April 14 – It’s National Garden Month and Q & A with Author/Illustrator Wendy Wahman

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About the Holiday

One of the wonderful activities of spring and summer is gardening. As the sun warms, farmers and gardeners till their land and plant seeds with eager anticipation of the harvest to come.  April is Gardening Month, and the second week is designated especially for vegetable gardening. Our meals would not be as tasty and nutritious without carrots, squash, peas, beans, peppers, potatoes, and all the rest of these colorful foods. Today’s container gardens give even reluctant gardeners great ways to grow their own—without the work of a large plot. Whether you enjoy gardening on a large or small scale, take the opportunity of this month to start planting the seeds of a rewarding hobby!

Rabbit Stew

By Wendy Wahman

 

“Rusty and Rojo toiled and tilled in their vegetable garden all summer long.” But now the crops have ripened, and the two foxes are ready to enjoy the bounty of their hard work—so are their neighbors, the Rabbits. As Mommy Rabbit and the bunnies nibble away in a corner of the garden, Rusty gently squeezes the tomatoes and finds them “plump, yet firm.” “Perfectly so,” Rojo agrees as he lifts Daddy Rabbit from the carrot patch. “At last,” Rusty and Rojo exclaim, “the time is ripe for our prizewinning Rabbit Stew!”

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman, 2017. Courtesy of wendywahman.com.

While Rojo picks “lean, green runner beans,” the Rabbits look on worriedly. Daddy tries to hide, but Rusty spies him in the wheelbarrow full of purple kale. Then, when the family dives back into their cozy “hole sweet hole,” they find that their convenient carrot snacks are being abruptly snatched away—only to be added to the pot of “splendid Rabbit Stew.”

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman, 2017. Courtesy of wendywahman.com.

Next come raisins and celery “and roly-poly blueberries.” But what about those white and gray bits of fluff? Will they end up in the foxes’ buckets too? Of course “juicy red tomatoes, fresh sprigs of parsley, and sweet yellow peppers” are also musts for the foxes’ “finest-ever Rabbit Stew.” With the pot overflowing with colorful veggies, only one more thing is needed—“one…big…round…white…bowl…for our favorite Rabbit, Stew—and his family too!”

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman, 2017. Courtesy of wendywahman.com.

With her fertile imagination and a clever play on words, Wendy Wahman offers up a delightful story that will have readers guessing until the very end. Along with the mystery and the yummy descriptions of each ingredient, Wahman presents a counting game for readers. As Rusty and Rojo pick their vegetables, children can count the ten runner beans on the trellis, nine purple kale leaves in the wheelbarrow, eight carrots from the burrow, and all of the other ingredients on down to one. But do Rusty and Rojo need one big white rabbit or something else? Kids will love the twist at the end and cheer to see Daddy Stew, Mommy Strudel, and their little bunnies—Dumpling, Biscuit, and Ragu—dining on the special meal grown and created just for them.

Everyone’s garden should look as deliciously vibrant as Wahman’s riotous patch of vegetables! The vivid colors jump off the page while providing texture and nuance to the illustrations. They also give kids another concept to learn and talk about. Little details, such as the tiny caterpillar and the yellow butterfly that follow the bunnies from page to page, as well as the fancy burrow lined with photos of friends and family will enchant readers. 

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman, 2017, courtesy o f Wendy Wahman.

Welcome themes of friendship, diversity, and inclusiveness can also be found within the illustrations and the story.

Rabbit Stew is a bright, humorously sly story that would be a wonderful addition to any child’s library. The book also makes a perfect companion for trips to the farmers market, on picnics, or to spur interest in home gardening. The attention to the details of what rabbits can safely eat, as well as the number and color concepts provided in the illustrations, makes Rabbit Stew a great choice for school story times and spring lessons.

Ages 3 – 7

Boyds Mills Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1629795836

You can download a fun Rabbit Stew Activity Sheets from Boyds Mills Press!

Discover more about Wendy Wahman, her art, and her books on her website!

You’ll dig this Rabbit Stew book trailer!

National Garden Month Activity

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Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game, copyright Celebrate Picture Books, 2017

Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully ripen first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden rows with vegetables. Depending on the ages of the players, the required winning number of rows to fill and the number of vegetables to “plant” in each row can be adjusted.

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one set of Playing Cards for each player (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Print one Vegetable Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  4. Cut the vegetables into their individual playing cards
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the facing vegetable in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” vegetables until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with the determined number of vegetables.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their veggies wins!

