April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

While we should be mindful of our impact on the earth every day, today’s holiday puts a focus on how we can conserve and protect the beauty and resources of our planet. Now more than ever, it’s up to us to do what we can on a personal level to make sure the environment is clean, healthy, and sustainable for the future. If you’d like to learn how you can make a difference or get involved with your global community, here’s a good place to start!

Finding Wild

Written by Megan Wagner Lloyd | Illustrated by Abigail Halpin

 

A girl and a boy stand with their backs to the stairs leading down to the subway contemplating the jungle of growth in front of them. A single floating leaf seems to lead the way. They follow along the path, leaving the city behind and enter the wild. Here “Wild is tiny and fragile and sweet-baby new. It pushes through cracks and crannies and steals back forgotten places.” Wild comes in many guises—some obvious, some not.

Wild also moves in various ways. As the boy and girl continue on the path passing a spider’s web and shadowy shapes with glowing eyes, wild “creeps and crawls and slithers. It leaps and pounces and shows its teeth.” Everywhere the pair ventures, wild has a distinct smell—fresh or musty, sharp or sweet, tangy or acrid. They discover wild can be as hot as a forest fire or as cold as an icicle. Running through a field of flowers and climbing a rocky cliff, the two find that wild is “as smooth as the petals of poppies, and as rough as the fierce face of a mountain.” They also find that wild can hurt in so many ways.

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Image copyright Abigail Halpin, text copyright Megan Wagner Lloyd. Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

Plunging deeper into the wild the boy and girl uncover more secrets—delicious and quenching. The sounds of wild chill and soothe them. Suddenly, though, the girl and the boy find themselves outside of the wild, back in front of a subway entrance. The wild, now seems far away, invisible and unknown, as if “the whole world is clean and paved, ordered and tidy.” As the pair gaze upward, the tall buildings and skyscrapers block the sky. But the girl points to a leaf swirling through the air. They follow it through an open door that leads to a most surprising discovery.  

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Image copyright Abigail Halpin,  text copyright Megan Wagner Lloyd, Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

Megan Wagner Lloyd entreats readers to rediscover the wild no matter where they live. Her lyrical descriptions of the splendor of nature in all its incarnations—from gentle to intense, quiet to loud, mysterious to open—delightfully capture the way children interact with the environment. Lloyd reminds readers that tasting a single juicy blackberry, thrilling to a coyote’s howl on a dark night, even feeling the prick of a cactus needle connect them to the greater world and that searching for and finding the wild—especially in the midst of an “ordered and tidy” world—brings peace and happiness.

Abigail Halpin’s lush illustrations of the wild environment gorgeously depict the vibrant colors, sometimes chilling shadows, and refreshing water the two children discover in the middle of their city. The thick vegetation rendered in a palette of greens is a riot of ferns, pines, flowering trees, and vines that hide small birds and animals. As the children huddle in a tent, the indigo night crackles with lightning and the songs of coyotes. A two-page scrapbook-type spread displays various plants and insects that sting, burn, or cause itching. When the boy and girl reenter the city, buildings—old and new—billboards, and traffic meet their eyes, but they keep their gaze on the leaf leading them on. That leaf invites readers, also, to get outside and explore the wild.

Ages 3 – 8

Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-1101932810

Discover more about Megan Wagner Lloyd, the world of Finding Wild, and news on her upcoming book on her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Abigail Halpin on her website!

Earth Day Activity

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Love the Earth Coloring Page

 

Earth Day is all about loving the Earth and treating her well. Have fun with this printable Love the Earth Coloring Page and think of one thing you can do to make a difference!

Picture Book Review

 

April 15 – Take a Wild Guess Day

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About the Holiday

Don’t ya get tired of needing to know the right answer all the time? Today’s holiday takes some of the pressure off by allowing you to indulge in wild guesses. So if the opportunity arises, and someone says, “Guess what?” or asks for your opinion, take full advantage of the day and make the wildest guess you can imagine! Get creative! It will feel good – and everyone will enjoy a laugh!

Are You a Monkey? A Tale of Animal Charades

By Marine Rivoal | English adaptation by Maria Tunney

 

The jungle was alive with activity. “The birds were excitedly chitchatting,” Little Starfish had “climbed up on his rock, eager to see what was going on,” and the other “animals were curious about all the fuss.” As they all gathered round, “Parrot fluffed up her feathers and spread her wings wide. ‘Guess who I am!’” she squawked. Toucan thought she was a pineapple, but Parrot laughed and said she was a lion.

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Image copyright Marine Rivoal, 2017, courtesy of phaidon.com

Just then Cockatoo noticed Crocodile moving closer. He wanted to know what the birds were doing. When he learned they were playing charades, Crocodile wanted to join in the fun too. He arched his body and stuck his nose in the dirt. Cockatoo offered, “‘You’re something long….’” Parrot added, “‘…that sticks out of the ground.’” And eager Toucan shouted, “‘I know! You’re a CARROT!’” But Ostrich knew just who Crocodile was imitating. It was Ostrich, herself, sticking her head in the ground to check on her eggs.

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Image copyright Marine Rivoal, 2017, courtesy of phaidon.com

Next, it was Ostrich’s turn. She bent her neck back and spit water into the air. Cockatoo observed, “‘You’re something bendy….’” Parrot said, “‘And something watery….’” And Toucan guessed, “‘Are you…a CUCUMBER?’” Elephant laughed then showed that Ostrich was pretending to be an elephant like her—spraying water from her trunk.

Elephant knew just what to do next. She grabbed onto a high tree branch with her trunk and swung back and forth. Cockatoo stated, “‘You’re something that hangs from a tree….’” Parrot inquired, “‘Are you a bat?’” And Toucan was so sure he was right this time that he yelled “‘YOU’RE A BANANA!’” But Monkey let them know that Elephant was not a bat or a banana but a monkey like him.

