October – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

Readers might say that every month is National Book Month, but October is especially set aside to highlight books and the love of reading. Fall is a book bonanza as publishers release new books in all categories, and the holiday gift-giving season beckons. Books, of course, make superb gifts for all ages! So whether you’re looking for a new or new-to-you book to read right now or new titles to give to the family and friends who will be on your list, this month is a perfect time to check out your local bookstore to see what wonderful books are on the shelves! This month is also a great time to discover books that get kids excited about history, science, and technology in a whole new way – like today’s book!

Thanks to Cicada Books for sharing a digital copy of Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astonomy with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy

By Elliot Kruszynski

 

The study of astronomy harkens back to the earliest days of scientific discovery, when “civilizations in Mesopotamia, Persia, China, India and Greece all examined the night sky. With only the naked eye, they mapped out the stars and used the information they gathered to create calendars, navigate great distances and keep time.” So begins this comprehensive, detailed, and even humorous compendium of our skies, scientists and thinkers, equipment, and a look to the future.

Professor Wooford McPaw and his telescope sidekick, Teley, takes kids back to 3000 BC, when religious leaders determined the longest day of the year by tracking the sun’s progress through the arches and columns erected at Stonehenge, and speeds forward to 1000 BC, when people connected the stars, creating the constellations and stories about them.

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Copyright Elliot Kruszynski, 2022, courtesy of Cicada Books.

Kids then meet Aristotle and learn about his theories on the placement of the earth, the four elements, and the role of the gods in the universe. Then they discover the conflict between the teachings of Claudius Ptolemy around 140 AD and the discoveries of Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16th century, who left it to future scientists to explore his theory that that the earth revolved around the sun (and not the other way around). And what happened to those scientists? Well, children learn about Galileo Galilei, who, in addition to inventing the telescope, spent a good part of his life under house arrest for saying the earth and the planets did indeed revolve around the sun.

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Copyright Elliot Kruszynski, 2022, courtesy of Cicada Books.

Professor Wooford introduces readers to Isaac Newton, whose “findings, along with the improvement of telescope technology, changed the way that humans (and for some dogs) looked at our planet.” What kind of telescope technology is the Prof talking about? He gives kids a run down from Galileo’s invention in 1609 to a switch from glass lenses to mirrors in the 1700s to today’s Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope. Here’s Teley explaining about lenses:

“Early telescopes, like the one Galileo invented, focused light using pieces of curved glass called lenses. The bigger the lens, the more powerful the telescope. They were called refracting telescopes. However the glass had to be a precise shape, with not even the tiniest scratch or flaw, otherwise the telescope wouldn’t work properly. It was very difficult to manufacture huge, perfect glass lenses. Also, they were very heavy and had a tendency to break.” Teley goes on to explain that it was Isaac Newton who “had the bright idea to swap the pesky glass lenses with mirrors,” which are much easier to make and are thinner and lighter, allowing telescopes to “be huge and super-powerful without weighing a ton.”

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Copyright Elliot Kruszynski, 2022, courtesy of Cicada Books.

Albert Einstein travels back through time to explain his “mind bending and space bending” Theory of Relativity in terms that readers can understand. Then kids are launched into space—the space race, that is—where they learn about the advancements and setbacks of the Russian and American from 1957 to 1969, when the first moon walk occurred, as well as a weely … I mean … really unusual tradition among space-going astronauts.

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Copyright Elliot Kruszynski, 2022, courtesy of Cicada Books.

Children get info on different kinds of space probes from rovers to orbiters to interplanetary probes before blasting off into our solar system to find out about the planets (even little Pluto gets a cameo. But where is Earth and all of our other planets located? Professor McPaw explains: “Earth is located in a galaxy called the Milky Way. At its center is a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*, which contains as much mass as four million suns.” The prof goes on to teach kids about the three different shapes of galaxies, what dwarf galaxies are, how bigger galaxies cannibalize smaller galaxies, and where the term galaxy comes from.

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Copyright Elliot Kruszynski, 2022, courtesy of Cicada Books.

Professor Wooford McPaw and Teley also impart the same fascinating in-depth facts about stars, black holes, and dark matter. And what’s a trip into space without a ride on the International Space Station? Well, readers won’t find out because they get to explore the ISS and learn how the astronauts experience 16 sunrises and sunsets a day, sleep strapped to a wall, and develop “chicken leg syndrome” from not using their legs as much as their upper body in the no-gravity conditions.

By this time, kids are probably wondering about whether there’s life in other parts of the solar system or beyond as well as what the future might hold for astronomers, astrophysicists, other scientists, and even themselves. But are readers going to be abandoned in space? Not at all! Professor Wooford has thoughtfully included a Race to Earth “board game” on the last two-page spread that will get all astronauts … I mean readers … back home in time for dinner.

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Copyright Elliot Kruszynski, 2022, courtesy of Cicada Books.

