November 9 – It’s National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

It seems that people have always been fascinated with flight. The first kite was invented in 1000 BCE in China; around 400 BCE Archytas of Tarentum developed a steam-powered pigeon; and most people are familiar with the designs of flying machines that Leonardo de Vinci created in the late 1400s. It wasn’t until 1680 that actual human flight was abandoned when an Italian mathematician determined that human muscles were incompatible with flight.

Zip ahead about 100 years and the first hot-air balloon took flight, which led to more complex technology, resulting in Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flight in 1903. From there, it seemed, the sky was the limit. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a trans-Atlantic Ocean solo flight in 1932, and in 1947 Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier. Given this long history, it’s astounding to think that only 58 years span the time from that modest 12-second flight by the Wright Brothers to the first manned space mission by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin! To celebrate the month, visit a local museum or read up on some of the pioneers of early flight—like the courageous women in today’s book.

Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest

Written by Aimée Bissonette | Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

 

Jerrie Mock was only seven when her first airplane ride convinced her she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up. At first she only dreamed of flying across Ohio, but later, when she followed reports of Amelia Earhart’s daring flights, she decided she too wanted to see the whole world.

In 1952, Joan Merriam was fifteen years old when she took her first airplane ride and was invited by the pilots to see the cockpit. That’s all it took for Joan to know she wanted to be a pilot too. She began flying lessons and was in the air before she even got her drivers license. By 1963, Joan was working as a professional pilot and bought a plane of her own. One of Joan’s goals was to “circle the globe following the exact route” her idol Amelia Earhart had charted.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

By the time Jerrie was thirty-seven, she had three children and ran a flight business with her husband, Russ. One night when she told Russ that she was bored, he joked, “‘Maybe you should get in your plane and fly around the world.’” Jerrie took him up on that. Both women spent months planning and charting their flights. Neither one knew that the other was getting ready for the same flight until their plans hit the media. Suddenly, what they had both thought was a solitary pursuit became a race to the finish.

Joan took off on March 17, 1964 from an airstrip in Oakland, California accompanied only by two stuffed bears. Two days later, surrounded by reporters asking if she thought she could beat Joan, Jerrie climbed into her tiny plane and took off too.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jerrie’s troubles began right away. First, her radio didn’t work then bad weather kept her grounded for six days. “Where was Joan?” she wondered. While Joan’s flight began smoothly, a gas leak brought her down to earth for a week while the tank was repaired. Back in the air, Jerrie seemed to suffer problems every day. “She battled dangerous ice buildup, burning radio wires, and bad weather. She flew into a sandstorm over the Arabian Desert and couldn’t see.” But she encouraged herself to stay calm and use her instruments. Joan was having it no easier. “Heavy rains pounded her pane. Her windshield leaked. Water puddled at her feet. When she finally made it to Brazil, she was delayed again. This time by a government revolution!”

Day by day both women battled the elements and equipment failures but kept flying. Everyone around the world seemed to be watching the race. Russ told Jerrie she had to fly faster—that Joan was winning. In Pakistan, people told Joan that Jerrie had landed there five days earlier. Finally, on April 17, twenty-nine days after she had left, Jerrie returned to Ohio to a hero’s welcome. Reporters and crowds pushed to see her. “Jerry’s heart pounded. She had done it. She had flown around the world. She had won the race.”

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Where was Joan? She “was in Lae, New Guinea—the last place Amelia Earhart was seen alive—when she heard the race was over.” Even though she knew she was behind Jerrie, “the news was still hard to take.” She sent Jerrie a congratulations telegram, and then left for Guam. There, she walked and “thought about her childhood dream. She thought about the race and she thought about losing.”  Then she thought about why she had undertaken the flight. She had done it to honor Amelia Earhart. Even though Jerrie had won the race, Joan thought that didn’t make her a loser. She “could still do what she set out to do.”

Joan landed back in Oakland, California on May 12, 1964. Her plane was in such bad shape that the Coast Guard had to dispatch a plane to guide her in. Joan was also welcomed by cheering crowds and reporters. Both Jerrie and Joan had accomplished incredible feats. Jerrie “became the first woman to fly around the world,” and Joan—”following Amelia’s exact route along the equator”—was the first “pilot—man or woman”—to fly that distance solo. And both women received thanks from Amelia’s sister, Muriel, for honoring Amelia—”a pilot who, like them, chose to follow her dreams.”

