June 12 – National Get Outdoors Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2008, National Get Outdoors Day was instituted to inspire people – and especially young people – to enjoy healthy, active outdoor fun and exploration. Celebrated in conjunction with national parks, people are encouraged to hike, explore, and enjoy the natural wonders near them. You can also head out into your yard to play games or into your neighborhood with bikes, scooters, skates, or just for a walk. There’s so much for kids to see and discover – even concepts that may seem simple are beautiful and complex in the eyes of a child, as you’ll see in today’s book. 

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Southwest Sunrise with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Southwest Sunrise

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Wendell Minor

 

Jayden mopes all the way from New York to New Mexico, upset about moving from his beloved city to “a place of shadows.” Shadows and drabness are all he sees when he gets off the plane. In the morning, though, he wakes up “to a knife of sunlight slicing through” his room. Here, his window doesn’t have bars, and the view is of a “mountain striped in rainbow.” Jayden is surprised; he didn’t know that was there.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A string of chili peppers brightens the kitchen. Jayden isn’t optimistic that he’ll see any other colors in his new desert surroundings. His mom gives him a field guide to New Mexico at breakfast, and as he pages through it he doesn’t really think he’ll find any of the colorful flowers inside. But then, as he looks around, he spies the burgundy wine-cup and yellow bells that “wake up the desert with their silent ring.” He finds more flowers from the book that add red and purple to the landscape.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jayden walks on, farther away from his new house. The unfamiliar silence is broken by “the mad chatter of winged gossips passing secrets” from one piñon tree to another. He watches the long-tailed magpies swoop through the “deep waves of turquoise overhead” and wonders why he never saw so much sky in New York. Still, he misses looking up and seeing the grandeur of the skyscrapers.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Looking down again, Jayden finds a striped lizard that seems happy to run along his hand, tickle his fingers. Instead of seashells, he finds bones and an abandoned turtle shell. “What stories do they have to tell?” he wonders. He continues his walk and, upon turning the corner, finds himself in the shadow of a different kind of skyscraper—rugged, red, and rocky. On the air, Jayden hears his mom calling. He picks some flowers the colors of sunset to take home to her. He waves as he nears the house and sees her standing on the porch and flashes her “the first smile she’s seen since New York.” He thinks that maybe New Mexico can be Home.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Nikki Grimes’ lyrical story is in plot a tale about moving from one part of the country to another, but in spirit it is a invitation for children and adults alike to open their heart to new experiences, to find the beauty in the unfamiliar and the joy in the unexpected. As Jayden journeys from New York to New Mexico and then around his new environment, Grimes explores honest emotions—the disappointment and anger change can bring, the preconceived ideas about the unknown that can color feelings and actions, and even that moment when a person can reject or accept the new circumstance or opportunity. As a poet, Grimes excels at the perfectly chosen detail and sublime description. Here, her words put readers in the spotlight of New Mexico’s laser sun, let them feel the skittering feet of a lizard, meet a haughty raven, and bask in the rainbow of colors Jayden never expected he’d see. His final smile and resolve to give his new city a chance fulfills the new dawning inherent in the title and is uplifting encouragement for all.

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Slouched down in his airplane seat, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Wendell Minor’s Jayden is a picture of despondency. But things begin to look brighter when, in the morning, he notices the mountains and colors he missed the night before. Minor’s sun-washed illustrations allow readers to discover the beauty of the New Mexico desert along with Jayden. His new home is light and open, with a timbered ceiling and windows free of the bars he’s used to. Minor’s use of perspective allows children to view sweeping vistas of the desert landscape as well as images of some of the creatures found there. Putting the raven front and center gives kids an idea of the size and attitude of this striking bird. Fiery reds and oranges, vivid yellows, pinks, and purples, and glorious blues punctuate the sandy backdrop as Jayden’s thoughtful expressions depict his growing appreciation for his new home.

An exquisite book for any child, whether they are moving to a new home, exploring new experiences, or keen observers of their surroundings, Southwest Sunrise would be a joyful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547600823

Discover more about Nikki Grimes  and her books as well as educator guides and resources on her website.

To learn more about Wendell Minor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Get Outdoors Day Activity

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Beautiful Desert Coloring Pages

 

The desert has plants, animals, and landmarks seen nowhere else. Grab your crayons or pencils and give these two printable scenes some of its unique color.

Curious Rabbit Desert Scene | Western Sun Desert Scene

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You can find Southwest Sunrise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 26 – National Audubon Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors John James Audubon, who was born on this date in 1785. Audubon was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter who traveled across America, documenting the birds he found in his detailed illustrations of them in their natural habitats. Audubon’s greatest work was The Birds of America, which is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. This book contains more than 700 North American bird species with 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species. The Audubon Society is a far-reaching organization dedicated to conservation and education and is actively involved in issues that threaten bird populations. To learn more about the Audubon Society and its work, visit the organization’s website.

To celebrate today’s holiday, take a walk in your area or even your backyard and take special note of the birds you see. If you’d like to attract more birds to your backyard, consider hanging a bird feeder or making a temporary feeder from a pinecone, peanut butter, and seed as in the activity below. 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Birds: Explore their extraordinary world for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Birds: Explore their extraordinary world

Written by Miranda Krestovnikoff | Illustrated by Angela Harding

 

To love birds is to marvel over everything about them from their smooth gliding flight and beautiful songs to their colorful plumage and intricate nests that protect fragile eggs from the elements and predators. With a stunning number of species, birds are found around the world and living in every kind of climate. In Miranda Krestovnikoff and Angela Harding’s eye-catching compendium, readers learn about seven families of birds – birds of prey, seabirds, freshwater birds, flightless birds, tropical birds, tree dwellers, and passerines. 

