January 31 – It’s National Storytelling Week

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About the Holiday

Are you a raconteur? Do you love to weave a tale so intricate and intriguing that your listeners are on the edge of their seats? Or are you the one leaning forward, all ears, feeling the tingling thrill of that story? Either way—this day is for you! The Society for Storytelling instituted National Storytelling Week 17 years ago to promote the oral traditions of this art in England and Wales. Since then it has become an international event. So take some time to tell or listen to a story—or even write one of your own!

One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories

Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich | Illustrated by Fred Koehler

 

Hey! I have a fantastic story to tell you! Ya gotta minute? Ok! See… “One day I went to school. I came home. The End” What do you mean, “Is that it?” Don’t you get it?  So many things happened—funny, messy, worrisome, happy. It was an amazing day! I didn’t say that? But it’s all right there! Where? In the middle. In the pictures!

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, text copyright, Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press

On other days the little girl who so creatively told about her day at school becomes a detective to find her lost dog who’s gone off to chase a squirrel, invents ingenious ways to hide from her brother, and creates something awesome for her mom. She also runs away from home, but of course comes back, and shadows her cat to a surprising discovery. On yet another day mistakes, mishaps, and frustrations just make her feel like stomping. And on still another day she  relents to a much-needed bath…and shares it with her dog!

What does she do after all these adventures? She wants to write a book about them…and she does!

Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s One Day…The End is such an ingenious concept that readers will keep turning the pages just to see what clever idea comes next. Each story consists of a first sentence that introduces a plot and the last line that wraps it up. Sure Dotlich could have fleshed out the characters, detailed the setting, added dialogue, and symbolized a theme, but sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words, and this is where Fred Koehler comes in.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, text copyright, Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press

Koehler takes these kid-centric tales and fills in the exploding science experiments, ice-cream trucks, accidental oopsies, distractions, clues, and more that make up each day’s adventure. With humor and an eye for real-kid emotions and actions (the little girl pours glue from the bottle held above her head), Koehler creates a unique plot for each story.

In “One day I felt like stomping” the little girl doesn’t stomp for no reason: her cat eats her pizza lunch, she splatters herself with purple paint, and her fishing pole breaks. She just feels like…! The word STOMP grows bigger across the page and even gets stomped on itself as the girl vents her frustration in a puddle, on a pile of leaves, and—almost—on a flower. But seeing the daisy saves her day and she saves the daisy. Haven’t we all been there?

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, text copyright, Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press

One Day…The End is a joy to share with kids and would make a great addition to home bookshelves. They’ll love to spend time pointing out the humorous details and depth of story each page holds, and may even like to “tell” the story as they read. This book would be a fantastic jumping off point for kids wanting to write their own stories or for teachers wanting to demonstrate the elements of active, detailed story writing. As Dotlich says on the first page: “For every story there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.”

Ages 4 – 8

Boyds Mills Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1620914519

Discover all of the amazing books by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, plus lots more, on her website!

Learn more about Fred Koehler and his work and get freebies – including a One Day, The End coloring page – on his website!

Tell a Story Day Activity

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Story Maze

 

This puzzle may look like a regular maze, but there’s a secret to it! Within this maze is any story you’d like to make up. Why do you go left instead of right? Are you avoiding a zombie or a rainy shower? Why do you go up instead of down? Is it because you can you float? What lurks in that dead end you’ve entered? There are as many cool stories as you can imagine right in those little pathways. And when you find your way to The End, you’ll have written a story! Print the Story Maze and the Solution here!

picture book review

January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King and how you can help promote justice and equality for all. Consider volunteering in your community where help is needed.

I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Brad Meltzer | Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

 

Standing inside a church, Martin Luther King, Jr. introduces himself with two anecdotes from his childhood that demonstrate his world outlook. “When I was little,” he says, “I used to get into a lot of accidents.” He was hit in the head by a baseball bat, knocked down by cars and once even “tumbled over our banister, then bounced through an open door into the basement.” While these incidents could have made him cautious, Martin instead was determined to keep “getting back up.” His second influence were the books in which he could find “big words.” Even as a child Martin recognized that “there is power in words.”

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

Before he went to school, Martin relates, his best friend was a white boy whose father owned a nearby store. They did everything together until school started. Then Martin went to a school with only black students while his friend went to a white-students-only school. Soon, Martin’s friend told him his father didn’t want them to play together anymore. Martin was confused. When his parents told him the reason was that they had different colored skin, Martin felt angry. He wanted to hate his friend and his father, but Martin’s parents taught him to love his friend, and his mother told him, “you must never feel that you are less than anyone else.”

It was a difficult lesson when all around him he saw inequality. White schools had better equipment, there were different elevators, bathrooms, water fountains, and other facilities for black people and white people, on buses black riders had to give up their seats to white riders. Everywhere black people and white people were segregated.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

When Martin was only 15 he was admitted to college. At 19 he entered the seminary where he learned about civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance—ways to use “love and peaceful methods to change unfair things in society.” These were lessons Martin wanted to share with others. His chance to put his thoughts into action came when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat to a white man. Martin advocated a peaceful protest—a boycott of public buses. He reasoned that without the money from black riders, the bus companies would change their policies.

