August 31 – It’s National Inventor’s Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine, this month-long holiday celebrates the imagination and talent of individuals who dare to think differently and create new products, services, and ways of doing things that make a positive contribution to the world. To join in, enjoy your favorite new inventions, and if you harbor dreams of being an inventor—on a large or small scale—look for opportunities to share your ideas.

Who Invented This? Smart People and Their Bright Ideas

Written by Anne Ameri-Siemens | Illustrated by Becky Thorns

 

When you jump in the car or turn on a lamp, the idea that these were someone’s inventions (and even the names Henry Ford and Thomas Edison) may flash through your mind. But what about when you slurp up delicious Raman noodles, watch your pet fish through the aquarium glass, or squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste in the tube? In Who Invented This? Anne Ameri-Siemens introduces young readers to the brilliant minds behind some of the things we use every day.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Take bicycles, for instance. You’ve probably seen pictures of those old bikes with a huge front wheel and a tiny back wheel. Was this the first bike? Not at all! Ameri-Siemens reveals that the first bicycle—called a “running machine”—had two wheels but didn’t have pedals. Invented by Karl von Drais in 1817, it had a steering bar in the front and was powered by the rider sitting on the seat and “running along the ground.” It may seem comical, but this invention led to more and more improvements until Pierre Michaux designed the first bike with pedals in the 1860s. You can read about all of the advancements in bikes and the other products it inspired too.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

As long as we’re talking about things that transport people here and there, have you ever thought about what drivers did before there were modern traffic lights? While the idea of indicating “stop” and “go” in red and green is universal across the world, the use of yellow for the transition came later from American policeman William Potts. “The first traffic lights in the world were built in London in 1868.” But they weren’t automatic. A policeman standing in the road had to move arms up and down to regulate the flow of traffic. “At night the arms were lit up in red and green.” Readers will find out more about how traffic lights progressed as well as how the timing of stop and go is controlled.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Sometimes inventors get their ideas from nature—this is called bionics—and kids will learn how George de Mestral was ingeniously inspired by those sticky burrs that cling to socks to create a product most of them use all the time. There are other everyday products that are so important that they were invented long, long, long ago. One of these? Toothpaste! While Washington Sheffield invented the first smooth paste in 1850 by adding glycerin to the powder then used—“a mixture of pumice stone, powdered marble, grated oyster shells, ashes, peppermint oil or sage, and some soap power”—and his son realized the toothpaste could be packed in tubes like artists’ paints instead of sold in foil bags, prehistoric humans also brushed their teeth. Kids will be fascinated to learn more about the history of this morning and nighttime routine and even examples from the animal kingdom.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Readers will be excited to learn about these inventions and many more that make up the fabric of our everyday lives and were conceived by talented inventors, scientists, and engineers. Some are the result of teamwork while some are the product of many years spent alone in a laboratory or even simply chance. In all, kids learn about 34 inventions that fall into diverse categories from transportation to communications, clothing to food, music to science and high-tech marvels.

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Image copyright Becky Thorns, 2021, text copyright Anne Ameri-Siemans, 2021. Courtesy of Little Gestalten.

Anne Ameri-Siemens’ conversational and engaging text will captivate readers interested in learning about how the world they know came to be. Ameri-Siemen’s storytelling beautifully balances the scientific and personal details of each invention to deliver compelling profiles. Interesting asides on each page reveal more about the inventions and the people who created them.

Accompanying each subject are Becky Thorns’ eye-catching illustrations that depict not only the invention but its creator or creators as well as how it is used or where it can be found. Thorns also employs clever ways to connect images on a page-spread that reinforcing their purpose and history. Each page spread offers plenty of ideas to spur research projects or extended lessons for classrooms and homeschoolers.

Packed with information on products, ideas, world-changing inventions, and the brilliant minds behind them, Who Invented This? Smart People and Their Bright Ideas will fascinate kids and spark an interest in further research, science, engineering, and technical studies. The book is highly recommended for young inventors, history buffs, and other creative thinkers as well as for classrooms and school and public library collections.

Ages 9 – 12 and up

Little Gestalten, 2021 | ISBN 978-3899551334

To learn more about Becky Thorns, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Inventor’s Month Activity

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Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

Do you sometimes have a lightbulb moment when an idea seems just right? Use this printable Share Your Bright Idea! Page to write about or draw your idea!

