June 29 – International Mud Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 2009 when the students of Bold Park Community School in Wembley, Western Australia teamed with the boys of the Nepalese Panchkhal Orphanage to “celebrate the visceral and primal connection we all share with Earth and the outdoors.” Since that day, schools, families, and early childhood education centers have worked to remind us that we all need to take time to play in the mud sometimes and reconnect with what makes us human. In 2015, the day was expanded to include the entire month of June to allow us to decompress from the high-tech, high-pressure world we live in and to connect with others.

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball

Written by David A. Kelly | Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez

 

“Lena Blackburne wanted to be a famous baseball player.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t one of the greats. In fact starting in 1910, Lena moved around from team to team, playing a variety of positions. He made appearances at every base and played shortstop; he even had a go as pitcher. But he wasn’t a star at any of these positions. He was never going to make it to the Hall of Fame.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

After he retired from playing, Lena became a coach. One day the umpire came to him with a complaint about the soggy baseballs. They were too hard to throw and too hard to see. Besides that, when they were hit, they didn’t soar very far. The problem was that new baseballs had a slick sheen to them, “so players soaked them in dirty water. It got rid of the shine. But it also made the balls soggy and soft.”

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Players tried other methods to get rid of the shine, but they had drawbacks too. Shoe polish just turned the balls black, and “spit and tobacco juice…made the balls stink.” Lena Blackburne sat down and considered the problem. The answer came to him in a most unusual place—an old fishing hole where Lena liked to go when he was off the road and home.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

While fishing one day, he happened to step into some dark brown mud. It sucked at his boot, and as Lena pulled his foot out he had an idea. The mud was “smooth and creamy like chocolate pudding. But it felt gritty.” At the ballpark, Lena rubbed the mud on the balls. When the mud dried, it was easy to wipe off. The mud left the balls with a good finish—not soggy, black, or smelly. At the next game, “the pitcher threw muddy fastballs, curveballs, changeups, and sinkers. The batters hit muddy singles, doubles, triples, and home runs.”

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Lena returned to the fishing hole and dug up more mud. He put it into containers and began selling it. Teams all over the league bought Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud. Lena’s famous mud is still used today and is officially the “only thing that’s allowed on major-league balls.” Lena Blackburne always dreamed of being in the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he didn’t make it there as a player, he is remembered for his contributions to the game he loved in a special exhibit for Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

An Author’s Note including more about Lena Blackburne, his baseball statistics, and his special mud follow the text.

Kids who love baseball will be intrigued by David A. Kelly’s unique take on the game. By exploring a small detail that had large effects on the quality of play, Kelly presents a picture book mystery with a surprise ending for younger readers. Kelly’s inclusion of Blackburne’s disappointments shows children that each person’s unique contributions are often found in expected ways.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Kids get a front row seat at the baseball stadium in Oliver Dominguez’s stunning illustrations. As Lena swings and misses, readers can almost hear the smack of the ball in the catcher’s glove and the ump yelling, “Steee-rrriike!”  When Lena Blackburne becomes a coach and ponders the problem of the soggy baseballs, kids will enjoy seeing baseballs bobbing in a wooden bucket of water, laugh to see a player spitting on a new baseball, and wonder what idea has Lena so wide-eyed at the fishing hole. Baseball lovers will want to linger over the up-close views of players preparing for a game and celebrating their win.

Ages 6 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761380924

Find out more about David A. Kelly, his ballpark mysteries, and his other books on his website!

View a gallery of artwork and videos by Oliver Dominguez on his website!

International Mud Day Activity

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Make Your Own Sensory Sand

 

While this sensory sand may not be exactly mud, it’s sure as much fun to play with!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack.

Picture Book Review

June 23 – Olympic Day and Q & A with Author Heather Lang

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About the Holiday

Olympic Day is celebrated by millions of people in more than 160 countries to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894. The mission of Olympic Day is to promote fitness, well-being, culture and education, while promoting the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.  The Olympic Day pillars – move, learn and discover – are promoted in every corner of the globe. To have Olympic-size fun today, why not get together with friends or family and host your own mini-Olympic games? For more ideas and to learn more about today’s observance visit teamusa.org!