As the boycott began working, Martin gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, motivating people to continue their peaceful protest. Martin was put in jail and his house was bombed, but the boycott continued for more than a year. Eventually, the bus companies changed their rules. Other peaceful protests began to take place in restaurants and other public places.

One protest took place in Birmingham, Alabama.  Martin was again put in prison, where he wrote one of his most famous speeches. Children also took part in the Birmingham protest. The Children’s Crusade attracted more than 1,000 kids. On the first day 900 of them were arrested, but that only inspired the children more. On the second day 2,500 children showed up. They stood firm while they were sprayed with water hoses and attacked by police dogs. People—both black and white—watching the news reports were aghast. Three months later the rules began to change.

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Image copyright Christopher Eliopoulos, text copyright Brad Meltzer. Courtesty of Dial Books for Young Readers

“By the summer of 1963, an estimated one million Americans held their own protests in cities across the country.” Then A. Philip Randolph suggested a single huge march to convince “Congress and the president to pass laws so that no one in America can treat people differently based on skin color.” On August 28, 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place. Martin gave what may now be considered his most famous speech in which he talked about his dreams for the country, for the people, and for their children.

Although Congress began passing new laws, the ability and right to vote in elections still eluded black people. To change the voting rules another march was organized to walk 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The 600 walkers were met by police who stopped them. Two days later 2,500 activists tried again but could not get through. On the third try 8,000 marchers showed up. This time, with the world watching on television, the activists made it to Montgomery, protected by troops sent by President Johnson.

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Martin continued to speak out, relating his philosophy and dreams for the nation. “To reach our goals, we must walk the path of peace,” he said. “We must lock arms with our brothers and sisters. We must march together. When we do…Our voices will be heard, and freedom will ring.” The lessons Martin Luther King taught still resonate today. He stands “as proof that no matter how hard the struggle, we must fight for what is right and work to change what is wrong.…if we stand together, if we remain united, nothing can stop our dream.”

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Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… series of biographies are well-known for showing young readers that they can achieve their dreams and make a difference no matter what those hopes may be. In his biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Meltzer depicts several incidents from King’s childhood and early adulthood that influenced his future work. These help readers understand not only the types of prejudice King and other African Americans experienced, but also the people who inspired his philosophy of peace.

Meltzer’s inclusion of King’s imprisonments and the violence that met the peaceful protesters deepens the understanding of the dangers King and other protesters faced, and provides an opportunity to open a discussion between adults and children about those times and what they now see in the news. Meltzer’s description of the Children’s Crusade will inspire readers, making them proud of children in the past and stirring them to actions of their own. Sections from King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and his most famous speeches are presented in speech bubbles. The text is followed by photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr. with his family and at the March on Washington as well as a timeline of his life. Sources and resources for further reading are also included.

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In keeping with the style of all of Meltzer’s and Christopher Eliopoulos’s Ordinary People Change the World: I am… biographies, the illustrations are vibrant and cartoon-inspired. Martin Luther King, Jr. is depicted with the size of a child but the features of an adult, reinforcing the idea contained in the text of the dual nature of the future adult residing in the child and the ideals of the child remaining in the adult that appeals to ambitious young readers. Speech bubbles highlight text that carry emotional dialogue. Settings, including churches, Birmingham jail, Washington DC, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument give children a look at the cities and places described in the text.

For young readers, I am Martin Luther King, Jr. offers a comprehensive biography of the man who was a national and world leader in the fight for equal rights for all people and makes an excellent starting place for classroom lessons and personal discussions.

Ages 5 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0525428527

Discover more about Brad Meltzer and his books for adults and children as well as other goodies on his website!

Learn more about Christopher Eliopoulos, his books, and his comics on his website!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait

 

Color this printable Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait and then hang it in your room or locker to inspire you!

Picture Book Review

January 10 – It’s International Quality of Life Month and Q & A with Deborah Sosin

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About the Holiday

How one achieves their definition of a good quality of life may differ for every person, but in general it encompasses being happy and satisfied with one’s relationships, work, living conditions, and self. Whether you find happiness and quality of life in outdoor or indoor pursuits, with others or alone, at work or at home, this month’s holiday gives you time to get in touch with your inner quiet place and reflect on changes or improvements to bring you more peace and happiness in life.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin | Illustrated by Sara Woolley

 

Charlotte is a girl who likes quiet who lives in a noisy world. Everywhere she goes, it seems, it’s impossible to escape from sounds that disturb her peace. At home the hallway creaks where “the floorboards groan,” the living room is like an arcade where the “TV bellows and blares,” and the kitchen is filled with Otto’s barks for his dinner. Even in Charlotte’s bedroom, “which is supposed to be a quiet place, the old steam radiator hisses, whistles, and whines. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

