February 12 – It’s National Haiku Writing Month

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About the Holiday

Great things come in small packages, right? Just look at your incredible kids! It’s the same with poetry! The haiku may be the smallest form of poetry, but its three little lines contain enormous heart and insight. Traditionally written with nature themes, haiku now touches on every subject. Poets the world over have designated February as National Haiku Writing Month—also known as NaHaiWriMo. The challenge is to write one haiku a day with a goal to improve their art and share their work. To celebrate this month, try your hand at writing haiku and introduce your littlest readers to these little verses.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Written by Sydell Rosenberg | Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

 

In her lovely and delightfully whimsical poems, Sydell Rosenberg holds moments in the palms of her hands, letting readers immerse themselves in the tender, humorous, and wistful flashes of a day before they shift, evolve, or fade away. H is for Haiku begins, appropriately, with Adventure and its dreamy memory for a worn-out kitten as he slumbers.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

The journey continues as readers meander along a city sidewalk and see a “Boy on a mailbox / perched like a solitary bird / watching the sunset.” Walking on, readers peek into car backseats, queue for ice-cream on a sweaty summer day, and visit a barbershop where you always ask for Xavier. Down country lanes, you’ll spy a pale moon, turn the heads of sunflowers, share bike rides and car rides, and watch as “Munching on acorns / a squirrel sweeps up sunbeams / with her transparent tail.”

Rosenberg’s studied eye for connections makes her poems especially enchanting. Leaves and flowers, birds and insects, rain and thunder interact with those in their midst, adorning hair, scurrying away, playing musical backup, meeting danger, and creating transformations like the one at Y: “Yesterday’s cool rain / left this flat puddle smoothing / the wrinkled leaves.” A trip to the fish market is infused with humor, and an optical illusion makes you look twice at the flamingos in a pond.

Even in her observations of the routine, Rosenberg remind readers that there is music and poetry in common actions. For example, at U we hear: “Up and down the block / homeowners mate the covers / of gusted trash cans.” As a teacher sits grading papers to close out the book, readers can’t be faulted for wishing our alphabet had a few more letters.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2018, text copyright Sydell Rosenberg, 2018. Courtesy of Penny Candy Books.

As a teacher Sydell Rosenberg was attuned to the spirit of children, and her sophisticated and fun haiku are particularly accessible for young readers. Touching on a wide range of subjects, Rosenberg invites kids to look and look again. Her keen observations and lilting imagery will inspire them to do just that.

Sawsan Chalabi’s charmingly quirky illustrations and stylized lettering present each poem with dash and personality that will enchant kids. Her delicately lined drawings are infused with vibrancy from a gorgeous color palette. Just like Rosenberg’s haiku, Chalabi’s pages are animated with a love for life that will resonate with kids—and adults.

H is for Haiku would make a terrific gift for poetry lovers and a wonderful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 11 (and up)

Penny Candy Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0998799971

Discover more about Sawsan Chalabi and view a portfolio of her work on her website.

Read an interview about Sydell Rosenberg with her daughter Amy Losak, who compiled H is for Haiku and brought it to publication.

Haiku Poetry Day Activity

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Haiku Wall Art

 

The haiku you write deserves to be shared with others! With this easy craft you can display your poem in style.

Supplies

  • Colorful heavy stock paper, 2 or three colors
  • Ribbon
  • Glue or glue dots, or double-sided tape
  • Dowel or wire for hanging
  • Paint to paint the dowel (optional)

Directions

  1. Write a haiku and print the lines on colored paper
  2. Cut the lines apart, making the first and third line shorter than the second line
  3. Glue or tape the lines to the ribbon, leaving about a half inch between them
  4. To make the hangers, fold the tops of the ribbon over and glue or tape it closed
  5. If using a dowel to hold the poem, you can paint it to match or contrast with the paper
  6. Hang the poem from a dowel or wire

 

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You can find H is for Haiku at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Penny Candy Books

Picture Book Review

 

 

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February 11 – National Make a Friend Day

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About the Holiday

Friends make our lives better! They’re there to share in life’s adventures with a laugh, a shoulder to cry on, and an understanding ear. Friends feature in our best memories and are always up to making new ones. Today, look around and see who you might add to your list of friends then introduce yourself, invite them for a coffee or a chat, and start a friendship that may last a lifetime!

