December 11 – It’s Write a Friend Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-cover

About the Holiday

During the month of December people like to reach out to friends near and far and share the events of the past year. Write a Friend Month commemorates such communication and encourages writers to pick up a pen and paper and send a “real letter” full of intriguing details that inspire a response. Finding a letter or card in the mailbox still makes people smile. So, why not take a little time this month to write a letter to your friends?

Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo

 

In a bit of cross-curriculum creativity, the teachers in two distinct school districts have combined the annual poetry units and pen pal projects. Not only do the kids get to make new friends, they must write their letters in rhyme. George Slair has been matched up with Blaise Dragomir. What George doesn’t know—but readers do—is that Blaise is a dragon; and what Blaise doesn’t know—but readers do—is that George is a boy.

In his first missive, George begins boldly and honestly: “Dear Blaise Dragomir, / We haven’t met each other, and I don’t know what to say. / I really don’t like writing, but I’ll do it anyway. / Yesterday my dad and I designed a giant fort. / I like playing catch and soccer. What’s your favorite sport? / Sincerely, George Slair”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-castle

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

As Blaise reads the letter he interprets George’s cardboard box, blanket, and umbrella fort as a medieval stone fortress with an iron gate and whittled-to-a-point log fencing. Blaise writes back: “Dear George Slair, / I also don’t like writing, but I’ll try it, I suppose. / A fort is like a castle, right? I love attacking those. / My favorite sport is skydiving. I jump near Falcor Peak. / Tomorrow is my birthday, but my party is next week. / Sincerely, Blaise Dragomir”

In his next letter, dated October 31, more earth-bound George tells Blaise that parachuting is awesome, that his dog destroyed his fort, and that he is trick-or-treating as a knight—a revelation to which Blaise has a visceral response. But what is scary to one pal is tame to the other. On November 14th Blaise relates: “Knights are super scary! I don’t like trick-or-treat. / Brushing teeth is such a pain, I rarely eat a sweet. / My pet’s a Bengal Kitten and tonight she needs a bath. / What’s your favorite class in school? I’m really into math!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-washing-kitten

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

Reading December’s letter Blaise learns that George likes art and imagines George’s table-top volcano science project as a roaring, lava-spewing mountain. In January George is impressed to learn that Blaise’s father is a fire-breather. He conjures up images of a dad in a fancy, caped costume creating fire out of nothing while the truth is a lot more explosive. February brings word that there is a pen pal picnic planned for June, and in March Blaise tells George about a special outing with his dad: “Soon he’s gonna take me flying, once it’s really spring. / It’s such a rush to ride the air that flows from wing to wing.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-volcano

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

Springtime also sees the two becoming better friends. The formal “Sincerely, George” or “Sincerely, Blaise” sign-off of the first letters has evolved into “Your friend”  as George expresses his wonder at Blaise’s parents: “Hi, Blaise! / Skydiving and flying? Wow, your parents rock! / I’m lucky if my father lets me bike around the block.” Then it appears that this project has been a success in all areas as George asks, “Once the school year’s over and this project is complete, / should we continue writing? ‘Cause it could be kind of neat….”

Blaise is all in. In his May letter, he writes, “Hey, George! / I’m psyched about the picnic and I can’t wait to attend. / Who’d have thought this pen pal thing would make me a new friend? / Writing more sounds awesome. I was gonna ask you, too! / I’ve never liked to write as much as when I write to you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-sky-diving

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

With a growing sense of anticipation, readers know that with a turn of the page June will come, and that June brings the long-awaited picnic. How will George and Blaise react when they see each other? As the kids approach the Pen Pal Picnic spot, their mouths hang open and their eyes grow wide. One even has his hands to his face. And as the dragons peek out from behind the trees, their mouths hang open and their eyes grow wide. One even has her hand to her face.

“‘Blaise?’” George ventures, as a slice of tomato drops from his hamburger. “‘George?’” Blaise presumes, although he wrings his tail. “‘My pen pal is a dragon?’”… “‘My pen pal is a human?’”

These two-page spreads say it all—or do they? Well, not quite…

Huge grins burst out as George and Blaise exchange high fives (and fours). The other kid- and-dragon pals are having a blast too! And the teachers? “‘Our plan was a success, my friend, or so it would appear!’ / ‘The Poetry and Pen Pal Project! Once again next year?’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-picnic

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

With his usual aplomb, Josh Funk charms with rhyme and reason in this clever tribute to friendship, diversity, and writing (on paper!). The letters between the two pen pals are endearingly kid-like, full of the subjects that are important in a child’s life, including pets, school, hobbies, and parents, which can be brilliantly open to interpretation—or misinterpretation. Blaise Dagomir and George Slair’s names are similarly inspired, and may introduce kids to the ancient legends of Saint George and the Dragon and the poem by Alfred Noyes, St George and the Dragon. Kids will enjoy seeing how George and Blaise’s friendship grows over the school year, evidenced in the openings and closings of their letters. The letters are a joy to read aloud as the rhymes swoop and flow as easily as Blaise soars through the air.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-flying

