March 26 – It’s National Reading Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hawk-of-the-castle-cover

About the Holiday

No matter whether you live in a city, a small town, or a farm, in a house or an apartment, you can travel anywhere through books. The magic of reading lies in its ability to transport readers through history, to far-away places and long-ago times, or perhaps to the future, where all it takes is one’s imagination to make it so. National Reading Month invites readers of all ages to experience the world in new and unfamiliar ways through amazing books like today’s that transports you to medieval times.

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

 

A young girl introduces herself and her father from their fire-warmed room in the castle. Outside the window, a majestic bird waits. The girl says, “This is our hawk: a sight to behold, / a master of flight, graceful and bold. / My father trains this bird of prey / who lives with us at the castle.” An inset on the page reveals facts about the birds of prey used in medieval times for hunting: hawks and falcons.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hawk-of-the-castle-room

Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Down in the courtyard the girl and her father prepare the hawk to fly as it sits on its favorite perch, which, as the inset explains, resembles a tree branch a hawk would normally search out in the wild. Falcons, on the other hand, prefer perches with flat surfaces like the cliffs they gather on. The girl’s father puts on a thick leather glove that protects him from the hawk’s “razor-sharp claws” as they take the bird outside the castle walls. Next, the girl gets out the hood the hawk “wears on his head, / with fancy top feathers of purple and red. / It hides his eyes so he’s not afraid / of soldiers who roam ’round the castle.” Readers learn more about this hood and its purpose in the illustrated inset.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hawk-of-the-castle-hawk

Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Out in a nearby field, the girl, her father, and the hunting hound they have also trained are ready to begin the day. But before the hawk’s flight begins, children learn an astonishing fact about the bells hawks wear on their legs. Then the girl’s father raises his arm, signaling to the hawk that it’s time to take flight. The hawk takes to the sky with a cry that echoes over the castle.

As the hound flushes grouse from under a bush, the hawk, “…folds his wings and dives headfirst / in pursuit of his prey for the castle.” In midair the hawk grasps the grouse with its talons and brings it to the ground. More information about how a hawk captures its prey is found in the inset. The girl and her father follow the sounds of the bells to where the hawk and its catch hide in the tall grass. Readers discover more about the bells and what a falconer does if the raptor does not catch its prey.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hawk-of-the-castle-bells

Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

As a reward, the girl feeds the hawk a treat. The inset explains what kinds of treats falconers often provide for their birds. And when they get back to the castle, a large shallow bowl of water is put out for the hawk to bathe in. When the sun goes down, the sleepy hawk settles on its perch in its own room, called a mews, designed to keep the bird safe. “Built with windows for natural light and ventilation, a mews is large enough for a hawk to move freely inside without damaging its wings.”

Backmatter includes an extensive Authors Note about Danna Smith’s personal experience with falconry, the history of falconry, fascinating information about social standing and different types of raptors, and modern falconry. A list of books and websites is also provided for further reading and research. An index makes finding specific facts and topics easy for young readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hawk-of-the-castle-soaring

Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Readers will be mesmerized by Danna Smith’s rich tale of a girl and her father and their important role in a medieval castle. The girl’s pride in her father and awe for the hawk they have trained and care for stands out on every page, creating a story steeped in history and emotional bonding. A wealth of knowledge about falconry and hunting flows fluidly through Smith’s enchanting poetry, and the graceful language of her insets, some of them illustrated, allow for smooth transitions while reading the story aloud.

Bagram Ibatoulline’s breathtakingly realistic acrylic gouache paintings of the castle and countryside will wow kids and draw them into the story to discover the processes, equipment, and purposes of falconry. No detail has been overlooked in these sumptuous pages that make readers feel they only need to reach out to feel the rough stone walls, the elegant fabrics, or the soft feathers of the stunning hawk. The castle environment is fully realized as soldiers in armor stand guard, a horse and rider exit through a stone arch, and plants even wait to be watered on a high ledge.

