September 2 – It’s National Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

Friendship Month was instituted about ten years ago by the Oddfellows – or, as they are officially called, The Grand Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS) – an international organization dedicated to philanthropy and charity believed to have established in England in the 1730s. The holiday encourages people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and to reach out to others who are alone or need a friend. As school gets underway, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet new people and form friendships – some of which may last a lifetime.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Aven Green Baking Machine with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Aven Green Baking Machine

By Dusti Bowling | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

Hot off her stint as a sleuth, Aven Green has discovered another activity to conquer—baking! When she learns of a baking competition at the county fair the next weekend, Aven determines not only to enter, but to win the blue ribbon. She’s sure she will win because one, she’s an expert baker, having made a carrot cake last week; two, she’s a supertaster; and three, she has an excellent sense of smell. Now, as a pro, she calls her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata to come to her house prepared to each make a recipe of their choice. They will then choose which one to enter in the contest.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the girls all assembled at Aven’s house, they turn their attention to whose recipe to make first and focus on the ingredients Sujata brought to make her favorite Indian dessert, milk barfi. The other girls make fun of the dessert’s name, and Sujata retreats, crying, to Aven’s room. Aven’s mom appears to find out what happened. She asks the girls some pointed questions about whether they’d ever tried milk barfi before and if they had asked Sujata “what it tastes like or why it’s important to her.” She sends them in to Aven’s room to apologize. The friends make up and return to the kitchen to whip up the recipe, which Aven says smells like “spicy heaven.”

Next, they make Aven’s mint chocolate chip pie and then Emily’s peachy fluff, which Aven renames “peachy floof.” With these desserts all in the fridge, Kayla realizes they haven’t actually baked anything yet. And while the contest rules only call for an original dessert, Kayla thinks they should bake something. Aven suggests chocolate chip cookies until she discovers that the bag she thought held chocolate chips actually holds raisins for the raisin clafouti Kayla wants to make.

Aven has an unwavering loathing for raisins and tells Kayla, “‘Yeah, we’re totally not making that.’” The other girls defend Kayla’s choice. Hearing the shouting, Mom reappears and Kayla tells her how Aven won’t let her make clafouti—“‘raisin toefooty,’” Aven says, interrupting. Aven’s mom looks at her and tells her that she’s so disappointed in her behavior. Aven doubles down on her opinion and stomps off to her room to sulk. After the clafouti is in the oven, the girls all play together until it’s time to sample the desserts.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

They love the Sujata’s milk barfi, and Emily’s peachy fluff turned out to be soupy—delicious, but more of a drink. Aven’s chocolate chip mint pie was deemed too minty, and Kayla’s raisin clafouti was declared the winner. Still, Aven wouldn’t try it. After everyone left, Aven’s mom sits down with her and explains that “‘the Aven I know would try something, even if she didn’t want to, so as not to hurt her friends’ feelings…. You did not act like a good friend.’”

When Aven goes to apologize the next day at school, the other girls tell her they don’t want to enter the contest with her because she is “too difficult. ‘It’s your way or nothing,’” Emily tells her. As Aven sits alone on the playground, Ren comes over to see if she’s all right. Aven tells him about the contest and he tells her about his favorite dessert, manju—sweet bean paste steamed cakes. Aven makes a “yuck face” and Ren, sad, walks away. At home, Aven decides she’ll make something for the contest by herself and bakes a chocolate cake with mint frosting. But when the cake comes out of the oven, it is less than perfect. Aven cries because she knows she can’t win with that cake and her friends are all mad at her.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

She goes to visit her great-grandmother, who gives Aven some perspective while making another unusual cake that Aven thinks she’s not going to like but ends up loving. The next day, Aven asks Ren to be her partner in the contest, telling his she wants to make manju. At first Aven is reluctant to try the steamed cakes they make, but one nibble later, she’s ready for more. She even decides that “from this moment in history until the end of time, I would forever be Aven Green, trier of new things, even the weirdest things anyone ever heard of.” The night before the contest, Aven made I’m sorry cards for Kayla, Sujata, and Emily, using all of her best stickers and glitter glue.