Following the alternating sequence of the letters, Rodolfo Montalvo depicts each pen pal’s perception of the message along with the reality in his illustrations that are—as George exclaims—“as awesome as it gets.” Both characters are sweet and earnest, and while surprised by what they think the other’s life is like, happily supportive. The full-bleed pages and vibrant colors dazzle with excitement and humor and ingenious details. Kids will love the juxtaposition of George’s idea of Blaise’s Bengal “kitten” and the reality of a nearly full-grown tiger. The two views of fire-breathing will also bring a laugh, and readers will enjoy picking out features of the two homes. The final spreads build suspense as to how George and Blaise will react to each other, and the resolution is a delight.

One striking aspect of both the text and the illustrations is the similarity between the two pen pals. While their activities and experiences may be on different scales, they are comparable and understandable to each child. Likewise, everywhere in the paintings, Montalvo uses complementary colors to unite George and Blaise. This cohesiveness beautifully represents the theme of inclusiveness.

The fun dual-meaning rhymes and endearing illustrations make Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale a must for kids’ (and dragon’s) bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0451472304

From more books to activities for kids, there’s so much to see and do on Josh Funk’s website!

Discover the world of Rodolfo Montalvo’s books and artwork on his website!

Dear Reader, check out this blazing hot Dear Dragon book trailer!

Write a Friend Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-pencil-case-front-eyes-down

Dependable Dragon Pencil Case

 

U-knight-ing all your pens, pencils, and other supplies in this Dependable Dragon Pencil Case will fire up your imagination! Have a blast making this fun craft!

Supplies      

  • Printable Dragon Pencil Case Template – Wings | Face
  • Sheets of felt, 8 ½-inch by 11-inch
  • 2 Dark green
  • 1 Light green
  • 1 white
  • 1 black
  • 1 yellow
  • 1 purple
  • Fabric Glue
  • Glitter glue or Fabric paint (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Velcro
  • Green Thread (optional if you would like to sew instead of glue your case)
  • Needle (optional, needed if sewing)

Directions

  1. Print the Dragon Templates
  2. Cut out alternating rows of scales from the dark and light green felt (7 each). For one row, cut a rounded top (instead of straight across) to make the top of the head (see picture). (One row of scales is longer so you can tile them. You will trim them later: see the double row of scales on the template for how the scales should look)
  3. Cut the eyes from the white felt, pupils and nostrils from the black felt, horns from the yellow felt, and wings from the purple felt. Set aside.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-pencil-case-top-of-head

To make the head

  1. Fold one dark piece of felt in half lengthwise
  2. Cut a wavy line along the bottom of the felt to make lips (see picture)
  3. Glue a ½-inch-wide strip along open side and along bottom (or you can sew it)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-pencil-case-bottom-snout

To add the scales

  1. Starting at the bottom, lay on row of scales a little above the wavy bottom. Glue the top to the base.
  2. Overlap an alternating green row of scales on the first row, glue the top
  3. Continue alternating dark and light green scales until you reach 9 inches
  4. Use the rounded row of scales for the top of the head (see how to insert horns before attaching top of head)

To insert the horns

  1. On the rounded row of scales, mark where you want the horns to be
  2. Cut two small slices in the felt where the horns will go
  3. Insert the bottoms of the horns into the slits

To finish the head

  1. Glue the top of the head to the base
  2. Trim any longer rows of scales to meet the edges of the base
  3. Add the eyes and nostrils to the face

To make the closure for the case

  1. Cut the base following the line of the rounded row of scales
  2. Glue or sew strips of Velcro along the inside edges

To attach the wings

  1. Turn the dragon case to the back
  2. Glue or sew the wings to the center of the back, attaching them at the center edge
  3. Outline the wings in glitter glue (optional)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-pencil-case-back

Picture Book Review

November 15 – I Love to Write Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-someone-like-me-cover

About the Holiday

Of course, today is one of my favorite holidays! How could it not be when the whole idea is to spend the day writing?! Delaware-based non-fiction and how-to writer John Riddle instituted today’s holiday in 2002 to encourage kids and adults to set their thoughts down in whatever way they like best. The idea took off and now organizations from schools to shopping centers hold special events to promote and support the writing of stories, poems, articles, journal entries, and even novels. If you have words that are just waiting to be written, take some time today to put pen to paper or fingers to keys and let them flow!

