March 27 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

National Reading Month is winding down, but that doesn’t mean you need to slow down on your reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed lots of new and old favorites this month and are inspired to keep discovering new books every day – like today’s book!

Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town: Based on the History of the African American Pioneer Settlement

Written by A. LaFaye | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

In Dede Patton’s dreams she could see the wide-open prairie where she and her family could build a better life. To pay off their sharecropping debt, “Dede’s mama sewed dresses so fine, they practically got up and danced.” Her father made furniture after a long day in the fields, and Dede shined shoes at the train station on a box she had made herself. Even though they worked “from sun-climb to sun-slide,” they knew it would take years to make enough money if ever.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Then one day Dede noticed a sign “offering land for colored folks in Kansas.” In Kansas they could own a farm in a few years. A new town, Nicodemus, was going to be built only a short ways away. Learning about this opportunity Dede’s family worked harder than ever and their money grew. One day, Dede found that one of her customers had dropped his wallet. She ran after the train and handed it up to him through the window.

Soon after Dede received a letter from the man with ten dollars inside. This, along with the money Dede’s mama and papa had made, was enough to pay off their debt. “Dede’s shoe shine money would buy the seeds for planting.” They took the train to Kansas and then traveled to Nicodemus with other new settlers. Along the bank of the Solomon River, they dug a house they could call their own. Dede and Papa staked off their land. With winter coming, they made plans for the years ahead.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

For supper, Dede hunted prairie dogs with her slingshot until they grew scarce. Looking for food, Dede and her papa went far out into the fields and met Shanka Sabe, a member of the Children of the Middle Waters tribe. “The white folks call them the Osage, but they say they’re the Ni-U-Kan-Ska.” He had noticed that the smoke coming from the Patton’s chimney had grown wispy and thought their food was growing thin too. He was bringing them rabbits.

When Spring came, Dede and Papa sowed seeds, and she and Mama began a garden. Spring also brought more people to Nicodemus. On Sundays, the Pattons rode into town, and Mama got orders for dresses from the other women. Once when Dede took the mail into town, she Mr. Zachary say his hotel was full. She mustered her courage and asked if any of his customers would like their shoes shined. From then she had “a job shining shoes at the St. Francis Hotel” that she went to after a day of helping Papa on the farm and Mama with the sewing.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In a few years the Patton’s farm was thriving and “they could prove their land claim.” Dede paid for the deed with her own shoe shine money. She made a frame for it from prairie grass, and the deed hung prominently in their home. On Sunday they held a party, and all the folks of Nicodemus as well as Shanka Sabe and his family turned out to enjoy the festivities and Mama’s pies. And that night they celebrated having a “home where they could tell stories, use the stars to guide them, and make plans for the things to come.”

An Author’s Note explaining more about the founding of Nicodemus, the Exodusters who settled the land in Kansas and other Midwestern states, and information on Nicodemus today follows the text.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

A. LaFaye tells this fact-based story of resilience, hope, and freedom with charm and heart, following a girl and her family from the constraints of a sharecropper’s life to owning a home and farm of their own. Descriptions of the close-knit Patton family shine as LaFaye demonstrates the importance of each member’s contributions. Children will be especially fascinated by Dede’s role in helping secure the family’s future. LaFaye captures the dreams and community spirit of this important, yet little-known history of the African-American and Midwest experience through lyrical storytelling peppered with period words and phrases.

Through Nicole Tadgell’s softly washed illustrations of Dede and her family, readers see the hard work and perseverance that Dede, Mama, and Papa put into every day as they work to make money to pay off their debt. When they dance and cheer at receiving the last ten dollars they need to make the move, their joy radiates to readers. Details and dreamy pastel images of the vast, empty prairie, the nascent town, and the Patton’s home transports readers to the 1870s.

An excellent story about a transformative period in American history, Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town is an enriching choice for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807525357

Discover more about A. LaFaye and her books on her website.

To learn more about Nicole Tadgell, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Reading Month Activity

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Kansas State Bird Coloring Page

 

Enjoy the beauty of the Kansas prairie as you color this printable page of the Western Meadowlark, the state bird of Kansas, which was selected by children in 1925.

