November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

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The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

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They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

November 5 – It’s Polar Bear Week and Interview with Paul Schmid

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About the Holiday

November means colder weather, snow, and – most importantly – ice. Ice means the fall polar bear migration to Churchill, Manitoba. Here, polar bears gather to wait for the sea ice to form on Hudson Bay so they can return to hunting seals. Polar Bear Week, sponsored by Polar Bears International, focuses on sea ice, the effects of climate change, and what we can do to ensure the polar bears’ survival. This year, people are encouraged to get involved from home. To learn more about the week’s activities and how you can help, visit Polar Bears International.

Thank you to Phaidon Press for sending me a copy of Little Bear Dreams for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Little Bear Dreams

By Paul Schmid

 

A baby polar bear rides atop Mom’s back, catching snowflakes on a little pink tongue. As the snowflakes change to twinkling stars in the dark night sky, a question hangs in the air—“Of what do little bears dream?” Perhaps it’s the frothy sweetness of “hot chocolate” or the delicious spiciness of “cold pizza.”

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

As the day brightens once more, maybe the baby imagines all kinds of things that lie beyond those “straight horizons” or giggles at wearing tickly, “curly moustaches.” There are so many things to discover, both big and small, short and tall, and blue—lots of blue in the frozen north. But night has come around again and it’s time for sleep. So, curl up with “soft, snowy beds. Warm fur…and frosty nights” and drift off to sleep.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Paul Schmid’s snuggly story about an adorable polar bear pair rendered with soft curves, quiet blues, and sweet surprises is, simply, love in a book. The gentle text lulls little ones toward sleep while reminding them of the wonders of life. Images of opposites—hot and cold, straight and curly, big and small, and others—are full of charm and wit and give little readers lots to talk about or an invitation to fill in their own details.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Schmid’s beautiful use of line, shape, and color expresses the loving relationship between baby and adult as the little one peeks from behind Mom, hides underneath her during a game of hide-and-seek, and nuzzles noses in a little bear kiss. Marshmallow-plump bunnies wait silently to play, and pudgy little polar bear twists to try and spy a stubby tail. Gorgeous perspectives show the magnitude of the night sky and the mother bear’s protective power. The moving image of the pair curled into a ball for sleep underneath a full moon and then risen to replace it as a little one’s shining light is the perfect ending to this story so rich in cuddles, caring, and comfort.

An excellent book for baby shower, birthday, and holiday gifts as well as an endearing addition to home libraries, Little Bear Dreams is a book you will find yourself reaching for again and again. It’s a sweet book for preschool classrooms and a must for public libraries.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877242

To learn more about Paul Schmid, his books, and his art, visit his website

Meet Paul Schmid

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I’m thrilled to be chatting with Paul Schmid today about his the inspirations of winter, following where ideas lead, and the role of that curly moustache in Little Bear Dreams.

Readers are always interested in the creative process that goes into a book. Can you talk us through how Little Bear Dreams came to be?

Little Bear Dreams started in a somewhat dreamlike way. I just began playing with the dramatic, graceful shapes of winter landscapes without knowing where I was going with it. I love winter, and since childhood have been fascinated by its stark simplicity and seeming contradiction of severity and softness.

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This was the start of it all. Roughly sketched musings on a bear in her environment.

As dreams will do, the book evolved as it progressed. It took hundreds of sketches to bring this book to life. At one early point it was called “Black and White and Blue.” The more I sketched my characters, though, the more they began to assert their personality. We all eventually settled into a gentle, loving mother bear and her rather impish and imaginative little bear.

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Sketches, sketches, sketches!

Ideas for stories can come from anywhere, but what for you makes an idea stick so that you develop it further?

DH Lawrence wrote: “If you try to nail anything down in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail.”

I follow ideas perpetually. “Follow” being the operational word here. Many times I’ve tried to force an idea, and it generally ends up looking so. 