Elliot Kruszynski’s Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astonomy is just the kind of book that both kids who already love space and those who don’t yet know they do will devour, either bit-by-bit or all in one sitting. With affable hosts who give excellent easy-to-understand explanations, historical characters who add funny asides, and a quick-paced graphic-novel format, (title) will spark readers’ interest in learning all about the past, present, and future of astronomy. The book would make a perfect gift and very welcome addition to any home library. Educators and homeschoolers will find it a go-to text for introducing many scientific topics and an engaging way to heighten student’s eagerness for further research. School and public library librarians will find Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astonomy to be a favorite to recommend and to have on their shelves.

Ages 6 – 10 and up

Cicada Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1800660236

To view a portfolio of work by Elliot Kruszynski and connect with him on Instagram, visit his website. 

National Book Month Activity

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Out of This World Tic-Tac-Toe Game

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some space-age fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

SUPPLIES

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

DIRECTIONS

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

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You can find Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 27 – It’s National Inventors Month

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About the Holiday

While dates for this holiday may vary – some say May while others celebrate in August, National Inventors Month was established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine. This month-long holiday recognizes the imagination and talent of individuals who dare to think differently to create new products, services, and ways of doing things that make a positive contribution to the world. Today, I’m sharing a book that highlights those who reach for the sky, dive under the sea, and look for opportunities to better help and connect people through the structures we use and live in. If you harbor dreams of being an inventor—on a large or small scale—look for opportunities to share your ideas!

How Was that Built?

Written by Roma Agrawal | Illustrated by Katie Hickey

 

They seem to have sprung from the ground, they soar into the clouds, they cross vast waterways—over and under the ripples and waves, and they come in all shapes and sizes. What are they? Buildings! For lovers of architecture, engineering, and just the marvels that people can construct, Roma Agrawal’s compendium of some of the world’s most incredible buildings will leave them enthralled—and much more knowledgeable on how these structures came to be.

In fifteen chapters, Agrawal reveals all the nuts and bolts about how buildings are secured on difficult sites (such as on sinking ground, in the sea, underground, and on ice); constructed to be tall, long, or able to move; and made to serve civic purposes. In addition to detailed explanations of the conditions architects and engineers must take into consideration when designing and constructing a building, bridge, or other structure, Agrawal clearly describes the materials used, how they are made, and why each is chosen for a particular job.

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Image copyright Katie Hickey, 2022, text copyright Roma Agrawal, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Rounding out each chapter, Agrawal goes in depth on one world building that demonstrates her topic. For example, In the first chapter she introduces readers to the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, which was built on top of an old Aztec pyramid in the middle of a filled-in lake. When it began sinking and tilting, engineers in the 1990s devised an intriguing way to save it. If you’re a fan of skyscrapers and wonder just how they’re built, a chapter on The Shard in London, which “is over 1,000 feet tall…and has 11,000 glass panels” (and for which Roma Agrawal worked as an engineer) reveals the secrets of a strong core and the incredible machinery that allows workers to keep going up and up.

Readers who love bridges will find two chapters on these beautiful and intricate structures. One reveals the fascinating story of how the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge overcame many challenges under the direction of Emily Warren, a woman who broke barrios for women in the engineering field. Another describes six different types of bridges as well as where they are used and why.

Readers also learn about concrete and how arches and domes work. They then explore the Pantheon and discover how it has stood for nearly 2,000 years. Other concrete structures from around the world are also discussed. You may not think too much about sewers, but imagine living without them! You’ll get a good (and stinky) idea about the conditions in London hundreds of years ago before Joseph Bazalgette designed and built the first sewer system. How did he do it? Agrawal breaks it down and then talks about today’s modern sewers.

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Image copyright Katie Hickey, 2022, text copyright Roma Agrawal, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

You’ll also find chapters on dams, tunnels, and buildings with moveable parts—or buildings like the Halley VI research station in Antarctica that can be moved easily in their entirety to avoid snow or ice that may crack beneath them. Then there are the challenges of building under the sea and in outer space. While astronauts now rely on the International Space Station, “some engineers and scientists are studying how to build structures on the Moon! Then researchers could live there for a long time to carry out their experiments and learn more about outer space.” What considerations must engineers take into account and what materials will they use? Agrawal fills readers in. She then closes her book with a look toward the future and talks about new materials and methods of building that may transform our world.

Sprinkled throughout the book are “Try It At Home” prompts for experiments that readers can easily do at home to visually interact with the concepts Agrawal lays out, such as using malted milk balls and raisins to understand “how carbon atoms make steel stronger” and making a pneumatic caisson with just a few household items.

Back matter includes a glossary of terms found in the book and brief biographies of ten influential engineers from the past and present.