Kansas State Bird Coloring Page

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You can find Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town 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

 

July 10 – Cow Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

The brainstorm of the Chik-Fil-A Company as a clever advertising ploy to herd customers to the chicken side of things, Cow Appreciation Day, also gives us an opportunity to really think about the importance of cattle to the world as a food source and source of material from earliest times. Cows have also long been beloved characters in children’s books, inspiring laughs, empathy, and imagination – as in today’s book!

The Cow Who Climbed a Tree

By Gemma Merino

 

Tina is a very unique cow. Unlike her sisters who are only interested in “fresh and juicy grass,” Tina is very curious and always inventing new ideas. Her sisters proclaim her notions “‘Impossible! Ridiculous! And Nonsense!’” One day while exploring the woods, Tina decides to climb a tree. Branch by branch she swings herself to the top. Up there among the owls and squirrels Tina discovers a dragon—a friendly one, and a vegetarian to boot!

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Copyright Gemma Merino, 2016, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

“All afternoon they talked about wonderful dreams and incredible stories.” Tina is excited to tell her sisters, but when she gets home they aren’t impressed. The whole idea of cows climbing trees and dragons is “‘Impossible! Ridiculous! And Nonsense!’” The next morning Tina never shows up for breakfast. Her sisters find a note that reads “Gone flying with the Dragon of the Woods.”

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Copyright Gemma Merino, 2016, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Her sisters decided this nonsense has to stop, so they head out to find her. As they leave behind their familiar farmland and enter the forest, they can’t believe how beautiful it is. Suddenly a pig wearing a backpack dashes past them and shimmies up a tree. Even though they consider this “impossible,” one sister follows the pig. The others join her. From a treetop branch the three find that “the world beyond the fields was extraordinary.”

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Copyright Gemma Merino, 2016, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Still, Tina is nowhere to be found. The sisters look left, right, down, and up. Up! “It was impossible. It was ridiculous. It was nonsense. But it was true! Tina was flying!” She and other animals are taking flying lessons from the dragon, and while they don’t have wings, they soar just fine with a little help. From her lofty place, Tina asks her sisters to join her, and they say something she has never heard before: “Yes, why not?” They float, drift, and glide in the sunlit sky, and ever afterward find that nothing is “impossible, ridiculous, or nonsense.” Now all four sisters can’t wait to see what else is possible.

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Copyright Gemma Merino, 2016, courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Gemma Merino’s mooving tribute to people who live and dream large will inspire young children to reach for the treetops and beyond. The plucky heroine who doesn’t cower under her sisters’ reproach is a confident and likable role model, happy to include her sisters when they finally see the light. Merino’s sweet, soft-hued illustrations humorously depict the dichotomy between the sisters’ grass-focused existence and Tina’s vivid imagination. The cows’ home has sage green walls, furniture, and floors.

The pictures on the walls, the flowerpot on the windowsill, and the planter are all full of various types of vegetation, and the jars in the pantry contain such ingredients as Pickled Leaves, Meadow Mix, Dried Petals, and Herbal Tea. But Tina’s imagination and the forest she loves to visit are infused with reds, ambers, blues, and teals; even the greens are more brilliant. For anyone contemplating the unknown, The Cow Who Climbed a Tree is rousing fun!

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807512982

To learn more about Gemma Merino and her books visit her website!

Cow Appreciation Day Activity

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Moo Cow Mug

Milk—regular or chocolate!—will taste so much better in a Moo Cow Mug  you make yourself! 

Supplies

  • White ceramic mug, available at craft stores
  • Black permanent marker or paint for ceramics
  • Pink permanent marker or paint for ceramics
  • Brown permanent marker or paint for ceramics

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Directions

  1. With the pink marker or paint, draw an oval shape for the nose near the bottom of the mug. Let dry.
  2. With the brown marker or paint, draw two angled nostrils inside the pink oval and color them in. Let dry.
  3. Color in the nose with the pink marker or paint.
  4. With the black marker, color the top tip of the handle where it meets the mug to make the tail.
  5. With the black marker or paint, draw two wavy lines on either side of the face starting at the top, angling toward the middle and returning to the bottom of the mug. Leave white space between the lines.
  6. Draw circles for eyes within the black lines. Add black pupils at the bottom of the eyes.
  7. Color inside the black lines and around the eyes to make the face markings.
  8. With the black marker or paint, make two or three splotches on the back of the mug.
  9. Let the mug dry and follow the directions for the markers or paint to set the color.
  10. Pour yourself a mug of milk and enjoy!

