May 24 – National Brothers Day

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About the Holiday

Today we take time to celebrate brothers! Whether you grew up with one brother or a few or have a friend you love like a brother, today’s holiday gives you a terrific reason to spend time together or get in touch and make some new memories! This year, as we’re spending more time working and playing with family, today’s book is certainly a home run!

Calvin Gets the Last Word

Written by Margo Sorenson | Illustrated by Mike Deas

 

Calvin’s dictionary is well-positioned to know all about (and describe) Calvin’s life because from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed, that dictionary is in his hands. “Why? Because Calvin loves words—I mean REALLY loves words,” the dictionary says. And Calvin won’t rest until he’s found the perfect “word for everything—especially his rascally brother.” Take this morning, for example. Calvin grabs his dictionary, as usual, and heads to the kitchen for breakfast. At the table, Calvin takes a big gulp of milk. It’s just the moment his brother’s been waiting for to tell his super funny, nose-snorting joke. You can imagine what happens—and that’s why the dictionary’s page that contains the word revenge is soaked.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

But is revenge the right word for Calvin’s brother? Not quite. On the school bus as the kids are tossing a backpack, talking, laughing, and hanging over the seats, Calvin’s dictionary offers up mayhem, but that doesn’t completely describe his brother either. As Calvin struggles in geography class and passes notes during library story time, his dictionary helps describe the mood, but the words it comes up with don’t really apply to his brother. Calvin does discover a good word for himself, though, when, on the way home from school, he stands up to a bully and helps a kindergartener.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

At Little League practice, the dictionary tells readers, Calvin “loves to crush the ball during batting practice, sending it over the fence. That’s why the page that reads pulverize has grass stains on it.” Could pulverize be the right word for his brother? While Calvin thinks it could be fun, it’s not exactly right.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

That night dinner turns into a repeat of breakfast—only in broccoli green. When Calvin goes to bed, he sits for a while, thinking. Then he grabs his exhausted dictionary and a glass of water and sneaks into his brother’s room. The dictionary thinks it knows what’s going to happen and riffles through its pages to find the right word, unconcerned whether it stays dry or not. And then, there on the page, is the perfect word! But wait, what’s going on? The word the dictionary offered no longer fits because now the brothers are laughing. The dictionary tries flipping to another page and a better word, but Calvin has it beat as he turns the pages and discovers the exact right word to describe his brother. What are all of the words the dictionary and Calvin have found? Come flip through Calvin Gets the Last Word yourself to find out!

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

In her funny and unique mashup of sibling rivalry and vocabulary, Margo Sorenson offers kids an engaging story of the singular type of love brothers share uncovered little by little through word-building. Calvin’s dictionary makes a sincere and charming guide through high-interest words that lend panache and nuance to events throughout Calvin’s day even if they don’t quite describe his brother. Astute kids may notice that the words the dictionary chooses for Calvin’s brother proves his loyalty to his favorite reader. Calvin’s spewed milk, whispered secrets, and home run batting add up to a real kid that readers will love. The words that the dictionary finds are fun to learn and say and will spark an enthusiasm in readers to do their own flipping through the dictionary and thesaurus. Sorenson’s endearing ending rings true with a word kids are sure to embrace.

Mike Deas’ glasses-wearing and sweat suit-clad Calvin, whose dictionary is always at the ready to define his experiences, is a character readers will respond to. Images of the sprayed milk and broccoli, rockin’ school bus, library story rug, and baseball field are full of familiar details and plenty of action. As Calvin prepares to play his trick on his brother Deas gives kids a cutaway view of the house from above, letting them tiptoe through the maze of rooms with Calvin. The final scenes of the brothers checking out the dictionary together in the light of a bedside lamp is sibling devotion at its best.

A delightful family story that can stir a love of language, Calvin Gets the Last Word would be a favorite addition to home libraries. The book is highly recommended for school and classroom bookshelves to enhance language arts, writing, grammar, and vocabulary lessons and for public library collections as well.

Ages 6 – 8

Tilbury House Publishers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0884488224

Discover more about Margo Sorenson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mike Deas, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Brother’s Day Activity

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Best Brother Award Certificate

 

Today is all about how great your brother is! Print and fill out this Best Brother Award Certificate and give it to your brother—or brothers! And if you’d like an activity to do with your brother (or sister, Mom, and/or Dad), today, here’s a puzzle to do together! 