The centerpiece, of course, are the images of the girl and her father preparing the hawk for hunting and the hawk itself. Through various perspectives, Ibatoulline gives children an idea of the scale of the castle and the rolling countryside outside its walls. In their colorful clothing, father and daughter stand out as they kneel with the bird on its perch, summon it with an outstretched arm, add hood and bells, and release it into the sky. The facial expressions on the father and the girl depict love and trust, not only for each other but also for their hawk.

Enthralling for family reading or as an exciting addition to school or homeschool lessons on many levels, The Hawk of the Castle is a must for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Candlewick, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763679927

Discover more about Danna Smith and her books on her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Bagram Ibatoulline, visit his website.

About Danna Smith

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-danna-smith-with-owlDanna Smith is a poet and an award-winning author of seventeen books for children, including Arctic White, Swallow the Leader, Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, and several Little Golden Books. Her nonfiction picture book, The Hawk of the Castle: A story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Danna was exposed to all sorts of creatures through her father, who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals. It wasn’t uncommon to find bobcats, alligators, monkeys, hawks, or even vultures at her home. A love of animals and nature has spilled over into her love of writing.

Danna is currently living in northern California, where she is hard at work on her next book. For more information about her books, upcoming releases, and teaching activities, visit her book website and her poetry blog. You can also connect with Danna on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Learn about why Danna Smith wrote her beautiful story and how it came to be on The Story Behind the Story on Lynne Marie’s blog

Look for these forthcoming books from Danna Smith
One Blue Gnu (Amicus / Spring 2022)
Wake Up, Freight Train (Little Simon / Spring 2022)
Rooftop Garden (Barefoot Books / Summer 2022)
The Thank You Book (Little Simon / Summer 2022)

National Reading Month Activity

The Hawk of the Castle activity sheet questions

The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet

 

Can you identify this equipment used in falconry? Learn the answers and more about each item in the Answer Sheet

The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet | The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet Answers

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-red-shouldered-hawk-coloring-page

Hawk Coloring Pages

 

Enjoy these printable coloring pages while you learn about three kinds of hawks.

Broad-winged Hawk | Red-shouldered Hawk | Ridgeway’s Hawk

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-hawk-of-the-castle-cover

You can find The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 19 – Look for an Evergreen Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-a-pine-tree-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday gives people an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the variety of evergreen trees that grow locally and around the world. During the winter these giants stand out against snowy landscapes with their deep-green needles that retain their color all year around and always offer the hope of spring. For those who celebrate Christmas, the evergreen is a highlight of the celebration. Decorated with lights and sparkly ornaments, the tree is where family and friends gather to exchange gifts and share time together. Look for an Evergreen Day was created by the National Arborist Association to encourage people to enjoy the beauty of these special trees.

Pick a Pine Tree

Written by Patricia Toht | Illustrated by Jarvis

 

A family of four and their dog head out to “pick a pine tree / from the lot,” but what kind do they want—“slim and tall or short and squat?” After looking them all over, they choose a nice big one and tie it to the roof of their car for the trip home. At home they clear a place for the tree to stand, give it a drink, and then “find the trimmings / stored within / bulging boxes, rusty tins, / paper bags, a wooden case. / Bring them to that / special place, / there, beside your tree.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-a-pine-tree-trees

Image copyright Jarvis, 2017, text copyright Patricia Toht, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

But they don’t start decorating yet. They call their friends to come and help. With the house full of cheer, the kids string the lights, wrapping them around the branches. Next come the ornaments—“Jolly Santas, / Dancing elves. / Wooden reindeer. / Jingle bells. / Lacy snowflakes. / Paper dolls. / Candy canes and / bright glass balls.” With hooks and string the bright ornaments are hung on the tree.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-a-pine-tree-friends

Image copyright Jarvis, 2017, text copyright Patricia Toht, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Finally, garlands are “strung / from bough to bough,” and tinsel is draped in “silver drips.” On the top a star shines bright and down below a tiny village springs up, complete with “a train that chugs around a track.” At last it’s finished and the lights are lit. “Look! It’s not a pine tree / anymore. / It’s a… / Christmas tree!” As everyone gathers to singing around the Christmas tree, Merry wishes are bestowed on “one and all.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-a-pine-tree-lights

Image copyright Jarvis, 2017, text copyright Patricia Toht, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Patricia Toht’s lively rhymes engage kids in one of the holiday season’s most fun activities—picking out and decorating the Christmas tree. Her step-by-step verses brim with the growing excitement of the day and encourage sharing the celebration with family and friends. As they read, kids will be caught up in the fun and memories of this favorite tradition.

