February 1 – Get Ready for Valentine’s Day

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About the Holiday

Love is in the air! Love for family, friends, and our special valentines. Begun as a religious feast day, Valentine’s Day became a day of romance with the bloom of courtly love during the 14th century. In England during the 18th century, those in love began showing their affections by giving flowers and candy and making valentine’s cards. Now, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and a favorite of adults and kids alike.

Tiny T. Rex and the Perfect Valentine

Written by Jonathan Stutzman | Illustrated by Jay Fleck

 

Anyone who knows Tiny T. Rex knows that his best friend is Pointy. And if you know that Pointy is Tiny’s best friend, then you know how much Tiny likes to show his affection for him. So you can imagine that for Valentine’s Day, Tiny wants to make Pointy a perfect card. In his mind, Tiny pictures a big shiny heart with four heart balloons on top. On the front there will be a bow and two hearts that will pop out on springs. Fireworks will also shoot into the sky. “It is going to be perfect,” Tiny thinks. He wheels a big can of red paint over to where his huge white paper heart lies on the floor. But “Oh dear,” the wagon overturns spilling the paint on Tiny, but nowhere near the heart.

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Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2020, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2020. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

At least, Tiny thinks, he can “make it extra fancy” with some glitter. He climbs to the top of a ladder and tips the jar to get some glitter. But “Oh my,” Tiny and the tall jar tumble, and Tiny gets covered in gold, red, and pink flakes. “It will take many tries to make this perfect,” says Tiny. Next, he tries to make the smaller hearts, but the scissors are so unwieldy, and the hearts turn out not quite perfect. Then when he writes Pointy’s name on the Valentine, it doesn’t look quite right.

Tiny tries again “and again and again,” but something always goes awry, and Tiny becomes festooned with hearts. Finally, all Tiny has “…for Pointy is a very big, very messy…mess.” When Pointy arrives, Tiny has to apologize for not having a Valentine for him. But Pointy says that’s okay because he already has the perfect Valentine. Can you guess who?

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Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2020, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2020. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Jonathan Stutzman’s endearing dinos are back with a message about love and friendship in this adorable Valentine’s Day board book. As Tiny T. Rex suffers little mishaps while making Pointy’s Valentines, little ones will “Oh no” and “Oh my” along with him, but also find themselves giggling as Tiny becomes covered in paint, glitter, and hearts. Tiny’s declarative statements echo the way children think and speak, and with each unexpected tip or snip, kids will eagerly want to see what happens next. Stutzman’s sweet ending provides the snuggly reassurance that every Valentine wants on this special day.

Jay Fleck’s beloved itty-bitty green dinosaur and his red friend, Pointy are as cute as ever. Tiny’s chalk drawing is, like many children’s imagined projects, elaborate but full of love. Images of Tiny falling into the paint and glitter, cutting up the small hearts, and misspelling Pointy’s name will make readers’ heart’s swell. Tiny’s determination to try again and again is charming, and kids on the upper range of the target audience may like to predict what will happen in the end. Pointy’s heartfelt assurance that Tiny is the perfect Valentine turns his disappointment into a warm grin.

Heartwarming and adorable, Tiny T. Rex and the Perfect Valentine will make any little one’s holiday perfect. For fans of these dino best friends or newcomers to the three-book series, the book will make an often-asked-for addition to home bookshelves and libraries.

Ages 2 – 4

Chronicle Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1452184890

Discover more about Jonathan Stutzman and his books on his website.

To learn more about Jay Fleck, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Ready for Valentine’s Day Activity

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Entangled Hearts Matching Puzzle

 

These friends are collecting valentines! Can you help them follow the paths to find more in this printable puzzle?

Entangled Hearts Matching Puzzle

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You can find Tiny T. Rex and the Perfect Valentine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 25 – It’s Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

As the cold and snowy weather keeps kids inside more and more, what are they to do? Why not create?! Whether your kids like writing, drawing, cooking, building, music, gardening, dancing, or other pursuits, January’s celebration of creativity makes it the perfect time to begin a new project. And with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, why not stock up on supplies and make some sweet treats – like in today’s book!

Thanks to Tara Knudson for sending me a copy of Valentine’s Day Treats for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Tara in a giveaway of a signed copy of her book. See details below.

