November 16 – A Book Tour Stop for A Christmas Too Big

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About the Holiday

While it may seem a wee bit early for Christmas decorations at the mall, Christmas candy in the grocery stores, and Christmas songs on the radio 24-hours a day, it’s never too early to begin reading Christmas stories with kids! Today, I’m thrilled to be part of the book tour for A Christmas Too Big – a funny family story enriched with an endearing intergenerational friendship that will become a quick favorite for holiday story times.

Thank you to Two Lions and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of A Christmas Too Big for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Christmas Too Big

By Colleen Madden

 

For Kerry and her family, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when her mom, dad, and siblings go “TOTALLY BERSERK with Christmas.” Her dad gets out the strings of Christmas lights; her mom sings Christmas carols (filling in her own words where she can’t quite remember the real ones) while doing chores; her big sister bakes, bakes, bakes; and her little brother hides and rehides elves all over the house. At night, of course, they “watch every. Single. Christmas. Special. On every. Single. Christmas. Channel.”

A week before Christmas, they go to the cut-your-own Christmas tree farm and choose the biggest tree they see. The bring this behemoth inside and begin to decorate it. But there aren’t enough lights to cover it, there are squabbles over putting a star or an angel at the top, and someone finds a squirrel resting in the top. “O.M. Gingerbread,” Kerry says. She can’t take any more and heads outside.

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Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

There, her neighbors houses sport enormous decorations, flashing lights, and one has even provided a target on their lawn to show Santa where to drop the presents. Kerry thinks “that everybody is having a Christmas Too Big. Then, across the street, Kerry sees Mrs. Flores struggling with her grocery cart in the snow and goes over to help. After dislodging the cart from the snowbank and picking up the dropped groceries, Kerry walks with Mrs. Flores to her house.

¿Te gustaria un poco de cacao, querida? Mrs. Flores asks Kerry. Kerry would love some cocoa and answers “Yes, please! ¡Sí, por favor!” Kerry looks around Mrs. Flores house. It’s neat and tidy, and her tabletop Christmas tree is decorated in handmade tiny paper flowers. “And that’s it. NO singing penguins or peppermint candy canes…or a zillion lights.” Next to the tree is a picture of her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson who live in Mexico. Mrs. Flores says, “Los extraño mucho,” and Kerry is sure “they must miss her too.”

After they drink their cocoa, Mrs. Flores teaches Kerry how to make paper flowers and sings a song she remembers from when she was young: “En invierno, / Las flores no crecen, / esperan a que LLeguen La primavera y el sol! In winter the flowers / aren’t blooming. / They wait for the spring / and the sun! //Ellas desean besos / cálidos de mariposa, They wish for warm / butterfly kisses, Luego ellas bailan! then they dance! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! / Yes! Yes! Yes! / La! La! La!” They dance and then decorate Mrs. Flores’s house with the flowers they’ve made. Finally, Mrs. Flores lights a single candle in her window for her family.

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Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

Kerry helps Mrs. Flores open the gift her family sent her. It’s a tablet, but Mrs. Flores doesn’t know how to use it. Kerry shows her how and makes a call with it. Suddenly, Mrs. Flores’s son appears, then her daughter-in-law. Then she gets to see her grandson Andrew, who calls her “Na-na.”

Nighttime had fallen and it was time for Kerry to go home. Out in the snow, Kerry thinks about the day: “What a different kind of Christmas. Small and quiet, yet BIG all the same.” Back home, Kerry looks for a way to have “my own kind of Christmas in in my own crazy Christmas house.” She makes flowers—lots of flowers—and decorates the shelves, stairway, mirrors, and even their dogs.

When Kerry lights a single candle for Mrs. Flores, her mom suggests inviting her for Christmas dinner. While her family puts the finishing touches on the tree, Kerry sends Mrs. Flores an invitation to her tablet. On Christmas day, Kerry and her family and Mrs. Flores all enjoy a festive dinner with all the trimmings and a lot of cheer.

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Image copyright Colleen Madden, 2021, courtesy of Two Lions.