An Author’s Note describing the differences in Joan and Jerrie’s routes and aircraft as well as a bit more about their lives after the historic flight and a map outlining each woman’s flight pattern follow the text. Resources for further reading are also included.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Aimée Bissonette’s thrilling biography of two woman, two flights, and one race will keep young readers on the edge of their seats. Riveting details reveal the staggering dangers the women faced as well as their astonishing courage, dedication, and persistence. Bissonette’s fast-paced, electric storytelling puts kids in the cockpit as Joan and Jerrie cross the globe. As Jerrie wins the race and Joan reevaluates her goal, Bissonette makes important and welcome points about the nature of competition, keeping one’s eyes and heart on an original goal without getting caught up in distracting hype, and having the self-confidence to believe in oneself and recognize one’s accomplishments.

In her realistic, richly colored watercolors, Doris Ettlinger follows Jerrie and Joan as they experience their first airplane rides that determine their futures, plot their flights around the world, and take off. The obstacles each woman dealt with are dramatically portrayed as winds whip trees, blinding rain and sand storms thwart progress, and mechanical failures keep the women grounded. Children get a look at landscapes from Bermuda, the Philippines, Africa, and Pakistan as Joan and Jerrie complete their flights. Expressive depictions of Jerrie’s and Joan’s emotions show readers the determination, pressures, and ultimate joy each woman felt during these historic months of 1964.

An exhilarating biography and adventure story rolled into one, Aim for the Skies is a book that will inspire young readers to keep their eyes on their goals despite obstacles and setbacks while reassuring them that winning is accomplished by being true to yourself. Children who love history, flight, biographies, and adventure will find this a compelling book to add to their home bookshelf. Classroom, school, and public libraries will want to include Aim for the Skies in their collections for story times and lessons.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363810

Discover more about Aimée Bissonette and her books on her website.

National Aviation History Month Activity

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Flying is Fabulous! Maze

 

Can you pilot the airplane along its route to the airport in this printable Flying is Fabulous! Maze?

Flying is Fabulous! MazeFlying is Fabulous! Maze Solution

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You can find Aim for the Skies at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

October 30 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

It’s been a terrific month of celebrating the joys of reading at home, in the classroom, and at the library! Every book read to and with a child enriches their life and helps to foster a life-long love of learning. Whether your child likes books that are fiction or nonfiction, stories or poetry, funny or poignant, there are a vast array of new and old books to teach them about the world and get them excited about being part of it. There really is a book for every child—as you’ll see in today’s review!

I received a copy of Everybody’s Favorite Book from Imprint to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Macmillan Publishing in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Everybody’s Favorite Book

Written by Mike Allegra | Illustrated by Claire Almon

 

You are quite lucky, the narrator greets you, to be holding the world’s most favorite book. What makes it everybody’s favorite? Well, “lots of great books have cool heroes.” But these are heroes with just one talent—“like spacemen! Or ninjas! Or cowgirls!” In this book, though, the hero multitasks! What is he? “A space ninja cow!” and “his name is Bob.”

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Of course, a hero needs a villain to vanquish, and Bob is lucky because instead of a one-dimensional bad guy, he gets to pit himself against a fierce mash up of a robot, a dragon, and a pirate. What’s this horrible marauder’s name?. Are you ready? It’s Corky! So Bob and Corky fight. It’s thrilling…it’s dangerous…it’s stopped? Ah, the narrator sees now— “everybody doesn’t like violent books” and since this is Everybody’s Favorite Book, the story needs to be a bit more… Well, let’s see if Princess Glittersprinkles can help!

Yes! A tea party would be splendid. Bob and Corky and the princess sit down to a lovely spread with the adorable but really, really, really, really BIG guinea pig, Snuggy. But, wait! We’re forgetting about babies. Baby’s love books too, right? Now might be a good time to offer a bit of ABC fun. “A is for Apple. B is for Bob.” By the way…where is Bob? Is that a suspicious bulge in Snuggy’s cheeks? 

