June 27 – It’s Pride Month

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About the Holiday

To commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which took place in Manhattan on June 28, 1969 as a protest demanding the establishment of places where LGBTQ+ people could go and be open about their sexual orientation without fear of arrest, Brenda Howard instituted Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade in 1970. These events later inspired the New York City Pride March, which became a catalyst for the formation of similar parades and marches across the world. Pride Month was officially recognized in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. During the month of June the LGBTQ+ community celebrates diversity, cultural accomplishments and influence, and the strides that have been made politically and socially.

The month also highlights the need for renewed vigilance to protect hard-won rights while moving forward to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community achieves full equality and acceptance. Globally, activists work year-round to end abuses and advocate for laws and policies to protect all. Around the world, the rainbow flag, designed in 1978 by American artist, gay rights activist, and U.S. Army veteran Gilbert Baker, flies proudly over a variety of events, including parades, marches, concerts, book readings, parties, and workshops.

Sam Is My Sister

Written by Ashley Rhodes-Courter | Illustrated by MacKenzie Haley

 

All summer long, brothers Evan, Sam, and Finn “played with trains, climbed trees, and fished in the river behind Grandpa’s house.” They made a rocket from a cardboard box and shot into outer space. “‘Zoom! Zoom! Brothers to the moon!’ Evan cheered.” When they went to the library, they gathered all the books about space they could find and headed to the check-out desk. But on the way, Sam spied a “glittery book that had a long-haired princess on the cover.” He took it from the shelf and checked that one out too.

Outside the library, Evan wanted to know why Sam wanted “‘a girl book instead of a space book.'” Their mom said “‘Books are for everyone to enjoy,'” and Sam said that girls could go to space too, but Evan still didn’t understand why Sam wanted that book. Soon it was time to get haircuts before school began. Evan and Finn had their hair cut short, like dad’s, but Sam was happy with long hair. Mom and Dad said okay. Evan quietly asked Dad why Sam didn’t want to look like them anymore. Dad told him that was up to Sam. Evan did see how happy Sam looked.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sam-is-my-sister-space

Image copyright MacKenzie Haley, 2021, text copyright Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

On the first day of school, Sam asked to wear a dress instead of shorts. Evan protested, saying “‘Dresses are for girls…. Why do you want to dress all wrong?'” Sam answered, “‘I want to wear what I like.'” Instead of a dress, Mom brought Sam a hair bow to wear. Sam loved it. But at school some of the older kids made fun of Sam and tried to grab the bow. One boy asked why Sam was wearing it and another said “‘Boys don’t put stuff in their hair.'” Sam shouted back, “‘Well, I do!'” and went to sit under the climbing dome. Evan chased after Sam and suggested they play spaceship, but Sam didn’t want to.

“Mom and Dad started letting Sam wear dresses after school and on the weekends. … Evan had never seen Sam so happy.” One day while drawing, Evan asked Sam about wanting to look like a girl. Sam explained, “‘Because I am a girl…. On the inside.'” Evan still didn’t understand, so Sam explained that it was like trying to draw with the wrong hand. When Evan tried it, he grew frustrated and understood that it just didn’t feel right. He was glad he didn’t have to do that all the time.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sam-is-my-sister-library

Image copyright MacKenzie Haley, 2021, text copyright Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

That night Mom and Dad sat down with Evan, Sam, and Finn and said they had talked with some doctors and experts. They explained what they had learned about how even though called a boy at birth, Sam identified as a girl. “‘The word for that is transgender,'” Mom said. “‘Yes, that’s me!’ said Sam.” Dad affirmed Sam’s right to choose what was best for her, and Mom said their job was making sure Sam, Evan, and Finn were “‘happy and healthy.'”

Later, while the kids were playing, Evan asked if they’d still be able to do all the same things they had always done together, and Sam said, “‘of course!'” When Sam began wearing dresses to school, neither the boys nor the girls wanted to play with her. Evan stood up for Sam, telling the kids, “‘Hey, don’t talk like that to my sister!'” Sam was happy to hear Evan call her his sister. That night as the three watched the moon rise, Finn and Evan wondered if Sam would still want to come with them. “‘Princesses can go to the moon,’ Sam whispered back. ‘Yes they can,’ Evan said. ‘Zoom! Zoom! Family to the moon!'”