I follow until an idea becomes something or peters into nothing. Some ideas I’ve been following for years and haven’t arrived anywhere wonderful—yet. Some ideas drag me after them at a speed which shocks me. I guess the key is to always be receptive. Ideas will rudely wake me at 2 a.m., obliging me to creep into my studio and sketch or write.

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There are so many ways to convey an idea! I jokingly call the first few months of developing a book “The Period of Ten Thousand Decisions.” Here are explorations on just one spread from Little Bear Dreams: “Blue water.”

Little Bear Dreams began as an indulgence to play with simplicity in color and shape, visual and verbal rhythms and contrasts, but evolved also into a story of love and connection. Of gentleness and playfulness.

The idea is the boss. Not me. I just obey.

Your illustration style is very distinctive, and your adorable characters immediately inspire readers to feel empathy for them. Can you talk a little about the role of different shapes, line, white space, and even the use of small features in your illustrations?

I have a compulsion to express as much as possible in the simplest manner possible. It is a great pleasure to me to strip an illustration or sentence of all that gets in the way of advancing the story or mood or character of the book.

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Although my illustrations seem simple, I’ve found simplicity a very complicated feat to achieve. With no busyness, what is there must be perfect. For me that requires a lot of drawing and redrawing.

But it must connect with a reader! Children live real, dramatic, joyous, painful, confused, confident, knowing, learning lives. I feel my job as a storyteller for children is to reflect and connect with the vitality of life they dwell in.

So when I draw a character in a situation or emotion I feel that emotion myself as I draw. The great illustrator Howard Pyle was quoted as saying: “Project your mind into your subject until you actually live in it.” 

In 2010 you were chosen as one of four illustrators to attend a fellowship with Maurice Sendak. What is the most memorable thing that he told you? What is your favorite memory from that experience?

Maurice was to me a shining example of emotional courage and depth and intelligence. I’ve never met anyone more brilliant and intuitive. He was unafraid of his feelings, of complexity, of embracing sadness and joy. 

For all he was a superstar, he was also amazingly generous and one of the most caring, attentive listeners I’ve ever known.

It is how he was as a person that has inspired me rather than any one thing he said.

My favorite memory of Maurice was a visit I paid to him about a year after the Fellowship. We took a walk and for hours discussed how elusive happiness is for an artist, the difficulty in waking our muses, the impossibility of not continuing to always create and express ourselves, the challenge and imperative of being truthful to kids, loss, death, life, beauty. The whole of our love for life and creating. 

As a speaker at  the 2015 Words, Writers, and West Seattle” series of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, you talked about several of your books, including Oliver and His Alligator, which involves a surprising turn of events, and mention that kids love being shocked. In Little Bear Dreams, the baby polar dreams of things she would naturally see in her environment juxtaposed with things like cold pizza and curly mustaches. Can you discuss the benefits for young children of unexpected moments that cause surprise or giggles?

Kids are still putting the puzzle pieces together on their perceptions of “What is this thing called life?” Incongruities help reinforce our understanding of reality. As a little girl my own daughter enjoyed pointing out when something was not right. It is a source of humor for children and adults.

As I write I imagine a parent reading the book with their child and discussing it together. “Do polar bears eat pizza?” “No, that’s silly!” I endeavor to create those moments for a parent and child. My books such as A Pet for Petunia and Oliver and his Alligator are full of such opportunities. Surprise, along with the comfort of seeing true familiar things is the balance I sought for Little Bear Dreams.

Putting the child in the position of knowing something the book affects not to know is great fun for a young reader too.

As I watched the Word, Writers, and West Seattle event, I was thrilled to see you present The Story of Ferdinand as one of your childhood favorites. That book was also one of my favorites—the first one I remember truly loving. For me, as a quiet child, it was the story that was so validating, and for you, you said that even as a child you appreciated the perfection of the illustrations. Could you talk a bit about that relationship between a child and a book that is a beloved “first” in some way. Is that an idea you are aware of when creating a book?

One of the most gratifying results of creating books for kids is getting a note from a parent telling me it is their child’s favorite book; that they have to sleep with it under their pillow, or they’ve memorized the whole book. I love knowing I made something that touched a child so deeply.