Valentine’s Day Treats

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mother Raccoon is gathering all the supplies her littles need to make Valentines. She helps them cut out red and pink hearts, then they add glue and paint and sparkly glitter, bows and butterflies, and lots more hearts. While the cards dry, Mama and her little ones head for the kitchen, where they get out bowls and pans to make a special cake.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2020, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2020. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

They measure out “Sugar, flour, / Oil in cup, / Milk and eggs, / Mix them up.” They pour the batter into two pans—one square and one round—put the pans in the oven and wait. “Brrrring, they’re done— / Perfect cakes!” When the cakes have cooled, Mama Raccoon slides the two cakes onto plates and cuts the circle in half.

The little raccoons put the shapes together just right to make a heart. They spread on frosting to make it whole and then comes the fun: “Sprinkles on, / Decorate. / Can’t eat yet! / Have to wait.” Finally, it’s time to walk down the street to their friends’ house for a Valentine’s Day feast, complete with heart-shaped cakes to share. Afterwards, the kids hand out their cards. They all laugh and smile as they read them. “Each a gift, / Fun designs, / Made with love— / Valentines.”

A recipe for the raccoon family’s special Valentine’s Day cake follows the story.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2020, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2020. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

When my son was very little, he LOVED Valentine’s Day. He couldn’t make enough Valentine’s cards and crafts, it seemed, to express all of his sweet feelings. Tara Knudson captures that joy and enthusiasm for the holiday in her warm rhymes that transport kids into the middle of exciting Valentine’s Day preparations. As the little raccoons cut and paste, color and paint, and add stickers and lots of glitter, kids will be eager to get out their own supplies to make homemade cards for those they love. And just one look at Knudson’s clever cake will have them running to the kitchen to make that too. But Valentines are to share and just as the young racoons in the story, readers will have to wait… a page turn… to who gets the special treats.

Pauline Siewert’s adorable raccoons craft and cook their way through Valentine’s Day to make special cards and snacks for their friends. Her vivid images are cheerful and lively and charmingly include the little spatters and splashes that are all part of the fun. Little ones will enjoy soaking up all the details in the craft room, the kitchen, and the friends’ house and pointing out the ones they know. When adults point out these details while reading, kids will find it easy to read along too, as Knudson uses them to make her bubbly rhymes and flowing rhythm. Kids will also like keeping their eye on the tiny house mouse who is also making itty-bitty Valentine’s Day treats. 

A sparkly and cuddly board book little ones will want to hear again and again for Valentine’s Day and throughout the year, Valentine’s Day Treats would make a sweet gift for grandchildren or other littles on your list as well as favorite addition to home, preschool, and public library bookshelves.

Ages Baby – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310768395

Discover more about Tara Knudson and her books as well as Valentine’s Day Treats coloring pages and on her website.

Valentine’s Day Treats Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Tara Knudson in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) signed copy of Valentine’s Day Treats written by Tara Knudson | illustrated by Pauline Siewert

This giveaway is open from January 25 through January 31 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on February 1.

To Enter:

  • Follow @CelebratePicBks
  • Retweet
  • Bonus: Comment with your favorite Valentine’s Day tradition for an extra entry! Each comment gives you one more entry.

Prizing provided by Tara Knudson

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

Creativity Month Activity

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Peek-a-Boo Valentine

 

Kids can make a sweet, personalized valentine card that reveals how they feel about Mom, Dad, siblings, grandparents, friends, or anyone they love

Supplies

  • Red construction or scrapbooking paper 
  • Pink construction or scrapbooking paper
  • Glitter
  • Paper brad
  • Markers
  • Glue
  • Scissors

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Directions

To Make the Heart

  1. On the red paper, trace your child’s hand with their fingers closed, rounding around the back of the palm
  2. Draw in the lines between fingers
  3. Overlap the hands, matching the middle fingers to create the point of the heart
  4. Slide the tops of the hands apart a little to create the top of the heart
  5. Connect the two hearts with the brad

To Make the Card

  1. From the pink paper cut a square about 1 to 1/2 inches larger than the heart on all sides
  2. Using the same brad, attach the heart in the center of the square
  3. Slide the hands apart and let child write “Peek-a-Boo, I Love You” or their own message, close hands 
  4. Apply glue around the heart
  5. Apply glitter, let dry

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You can find Valentine’s Day Treats at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 12 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

It just isn’t Christmas without reading favorite traditional stories. Familiar characters, heartfelt themes, and feelings of warmth and excitement are tucked inside the pages just waiting to be released again after a long year. Today’s book allows you to share one of the oldest and most beloved Christmas classics with the youngest members of your family.

