September 8 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

Read a New Book Month is a fantastic time to scour your local bookstore and library for books that have recently been published or books that are new to you. Finding a book that you’ve never read before is exciting at any age, and discovering a new book about a favorite topic is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Today’s board book is definitely one that will spark a love for reading and learning in children who are just discovering the wonder of books.

Thanks go to Danna Smith and Little Simon for sharing a digital copy of Wake Up Freight Train! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Wake Up, Freight Train!

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Jon Andersen

 

For the townspeople it’s time for sleeping, but down at the train station, things are just getting underway as the freight train prepares for its nighttime run. First things first, however. It’s time to rouse the cars one by one. “Choo-choo! Wake up, steam engine, alone on your track. Let’s hook up the freight cars to the hitch on your back.”

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Image copyright Jon Andersen, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Second in line is the tender that carries the coal. Behind it are cars three, four, and five with supplies for building and heating. Car six is the hopper then …  “Cattle car coming! You’re filled with fresh hay, / hauling some heifers, moooooving this way.” The boxcar follows and finally, “it’s your turn, caboose! / Let’s hook you up fast. / The crew rides in you— / you’re the car that goes last.”

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Image copyright Jon Andersen, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Little Simon.

With all the cars hitched and the coal bin full, the train rolls out of the station. “Toot-toot goes the horn, / blink-blink go the lights, / clang-clang goes the bell, all through the night.” The train chugs over hills and across fields until, with the dawning sun, it arrives at its destination and “our freight train’s long journey has come to an end.”

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Image copyright Jon Andersen, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Little (and big) train lovers will adore Danna Smith’s rhyming tribute to freight trains that carry goods and animals across states, and sometimes across the country. Smith’s introduction to each type of car is infused with childlike wonder and that special conversational relationship young children have with the world around them. As readers greet each car, they not only learn information about the car’s load and role but hear internal rhymes, alliteration, and even a few puns—all building blocks for early literacy. Smith’s gentle rhythm, paired with the nighttime setting, also makes Wake Up, Freight Train! a perfect read aloud for bedtime.

Jon Andersen’s beautiful, soft blues and greens of a starlit night will put little ones in the mood to be carried into dreamland even as they discover how each different car looks and what it carries. The changing landscape behind each pair of train cars offer interest and continuity while also giving kids an opportunity to talk about how long this train is. Sleepy animals come out to watch as the cars are hitched together, reminding little readers that it might just be bedtime for them too, and the peek of pink on the horizon in the last spread reassures them that tomorrow will come soon.

Wake Up, Freight Train! delightfully captures young children’s fascination with trains and is sure to become a favorite for bedtime (or anytime). The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves; daycare, school, and public library collections; and as a gift for babies and preschoolers.

Ages 2 – 4

Little Simon, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534492516

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

To learn more about Jon Andersen and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Freight Train Coloring Page

 

Who doesn’t love a train?! With this coloring sheet, kids can make their train as colorful as they want! They may even want to add a few animals and birds to the background!

Freight Train Coloring Page

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You can find Wake Up, Freight Train! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 7 – Buy a Book Day

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About the Holiday

Today is one of the best days of the year! Anyone who loves books will want to take the opportunity of the holiday to visit their favorite bookstore and buy one of those books you’ve been hearing and reading about. And why stop at just one? Winter is coming—that time when there’s nothing more cozy than snuggling in with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and reading late into the night. As the school year begins, children – even the youngest readers – benefit from having new books in their home libraries that reflect their changing interests and maturing thoughts. Take a little time to look through the offerings of your local bookstore and let your kids pick out some new favorites! 

The Thank You Book

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo

 

For little ones, “Thank you” may be one of the first phrases they learn when they begin getting out into the world. Thanking grandparents and other relatives, friends, teachers, librarians, store employees, and others becomes a part of every day. But for kids just learning manners and communication skills, prompts to say “thank you” may seem kind of random, confusing, and maybe even a bit intimidating.