Back matter includes an Author’s Note about her own family, on whom the story is based. as well as resources for adults looking for more information on organizations that support the LGBTQ community.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sam-is-my-sister-school

Image copyright MacKenzie Haley, 2021, text copyright Ashley Rhodes-Courter, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her sweet and thoughtful story, Ashley Rhodes-Courter offers validation and acceptance for transgender children and their families. Through realistic dialogue and Evan’s often pointed questions and observations, Rhodes-Courter invites siblings and other family members, friends, and readers to engage in thinking, discussing, and understanding the feelings and experiences of a transgender child. She also depicts the types of hurtful comments and ostracizing that transgender children experience at school and in their communities. Rhodes-Courter uses these occurrences, however, to also demonstrate how supportive siblings can stand up for their sister or brother. Sam’s family’s strong and loving acceptance is a highlight of the story. As Sam begins to show a preference for long hair, princess books, and dresses, Rhodes-Courter demonstrates the steps, through language and actions, that parents and other adults can take to affirm a child’s autonomy and ultimately build a happy and inclusive family with unbreakable bonds.

MacKenzie Haley’s expressive illustrations will draw readers in with her depictions of imaginative play and the consistency of the siblings’ relationship throughout the changes taking place for Sam and within the family. Portrayals of Evan’s confusion lead into welcome images of his conversations with Mom and/or Dad as well as his unstinting embrace of and support for his sister. Images of the courage that Sam and Evan display in responding to the playground taunts will tug at readers’ hearts, and the family’s unity is inspiring.

An uplifting and heartwarming story that resonates with understanding for transgender children and beautifully depicts the acceptance all children should receive from family and their community. Sam Is My Sister is a must for inclusive family bookshelves and for all school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807506516

Discover more about Ashley Rhodes-Courter and her books and her advocacy work on the behalf of children on her website.

To learn more about MacKenzie Haley, her books, and her art on her website.

Pride Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rainbow-magnet-craft

Rainbow Magnet

 

If you’re stuck on rainbows, you can make this mini rainbow to stick on your fridge or locker!

Supplies

  • 7 mini popsicle sticks
  • Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, Indigo, violet (ROYGBIV)
  • Adhesive magnet
  • A little bit of polyfill
  • Paint brush
  • Glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Paint one popsicle stick in each color, let dry
  2. Glue the popsicle sticks together side by side in the ROYGBIV order, let dry
  3. Roll a bit of polyfill into a cloud shape and glue to the top of the row of popsicle sticks
  4. Attach the magnet to the back of the rainbow

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sam-is-my-sister-cover

You can find Sam Is My Sister at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 24 – Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

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About the Holiday

All this week, we celebrate Engineers and Engineering! Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPA) in 1951, Engineering Week focuses on increasing an understanding of and interest in engineering and other technical careers to ensure a diverse and well-educated engineering workforce for the future. More than seventy engineering, education, and cultural societies and more than fifty corporations and government agencies cooperate to raise public awareness of engineers’ contributions to our quality of life. Throughout the week they work to foster a recognition in parents, teachers, and students of the importance of a technical education as well as a high level of math, science, and technology literacy. By reaching out to schools, businesses, and community organizations across the country, they hope to motivate young people to pursue engineering careers. For Introduce a Girl to Engineering, or Girl Day, educators, engineers, volunteers, and others demonstrate engineering activities, show girls how engineers change our world, and provide mentors to guide tomorrow’s engineers. To learn more about Engineering Week and today’s holiday in particular, visit the NSPA website.

Goldilocks and the Three Engineers

Written by Sue Fliess | Illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis

 

“In a tiny bungalow, / there lived a clever thinker. / Young Goldilocks invented things. She’d make and craft and tinker.” Goldilocks made lots of useful things, like machines to help you tie your shoes, to a self-zipping zipper to a hat outfitted with a flashlight, magnifying glass, and itty-bitty satellite dish to help you find the things you’ve lost. But one day, Goldilocks found that she had “inventor’s block,” so she decided to take a walk.

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

At the same time, the Bear family was out gathering nuts and berries for their pre-hibernation celebration. Baby Bear had a nifty contraption that knocked fruit and nuts into a basket with a tennis racquet. Papa Bear had an ingenious wheelbarrow with mechanical arms and hands that picked berries one by one and deposited them in the cart—but only after tossing them through a tiny basketball hoop. Swish! And Mama Bear’s handy vacuum sucked fruit right off the bushes and collected them in a tank.