Thanks to Familius for sending me a copy of A Christmas Carol: Lit for Little Hands for review consideration. all opinions of the book are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

A Christmas Carol: Lit for Little Hands

Adapted by Brooke Jorden | Illustrated by David Miles

 

One of the world’s most recognizable novels, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has thrilled readers ever since it was published on December 19, 1843. The novel’s combination of spooky ghosts, a loving family, and a lost soul in need of redemption keeps readers and listeners enthralled no matter how many times they’ve read it. But why should adults and older kids have all the fun? Now, with this Lit for Little Hands board book, even the youngest readers can enjoy all the intrigue of A Christmas Carol.

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Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Brooke Jorden, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Brooke Jorden’s nimble adaptation loses none of the snap of the original. Turn to the first page and there is Bob Cratchit toiling away under the gaze of a stern Ebenezer Scrooge who “was the meanest miser the world had ever known.” The counting house is as cold as Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas. On a pull-out tab kids even see him send away a little boy who’s come caroling. That night at home “a terrible clanking noise” interrupts Scrooge’s meager meal. What we know—but little ones might not—is what lurks on the other side of Scrooge’s door. With the pull of a tab, kids slide open the door to reveal the ghostly figure of Jacob Marley “surrounded by a heavy iron chain: punishment for all the cruel things Marley had done while he was alive.” He tells Scrooge he’s in for the same unless he changes his ways and tells him to expect three more ghosts.

Another turn of the page brings the Ghost of Christmas past. When kids pull the tab, the ghost and Scrooge fly from the window into the night sky and to the boarding school where Scrooge spent lonely Christmas’s alone. It makes Scrooge think of the boy who’d come caroling and sorry that he hadn’t given him a bit of money. As you may remember, the Ghost of Christmas Past also takes Scrooge to a party given by his former boss Mr. Fezziwig. Kids can spin a wheel and set old Scrooge dancing round and round with his younger self and his former colleagues and friends. “Scrooge remembered the joy he used to feel around Christmas, surrounded by friends and a kind employer.” He realizes that when money became the most important thing to him, he became sad and friendless.

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Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Brooke Jorden, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

When the clock strikes two, the Ghost of Christmas Present appears in the midst of an enormous feast, Nearby a fire quivers and crackles as kids spin the wheel. The ghost transports Scrooge to the window of Bob Cratchit’s house, where he sees the large family having dinner. With a toggle, readers can set Tiny Tim’s famous cheery toast in motion as Scrooge “marveled that the Cratchit family has so little and yet were so happy.”

Scrooge didn’t have long to wait until the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come visited. In a cemetery, Scrooge saw Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit crying at Tiny Tim’s gravestone. The sight broke his heart, but then the ghost pointed Scrooge to another stone. Who’s is it? Children pull a tab that reveals the engraved name: Ebenezzer Scrooge. When he woke up the next morning, “Scrooge knew he must change.” He went out into town spreading Christmas cheer and “became as good a man as the world had ever known.”

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Image copyright David Miles, 2019, text copyright Brooke Jorden, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Quotations from Dickens’ original novel are sprinkled throughout the text, giving it the Old-World atmosphere that contributes so much to the effect of the story. With each visit of a ghost, Brooke Jorden includes a lesson that Scrooge learns or a memory he has of a recent time when he could have been generous or happy and chose not to, allowing young readers to understand how the ghosts affect Scrooge and how he changes in that night. Jorden chooses evocative language that kids will enjoy hearing and learning. Jorden’s board book version of A Christmas Carol demonstrates anew the genius of Charles Dickens in this story that touches all ages and is ever timely.

Using fresh tones of red and green, David Miles brings 1800’s England to life for kids. Bob Cratchit scratches away in his ledger with a quill pen and only a candle for light as thick snow falls outside the window. At home, Scrooge sits in a darkened room where the eerie, translucent ghost of Jacob Marley, wrapped in a chain, is sure to impress. Miles’ image of the feast surrounding the Ghost of Christmas Present contrasts sharply with the small turkey and plum pudding on the Cratchit’s table, a detail that will resonate with today’s children just as it did when the novel was first published. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is appropriately spooky, but not too frightening for young children. When Scrooge wakes up a changed man, the dark shades of Miles’ pages give way to bright pinks and cheery aqua, and the icy blizzard has ended.

Terrific fun and a fabulous way to share this classic with kids (adults will get a kick out of it too), Lit for Little Hands: A Christmas Carol would be a quick favorite on home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701518

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

Get Ready for Christmas Activity

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It’s Snowing! Matching Puzzle

 

If you’re wishing for a white Christmas, you’ll enjoy finding the pairs of identical snowflakes in this printable puzzle.