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Image copyright Marine Rivoal, 2017, courtesy of phaidon.com

Monkey had an idea and curled up on the branch. Parrot suggested he was a caterpillar, and Toucan decided he was a COCONUT. No! Chameleon said. Monkey is “‘a chameleon, like me!’” Chameleon then stuck out his looong tongue. It wiggled and wrapped around the branch. Cockatoo knew it was something long and wriggly. Parrot guessed a worm, and Toucan, who “was getting VERY hungry,” hoped it was their dessert.

Snake knew Chameleon was pretending to be her, but she did not want to be dessert. She did, however, want a turn. With her long, flexible body, Snake curled “into a most curious shape” and challenged the birds to guess what she was. As much as they looked and pondered, though, they could not even hazard a guess. From way out in the water, however, a tiny voice called, “‘You’re me!’” “‘You’re right, Little Starfish, it is you!’ said Snake.”

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Image copyright Marine Rivoal, 2017, courtesy of phaidon.com

Starfish so wanted to play along too, but didn’t know what to be. “‘I can’t jump, or hang, or change my shape. I can’t do…anything,’” he sighed. All the animals were quiet, thinking. Suddenly, Elephant lifted him up and “sprayed him high into the air.” Toucan was the first to guess—“‘A SHOOTING STAR!’” he exclaimed. All the animals cheered at Toucan’s correct answer and “agreed that Little Starfish’s charade was the very best one of all.’”

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Image copyright Marine Rivoal, 2017, courtesy of phaidon.com

Marine Rivoal’s Are You a Monkey is a fun, clever, kid-enticing way to learn facts about a group of jungle animals. Employing a favorite game and sprinkled with humor, the story keeps readers engaged and guessing with every turn of the page. The personalities of the three birds are charmingly revealed through their answers to the charades, and kids will giggle along with Toucan’s silly suggestions of food after food. The final charade by Little Starfish is touching and reminds readers that everyone has a special talent and can “reach for the stars” in life. After reading, little ones may even be inspired to look for Little Starfish in the night sky.

Painting with a rich Pantone color palette, Rivoal captures the lushness of the jungle while providing a stimulating visual feast for readers. Are You a Monkey is a great choice for energetic story times at home or at school and could introduce interactive classroom lessons on animal traits and behavior.

Ages 3 – 6

Phaidon Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0714874173

Discover a portfolio of work by Marine Rivoal on her website!

Take a Wild Guess Day Activity

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These are just some of the fun activities you can act out in a game of charades using the printable cards from fun-stuff-to-do.com. 

Spectacular Charades!

 

Playing charades is a fantastic way to spend time with family and friends! Gather kids and adult young and older to act out the topics of your choice. In keeping with today’s holiday, don’t hesitate to make the wildest guesses you can—it’s fun and funny! Check out the wide variety of free, printable charades cards on fun-stuff-to-do.com! You can act out animals, people, emotions, toys, food, and more! You can even create your own!

 

Picture Book Review

March 3 – World Wildlife Day

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About the Holiday

In December of 2013 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 3rd as World Wildlife Day to promote awareness of our environment and the dangers to it. This year’s theme is “Listen to the Young Voices.” Nearly one-quarter of the world’s population is between the ages of 10 and 24. With a crucial stake in the preservation of the world’s animals and plants and their habitats, more and more young people are getting involved in the preservation of the environment. Today, find a way to get involved in your community or donate to a wildlife cause. A clean, healthy, and protective environment benefits all.

Lotus & Feather

Written by Ji-li Jiang | Illustrated by Julie Downing

Lotus was lonely since her winter illness had left her without a voice. The children at school “treated her like a strange creature,” and she was left without playmates or someone to keep her company on the walk home. She lived with her grandfather who made reed baskets and found solace when he took her to ride in his boat on the nearby lake. As he poled the boat through the still water, Lotus’ grandfather sadly pointed out how the lake had changed. No longer did the lotus flowers, fish, birds, or animals thrive. Instead, the landscape had “‘been ruined by greedy fishermen and hunters, and by ignorant people who took over the land where animals once lived.’”

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

One morning while Lotus was out collecting reeds for her grandfather she spied a rare crane. It’s wide white “wings were edged with black feathers, like lace on a dress”…and “its head was crowned with a red top like a dazzling ruby.” As she watched a gunshot rang out. Unable to alert the hunter by shouting, Lotus banged on her bucket, frightening him away. Lotus rushed toward the wounded bird, picked it up and carefully brought it home to Grandpa.

Grandpa tended to the crane’s injury and fed him rice soup while Lotus stroked the soft head. For two days, Lotus hardly slept as she took care of the crane. On the third day she fell asleep next to the crane, waking when he stirred and nestled her cheek. “Lotus’s heart pounded, and tears sprang to her eyes.” Lotus named the crane Feather. As it grew stronger she gathered food for it, and on the day Feather took his first steps, “Lotus jumped and swirled and hugged Grandpa blissfully.”

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

Soon Feather was following Lotus everywhere—even to school. After class Lotus would blow her whistle and Feather would come running and dance as Lotus played. The other children joined in, dancing and playing along every day. One night Lotus heard Feather crowing and woke to find that the village was flooded. Poling his boat through the streets, Grandpa shouted, Lotus banged her pail, and Feather crowed to alert the neighbors. “Over three hundred villagers were saved. Feather was the hero.” He became famous, and people wanted to hear his story again and again.

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

When Spring arrived Feather was still too weak to fly but he looked longingly at the birds migrating north. Lotus was frightened that her friend might want to leave them, but she “knew she would never separate him from his home and family.” One day Feather spread his wings and leaped into the air. Lotus realized that he had healed and knew it was time for him to leave. Grandpa and Lotus took Feather to the lake. Grandpa tossed Feather into the air, but he returned again and again. Grandpa gave Feather to Lotus. Lotus hugged Feather one more time and threw him into the sky.  