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You can find Who Invented This? Smart People and Their Bright Ideas at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 10 – Celebrating Inventors Month with Laurie Wallmark

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Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. (Photo credit Jeanne Balsam)

You can connect with Laurie Wallmark on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much, Laurie, for stopping by to celebrate Inventors Month with me! Since this holiday recognizes innovators of the past and present, it seems a  perfect fit for your books that teach kids about amazing women whose inventions or inventive ways of thinking have changed our understanding of math, computers, communications, and even secret codes. 

Your love for these subjects and depth of research lead to compelling biographies. Reading them, I’ve often wondered whether a previous job has influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write. 

For many years I was a software engineer and, after that, a computer science professor. Not surprisingly, my first two women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) picture book biographies were about computer scientists, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.  

The same love of math and science that led me to these careers also led me to want to encourage children’s interest in these fields. And what better way to do this than through books? I now have three more picture book biographies of women mathematicians and scientists out, the latest being Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, with two more on the way.  

But it’s important not to fall into a rut in your writing, so my next title, coming out in October, is Dino Pajama Party. Because of my interest in STEM, people have asked me if it’s nonfiction. Um, no. But who knows? Maybe reading a fun, rhyming picture book about dinosaurs will encourage a child to grow up to be paleontologist. 

I’m sure readers are as thrilled as I am to hear that you have two more STEM-related books coming out! I’m really looking forward to seeing who they’re about! And what could be better than dinosaurs partying in pajamas?! What a terrific way to send little one’s off to bed.

The Latest Books from Laurie Wallmark

 

I’m excited to share a little bit about Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars and Dino Pajama Party.

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Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, readers open the cover to an intriguing question: “Could it be? Had enemy spies sneaked into the United States?” World War II was raging, but the United States had not yet joined the effort. And yet the “FBI had intercepted hundreds of coded messages from a secret base in New York.” The problem was no one could read them. Who did the FBI turn to? Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who broke the codes, discovered a cadre of Nazi spies, and provided the evidence “to send thirty-three German spies to prison.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Elizabeth’s career in code breaking began in an unusual way: through her love of Shakespeare. In 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.” In 1917, with the US involved in World War I, Fabyan asked Elizebeth and her now-husband William Friedman, who was also an expert at secret codes, to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers….”

In 1921, they helped soldiers send sensitive intelligence from the field by devising a complex code that would use only pencil and paper instead of the Army’s cumbersome machine. During Prohibition, they helped stop smugglers and Elizabeth created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit. With America’s entry into World War II, it was Elizabeth who figured out how to defeat the Germans’ powerful code-making machine, Enigma, which “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Compelling and wonderfully detailed, Laurie Wallmark’s biography of Elizebeth Friedman immerses children in the world of war-time spies, where cracking codes equaled saved lives and battles won. Wallmark’s storytelling reads like a thriller and is sprinkled throughout with quotes from Elizebeth that give kids a sense of her personality and the demands of her career. By including several cases Elizebeth was instrumental in solving, Wallmark provides readers with historical context on the broad range of nefarious activity that relied on secret codes. This informs children’s knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as of international spy networks. Each page is a celebration of Elizebeth’s talent, intelligence, and accomplishments, and her incredible story will enthrall readers.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache illustrations offer enticing glimpses into the past while following Elizebeth as she meets George Fabyon who shows her around his museum-like house while carrying a small monkey on his shoulder, establishes the United States’ first code-breaking unit, testifies in court, and thwarts the Nazis’ war plans. Interspersed with Smart’s realistic depictions of Elizebeth’s life are images in which lines of coded messages snake across the page, giving readers a look at the kinds of unreadable text Elizebeth and her teams cracked. 

Ages 7 – 11

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419739637

Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.

To learn more about Brooke Smart, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Inventor’s Day Activity

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Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit

 

Secret fun is at your fingertips with the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit, which is full of codes kids will love learning, using, and sending! It’s available for download from the Abrams Books website here:

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit

You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Dino Pajama Party

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Michael Robinson

 

Jazzy dinos have a fun day singing, dancing, and making music, boogying to a funky beat. But once the sun goes down, bedtime calls! Perfect for story time or bedtime, this playful read aloud goes from rollicking to restful. 

