September 3 – Lower Case Letter Day Virtual Book Tour Stop for My Pet Feet plus Interview with Josh Funk and Billy Yong

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate those lowercase letters that make up a predominance of our sentences (and nearly all of our texting). The lowercase letter has a proud history, dating back to the earliest development of script and writing. The terms “lowercase” and “uppercase” come from the era of the printing press, when individual letters were inserted by hand into plates that were then inked and pressed onto paper. The tiles etched with each letter were kept in trays conveniently located for the printer to set them into the plates with capital letters found in the upper case and small letters arranged in the lower case. To learn more about the history of our script was developed, visit My Modern Met. You’ll find rules on using lowercase and uppercase letters at Gammerly. And to discover the fun you can have with the letters of the alphabet, read about today’s book below and meet its creators!

My Pet Feet

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Billy Yong

 

A little girl wakes up on a glorious morning. The bees are buzzing and the palm tees (no, it’s not a typo, you’ll see…) outside her window are standing tall. First job of the day is to feed her pet ferret, Doodles. She goes to his cage only to find two very long feet and a very sad face looking up at her. “‘What happened to my pet feet?’” she cries. “‘I mean my pet feet. Why can’t I say ‘FEET’?’” She looks all over her room for an answer and then spies something suspicious. Her alphabet banner is missing the ‘R.’ She quickly assesses the situation and realizes that without the letter R, her beloved pet has become simply FEET. Immediately, she decides she must do something and calls her best friend Lucas to help her.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But when she left the house, she discovered that the missing R wasn’t just affecting Doodles, but the whole town. On the way to find Lucas at his mom’s bake shop, she had to avoid “a bunch of kids on go-cats” and a policewoman on the back of a galloping hose.” Then when she found Lucas, her bestie had turned into a fiend. What was worse is that no one acted like anything was wrong.

Everywhere she went there was pandemonium, strange hybrid creatures, and weird machines. The girl wanted to find out “what happened to the eighteenth symbol of the alphabet. Could someone have taken it? “But who? And why? …I don’t want to have pet feet until the end of time!” Distressed to hear this, Doodles ran away, and even though she chased him “by the old babbling book, down a tail, and into a gassy field, the girl couldn’t find him.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But then, faintly in the distance, she heard familiar footsteps and followed the sound until she found him at the seashoe …ummm…at the beach, which was not quite the way it used to be. Still, she found Doodles and apologized for hurting his feelings. He gave her a big hug, but then was off again—this time into the sea. The girl dove in too. Could Doodles be leading them to the answer for the missing R’s? Could life eally etun to nomal … ummm … Could life actually go back to the usual? To find out, jump in and paddle along! You don’t want to miss the supising esolution … I mean the astounding ending!

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

In My Pet Feet, Josh Funk has carefully crafted a grammatical mystery that will keep readers (both kids and adults) marveling over the cleverness of each word transformation and how they add to the richness of the story. As the little girl races to restore Doodles to his normal cuddly state, readers become totally immersed in the laugh-out-loud, fantastical R-less world even as they empathize with her dilemma. The pitch-perfect ending comes as a real surprise, one that is sure to please readers of all ages.

Perfectly matched to Funk’s comedic talents is new picture book bright light Billy Yong, who brings a fresh, vibrant, and hilarious sense of humor to this story. Readers will want to linger over every page as Yong infuses each spread with a wealth of astoundingly clever details in depicting not only the R-less words provided in the story but in creating a whole town and outlying regions in which every element is flawless. Yong’s illustrations set up an irresistible game of search-and-find for all the visual puns, and the before and after images of the town make for an engaging find-the-differences puzzle.

A joy from beginning to end, My Pet Feet charms on many levels. The book is laugh-out-loud fun for the whole family as well as a way to engage kids in lessons on the alphabet, sound recognition, spelling, and grammar for teachers. Both avid and reluctant readers will love the silliness that makes this a must-have addition to all home, classroom, school, and public library collections

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534486003

I’m thrilled to be talking with Josh Funk and Billy Yong today about My Pet Feet. So put up your feet and get ready to learn about the amazing journey this story took from an initial idea to an instant classic!

Meet Josh Funk

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Credit Carter Hasegawa

Josh Funk writes silly stories such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including the forthcoming The Great Caper Caper, November 15, 2022); the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series (including the forthcoming It’s Not the Three Little Pigs, October 1, 2022); the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series (including How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Rollercoaster); the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series in conjuction with the New York Public Library (including Where Is Our Library? and Lost in the Library); Dear Dragon, Albie Newton, Pirasaurs!, A Night at the Bookstore: A Barnsie & Noble Adventure, and Dear Unicorn, coming in the fall of 2023!

Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 500 schools, classrooms, and libraries and he is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Hudson, MA. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

Hi Josh! I’m so excited to be a part of your book tour for this comedic tour de force! Thanks for taking time to chat with me about My Pet Feet and how the story came to be! I’m sure readers would love to know a little about how you wrote this story. How much fun was it to find all of the convertible words? How long did your writing process take?