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“Big Words” Word Search

 

Knowing and using a wide range of words allows you to express yourself in exact—and often—fun ways. Find the 26 “big” words—one for each letter of the alphabet—in this printable word search puzzle.

“Big Words” Word Search Puzzle“Big Words” Puzzle Solution!

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You can find Calvin Gets the Last Word at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

P

September 24 – National Punctuation Day

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About the Holiday

Founded in 2004 by Jeff Rubin, National Punctuation Day promotes the correct usage of all those little marks that make reading clearer and more meaningful. Do you ever wonder just how to use the ; and what’s the real difference between – and —? It can all get a little confusing. But misplaced or misused punctuation can result in some pretty funny mistakes—or some serious misinterpretations. Whether you love punctuation, would like to understand it better, or just use it to make emojis, today’s holiday will make you : – ). To find information on the day, resources for using punctuation correctly, and a fun contest to enter, visit Jeff Rubin’s National Punctuation Day website.

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar

Written by Leslie Kimmelman | Illustrated by Mary Sullivan

 

Afraid you’ll never find a grammar guide that’s effective, hilarious, and that kids will want to read just for the fun of it? Your search is over! The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is packed with rules on punctuation, contractions, possessives, capitalization, tricky homophones, and more all explained with laugh-out-loud example sentences and milk-snorting illustrations.

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Written by Leslie Kimmelmon, 2021, text copyright Mary Sullivan, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Leslie Kimmelman introduces each type of grammar with sound and clear descriptions that will help children to understand what its purpose is and to recognize it when reading and writing on their own. She follows this up with sentences full of puns and macabre situations that will tickle kids’ funny bones. Mary Sullivan then does an outstanding job of reinforcing the lesson with her community of monsters, zombies, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and kids interacting in funny, spellbinding illustrations. Her typography calls out the particular punctuation mark or words of the lesson in red.

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Written by Leslie Kimmelmon, 2021, text copyright Mary Sullivan, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Here are two excerpts to show what I mean:

About Commas

“Commas are tricky. They have many jobs. Just like periods they can tell you when to pause, but they come in the middle of a sentence, not at the end. Commas can separate items in a list.”

Example sentences include these:

To demonstrate the series comma: A ghost standing in line at the school cafeteria complains about that day’s lunch offering: “Oh boo! Brains, guts, and blood again.”

To show the importance of correctly placed commas: “Vanessa Vampire loves cooking, her parents, and her baby sister. Uh-oh! Without commas, Vanessa’s family is in big trouble!” How big? Vanessa’s shown stirring up a boiling vat of family stew. The ingredients? “Vanessa Vampire loves cooking her parents and her baby sister.”

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Written by Leslie Kimmelmon, 2021, text copyright Mary Sullivan, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

About Contractions and Possessives

“Contractions are two words shortened and combined with an apostrophe to make one word. The apostrophe takes the place of a letter or two. / Possessives use apostrophes, too. But they have a different job to do. They show ownership. Where you put the apostrophe can make a big difference.”

Example sentences with accompanying illustrations include these:

A little green ghoul is sitting on his bed eating popcorn and surrounded by trash, bugs, and open bureau drawers: “Ghouls really gross bedroom. (The room belongs to just one ghoul.)” And the same room, now occupied by seven ghouls: “Ghouls really gross bedroom. (Many ghouls share this bedroom.)”

Featured contractions and possessives also show up in the discussions of tricky pairs and homophones, which include “It’s and Its,” “Who’s and Whose,” and “They’re, There, and Their” – a triple-threat that gets a two-page spread of a graveyard dance, where enthusiastic onlookers exclaim, “They’re doing the tombstone tango,” while two newcomers shout, “There they are!” and “Their tango is terrific!” The definitions of these three words read:  “They’re is a contraction meaning they are. / There means at that place. / Their is possessive, meaning it belongs to them.”

A short quiz at the end asks the reader to find the one sentence out of four that has no mistakes – a fun way for kids to show what they’ve learned.