Someone Like Me

Written by Patricia MacLachlan | Illustrated by Chris Sheban

 

A little girl strolls with her grandmother along a path lined with tall, golden grasses, rides in a pickup truck with her grandfather as the sun sets behind them, and visits her uncle in the barn as day breaks listening “to stories over and over and over.” There’s one about the time a horse named Jack and a dozen cows got loose and walked into town, and one about “Aunt Emma’s dog with three names—Tommy, Rascal, and Come Along,” and so many more.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-someone-like-me-porch

Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

This same little girl reads books every night and all day, never looking up even when “her mother led her across streets.” She likes to hide under tables and listen to “the grown-ups who told secrets,” and when she plays with her dog and reads to her chicken, she tries to teach them to talk. She is easily captivated by the fantastic, climbing the tall cottonwood tree to be closer to the clouds, and once running away with “a little boy who told her he’d find her a white horse, and didn’t.” She finds herself following people near enough to “hear their talk and their songs and how they laughed.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-someone-like-me-dog-chicken

Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The little girl carries a plastic bag full of deep, rich earth that reminds her of her great-grandmother, who loved the prairie and flushing the geese from the slough just to watch them fly. If you were someone like this little girl, you might grow up to be “someone who writes about how the sky looks through the branches of a tree” or “geese against the clouds.” You might write about talking dogs, writerly chickens, and a mystical white horse. If you were someone like the teller of this tale, you might grow up to be just like her—a writer.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-someone-like-me-cottonwood-tree

Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

In her lyrical answer to the question “where do you get your ideas?” Patricia MacLachlan gives readers a peek into the process of becoming a writer. As the little girl stores up a lifetime of carefully observed and remembered influences and impressions, children discover that it is often the simple moments and the things someone finds particularly beautiful, magical, or funny that makes their voice unique. MacLachlan’s story encourages not only would-be writers but all readers to pay attention and be in the moment to capture all of life’s wonders.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-someone-like-me-geese

Image copyright Chris Sheban, 2017, text copyright Patricia MacLachlan, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Chris Sheban’s soft watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite illustrations have the timelessness of favorite memories as they give substance to transformative stories only heard by the little girl. The cars and pickups, downtown streetscapes, rocking chair on a front porch, and even the girl’s explorations lend a lovely nostalgic feeling to accompany the thoughtful text. In each scene as the young will-be writer gathers fodder for her imagination, she is illuminated by the sun, a porch light, lamp light, or the moon, creating a nice visual metaphor for her growing enlightenment. As the final page gives a glance into the author’s study, light flows from the open door through the darkened woods and toward the reader.

Someone Like Me is an inspirational story for children who love to write or create other types of art. The book would be a welcome addition to home bookshelves for reflective and quiet story times or to accompany classroom writing units.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626723344

Discover more about Chris Sheban, his art, and his picture books on his website.

I Love to Write Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-writing-template

My Story Template

 

Everyone has a story inside them! Take some time today to write yours on one of these printable My Story Templates

Lined Temp;ate | Unlined Template

Picture Book Review

October 18 – It’s National Friends of Libraries Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read!-read!-read!-cover

About the Holiday

When you think of friends, you think of people and places you can go to for laughter, information, intrigue, a welcoming atmosphere, and smiles—you think of a library! All this week we are celebrating the people and groups that promote and protect this amazing institution that allows you to take books home for free! What would we do without these cozy buildings and kind, helpful librarians? The Friends of Libraries Groups work to make sure we never find out by organizing fun activities and annual fund drives so that libraries can continue to offer new books, resources, and programs for everyone. To celebrate this week, visit your local library and consider making a donation or joining a Friends of Libraries group!

Read! Read! Read!

Written by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater | Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke

 

In twenty-three poems Amy Ludwig Vanderwater takes readers on a journey of…Reading, from when a child first recognizes that those “squiggles / make letters. / Letters / make words. / Words / make stories / that fly like birds…” through the world they discover as they take in the printed word in all its forms.

In Pretending, a little girl remembers “tracing my fingers / under each letter/ I used to pretend / I could read to myself.” At the library she would “pull from the shelf– / a rainbow of rectangles.” For days, weeks, months, she practiced. “Learning to read / felt like / learning to fly. / And one day / I took off. / I was swooping / alone / over words / once confusing / but now / all my own.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read!-read!-read!-fields

Image copyright Ryan O’Rourke, 2017. Courtesy of WordSong Publishing.

Cereal Box and Sports Page are placed side by side like the brother and sister eating breakfast together. But which sibling is reading “Recipes. / Stories. / Jokes. / Weird facts….the box” and which is “Scanning scores / studying stats / …checking on my team?”  Children will discover that there aren’t many things the little boy in I Explore has not done as he reveals, “I have stood upon a moonscape. / I have witnessed peace and war. / I have ridden a wild horse. / I’m a reader. / I explore.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read!-read!-read!-forever

Image copyright Ryan O’Rourke, 2017. Courtesy of WordSong Publishing.