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Image copyright Michael Robertson, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Laurie Wallmark’s infectious rhymes will have kids stomping, jiving, and roaring along with Michael Robinson’s colorful, pajama-clad dinosaurs that shake their claws, strum guitars and toot horns, and show their pointy white teeth through big grins. As nighttime falls and the dinos trudge home, tired and yawning, readers will find themselves yawning and ready for bed too. 

Ages 4 – 8

Running Press Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-0762497751

To learn more about Michael Robertson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit

 

Have dino-sized fun with the Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit available for download from Laurie Wallmark’s website here:

 Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit 

You can preorder Dino Pajama Party at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, preorder from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Check out these other books by Laurie Wallmark!

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Picture Book Review

July 21 – Ask an Archaeologist Day

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About the Holiday

Coming in the middle of the Council of British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology, which runs from July 17 to August 1, #AskAnArchaeologistDay gives anyone with a question about archaeology a chance to post their question on Twitter and get an answer. Begun in 2018, Ask an Archaeologist Day has been a huge success with people from all over the world participating. The theme for this year’s Festival of Archaeology is “Exploring Local Places” and encourages people to discover the archaeology all around them, by exploring their area, learning about the past, and discovering stories about the people who founded it as well as those who live and work there now. To learn more about the Festival of Archaeology, the Council of British Archaeology, and the Young Archaeologist’s Club for ages 8 to 16, visit the CBA website

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of When Sue Found Sue for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex

Written by Toni Buzzeo | Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

 

Sue Hendrickson was an expert at finding things. The lure of buried or lost treasures kept her busy in her hometown of Munster, Indiana. “Born shy and incredibly smart,” Sue devoured books, discovering everything she could about the things that interested her. One of her favorite places was the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There, she reveled in the treasures others had found and dreamed of the day when she could “search the wide world for hidden treasure on her own.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

When she was seventeen, Sue began her life of treasure hunting, joining teams that searched for sunken boats, airplanes, and even cars. She went to Dominican amber mines looking for prehistoric butterflies and deserts of Peru searching for whale fossils. Finally, she headed to South Dakota to dig for dinosaurs.

She spent four summers unearthing duck-billed dinosaurs, using more and more delicate tools to expose the bones. But near the end of her fourth summer, “Sue Hendrickson felt pulled to a sandstone cliff far off in the distance.” When she had the opportunity, she took her golden retriever and hiked the seven miles to the rock.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Walking around the perimeter, she noticed what looked like bones lying on the ground. When she looked up, she was astonished to see “three enormous backbones protruding from the cliff.” The size told her they must be from a Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue hurried back to her campsite and told her team the exciting news. They “immediately named the dinosaur Sue the T. rex.”

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

It took five full days for the team to expose the skeleton. Then they mapped the location of each bone, photographing and drawing them. At last they began removing them, and after three weeks the bones were trucked to the Black Hills Institute. Eventually, Sue the T. rex was moved to the Field Museum in Chicago. If you visit the museum today, you will see Sue towering over you. “She is the world’s largest, most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far”—discovered by a woman who was born to find things.

An Author’s Note about Sue Hendrickson and the battle over which institution would display the T. rex skeleton as well as resources for further study and a photograph of Sue the T. rex follow the text.

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Image copyright Diana Sudyka, 2019, text copyright Toni Buzzeo, 2019. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Toni Buzzeo’s inspiring story of how Sue Hendrickson discovered the most complete and best-preserved T. rex fossil delves into more than the finding and excavating of the skeleton. Buzzeo also emphasizes Hendrickson’s personality and long-held love of treasure hunting, qualities that informed and aided her career choice. Readers who also harbor dreams outside the mainstream and have a steady focus will find much to admire in Buzzeo’s storytelling and Sue’s example. Kids will be awed by Sue’s early treasure-hunting exploits and fascinated by the painstaking process of unearthing fossils. When Sue follows her intuition to the cliff—without explanation or facts—readers will be reminded that they can rely on their own curiosity, experience, and ideas to carry them forward. With nods toward the value of teamwork and sprinkled with Sue’s own words about her moment of discovery, the story exposes the bones of a life well-lived and points children in the right direction.