Their next stop was the beehive at the top of a hill. After they’d eaten all their goodies, Baby Bear spied a little bungalow. The Bears thought it was just the place to spend the winter. When they went inside, they found “the room was full of strange devices, / widgets, tools, and more!” Looking more closely, Papa Bear found a chair that was perfect for Baby Bear. He marveled that “it feeds you and it wipes your mouth, / and reads you stories, too!” Meanwhile, Mama Bear had discovered a bowl that stirred porridge and a bed that automatically rocked you to sleep.

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Baby Bear loved the chair but wished for one more innovation that would make it just right. Papa Bear found parts and tools and fixed the chair to Baby Bear’s specifications. Mama Bear tasted the porridge and found it lacking one ingredient, so Papa Bear created a porridge-stirrer accessory to add it drop by drop. By now it was dark, and even though Papa Bear thought it wasn’t right to stay, Baby Bear convinced him that one night would be okay.

But when they crawled into bed and turned it on, it rocked so much that it tipped the Bears right onto the floor. There was only one thing to do: “Baby fixed the engine block. / Replace the gears that burned. / Soon the bears were fast asleep… / Then Goldilocks returned.” She saw the chair, tasted the porridge, and then… “heard snoring sounds.” Wide awake now, the bears began to explain. But Goldilocks was not upset. Instead she said, “‘You’ve improved my projects here, / and made them much more fun. / Proving that four brains, by far, / are better than just one!’”

Excited to be inventing again with the bears on board to lend their smart innovations, Goldilocks sends the family off amid promises to “‘…meet up in the spring’” when they will “‘…make the next big thing!’”

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

With her fun flip on the Goldilocks story, Sue Fleiss invites kids to indulge their inner inventor with wacky contraptions that can make getting dressed, cooking, going to bed, and chores more exciting. Fleiss’s clever takes on the well-known “just right” chair, porridge, and bed get readers thinking creatively—perhaps even about their own household appliances. While the original story ends with the interloper being chased away, Fleiss’s version shines with the benefits of cooperation, collaboration, and being open to new ideas.

With so many cool inventions to discover on every page, readers will love taking extra time to find and talk about them all. Any young maker would swoon over Petros Bouloubasis’s well-stocked workbench, and readers would have a blast drawing their own gadgets using the tools and supplies depicted. Quirky, abstract landscapes add to the kid-centric ambiance, and just like the Bear family, who drives away in a new vehicle with their full wheelbarrow in tow, readers will look forward to returning to Goldilocks’ little bungalow again and again.

Imagination, creativity, teamwork, and friendship all wrapped up in a clever fractured fairytale—what could be better?! Goldilocks and the Three Engineers is one to add to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807529973

Discover more about Sue Fleiss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Petros Bouloubasis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-spaghetti-box-bridge-craft

Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge

 

Engineers are at the core of so many things that make our homes and neighborhoods what they are. Kids will have fun building a bridge from Using items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin, kids will have fun making the bridge above and maybe even a whole town! Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports. Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar, aluminum can, or bread crumb container. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—turn the boxes inside out, tape, and add paint and details! So look around, use your imagination, and get creative!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-goldilocks-and-the-three-engineers-cover

You can find Goldilocks and the Three Engineers at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Endangered Species Act Day

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About the Holiday

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in by President Richard Nixon on this date in 1973.  The primary law in the United States for protecting imperiled species, the Act protects critically imperiled species from extinction as a result of the consequences of economic growth and development undeterred by concern for conservation. The US Supreme Court called it “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation”. The purposes of the Endangered Species Act are to prevent extinction and to recover species to the point where the law’s protections are not needed, therefore protecting diverse species as well as the ecosystems in which they live or depend on. Today’s book reveals the story of a National Park that provides a unique refuge for many rare and endangered species. To celebrate the holiday, learn more about how the Endangered Species Act affects your state.

Thanks go to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Part of the She Made History Series)

Written by Vicki Conrad | Illustrated by Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew

 

“Long ago a trickle of water / spilled from a lake / and formed a tiny stream.” The stream spread until it covered almost half of the state of Florida, creating a shallow lake that moved like a slowly running river – “a river bursting with wildlife, / whispering to the world / to listen, to notice, to discover its wonders.” Mangroves and cypress trees grow from the water, the soil fed by the cycles of growing and dying sawgrass. The water, trees, and grass attract a “rainbow of birds” that wade in the shallows, hunting for food. “These are the Everglades. / The wildest, richest, and most diverse ecosystem in all the world – / every plant and animal needing another to survive.”