Whether you like to celebrate Christmas in big or small ways, Colleen Madden’s heartwarming story reflects the true spirit of the holiday as a day for family, friends, togetherness, and kindness. While Kerry’s parents and siblings believe in a bigger-is-better philosophy, when Kerry finds another way of celebrating with Mrs. Flores, she realizes that “big” doesn’t need to come with a huge tree, lots of lights, hundreds of cookies, or even a month of preparations, but can simply mean warm feelings inside their heart. Madden’s organic integration of Mrs. Flores’ conversation in Spanish is very welcome.

Madden’s straightforward, non-judgmental, inviting, and humorous storytelling welcomes kids all along the spectrum, from HUGE to tiny, to enjoy Christmas and its lead-in in the way that is most meaningful to them. The story can also spur talks within a family about the ways each member likes to celebrate and to incorporate those ideas into their yearly traditions.

Madden’s winning illustrations will keep kids riveted to the pages as Kerry’s family joyously retrieves the Christmas decorations and gets to work. Madden depicts their over-the-top love of the holiday in illustrations that are jam-packed, frenetic, and definite showstoppers that kids will love poring over—especially the title screens for seventeen comical Christmas specials, Mom’s “so close” renditions of holiday classic songs, and the cutaway of Kerry’s house, where they can search for the elves hidden in each room. The image of the Christmas tree bent in half because it’s too tall to fit in the room is particularly funny as is the two-page spread of the neighborhood where inflatable Santas, snowmen, and candy canes as well as billboard-sized lighted signs dominate each yard.

In contrast, Mrs. Flores one-story house has no outdoor decorations and the inside is sparsely furnished, allowing the focus to be on her small tree. As you turn from pages where you don’t know where to look next to these simple spreads, you can almost hear yourself sigh as the frenzy fades and a calm, quiet simplicity takes over. Back home, there’s no denying the beauty of the family’s fully decorated tree, and readers (maybe the adults even more than the kids) will appreciate the matching candy cane-striped onesie pajamas they’re wearing. The final image of Kerry’s family sharing dinner with Mrs. Flores is cheerful and festive. Spanish labels name all of the food, decorations, and other items on and around the dinner table.

Instructions on how to create the flores de Navidad that Mrs. Flores taught Kerry to make follow the story. The back endpapers name more objects, food, and clothing associated with Christmas and winter in Spanish. The English translations are found on the front endpapers.

An excellent story for sharing the fun and meaning of the Christmas season that will resonate with all kids and be asked for again and again, A Christmas Too Big would make a much-appreciated gift and a new family favorite on home bookshelves. The book is also highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542028004

Colleen Madden grew up in a crazy Christmas house and, like Kerry, she found a break by spending time with her neighbor who was from another country. She has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestselling What If Everybody? series, written by Ellen Javernick, and the picture-book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. She recently published Monkey Walk, her debut as both author and illustrator, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons. 

A Christmas Too Big Book Tour Activity

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Nail Polish-Dipped Ornaments

 

These plastic ornaments swirled with colorful nail polish make the perfect decorations for your tree. Make some to give to friends too!

Supplies

  • Plastic ornaments, available at craft stores
  • Nail polish in various colors
  • Plastic bowl or container, deep enough to dip the ornament into the water
  • Drying stand – I used a clear, plastic egg carton, or string for hanging ornaments to dry

Directions

Fill the plastic container with warm to hot water

  1. Using two or three colors, gently “paint” the water with the nail polish, using the brush or a toothpick in dots and swirls
  2. Slowly dip the plastic ornament into the water and turn it to pick up the nail polish floating on the top of the water
  3. To dry, place the ornament on a stand or hang with a paper plate, wax paper, or other paper to catch drips

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You can find A Christmas Too Big at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 30 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

You’ve heard the saying “Too Many Books, Too Little Time,” right? Well, this truism has spawned not only one, but two Read a New Book Month celebrations! Both September and December have been designated as times to make special plans to search out and read new books. These can be books that are newly published or books that are new to you. And if you find yourself putting a few old favorites in the pile, that’s okay too! Today’s book bridges both months because It’s never too early to think about adding books to those upcoming holiday gift lists!

The Christmas Crumb

Written by Lou Treleaven | Illustrated by Alex Willmore

 

“Way up in the clouds, where the air is much thinner, / A giant royal family ate Christmas dinner.” The turkey and ham were simply enormous, and the bowl of potatoes so large and so deep that a child from Earth down below “could get in and hide.” But the most magnificent thing was the Yule log dessert that lay on the platter like, well, a freshly cut tree. As the giants gobbled their cake, one crumb fell to the floor. It bounced and it rolled right out the door.

