November 18 – It’s National Gratitude Month

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About the Holiday

There are many things to be thankful for this month and all throughout the year. At the top of the list would be our friends—both old and new. Celebrate your friendships during the holidays and tell the people in your life how thankful you are for them! You can show them too with little acts of kindness—like the friends in today’s book! 

I received a copy of Porcupine’s Pie for review consideration from Beaming Books. All opinions are my own.

Porcupine’s Pie

 

Written by Laura Renauld | Illustrated by Jennie Poh

 

“Porcupine prickled with excitement. It was Fall Feast Day!” She took stock of the ingredients she’d need for her Famous Cranberry Pie. She had plenty of butter, sugar, and flour. The only thing she needed to do was wash her bucketful of “rosy, red cranberries.” Porcupine headed through the woods to the river. When she came to Squirrel’s tree, Porcupine asked her friend if she was making her “‘Famous Nut Bread for Fall Feast Day.’”

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Image copyright Jennie Pho, 2018, text copyright Laura Renauld, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Sadly, Squirrel answered that she’d only be bringing plain nuts this year since she had no flour to make her bread. Porcupine offered Squirrel some of her flour and told her to help herself. “‘Really? Oh, THANK YOU, Porcupine!’” Squirrel said. Porcupine continued on her way. When she came to Bear’s cave, she inquired if he was making his “‘Famous Honey Cake for Fall Feast Day.’”

This year, Bear told her, he’d only be bringing plain honey because he had no butter for a cake. When Porcupine heard that he only needed half a stick, she sent him to her house to take what he needed. “Bear dropped his book and nearly gave Porcupine a hug. ‘THANK YOU, Porcupine!’”

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Image copyright Jennie Pho, 2018, text copyright Laura Renauld, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Close to the river, Porcupine met Doe and asked if she’d be bringing her Famous Apple Tart. With disappointment, Doe said, “‘No. It’s just plain apples for me this year. Tarts need sugar and I have none.’” But Porcupine had sugar to spare and told Doe she could help herself to what she needed. Doe thanked Porcupine profusely and told her she’d “‘made this a very special Fall Feast Day.’”

Porcupine at last reached the river, but when she looked in her bucket it was empty. Meanwhile, Squirrel, Bear, and Doe were making small red discoveries on the way to Porcupine’s house. Later, as Porcupine was rolling out her dough, there was a knock on the door and her friends called out asking if she was making her Famous Cranberry Pie. Porcupine had to tell them that this year she’d only be making plain pie crust because she’d lost her cranberries.

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Image copyright Jennie Pho, 2018, text copyright Laura Renauld, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When she opened the door, however, her friends each had a surprise for her in addition to their famous treats. Squirrel had brought extra nuts, Bear offered “‘a dribble of honey,’” and Doe held a basket of apples. Then Bear revealed a little pile of cranberries they’d found. “‘I could just hug you,’” Porcupine beamed. And she knew just what to make with all of these ingredients—“‘Festive Friendship Pie!”

A delicious-sounding recipe for Friendship Pie that’s easy and fun for children to make follows the story.

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Image copyright Jennie Pho, 2018, text copyright Laura Renauld, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Laura Renauld’s charming story is a celebration of true friendship and kindness repaid that is as uplifting as it is sweet. When Porcupine generously allows her friends to take what they need from her pantry, readers familiar with stories like The Little Red Hen may wonder what Porcupine will come home to. But taking advantage is not on the menu in Renauld’s surprising twist that allows each character to know the joy of getting and giving. While not stated, there is also a welcome feeling that even though the nut bread, honey cake, apple tart, and cranberry pie are all looked forward to with eager anticipation, the friends would be just as happy to share plain nuts, honey, apples, and crust as long as they’re all together. Renauld’s storytelling enchants with repeated phrasing that introduces the missing ingredients and enthusiastic expressions of thanks. The characters’ interactions are warm and genuine, making this a feel-great story from beginning to end.