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Written by Leslie Kimmelmon, 2021, text copyright Mary Sullivan, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

It’s hard to overstate how comprehensive, captivating, and educational The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is for its target audience, whether the reader is an avid grammarian or struggles with the rules. Leslie Kimmelman knows how kids learn and what makes them laugh, and Mary Sullivan uses her cartoon-style art to create eye-popping spreads that will get kids lingering to catch all the ghastly details while they soak up the lesson. In addition the text and illustrations on each page can easily be used by teachers, homeschoolers, parents, and other educators as prompts for extended writing practice to reinforce the rules of grammar. The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8 and up

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110953

You can find an Activity Guide for The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar on the Sleeping Bear Press Website here.

Discover more about Leslie Kimmelman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mary Sullivan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Punctuation Day Activity

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Pick Out the Punctuation! Word Search

 

Have fun finding the twelve types of punctuation in this printable puzzle!

Pick Out the Punctuation! Word Search Puzzle | Pick Out the Punctuation! Solution

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You can find The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

July 28 – Beatrix Potter Day

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About the Holiday

On this date in 1866, one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors was born – Beatrix Potter. Her twenty-three books about Peter Rabbit and his friends have enchanted children for generations, and the tale of how The Tale of Peter Rabbit came to be is as full of twists and turns as any good story – as you’ll see in today’s book. To celebrate today, why not go to your bookstore, library, or maybe even your own bookshelf at home and enjoy spending some time in the garden with Peter.

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati

 

At home in London, young Beatrix Potter loved drawing and painting pictures of her pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer and other woodland creatures. Beatrix and her brother didn’t go to school but were taught at home under a strict daily timeline. “Then came summer and … freedom! During the summer, Beatrix’s whole household—pets included—moved to a country house where there were ducks, chickens, cows, and a garden.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

When Beatrix’s brother grew a little older, however, he went away to a boarding school while Beatrix had to stay home. “But Beatrix wanted to do something important, something that mattered. She often helped her father with his hobby, photography.” She visited artists’ studios and museums. She learned about art and how to make her drawings better.

She made more pictures of Benjamin Bouncer and sent them to publishers. One publisher put her drawings on the front of greeting cards, and Beatrix began making money from her work. But Beatrix was also interested in the science of nature. She even wrote a paper about mushrooms and hoped to have it printed in a scientific journal, but it was rejected. Beatrix was disappointed but went back to drawing.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

Then one day, to cheer up a sick child, Beatrix wrote and illustrated a story about Peter Rabbit. Later, she submitted it to publishers. When they told her they weren’t interested, she had books printed herself. She sold every copy—the second batch too. Finally, a publisher agreed to print her books. Beatrix went on to write more and more stories. At last she had fulfilled her dreams of creating something important. She was also an excellent marketer and self-promoter, and “soon people all over the world knew about Peter Rabbit, and they knew about Beatrix Potter too.”

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

As Beatrix grew older, she couldn’t draw in the way she had, but that didn’t mean she left the countryside behind. She wanted to protect the farmland she loved. She helped farms and families, paying for needed veterinary care for animals when the farmers couldn’t afford it and for a nurse when the flu hit. Beatrix Potter’s life was made up of so many things that mattered. Not only did she give the world the beloved Peter Rabbit and his friends, but through donations of farms and acreage she “made sure the land would be cared for, protected, and cherished. Forever.”

An Author’s Note about how she came to write this book and more information on Beatrix Potter’s legacy follows the story.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s delightful and surprising biography of Beatrix Potter delves into the depths of her desire to make a difference with her life. A woman far ahead of her time, Beatrix Potter remains an inspiration for each new generation of readers not only for her well-loved stories but for her community work and foresight. Marshall’s thorough and well-paced story will captivate today’s children, who have the same hopes as Beatrix to influence the world with their talents and opinions. Marshall’s descriptions of Beatrix’s later largesse swell the heart and readers’ admiration for this exceptional woman.

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Image copyright Ilaria Urbinati, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of little bee books.

Linda Marshall’s words are set among Ilaria Urbinati’s exquisite illustrations that take children inside Beatrix Potter’s world at home in London and out to the countryside she adored. Her delicate and detailed renderings of young Beatrix drawing with her pet Benjamin Bunny by her side, the farm where she spent summers, her scientific explorations, and her later successes immerse readers in the late 1800s to mid-1900s, allowing them to experience the environments that created one of the world’s most beloved authors. Urbinati’s glorious panoramas of the lake district farms that Beatrix saved are breathtaking and inspiring in their beauty.