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Image copyright Alex Willmore, 2021, text copyright Lou Treleaven, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts Publishing.

The giant princess apologized for losing the crumb, but her mother assured her that the crumb was so tiny no harm had been done. But the crumb had kept rolling, and it fell through the clouds then crashed through the door of a “tumbledown cottage” where “Pip sat with his mother. / They didn’t have much, but they did have each other.” Pip was ecstatic; this Christmas dessert could replace their “thin gruel.” He dug in with gusto, sending a smaller crumb flying.

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Image copyright Alex Willmore, 2021, text copyright Lou Treleaven, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts Publishing.

Pip was upset that he’d lost even a morsel, but his mom reassured him that it was “‘only a crumb. / So dinky, so diddy, it’s not worth the fussing. / It’s inconsequential – it really is nothing.’” By now that tinier crumb had found a new home in a mouse hole where “a dozen mice pups / Were getting quite desperate for food to turn up.” They swarmed on that crumb—their great Christmas feast that would feed them for weeks.

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Image copyright Alex Willmore, 2021, text copyright Lou Treleaven, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts Publishing.

In all of the scarfing, a small crumb came loose. It rolled off the table and through a crack in the floor. A couple of bounces left it out in the snow, where a group of red ants was about to eat leaves. But they gave up the cuttings as quick as a wink when this surprising treat—“almost as big as [their] nest—fell into their midst. They hugged and they celebrated; they had food for the winter, they were “‘going to survive!’” They cheered, “‘This Christmas bonanza has just saved our lives.’” Was that it, then? All the sharing that first crumb could do? You might think what was left was too tiny, too wee, but one ant “passed his share down to an overjoyed flea.” So this Christmas (and all through the year) remember that what one person thinks small, someone else will hold dear.

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Image copyright Alex Willmore, 2021, text copyright Lou Treleaven, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts Publishing.

Like the Christmas season itself, Lou Treleaven’s story of a treat that keeps on giving is full of charm, surprise, and cheer. Her set up of a royal giant family enjoying their holiday feast lends a magical plausibility to the idea of a crumb large enough to pass down and down and down again to feed multiple families—an idea that brings new delight each time a crumb escapes and finds a new home. Treleaven’s whimsical storyline soars on her jaunty rhyme scheme and her superb word choices that are humorous and heart-tugging at the same time.

Her deft messaging will appeal to children’s natural empathy as well as their awareness today of need in their communities as in each household the child apologizes for losing even a crumb. The adults’ repeated response, while providing a fun phrase for readers to join in on, can also lead to deeper discussions about the importance and rewards of giving.

Accompanying Lou Treleaven’s story are Alex Willmore’s hilarious and heartening illustrations that set the Christmas scene with fresh color tones and captivating details that show the impact the “crumb” has on each family. Spying a child hiding in the giants’ big bowl of potatoes will elicit giggles, and the characters’ facial expressions—from the princess’s delighted gasp at seeing the Yule log to the mother’s look of impending doom as the crumb barrels through her home—are priceless.

Willmore’s work with perspective is worthy of special note. Underlying Treleaven’s message that something’s worth is all in ones perspective, Willmore’s scenes employ close-up and distant views; commonly recognized items are juxtaposed to the giants, Pip and his mom, the mice, the ants, and finally the flea to show scale; and the runaway crumb becomes smaller and smaller but is always just the right size. Math-oriented kids will enjoy pointing these out, and some may like replicating scenes by physically arranging similar items. In a final spread, the princes, Pip, the mice, the ants, and even the barely perceptible flea line up with their crumbs in a meaningful demonstration of how something small to one person is big to another.

An utter delight from beginning to end, The Christmas Crumb offers a sweet message about giving and perspective that’s perfect for the holiday season and all year around. Adults and kids will love sharing this rollicking read aloud again and again. This is a book you’ll want to buy for your home, school, or public library shelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Maverick Arts, 2021 | ISBN 978-1848867765

Discover more about Lou Treleaven, her books, plays, and other work on her website. You’ll also find activities to print.

To learn more about Alex Willmore, his books, and his art, visit his website

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Mini Accordion Book

 

With this craft you can make a little book for your own writing, pictures, or stickers. With a holiday-themed cover, you can use it as an advent calendar or holiday wish list. This little book would also make a fun gift to make for your friends.