It started with a typo on my phone (or possibly an autocorrect). I meant to write the word ‘friend’ but it came out ‘fiend’ which led me to wonder … what happened to the R? Why would a friend become a fiend? Did other words also lose their R’s? Did ALL words lose their R’s? Why? And what would the world look like if there were no R’s? What silly illustratable shenanigans would occur in a book written without the letter R?

This led me to start searching for words where if you took away an R, it would become another word—especially word pairs that made for funny illustrations. Crows becoming cows. Babbling brooks becoming babbling books. The seashore becoming the seashoe.

But I still also needed a story. I needed a reason, an important reason, that someone needed to investigate the missing R’s … and needed to get them back. And rescuing a pet who had been transformed into something else was the perfect reason.

Once I had the list of words to play with along with the main character’s motivation, everything easily fell into place. JUST KIDDING! I wrote many, many, MANY revisions of this story both before and after it was acquired to get things in the shape they finally ended up in. And truly, nothing really came together until Billy Yong joined the team.

Speaking of Billy, what were your thoughts when you saw his illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

As an author of picture books, I think I benefit from not thinking too visually, at least in specifics. By that, I mean, I had no idea what ‘pet feet’ would look like. Would they be human feet (with human toes? Ew.)? Would it be like a rabbit’s foot? Would the foot have a face? I honestly didn’t even bother thinking about these things—I left that for someone else to tackle.

And unsurprisingly, I think Billy’s visual creation of pet feet is amazing! I have no idea how he made ‘pet feet’ look cute. The concept is just so ridiculous, but he managed to pull it off.

As far as favorite spreads and images, I love the spreads with all the visual gags in the background, like the one in town with everyone acting like it’s just a typical day. But the best, without a doubt, is the gassy field. I had no idea Billy was going to illustrate a bunch of butts farting—but I totally approve. Like I said, I don’t think too visually—I just wrote ‘gassy field’ and assumed someone else would take care of it. And there are no buts about it—Billy did.

Meet Billy Yong

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Billy Yong is an illustrator and character designer. Since starting out he has drawn storyboards, engaged in visual development, and has even voice acted for animation, games, and children’s books. When he’s not creating his professional doodlings, he can be found in a cafe drawing or painting in his sketchbook, in his studio developing his personal projects, or in the dojo teaching Japanese swordsmanship. Billy currently lives in sunny Singapore.

To learn more about Billy Yong and view a portfolio of his work, visit his website. You can connect with Billy on Instagram and Twitter

Hi Billy! I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you since the moment I saw my review copy of this book. First, I want to Congratulate you on your debut picture book! Can you talk about your previous work and how you came to illustrate Josh’s story?

Thanks Kathy! It is such a privilege to be debuting through Josh’s hilarious story. Up till then, most of my illustrative works centered around the Young Adults range. Now that I think about it, one of my most enjoyable school projects that brought me into the kid lit scene was The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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Copyright Billy Yong

When I was first approached about the project, Josh, Kendra and Chloe (editor and art director respectively) said my sense of humor was what got me the role. At that time, I honestly struggled to understand what they meant, but never say no to great opportunities eh?

What were your first impressions when you read Josh’s manuscript?

Dude, I loved it. Probably not a good thing that I first read it just as I was about to turn in for bed (it was 02:32 in the morning since I live in Singapore). I couldn’t sleep for the next two hours because I was drawing scenes in my head haha.

Your illustrations are so ingenious, even including foreshadowing and visual puns that go beyond or riff on the “r-less” words in the text. I’m sure readers would love to learn a little about your process in creating them.

You’re too kind! First off, for anyone wanting to get into illustration, particularly with larger projects like these, understand that the process is more often a back-and-forth than a straight journey. I typically like to doodle on the script when I first read it, it helps to just spill out any ideas onto paper without restraint at the earliest phase.

Some of the earliest ideas featured the town name: Butterfield Shores -> Buttefield Shoes. Me being the adult that I am, figured why not a bronze statue, butt resplendent for all to see, with a sign sticking out his bum, and a shoe on his head, with a little flower growing from it.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Developments of bums are always a joy.

Another was around miscellaneous things we would encounter.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Even though they were never used, it helped kick off the vibe of this crazy world our heroes lived in.

Back on the main subjects, I’m usually drawn most towards characters, so that’s usually what I like to start off with after doodling on the script.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

I loved that our main human was pretty nondescript, so that left a lot of room to create a cast of characters. I eventually settled on no.2, since her shapes felt quite a lot like our fe(rr)et, Doodles. Below are some other characters I drew during the development process:

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

When it came to laying out the pages however, my usual methods of working digitally lacked the grand overview and the bravery to push past mistakes. Ironic since the digital medium allows me to undo to my heart’s content, but that also means I don’t see my mistakes and move past them.