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

Holding back tears, Lotus watched as “Feather flapped his big wings and soared north, disappearing into the horizon.” Lotus and the other children missed Feather. They gathered together listening to Lotus play her whistle, imagining that Feather could hear them. One autumn morning, Lotus heard a familiar crow and rushed outside. There stood Feather with his family. Then Lotus gasped. The sky was filled with hundreds of cranes coming to the lake. Lotus blew her whistle, and the notes, “accompanied by the birds’ singing, echoed far, far away in the golden sky.”

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

Ji-li-Jiang’s tender story resonates on every page with love and friendship. The relationship revealed in Jiang’s tale exists not only between Lotus and Feather, but between readers and their environment. Beautifully interwoven throughout the plot, the idea of responsibility between friends, to the earth, and to ourselves makes Lotus & Feather a compelling book to read and discuss. Through lyrical passages and detailed storytelling, Jiang develops a deep, emotional bond between Lotus and Feather that readers will respond to. The heartwarming connection between Lotus and her grandfather brings comforting and another level of family commitment to the story.

Julie Downing’s stunning illustrations allow readers to walk, sit, worry, and cheer with Lotus as she finds and cares for Feather. Her sadness is palpable as she walks home from school past a group of classmates playing ball; in the corner of the dark lake, children will find bottles, cans, and other debris floating among the reeds; and Feather makes his debut with a graceful ballet. Readers will love watching the progression of Feather’s healing and Lotus’ reintegration into her circle of friends and will applaud when Feather and his family and friends return to the lake.

Lotus & Feather is a multi-layered story that will captivate readers. It is a must for public and school libraries and would make a beautiful addition to home libraries as well.

Ages 5 – 9

Disney Hyperion, 2016 | ISBN 978-1423127543

Discover more about Ji-li Jiang and her books on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork as well as other books by Julie Downing on her website!

World Wildlife Day Activity

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Endangered Species Word Scramble

Can you find the names of 15 animals in this printable Endangered Species Word Scramble? Here’s the Solution.

Picture Book Review

November 30 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

During the month of November we’ve celebrated picture books—those wonderful stories and works of art that open the world to children and adults in surprising and amazing ways. Creating home libraries for children as well as reading together every day is an important part of improving language development and literacy. The close bond formed between parents and other caregivers and children during quiet or boisterous reading times last a lifetime. If you have young children or even older kids who love the beauty of picture books, make every month Picture Book Month!

Owl Sees Owl

Written by Laura Godwin | Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

 

An adorable baby owl, wide awake in the full moonlight while its family sleeps, gazes out from its nest in a tree at the surrounding forest. The night is filled with “Home / Mama / Brother / Sister.” The little owl ventures out onto a sturdy limb. It knows “Tree / Nest / Hop / Look.” From its perch with a “Jump / Flutter / Flap / Fly” the owlet soars through the deep blue sky, its white face shining like the stars. It floats over autumn leaves while in the “Moon / Beam / Eyes / Gleam.”

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Down below other nocturnal animals have come out to play. On the farm the barn is quiet and dark while someone is stirring in the house. The baby owl passes them by with a “Soar / Glide / Swoop / Swoosh.” Something glistens in the midst of the forest, and the owl descends to investigate. “Owl… / Sees / Owl” in the rippled rings of the small pond.

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Image copyright Laura Godwin, courtesy of Rob Dunlavey, robd.com

After a moment the owlet takes off with a quick “Swoosh / Swoop / Glide / Soar,” reversing its nighttime flight. Once more the curious baby passes over the star- and moonlit field, feeling bolder: “Scamper / Mice / Twinkle / Stars.” Deer perk up their ears and stare alert to the nearly silent woosh of the owl’s wings above. “Yellow / Red / Leaves / Fall as the owl zooms with a “Fly / Flap / Flutter / Jump toward “Sister / Brother / Mama / Home,” where Mama waits wide awake.

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Image copyright Laura Godwin, courtesy of Rob Dunlavey, robd.com

Inspired by reverso poetry, Laura Godwin’s lovely Owl Sees Owl is a language- and emotionally rich story to share with young children. With only four words per two-page spread, Godwin tells the detailed adventure of an inquisitive baby owl who leaves home for a nighttime caper through woods and over farmland to a pond where it sees itself reflected in the mirror-like surface. In a minute the owl is back in the air for the trip home, reversing its path and also the order of the words. Godwin’s dynamic, lyrical words are joyful to read and allow for readers to linger over each page and talk about what they see, what the little owl is doing, and even whether a sentence such as “Fall / Leaves / Red / Yellow” is active or descriptive. The reverse nature of the story brings the baby owl’s adventure to a sweet, satisfying conclusion that children will love.

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Image copyright Laura Godwin, courtesy of Rob Dunlavey, robd.com

Rob Dunlavey’s illustrations transfer the most beautiful clear, moonlit night to the page, creating a perfect quiet time or bedtime book for young children. The lush, dark woods rendered in deep olives, rusts, browns, grays, and blacks as well as the indigo sky highlight the gleaming moon, twinkling stars, and white feathers of the owl. In one spread deer appear in silhouette in the background as mice scamper over pumpkins in the foreground; in another fiery red, yellow, and orange autumn leaves make a spectacular backdrop to the owl’s outstretched wings. The central spread in which the owl sees its own reflection offers readers much to talk about. Is the owl startled? Wondering? Happy? Is the owlet going home for comfort or to tell of its amazing discovery? Kids will love lingering over each page to think and talk about all that is there.

Owl Sees Owl makes a wonderful gift for young children or children who love poetry and art. The book would be a welcome and often read addition to home libraries.