Supplies

  • 12-inch by 12-inch sheet of scrapbooking paper – single or double sided
  • Decorative scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or a page of the child’s own writing or drawing
  • Cardboard
  • Stickers, pictures
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Ruler
  • Pencil

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Directions

  1. Draw a 3-inch border around the edge of the 12-inch by 12-inch sheet of scrapbooking paper. This will make a 6-inch square in the center of the paper
  2. Draw a line from the top of the paper to meet the left edge of the 6-inch square. The line will be 3 inches from the left side of the paper.
  3. Draw a 3-inch line from the top center of the 6-inch square to the center of the square

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To Cut the Paper

  1. Beginning with the line at the top of the piece of paper, cut down the left edge of the 6-inch square.
  2. Cut across the bottom of the square.
  3. Cut up the right side of the square
  4. Cut across the top of the square to the line in the center.
  5. Cut down the 3-inch center line to the middle of the square

To Fold the Pages

  1. Draw light or dotted lines every 3 inches along the strip of paper
  2. Starting at the top of the strip, fold the paper on the lines accordion style.
  3. Make the first fold by folding the first 3-inch section down towards you.
  4. Fold the second 3-inch section back away from you
  5. Continue folding the 3-inch sections down and back until the strip is entirely folded

To Make the Cover

  1. Cut two 3 ½ -inch squares from the cardboard
  2. Cut two 4 ½-inch squares of from the decorative paper, wrapping paper, or child’s writing or drawing
  3. Cover the cardboard with the paper, folding the excess paper over the edges and securing with glue

To Assemble the Book

  1. With the strip of paper completely folded, glue one cover to the top 3-inch square
  2. Glue the second cover to the end 3-inch square

Fill the book with writing, drawings, stickers, whatever!

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You can find The Christmas Crumb at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 24 – Celebrating Family Fun Month with Tara Knudson

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Tara Knudson is a former teacher who has been writing poetry and stories since she was a young girl growing up in Chicago. Her published work can be found in children’s magazines, greeting cards, calendars, and a poetry anthology for teens. Christmas Cookie Day, Easter Egg Day, and Valentine’s Day Treats are all part of Tara’s collected works celebrating a childlike approach to beloved holiday celebrations.

You can connect with Tara Knudson on her website | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much for stopping by to chat, Tara! I’m happy to be celebrating Family Fun Month with you since your books always invite kids and their families to enjoy the seasons together at home, with friends, and on special outings. You always include some kind of hands-on element to your books – either recipes, tips, or touch-and-feel pages – to get kids and adults spending extra time together. It makes me wonder if your previous job or jobs have influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

One of my favorite books when I was a child was Richard Scarry’s BEST WORD BOOK EVER. I remember sitting in a big chair and reading as many words as I could. I loved to learn and play school when I was younger, so it’s no surprise that later I became a teacher. I was a teacher for many years before becoming an author. I taught Spanish to K-12 students and math to elementary students in Chicago. I also taught English to middle school students in Barcelona, Spain where I lived as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar for a year.

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Given my experience in education, I think my books will always have some teachable moments in them. From making Christmas cookies, to dyeing Easter eggs, or creating a heart-shaped cake from a round cake and a square cake, I like to incorporate fun lessons in my books that early childhood teachers can incorporate into their classroom lessons. 

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In my board books for the youngest readers, little ones can experience the unique sights and sounds of a fall day or a lively parade and learn new words along the way!

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I am excited to be able to do in-person author events once again as schools safely welcome back students and teachers again. What a joy it is to teach with my own books! 

Your experiences in the classroom have certainly inspired wonderful books for little ones! Congratulations on your upcoming book Parade Day Fun, which is releasing from Zonderkidz in March 2022! I’m sure little ones will be lining up to bring the excitement of a parade home!