Each chapter opens with general facts on the behavior, anatomical features, and habitat that determine the order in which a bird is categorized. Integrated with this information are descriptions of specific birds within the order. In the section on Birds of Prey, for instance, readers learn about sparrowhawks; fish-eating ospreys; and golden eagles, which can “spot a rodent from over a mile away and a rabbit from nearly double that distance.” Children also learn about extreme birds of prey: the fastest, largest, smallest, tallest, and baldest and how their distinctive feature helps them thrive. Kids also discover how they “can tell when each species of owl prefers to hunt by looking at the color of its eyes.”

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Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The next chapter takes readers to coastal areas to learn about the seabirds that scour the water from the sky, searching for food and waders, that are found along the water’s edge and “feed on the variety of high-protein invertebrates that lie hidden in the mud.” Children learn about the birds that populate warmer waters, such as blue-footed boobies, terns, and frigatebirds as well as those who survive in colder waters, such as gulls, and kittiwakes. Readers will also find a fascinating description of the gannet and learn how it can safely “dive into the sea at speeds of 60 miles an hour from an impressive height of up to 100 feet” to feed.

From sea birds, readers move on to freshwater birds like ducks, swans, grebes, and Canada geese. Even the bright flamingo is here with its distinctive scoop-shaped beak that is “uniquely designed to be used upside down and helps them to filter out tiny brine shrimps and blue-green algae from the water, which, when digested, give them their pink color.” The flamingo isn’t the only bird with an unusual way to acquire their prey, and kids will discover the clever ways pelicans, herons, and kingfishers (which use “objects such as sticks, feathers, and even discarded popcorn as lures”) find food.

And then there are the “more than 50 bird species across the world [that] stay firmly on the ground (or on water)” or just “choose not to fly very often.” These flightless birds include kiwis, kākāpōs, southern cassowaries, ostriches, and Penguins. Penguins vary in size, from the “little penguin (also known as the fairy or blue penguin)” which comes to shore to nest only at night and stave off predators with their oversized voices, to the emperor penguin. Occasional fliers include great bustards, domestic chickens, and tinamous.

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Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When you hear about extravagant birds, you most likely think of tropical birds. “Rainforests are packed with a range of incredible species with dazzling plumage and bizarre courtship displays.” Readers will learn about the appearance and mating rituals of scarlet macaws, Raggiana birds of paradise, and the Andean cock-of-the-rock. A detailed description of the bowerbird and the male bird’s careful and artistic nest (or bower) building is funny, poignant, and even a little bit human. Then readers are treated to some tropical bird extremes: smallest bird, longest bill, and smelliest as well as a poisonous species and one that makes its own musical instrument.

Of course, woodlands are the home of many bird species, and in the chapter on Tree Dwellers, readers learn about acorn woodpeckers and great hornbills that use trees for food and shelter; tawny frogmouths and potoos that use trees for camouflage; and nuthatches, greater honeyguides, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which find all the food they need among the bark, leaves, and branches of trees.

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Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Next up are passerines, or perching birds, which make up the “largest group of birds, with over half of all known species falling into this category.” Corvids, a group that includes the common raven, crows, magpies, and rooks, are considered to be the most intelligent birds. “These birds have a remarkable ability to solve problems in order to find food, in some cases performing better than young children or chimpanzees!” Readers will be impressed with their tricks and clever use of tools (that even include cars). Children learn about cooperative breeders, which rely on their extended family to help raise the young from year to year. Passerines also include many of the garden birds we find in our backyards and which fill the air with song. Readers discover facts about blue tits, robins, and finches in this section.

The next sections give detailed and interesting information on the features we most associate with birds: their feathers, beaks, eyes, nesting habits, eggs, migration patterns, and birdsong. The book ends with perhaps the most adaptable birds in the world: those that make their homes on glaciers, mountain tops, and in the Arctic snow as well as urban birds, which live among people in crowded cities, nesting on tall cathedrals and skyscrapers and foraging for food in garbage cans and on the street.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-woodpeckers

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

For young ornithologists, Miranda Krestovnikoff, a wildlife expert, offers a compelling, eye-opening, and accessible introduction to a wide variety of birds, placing them in their natural environments and revealing intriguing facts and tantalizing tidbits that inform and will spark a continued interest in learning more about the world’s feathered creatures. Krestovnikoff’s engaging writing style will captivate readers and keep them turning the pages to discover birds that are both familiar and new to them. The comprehensive nature of the book allows kids in all parts of the world to learn more about their native birds while creating a global connection with these most recognized and widely distributed creatures.

Accompanying Krestovnikoff’s text are Angela Harding’s beautiful linocuts that depict birds in mid-flight, capturing prey on land and water, engaging in mating rituals, and building and protecting their nests and young. Harding’s use of natural colors and exquisitely etched landscapes set off each bird in breathtaking illustrations that invite readers to linger to enjoy their full impact. Each illustration is captioned with the bird’s species.

A gorgeous and educational book that readers of all ages will love dipping into again and again, Birds: Explore their extraordinary world is a must for bird lovers and highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 78-1408893913

Discover more about Miranda Krestovnikoff and her books on her website.