Making a Friend

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Alison Friend

 

“Beaver was good at making lots of things.” He could build, he could knit, and he knew a bit about engineering. But he was not so good at making friends. He tried hard to do nice things, but something always seemed to go wrong. Then, one day, the snowflakes falling from the sky gave Beaver an idea. “Hmm! Maybe this is what I need to make a friend,” he thought.

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Image copyright Alison Friend, 2018, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2018. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

He began rolling a huge snowball. While he was working, Raccoon came by to watch. When Beaver told him that he was making a friend, Raccoon said that it “takes two to make a friend.” Beaver was a bit disappointed until Raccoon did some math and showed him that Raccoon plus Beaver made two.

Working together Beaver and Raccoon made a cute snow friend. They added eyes, a nose, a smile, and two stick arms. But something was still missing. Raccoon said that thing was “pizzazz.” So they added a hat, a boa, some socks, and even a swim mask until their friend looked just right. But their friend just stared back at them. “This friend was not much of a friend at all. In fact, he seemed rather cold.”

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Image copyright Alison Friend, 2018, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2018. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Then Beaver and Racoon looked at each other. They talked about what fun they’d had building the snow friend together. And they realized that they had become friends. Now they make lots of things to share, but they agree—“the best thing they made was a friend.”

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Image copyright Alison Friend, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins

Tammi Sauer unlocks the secret to friendship in her clever story in which making a friend leads to making a true friend. While Beaver tries to extend the hand of friendship and do nice things for others in the forest, his efforts miss the mark. But when he meets Raccoon, their personalities, talents, and ideas of fun click and they build a real friendship. Young readers will understand Beaver’s feelings of disappointment and confusion when his overtures of friendship are not reciprocated and see that collaborating with someone—either in play or toward a common goal—often brings friends together naturally.

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Image copyright Alison Friend, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Little readers will fall in love with Alison Friend’s adorable Beaver who’s so good at creating a playhouse complete with water slide but has trouble making friends. Cheerful and enthusiastic, Beaver is a sweetheart as he begins rolling the snow into a ball. When Raccoon comes by, Beaver quickly shares the fun. Kids will enjoy seeing and learn from the images of companionship and give-and-take as Beaver learns a little math and a new word from Raccoon and Raccoon discovers that he likes the raisons Beaver offers him on their way to creating their snowman.  Full of color, smiles, and endearing moments, Friend’s pages are sure to delight kids.

Making a Friend is a charming read aloud, a celebration of creativity, and a gentle lesson on friendship all rolled into one. To share with children learning to navigate new friendships and those who love doing everything with their best buddy, the book makes a sweet addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062278937

Discover more about Tammi Sauer and her books on her website.

Make a Friend Day Activity

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Snow Buddies

 

This is a great craft for kids to share with a friend. Grab a pair of socks and have fun making these snow buddies! 

Supplies

  • White dress ankle socks
  • Polyester Fiber Fill
  • Tiny buttons
  • Fleece or ribbon, enough for a little scarf
  • Toothpicks
  • Twigs
  • Orange craft paint
  • Cardboard
  • White rubber bands, one or two depending on the size of the snowman
  • Fabric or craft glue
  • Small hair band (optional)

Directions

To Make the Snowman

  1. Cut a circle from the cardboard about 2 inches in diameter for the base
  2. Place the cardboard circle in the bottom of the sock
  3. Fill the sock with fiber fill about ¾ full or to where the ribbed ankle cuff begins. Pack tightly while making a sausage shape. You can make your snowman different shapes with the amount of fill you use.
  4. Stretch out the cuff of the sock and tie it off near the top of the fill either with a loop knot or with the hairband.
  5. Fold the cuff down around the top of the filled sock to make the hat.
  6. Wrap a rubber band around the middle of the sock to make a two-snowball snowman. For a three-snowball snowman, use two rubber bands. Adjust the rubber bands to make the “snowballs” different sizes.

