November 12 – It’s Dear Santa Letter Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-cover

About the Holiday

For kids who celebrate Christmas, writing a letter to Santa Claus is an exciting and hopeful activity. Their lists of things they’d like for themselves and often for family and friends too can include the practical, the impossible, and the poignant. The holiday featured today reminds children that to make sure their letter reaches Santa at the North Pole in time, it’s best to send it this week. Parents who would like for their child to receive a “personalized” letter back from Santa, can visit the USPS website to learn about the program and Santa’s helpers in Anchorage, Alaska.

The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

Written by Maureen Fergus | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

One snowy night close to Christmas, Mrs. Claus was doing the mending while Santa was moping. Even though Mrs. Claus asked Santa what was wrong, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. Finally, he ventured, “‘Well, you know Harold?’” Mrs. Claus smiled and launched into a detailed description of the little boy, but Santa stopped her mid-sentence and choked out, “‘You don’t need to keep pretending on my account because…because…I don’t believe in Harold anymore.’” Mrs. Claus couldn’t believe her ears.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-Santa

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Santa explained that while he still liked “the idea of Harold”—after all he’d always been part of his Christmas—some things just didn’t make sense any more. For instance, Santa thought Harold’s mom wrote his letters, that his dad set out the snack, and that the Harold who’d sat on his lap last year didn’t look like the Harold from past years. For Santa, it all added up to a trick by Harold’s parents. Mrs. Claus thought her husband should accept Harold “as one of the best, most magical parts of Christmas.” But Santa just couldn’t do it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-elf

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Soon, the elves had heard that Santa didn’t believe in children. Not all children, Santa countered and then added that his friends didn’t believe in Harold either. The elves weren’t convinced. Santa decided to take his case to the reindeer. After he’d laid out the evidence, the reindeer told Santa he needed proof. “‘And we think we know just how you can get it,’” Donner said.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-reindeer

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

While all this was going on in the North Pole, down south Harold was “telling his parents and his friends and his turtle that he didn’t think Santa was real.” What Harold needed was proof, and he knew just how to get it. That night—Christmas Eve—Harold did all the usual things. But when his parents went to bed, he hid behind the armchair and, with a good view of the fireplace, settled in to wait. Soon, Santa landed on his very last roof—Harold’s house. Santa had a plan. He hid behind the sofa ready to see if Harold really did run downstairs in the morning.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-harold

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Before Santa knew it, it was Christmas morning and Harold’s parents were standing by the tree. “‘Too bad we don’t know any little boys who’d like to open some presents from Santa,’” Harold’s mom said to tempt her son out from his spot behind the chair. Santa thought he had his proof. Then, just as Santa realized he’d never put out the presents, Harold stood up and said he didn’t care about the presents; he only wanted to know if Santa was real.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-christmas-eve

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hearing Harold’s voice, Santa jumped up and shouted “‘You’re real!’” Seeing Santa, Harold shouted “‘You’re real!’” They ran toward each other and hugged. Then they played with the toys Santa had brought until the reindeer reminded Santa it was time to go home. Santa and Harold said their happy goodbyes until next year, and in a moment, Santa was up the chimney and out of sight.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-you're-real

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maureen Fergus’s clever flip on believing in Santa proves that the magic of Christmas doesn’t lie in the presents we get but in that feeling of wonder that lives in hearts young and old. When Santa makes his confession to Mrs. Claus and justifies it to the elves and reindeer, there will be giggles all around as adults and older children appreciate the wry twist and younger “still believers” react to such ridiculous notions. Making inspired and humorous use of the waiting-up-to-see-Santa trope, Fergus creates suspense while setting up the climactic scene and the ingeniously worded line that one moment gives Santa his “proof” and the next dispels both Santa’s and Harold’s doubts. A relatable Santa, an elf with a twinkle of good-natured attitude,” skeptical reindeer, and a lovable child make this holiday reading at its best.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-toys

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2016, text copyright Maureen Fergus, 2016. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cale Atkinson’s Santa, as rotund as a Christmas Tree ornament is sympathetic and funny as he gnaws anxiously on a finger before blurting out his worries to Mrs. Claus, argues his points with waving arms, and sulks like a petulant child. These early views make Santa’s glee at the end all the more emotional. While Santa stews, a dubious Harold is shown reading “Santa Enquirer,” and his wall sports the results of his investigation. Retro touches, humorous details, and plenty of red and green add to the holiday fun, while the jolly ending fulfills all dreams.

A fresh Christmas classic kids will ask for over and over, The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold is a must for adding to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498242

Discover more about Maureen Fergus and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Dear Santa Letter Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-santa-letter-page

Santa Letter Template

It’s time to write a letter to Santa! Have fun coloring this printable template then use it for your letter or your Christmas wish list!

Santa Letter Template

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-day-santa-stopped-believing-in-harold-cover

You can find The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 10 – It’s National Home Ownership Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-cover

About the Holiday

Owning a home is a major goal for many people, and while home ownership provides security for individuals and families, it’s also good for cities and towns, offering stability, economic benefits, and community cohesion. To that end, today’s holiday was established in 2002 to help people negotiate the sometimes confusing elements of finding and purchasing a home. A home is so much more than just a building, and each person has their own idea about what makes a home perfect. Sometimes you can’t really put your finger on it—it’s just a feeling. And if—as in today’s book—you’re lucky enough to share your home with an unseen guest, that makes it all the better!