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Image copyright Katie Hickey, 2022, text copyright Roma Agrawal, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Readers of all ages will be engrossed by Roma Agrawal’s guide through the architecture and engineering that go into housing, moving, connecting, and supporting the world’s population. Every page contains fascinating details and interesting tidbits culled from Agrawal’s extensive experience as an engineer. These go far beyond an introduction to landmark buildings to show readers exactly how each type of building works. Relayed in a simple-to-understand, conversational style, her text is also broken up into short paragraphs that are easily digestible and invite further research, making this a superb resource for schools, homeschooling, and enthusiasts of all things engineering and architectural. Agrawal’s inclusion of structures from the past reveal the ingenuity of our ancestors and how they still influence today’s engineers and architects. Kids who love geography, archaeology, astronomy, and learning about all the intricate workings of the world will be enthralled with this book.

Katie Hickey gives readers an insider’s view of these phenomenal buildings with her stylish and incredibly detailed illustrations. Cityscapes allow children to understand the scale of skyscrapers from around the world and the beauty and breadth of New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge. Hickey whisks readers off to London to see The Shard; to New Zealand to view Te matau ā pohe, a bascule bridge whose shape was inspired by a fish hook; to Japan, where the Sapporo Dome accommodates soccer and baseball games with a moveable field of natural turf; and to Africa to stand on the edge of the Katse Dam and look 600 feet down into its reservoir. Along with this world tour, Hickey helps readers visualize the intricate working parts of certain buildings and bridges with interior views and small insets that demonstrate the physics of each design. Images of various types of cranes, pulleys, and other machinery also reveal the science behind building each structure.

A rich and comprehensive resource on the intricate engineering that goes into designing and building complex structures while also sharing the stories behind them, How Was that Built? will captivate readers of all ages. The book is a must for any STEM, science, art, or archaeology lover and belongs in all school and public library collections. 

Ages 6 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1547609291

Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer who builds big. From footbridges and sculptures, to train stations and skyscrapers – including The Shard – she has left an indelible mark on London’s landscape. She is a tireless promoter of engineering and technical careers to young people, particularly under-represented groups such as women. She has advised policymakers and governments on science education, and has given talks to thousands around the world at universities, schools and organizations, including two for TEDx. Roma has been awarded international awards for her technical prowess and success in promoting the profession, including the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s Rooke Award. 

Discover more about Roma Agrawal and her work on her website, and connect with her on Instagram | Twitter. You can read an interview with Roma Agrawal in Publishers Weekly here.

To view a portfolio of work by Katie Hickey, visit Pickled Ink. You can connect with Katie Hickey on Instagram | Twitter 

National Inventors Month Activity

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Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge

 

You don’t need fancy blocks and construction materials to build a bridge! Little ones will be fascinated to put together a bridge made out of items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin. Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports.

Build a Whole Town

Want to give your bridge a town with a river to span – or maybe two towns to connect? Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make great skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar, oatmeal container, or aluminum can. Cut a meandering river for your bridge to span from paper or cardboard. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—add some paint and details! So look around at the raw materials around you, use your imagination, and get creative!

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You can find How Was that Built? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 12 – Cover Reveal of Leaves to My Knees plus Interview with Ellen Mayer and Nicole Tadgell

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Leaves to My Knees 

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

Camille is determined to rake her own pile of leaves―all the way up to her knees! She swishes leaves to and fro, watching her pile grow bigger alongside the piles made by Daddy and her little brother, Jayden. WHOOSH! After raking leaves to the top of her boots, a giant breeze blows the pile back down to her ankles. But Camille won’t be stopped until she gets the job done––a knee-high pile, the perfect size for… jumping in!

Leaves to My Knees and Spanish/English bilingual Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees are playful introductions to the early math concepts of size comparison and measurement. A note by researcher and mathematics learning expert Marlene Kliman explains how parents and caregivers can use the book to help young children explore different sizes and measurement in everyday environments.

I’m thrilled to be talking with Ellen Mayer and Nicole Tadgell today about this gorgeous cover and their adorable—and educational—book that will be available this fall, just in time for leaf-raking season!

Meet Ellen Mayer

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To preorder from Amazon

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

 Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees

To order from Star Bright Books and be notified when the books become available click here: 

Leaves to My Knees: Hardcover | Paperback

Hojas hasta las rodillas/Leaves to My Knees 

Picture Book Review

June 1 – National Dinosaur Day

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate dinosaurs—those beasts that, even though they are from the distant past, remain ever present in our hearts. Their size, diversity, and shear awesomeness make them a favorite of kids, and ongoing discoveries continue to fascinate adults as well. Dinosaurs, in fact, are so huge that Dinosaur Day takes place twice—today and on June 1. To celebrate, visit a national history museum, watch your favorite dinosaur movies or TV shows, join your kids in playing with their dinos (you know you want to!), and pick up today’s book!

Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!

By Mike Lowery

 

If there’s one thing kids can’t get enough of, it’s dinosaurs. And if there’s one thing Mike Lowery knows, it’s how to wow kids. The mash-up of the two has resulted in a wild and wacky book “that’s totally loaded with info, weird facts, and jokes that you will dig!” There are even dinos at the ready to point out these awesome puns. And these facts aren’t just presented like some old, dried-up report, the whole book—every page—is full of eye-popping illustrations and cool typography that will keep kids reading and reading and learning (and, oh yeah, having T-rex size fun).