To Make the Scarf

  1. Cut a strip of fleece or ribbon 8 to 10 inches long by ½ inch wide
  2. Tie the fleece or ribbon around the neck of the snowman
  3. To Make the Nose
  4. Dip one end of the toothpick into orange paint, let dry
  5. Cut the toothpick in half
  6. Stick the toothpick into the head or top portion of the snowman

To Make the Arms

  1. Insert small twigs into each side of the body of the snowman
  2. You can also use wire or cardboard to make the arms
  3. Attach two mini-buttons to the face for eyes with the fabric or craft glue
  4. Display your Snow Buddy

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You can find Making a Friend at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 9 – National Bagel Day

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About the Holiday

With its deliciously soft, doughy inside and crusty outside, the boiled-then-baked bagel is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, and snacks! Bagels come in all sorts of flavors and varieties and with toppings for every taste, there’s no denying that the bagel is comfort food at its best. To celebrate today’s holiday, visit your favorite bakery and enjoy!

The Bagel King

Written by Andrew Larsen | Illustrated by Sandy Nichols

 

“Every Sunday morning Zaida went to Merv’s Bakery for bagels.” Sometimes his young grandson, Eli, went with him. When he did, Mrs. Rose always gave him a pickle from the big jar behind the counter. When he didn’t, “Zaida delivered his bagels right to his door.” Zaida went to Merv’s every Sunday no matter what the weather. The “warm, chewy, salty bagels were the best thing about Sunday.”

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

One Sunday, though, the familiar knock on the door never came. Later, Zaida called Eli and told him he had “slipped on some schmutz at Merv’s” and had gone to the doctor. Zaida had hurt his tuches and was ordered to relax at home for two weeks. Eli ran right over. As they sat together, both Eli’s and Zaida’s stomach rumbled with missing the usual bagels.

Pretty soon there was a knock on the door and three of Zaida’s elderly neighbors came in. All three were just as hungry as Eli and Zaida. It turned out that Zaida had been hosting a bagel feast for the four of them for years. When Zaida told them about his tuches, they said “‘Oy! Are you all right?’” But they were all disappointed about the bagels.

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

As the week went on, Eli visited his grandfather every day. He brought chicken soup one day, another day he brought chicken soup and a book, and on yet another day, he brought chicken soup and a canine friend for company. On Saturday night, though, it wasn’t chicken soup Eli was thinking about, but bagels. “Even the moon looked like a bagel all smothered with cream cheese.”

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The next morning, Eli woke up early and walked down to Merv’s with a list in his hand. When he reached the counter, he handed Mrs. Rose the list. As she read it, she said, “‘This looks very familiar. Except for the last item.” Eli told her that it was a surprise. With the big bag hugged close, Eli left Merv’s and went to Zaida’s. When Zaida saw the big bag of bagel, he was surprised! His friends were delighted. “‘The boy’s a prince,’” said Mr. Goldstck, but “Zaida proudly declared, ‘He’s the Bagel King!’”

Then Eli reached in and brought out his surprise—a jar of Merv’s pickles. As Eli ate his “warm, chewy, salty” bagels, he knew “bagles were the best thing about Sunday. The best thing, that is, except for Zaida.”

A glossary of the Yiddish words used in the story and a bit about bagels and chicken soup precede the text.

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

With a sprinkling of Yiddish words and an old neighborhood atmosphere, Andrew Larsen depicts a close relationship between a grandfather and grandson who bond over bagels, pickles, and a deep love for one another. While Zaida is the one who begins the Sunday bagel tradition, this is Eli’s story as he takes it upon himself to help his grandfather recuperate and makes sure that he, Zaida, and Zaida’s friends don’t miss their favorite day for a second time. Young readers will find in Eli a peer role model for showing care and concern for family members and friends. Larsen’s straightforward storytelling peppered with realistic and humorous dialogue is as warm and cozy as sitting down to a Sunday family breakfast.

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Sandy Nichols’ fresh, retro illustrations stylishly bridge the generations while also reveling in the friendly city neighborhood feeling that provides a backdrop and context for Eli’s emotional growth within the story. Images of Eli hanging over the arm of his grandfather’s sofa in boredom and disappointment, wistfully dreaming of bagels on Saturday night, and proudly making his list, buying the bagels, and delivering them—complete with a surprise—to Zaida and his friends will delight readers.

The Bagel King is an uplifting, joyful for all kids coming into their own and desiring to make a difference. The book would make a sweet gift for grandparents or grandkids, a snug family story to add to home libraries, and a terrific choice for classroom or library storytimes.

Ages 4 – 8

Kids Can Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1771385749

Discover more about Andrew Larsen and his books on his website.