Sir Simon: Super Scarer

By Cale Atkinson

 

Be careful as you open the book because if you’ve never seen a ghost, you’re about to—“Boo!” It’s ok if you were scared, the ghost says as he displays his business card, which reads “Sir Simon / Super Scarer / Ghostest with the mostest.” This professional scarer has “haunted and scared all sorts of things” from a whole forest and an unimpressed bear to a boat and a bus stop to a pizza, a ukulele, and a potato.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-house

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Finally, though, Sir Simon is “being transferred to a house.” While Simon is happy about having a haunted house all to himself, he’s not so thrilled about all the Ghost chores a house requires. What kinds of chores? Well, all of those eerie sounds and creepy circumstances don’t happen by themselves. They’re all Simon “stomping in the attic” with an old shoe on each hand, “flushing the toilet” in the middle of the night, “hiding and moving stuff around,” and “standing creepy in the window wearing old-timey clothes.” And it’s only after these chores and more that Simon can do what he really likes to do.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-boat

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

It seems in his afterlife Simon likes to dabble in the arts, learn French, and even write a thriller. Once Simon is ensconced in his new digs, he hears that grandparents are going to be moving in. He’s happy with this news because on “the pyramid of haunting,” old people are at the top since they sleep a lot, require fewer chores, and are oblivious to ghostly presences. But just as Simon is welcoming his new family home, he discovers that it includes a kid. A kid who sees him right away. A kid who has a lot of questions and a lot of comments. A kid who wants to be a Ghost too.

Simon is more than a bit miffed at this turn of events. It means more chores and less free time. Unless… Simon suddenly thinks Chester “would make a top-notch Ghost.” He takes Chester up to the attic, where he just can’t help looking through all of Simon’s stuff—much to Simon’s consternation. Simon gets Chester all suited up in the appropriate Ghost garb, gives him a list of “activities,” and sends him on his way. First up is making scary animal noises.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-french

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Simon happily types away on his novel, he hears Chester’s “Moo. Mooooooo. MOOOOOOOOO!” Incensed, Simon finds Chester at the heating vent and lets him know that “spooky and cow do not go together.” In fact, Chester does not seem to have a scary gene in his body. After trying and failing at every chore on the list, Chester is so exhausted he falls asleep with a thud.

Simon puts Chester to bed and then looks around his room. He sees that he and Chester actually have a lot in common—from the ukulele to drawing and writing to moving a lot. But does Simon feel bad for tricking Chester into doing his chores? No! Well… yes. The next morning Simon comes to offer his help with Chester’s chores, but they’re not as easy as they look. Simon has to admit that while “Chester isn’t the best at being a Ghost,” he’s “not so hot at being a human.” But there is something that they are both good at and that’s being friends.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-chores

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cale Atkinson’s unique take on the ghostly life—or afterlife—is laugh-out-loud funny as Sir Simon Spookington goes about his spectral chores with pride tinged with exasperation at the time they take away from his preferred creative pursuits. When he discovers that a kid has moved into his house—and, what’s more, wants to be a ghost too—Atkinson’s apparition with attitude turns prickly with the disruption Chester causes and perfectionist when Chester’s haunting doesn’t live up to his standards. Simon’s strict chore schedule, his haunting pyramid, and his wisecracking responses to Chester are droll and hilarious, and Chester’s attempts at ghosting are silliness at their best.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-playing-together

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Readers will fall in love with Simon from the moment they open the cover to find twenty-four snapshots of the little ghost doing his chores. Atkinson’s free-wheeling creativity makes each page a showstopper as this haunted house is packed full of clever details and allusions to favorite scary and adventure movies and books in every nook and cranny. Atkinson also uses juxtaposition to great effect in images of  Simon floating through his chores with a frown and furrowed brow followed by those of a happy and relaxed Simon as he paints, writes, and does cross-stitch as well as in two cutaways of the house—one at night while Chester does Simon’s chores and one during the day as Simon attempts to do Chester’s. The final spread of Simon and Chester hanging out as friends is endearing and heartwarming.

Sir Simon: Super Scarer is a must for fans of ghost stories, funny stories, and friendship stories and will be enjoyed by adults as much as by kids. This book will be asked for again and again, making it a spooktacular addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8 

Tundra, 2018 | ISBN 978-1101919095

To learn more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Home Ownership Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pop-up-houses-coloring-page

Pop Up Houses Play Set

 

You can own your own home with this printable Pop Up Play Set thanks to Education.com. It has a house for you and one for a friend! Give your houses some color, plant the trees and move in! Print on heavy paper to make the figures sturdier.

