January 7 – Old Rock Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-cover

About the Holiday

Do you love rocks—the history they tell, their versatility, intricate patterns, and glorious colors? Today’s holiday celebrates these wonders of nature and encourages geologists—both professionals and amateurs—to indulge their passion. You can learn a bit more about the history of the study of rocks, the first use of the term “geology,” and on to more modern times at NationalToday. To celebrate today’s holiday, take a walk in your backyard or neighborhood, pick up a few rocks, and research a little more about them. Then have fun with today’s craft.

Thank you to G. P. Putnam’s Sons for sharing a copy of Old Rock (is not boring) with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Old Rock (is not boring)

By Deb Pilutti

 

It seemed that Old Rock had been sitting in the same spot forever. Tall Pine and Spotted Beetle thought being a rock must be pretty boring. Hummingbird wondered, “‘Don’t you ever want to go anywhere?’” She knew she would be if she couldn’t fly all over the world and taste exotic nectars. But Old Rock had flown once, and he began to tell his story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-hummingbird

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

It was during the time when he was surrounded by darkness, but then the volcano erupted and Old Rock “‘soared through a fiery sky into the bright light of a new world.’” Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird weren’t very impressed. They still thought Old Rock must be bored. Spotted Beetle told him how much he might see if he climbed to Tall Pine’s very highest branch.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-volcano

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Old Rock countered that he had seen a lot. He’d watched dinosaurs pass by and had even hidden a spinosaurus from a hungry T. rex. He’d traveled in a glacier and been left teetering on a ridge overlooking a vast desert, where he “could see the place where the sky touches the earth.” Spotted Beetle and Hummingbird were intrigued, but Tall Pine dismissed these experiences as “ages ago.” He wanted to know about now. Didn’t Old Rock feel like moving? Tall Pine showed Old Rock how his limbs could dance in the wind.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-dinosaurs

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

While Old Rock couldn’t dance, he did recall how he’d turned somersaults off the ridge, landing in a prairie where mastodons grazed near a lake. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird were mesmerized by Old Rock’s story and wanted to know what had happened next. Out of the prairie, sprang a pine forest, Old Rock revealed. And from one of the pine trees a pinecone fell and a seed was released. That seed grew “to be the tall pine who dances in the wind and keeps me company.” Sometimes, he continued, a spotted beetle and a hummingbird meander by. Old Rock was very pleased with his spot, and the others had to agree that it was “very nice” and “not boring at all.”

An illustrated timeline of Old Rock’s life from 18 billion years ago to the present day follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-time-line

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

So much clever thought went into Deb Pilutti’s Old Rock as she reveals to kids what a fascinating and active life the rocks and boulders we see every day have had. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird’s skepticism keeps the suspense building as Old Rock rolls out stories of his various travels and talents. Once he has them hooked, they—like young readers—want to hear more, leading to the just-right ending that sweetly encompasses shared history, happiness with one’s place in life, and friendship. The trio’s questions to Old Rock and their related experiences also engage children to think about issues and opinions from a variety of perspectives.

Pilutti’s mixed-media illustrations are nicely textured to bring out Old Rock’s grainy surface while highlighting nature’s vivid colors. Her vignettes from the dinosaur eras, the ice age (where the skeletons of dinosaurs are also swept up and away in the same glacier as Old Rock), and beyond impress upon readers the long time-frame involved, how the earth has changed, and even the fascinating science of the fossil record.

A multi-layered story, perfect for general story times or as a lead in to science lessons and to promote discussion and research in the classroom, Old Rock (is not boring) would be an original and exciting addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525518181

To learn more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Old Rock Day Activity

CPB - Nasty Bugs magnet II (2)

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give you a natural canvas for your creativity! With a little bit of paint, pins or magnets, and some imagination, you can make refrigerator magnets, jewelry, paper weights, and more!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

To make magnets

  1. Design and paint an image on a light-weight stone
  2. Attach a magnet to the back with strong glue, let dry
  3. Use to hang pictures, notes, or other bits of important stuff on your refrigerator or magnetic board

To make jewelry

  1. Using a smaller, flatter stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a jewelry pin to the back with the strong glue, let dry
  3. Wear your pin proudly

CPB - rock painting craft

To make a paper weight or kindness stone

  1. Using a large stone, design and paint an image on the stone, let dry
  2. Display and use on your desk to keep those papers in place or find a spot around town to leave your rock for someone to find and enjoy