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Finding Bob’s going to require spies, especially cool ones. Now, while they’re out spying, let’s give it up for those teachers and librarians who love big, educational words like “Gallimaufry, Codswallop, and Frippery.” Sure, the narrator knows the definitions, but the book will be more fun and educational if you read them for yourself. Oh, dear! Are those words too educational? Then maybe a poop jok…wait a minute! Do you see a suspicious bump in Snuggy’s belly? No, me either.

If this really is Everybody’s Favorite Book, it seems that “we are still missing so many things that everybody likes. Things like wizards! And a fairy tale!” And so many other characters and things to do…. Hey! Why is everyone fighting? There’s plenty of room for everybody, but right now “this is nobody’s favorite book.” What’s needed is a hero. “Oh wait! There’s Bob,” launching from Snuggy’s HUGE burp just in time! “Maybe he has an idea.” Bob suggests a “sweet ending.” This is more like it! All the hugs and smiles and cooperation is so sweet. Sweet, Snuggy. Not sweets! Oh dear….

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Mike Allegra will have kids laughing out loud with every page turn in his riotously clever genre mash-up. Allegra’s well-meaning narrator offers up droll juxtapositions of characters and situations while riffing on favorite books and movies, fads and fantasies with some crafts, coloring, and craziness to boot. The fast pace, abrupt interruptions, and zigzagging storyline keep kids guessing and eager to find out what comes next. As the action devolves into a free-for-all, the promise of a book for everybody is fulfilled with inclusive hugs and teamwork.

Claire Almon’s cartoon-inspired illustrations are bold, dynamic, and full of action with plenty of humor thrown in. Ingenious details, comically used tropes, and familiar styles of graphics from kids favorite TV shows and movies give young readers a feeling of shared experiences and culture that underline the theme of friendship. Readers will love following Bob’s journey to escape from Snuggy’s belly, and cutaways and character involvement from page to page keeps everybody reacting to the narrator’s directions until the big finale.

For book lovers of all stripes, Everybody’s Favorite Book will be a much-asked for addition to home, classroom, and library bookshelves. The book makes a terrific gift for all those readers on your list.

Ages 3 – 7 

Imprint, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250132765

Discover more about Mike Allegra, his books, and other projects on his website.

To learn more about Claire Almon, her books, and her art, visit her tumblr.

Meet Mike Allegra

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I’m excited to be chatting with Mike Allegra today about his inspiration for his most original book, what kind of mash-up character he’d be, and his role in a family holiday tradition.

What was the inspiration or spark for Everybody’s Favorite Book?

The idea came to me while wandering around the children’s book section of Barnes & Noble. In the picture book area, I stumbled upon a huuuuge display dedicated to ninjas. Everything you could imagine was ninja-related: ninja pigs, ninja school, ninja camp, ninja grandma, ninja notary public… It was crazy. So I thought, “Hmm…I wonder if I can write a book about a ninja? Then I saw another display dedicated to astronauts and a third display dedicated to cowboys—and thought, “Hmm…I wonder if I can put ninjas and spacemen and cowboys into a single book?” That thought soon evolved into, “I wonder if I can cram a spaceman and ninja and cowboy into a single character?”

And Bob the Space Ninja Cow was born.

Then the creative floodgates opened wide. I giddily zipped around the children’s section looking for characters and genres and themes I could shoehorn into a single picture book. It was a blast!

If you were a mashup hero like Bob or even a mashup villain like Corky, what would you be? What would your name be?

I would want to be a mastodon-sized guinea pig like Snuggy. And I’d want to fly. And solve mysteries.

And they would call me Wondersnug, The Flying Pigamajig.

You’ve done a bit of everything in the writing field—plays, journalism, essay-writing, communications, editing—what do you like about writing for children?

Writing for children is like giving yourself permission to let your creative spirit soar. The possibilities are almost endless. I can write about a Space Ninja Cow! Or a dragon who knits! Or a boy who turns into a Kafka-esque giant bug! My mind can move in the wildest, weirdest directions. It’s wonderful.