When Charlotte goes to school, things are no better. In the classroom kids are boisterous and bells ring; the lunchroom echoes with clattering trays and scuffing chairs; and the playground blares with big voices and stomping feet but also with the little squeaks and rattle of the swings. “Even in the library, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the children giggle, yammer, and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

The outside world resounds with the din of jackhammers, horns, sirens, shouts, cars, music, and the “screeches, rumbles, and roars” of the subway. “Even in the park, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the leaf blower buzzes, blusters, and hums.” Charlotte puts her hands to her ears. “‘Nooo!’” she cries, “‘I have to find a quiet place!’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

On Saturday Charlotte takes her dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, Otto spies a squirrel and takes off running, wrenching his leash out of Charlotte’s hand. She chases after him down a hill, over a bridge, into the middle of a grove of trees. Out of breath, Charlotte and Otto sit beneath a tree. Gasping, Charlotte’s “belly rises up and down, up and down. Her breath goes in and out, in and out. Hooooo ahhhhh. Hooo ahhh.”

Slowly, Charlotte’s breath comes easier and “her mind slows down.” In this state, she discovers another, even quieter place. It is a place deep inside where her breath is soft and her “thoughts are hushed and low.” It is “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

In a little while, Charlotte and Otto leave the grove, but now whenever home or school or the neighborhood is too loud, Charlotte remembers where she can find a quiet place. She simply closes her eyes and pays attention to that place deep in her belly and deep in her mind—“that quiet place inside.”

For so many children the world is a blaring, clattering place where their thoughts are drowned out by the noises around them. Deborah Sosin’s award-winning Charlotte and the Quiet Place validates these feelings and offers children a way to discover inner peace wherever they are. As a tonic to today’s hyper-stimulated environment, kids and adults alike will benefit from the method of mindful reflection Sosin presents. Sosin’s combination of evocative verbs and repetition makes the story fresh and an excellent read-aloud while also mirroring the sounds that are a part of our everyday life.

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

Sara Woolley’s beautiful watercolor illustrations vividly depict not only Charlotte’s world but the sounds that disturb her peace. Amid the fully realized home, school, and neighborhood environments, complete with realistic details kids will recognize, sharp cracks of equipment, blaring bells and whistles, high-pitched voices, and other noises spark the page. Portrayals of Charlotte, her hands over her ears and her eyes sad, express her distress in a way kids will understand. When Charlotte finds the grove of trees in which she first experiences inner peace, Woolley’s color palette turns softer, with peaceful tones of green, blue, and yellow where, previously, “louder” purples, reds, and golds predominated.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a very welcomed book for those times when peace seems elusive and will give comfort to children who prefer quiet places and have more introverted natures. The book would make a wonderful addition to all children’s book shelves as well as to school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Parallax Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1941529027

Visit Charlotte and the Quiet Place on her own webstite! You’ll find resources, images and videos, news about events, and more!

Discover more about Deborah Sosin, her writing for children and adults, writing workshops, mindfulness services, and more on her website!

View a gallery of artwork for books, comics,  and other illustration work by Sara Woolley on her website!

International Quality of Life Activity

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Share a Smile Cards

 

Life is better when you share smiles with those you know—and those you don’t! Try it! When you’re out today at school or other places, look someone in the eye and smile. You’ll probably get a smile back—and you can be sure that you will have made the other person’s and your day better!

Here are some Smile Cards that you can share. Why not slip one into your dad’s pocket or your mom’s purse, put one in your friend’s backpack, or sneak one onto your teacher’s desk? You can even leave one somewhere for a stranger to find! Have fun sharing your smiles, and see how much better you and the others around you feel!

Click here to print your Share a Smile Cards.

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Photo by Kevin Day Photography

Q&A with Author Deborah Sosin

 

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with Debbie Sosin, a writer, editor, and clinical social worker who specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy, about her first picture book, her choral singing, and how kids respond to her presentations.

In your career you write for adults and children, work within the publishing industry, provide publicity services, and teach. How did you get started? Did you always want to write?

I kept a diary starting at around age ten and always loved writing for school or for fun. I started getting more serious about writing for publication in the past ten years, studied at GrubStreet, attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and eventually went back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. I wish I had started earlier, but it’s been rewarding to finally follow my true passion.

What influenced you to write Charlotte and the Quiet Place?

I wrote the book as an independent project as part of my MFA studies at Lesley University. They say “write what you know,” so I thought about my childhood growing up in kind of a noisy house, where my brother played the piano, my father had a radio and TV on simultaneously, and my mother was on the phone a lot. And then I thought about my longtime meditation practice and how tuning in to my breathing has helped me find a quiet place inside. So I wanted to write a story about children finding their own quiet place inside themselves.

You give school presentations on mindfulness and your picture book Charlotte and the Quiet Place for various ages. Is there an experience from any of these that you would like to share?