Pop Up Houses Play Set

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-cover

You can find Sir Simon Super Scarer at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

October 19 – It’s National Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-cover

About the Holiday

Holidays are always better with books! Books about holidays can make the time seem more festive, can teach you about other traditions, and can prolong the excitement for those one-day events. This month kids and adults celebrate Halloween, which combines the spooky and sweet into one fantastic extravaganza. Decorations, costumes, parties, special treats, and, of course, Halloween-themed books charge the cool, crisp weather with chills and little hearts with thrills.

Sir Simon: Super Scarer

By Cale Atkinson

 

Be careful as you open the book because if you’ve never seen a ghost, you’re about to—“Boo!” It’s ok if you were scared, the ghost says as he displays his business card, which reads “Sir Simon / Super Scarer / Ghostest with the mostest.” This professional scarer has “haunted and scared all sorts of things” from a whole forest and an unimpressed bear to a boat and a bus stop to a pizza, a ukulele, and a potato.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-house

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Finally, though, Sir Simon is “being transferred to a house.” While Simon is happy about having a haunted house all to himself, he’s not so thrilled about all the Ghost chores a house requires. What kinds of chores? Well, all of those eerie sounds and creepy circumstances don’t happen by themselves. They’re all Simon “stomping in the attic” with an old shoe on each hand, “flushing the toilet” in the middle of the night, “hiding and moving stuff around,” and “standing creepy in the window wearing old-timey clothes.” And it’s only after these chores and more that Simon can do what he really likes to do.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-boat

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

It seems in his afterlife Simon likes to dabble in the arts, learn French, and even write a thriller. Once Simon is ensconced in his new digs, he hears that grandparents are going to be moving in. He’s happy with this news because on “the pyramid of haunting,” old people are at the top since they sleep a lot, require fewer chores, and are oblivious to ghostly presences. But just as Simon is welcoming his new family home, he discovers that it includes a kid. A kid who sees him right away. A kid who has a lot of questions and a lot of comments. A kid who wants to be a Ghost too.

Simon is more than a bit miffed at this turn of events. It means more chores and less free time. Unless… Simon suddenly thinks Chester “would make a top-notch Ghost.” He takes Chester up to the attic, where he just can’t help looking through all of Simon’s stuff—much to Simon’s consternation. Simon gets Chester all suited up in the appropriate Ghost garb, gives him a list of “activities,” and sends him on his way. First up is making scary animal noises.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-french

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Simon happily types away on his novel, he hears Chester’s “Moo. Mooooooo. MOOOOOOOOO!” Incensed, Simon finds Chester at the heating vent and lets him know that “spooky and cow do not go together.” In fact, Chester does not seem to have a scary gene in his body. After trying and failing at every chore on the list, Chester is so exhausted he falls asleep with a thud.

Simon puts Chester to bed and then looks around his room. He sees that he and Chester actually have a lot in common—from the ukulele to drawing and writing to moving a lot. But does Simon feel bad for tricking Chester into doing his chores? No! Well… yes. The next morning Simon comes to offer his help with Chester’s chores, but they’re not as easy as they look. Simon has to admit that while “Chester isn’t the best at being a Ghost,” he’s “not so hot at being a human.” But there is something that they are both good at and that’s being friends.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-chores

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cale Atkinson’s unique take on the ghostly life—or afterlife—is laugh-out-loud funny as Sir Simon Spookington goes about his spectral chores with pride tinged with exasperation at the time they take away from his preferred creative pursuits. When he discovers that a kid has moved into his house—and, what’s more, wants to be a ghost too—Atkinson’s apparition with attitude turns prickly with the disruption Chester causes and perfectionist when Chester’s haunting doesn’t live up to his standards. Simon’s strict chore schedule, his haunting pyramid, and his wisecracking responses to Chester are droll and hilarious, and Chester’s attempts at ghosting are silliness at their best.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-playing-together

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Readers will fall in love with Simon from the moment they open the cover to find twenty-four snapshots of the little ghost doing his chores. Atkinson’s free-wheeling creativity makes each page a showstopper as this haunted house is packed full of clever details and allusions to favorite scary and adventure movies and books in every nook and cranny. Atkinson also uses juxtaposition to great effect in images of  Simon floating through his chores with a frown and furrowed brow followed by those of a happy and relaxed Simon as he paints, writes, and does cross-stitch as well as in two cutaways of the house—one at night while Chester does Simon’s chores and one during the day as Simon attempts to do Chester’s. The final spread of Simon and Chester hanging out as friends is endearing and heartwarming.

Sir Simon: Super Scarer is a must for fans of ghost stories, funny stories, and friendship stories and will be enjoyed by adults as much as by kids. This book will be asked for again and again, making it a spooktacular addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8 

Tundra, 2018 | ISBN 978-1101919095

National Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-haunted-graveyard-craft-3

Spooky Haunted Graveyard

 

With a few items found in a backyard or park and a few from home, kids can make a spooky haunted graveyard to decorate their room or add to the family’s Halloween décor.