The day of the contest finally arrives. Aven and Ren make a fresh batch of manju and take it to the fair. Aven gives out her cards and wishes her friends good luck. They all wait to hear the judges’ decisions and… First place went to an apple caramel cake. Second prize went to a chocolate cream pie. And Third Place went to… Sujata, Emily, and Kayla for their raisin clafouti. Aven cheered and cheered for them, and when they left the stage, they offered Aven one of the yellow ribbons. She thought it would look lovely hanging on her wall, but she declined, telling her friends, “‘I didn’t win it. Not only that, but I had a bad attitude about the raisin clafouti, which did win.’”

Besides, Aven says, “‘I didn’t lose…. I won a whole new friend! And now I have my old friends back, too. Best day ever!’” Then she tasted the raisin clafouti, and even though she didn’t like it, she praised it for being an award-winner. Then the friends took in the fair and the bluegrass music, and Aven discovered another activity to conquer. “‘Watch out, world!’” she cried. “‘Here comes Aven Green, Music Machine!’”

A glossary of baking words found in the story as well as recipes for milk barfi, mint chocolate chip pie, peachy floof, raisin clafouti, tomato soup cake, and manju follow the text.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Dusti Bowling’s second Aven Green story for young readers is infused with her protagonist’s distinct personality, infectious enthusiasm, and big heart. Realistic dialogue, situations, and emotions make it a book that will easily resonate with kids. While it’s easy to focus on the humor in Bowling’s story—which is delivered with snappy, rapid-fire dialogue and observations—the story also packs a punch in its message about the injustice of preconceived notions, the effects of thoughtless comments, ultra-competitiveness, and the true meaning of acceptance.

Just one of the joys of Bowling’s series is how Aven Green smashes wrong assumptions while being fearless and self-confident. Here, Aven discovers that while she promotes acceptance for herself, she must also extend the same appreciation to others. All of Bowling’s characters possess strong opinions, enough self-assurance to reject behavior that hurts, and the ability to recognize when they’ve been wrong and make amends. These qualities make them excellent role models for readers. As the girls separate into different teams for the baking contest and, ultimately, make a new friend, readers learn important lessons on standing up for oneself, making informed opinions instead of snap judgements, and what true friendship is all about.

Gina Perry’s engaging illustrations bring the story to life as readers see Aven cooking, eating, and creating cards for her friends with her feet as well as participating in all the other activities at school and the county fair. Her line drawings also capture the emotions of the characters as they argue, make up, and cheer each other on. Cameos by Aven’s mom and great-grandmother portray a steadying and caring influence.

Aven Green Baking Machine is a multi-layered story that will make kids think as they enjoy the humor, close relationships, and invitation to discover and bake recipes from around the world. This book is a good choice for kids and adults to read together while discussing the issues presented. Fans of the series will want to catch up on what Aven is conquering next and new readers will be happy to discover this empowering series.

Ages 6 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454942207

Discover more about Dusti Bowling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find Aven Green, Baking Machine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 4 – National Stress Awareness Day

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About the Holiday

National Stress Awareness Day was established by Carole Spiers, Chair of the International Stress Management Association, which provides employers with guidance on establishing company stress reduction programs and individuals with methods for looking after their health every day. The holiday aims to help people identify the stress factors in their life and learn how to reduce them. This year, of course, stress is high. Today’s holiday gives people an opportunity to assess how they and their family are handling stress and look for ways to manage it while adding positive changes to their life.

Thank you to Beaming Books for sending me copies of All About Anxiety and Crafting Calm: Art and Activities for Mindful Kids for review consideration. All opinions about the books are my own.

All About Anxiety

Written by Carrie Lewis | Illustrated by Sophia Touliatou

 

As you pick up this book, the first thing you notice is its comforting, velvety-soft cover. Upon opening it, the second thing young readers will see are illustrations of kids just like them engaged in familiar situations that can cause stress and anxiety and expressing their feelings in ways kids will recognize and understand. And then comes the third, most reassuring thing of all—discussions about anxiety: the different types, how it can manifest itself, and how it can be managed, written in kid-friendly, clear, and detailed ways by an author who really knows how to communicate with children.

In five chapters, this 89-page book covers a wide range of topics that answer the questions children may have about the feelings they experience every day or only in certain situations and give them encouragement and workable solutions to try. Chapter 1 introduces a definition of anxiety, describes six of the most commonly felt types of anxiety, and, through a relatable story of two sisters grappling with different anxieties, demonstrates how a fear can grow and how it can be lessened.