Reading doesn’t just inform you, it reforms you, as An Open Book explains: “An open book / will help you find / an open heart / an open mind / inside yourself / if you’re inclined. / An open book / will make you kind.” Or maybe all that reading can give a younger brother a moment of power when he uses new-found information. “At dinner I ask– / Do you know / how many pounds of skin / a person sheds by age seventy? / My sister puts down her fork. / No. / One hundred five. / Oh. / She will not look at me. / She will not pick up her fork. / I keep eating. / I love reading.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read!-read!-read!-sunday-comics

Image copyright Ryan O’Rourke, 2017. Courtesy of WordSong Publishing.

Reading comes in many forms, from Maps, which “…fold / into themselves / like perfect beetle wings.” to Road Signs, in which the alphabet was once “like a secret code / for grown-ups / splashed / on every sign.” There’s also the Internet for Googling Guinea Pigs, where an eager pet sitter can “read about treats. / Read about exercise. / Read about safe holding” before the class pet comes home for the weekend. A Birthday Card with a poem from Grandpa, a Magazine that “…comes / by mail / twelve times / each year,” and Sunday Morning with the comics, where a loyal fan can “know every character / know every name” all bring joy to avid readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read!-read!-read!-word-collection

Image copyright Ryan O’Rourke, 2017, text copyright Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Courtesy of WordSong Publishing.

For readers there may be no more exciting time than Late at Night when a little lie—“I cannot sleep”—is exposed as Mom “…reaches out to touch my lamp. / The bulb is warm. / My mom knows why,” and a special bond is formed: “I’m sure my mom / read past her bedtime / under blankets / at my age.” A final cozy image closes the book in I Am a Bookmark, where a nighttime reader compares himself “here in bed / between two sheets / crisp-cold / and white” to a bookmark “holding the page between dark and light.”

Along the way Amy Ludwig Vanderwater also explores Reading Time, a lyrical Word Collection, a Field Guide, the emotional effect of Stories, how reading can be like leading a Double Life, the benefits of a Book Dog, and the Forever connection between real people and characters in books.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-read!-read!-read!-bookmark

Image copyright Ryan O’Rourke, 2017, text copyright Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. Courtesy of WordSong Publishing.

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater’s charming poems on the joys of a reading life will engage children just starting out on their own journeys or those who are better versed in this exceptional art. At once inspiring and homey, these poems open the vast world and the private pleasures of the written word. Vanderwater’s verses are in turn smooth, conversational, reflective, humorous, and fun to read aloud.

Ryan O’Rourke opens Read! Read! Read! with a beautiful image of squiggles turned letters turned words turned books that soar like birds over a young reader’s head. The image wonderfully carries readers into the rest of the book where fancies and facts enlighten young minds. O’Rourke’s imaginative interpretations of each poem enhance their effect and cleverly convey extended meanings and visual humor. 

For children who love poetry, reading, writing, and seeing the world through a lyrical lens, Read! Read! Read! would be a terrific choice for any story time or bedtime. The book would also be welcome in classrooms for teachers to dip into again and again.

Ages 5 – 10

WordSong, 2017 | ISBN 978-1590789759

Discover more about Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, her books, articles, and poetry on her website.

View a gallery of book, map, and editorial illustration by Ryan O’Rourke on his website.

National Friends of Libraries Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Library-Building-Coloring-Pages

Libraries Are the Best! Coloring Page

 

If you love libraries, you’ll enjoy this printable Libraries Are the Best! Coloring Page. Hang it over your home library or decorate and give to your favorite librarian.

Picture Book Review

October 16 – Dictionary Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lexie-the-word-wrangler-cover

About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the birthday of Noah Webster who published his first dictionary—A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language—in 1806 and went on to create the first truly comprehensive American dictionary in 1828. Along the way in completing his life’s work, he learned twenty-six languages, reformed the spelling of many words from the British form to an American spelling, and introduced new American words never before published. To commemorate the holiday, take a little trip through the dictionary or play a word-based game like Scrabble, Boggle, or Balderdash. If you’re interested in lexicography—the making of a dictionary—or just love words, you’ll find Webster’s 1828 Dictionary fascinating reading!

Lexie the Word Wrangler

Written by Rebecca Van Slyke | Illustrated by Jessie Hartland

 

With just one look at Lexie in her cowboy hat, boots, and bandana, or a peek at her talent for riding a horse, twirling a lariat, and rounding up cattle, you could tell she was a wrangler. But Lexie was no ordinary wrangler; she was a “word wrangler.” With her lariat she could rope together separate words and make entirely new stuff. She could tie up “an ear of corn and a loaf of bread and make some tasty cornbread.” A “stick of butter and a pesky fly” became a “butterfly.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lexie-the-word-wrangler-lariat

Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

In the spring, Lexie tended little letters until they grew into big words. She could also be found in the chuck wagon each morning stirring up big pots of new words from old ingredients. In the blink of an eye, she could transform “an annoying P-E-S-T…into some fine P-E-T-S. And that “S-P-O-T?” With a swirl of the spoon, it became a handy “P-O-S-T.”