Supplies

  • Ten to twelve small to medium stones that have a triangular or rounded shape and can stand on their own (or close enough to be glued down)
  • Shallow cardboard box or plastic container
  • Small sticks or branches for the tree
  • A small amount of dirt, small dry leaves, moss, etc.
  • Poly fill for the fog (optional)
  • White craft paint
  • Small bit of clay
  • Paint brush
  • Black marker
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-haunted-graveyard-craft

Directions

To Make the Ghosts

  1. Paint 5 or 6 stones with the white paint, let dry
  2. Add eyes and mouth with the black marker

To Make the Tombstones

  1. Add RIP, names, and dates to 5 or 6 stones with the black marker

To Make the Tree

  1. Use one or two small branches or twigs to make the tree
  2. Stick them into the clay for stability

To Make the Graveyard

  1. Draw a fence inside and outside on the rim of the box (optional)
  2. Scatter the tombstones around the box and glue in place
  3. Scatter the ghosts near the tombstones and around the graveyard, and glue them in place
  4. Stick the small branches or twigs in the clay

To Make the Ground

  1. Scatter dirt, leaves, moss, around the tombstones and ghosts
  2. Add wispy bits of poly fill around the ghosts and tombstones and in the tree (optional)

Display the haunted graveyard!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sir-simon-super-scarer-cover

You can find Sir Simon Super Scarer at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 21 – It’s Self-Awareness Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Cale Atkinson

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-official-cover

About the Holiday

Self-Awareness Month was established to encourage people to get to know themselves, not as others see them but as they really are. Only when a person really knows who they are, where they’ve come from, and what they want can they achieve happiness. While it can be hard not to compare oneself to others, each person’s value comes from their own spirit, talents, and thoughts. Once people accept themselves, they can find their place in the world and accomplish wonderful things. To celebrate this month’s holiday, take some time to reflect on your life and see if you are being true to yourself.

Where Oliver Fits

By Cale Atkinson

 

Opening the book, you might feel as if you’ve upended a jigsaw puzzle box. But as you look at all the pieces spilled across the page, you’ll realize that each one is so different—and they have legs and faces! So you look at the words: “Do you ever wonder where you fit?”, and you think, “yeah, I do.” Well, “Oliver wondered too.” Who’s Oliver? He’s the little roundish piece down in the corner. Yep, that’s him—the cute one (sure, they’re all cute in their own way, but you know what I mean).

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-world-of-pieces

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Oliver was just getting started on this journey called life, and he “couldn’t wait to see where he fit. He wanted to be part of something exciting…Something wild…Something out of this world!.” Maybe he’d sail the seas as part of a pirate kraken, rock out as the central piece of a guitar-shredding monster, or zoom to the moon as the heart of an astronaut unicorn.

Oliver was excited to start looking around for his perfect place. He met a group of blue and red guys who had a roundish space waiting to be filled, but when he asked about joining, it seemed his colors weren’t a good match. On his second attempt at friendship, Oliver was told he wasn’t square enough. (Didn’t that used to be a good thing?) The third group Oliver approached had a bumpy, angled space to fill. They just laughed when they saw him coming.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-pirate

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Oliver was getting frustrated and feeling down. He decided that he had to change. “Maybe I have to be more like them and less like me,” he thought. Remembering the first group—the one that wanted “more red,” Oliver took a red marker and colored himself in. At first, when they saw him, the group accepted him happily. When the marker began to run, though, he was booted out. Maybe changing his color didn’t work, but what if he altered his shape?

He covered himself with connecting blocks and went in search of the square guys, but when he found them, they told him he was now “too square!” Oliver tried disguise after disguise. Some made him “too tall”; some made him “too short,” and others were just wrong, wrong, wrong. Poor Oliver was at his wit’s end. “If someone else is what they want, someone else is what they’ll get!” he determined.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-too-much-blue

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

He took some cardboard, glue, tape, and paint and fashioned himself the perfect bumpy, angled suit. Then he went back to the third group he’d met. Ohhh! They greeted him as an old friend. They loved his shape and his color and invited him to join them. At last Oliver had found a place to fit. In fact, “he fit so well that no one had a clue it was really him.” Oliver was happy—or was he? As he watched other pieces come and go, rejected for not being just right, Oliver began to wonder, “am I really still me?”

The fun of fitting in began to wear off, so he removed his disguise and left the group. While it was good to be himself again, he was back to square one with nowhere to go. Oliver felt dejected. All of his plans to be part of something wild and wonderful were falling apart. He was alone. Suddenly, Oliver saw two other pieces who had also changed to fit in. When they came near and took off their disguises, Oliver saw that he could join them in a—truly—perfect fit. Through his experiences, Oliver “discovered that you can’t rush or force your fit. All you can do is be yourself.” Then the exciting, wild, and out-of-this-world part will take care of itself, because the world isn’t complete without you—or Oliver.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-too-square

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Kids will fall in love with little Oliver the moment they see him. Excited, earnest, and sweet, Oliver is navigating his way through the world, looking for the place he fits best—just the same as they are. Cale Atkinson understands the way children—and adults—try out various groups and even personas while forming friendships and even a sense of self. His conversational style will resonate with readers, many of whom have asked or will ask themselves the same questions as Oliver.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-monster-unicorn

Copyright Cale Atkinson, 2017, courtesy of Cale Atkinson and Tundra Books.