I believe this profound connection is because a child reads so much more intensely than an adult. They seek in books information and affirmation of what they are feeling or thinking. They find adventure and discover possibility. Reading for kids is not just a distraction, it is an important part of their world.

Oh, and because of this I have a small personal conviction that the only reviewers of kid’s books should be kids. Ha!

What’s up next for you?

I am always working on new manuscripts! I’m having a great time this week with a particularly fun story I am sketching up. Not a bad way to spend my days.

A new endeavor I am also enjoying is designing images for greeting cards. One company, Great Arrow Graphics, has picked up about a dozen or so of my designs which are available in select stores or on line here: https://www.greatarrow.com/cards/cardlist/did/494

I have also set up a shop at society6, where you can buy quality prints of images from my books and some other fun stuff I’ve illustrated.

The shop lives here: https://society6.com/paulschmid

New designs are always on the way.

What’s your favorite holiday? Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

I find Winter Solstice particularly appealing, since for me it represents the paradox of life. Solstice marks the end of the shortening days, the return of light and warmth, of renewal. At the same time it also means the beginning of Winter, of coldness, hardship and patience. This is not a conflict to me but a lovely insight. Up cannot exist without down, it is its opposite that makes a thing itself be. 

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Paul hiking with Mount Rainier in the distance.

So at the moment of Winter Solstice we are able to feel simultaneously both joy and sadness, hope and fear. That is a concept I find strangely satisfying.

Thanks, Paul, for such an insightful talk! I wish you all the best with Little Bear Dreams and all of your books!

National Polar Bear Week Activity

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Polar Bear Scarf or Banner

 

Polar bears aren’t cold in the winter—and neither should you be! Here are directions and printable templates for making a cute scarf to keep you warm, or—if you’d rather—a banner to warm up your room.

Supplies

  • Printable Polar Bear and Igloo Template
  • 1 Strip of blue fleece 4 ½ feet long x 7 inches wide for the scarf
  • 1 Piece of blue scrapbooking paper for a banner
  • Pieces of white, black, blue, and purple fleece or scrapbooking paper to make the polar bear, igloo, snowflakes, and ice floes.
  • String or twine for banner
  • Scissors
  • Fabric or paper glue

Directions for Scarf

To make the fringe at each end of the scarf:

  1. Make 7 cuts about 4 inches long
  2. Tie a knot at the top of each fringe section

To make the pieces for the scarf or banner:

  1. Trace the polar bear and igloo sections from the Printable Template onto white fleece and cut out
  2. Trace the two ice floes onto blue fleece and cut out
  3. Trace the door of the igloo onto blue fleece and cut out
  4. Trace the polar bear’s scarf onto purple (or any color) fleece and cut out
  5. Cut out round snowflakes
  6. Cut out a small circle from black fleece for the Polar Bear’s nose

On one end of the scarf:

  1. Glue the smaller ice floe on one end of the scarf
  2. Tie the bear’s scarf around its neck before gluing the bear to the scarf
  3. Glue the polar bear onto the scarf with its feet on the ice floe
  4. Glue on the polar bear’s nose
  5. Make a small dot for the polar bear’s eye with a marker
  6. Glue snowflakes above polar bear

On the other end of the scarf:

  1. Glue the bigger ice floe to the scarf
  2. Glue the three pieces of the large igloo to the scarf, leaving a little space between sections
  3. Glue the small white door of the igloo on top of the last two igloo sections
  4. Glue the small blue door onto the white door
  5. Glue snowflakes above the igloo

Directions for Banner

  1. Cut a point at the bottom of your banner
  2. Follow the directions above to trace the pieces of the polar bear and igloo from the printable template onto scrapbooking paper
  3. Follow the directions above to glue the pieces of the polar bear and igloo to your banner
  4. Attach string or twine to back of banner to make a hanger

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You can find Little Bear Dreams at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 1 – It’s Children’s Book Week & Interview with Jodi McKay

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About the Holiday

Children’s Book Week, a celebration of reading and books, turns 100 this year! Founded in 1919, this longest-running literacy initiative in the US, was a collaborative effort by Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, Frederic G. Melcher, the editor of Publishers Weekly, and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library. In 1916, the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, sponsored the first Good Book Week.