School visits are my favorite part of being an author! No matter what age the students are, they love to help me tell the story by repeating the “noisy” sounds and the “hoo ahh” breathing sounds. We usually do a few calming/breathing exercises together and, without fail, even the squirmiest group will settle into a beautiful, shared, often profound silence. Once, when asked where Charlotte finds her quiet place, one kindergarten girl said, “In her belly and in her brain, where it’s calm.” Many kids get that idea. What could be better? I also love showing them my early scribbles and illustrator Sara Woolley’s wonderful sketches and storyboards, and sharing the step-by-step process of publishing the book, from concept to completion

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Deborah Sosin reads Charlotte and the Quiet Place to students at Newton Montessori School. Photo courtesy of Newton Montessori School.

Can you talk a little about mindfulness and how it can benefit children?

Mindfulness has become a catchword these days, but my favorite definition is from Dr. Amy Saltzman: “Noticing what’s happening right here and now, with a friendly, curious attitude, then choosing what to do next.” Many top-notch scientific studies show that mindfulness can help kids with concentration, attention, self-soothing, anxiety, depression, sleep, mood, compassion, confidence…I could go on. Compared with adults, most kids are naturally mindful, that is “in the moment,” but kids do get stressed out and worried about the past or the future, so mindfulness helps. I sometimes worry that parents and teachers might use it for disciplinary reasons (“Enough! Go be mindful in the corner!”), which is not the point. It’s a whole-life practice, not a technique or intervention. And, as the book shows, mindfulness can lead us to a quiet place inside that we can access whenever we want.

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Students at the Cottage Montessori School in Arlington, Massachusetts play the Silence Game with director Karen Wagner, watching the sand in the hourglass. Photo courtesy of Stacey Moriarty.

Can you tell me a little about your work with Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston?

I started taking classes at GrubStreet in 2008; my first class was “Six Weeks, Six Essays,” and from that class, I helped form a longtime regular writing group. I started blogging soon after and then submitted personal essays for publication, with some good luck. GrubStreet is a fantastic, inclusive community, with excellent faculty and a huge range of motivated, smart, and enthusiastic students, from beginners to veterans. After a few years, I applied to teach classes there and am proud to be on their instructor and consultant rosters now.

You are an accomplished choral singer, having performed at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and on an international tour. When did you begin choral singing? Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share from any of your experiences?

I’ve been singing my whole life and have been in choruses since elementary school. Singing with other people is extremely gratifying and, after all the “verbal”-type things I do, including my work as a psychotherapist, it’s a lovely change of pace. I spent about 15 years in the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which specializes in Jewish choral music. Our tours to Eastern Europe, Italy, and Israel were extraordinary. In 1999, when we sang at Auschwitz and Terezin, the sites of former concentration camps, it was hard to keep our emotions in check, but it felt important to revive the voices of the Jewish people that the Nazis had attempted to quell. A PBS documentary film, “Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland,” chronicled our tour that summer. I think it’s still available through the Zamir Chorale website.

What’s the best part about writing for children?

After having focused almost exclusively on nonfiction for most of my writing career, it’s been wonderful to work in the very precise and rich world of picture-book writing with so many lovely, funny, imaginative, and supportive fellow writers I’ve met through SCBWI and the amazing Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass.

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Debbie’s niece Mollie and a friend draw a noisy thing at The Oblong Bookstore event. Photo courtesy of AM Media Group

What’s up next for you?

I have a couple of Picture Book manuscripts in progress and I’m participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) this month, so I hope to generate more ideas and get some new work out there soon.

Since this is a holiday-themed blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one question about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite, as it means getting together with my family, which is now spread far and wide, and having an opportunity to express our gratitude.

Thanks, Debbie, for stopping by and chatting! I wish you all the best with Charlotte and the Quiet Place and all of your future endeavors!

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You can find Charlotte and the Quiet Place at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Parallax Press |Porter Square Books (signed copies available)

Connect with Deborah Sosin on

Her Website | charlotteandthequietplace.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

January 4 – World Hypnotism Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 2006 to honor Dr. Jack Gibson, an Irish hypnotherapist who used hypnosis extensively in his practice. Its purpose is to dispel the myths surrounding hypnosis as “mind control,” which is a popular misconception perpetuated by movies and other types of entertainment. To celebrate, learn more about hypnotism and check out local special events, including free hypnotherapy sessions.

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France

Written by Mara Rockliff | Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

 

During the colonists’ war with England, the rag-tag American army needed France’s help. Who better to send than Benjamin Franklin, the charming and experienced statesman? Ben hoped to convince King Louis the Sixteenth and Queen Marie Antoinette to send money and soldiers to America, “but it turned out that they needed Ben’s help too….” At the time, Paris was enthralled by Science. This “new” discipline was introducing new materials, new inventions, and new ideas into society.