Atkinson’s use of a puzzle piece as his main character is smart, sophisticated, and fun too. Young readers will giggle at some of Oliver’s disguises even while they recognize that each costume doesn’t “fit.” The image of Oliver encased in his bumpy, angled costume is particularly moving as he comes to the conclusion that hiding himself is not the answer. The final image of the completed puzzle is a delight that children will want to linger over. They’ll enjoy discovering little Oliver in the midst of the life he had imaginated as well as flipping back and forth through the pages to find how each group of pieces fits into the whole.

Where Oliver Fits is a fantastic book for classrooms and a child’s home library for fun story times and for those days when a little more encouragement is needed.

Ages 3 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1101919071

Discover more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art as well as some pretty amazing animation on his website!

Self-Awareness Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jigsaw-puzzle-craft

I Am… Jigsaw Puzzle

 

Everyone is made up of various talents, personality traits, and feelings that make them unique. With this I Am… Jigsaw Puzzle, you can celebrate the things that make you…you!

Supplies

  • Wooden jigsaw puzzle, available at craft stores
  • Child’s wallet-size photo
  • Paint in various colors
  • Markers
  • Magnetic squares or strips (optional)
  • Paint brush
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Paint the puzzle pieces in any colors or patterns you like, let dry
  2. Glue the picture of yourself to the center puzzle piece
  3. On the other pieces write words that describe you
  4. Attach magnetic squares or strips to the back of the pieces (optional for hanging on a refrigerator)
  5. Put the puzzle together or use the individual pieces as separate magnets to display all of your wonderful qualities!

Q & A with Cale Atkinson

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-cale-atkinson-with-monkey

Today I’m happy to talk with Cale Atkinson about Where Oliver Fits, a major benefit of being a children’s author and illustrator, and his own early self-awareness.

What inspired you to write Where Oliver Fits?

As I was walking home one afternoon I watched everyone around me busily rushing around. Some were going this way, others that way, some in a group, some alone. It made me think how we are all running around, trying to find our fit in life and our fit in the world, much like a bunch of puzzle pieces.

How did you get involved in illustrating and writing picture books?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-cale-atkinson-studio-1

Adorable characters inspire and keep Cale company while working.

Ever since I was young I was eager to tell my own stories, be it in the form of comics, cartoon strips, or picture books. I’ve been writing stories from an early age but only started to seriously attempt writing picture books years later, once I had been working as a professional artist and began to understand how to go about it.  I’m still amazed to see a book I’ve written sitting in a bookstore!   

You’ve said that you believe in tea more than sleep. As a fellow tea enthusiast, I’d love to know what your favorite tea is.

I’m actually a simple straight up Orange Pekoe guy! Give me a big box of that Tetley, and I’m happy. As my tea drinking friends dubbed it, I like my peasant tea!

In a letter you once wrote as a child, you show such self-confidence and self-awareness as an artist. Can you talk about that a little?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-cale-atkinson-studio-2

Cale Atkinson’s studio – where the magic happens

I honestly don’t really know where that came from! I truly wasn’t a confident kid in most aspects, but for some reason I was always 100% confident that I would become an artist/storyteller in some form or another. I’ve always loved creating as well as sharing my latest story, drawing or idea. I was a shy child, but felt with art I could let the drawings do the talking for me.

If you were a puzzle piece would you rather be an edge piece or one in the center? Why?

I think I would be a corner piece, so I could still be near other pieces to hang out with, but also have my own space when I need it. Rather than being all crammed up on all sides somewhere in the middle!  I would also be able to glimpse the world beyond the puzzle’s edges, and let everyone know what’s out there!

What’s the best thing about writing and illustrating for kids?

Not having to pretend to be an adult.

Do you have an anecdote from a book signing or school visit you’d like to share?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-cale-atkinson-spongebob-slide

Copyright Cale Atkinson, courtesy of Cale Atkinson

I always love sharing examples of the various things I’ve worked on in my school visits. When I showed a slide of SpongeBob SquarePants from a game I helped work on, the entire group of kids broke out into singing the SpongeBob theme song!

What’s up next for you?

I’m happy to report I have two written/illustrated books coming in 2018!

The first is titled Off & Away, published through Disney Hyperion.  It’s a story of courage, overcoming fears, and larger than life adventures.

The second is titled Sir Simon – Super Scarer, published through Tundra Books.  Simon the ghost introduces us to the world of haunting, what it means to be a ghost, and how much he dreads doing his ghost chores.

What is your favorite holiday?

Halloween, hands down! I love the fun of it! Costumes! Pumpkins! Candy! Old scary movies! What’s not to love?!

Do you have an anecdote from a holiday you’d like to share?

My dad was always into Halloween just as much as my brother and I.  Every year we would add more and more decorations out onto the front lawn. One year we added dry ice, making everything all foggy! Another year my dad made a giant, fully functioning Guillotine, which could cut a full pumpkin in half! Not the safest, but we thought it was amazing (and happy to report none of us lost our heads).