To learn more about Angela Harding, her books, and her art on her website.

National Audubon Day Activities

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Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle

 

It’s fun to watch for different kinds of birds when you take a walk or in your own backyard. Can you find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

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Pinecone Bird Feeder

 

Pinecone bird feeders are quick to make and great for your backyard fliers. The combination of peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening and a quality seed mixture provide birds with the fat and nutrition they need to stay warm and healthy during the winter.

Supplies

  • Pinecones
  • Peanut butter, vegetable shortening, or lard
  • Birdseed
  • String
  • Knife or wooden spreader
  • Spoon

Directions

  1. Tie a long length of string around the middle of the pinecone
  2. Spread the peanut butter, vegetable shortening, or lard on the pinecone
  3. Sprinkle a thick coating of birdseed on the pinecone, pressing it into the covering so it will stick
  4. Tie the pinecone feeder onto a tree branch or other structure
  5. Watch the birds enjoy their meal!

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You can find Birds: Explore their extraordinary world at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 30 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

National Women’s History Month is all about celebrating women who broke barriers with their intelligence, creativity, courage, persistence, and unwavering confidence in their abilities. In every discipline, women have brought and continue to bring new perspectives, experiences, and talents to make contributions toward a better world. Today’s book celebrates a writer who broadened readers’ understanding of women and their lives through her complex and compelling novels. 

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

Written by Jasmine A. Stirling | Illustrated by Vesper Stamper

 

While Jane loved stories, there were some she couldn’t abide. These were stories about women who fainted at the slightest thing, stories about orphans with dark secrets, and stories about couples who fell in love at first sight. To Jane these books were boring, unbelievable, and predictable. But they were all the rage. Instead, Jane like the ridiculous, and she made up her own stories that “poked fun” at the popular literature of the day. When she read her “stories to her family,… they couldn’t stop laughing.”

Jane lived in a large house in the English countryside. It was always full of people, fun, and learning. Jane’s father was the village rector of Steventon in Hampshire, England, and her mother wrote poetry. Sometimes Jane’s family (mother, father, six sons, and two daughters) staged plays in the barn. They made their own sets and costumes and played all the roles. When there was quiet time, Jane wrote and wrote in the study her father had created just for her and her sister.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jane loved the satires she wrote, but “she stared to dream about writing stories that mattered to her. They would come from her own voice—a style that was uniquely hers.” She began to pay attention to tiny personal details, particular conversations, and the way her family, friends, and neighbors interacted. She found it all fascinating. Jane’s father encouraged her writing, saving up to buy her the best pens, blank books, and even a “portable mahogany writing desk.”

Jane had an idea about a story involving “three or four families in a country village,” and soon the characters came to life in her imagination, even when she wasn’t writing. She “wrote three novels before she turned twenty-four. Jane’s voice was clever and real… But something was still missing.”

Over the years as Jane’s brothers left home, the big house grew quiet. When her father stopped teaching, money grew short and Jane’s parents decided to move to a small house in another town, Bath. They sold their possessions, even the books in her father’s library, and left the neighbors and friends they’d known so well. Jane wondered if she would feel at home anywhere else. When they moved into their new home, Jane put away her writing things. Time passed, but “Jane persisted in a very determined, though very silent, disinclination for Bath.” Years passed and Jane spent her time in “busy nothings.”

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When her father died, Jane, her sister, and their mother had to move into a cheap apartment, and then when they could no longer afford that, they moved in with her brother Frank in a rough-and-tumble town. “The weight of Jane’s losses threatened to drown her,” and she still couldn’t write. Four years later, her brother Edward gave her, her sister, and their mother a small cottage near their childhood home. Here she found her way to happiness.

At last she brought out her pens, paper, and writing desk and began to write. Her voice was still clever and “filled with real people, but grief and loss had added something new. Jane’s voice was wise.” Her characters were even more realistic and complicated. She wrote about happiness and wealth, but also about heartbreak and sadness “mixed together in a way that was completely new.”

Jane’s novels were a hit—even with the future king of England. George IV loved them so much that his librarian wrote to Jane and asked her to write one of those “love-at-first-sight” stories she hated. Jane wrote back and told him that she could not unless her life depended on it, that she must remain true to her own style. At long last, “Jane had found her voice.”

Extensive backmatter includes a list of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels that are used in the story, more about Jane Austen’s life, Notes from the Author and Illustrator, a list of Austen’s novels, further resources for young readers, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jasmine A. Stirling’s in-depth biography of Jane Austen shines with specific details about her and her family’s life, their happy times and tribulations that informed her writing and made it so distinctive for its time and beloved even now. Stirling’s engaging and lively storytelling invites children to share the joys and heartaches that molded Jane Austen’s personality and writing. Quotations from Austen’s novels sprinkled throughout the story give young readers a taste of Jane’s writing and the truths and understanding her novels embody.

Dazzlingly lovely, Vesper Stamper’s expressive illustrations draw readers into Jane Austen’s world and give them a glimpse into her childhood and adult experiences as well as the society of the time. Cleverly designed images allow kids to understand how much Jane loved to read, to laugh along with her as she reads the sentimental and gothic stories she satirized, and to see at a glance all the shenanigans, work, and entertaining that went on in her beloved home. The elegance of these surroundings and the dinner parties that enlightened Jane’s writing are realistically reproduced and her characters come to life on the page. A moving metaphorical image shows Jane riding away from the home she loved while pages of her novels fly out of the writing desk strapped to the back of the carriage. Jane’s sadness is depicted on pages sketched in gray, but her vibrancy returns with her brother’s generosity and the novels that finally take wing.