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Fun Fall Day: A Touch and Feel Board Book

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Juliana Motzko

 

Tara Knudson’s playful rhymes will charm little ones as they join in on the fall fair excitement. Along the way, kids meet many different animals and engage with shapes and colors. Knudson’s lyrical verses perfectly reflect the fun and cozy atmosphere of fall. Sensory patches invite eager fingers to pet the horse and goat, touch grainy sugar, enjoy the woody texture of a fallen leaf, and feel the smoothness of a pumpkin shell.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2020, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2020. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Juliana Motzko’s fall fair enchants with adorable animals and the bright colors of the autumn season. Delighted smiles abound as the young fair-goers visit the petting zoo, craft table, baked goods display, play area, and pumpkin patch. Motzko’s textured illustrations of golden hay, rich soil, whole grain bread and apple pie as well as crunchy leaves and a straw-filled scarecrow blend well with the touch-and-feel patches and enhance the opportunity for adults and kids to talk about sensory awareness.

Fun Fall Day, a nicely sized board book—not too small or too big for little hands—is a story that’s a joy to read aloud and one that kids will want to hear again and again. It would make a much-appreciated gift for babies and toddlers and a favorite on home, preschool, and public library bookshelves.

Ages Baby – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310770213

Discover more about Tara Knudson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Juliana Motzko, her books, and her art, visit her website.

You can find Fun Fall Day: A Touch and Feel Board Book at these booksellers

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

Holiday Books

Kids enjoy getting ready for the holidays with these sweet books by Tara Knudson and Pauline Siewert.

You can find printable coloring pages for each book on Tara’s website.

To connect with Pauline Siewert, visit her on Instagram.

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Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mama bear and her little bear get ready for one of the most fun days of the year. “Cooke day, / Time to bake. / Aprons on, / Lots to make!” 

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

You can find Christmas Cookie Day! at these booksellers

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

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Tara Knudson captures the enthusiasm little ones have for expressing their love in her warm rhymes that transport kids into the middle of exciting Valentine’s Day preparations. As the little raccoons cut and paste, color and paint, and add stickers and lots of glitter, kids will be eager to get out their own supplies to make homemade cards for those they love. And just one look at Knudson’s clever cake will have them running to the kitchen to make that too. Of course, Valentines are to share, and readers will be eager to see who gets the little raccoon’s special treats.

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

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

Ages Baby – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310768395

You can find Valentine’s Day Treats at these booksellers

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

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Easter Egg Day

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Little ones love the magic of dyeing Easter eggs, and Tara Knudson’s bright, bouncy rhymes perfectly convey the giggly excitement kids feel during this once-a-year tradition. Readers will eagerly anticipate each step and page turn along the way as the bunnies turn their carton of white eggs into a basket full of creative, colorful treasures. Of course, Easter eggs are made for hiding and finding, and Knudson invites kids to join the bunnies and little moles and mice as they scamper through the yard on this most joyful of all hunts.

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

With sunny yellows, tender-grass greens, and vibrant oranges, purples, and reds, Pauline Siewert drops kids as gently as an egg into dye into spring and the enchantment of Easter egg fun. White eggs marked with creative crayon designs will give readers a few ideas for their own eggs while the sweet smiles and enthusiasm of the bunny siblings and their parents mirror their own feelings. As the bunnies and their friends dash off to find the eggs, little ones will be just as excited for their own Easter egg traditions.

Adorable and endearing, Easter Egg Day will be a favorite spring read for adults and kids to share before Easter and to remember family fun.

Ages 2 – 4

Zonderkidz, 2020 | ISBN 978-0310767527

You can find Easter Egg Day at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 9 – Celebrating National Book Lovers Day with Carole Gerber

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Poet and author Carole Gerber has written nearly two dozen picture books, early readers, and chapter books as well as more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. She has also worked as a high school and middle school English teacher, an adjunct professor of journalism at Ohio State, a marketing director, editor of a company magazine, a member of creative teams at an ad agency and a hospital, a contributing editor to a computer magazine, and – finally! – as a freelance writer of elementary textbooks, magazine articles, speeches, annual reports, and patient education materials. She holds a BS in English education and an MA in journalism from Ohio State, and has taught middle school and high school English as well as college news writing and factual writing at OSU. Some of her picture books include When You’re Scary and You Know It, The Gifts of the Animals, A Band of Babies, and 10 Busy Brooms. You can learn more about Carole Gerber, her books, and her work on her website.

Thank you for helping me celebrate Book Lover’s Day, Carole! You have such a beautiful way with words, and your books always reflect your love for children and the way they play, learn, and celebrate all the changes and fun a year brings. You’ve really followed your love of writing throughout your career. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What was your journey to publication?