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

What kinds of things will kids learn? First, there’s a completely captivating prehistoric timeline that lays out the different eras and depicts some of the creatures and vegetation that existed in each. Like jellyfish during the Paleozoic Era, horsetails plants and dicynodonts during the Triassic, stegosaurus and cycads in the Jurassic; bees, birds, and flowering plants along with velociraptors in the Cretaceous; and finally, woolly mammoths and us during the Age of Mammals. Along the way there were also several extinction events. And this all comes even before the Table of Contents!

While kids chew on the fact that “some giant dinos ate up to 12,000 pounds a day,” they can dip into Part One—What Is a Dinosaur? Here, they’ll learn stuff like where the word “dinosaur” came, who coined it, what “prehistoric” means, and who “were some of the first people to keep written records.” They’ll also get to know some animals that weren’t dinosaurs and how dinosaurs are defined. Of course, there are some dino jokes to keep kids chuckling while they read.

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Part Two reveals a short history of the earth as well as lots and lots about each era and representative creatures. After learning just how old Earth is, kids will be interested in a Quick Fact about one Jeremy Harper who counted to one million live on the internet. How long did it take him? Longer than you might think. Have you ever tried smooshing the whole history of the earth into just 24 hours? Mike Lowery did and it’s fascinating! Kids will also discover how Earth formed and about early signs of life.

What was going on in the Paleozoic Era? The haikouichthys (one of the first animals to have a skull), tiktaalik (a land and sea creature), and the meganeura (a giant dragonfly) can tell them. It was also the time of the Permian Period, when some pretty weird reptiles roamed the earth and some way-unusual marine life swam the seas. Then came “the Great Permian Extinction” that led into the Mesozoic Era, “aka the age of reptiles.”

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Here, kids learn about the development of dinosaurs, non-dino animals, and bugs. If you think a few stormy days are bad, imagine living during the Triassic Period, when “it once rained for two million years.” What do you wear in weather like that? A “Jurassic parka,” of course. Next up is the Jurassic and then the Cretaceous periods and their gigantic creatures of the land, ocean, and sky.

In Part Three readers get to meet the dinosaurs up close and personal (well, not too close). They’ll learn what dinos really ate, how they really sounded, and this delectable fact: “More time passed between stegosaurus and T. rex than the time between velociraptor and microwavable pizza!” And while kids are digesting that, they’ll want to watch out for the gigantic sauropods (who grew that big partly because “they didn’t chew their food…. Mammals don’t get as big as the sauropods, in part, because chewing requires a lot of energy.” Kids will see who won the “smartest dino award” and who was unfortunate enough to win “the, um, not-so-smartest dinosaur award.” They’ll also learn about horned dinos, armored dinos, fast dinos, and “the weirdest lookin’ dino.”

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Part Four talks about the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event and various theories that have been floated throughout the years. Part Five takes kids on a hunt for bones and other fossils and reveals how paleontologists study them. Part Six offers a tour of post-dinosaur beasts, and Part Seven invites kids to learn how to draw dinosaurs. That’s followed up by a Dino Field Guide, an illustrated list of dinos organized by time periods, and to round it all up, Lowery includes a few more irresistible dinosaur jokes.

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Mike Lowery’s free-wheeling sense of humor, on exhibit in both his text and illustrations, will have kids laughing and learning billions of years’ worth of scientific facts. Funny asides by dinosaurs who just want in on the action put a spotlight on major events and conditions on Earth. Boxed and highlighted facts reveal the science of paleontology and provide explanations of dinosaur and prehistoric animal behavior and comparisons on size that will resonate with kids. Lowery imbues each of his creatures with personality while staying true to their nature and body type. Simply said, if there’s something you want to know about prehistoric creatures, dinosaurs, and the times they lived in, it’s in this book.

A must for home, classroom, and public library collections, you’ll want to put Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! on your shopping list for kids, teachers, and anyone who loves science, dinosaurs, and entertaining ways to learn or teach.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338359725

Discover more about Mike Lowery, his books, and his art on his website.

National Dinosaur Day Activity

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Hatch Your Own Dinosaur Eggs

 

Think there are no more dinosaur eggs to be found? Think again! You can make your own with this easy craft that will have you hatching some T.-rex-size fun! All you need are a few simple ingredients – and don’t forget to wear an apron or old clothes!