So, feeling stuck, I whipped out a giant A3 sketchpad with a sharpie and just went ham at it. No distractions, not even music in the background, just drawing at the dining table figuring out the flow and composition for Josh’s story. I think I managed to churn out the entire layout in 2 days because of this, haha.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

(Initial doodles of the first couple of pages. When I liked a composition but didn’t like parts of it, I would paste a sticky note on top and just draw over it. It feels a lot more intuitive ideating like this compared to a digital drawing.)

This wouldn’t quite make sense to Josh, Chloe (art director) and Kendra (editor) though, so the next step was tidying up.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

(I think the most important part about this sketch cleanup phase was not to be too married to the original sketches, so if it doesn’t work on cleanup, then it helps to go back to the sketchpad or just move on and revisit the spread.)

Once layouts were done, it was back to designing the characters. Doodles (or Feet) had the most rounds of back and forth. Ranging from foot-face, to a head on feet, ultimately to feet with a face, every interpretation brought us closer to what you see before you.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Doodles (Feet State) v.2 was what we settled on in the end.

Was there a spread that was particularly fun to illustrate? What made it so?

Haha, they were all a joy to do, but my favorites would be these three:

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

While the layout changed quite a fair bit from the original sketch, my goal of showcasing the go-cats and the topsy-turvy-ness of it all culminated in a winding road, with a subtle line at the top to lead the eyes back to the cat’s tail, ultimately to rest at the water splashing of the police ho(r)se.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

While this was less dynamic than the previous one, it was really fun laying out the look and feel of the town. I think the biggest challenge was to make it feel populated without overloading the senses, and allowing the eyes pockets of rest in a spread so full of colors and information. I also sneakily snuck in my friends, who are getting married at the end of 2022, so even though I couldn’t be there, it’s my little wedding present to them.

The @-rats were also a suggestion of my wife (I think). Honestly in the thick of things I’ve confused ideas I’ve received from Josh, Kendra (our editor), Chloe (art director), my wife Rachel and myself. It really has been a team effort to bring this book to life.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

Again with the swirly composition. (I’m starting to think I have a thing for these…) Also relatively simple, but I’m happy turning the tail into a device for our readers to traverse from left to right. Of course the gassy fields had to be a field of bums farting into the wind.

What do you like best about illustrating children’s books?

I enjoy the freedom of expression. It’s very daunting whenever you start a project like this, because said freedom means you often start on a very blank canvas, with only the story to guide you. You have to give yourself permission to be as wild as your skill and imagination can allow, and avoid listening to the doubts you have with certain decisions you make. When those doubts do manifest, I’ve found it useful to remind myself that this is a team process, and if the author, editor or art director don’t quite approve, they’ll let you know. Until then, go ham.

What’s up next for you?

Haha, I don’t think I’m allowed to say, but perhaps I could hint that it’s about a boy, his friends and a hammer. It’s quite the wild ride, and I hope when it’s released readers will enjoy it. I certainly have. Apart from that, just raising a baby girl with my wife. It’s an exercise in patience and endurance. I cannot wait to start drawing with her and learning from her. Perhaps I will become a better artist from that.

Wow! Thank you for sharing so much about how you brought My Pet Feet to life! Your awesome illustrations and sense of humor are going to keep kids searching for all the visual puns and laughing from beginning to end – and over and over again! I wish you all the best with this book and am really looking forward to seeing more of your work. And, since we’re talking about bringing the story to life, I think we have time for one more image ….

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Copyright Billy Yong, 2022

So, Everybody, jump on your Go-Cat and head to your local bookstore to pick up My Pet Feet to celebrate New Book Month in hilarious style! 

My Pet Feet Virtual Book Tour Activity

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Feet Pet Portraits

 

Feet don’t have to be just for walking, running, or dancing. As today’s story shows, they can make pretty awesome pets (even when it’s just a mistake). With this craft you can use your own feet to make a pet portrait to decorate your room!

Supplies

  • 1 Sheet of regular printer paper or heavy stock paper for the portrait
  • 1 Sheet of colored heavy stock paper for the frame’s backing
  • 1 Sheet of heavy stock paper in a contrasting color from the backing to make the frame 
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue or glue dots

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Directions

  1. Stand on the white paper with your feet together and trace your feet
  2. Now it’s time to get creative! Turn the paper toes up, toes down, or toes to the side and design your pet.
  3. After you’re finished drawing, color your picture in
  4. Cut your pet out

To Make the Frame and Frame Your Portrait

  • Measure one inch around each side of one piece of heavy stock paper
  • Cut out the middle
  • Use glue or glue dots to adhere the frame to the backing
  • Use glue or glue dots to adhere your feet pet portrait to the backing of the frame

Hang your pet portrait!

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You can find My Pet Feet at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 11 – Play in the Sand Day

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About the Holiday

Is there any better way to spend a summer day than playing on a sandy beach? That wet, compact surface is perfect for running on, digging in, and, of course, building sandcastles with. And the soft, dry areas are great for beachcombing, wiggling toes in, playing volleyball, and simply strolling along. So head out to your favorite beach and have some family fun! 