Meet Author/Illustrator Wendy Wahman

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Today, I’m really happy to be chatting with Wendy Wahman about her art, her books, her inspirations, and a really sweet school visit she had recently.

Your bio mentions that you worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until 2009. Can you describe your work there?

I worked in the art department doing maps, graphics, info-graphics and illustrations for every section of the newspaper. Ninety percent of the work was on deadline, so I learned to think and draw fast.

Our poor beloved P-I. It was 146 years old when Hearst closed it down. About 150 of us went down with the ship. Best job I ever had. I miss the variety and culture and importance — and honesty — of journalism. I miss my P-I family, very much.

How did you get started illustrating and writing books for children?

I was really just snooping around for illustration work. I had an idea for a book on dog body language I wanted to do, but imagined ‘a real writer’ should write it. I sent out some of the dog body-language art samples and heard back from four major publishers. Laura Godwin at Henry Holt called me, and was so passionate about dogs and kids—and my art. She asked to see a dummy. What dummy, right? I had no dummy, just an idea and some art samples. I took two weeks off from the P-I and put together a dummy. Laura helped me tremendously, as did my brilliant writer husband, Joe Wahman.    

Don’t Lick the Dog is a how-to primer on being safe with dogs. We followed with the companion book, A Cat Like That. We never did do my dog body-language book. It’s sitting here patient as can be. “Good dog, book.”

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman, Don’t Lick the Dog. Courtesy of Wendy Wahman.

 

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman, A Cat Like That. Courtesy of Wendy Wahman.

Your art is so varied—from humorous to infographics to striking, serious editorial work. You also work with crisp, clean lines and beautiful textures. Can you talk about your process and inspirations?

Thank you so much, Kathy. Well. I sit and think and read a lot. Mostly I just look and try to distract myself from thinking too hard. I like to thumb through my Thesaurus. When I’m stuck, I try to remember to move away. This can be physically—exercise or a walk; mentally—read or look through books; or emotionally—play with my dogs or call somebody. I say, try, because too often I sit rooted, thinking, thinking. Better to get up and move.

What was the inspiration for Rabbit Stew?

I feed my dogs a homemade stew of meat & veggies. Long ago, I was stirring up an enormous batch of dog food, when “rabbit stew” fluttered to mind. Rabbit Stew is also a counting book, counting down veggies from ten to one. It’s also a color book. It was a challenge to find ingredients safe for rabbits, in different colors and not give it away. Like, rabbits love dandelions and they’re very good for them, but I only know a couple of people who would knowingly toss dandelions into the pot. No potatoes; they are toxic to bunnies, and cabbage isn’t good for them either. 

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A happy fan enjoys reading “Rabbit Stew” with lunch! Photo courtesy of Wendy Wahman.

You give presentations at schools and libraries. Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share?

I did a school visit recently in southern California and got to take my mom to a presentation for 4th graders. I introduced her to the students, and they gave her a loud round of applause! Even more tender, when I was signing books (and the other stuff kids want signed), they asked if my mother would also give them an autograph. Is that the sweetest or what? Children can be so inspiring, healing, and wise. 

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Wendy reads “Don’t Lick the Dog” to enthusiastic kindergarteners in Kennewick, WA. Photograph courtesy of Wendy Wahman

You also teach bookmaking to kids. That sounds fun and fascinating! Can you tell me a little bit about these classes?

I’m so glad you asked about these little books, Kathy. I love making them and sharing the process. Anyone can make one. I’ve taught them to kindergarteners through seniors. I call them “Insight Books,” because what comes out can be surprising, revealing, and often cathartic. Random lines inspire images and ideas. Some people write, others write and draw. Sometimes we collage. Even if you do nothing at all put look, the lines may stimulate ideas. These book are fun to make with a partner too. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m very excited about my next book, Pony in the City (Sterling Publishers). Kevan Atteberry’s book, Swamp Gas, releases the same day, Sept. 9th, and we’re talking about having a co- launch party.

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Image copyright Wendy Wahman. Proofs of “Pony in the City” (Sterling, releasing Sept. 9 this year) courtesy of Wendy Wahman.

I’m working on Nanny Paws (Two Lions), a book inspired by my little white poodle, LaRoo, and the children next door. Here’s a picture of LaRoo and my other dog Jody with my friend Vikki Kaufman‘s poodles. Vikki is a breeder of beautiful silver and blue standard poodles. Vikki took the picture, can you tell?  Her dogs are staring straight at her. Poor LaRoo. She is a shy girl and just wants to get away from the masses.

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Wendy with LeRoo and Jody and Vikki’s TinTin, Nickel and Eureka.