Since there were so many words roaming around her ranch, Lexie herded them into sentences, long letters home to Ma, and even fascinating stories. But one day Lexie noticed that something was wrong. When she went to put on her bandana, the d was missing, and tying the banana was impossible. The problem didn’t just involve missing letters, either. Words were disappearing too, creating some pretty strange results. Once after a storm, a big red bow appeared in the sky instead of a rainbow.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lexie-the-word-wrangler-cornbread

Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Lexie’s work around the ranch became harder too. Once day, instead of rounding up a neighbor’s calves, she discovered that someone had “released a whole passel of baby g’s into the calf pen” and now “all the little dogies” were “doggies.” Later, when Lexie rolled out her sleeping bag, she discovered that the usually S-T-A-R – speckled sky was full of  “R-A-T-S.”

Lexie realized there was a word rustler on the loose and set out to find him. She headed into the desert, but discovered that the sandy ground had turned into a messy, gooey dessert. After cleaning out her horse’s hooves, she was more determined than ever to find the culprit. She climbed a tall tree and kept a lookout for the word rustler. Soon enough she spied him sneaking toward her front gate and the sign that announced Lexie’s Longhorn Ranch. He was just about to lasso the word “long” when Lexie lassoed him.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lexie-the-word-wrangler-herd-cattle

Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

The word rustler protested that he was just having a bit of fun, but Lexie didn’t like the idea of being left with a corral full of horns. All he wanted, Russell admitted, was to work with words like Lexie did. Lexie could see that Russell had talent, so she made him promise to use his skills in a positive way. Then she released him and told him from now on he would be known as “Russell the Word Wrestler.”

Now Russell works alongside Lexie doing jobs like keeping the place free of rattlesnakes by wrestling them into “a baby’s rattle and a harmless snake.” Lexie and Russell are happy to raise baby letters, help words grow, and even teach young cowpokes how to rope and tie words together, so they can join the word-wrangling circuit in the future themselves.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lexie-the-word-wrangler-herd-sagebrush

Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

If Lexie got her lariat around Rebecca Van Slyke’s name and separated the S-L-Y from the K-E, she’d have the perfect description for this nifty story. Deconstructing words can be a fascinating way to get kids interacting with and researching words and spelling as they really think about what they are reading. Van Slyke’s ranch setting serves up an ingenious metaphor for the word wrangling that students are doing at this stage of their education. Her quick wit and smart word choices provide plenty of “ah-ha!” moments, laughs, and opportunities for visual humor. The introduction of Russell allows Van Slyke to increase her stable of puns, which will delight readers.

Jessie Hartland’s vibrant, folk-style illustrations are a rip-roaring accompaniment to the story, providing visual clues and humor as words change due to missing or jumbled letters. Kids will laugh when one of Lexie’s bandanas turns into bananas and may shudder to think how easy it might be for rats to fill the night sky instead of stars. Hartland’s cleverly designed typography lets readers easily see how small words grow into bigger new ones with the addition of one, two, three, or more letters. Likewise, as “wild” words are tamed into a sentence, young writers can begin to understand the mechanics of grammar.

A Dictionary of Wrangler Words follows the text.

Lexie the Word Wrangler is an entertaining and educational choice for kids who love words, puns, and the West. It would be a welcome gift and imaginative addition to home libraries. The book would also be an inspiring starter for writing, spelling, and other language arts units.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulson Books, 2017 |ISBN 978-0399169571

To learn more about Rebecca Van Slyke, visit her website.

View a gallery of illustration work by Jessie Harland on her website.

Dictionary Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-word-pair-word-search

What a Difference a Letter Makes Word Search Puzzle

 

Each of the word pairs in this puzzle are close in spelling but not in meaning. Take a look and find the twenty words in this printable What a Difference a Letter Makes Word Search Puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

Picture Book Review

October 7 – Random Acts of Poetry Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-cover

About the Holiday

Today is set aside for all of those professional and private poets to unleash their imaginations and create poetry! As the name of the holiday suggests, these poems can be random – random subjects, random format, written or spoken in a random place. If writing isn’t really your thing but reading is, take a little time to read a favorite poem or poet or discover a new one! 

enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings

Written by Matthew Burgess | Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

 

Hello! Welcome to 4 Patchin Place, the home of poet E. E. Cummings! This is where he wrote his poetry on a clackety typewriter, stopping only for tea poured out by the love of his life, Marion Moorehouse. How did he become a poet? That is an interesting story! E. E. was born Edward Estlin Cummings on October 14, 1894 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His house was full of extended family, a handyman, a maid, and several pets. From an early age he loved to translate the things he saw into words. “His first poem flew out of his mouth when he was only three: “‘Oh, my little / birdie, Oh / with his little / toe, toe, toe!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-welcome