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

But leaders and developers wanted to drain the water to create land to build on, land they could sell, land with which they could make money. They pumped the water out and built dams and drains to make farmland, but the farmland turned dry and burned easily. The animals and birds fled. The ecosystem was “desperate for a voice to protect them.”

When Marjory traveled from Massachusetts to Florida and saw the beautiful scenery, she knew immediately that this was her new home. She made a friend, Ernest, and together they spent time paddling a boat through the Everglades, “watching whirling wheels of white birds dance” and spying panthers, alligators, turtles, manatees, and more of the animals that lived there. Where other people saw a swamp, Marjory and Ernest saw “treasure.”

Marjory and Ernest wanted to do something to preserve the Everglades. They studied the map and the formation of the Everglades. Marjory called it “a river of grass.” Ernest wrote a bill for the United States Congress to consider, and “Marjory wrote a poem, / hopeful it would move Congress.” Although lawmakers did tour the Everglades and see its miraculous sights, the bill did not pass.

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Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Marjory decided to write a book about the area she loved, and in 1947 The Everglades: River of Grass was published. Her book helped people see the marvels that lived within the Everglades: “the manatee munching seagrass / protecting her calf from harm”; “the red-bellied turtle, / laying eggs in the abandoned alligator nest, / dry and protected from water.”; the only place in the world where an alligator and a crocodile live together.”

At last people began to take notice – and care. Their voices joined with Marjory’s and Ernest’s and Everglades National Park was established that same year. “Yet only one-fourth of the Everglades was protected.” Marjory understood that “all the ecosystems needed one another.” When plans to build the world’s largest airport on land that was part of the Everglades, Marjory, now eighty years old, established the Friends of the Everglades, and their three-thousand voices convinced President Richard Nixon to stop the building.

Marjory continued to fight for the Everglades, giving speeches and putting hecklers in their place. When she was ninety-nine years old, Marjory could be found chipping away at a concrete drain to restore the land to its former waterway. At 105 years old, Marjory was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Adults and children sent her letters thanking her for saving the Everglades, but Marjory knew there would always be more work to be done to protect this unique ecosystem.

Back matter includes an extensive, illustrated discussion of the Everglades ecosystem, the nine different habitats that make it such a unique area, and many of the plants, animals, birds, and fish that call it home. More on the life of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and her legacy as well as how readers can help the Everglades are also included.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-voice-for-the-everglades-national-park

Image copyright Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew, 2021, text copyright Vicki Conrad. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

A compelling biography of a woman with vision and grit who took on a nearly impossible task and saved one of the world’s unique environmental treasures, A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas will inspire young environmentalists and would serve as a captivating resource to begin studies about ecosystems, conservation, endangered and rare species, and many other topics revolving around nature science. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, whose perseverance, dedication, and voice still resonate today, continues to be a role model for children and adults alike.

Through Vicki Conrad’s lyrical text and light incorporation of a “This is the House that Jack Built” cadence readers see how people’s actions build on and affect each other – whether detrimentally (as the building plans; pumps, dams, and drains; and disappearing wildlife do) or beneficially (as Marjory’s and Ernest’s appeals to Congress, Marjory’s writings, and her continued advocacy do) and understand that once voice can make a difference. Conrad does an excellent job of portraying the beauty and uniqueness of the Everglades and giving kids a view of the many wonders to be found there.

In their vivid illustrations, Ibon Adarne and Rachel Yew depict the rich colors of the diverse flora and fauna found in the nine cohesive habitats, from the vibrant pink roseate spoonbills to the purple passion flowers to the elusive crocodiles and the breathtaking, fiery sunsets that blanket them all. Adarne and Yew also allow children to navigate the meandering waterways that weave through the mangroves and sawgrass in their slow, steady, and life-giving pace. The breadth of wildlife within the pages offer many opportunities for further learning and research at home and at school.

An enticing and educational look at one of the world’s most valued natural treasures – whose story and resources continues to influence nature studies and advocacy today – A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a book that every school and public library will want to add to its collection and would be an inspiring inclusion for home bookshelves for nature lovers and homeschoolers.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807584965

Discover more about Vicki Conrad and her books on her website.

