, Bear puts his own feelings aside to help. It doesn’t take long—only one page, in fact—for Bear to give up the tidy day he had planned for a tromp through the woods in search of Spider’s lost kite. As the hunt grows long and conditions worsen, Bear begins to grumble until he finally gives up. Again, though, one glance at disappointed Spider spurs him on to continue the search. And for Spider, just having Bear by his side makes things all right.

The dynamics between Bear and Spider are pitch perfect, mirroring the love and trust between parents and kids, best friends, teachers and students, and other adult-child pairs. A story isn’t a real story without change, and here, too, Grant offers an inspiring truism. The final scene in which Bear and Spider both enjoy flying kites while sipping tea and lounging in Bear’s chair shows the joy of sharing and embracing another’s favorite activity.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Grant’s gentle, soft-hued illustrations are full of meaning and humor, of the forest’s allure that Bear doesn’t see, and of Spider’s feelings that he does. Although Bear is a neat-freak—scrubbing, dusting, and sweeping—he’s careful to leave Spider’s resting spots intact. In the woods, Bear grumbles about the smells, the noise, and the general unpleasantness while readers see a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a topsy-turvy turn of events in an owl’s nest, and a scenic panorama complete with waterfall and butterflies. Coming back to their home with its inviting pink teapot and orange chairs is the perfect antidote to any busy or stressful day.

Bear Out There is an endearing read and would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves for its sweet depiction of what true friendship between adults and kids or among children is all about. Readers won’t want to miss Jacob Grant’s first Bear and Spider adventure, Bear’s Scare.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681197456

To learn more about Jacob Grant, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Fly a Kite Day Activity

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Soaring Kite Maze

 

The dips and rises your pencil takes through this maze is a little like the way a kite flies through the sky! Print your Soaring Kite Maze and enjoy!

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You can find Bear Out There at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

June 27 – It’s National Zoo and Aquarium Month

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About the Holiday

This month’s observance pays tribute to the role of zoos and aquariums and the work they do for education, conservation, and research to protect the world’s animals. As zoos and aquariums build exhibits that more closely resemble the animals’ natural habitats and offer interactive and hands-on programs, more visitors can learn about the environments and science of each amazing creature. These institutions are also reaching out with personal and online visits to schools by zoologists and other experts, increasing the interest in biology and animal science to students. Nearly 175 million people—50 million of which are children—visit zoos and aquariums each year. To celebrate today, visit your local zoo or aquarium!

Be Nice to Spiders

By Margaret Bloy Graham

 

One morning as the Zoo Keeper was about to open the gate, he noticed a matchbox with a note attached to it. The “note read: ‘Please look after Helen. I’ve had her since she was a baby, but I can’t keep her anymore. We have to move to an apartment that won’t take pets. Thanks, Billy.” When the Keeper opened the box, out jumped eight-legged Helen. She scurried into the maple tree and then “quickly spun a long silk thread and lowered herself into the ventilator of a big building” that turned out to be the Lion House. The poor lions—a father lion, a mother lion, and four cubs—were beset by flies. “The lions were annoyed, but Helen was delighted. She loved to eat flies.” Right away she wove a big, sticky web. “One by one the flies got caught…. And one by one Helen ate them.”

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

After a week, the Lion House was free of flies and the lions were comfortable. Helen moved on to the Elephant House. She set up her web, and in a week the elephants were happy too. Next, Helen went to the Zebra House and after she “had caught all the flies there, the zebras were able to eat their hay in peace.” In fact, the zoo turned into a peaceful place for all the animals. Helen was very content too.

One morning, the Keeper called all the workers together and told them that the Mayor was coming for a visit that day. He wanted them to clean up all the cages and especially “‘get rid of all those spider webs.’” Joe said that he thought spiders were beneficial, but the Keeper thought the spider webs made the zoo look a mess. With their brushes, brooms, and hoses, the workers scrubbed the cages clean. When they got to the Camel House, they found one of Helen’s webs loaded with flies. He swiped at the web, but Helen had vanished.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

When the Mayor arrived, he declared that he’d never seen the zoo looking “‘so neat and the animals looking so well.’ Meanwhile Helen was still in the Camel House, hiding in a crack in the ceiling.” She was afraid to come out. Days passed and Helen grew hungry. Flies returned and began to bother the camels again. One night, Helen was so hungry that she came out and spun a web. She decided to stay in the Camel House—“she didn’t dare go anywhere else.” This was good for the camels, but not good for all the other animals.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Keeper couldn’t understand what had happened. As he and Joe walked through the zoo, the animals and even the visitors were under clouds of flies and looking miserable. But then they went into the Camel House. Here there were no flies, and the camels were peaceful and happy. Then Joe spied one of Helen’s webs. “‘Look, Chief,’ Joe shouted. ‘Now I know what’s going on! See that spider up there? It’s eating all the flies…. Spiders are useful. That’s what I tried to tell you the other day.’”

The Keeper called all the workers together and told them about Joe’s discovery. He also had a new rule for the zoo: “‘Be nice to spiders.’ Soon the Zoo became famous for its happy, healthy animals, and Helen was treated like a queen.” One day, Helen even got her picture on the front page of the newspaper under the headline: “Local Zoo Named Best of Year; Three Cheers for Spider! Says Keeper.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

One of the people reading the newspaper was Billy’s dad. He showed the article to Billy, and the next day Billy went to visit Helen. He introduced himself to the Keeper, and then noticed something special in Helen’s web. It was an egg sac. “‘I bet there’ll be plenty of baby spiders soon,’” exclaimed Billy. And sure enough, a few days later Helen became the proud mother of lots and lots of little spiders. “From then on, Helen and her children and all the animals in the Zoo lived happily ever after.”

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Margaret Bloy Graham’s classic story has been a kid-favorite since 1967—I know it was a favorite of mine and I was happy to pull my Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club Edition copy out of my collection for this review. Billy’s sweet concern for his pet spider, Helen’s initiative in dropping into the Lion House, and the natural solution to the zoo’s fly problem all combine to make this a story that is ever-fresh and appealing to kids. Graham’s smooth and straightforward narration is sprinkled with realistic dialogue and builds to a suspenseful turn that is riveting to children. Kids with pets of their own will cheer when Billy learns that Helen is a hero. The idea of natural, environmentally safe solutions to pest control is still relevant and resonant today.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Graham’s illustrations have lost none of their charm, in fact kids will be enchanted by the vintage look and adore little Helen who, with a smile on her face, snares plenty of flies in her webs. Readers will like seeing just how a spider goes about constructing a web and will enjoy spying where Helen is on each page. You can bet there will be a chorus of “noooo!” as a zoo worker raises his broom to sweep away Helen and one of her webs and an enthusiastic “yesss!” when Joe points out just how vital she is to the zoo. The illustrations also give adults and kids an opportunity to talk about how things have changed at zoos over the intervening years.

An impactful story with lots of heart, Be Nice to Spiders will be a favorite of kids who love spiders, zoos, and the environment.

Ages 4 – 7

HarperCollins, 1967

National Zoo and Aquarium Month Activity

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Splendid Spider Coloring Page

Having a spider in the house is lucky! Here’s an alert spider just waiting for some flies. Grab your crayons or pencils and feed him – or be a little silly. What else can this spider catch in his web?

Splendid Spider Coloring Page

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You can find Be Nice to Spiders at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review