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-cover

You can find Old Rock (is not boring) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 3 – It’s Family Literacy Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-odd-beasts-cover

About the Holiday

National Family Literacy Month was designed to encourage parents and other adults to read together with the children in their life. Studies show that children who are read to are better prepared to read on their own and do better in school. Cuddling together before bedtime or during special story times with favorite books instills a love of reading that can last a lifetime. To celebrate, plan some special reading-related activities: take a trip to a local bookstore and let your child pick a book; if your child is old enough, visit the library to sign up for a library card; and schedule extra reading time, especially with grandparents or other family members who may be visiting for the holidays. A fun and educational board book like today’s book is a perfect way to get little ones enthusiastic about reading as they grow older!

Thank you to Abrams Appleseed and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals

Written by Laura Gehl | Illustrated by Gareth Lucas

 

From their earliest years, kids are attracted to animals, whether for their fluffy coats, enthusiastic “kisses,” or silly antics. They love visiting the zoo and the aquarium to see – and maybe even touch – animals and sea creatures from around the world. And they’re always excited to meet new animals through the books they read. Through an age-appropriate short, charming poem played out over eight boldly illustrated pages, Laura Gehl does just that, introducing kids to a few of the earth’s most unusual animals. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-odd-beasts-sunfish

Image copyright Gareth Lucas, 2021, text copyright Laura Gehl, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

Gehl begins with an animal from Asia and Africa that at first glance might appear like an unlikely combination of an anteater and a fish – the pangolin! Turning the page, readers do meet a fish – and what a fish! “This sunfish weighs a ton.” Another ocean dweller is introduced two pages later: “This angler sees no sun.” Readers will be equally charmed by a turtle whose “neck is long,” and a clever camouflaged insect whose “jumps are strong.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-odd-beasts-angler

Image copyright Gareth Lucas, 2021, text copyright Laura Gehl, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Appleseed.

In addition to these three quirky creatures, kids get to know a glass frog, a long-horned orb-weaver spider, and a bush baby. Then Gehl tickles kids’ funny bone with a surprising perspective about how beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Following her lyrical pages, Gehl presents readers with a factual paragraph about each critter that reveals more about the trait that makes them so unusual and where they live. These descriptions are accompanied by a full-color photograph of the animal so kids can get a close-up view of nature’s amazing adaptations.

For young nature-lovers in the making, Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals is an engaging way to introduce them to a few creatures from around the world that will whet their appetite for more discovery. The book would be a much-read addition to home, classroom, and school and public library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 4

Abrams Appleseed, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419742224

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

You can connect with Gareth Lucas on Instagram and Twitter

Family Literacy Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-odd-beasts-laura-gehl-coloring-pages-turtle

Odd Beasts Coloring Pages

 

These odd beasts could use some color! Download and print these three coloring sheets from Laura Gehl’s website!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-odd-beasts-cover

You can find Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 5 – World Environment Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-this-little-environmentalist-cover

About the Holiday

Sponsored by the United Nations, World Environment Day encourages worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment. Each year a different country hosts the day’s events. This year Pakistan has been chosen as the host country. Today’s holiday also launches the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs from 2021 to 2030 and “aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.” This work is crucial to the survival of our planet. The statistics are alarming. Studies have found that every three seconds the world loses enough forest to cover a soccer field and over the last century, half of our wetlands and as much as fifty per cent of our coral reefs have been destroyed. This year’s theme is “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.” Everyone is needed to make a difference. You can learn more about World Environment Day, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and how you can join the #GenerationRestoration movement on the UN World Environment Day website.

This Little Environmentalist: A Love-the-Earth Primer

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Daniel Roode

 

Take any little one outside and they’re immediately fascinated with plants, animals, and bugs they see. They want to play in the water at the beach or lake. And who doesn’t like to take a boat ride on a river? When they look up, there are fluffy clouds and birds passing by, and, of course, the tall trees provide shade for outdoor play. Kids instinctively want to protect nature and seem to be born with compassion for animals – their pets and those that live in the wild. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-this-little-environmentalist-sylvia-earle

Image copyright Daniel Roode, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Little Simon.