You can connect with Ibon Adarne on Twitter.

You can connect with Rachel Yew on Twitter.

Endangered Species Act Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-everglades-national-park-coloring-page

Everglades National Park Coloring Page

 

Travel to the Everglades and see the diverse wildlife that lives there with this printable coloring page!

Everglades National Park Coloring Page 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-voice-for-the-everglades-cover

You can find A Voice for the Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support our local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 20 – Get Ready to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

As we get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the beginning of a new year, adults and kids often look for opportunities to reflect and grow while sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong. Today’s book embraces all three of these parts of New Year’s Eve and is a reassuring and uplifting read aloud for the holiday and throughout the year.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-abuelita

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-mamá

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-new-years-eve

Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-new-years-coloring-page

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-cover

You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 7 – National Letter Writing Day

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About the Holiday

Many young wishers know all about writing letters in December, so it should come as no surprise that a letter-writing day be included in this month’s calendar. Today’s holiday celebrates all forms of personal communication written by hand and remembers correspondences from the past that have given us such insight into our favorite poets, novelists, historical figures, and more. Sure, email might be faster, but there’s a certain luxury in taking the time to write your thoughts on paper as well as an palpable excitement in holding a heartfelt letter in your hands. Today’s book also reminds us that letters can often change minds, hearts, and actions.

Dear Mr. Dickens

Written by Nancy Churnin | Illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe

 

Like most people at the time, Eliza Davis looked forward to every new story Charles Dickens published in his weekly magazine, All the Year Round. And when he began publishing books, she eagerly read those too. “What made Charles Dickens a hero in Eliza’s eyes is that he used the power of his pen to help others.” After people read about the harsh conditions children faced at workhouses, they demanded change. And when they “were moved to tears by tales of families struggling in desperate, dirty conditions, they gave what they could to charities. As did Eliza.” 

But while reading Oliver Twist, there was one aspect of the story that distressed Eliza. As a follower of the Jewish faith, she was disturbed by Dickens’ portrayal of Fagin as an “‘old shriveled Jew'” who taught Oliver how to steal. Fagin was “described…as dishonest, selfish, cruel, and ugly.” And each time she read “the Jew,…the word hurt like a hammer on Eliza’s heart.” Prejudice against Jews in England was already bad, and Eliza felt Dickens’ stories would made conditions worse.

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

She decided to write a letter to Charles Dickens, but she worried about his reaction. In her letter she said that his “portrayal of Fagin encouraged ‘a vile prejudice.’ She asked him to ‘atone for a great wrong.'” As she posted her letter, she wondered if she would get a response. About two weeks later, Eliza did receive an answer to her letter. In it Dickens replied that Fagin was based on real criminals and that there there were “other bad people in the book who are not Jewish.” He took exception to her request to atone by saying that “any Jewish people who thought him unfair or unkind…were not ‘sensible’ or ‘just’ or ‘good tempered.'”

Eliza was disheartened as she read the letter, and she sat down and composed another letter in response. Thinking of Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, Eliza reminded him of his past love for the novel Ivanhoe, which included positive, noble Jewish characters. She mentioned his present novel, in which while “some of his non-Jewish characters were criminals, all his Jewish characters were criminals.” Then she stated that future readers would “judge him by how he judged others.”

This time Eliza did not receive an answer. She knew that Dickens was working on a new novel, and when it began to appear serialized in monthly installments, she hurried to buy them, wondering if there would be other Jewish characters and how they would be depicted. When, as she read Our Mutual Friend, she realized Dickens had included another Jewish character, she trembled, wondering what they would be like. 

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Eliza was elated to see that Mr. Riah – named after the Hebrew word for friend, re’a – was “generous and loyal” and that a young girl he helps remarks about the Jews, “‘I think there cannot be kinder people in the world.'” She immediately sat down to pen another letter to Charles Dickens. This one thanking him for his great compliment to her and the Jewish people. He wrote back with much pleasure and revealed that in the future he wanted his work to reflect his true friendship with Jewish people.