You wrote so much as a child that a teacher predicted you’d become a writer. Was your work always funny?

No, but I always tried to make it funny, which is not the same thing.

My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Snelback, was the first person outside of my own family to say that I could write “funny.” And Mrs. Snelback was not one of those teachers who spouted compliments. Quite the opposite, really. She was pretty miserly, compliment-wise.

So when she told my parents that I should pursue a career as a writer, it really meant something. Mrs. Snelback didn’t say anything unless she absolutely, positively, 100% believed it. That’s why Mrs. Snelback will always be my favorite teacher. She shoved me onto the writing path and it has been an amazing journey.  

How do you tap into the humor and rhythms that really make kids laugh?

I’d love to say something profound here—like: “I try to see the world through the wondrous eyes of a child”—but the truth is a lot simpler: I like writing silly things and kids like reading silly things. So it works out for both of us!

I love hearing about how holidays inspire picture books. Can you talk a little about your first published children’s picture book, Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday?

Ah, the great Sarah Josepha Hale. She is so awesome. She was a celebrated and prolific writer. She edited the most widely read magazine in America. She founded charities, led patriotic fundraising drives, championed college educations for women, and used her magazine to influence public opinion on a wide spectrum of topics—the most famous of which was a nationalized Thanksgiving, which at that time was rarely celebrated outside of New England.

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And she did all these things in the early- to mid-1800s, when women were widely seen as second-class citizens. And she also did all of these things while raising five children by herself! 

See what I mean? Awesome!

Once I learned about Sarah, I just had to write about her. 

This summer two books in your Prince Not-So-Charming series were released. Can you introduce readers to this prince with other dreams and the very capable princess he encounters?

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Prince Carlos Charles Charming is the young prince of the happy and peaceful land of Faraway Kingdom and the sole heir to the kingdom’s throne. But Carlos would much rather be a jester, so he’s forced to live a double life of sorts, performing dangerous princely duties to satisfy his mom and dad (the queen and king) while also searching out venues to perform his juggling routine and road-test his impressive collection of fart jokes.

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Princess Pinky, from the neighboring kingdom of Ever After Land, is in a similar situation; she would happily give up her crown to be an artist.

So Carlos and Pinky become fast friends who pursue their passions while going on princely and princessly adventures. (Oh, and Carlos has a pet dragon named Smudge who likes to knit. So there’s that, too.)

Any sneak peek into the prince’s future?

Carlos is going to be very busy. In future books he’ll joust, get turned into a frog, lead a search-and-rescue expedition, and attempt to stop a war.

What’s up next for you?

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Well, I have another picture book coming out in March titled Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist, which I’m excited about. I just recorded the audiobook for it—which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you think of my voice.

I’m also writing a middle grade murder mystery novel.

What’s your favorite holiday?

I love Christmas, but as I get older, I find myself gravitating toward holidays that contain a lot less hoopla. Thanksgiving is the holiday for me. I get to eat my favorite food on a crisp fall day. (Oh, how I love the fall with its pumpkin-spiced everything!) Also, I was born on November 25th, so I can celebrate my birthday on Thanksgiving, too! Thanksgiving is pretty much perfect.

In other words, Sarah Josepha Hale was a very wise woman.

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

Sure! When I was a kid, every Christmas the entire family would assemble at my grandparents’ house to open presents and eat dinner.

One year—I think I was about seven—I noticed that every time a present was opened, half the room would say, “Ooh,” the other half would say, “Ahh,” and my grandmother would say, “Isn’t that nice!”

No joke; this happened every single time for every single present.

The problem, as I saw it, was that it these responses were too disorganized; everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over everyone else. It was a big ol’ mess of noise. So I stood up and asked if I could conduct my family’s reactions like Leopold Stokowski. They happily agreed.

So whenever a present was opened, I would wave my arms to cue the “Ooh-ers,” the “Ahh-ers,” and Grandma’s “Isn’t that nice!” I never felt more powerful in my life. More importantly, almost everyone in the room was practically peeing their pants laughing. And, from that point forward, an Allegra Christmas tradition was born.

National Book Day Activity

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Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

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You can find Everybody’s Favorite Book at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review