Ages 2 – 7

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553497823

To see a gallery of illustration work for picture books, nature sketches, and other artwork by Rob Dunlavey, visit his website!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Barn Owl Coloring Page

 

This little guy looks ready for an adventure! Grab your pencils or crayons, color this printable cute Barn Owl Coloring Page, and give him a background to start his journey!

Picture Book Review

November 8 – X-Ray Day and Q & A with Author Sara Levine

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About the Holiday

In 1895 while Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen was experimenting with cathode rays and glass, he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. This led him to make an astounding discovery. He found that the electromagnetic energy that caused the glow—which he named X-rays—could penetrate human flesh, but not bone, thus allowing bone to be photographed. For the first time doctors could see inside the body without surgery. X-rays were first used during the Balkan War in 1897 to find bullets, shrapnel, and broken bones in soldiers. While X-rays were an amazing advancement for medical research and patient care, their danger was not readily understood. The novelty of this new technology was used by shoe stores as a fitting device in the 1930s through 50s until the harmful properties of radiation were better appreciated. Today, X-rays and the technology they led to are instrumental in diagnosing injuries and diseases and in targeting a medical response.

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth

 

Can you imagine if we sloshed through life like soup without a bowl? What would we set our hats on? Where would we carry our phones? How could we sit in class or the office or perform our favorite activities? And what would happen to our organs, our hair, our homes? It’s all a little disturbing! Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that scenario because “we’re vertebrates, animals with bones. Our bones hold us up.” Phew!

There are different kinds of vertebrates—mammals, reptiles, fish, and more—but many of our bones are similar. For example, “all vertebrates have skulls and ribs. And we all have vertebrae. Vertebrae stack up one on top of another to make the spine, or backbone.” Humans have vertebrae that end…well…you know where, but imagine for a minute if your vertebra kept on going. What if they poked a hole right through your shorts? Yes! You’re right—you’d have a tail. Tails are pretty helpful for some animals. They help them swim, communicate, even keep their balance.

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

Good job! Let’s try again…how about if you only had a skull, vertebrae, and ribs. No arm bones; no leg bones. You’ve got it! A slithery snake! Nah…really…you’d look great! Okay, maybe you’d prefer if you had a skull, vertebrae, and arm bones—but no leg bones—and your nose was transferred to the top of your head. Sounds fishy? Maybe, but not quite. Oh! Did I give it away? Yep, you’d be a whale or a dolphin, and you’d use those powerful vertebrae to propel yourself to the ocean’s surface to grab a breath.

Imagine what kind of gloves and shoes you’d need if your “middle fingers and middle toes were so thick that they supported your whole body.” Hey, you’re good at this! It was a trick question. You wouldn’t need gloves, but you’d wear horse shoes (or no shoes if you’re a less domesticated animal like a zebra). Now, let’s take a trip through a room full of fun-house mirrors. What kind of animal would you be if your neck was reeeaally long and each vertebrae was “as big as your head?” Or if your legs were muuuuuch longer than your arms? Or your “finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Seeing those transformations is definitely worth the price of admission, right?

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

But getting back to the bowl of soup: “Could you be an animal if you didn’t have any bones at all?” Sure! Some insects and sea creatures “have their hard parts on the outside,” and some are just “mushy.” Think of worms, slugs, and jellyfish, just to name a few. But bones make life more fun, don’t ya think? So if all vertebrates have bones, what makes humans different? Well, for one thing we (as well as some apes and monkeys) have opposable thumbs, which means that “we can move our thumbs in a special way that allows us to do many things, including turning the pages of a book,” using tools, and picking up objects. “Did you get that one? If so, give yourself a thumbs-up!”

An Author’s Note including more about bones, the types of vertebrates, a glossary, and resources for further reading follow the text.

With humor and a kid’s sensibility of the bizarre, Sara Levine presents an anatomy lesson that young readers will respond to. Juxtaposing individual bony features of humans and animals is a brilliant idea to give children perspective on the differences in animal skeletons and the uses of each unique trait. Levine’s quiz-like format engages readers, encouraging independent thought and active participation as well as building suspense for what transformation comes next. Kids will laugh and learn and be on the lookout for other ways human and animal skeletons differ as they become more aware of the natural world around them.

With illustrations of tailbones sticking out of pants, empty socks, two fingered hands and two toed feet, a neck that needs two scarves, and more, T. S Spookytooth illuminates what it means to be human in an animal world or an animal in a human world. Kids will laugh imagining themselves as Spookytooth depicts them with animal features and “Ewww” when their portrayal dissolves into a muddy mess. The accurate drawings of human and animal skeletons educate readers on the names and placement of particular bones.

The unique approach to the study of human and animal skeletons, the wide range of animals presented, and the enticing writing and illustrations make Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons a wonderful choice for libraries and home bookshelves of budding scientists and nature lovers.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-0761384649

To learn more about Sara Levine and her books, visit her website! You’ll also discover fun Bone by Bone activities to enhance your reading!

View a gallery of artwork by T. S Spookytooth, plus videos and more on his website!

X-Ray Day Activity

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Dog Paw and Human Hand X-Ray Craft

 

X-rays are cool to look at, but they always stay at the doctor’s office! With this craft you can simulate an X-ray of a dog’s paw and a human hand!

Supplies

  • Printable skeleton templates: Human Hand Template | Dog Paw Template
  • Black chalkboard drawing paper, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches
  • White colored pencil
  • White chalk
  • Clear Plastic Report Sheet Protectors
  • Magnetic clip to hang your x-ray on the refrigerator or other metal surface (optional) OR
  • String or wire, adhesive squares, and clothes pins to hang x-ray on the wall (optional)
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Print the Human Hand and Dog Paw Templates (you may want to print two—one to cut and one to follow when transferring the bones to the black paper)
  2. Cut the bones apart
  3. Lay the bones on the black chalkboard paper
  4. Trace the bones with the white colored pencil
  5. Color in the bones with the white chalk
  6. Slip the black paper into the plastic report sheet protector
  7. If desired, hang the x-ray on the refrigerator with the magnetic clip or on the wall using string, adhesive squares and clothespins

 

Q & A with Author Sara Levine

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Today, I’m thrilled to talk to Sara Levine about her writing as well as to learn about her early experiences with animals and to discover a kid’s-eye-view of women in science.