When the Children’s Book Council was established in 1944, they assumed responsibility of running this important initiative. The holiday is celebrated with special events in schools, libraries, bookstores, and communities across the country with the participation of authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers. This year the theme of the week is Read Now, Read Forever. To find out more about the week as well as activities to download and locations of events in your area, visit Every Child a Reader.

I received a copy of Pencil’s Perfect Picture from Albert Whitman & Company for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Albert Whitman & Company in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Pencil’s Perfect Picture

Written by Jodi McKay | Illustrated by Juliana Motzko

 

Pencil loves his dad so much that he wants to do something special for him. He thinks about baking him a cupcake or giving him a bouquet of flowers, but then he hits on just the right thing. Pencil decides “I’ll draw him the greatest, the best, the most perfect picture he has ever seen!” But there’s a hitch, Pencil doesn’t really know what that is. He heads off to the Art School to find out.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

He finds Brush doing a headstand in a paint can, and after Brush adds a golden swoop to a sunset painting, Pencil asks if that’s what makes the picture perfect. “Perfection?” Brush answers. “Pah! I paint for pleasure.” This answer doesn’t really help, so Pencil goes in search of Marker.

Marker shows Pencil all the fancy moves he uses when drawing. Pencil loves the action in Marker’s work and wonders if that’s what makes it perfect. Marker’s not that interested in perfection though, just in doing his best. Pencil then thinks he’ll go ask Pastel for her opinion. He finds Pastel practicing yoga before she creates. Then she faces her blank paper and in a few minutes has a picture that makes Pencil “feel happy.” Could this be the secret to perfection? Pastel says peace is her aim, but Pencil counters, “I don’t think I’ll find peace until I know how to draw a perfect picture” and walks off to find the crayons.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The little crayons have all been working hard on their drawings and are proud to show them off. Pencil thinks they’re all perfect and asks how they achieved it, but their teacher reveals that they just “draw because it’s fun.” Pencil’s still no wiser when he meets up with Chalk, but in describing his frustrations, Pencil has a brainstorm.

He hurries home to try a little bit of everything he’s learned. He stands back to take a look at his drawing just as his dad comes in. Pencil explains that he wanted to make a special drawing for him, but he’s just not sure it’s…. His dad studies the drawing and says, “Wow, this picture is PERFECT!” Pencil is excited and wants to know why. As they gaze at the drawing in which Pencil and his dad are smiling and have their arms around each other, Pencil’s dad says, “It’s perfect because YOU drew it for me.”

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Jodi McKay so sweetly taps into the desire of little ones to show their parents, grandparents, or other caregivers how much they love them while including that lump-in-the-throat moment adults experience when it happens. Through Pencil’s unwavering determination to find the answer, kids are introduced to all their favorite drawing tools and lots of ways to look at art or any pursuit. Pencil’s enthusiasm is infectious and charming, and readers will be happy to take the journey with him. When Pencil puts his own spin on what he’s learned and creates the drawing for his dad, little ones will see that they too have great creative ideas. The reaction of Pencil’s dad is reassuring and teaches an important lesson about anything children pursue—that “perfection” is personal and in the eye of the beholder.

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Opening the cover of Pencil’s Perfect Picture is like stepping into a classroom full of color and joyful kids eager for fun. Juliana Motzko’s adorable Pencil with his stick arms and legs and expressive smile and eyebrows is just the kind of friend readers would love to spend time with. Cleverly, Motzko depicts the other drawing tools as other influences that children meet along their way in life—teachers, coaches, and classmates. Readers will love seeing all of the drawings these artists create and may even want to try drawing some of them themselves (in their own style, of course!). Every page will make kids and adults smile, and the final spreads in which Pencil and his dad stand with their arms around in real life and in the portrait make for the perfect ending.