Chapter 2 talks about some of the things that can cause anxiety—from memories of frightening experiences and seeing others’ reactions to certain things to parents and brain chemical imbalances to growing up in difficult circumstances. Each of these, as well as a description of how the body reacts to anxiety, is treated with detailed and easy-to-understand paragraphs that contain examples kids will appreciate.

Chapter 3 likens anxiety to the various types of animals in a zoo and the child as the zookeeper. This chapter is especially effective in directly addressing some of the most common anxiety triggers and providing practical steps that will help. These include the news; stories, TV shows, and movies; hormones; changes within the family; money worries; moving; the pressure to succeed; comparing oneself to others; the way one looks; other people; peer pressure; and social media.

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Image copyright Sophia Touliatou, 2020, text copyright Carrie Lewis. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

In Chapter 4, children are encouraged to answer several questions that can determine if they actually have anxiety or not. In the next step, readers learn how anxiety can affect the quality of their life and relationships with family and friends. Here Carrie Lewis presents discussions on social anxiety, family relationships, school and studying, sports and hobbies, and overall health. Speaking directly to the reader, Lewis uses specific examples of ways anxiety may affect them. Moreover, with each topic, Lewis provides bulleted suggestions for activities that can boost self-esteem, release healthy endorphins, and change their focus.

Chapter 5 is a “taking-control toolkit” where Lewis explores “different ways to make life less anxious and to keep serious anxiety away.” These include deep breathing, visualization, body relaxation exercises, talking with a trusted adult or doctor, how to talk about anxiety, using mild anxiety as a superpower, and ways to stay positive. Lewis closes her book with six resources, complete with contact information, where young readers and adults can find help and more information.

Reading through this book by Carrie Lewis is like sitting down with a sympathetic, knowledgeable friend who can put you at ease and give you the help you’re looking for. That sense of being understood is just one of the many strengths of this book. Conversational text and an unflinching look at the real-world issues that can cause anxiety will resonate with children, tweens, and even teens and put them on the road to managing their feelings.

On every page the text wraps around Sophia Touliatou’s vibrant and evocative illustrations that let kids know they’re not alone. Images mirror feelings of fear and anxiety, depict brain activity related to feelings of anxiety, and show difficult situations all children deal with at one time or another. But Touliatou also includes many images of children finding ways to manage and overcome their anxiety that offer hope and happiness. In design, the book makes excellent use of typography and other elements to make topics easy to find and appeal to the targeted audience.

A superb book for helping children and tweens with anxiety or just navigating day-to-day feelings, All About Anxiety is a must for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 8 – 13

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506463209

You can find All About Anxiety at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Crafting Calm: Art and Activities for Mindful Kids

Written by Megan Borgert-Spaniol and Lauren Kukla | Illustrated by Aruna Rangarajan

 

One way to take control of your feelings is by finding an activity that calms the mind, changes your focus, uses your talents, or helps you reach out to others. That’s what Crafting Calm is all about. Through five chapters Megan Borgert-Spaniol and Lauren Kukla show readers how they can use various arts, movement, breathing, their senses, and their sense of self to be calmer and happier.

Each chapter focuses on a particular topic. Chapter 1: Catch Your Calm helps children gain control of their thoughts or behavior with crafts such as making a glitter jar and a Zen garden, kneading homemade bread, and doing an easy yoga exercise. A short parable demonstrates the power of perspective, and other activities give readers a variety of options. Chapter 2: Examining Emotions contains activities that allow a child to better understand their emotions and how they physically react to them. Doing a body scan, making mood art, learning to walk with confidence, and creating an emotional support plant are just a few of the activities presented.

Chapter 3: Being Here and Experiencing Now provides methods to support the important idea of staying present in every moment. Mindful walking, engaging all your senses, slowing down to fully enjoy a snack, making a terrarium, learning how to neutralize noise, are some of the activities described here. Chapter 4 is designed to help readers observe their thoughts and “gain skills to better control what goes on in your mind while still allowing space for it to wander and dream.” A “mind dump” can help you get your thoughts and emotions out of your head and onto paper without judgement. Daily affirmations can help readers to embrace their good qualities and become the person they want to be. These and the other provided activities can bring much-needed peace.

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Image copyright Aruna Rangarajan, 2020, text copyright Megan Borgert-Spaniol and Lauren Kukla, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Chapter 5: Capturing Joy and Growing Gratitude gives readers the tools to find “inner joy during tough times and appreciate things [they] may have taken for granted.” These emotional resources can help readers “navigate life’s ups and downs with positivity.” Origami can help turn paper into a colorful gratitude garden of flowers that each represent something you’re thankful for. If you’re feeling alone, you can use the instructions here to create a Tree of Belonging to show you how many people love and care for you. Bringing joy and sharing gratitude with others takes the focus off of yourself and gives you purpose. Here you’ll find ideas for doing both of these things.