Your writing for kids is so infused with humor that really captures their attention. What were some of the books that you liked best as a child?

When I was younger, one of my favorite picture books was Katerine and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch. I’ve noticed that this book has gone back into print; I was so happy to find it online. It’s basically about creativity. A girl and her friend keep finding new uses for a large cardboard box—a house, a car, a dance platform. I can still recall my feeling of excitement when hearing it read to me—it made me want to go make something. It’s actually a feeling very similar to what I have today when I think of a new idea for a book. There was also a book called Wisher, which was about difference—about a cat who dreamt he was really a fish. I remember that the illustrations were beautiful and somewhat scary—just done in blues, browns and yellows.  As an older child, I loved Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater and pretty much everything by Judy Blume.

I don’t suppose any of these books are like the books I write. I used to tell people that I liked my science and my books separate. I just wanted to go outside to learn about science. But, I wanted stories in my books. I don’t think there were any of the sorts of books I write about science out for kids when I was young. At least I didn’t find them. But if I had, I think I would have enjoyed them—the fact that they were funny and interactive. But here’s a picture book I LOVE that I found as an adult that is certainly infused with humor and captures a kid’s (and a grown-up’s) attention: Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer. I think this is currently my favorite picture book.

You grew up on a farm in Guilford, Connecticut. Can you tell me a little about the farm and how or if it influenced your current work?

Calling it a “farm” might be a bit of a stretch. My parents were two kids who grew up in Brooklyn and then moved to CT and decided to get some animals, cheered on by their enthusiastic offspring. First there was a goat, who got lonely. So then there was another goat. And they had a baby. And there was a chicken at school who needed a place to go for the summer. And then never went back to school… And so on. We ended up having over 100 named animals—a horse, a cow, peacocks, geese, a donkey and more. I loved taking care of the animals, with my siblings. It was a wonderful experience, one that I’m very grateful for. But it wasn’t at all lucrative. I think the only money made was by my brother who would sell extra eggs to his teachers.

How did it influence my current work? I’m not sure. Certainly my interest in animals is a lifelong one. I think the stories about the animals actually show up more in my writing for adults than in my picture books. The ideas for the books for children come more from teaching ideas that I think will translate well into a picture book format.

You have a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a masters in fine art. When and how did the two merge into your work as an author?

What a great question. I have always had this science side and this humanities side. A lot of my life, I’ve been struggling with how to balance and feed both sides of myself. It’s taken me a long time to find a way to merge the two interests, and it’s been very satisfying to do so in writing about science, especially for kids.

You offer four different school and library programs, all of which sound fascinating. Do you have any anecdotes from a presentation you’d like to share?

In one of my workshops, the one for Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, I bring in an articulated skeleton for the kids to see and a disarticulated skeleton in a box. The kids learn the bones, and I then hand them each a bone which they take up to the standing skeleton to figure out which bone it is, and then work together to put together the second skeleton on the floor. Inevitably, someone asks if the skeletons are real. They are. I literally found them in the closets, when I started my teaching at Wheelock. There are all sorts of questions about that, generated by the kids, and then, often, someone will ask if the skeletons are “boys or girls.” Recently, at a school near Boston, I was explaining to a group of second graders that both were female, that we could tell by the shape of the hips, and I heard one girl, going, “YES!” and pumping her arm up and down, in victory. The boy next to her says, “Why are you so happy? That means a girl died.” To which she responds, “That’s true. But it also means one more girl in science!”

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Sara Levine leads a workshop at Cold Spring School

What’s the best thing about writing for kids?

I enjoy trying to think of engaging and interactive ways to teach something that hasn’t been taught before. I like the creativity involved. And, of course, reading it to the kids when I’m done and seeing them respond!

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Students at Al Hamra Academy examine a skeleton

You also write articles for adults and were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007. Can you tell me more about your writing for adults?

I write science related essays for adults. The writing comes more from my own experiences.  I do have a handful of essays published. I think the one that was nominated for the Pushcart, “What Hands Can Do” is still available to read online. Here’s a link to it on Fictionaut. It’s about spaying a dog. And more, of course. I think my most successful essay is “The Body of a Cow” which originally appeared in the Massachusetts Review. It’s also on Fictionaut, if anyone wants to have a look. Eventually, I hope to work the essays into a memoir for adults.

What’s up next for you?

I have a book on dinosaur bones which will be published by Lerner next year. I also have three children’s books written which I’m trying to find homes for at the moment—one on animal classification (but interactive, written like a “do your own adventure” story), one on how plants communicate with animals, and one very funny one (if I can say so myself) called “Breakfast at the Omnivore Café,” which is about what animals eat. This one might never get published because it falls into the cracks between nonfiction and narrative fiction, but I haven’t given up on it yet. The book I’m currently working on is an attempt to explain climate change through stories of the carbon cycle. Doesn’t sound very interesting when put that way, but it’s written as an interactive story, and is also actually quite funny in parts, so I think kids will like it.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you what your favorite holiday is…

Passover. You get to tell a story to children in a way that is interactive and engaging for kids, AND it involves food. What could be better?

Thanks so much for chatting and sharing your unique perspective on the natural world, Sara! I, for one, would love to read Breakfast at the Omnivore Café—that would be one interesting menu, I bet! I wish you the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Sara Levine on:

Her Website | FacebookTwitter

About Sara Levine

Sara Levine is an assistant professor of biology at Wheelock College and a veterinarian.  Her science books for children include Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (2013) and Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks and Chompers (2016).  Her third book, Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones will be published in 2018.  Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons has received much recognition, including the Utah Beehive Book Award, selection as a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, and finalist for the Cook Prize for best STEM picture book.