I’m also working on a dummy for a beautiful story written by Joe, “One Bird” (www.joewahman.com). I’m doing the art for both Nanny Paws and Joe’s story in a new/old style for me: pencil and watercolor.

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Image from “One Bird,” written by Joe Wahman, illustrated by Wendy Wahman. Courtesy of Wendy Wahman

 Do you have a favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving.

Do you have an anecdote from a holiday you would like to share

If you come over for Thanksgiving, prepare yourself for a vegetarian feast. We don’t eat animals here — but we do make them big, round, splendid bowls of stew.

Thanks so much, Wendy! It’s been a lot of fun! I wish you all the best with all of your books!

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You can find Wendy’s books at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Boyds Mills Press

You can connect with Wendy on:

BēhanceFacebook | LinkedIn | PinterestTwitter

Visit Wendy’s shops:

Cafe Press: http://www.cafepress.com/profile/109591016

RedBubble:  http://www.redbubble.com/people/wendywahman/portfolio

Zazzle: http://www.zazzle.com/wendoodles/products

Wendoodles coloring book: http://www.amazon.ca/Wendoodles-Wendy-E-Wahman/dp/1517403456

Picture Book Review

October 29 – Hug a Sheep Day

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About the Holiday

Founded in 1992 by a woman who rescued a sheep from wooly circumstances, Hug a Sheep Day gives us time to appreciate the warmth and comfort these animals provide through their soft fleece. As winter approaches in many parts of the world, many of us would be lost and cold without our favorite wool sweaters. If you want to take full advantage of today’s celebration, find a farm or petting zoo where you can give a sheep or lamb a hug.

Six Creepy Sheep

Written by Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon | Illustrated by John O’Brien

 

Six sheep just hanging out on Halloween night decided to go trick-or-treating. This spur-of-the-moment idea doesn’t leave them much time for elaborate costumes, so they cut holes in sheets and toss them over their heads. Then with pumpkin buckets in hoof and “on little sheep feet,” the “six creepy sheep went a-haunting UNTIL…they passed a passel of pirates, and one creepy sheep turned tail with a shriek.”

Five creepy sheep continue their haunting UNTIL…a flock of fairies crosses their path, sending one sheep running with a shriek. Down to four, the creepy sheep bravely head down the path again UNTIL…a herd of hobos happen by, “and one creepy sheep turned tail with a shriek.” Three bold sheep “on little sheep feet” tip toe through the forest UNTIL… “they glimpsed a gaggle of goblins” that sends one shrieking on its way.

Now two creepy sheep, more courageous than the others, hurry on as spooky trees wave and the wind howls UNTIL… “they whisked by a warren of witches” which is just too much for one of the sheep and it…well, you know! Under the bright full moon the last creepy sheep has come to the old barn that was the group’s final destination. Jack-o’-lanterns light the doorway, and the windows glow. The fearless ghostly sheep calls out, “Sheep trick or treat.”  Then the farmer swings open the door to a barnyard Halloween party with music, pumpkin pie, apple cider…and all the sheep’s friends!

When the holiday is “Hug a Sheep Day” to celebrate those sweet, gentle animals that say Baaaa instead of Booo, but the specter of Halloween is everywhere, what’s a reviewer to do? The classic Six Creepy Sheep is the perfect solution! Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon created a concept book that will keep little readers on their little feet as they count down the flock of sheep that go “a-haunting” on Halloween night. Alliterative verses introduce the other trick-or-treaters who so frighten the sheep that their numbers dwindle with each page. The repetitive phrasing makes Six Creepy Sheep a fun read-along, and the inclusive ending will charm kids.

John O’Brien’s pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are just spooky enough to create a slightly shivery story time for young readers. Kids will giggle at the orange-fleeced sheep wearing ghost costumes and walking on two legs. The site of the sheep fleeing in fright will also delight little ones as they pluck up their courage and proudly know that they would never be afraid of the pirates, fairies, hobos, goblins, and witches the sheep encounter. The forest, rendered in muted shades of purple, green, blue, and orange, is populated with trees that appear eerily alive and add to the Halloween atmosphere.

More readily available at libraries and with used booksellers, Six Creepy Sheep is a cute addition to your Halloween reading list.

Ages 3 – 6

Scholastic, 1992 | ISBN 978-0590119481

To learn more about John O’Brien and his artwork for children’s books, The New Yorker, and other publications, visit his website!