In a casual, light, and conversational style Megan Borgert-Spaniol and Lauren Kukla address many of the feelings and intrusive thoughts that can roil the mind and make inner peace hard to find. Readers will recognize and appreciate the straightforward examples and reassurance presented in the introduction to each chapter. Along with directions on how to complete the activities, Borgert-Spaniol and Kukla include how each activity can help bring about a more calm and positive attitude. The activities included are easy to do and don’t require special supplies, making them excellent go-tos for times when tranquility is needed.

Accompanying each activity are Aruna Rangarajan’s engaging illustrations, rendered in soothing colors, that demonstrate techniques and instructions while also adding whimsical touches that make every page inviting.

A wonderful, comprehensive guide not only to activities that can really make a difference in the life of any child, especially those disruptive feelings, but to the hows and whys inherent in them, Crafting Calm: Art and Activities for Mindful Kids is highly recommended for family, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 8 – 12

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506465265

You can find Crafting Calm: Art and Activities for Mindful Kids at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

National Stress Awareness Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mind-jar

Snowy Day Mind Jar

 

You can capture the beauty of a glittering snowfall in this easy craft—that also makes a special gift for a friend!

Supplies

  • Small to medium mason jar or other decorative jar with a tight lid
  • White glitter glue,
  • Light blue glitter glue,
  • Fine white and/or blue glitter
  • Large white and/or blue glitter
  • Warm water

Directions

1.For every 1/2 cup of warm water add:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white glitter glue
  • 1/2 teaspoon blue glitter glue
  • 2 teaspoons fine glitter glue
  • 1/2 teaspoon large glitter

2. Close lid tight

3. Shake

4. As glue dissolves, the liquid will become clearer and the glitter will remain suspended in it

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March 10 – International Day of Awesomeness

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate awesomeness, and in particular the fact that you are awesome! Begun as an inside joke among coworkers, International Day of Awesomeness continues to grow, attracting more and more awesome individuals around the world. To celebrate get creative and perform feats of awesomeness—whatever that might mean to you. You can also read about awesome people and their accomplishments to get you fired up to do awesome things of your own all through the year. Why not start with today’s book?!

Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama (Work It, Girl Series)

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

 

Encouraging, supportive, and always smiling, Michelle Obama inspired millions of kids across the country during her eight years as First Lady and continues to motivate children to be and become the best version of themselves. Through her fast-paced, engrossing biography, Caroline Moss creates a reading experience that gives children the opportunity to get to know their idol the way friends do: by talking together. In ten short, but information-packed chapters, Moss captures Michelle’s voice and spirit through snapshots of formative events that influenced and changed her life, all told in a conversational style with plenty of dialogue and fascinating details.

Accompanying this personal narrative are Sinem Erkas’s stunning 3-D cut paper artwork. Bold colors, stirring imagery, and portraits that follow Michelle through times of happiness, sadness, and change reveal to readers Michelle’s intelligence, spark, hard work, and enthusiasm for life that fuels her vision and success.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Chapter 1, readers are invited in to Michelle’s home on her 8th birthday. They learn about her family, the house they share with relatives, including her favorite aunt, Aunt Robbie, and the loving atmosphere that formed her values and sense of community that “would inspire her to go on and change communities across the US – and beyond.”

Chapter 2 takes readers into Michelle’s second-grade classroom, where “she loved reading, making up stories in her head and on the page, and creating art” and was frustrated by the inattention of the other kids who always seemed to be “bouncing off the walls.” Here they also discover certain events on her road from that classroom to high school graduation that helped Michelle develop her strength and self-confidence.

In Chapter 3 Michelle enters Princeton University, the college of her dreams. She makes friends, gets a job that “helped her think about a world outside her own,” and had a small, but life-changing experience that made her realize that “she did not have to blend into the background” or always “take the easy route. She started to imagine herself as a helper and an influential voice in her community, as a smart mind with ideas to share with the world.”