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Supplies

  • Old clothes or apron
  • Large box of baking soda (makes between 6 and 8 eggs)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Plastic dinosaur toys
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Spoon
  • Wax paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Plastic or metal spoon, stick, popsicle stick, or other implement to chisel with
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Spray the egg with vinegar to hatch your dinosaur

Directions

  1. Wear old clothes or an apron
  2. Cover work surface with wax paper, parchment paper, newspaper, or other protection. Food coloring can stain some surfaces
  3. Pour baking soda into the bowl
  4. Add drops of food coloring in whatever color you’d like your eggs to be. The eggs will darken when baked.
  5. Mix in the food coloring with the fork. You may want to use your hands, too
  6. When the baking soda is the color you want it, begin adding water a little at a time
  7. Add water until the baking soda holds together when you squeeze it in your hand
  8. When the baking soda is the right consistency, spoon some out into your hand or onto wax paper
  9. Push one plastic dinosaur into the middle
  10. Cover the dinosaur with more of the baking soda mixture
  11. Carefully form it into an egg shape
  12. Repeat with other dinosaurs
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Chisel the egg open to hatch your dinosaur

To Bake the Eggs

  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 200 to 225 degrees
  2. Set the eggs on a baking sheet lined with foil
  3. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, check
  4. Turn the eggs over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes
  5. Remove from oven and let cool

To Hatch the Eggs

  1. Eggs can be hatched by chiseling them with a spoon, stick, or other implement
  2. Eggs can also be hatched by spraying or sprinkling them with vinegar

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You can find Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 21 – International Day of Forests

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About the Holiday

International Day of Forests was instituted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011 to raise awareness of the importance of trees in vast woodlands or in your neighborhood or yard. Trees contribute to the quality of the air we breathe, improve the local climate, reduce noise pollution, shelter wildlife, and provide food for people and animals. This year’s theme is “Forests and sustainable production and consumption.” So many aspects in our lives – from the materials for building homes, making tools, developing new household items, and more to the medicines we take, the water we drink, and the clothes we wear rely on healthy and sustainable forests. This year’s theme encourages people to think about the ways forests benefit not only human life but the wildlife and the earth as a whole. For more information visit the UN International Day of Forests website and The Geneva Environment Network.

Thanks to Boyds Mills for providing a digital copy of The Leaf Detective for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets in the Rainforest

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

As a child, Meg was quite shy to make friends. She spent lots of time studying and playing with wildlife: “Meg wrapped herself in nature, like a soft blanket.” As she continued to grow, so did her passion for leaves, trees, and nature. Meg attended Sydney University in Australia. In 1979, she became the first person at her graduate school to study the rainforest. Through her studies Meg learned that people had been all the way to outer space to study, but nobody had ever ventured to the tippity top of a canopy tree. Instead, they studied trees from far away through binoculars. Oftentimes scientists would spray trees with chemicals so that the harmed leaves and animals would drop to the forest floor where people could study them up close. Meg sought to change this.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“In the dark, damp forest the trees rose up to distant rustling, squawks and screeches, shadows in the treetops. How could she get up there?” Meg Lowman created her own slingshot and harness and inched up a coachwood tree. When she reached the canopy, she knew she’d found the perfect place to study and explore. Meg is quoted saying, “From then on, I never looked back…or down!”

Meg continued to create new strategies to study the canopy, as a scientist does. And in doing so she made so many discoveries, such as: “We now believe the canopy is home to approximately half the plant and animal species on land.” Many people tried to stop Meg along her journey. They told her she couldn’t take science classes, climb trees, or make inventions because she was a woman. But Meg ignored them. She continued to investigate.

She knew that rainforests were (and are) in danger, and that so many creatures rely on the rainforest ecosystem. People all over the world were cutting down large parts of the rainforests for wood, rubber, paper, and farmland. This worried Meg; she wanted to find a way to protect rainforests before they all disappeared. “She wondered, How can one leaf detective make a difference? How can I save the trees?…Then an idea crawled into Meg’s thoughts—a way to speak for the trees.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Meg traveled around the world. She spoke to people across many different countries; taught them how to climb trees, build canopy walkways—she showed people the many gifts rainforests have to offer. Meg educated communities on how they could share their rainforest with outsiders, showcase its beauty to create revenue rather than chopping them down for resources. By using her voice and creative mind, Meg helped implement systems that have saved many trees and creatures across the world.

Meg Lowman continues to study trees, save rainforests, and teach people how to shift their economies to center around ecotourism and sustainable crops rather than resource extraction. She has used her voice to save rainforests across the world, and yet she still says, “If only I could have achieved as much as the tree!… But I have not. I have whittled away at relatively small goals in comparison to the grander accomplishments of a tree.”

Backmatter includes an author’s note detailing Heather Lang’s visit to meet Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Perú. The note includes more information on Dr. Lowman’s advocacy work and is followed by an illustrated educational spread on the layers of canopies, and species featured throughout the story are labeled in the final spread, for readers to learn more about specific animals that make their homes in the rainforest.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2021, text copyright Heather Lang, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Heather Lang’s lyrical writing matches the carefulness with which Meg studies leaves, trees, and the rainforest canopy. Her compelling storytelling is rich with facts and sensory imagery that immerse readers in the environment and Meg’s determination to understand and, later, save it. Scattered images of leaves drop fun facts and definitions for readers about the rainforest, canopies, transpiration, herbivores, and more. Quotes from Dr. Lowman are thoughtfully placed throughout the story in a manner that neatly flows. The Leaf Detective urges readers to understand that “a tree is not just a tree” but rather “a shelter for animals and people, / a recycler and provider of water, / a creator of food and oxygen, / an inventor of medicine/ a soldier against climate change.”