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

This is where Danna Smith’s delightfully cheery story about sharing your appreciation comes in. With charming rhymes, Smith answers the questions of why, when, and to whom thanks are appropriate while infusing her story with the positive feelings that thanking someone for their kindness instills in the thanker and the one being thanked.

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Smith begins with an inviting and easy-to-understand definition of thankfulness that will resonate with young children: “When someone is thoughtful or kind in some way, ‘thank you’ are two very nice words to say.” She then goes on to provide specific examples of times that gratitude is warranted as well as language to help kids express their feelings for specific acts of kindness. As illustrations show children engaged in various activities, readers discover they can say, “‘Thank you for helping.’ ‘Thank you for sharing.’ / ‘Thank you for teaching.’ ‘Thank you for caring.’”

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

But is saying those types of words the only way to show your gratitude? Children (and especially those who are reluctant to talk with people they don’t know well or feel shy about speaking up) learn that there are other ways to show gratitude, including giving hugs, drawings, and tasty treats.

Smith then reveals a well-known secret about saying thank you that will make today’s inclusive kids happy to be part of an appreciative community: “If you start with one thank-you, you’ll find it will grow.” And, indeed, Smith finishes her story by assuring readers that kids all over the world are thanking others for their friendship and kindness.

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Danna Smith’s sweet board book, with its jaunty rhymes and enthusiasm for sharing gratitude is just the kind of story parents, teachers, and other adults will want to read with their little ones and little ones will want to hear again and again. Her open-ended phrasing allows adults and kids to discuss the types of people who are helpers, sharers, teachers, and care-ers, as well as those within their family and friends who are deserving of thanks and on which occasions. Smith also gives kids ideas for a wide range of ways to say thank you that may use their talents and mean more to them than words. These examples can also spark talks between parents, teachers, and other caregivers on other ways to show thanks. And what if you have a child who just feels appreciation deep inside? They are represented in these pages too.

Juliana Perdomo’s vibrant illustrations of kind acts by friends, parents, teachers, veterinarians, bus drivers, activity instructors, and others will enchant little ones and get them talking about all the times someone has done something nice for them. Readers of all ages can’t help but be filled with gratitude and good feelings when they’re greeted by Perdomo’s smiling and enthusiastic characters. Perdomo mirrors Smith’s text to give kids a concrete understanding of the concepts while filling her pages with cheer and heartfelt gratitude. The idea that saying thank-you can bring people together in a community and around the world is one that will excite kids and encourage them to show their appreciation.

Joyful and inspiring, The Thank You Book would be a favorite read aloud in any young child’s home library and is a must for all daycare, school, and public library board book collections.

Ages 3 and up

Little Simon, 2022 | ISBN 978-1665902922

Discover more about Danna Smith, her books, poetry, and paintings on her website.

You can connect with Juliana Perdomo on Instagram and Twitter.

Buy a Book Day Activities

 

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Thank You! Postcard

 

Do your kids have someone they’d like to thank for a kind act, a gift, or just for being a loved family member or friend? This cheery Thank You postcard makes it easy for kids to show their gratitude and share their love to people close by or far away. This card is also perfect to share for the upcoming holidays!

Thank You! Postcard

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Thankfulness Jar

 

It’s good to remind yourself periodically – or even every day – of all the things you have to be thankful for and all the acts of kindness you’ve received. This activity sheet gives children (and adults who want to participate with their kids) a place to collect all these “thank-you”–worthy experiences. Just write a word or short description inside the jar each time you feel thankful. You might even want to share your appreciation with the people whose names appear in your jar with a note, a picture, a hug, or a homemade craft to show how much they mean to you. 

This Thankfulness Jar also makes a meaningful activity for Thanksgiving Day! Why not print a copy for each guest at your table, provide a pencil, and get everyone sharing what they’re thankful for this year!