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

By Chapter 5 Michelle has graduated from Harvard Law School and taken a job at a Chicago law firm. But while she loved her job, she was struggling with medical challenges faced by her father and her best friend. “Michelle had a lot to juggle, but she was becoming pretty awesome at taking on lots of different tasks with a smile.” When does Michelle meet Barak? That comes in Chapter 6, when he got a job at the same law firm Michelle worked for. Readers get to hear about his first day on the job and the impression he made on her, how she came to think of him as her best friend at work, and about their first date.

Chapter 7 begins as Michelle is thinking about the course she wants her life to take. She realizes that she didn’t want to be a lawyer. “But what did she want to be; who did she want to be? Michelle had no idea, but she knew she wanted to change the world around her and leave it better than she found it.” She soon found herself working at Chicago City Hall. Her enthusiasm and success there led her to be hired by an organization that “found inspiring young people who showed promise in making a difference” and who would go on to “take leadership jobs in their communities.” It was also during this time that Barak proposed and took a new job helping to register first-time voters.

In Chapter 8, the Obamas’ lives take a big leap toward their future as Michelle gets a new job with the University of Chicago, where she was to “create a sustainable program that would help connect the university with its community.” During these years Malia and Sasha are born and Barack runs for and wins a seat in the US Senate, going on to become President. What did Michelle think about all of these changes? Young readers will discover her conflicting feelings: wariness, excitement, pride, and the belief that “one person could make a difference.”

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Image copyright Sinem Erkas, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

As Chapter 9 opens, Michelle and Barack and their family have moved into the White House. For Michelle that meant developing an “‘official initiative’ for her time in the White House.” Readers learn how she designed her ‘Let’s Move!’ program, aimed at keeping “kids healthy through education and learning good habits.” In Chapter 10, the Obamas leave the White House, “but Michelle knew her story had just begun.” She wrote a book sharing her stories and her life. Now new adventures await her and it will “only be a matter of time before she [sets] out to change the world once more.”

Sprinkled throughout the text are inspirational quotes from Michelle Obama that are called out in eye-catching blocks and soaring illustrations. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Michelle Obama’s life on how to become a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about what is important to them, and resources for further reading and exploration.

Emphasizing family, community, self-confidence, and the importance of seizing opportunities to make a difference, Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries to hearten and embolden young readers to listen to their inner voices and take action for what they believe in.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245181

Discover more about Caroline Moss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sinem Erkas, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Day of Awesomeness Activity

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Awesomeness Cards

 

Do you have some awesome people in your life? Give them one of these printable Awesomeness Cards and watch them smile!

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You can find Become a Leader Like Michelle Obama at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 5 – National Bird Day

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About the Holiday

Coming at the end of the annual Christmas Bird Count conducted in conjunction with the Audubon Society, National Bird Day turns the focus from wild birds to those kept in captivity while also raising awareness of the dangers that threaten many species with extinction. Today’s observance highlights the special behavioral and physical needs of birds and works to ensure that all birds—whether kept as pets or on farms or living in their natural environments—are treated compassionately. Now that winter has set in, make sure your pets and the birds that frequent your yard are cared for.

The Day I Became a Bird

Written by Ingrid Chabbert | Illustrated by Raúl Nieto Guridi

 

On the first day of school a little boy sees Sylvia and falls instantly in love. At home he draws picture after picture of her—“and one with hearts and a smiling sun.” Although the boy only has eyes for Sylvia, she doesn’t see him. Instead, the boy says, “Sylvia is a bird lover. She can’t bear to see them living in cages. She quietly observes them in the wild and gently cares for them when they are injured.”

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Image copyright Guridi, text copyright Ingrid Chabbert. Courtesy of Kids Can Press

Everything she does and wears is somehow associated with birds. Even “her voice sounds like birdsong.” The boy has lost all interest in his toys, the sports he plays, and all of his old pursuits. He thinks differently about birds now, too. One day he decides “to dress as a bird.” He constructs a costume with glistening feathers “like the ones you see in the forest in summer.” When he puts it on he feels handsome. In the costume he dreams of flying with Sylvia to the top of the Rocky Mountains or a pyramid.

In school he doesn’t care if the other kids stare and giggle. And even though it’s hard to walk, play soccer, and climb trees, he doesn’t want to remove his costume. He is a bird. One afternoon, the boy says, “I come face to face with Sylvia. And finally our eyes meet.” Sylvia approaches and takes off the boy’s costume. “My heart is beating a hundred miles an hour,” he relates. “In the sky, I see a flock of birds take flight.” Sylvia gives him a long hug.