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You can find The Cow Who Climbed a Tree at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 4 – National Wildlife Day

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About the Holiday

National Wildlife Day, founded in 2005, serves to bring awareness to the number of endangered animals that need to be preserved and rescued each year. The holiday also acknowledges the zoos, outstanding animal sanctuaries, and other global organizations for everything they do to help preserve this planet’s animals and educate the public about conservation – especially the children, who are our future conservationists and animal’s caretakers.

 

Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jordi Solano

 

When young Eugenie Clark pressed her face against the aquarium window at the sharks swimming by, she did not see “piercing eyes…rows of sharp teeth…vicious, bloodthirsty killers.” Instead she saw “sleek, graceful fish” and dreamed of being inside the tank to swim among them. She loved to spend Saturdays at the New York Aquarium sharing her knowledge of fish with visitors. She wished there was more information available about sharks and hoped for a day when she could learn more about them.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2016, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

At home her mother bought Genie her own little fish tank, and soon the whole apartment was full of fish and reptiles. Genie kept careful notes on her pets as she tried to answer her many questions. William Beebe, a famous scientist who studied fish, was Genie’s hero. She too wished to explore the ocean like he did. But this was the 1930s and not many people “dared to study the depths of the sea, and none were women.” Eugenie’s mother suggested she study typing and try to become Beebe’s secretary. The life of a secretary was not what Genie had in mind.

Eugenie received a Master’s Degree in zoology, and when a well-known ichthyologist offered her a job as his research assistant and an opportunity to take oceanography classes, she moved to California. There she collected fish and water samples. The beauty of the underwater world astonished her. In the lab she was able to dissect a swell shark to learn “how and why it puffs up.” But Genie wanted to dive deeper—to swim with sharks.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2016, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

One day, Genie’s professor allowed her to try helmet diving. Wearing the heavy metal helmet, Genie was able to descend into the cold, murky deep where kelp forests waved with the current. “In 1949 the US Navy hired Genie to study poisonous fish in the South Seas. As she collected fish, she came face to face with a shark. The shark swam closer and closer then suddenly dove and disappeared out of sight. Genie was thrilled by the encounter.

In 1955 Eugenie moved to Florida and opened the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, becoming the first to study sharks in their natural environment. The more she studied sharks, the more she realized that they were intelligent creatures, not stupid “eating machines” as most people thought. She wondered if sharks could be trained.

Eugenie set up an experiment in which a shark needed to press a white board to receive a reward a short swim away. Soon, the female shark of the pair realized that if the male shark pressed the board, she could swim to retrieve the reward. The pair remembered the exercise even after a ten-week break. Soon, scientists from around the world wanted to work with Genie. 

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2016, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

Word reached her about “‘sleeping sharks,’” off the coast of Mexico. Instead of swimming around, these sharks stayed on the ocean floor. Eugenie was determined to learn how they breathed without moving. She dived deep into their territory, finding a requiem shark in an ocean cave. Here, she was face-to-face with one of the most feared fish in the sea. Genie swallowed any worry and watched as the fish opened and closed its mouth, providing itself with oxygen as a remora fish cleaned its gills.

Genie took water samples and completed other tests that revealed astonishing facts about the ocean caves and the habits of sharks. But while Genie was learning the facts about these mysterious sea creatures, most people still feared them and considered them with suspicion and superstition. As time went by, Genie began seeing fewer and fewer sharks on her dives. They were being killed out of fear, for their fins, and because people thought it would make beaches safer.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2016, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

Genie began talking about her research, and people listened. “Dr. Eugenie Clark had become one of the most respected fish scientists in the world.” She taught people that there is always more to learn and “always more surprises.”

An extensive Author’s Note about the life and work of Eugenie Clark as well as more information on sharks follows the text.

