September 27 – National Family Day

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About the Holiday

The purpose of today’s holiday is simple—to fully appreciate the family one has, whether it is small or large, whether members live close together or far apart. The founders of Family Day, which is celebrated on different dates around the world, wanted people to relax their busy schedules and spend time with those they love in a meaningful and fun way. This year we may be spending more time with family than usual, which has led to some thoughtful, creative, and fun ways to pass the time. To honor today’s holiday, let your family members know how much they mean to you. 

What is a Family?

Written by Annette Griffin | Illustrated by Nichola Cowdery

 

Early in life, little ones—loved by mom and dad, two moms, or two dads and perhaps siblings; grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; and other extended family members—discover that all of these people are their family. But they may wonder: what does that word really mean? As kids play with their pets, visit zoos and aquariums, and read about animals, they may also wonder if animals have families. What is a Family? answers these questions with bouncy rhymes that introduce children to an alphabetic variety of animals and the scientific names of their groups. But first, it answers that most important question and reveals that “Families are groups / that take care of their own. / They all stick together / to help make a home.”

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Image copyright Nichola Cowdery, 2020, text copyright Annette Griffin, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

At A,B, and C kids learn that “Ants have a colony. / Bats have a cloud. / Chickens have peeps / where they can get loud.” The names of many family groups seem perfectly fitting for the animals’ personalities or traits. Take these at M,N, and O, for instance: “Mice have their mischiefs, / and narwhals, a blessing. / Oysters have beds— / not for sleeping, I’m guessing.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-what-is-a-family-ants

Image copyright Nichola Cowdery, 2020, text copyright Annette Griffin, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

Little ones will love and take pride in learning about unusual animals, like quail, umbrellabirds, and xerus as well as the clever names for their family groups in Annette Griffin’s charming verses that provide a smattering of behavioral facts about the animals along the way. Griffin ends her story with this snug reassurance: “…families are special, / though not all the same. / It’s the caring and sharing / that gives them the name” that can lead adults and children to discuss the variety of families, cultures, and traditions that make up our world.

Nichola Cowdery populates this nicely sized, soft-covered board book with adorable birds, fish, reptiles, and forest, jungle, and plains animals set in their realistic habitats. Her vibrant colors and whimsical details will captivate young readers. Little ones will also be drawn to the images of the ways in which babies and adult animals interact. There’s plenty here to set little learners giggling too, which enhances the reading experience.

Sure to be a family favorite for story time and bedtime, What is a Family? would be an endearing and educational book to add to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 5

Familius, 2020 | ISBN 978-1641702447

Discover more about Annette Griffin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Nichola Cowdery, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Family Day Activity

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Match Up the Animals! Game

 

Match up animal family members in this fun printable game that tests your powers of memory!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the Animal Pairs Cards, print two pages to have double cards. To make the game more difficult print 3 or more pages to find 3 or more groups of matching animals
  2. Color the cards
  3. Cut out the cards
  4. Lay the cards face down on a table in random order
  5. Turn over cards to look for matching pairs
  6. When you find a matching pair leave the cards face up
  7. Continue playing until you find all the matching animal pairs or groups

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You can find What is a Family? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 23 – International Day of Sign Languages

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About the Holiday

Coming mid-way through International Week of the Deaf, which was instituted by the World Federation of the Deaf in 1958, today’s holiday is observed by the United Nations every year on September 23 to “celebrate the linguistic identity and diversity of deaf people and sign language uses across the world.” With more than 300 different sign languages around the globe, the UN recognizes sign languages equal status to spoken languages. The theme for 2020 is “Sign Languages are for everyone,” with the goal of enabling national associations of deaf people to work in conjunction with political leaders to promote sign language. For more information, visit the World Federation of the Deaf website and the United Nations website.

Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents

Written by Kathy MacMillan | Illustrated by Sara Brezzi

 

Following the popular Nita’s First Signs, the first Little Hands Signing book, Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents brings parents and caregivers ten more ASL signs to share with their babies and toddlers to give them the power and joy of non-verbal communication. Through a sweet story that takes Nita and little readers through a fun day with Mom and Dad, kids learn the signs for wake up, change, eat, potty, clothes, go, play, bath, book, and bed.

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Image copyright Sara Brezzi, 2020, text copyright Kathy MacMillan, 2020. Courtesy of Familius Publishing.

Nita’s day starts with her mom and dad lovingly gazing into her crib. “Good morning, Nita! Time to wake up!” they say. “WAKE UP, signs Nita.” Nita recognizes that she needs a diaper change and lets her parents know with the sign for “change” that she’s learned. Next, it’s time for breakfast then getting dressed and going to the park with Dad to fly a kite. When she wants to play, Nita “extends the thumb and pinky of each hand and twists [her] wrists back and forth.”