A Beach Chase: An A – Z Alphabet book

By Sarah Downie

 

Holly and Logan love playing at the beach. Today, Holly is looking “for shells to add to her collection.” She spies something “among the anemones” and rushes into the water, where she discovers an anchor. Holly also finds a conch shell and, as she’s admiring it, a girl floats by on a buoy and asks her what she’s going to do with it. But this is no ordinary girl—Holly realizes that she’s a mermaid. A mermaid who quickly grabs Holly’s new shell and takes off, diving deep into the ocean.

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

And so begins a wet and wild chase to recover Holly’s shell. Logan and Holly swim past various sea creatures, come to an island, and mistake “just a jumble of jellyfish” for the mermaid they’re looking for. Undeterred, they swim on until they see a kayak in the distance. “They kick, kick, kick towards” it and then paddle out to sea through a mass of kelp. On their way, they spot other creatures and seaside landmarks—even freeing an octopus from a net—before spying a tell-tail flick in a tide pool. 

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

Jumping in, they discover another world, one where mermaids and mermen are having a party. But where is the mermaid who took Holly’s shell? Holly and Logan swim through the party and a zig-zag-y tunnel before finally spotting her near an outcropping of rocks at the ocean floor. The mermaid shows Holly and Logan the very special reason she needed the conch shell. She didn’t want it for herself, but for a hermit crab that “was in need of a home.” 

Immediately, Holly offers to bring more shells from her collection for other hermit crabs if the mermaid will let her and Logan come again. The mermaid enthusiastically agrees and invites her new friends to stay and join the party.

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

Back matter includes a visual dictionary that depicts each illustration in the book and lists words for the objects or creatures corresponding to each letter found there. Kids may also spy other, unlisted letter-appropriate creatures (such as sand dollars on the “S” page) or actions (like Logan’s being nice to the octopus on the “N” and “O” spreads or the octopus peeking above the waves on the “P” page).

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Image copyright Sarah Downie, 2020, courtesy of Leaning Rock Press.

In her eye-catching art, Sarah Downie cleverly incorporates the letters of the alphabet while inviting readers to join Holly and Logan on their search for the mermaid. From the shallows of the seashore to the far depths of the ocean, kids will eagerly follow this quick-paced story while feeling pride and excitement in spotting all the hidden objects. Well-conceived for its target audience, the illustrations contain a range of difficulty so that little ones as well as older children will enjoy the search-and-find aspects of this book.

Downie’s engaging storytelling includes plenty of alliteration that reinforces the sound of each letter while promoting letter recognition throughout the book. She also infuses her story with themes of kindness, sharing, and care for the environment that will resonate with young readers.

A charming and clever story that transcends its alphabet roots to engage readers on many levels, A Beach Chase: An A – Z Alphabet book is playful fun that kids will want to dip into again and again. The book would make a terrific take-along on seaside or lakeside beach trips, where kids could extend the story’s search-and-find to their own experience. It could also spark creative cross-curricular lessons for teachers and homeschoolers and would be a welcome addition to any home library to enjoy throughout the year.

Ages 3 – 8

Leaning Rock Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1950323241

You can learn more about Sarah Downie, her books, and her art on her website.

Play in the Sand Day Activity

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A trip to the beach can inspire all kinds of games and puzzles! Sarah Downie has created an activity pack with 15 challenges to get you searching and having fun just like Holly and Logan. You can download it here:

A Beach Chase Activity Pack

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You can find A Beach Chase: An A – Z Alphabet book at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, promoted the holiday after Nellie’s death in 1968. To celebrate, people are encouraged to write a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

Thanks go to Workman Publishing and Big Honcho Media for sharing a copy of The ABCs of Black History with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The ABCs of Black History

Written by Rio Cortez | Illustrated by Lauren Semmer

 

This stunning compendium of lyrical verses defies easy categorization as it bridges the genres of alphabet books, encyclopedias, history books, biographies, and more for young readers. The book opens with words from James Baldwin, in which he says “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history,” and within its pages children discover not only specific events and well-known people, but the emotions, philosophies, and traits that have carried and sustained African Americans.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

This inspiring alphabetic journey begins with “A is for anthem, a banner of song / that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong. / We lift up our voices, lift them and sing. / From stages and street corners, let freedom ring.” From there kids come to B, which is for “beautiful…brave…bright…and bold.” It also describes “brotherhood” and “believing in grace.” At E children meet Explorers Matthew Henson and Mae Jemison as well as some of those who fought to make Education open to all, such as Ruby Bridges, Linda Brown, and the Little Rock Nine.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

G and the Great Migration follow Black Americans from farmland to cities to “Harlem – those big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat.” “Imagine, invent, innovative” define letter I, where readers find Alvin Ailey, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gwendolyn Brooks, Madam C. J. Walker, George Washington Carver, and DJ Kool Herc.