Thanks, Cale, for stopping by today! I’ve really enjoyed our fun, funny, and insightful chat. I wish you all the best with Where Oliver Fits and all of your other books!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where-oliver-fits-official-cover

You can find Where Oliver Fits at these Booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Mosaic Books (signed copies available for order)

You can connect with Cale Atkinson on his:

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Tumbler

Picture Book Review

May 28 – It’s National Pet Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-cover

About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a dog, cat, bird, or small animal from your local animal shelter. You’ll both benefit!

If I Had a Gryphon

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

Sam gazes at her first pet—a hamster—as he slumbers on his bed of shavings. She’s a little disappointed because mostly all he does is eat, sleep, and hide. She snuggles into her reading chair with a cup of tea and a book of mythical creatures and thinks: “If only I could have a pet / With strange, exotic powers, / I know that I’d find lots to do / To while away the hours.” She considers having a unicorn whose mane she could braid and who she could ride through fields of posies, then remembers that “Unicorns are pretty, / but they’re also very shy. / On second thought, I’d like to give a hippogriff a try.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-hippogriff

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam plans to take her hippogriff to the dog park to “run and jump and fetch” and “to give his wings a stretch.” Considering it again, though, she realizes that the dogs may find a hippogriff scary and that “when it comes to playing ball, / Well, things could get quite hairy.” Instead, she decides to get a sasquatch “with burly, curly fur,” but then she remembers all the time she’d spend brushing out the tangles. A gryphon with “flashing feathers” sounds better until she thinks how she’d have to fly it every day “regardless of the weather.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-gryphon

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

A kraken would be an unique pet, but to survive the cold, wet depths while playing with it she’d need a scuba suit. A warmer companion might be a dragon, although she thinks with its “temperamental snout / I’d need a fire extinguisher / to put her sneezes out.” A kirin could be a possibility, although it “needs a field of grass / At least an ocean wide” to keep it happy; and a jackalope, while cute, is much, much, much too hoppy.

A phoenix might be an enduring pet, but it “needs a chimney nest / That’s smoke and fire proof” while a “Manticore needs special floss / For EACH and EVERY tooth.” There are oh so many creatures to contemplate—from harpies and chupacabras to fairies and kelpies to basilisks and sprites—but each is problematic in its own way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-phoenix

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam takes another look at the adorable hamster in its cage and reconsiders: “He may not be a gryphon, / Or a creature from the sea, / But I am his and he is mine / And that’s enough for me.”

Vikki VanSickle’s entertaining rhymes frolic, gallop, and prance through her encyclopedic array of fantastic beasts. Her young readers will be delighted that the fun of an imaginary menagerie is not just for the older set and will eagerly await each newly considered pet. VanSickle includes all the favorite mystical creatures, plus fascinating new ones that will spark kids’ imaginations and have them scrambling to find out more about them. The juxtaposition of attractive and less so traits of each possible pet adds a nip of humor to the verses that will make kids giggle. Sam’s ultimate realization that her hamster is the perfect companion is a sweet ending that reaffirms readers’ own relationship with their pets.

Cale Atkinson’s Sam is already a dreamer when she acquires her hamster. Her mug of tea sports a picture of a narwhal, her bookmark is a paper-thin dragon, and the book of Mythological Creatures that she consults is already well-thumbed. As the little girl with the square-rimmed glasses contemplates each creature as pet, Atkinson presents an illustration that is both humorous and beautiful. The hippogriff with its bird legs in front and horse legs in back is a gorgeous hue of blue, but it’s expressive reaction to seeing the dogs at the park as well as its enthusiasm to play along also causes the dogs to hide behind a tree. The sasquatch is a cutie, but he also snarls Sam’s bike and bed, trees, road signs, and a dog in its thick brown hair. And a turquoise dragon may shimmer with lovely scales, but it also chars walls and furniture. Despite its apparent sloth, Sam’s hamster actually is the perfect pet—besides, he might have a secret identity of his own!

If I Had a Griffin is a fun romp through a mystical realm of pets that kids will love to hear again and again. The book would be a welcome addition to kids’ bookshelves, especially if they have older siblings enjoying that other series that features magical creatures!

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498099

To learn more about Vikki VanSickle and her books as well as to download an If I Had a Gryphon Activity Guide and coloring page, visit her website!

National Pet Month Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Treats

 

Pets love it when you do something special for them! Here’s a recipe for homemade dog biscuits that will taste even better than store-bought because they’re made with love! Making dog biscuits is a fun way to spend time together and benefit furry friends. These biscuits make tasty treats for your own pet, or consider making a batch to donate to your local animal shelter. This recipe is easy and proven to be a favorite.

Children should get help from an adult when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog bones or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, 1 Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits

November 18 – It’s National Pet Awareness Month and Q & A with Author Vikki VanSickle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-cover

About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a dog, cat, bird, or small animal from your local animal shelter. You’ll both benefit!