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

 

Alice Coachman was a born runner and jumper—skipping, hopping, and vaulting over every obstacle that came her way. As Alice grew older, however, the joy of running and jumping had to come a distant second to chores like cooking, laundry, picking cotton and peaches, and taking care of her younger siblings. Besides, her papa told her, “running and jumping weren’t considered ladylike.” Still, that was all Alice could think about, so after her chores were finished, she went out to play sports with the boys.

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012.

Living in the segregated South, Alice didn’t have the same rights as white people. She had nowhere to practice, but that didn’t stop her. Alice “ran barefoot on dirt roads. She collected sticks and tied rags together to make her own high jumps. Alice jumped so high, she soared like a bird above the cotton fields.” In seventh grade, Alice caught the attention of the high-school track coach. He arranged for her to join the track team at the Tuskegee Relays in Alabama, where the best black athletes from around the country competed. Alice had never worn track shoes or jumped over a real high-jump bar, she “won first place anyway, beating high-school and college girls.

Alice’s speed did more than win races. Once when a tornado ripped through Albany, she volunteered to deliver food to those in need. She ran so fast that the food stayed hot! Her talent won her a scholarship to finish high school at the Tuskegee Institute. Alice missed her family, and they didn’t have the money to really stay in touch. “One time she went home for a surprise visit, and her family had moved to a different house.”

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012

Alice competed on both the track-and-field and basketball teams. She won every event— the high jump, the 50-meter, the 100-meter, and the 400-meter relay—and led the basketball team to three straight championships. Alice was ready to compete in the Olympics. It was 1944, however, and the Olympic Games were canceled as the world was at war.

After graduating college from the Tuskegee Institute, Alice went home to continue practicing. Here, she trained alone on dirt roads. In 1948 with the war at an end, Alice qualified to compete in the London Olympics high jump. Even though years of hard training had weakened her back and made jumping painful, Alice pursued her dream. In London, the ravages of war were still visible, and “England faced serious food shortages. Alice and the other athletes were often hungry and thirsty.” The cold weather “pricked her like pins,” but here Alice and the other athletes—black and white—lived together, and Alice could sit anywhere she wanted on the buses as she toured the city.

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012.

As the Olympic Games opened with spectacular ceremonies, Alice marched into “Wembley Stadium to the applause of eighty-five thousand spectators.” Alice watched for eight days as her teammates lost event after event. Finally, it was Alice’s turn to compete. Her toughest opponent was Dorothy Tyler of Great Britain. “Inch by inch they battled it out—5 feet 3 2/5 inches, 5 feet 4 ½ inches. The sand in the landing pit was thinning out and the landings were tough on Alice’s back. 5 feet 5 1/3 inches.” The day was waning, and even though all of the other events were over, “the king and queen of England and thousands of spectators stayed to watch.”

The bar was placed at 5 feet 6 1/8 inches—as tall as Alice herself. She had never jumped so high before. “She sprinted, pumping her arms. She pushed off and flew…up…soaring…over the bar. Her leap set a new Olympic record!” But it was short lived. Dorothy also cleared the bar on her second attempt. The bar was placed at 5 feet 7 inches. Alice and Dorothy both jumped and missed. What would the judges decide? There are no ties allowed in the high jump.

Suddenly, Alice saw her name appear on the board! The judges awarded the medal to her because she “had made the record-breaking jump on her first try.” On that day—August 7, 1948—Alice Coachman stepped to the top of the podium and “became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.”

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Image copyright Floyd Cooper, courtesy of Boyds Mills Press, 2012

Author’s Notes containing more information about Alice Coachman and the 1948 Olympics as well as lists of resources follow the text.

Heather Lang brings an athlete’s appreciation for the in-born talent and hard practicing that creates a world-class Olympian. Her story reveals not only the details of Alice’s physical training but also the social and economic hurdles she overcame in her quest to compete in the Olympics. Lang’s graceful and evocative prose carries readers down dirt roads and over obstacles, to the halls of the Tuskegee Institute, and into Wembley Stadium as they learn about the singular focus Alice Coachman dedicated to her sport. Children will feel as if they are sitting in the stands watching with suspense as the bar is raised again and again, pushing Coachman to a world record.