The drive to move forward, to aspire, and succeed is eloquently traced from the past: “M is for march, for lifting our feet, / taking the movement, the cause to the street” to today: “Black lives matter. Every breath, every dream – / Every thought, each idea, each impossible scheme.” From sit-ins to their organizers, from African queens to today’s women leaders, from award-winning athletes to scientists to singers of soul, Black achievement is highlighted across the alphabet.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

At U children and adults arrive at poignant verses that should prompt deeper discussions: “U is for United States – this story is tough. / The birth of a nation was deadly for us. / We the people? In the land of the free? / No one who was enslaved would agree.” A second and third verse take in the Civil War and the “unbroken, unshaken, unbound, / like Harriet Tubman, who went underground,” and the battle for freedom and rights that continued after the war’s end. But the pages end on a note of hope, revealing that U is also “for unfinished, this American tale. / With courage and strength, we will prevail!” 

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

As this is National Author’s Day, I must mention that “W is for writers whose wisdom and words / bring to life worlds where our voices are heard. / Rappers adn poets and songwriters, too, / all those who spin from our point of view.” And how does this collection of events, holidays, personalities, hopes, and dreams end? At Z for zenith – “The top of that mountain King said we would reach” to which “we march on, / rising, rising, like the sun with the dawn.”

Back matter includes further elucidation of each letter of the alphabet and it’s accompanying concept. These are detailed entries that also lend themselves to further study. Resources also include websites to organizations and museums and suggestions for books and poetry to read.

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Image copyright Lauren Semmer, 2020, text copyright Rio Cortez, 2020. Courtesy of Workman Publishing Company.

Rio Cortez’s poetry soars on optimism, achievement, hope, and a palpable pride in Black history and the future. Musical and conversational, the verses flow off the tongue, creating an exciting and meaningful read-aloud experience for adults and children. The breadth of information that Cortez imparts is stirring, adding up to an impactful look at history and a rousing celebration of Black culture. Every page offers many, many opportunities for further learning, listening, viewing, and research.

Lauren Semmer’s vivid illustrations – opening with an uplifting group shot of young, happy, and hopeful black and brown faces that welcome their young peers – will enthrall readers with their action, energy, and colors. Portraits of famous figures and unsung heroes will inspire children to get involved in their communities and causes they believe in, while reaching for their dreams.

The ABCs of Black History is an exhilarating picture book for family reading times, a superb cross-curricular resource for homeschoolers and classrooms from elementary school to high school, and a must for all school and public library collections.

Ages 5 and up

Workman Publishing Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-1523507498

Discover more about Rio Cortez and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lauren Semmer, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Black-History-Month-Coloring-Pages-Maya-Angelou

Black Leaders Coloring Pages

 

Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below. You’ll find more coloring pages of Black leaders to print at Scribble Fun.

  Maya Angelou  | Louis Armstrong | Dr. Mae Jemison | Garrett Morgan | Barack H. Obama |  Rosa Parks | Jackie Robinson 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-ABCs-of-Black-History-cover

You can find The ABCs of Black History at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 11 – Myths and Legends Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-t-is-for-thor-cover

About the Holiday

Myths and legends have been part of human history since the beginning of time. Created to explain natural phenomena, to entertain, or to inspire, myths have been passed down from every culture and now reside in our collective consciousness. Today’s holiday celebrates these stories and their long history. To take part, read about your favorite legends or discover new ones. Today’s book is a great place to start!

T is for Thor: A Norse Mythology Alphabet

Written by Virginia Loh-Hagan | Illustrated by Torstein Nordstrand

 

From stories to poetry, movies to art to video games, Norse mythology captures the imaginations of kids and adults. Knowing Norse legends, the world, the characters, and the conflicts is not only exciting, but can inform and deepen your understanding of allusions found throughout literature and other arts. In T is for Thor the twenty-six letters of the alphabet serve as a portal to this mystical world and its inhabitants. From Asgard—“filled with fields of green and castles of gold, / Asgard was home to the strong and the bold.”—to Zest—“Two humans named Life and Life’s Zest / hid in the world tree, safe from the rest.”—readers gain and in-depth knowledge of and appreciation for the beings, gods, giants, creatures, humans, landmarks, weapons, and events that make up these fascinating tales.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-t-is-for-thor-asgard

Image copyright Torstein Nordstrand, 2020, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Here, children and adults learn how and why Odin created dwarfs and about their magical crafts, including a “sword named Tyrfing” that could “fight by itself and its aim was always accurate” and a gold ring which produced eight more rings every ninth day, “making its owner very rich.” The secret to the Norse gods’ and goddesses’ immortality did not lie in themselves but in Idunn’s apples. You can read about her harrowing kidnapping, the aging of the gods and goddesses, and how Loki rescued her at I.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-t-is-for-thor-dwarfs

Image copyright Torstein Nordstrand, 2020, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

M is for Mistletoe, and readers may be surprised to find that in Loki’s hand this “kissing” plant had much dire consequences for Balder, the god of light and sunshine, and the world. At N are the Norns—three Nordic seers who practiced sorcery. In addition to caring for Yggdrasil—the world tree—the Norns “weaved people’s fates into a web. Each person’s life was a string in their loom and the length of the string was the length of a person’s life.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-t-is-for-thor-giants

Image copyright Torstein Nordstrand, 2020, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ragnarok is found at R, where readers learn how Balder’s death set the long-foretold war between gods and giants in motion. At S children discover the role the fire giant Surtr played in the battle, and at T they can read about Thor, who “of all the Norse gods, …is the most known; / nothing can stop him once his hammer is thrown.” Kids learn more about the end battle and the rebirth of the world as the alphabet plays out.