Heather Lang delves into the life’s work of a woman who fearlessly challenged herself and the prevailing science to increase our knowledge of sharks and change people’s perspective on these beautiful creatures. Readers will love Lang’s comprehensive storytelling—beginning with young Genie’s fascination with fish and the sea—that reveals the pivotal events which led to her discoveries. Fascinating anecdotes from Eugenie’s research and personal encounters with sharks will enthrall children, and the idea that there is much more to discover will resonated with young scientists in the making.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, 2016, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

Jordi Solano takes readers to the depths of the ocean in his sea-green, atmospheric illustrations that beautifully mirror the world of sharks. Textured and layered images of marine plants and a variety of creatures give children an up-close view of Eugenie Clark’s work and the fish she encountered on her dives. Each type of shark is magnificently and realistically drawn, giving kids an idea of coloring, size, movement, and more. Children will also see Eugenie’s research facilities and the equipment she used in her studies.

For anyone interested in marine science, history, biographies, or the environment in general, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark is a can’t-miss book.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807521878

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Jordi Solano on Plum Pudding Illustration!

National Wildlife Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fascinating-sharks-word-scramble

Fascinating Sharks Word Scramble

 

Read the clues and unscramble the names of 14 types of sharks in this printable Fascinating Sharks Word Scramble! Here’s the Solution!

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You can find Swimming with Sharks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 17 – It’s National Catfish Month

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About the Holiday

National Catfish Month honors the hard work and innovations of America’s catfish farmers, many of whose families have been farmers for two or three generations. This delicious fish has many nutritional benefits. It is found mostly in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana and is one of the most sustainable species of fish. Fried or blackened with spicy Cajun or other spices, catfish makes for a scrumptious meal! Try some this month!

A Catfish Tale: A Bayou Story of the Fisherman and His Wife

Written by Whitney Stewart | Illustrated by Gerald Guerlais

 

Down in the bayou, so the story goes, there lived two young sweethearts named Jacques and Jolie. Jacques liked to “pole his skiff through cypress knees to his favorite fishing hole,” and Jolie cooked up peppery hot gumbo and sang “so true even the cicadas hushed up to listen.” One day Jacques hooked a big one, and when he pulled up his line a catfish sprang from the water. But this was no ordinary catfish. The wily fellow explained that he was a magic catfish and not at all a catch for supper. Jacques was so frightened that he freed the “jabbering critter” and took off for home.

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Image copyright Gerald Guerlais, 2014, text copyright Whitney Stewart, 2014. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

When Jolie learned Jacques had given up their chance for a wish that could replace their shack with “a proper house where she could sing for a crowd,” she was steamed. Jacques thought everything was all right the way things were, but he hightailed it back to the swamp and asked that catfish for a house. The catfish was obliging and with a grin said, “‘Ah, tooloulou—if that ain’t the easiest thing to do.’”

In her big, beautiful house, Jolie entertained loads of friends and decided to take her show to all the cities down the river. All she needed, she said, was a paddle wheel boat. The catfish smiled when he heard Jacques’ request and said, “‘Ah, tooloulou—if that ain’t the easiest thing to do.’” Every night Jolie sang from the bow of her grand paddle wheeler. Her fans called her the Queen of the Mississippi, and she ate it up.

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Image copyright Gerald Guerlais, 2014, text copyright Whitney Stewart, 2014. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

Jacques was miserable stuck in his stateroom with a pounding headache and no fishing pole, so he returned to the bayou to find his catfish friend. Meanwhile, Jolie took the New Orleans nightclubs by storm. With Mardi Gras approaching, Jolie had one more little favor to ask of the catfish, and with a “tooloulou” Jolie became Queen of Mardi Gras. She wore a diamond crown and a white satin gown. Even though things were a little rocky—the cheering crowds couldn’t hear her sing, and the Mardi Gras beads she tossed to her fans got tangled in her crown—she loved being queen.