National Bagel Day Activity

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CD (Compact Doughnuts) Decoration

 

Do you have an old CD that could use an upgrade? With this easy craft, you can turn it into a cute doughnut (or bagel) hanging.

Supplies

  • Unused CDs
  • Craft paint in tan, black, pink, yellow, white (or any colors you want for the doughnut and the icing)
  • Ribbon, any color and length you want
  • Fine-tip markers in bright colors
  • Glue
  • Glue dots (optional)
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint a wavy edge around the CD, let dry
  2. Paint the center of the CD, leaving the clear circle unpainted
  3. When the icing paint is dry, draw sprinkles on the icing with the markers
  4. With the ribbon make a loop hanger and attach it to the back of the CD with glue or glue dots
  5. Hang your decoration

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You can find The Bagel King at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 8 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

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About the Holiday

This week was established to raise awareness and promote literacy and the joys and benefits of reading. During the week, children’s authors and illustrators attend special events at schools, bookstores, libraries, and other community centers to share their books and get kids excited about reading. To learn more about how you can instill a lifelong love of learning, visit ChildrensAuthorsNetwork!

Where Are the Words?

Written by Jodi McKay | Illustrated by Denise Holmes

 

A little purple period feels like writing a story. He goes to visit Pencil and Paper and tells them his plan. They want to help, but Pencil says, “We are at a loss for words.” So the three set off to find some. Question Mark sees Period searching here and there and asks what he’s doing. When he finds out about Period’s plan, Question Mark has, well… lots of questions and joins the hunt.

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Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

Exclamation Point is excited to learn about the story writing idea and is eager to help. “What do you know about words?” Question Mark wonders. “Lots!” Exclamation Point answers as he heads off the page. “Let me get them for you!” While Exclamation Point is gone, Question Mark and Period meet up with Quotation Marks, who have sage advice for these two. “‘Seek and ye shall find,’” they offer. Just then Exclamation Point comes back with an armload of words: Once, Upon, A, and Time. Just as he’s about to pass them over, though, he trips and the words scatter in a jumble of letters. Undeterred, Exclamation Point hurries off to get more words.

Then Parentheses meanders by. Question Mark thinks maybe they know where words hang out. “I might,” one says, raising everyone’s hopes. But then she adds, “(although I doubt it).” Period is disappointed and even a little miffed when he sees Exclamation Point rushing around waving a net. But Exclamation Point’s just trying to corral some rather active words who would rather “run, jump, skip, hop” freely. Colon offers aid as long as there are peanuts, but Period thinks the whole thing is getting out of hand.

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Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

In fact, Period decides to quit. But not so fast! Exclamation Point has something to show everyone. “Look!” Exclamation Point says, and they all gaze upward to find all the words they’ve said hanging in the air. “They were here all along,” Period says. Now Period has everything to write a story—except an idea. Exclamation Point suggests they all write the story together.

And so each one contributes a little bit to the story while Pencil writes it all down on Paper. Their own hunt for words and a little imagination inspires them to write a story that they all think is… “Wonderful?” offers Question Mark. “Incredible!” says Exclamation Point.  But Parentheses thinks something is missing. What is it? Pictures! But where will they find them? Everyone agrees when Period says, “Pencil could draw us the perfect pictures.”

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Image copyright Denise Holmes, 2016, text copyright Jodi McKay. Courtesy of Albert Whitman and Company.

Jodi McKay’s adorable set of punctuation marks take kids on a whirlwind ride to find words that Period can use to write a story. As each punctuation mark joins the search, McKay gives them personalities and conversation to match their grammatical uses. Readers will giggle at the mishaps and setbacks that beset Period’s creative process but empathize with him as his dream of writing a story seems to slip away. When the friends discover that the words they’re searching for are right at hand, children will see that they too have the words they need to express themselves creatively and even in social situations.

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Punctuation has never been so cute! With their sweet smiles and expressive stick arms and legs, Denise Holmes’s colorful, ready-to-help punctuation marks, pencil, and paper are true friends as they take on Period’s wish and make it their own. Dialogue bubbles make it easy for kids to understand how the various punctuation marks are used in a sentence, and dynamic typography sprinkled throughout the pages show action and add to the humor. Readers will also have fun guessing why Colon is so fond of peanuts in a clever running joke.