My high school English teacher, John Engle, inspired me to be a writer. He invited me to join his creative writing class when I was a senior and did his best to help me whip my writing into publishable shape. John was a widely published poet and short story writer and he was what was known back in the day as a stern taskmaster. His favorite comments were: “Your first thought is not your best thought” and “Revise, revise, revise.”

I—and some others in his class—got their poems and stories published (and paid for!) in some magazines for high school students. However, as far as I know, I am the only student he ever had who became a professional writer.

I majored in English in college and followed in his footsteps by becoming an English teacher. I lasted a year in a tough Columbus, Ohio high school. I transferred the following year to an equally tough middle school. Although I liked my students, I found the discipline issues exhausting. I applied to the master’s in journalism program at Ohio State and enrolled the following year. Luckily, I received an assistantship that paid my full tuition and a small salary in return for writing two feature articles a week for their hometown papers about students enrolled in the OSU honors program. I was thrilled to have my first by-lines and got valuable experience in conducting interviews.

 Before beginning a career as a freelancer, I worked as an in-house magazine editor, a marketing director, an adjunct professor of journalism at OSU, and as a copywriter for an advertising agency. As a freelancer, I was a contributing editor to a computer magazine, wrote ad copy for McGraw-Hill texts, and traveled abroad with OSU faculty to cover conferences and write publications. I also wrote dozens of short work-for-hire elementary reading and science books for McGraw-Hill and other publishers.

This spurred me, about 15 years ago, to begin writing picture books that were not done by assignment. Although I have had a couple of dozen manuscripts published, I have dozens more that were not. Here’s the difference:  When I did “work for hire” textbooks, I was paid a flat fee to write on a well-defined topic with frequent feedback to help me produce exactly what was wanted.

No such guidance is given when you choose to write and then submit —or have an agent submit —your manuscript. And it can sometimes take years to get accepted, even for experienced authors. Many of those were sold by agents to “big name publishers” who never accepted another. It is definitely a “buyers’ market.”

I have three bits of advice for writers eager to break into the picture book market:  1. Research publishers to learn what types of picture books they seek; 2. Read dozens, even hundreds, of picture books to figure out pace, plot, and structure; and 3. Revise, revise, revise!

I understand you also have two more picture books coming out in 2022. Can you tell readers a little about them?

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How You Came to Be, beautifully illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, is scheduled for April 2022 from Penguin Random House. It’s about a mother’s love for her unborn child and how the baby develops month-by-month in the womb. It’s a love letter, really, for mothers to share with their young children. 

In November, 2022, I have P Is for Purr, A Cat Alphabet coming from Familius. This gorgeous book, illustrated by Susanna Covelli, is filled with little-known facts about cats – some I didn’t know myself! I dedicated it to my own cat, Simon – a sweet boy who has definitely purred his way into my heart. 

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What a varied and fascinating career you’ve had! I love the support and inspiration you received from your high school English teacher. That must have been an amazing class and experience. I’m sure readers will agree when I say I’m so glad your writing journey has brought you to picture books and other books for children! 

Two Holiday Picture Books by Carole Gerber

Little book lovers can’t wait to celebrate all the special occasions during the year with stories. Here are two books by Carole Gerber that will get your kids excited about upcoming holidays.

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If You’re Scary and You Know It!

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Noël Ill

 

As the warm days of summer cool into the crisp days of fall, can Halloween be far behind? Kids will have a blast preparing for the big night of chills and thrills while they decide on the most pressing question: What will I be? Carole Gerber and Noël Ill know exactly how that feels and their book, a rollicking adaptation of the participatory favorite “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” will keep readers moving and giggling all month long—and beyond.

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Image copyright Noël Ill, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Kids and adults alike will fully get into the spirit of Halloween with Carole Gerber’s clever and enticingly impish rhymes that will have them moving their feet, yowling ghoulishly, and laughing together. Gerber’s rich language and detailed action-packed storytelling are a joy to sing or read aloud and give kids plenty to imitate as they listen. Children will love joining in on the repeated phrases, and older kids will learn the jaunty verses in no time.

In her delightful, spritely illustrations, Noël Ill replicates the eerie autumn atmosphere that adds to the thrill of Halloween while also clearly depicting motions that children can perform with each verse. Ill’s diverse kids float, dance, growl, screech, and shake with the same enthusiasm as little readers. The final two-page spreads invite children to that nighttime world of magic and treats.