One of these notions was Ben Franklin’s own—and when the people of Paris saw him “they went absolutely gaga over the American in the peculiar fur hat. Because everyone had heard about Ben Franklin’s famous kite experiment, which showed that lightning was the same as electricity.” Soon, however, even Ben couldn’t hold a candle to Dr. Mesmer—the “elegant and mysterious” man who wielded “an astonishing new force.” “Dr. Mesmer said this force streamed from the stars and flowed into his wand. When he stared into his patients’ eyes and waved the wand, things happened. Women swooned. Men sobbed. Children fell down in fits.”

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Image copyright Iacopo Bruno, text copyright Mara Rockliff. Courtesy Candlewick Press

Dr. Mesmer seemed to do the impossible. He could make the same glass of water taste like strawberries or vinegar just by telling his patient what to taste. He said he could use this force to help people who were sick, and indeed, after a session with Dr. Mesmer “in a room hidden behind heavy drapes covered with signs and symbols” many people emerged saying they had been cured. Those rich enough paid 100 gold louis to learn his secrets, and everyone considered Dr. Mesmer’s force the “most remarkable thing that science had discovered yet!”

Everyone that is, except the city’s doctors, who “griped, and groused, and fussed, and fumed” because their patients only wanted to be treated by Dr. Mesmer. The doctors went to the King to complain. They even suggested that Dr. Mesmer’s force didn’t exist at all. Louis didn’t know what to think, but he did know who to consult—Ben Franklin! Ben wanted to observe this force in action for himself. As he watched, Dr. Mesmer’s helper, Charles, made a group of patients gasp, groan, twitch, and tremble. Some even fainted.

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Image copyright Iacopo Bruno, text copyright Mara Rockliff. Courtesy Candlewick Press

When it came time for Ben Franklin’s turn, “He didn’t gasp and groan or twitch and tremble. And he didn’t faint. In fact…he didn’t feel a thing.” Dr. Mesmer said that Ben must be “special” and that’s why the force didn’t work on him. Ben hypothesized a different reason. He said that instead of the force being “in Dr. Mesmer’s wand…it was in the patient’s mind.” They acted and felt the way they did because they expected to.

To test his theory, Ben had Charles wave his fingers near a woman’s face. She screamed and “said she felt a burning flame.” Next Ben told Charles to perform the same routine, but with the woman blindfolded. This time when Charles waved his fingers near her stomach, “she said she felt the heat—IN HER EAR. When he “moved behind her back, the woman shrieked that she felt burning—IN HER LEG!” Ben brought in another patient, blindfolded him, and told him he was being mesmerized. He said he could feel it—even though “Charles was not even in the room.” When Charles came back and waved his fingers and wand, the patient felt nothing.

“Ben tested patient after patient, but it was always the same. If the patient believed something would happen, something did—even without the force! If the patient did not expect anything to happen, nothing did—even with the force!” He revealed his observations to the king, and soon all of Paris was talking—and laughing. And Dr. Mesmer? He took his wand and ran. Ben Franklin soon returned to America—with the help from France he had sought and to his scientific work.

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Image copyright Iacopo Bruno, text copyright Mara Rockliff. Courtesy Candlewick Press

The world benefited greatly from the meeting between Ben Franklin and Dr. Mesmer. Ben’s blind test is still used today when new medicines are being developed, and Dr. Mesmer’s force brought to light what we call the placebo effect and also the state of hypnosis, two powerful abilities of the brain that scientists are still studying.

Throughout Mesmerized Ben Franklin studies Dr. Mesmer and his force, using the scientific method. As Franklin observes, hypothesizes, tests, and finds his theory supported, each particular step of the scientific method applied appears highlighted and explained on the page. An extensive Author’s Note about the events of the story also follows the text

Mara Rockliff’s—dare I say it?—mesmerizing true tale of a meeting between two of the most fascinating figures of the late 1770s is the type of nonfiction that can get kids excited about science and history. Intrigue, mystery, charismatic personalities, wit, and a familiar topic are blended together to reveal the uses and steps of the scientific method and to highlight one event in time that still resonates today. Rockliff’s story crackles with fabulous vocbulary—doctors gripe, grouse, fume, are peeved; the king is in a quandary; patients twitch and tremble; plain Ben Franklin is an “apple pie” while elegant Dr. Mesmer a “layered torte.” Rockliff’s story flows at an enthralling pace, keeping readers riveted to discover Dr. Mesmer’s secret.

Iacopo Bruno’s sumptuous illustrations are nothing short of astounding. If the Oscars gave out awards to books, Bruno would certainly win for best costume and set. Every page is gilded with the opulence of the French court as gold buttons, collars, candle sticks, and drawing rooms glint with a polished sheen. Period dress is depicted in the women’s full flowing gowns of red, purple, and green, and in men’s top coats, breeches, lace cuffs, and high buckle shoes. Powdered wigs curl at men’s ears and climb high above women’s heads, festooned with flowers, ribbons, and pearls while Ben’s white, wavy locks fall naturally on his shoulders. In addition to setting the historical scene, Bruno depicts the effects of Dr. Mesmer’s force and the scientific methods Franklin used to debunk it with just the right amount of humor to entice kids and allow them to fully understand and appreciate Dr. Mesmer’s impact on society.