If I Had a Gryphon

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

Sam gazes at her first pet—a hamster—as he slumbers on his bed of shavings. She’s a little disappointed because mostly all he does is eat, sleep, and hide. She snuggles into her reading chair with a cup of tea and a book of mythical creatures and thinks: “If only I could have a pet / With strange, exotic powers, / I know that I’d find lots to do / To while away the hours.” She considers having a unicorn whose mane she could braid and who she could ride through fields of posies, then remembers that “Unicorns are pretty, / but they’re also very shy. / On second thought, I’d like to give a hippogriff a try.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-hippogriff

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam plans to take her hippogriff to the dog park to “run and jump and fetch” and “to give his wings a stretch.” Considering it again, though, she realizes that the dogs may find a hippogriff scary and that “when it comes to playing ball, / Well, things could get quite hairy.” Instead, she decides to get a sasquatch “with burly, curly fur,” but then she remembers all the time she’d spend brushing out the tangles. A gryphon with “flashing feathers” sounds better until she thinks how she’d have to fly it every day “regardless of the weather.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-gryphon

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

A kraken would be an unique pet, but to survive the cold, wet depths while playing with it she’d need a scuba suit. A warmer companion might be a dragon, although she thinks with its “temperamental snout / I’d need a fire extinguisher / to put her sneezes out.” A kirin could be a possibility, although it needs an ocean of grass to keep it happy; and a jackalope, while cute, is much, much, much too hoppy.

A phoenix might be an enduring pet, but it “needs a chimney nest / That’s smoke and fire proof” while a “Manticore needs special floss / For EACH and EVERY tooth.” There are oh so many creatures to contemplate—from harpies and chupacabras to fairies and kelpies to basilisks and sprites—but each is problematic in its own way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-phoenix

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam takes another look at the adorable hamster in its cage and reconsiders: “He may not be a gryphon, / Or a creature from the sea, / But I am his and he is mine / And that’s enough for me.”

Vikki VanSickle’s entertaining rhymes frolic, gallop, and prance through her encyclopedic array of fantastic beasts. Her young readers will be delighted that the fun of an imaginary menagerie is not just for the older set and will eagerly await each newly considered pet. VanSickle includes all the favorite mystical creatures, plus fascinating new ones that will spark kids’ imaginations and have them scrambling to find out more about them. The juxtaposition of attractive and less so traits of each possible pet adds a nip of humor to the verses that will make kids giggle. Sam’s ultimate realization that her hamster is the perfect companion is a sweet ending that reaffirms readers’ own relationship with their pets.

Cale Atkinson’s Sam is already a dreamer when she acquires her hamster. Her mug of tea sports a picture of a narwhal, her bookmark is a paper-thin dragon, and the book of Mythological Creatures that she consults is already well-thumbed. As the little girl with the square-rimmed glasses contemplates each creature as pet, Atkinson presents an illustration that is both humorous and beautiful. The hippogriff with its bird legs in front and horse legs in back is a gorgeous hue of blue, but it’s expressive reaction to seeing the dogs at the park as well as its enthusiasm to play along also causes the dogs to hide behind a tree; the sasquatch is a cutie, but he also snarls her bike, her bed, trees, and road signs in its thick brown hair; and a turquoise dragon may shimmer with lovely scales, but it also chars walls and furniture. Despite its apparent sloth, Sam’s hamster actually is the perfect pet—besides, he might have a secret of his own!

If I Had a Griffin is a fun romp through a mystical realm of pets that kids will love to hear again and again. The book would be a welcome addition to kids’ bookshelves, especially if they have older siblings enjoying that other series that features magical creatures!

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498099

To learn more about Vikki VanSickle and her books as well as to download an If I Had a Gryphon Activity Guide and coloring page, visit her website!

National Pet Awareness Month Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Treats

 

Pets love it when you do something special for them! Here’s a recipe for homemade dog biscuits that will taste even better than store-bought because they’re made with love! Making dog biscuits is a fun way to spend time together and benefit furry friends. These biscuits make tasty treats for your own pet, or consider making a batch to donate to your local animal shelter. This recipe is easy and proven to be a favorite.

Children should get help from an adult when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog biscuits or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, 1 Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits

Q & A with Author Vikki VanSickle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vikki-vansickle-head-shot

Today I’m pleased to talk with Vikki VanSickle about her books for kids and tweens, her influences, and the unique place she draws inspiration from.

What were your favorite picture books growing up?

My mind was absolutely blown by Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall. It was likely the first mystery I was exposed to and I have loved mysteries ever since. This is a perfect example of text and illustration working together. Nothing in the text explains the true identity of Viola Swamp (what a name!), but there are hints in the illustration. It takes a certain kind of genius to make readers side with the adult—a beleaguered teacher—instead of the children in the book

Teddy Rabbit by Kathy Stinson and Stephane Poulin really spoke to me because like the main character, I had a teddy rabbit instead of a teddy bear. It also spoke to my deep fear of the subway. Growing up in a small town I was equally fascinated and terrified by the big city. I found Toronto loud, overwhelming, and very fast-paced. The subway in particular was frightening, and the idea of dropping my beloved Bunny on the tracks was as high stakes as it gets. If little Vikki knew that she would grow up to take the subway every day (without fear or incident, in fact I look forward to the extra reading time) she would not believe it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vikki-vansickle-as-child

Lastly, Steven Kellogg’s Pinkerton books, Pinkerton, Behave and A Rose for Pinkerton were also favourites of mine. I have always loved pet stories, and the giant, clumsy Great Dane with a heart of gold totally captivated me. Especially when he meets his match in tiny but fierce Rose, a kitten after my own heart.