Vivid, action-packed mixed-media illustrations in a rich color palette by Jarvis take readers to the Christmas tree lot with its rows and rows of different trees to choose from and back to the family’s cozy home—where a dog and cat are happy to help out. As friends and neighbors drop by for the decorating party, kids will love recounting their own experiences hanging the lights and pointing out ornaments that may look like their own. The fully decorated tree glows in a two-page vertical spread that will wow little readers.

A sweet family story full of smiles, eager anticipation, and a love of Christmas, Pick a Pine Tree is a magical read to add to holiday story times.

Ages 3 – 7

Candlewick Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763695712

Discover more about Patricia Toht and her books on her website.

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

Look for an Evergreen Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Find-the-Perfect-Pine-Tree-maze

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze

 

Can you help the kids sled their way to find the evergreen tree in this printable maze?

Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze | Find the Perfect Pine Tree! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pick-a-pine-tree-cover

You can find Pick a Pine Tree at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 19 – Children’s Grief Awareness Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Created in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families in Pennsylvania, Children’s Grief Awareness Day is now recognized by organizations around the world. The day seeks to raise awareness of the painful impact that the death of a loved one has on a child and the fact that receiving support can make all the difference in their life as they grieve. It also provides an opportunity to make sure that these children receive the support they need.

The statistics are sobering. Before graduating from high school, one child out of every 20 children will experience the death of a parent. That number does not include those who experience the death of a sibling, a grandparent, an aunt, uncle or cousin, or a friend.

To learn more information on the needs of grieving children and find available resources, visit the Children’s Grief Awareness Day website.

Thanks to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy of The Boy and the Gorilla for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Candlewick in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers.

She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

The Boy and the Gorilla Giveaway

 

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Candlewick Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The Boy and the Gorilla, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer| illustrated by Cindy Derby

To enter:

This giveaway is open from November 19 to November 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on November 26. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Candlewick Press

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 24 – World Gorilla Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Instituted in 2017, the same year that the Karisoke Research Center, operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, celebrated its 50th anniversary, World Gorilla Day encourages people around the globe to honor these majestic beasts and take action to help protect them in the wild. An annual fund-raising initiative, “Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call,” works with zoos, aquariums, schools, and other organizations to raise funds by collecting cell phones for recycling. To learn more about World Gorilla Day and ways that you can get involved or even adopt a gorilla, visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International website.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers. She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

August 19 – National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day

About the Holiday

While some celebrate Sandcastle Day on the first Saturday of August and others take part in National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day on August 19, any sunny summer day is perfect for going to the beach and letting your artistic abilities take over! In expert hands, sand and water become elaborate  multistory castles and sculptures of animals, ships, mermaids, and nearly anything one can imagine. 

Sandcastle

By Einat Tsarfati

 

A girl finds an empty spot near the water’s edge and begins to build a sandcastle. This is no ordinary castle, though. It’s “a real castle with domes and turrets and a crocodile moat. And large windows with an ocean view.” Indeed, it is a spectacular castle, representing all the world’s architecture and decorated with seashells. Winding staircases lead to outside viewing spots, and its sculptural features are astounding. The girl stands on tippy-toe on a tall tower to place a pebble just on the tip of a taller tower.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sand-castle-decorating

Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

Inside chandeliers hang in the great hall and above the double staircase on either side. The girl pauses her construction for a moment to gaze out of the five-paned bay window at the rolling sea. But she is not alone. A king peaks out of a doorway, watching her. Soon more kings and queens from across the globe had discovered the girl’s castle and came to visit, bringing along their children and pets and plenty of luggage.