It’s Snowing! Matching Puzzle

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You can purchase Lit for Little Hands: A Christmas Carol at Familius

Picture Book Review

 

November 25 – National Play Day with Dad

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About the Holiday

Share our Style Foundation established National Play Day with Dad in 2019 to encourage fathers to spend time with their kids having fun, bonding, and building memories. Doing things with dad helps children develop a strong foundation, good self-esteem, and even a sense of daring. Fathers learn from their kids too – about school, their friends, and what they want for the world. Of course, the most important thing on today’s holiday is to have fun!

Make Me a Robot

By Mark Rogalski

 

Everyone loves robots, but dads LOVE robots, And dads and kids? They LOOOVE playing with robots together. That’s what makes today’s holiday and today’s book such an amazing matchup! In Make Me a Robot kids and adults can read rhyming verses about the robot and it’s features while unfolding flaps that, by the end of the book, have created a robot that’s fully equipped and ready for anything.

Four pages in, the robot asks readers to “make me a robot / with wings that soar high. / Do you know what I think? / I was born to fly!” Unfolding the flaps underneath the sweet face reveals two wide wings, images of two joy sticks, radar readouts, and a compass. But this robot wants to do more than just fly—it has dreams of stellar exploration. It’s up to you to provide it with rocket boosters on the next page and full fuel tanks on the next!

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Copyright Mark Rogalski, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

And what’s a day with Dad if you don’t have gadgets? Bor-ring! Robot feels the same way. That’s why it has plenty. With a few more flaps, children have an entire robot who’s excited to play with them. To thank readers, it has a little gift. It says, “You have made me a robot! / There’s so much I can do. / And for helping me out, / here’s a smile for you!” And, indeed, with one more flap the robot grins through its face shield, ready to have a blast.

Mark Rogalski’s cleverly designed board book allows little ones to transform their mild-mannered book into an awesome robot to call their own. Each sturdy page contains two flaps that fold out on either side of the book to create arms, feet, wings, and reveal all the gadgets a good robot needs. When completely open, the robot measures 18 inches wide and nearly 12 inches high. The detailed images of knobs, dials, levers and navigation tools will captivate kids, and they and adults will have fun pointing out its features and talking about all the things this robot could do. If after story time little ones aren’t ready to put their new friend away, that’s okay—this adorable, smiling robot can sit up on its own and keep them company.

An interactive book that makes kids’ eyes light up, Make Me a Robot will become a favorite for hands-on storytimes. The book will also spark their imagination for drawings and creations of their own. The book would make a wonderful gift and addition to home, school, and library collections. Kids will also love Mark Rogalski’s Make Me a Monster.

Ages 3 – 5

Chronicle Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1797205250

Discover more about Mark Rogalski and view a portfolio of his work on his website.

Play with Dad Day Activity

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I Love Dad Building Blocks

 

This craft will stack up to be a favorite with kids! With wooden blocks and a little chalkboard paint, it’s easy for kids to make these unique building blocks that show dad just how they feel about him. They’re also great for gifts, decorating, party favors, or when you just have a little time to play!

Supplies

  • Wooden blocks in various sizes, available from craft stores
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Paint brush
  • Chalk in various colors

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden blocks with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. Write words or draw pictures on the blocks
  3. Have fun!

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You can find Make Me a Robot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

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

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About the Holiday

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

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

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

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

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

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

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

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

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

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

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

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

November 3 – It’s Family Literacy Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s observance was established in 1994 to promote family and community involvement in teaching and supporting children to read more. Literacy really does begin at home during those cuddly moments when you and your child share a book. Reading with kids from birth helps them develop the skills to become proficient readers and instills a life-long love for books of all kinds. Even before babies can talk, they’re listening and learning, and as they grow children continue to love spending special times with parents and grandparents hearing stories and discovering the world through books. Interactive board books like the three I’m reviewing today are a great place to start!

Sharing

By Yusuke Yonezu

 

Pairs of adorable animals engage little readers in helping them with a big problem. They only have one piece of food but they’re both so hungry! How can the two kittens eat one fish? Turn the page and a cleverly placed die cut allows the one fish to be shared between the kittens. “Now we each get some,” they say with wide smiles. Two bunnies… one carrot? What to do? Kids will love turning the page so that each bunny can take half.