Jolie wrote to Jacques and asked to become Queen of the Bayou. The catfish said his magic words and in no time Jolie was crowned Queen amid blaring musicians and applauding fans. Jolie smiled and began to sing. Suddenly, a fierce hurricane blew up, “snakes, alligators, and swamp creatures slithered up the riverbank. Ghosts, and goblins flew from the cemeteries and pirate skeletons escaped watery graves to dance in the streets.” And Jolie? She was swept up and unceremoniously dropped in a tree. From among the branches she called to a passing pelican, “‘Tell my husband to ask that catfish for one more little thing!’”

Jacques “paddled faster than an alligator could swish its tale” and asked that catfish for one last wish…, and what do you think he said? Well, he just slipped back beneath the water ‘cause he knew “Jolie didn’t need nothin’ more.”

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Image copyright Gerald Guerlais, 2014, text copyright Whitney Stewart, 2014. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company

A Catfish Tale includes a Bayou Glossary as well as a recipe for Seafood Gumbo by New Orleans native Hans Andersson.

Whitney Stewart’s tall tale of a magic catfish, the woman who learns enough is often enough, and the man who loves her will capture kids’ fancy. Jolie’s overreaching ambition and the catfish’s ready spell give children plenty of opportunity to join in with repeated phrases, and the well-paced suspense will keep kids engrossed in the action. The unique bayou setting and colloquial lilt sets A Catfish Tale apart as a rollicking story-time romp with a bit of Cajun caution and a whole lot of magic.

Gerald Guerlais brings the mystery and flavor of the deep south to A Catfish Tale with moss greens and shadowy blues that well depict the bayou’s natural environment. Twisty Cypress trees dip their roots in still, lily pad-filled waters, shimmering lights glow in the nighttime swamp, and spooky critters teem in the stormy sky. The magic catfish wears an ever-present, easy-going grin, and a crusty, good-ol’-boy alligator spins the tall tale just the way he’s heard it. Children will love the scenes of the paddle wheeler and the festive atmosphere of Mardi Gras.

Whitney Stewart’s  A Catfish Tale, a deft retelling of  Grimm’s A Fisherman and His Wife, is a fantastic introduction to the distinctive qualities of the southern Mississippi region, one which kids may want to explore further.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2014 | ISBN 978-0807510988

To learn more about Whitney Stewart and her work as well as to discover activities for children and teachers, visit her website!

View a gallery of illustrations by Gerald Guerlais on his website!

National Catfish Month Activity

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Catfish Coloring Page

 

The catfish is a most unusual creature! Add your own swamp or river setting to this Printable Catfish Coloring Page!

May 31 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

As we say goodbye to Get Caught Reading Month, let’s remember all of the great stories we’ve read and eagerly anticipate those that still await us in the days and months ahead! The long, relaxing hours of summer vacation are nearing, giving readers even more time to enjoy their favorite pursuit. So why not make a list of titles you’d like to explore this summer, and lead it off with today’s book that tells the true story of a very original teenager!

The Original Cowgirl: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Suzanne Beaky

 

Unlike most girls in the 1890s, Lucille didn’t skip rope “with her mama’s clothesline, she twirled it like a lasso. Whoosh…whoosh…snap!” While Lucille’s papa thought his daughter would be a great help around the ranch, her mother considered riding horses and roping steers unladylike. Lucille wasn’t interested in the regular pursuits of becoming a lady, however. Sewing and cooking were boring, and “riding sidesaddle was slower than a snail climbing a greased log.”

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Image copyright Suzanne Beaky, courtesy of suzannebeaky.com

By the age of ten, Lucille was well versed in “mending fences, training racehorses, and herding cattle.” When she asked her father for her own herd of cattle, he told her that she could have one when she was old enough to rope and brand her own—something she could already do. Lucille’s mother worried about her when she patrolled the pastures where her cows grazed. They were threatened by “longhorns, wolves, and coyotes so mean they could turn the strongest cowboy into buzzard food,” but Lucille could snatch those varmints with her lasso in no time flat. The only thing Lucille was afraid of was not being allowed to work on the ranch, so she hid her bumps and bruises.

When Lucille was thirteen, her papa took her along on some rough-riding and roping competitions he had organized. When people saw how talented she was, word got around. Newspapers called her a “daring young girl who ‘held the audience in a breathless spell’” and said she was “‘the envy of half the men.’” But now that she was a teenager, Lucille’s mama sent her to a boarding school where she was to learn how to be a lady.