After her busy afternoon, a bath feels nice and warm. Then it’s time for one of Nita’s favorite parts of the day. “It’s time for a story book!” Dad tells her. She puts her outstretched palms together then opens them like the cover of a book “BOOK, signs Nita.” Now Nita is getting sleepy. “BED, Nita signs.” Her mom snuggles her into her crib and says “Good Night.”

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Image copyright Sara Brezzi, 2020, text copyright Kathy MacMillan, 2020. Courtesy of Familius Publishing.

A Note for Grown-ups on the back cover explains how using signs with children helps them to make sense of their activities during the day and can provide comforting grounding if used when they are away from their regular routines. Adults are also referred to a website where they can find a video demonstration of all of the signs in the book.

The structure of these Little Hands Signing books is a highlight of these chunky board books. Slightly larger than typical board books, the format allows for tabs that clearly depict the page on which each sign can be found. Opening to these spreads, readers can then pull on the tab to open the page and find Nita demonstrating how to make each ASL sign. A written description of the actions accompanies the images.

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Image copyright Sara Brezzi, 2020, text copyright Kathy MacMillan, 2020. Courtesy of Familius Publishing.

Kathy MacMillan’s enthusiastic story is perfect for all children and helps them to communicate with parents and caregivers whether they are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or not verbal or fully verbal yet. The repeat phrasing will charm little readers and acclimates them to the uses of each sign as well as giving adults a way to prompt signs during everyday activities.

Sara Brezzi’s vibrant and whimsical illustrations are infused with love and Nita’s pride in her accomplishments. In each two-sign spreads, Nita is a happy helper, holding her bottle at breakfast, alerting her mom that she’s ready for toilet paper, grasping the kite string at the park, and playing with her duck during bath time. Scattered toys and items on shelves, racks, and counters give little ones and adults things to name, match, and talk about.

Whether you’re adding to the series or new to signing with your baby or toddler, Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries to inspire early bonding and communication between babies and adults.

Ages 1 – 3

Familius, 2020 | ISBN 978-1641701488

Discover more about Kathy MacMillan and her books on her website.

You can connect with Sara Brezzi on Instagram.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nita's-day-cover

You can find at these Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 8 – National Family Month

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About the Holiday

Established by KidsPeace, a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping children and families since 1882, National Family Month is observed during the five-week period between Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June. It coincides with the usual end of the school year, and raises awareness of the important role mothers and fathers play as a support system for their children. To observe the holiday spend time talking with your kids about topics of importance to them and plan activities  for fun and to help them achieve their goals.

Made for Me

Written by Zack Bush | Illustrated by Gregorio De Lauretis

 

A man sits in a hospital corridor in the baby ward, squeezing his baseball cap in his hands. Soon, he opens the door and an ear-to-ear smile lights up his face. He says, “On the day you were born, I beamed with pride. / My eyes filled with tears, I joyfully cried.” With just one look at his child, he knew that his life was changed forever. With enthusiasm he took to his new role as a dad—feeding, diapering, rocking, and, of course, making his baby giggle.

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Images copyright Gregorio De Lauretis, 2018, text copyright Zack Bush, 2018. Courtesy of Familius.

This dad loved each tiny toe, every finger, each grin and knew: “Of all the children that ever could be, / you are the one made just for me.” Soon his baby was crawling and exploring, babbling and “always so curious.” When his child fell or was scared, he was always there, and he looked forward to each new morning that would bring new adventures.

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Images copyright Gregorio De Lauretis, 2018, text copyright Zack Bush, 2018. Courtesy of Familius.

In the blink of an eye, his little one was walking and talking and enjoying the park. They turned boxes into cars and mounds of sand into castles. There were lots of new “firsts”—first haircut, first big bed, first pitch, first swing—and Dad says, “From the day you were born, so cute and so clever, / you’re one-of-a-kind, and I’ll love you forever!” Now his child’s growing up, more and more every day. It’s time for preschool, and hand-in-hand Dad leads the way with this loving reminder: “Of all the children that ever could be, / you are the one made just for me.”

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Images copyright Gregorio De Lauretis, 2018, text copyright Zack Bush, 2018. Courtesy of Familius.