A superb biography of a beloved and influential writer that will spark enthusiasm for Jane Austen’s novels as well as literature and writing in general, A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice is a must for students of all ages as well as for those who simply love reading and writing stories. The book would make an exceptional addition to lesson plans for readers from elementary school to high school and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601103

Discover more about Jasmine A. Stirling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Vesper Stamper, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

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Jane Austen Coloring Page

 

Enjoy this printable coloring page of Jane Austen as you learn more about this clever writer.

Jane Austen Coloring Page

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You can find A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 17 – It’s National Introverts Week

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About the Holiday

Introverts, this is your week to shy-ne. National Introvert’s Week was founded by author Matthew Pollard to celebrate the achievements of introverts and combat the stigma and stereotypes associated with being on the shy side. Oftentimes extroverted people are considered more powerful, popular, and successful in society. Introvert’s Week is meant to offer a counternarrative to this belief. In actuality, introverts and extroverts alike can be perfect friends, role models and achievers. Celebrate National Introvert Week by recognizing the introverts in your life, learning about role models who identify as introverted, and reading lots of books. Meesha Makes Friends provides a sweet story of how an introvert makes friends in her own, unique style.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Meesha Makes Friends with us for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Meesha Makes Friends

By Tom Percival

 

Meesha loves to make her own pictures, music and imaginary creatures. There is just one thing that she can’t figure out how to make—friends! She is a shy kid, and often has trouble connecting with other kids her age. “For Meesha, making friends was so difficult that she wondered if she would ever be able to do it.”

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Copyright Tom Percival, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Luckily, Meesha has a solution. She gets out her creating materials and makes a whole crew of friends. Meesha happily totes her new pals around with her. She is pleased to find that they are easy to talk to and transport. However, her creations are not exactly perfect: “Admittedly, Meesha’s new friends weren’t very good at tennis…or soccer…or catch. / But Meesha felt comfortable with them, and that was what mattered.”

When Meesha attends a birthday party, she is nervous to join in with the other children. Overwhelmed, she finds a quiet spot to do what she likes best—creating creatures, her ownfriends. A boy named Josh comes to watch and asks if Meesha will teach him how to make them. At first this makes Meesha a little worried. She wonders if Josh will not be gentle enough with her friends. But she takes a deep breath and decides to give it a try.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-meesha-makes-friends-Josh

Copyright Tom Percival, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

And, as a matter of fact, “Josh didn’t get it all wrong, and he didn’t ruin anything either.” Josh and Meesha soon build a whole town for all of their creatures to live in together. When Josh suggests that they show their new creations to the rest of the kids at the party, Meesha is once again hesitant. But, with some bravery and encouragement, Meesha and Josh share their creations with the rest of the group. And, to Meesha’s excitement, everyone loves them! “For the first time ever Meesha knew exactly what to say and what to do.” And with that, Meesha makes new friends.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-meesha-makes-friends-playing-together

Copyright Tom Percival, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

“Making friends is one of those things that looks really easy but can sometimes feel like the hardest thing in the world!” Tom Percival says it best in his kind note to readers at the end Meesha Makes Friends. Author and illustrator of the Big Bright Feelings picture book series, Percival produces yet another beautiful read for children to explore and engage in conversations about feelings. Meesha Makes Friends teaches young readers how to communicate, make friends and interact in their own unique ways. At the end of the story, Percival provides helpful tips on how to make friends for readers who may identify with Meesha’s struggles.

Tom Percival described himself in an interview as a quiet, creative and thoughtful child. Through his Big Bright Feelings series, he hopes to help kids explore different emotions and why we feel the way we do. Intricately drawn details and expressions allow readers to easily understand and empathize with the emotional states of the characters. Percival thoughtfully plays with the color pallet of his illustrations to perhaps allude to sensory sensitivities and provide a vibrant view of Meesha’s perception of the world. A diverse cast of characters of different races and abilities makes this book an accessible read for all. Truly a book driven by thoughtfulness, kindness, creativity, and compassion.  

For parents, teachers, and other caregivers who are looking for a sensitive, relatable, and truly helpful way to talk to kids about shyness, making friends, and socializing, Meesha Makes Friends is a must addition to home, school, and public library collections. Be sure to look for the other books in the Big Bright Feelings series: Perfectly Norman, Ruby Finds a Worry, and Ravi’s Roar.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547605194

To learn more about Tom Percival, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Introverts Week Activity

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Image courtesy of Free Kids Crafts

Mixed-up Creatures

 

You can make creations like Meesha’s with this Flower/Animal Mix-Up Activity! 

Materials

Instructions

Print these pages, cut up the parts, and glue or tape together pieces on a blank piece of paper to make the quirkiest creatures you can!
 