Jana Christy’s digital drawings contain stunning detail and show an accurate scale of one small person in comparison to the vastness of the rainforest. Her mesmerizing wildlife creatures and immersive watercolor blues and greens transport readers right into the rainforest with “Canopy Meg.” The lush greens of the rainforests contrast strikingly with the spread on deforestation, in which fallen trees lay scattered on the bare, brown ground. Readers will also be interested to see the innovations that have made the trees more accessible to people. One can read the book over and over and notice new details every time. It is a book to treasure, to study, to read and re-read again. 

Come unearth the secrets of the rainforest with Margaret Lowman in this book that’s budding with knowledge, empathy, and magic, and is a tale of how one person can make a difference. The intriguing facts, poignant quotes from Dr. Lowman herself, and beautiful poetic writing will leave readers of this book inspired with wonder and with a hunger for advocacy. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest is an urgent must-read for all ages.

A portion of Heather Lang’s royalties for this book go to TREE Foundation—an organization that funds field trips for children to get into nature, canopy projects, and science book distribution for children with limited access to STEAM, girls especially. 

Ages 6 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371778

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Heather Lang

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Heather Lang loves to write about real women who overcame extraordinary obstacles and never gave up on their dreams. Her research has taken her to the skies, the treetops of the Amazon, and the depths of the ocean. Her award-winning picture book biographies include, QUEEN OF THE TRACK: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, THE ORIGINAL COWGIRL: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall, FEARLESS FLYER: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and ANYBODY’S GAME: Kathryn Johnston, The First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. When she is not writing, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children. Visit Heather at www.heatherlangbooks.com.

Today I am thrilled to be interviewing author Heather Lang about her new biographical picture book The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered the Secrets of the Rainforest. Heather provides some thoughtful notes for shy readers, riveting stories from the rainforest and insight into the importance of exploring and caring for nature.

Can you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write The Leaf Detective?  

We’ve caused enormous harm to our planet over the last few centuries, and I’m especially concerned about our rainforests. I knew I wanted to write a biography that was also a science book about the rainforest. When I read about Meg’s pioneering work and deep passion for trees, I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to find out how this quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist.

In the story you talk about how Meg was shy to make playmates with other kids. Were you also a shy kid growing up? Do you have any advice for readers who may relate to this aspect of Meg’s childhood? 

Like Meg, I was very shy as a child and remember wishing I were more outgoing. But as I grew older, I began to recognize the many advantages to being shy! My shy nature led me to sit back and observe. And that led to deeper thinking and understanding, a strong imagination, and creativity. Shy people often think more before they speak. They make their words count, which coincidentally is an important part of writing picture books. This also makes shy people good listeners and thoughtful friends. 

I’m still shy in many ways, and my recommendation to readers who might identify with this is to embrace your shyness! At the same time, don’t let it stop you from doing things you want to do. Meg Lowman told me she used to get so nervous before presenting in graduate school that she’d get physically sick. But with practice, practice, practice, she’s become a captivating presenter and educator. If you watch a few of her FUN FACTS FROM THE FIELD videos on my website, you’ll see what I mean! 

How would you describe your connection to nature? Would you consider yourself a “detective” in any ways? 

I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more than our natural world, and my curiosity is probably my most important tool as a writer. Being open-minded and asking questions not only generates ideas, but also leads me to think more deeply about a topic and examine it closely from lots of different angles. And of course that generates more detective work and more learning about my topic and myself. Being a detective is one of my favorite parts of writing books.

Do you have a favorite rainforest tree or creature? If so, tell me about it a bit!

When I arrived in the Amazon rainforest, I couldn’t wait to see a sloth! But during my time there I became fascinated with ants. They are everywhere in the rainforest, even in the canopy. I think it’s amazing how such tiny creatures can be so hardworking and organized. Their teamwork is unbelievable. And they are invaluable to the health of our rainforests. Among other things, they’re in charge of waste management on the rainforest floor, and they disperse seeds and aerate the soil!

What was the most rewarding part of writing The Leaf Detective?

This writing project was filled with rewards every step of the way! I learned so much about our rainforests and trees and gained a true understanding of how interconnected we all are—plants, animals, and humans. Getting to really know Meg Lowman and learning from her firsthand was thrilling and strengthened my writing in many important ways. It was also really rewarding to stretch myself as a writer and find a way to effectively write a book that seemed ambitious at first—a biography and conservation book that wove in quotes and science facts. 

Are there any stories from your trip to meet Meg that you did not get the chance to include in your author’s note that you’d like to share?