To show his sincerity, he published essays condemning prejudice and in the reprint of Oliver Twist, he replaced mentions of “the Jew” with Fagin’s name so as to “make it clear that Fagin didn’t represent all Jewish people.” Eliza sent Charles Dickens one more letter – this time with the gift of an English-Hebrew Bible – praising his ability to right a wrong, and Dickens responded with one more letter thanking Eliza for speaking up.

An extensive Author’s Note reveals more about the history of prejudice against Jewish people in England from the 1200s until 1846, when attitudes began to change and a repressive law was repealed. Nancy Churnin also includes more details about Eliza Davis the communications between her and Charles Dickens, and Dickens’ daughter upon his death. Source Notes and acknowledgments are also included.

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nancy Churnin’s compelling story about the facts surrounding the correspondence between Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens shines a spotlight on a little-known, but important series of events in the life and inspiration behind Dickens’ growth and responsiveness as a writer. Eliza Davis, who acted on her convictions with confidence and courage, makes an inspiring role model for children who may want to voice their opinions on wrongs they see, read, or hear about.

Churnin’s introduction of A Christmas Carol, a novel that most children and adults know, allows readers to understand the important and influential connection between a person’s thoughts, words, and writing and their actions. It also provides a deeper resonance to Eliza Davis’s reminder to Dickens of his past, present, and future and to Dickens own change of heart from his first reply to Eliza to his portrayal of the Jewish character in Our Mutual Friend and his other actions.

Bethany Stancliffe takes readers back to the the 1800s in her rich illustrations full of details of the period. Kids will be interested to see how authors published their work at the time. Her faithful depictions of Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens informs readers on the influence that a young person had on such an established and lauded author. Eliza’s pleasure in Dickens’ stories and her pain on encountering the prejudicial portrayal of Jewish characters is clear, which makes her dilemma all the more meaningful. The final spread, in which Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens, facing each other, are connected by the letters they exchanged.

An important story about a beloved author and the woman who influenced his work and life, Dear Mr. Dickens will spark conversations on issues of prejudice, standing up for ones beliefs, personal change, courage to address wrongs, and many other topics. The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807515303

Discover more about Nancy Churnin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bethany Stancliffe, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Letter Writing Day Activity

picture-book-reviews-quill-pen-craft

Fashion a Quill Pen

 

Writing a proper letter is more fun with a fancy pen! you can fashion your own quill pen or liven up a ballpoint pen or a marker with this craft!

Supplies

  • Medium to large size feather with quill, available at craft stores (optional)
  • Ballpoint pen or marker (optional)
  • Clay, oven-bake or air-dry, in various colors if desired
  • Wire, beads, paint, and/or markers for decorating     
  • Scissors
  • Baking pan for oven-bake clay

Directions

  1. Roll clay 2 ½ inches to 4 inches long 
  2. Push the quill end of the feather into the clay OR cover the ballpoint pen or marker in clay
  3. Add bits of clay or roll sections of the clay between your fingers to give the clay shape
  4. To make the twisted shape pen, twist the length of clay around itself before adding the feather
  5. Shape the end or cut it with scissors to make the pointed writing nib
  6. If using air-dry clay: Add beads and/or wire and let clay dry around feather
  7. If using oven-bake clay: Add beads and other layers of clay before baking then carefully remove feather. Bake clay according to package directions
  8. Add wire and other decorations after clay has baked and cooled
  9. Reinsert feather into clay

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You can find Dear Mr. Dickens at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 3 – International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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About the Holiday

Today we honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a holiday that raises awareness for people of different physical and mental abilities across the globe. The day was proclaimed an international holiday in 1992 by the United Nations in order to appreciate members of our society who are often marginalized or ignored because of their different abilities. Today we recognize the importance of creating a world in which everyone feels like an active, respected member and cultivating a society that is accessible and designed for all of us. To celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities learn more about the fight for disability education rights or talk to someone you know with a disability about their experiences. You can also visit the IDPWD website to learn about available services, resources, and how you can get involved. We Want to Go to School! is a perfect way to start a conversation with a child about education equality for people with disabilities.

Thank you to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of We Want to Go to School! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights

Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler | Illustrated by Janine Leffler

 

When Janine was born with a disability called cerebral palsy, she had lots of teachers to help her learn. With the aid from different instructors who helped build her speech, her muscles, and her hand coordination, Janine was able to learn, play, study, and graduate school with the rest of her peers. This would not have been true, however, had she been born a decade earlier. Before 1971, millions of kids with disabilities were banned from attending public schools.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Janine explains that the people in charge claimed that children with disabilities shouldn’t go to school with everyone else because it would take too much money to fund education for them, and that those with disabilities would distract the other children. They even tried to say children with disabilities wouldn’t be able to learn. The real reason so many children with disabilities had to stay home or in hospitals instead of going to school was because of people’s prejudice.