For fans of Peter Rabbit and any lover of children’s literature, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit is a must. Stirring on so many levels, the book will inspire multiple readings as well as the discovery or rediscovery of Beatrix Potter’s tales. Perfect for home, school, and public library collections for story times and to enhance language arts lessons and even nature science studies.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1499809602

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ilaria Urbinati, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game

 

As all readers know, Peter Rabbit loved vegetable gardens. With this fun game you and your family can grow your own gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully ripen first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden rows with vegetables. Depending on the ages of the players, the required winning number of rows to fill and the number of vegetables to “plant” in each row can be adjusted.

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one set of Playing Cards for each player (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Print one Vegetable Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  4. Cut the vegetables into their individual playing cards
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the facing vegetable in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” vegetables until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with the determined number of vegetables.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their veggies wins!

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You can find Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 24 – National Escargot Day

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About the Holiday

National Escargot Day celebrates this popular dish that’s enjoyed by people around the world, but is perhaps most notably associated with France, as Escargot is French for edible snails. Archaeological evidence suggests that edible snails were the first animals to be farmed by people, and the world’s oldest surviving cookbook, aged from the 1st to 2nd century BCE, contains a recipe for snails. Take part in the holiday by enjoying this world-class appetizer or by learning more about snails and the science of Heliculture. 

A Book for Escargot

Written by Dashka Slater | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

“Bonjour!” Escargot—that most adorable snail (he’ll tell you so himself)—is back! He can see that you’re reading and doesn’t want to disturb you, even though he knows that “It can be distracting to have a very beautiful French snail staring at you while you read.” In fact, Escargot is on his way through the library to check out a French cookbook right now. Along the way, he’d like to talk about all things literary. First, Escargot would like to know your favorite book. “Is it Goldytentacles and the Three Snails? Harry Gastropodder and the Chamber of Salads?” Or maybe it’s another snail classic.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Escargot loves books, but there’s one thing that is so sad it makes him cry. Go ahead—you can wipe the tears from his eyes with your sleeve. What is so sad? None of the books have a snail hero. All the books about snails that he’s seen “make a joke about slow snail or shy snail. I am not laughing at this joke,” he says.

Escargot thinks that you—yes you, the reader—can write a story about an extraordinary snail that has daring adventures. He’ll even help you with the first sentence and how to illustrate such a magnifique character. Of course, every good story hero needs a problem. Perhaps you, as a writer, think: but Escargot, “‘you are so handsome, suave, and smart. What problem could you possibly have?’” And yet, Escargot does have a problem. He is bored with salads. And so, he is off to find a new recipe.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

But not so fast. Every story worth its salt also needs an obstacle. And can there be any greater obstacle than Escargot looking down (far down) upon the object of his quest: The Art of French Cooking? To show what an intrepid snail he really is, Escargot sets his antennae to horizontal and leaps. He flies! Sort of.

At last the “resolution of the story” is at hand (so to speak). Escargot opens the cookbook ready to discover a new delicious recipe. But what is this?! This is not a recipe Escargot wants a chef to see. And he certainly doesn’t want that chef to see him. Can you help hide Escargot? As this only slightly rattled snail hides out, you can finish your story. Escargot even gives you an ending sentence that you can finish with a little panache.

Now, where is that French cookbook? Perhaps Escargot was hungrier than he thought. The pages are looking kind of chewed, and Escargot’s cheeks appear a little puffed. But it is all good, and just as in any delectable story—Escargot’s and yours—ends “with a kiss! Mwah!

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Like meeting up with a best friend after a long absence, Escargot and his second adventure will swell your heart. All the charm and endearing airs of Dashka Slater’s little French snail that made readers fall in love with him in Escargot still inspire his first-person monologue aimed directly at readers. Along the journey to finding a French cookbook, Escargot invites kids not only to write a story that has never been told before—the tale of a snail who overcomes the odds—or at least the odd obstacle—and becomes a hero—but to interact at certain points to help him out.

Slater’s clever takes on her audience’s favorite books will have kids giggling and retitling their own bookshelves while subtle allusions to the original story are enchanting and build giddy suspense for this book’s resolution. As a writing tool for teachers and homeschoolers, Escargot’s prompts and encouragement go a long way in helping children understand the basic structure of a story, how to use evocative vocabulary, and how to incorporate necessary elements. As Escargot once again comes out victorious, all readers will exclaim Oh là là! with a big Mwah!