Thankfulness Jar Activity Sheet

 

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You can find The Thank You Book at these booksellers

Amazon  | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review 

July 21 – It’s National Zoo Keeper Week

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About the Holiday

This week we honor the zookeepers and aquarists who care for the animals in our nation’s zoo and aquariums. Not only do they see to the animals’ feeding, housing, and health needs; maintain the facilities; and educate guests, zookeepers and aquarists also help scientists conduct research that helps them learn more about how to protect and preserve the world’s varied species. To celebrate today, take a trip to your local zoo or aquarium or visit the website of a zoo far away and learn about the animals there. 

One Blue Gnu

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Ana Zurita

 

Feeling lonely at the zoo and with a new cellphone from an accidentally dropped box in hoof, one blue gnu calls two white sheep and gets a party started. The sheep call three orange apes with an invitation, and they in turn call “four red pandas in the sun” who  “agree a party would be fun.” The invitation calls and texts get passed along to more and more animals at the zoo until a sleepy pig calls the wrong number, and instead of reaching the hippos, gets the tiger.

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Image copyright Ana Zurita, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Amicus Ink.

Another try alerts those hippos and then, finally, “ten purple birds” receive an invitation. At last, it’s party time with “fifty-five beasts just keeping cool, / splashing around in Blue Gnu’s pool.” Floating and diving, the animals are having so much fun, but who is creeping closer and closer? One hungry-looking tiger! In no time, he’s in the midst of them all—and has a plan: “The tiger calls a pizza man!”

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Image copyright Ana Zurita, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Amicus Ink.

Full and happy and dry, Blue Gnu’s friends decide it’s time to go back to their homes. The animals leave as they came. “Ten purple birds take off in flight. / Nine gray hippos slip from sight.” After each group finds their way home, Blue Gnu is alone once more. But not for too long—another party is in the works.

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Image copyright Ana Zurita, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Amicus Ink.

Danna Smith’s rollicking zoo story combines counting up to ten and back down to one for younger kids and more advanced addition and subtraction for older children with the names of colors, numbers, and animals in her clever rhyming romp that kids will want to visit again and again. And let’s not forget friendship—that’s here in abundance too, as sequence calls go out from one group to another to another to create one enormous bash! The added suspense of Tiger’s intentions is quickly resolved in a surprising and kid-favorite way that’s sure to please readers. Smith’s jaunty cadence is a joy to read aloud, and the non-stop action and exceptional vocabulary will captivate both kids and adults.

Ana Zurita populates this zoo with adorable animals, depicted in vibrant colors set against textured and wildly detailed backgrounds that also accentuate the educational aspects on each page. Readers will love pointing out the colors and patterns of the animals’ clothes, counting the animals in each group, and recognizing ascending and descending numbers set in circles on each page. Humorous details also reward careful searching of the pages, such as a sneaky hippo trying to nab a cupcake and the yak’s “snack.” Tiger’s determined stride and furrowed brow will have kids guessing, but only until the page is turned and the laughs ring out. Eagle-eyed future math whizzes may love discussing fractions as the pizzas are gobbled up, and saying goodbye to each group gives kids another chance to show their growing number skills.

Sure to be an immediate favorite read aloud, One Blue Gnu is a must on home bookshelves and for all classroom and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Amikus Ink, 2022 | ISBN 978-1681527451

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

To learn more about Ana Zurita, her books, and her art visit her website.

National Zoo Keepers Week Activity

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One Blue Gnu Activities

 

You’re invited to enjoy these One Blue Gnu activities that let you do everything from designing your favorite pizza to practicing your counting, coloring, writing, and observational skills in these printable activity sheets.

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You can find One Blue Gnu at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 26 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

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

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Candlewick, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763679927

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

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

About Danna Smith

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

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

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

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

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

National Reading Month Activity

The Hawk of the Castle activity sheet questions

The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet

 

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

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

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Hawk Coloring Pages

 

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

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

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review