A charming way for children to engage with writing and punctuation, Where Are the Words is a grammatical mystery that would make its mark on home, classroom, and library bookshelves for fun story times and composition lessons.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman and Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807587331

Discover more about Jodi McKay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Denise Holmes, her books, and her art, visit her website

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week Activity

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Pick Out the Punctuation Word Search

 

Can you find the twelve types of punctuation in this printable puzzle?

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

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You can find Where Are the Words? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 7 – National Periodic Table Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 2016 by David T. Steineker, an author, inventor, and – as you might imagine – chemistry teacher at Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. He devised the holiday to honor the work of categorizing the elements begun by John Newlands, who published the first periodic table on February 7, 1863, and continued into the early 20th century as new elements were discovered. While the modern periodic table has undergone few changes since then, new discoveries and different ways of approaching the table may bring fresh changes in the years to come.

Marie Curie (Little People, Big Dreams)

Marie: My First Marie Curie (Board Book)

Written by Isabel Sánchez Vegara | Illustrated by Frau Isa

 

From the time when Marie was a little girl, she knew she wanted to be a scientist. Marie was very smart. “At school, she won a gold medal for her studies, which she kept in her drawer like a treasure.” Because women were not allowed to go to college in her country, she moved to France to go to the university there. Even though French was not her first language, Marie was soon the top math and science student in Paris.

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Copyright Frau Isa, 2018, courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

One day Marie met Pierre, who loved science as much as she did. They got married and worked together in their own laboratory, where they discovered radium and polonium. “It was such a thrilling moment for science!” Marie and Pierre even won the Nobel Prize. Marie was the first woman ever to be awarded this honor. When Pierre later had an accident, Marie was left alone to continue their work.

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Copyright Frau Isa, 2018, courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

All her research and experiments paid off when she was awarded her second Nobel Prize. When war broke out, “Marie’s discoveries were used by doctors to help injured soldiers.” Marie inspired many girls who studied science at her own institute in Paris. Besides science, Marie taught her students that there was nothing to fear, “many things to learn, and many ways to help those in need.”

A timeline and brief, yet detailed biography of her life follows the story.

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Copyright Frau Isa, 2018, courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

With thrilling recognition that even in the youngest hearts beat future writers, artists, adventurers, designers, and scientists, the Little People, Big Dreams series introduces preschoolers to inspiring women role models. In Marie Curie: Little People, Big Dreams, Isabel Sánchez Vegara reveals the life and work of Marie Curie with straightforward storytelling that illuminates while affirming the intelligence of her young audience. Uplifting, life-determining personality traits that carried Marie over obstacles and to the top of her profession—such as not taking no for an answer, treasuring your accomplishments, working hard, and helping others—are highlighted for little ones to learn from.

Frau Isa’s stylish illustrations in a striking, subdued color palette will entice the youngest readers to listen and learn. While the spotlight is always on Marie, each page also focuses on one or two main images, such as Marie and Pierre’s lab table, a wounded soldier’s X-ray, and Marie holding her Nobel Prize, that help little ones see and understand the important aspects of the story.

Encapsulating both history and the timeless persistence that drives people to achieve their full potential, Marie Curie—available in both picture book and board book editions—is a must for preschool classrooms and would be a rousing addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1847809629 (Picture Book); 978-1786032539 (Board Book)

You can check out more about Isabel Sánchez Vegara on Instagram.

Discover more about Frau Isa and her art on her website.

National Periodic Table Day Activity

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Green Pennies Chemistry Experiment

 

You know what color pennies are! They’re those brownish coins amid all the silver. But what if you could turn those pennies green—like dollar bills? You can with this easy and way cool chemistry experiment!