You’ll find many more craft and activity ideas at Free Kids Crafts and Making Friends!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-meesha-makes-friends-cover

You can find Meesha Makes Friends at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 10 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

Calling all gals, pals, and woman-identifying people! This month is dedicated to YOU and all the women throughout history who have worked to make things fair. Women throughout history have often been treated as less than men, especially women of color. This concept is called gender inequality, and a whole lot of wonderful ladies across the world have been working to change it. In 1987 the National Women’s History Project petitioned to have the US Congress officially designate March as Women’s History Month. From that point on, organizations and communities have celebrated and recognized the month-long holiday by uplifting the stories of role-model women throughout US history. To celebrate Women’s History Month, read about some of the achievements of women in various fields of study, learn about (and from) stories of activism, and spend some quality time with the women and girls who matter most in your life. To learn more about Women’s History Month, visit: https://womenshistorymonth.gov/ 

Thank to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Send a Girl! for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

Send a Girl! The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY

Written by Jessica M. Rinker | Illustrated by Meg Hunt

 

As a girl growing up in the 1950’s, Brenda Berkman dealt with a lot of adults telling her what she could and couldn’t do. Brenda loved to play sports and spend time outside. But many of her favorite activities were ones that people considered “boy’s games.” When Brenda tried to join a baseball team, the coach said he wouldn’t send a girl to play a boy’s game. But, did Brenda let this stop her? Nope! Brenda was determined to keep doing the things she liked to do, so she made her own all-girls football team with friends instead. 

As Brenda grew older, people’s views on what boys and girls could do began to expand. Brenda had moved to New York and studied to become a lawyer but realized that she yearned for a career that was more active. In 1977 the New York City Fire Department announced that they would finally allow women to take the exam to become firefighters. This was exciting news! Brenda didn’t think that this would ever be a possibility for her because “In the past, every firefighter in the city had to be a man. In fact, they’d only ever been called firemen!”

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Image copyright Meg Hunt, 2021, text copyright Jessica Rinker, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books for Children.

Brenda knew she wanted to do something that would involve helping people, using her mind to strategize, being active, and getting outdoors. Becoming a firefighter seemed like the perfect fit. Becoming a firefighter proved to be a tough journey for Brenda. Even though the fire department now allowed women to apply, many people did not support this decision. “They said, ‘Don’t send a girl to do a man’s job!’ They didn’t think women were courageous enough, smart enough, or strong enough.” Brenda knew she was going to have to work really hard to prove these people wrong. She passed the written test and began to train for the fitness test.

When Brenda took her physical exam, she found that the men in charge were not looking for the strengths firefighters need to do their jobs. None of the women who took the test passed, and Brenda knew this was no coincidence. It wasn’t that the women weren’t strong enough, but rather the people in charge of the firefighters’ test didn’t want women to pass. Brenda realized that she could use her background in law to fight against this injustice. After four long years of working to prove her case in court, Brenda won, and the test was restructured to better match the skills that people need to have as firefighters. 

In 1982 Brenda Berkman and forty others became the first female firefighters to join the New York City Fire Department. In Brenda’s new job, “She hauled hoses! Climbed ladders! Broke through walls! Fighting fires was exciting and gritty, loud and dirty, and sometimes dark and dangerous.” But her fight against people’s bias and discrimination was far from over. Many people still didn’t think that women were tough enough for the job, even after they had proved they were. “They said, ‘I want to be saved by fireMEN!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-send-a-girl-test

Image copyright Meg Hunt, 2021, text copyright Jessica Rinker, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books for Children.

And, some of the men already on the New York City Fire Department agreed. They were mean and made the job as difficult as possible for Brenda and the other women firefighters. Sometimes they would pull pranks on the women in their departments that were incredibly cruel and dangerous. “Firefighters need to depend on one another. Brenda wasn’t sure she could depend on all her fellow firefighters. Sometimes it was lonely. Often, she felt invisible.” To combat against this, Brenda formed a group called United Women Firefighters, where women could come and talk about these issues and support each other. 

With this new group, strong friends, and time, things got slowly better for Brenda. People began to change their opinions on firefighting only being for men. Brenda continued to excel as a firefighter, and eventually became a captain of her department. She continued to fight fires—and discrimination—throughout her life, and she proved that firefighting is something you can “send a girl” for. Now there are people of all genders across the nation who fight fires every day and save lives. 

An Author’s Note at the end details the importance of learning stories like Brenda’s and provides more information on the history of firefighting and Brenda’s accomplishments. A list of websites where readers can learn more about women firefighters and other influential women is also included.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-send-a-girl-rescue

Image copyright Meg Hunt, 2021, text copyright Jessica Rinker, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books for Children.

In this inspiring story of overcoming norms and gender discrimination, Jessica Rinker eloquently recounts Brenda Berkman’s stirring biography. Readers of all ages will rejoice in the perseverance that Berkman exhibited throughout her career. Rinker’s repetition of Brenda’s firefighting tasks takes on an exciting, triumphant tone and echoes the thrill Brenda felt while fighting fires despite all of the hardship she faced. Rinker’s straightforward writing discusses difficult themes of women’s inequality, bullying, and discrimination in an easily digestible manner for young readers. 

Illustrator Meg Hunt provides a diverse cast of characters to make the story come alive. Her multimedia images match the bustling, busy nature of New York City and provide an immersive view into city living. Readers are transported into the story to fight fires right alongside Brenda with intricate, realistic, and colorfully designed spreads. They watch the protagonist age throughout the story with determination and power. The first image of Brenda valiantly hauling a firehose to a window of billowing smoke in an NYC apartment is mirrored near the end. Readers follow Brenda in a full circle—working tirelessly to become a firefighter, shining at her job, and then extending her joy for firefighting to the next generation of young women on the final spread. 