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Diana Sudyka opens the story of Sue Hendrickson with a lovely collage of the treasures she found and studied as a child and that led to her life-long love of discovery. As Sue grows, she visits the Field Museum, with its exhibits of a Triceratops and Hadrosaurus. Fast-forward several years and she’s swimming in a sea dotted with colorful coral toward an old sunken ship. But the centerpiece of the story takes place in the South Dakota hills, the layers of rock painted in stripes of earthy brown, rust, rose, and ivory. As the team works late nights to excavate the bones, a T. rex constellation appears above the team in the starry sky, urging them on. A two-page spread of how Sue the T. rex fossil appeared in its entirety in the ground is sure to elicit plenty of “Wows!,” and a rendition of Sue on exhibit in the Field Museum will no doubt inspire some travel wishes.

A book about a modern-day scientist that will engage and inspire children with scientific aspirations of their own as well as a celebration of individuality and big dreams and a must for dinosaur lovers, When Sue Found Sue would be a T. riffic addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419731631

Discover more about Toni Buzzeo and her books on her website.

To learn more about Diana Sudyka, her books, and her art, visit her 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!

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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 When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 19 – Celebrating the Perseid Meteor Showers with Sandra Nickel

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Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com.

You can connect with Sandra on Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Sandra, thanks so much for stopping by to talk about your latest picture book The Stuff Between the Stars, the beauty of summer nights, and your favorite childhood memory!

My favorite summer memory from my childhood is lying on a blanket at night and watching the shooting stars. Everything about it screams “childhood summer” to me. Warm nights. Fireflies. Grass pricking through the blanket. Late-night snacks. Pillows outside. The whole family together. Getting to stay up until midnight. And the incredible magic and wonder of shooting stars lighting up the sky. Each individual aspect is imbued with summer. But when you put them all together and add to the mix that it only happened once each August, it holds an incredibly vibrant and loved spot in my childhood memory box.

This year’s Perseid meteor shower—because in fact those shooting stars are shooting meteors—will be from July 17th to August 24th, with peak meteors expected to be around August 12th. For childhood memory-building, the must-haves are blankets, insect spray, a light-free yard, and late-night snacks. That said, a little preparation on your part will add richness and new discoveries to the experience.

The meteor shower is a great time to learn constellations. Why not brush up on those mythological pictures in the sky to prepare for the big night? There are many children’s books about constellations. One of my favorites is National Geographic’s classic Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations.

Gazing at the night sky is also a great time to open up your young stargazer’s mind. During school visits while talking about The Stuff Between the Stars and Vera Rubin, I show students this picture and ask what they see. If you’re not in a rush, take a moment and look.

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Credit: skysafariastronomy.com

What do we see?

The Moon

Stars

That bright spot is Venus

We see the stars because they burn. They are making their own light, like a summer campfire does. We see the moon because it reflects light from the biggest star around, the Sun. The same goes for the planets, like Venus. They reflect the Sun’s light.

So, we see the Moon, stars, and planets. And that’s pretty much all we see in the sky, right? But what’s there that we are not even thinking about? What are we looking right past?

Everything that doesn’t shine.

Before Vera Rubin, we thought, if it doesn’t shine, there’s nothing there. It’s empty space. And that’s the idea that Vera proved wrong. All that dark in the night sky makes up most of the universe. It’s filled with stuff. And that stuff is called dark matter. Not because it’s something scary, like turning to the Dark Side in Star Wars. It’s dark matter only because it doesn’t make its own light like stars or reflect light like planets.

Now, we still don’t know what dark matter is made of because we can’t see it or smell it or hear it. However, we know what it does. It has gravity. It has pull. And it holds the stars in galaxies together so that we can enjoy them on summer nights with family and friends.

With the end of July approaching, why not gather blankets, insect spray and your favorite late-night snacks to enjoy the meteor shower? It’s a wonderful way to fill a childhood memory box—and maybe even your adult one too.

What a wonderful, unforgettable way to spend a summer night! Thanks so much for sharing your memories as well as your love for the mysteries of our universe.