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Copyright Yusuke Yonezu, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Instead of squabbling over one banana or one apple, the monkeys and the piglets are happy to discover that they can “split it instead.” After all, “half is better than none.” But what if two siblings both “want Mommy?” No worries! Just flip that page! “Now we can all share a hug!”

Yusuke Yonezu’s sweet interactive board book presents a gentle message about sharing that little ones will have fun participating in. Ingeniously designed two-page spreads create a rich learning experience. Yonezu’s storytelling provides a different vocabulary to express the idea of sharing on each page spread. Being introduced to these words here invites kids to listen and understand when adults use them.

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Copyright Yusuke Yonezu, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Visually, Sharing is fun and exciting for young readers. On the left, the text appears on a vivid solid background which matches the color of the food item on the facing page. When children turn the page, each animal now has their own page and half of the food item, thanks to a specifically shaped die cut. Yonezu’s animals are adorable, and their simply drawn faces clearly express the emotions of sadness, puzzlement, and happiness, which allows adults to talk about these feelings with children. The final example addresses another common family conundrum and shows that there is always enough love to go around.

A delightful way to introduce the joy of sharing with family and friends, Sharing would make a go-to book for teaching this important skill to preschoolers in home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 2 – 4

minedition, 2020 | ISBN 978-1662650000

You can find Sharing at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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A Very HUNGRY Wolf

By Agnese Baruzzi

 

Looking for a way to get your little one (and maybe even older kids) to eat their fruit and vegetables? Open up Agnese Baruzzi’s story wide and watch the laughs tumble out of readers as they also begin to think that maybe those carrots, peas, bananas, plums, and—yes—even broccoli aren’t so bad. How does Baruzzi accomplish this feat? With a long-snouted, insatiably hungry wolf that eats every animal that comes near with a “CHOMP, CHOMP, down it went!”

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Copyright Agnese Baruzzi, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

When that innocent red bird hops the wolf’s way, with the lift of a flap the wolf opens his jaws, bares his sharp, white teeth and… “CHOMP, CHOMP, down it went!” Squirrel? Yep! Swallowed right down. A couple more unsuspecting meals come by, “but it wasn’t enough. The wolf still felt hungry.” Then the wolf meets a morsel that turns out not to be so tasty. The wolf turns queasy, but kids know what he should do. “Oh wolf, spit them out!” With nothing now in his belly, the wolf needs something… anything… to satisfy him. “What do you think he should eat?” Those fruits and vegetables are looking mighty delicious….

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Copyright Agnese Baruzzi, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Agnese Baruzzi will make kids laugh all the way to the healthy food with her witty repetition that will have them reading along with verve and plenty of dramatic Chomp, Chomping. Vibrant colors, smiling animals, and a determined, beady-eyed wolf add up to full engagement. And when the wolf realizes he’s made a mistake, kids will giggle at his distressed expression and answer the call for help coming from the wolf’s tummy.

Definitely a book to add to your shelf at home, school, or public library, A Very HUNGRY Wolf will be an often-asked for favorite.

Ages 2 – 4

Minedition, 2020 | ISBN 978-9888342051

You can find A Very Hungry Wolf at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Masquerade Party

By Giuliano Ferri

 

The fun starts on the front cover when little readers are met by Little Red Ridinghood… or is it? When they lift the flap, They discover “Oh no, it’s the wicked wolf!” Well… this wolf looks too cute to be bad. Let’s see who else is inside. Yo ho ho! There’s a pirate brandishing a sword.  “Who is this plucky pirate? / It’s a playful pig.” Watch out for the “cuddly cowboy” who’s about to lasso you with this rope. Wait! It’s just “a brilliant bunny playing dress up.

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Copyright Giuliano Ferri, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Have a wish? You need a “sly sorcerer.” Check under the turban to see who will grant your wish. Little ones will also discover who is dressed up as a handsome hero, wondrous wizard, and noble knight. Which brings us round again to a wily wolf…with a basket and red collar? Who is that really?

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Copyright Giuliano Ferri, 2020, courtesy of minedition.

Giuliano Ferri infuses his lift-the-flap board book with playfulness and strong literacy-building vocabulary and alliteration that will enchant young readers and make them proud to know fun-to-say words like “plucky,” “sly,” and “wondrous.” Ferri’s soft, smudgy illustrations are cuddliness at its best. While each animal’s face is partially hidden by a fancy, well-embellished hat and mask, clues to their real identity are found in their paws or feet, noses, and face shape, and little ones will love guessing who’s playing firefighter, cowboy, and all the rest. The circular storytelling that brings kids back to Little Red Riding Hood will delight kids.