Light, airy, and punctuated with the cutest snail around, Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are a joy. How magnifique it is to once again open the cover to those full-moon eyes, looong antennae, petite smile and very French shirt and scarf. Kids will love following Escargot’s silvery trail over snail bestsellers, through a palette of paint, and on to a pile of hilariously titled animal stories, which, much to Escargot’s disappointment, do not extend the superhero theme to snails. For future illustrators, Hanson demonstrates an easy way for kids to replicate Escargot and his escapade for their own stories. Each of Hanson’s pages is darling from Escargot’s flying feat of daring to his agility with the long-sought French cookbook to his solution to the unfortunate recipe.

Lovely and lovable through and through, A Book for Escargot will be a favorite. The book is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections. And on’t miss the original, Escargot. While each story stands alone, these two books go together like butter and…well…you know!

Ages 4 – 6

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020 | ISBN 978-0374312862

Discover more about Dashka Slater and her books on her website.

You can connect with Sydney Hanson on Instagram.

Enjoy this A Book for Escargot book trailer!

National Escargot Day Activity

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Super Snail Coloring Page

 

What do you think this snail is thinking about? Being brave? Fast? Creative? Magical? Make Escargot happy and write and illustrate a story about this super snail. Print out the coloring page and write your story on the printable journal template.

Super Snail Coloring Page | Journal Template

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You can find A Book for Escargot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 30 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

National Women’s History Month is all about celebrating women who broke barriers with their intelligence, creativity, courage, persistence, and unwavering confidence in their abilities. In every discipline, women have brought and continue to bring new perspectives, experiences, and talents to make contributions toward a better world. Today’s book celebrates a writer who broadened readers’ understanding of women and their lives through her complex and compelling novels. 

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

Written by Jasmine A. Stirling | Illustrated by Vesper Stamper

 

While Jane loved stories, there were some she couldn’t abide. These were stories about women who fainted at the slightest thing, stories about orphans with dark secrets, and stories about couples who fell in love at first sight. To Jane these books were boring, unbelievable, and predictable. But they were all the rage. Instead, Jane like the ridiculous, and she made up her own stories that “poked fun” at the popular literature of the day. When she read her “stories to her family,… they couldn’t stop laughing.”

Jane lived in a large house in the English countryside. It was always full of people, fun, and learning. Jane’s father was the village rector of Steventon in Hampshire, England, and her mother wrote poetry. Sometimes Jane’s family (mother, father, six sons, and two daughters) staged plays in the barn. They made their own sets and costumes and played all the roles. When there was quiet time, Jane wrote and wrote in the study her father had created just for her and her sister.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jane loved the satires she wrote, but “she stared to dream about writing stories that mattered to her. They would come from her own voice—a style that was uniquely hers.” She began to pay attention to tiny personal details, particular conversations, and the way her family, friends, and neighbors interacted. She found it all fascinating. Jane’s father encouraged her writing, saving up to buy her the best pens, blank books, and even a “portable mahogany writing desk.”

Jane had an idea about a story involving “three or four families in a country village,” and soon the characters came to life in her imagination, even when she wasn’t writing. She “wrote three novels before she turned twenty-four. Jane’s voice was clever and real… But something was still missing.”

Over the years as Jane’s brothers left home, the big house grew quiet. When her father stopped teaching, money grew short and Jane’s parents decided to move to a small house in another town, Bath. They sold their possessions, even the books in her father’s library, and left the neighbors and friends they’d known so well. Jane wondered if she would feel at home anywhere else. When they moved into their new home, Jane put away her writing things. Time passed, but “Jane persisted in a very determined, though very silent, disinclination for Bath.” Years passed and Jane spent her time in “busy nothings.”

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When her father died, Jane, her sister, and their mother had to move into a cheap apartment, and then when they could no longer afford that, they moved in with her brother Frank in a rough-and-tumble town. “The weight of Jane’s losses threatened to drown her,” and she still couldn’t write. Four years later, her brother Edward gave her, her sister, and their mother a small cottage near their childhood home. Here she found her way to happiness.

At last she brought out her pens, paper, and writing desk and began to write. Her voice was still clever and “filled with real people, but grief and loss had added something new. Jane’s voice was wise.” Her characters were even more realistic and complicated. She wrote about happiness and wealth, but also about heartbreak and sadness “mixed together in a way that was completely new.”