Book lovers of all types will be inspired by Brenda Berkman’s story and how she shaped the history of fighting fires, both literal and metaphorical. An honest, informative and empowering book. The sentiment and lessons in Send a Girl! are of utmost importance for young girls, and really all young readers to hear.

Ages 4 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601745

Discover more about Jessica M. Rinker and her books on her website.

To learn more about Meg Hunt, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activities

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-womens-history-month-word-search

Women’s History Month Word Search

 

Find the names of fifteen inspirational women in this printable word search puzzle.

Women’s History Month Word Search Puzzle | Women’s History Month Word Solution

Teacher Thrive mint tin book report craft

Mint-Tin Book Report

 

Create a mint-tin book report of Brenda Berkman’s story in Send a Girl! or of another book highlighting an important women’s biography. You can find more about this clever idea from Melissa at Teacher Thrive

Materials

Instructions

Cut out the pages from the printable template and fold along the creases. Glue the “conflict” and “rising action” pieces together using the extra rectangle of paper. Write down the most important facts or highlights from each part of the story and decorate. Fold up the pages accordion style and stick into a mint tin. Use the blank parts to decorate the top and inside of the lid. Then you’ll have a portable, cute book report to carry around wherever you please!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-send-a-girl-cover

You can find Send a Girl! The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 9 – It’s Creative Romance Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-meets-bear-cover

About the Holiday

February, the month of love, is a perfect time to think up creative ways to surprise that special person in your life with a romantic gesture, exciting date night, or fun adventure that will add spice and fun to your relationship. With a little imagination you can find unique ways to show all the love that’s in your heart. 

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Bear Meets Bear with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Bear Meets Bear

By Jacob Grant

 

Bear was waiting for the teapot he and Spider had ordered to arrive. It was exciting to think of getting something new delivered. At last the doorbell rang. When Bear opened the door, he found Panda, a delivery person he’d never seen before. She asked him to sign for his package, but Bear was smitten. “His heart beat fast…. He wanted to say something clever, or funny, or anything at all,” but he couldn’t.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The delivery woman asked for his signature again, and finally he was able to sign the sheet. He watched Panda peddle away on her delivery bike. Spider thought Bear’s predicament was quite funny. Bear rushed to his computer and ordered another teapot. Bear waited and waited. He watched out the window, hoping to see Panda’s delivery bike roll up.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Bear was just considering ordering another tea pot when he saw Panda coming up the walk. But when she handed him the box and asked him to sign, Bear just stood silently again. “Spider felt sorry for his friend.” Bear ordered another teapot and another and another. Never could he summon the courage to talk to Panda, even though Spider encouraged him. Standing among all of the boxes of teapots, Spider told him he should “invite her to tea” or “at least remember to breathe” when Panda came to the door.

Bear agreed. He would order one more teapot and talk to Panda when it arrived. Bear waited with anticipation. But when the doorbell rang, it wasn’t Panda standing there, but a “gruff raccoon.” “Bear’s heart hurt.” He bemoaned the missed opportunities and regretted all the teapots. Spider wanted to help. He wrote a note and headed out to find Panda. He went from door to door asking if anyone had seen her. Finally, he found her at Duck’s house.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-meets-bear-sad

Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The next day Panda was excited to see Panda on his doorstep. She thanked him for his invitation to a tea party. Bear felt himself freeze, but then he told her he would be just a minute. He cleaned up the scattered teapots and welcomed her in. Soon Bear and Panda were chatting and laughing like old friends.

After Panda said goodbye, Bear thanked Spider and said that Panda was very nice but that they would “not be meeting for tea again.” It turned out that Panda didn’t like tea! Bear was nonplussed, but thought it was “all rather funny.” The next time he and Panda met, Bear served lemonade. And what about all those teapots? Bear held a yard sale!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-meets-bear-tea-party

Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Fans of Jacob Grant’s Bear and Spider series know that Bear is often hesitant to put himself out there, to try something new, or even, sometimes, to leave the house. It might be because his feelings are so strong or he doubts himself  – or a little of both. Fortunately, Bear has his good friend Spider who supports him and gives him a nudge when he needs it. When Bear meets Panda and is smitten, he, like many people, can’t find the exact right words among all those feelings; a simple “hello” doesn’t seem like enough. Grant understands. Enter Spider, who offers a gentle dose of honesty and provides always-polite Bear with an opportunity to shine. When Bear discovers that Panda doesn’t like tea, Grant also shows readers that conditions don’t have to be perfect to make a new friend and that a little humor goes a long way toward smoothing things over.

Grant’s tranquil color palette and simple shapes make it easy for readers to immerse themselves in Bear’s feelings, empathizing with his all-too-human predicament while enjoying the comical collection of all those tea pots. When Bear watches out the window day after day, willing Panda to return only to be filled with fear and anxiety when she does, Grant perfectly captures that “oh no, now what?” emotion as Bear’s paws fly to his face and his eyes widen. Likewise, Bear’s regrets are palpable as, surrounded by boxes, he buries his head in the chair. Throughout, Spider is there, weaving his web, strumming his banjo, and watching out for Bear. Wordless images of Bear and Panda enjoying lemonade together and Bear’s yard sale let kids know it has all turned out all right.