Standing completely still, the boy doesn’t know how to react. He knows he’s not a bird anymore, but still, he feels as if he’s flying.

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Image copyright Guridi, text copyright Ingrid Chabbert. Courtesy of Kids Can Press

Ingrid Chabbert’s enchanting revelation of first love encompasses in its spare text all the obsessive but ultimately freeing power of this universal emotion. While in the midst of his “normal” life, the boy’s world is suddenly transformed when he spies Sylvia. Leaving his toys behind, he chooses Sylvia’s bird’s eye view. Likewise, when Sylvia sees the narrator, she allows her birds to take wing and considers boys—or at least one boy—in a whole new light. Chabbert’s use of first-person narration reinforces the intimate nature of love and the idea that when love is right, being “captured” is a most liberating experience.

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Image copyright Guridi, courtesy of Kids Can Press

The themes of Chabbert’s story are so movingly rendered by Guridi’s simple, monochromatic line drawings. Although the boy states that “one morning” he decided to dress as a bird, from the first day when the boy falls in love with Sylvia—gazing at her wistfully while her eyes are instead trained through binoculars at the sky or cast down at her chalk drawings—his costume begins to take shape. As it comes together, its wire skeleton resembles a bird cage, suggesting so many ways in which we may feel trapped by our emotions, our things, even changes in life.

When the boy dons the costume and begins to navigate the world in an unfamiliar way, readers will understand that he is no longer the boy he was, but neither is he a real bird. It is this unique creature that Sylvia responds to when, through holes in the costume where feathers are missing, she sees not the bird, but the boy. So it is that into everyone’s life there come people—or perhaps one particular person—with whom all costumes and cages are discarded, and we soar.

The Day I Became a Bird is a quiet beauty that gets to the core of what it means to give your heart to someone else. It would make a wonderful and touching addition to home libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1771386210

Watch this The Day I Became a Bird book trailer!

National Bird Day Activity

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Wild Bird Coloring Page

 

Grab your pencils or crayons and enjoy this printable Wild Bird Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

January 2 – Motivation and Inspiration Day

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About the Holiday

While Motivation and Inspiration Day was instituted in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, the holiday’s influence and meaning has grown and now includes world-wide participation. Falling on the second day of the year, it encourages us to reflect on our lives—where we are and where we want to go. Take some time to consider what motivates and inspires you and follow those inner and external voices to help you achieve your dreams.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

By Javaka Steptoe

 

“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch / and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist.” All day Jean-Michel sits surrounded by colored pencils and “a storm of papers” and draws. As he sleeps his dreams swirl with images. When he wakes he adds to his drawings, scribbling away. What he creates is “sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird, but somehow still beautiful.”

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Jean-Michel’s talent comes from his Puerto Rican mother, who has a natural sense of style and design and who always makes time to draw with her son, lying on the floor next to him. She takes Jean-Michel to art museums and theaters and reads poetry to him, but she also shows him the art of the city—its sounds, sights, style, and “patchwork” colors. Jean-Michel loves to visit the museum and read about the artwork and the artists. From these stories he “learns what it means to be a famous artist.”

When Jean-Michel is seriously injured in a car accident, his world seems scary and confusing. He mother gives him an anatomy book, which he memorizes. It erases his fears and becomes influential in his work. After returning home his life changes when his mother suffers a breakdown and can no longer live at home. “He tries drawing the terrible out of his blues, but things are not the same.” Jean-Michel visits his mother when he can, “always bringing his artwork to show, telling her that one day it will be in a museum, ‘when I am a famous artist.’”

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

As a teenager, Jean-Michel follows his dream, moving from Brooklyn to New York City. There he stays with friends, painting, creating collages, and writing poems on paper strewn about him. At night he paints on city walls, trash cans, and other urban canvases. His art, signed ‘Samoo,’ attracts attention. People wonder, “‘Who is Samoo?’”

Soon his art can be found in art galleries and hanging in the homes of the people who buy his work. Jean-Michel continues to create, listening to “a sound track that is all his own.” Through talent, inspiration, and his mother’s loving influence, Jean-Michel Basquiat conquered the art world, becoming a king among artists, and fulfilling his desire to be a famous artist.

An extensive Author’s Note about Jean-Michel Basquait’s life, including his struggles with addiction and his death in 1988, the motifs and symbolism in his work that now is displayed in museums around the world and sells for millions of dollars, and a personal comment on the impact Basquait’s art had on the author follow the text.