Floyd Cooper sets readers in the hot, dusty, sun-burned South, where Alice Coachman—as a little girl and then a teenager—runs barefoot on dirt roads, jumps over homemade bars, leaps to tip the basketball from her brothers’ hands, and delivers food to tornado victims. The golden-brown-hued illustrations catch Dorothy Taylor and Alice Coachman as they soar over the high bar in their fierce competition and capture Coachman’s hopes, dreams, and anticipation as she waits—hands clasped—to hear the judges’ final decision in the 1948 Olympic Games. Readers will cheer to see Coachman standing on the first-place podium, ready to receive her well-deserved gold medal.

Ages 5 and up

Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590788509

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books plus videos, pictures, and fun activities that accompany each book on her website!

Learn more about Floyd Cooper, his books, and his artwork on his website!

Enjoy this Queen of the Track book trailer!

Olympic Day Activity

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Go for the Gold! Word Search

 

Have fun as you look for the names of twenty summer Olympics events in this printable Go for the Gold! Word Search Puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Q & A with Author Heather Lang

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Today, I’m excited to talk with Heather Lang about her inspirations, her books, brave women, and writing and research lets her be a little like childhood heroine Nancy Drew!

How did you become a children’s writer?

As a child, I loved books and stories and creating things, but I struggled with writing. I was much better at math. I never thought I could become an author, because I wasn’t naturally good at writing. As an adult, with kids of my own, I rediscovered my love for picture books, and I kept thinking how fun it would be to create a picture book! By then I’d realized that the seemingly impossible could be possible with hard work and dedication. So I began writing. It took many years and many rejections, but with support from other writers and my critique group I’ve learned to embrace the process.

Why do you like to write books about brave women?

The women I write about inspire me every day to be brave and step outside of my comfort zone. It’s amazing the things you discover about life and yourself when you dream big, keep an open mind, and push yourself. My hope is that my books will do the same for kids.

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Heather meets Alice Coachman, the first African-American woman to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

What inspired you to write Queen of the Track?

After seven years of rejections on my fiction, I needed a little spark in my writing life to keep me going, so I decided to research and write a true story about an inspiring woman. Since I love sports, I looked for an athlete, and who better than the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal? If Alice Coachman could overcome poverty and segregation and discrimination, surely I could overcome a few rejections. I kept one of Alice’s quotes on my desk: “When the going gets tough and you feel like throwing your hands in the air, listen to that voice that tells you, ‘Keep going. Hang in there.’ Guts and determination will pull you through.”

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You seem to dig very deep when researching a book. What would you say is the biggest surprise you’ve discovered during your research? 

Every book is a treasure hunt, full of surprises and discoveries! My biggest surprise probably came with my most recent book Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark. When I began my research journey, I was afraid of sharks and swimming in the ocean—terrified actually. As a child, I watched the movie Jaws and believed that sharks were swimming around looking for people to eat. That fear is what drew me to Eugenie Clark, an open-minded young scientist who never judged sharks based on rumors or appearance. I discovered that sharks are intelligent and important and that humans are NOT on the shark menu! I learned to scuba and snorkel, so I could experience Genie’s underwater world and swim with sharks myself. Writing that book transformed my fear of sharks into a passion for them!

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Heather learned to scuba dive while writing Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark.

With the titles “Diving into Nonfiction and the World of Sharks,” “Got Grit?” and “Girls with Grit: Researching and Writing about Brave Girls,” your interactive presentations sound fascinating. Do you have any anecdotes from your speaking engagements you’d like to share?

I have so much fun visiting with kids and am always amazed at some of their questions. “How big are great white sharks?” “How big are their teeth?” “How big are their pups?” “How do they have pups?” I LOVE their raw curiosity! It inspires me and helps me develop my school visit programs. In reaction to the endless questions kids were asking me about sharks, I designed a program that includes hands-on activities that teach kids about shark anatomy and behavior, as well as the food chain and why sharks are important for a healthy ocean. And in the process, I’ve learned even more cool facts about sharks!