Sprinkled with humor, Pencil’s Perfect Picture is an adorable and endearing read that would quickly become a favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807564769

Discover more about Jodi McKay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Juliana Motzko, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Jodi McKay

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Jodi McKay lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and two furry friends. She is the PAL coordinator for SCBWI-MI, and is active in several online writing groups. She has two books published by Albert Whitman & Co., WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (2016) and PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE (May, 2019). Jodi is represented by Linda Epstein of Emerald City Literary Agency.

Today, I’m excited to chat with Jodi McKay about Pencil’s origin, how adults can help kids develop and keep their own style, and some of the best parts of book events.

What inspired you to write Pencil’s Perfect Picture?

I actually wrote Pencil’s Perfect Picture thinking that it would be a companion book to my first book, Where Are The Words? That story ends with the characters asking Pencil to draw them pictures for the story they just wrote. I figured book number two would show Pencil trying to draw pictures for them, but not just any pictures, they had to be perfect. That idea came from watching my son struggle with drawing something “just right.” He had developed a sense of perfection when it came to his art and that broke my heart a little. I realize that kids start to compare themselves to their peers or others as they grow up, but I didn’t want that to affect how he approached his creativity. I had to make sure the story addressed that idea of perfection especially when it comes to art. My editor suggested that I change who Pencil draws his picture for to include more of a family theme which I loved. It adds a layer of heart that is relatable to kids as they often draw pictures for their parents or loved ones.

I love the message of Pencil’s Perfect Picture. As you say, children seem to learn so quickly to compare their work and themselves to others. What are a couple of ways that adults can help them appreciate and embrace their unique view of the world.

Yes, agreed! I know it has to do with some developmental stage where the self becomes less important and peer opinions more important, but it’s imperative not to lose that sense of self. We have to celebrate our individuality, explore what makes us unique, and find ways to express ourselves with our imaginations. Parents have a special job when it comes to fostering all of that, and for me it really comes down to creating a judgement-free zone not just with art, but with all aspects of life. For the sake of time let’s stick with art here.

  • Provide your child with different types of art supplies: markers, crayons, paint, fabrics, clay, etc. Let them pick what they want to use and how they want to use it (watch where those small pieces go!).
  • When your child is finished, talk to him or her about what they made, how it made them feel, what is their favorite part about their art project. Keep it positive.
  • Remember, art is never wrong. Emphasize that to your child. It is awesome because they imagined it and brought it to life. No one else can make that same picture.
  • Consider creating with your child. I think kids love to see their parents use their imaginations so grab a marker or a crayon and draw together! Need a fun idea? Try to draw a perfect picture together.

Here’s what you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil, crayon, marker, whatever is fun to draw with

Instructions:

One person starts by drawing something simple, a shape, a line, etc. Take turns adding elements to the picture until you both decide it’s perfect. Enjoy your masterpiece!

Another wonderful aspect of your book is that you include so many different personalities in Brush, Marker, Pastel, and the Crayons. Which do you identify with most and why?

I really like this question! It’s taken me a minute to think about it and the one I have chosen is not an obvious answer if you know me. I think I’m most like Marker. I’m not particularly sporty or a fan of sweat bands, but I am organized like him. He’s a “First, Next, Last” kind of guy which is how I can be when it comes to tackling a project. Also, his motto, “Do your best” resonates with me.

When my son was young, he and his friends took to sharpening old pencils down to the eraser to see how small they could get them. We loved those cute nubbins! Your first book, the very clever Where Are the Words? also has a pencil character. Do you have a special place in your heart for pencils, a favorite pencil or a special memory involving pencils or writing instruments?

I know, it must seem like I have a thing for pencils, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t. I used to draw a ton with pencils, color and plain. Lots of doodles in the margins of notebooks, drawing pads full of patterns, cartoons, likenesses. I never write with pencils though, I use pens for the most part which makes one wonder why I didn’t include a pen in the story, right? I do have a favorite pen—it has a sloth on it, which makes me very happy.