About the Perseid Meteor Showers

 

Active between July 17 and August 24 in the northern hemisphere, the Perseid meteor shower lights up the sky, thrilling astronomers and casual observers alike. The Perseids are particles released from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle when it interacts with our atmosphere. They get their name from the fact that the radiant (its point of origin) is located near the constellation of Perseus. The best time to view the showers is after midnight around 2:00 a.m., but they may be seen as early as 10:00 p.m. The best place to observe them is in an area with low light pollution. This year the Perseids reach their peak on the night of August 11 – 12.

NASA describes the Perseids as “very fast and bright meteors [that] frequently leave long “wakes” of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. They’re also known for their fireballs, which are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. The Perseids are one of the most plentiful showers, with 50-100 meteors seen per hour.

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The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Written by Sandra Nickel | Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

 

From the time she was a little girl, Vera Rubin had been fascinated with the night sky. As she gazed through her bedroom window, she saw when “the stars were stirring, and something bright stirred in Vera too.” She began studying everything she could about the stars, planets, and how they interacted in the night sky. She even made her own telescope from a cardboard tube and a lens.

At seventeen Vera began attending Vassar College as the only astronomy major in her class. Here, she could use the school’s telescope whenever she wanted. As a young astronomer she presented her idea that “galaxies rotated around a center in the universe like the Big Dipper circled the North Star.” But when she presented her conclusions at a meeting of America’s top astronomers, they told her her ideas were “outlandish” and “ridiculous.” 

As a young mother, Vera worked on another question that interested her. She wondered if galaxies were scattered haphazardly or whether there was “a pattern to where they spun.” After many late nights doing calculations, Vera determined that galaxies were “clumped together like dew drops on a spider’s web.” This was a major discovery; one that earned her a doctorate in astronomy, but America’s top astronomers continued to ignore her.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

While her children were growing up, Vera began teaching astronomy at colleges in Washington D.C. Other astronomers began hearing about her and wanting to know more about her ideas that had been dismissed in the past. More than anything, Vera wanted to view the sky from the observatory at the Carnegie Institution in the California mountains. She wanted this so much that she went to the Carnegie Institution and asked for a job. After she explained her work and theories to the other scientists, they gave her a job. Here she studied the “slow-moving stars at the edges of the galaxies.”

Vera next studied the Andromeda Galaxy and was astounded to discover that the stars at the edge of the galaxy didn’t move slower for being far away from its center of gravity; they moved at the same speed. She determined from this as well as from studying 200 other galaxies that there was something unseen at work between the stars. Vera believed this was “dark matter” and presented her findings to other astronomers. This time they listened, making her a prominent light in her beloved field.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Sandra Nickel’s straightforward and comprehensive storytelling gives kids a well-rounded view of Vera Rubin’s life as she doggedly pursued a career in astronomy despite all the naysayers and snubs along the way and made an astounding discovery that still baffles scientists today. Nickel does an excellent job of explaining the complex ideas Rubin studied, theorized on, and wrote about, allowing readers to fully understand her impact on the field of astronomy and our understanding of the universe. 

Through Aimée Sicuro’s mixed-media illustrations, readers follow Vera Rubin as she matures from a curious child who loves watching the night sky to a college student to a mother to an astronomer making discoveries that changed the way scientists understood the universe. Her detailed images give kids visual representations of Rubin’s work and ideas. The final image of a group of children gazing up at the night sky as a shooting star flashes by offers an inspirational quote from Vera Rubin.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419736261

Discover more about Sandra Nickel and her books on her website.

To learn more about Aimée Sicuro, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Curriculum Guides and Activity Sheets for kids on Sandra Nickel’s website.

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Kids will love Sandra’s other book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez!

Ages 6 – 11

Lee & Low Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620143698

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You can find The Stuff Between the Stars at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 15 – It’s National Shark Week

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About the Holiday

It’s Shark Week – one of the most anticipated holiday’s of the year! Kids and adults are fascinated by these denizens of the deep, and especially the Great White, which sports fearsome teeth and intimidates with their imposing size. But there are many more sharks in the sea – about 500 species! – and they are an important part of the world’s ecosystem. If Shark Week is your favorite week of the summer, you’re no doubt enjoying a full schedule of shark-related shows on the Discovery Channel. To learn more information about sharks, including statistics from this year’s coastal shark survey, a chance to cast your vote for “freakiest shark,” a line-up of top videos, and more, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shark Week page. To celebrate sharks and the wonders of the ocean every day, you’ll want to put today’s book at the top of your reading list.