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Jennie Poh is well-known for her adorable animals and her talent is put to wonderful use as Porcupine, Squirrel, Bear, and Doe greet each other with twinkling eyes, the flowers of the forest form little hearts, and the animals sport cold-weather cozies. Poh’s soft and lovely earth tones create a gentle atmosphere just right for the story. Alert readers may notice the little trail of cranberries Porcupine is leaving behind on her walk through the woods, but the revelation of the empty bucket still comes as a surprise. This suspense increases the emotional bond between readers and Porcupine and leads well into the next two-page spread in which Squirrel, Bear, and Doe discover the cranberries. The final pages in which the friends arrive with their treats and gifts and help Porcupine mix up the Friendship Pie are joyful and heartening. Little ones will love going back to see where the cranberries fall and will also enjoy following a ladybug from page to page and finding other recurring details.

A heartwarming addition to home bookshelves for autumn and winter story times, Porcupine’s Pie will be a favorite in classroom and public library collections as well.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1506431802

Discover more about Laura Renauld and her books on her website.

National Gratitude Month Activity

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Gratitude Tree Activity Page

 

There are so many things to be thankful for! Fill in the leaves on this printable Gratitude Tree Activity Page with the things you’re thankful for then color the page!

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You can find Porcupine’s Pie at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Month

November 13 – World Kindness Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 1998 by a coalition of nations, World Kindness Day is an international celebration that encourages people around the world to be mindful of others through mutual respect, inclusion, empathy, and gratitude. To celebrate, people are asked to perform acts of kindness—big or small. A simple “hi,” a smile, or an offer of help or support goes a long way in making the world a kinder and better place to live in. But don’t limit your care and concern to just one day. Promoters of the holiday hope that kindness becomes infectious, inspiring good relationships every day of the year.

Thanksgiving in the Woods

Written by Phyllis Alsdurf | Illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

 

A little boy watches for the signs—fall winds, leaves falling, and when “jack-o-lanterns lose their smiles”—that tell him its time for Thanksgiving in the Woods. As he counts the days he gathers all the supplies he’ll need, including his stuffed puppy Brownie and puts them in a pile. At last the day comes to get ready for Thanksgiving in the Woods. His mama wakes him early. The boy stuffs “all of [his] treasures into a backpack. Mama gathers boots and winter coats” while Daddy brings his guitar and the boy’s recorder.

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2017, text copyright Phyllis Alsdurf, 2017. Courtesy of Sparkhouse Family/Beaming Books.

They drive until they meet up with Grandpa waiting next to his truck on a gravel road. The boy jumps in and rides with Grandpa “over rutted fields, then down a slope to a clearing under trees that reach to the clouds.” He sees that his cousins are already there, building a fort next to a stream. From Grandpa’s pickup truck come boards to make tables and bales of straw to sit on. His uncle is busy building a bonfire while neighbors sling a tarp overhead and string lights through the branches.

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2017, text copyright Phyllis Alsdurf, 2017. Courtesy of Sparkhouse Family/Beaming Books.

At Grandma and Grandpa’s house the next morning, the little boy is up early. After breakfast, while the adults talk, the kids get dressed in their warmest clothes. When they get to the site, some people are already there. Soon, a tractor pulling a wagon appears with Mama, Grandma, and others bringing “…turkeys and dressing, mashed potatoes, peas, and corn. Oh, now it’s starting to smell like Thanksgiving in the Woods!”

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2017, text copyright Phyllis Alsdurf, 2017. Courtesy of Sparkhouse Family/Beaming Books.

It’s not long before family, friends, and people the little boy doesn’t even know “cross the field to the hollow under the hemlocks,” carrying all kinds of food to share. When Grandma rings a bell, everyone gathers to sing and talk about being thankful. Then it’s time to eat. “Lines of people snake around the tables” as they fill their plates. The kids take their plates to the fort to have their own Thanksgiving in the Woods.

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2017, text copyright Phyllis Alsdurf, 2017. Courtesy of Sparkhouse Family/Beaming Books.