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Image copyright Suzanne Beaky, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of albertwhitman.com

When she returned home at the end of the year, her papa presented her with a gift—a “beautiful sixteen-hand chestnut horse named Governor. Right off, Lucille could see that he would make a perfect trick horse. That summer Lucille, her papa, and the other cowboys were invited to perform for Vice Presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt. At first Lucille’s mother said no, but she later relented, with the stipulation that “it would be Lucille’s last appearance.”

Lucille was a star, demonstrating her riding and roping skills for 25,000 people. Teddy Roosevelt was so impressed, he suggested Lucille have her own show. Soon, Lucille was traveling around the country, thrilling audiences by breaking broncos, lassoing and branding steers, and performing tricks like roping “five galloping cowboys all at once.”

Lucille entered her first professional steer-roping competition when she was just fifteen. She was the first women ever to compete in this kind of event. Some cowboys laughed at her, but she didn’t care. When the steer was released from the pen, Lucille took off after him. Her first throw of the lasso landed but broke. Quickly she tossed another and “flipped him up like a flapjack.” She jumped off her horse and in 29 ½ seconds tied the steer’s feet. Her time was “faster than all the men!”

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Image copyright Suzanne Beaky, courtesy of suzannebeaky.com

Lucille went on to break the world record for steer roping. Plenty of people still thought Lucille belonged in the home instead of on horseback. “But her home was always on a horse with the sun on her cheeks a lariat coiled in her hand, and the boundless Oklahoma prairie rolling out in front of her.”

More information on and a timeline of Lucille Mulhall’s life follow the text.

With her folksy storytelling, Heather Lang transports readers to the prairies of the Wild West, where a girl with phenomenal riding skills captured the attention and hearts of Americans. Young readers will be fascinated by Lucille Mulhall’s development from a 10-year-old prodigy to the star of her own stage show in only a few short years. Lang’s expressive period-perfect vocabulary allows all kids to ride the range while they learn about this young woman who broke stereotypes, championed the cause of women, and still serves as a role model for all who wish to live life on their own terms.

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Image copyright Suzanne Beaky, courtesy of suzannebeaky.com

With her downhome, action-packed illustrations, Suzanne Beaky lets kids watch as Lucille lassos a wolf, ropes a steer, preforms tricks, and celebrates her record-breaking performance. Lucille is a wide-eyed force of nature in her split skirt and braids as she twirls her rope for serious ranch business and for entertaining the crowds, whose stunned expressions reveal just how original Lucille was. Clothing, hair, and mustache styles, as well as depictions of horses, steers, and the vast green prairie make The Original Cowgirl as fun as it is informative.

For kids interested in the Wild West, early American history, biographies, or a story about true individuality, The Original Cowgirl: the Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall is a great addition to home bookshelves and public and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman, 2015 | ISBN 978-0807529317

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website!

To find out more about Lucille Mulhall through videos, photographs, and fun activities, click here!

Learn more about Suzanne Beaky and view a gallery of her artwork on her website!

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Yee-haw! Word Search

 

Can you lasso the eighteen Wild West-inspired words in this printable Yee-haw! Word Search? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

March 8 – International Women’s Day

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About the Holiday

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909 during a time of great change and increasing industrialization that saw more and more women demanding equality in working hours, pay, safety, voting rights and more with their male counterparts. Women across the globe are still fighting for these rights. This year’s theme is Be Bold For Change (#BeBoldForChange), and reminds us that we must always be vigilant in securing and keeping equal rights for all.

Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Jordi Solano

 

When young Eugenie Clark pressed her face against the aquarium window at the sharks swimming by, she did not see “piercing eyes…rows of sharp teeth…vicious, bloodthirsty killers.” Instead she saw “sleek, graceful fish” and dreamed of being inside the tank to swim among them. She loved to spend Saturdays at the New York Aquarium sharing her knowledge of fish with visitors. She wished there was more information available about sharks and hoped for a day when she could learn more about them.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

At home her mother bought Genie her own little fish tank, and soon the whole apartment was full of fish and reptiles. Genie kept careful notes on her pets as she tried to answer her many questions. William Beebe, a famous scientist who studied fish, was Genie’s hero. She too wished to explore the ocean like he did. But this was the 1930s and not many people “dared to study the depths of the sea, and none were women.” Eugenie’s mother suggested she study typing and try to become Beebe’s secretary. The life of a secretary was not what Genie had in mind.

