April 5 – National Read a Road Map Day


About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is all about those paper maps that have guided travelers along the trails, roads, highways, and biways as they search for adventure or just need to get from here to there. While the little window of GPS may be more prominent now, there’s nothing like opening the wide vista of a paper map and letting your mind wander to far-off places. Old maps are fascinating too, as they reveal the changes in road systems and population over time. Today, rediscover your local area or take an armchair trip to a new locale through a paper map.

The 50 States: Fun Facts

Written by Gabrielle Balkan | Illustrated by Sol Linero

America is one vast country made up of 50 states that are each unique and fascinating in their own way. The history, people, topography, and even weather of each region has resulted in an incredible diversity of animal life, cuisine, transportation, leisure activities, and celebrations across the nation. The 50 States: Fun Facts offers up a patchwork of engaging and enlightening information about each state that will entice kids to learn more about their own home as well as other areas.


Image copyright Sol Linero, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan. Courtesy of Eyes Wide Editions, Aurum Press.

The large-format board book is divided into five two-page spreads, each dedicated to a particular topic. In 50 Animals readers discover that the first Seeing Eye dogs were trained in Nashville, Tennessee; that “the colors of Maryland’s state cat—the Calico Cat—match the state flag”; and that there are so many moose in Wyoming that there’s even a town named Moose! From state to state kids will also learn about the Chinook Dog of New Hampshire, meet white buffalo that roam North Dakota, and view the state insect of Connecticut—the praying mantis, which can turn its head 360 degrees—among many, many more.

Each state is also known for its own, particular mode of transportation. In Alaska the Tlingit Nation builds beautiful canoes, which the people believe are inhabited by their own spirit. If you’re interested in scanning the skies for alien lifeforms, you may want to head to the San Luis Valley of Colorado, which is considered to be prime UFO-spotting territory! If boats are more your thing, you might want to take a houseboat vacation in the lakes around Jamestown, Kentucky, or see a Navy Destroyer at the shipyard in Bath, Maine. Carousel lovers will want to take the road to Rhode Island, where they can catch the gold ring on the Flying Horse Carousel that has been going round and round for nearly 150 years! There are so many more Things That Go on these pages, including trains, trucks, trolleys, and a 16-story electric shovel!


Image copyright Sol Linero, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan. Courtesy of Eyes Wide Editions, Aurum Press.

After all that activity, readers may be a bit hungry. All they need to do is flip the page to find 50 Things to Eat—specialties from around the nation. Whether you call them blackberries or brambleberries, these sweet nuggets—Kentucky’s state fruit—are great alone or in special treats. If you love pretzels, then the pretzel festival in Germantown, Ohio is for you! Spicy foods more your style? Then you’ll want to check out Hatch, New Mexico—the chili capital of the world! After having Delaware’s chicken specialty, catfish from Mississippi, or potatoes from Idaho, you may just want to try a banana split—first served in Latrobe Pennsylvania in 1904—or even nosh on a few roasted Joshua Tree flower buds that are said to taste like candy.

Ready to work off that meal? The next page provides 50 Ways to Get Moving, including archery in California, rafting in West Virginia, base jumping in Utah, snowshoeing in Minnesota, and snorkeling in Hawaii. 


Image copyright Sol Linero, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan. Courtesy of Eyes Wide Editions, Aurum Press.

Celebrations have been part of America since the first Thanksgiving, and each state has a entertaining—often quirky—spectacular to highlight their history or specialty. In Nebraska the old Pony Express mail system is reenacted every June; The Heart of the Ozarks Bluegrass Festival brings musicians and fans to West Plains, Missouri each year; and Honobia, Oklahoma’s Bigfoot Festival makes believers of us all—well, almost.

In Florida, you can learn how to wrestle an alligator with the Miccosukee tribe on American Indian Day; you can test your mettle on 98 flights of stairs during Washington’s Space Needle Base 2 Space Race for charity; and “you can cheer on bronc riders at the ‘Daddy of All Rodeos’” during Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. Perhaps  the oddest celebration is Mike the Headless Chicken Festival held every May in Fruita, Colorado that commemorates “a rooster that lived for 18 months…with no head!”


Image copyright Sol Linero, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan. Courtesy of Eyes Wide Editions, Aurum Press.

Each spread also offers a sidebar scavenger hunt of sorts as it asks readers to see if they can find four different categories of items among the rest. After kids have soaked up all the facts about the 50 states, they can test their knowledge of American geography by completing the included jigsaw puzzle map.

Gabrielle Balkan has collected tons of engaging facts about the United States that are sure to delight and amaze children. Each category would be a wonderful starting point for learning about any or all of the states and gives kids an idea of the variety found across America. Sol Linero’s striking category “quilts,” composed of colorful patches decorated with clear, engaging illustrations, draw readers in to discover the fascinating facts presented about each state.

Ages 4 – 10

Wide Eyes Editions, Aurum Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1847808691

Discover more about Gabrielle Balkan and her books on her website!

View a gallery of illustration work by Sol Linero on her website!

National Read a Road Map Day Activity


Make a Road Map Jigsaw Puzzle

It’s fun and easy to make your own jigsaw puzzle from a map of your local town or a place you’d like to visit!