Ages 3 – 6

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701464

You can buy If You’re Scary and You Know It! on the Familius website.

 

You can also find If You’re Scary and You Know It! at these booksellers

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

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The Gifts of the Animals

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

The wonder of that first Christmas night glows in Carole Gerber’s beautiful story that follows the animals in the stable as they make a warm and soft bed for Jesus to sleep in. Young readers will be mesmerized by the gentle generosity of the ox, cow, sheep, birds, and mice as they all work together to provide for the baby to come. As the shepherds are visited by the angels and go to worship Jesus, Gerber uses the lyrical language and flowing cadence of the King James version of the biblical story to create a tender and glorious read aloud for the whole family. 

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Image Yumi Shimokawara, 2019, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Yumi Shimokawara’s gorgeous, soft-hued illustrations are breathtaking in their detail and inspiration. Pride, fellowship, and diligence shine on the animals’ faces as they create a manger bed worthy of the baby Jesus. Realistic and traditional images of the stone stable, the shepherds and their flock blend poignantly with the depiction of the singing angels that could come from any diverse modern choir. The final illustration in which the animals and the shepherds gather around Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in adoration reveals the promise and hope of the true meaning of Christmas.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

You can buy The Gifts of the Animals on the Familius website.

 

You can also find The Gifts of the Animals at these booksellers

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

 

This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure statement here.

Picture Book Review

December 25 – Christmas Day

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About the Holiday

Christmas is anticipated all year round for the joy of giving, the fun of receiving, and the message of hope the holiday gives. There are as many ways to celebrate as there are families, but today’s book shows that the inspiration of the season can live in every person all year round.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of I Got the Christmas Spirit for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the Christmas Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl wakes up with a smile on her face and “the spirit of the season” in her heart. As she and her mother head out into the snowy city, she hears “the spirit in the air” as carolers sing and a corner Santa rings a bell. She’s been saving her money to add to the familiar red pot and happily drops it in the slot. The choir is now singing “Deck the Halls,” and the little girl sings along with all her heart.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then it’s time for a yummy roasted treat to warm her up in the shivery air. On the ice-skating rink, the girl and her mom “swirled and twirled around the spirit” with other kids and adults enjoying some frozen fun. Afterward, a tour of the store windows decorated with lights and glitter makes her feel sparkly inside. But when they come upon a mother and her two children huddled against the wind with a “Help Please” sign, the girl says, “I felt the spirit deep down in my soul.”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In a crowded store nearby, the little girl looks wide-eyed at all the toys then whispers to a tired Santa her wish “for the spirit everywhere.” As she, her mom, Santa, and a host of other people leave the store carrying wrapped packages, they feel the spirit spread by the girl’s smile. Outside, the little girl and the other shoppers give the presents to the needy family. The little boy grins from ear to ear as his mom stands by happily and the baby rests in Santa’s arms.

The Christmas spirit is not just a thing or a place or a person, the girl understands, “The spirit is you!” Then the girl gets her own surprise when she spies her dad coming home. She runs to him and he lifts her into a hug. Here is what she wants for Christmas—“Peace for all, good tidings, and cheer—let’s live the spirit every day of the year.”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As the sights and sounds of Christmas begin to light up towns, stores, and homes, Connie Schofield-Morrison’s story fills young readers with the joy and deeper meaning of the holiday. Little ones wanting to share their bubbly excitement for Christmas as well as their innate empathy will fall in love with the little girl who eagerly joins in on all of the city’s festivities while also embracing those in need. Her big heart and buoyant spirit will inspire kids to find the spirit of the holiday in everything they do too. Kids are invited to join in reading with exuberant alliterative words like “Ding Dong Ding, that call out to the little girl

Readers can almost hear the bells and singers, feel the soft snow, and smell the roasting nuts as he takes readers on a tour of the city decked out for the holidays. In his gorgeous, realistic paintings, the emotions and actions of the little girl cheer young readers as they see her belting out a Christmas carol, gliding on ice rink, and walking side-by-side with Santa to deliver her surprise gifts to the needy family. Images of the girl dropping money that she has saved into the Salvation Army pot and frowning sadly as she comes upon the destitute woman and her family mirror the compassion many children feel for those less fortunate.