Thanks to Joan Holub for sharing a copy of I Am the Shark with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Joan in a giveaway package that kids will love. See details below.

I Am the Shark

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Laurie Keller

 

Great White Shark is excited to introduce himself, especially since he is “the GREATEST SHARK in this book.” But a voice contradicts Great White. Who begs to differ? It’s Whale Shark, and she loses no time in demonstrating why she is “the greatest shark in this book” due to her enormous size, which can’t be matched anywhere in the undersea world. And if that weren’t enough, she adds this bite: “Compared to me, you are small.”

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

But Great White takes it in stride. If he isn’t the greatest shark, that’s okay because being the smallest has some pretty great perks too. So he’s in the middle of a “smallest shark” victory dance when a voice calls out, “No, you’re not.” It seems there’s a much smaller shark in the sea—Dwarf Lantern Shark, who, besides being the tiniest shark has a rather enlightening ability too. After the long take down from Whale Shark, this time Great White pivots quickly, thinking about how “smart and curious” he is. Could he be “the smartest shark in this book?”

Well, that would be a no. Hammerhead Shark has that one nailed down as well as a unique view of their colorful world. This time, Great White is a little intimidated. “Whoa!” he exclaims. “How can I top that?” But being smart (just not as smart as Hammerhead), Great White has another idea. This one, though, is quashed just like the others in a sneak attack. Turns out Great White isn’t the best hunter, the oldest, or even the “fishiest” shark in this book.

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Undeterred, Great White decides to do a little research in other books to “figure out the greatest thing about [him]. He learns all about his different body parts and even shares a labeled diagram (on graph paper and everything) with you. And he doesn’t stop there. He’s discovered all sorts of awesome facts about their skeletons, senses, teeth, skin, and other cool tidbits that he lets you know about. Great White could probably go on and on, but suddenly there’s a “snack alert” and all the sharks take off at top speed after their prey. Great White’s fast! He’s in the lead! Great White’s the fast..est… “Crumbs.” Great White’s passed up by a faster shark. Who is that anyway?

By this time Great White is feeling pretty down in the dumps. “Maybe I should change my name to Just-Okay White Shark or Not-So-Great White Shark,” he bemoans. But then Dwarf Lantern Shark swims up to him and enlightens him with some perspective and sage advice: “Just be happy being you.” Great White takes it to heart. In fact, it helps him think of a new, can’t-miss quality that finally gives him a “GREATEST in this book” status.

Backmatter includes more details on the eight sharks introduced in the story as well as books and links about sharks for kids wanting to learn more.

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Kids are always fascinated by the superlative—the fastest, the biggest, the smallest, the silliest, the best—and Joan Holub makes superlative use of this fact in her highly entertaining and educational romp. As Great White goes on a rollercoaster of emotions, one moment thinking he’s the best at something while the next moment having his hopes dashed, readers learn eye-opening details about eight sharks, described in engaging ways that will wow kids. Great White’s boundless optimism is infectious while setting up his disappointment for maximum comic effect. Kids will eagerly await the chance to chime in on the “No, you’re not.” asides that are sure to bring plenty of giggles. But this story isn’t all about sharks. Holub masterfully weaves in an important message for kids about self-acceptance, true happiness, and finding their unique qualities and talents.

Laurie Keller uses her prodigious talent for humor in her up-close images (and is there any other way kids would want to see them?) of these competitive sharks. Loaded with attitude, each shark swims onto the pages to demonstrate their “greatest” trait in ways that will stick with kids and have them excited to learn more. Expressive faces and silly antics add personality and laughs to each page spread. Keller’s vivid, textured, and collage-style illustrations are eye-catching, and funny details, such as Tiger Shark’s tattoos, chain bangle, band-aid, and gold tooth, will have kids lingering over the pages. While they’re there, they’ll want to keep a look out for the Dwarf Lantern Shark who finally lets Great White in on a great secret.