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

Estlin’s mother wrote down all the poems he told her and made a little book of them titled “‘Estlin’s Original Poems.’” When he was six, he expressed his love of nature in a poem about trees, and when his mother asked him what else he saw, he “looked around as if his eyes were on tiptoes and when his heart jumped he said another poem: ‘On the chair is sitting / Daddy with his book. / Took it from the bookcase / Beaming in his look.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-elephant

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

As he grew, Estlin was fascinated by the animals he saw at the circus and in the zoo. He drew pictures of them and wrote about them, using the words he loved so well—and even making up his own words. Estlin had a zest for life and for making life fun for himself and his little sister. During the summers the family traveled to Joy Farm in New Hampshire, where Estlin swam, milked the cow, rode a donkey, and wandered through the fields and forest. His father had built him a little log cabin in the woods, and in the afternoons Estlin went there to draw and write. At home he also had a special place all his own. In an enormous tree his father built a tree house, complete with stove to keep him warm on cold days.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-tree-house

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of matthewjohnburgess.com

Estlin had support for his writing at school too. His favorite teacher encouraged him saying, “anything is possible, / as long as you are true to yourself / and never give up, even when the world / seems to say, stop!” From his Uncle George, Estlin received a guide to writing poems. Estlin followed the rules in the book, penning poems nearly every day. When Estlin was 17 he attended Harvard College and began publishing his poems in the school’s magazines. While at Harvard, Estlin realized he had to follow his heart to be happy. He wanted to be like the new artists who were shaping the world—people like Gertrude Stein, Paul Cezanne, and Igor Stravinsky, “artists who were,” he once said, “challenging the way we think and see.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-paris

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

After he graduated, Estlin returned home, but when he had saved enough money he moved to New York and fell in love with the city immediately. He and his friends took in everything new the city had to offer. Soon, however, the United States entered World War II. On April 17, 1917 Estlin volunteered to be an ambulance driver in France. Before he received his assignment, though, he had time to explore Paris. He was “bowled over by the museums, the ballet, and the colorful, crowded streets.” He enjoyed the city so much he returned often during his lifetime.

During the war, Estlin was mistaken for a spy and sent to prison for several months. After the war he wrote a book about his experiences titled The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings. “The book was published and praised! Estlin was becoming E. E.!” A year later he published his first book of poetry—Tulips & Chimneys. In his poems he experimented with punctuation and using lower case letters instead of capitals.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-yes

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of matthewjohnburgess.com

Through his fanciful typography, E. E. “wanted his reader’s eyes to be on tiptoes too, seeing and reading poetry (inaway) that was new.” But some people didn’t understand or like his poetry; it was too strange and too small, they said. But E. E. knew he had to stay true to himself. He believed that “his poems were new and true” and “were his way of saying YES” to everything he loved. As time went on more and more people began to “see the beauty of E. E.’s poetry, and he became one of the most beloved poets in America.”

E. E. Cummings lived and worked at 4 Patchin Place for almost 40 years, but in his mind he would often return to his childhood home. He “could still see himself as a boy gazing out at the sunset”—a memory that he put into words: who are you,little i / (five or six years old) / peering from some high / window;at the gold / of November sunset / (and feeling:that if day has to become night / this is a beautiful way).”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-patchin-place

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of matthewjohnburgess.com

Simply put, Matthew Burgess’s enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is a biography that will make you smile. Upbeat and full of the wonder and whimsy that influenced Estlin Cummings’ prodigious talent, the story encourages readers to always follow their heart. Burgess’s easy-going, conversational style invites kids along on the journey of Cumming’s life, stopping off at points that resonate with kids—early imaginary play, school, family vacations, home life, college, travel, and ultimate success. Seeing the support Cummings received throughout his life will inspire young readers just starting out on their own roads of discovery.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-enormous-smallness-typewriter

Image copyright Kris Di Giacomo, 2015, text copyright Matthew Burgess, 2015. Courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books.

Kris Di Giacomo’s enchanting illustrations will immediately capture the imagination of readers. The playful quality of Cummings’ personality and poems is mirrored in each spread as a variety of children’s drawings and  eye-catching typography are sprinkled throughout. As six-year-old Estlin composes poems for his mother, he stands on tiptoe in his nightshirt surrounded by toys; he experiences life from rooftop and treetop and gazes into the night from his tree house; New York lights up with fireworks and the lights of Broadway; and his poems spring from the pages in their own inimitable way.

A chronology of E. E. Cummings’ life, five poems, and an Author’s Note follow the text.

For children interested in writing, biographies, history, the arts, and the life of the imagination, enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E. E. Cummings is an inspiring choice for their home bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Enchanted Lion Publishing, 2015 | ISBN 978-1592701711

To learn more about Matthew Burgess, his books, and his poetry, visit his website!