On your website you mention that The Story of Ferdinand was your favorite book as a child. Me too! In fact, I just found a boxed edition for $3.00 at my wonderful local used book store and snapped it up. I really identified with Ferdinand, but there’s also so much sage advice in that book. What is about that book that made it a favorite for you?

There is so much to love about that book—the sense of calm I feel when I read it, the way pacing is used to create both tension and ease, the words Leaf chose that paint beautiful pictures (smelling flowers under a cork tree), and how Ferdinand stayed true to himself. LOVE it!

One fun part of being a children’s author must be visiting schools and holding other events. What do you like best about meeting your readers? Do you have any anecdote you’d like to share?

Yes! I love meeting readers and chatting with them about books—what they like, what they don’t like, and listening to their story ideas. It’s such a great feeling to see kids get excited about writing and reading, it makes me think that I’ve done my job as an author.

Some of my favorite moments happen when I see a young reader connect with the humor in my books. I love the laughs and the, “aha!” moment of understanding the joke. Some of my funnier experiences have happened during school visits. There’s always the question, “How old are you?” and the follow up comment, “My mom is that old!” or the looks I receive when the kids walk into the room and say, “That’s her!” and “She’s the author!” I’ve never seen myself as that person and hearing their whispers is funny to me. Of course, there are also sweet moments filled with hugs and thank you’s from the students.

What’s up next for you?

At the moment I am busy preparing for upcoming book-signing events as well as a few future events for the Michigan SCBWI members. Otherwise, I am still writing, writing, and writing some more. I have a couple of stories ready to send to my agent, one ready for submission to editors (fingers crossed!), and a bunch waiting for revisions or reworking.

What’s your favorite holiday?

Christmas all the way. I love the joy of the holiday, the shared excitement, the smells and sounds, and the colorful, glittery décor. It’s all about family, love, and giving. There’s not much better than that!

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Christmas definitely has inspired some stories (surprise!), however I was informed that holiday, Christmas specifically, stories are really hard to sell. I’m not giving up hope though, I will just need to find the right spin on a holiday theme and maybe it will become one of those few that are chosen.

Thanks so much Jodi! This was fun! I wish you all the best with Pencil’s Perfect Picture, Where Are the Words, and all of your future projects!

You can connect with Jodi on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter | You can email her at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

Children’s Book Week Activities

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Pencil’s Draw Your Own Picture Page

 

Are you eager artist? Then Jodi McKay and Pencil have a treat for you—a page where you can create their own “perfect picture!” Download it here and get drawing!

Draw Your Own Picture Page

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Surprise Ferocious Beings Paper Project

 

Today, Jodi’s also sharing one of her favorite craft ideas courtesy of Janette Nyberg’s Craft Whack website. If you love to draw—and add an element of surprise to your work—you’ll love this clever idea! After your kids do this one, they’ll want to take a look at all of the fun ideas on this fantastic site!

Surprise Ferocious Beings Paper Project

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You can find Pencil’s Perfect Picture at these booksellers

Albert Whitman & Co. | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 23 – National Near Miss Day and Interview with Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson

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About the Holiday

Today we remember a cosmic fly-by that occurred on March 23, 1989. On that day the 300-meter-wide asteroid 4581 Asclepius, named for the Greek god of medicine and healing, came within 430,000 miles of hitting Earth—actually passing through the exact position Earth had held only six hours earlier. This near miss wasn’t discovered until nine days later by astronomers Henry E. Holt and Norman G. Thomas. “On the cosmic scale of things, that was a close call,” Dr. Holt said at the time. To celebrate today, you can thank your lucky stars for this near miss or any others you’ve experienced recently or in your lifetime. Another stellar way to spend the day is to learn more about space and our universe!

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of A is for Astronaut to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of a signed copy of A is for Astronaut and a tote bag. View details below.