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Javaka Steptoe’s compelling biography of this complex, brilliant artist who people called “radiant, wild, a genius child” beautifully brings to life the inspirations and motivations that fueled his unique and intense talent. Steptoe delivers the story in staccato and flowing sentences, using consonance, assonance, repetition, the rhythms of a poet. Taking the reader from Jean-Michel’s childhood to adulthood to show how maintaining his focused determination, self-confidence, and persistence over many years led to his ultimately becoming a famous artist demonstrates that success is not a matter of luck, but of belief in oneself despite obstacles. Steptoe sensitively addresses the serious injury Basquiat suffered, his mother’s mental illness and Basquiat’s continued love for her, and his unsettled teenage years to complete this far-reaching life story.

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Image and text copyright Javaka Steptoe, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young People

Steptoe’s mixed-media paintings were created on found wood from neighborhoods across New York City. While Steptoe does not reproduce any of Basquiat’s work, he states that readers will find “original pieces that were inspired by him and my interpretations of his paintings and designs.” As befitting his subject, Steptoe offers pages that burst with vibrant color and intricate details and beat with the pulse of the city, the people, the dreams, and the imagination that Basquiat transcribed onto paper, walls, and canvas. Part collage, part fine art, Steptoe’s illustrations will fascinate children and entice them to linger to take in all the emotion and meaning in each. The final spread, a crowd scene made up of photographs, sets Basquiat in the midst of people whom he and his art continue to inspire.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat offers children an inspirational model of creativity, compassion, and confidence no matter where their talents lie. The book is an excellent choice for school, public, and home libraries.

Ages 6 – 10

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0316213882

Learn more about Javaka Steptoe, his books, art exhibitions, and life on his website!

Motivation and Inspiration Day Activity

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Found-Item Crafts

 

 

Each person finds motivation and inspiration in different things, places, and people. Today, try to create something new from the materials around you. Boxes, bottles, wire, magazines, cloth, wood, sponges—almost anything—can be transformed with some imagination. With those old socks, corks, flower pots, candle stubs, bits of ribbon, clementine crate, paint, glitter, beads, and more, you can make something useful, a decoration for your room, or even a gift for a friend!

Picture Book Review

December 31 – No Interruptions Day

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About the Holiday

Perhaps on this last day of the year you’re suffering from a little stimulation overload. Everywhere you go, it seems, there is something else begging for your attention, whether it’s flashing signs, sale advertisements, that chore you haven’t gotten to, or just coworkers, family members, or others wanting to say hi or needing help. On No Interruptions Day you’re allowed to take a little time for yourself to decompress and enjoy a bit of silence and relaxation. Sure, you can party later, but for now—Ahhhhh….

The Quiet Book

Written by Deborah Underwood | Illustrated by Renata Liwska

 

Quiet comes in many guises, for many reasons, and with many internal emotions attached to it. Each type of quiet is unique, compelling, and special. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a “first one awake quiet,” you have a bit of time to compose yourself for the day because you never know if you might experience “jelly side down quiet,” “thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet,” or even “last one to get picked up from school quiet.”

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Image copyright Renata Liwska, text copyright Deborah Underwood. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suspense is full of quiet—like “hide-and-seek quiet,” “pretending you’re invisible quiet,” and bubbling “top of the roller coaster quiet.” There are times when quiet is required, for instance “sleeping sister quiet” and “right before you yell ‘SURPRISE!’ quiet.” Experiences in nature inspire quiet awe, like “swimming underwater quiet,” “first snowfall quiet,” and “don’t scare the robin quiet.”

Concentration, commiseration, and companionship all contain their own depth of quiet, and the end of the day brings comfortable moments of quiet in story time, tucking in time, bedtime kisses, and finally “sound asleep quiet.”

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Image copyright Renata Liwska, text copyright Deborah Underwood. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In her sweet tribute to the wondrous moments of quiet, Deborah Underwood is always surprising. Her original examples of quiet times are both ingenious and familiar, lending depth, humor, and insight to those times of the day that may defy definition but are felt in the heart.  The Quiet Book is perfect for bedtime, but also for any time when quiet reigns. It’s a beautiful book for children who are more reflective and for whom quiet times are treasured.