View a gallery of illustration by Kris Di Giacomo on her website!

Random Acts of Poetry Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-grow-a-poem-craft

Grow a Poem

 

A poem often grows in your imagination like a beautiful plant—starting from the seed of an idea, breaking through your consciousness, and growing and blooming into full form. With this craft you can create a unique poem that is also an art piece!

Supplies

  • Printable Leaves Template
  • Printable Flower Template
  • Wooden dowel, 36-inch-long, ½-inch diameter, available in craft or hardware stores
  • Green ribbon, 48 inches long
  • Green craft paint
  • Green paper for printing leaves (white paper if children would like to color the leaves)
  • Colored paper for printing flowers (white paper if children would like to color the flowers)
  • Flower pot or box
  • Oasis, clay, or dirt
  • Hole punch
  • Glue
  • Markers or pens for writing words
  • Crayons or colored pencils if children are to color leaves and flowers

Directions

  1. Paint the dowel green, let dry
  2. Print the leaves and flower templates
  3. Cut out the leaves and flowers
  4. Punch a hole in the bottom of the leaves or flowers
  5. Write words, phrases, or full sentences of your poem on the leaf and flower templates
  6. String the leaves and flowers onto the green ribbon (if you want the poem to read from top to bottom string the words onto the ribbon in order from first to last)
  7. Attach the ribbon to the bottom of the pole with glue or tape
  8. Wrap the ribbon around the pole, leaving spaces between the ribbon
  9. Move the leaves and flowers so they stick out from the pole or look the way you want them to.
  10. Put oasis or clay in the flower pot or box
  11. Stick your poem pole in the pot
  12. Display your poem!

Picture Book Review

September 24 – National Punctuation Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-exclamation-cover-2

About the Holiday

What’s so great about punctuation? Everything! Using correct punctuation allows you to express exactly what you mean. You’ve seen—and no doubt laughed at—examples of misplaced or misused punctuation: “Let’s eat John” versus “Let’s eat, John” and the random placement of quotation marks when no one’s talking or referencing another source. And while in the grand scheme of things the series comma may not make that much difference in some cases, but lawsuits have been won and lost on just this detail. Texting has changed the way punctuation is used—or not, and while a smiley face may be a substitute for the exclamation mark or a frowny face an emotive period in casual communications, knowing the rules of punctuation for school and business is still important. Today, why not pay more attention to the way punctuation is used to make formal communications as well as books clearer and more meaningful.

Exclamation Mark

Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal | Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

 

! “stood out from the very beginning.” When he was standing in a row of ……, it didn’t matter if he was in the middle or at the end—he still stuck out. The only time he wasn’t so noticeable was when he laid down to go to sleep. Sometimes he twisted himself into coils and did somersaults to be like the others, but nothing worked. “He just wasn’t like everyone else. Period.” This left him feeling “confused, flummoxed, and deflated.”

celebrate-picture-books-book-review-exclamation-mark-stands-out

Image copyright Tom Lichtenheld, text copyright Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

He was just about to run away from all his problems when he met ?. ? rushed right up to him and wanted to know everything. “Who are you?…What’s your favorite color? Do you like frogs?…Do you wanna race to the corner? Is there an echo in here? Is there an echo in here?…Why do you look so surprised?….” The list went on and on.

celebrate-picture-books-book-review-exclamation-mark-lots-of-questions

Image copyright Tom Lichtenheld, text copyright Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

“STOP!” ! shouted. The sound stunned him. ? smiled and wanted him to do it again. ! didn’t know if he could, so he tried a small “Hi!” “That felt right, so he tried something bigger. Howdy!” And then he said, “Wow!” After that there was no stopping him: “You’re it!…Home run!…Yum!…Look out!…Thanks!…Boo!…Go!”

He rushed off to show everyone what he could do. The …… were delighted and “there was much exclaiming.” Now feeling happy and confident, ! “went off to make his mark.”

celebrate-picture-books-book-review-exclamation-mark-yippee

Image copyright Tom Lichtenheld, text copyright Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s clever story of an exclamation point searching for self expression is as moving as it is original. Kids will recognize his feelings of sticking out in a crowd and uncertainty of purpose and applaude when ? comes on the scene to befriend !. Readers will giggle knowingly at the barrage of questions, and feel emboldened themselves as ! finds his voice and his own unique contribution.

Tom Lichtenheld’s adorable punctuation marks hanging out on kid-ruled paper demonstrate all the expression and expressions of this well-crafted story. With simple dot eyes and small streak mouths, Lichtenheld animates the various emotions of the periods, exclamation mark, and question mark as they discover !’s special talent with individuality for each. The unbridled exuberance of ?‘s and !’s meeting makes this a terrific book about friendship as well.