A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet

Written by Astronaut Clayton Anderson | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

There are some books that just make you say “Wow!” when you open the cover. A is for Astronaut is one of these. Leafing through the pages is like stepping out into a clear, starry night, visiting a space museum, and letting your own dreams soar all rolled into one. When you settle in to read, you discover that each letter of the alphabet introduces both poetry and facts to enthrall space lovers.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To get things started, “A is for Astronaut, / the bravest of souls. / They fly into space / and assume many roles. / They pilot, they spacewalk, / and they even cut hair. / But seeing Earth from our orbit— / that will cause them to stare!” A sidebar reveals more about astronauts—even astronaut nicknames!

“B is for Blastoff, a powerful thing! / When those engines are fired, it’ll make your ears ring.” And did you know that two and a half minutes after blastoff, the engines are cut off and everything begins to float? Pretty amazing! Blasting through the alphabet we come to G, where readers learn about our Galaxy that is “shaped like a spiral filled with billions of stars.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

How are astronauts able to walk and work in space? “Space Helmets are crucial and H is their letter.” At K kids meet John F. Kennedy, who helped develop the space program, and L is for the Landing that brings astronauts back to Earth. M is for Meteors with their very long tails, and N, of course, is for NASA, which was formed in 1958 with a “goal to better understand our planet and solar system.”

How do astronauts do that? “Working outside in space is sure to impress. / We call it a Space Walk, and its letter is S. / Floating weightless, with tools and a bulky white suit, / we can fix and install things—it’s really a hoot!” And there’s also V for  “Voyager, two NASA space probes. / They are still sending data, / having long left our globe.”

At Z, time is up—that’s Zulu time and “our reference to England, when London’s clocks chime. / As we fly ‘round the Earth, folks must know our day’s plan, / so we all set our watches to match that time span.” 

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Both children and adults who have an affinity for space travel and all things related to astronomy will want to dip into A is for Astronaut again and again. With his wealth of knowledge and engaging voice, astronaut Clayton Anderson presents a book that will have readers starry-eyed and full of the kinds of facts and tidbits that answer questions and spur further discovery. A is for Astronaut can be read through from A to Z for its vivid poetry or explored in small chunks to absorb the fascinating facts included with each letter—or both. Expertly written for kids of all ages, Anderson’s A is for Astronaut is a stellar achievement.

Scott Brundage’s incredibly beautiful and detailed illustrations will thrill space buffs and serious scientists and engineers alike. Readers will love meeting astronauts tethered to their ship while working in space, experiencing the vibrant, mottled colors of a darkened sky or distant planet, and viewing the technological marvel that is the NASA control room. With the precision of a photograph and the illumination of true artistry, Brundage’s images put readers in the center of the action, where they can learn and understand more about this favorite science.

A is for Astronaut is a must for classroom, school, and public libraries and would be a favorite on home bookshelves for children (and adults) who love space, technology, math, science, and learning about our universe.

Ages 5 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363964

Discover more about retired astronaut Clayton Anderson and access resources on his website, or follow him on Facebook | Twitter | or InstaFor speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

To learn more about Scott Brundage and view a portfolio of his publishing and editorial work, visit his website.

Visit Sleeping Bear Press to learn more about A is for AstronautYou can download two A is for Astronaut Activity Sheets here:

A is for Astronaut Vocabulary Sheet | A is for Astronaut Fill in the Blanks

Meet Astronaut Clayton Anderson
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Today, I’m honored to speak with retired astronaut Clayton Anderson about a pivotal childhood moment that inspired his life’s work, the challenges of being an astronaut, and his most vivid memories from space.  

What inspired you to make the journey to become an astronaut?

It was Christmas Eve, 1968.  I was nine years old when my parents put my brother and sister and me on the floor in front of a black-and-white TV around midnight. We sat on an old throw-rug gifted from our grandmother to watch humans circumvent the moon for the first time in human history. As I watched the control center team and listened to the flight director bark out commands, I was enthralled. “I need a Go/NoGo for the trans-lunar injection burn… FIDO? GO!  Retro…? GO!  Surgeon…? GO!  GPO…? GO! The entire team was GO! The craft disappeared behind the moon, leaving me to enjoy the rapid-fire chatter no more. It was simple static on our TV… for about 15 minutes. Then, after a couple of non-answered calls from the Houston CAPCOM to the Apollo 8 crew, I heard the quindar tone (famous “space-beep” you hear on TV), and the first words from the Apollo 8 commander, Frank Borman: “Houston, Apollo 8. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus!” That’s all I needed. The bit was set in my mind that one day, I would become a United States Astronaut.