A charming, poignant, and reassuring addition to the Bear and Spider series, Bear Meets Bear,  a story about overcoming emotions that hold us back, is highly recommended for home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547604241

Discover more about Jacob Grant, his books, and his art on his website.

Creative Romance Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ceramic-mug-craft

Create a Mug

 

If you’re kids are looking for a gift to make for a family member or a friend for Valentine’s Day or any time, a personalized mug makes a creative way to share a little love every time it’s used. 

Supplies

  • Plain ceramic mug
  • Bakeable markers or paint

Directions

  1. Design and color your mug
  2. Follow directions on the markers or paint to properly bake on your decoration and make it permanent.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-meets-bear-cover

You can find Bear Meets Bear at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 3 – World Read Aloud Day and Interview with Andy Harkness

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wolfboy-cover

About the Holiday

Sponsored by global non-profit LitWorld and Scholastic, World Read Aloud Day encourages reading aloud to children not only today but every day. Reading aloud to children from birth is one of the best ways to promote language development, improve literacy, and enjoy bonding time together. Millions of people celebrate today’s holiday all across the United States and in more than one hundred countries around the world. Typically, special events are held in schools, libraries, bookstores, homes, and communities, and authors and illustrators hold readings and visit classrooms. This year, you can find virtual read alouds, live events on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube, printable games, and book lists as well stickers, bookmarks, posters, and a reading crown to decorate, when you visit LitWorld.

Thanks go to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Wolfboy for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. I’m also thrilled to be teaming with Bloomsbury in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Wolfboy

By Andy Harkness

The full moon hung in the sky like a golden, frosted cupcake. Down below in the darkened forest Wolfboy was on the prowl. “He was HUNGRY. ‘Rabbits, rabbits! Where are you?’ he howled.” But he could find no rabbits. He “sploshed” into the creek, but no rabbits answered his calls. Not only was he “HUNGRY,” now he was also “HUFFY.” He climbed to the top of a very tall oak tree and scoured the ground far and wide. No rabbits. In addition to being “HUNGRY” and “HUFFY,” Wolfboy had become “DROOLY. He needed rabbits.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wolfboy-creek

Copyright Andy Harkness, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Perhaps they were hiding in the bog, but there he only saw three crocodiles swimming his way. It made Wolfboy feel “GROWLY.” He made a daring leap into Moonberry Meadow. Surely, the rabbits were here. But no. Wolfboy could hardly contain himself. “he was HUNGRY and HUFFY and DROOLY and GROWLY and FUSSY.” He stomped and thrashed and leaped and menaced. He was done with rabbits, and he let the world (and those skittish rabbits) know it.

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Copyright Andy Harkness, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But then he heard a rustle and a snap. He focused his attention and saw some tell-tail signs. “Wolfboy crouched low” just as a warren-full of little bunnies emerged into the clearing. Wolfboy showed his teeth. His roar shook the forest. “‘Rabbits, where have you been? You’re late for our feast!’” But the rabbits just giggled and brought out the moonberry pie they’d made him. In a frenzy Wolfboy “CRUNCHED and MUNCHED and GOBBLED and GULPED!” When the pie was gone, Wolfboy explained that he had just been so, well… HUNGRY. But now he felt better and there was one huge happy rabbit hug for dessert.

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Copyright Andy Harkness, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Andy Harkness’s cumulative tale will get kids, who well-know that ravenously hungry feeling, up and growling along as Wolfboy goes from Hungry to Happy with all the personality-changing gastronomical feelings in between. Harness’s dialogue-rich storytelling is a delight, ripe for dramatic read alouds. The forest setting, with its creek, bog, oak, and ravine, inspires evocative vocabulary that enhances the suspense. What could this sharp-toothed, famished Wolfboy want with the rabbits? There could only be one thing… or could there? The endearing ending reaffirms that those Hangry wolves in our homes need only a little (or a big) treat to return to their true puppy natures.

Visually stunning, Harkness’s illustrations, built with clay and then photographed, immerse readers in extraordinary textured, intricate, and shadowy landscapes that beg close study. Neon blue Wolfboy, with his furrowed unibrow, rows of chicklet teeth, and long arms that waggle in hilariously menacing poses will have kids laughing out loud. And where are those rabbits? On every page! The little animal cracker-sized bunnies pop up in the most surprising places, and you can bet that you’ll hear plenty of “there’s one!” “I see two!” and “Let’s count them!” as you turn the pages.

For kids who love raucous, laugh-out-loud story times, those who appreciate exceptional art and the wonders of claymation, and readers who prefer their beasts to be big softies, Wolfboy is a must for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547604425

Discover more about Andy Harkness, his books, movie work, and art on his website.

Meet Andy Harkness

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review–Andy Harkness author photo

Andy Harkness is an award-winning art director who has worked on Moana, Frozen, and Wreck-it-Ralph, among other movies. After twenty-five years at Disney, he recently moved to Sony Pictures Animation. Andy’s first book, Bug Zoo, was published by Disney as an Artist Showcase Book in 2016. He lives in California with his family. You can connect with Andy on His Website | Instagram | Twitter  

I’m thrilled to be talking with Andy Harkness about his inspiration for Wolfboy, his process in creating the incredible illustrations, one of his biggest challenges, and more!

I think everyone can empathize with ravenously hungry Wolfboy! Where did the idea for your story come from?