Eugenie received a Master’s Degree in zoology, and when a well-known ichthyologist offered her a job as his research assistant and an opportunity to take oceanography classes, she moved to California. There she collected fish and water samples. The beauty of the underwater world astonished her. In the lab she was able to dissect a swell shark to learn “how and why it puffs up.” But Genie wanted to dive deeper—to swim with sharks.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

One day, Genie’s professor allowed her to try helmet diving. Wearing the heavy metal helmet, Genie was able to descend into the cold, murky deep where kelp forests waved with the current. “In 1949 the US Navy hired Genie to study poisonous fish in the South Seas. As she collected fish, she came face to face with a shark. The shark swam closer and closer then suddenly dove and disappeared out of sight. Genie was thrilled by the encounter.

In 1955 Eugenie moved to Florida and opened the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, becoming the first to study sharks in their natural environment. The more she studied sharks, the more she realized that they were intelligent creatures, not stupid “eating machines” as most people thought. She wondered if sharks could be trained.

Eugenie set up an experiment in which a shark needed to press a white board to receive a reward a short swim away. Soon, the female shark of the pair realized that if the male shark pressed the board, she could swim to retrieve the reward. The pair remembered the exercise even after a ten-week break. Soon, scientists from around the world wanted to work with Genie. 

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

Word reached her about “‘sleeping sharks,’” off the coast of Mexico. Instead of swimming around, these sharks stayed on the ocean floor. Eugenie was determined to learn how they breathed without moving. She dived deep into their territory, finding a requiem shark in an ocean cave. Here, she was face-to-face with one of the most feared fish in the sea. Genie swallowed any worry and watched as the fish opened and closed its mouth, providing itself with oxygen as a remora fish cleaned its gills.

Genie took water samples and completed other tests that revealed astonishing facts about the ocean caves and the habits of sharks. But while Genie was learning the facts about these mysterious sea creatures, most people still feared them and considered them with suspicion and superstition. As time went by, Genie began seeing fewer and fewer sharks on her dives. They were being killed out of fear, for their fins, and because people thought it would make beaches safer.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

Genie began talking about her research, and people listened. “Dr. Eugenie Clark had become one of the most respected fish scientists in the world.” She taught people that there is always more to learn and “always more surprises.”

An extensive Author’s Note about the life and work of Eugenie Clark as well as more information on sharks follows the text.

Heather Lang delves into the life’s work of a woman who fearlessly challenged herself and the prevailing science to increase our knowledge of sharks and change people’s perspective on these beautiful creatures. Readers will love Lang’s comprehensive storytelling—beginning with young Genie’s fascination with fish and the sea—that reveals the pivotal events which led to her discoveries. Fascinating anecdotes from Eugenie’s research and personal encounters with sharks will enthrall children, and the idea that there is much more to discover will resonated with young scientists in the making.

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Image copyright Jordi Solano, courtesy of plumpuddingillustration.com

Jordi Solano takes readers to the depths of the ocean in his sea-green, atmospheric illustrations that beautifully mirror the world of sharks. Textured and layered images of marine plants and a variety of creatures give children an up-close view of Eugenie Clark’s work and the fish she encountered on her dives. Each type of shark is magnificently and realistically drawn, giving kids an idea of coloring, size, movement, and more. Children will also see Eugenie’s research facilities and the equipment she used in her studies.

For anyone interested in marine science, history, biographies, or the environment in general, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark is a can’t-miss book.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2016 | ISBN 978-0807521878

Discover more about Heather Lang and her books on her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Jordi Solano on Plum Pudding Illustration!

International Women’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fascinating-sharks-word-scramble

Fascinating Sharks Word Scramble

 

Read the clues and unscramble the names of 14 types of sharks in this printable Fascinating Sharks Word Scramble! Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review