Supplies

  • 10 – 12 dull pennies
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt
  • 2 small bowls
  • ¼ cup measuring cup
  • 1 teaspoon
  • Paper towels

Directions

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Experiment 1

  1. Pour ¼ cup vinegar into a bowl
  2. Add 1 teaspoon salt
  3. Mix thoroughly until salt has dissolved
  4. Place a few pennies in the bowl and leave for five minutes.
  5. Take the pennies out and place them on the paper towel.
  6. Let the pennies dry and watch what happens. The reaction becomes more dramatic over time, so check on your pennies at different times throughout the day

Extra Observation:

  1. To see the chemical reaction at work, dip one penny half way into the vinegar/salt solution and wait a minute
  2. Lift the penny out of the solution and see the result

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Experiment 2

  1. Fold a paper towel to several thicknesses and place in bowl
  2. Place a few pennies on top of the paper towel
  3. Pour enough vinegar over the pennies to saturate the paper towel
  4. Wait two to three hours and see what happens
  5. You can leave the pennies in the bowl and continue to add vinegar as the paper towel dries. Flip the pennies over to create a chemical reaction on both sides

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Experiment with other acids, such as the lemon juice.

Why do the pennies turn green?

Pennies are made of copper. The vinegar and salt solution helps the copper react with oxygen in the air to form the blue-green patina of malachite on the surface of the penny. This chemical reaction is called oxidation. You can see the same green color on other things made of copper like plumbing pipes and many statues—even the Statue of Liberty!

If you’d like to record your observations of your pennies like a chemist does, download and print this lab sheet.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Marie-Curie-little-people-big-dreams-cover

You can find Marie Curie (Little People, Big Dreams) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

You can find the board book edition, Marie: My First Marie Curie here

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

YouPicture Book Review

February 6 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events and commemorations in schools, churches, and community centers.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-typing

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her own sterling verses, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life of Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature—taking readers to the Chicago neighborhoods that informed and inspired Brooks’ ideas and the words and rhythms with which she defined them. Along an arc that takes Gwendolyn from a child contemplating the potential of a flower to becoming that blossom herself, Duncan pays tribute to those who recognized Gwen’s genius and helped her fulfill her talent. For readers who themselves may be poets, writers, or other types of artists, Duncan’s beautifully crafted phrases about the artistic process of revision are inspirational and welcome. Standing side-by-side with Duncan’s storytelling are four of Brooks’ poems—The Busy Clock, Forgive and Forget, Ambition, and the children of the poor—Sonnet #2. From cover to cover, Duncan’s book sings with Gwendolyn Brooks’ positivity, confidence, uniqueness, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

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From the portrait of Gwendolyn Brooks that graces the title page and throughout the book, Xia Gordon’s distinctive artwork creates a masterpiece of motion and stillness that mirrors Brooks’ penchant for watching and listening to the sounds and sights that filled her mind and ultimately her notebooks. Downy swoops of violets, pinks, browns, and grays provide backdrops to images of Gwendolyn as a young girl and an adult rendered in lines that show her as down to earth but soaring in her thoughts. Her intelligence and spark shine through on every page. Gwendolyn’s parents appear often, always watchful and supportive. Her friends, her husband, her son, and her readers also populate the pages, giving the book an embracing warmth.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a must for school, classroom, and public library collections, and for children who are discovering their talents and the parents who nurture them, the book would be an inspirational and invaluable addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454930884

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in this Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks written by Alice Faye Duncan | illustrated by Xia Gordon

It takes just these two steps to enter:

A winner will be chosen on February 12.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

Black History Month Activity

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My Writing Journal

 

With this easy craft, kids can make a journal that will reflect their personality and inspire them to jot down ideas for poems or stories. 

Supplies

  • Two 9-inch by 6-inch pieces of foam or heavy paper
  • Plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper, as many pieces as you’d like
  • Twine or ribbon
  • Foam letters and objects, stickers, play jewels, or other decorations
  • Small scissor, paper hole puncher, or other instrument to make a hole through the foam and paper

Directions

  1. Fold the plain or lined 8½ by 11 paper in half
  2. Place the paper between the sheets of foam
  3. Make a hole through the foam covers and paper near the top and bottom for the twine to tie the journal together
  4. Slip the twine or ribbon through the holes and tie the journal together
  5. Decorate the cover
  6. Start writing!

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You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Indiebound

Picture Book Review

February 5 – Chinese New Year

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About the Holiday

Chinese New Year begins today—ushering in the Year of the Pig—and celebrations take place until February 19. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities that include lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations. The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations end each year with the Lantern Festival. To learn more about the history of Chinese New Year, how to celebrate, and the signs of the zodiac, click here.