T is for Thor opens with an extensive glossary and pronunciation guide, which will help readers smoothly navigate the text. Back matter includes connections Norse mythology has to the names of our days, Christmas traditions, outer space, and even football. A note from the author explains how Norse mythology grew out of a desire to explain scientific phenomena, inspire the Vikings, and the role of oral storytelling in how these myths became known.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-t-is-for-thor-ragnarok

Image copyright Torstein Nordstrand, 2020, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The intricate relationships and interwoven storylines of Norse mythology are clearly explained and connected in Virginia Loh-Hagan’s detailed paragraphs that are just the right length to spark an ongoing interest in these legends for kids and adults, who may not be familiar with the stories. Her rhyming verses that accompany each letter succinctly define each letter’s keyword and are engaging introductions to the longer text. Loh-Hagan’s conversational and riveting storytelling will keep. Kids enthralled from A to Z.

Torstein Nordstrand’s majestic paintings of mystical worlds and golden halls, powerful gods and goddesses, and imposing giants are each showstoppers that will mesmerize readers. Mist and fire provide backdrops to the dramatic scenes where the lives of these mythical beings clashed with swords and spears or turned on a whim or through trickery. Ethereal and gripping, each illustration holds intriguing details readers won’t want to miss.

T is for Thor would be a superb book for any fan of mythology and a valuable resource for English and literature classes for all ages. The book is a must for school and public libraries and would be a favorite on home bookshelves to dip into again and again.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110502

To view a portfolio of work by Torstein Nordstrand visit his website.

Myths and Legends Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norse-mythology-word-search-puzzle

Norse Mythology Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty-one words associated with Norse mythology in this printable puzzle?

Norse Mythology Word Search Puzzle | Norse Mythology Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-t-is-for-thor-cover

You can find T is for Thor: A Norse Mythology Alphabet at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 14 – National Live Creative Day

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About the Holiday

National Live Creative Day was established to encourage people to embrace their innovative side. There are so many ways to be creative from the arts, to science and math, to what you make for dinner. Little ones seem to know this inherently as they go about exploring and interacting with all the new things they see, hear, and do every day. Introducing kids to all kinds of hobbies, subjects, and professions expands their definition of creativity and their outlook on the future. Reading today’s book with them is a great place to start! To celebrate today, take time to look at things in a different way. You may be surprised at how creative you really are!

Thanks to Quarto Publishing for sending me a copy of ABC What Can I Be? For review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

ABC What Can I Be?: You Can Be Anything You Want to Be, from A to Z

By Sugar Snap Studio

 

A whole world of possibilities is open to kids as they grow and learn. Introducing them to a wide range of careers is as easy as ABC in this bright, oversized board book that demonstrates the joy of working at something you love. Each profession is described with one compelling sentence that presents the substance of the occupation through rich vocabulary. Bold typography displays the letter of the alphabet along with its namesake career while charming and high-interest illustrations depict a person actively engaged in working and the equipment they use.

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Copyright Sugar Snap Studio, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster Jr, Quarto Publishing.

These vivid images give little learners many opportunities to ask questions, recognize similar objects in their own homes, at school, or when out with parents or caregivers, and make connections with professionals they meet when going to the doctor, the dentist, farmers markets, zoos, and museums.

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Copyright Sugar Snap Studio, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster Jr, Quarto Publishing.

A highlight of this book is the inclusion of lesser-known careers that will pique kids’ interest as well as the emphasis—told through the illustrations—that anyone of any gender can pursue the work that speaks to them and uses their talents. A peek inside finds Landscape Architect at L: “I design gardens, parks, and open spaces for people to enjoy.” If your little one loves the water, they may want to dive into O for Oceanographer. This scientist says, “I study life in the ocean and take samples back to my lab.”

What career begins with Q? Quantitative Analyst—who uses “mathematics to look for patterns and [studies] data.” Children who love collaborating with other kids may be interested in being a Youth Director, who says that they “care for children and tach them important life skills.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-abc-what-can-i-be-E

Copyright Sugar Snap Studio, 2020, courtesy of Walter Foster Jr, Quarto Publishing.

An exciting and world-broadening way to learn the alphabet, ABC What Can I Be? will be a favorite on family bookshelves and would be an excellent addition to classroom and public library collections. The book also makes a welcome gift for baby showers, babies, and young children.

Ages 3 – 6

Walter Foster Jr, Quarto Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1600588822

To learn more about Sugar Snap Studio, visit their website.

National Live Creative Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-magnetic-can-craft (2)Creativity is Magnetic! Fun Can-tainer

 

A can with a lid can make a creative kit if you fill it with magnetic pieces that can be used to make scenes, faces, or even poems. Make the magnets yourself and you can create a kit that is uniquely yours! Make a kit to put in the car too!