  • A paper map
  • Poster board
  • Glue or spray glue
  • Scissors



  1. Smooth out the paper map
  2. Glue the map to the poster board
  3. Cut the poster board into interlocking or adjoining pieces (the number of pieces can depend on the child’s age)

Picture Book Review

July 4 – Independence Day


About the Holiday

On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies that then made up America claimed their independence from England. After much debate and with a majority—but not unanimous—vote, delegates to the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. While the vote may not have been unanimous, delegates from all 13 colonies signed the document penned by Thomas Jefferson. John Hancock, who was President of the Continental Congress, signed his name “‘with a great flourish’ so England’s ‘King George can read that without spectacles!’” The action led to the Revolutionary War and ultimately to a break with England.

On this United States national holiday most cities host parades, fireworks displays, and other special events.

Lady Liberty’s Holiday

Written by Jen Arena | Illustrated by Matt Hunt


Shortly before the Fourth of July Lady Liberty is feeling down. Year after year she has stood in the same place holding aloft a torch in one hand and cradling a tablet in the other. She turns to her friend Moe, the pigeon on her shoulder, and expresses her dissatisfaction. Moe has a suggestion: “‘Lady, you need a getaway!’” Lady Liberty thinks about it and about the vastness of America. She has only seen a small corner of it. That night Lady Liberty pries herself from her pedestal and sneaks away.

She walks the wide beaches of New Jersey, builds a huge sandcastle on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, and dips her feet in Niagara Falls. With her long strides it doesn’t take her long to reach the Mississippi River. She finds a seat atop the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri and watches the Ol’ Man river slip past. In Kansas she plays in wheat fields that “tickle her feet” and are as good for making angels as snow. In South Dakota she photo bombs at Mount Rushmore, and she takes a quick hike over the Rocky Mountains. After all this fun Lady Liberty needs a rest, so she takes a nap on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

But the people in New York have noticed the Lady’s absence. The Fourth of July is only three days away and no one is in the mood to celebrate without her. “Tourists were gloomy. Cops were cross. Even the stock market was down.” The mayor is even considering cancelling the holiday! Moe is worried Liberty might not come back.


Image copyright Matt Hunt, courtesy of Jen Arena (jenarenabooks.com)

And Moe is right! Lady Liberty is enjoying herself too much to think about returning. The grandeur of the Grand Canyon makes her feel small—it’s a nice change, she thinks. She drinks water from a geyser in Yellowstone Park and sleeps under the stars in Texas. With a hop and a skip she’s dancing in New Orleans, and the Florida Keys make excellent “stepping stones” to her next adventure. She doesn’t even mind schlepping through swamps in the deep south, and an alligator that latches onto her toe is dispatched with a shake.

Lady Liberty suddenly hears the familiar flap of Moe’s wings. Moe tells Liberty how things are in New York. When she hears that they are thinking of cancelling the Fourth of July, she “bolts up as if she’d been struck by lightning.” Yes, says, Moe. “‘Nobody feels like celebrating without you.’” But after her cross-country tour, Lady Liberty knows that “‘the Fourth of July isn’t about me. It’s about America!’” Without another thought Liberty is racing north.

As New Yorkers wake at dawn, they see Lady Liberty happy to be back overlooking the Harbor, “where she had stood for over a hundred years.” Her copper dress shines in the early morning sun. Later that night she glows again in the colors of fireworks and enjoys a very Happy Fourth of July!

The final two pages tell the story of Lady Liberty’s creation, installation, and meaning. Tantalizing tidbits about the statue of Liberty are also revealed.

Jen Arena’s Lady Liberty’s Holiday is an engaging introduction to the story of the Statue of Liberty and American geography. A road trip across America was once a staple of childhood, and Arena replicates the excitement and wonder of viewing the country’s monuments and splendor through Lady Liberty’s walking tour. As each page brings readers to another awe-inspiring landmark, kids will want to learn more about the parks, states, and history of America.

Matt Hunt’s vibrant, full-bleed spreads are as expansive as the American landscape. The blue waters of Niagara Falls roar over the edge, creating white mist; the rock-hewn faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln gaze out from the peak of Mount Rushmore; and the spume of water from a Yellowstone geyser dwarfs the tourists below. As Liberty towers over cruise boats and trees, lounges across the Golden Gate Bridge, and flicks away a pesky alligator, kids gain an excellent perspective on the size of the Statue of Liberty as well as the monuments and natural landmarks she visits.

Like the postcards that Liberty sends to her friend Moe from stops on her journey, Lady Liberty’s Holiday is a welcome snapshot of America any time of year.

Ages 4 – 8

Knopf Books for Young People, Random House Kids, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553520675

To learn more about Jen Arena and view the books she’s written , visit her website!

A gallery of Matt Hunt‘s work can be seen on his website!

Independence Day Activity


Fourth of July Coloring Page


The 4th of July celebrations mean flags, fireworks, and fun! Here’s a printable Fourth of July Coloring Page for you to make your own holiday festivities. You can even make it sparkle with a dash of glitter!