They took in their surroundings, marveling at the girl’s craftsmanship. “‘It’s one hundred percent sand,’ murmured a king with a curly mustache. ‘And you can hear the ocean!’ added a queen with a fancy pearl necklace.” From the great hall they fanned out into the castle to enjoy its many rooms—the music room and the aquarium room; the camping room, complete with trees and a tent; the ice-skating rink and the carousel; the natural history room and the archaeology room with its brontosaurus skeleton. There was a library and a room with many safes for the royal jewelry. Visitors could play tennis, dance, and spend time feeding the swan in the pond room. Of course, there were bedrooms, and bathroom, and dining rooms galore.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sand-castle-royal-visitors

Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

The first night there was a “grand party in the ballroom. Dollops of ice cream were served all night long. It was awesome.” But in the morning the kings and queens saw things quite differently. The almond strudel, the pizza, the soups, the sandwiches, and all the cakes were full of sand. The next day, the Triathlon of Knights Tournament of badminton, cards, and Twister was “completely ruined. ‘Aargh! There is sand in my suit of  armor!’ sobbed the bravest knight in the kingdom.” It was so bad that he couldn’t even pick up a card from the pile. Royal toes grew itchy. Royal treasure chests became welded shut. And one old queen thought it was “even worse than a single pea underneath [her] mattress.

They all came to the girl to bitterly complain. There wasn’t much the girl could do. After all, the castle was made of sand. She decided to make a sand ball and then another and another until there were enough for a huge sand ball fight. Then, suddenly, the castle sprung a leak, and the kings and queens, their kids, and their luggage floated away on furniture, towers, and pedestals. Everything was washed away, so the girl “built a sandcastle.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sand-castle-floating

Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

Einat Tsarfati’s Sandcastle is a feast for the eyes, loaded with humor, marvels, and whimsy on every page. From the crowded beach to the luxurious interior of the sandcastle, kids will have a blast scouring the detailed drawings for their favorite feature. As the royal visitors’ initial awe dissolves into whiny complaining, Tsarfati’s droll storytelling will elicit plenty of laughs (and maybe even a bit of recognition). The girl’s clever solution to her guests’ dissatisfaction may surprise readers, but with a turn of the page, Tsarfati promises to begin the imaginative journey all over again.

Highly recommended for funny and immersive story times, Sandcastle wows with ingenuity and will inspire kids’ imaginations. Sure to be an often-asked-for favorite on home, school, or public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 7

Candlewick, 2020 | ISBN 978-1536211436

Discover more about Einat Tsarfati, her books, and her art on her website.

National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sandcastle-coloring-page

Sandcastle Coloring Page

 

No matter whether you live near a beach or in the city, if the day is sunny or rainy, you can make a sandcastle with this printable coloring page.

Sandcastle Coloring Page

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You can find Sandcastle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 16 – World Snake Day

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About the Holiday

Snakes are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but they often get a bad rap due to their mysterious nature and their portrayals in literature and throughout history. Today’s holiday promotes awareness of dangers to the snake population through habitat destruction, climate change, disease, and other threats. The wide variety of snakes provide many benefits to their natural environments and deserve protection.

I Don’t Like Snakes

Written by Nicola Davies | Illustrated by Luciano Lozano

 

Can you imagine a family who has nothing but snakes for pets? Well, that’s the way it is for the little girl in I Don’t Like Snakes. Sitting in her red chair surrounded by her mother, father, brother and four snakes, she finally pipes up and tells her family that she “‘really, really, REALLY doesn’t like snakes!’” And they ask, “‘Why?’”

“‘Because they slither,’” she answers. Her mom has a ready answer that leads into a scientific discussion of why and how different kinds of snakes move. The mechanics of concertina and serpentine slithering as well as caterpillar crawling are clearly described in both easy-to-understand text and accompanying illustrations. Her father adds more transportation methods, including side-winding, twining, climbing, swimming, and even flying.