Many parents of Black children had also experienced discrimination when they were in school. Before 1954, Black children had to go to separate schools that were not given nearly as many resources or good teachers as the white kids received in public schools. Similarly, children with disabilities in some places could take a test to go to public school, but they then were placed in separate, or segregated, classrooms and not given the same quality of education as the other kids. “But in 1971 in Washington, DC, seven school-age children were tired of hearing NO! They wanted to go to school too.” When other families heard about the lawsuit these seven families had started, they joined in too.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

So many children were not receiving public education because of disabilities, that all together they could file a class action lawsuit, “which meant that it stood up for a lot of children. And I mean a LOT! 18,000 students from the Washington, DC, area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities. Try to imagine 18,000. Then try to imagine 8,00,000 (8 million)! That’s how many children in the United States weren’t getting an education because they had disabilities.”

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Joseph C. Waddy, the judge on the case took eleven long months to deliberate over his decision – “On the one hand, he knew that it would cost a lot of money to provide an education to these children. On the other hand, shouldn’t schools be spending their money on ALL children?” – Finally, Judge Waddy decided, and the families won! “All across the country, millions of students with disabilities could finally go to school and get the education they needed and deserved.” The text concludes with one final note from Janine: “Thank you, Peter, Janice, Jerome, Michael, George, Steven, and Duane. You changed many lives…including mine.”

After the resolution of Janine’s recounting of this landmark case, a page entitled “About Disability Education Rights in the United States” provides more details on the key points for readers and educators. The informational spread includes a direct quote from Judge Waddy’s ruling and a timeline of important landmarks for disability rights and education. In personal notes from Janine Leffler and her mom, Maryann, the authors talk about their connections to the disabled community. This insightful page concludes with a personal note from the last surviving Plaintiff’s Attorney on the case: Paul R. Dimond.

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Image copyright Janine Leffler, 2021, text copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Janine Leffler and Maryann Cocca-Leffler collaborate to tell the important story of the Mills v. Board of Education of the District Columbia case that served as a critical turning point in the fight for disability education rights. Through Janine’s personal narration of the case, the two authors succinctly explain the unfolding of this history in terms that are engaging and easy to understand for young readers. Speech bubbles and intertwined text with illustrations make the story engaging and exciting for young readers to follow. On the page that states how many children with disabilities were not allowed to go to school in DC, and more widely across the US, the whole spread features 1,000 tiny faces of kids, to help readers fathom the enormity of 18,000 people, let alone 8 million. The children in the story represent a diverse crowd of races, genders, and abilities. A joy to read, and an essential story to learn. Education matters.

Ages 5 – 9

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807535189

You can find an Educator’s Guide to download on the Albert Whitman & Company website here.

Discover more about Maryann Cocca-Leffler, her books, and her musical on her website.

To meet and learn about Janine Leffler and discover the books and other creative endeavors she has inspired, visit Janine’s Party.

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You can find We Want to Go to School!: The Fight for Disability Rights at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 21 – National Apple Day

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About the Holiday

It’s apple season! Honeycrisp, Cortland, Gala, Fuji, Macintosh—there are so many delicious varieties to choose from and enjoy! The bounty of apples allows bakers and chefs to create scrumptious desserts and dishes, and for purists, there’s nothing better than biting into a crisp apple. Orchards are open for picking, and farmers markets and grocery stores are packed with these red, green, and yellow treats. To celebrate today and all month long, take the family apple picking, make your favorite apple recipes, or discover new taste sensations.

Applesauce Day

Written by Lisa J. Amstutz | Illustrated by Talitha Shipman

 

As a girl and her family have breakfast, she spies the tall pot that means it’s applesauce day. Her younger sister Hannah cheers, and her little brother “bangs his spoon.” After breakfast they head to the orchard outside the city. There, the air smells of ripe apples and it’s quiet. “There are no sirens or screeching tires. Only the buzzing of bees and the rustling of leaves in the wind.”