You’ve mentioned that you were inspired by Nancy Drew and once wanted to become a spy, which you compare to researching and writing children’s books. What was your favorite Nancy Drew book and why?

I remember two favorites that I owned: The Mystery at Lilac Inn and The Hidden Staircase. For several summers it was my mission to read every Nancy Drew book in the library. If I couldn’t get there, I’d reread the two that I owned. I never tired of them. I worshipped Nancy’s courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to push boundaries. More than anything I wanted to be a spy, just like her. And in a way, that dream has come true. I do lots of spy work for my books. Ideas and stories are all around us if we look, listen, and investigate. I think solid sleuthing is the backbone of an authentic story.

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Heather researches Ruth Law’s Scrapbook while writing Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

If you have a particular place that you write, would you mind describing it a little?

I enjoy mixing it up, depending on what I am working on. When I was writing The Original Cowgirl: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, I enjoyed writing on a picnic table at a local barn, surrounded by fields and horses. Sometimes I write in my office, but if the weather’s nice I head out to the screened porch. In the winter, my favorite place to write is by a roaring fire with my dog curled up next to me. And often ideas come to me when I’m in the car or on a walk or out to dinner—not the most convenient places to write. But when an idea strikes, I write it down and do a quick free write if possible, or poof the idea can vanish!

What’s the best thing about being a children’s writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is opening kids’ minds and hearts! I grow tremendously with every book I write, and nothing makes me happier than when my books do the same for kids. Whether a book inspires a child to dream big and be brave or it sparks a new interest in sharks or aviation, those moments are powerful.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book biography, Anybody’s Game: The Story of the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball, comes out in March 2018. I am also working on a new book about sharks. And I’m so excited for an upcoming research trip to the Amazon for a book I’m writing about the rain forest! 

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Christmas in our house is a creative holiday. My daughters and I try to make most of our gifts—anything from soap and candles to knitted hats, woven coasters, and jewelry. And we love to make handmade notecards and ornaments, especially when they involve GLITTER!

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

Every year on Mother’s Day I get to choose exactly what I want to do! No—It’s not going to a spa or a fancy lunch. I choose to get my hands dirty with my husband and kids. It’s the day when we plan our garden, make a trip to the garden center, and plant our seeds and seedlings. 

Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Heather! I wish you the best with all of your books!

You can find Queen of the Track and Heather’s other Books at these booksellers:

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

You can connect with Heather Lang on:

heatherlangbooks.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

July 26 – It’s Park and Recreation Month

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About the Holiday

This month we recognize all the parks—national, state, local, and more—that provide fun and recreation for those who love the great outdoors. There is perhaps no sport that combines the physical aspects of “park” with the spirit of “recreation” quite like baseball. The crack of the bat connecting with the ball for a home run, the thwack of an outfield catch, the collective cheers, and the aroma of ballpark snacks all mix to create a perfect outing—whether your team wins or not!

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero

Written by Barb Rosenstock | Illustrated by Terry Widener

 

With a single hit to left field, Joe DiMaggio turned a pre-World War II summer into something that cheered and united all Americans. It was May 15, 1941 when the New York Yankees sent Joe to the plate. He hit a single—not much to help them overcome their 13 to 1 loss, but it was in the next game and the next and the next…that people started to take notice. In every game Joe made a hit. Some were home runs, some triples or doubles, and when “he hit in 20 straight games, the word ‘streak’ whispered from the bleachers to the press box—DiMaggio was on a hitting streak.”When Joe reached 30 straight games with a hit, the newspapers printed bold headlines and articles that temporarily pushed “back news of the war marching overseas.”

Joe DiMaggio wasn’t like other well-known players. He was the son of immigrants and grew up in San Francisco with eight brothers and sisters, working in the family fishing business and selling newspapers to make extra money. He was used to hard work, and this ethic served him well as a baseball player.