While I was on my Amazon adventure with Meg, I had many exciting moments. I loved learning from the Indigenous people how to use a blow gun, make clay, and braid palm leaves to make thatched roofs. The local shaman taught me how he uses different plants in the rainforest to treat and prevent injuries and illnesses—from bronchitis to poisonous snake bites. He also helped me confront my fear of snakes by bringing one over for me to touch. I even let it gently coil around my neck! But my favorite moments were exploring with Meg, especially at night and early in the morning when there’s so much activity in the rainforest.

Thanks so much for chatting with me Heather! I had a lovely time hearing about your inspiration, stories, writing process and tips for shy readers. Looking forward to learning and reading more from you in the months and years to come.

International Day of Forests Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Climb-a-Tree-Word-Search-Puzzle II

Climb a Tree! Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of trees that make our world beautiful. Can you find the names of twenty threes in this printable puzzle?

Climb a Tree! Word Search Puzzle | Climb a Tree! Word Search Solutio

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-leaf-detective-cover

You can find The Leaf Detective at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 7 – Old Rock Day

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About the Holiday

Do you love rocks—the history they tell, their versatility, intricate patterns, and glorious colors? Today’s holiday celebrates these wonders of nature and encourages geologists—both professionals and amateurs—to indulge their passion. You can learn a bit more about the history of the study of rocks, the first use of the term “geology,” and on to more modern times at NationalToday. To celebrate today’s holiday, take a walk in your backyard or neighborhood, pick up a few rocks, and research a little more about them. Then have fun with today’s craft.

Thank you to G. P. Putnam’s Sons for sharing a copy of Old Rock (is not boring) with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Old Rock (is not boring)

By Deb Pilutti

 

It seemed that Old Rock had been sitting in the same spot forever. Tall Pine and Spotted Beetle thought being a rock must be pretty boring. Hummingbird wondered, “‘Don’t you ever want to go anywhere?’” She knew she would be if she couldn’t fly all over the world and taste exotic nectars. But Old Rock had flown once, and he began to tell his story.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

It was during the time when he was surrounded by darkness, but then the volcano erupted and Old Rock “‘soared through a fiery sky into the bright light of a new world.’” Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird weren’t very impressed. They still thought Old Rock must be bored. Spotted Beetle told him how much he might see if he climbed to Tall Pine’s very highest branch.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Old Rock countered that he had seen a lot. He’d watched dinosaurs pass by and had even hidden a spinosaurus from a hungry T. rex. He’d traveled in a glacier and been left teetering on a ridge overlooking a vast desert, where he “could see the place where the sky touches the earth.” Spotted Beetle and Hummingbird were intrigued, but Tall Pine dismissed these experiences as “ages ago.” He wanted to know about now. Didn’t Old Rock feel like moving? Tall Pine showed Old Rock how his limbs could dance in the wind.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

While Old Rock couldn’t dance, he did recall how he’d turned somersaults off the ridge, landing in a prairie where mastodons grazed near a lake. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird were mesmerized by Old Rock’s story and wanted to know what had happened next. Out of the prairie, sprang a pine forest, Old Rock revealed. And from one of the pine trees a pinecone fell and a seed was released. That seed grew “to be the tall pine who dances in the wind and keeps me company.” Sometimes, he continued, a spotted beetle and a hummingbird meander by. Old Rock was very pleased with his spot, and the others had to agree that it was “very nice” and “not boring at all.”

An illustrated timeline of Old Rock’s life from 18 billion years ago to the present day follows the text.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

So much clever thought went into Deb Pilutti’s Old Rock as she reveals to kids what a fascinating and active life the rocks and boulders we see every day have had. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird’s skepticism keeps the suspense building as Old Rock rolls out stories of his various travels and talents. Once he has them hooked, they—like young readers—want to hear more, leading to the just-right ending that sweetly encompasses shared history, happiness with one’s place in life, and friendship. The trio’s questions to Old Rock and their related experiences also engage children to think about issues and opinions from a variety of perspectives.

Pilutti’s mixed-media illustrations are nicely textured to bring out Old Rock’s grainy surface while highlighting nature’s vivid colors. Her vignettes from the dinosaur eras, the ice age (where the skeletons of dinosaurs are also swept up and away in the same glacier as Old Rock), and beyond impress upon readers the long time-frame involved, how the earth has changed, and even the fascinating science of the fossil record.