How did your perspectives change while on the International Space Station?

I am a man of faith. Seeing our earth from orbit did allow me to have the “orbital perspective” so many astronauts speak of. However, while I totally agree that this perspective changed my outlook and my willingness to do better with trying to protect and preserve our “spaceship earth,” it strengthened my faith in God much more. The earth and those of us privileged to be on it, is not random. There is a reason why Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity and invented calculus. There is a reason why Albert Einstein was able to derive the Theory of Relativity. While I am unable to truly explain my rationale, I believe that there is a higher power. A power that created this universe and gave humans an adaptable brain. That incredible gift will continue to enable us to uncover the secrets of the universe, continuing to strengthen my faith.

What was a big challenge you faced during your career?

The dream of flying in space as an American astronaut was something I pursued for many years of my life. To have finally been selected and given that opportunity is incredible. Yet having the “best job in the universe” is not without difficulty. For me, it was family separation. I love my wife and kids more than anyone… on or off the planet.  To have to be separated from them for months at a time was extremely difficult, especially given their ages (6 and 2) when I began my training. It got easier as they grew older, but it didn’t assuage my guilt very much. While I lived my dream, they sacrificed greatly, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay them.

What is your best memory from being in space?

It must be my first spacewalk. Poised above the opened hatch, floating in my spacesuit while looking into the abyss of darkness created by the sun’s travel behind the Earth, I was calm. I watched ice crystals fly from behind my suit (they were created by my sublimator… or air conditioning unit) into the total black void of space. The slight pressure still available after the depressurization of the airlock was “pushing” the crystals into the vacuum of space. I was entranced just watching them sail by. When I finally came back to reality—buoyed by the Mission Control call to exit the airlock—I paused for just a moment to contemplate what was happening. The only thought going through my mind was that “…I was born to be here, right now, in this special place, doing this.”

Seeing my hometown from space…for the very first time, is a very, very close second. On that day, when I expected to excitedly capture photos of my Ashland, Nebraska, I had everything prepped and ready to go. Equipment was strategically placed around the U.S. Lab module’s earth-facing window, cameras were Velcroed securely to the wall, with timers set to remind me when to get into position. Finding my home on earth—without all the wonderfully placed lines, borders, squiggly river italics, and large stars designating capital cities—was tougher than I imagined. But when I finally found success, and saw Nebraska rolling into view by virtue of a big gray splotch known as Omaha (and a smaller gray splotch further southwest called Lincoln), the south bend of the Platte River was the last valid vision I had. When I saw my home, nestled there where the river bent, the place where I was raised and where many of my family and friends still reside, I took not a single photo. I simply broke down and cried. Overcome by the incredible emotions of floating weightlessly, as an American astronaut flying 225 miles above the exact spot where I was born and raised, having first dreamed of doing exactly that, was simply too much for me. So, I did what seemed to come to me naturally.  I wept.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and memories of your incredible career. I wish you all the best with A is for Astronaut and all of your future endeavors as you inspire children and adults to always reach for the stars.

About Clayton Anderson

Retired Astronaut Clayton Anderson spent 167 days in outer space, having lived and worked on the International Space Station (ISS) for 152 days and participated in nearly 40 hours of space walks. With a strong belief in perseverance and the importance of STEAM as part of every child’s education, Astronaut Anderson brings his “out of this world” insight to issues faced by children, parents, and educators. 

You can connect with Clayton Anderson on:

His website: astroclay.com | Facebook | Instagram | TwitterFor speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

You can find A is for Astronaut at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Near Miss Day Activity

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

Rocket to the Moon! Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

Supplies

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

Directions

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

Picture Book Review