This Little Environmentalist: A Love-the-Earth Primer recognizes young children’s desire to help and learn more about nature with mini-biographies of ten people who have found distinct ways to preserve the environment today and for future generations. Each biography is introduced with a rhyming verse that makes it easy for little readers to understand and remember how each of these activists made an impact. They then learn more specifics about each person’s work to protect open land, inspire new environmental laws, save forests, support clean water, and fight against climate change.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-this-little-environmentalist-wangari-maathai

Image copyright Daniel Roode, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Children learn about Edgar J. Helm, who created the Goodwill company that provided jobs and decreased trash; Wangari Maathai, who “got African women to plant millions of trees in Kenya to provide fruit, shade from the sun, wood for building , and firewood for cooking”; Vandana Shiva, who encourages farmers and communities to create seed banks for the future; Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao who have devised a way to “break down hard-to-recycle plastic trash”; and six more influential environmentalists.

Following these ten biographies are one– or two-sentence profiles of seventeen other people, including writers, artists, politicians, scientists, and other visionaries who are involved in protecting our earth. The last frame is left blank for the next environmentalist on the scene – could it be you?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-this-little-environmentalist-chico-mendes

Image copyright Daniel Roode, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Little Simon.

With her straightforward and informative text, Joan Holub will inspire kids to follow in the footsteps of well-known personalities and community leaders and keep an eye out for ways they can make a difference at home, school, or in their neighborhood. Inclusion of environmentalists from around the world give readers knowledge about a wide range of environmental concerns and innovative ideas people have for addressing them.

Daniel Roode’s bright and engaging illustrations help kids visualize the place where each environmentalist lives and the type of work they do. Background details give kids and adults plenty to talk about as they read and as they take walks in the neighborhood, go to the park, visit the grocery story and farmers market, and notice more about their own area.

A smart, inclusive, and timely addition to the This Little series, This Little Environmentalist: A Love-the-Earth Primer is a must for fans of the series as well as for classroom and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 5

Little Simon, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534475588

World Environment Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-recycling-maze

Recycling Maze

 

This little boy wants to help the environment! Can you help him pick up recyclable items in this printable maze?

Recycling Maze

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-this-little-environmentalist-cover

You can find This Little Environmentalist at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-cover

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!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-planting

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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-dancing

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-karen-rostoker-gruber-headshot

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. 

 
image.png
 

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.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-remote-controls-are-better-than-women-cover

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-farmer-kobi's-hanukkah-match-cover

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:

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-farmer-kobi's-hanukkah-match-lamb-chops-topped-with-goose-pate

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.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-food-fright-cover

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rooster-can't-cockadoodledoo-cover

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bandit-cover

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ferret-fun-cover

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. 

CPB - overnight success sign

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!  

CPB - maddie the mitzva clown
 
CPB - the family and frog haggadah
 
 

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?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-crowded-farmhouse-folktale-cover

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.

FullSizeRender (43).jpg

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.  

jpeg image from roland--USE THIS ONE for pr in papers.jpg

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. 

maria at a tea party with friends.jpg
 
IMG-1260.JPG

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!)

IMG-1417.JPG

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— 

CPB - Pinochio

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tu-b'shevat-coloring-page

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-cover

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

 

September 21 – International Day of Peace

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-cover

About the Holiday

The International Day of Peace is a United Nations sponsored holiday, which is dedicated to strengthening the ideals of peace by observing twenty-four hours of non-violence and ceasefire. Each year the holiday focuses on a theme. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s theme is “Shaping Peace Together” The 2020 theme for the International Day of Peace is “Shaping Peace Together,” with the idea that people celebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope as the world struggles with a common problem. People are also asked to stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination or hatred. To learn more, visit the United Nations website. Of course, for little ones, the values of peace and harmony begin at home. With today’s book, you can pass this comfort on to your children.

Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Ag Jatkowska

 

In her sweet ode to shalom bayit—a Hebrew phrase that means “peace of the home,” and celebrates the Jewish value of the home as a sanctuary from the stresses, worries, and noise of the outside world—Linda Elovitz Marshall gives parents and caregivers a book to share with their youngest children that shows that no matter whether a home is a den or a castle, it is a place where they can find contentment. With tranquil rhyming verses, Marshall introduces little ones to cozy nests, dens, underground tunnels, and other places where animals make their snug homes. “Shalom bayit, / bayit shalom! / Quiet places, / peaceful homes.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-robins

Image copyright Ag Jatkowska, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

In her nest on a high branch, a mother robin and father robin watches over their five babies, while below a squirrel fills a hole in the tree trunk with soft leaves and a mouse snoozes in a small cave in the roots. Turtles, worms, frogs, and a fox also happily make their homes in the pond and grounds nearby. From this calm, bucolic scene, Marshall takes children into a house, where three children spend time with their family, cuddled up with Mom as Dad reads a story. “A home’s a cozy, restful place, / a safe and loving family space,” Marshall says. “Shalom bayit, / bayit shalom.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-home