Like its predecessor I Got the Rhythm, I Got the Christmas Spirit is an uplifting and beautiful book to add to any child’s collection—not only at Christmas, but any time of the year. A top choice for public libraries too.

Ages 3 – 7

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681195285

To learn more about Frank Morrison and view a gallery of his art, visit his website.

Christmas Day Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

 

Santa has one more present to put into his sack. Can you help him take the gift through the maze in this printable puzzle?

Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Puzzle | Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Solution

CPB - I Got the Christmas Spirit Cover

You can find I Got the Christmas Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 24 – Christmas Eve

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About the Holiday

For children around the world, Christmas Eve night is full of magic and wonder, traditions that only come around once a year and traditions – like reading together – that make any day better. Even Santa Claus and his reindeer have a favorite pre-flight tradition – is it also one of yours? 

Thanks go to Two Lions Publishing for sending me a copy of Santa’s Story for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Santa’s Story

By Will Hillenbrand

 

’Twas a snowy Christmas Eve night. Santa was ready for his yearly ride, but when he went to hitch up his reindeer, he found the stalls empty. Where were the reindeer? Out on the snow-covered hills, they were each doing their own thing. In a race with some rabbits, “Dasher dashed. ‘I better hightail it!’” he exclaimed as he fell behind. Meanwhile, Dancer was dancing—twirling, high-stepping, and leaping.

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Copyright Will Hillenbrand, 2019, courtesy of Two Lions.

Prancer had gathered an audience and was strutting his stuff. And while the snow lay thick on the ground, there still wasn’t enough for Vixen who “vexed, ‘More snow!’” to the snowman who was happy to oblige with his shiny, red snow blower. Watching the snowflakes flutter down, with awe “Comet commented, ‘Soon it’ll be Christmas!’” The other reindeer were also enjoying the winter wonderland in their own way, unaware that Santa was looking for them.

Back home, with the sleigh packed with a bulging bag of toys, Santa wondered where his reindeer could have gone. He tried blowing a horn, jingling sleigh bells, and even calling out a booming “‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’” Still, no reindeer appeared. Then, as Santa pondered, he happened to spy Comet with a book in front of him “and remembered their Christmas Eve tradition.” He called out “Story Time!” and all the reindeer came prancing and dashing and dancing back home. They settled in around Santa and under lantern light listened to him read “‘’Twas the night before Christmas….’” Happy and satisfied, the reindeer got in line in front of Santa’s sleigh ready to take off on the merriest flight of the year.

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Copyright Will Hillenbrand, 2019, courtesy of Two Lions.

Will Hillenbrand’s sweet tribute to a favorite tradition of Christmas—the reading of Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from Saint Nicholas—reveals the individual personalities of the world’s most famous reindeer while they wait for Santa to get Christmas started properly. Little ones will enjoy joining in on each reindeer’s Christmas Eve activity while learning some new words, such as hightail, vexed, and crooned, and discovering how these words relate to the action and/or the reindeer.

Hillenbrand’s lovely, softly hued illustrations add a sense of magic to this North Pole setting, where lights glow from windows, ornaments add sparkles of color to the snowy landscape, and a bunny peeks out from the snowman’s top hat (readers familiar with Hillenbrand’s Snowman’s Story will be cheered to see this pair’s cameo). Hillenbrand’s inclusion of a lighthouse—it’s beam shining brightly out into the world—is an enchanting touch to Santa’s home. Readers will have fun pointing out the searching Santa on the pages and may figure out the mystery before Santa does by carefully watching his adorable pet.

A charming lead-in to readings of A Visit from Saint Nicholas or as a new tradition on its own, Santa’s Story would be a delightful addition to Christmas story time wish lists.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2019 | ISBN 978-1542043380

Will Hillenbrand has written and illustrated many beloved picture books, including Snowman’s Story, Down by the Barn, Mother Goose Picture Puzzles, and the Bear and Mole series. He has also illustrated dozens of books, including the Big Bear series by Maureen Wright. Will lives with his wife and son in Terrace Park, Ohio. You can find out more about him at www.willhillenbrand.com.

You can connect with Will on Facebook | Instagram 

Christmas Eve Activity

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Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

 

Match the two-member reindeer teams so they can help Santa in this printable puzzle!

Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-santa's-story-cover

You can find Santa’s Story 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

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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