Ages 6 – 10

Candlewick, 2015 | ISBN 978-0763663513

To learn more about Mara Rockliff and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of book jacket and other illustration work by Iacopo Bruno on his blog!

World Hypnotism Day Activity

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You Are Getting Sleeeepy Maze

 

The roundabout pattern of this printable You’re Getting Sleeeepy Maze may make you feel as if you’re in a trance, but don’t zone out before you solve it! Quick! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

January 2 – Motivation and Inspiration Day

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About the Holiday

While Motivation and Inspiration Day was instituted in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, the holiday’s influence and meaning has grown and now includes world-wide participation. Falling on the second day of the year, it encourages us to reflect on our lives—where we are and where we want to go. Take some time to consider what motivates and inspires you and follow those inner and external voices to help you achieve your dreams.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

By Javaka Steptoe

 

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch / and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist.” All day Jean-Michel sits surrounded by colored pencils and “a storm of papers” and draws. As he sleeps his dreams swirl with images. When he wakes he adds to his drawings, scribbling away. What he creates is “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still beautiful.”

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Jean-Michel’s talent comes from his Puerto Rican mother, who has a natural sense of style and design and who always makes time to draw with her son, lying on the floor next to him. She takes Jean-Michel to art museums and theaters and reads poetry to him, but she also shows him the art of the city—its sounds, sights, style, and “patchwork” colors. Jean-Michel loves to visit the museum and read about the artwork and the artists. From these stories he “learns what it means to be a famous artist.”

When Jean-Michel is seriously injured in a car accident, his world seems scary and confusing. He mother gives him an anatomy book, which he memorizes. It erases his fears and becomes influential in his work. After returning home his life changes when his mother suffers a breakdown and can no longer live at home. “He tries drawing the terrible out of his blues, but things are not the same.” Jean-Michel visits his mother when he can, “always bringing his artwork to show, telling her that one day it will be in a museum, ‘when I am a famous artist.’”

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

As a teenager, Jean-Michel follows his dream, moving from Brooklyn to New York City. There he stays with friends, painting, creating collages, and writing poems on paper strewn about him. At night he paints on city walls, trash cans, and other urban canvases. His art, signed ‘Samoo,’ attracts attention. People wonder, “‘Who is Samoo?’”

Soon his art can be found in art galleries and hanging in the homes of the people who buy his work. Jean-Michel continues to create, listening to “a sound track that is all his own.” Through talent, inspiration, and his mother’s loving influence, Jean-Michel Basquiat conquered the art world, becoming a king among artists, and fulfilling his desire to be a famous artist.

An extensive Author’s Note about Jean-Michel Basquait’s life, including his struggles with addiction and his death in 1988, the motifs and symbolism in his work that now is displayed in museums around the world and sells for millions of dollars, and a personal comment on the impact Basquait’s art had on the author follow the text.

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Javaka Steptoe’s compelling biography of this complex, brilliant artist who people called “radiant, wild, a genius child” beautifully brings to life the inspirations and motivations that fueled his unique and intense talent. Steptoe delivers the story in staccato and flowing sentences, using consonance, assonance, repetition, the rhythms of a poet. Taking the reader from Jean-Michel’s childhood to adulthood to show how maintaining his focused determination, self-confidence, and persistence over many years led to his ultimately becoming a famous artist demonstrates that success is not a matter of luck, but of belief in oneself despite obstacles. Steptoe sensitively addresses the serious injury Basquiat suffered, his mother’s mental illness and Basquiat’s continued love for her, and his unsettled teenage years to complete this far-reaching life story.

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Steptoe’s mixed-media paintings were created on found wood from neighborhoods across New York City. While Steptoe does not reproduce any of Basquiat’s work, he states that readers will find “original pieces that were inspired by him and my interpretations of his paintings and designs.” As befitting his subject, Steptoe offers pages that burst with vibrant color and intricate details and beat with the pulse of the city, the people, the dreams, and the imagination that Basquiat transcribed onto paper, walls, and canvas. Part collage, part fine art, Steptoe’s illustrations will fascinate children and entice them to linger to take in all the emotion and meaning in each. The final spread, a crowd scene made up of photographs, sets Basquiat in the midst of people whom he and his art continue to inspire.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat offers children an inspirational model of creativity, compassion, and confidence no matter where their talents lie. The book is an excellent choice for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0316213882

Learn more about Javaka Steptoe, his books, art exhibitions, and life on his website!

Motivation and Inspiration Day Activity

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Found-Item Crafts

 

 

Each person finds motivation and inspiration in different things, places, and people. Today, try to create something new from the materials around you. Boxes, bottles, wire, magazines, cloth, wood, sponges—almost anything—can be transformed with some imagination. With those old socks, corks, flower pots, candle stubs, bits of ribbon, clementine crate, paint, glitter, beads, and more, you can make something useful, a decoration for your room, or even a gift for a friend!