Sara also writes science-related essays for adults, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007.  Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Review, Bayou, and in the anthology And Baby Makes More. In addition to teaching college students, she has taught children’s environmental education classes for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and other nature centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut for over 15 years. 

Sara holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) from Tufts University, a master of fine arts degree (MFA) in creative nonfiction writing from Lesley University and a bachelor of arts degree (BA) in English from Haverford College.  She is a native New Englander and lives with her daughter and their dogs and cat in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

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Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons and Sara’s other books can be found at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBoundLerner Publishing

Picture Book Review

October 18 – It’s Squirrel Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

Squirrels elicit emotions on both sides of the spectrum. On one hand you can’t help but say “Awww!” when you see their tiny little paws and crafty antics. On the other hand their voracious appetites at bird feeders and penchant for darting into traffic is more likely to make you say “Arrgghhh!” This month is set aside, however, for enjoying the squirrels in your yard, park, or city. And really, don’t they make life just a little more fun?

Those Darn Squirrels Fly South

Written by Adam Rubin | Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

 

Everyone knows Mr. Fookwire is a grump whose grumpiness knows no bounds. “He scolded fireflies for being too bright…yelled at clouds for being too fluffy…and pinched his nose with a clothespin” so he doesn’t have to smell the lilacs. Despite these annoyances, though, he had a wonderful summer painting pictures of the birds in his yard even though “those darn squirrels” had set up an easel of their own nearby.

But now fall was here and that meant that all of Mr. Fookwire’s beloved birds would soon be flying south leaving him with only the squirrels for company. While the squirrels usually spent the winter months “playing ping pong, building ships in bottles, and knitting, this winter they had decided to follow the birds to warmer climes. With their expert knowledge in aerodynamic engineering, the squirrels had “built gyro-copters from pinecones…gliders from leaves…and even a zeppelin from an old shopping bag.”

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Image copyright Daniel Salmieri, text copyright Adam Rubin. Courtesy of hmhbookscom

When the day came for the birds to take wing, Mr. Fookwire sadly waved goodbye. Just as he was about to return to the house, he heard a strange rustling, then a whir, and finally a buzz. It was the squirrels soaring away in their homemade aircraft. “‘Great googley-moogley’” Mr. Fookwire exclaimed.

The squirrels followed the birds for days until they landed on a beach. To celebrate the end of their journey and the welcome warmth, the squirrels held a fiesta, complete with mangoes, the marimba, and the merengue. Winter was wonderful here where there were new foods to eat and new birds to discover. One with a long neck, rings around its eyes, and red and blue feathers even looked a little familiar and left the squirrels feeling homesick. They decided to make a long-distance phone call, and chattered away to Mr. Fookwire.

Although he wouldn’t admit it, Mr. Fookwire was happy to receive the call. He decided to pack up his easels, paints, brushes, and cottage cheese with pepper and hit the road in his beautiful vintage car. Driving 12 miles an hour, Mr. Fookwire at last reached the beach, where the squirrels swarmed him in a big hug. “Maybe it was the nice weather. Maybe it was the beautiful scenery, Maybe it was the squirrels dancing in his pants. But for the first time in a very long time, the old man laughed.”

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Image copyright Daniel Salmieri, text copyright Adam Rubin. Courtesy of hmhbookscom

Mr. Fookwire was delighted with the local birds and immediately began to paint them. “‘The birds here are even more amazing than the birds back home!’ he exclaimed. ‘Harrumph!’ muttered the floogle bird.” The hot sun took its toll on Mr. Fookwire, however, and he collapsed right into the middle of his painting. The squirrels dragged him into the shade and revived him. Maybe spending the winter at home was better. Mr. Fookwire decided to head back, and the squirrels accompanied him. They didn’t want to miss “the annual snow-fort building competition.”

They all jumped into the car and sped off. Really! After all, Mr. Fookwire was in no condition to drive.

Adam Rubin’s Those Darn Squirrels Fly South contains all the charm and squirrely shenanigans that make the other two books in the series such a hit with kids (and adults). Rubin’s snappy descriptions, silly scenarios, and loveably cantankerous protagonist make for a hilarious story time read that will delight his fans and captivate new readers.

Daniel Salmieri knows how to make kids giggle and laugh out loud with colorful illustrations that perfectly depict Mr. Fookwire’s world—both at home and away. Mr. Fookwire’s noodly arms, giraffe-long neck, and carrot-shaped nose coalesce into a character that is at once funny and endearing. Getting more beak time in this third outing, the familiar birds are joined by a crew of even more brilliant and exotic beach mates. The squirrels are up to their usual contraption-making tricks as they build flying machines from soda bottles, flashlights, baseball caps, and more around-the-house items. The squirrels know how to live wherever they are, and Salmieri’s depictions of them holding a fiesta, hugging Mr. Fookwire, and roaring down the highway is absurdity for the younger set at its best.

Ages 4 – 7

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012 | ISBN 978-0544555457

You can find out more about Adam Rubin, his books, and his dry sense of humor on his website!

View a gallery of illustration work and more books by Daniel Salmieri on his website!

Go nuts watching this Those Darn Squirrels Fly South book trailer!

Squirrel Awareness Month Activity

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Celebrate Squirrels! Dot-to-Dot

 

Enjoy following the dots to finish this printable Celebrate Squirrels! activity sheet and then color it in!

Picture Book Review

October 4 – World Animal Day and Q&A with Author Jess Keating

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About the Holiday

We love animals, but do we take care of them the way we should? Today’s holiday was established in 1931 to promote global awareness of animals and the issues surrounding their welfare. From pets to domesticated animals to wild creatures, humans must protect and advocate for their companions and fellow travelers on this earth. Issues such as pollution, habitat destruction, and poaching threaten the world’s wide variety of species, while closer to home spaying and neutering controls the population of feral animals that often suffer from a lack of resources.