You’ve said that the idea for If I Had a Gryphon grew out of an observation at a bookshop story time. Can you tell me a little about that?

I used to watch my colleague Elaine create actual magic during story time. I was fascinated with which books resonated with the kids. It wasn’t always the ones that I expected. You don’t know how a book will land until you see it read aloud to children. Two things became clear: rhyme was always a hit (plus it was so fun to read) and pet stories were perennial favourites.

At the same time, I had a lot of little customers with older siblings who were obsessed with Harry Potter. They wanted to share in their older siblings’ love of the series, but when I went looking for good storybooks featuring similar creatures I came up short. There were lots of stories about dragons and unicorns, and some beautiful anthologies about mythological creatures, but no storybooks for the youngest readers. I’m a Harry Potter and mythology fan myself, and decided to write a sort of primer to magical pets.

Which of the mythical creatures that you mention in your book do you like best? Why?

This is a tricky one! Before I saw Cale’s illustrations I would have said a phoenix or gryphon, because I think they’re such majestic and fiercely beautiful creatures. But then the art came in and I found myself totally charmed by the enthusiasm of poor hippogriff, who just wants to play ball. I also love that cuddly-looking sasquatch, I think he’d make a great reading buddy.

You mention in your bio that you liked to go to flea markets when you were growing up. Do you have a favorite item that you found at one? Why is it special?

I am like a kid in a candy store at a flea market—I hardly know where to start and I could spend all day browsing through tables and shelves of random objects. It is such a rich source of story ideas that it’s almost overwhelming. Did that trunk come from overseas? Why? When? Who did it belong to? What does the inscription in this book mean? Who wore that wedding dress, and what happened at the party? How did that teddy bear rip its jacket? The possibilities are endless.

I didn’t bring the treasures home very often, it was enough to ponder the ideas they inspired. The one thing I did buy was Nancy Drew books. I completed my entire collection by searching garage sales, flea markets and antique stores.

You interact with your readers through school visits, library presentations, and at festivals. What do you like best about meeting your readers in person? Do you have a fun or interesting anecdote to share from any of your appearances?

Now that I no longer work in a bookstore, I don’t have as much kid-contact as I would like. Visiting schools and libraries gives me a chance to chat with kids, find out what’s important to them, what books they love, what makes them laugh, and just generally be reminded of what a privilege it is to write for this audience.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vikki-vansickle-reading-to-kids

In terms of presentations, the students keep me on my toes with insightful questions, comments, and by pushing me to be flexible when an activity doesn’t work or they are more interested in process rather than plot. It sounds obvious, but you need to be very present when you’re working with children. I appreciate the opportunity to be in the moment, connect with readers, and talk about stories.

Earlier this fall during the question period a little boy asked me if I knew how many species of dragon there were in the world. When I told him I did not, he replied “That was a trick question. Nobody knows.”

Besides If I Had a Gryphon you’ve written a series of three middle grade novels (Words That Start with B, Love is a Four-Letter Word, and Days That End in Y) and a coming of age novel (Summer Days, Starry Nights). Can you tell me a little about how you approach the different genres and what you enjoy most about each?

I find them to be entirely different experiences. Picture books to me are about structure, space, and beats. It’s very much like writing a play. As the playwright, you do not cast, direct, or design the costumes, set, or lighting for your show. Your task is to create the bones of a project that many other people will then flesh out. With a picture book, the illustrator takes on role of casting director, costume, set and lighting designer. I believe in the interplay between text and pictures, and as the writer I need to leave the space for an illustrator to do so in the narrative.

Novel writing is a messy, chaotic, immersive process, at least for me. It’s very instinctual. I write in first person, trying to understand the voice of the narrator and her motivations, and the plot is often secondary. I’ll jump all over the place, sometimes writing the same scene in many different ways, occasionally working backwards from what I think might be the end, or switching narrators. I get to a certain point (usually between 60-80 pages) when I stop writing to seriously consider what I have done. I read, take notes, reorder, cut, refine, and then I have the beginning of a structured draft.

What’s up next for you?

I’m in the final throes of a middle grade novel which I’ve been describing as “Stranger Things” for tweens and I have a picture book I’ve been muddling over for awhile now that’s starting to come together.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you a few questions about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday?

Definitely Halloween—costumes, black cats, AND candy? What’s not to love?

Do you have a funny or interesting holiday anecdote you’d like to share?

Here I am dressed as a Rockford Peach, my all-time favourite Halloween costume.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vikki-vansickle-halloween-costume

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Not yet, but I would love to write something with a Halloween theme eventually. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head but I haven’t settled on the perfect one yet.

Thanks so much for spending time with me, Vikki! I wish you the best with all of your books!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-cover

You can find If I Had a Gryphon at these booksellers:

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

You can connect with Vikki on:

Her Website | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review