Picture Book Review

January 1 – Z Day

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About the Holiday

On this first day of the year it seems fitting to let the last letter of the alphabet shine. Today all of those with last names that start with Z get to move to the front row and the front of the line! You might get creative with your celebrations and eat only foods that start with Z—ziti and zucchini sound good, buy a zipper or something zany, read a zine about zombies, and of course go to the zoo to see the zebra!

AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First

Written by Alethea Kontis | Illustrated by Bob Kolar

 

The letter A stands on a little pedestal holding aloft an apple. “A is for app—,” she starts, but is suddenly interrupted by Z, who states, “Zebra and I are SICK of this last-in-line stuff! This time we want to go first!” Y is all for this change and wants to give it a try. Z jumps on the pedestal, and with pride and a prop reveals, “Z is for zebra.” Next up is Y and with her knitting on her lap says, “Y is for yarn.” Although X is a bit wrapped up in Y’s craft, he still manages to plonk out, “X is for xylophone.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, text copyright Alethea Kontis. Courtesy of candlewick.com

W spouts off that “W is for whale, and P, lounging in swimming ring, is happy to tell you that P is for penguins as two of the little fellows toddle nearby.” Wait a minute! P doesn’t come after W…or is it before W? Hmm…This is getting confusing. V wants her rightful place and confronts P, but P brings up the point that no matter how the alphabet runs, some letters “are still stuck in the middle.” N agrees, and M takes off running “closer to the end, just to mix it up a bit.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

A is perturbed by this whole state of affairs, but Z is excited. O takes over with “owl,” and N flies off in the “night.” H takes the spotlight with a tall stack of hats while G waits in the wings whispering, “H, dear, it’s not our turn yet!” A is now fuming. H, however, is happy with her usual lot in life, and R, leaning on her rainbow-colored umbrella, agrees. Z is jumping! “Go wherever you want! Just hurry up, or we’ll never get to the end.” S rushes off to be ready for the page turn where he wrangles a snake above his head. I is chased by insects, V plays the violin, and J runs away with a jack-o’-lantern.

E blasts off toward Earth, where “F is for flowers. And fairies.” Hold on there a minute! V is upset: “Hey, I didn’t get to pick two things. I think I should get another turn.” X, on the other hand seems ok with it because he doesn’t “have much to choose from.” All this fuss is making Z crazy. He just wants things to move along.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

Ok, then…the next letters get in line. “T is for taxi and train. L is for lemons and lollipops. K is for kangaroo and kites. And C is for cat and canary in cages.” V is back, inserting and asserting herself with a vacuum in hand, a volcano in the background, a vulture lurking, and valentines scattered about. But Z yanks her away as G says, “Ooh, V is for violence.”

R gets his chance to pop open his umbrella, D fights a dragon, and G frolics with a great gorilla. B gets a bevy of words that make a big mess. M dashes away from a monster, and Q is queen for the day. And that’s that, right? Is it? It’s kind of hard to tell. Z shouts through a megaphone, “Has everyone had their turn?” No! It seems U has been in the bathroom since P.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, courtesy of candlewick.com

U is uncertain whether the other letters still want her, but they usher her to the podium. Finally, it is A’s turn, but where is she? “Yikes!” exclaims Y and it’s easy to see why. A has been rounding up the words! Twenty-two of them, in fact—23 if you count “and.” The other letters cheer, and Z says he’s sorry for being bossy, to which A says, “apology accepted.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

Alethea Kontis’s classic alphabet romp is a hilarious, personality filled celebration of the 26 letters that compose our language. As Z’s mixed up experiment goes awry, the letters’ sassy and squabbling comments make for laugh-out-loud reading. Sly wordplay adds to the fun, making this an alphabet book that older kids will enjoy as well. Subtle lessons on cooperation, teamwork, acceptance, and inclusion give readers of AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First lots to discuss while enjoying the show.

Bob Kolar’s bold, bright, and enthusiastic letters nearly pop off the page. Their expressive eyes and mouths display their excitement, distress, pride, and other emotions as the status quo is shaken up by Z. As each letter gets their turn, Kolar infuses the page with visual puns. For example, I is being chased by “insects,” that also happen to be bees (Bs?). His clever choices of nouns allow for discussion of other forms of the words too—as when S juggles a snake that…well…snakes above him. Kids will love lingering over the illustrations to find all of the jokes and letter-related images and to make sure that all of the letters get their due.

AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First is so much more than an alphabet book. Adding it to any child’s bookshelf will suit them to a T.

Ages 3 – 8

Candlewick, 2012 (reprint) | ISBN 978-0763660840

To discover more about Alethea Kontis and her books for kids and older readers as well as book-related activities, visit her website!

Find a gallery of picture book art, personal art, and other projects by Bob Kolar on his website!