Jane’s novels were a hit—even with the future king of England. George IV loved them so much that his librarian wrote to Jane and asked her to write one of those “love-at-first-sight” stories she hated. Jane wrote back and told him that she could not unless her life depended on it, that she must remain true to her own style. At long last, “Jane had found her voice.”

Extensive backmatter includes a list of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels that are used in the story, more about Jane Austen’s life, Notes from the Author and Illustrator, a list of Austen’s novels, further resources for young readers, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jasmine A. Stirling’s in-depth biography of Jane Austen shines with specific details about her and her family’s life, their happy times and tribulations that informed her writing and made it so distinctive for its time and beloved even now. Stirling’s engaging and lively storytelling invites children to share the joys and heartaches that molded Jane Austen’s personality and writing. Quotations from Austen’s novels sprinkled throughout the story give young readers a taste of Jane’s writing and the truths and understanding her novels embody.

Dazzlingly lovely, Vesper Stamper’s expressive illustrations draw readers into Jane Austen’s world and give them a glimpse into her childhood and adult experiences as well as the society of the time. Cleverly designed images allow kids to understand how much Jane loved to read, to laugh along with her as she reads the sentimental and gothic stories she satirized, and to see at a glance all the shenanigans, work, and entertaining that went on in her beloved home. The elegance of these surroundings and the dinner parties that enlightened Jane’s writing are realistically reproduced and her characters come to life on the page. A moving metaphorical image shows Jane riding away from the home she loved while pages of her novels fly out of the writing desk strapped to the back of the carriage. Jane’s sadness is depicted on pages sketched in gray, but her vibrancy returns with her brother’s generosity and the novels that finally take wing.

A superb biography of a beloved and influential writer that will spark enthusiasm for Jane Austen’s novels as well as literature and writing in general, A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice is a must for students of all ages as well as for those who simply love reading and writing stories. The book would make an exceptional addition to lesson plans for readers from elementary school to high school and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601103

Discover more about Jasmine A. Stirling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Vesper Stamper, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jane-austen-coloring-page

Jane Austen Coloring Page

 

Enjoy this printable coloring page of Jane Austen as you learn more about this clever writer.

Jane Austen Coloring Page

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You can find A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 2 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

You’ve heard the saying “Too Many Books, Too Little Time,” right? Well, this truism has spawned not only one, but two Read a New Book Month celebrations! Both December and September have been designated as times to make special plans to search out and read new books. These can be books that are newly published or books that are new to you. And if you find yourself putting a few old favorites in the pile, that’s okay too! It’s also a great time to think about adding books to those gift lists!

The B on Your Thumb: 60 Poems to Boost Reading and Spelling

Written by Colette Hiller | Illustrated by Tor Freeman

 

One of the joys of books for little ones is sitting with a parent, teacher, or other caregiver and listening to the story play out with wonder, silliness, sadness, and a whole world of feelings. Hearing the words and sentences, it all makes sense. But when kids start reading, start really looking at the words, well…all of those vowel combinations, silent letters, words that sound the same but look completely different, words that look completely different but sound the same… it can get confusing!

And that’s where Colette Hiller and Tor Freeman’s book of poetry comes in handy. Sixty poems covering the topics of spelling and pronunciation are broken out into four categories—Sounds, Silent Letters and Secrets, Spellings, and Words that Sound the Same—that make understanding the written English language easier and more fun to learn. With this ditty, Hiller welcomes kids in to this delightful book: “Some letters sound as they are meant to. / Other letters change. / They sometimes make surprising noises. / English can be strange!”

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Image copyright Tor Freeman, 2020, text copyright Colette Hiller, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

One of the first sounds a baby hears may be a gentle “sh.” Encountering this consonant combination on the page, though, can seem daunting. Ssss and Huh? Hiller gives a hand in pronouncing it though, with a little intro to the two letters on their own and then… “S and H go sh, / that is what they do. / The sh that’s in your shoulder, the sh that’s in your shoe.” She then goes on to add a few more lines with familiar “sh” words that will make kids “shout!”

With clever versus that will bring on many giggles and even more “Ah-ha” moments, Hiller and Freeman introduces kids to the sounds that vowel combinations “o-u,” “o-i,” “a-i,” “o-a,” “e-e,” and “o-o” make with a sad U that’s just struck “out,” and a cheering crowd that invites them to join in chanting “oggy, oggy, oggy, oi, oi,oi!” There’s also a train filled with rain, a goat in love with a toad, a treed cheetah, and of course the man in the moon.