The wildlife kingdom is majestic and awe-inspiring. Today celebrate the world’s animals by taking a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or animal preserve, consider adopting a shelter animal, or donating your time or talents to your favorite animal cause.

Pink is for Blob Fish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals

Written by Jess Keating | Illustrated by David DeGrand

 

Pink is sweet like cotton candy, right? Pink is pretty like a rose, isn’t it? Pink is quiet like twightlight, don’t cha think? Well…yes, and…maybe not so much. You’d be pardoned for squirming in the presence of a pinktoe tarantula which is found in the rain forests of Matinique and Guadeloupe and can defeat predators with their spiky hairs, and if you can’t make heads or tails of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, which looks like a cross between a lobster tail and a shag rug, no one will blame you.

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Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

But the world is full of pink, and for each of these grimace-inducing bubble-gum-hued creatures there are plenty who simply take your breath away with their beauty. Imagine watching a duo-toned light-and-dark-pink Roseate Spoonbill take off and soar over marshland along America’s Gulf Coast or a river in South America or the West Indies like a valentine on the wind. You will likewise marvel when you see the delicate form of the Orchid Mantis. This variety of praying mantis found in the rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia is so identical to real orchids that other insects can’t tell the difference and often land in the grasp of their tricky predator.

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Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Seas and rivers also teem with pink wildlife. Pygmy Seahorses swimming in the waters of the South Pacific blend in to their coral surroundings like a spiky ball among hedgehogs. With white-and-pinkish bodies dotted with strawberry-colored knobs, these seahorses are perfectly camouflaged against predators. The rose-colored Amazon River Dolphin hunts for piranhas, crustaceans and bottom dwelling fish with its long snout in the freshwater rivers of South America. The rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Sahara Africa are home to Hippopotamuses, which “ooze thick pink oil all over their skin. This pink ‘sweat’ acts like an antibiotic sunscreen, so hippos can stay out in the sun all day without getting burned.” Imagine if you could do that!

Of course, there is also the Blobfish, recently voted as the world’s ugliest animal. But isn’t this little glob of gelatinous goo really so ugly it’s cute? Found in deep waters off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, this fish survives where others cannot by simply opening its mouth and gobbling down whatever floats by.

With many more examples of pink wildlife in this captivating book, it’s guaranteed that after flipping through the pages of Pink is for Blobfish you will never look at pink the same way again! 

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Text copyright Jess Keating, illustration copyright David DeGrand, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Jess Keating highlights a host of fascinating pink animals in this volume that is sure to delight kids and get them excited about the world less seen. The first in the World of Weird Animals series, Pink is for Blobfish is loaded with scientific facts, remarkable trivia, and humorous asides to pique the interest of readers’ inner zoologist. Each two-page spread provides a spectacular up-close photograph of the animal, insect, or fish described as well as its common name, species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators or threats. Keating also taps into her audience’s love of the unique and even the bizarre with conversational paragraphs that reveal unusual habits, traits, survival mechanisms, and more for each creature featured.

David DeGrand lends his unique illustration style to the pages with funny cartoon portrayals of the creatures and one of their signature traits. These humorous depictions will not only make kids and adults laugh but will promote better understanding of each unique animal.

Pink is for Blobfish is a perfect addition to personal libraries for budding environmental scientists or anyone interested in the wider, wilder animal world and is an exciting title for school libraries and classrooms, where it could inspire scientific study.

Ages 5 – 10

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553512274

You’ll discover books, videos, creature features, resources, and lots more on Jess Keating’s website!

You will find the world of David DeGrand‘s art and comics on his website!

Pink is for book trailers—at least this one!

World Animal Day Activity

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Play the Wonderful Wildlife Board Game! Animal tokens images copyright Conor Carroll

Wonderful Wildlife Board Game

 

Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice below
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!
  • 1 = Flamingo – South America
  • 2 = Emperor Penguin – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 3 = Giraffe – Africa
  • 4 = Bald Eagle – North America
  • 5 = Ibex – Europe
  • 6 = Kangaroo – Australia
  • 7 = Panda – Asia
  • 8 = Orca – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 9 = Toucan – South America
  • 10 = Buffalo – North America
  • 11 = Koala – Australia
  • 12 = Lion – Africa
  • 13 = Etruscan Shrew – Europe
  • 14 = Manta Ray – Pacific Ocean
  • 15 = Sea Turtle – Atlantic Ocean
  • 16 = Tiger – Asia

Q&A with Author Jess Keating

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Today I’m tickled pink to talk to Jess Keating about her work as a zoologist and an author, her favorite animals, and a very cool holiday tradition.

In your work, your books, and your online presence, you bring kids and adults closer to the animal kingdom. What in your early years inspired you to become a zoologist?

I wish there was one poignant answer to this question! The truth is, all my life I’ve been enamored with animals. A physicist I admire once said this: The world is beautiful to look at, but it’s even more beautiful to understand. To me, that sums it all up perfectly.

As a kid, animals sparked my curiosity, my imagination, and even my creativity. The diversity they represent is so amazing to me—they all live their lives so differently, with different senses, abilities, and environments, yet it works perfectly for them. I instantly felt a kinship with them, and as a kid, I wanted to know everything about them.

As I got older and was able to really get into zoology, my goal shifted. The world of animals is so endlessly fascinating, and I now I want to take every opportunity to share it with others, especially young readers.  

All animals are amazing, but do you have a soft spot for one particular animal or species? If so, why?

Now this is such a hard question! My favorite animal has always been the wolf. I was lucky enough to see one in the wild once, and it’s pretty hard to come away from that experience without believing in magic!