Image copyright Ag Jatkowska, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Ag Jatkowska accompanies Marshall’s gently flowing verses with lovely illustrations of the sun-dappled banks of a pond and the natural places a variety of animals call home. The adorable squirrels, turtle, frogs, fox, worms, robins, and mice as well as the trees and flowers are painted in a calming, yet vibrant color palette that will enchant little readers. Jatkowska’s final spread of a happy home, where a fire burns in the fireplace as the family enjoys a relaxing evening together is a loving portrayal of the meaning of shalom bayit.

A charming board book to inspire comforting story times or bedtimes—especially during these challenging times—Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home would be a favorite on home bookshelves and is highly recommended for school and public library collections. The book would also make an excellent gift.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541542471

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ag Jatkowska and see a portfolio of her work, visit her page at The Bright Agency.

International Day of Peace Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-peaceful-home-craft

Peaceful Home Craft

 

Kids squabbling over what to do or bored because there’s nothing to do? With this easy-to-make craft, kids can find activities to do with siblings, parents, or other caregivers to pass the time and have fun together. Kids can recreate their own house or make a house from their imagination.

Supplies

  • Small recycled box
  • Paper
  • Tape
  • Colored Pencils, crayons, or markers
  • Wide craft sticks

Directions

  1. Tape closed the open end of a small box 
  2. Wrap box in white or colored paper
  3. Cut a wide slot on one side of the roof for the sticks
  4. Draw features of the house on the front, sides, and back
  5. Think of ideas that kids can do together by themselves or with an adult and write one on each stick
  6. Put the sticks in the slot
  7. When there’s free time, choose a stick and have fun with that activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-cover

You can find Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 30 – National Hot Mulled Cider Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-pile-of-leaves-cover

About the Holiday

As the weather turns cooler and eventually cold, hot drinks become a favorite for their warming properties and the cozy feeling they give inside. Hot Mulled Cider adds a festive touch to parties, dinners, or just sitting by the fire. The drink is made by heating apple cider until it’s nearly boiling and then simmering with adding spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as well as orange peel or other fruits. One sip will tell you that the apple-picking season of autumn has come and remind you that winter is on its way.

A Pile of Leaves

By Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin

 

As you rake up fallen leaves when autumn turns them from green to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges and the wind plucks them from the trees, you know that with each swipe nature may present a little treasure. A Pile of Leaves is just as surprising, as page after page reveals deeper and deeper layers that hide colors, life, and even forgotten or lost items.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-pile-of-leaves-orange

Copyright Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin, 2018. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Clever transparent pages are rimmed in bold fall colors and painted with cottonwood, oak, maple, birch, ash, and other types of leaves. In their placement they hide something that becomes visible only with the turn of the page. The final little discovery will cause readers to smile in appreciation for the realism in this artistic look at a highlight of autumn.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-a-pile-of-leaves-birch

Copyright Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin, 2018. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

The fresh and creative design of this board book will keep young readers enthralled as they ask again and again to see what’s underneath each leaf. The book is a wonderful way to inspire nature walks with children and to excite them to explore leaf piles and other seasonal changes in their own backyard.

An illustrated key in the back of the book tells the names of the leaves, insects, and other objects found on the pages.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon Press, Published in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877204

To learn more about Jason Fulford and his books, visit his website.

Discover more about Tamara Shopsin, her books, and her art on her website.

National Hot Mulled Cider Day Activity

celebrated-picture-books-picture-book-review-painted-paper-plate-flowers

Painted Flowers and Trees

 

Little ones are naturally creative, and with a variety of paints, your child will have fun mixing colors and making their own fall flowers and trees.

Supplies

  • Craft paints in different colors
  • Small paper plates
  • Straws (optional)

Or

  • Construction paper (optional)
  • Poster board or large piece of heavy paper
  • Paper grass
  • Paint brush
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Put out a variety of paints and some small paper plates
  2. Let your child paint the paper plates, with single paints or mixing colors as they want
  3. Let the plates dry
  4. Glue the plate or plates to a large piece of poster board or heavy paper
  5. Add a straw as a stem or cut a trunk from construction paper
  6. Add shredded paper grass or a strip of construction paper for the ground
  7. Add leaves if making fall flowers

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-pile-of-leaves-cover

You can find A Pile of Leaves at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review