As night falls, “grown-ups are playing fiddles, banjos, and drums and singing songs that everyone knows. Soon Daddy joins in on his guitar,” and the boy plays a tune on his recorder. Later, Grandma passes out marshmallows to toast in the bonfire. It’s one of the boy’s favorite parts of Thanksgiving in the Woods. When all the food has been eaten and the singing, music, and dancing are done, people pack up and return to the farmyard along a candle-lit path. As the boy rides on his daddy’s shoulders, he hears “a banjo and someone singing: ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, / “Tis the gift to come down / where we ought to be.” As Grandma says, it’s “‘a perfect ending to Thanksgiving in the Woods.’”

The book opens with a photograph and description of the actual Thanksgiving in the Woods held in upstate New York that inspired the story. The music and words to the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts follows the text.

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2017, text copyright Phyllis Alsdurf, 2017. Courtesy of Sparkhouse Family/Beaming Books.

Phyllis Alsdurf’s heartwarming recounting of this true-life Thanksgiving tradition wraps readers in the feelings of thankfulness, camaraderie, family, and friendship that the holiday embraces. Told from a little boy’s point of view, the story builds on his excitement for the preparations and the day’s celebration. Children will be enchanted by the fort where the boy and his cousins enjoy their Thanksgiving meal and may want to try it out at home. The quiet, leisurely simplicity of the gathering is a welcome respite from the commercialized day the holiday has become.

Jenny Løvlie’s illustrations glow with the warmth of autumn colors, twinkling lights, and roaring bonfires. Her double-page spreads of the woods and the clearing under the trees that hosts the annual feast are gorgeous, beautifully depicting the work that goes into creating this beloved tradition as well as the enthusiasm of the participants. The image of the group singing around the fire puts kids in the center of the celebration. As the day winds down and the families head home, readers will be happy they don’t have to wait a whole year to revisit Thanksgiving in the Woods.

Ages 4 – 7

Sparkhouse Family/Beaming Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1506425085

Discover more about Phyllis Alsdurf and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jenny Løvlie, her books, and her art, visit her website

World Kindness Day Activity

CPB - Random Acts of Kindness cards

Kindness Cards to Share

 

It’s fun to surprise someone with an unexpected compliment! It makes the other person and you feel happier! Here are some printable Kindness Cards that you can give to anyone you meet today—or any day. If you’d like to write your own, here is a set of Blank Cards. You can give one to your teacher, librarian, favorite store clerk, your postal worker, your neighbors and friends, the person next to you on the bus or train. Or why not brighten someone’s day by leaving a note where they might find it—in a book at the library or bookstore, in a friend’s lunchbox, in your mailbox, on a store shelf, or anywhere you go!

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You can find Thanksgiving in the Woods at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 13 – It’s Happiness Happens Month and Interview with Illustrator Talitha Shipman

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About the Holiday

Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact paying attention to those little moments during each day, going on spontaneous outings with friends or family, or taking time to do a favorite activity may be all you need to feel happier every day! And there are always those times of achievement, large and small, to celebrate—just like the one in today’s book!

On Your Way

Written by John Coy | Illustrated by Talitha Shipman

 

On a glorious morning as the sun rises, a mom sits under an apple tree while her son climbs its branches and recounts a momentous day. It was a glorious day, just like today, and she and her little one sat together in the rocker on the front porch. But then he began to squirm, wanting to crawl. As he made his way down the long porch, he watched the action near the barn: “cats and kittens crept round a corner. Ducks and ducklings waddled to water.” Rabbits and their bunnies and dogs and their puppies also bounded in the yard.

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When the baby reached his own little chair, he pulled himself up and “steadied for balance.” Perhaps there was a certain look in her son’s eyes that told her that day was the day. She tells him, “I knelt down and held out my arms. You wobbled, tumbled, plopped.” For inspiration they watched the sheep and her lamb ramble and the goat and her kid trot near the brook. Out in the yard now, the little boy tried again and fell again.