Hug a Sheep Day Activity

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Sheep on a Farm Coloring Page

 

With their fluffy wool and sweet Baaaa, sheep are a favorite of kids and adults.Enjoy this printable Sheep on a Farm Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

May 11 – National Night Shift Workers Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors all the people—medical personnel, firefighters, police officers, bakers, maintenance workers, and others who work the 3rd or night shift. These night owls work to keep us safe and protected, prepare treats for our morning repast, and maintain our living and work spaces for the next day. Take some time to thank a night shift worker and ask them about their perspective on the world.

Frankie Works the Night Shift

By Lisa Westberg Peters | Illustrated by Jennifer Taylor

 

In a quiet town after most people have gone to bed, Frankie the cat begins his work. He keeps busy emptying a wastebasket and cleaning two counters. From his doorway he calls other night workers to three meetings.

When the geraniums need watering, he sees that they are fed. It’s also his job to inspect the tool shelves, and tonight he discovers a stray intruder among the hammers. He chases it as it makes for the ladders—up and down, up and down—between the nail bins, ad up the stairs, causing a mess where there had just been order.

Frankie’s bosses wouldn’t approve, but he can’t worry about that now. He has his important job to attend to. But tonight is a wild night, and Frankie has awakened the management. “Be quiet, Frankie,” they shout. From their comfortable beds they ask, “What’s going on? Some of us have to work in the morning!”

And then the day workers see it—“Agh! A mouse!” They give him a task: “Go get it, Frankie!” and try to help by pointing out its whereabouts here and there. But Frankie is good at his job and pursues it through the cat door and into the backyard. It’s a night’s work well done! Frankie yawns and stretches. As he looks back at his domain, he’s glad he doesn’t work the day shift—there’s so much to clean up!

Frankie goes to bed in his red paint bucket in the hardware store window and dreams of relaxing at the beach on his well-deserved vacation.

Kids will love Lisa Westberg Peters’ frisky Frankie who is only doing his job but ends up creating chaos. Sometimes when you’re all in and concentrating on the work at hand, it’s like that, as kids and adults involved in play or projects well know. Peters’ clever story builds from Frankie’s playful antics in the hardware store to his necessary role of family protector and mouse dispatcher. The story contains an element of counting (Frankie empties one trash can, cleans two counters, calls three meetings…) which serves to enhance the humor.

Jennifer Taylor’s stunning mixed media illustrations make excellent use of digital photography. You almost want to reach out and pet Frankie or catch the objects flying in his wake. And when the little mouse peeks out from the broom or scampers across the floor, kids will say “aww!” or “eek!” depending on their courage. The first page of the streetscape at night is arresting for its uniquely designed old buildings. When I opened to this page, my graphics-loving daughter exclaimed, “Oh! What’s this book?!” and settled in to read it with me. Definitely a great beginning to an enjoyable read!

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, Harper Collins Publishers, 2010 | ISBN 978-0060090951

Gardening for Wildlife Activity

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Creative Cattails

 

Cattails are so cool, just like their namesake felines. They’re sleek and sophisticated and inside holds mystery that bursts out when you least expect it! Here’s a simple craft for making cattails that will enhance any bouquet or décor.

Supplies

  • 6-inch by 5/8-inch craft stick
  • 3/16–inch by 12-inch dowel
  • Chunky brown yarn,  
  • Green origami paper, 8-inch square
  • Green craft paint
  • Paint brush
  • Glue gun

Directions

To make the cattail:

  1. Paint the dowel green, let dry
  2. Glue 1 inch of the dowel to one end of the craft stick with the glue gun
  3. Starting at the bottom of the craft stick, glue an end of the brown yarn to the end of the craft stick meets the dowel
  4. Wind the yarn upward around the dowel and craft stick to the top. You will leave the 1/2 –inch curved part of the craft stick open.  Then reverse.
  5. Wind the yarn downward, going past the end of the craft stick about ½ inch to make the end of the cattail
  6. Wind the yarn upward once more to the top
  7. When you reach the top, put glue on either side of the curved top of the craft stick and pull a little of existing yarn into the glued area, pinching it closed.
  8. Cut the end of the yarn from the skein and tuck the end into the glued top.

To add the leaf:

  1. Cut a thin triangle from one side of the origami paper, starting with a 1-inch base and angling to the top of the paper
  2. Glue the base to the dowel about 1 ½ inches from the bottom
  3. Wind the paper upward around the dowel, leaving 5 inches unwound
  4. Glue the paper to the dowel, letting the 5-inch section stick up

If you’d like to make another craft using chunky brown yarn, see my April 7 post on The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Crazy Critter Race by Maxwell Eaton III to create a cute spool beaver.