Z Day Activity

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Zing! Goes My Heart Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the 20 words that begin with the letter Z in this printable heart-shaped Zing! Goes My Heart Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

October 25 – International Artist Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2004 by Chris MacClure, a Canadian artist who specializes in Romantic Realism, National Artist Day celebrates the various forms of art, the artist, and the unique vision each one brings to their work and the world. Whether you like classic or abstract styles, watercolors or oils, sculpture or installations, why not take some time today to visit an art museum or gallery—or page through a collection of prints or a biography like today’s book!

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

Written by Barb Rosenstock | Illustrated by Mary GrandPré

 

As a Russian child Vasya Kandinsky spends his days absorbed in learning math, science, and history. He takes piano lessons and attends formal dinners where the adults drone on and on. His life is polite, stiff, and colorless until the day his aunt gives him a small wooden paint box. “Every proper Russian boy should appreciate art,” Vasya’s aunt tells him while explaining how to mix colors.

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

Vasya takes up the brush and combines red with yellow then red with blue. As the colors change to orange and purple, Vasya hears a whisper that grows into a noisy hiss. “‘What is that sound?’” he asks, but no one else hears anything. “The swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a magical symphony,” and “Vasya painted the sound of the colors.” A lemon yellow “clinked like the highest notes on the keyboard; a navy blue “vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings.” Crimsons “blared” and greens “burbled.”

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

Vasya runs downstairs to show his family what he has created. His mother, father, and Auntie look at the canvas with its swoops, shapes, and angles. “What is it supposed to be?” they ask, and send him off to art school to learn how “to draw houses and flowers—just like everyone else.” Vasya finishes school and becomes a lawyer. He leaves his paint box untouched and lives the way he is expected, but the sounds of the colors are always with him.

One evening as he listens to an opera, the music surrounds him with color—“stomping lines of vermilion and coral; caroling triangles in pistachio and garnet; thundering arches of aqua and ebony…” Vasya can hear the colors and see the music. He knows then what he must do. He quits his job teaching law and moves to Germany to be a painter. He surrounds himself with artists and takes classes with famous teachers, and yet people still look at his canvases and asked, “What is it supposed to be?”

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

Once again he paints what is expected. His teachers love his houses and flowers, but Vasya does not. His friends understand. They too want to expand the meaning of art. They agree with Vasya when he says, “‘Art should make you feel.’” In his studio Vasya continues to paint the sounds he hears, to give music color and color sound. Bravely, he invites the public to view his paintings, which are named after musical terms—Composition, Accompaniment, Fugue, and more.

This is a new kind of art—abstract art—and it takes a long time before people understand. They look and still ask, “What is it supposed to be?” “It is my art,” Kandinsky replies “How does it make you feel?” 

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, courtesy of randomhouse.com

An author’s note telling more about Kandinsky’s life and synesthesia, a genetic condition in which one sense triggers another, follows the story.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Kandinsky is one of my favorite artists, so I was excited to read this biography—I was not disappointed! With so many great artists, their work speaks for itself, but viewers wonder: How did it come about? What influenced the artist? Barb Rosenstock, with lyrical language and beautifully chosen descriptions, reveals the emotions and passion that fueled Kandinsky’s art from his earliest ages: as he walks through Moscow he can’t ignore “the canary-colored mailbox whistling as he rode to work. The scarlet sunset haze ringing above the ancient Kremlin walls.” Rosenstock’s inclusion of the conflicts and opposition Kandinsky faced and overcame will inspire children to listen to their inner voice and makes readers and lovers of his abstract art glad he never gave up.

Mary GrandPré’s unique style brilliantly depicts Kandinsky’s singular vision, allowing readers to experience the way he wielded his paint brush like a conductor’s baton. Vasya’s early life is painted in muted blues and grays, and the boredom on his face as he studies his schoolwork is obvious. Kids will appreciate his one-finger plinking at the piano and the rolled-eyed drowsiness of the formal dinner. Once Vasya is introduced to the paint box, however, GrandPré’s illustrations become vibrant, with swirling colors overlaid with the musical notes that Kandinsky associated with them. His uninhibited painting is gloriously shown as the young boy’s shirt comes untucked and the colors burst from the canvas upon his first painting.

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Image copyright Mary Grandpré, text copyright Barb Rosenstock. Courtesy of randomhouse.com

As the adults look at his work, the room is again swathed in somber colors. The text revealing that Vasya attended regular art classes to learn to draw houses and flowers is set above a single wilting flower in a vase. The personal tug-of-war Kandinsky experienced even into adulthood is wonderfully rendered: Colors flow into his ears at the opera; he studies his own landscape and still life paintings with misgiving in a hazy studio, and the joy and freedom of his abstract art is demonstrated with wild abandon while a dove escapes its cage. The final image of a child sitting in front of a Kandinsky painting reinforces the idea that his art lives for all and for all time.

Ages 4 – 9

Alfred Knopf, Random House Children’s Books, 2014 | ISBN 978-0307978486

International Artists Day Activity

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I Love Art! Word Search 

 

There are twenty-five art-related words for everyone to love in this printable I Love Art! word search puzzle! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review