Lyrical and emotionally pitch-perfect, Zack Bush’s tribute to a father’s love for his child or children from the very first moment will tug at the heart. Bush’s story is one dads will want to read with their kids over and over as they grow up to share those moments of pride, joy, play, discovery, and comfort that have built their own strong father and child bond. The repeated phrase reinforces the unique relationship each adult reader has with their child, creating a poignant experience with every reading that will resonate far longer.

With his bulky size, beefy arms, and ever-present grin, Gregorio De Lauretis’s new dad will endear himself to readers from the first page. The newborn, taking a bottle or swaddled up tight, looks like a tiny (and happy) peanut in the crook of one of those arms, and giggles abound as Dad tickles toes and a chubby little belly. Adults will recognize many firsts and daily routines that give them an opportunity to expand on the story to include their own favorite memories of their child.

Sweet, relatable, and heartwarming, Made for Me would make a perfect Father’s Day gift for new and soon-to-be dads as well as for those of older children. It would be a favorite read aloud on home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages Birth – 5

Familius, 2018 | ISBN 978-1945547690 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1641702003 (Board Book, 2019)

Family Month Activity

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Child’s Sensory Board

 

A sensory board provides many opportunities for experimentation and observation, stimulating a baby and young child to learn while having fun. You can make a sensory board for your child using household items and that have a variety of textures, sizes, shapes, and movement. When you create your own sensory board, you can personalize it for your child by adding their name, pictures of family members, and other special items.

While you play with your child, take time to talk about all of the objects on the board, what they do, and how they work. Count the objects. If you include words or your child’s name, spell them out loud and say them. There are so many ways to use a sensory board. Even if children can’t yet talk, they are listening and soaking in the rich learning you are providing!

**When making your board always ensure that you use items that are not a choking hazard or a danger to catch tiny fingers. Make sure that items are firmly attached to the board. Never leave a baby unattended while playing.**

Supplies

  • A board large enough to hold the items you want to attach. Boards that can be used include: those found at hardware stores or craft stores; large cutting boards; shelves; old table tops; etc.
  • Paint in various bright colors
  • Paint brushes
  • Scissors
  • Screws
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Velcro
  • Super glue

Sample items for your sensory board can be age appropriate and include:

  • Large swatches of various textured material. (I used fur, a scrubbing sheet, and a piece of carpeting)
  • Wooden or thick cardboard letters and numbers, painted in a variety of colors. Letters can be used to add a child’s name to the board.
  • Figures cut from sheets of foam or wooden figures found at craft stores in a variety of numbers that you can count with your child (I used sets of 1, 2, and 3 fish cut from foam to go along with the numbers 1, 2, and 3)
  • Mirror
  • Push button light
  • Chalk board to write on
  • Castor or other wheel
  • Door latches
  • Mop heads
  • Paint rollers
  • Cranks
  • Drawer handles
  • Hinges (I attached a tennis ball to a hinge that children can push back and forth)
  • Pulleys

Directions

  1. Assemble your items
  2. Paint wooden or cardboard items
  3. Arrange item on the board so that your baby or child can easily reach or manipulate each one
  4. Attach items with screws, nuts and bolts, or super glue
  5. Push button lights or other objects that take batteries can be attached with strong Velcro. Ensure items attached with Velcro are large and not a choking hazard.
  6. Set up board where you and your baby or child can enjoy playing with it together

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You can find Made for Me 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.

Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves

Written by Annemarie Riley Guertin | Illustrated by Helena Pérez Garcia

 

Little Redbird was taking her last sleep before flying south for the winter when she was thrown from her nest onto the hard ground by a strong gust of wind. When she got up, the pain in her wing told her she would not be able to fly. “‘How will I survive the long, harsh winter winds? Surely I will perish,’” she thought. But then she saw all the trees in the forest and “chirped with relief.” She could build a new nest on a low branch of one of them and find shelter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-why-evergreens-keep-their-leaves-frost-wind

Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The first tree she hopped to was a birch. Politely, she told the tree her predicament and asked, “‘May I live in your warm branches until spring returns?’” But the birch only wanted to look out for itself and told Little Redbird to “‘move along.’” Next, Little Redbird came to a large oak tree. She explained about her injured wing and asked if she could spend the winter in the oak’s strong branches. The oak was surprised by the request and suspicious that the little bird would also want to eat up all of its acorns. The oak shooed Little Redbird away. When she came to the maple tree, Little Redbird repeated her request. The maple told her that it was “‘too busy making sap for maple syrup. I have no time for little birds,’” it continued and sent Little Redbird on her way.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Afraid and uncertain, Little Redbird began to cry. Then she heard a voice offering to help. She looked up and saw “a smiling fir tree.” She approached and told her story again. At once, the fir tree offered Little Redbird a safe and warm place to stay within its many branches. Little Redbird thanked the fir tree, but said that she didn’t have the strength to fly up into the branches. The fir told the little bird not to worry as he reached out his lower branches.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Overhearing this exchange, a nearby blue spruce called out that he would help shield Little Redbird from the wind with his strong branches. “‘How kind of you!’ replied Little Redbird.” Then another voice came whispering on the breeze. It was the juniper tree offering berries to heal the little bird’s wing. Little Redbird happily “built a warm nest inside the fir tree’s branches and waited for winter’s arrival.”