Everyone knew about Joe’s bat “Betsy Ann” and the care he gave her. He had treated her wood and sanded her handle, shaving off “fractions of an ounce until she fit his hands alone. Betsy Ann was his treasured ‘ball bat,’ used for games only.” When Joe faced the pitcher at the plate, he didn’t go through an elaborate routine. His wide-legged stance was well recognized by fans who knew he would get the job done. And that summer in 1941 he did.

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Image copyright Terry Widener, courtesy of terrywidenerart.com

He and Betsy Ann “whipped around, smashing fastballs, knuckleballs, screwballs, and curves. DiMaggio could hit off anyone, any pitch, anywhere.” Soon he was in sight of the record—41 games. Every pitcher wanted to be the one to end Joe’s streak, and with each game America was on the edge of its seat. Joe felt the responsibility. He didn’t show it on the field, but in his off time he hardly slept, his stomach hurt, and he couldn’t eat.

The streak continued—38…39…40. Tying the record at 41 and breaking it would come in a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. The bleachers were packed that hot 29th of June. In the first game Joe tied the record. The second game would test Joe’s mettle. When his turn at bat came, he reached for Betsy Ann. She wasn’t in the dugout. He saw right fielder Tommy Henrich taking practice swings and yelled to him that he had Betsy Ann. But he didn’t. All the Yankees players searched the dugout for Joe’s bat, but Betsy Ann was nowhere to be seen. Someone has stolen her.

Joe grabbed another bat, but with three times up and three times out, it looked as if Joe’s streak was over. Then Tommy held out his own bat with the reassurance that “there’s some hits in here.” Joe took Tommy’s bat and went to the mound. He took his wide-legged stance and went to work. On the second pitch “Joe whacked a line drive past the left fielder’s glove. Stomping screams shook the stands. No one could stop DiMaggio. No one.”

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Image copyright Terry Widener

Joe focused on the game, rounding first on his way to second base. But suddenly with the cheers of the fans ringing in his ears, his accomplishment settled in. “He tipped his cap, flickered a smile, and trotted weak-kneed back to first.” He got a pat on the back from the first base coach, a handshake from the Senators’ first baseman, and adoration from the kids and adults in the stands. With one hit—and 41 more—Joe was America’s hero.

A week later Betsy Ann was found in New Jersey and given back to Joe. His streak continued to 56 games, and he helped the Yankees win the 1941 World Series. When America became involved in World War II, people could remember “watching sureness and strength win against impossible odds. The country learned to pull together and celebrate together. It was ready to go to work” the way Joe DiMaggio had.

Barb Rosenstock sets this poignant biography of one of baseball’s greats firmly within the atmosphere that made Joe DiMaggio’s achievement about much more than baseball. With prose that echoes DiMaggio’s gentle strength, Rosenstock recreates the excitement, growing suspense, and mystery surrounding his phenomenal streak. With lovely, flowing description Rosenstock deftly sprinkles in DiMaggio’s working-class immigrant background, his emotions, and historical events, giving The Streak depth and resonance for today’s readers.

Accompanying the text are Terry Widener’s dramatic paintings. Opening the pages is akin to strolling through an art gallery exhibition. The depictions of the players swing, twist, slide, and throw with realistic action. As an infielder fumbles DiMaggio’s hit in one foreground illustration, Joe can be seen in the background dropping Betsy Ann and taking off for first base. DiMaggio’s signature stance, the frantic search for Betsy Ann, DiMaggio’s weariness, and the press that followed his every swing are all gorgeously rendered in muted tones of green, gold, and brown. Sports fans will love the pictures of the baseball stadiums and the close-up view of Betsy Ann.

An extensive Author’s Note, DiMaggio’s career statistics, and resources follow the text.

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero would be a welcome addition to any library.

Ages 6 and up

Calkins Creek Books, Boyds Mills Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-1590789926

To see more books by Barb Rosenstock as well as extensive educational guides for The Streak and other books, visit her website!

Learn more about Terry Widener, his books, and his art on his website!

Take a look at the trailer for The Streak—it’s a home run!

Park and Recreation Day Activity

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame Word Search

 

Diamonds aren’t just for playing baseball—they make great word search puzzles too! Take a run at this printable Take Me Out to the Ball Game word search!