Lately, I also have a soft spot for nudibranchs! I included one (the Hopkins’ rose nudibranch) in my last book, but there are so many other species that we know so little about! As I mentioned above, it’s the diversity that takes my breath away. Some of them look like bunnies:

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Image courtesy of crawl_ray on flickr.com

Some even look like pizzas!

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Image courtesy of Arthur Anker on flickr.com

You do such a great job of reaching out to kids through videos, KeatingCreature on Twitter, your YouTube Channel: Animals for Smart People, personal appearances, and Skype visits. Can you describe a funny or favorite anecdote from one of your events?

Thank you for the Youtube shout out! I really hope teachers find my videos useful! As for a favorite event, when you mix animals and kids, the results are often hilarious. Usually, my visits involve a lot of dead things. I bring a collection of skulls, animal bones, and animal track castings with me. Every so often, we get lucky with some live specimens.

One of my favorite events was a library visit that involved a 10+ foot python. I had her resting on my shoulders (as you do), and I remember laughing because almost all of the adults in the room were skittish, backing off toward the door.

When I asked who else wanted to hold this lovely python, every adult shook their head. There was no way they were going near it! But then, a tiny six year old girl rushed up to the front, with a massive smile on her face. She wasn’t afraid at all as she held that snake—and I’m pretty sure that her big moment meant as much to me as it did to her!   

What inspired you to write Pink is for Blobfish?

 Pink is for Blobfish is a book so close to my heart! I know that sounds strange, because it’s essentially a book filled with weirdos!

As you can probably guess, I’ve been reading animal books my whole life. I loved them all, but what I really wanted was to write something that says as much about us as it does about the wild animals on each page. A book that not only shares amazing animals with kids, but also gets them thinking critically about how they view the world, especially regarding their assumptions and judgments. Pink is for Blobfish is my way of getting readers to look at gender expectations, while (hopefully) instilling them with a little wonder about the natural world.

There’s so much humor in your writing and videos. How does your love of comedy help you connect to readers?

The short answer is, I’m just a big ham and love making people laugh. There’s also the added bonus with nonfiction: we’re much more likely to remember something if we connect with it emotionally. My way of accomplishing that is to be funny and get kids laughing. Fiction or nonfiction, one of the easiest ways for me to reach readers is through a well-timed joke.

But, you can also get a little deeper with it. I once heard that Jim Carrey doesn’t think of his job as “making people laugh.” Instead, he views it as “freeing people from concern.” The minute I heard that, it resonated with me. For those few moments, when you’ve got a reader laughing, they’re free from any concern in their lives. It’s a reprieve, a bright moment. It’s true for us as adults too—it’s pretty much impossible to be stressed out when you’re reading about a pigeon that wants to drive a bus!

Now, when I approach my writing, I look for those moments. If I can make myself laugh, that’s half the battle.

What’s the best part about writing books for kids?

For both fiction and nonfiction, my favorite part is seeing the look on a kid’s face when you open a door for them into a whole new world. Sometimes, it’s the ridiculously colorful world of nudibranchs. And sometimes, it’s helping them to the realization that they aren’t alone, no matter how weird they feel.

What’s up next for you?

I’m so glad you asked! I just received F&Gs of the second book in the World of Weird Animals series! I can’t give away the title just yet, but I can say we are going to look at MONSTERS. This isn’t just going to be a book of creepy creatures. We’re going to dig into why we see certain animals as monsters, and how those judgments and assumptions affect how we think of them. I was blown away with the discussions that Pink is for Blobfish prompted with kids, and I can’t wait to see how they respond to this book!

I also have my first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, coming out next year! I’ve always been a fan of sharks, and I was thrilled to tell the story of Eugenie Clark, one of the world’s first female shark scientists. Eugenie is one of those incredible women that changed the world just by being her fearless self, and I am so eager to share this book with everyone. Look for it around June!

I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-themed questions, so…

You told me that World Animal Day is one of your favorite holidays. Can you talk a little about that?

What could be better than a day devoted to animals!? World Animal Day is a day to chat about animals all over the world, and how we can best protect them and their futures. A funny thing happens when you start talking about animals in the global sense—you can’t help them without also helping us. Education and awareness can accomplish so much!

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

I have one that ties in really well here! When I was a teen, I had a really cool Christmas tradition that I highly recommend to parents of animal lovers. On Christmas morning (or any special holiday morning for you!) I would go to my local humane society, bring treats, and walk the dogs. Usually, these centers have lots of volunteers, but busy holidays are often pretty slow for them and there’s not a lot of help. I guarantee the dogs will love the company, and you’ll get to spend an hour surrounded by wagging tails! You can’t lose.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Yes! A very savvy bookstore (DDG Books!) organized a “Valentine for Blobfish” event when Pink is for Blobfish came out. So many young readers felt bad that the blobfish was voted the world’s “Ugliest Animal” (true story!) and they wanted to send him valentine cards to make him feel better!

You can see more about it here in this video:

 

And read some blobfish poetry here. Or, you can see some of the adorable cards on my blog.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

Thank you, Jess! It’s been so much fun! I wish you all the best with all of your books and your other ventures!

Learn more about Jess Keating!

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her MY LIFE IS A ZOO series earned two Kirkus stars, a Red Maple nomination, a Rocky Mountain Book Award nomination, and a spot on the LA Times Summer Book Pick List. 

Her quirky nonfiction picture book series kicked off with PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, with a sequel to follow in 2017. Her first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, will also be published in 2017. 

Jess is also the creator, writer and host of Animals for Smart People, a Youtube series about animals, science, and nature. Subscribe today and bring Jess into your classroom!

Connect with Jess Keating:

You can  find Jess on Twitter @Jess_Keating and on Facebook @JessKeatingBooks!

Pink is for Blobfish can be found at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndigoIndieBound | PenguinRandom House

Picture Book Review