Full of facts, action-packed, and loaded with laughs, I Am the Shark is creative non-fiction at its GREATEST. Kids who love learning about sharks, nature, and the ocean or who just love a fantastic read will want to sink their teeth in this charmer. I Am the Shark is a can’t-miss must for homes, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0525645283

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Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated over 150 children’s books, including the Goddess Girls series and the Heroes in Training series (with Suzanne Williams); the New York Times bestselling picture book Mighty Dads, illustrated by James Dean; Little Red Writing, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; and Zero the Hero, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Her board & novelty books include This Little Trailblazer and Fa la la Llama. Joan adores line dancing to the Jaws theme, reading Sharkspeare, and vacationing in Finland.

You can connect with Joan Holub on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-laurie-keller-headshotLaurie Keller is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Scrambled States of America, Potato Pants!, Arnie the Doughnut, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, the Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut chapter book series, and We Are Growing!, part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series and winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. When Laurie isn’t busy making books, she enjoys playing the banjo, traveling, cross-country skiing, and splashing in Lake Michigan, where as far as she knows, there is not a single shark.

You can connect with Laurie Keller on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

I Am the Shark Giveaway

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I’m happy to be teaming with Joan Holub in a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive:

  • One (1) copy of I Am the Shark with an illustrated bookplate signed by Joan Holub and Laurie Keller
  • A kid-sized shark-design art or cooking apron 

To enter:

This giveaway is open from July 15 to July 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on July 22. 

Prizing provided by Joan Holub

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Shark Week Activity

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Fin-tastic Shark Fun

 

Your kids can make a splash during Shark Week and all year around with this easy-to-make craft! 

Supplies

  • 2 pieces of 8.5 x 11 gray card stock paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

fin outline white

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Directions

  1. Tape the top of the two pieces of paper together
  2. Fold them back together
  3. Measure an inch up from the bottom of the papers (the un-taped side) and trace a straight line across both papers
  4. Trace a shark fin outline onto your paper. The shark outline should stop an inch above the bottom
  5. Cut out the fin on both pieces of paper. If you should cut through the tape, re-tape the tops together
  6. Fold along the lines of both papers so the folds face towards each other.
  7. Tape the folds so the fin becomes a triangle
  8. Cut two slits parallel to the folded lines
  9. Thread ribbon through slits

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You can find I Am the Shark at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 8 – Math 2.0 Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2009, Math 2.0 Day celebrates math and technology and how these two disciplines complement each other. The day was conceived to bring together mathematicians, programmers, engineers, educators, and managers to raise awareness of the importance of math literacy at all levels of education. For kids a love of math and technology begins early as they experiment and explore every day during playtime, family time and even, as today’s book shows, at bedtime.

Thank you to Charlesbridge for sending me a copy of  The Animals Would Not Sleep! for review consideration. All opinions about the books are my own.

The Animals Would Not Sleep!

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns

 

All of Marco’s stuffed “animals were making a ruckus” when his mom told him it was time to get cleaned up and ready for bed. She wanted to see all the toys put away, so Marco, who thought like a scientist, got to work. He wanted to sort his animals like a scientist would, so he got out three baskets and made signs for Flying Animals, Swimming Animals, and Animals That Move on Land. Then he picked up his dancing flamingo, bird, bat, and ladybug and put them in the first basket. He placed his octopus, stingray, frog, fish, whale, and seal in the second basket, and his dinosaur, giraffe, bears, snake, pangolin, gecko, mice, and zebra in the third basket.

But the animals were still wide awake, and “they egged one another on until not one remained in its container.” Marco thought they would settle down, but when his mom called the second time, he reconsidered his strategy. This time he made signs that sorted the animals by color, but zebra started to cry. He was afraid being in such close quarters with black-and-white snake and stingray, plus he missed his friend giraffe.

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Image copyright Marta Álvarez Miguéns, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Marco decided to try again. He took all of his animals out and made signs that read Small, Medium, and Large. Things seemed to quiet down, so Marco began to put on his pajamas. But then he heard moaning and groaning coming from the Large basket. When he went to check, Dinosaur and Dancing Flamingo complained about being too cramped. Plus, Dancing Flamingo missed Rainbow Bear. Then he heard noises from the Small basket. Those animals weren’t happy either.