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Image copyright Luciano Lozano, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Courtesy of walker.co.uk.

The little girl has to admit these sound pretty smart. “‘But what about their slimy, scaly skin?’” She asks. After all it’s so icky! Well, her mom reveals, snakes aren’t actually slimy, but dry. Following this readers learn why snakes look wet and how they shed their skin. Her dad goes on to explain that a snake’s scales are used for protection and as camouflage or as a warning to other creatures. Ok, the little girl agrees, “‘That’s pretty cool.’”

Still, the girl doesn’t like their flicking tongues. Her mom reassures her that snakes only use their tongues to smell with. Readers then see how a snake picks up the scent of a mouse or other prey and how it is transferred to the Jacobsen’s organ that helps it detect even faint odor trails. “‘That IS interesting,’” the girl tells her mom. “‘But I STILL don’t like the way they stare! It’s creepy.’”

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Image copyright Luciano Lozano, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Courtesy of walker.co.uk.

Dad has the answer to that one. They stare because they have no other choice. Without eyelids, it’s impossible for them to blink. But if you look closely at a snake’s eyes, you can tell if they are a night or day hunter or whether they are chasers or ambushers.

All this information is starting to change the little girl’s mind about snakes. “‘Maybe now that I know something about them, I do like snakes—just a little bit!’” she tells her brother. And just like brothers everywhere, he ups the ante by revealing how snakes kill. He revels in explaining about how some snakes have hollow fangs that inject poison into their victims and how others strangle their prey until there’s no life left. And without proper teeth, snakes have to swallow their dinner whole!

The boy’s sister is braver than he thinks, and now she wants to get in the game. She says that she has discovered something about snakes herself. She knows how snakes have babies. Some give birth to live babies but most lay leathery eggs. Either way, the babies are on their own soon after hatching. The little girl has had a complete change of heart. She now thinks snakes are beautiful. “‘And do you know what?’” she says. “‘I really, really, REEEEEALLLLY LIKE THEM!’”

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Image copyright Luciano Lozano, 2016, text copyright 2016. Courtesy of walker.co.uk.

Whether you like snakes, don’t like snakes, or are somewhere in between, Nicola Davies’ engaging tribute to this interesting and often misunderstood species will delight. Cleverly written to include commonly held opinions and provide compelling facts, I Don’t Like Snakes is part story, part nature encyclopedia seamlessly woven together to create a fascinating and funny read. Kids and adults will respond to the conversational tone, and, like the little girl in the story, be open to a change in attitude toward this intriguing reptile.

Luciano Luzano bridges the world of the fictional story and the nonfiction facts in I Don’t Like Snakes with charming sketches of the family and realistic depictions of the snakes they discuss. The little girl with her oversized hair bow and astonished expressions is a disarming guide to discovery. The family’s reptilian obsession is everywhere, from the snakes that twine around the mother, father, and brother’s arms and shoulders to the snakeskin upholstery. The factual information about snakes is accompanied by accurate drawings and representations of the traits portrayed.

I Don’t Like Snakes is a wonderful book for those who already love snakes as well as for those who want to learn more! It’s a great addition to anyone’s nonfiction collection.

Ages 5 – 10

Candlewick Press, 2015| ISBN 978-0763678319 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1536203233 (Paperback, 2018)

Learn more about Nicola Davies and her books on her website!

To view more art and books by Luciano Luzano visit his website!

World Snake Day Activity

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Slithering Snake Word Search

 

Snakes wind their way along wherever they want to go. Follow the twists and turns in this printable Slithering Snake Word Search to find the reptile-inspired words!

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You can find I Don’t Like Snakes at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

February 19 – It’s National Bird-Feeding Month

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About the Holiday

As birds begin coming back to your area during this last bit of winter to build nests, mate, and hatch little cheepers, they still need help finding nutritious food to sustain them. Without the lush vegetation and increased insect activity that will come with warmer weather, birds often rely on backyard feeders for food. Attracting colorful birds to your home can be a rewarding and joyful hobby – one you can enjoy year-round. If you’ve been considering hanging a bird feeder to one of your trees, today is the perfect day to get started!

Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook

Written by Martin Jenkins | Illustrated by Richard Jones

 

It’s early morning and Bird is already chirping. It’s going to be a busy day! To get started she needs breakfast. Of course, “what she wants is a nice, juicy…worm.” What the worm wants, though, is to not be eaten. So while “bird pulls hard…the worm pulls back.” This is one strong worm, and it ends up winning the tug-of-war. Nearby, though, is a smaller and weaker worm that is just as delicious.

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Image copyright Richard Jones, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Full and satisfied, Bird takes off on her next task. She needs to find twigs. “Lots of twigs.” The first one she finds is more like a branch to the little bird—and is too heavy. The next one is as long as a snake and too heavy too. But there are plenty of perfectly small twigs scattered around, so Bird gets to work. She “can carry one large twig or two medium-size twigs or three or four small twigs (although it’s hard to fit that many in her beak at once).”

What is Bird doing with all of these twigs? Building her nest, of course! It takes time to arrange the twigs she brings back to the branch of her tree. “Carefully, she pushes a twig into the side of the nest and pulls its end back out.” As if weaving a basket, Bird intertwines more and more sticks, making her nest strong. It takes hours to complete her new home. Once in a while a twig falls or she drops one, but there are plenty more to find.

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Image copyright Richard Jones, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Once the twigs are all in place, Bird searches for soft material to line it. She gathers dried grass and feathers. These are so light that it’s easy to carry a lot at one time. Back in her nest she places the grass and feathers inside and “turning around and around, pushing with her whole body, she makes a snug little cup, smooth and soft on the inside.” Now the nest is comfy and all ready for…the five little eggs that are waiting to hatch!

Bird Builds a Nest is a First Science Storybook for young readers that, while showing how birds build nests also demonstrates various scientific forces. As kids see the baby birds emerge from the nest for the first time, they can also answer a few questions in the Afterward that prompt them to think about pushing and pulling, moving light and heavy objects, and the force of gravity. An Index reveals where in the text these forces can be found.

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Image copyright Richard Jones, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Spying a nest in a tree, eave, or other tucked-away space is like finding a secret, and is one of the joys of spring. Martin Jenkins’ delightful day out with Bird gives kids…well…a bird’s eye view of the nest-building process. Just like an artist, this sweet, industrious feathered friend gathers her materials and sets to work to make her instinctual vision come true. Jenkins’ step-by-step description is conversational and homey with words such as snug, tuck, fetching, and twigs that lend themselves to the charming alliteration that gives the story a poetic sound and feel.

Richard Jones’ mixed-media illustrations sing with beautiful folk-art inspired scenes of Bird gathering her material and creating her nest. Softly vibrant earth tones of autumn and spring accentuate Bird’s quiet and solitary endeavor. Bird is bright-eyed and cheerful as she flies back and forth carrying twigs and arranging them just so—activities that are clearly shown for budding scientists to see and understand. Readers will enjoy finding small details here and there—a mouse in a tree hole, a tiny ladybug, hearts in the swirls of the tree bark and formed by leaves, and even a bit of foreshadowing of the eggs to come. The male and female bird cuddle together in the finished nest as two ladybugs find each other under a purple heart, and the little chicks venturing out for the first time will enchant children.

Bird Builds a Nest wonderfully weaves together facts and a sweet story to introduce young readers to one particular natural phenomenon and some of the scientific forces involved. The captivating story would be a terrific addition to home libraries and classroom bookshelves for discussions about the natural world.

Ages 4 – 6

Candlewick Press, 2018 |ISBN 978-0763693466

To learn more about Richard Jones and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

National Bird-Feeding Month Activity

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Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle

 

When you put up a bird feeder in your yard, you’ll see so many different kinds of birds come to visit! Find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle.

Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle | Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Solution

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You can find Bird Builds a Nest at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review