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

One evening soon after, the Frost Queen and her son Jack came strolling through the forest. Jack wondered if he could touch the leaves on every tree. His mother pointed to the fir, the blue spruce, and the juniper and explained that he could touch the leaves on every tree except these. “‘They were very kind to one of my precious birds who had injured her wing,’” the Frost Queen told Jack. “‘They may keep their green leaves all year round. And they shall forevermore be called evergreen.’” It is also said that these acts of kindness inspired these little red birds to stay and keep these trees company all winter long.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Annemarie Riley Guertin offers a charming and well-rounded telling of the legend of how evergreens got their name and their unique feature that also provides a heartwarming reason for why cardinals do not fly south for the winter. This delightful pairing deepens the meaning of the story by demonstrating that kindness is recognized and often comes back to those who give it. Guertin’s clear and emotionally rich dialogue allows readers to fully appreciate Little Redbird’s distress, the rebuffs of the deciduous trees, and the acceptance of the others. The appearance of the Snow Queen and her son Jack bring a human element to the story that will resonate with children, who are themselves learning to be kind.

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Image copyright Helena Pérez Garcia, 2019, text copyright AnneMarie Riley Guertin, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Helena Pérez Garcia’s vibrant, folk-art inspired illustrations are simply gorgeous. Set against a black forest floor, the autumn flowers, fallen leaves, and trees in full fiery color pop off the page. Just as in any real-life garden, the red cardinal immediately catches the eye, putting readers’ focus on Little Redbird and her plight. The image of Little Redbird crying is touching, making the fir tree’s offer of help and outstretched branches all the more emotional. Garcia’s imaging of the Snow Queen and her son Jack will enchant any lover of fairy tales, and the final image of a flock of cardinals keeping the evergreens company during the winter is a sight we can all hope to see.

A beautiful tale to share during the winter season or along with other fairy tales or fables, Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves would make a terrific addition to home, classroom, and public library collections. Pair with a bird feeder or small evergreen tree to plant to make a gift any child would love.

Ages 5 – 8 

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701587

Discover more about Annemarie Riley Guertin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Helena Pérez Garcia, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Look for an Evergreen Day Activity

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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

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You can find Why Evergreens Keep Their Leaves at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 12 – Celebrating Read a New Book Month with STEM

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About the Holiday

Today and tomorrow I will be celebrating Read a New Book Month with books that present the excitement and wonder of science through familiar activities and objects. Introducing young children to the way things work in nature and through engineering helps them make sense of what they see and experience in their everyday life. Books like these make great gifts not only for science buffs but for all kids!

Physics Animated

Written by Tyler Jorden | Illustrated by Elsa Martins

 

From that moment when Isaac Newton was hit on the head by a falling apple, people have been fascinated with physics. In this clever and interactive board book, young readers can learn about Newton’s three laws of physics through wheels to spin, tabs to pull, and elements to push that introduce “big words” and other vocabulary that budding scientists will be proud to learn. Examples for each law come straight from a child’s day of play or experience to make them easily understood. Children will also be able to apply the knowledge they gain within these pages to other activities they perform every day.

Readers meet Isaac Newton as “a man who liked to watch the world around him. He noticed that everything could be explained by three simple laws.” While Newton ponders, he gazes out of a window where children can move a wheel to make birds fly in the air and fish swim in a lake. Newton’s first law—inertia—is introduced with a simple sentence that “an object will stay still unless something pushes or pulls on it.” Accompanying this explanation is an image of a boy kicking a ball to his dog. A wheel allows children to move the ball from the boy to the dog.

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Image copyright Elsa Martins, 2019, text copyright Tyler Jorden, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

The second part of the law of inertia, which states that an object in motion will keep moving until something stops it, is demonstrated through a tab that moves a sliding sled with two little girls aboard into a fluffy snowbank. For Newton’s second law—force = mass x acceleration—kids help out a bicycle rider, and the force of gravity is accomplished as kids pull a dropped ice-cream scoop toward the ground.