Ruby’s Chinese New Year

Written by Vickie Lee | Illustrated by Joey Chou

 

Every year Grandmother would come to visit Ruby for Chinese New Year. “Together they celebrated, eating special foods and making drawings for good luck.” But this year Grandmother couldn’t make the trip, so Ruby decided to visit her grandmother instead. As a gift, Ruby drew a picture of her family enjoying a special dinner. She put it into a red envelope and tucked it away in her pocket. Soon after leaving, Ruby spied Cat and Rat and asked if they would like to come along too. They did, but Cat wondered how they would “cross the meadow and the pond.” Ruby suggested that they ask Ox.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Soon, they found Ox, who was bringing rice cakes and candy to the farmer for the New Year celebration. When she heard that Ruby, Cat, and Mouse were going to Grandmother’s house, she offered to let them ride on her back. Just then, Tiger and Rabbit “bounded out of the bushes, streamers flying behind them.” They also wanted to go to Grandmother’s house, so Cat rode on Tiger’s back and Rat nestled between Rabbit’s furry ears, and they all headed down the path.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

They came to where Dragon and Snake “were making paper lanterns.” They were both excited to come along too. “Snake loved Grandmother and was happy to visit her,” and Dragon “was always ready for an adventure.” They packed up the lanterns they had made and the friends started off again. Horse and Goat were grazing in the nearby meadow, and they too wanted to come along. They picked flowers for Grandmother, and then the little parade was off.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

When Ruby and all the rest reached the pond, they saw Monkey and Rooster fishing for their holiday dinner from an overhanging branch. Grandmother’s house was just on the other side of the pond. Ruby was so excited that “with a leap and a bound, Ruby dove into the pond. She would swim to Grandmother’s. She was so close!” But when she jumped, the red envelope flew out of her pocket and drifted into the pond. All of the other animals dove into the pond to save Ruby’s gift. Monkey snatched it with his fishing hook, and Rooster flew across the water with the card in her beak. They all met Ruby on the other side of the pond and sadly showed her the drenched card. “‘Oh no,’ Ruby cried. ‘It’s ruined. Everything is ruined!’”

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

“‘It’s not ruined!’ cried Rooster.” And then each animal reminded Ruby that they had fish and flowers, lanterns and streamers, rice cakes and sweets, and most especially, “‘…we have our family,’ said Cat and Rat, looking toward the house.” Suddenly, Dog and Pig bounded out and “covered Ruby’s face with kisses and tickled her until she shrieked with joy.” The happy sounds brought Grandmother to the door. She was thrilled to see Ruby. When Ruby gave her the gift she thought was “ruined,” Grandmother assured her that it would dry and that seeing Ruby and all of her friends was “the best gift of all.” Then they all sat down at the long table decorated with streamers and lanterns and celebrated the New Year with a delicious dinner—“except for Cat, who had fallen fast asleep.”

Following the story, readers will enjoy learning one legend of the Chinese zodiac and discovering the  traits for each animal. Children will also find directions for making a paper lantern, a paper fan, and good luck banners.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Inspired by one legend of the Chinese Zodiac and how each animal came to be included in the calendar, Vickie Lee tells an engaging cumulative story that keeps readers excited to discover who will be the next to join Ruby on her trip to Grandmother’s house. The fate of Ruby’s special gift reveals many truths about friendship and family as the animals work together to save the card and Grandmother reassures Ruby while showing her that love is the best gift of all. Readers may also enjoy talking about which of each animal’s trait—as found in the back matter—is reflected in their role in the story. Older children may like discussing references to Chinese New Year traditions and how Lee reimagined the legend to tell her story. And why is Cat sleeping through the delicious dinner? Legend has it that….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-legend

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Joey Chou’s delightfully cheerful illustrations are packed with action as each animal—included into the group in the order of the Chinese zodiac—adds a special ingredient to the New Year celebration. His lovely color palette sparkles with glowing reds, cool aquas, lush blues, and shadowy violets that create a homey atmosphere for this very special holiday. Scenes of togetherness and friendship include smiles and joy at being together as well as empathy for Ruby when her card gets wet.

A beautiful book to share with children for Chinese New Year and throughout the year, Ruby’s Chinese New Year would be a charming addition to home, school, and library bookshelves for its story and included activities.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250133380

To learn more about Joey Chou, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Chinese New Year Activity

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Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle | Chinese New Year Word Search Solution

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You can find Ruby’s Chinese New Year at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review