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Image copyright Renata Liwska, text copyright Deborah Underwood. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Renata Liwska’s soft, enchanting illustrations are as cuddly and comforting as a favorite blanket. Her little furry, spiky, and feathery animals navigate their day, experiencing those occasions of calm or turmoil with faces registering thoughtfulness, sadness, resignation, or cheer. Each page contains details, such as a bunny with an ear bandaged in solidarity with her friend who has a hurt tail and head, a bear holding a hiccupping rabbit upside down, and a cactus whose shadow is transformed into a monster, that will give even the youngest readers much to discover.

While the text on each page is sparse, the feelings they elicit are intimate and profound. Offering readers—both children and adults—much to discuss, The Quiet Book is a must for children’s home bookshelves.

Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2016 (paperback) | ISBN 978-0544809048

Discover the world of books by Deborah Underwood, including picture books, books for older readers, and nonfiction on her website!

View a gallery of picture book artwork by Renata Liwska on her website!

No Interruptions Day Activity

Quiet Time 

 

Finding opportunities to spend time in quiet contemplation or creativity is rejuvenating. Teaching children to appreciate down time and listen to their own thoughts is a gift that can bring them happiness and success that follows them into adulthood.

Today, set aside 15 minutes (or an appropriate amount of time for your child) and do one—or both—of these activities:

  1. You can do this with or without a piece of paper and pencil. Sit still and quietly in a place with no distractions and listen to what you hear. If you’d like write down the answers to these questions or just consider them:
  • What do you hear inside?
  • What do you hear coming from outside?
  • Can you tell how close or how far away the sound is?
  • In what way might you be a part of the sounds you hear?
  • Pick one sound and expand on its meaning
  1. Listen carefully to your own thoughts. What do you “hear” or “see”? On the paper draw or write whatever comes to mind, without changing it or erasing anything.

Picture Book Review

December 28 -Christmas Bird Count Week

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About the Holiday

For 117 years the Audubon Society has held a bird count in North America, Central America, and South America from December 14 through January 5. The count is conducted by professionals and volunteers who sign up to monitor various areas designated in 15-mile-wide diameter circles. The information and statistics gathered help to keep track of bird populations and aid in protecting our beautiful feathered friends. During the snowy, cold winter months, remember to set out seed and suet for birds to eat. For more information or to get involved, visit the Audubon Society website.

Some Birds

By Matt Spink

 

The variety of birds in the world is astounding! With their unique coloring, songs, and behaviors, our feathered friends provide entertainment and beauty wherever we are. Most times, we only need peer out the window or gaze into the sky to find a fascinating array of life. In his illustrated poem Matt Spink takes readers on a flight of fancy to show the charm, power, and even quirkiness of birds. “Some birds are big / some birds are small / and some birds are just incredibly tall,” the book starts.

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Image copyright Matt Spink, courtesy Matt Spink

How do these birds get around? Sure, they fly but “some birds swoop,” others “soar high,” and still others walk or waddle or hop. And when they get hungry? “Some birds eat worms until they go pop!” Some birds get the itch to swim, tweet, squawk, or twitch, and while some cling to trees making rat-a-tat-tats, others build nests to escape “from sly cats.” Though some birds live in cages, “most birds are free. / A much better life, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

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Image copyright Matt Spink, courtesy Matt Spink

Matt Spink’s sleek birds, each as shining as a stained glass window and as detailed as an Amish quilt or Native American carving, embody the distinct personalities that make these creatures so endearing. With expressions that will make kids giggle and brilliant color combinations that will inspire their creativity, Some Birds is a page-turner. Teetering on loooong knitting-needle-thin legs, a little ball of a bird with a teeny beak and scroll-work head and tail feathers humorously spans two pages. A green-and-white quail with a frilly orange topknot cranes her neck to get a better look (at you, the reader?). Two psychedelic friends flutter and flap as they compare plumage.

Matt Spink’s Some Birds is a mosaic of wonder for young and older readers, and would make a vibrant addition to home bookshelves. After all, who among us does not yearn to “fly free?”

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Image copyright Matt Spink, courtesy Matt Spink

Ages 2 – 5

Harry Abrams, 2016 | ISBN 978-1419720703

Christmas Bird Count Activity

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Feathered Friends Coloring Page

 

Watching birds flit and fly through the sky is a pleasure of being outdoors or just gazing through your window. Enjoy this printable Feathered Friends Coloring Page of a parent bird and their little one!

Picture Book Review