A multi-layered story, perfect for general story times or as a lead in to science lessons and to promote discussion and research in the classroom, Old Rock (is not boring) would be an original and exciting addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525518181

To learn more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Old Rock Day Activity

CPB - Nasty Bugs magnet II (2)

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give you a natural canvas for your creativity! With a little bit of paint, pins or magnets, and some imagination, you can make refrigerator magnets, jewelry, paper weights, and more!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

To make magnets

  1. Design and paint an image on a light-weight stone
  2. Attach a magnet to the back with strong glue, let dry
  3. Use to hang pictures, notes, or other bits of important stuff on your refrigerator or magnetic board

To make jewelry

  1. Using a smaller, flatter stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a jewelry pin to the back with the strong glue, let dry
  3. Wear your pin proudly

CPB - rock painting craft

To make a paper weight or kindness stone

  1. Using a large stone, design and paint an image on the stone, let dry
  2. Display and use on your desk to keep those papers in place or find a spot around town to leave your rock for someone to find and enjoy

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You can find Old Rock (is not boring) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

The month of December is a gift-giver’s delight and looking at the long winter ahead there’s no better gift for everyone on your list than a book (or two or…). With so many new books hitting bookstore shelves, there really is a perfect book to fit everyone’s taste. Young children, especially, benefit from reading a wide range of picture books from laugh-out-loud or touching stories to nonfiction that introduces them to influential people, science, history, and nature. If you’re looking for gifts to give, it’s not too late to head to your local bookstore or their online shop to find books that will make your child’s eyes light up.

A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Kate Slater

 

When you “slurp up your milkshake” or cut up your meat or even cool down with an air conditioner, do you ever wonder how birds accomplish these things? They don’t have hands to hold tools, but that’s okay because each type of bird has just the tool they need to survive handily attached right to its face – its beak! How does each bird use its beak to find food? Sara Levine and Kate Slater let you take a peek at how birds’ beaks are uniquely suited for the foods they eat and the places where they find it as well as for grooming and nest-building.

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Take that straw we people use to sip up every last drop of a delicious milkshake or glass of lemonade, for instance. Which bird “has a beak shaped like a straw? A hummingbird!” And while hummingbirds don’t “suck up nectar from flowers” through their beaks, “they use their beaks to make their way into tight, narrow places where flowers store nectar. Then their long tongues reach in to gather the treat.” 

If you look into the family toolbox, you’ll probably find a hammer and a needle-nosed pliers. Are there birds whose beaks do similar jobs as these? You bet! The rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker searching for grubs or insects in a tree trunk sounds just about the same as the tap-tap-tap or bang-bang-bang of a hammer, and there are shoreline birds that use their long, thin beaks to “probe deep into the mud to find crustaceans, insects, and worms. A special sensory organ at the beak’s tip lets the bird feel when a meal is nearby.” Can you guess which ones they are?

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Kids who love helping out in the kitchen will be fascinated to learn that there are birds with beaks that act as strainers, nutcrackers, knives, and tongs. And if you think we’re sophisticated with our central air-conditioning one very distinct bird is born with this capability, while a more common bird has one-upped our technological advances by offering it’s chicks a one-touch “take-out” button long before the smartphone was ever developed. 

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Sure, you might think – birds can find food and build nests with their beaks, but can they show love? The answer is… Yes! The gannet is especially adept at demonstrating their feelings, and they don’t care who hears it. While “many birds show affection with their beaks,… gannets particularly stand out. These birds raise their beaks in the air and clatter them together to show how much they like each other.” After you’ve learned about all of these amazing birds and their beaks, maybe you’d like to raise a ruckus to show your appreciation too! 

Back matter includes a discussion on the evolution of bird beaks and how they change over time and a list of other books for further reading.

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Image copyright Kate Slater, 2021, text copyright Sara Levine, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Bird, nature, and science lovers as well as teachers and homeschoolers will be fascinated with Sara Levine’s clever way to engage kids in learning about birds by comparing their beaks to well-known tools children and adults use every day. Especially interesting are descriptions of the birds whose beaks’ special abilities are hidden, such as water birds that use their beaks as strainers to filter out water, sand and dirt before swallowing the nutritious plants and animals left behind. Along with information on the construction of birds’ beaks and how, exactly, birds use them, readers learn about the diet of various species and where they hunt for food.

Levine is always an insightful and captivating educator who sparks kids’ interest in nature-science learning and spurs them to further research. Her question-and-answer format gets kids thinking, observing, and theorizing in a way that increases understanding and resonates across subject matter. At-home birdwatchers will also enjoy watching out for the birds depicted in this book and their behavior.

Kate Slater’s mixed-media collage illustrations are vibrant and textured, adding lovely depth to each page. Her silhouettes of birds sporting tool where it’s beak should be are intriguing invitations for kids to ponder and guess at the answers to Levine’s questions before turning the page to discover the answer. Slater populates the pages with a wide variety of birds, realistically depicted, that will kindle an interest in readers and adults to delve into further research on these fascinating and charming creatures.

A unique and high-interest way to engage kids in learning about birds and nature, A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use is highly recommended for bird-lovers at home as well as for science, environment, and nature learning collections in schools and public libraries. 

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541587342

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kate Slater, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Busy Birds Coloring Pages

 

These birds are busy looking for and gathering food to eat! Grab your crayons, pencils, or markers, print the pages, and give the birds and their surroundings some color!

Hummingbird at Flower | Robin Grabbing a Worm | Bird on Branch

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-peek-at-beaks-cover

You can find A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review