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Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Hannah calls to her big sister for help. She shows Hannah how to twist and pull the apples from the tree. Mom and Dad pick the apples high in the trees while Hannah, her big sister pick low apples. Ezra helps by putting the apples in a basket. He can’t resist taking a bite of one.

Soon all of the baskets are full of apples “ready to be smooshed into sweet, tangy applesauce.” After the car is loaded up, they drive to Grandma’s house. When they get there, Grandma’s waiting with a big smile and a hug. They “lug the apples into the kitchen” and each take their place. This year even Ezra gets a spot. After Dad washes the apples, Grandma cuts them up. Ezra gets to drop the apples into the tall pot. “Thunk, thunk, thunk.”

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Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

While they work, Mom talks about how she used to help Grandma bring home the apples and how “they cooked the apples in this very pot when she was a little girl” in Ohio. Then Grandma tells how “she helped her mother pick apples from the old apple tree behind their house on the windy Iowa prairie.” They also cooked the apples in this very same pot. The older girl looks at the pot and wonders what kinds of stories it could tell if it could talk.

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Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

As the apples cook, they release a sweet scent into the air and the red peels turn pink. Then with a ladle, Mom pours the apples into the food grinder. Hannah and her sister take turns cranking the handle. “Crank! Squish. Crankity! Squish!” The applesauce squeezes through the strainer while the seeds and peels are left behind. They mix in a bit of sugar and put the applesauce in containers to store.

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Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

It’s lunchtime now and the family sits down to sandwiches and a bowl of warm applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top. They take big servings and then seconds. “Ezra licks the bowl.” After lunch there’s more peeling, cutting, and cooking until all the apples are gone. They put the containers in Grandma’s extra freezer and take some home for themselves.

It’s dark by the time they finish and head home, “sticky but full of stories and smiles and applesauce.” As they drive home the older sister thinks about their special pot and how when she grows up, she’ll cook in it on Applesauce Day.

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Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming story that lovingly explores the continuity of family heritage, you’ll want to share Lisa J. Amstutz’s Applesauce Day with your kids. Told through the viewpoint of the oldest daughter, the story takes readers from that first spark of recognition of a tradition through the actions that make it so special to the knowledge that they will be the ones to carry it on in the future. Excitement and pride flow through Amstutz’s pages as the children eagerly help pack the car, pick apples, and take their usual positions in Grandma’s kitchen.

The passing on of the tradition and skills involved in Applesauce Day are depicted in ways that will delight kids as the oldest sister shows the younger how to twist the apples from the tree and the little brother gets to participate for the first time. When the children’s mother and then their grandmother both tell how they helped with Applesauce Day when they were young, readers get a sense of generations and how far back traditions extend. Amstutz’s storytelling is homey and detailed and brimming with family camaraderie. The Introspective ending with appeal to kids thinking about their own place in their family.

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Talitha Shipman’s bright illustrations invite kids along for a day of apple picking and cooking. The siblings’ eyes shimmer with excitement as they partake in this favorite fall tradition. Like most kids on a day like this, Hannah, Ezra, and their older sister are in constant motion—picking apples, hugging Grandma, cranking the food mill—and working together. Shipman’s rich portrayals of these events will sweep readers into the action and inspire them to want to and learn more about their own family traditions or start new ones. Applesauce Day looks like so much fun that you can bet children will be eager to make a batch of this delicious fall treat themselves.

A perfect autumn (or anytime) read-aloud for families to share, especially as the holidays roll around or during intergenerational get-togethers, Applesauce Day would be a favorite on home bookshelves and in school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-0807503928

Discover more about Lisa J. Amstutz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Talitha Shipman, her books, and her art, visit her website/

Johnny Appleseed Day Activity

CPB - Cinnamon Apples (2)

Cinnamon Apples Recipe

 

Cinnamon apples are a delicious side dish to any meal! This tasty recipe is fun for kids and adults to make together.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of apples, Macintosh or Granny Smith apples are good choices
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

CPB - Cinnamon Apples ingredients (2)

Directions

  1. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon
  2. Peel and core 2 large apples
  3. Thinly slice apples
  4. Combine apples and cinnamon sugar/brown sugar mixture
  5. Stir until well combined
  6. Drizzle with lemon juice and stir again
  7. Cook apples on the stove at medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until desired texture

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aplesauce-day-cover

You can find Applesauce Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review