Hiller doesn’t forget about those perfectly matched consonant couples either. She relates the story of how Q and U fell in love in a queue; goes shopping with Mrs. Owl for a new gown and crown; and takes on that “bossy E” who always takes over when together with A. There are many more poems about letter combinations in this section as well, and each one is loaded with examples of words that incorporate those letters.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-B-on-your-thumb-queue

Image copyright Tor Freeman, 2020, text copyright Colette Hiller, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In the chapter Silent Letters and Secrets, Hiller engages readers in the finer arts of the silent B in “doubt” and “thumb.” In the book’s title poem, she says, “Look, there’s a B / right there on your thumb, / but of course you shouldn’t mind… / For the B that you see / right there on your thumb / is not the stinging kind!” Silent K gets two poems of its own and silent W comes knocking in two more poems. She investigates that mysterious “h” in where, what, why, and when as well as the equally mysterious pair “g-h” in words like night and sight. Kids will also enjoy finding hidden words lurking in longer words.

Now, reading may be one thing, but spelling? At times that seems like something all together different. In the chapter Spellings, Hiller teaches kids some tricks of the trade. In her poem “Magical E,”  “Magical E / has magical might. / See how she turns / a kit to a kite…. / Abracadabra: / a cap is a cape! / She hops on a tub. / Now the tub is a tube. / Abracadabra… / A dud is a dude!” Readers discover rhymes that make it easier to remember unusual spellings in words such as “separate, important, and rhyme as well as that old favorite “I before E except after C” that includes a twist.

Colette Hiller finishes up with Words that Sound the Same. In “Two, Too, and To,” she explains the difference in those three little words that often trip us up and gives tips on remembering them. “Witch” and “which,” “here” and “here,” “whole” and “hole,” and “whether” and “weather” are also treated to poems of their own. 

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Image copyright Tor Freeman, 2020, text copyright Colette Hiller, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In each poem, the subject letters are called out in a bright color that allows kids to make the connection between the combinations of letters and how they contribute to the structure of a word visually and in sound. Following the poems, Hiller includes detailed tips and fun exercises and activities that adults and kids can do together to enhance learning from poem to poem and when reading classroom assignments and books and other materials at home.

Colette Hiller nimbly navigates the dual desires to teach and entertain with her jaunty rhymes that are ingenious, witty, and clear examples of how words sound and are pronounced. When shared with children reading along, the poems reinforce how each word looks with their sometimes-confusing mix of letters. When education is this humorous and joyful, kids will beg to read “just one more” which, of course, means better literacy, success in school, and opportunities in the future.

Accompanying each poem are Tor Freeman’s whimsical and hilarious illustrations of adorable letters interacting with people taking showers, fleeing from a wily cheetah, waiting in a queue, and even flying a car in outer space. There are also chimpanzees eating cheese sandwiches, a cat doing calisthenics, and an ant learning a lesson in importance. And, of course, there are letters, letters, letters rowing a boat, deigning to give audience to a princess, dining in a haunted castle, and cavorting from page to page and poem to poem.

A rousing collection of poems that kids will love on their own and as inspirational learning tools in language arts lessons, The B on Your Thumb is highly recommended for homeschoolers and home bookshelves and a must for classroom and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711254602

You can download a Teacher’s Guide with pre- and post-reading discussion questions, a writing activity and a word play activity on the Quarto Knows website.

Discover more about Colette Hiller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Tor Freeman, her books, and her art on her website.

National Read a New Book Day Activity

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I’ve Got the Reading Bug! Collection

 

When you buy a new book, you need new book bling to go with it! Here’s a printable book plate and bookmark, plus a want-to-read list to help you choose your next new book to buy! 

I’ve Got the Reading Bug! Books to Read List | I’ve Got the Reading Bug Bookmark | I’ve Got the Reading Bug Bookplate

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You can find The B on Your Thumb at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 10 – It’s Young Readers Week

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About the Holiday

Sponsored by Pizza Hut and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress since 1989, Young Readers Week is celebrated during the second week of November to improve literacy and raise awareness of the benefits of reading. Schools participate in setting reading goals for their students who are then rewarded for meeting them. Adults are encouraged to provide a variety of reading materials for their kids – picture books, novels, graphic novels, magazines, newspapers, whatever will get them excited about reading. 