Marco’s mom gave him two minutes to get it all sorted out. Fortunately for Marco, being a scientist meant “he was used to coming up with ideas and thinking outside the box.” The animals were getting tired, and Yellow Bear had just burst into tears for no apparent reason. Like a good scientist, Marco cared about his animals and wanted them to be happy. He had one more sorting idea. With the large animals, medium-sized animals, and small animals all tucked in with plenty of room and their friends nearby on Marco’s bed, Marco got under the cozy covers. He got a goodnight kiss from Mom and then they all fell happily to sleep.

Back matter includes an illustrated Author’s Note about the way scientists sort, or classify, animals by their characteristics as well as a discussion that explores the math in the story. “Try This!” tips provided by Karen Economopoulos, co-director of the Investigations Center for Curriculum and Professional Development at TERC, give adults ideas for various ways to engage children in sorting.

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Image copyright Marta Álvarez Miguéns, 2020, text copyright Sara Levine, 2020. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Perfectly capturing the way young children interact with their toys, Sara Levine combines imagination and scientific thinking in her inventive story, part of the Storytelling Math series from Charlesbridge. In Marco, who’s proud of his scientific thinking, Levine shows readers that they, too, already think like a scientist. Marco’s empathy for his animals’ complaints will get kids thinking about classification and the various ways they might sort the animals. Levine’s use of realistic dialogue that echoes bedtime routines in many homes and gives each character—human and animal—distinct personalities will draw kids in to this charming story that is organically infused with strong math lessons. Levine gives Marco a sweet final solution to his problem that will please kids and have them wanting to extend the lessons in the story to their own toys and/or household objects while they think like a scientist too.

Marta Álvarez Miguéns opens the story with an enchantingly wild two-page spread where Marco stands in the middle of his room as his toys bounce on the bed, climb blocks, juggle, fly, and cause a ruckus. Turn the page, though, and these animals now lie motionless around the room as Mom peeks in to check on Marco. When Marco sorts his animals into the baskets, readers can clearly see which animals go where and why. Kids will knowingly giggle when the just-sorted animals spring from their resting places to prolong bedtime. Miguéns also plainly depicts Marco’s and the animals’ facial expressions from happy and playful to sad and crying to peaceful and satisfied. These images give adults and children an opportunity to discuss emotions and how to recognize various clues in faces, a skill important for social-emotional learning. Vivid colors, adorable animals, details such as alphabet blocks that stack or are turned to spell words, and kid-appealing décor will have kids wanting to come back again and again.

A book that’s sure to become a favorite at bedtime or to enhance classroom or homeschooling curriculum, The Animals Would Not Sleep! will spark mathematical and scientific thinking and recognition in all young learners. The book offers an irresistible invitation to experiment and interact with math and science and is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Charlesbridge, 2020 | ISBN 978-1623541286 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1623541972 (Paperback) 

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

To learn more about Marta Álvarez Miguéns, her books, and her art, visit her website.

About Storytelling Math

Storytelling Math offers books that celebrate children using math in their daily lives as they play, build, collaborate, compromise, and discover the world around them. Each story features characters of color who are empowered to solve problems, enjoy activities, and help out using their knowledge of and experimenting with math. Free downloadable hands-on activity kits are available for each book on the Charlesbridge website. Sharing these joyful stories with your littlest ones and older kids will make them eager to explore, use, and learn more about math every day. You can learn more about Storytelling Math on the Charlesbridge website

Storytelling Math: Math, Diversity, and the Power of Story was developed with Marlene Kliman at TERC—a nonprofit dedicated to STEM education—under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Enjoy this The Animals Would Not Sleep! trailer with Author Sara Levine!

National Book Month Activity

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The Animals Would Not Sleep! Activity Kit

 

You can have fun sorting and exploring math with your class or family with the Activity Kit for The Animals Would Not Sleep on the Charlesbridge website. Download it here!

The Animals Would Not Sleep Activity Kit

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You can find The Animals Would Not Sleep! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 27 – Rachel Carson Day and Interview with Shana Keller

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the birthday, on May 27, 1907, of Rachel Carson, the famous ecologist who launched the modern environmental movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring, which documented the dangers of pesticides to the environment. Silent Spring and Carson’s continued advocacy for the environment ultimately resulted in the banning of the pesticide DDT. To honor the day, learn more about the life and legacy of this influential woman whose work continues to impact our world. To learn more about Rachel Carson, visit rachelcarson.org.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

CBP Shana Keller Toad Image

A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Rachel Carson Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review