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Mom picked him up and they watched their horse and her filly galloping. A deer and her fawn even jumped over the fence of the coral. With resolve and his mom’s encouragement, the tyke stood on his own again and with a “serious look” took one step and then another. With a smile of pride, he reached his mom’s outstretched arms. Then, she remembers, “We walked in the grass, where you practiced over and over.”

As he grew, his mom tells him, he took off, hopping and bounding, jumping and galloping. “Now,” she says, “you’re big and move in so many ways.” And even as she recalls his first halting steps, she imagines how far he will go.”

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

John Coy’s sweet reminiscence of a child’s first steps is a tender book for parents and children to share as they grow and achieve milestones both large and small. Coy’s encouraging storytelling juxtaposes the little boy’s progress with that of the baby animals on the family farm, a touching connection for children with nature and the wider world. The open ending is a heartening and emboldening look to the future for both children and adults.

Talitha Shipman pours heart and soul into her vibrant, cheerful illustrations that follow a child as he successfully accomplishes a major milestone. The soon-to-be toddler displays uncertainty, resolve, and pride in his expressive eyes, while his mom has that look of encouragement and love so familiar to parents and other caregivers. Each scene captures just the right gestures from Mom, who is caught rising from her chair as she realizes what her son is contemplating, kneeling down to meet him with welcoming arms, and holding his hands as he marches through the wispy grass. The toddler wobbles and high steps and in the blink of an eye—just as it seems in real life—is stomping through puddles and running with his dog. The shining dawn sun illuminates this new beginning and the child’s bright future ahead.

An adorable book to share with children just starting out on life’s road or to celebrate their accomplishments, On Your Way makes a delightful gift for new parents or other caregivers and a tender story time read at home, in the classroom, or for libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Beaming Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1506452586

Discover more about John Coy and his books on his website.

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

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Meet Talitha Shipman

Today, I’m happy to be talking with Talitha Shipman, an award-winning illustrator whose work appears in picture books, board books, magazines, and on greeting cards and other stationery products, about her inspirations, interacting with readers, and depicting emotion in illustrations.

What inspired you to become a children’s illustrator?

I have loved art all my life, and I was the “kid who could draw” all through elementary and high school. I went to college for Fine Art, but I realized after I graduated that what I loved most was telling stories through my art. That’s when I went back to school to get an MFA in illustration. The picture book illustration classes were my favorite. I knew I wanted to focus on that market.

Which artists were influential for you when you were growing up? Which picture books or illustrated books were your favorites? 

My absolute favorite artist growing up was James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. I spent a lot of time redrawing his dinosaur illustrations. I also loved Bill Peet a former Disney artist who illustrated many picture books, and Steven Kellogg, who wrote and illustrated the Pinkerton series.

What drew you to John Coy’s story when you first read the manuscript?

My daughter had just learned to walk about two years beforehand when I received John’s manuscript, so the process of babies taking those first few wobbly steps and all those crazy mixed emotions that come with them were fresh in my mind. There was that immediate emotional connection with the story that I hope other parents and caregivers of babies will make.

Your illustrations really shine with details that show a loving connection between characters. What, for you, are the keys to depicting the joy of being together or empathy between characters?

I think life is so much better when we focus on those little joyful moments that happen throughout the day. In my art, I try to really feel the emotions and moments I’m trying to portray. There’s that feeling when my daughter comes running at me full tilt and throws her arms around me. I can tuck that away and pull it out later to make an illustration more authentic. I think when we draw on life experiences, good and bad, and are vulnerable enough to express them somehow in art, we are able to pass that feeling along to an audience.

You count many greeting card companies among your clients. Can you talk a little about the process of designing cards and other products like notepaper?

Greeting cards are fun to create, but there are usually two avenues for artwork to get picked. Many illustrators will create designs that are finished, and card companies will buy them at trade shows or through the artist’s agent. They add text later on. Sometimes they will commission art, and they usually have a pretty good idea of what they want to be depicted, right down to the color palette. They’ll send reference images as well.