Supplies

  1. Can with a lid, available at craft stores or with various types of tea
  2. Small craft magnets and/or magnetic strips
  3. A variety of small items such as:
  • Foam or felt shapes
  • Scrap booking stickers 
  • Googly eyes in various sizes
  • Felt or heavy paper
  • Small charms
  • Small toys

Directions

To Make Scenes

  1. Attach magnets to shapes, stickers, or small items
  2. Arrange them into a scene or design on the side of the can

To Make Faces

  1. Attach magnets to googly eyes
  2. Make noses and mouths out of the felt or heavy paper
  3. Attach magnets to facial features

To Make Poems 

  1. Use Magnetic Sheets, leaving the white paper on
  2. Write words on the white paper
  3. Cut out words
  4. Arrange them into a poem on the side of the can

Store your magnetic pieces inside the can

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-abc-what-can-i-be-cover

You can find ABC What Can I Be? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 9 – It’s National Honey Month

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About the Holiday

Established by the National Honey Board in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture in 1989, National Honey Month celebrates beekeepers, bees, and of course honey. September was chosen for this honor because here in the US, it’s the time when bees begin to secure their hive and prepare for winter and well as the month when the majority of honey is harvested. To celebrate this month, explore a variety of honey flavors, try a few new recipes that incorporate honey, and learn all the buzz about bees, honey, and beekeeping with today’s book!

I’d like to thank Sleeping Bear Press for sharing H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet with me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet

Written by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

If your garden or yard is anything like mine, the bees are humming around late-summer blooms and tracing their circuitous route to nearby or far-flung hives. The mystery and marvel of how honey bees convert powdery pollen into sweet honey never fails to awe and delight. In H is for Honey Bee, readers of all ages discover fascinating facts and stories about Bees from Apis mellifera (“Apis is the clue that we’re talking about a bee. / And mellifera means it’s all about honey”) to Z “for Zen and BUZZZZ.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-A-and-B

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In between children learn all about a bee hive, its resident bees (from Drones to Guards to the Queen), how bees communicate, and at E how organized beekeeping dates back to 2400 BC and how important it was to Egyptian culture. “Found on hieroglyphs in the sun temple of Pharaoh Ne-user-re near Cairo, Egypt, an Egyptian peasant is depicted smoking stacked hives while other workers are storing and sealing honey in jars.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-N-and-O

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At L kids learn about Lorenzo Langstroth, “the father of humane, practical beekeeping.” After discovering that natural hives had small passages that allowed bees to move freely though them, he invented a hive with removable frames that didn’t upset the other bees or damage the combs. Langstroth’s hive paved the way for other innovations, such as the Observation Hive at O, that gives people a clear view of bees at work. “You can watch the queen lay eggs, workers fan moisture from the nectar, and observe the bees dancing on the comb” and other marvels of a bee’s day.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-T-and-U

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Humans aren’t the only innovative ones, and readers will be fascinated to learn about Propolis at P, which bees make from their own saliva and other natural ingredients to protect their hive. V is for Venom—the bee’s defense that is more fun to learn about than experience. If you’re interested in where Beeswax comes from, just flip to W, and if you want to know how to tell if a hive is happy, Z is where you’ll find it.

Back matter includes resources on how you can create a safe and productive atmosphere for bees in your own yard, tips for becoming a beekeeper, and fun facts about busy bees.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-Z

Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2020, text copyright Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Through charming and informative four-line rhymes and a column of detailed facts for each letter of the alphabet, Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen presents a full and exhilarating look at bees, honey, and the job of beekeeping. She describes the behavior of bees—from how they communicate to how they survive winter temperatures to how the queen rules the hive and more—as well as the dangers bees face, from inside the hive and out, in vivid language that will captivate kids. Discussions on the healthy properties of honey as well as the joys of amateur beekeeping are here as well.

Accompanying the text are Eileen Ryan Ewen’s vibrant illustrations that give readers an up-close view of honey bees developing from egg to adult, gathering nectar, and working in their hive. Kids also meet Lorenzo Langstroth, see beekeepers working at their hives in yards and on rooftops, and travel down the Nile River with ancient beekeepers who moved their hives to continually provide them with the nectar and pollen they needed. Each page invites lingering to see and discuss all the details.

A well-rounded and comprehensive resource for those interested in bees and insects, gardeners of any age, and kids who love nature as well as for elementary and middle-grade science classes, H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110700

Discover more about Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Honey Month Activity

CPB---Busy-Buzzy-Bee-Maze

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze

 

Can you help the little bee find her way to the flower and her friend in this printable maze?

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze PuzzleBusy Buzzy Bee Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-h-is-for-honey-bee-cover

You can find H is for Honey Bee: A Beekeeping Alphabet at these bookseller

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 1 – Z Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-alphaoops-cover

About the Holiday

On this first day of the year it seems fitting to let the last letter of the alphabet shine. Today all of those with last names that start with Z get to move to the front row and the front of the line! You might get creative with your celebrations and eat only foods that start with Z—ziti and zucchini sound good, buy a zipper or something zany, read a zine about zombies, and of course go to the zoo to see the zebra!

AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First

Written by Alethea Kontis | Illustrated by Bob Kolar

 

The letter A stands on a little pedestal holding aloft an apple. “A is for app—,” she starts, but is suddenly interrupted by Z, who states, “Zebra and I are SICK of this last-in-line stuff! This time we want to go first!” Y is all for this change and wants to give it a try. Z jumps on the pedestal, and with pride and a prop reveals, “Z is for zebra.” Next up is Y and with her knitting on her lap says, “Y is for yarn.” Although X is a bit wrapped up in Y’s craft, he still manages to plonk out, “X is for xylophone.”

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, text copyright Alethea Kontis, 2012. Courtesy of candlewick.com

W spouts off that “W is for whale, and P, lounging in swimming ring, is happy to tell you that P is for penguins as two of the little fellows toddle nearby.” Wait a minute! P doesn’t come after W…or is it before W? Hmm…This is getting confusing. V wants her rightful place and confronts P, but P brings up the point that no matter how the alphabet runs, some letters “are still stuck in the middle.” N agrees, and M takes off running “closer to the end, just to mix it up a bit.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-alphaoops-w-and-p

Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

A is perturbed by this whole state of affairs, but Z is excited. O takes over with “owl,” and N flies off in the “night.” H takes the spotlight with a tall stack of hats while G waits in the wings whispering, “H, dear, it’s not our turn yet!” A is now fuming. H, however, is happy with her usual lot in life, and R, leaning on her rainbow-colored umbrella, agrees. Z is jumping! “Go wherever you want! Just hurry up, or we’ll never get to the end.” S rushes off to be ready for the page turn where he wrangles a snake above his head. I is chased by insects, V plays the violin, and J runs away with a jack-o’-lantern.

E blasts off toward Earth, where “F is for flowers. And fairies.” Hold on there a minute! V is upset: “Hey, I didn’t get to pick two things. I think I should get another turn.” X, on the other hand seems ok with it because he doesn’t “have much to choose from.” All this fuss is making Z crazy. He just wants things to move along.

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Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

Ok, then…the next letters get in line. “T is for taxi and train. L is for lemons and lollipops. K is for kangaroo and kites. And C is for cat and canary in cages.” V is back, inserting and asserting herself with a vacuum in hand, a volcano in the background, a vulture lurking, and valentines scattered about. But Z yanks her away as G says, “Ooh, V is for violence.”

R gets his chance to pop open his umbrella, D fights a dragon, and G frolics with a great gorilla. B gets a bevy of words that make a big mess. M dashes away from a monster, and Q is queen for the day. And that’s that, right? Is it? It’s kind of hard to tell. Z shouts through a megaphone, “Has everyone had their turn?” No! It seems U has been in the bathroom since P.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-alphaoops-m-and-q

Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, text copyright Alethea Kontis, 2012. Courtesy of candlewick.com.

U is uncertain whether the other letters still want her, but they usher her to the podium. Finally, it is A’s turn, but where is she? “Yikes!” exclaims Y and it’s easy to see why. A has been rounding up the words! Twenty-two of them, in fact—23 if you count “and.” The other letters cheer, and Z says he’s sorry for being bossy, to which A says, “apology accepted.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-alphaoops-a-at-last

Image copyright Bob Kolar, 2012, courtesy of bobkolarbooks.com

Alethea Kontis’s classic alphabet romp is a hilarious, personality filled celebration of the 26 letters that compose our language. As Z’s mixed up experiment goes awry, the letters’ sassy and squabbling comments make for laugh-out-loud reading. Sly wordplay adds to the fun, making this an alphabet book that older kids will enjoy as well. Subtle lessons on cooperation, teamwork, acceptance, and inclusion give readers of AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First lots to discuss while enjoying the show.

Bob Kolar’s bold, bright, and enthusiastic letters nearly pop off the page. Their expressive eyes and mouths display their excitement, distress, pride, and other emotions as the status quo is shaken up by Z. As each letter gets their turn, Kolar infuses the page with visual puns. For example, I is being chased by “insects,” that also happen to be bees (Bs?). His clever choices of nouns allow for discussion of other forms of the words too—as when S juggles a snake that…well…snakes above him. Kids will love lingering over the illustrations to find all of the jokes and letter-related images and to make sure that all of the letters get their due.

AlphaOops! The Day Z Went First is so much more than an alphabet book. Adding it to any child’s bookshelf will suit them to a T.

Ages 3 – 8

Candlewick, 2012 | ISBN 978-0763660840

To discover more about Alethea Kontis and her books for kids and older readers as well as book-related activities, visit her website!

Find a gallery of picture book art, personal art, and other projects by Bob Kolar on his website!

Z Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-zing-goes-my-heart-word-search

Zing! Goes My Heart Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the 20 words that begin with the letter Z in this printable heart-shaped Zing! Goes My Heart Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-alphaoops-cover

You can find Alpha Oops! The Day Z Went First at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review