Calvin Gets the Last Word

Written by Margo Sorenson | Illustrated by Mike Deas

 

The moment Calvin wakes up, he grabs his dictionary and heads to the kitchen for breakfast. While Calvin may be well-rested, his dictionary tells readers that it is tired. “Why? Because Calvin loves words—I mean REALLY loves words,” the dictionary says. Calvin won’t rest until he’s found the perfect “word for everything—especially his rascally brother.” At breakfast, Calvin has just taken a big gulp of milk. It’s just the moment his brother’s been waiting for to tell his super funny joke. You can imagine what happens—and that’s why the dictionary’s page that contains the word revenge is soaked.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

But is revenge the right word for Calvin’s brother? Not quite. On the school bus as the kids are tossing a backpack, talking, laughing, and hanging over the seats, Calvin’s dictionary offers up mayhem, but that doesn’t completely describe his brother either. As Calvin struggles in geography class and passes notes during library story time, his dictionary helps describe the mood, but those words don’t really apply to his brother. On the way home, though, Calvin does discover a good word for himself when he stands up to a bully and helps a kindergartener.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-calvin-gets-the-last-word-breakfast

Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

At Little League practice, the dictionary reveals, Calvin “loves to crush the ball during batting practice, sending it over the fence. That’s why the page that reads pulverize has grass stains on it.” Could pulverize be the right word for his brother? While Calvin thinks it could be fun, it’s not exactly right.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-calvin-gets-the-last-word-bus-milk

Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

That night dinner turns into a repeat of breakfast—only in broccoli green. When Calvin goes to bed, he sits for a while, thinking. Then he grabs his exhausted dictionary and a glass of water and sneaks into his brother’s room. The dictionary thinks it knows what’s going to happen and riffles through its pages to find the right word, unconcerned whether it stays dry or not. And then, there on the page, is the perfect word! But wait, that doesn’t fit because now the brothers are laughing. The dictionary tries flipping to another page and a better word, but Calvin has it beat as he turns the pages and discovers the exact right word to describe his brother. What are all of these words? Come flip through Calvin Gets the Last Word yourself to find out!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-calvin-gets-the-last-word-bus-stop

Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

In her funny and unique mashup of sibling rivalry and vocabulary, Margo Sorenson offers kids an engaging story of the singular type of love brothers share uncovered little by little through word-building. Calvin’s dictionary makes a sincere and charming guide through high-interest words that lend panache and nuance to events throughout Calvin’s day even if they don’t quite describe his brother. Astute kids may notice that the words the dictionary chooses for Calvin’s brother proves his loyalty to his favorite reader. Calvin’s spewed milk, whispered secrets, and home run batting add up to a real kid that readers will love. The words that the dictionary finds are fun to learn and say and will spark an enthusiasm in readers to do their own flipping through the dictionary and thesaurus. Sorenson’s endearing ending rings true with a word kids are sure to embrace.

Mike Deas’ glasses-wearing and sweat suit-clad Calvin, whose dictionary is always at the ready to define his experiences, is a character readers will respond to. Images of the sprayed milk and broccoli, rockin’ school bus, library story rug, and baseball field are full of familiar details and plenty of action. As Calvin prepares to play his trick on his brother Deas gives kids a cutaway view of the house from above, letting them tiptoe through the maze of rooms with Calvin. The final scenes of the brothers checking out the dictionary together in the light of a bedside lamp is sibling devotion at its best.

A delightful family story that can stir a love of language, Calvin Gets the Last Word would be a favorite addition to home libraries. The book is highly recommended for school and classroom bookshelves to enhance language arts, writing, grammar, and vocabulary lessons and for public library collections as well.

Ages 6 – 8

Tilbury House Publishers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0884488224

Discover more about Margo Sorenson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mike Deas, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Young Readers Day Activity

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“Big Words” Word Search

 

Knowing and using a wide range of words allows you to express yourself in exact—and often—fun ways. Find the 26 “big” words—one for each letter of the alphabet—in this printable word search puzzle.

“Big Words” Word Search Puzzle“Big Words” Puzzle Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-calvin-gets-the-last-word-cover

You can find Calvin Gets the Last Word at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review