! deftly points out “What would we do without exclamation points?” Likewise it asks, “What would we do without each one of us?” The positive message, creatively and humorously presented, makes this book a terrific addition to any child’s library.

Scholastic Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-054543679

You’ll find more about Amy Krouse Rosenthal, her books for children and adults, videos, other projects, and so much more on her website!

Discover a portfolio of books by Tom Lichtenheld as well as fun book-related activities and resources for teachers on his website!

!!!! for this ! book trailer!

National Punctuation Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pencil-riding-kids-find-the-differencesExcellent Writers Find the Differences Puzzle

 

These kids love to write and know their punctuation! Can you find the twelve differences in this printable Excellent Writers Find the Differences Puzzle?

Picture Book Review 

September 1 – World Letter Writing Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kuma-kuma-chan's-home-cover

About the Holiday

Letters don’t have to be those long missives sent in envelopes with stamps affixed. A note to a friend, a message included in a child’s lunch sack, or a post-it stuck where a co-worker can see it are are all ways to write a few encouraging words to those you love. Today, why not put your thoughts on paper and send or give your letter to someone you’d like to connect with?

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home

By Kazue Takahashi

 

Framed by his window Kuma-Kuma Chan, the little bear, sits at his writing desk penning a letter. It says simply, “How are you? Come visit me soon.” When it is received, Kuma-Kuma Chan’s friend begins the long journey to see him. “I have to ride a train for an hour, take a bus for thirty minutes, then walk for fifteen minutes,” the boy states. From the bus stop, the boy can see the red roof of Kuma-Kuma Chan’s house in the distance, and as he approaches he sees hisfriend waiting outside to welcome him.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kuma-kuma-chan's-home-welcome

Copyright Kazue Takahashi, 2016, courtesy of museyon.com

The boy has been here before and once more enjoys the routine as “Kuma-Kuma Chan serves bear tea. The first thing he always does is serve bear tea,” the boy explains. It seems that the time between visits has been long, and at first the silences are longer than the conversation. In the quiet the boy watches “the dust floating around in the afternoon sunbeams” and looks “at the books on the shelf,” reading “the titles one by one….” Meanwhile Kuma-Kuma Chan may be having second thoughts about his hospitality. He “gets up and opens the window to let in some fresh air” and checks the expiration date on the bear tea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kuma-kuma-chan's-home-dinner

Copyright Kazue Takahashi, 2016, courtesy of museyon.com

By the time Kuma-Kuma Chan serves the rice crackers conversation comes easier. For dinner Kuma-Kuma Chan prepares a salmon dish as always. It is, the boy thinks, his favorite and “perfect for a bear.” After dinner the two watch television and enjoy a mutually favorite snack of chocolate and hot milk. Soon all of the chocolates the boy brought are gone and it is time for him to catch the last bus home.

He slings his backpack over his shoulders and says goodbye to Kuma-Kuma Chan, who invites him to come back soon. Framed in the golden light of his doorway, the little bear waves farewell to his friend as he ventures out into the sapphire blue night.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kuma-kuma-chan's-home-watching-tv

Copyright Kazue Takahashi, 2016, courtesy of museyon.com

Kazue Takahashi, a Japanese illustrator and children’s book author, employs kawaii—the quality of being cute and adorable—in creating her quiet, moment-in-time story that focuses on the essence of true friendship. The boy and the little bear are happy simply being together. The details of the day that Takahashi chooses to highlight are ones that we as adults might overlook, but which for children are still new and fascinating: the way Kuma-Kuma Chan’s house “smells slightly of bear,” a self-consciousness on the part of a host, the desire of each party to please the other.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kuma-kuma-chan's-home-bear-tea

Copyright Kazue Takahashi, 2016, courtesy of museyon.com

Each right-hand page contains a central image that highlights the spare text presented on the left-hand page. The white space surrounding the illustrations, which are free of all extraneous details, echoes the openness of the storyline. The only two-page illustration spreads come at the beginning of the story, when Kuma-Kuma Chan stands at his door welcoming the boy, and at the end, when the two are saying goodbye, emphasizing the connection of their friendship and perhaps also the distance between them when they are apart. The muted colors and downy texture of the images enhances the sweet charm of Kuma-Kuma Chan, who is no bigger than a thumbprint.

Kuma-Kuma-Chan’s Home would appeal to a varying age-range of children—and even adults. Young children would enjoy discussing the story page-to-page, while older readers would like the quiet respite the book offers. It’s depiction of a one-on-one friendship would be welcomed by introverted children as well. Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home is a perfect little book to keep on personal library shelves for those times when companionship—and cuteness—is needed.

Ages 3 and up

Museyon, 2016 | ISBN 978-1940842097

World Letter Writing Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tea-party-template

 

Tea Time Stationery

 

Today, take a little tea time and write a short letter to a friend, a family member, or a coworker. Print out this Tea Time Stationery and get started!

Picture Book Review