Meeting your readers at a book event must be a joy! Can you talk about one of your favorite events or visits? Why is this one memorable?

Hands down, doing an interactive art workshop with kids is the best. I want to inspire kids to pursue their own creative passions. Last year I did a winter-themed workshop with @KidLitCrafts in my hometown of Fort Wayne, and we created a wall of snowflakes and snowmen on black paper using white and blue paint. It was so amazing to watch the paper fill up with all the kids’ beautiful art.

One thing you love is helping kids find their style of creativity. How do you encourage children to develop their special talent? Do you have any anecdote from these interactions with kids that you’d like to share?

I’m going to tell a story about an adult. I recently met a woman at a state park nature preserve. She watched me sketch some turtles in a terrarium and then approached me and told me that when she was little, she loved drawing. One day her art teacher gave the class an assignment of drawing a turtle. She didn’t consider herself artistic, but she tried her best and was so proud of that turtle. All of the kids’ work was going to be on display for a special art night. She was so excited to share her turtle drawing with her parents. When they got there, she couldn’t find her drawing. So she asked her teacher where it went. The teacher told her that she accidentally spilled some coffee on it and threw it away. This deviated her so much that she didn’t do anything artistic until recently. This is tragic. One careless teacher changed this girl’s life and not for the better. Teachers, parents, tell your children that they are creative, and prove you mean it by valuing their work. If kids are bummed that they can’t draw as well as one of their classmates, help them practice and improve, or try some other way to express themselves artistically. Don’t ever tell them that art may not be their thing. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be a working artist, but everyone can incorporate art into their lives and reap the benefits. Don’t be the person who shuts that down in a child.

Which classic story would you like to illustrate? How would you portray a pivotal scene?

This isn’t a classic fairy tale, but we sing Silent Night to my daughter every night before bed. I’d love to illustrate a picture book version as a poem with visuals reminiscent of Austria, where the carol was written. I think there’d have to be a scene with snow softly falling and Christmas tree lights shining in village windows.

What’s up next for you?

I am working on my first Author/Illustrator book. It’s called Finding Beauty and it’s about a mother hoping to open her daughter’s eyes to the beauty in the world around her.

What is your favorite holiday?

Christmas all the way. I love the lights, the snow (if we’re lucky), Christmas carols, (as mentioned before) Christmas movies (Polar Express), and candlelight Christmas Eve services. The Christmas season encompasses so many happy memories and traditions in my family.

A holiday-themed event you recently participated in was Paddles Aweigh in Fort Wayne, Indiana that coincided with National Rivers Day. The paddle you painted is lovely with its depiction of river animals.

Can you tell readers about this project?

This was such a fun project and a bit out of my wheelhouse. I haven’t painted traditionally for a long time. Most of my work is digital art, so it was a bit scary to break out the paintbrushes again. There’s no delete button! I wanted to create a paddle that featured Indiana wildlife that you might see on or near rivers. I painted a beaver, a bullfrog, some minnows, a painted turtle, a northern water snake, and some Indiana wildflowers. 

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Fort Wayne sits at the confluence of three rivers, the Maumee, the Saint Joseph, and the Saint Mary’s. I was just one of over a hundred artists who painted a paddle. They’re all going to be on display at our new riverfront Promenade Park from the end of September through October. The project is also going to help fund field trips for kids on Fort Wayne’s restored canal boat the Sweet Breeze.

You can see more about this project on Talitha’s Instagram!

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Thanks so much, Talitha, for this fun chat! I wish you all the best with On Your Way and your upcoming Finding Beauty, also with Beaming Books!

You can connect with Talitha on

Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Twitter

Happiness Happens Month Activity

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Happiness Cards

 

Happiness can happen anywhere, and you can help make someone’s day extra happy with these printable Happiness Cards. Just give them to a friend, someone in your family, or someone who looks as if they need a pick-me-up. It’ll make you feel happy too!

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You can find On Your Way at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review