A fun book to share with kids, especially babies, Masquerade Party would make a great take-along book for outings or anywhere waiting is expected.

Ages 2 – 4

Minedition, 2020 | ISBN 978-9888342068

You can find Masquerade Party at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

October 20 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Love Can Come in Many Ways

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About the Holiday

Today I’m celebrating the book birthday of a tender board book that when shared between an adult and a child can help build strong loving bonds that can lead little ones to become happy and self-confident children. These are qualities that are also honored today during National Youth Confidence Day, which encourages us to connect with and inspire today’s youth to succeed tomorrow. National Youth Confidence Day celebrates the energy, spirit, and potential of young people. The day is an acknowledgment of all they will accomplish, and kids can accomplish anything when they know they’re loved.

Thanks go to Chronicle Books for sending me a copy of Love Can Come in Many Ways for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Chronicle in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Love Can Come in Many Ways

Written by Terry Pierce | Illustrated by Suzy Ultman

 

How do you share your love for your little one; young grandchild, niece, nephew, or cousin; student; or other child of your heart? With a kiss, a hug, a smile? Or maybe you have a secret signal that only the two of you know. In this adorable board book, animal families of all kinds reveal that “nose to nose or gaze to gaze. / Love can come in many ways.”

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Image copyright Suzy Ultman, 2020, text copyright Terry Pierce, 2020. Courtesy of Chronicle.

Elephants snuggle their kids behind an ear or hug them with their trunk. Swans hold them close with their wings, and froggies feel love “through lively songs that Mama sings.”  Whether their held tight in paws or jaws, panda cubs know their loved. Some babies ride on Mama’s back or within her furry coat. While penguin chicks are warmed with love “atop a papa’s sturdy feet.”

Each animal—and person—has a special way to say that “you are loved.” But no matter if it’s a “helpful hand” or “a gentle squeeze. / Love is kindness, comfort, peace.”

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Image copyright Suzy Ultman, 2020, text copyright Terry Pierce, 2020. Courtesy of Chronicle.

Terry Pierce’s lilting verses, as gentle as a lullaby, will warm a little one’s heart as they cuddle up with an adult to hear—and see—how various animals embrace their own babies. Pierce wraps readers in cozy, comforting words and a soothing rhythm that are perfect for naptime, bedtime, or when a little extra snuggle is needed. Little ones will be surprised, delighted, and full of giggles as they learn about the ingenuity of nature.

With stylish flair and softly rounded shapes, Suzy Ultman creates original and eye-catching pages that will charm little readers and adults. Whimsical touches, such as jaunty hats, round eyeglasses, and potted plants, go hand-in-paw with Ultman’s lovely color palette to make pages that are as adorable as they are enchanting. And no little fingers will be able to resist lifting the vibrant felt flaps to take a peek at the sweet baby animals snuggling with their mom or dad.

Endearing to the max, Love Can Come in Many Ways is a board book will be a treasured gift for baby showers and new babies, and is a must for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages Birth – 3

Chronicle Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1452172606

Discover more about Terry Pierce and her books on her website.

To learn more about Suzy Ultman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Love Comes in Many Ways Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Chronicle Books in a giveaway for two lucky winners. Each winner will win

  • One (1) copy of Love Can Come in Many Ways, written by Terry Pierce | illustrated by Suzy Ultman

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your child’s favorite animal for extra entry. Each reply earns you one extra entry

This giveaway is open from October 20 to October 26 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on October 27. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Chronicle Books

Love Can Come in Many Ways Book Birthday Activity

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Elephant Handprint Painting

 

This easy craft is fun for adults and kids to do together and can make a nice decoration for a child’s room and reminder of a parent’s, grandparent’s, or caregiver’s love.

Supplies

  • Craft paint in two colors of the children’s choice
  • Yellow craft paint
  • Black fin-tip marker
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils to make a background
  • Paper
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint one child’s hand and press it on the paper. The thumb is the truck and the fingers the legs.
  2. Paint the second child’s hand and press it on the paper near the other “elephant.” A couple of examples are: the elephants standing trunk to trunk or trunk to tail 
  3. After the paint has dried, draw on ears and an eye
  4. Add a sun with the yellow paint
  5. Add grass, trees, or other background features

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You can find Love Can Come in Many Ways at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review