I have always loved scary stories. In particular, werewolf stories. It’s the transformation that intrigues me. In 2005, I took a first pass at a story but it really didn’t go anywhere until my wife and I had children. We noticed an incredible transformation when they were hungry. Our little angels became little monsters. And the story of Wolfboy was born!

The shape of Wolfboy is so perfectly funny and menacing. Did his look undergo many revisions? How did you decide on the final design?

He went through so many revisions! Initially, he had a red striped shirt and blue jeans. Then he was a very detailed brooding character with huge hands and feet. When I was working on the rough design for the cover, I quickly drew him in blue. I wasn’t trying to design him at that moment but suddenly, there he was. He looked fierce but really funny. His final design is almost exactly like that quick sketch. One thing he always had was big pointy ears. I wanted him to be a very recognizable shape when he was small on the page.

CPB – Andy Harkness_Question 2

Which brings us to your stunning pages, which are all entirely made from clay. Can you take readers through your process of making the pages? How long did it take you to carve all the settings and characters? 

I start with a loose drawing that is projected onto a piece of glass, or is taped beneath the glass.

Andy Harkness_Question 3

Using super sculpey polymer clay, I sculpt as much as possible by hand and use a few tools for the smallest details. When the sculpt is done, it is positioned near a window to get interesting natural light and shadow on the surface. 

CPB - Andy Harkness_Question 3 process

Then it’s photographed and the colors painted in layers in photoshop. The trick is to do as little touch up to the clay as possible.  My fingerprints are literally all over this book!  Each sculpt was redone at least two times.  The first attempt was really for working out the problems so that the second attempt went smoothly.  From start to finish, the sculpts that are in the book were done over the course of a year.  Some took a day or two, others weeks, one took a whole year! I usually worked on several at the same time.

Andy Harkness_Question 3 process

Readers might be interested in this behind-the-scenes video I made showing how I created the shadowy tree illustration near the beginning of the book.

The colors and shadowing you achieve is amazing and really immerses readers in the suspense of the story and their own hunt for rabbits on each page. Do you have a favorite spread? Was there one that was the most difficult?

Great question and thank you! I am inspired by old black and white horror movies and really wanted to bring that dramatic lighting into the book. My favorite spread is when Wolfboy leaps over the steep ravine. I think the symmetry and how it’s lit from beneath make it feel like a stage. Very theatrical. The hardest spread by far was the “creaky old oak” spread. That sculpt was redone 6 times before I was happy. And the reflection in the water is sculpted as well. I worked on that one on and off for about a year.

You’re currently working as the Art Director on Vivo, coming from Sony Animation Pictures later this year and you’ve previously worked for Disney. In these positions you’ve helped create many kid-favorite blockbusters, such as Moana, Frozen, Tangled, and Wreck-it-Ralph among many others. Can you briefly describe for kids (and maybe future animation artists) the steps as an animated feature is conceptualized, designed, and ultimately put together? What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced on a movie you’ve worked on? One of the best surprises? 

It starts with a great idea. Early concept paintings are done to get everyone excited about the project. As the story develops, a visual style and color palette is created to support it. A character designer develops the characters while working closely with the production designer to make sure the shape language is consistent with the backgrounds. Then a literal army of talented modelers, riggers, animators, special effects artists, layout artists and lighters begin to build the world we see on screen. It’s an incredible undertaking actually.  If it’s done right, it’s like a finely tuned orchestra. 

The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced was designing Motu Nui, Moana’s home island. Everything was researched and done with the utmost respect for the culture. We had South Pacific advisors with us the whole time. Every plant and tree was what would have been there 3000 years ago. A botanist helped us make sure of that. From the positioning of the village in the valley, to the various fales (homes and other structures), everything was as accurate as we could make it. Armed with all that knowledge, I sculpted that island in clay.  That fragile sculpt is sitting in the Disney Archives today. The head of layout, head of environments, head of modeling, and myself won a VFX award for Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature.  

The biggest surprise happened on my current show, VIVO. I had the opportunity to collaborate with one of my heroes, Sir Roger Deakins, on the lighting and color for the movie. Still can’t believe it!

In addition to writing and illustrating Wolfboy, you’ve also illustrated Bug Zoo and The Ballad of Nessie. What do you like best about being a writer and illustrator for kids?

I think for me it really boils down to hearing that a kid loves one of my books so much the cover has fallen off. It’s how I felt about certain books as a kid. They sparked magic in my mind and I hope to give that back now through my own books.

What’s up next for you?

Well first up, I hope to do another Wolfboy book!  After that I have several more children’s book ideas bouncing around in my head.  

I will probably be working on a few more animated films, but one day I really hope to focus solely on writing and illustrating children’s books.

Thanks so much for this wonderful chat! Your work is amazing, and I’m sure readers are thrilled to learn more about it. I wish you all the best with Wolfboy – I really hope there will be a second Wolfboy adventure!

Wolfboy Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Bloomsbury Children’s Books in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Wolfboy by Andy Harkness

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Reply with your favorite hungry-time craving for extra entry

This giveaway is open from February 3 through February 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on February 10. 

Prizing provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

World Read Aloud Day Activity

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I Love Reading Bookmarks

If you love to read then you know that sometimes you want to mark a favorite page or remember where you left off. With these special World Read Aloud Day bookmarks, you can do it in style! 

World Read Aloud Day Bookmarks to Color | Colorful World Read Aloud Day Bookmarks

You can find Wolfboy at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review