How can we stand firmly on the floor or ground? That question is answered by Newton’s third law that states “when you push on something, it pushes back just as much.” So when we stand on the floor, “our feet push on the floor, and the floor pushes back on us.” Examples of this law are buoyancy, centrifugal force (for which readers push the wheel to send two roller coaster riders around the loop-de-loop), centripetal force (demonstrated with a swing that kids can push back and forth), lift, and thrust. Thrust is depicted with a rocket ship blasting off into space. As readers pull up on the tab to launch the rocket, they’re sure to feel their own scientific understanding soar.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-physics-animated-centripetal-force

Image copyright Elsa Martins, 2019, text copyright Tyler Jorden, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Tyler Jorden’s easy-to-understand definitions of Newton’s laws are just right for readers learning vocabulary that will help them to recognize their own activities as they play and work around the house as well as to comprehend these scientific concepts when they get to school. When terms and ideas like these are introduced at an early age, they can become as familiar as actions, such as push, pull, drop, and slide, that they describe. Jorden’s pages give adults excellent examples to begin discussions and of these concepts that can lead to fun, hands-on learning.

Elsa Martins’ colorful interactive illustrations take kids out to the park, a snow-covered hill, a bike trail, a schoolyard, a lake, an amusement park, and into the sky where they can make the natural forces and Newton’s laws work for themselves. Martins’ choices of images allow for in-depth discussions as readers pull and push the wheels and tabs. For instance, the biker who accompanies Newton’s second law can “pedal” faster or slower depending on how quickly the tab is pulled, letting kids and adults talk about things such as the rate of pedaling, if the rider was carrying a heavy backpack, and if the biker was going up or down a hill. The adorable children on each page make for fun friends to join on this scientific exploration.

As enjoyable and entertaining as it is educational, Physics Animated will get young readers excited about learning and make them proud to know about such “grown-up” topics. (They even get to drop that apple on Isaac Newton’s head!) Sure to spark lots of experiments, the book would be a wonderful addition to home, classroom, and public library collections. 

Ages 4 – 7

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701327

To learn more about Elsa Martins and view a portfolio of her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month with STEM Activity

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Get Moving with Newton’s Laws! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the seventeen words associated with Isaac Newton’s Three Laws of Motion in this printable word search puzzle.

Get Moving with Newton’s Laws! Puzzle | Get Moving with Newton’s Laws! Solution

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You can find Physics Animated at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 3 – National Day of Giving and a Chat with Author Carole Gerber

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About the Holiday

Since 2012 the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has been designated as a day to celebrate generosity and giving to others. 92nd Street Y in New York City created the holiday for people to think about charitable giving to those less fortunate not only for one day or one month, but all year round. How you give can take many forms—from time, voice, dollars, or goods to kindness or talent. Participants can be found across the United States and in more than 100 countries. The spirit of today’s holiday will fill you with cheer every day! To learn more about how individuals or organizations can get involved in the US or globally, visit the Giving Tuesday website.

I received a copy of The Gifts of the Animals from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

After the animals in a Bethlehem stable watch Joseph help Mary dismount from their donkey’s back, they go to work to prepare a place for the soon-to-be-born baby Jesus to sleep. “The ox that stands in the drafty shed / drops straw into a manger bed.” The sheep and lambs add bits of wool to make the bed “feel soft and full.”

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

Using downy feathers from the sparrows, chickens, and little chicks, the mice make a plump pillow for Jesus’ head. The cow finds a blanket, and with the help of the ox they lay it over the manger. “Then in this place, humble and warm, Christ, the Prince of Peace, is born.” Mary wraps Him in swaddling clothes then Joseph lays Him in the manger to sleep.

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

On a distant hillside, shepherds are startled by the brightening stars but listen to the angel who tells them of Jesus’ birth. Then the sky fills with a choir of angels singing “‘Peace on earth. Good will toward men. / Go now, shepherds, worship him.’” The shepherds hurry to Bethlehem to join in the joy of Mary, Joseph, and the gentle animals and to sing “‘Glory to our newborn king!’”

A condensed version of the Christmas story from the King James version of the book of Luke, chapter 2 follows the story.

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

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. 

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.

Sure to become a favorite Christmas story to share year after year, The Gifts of the Animals would be a beloved addition to home bookshelves and a beautiful inclusion for library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701594

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website

A Chat with Carole Gerber

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Poet and author Carole Gerber has written sixteen picture books, three chapter books, and more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. Her picture book, A Band of Babies, was named a 2017 Best Book for Children by Amazon editors. 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.

I’m thrilled to be talking with Carole Gerber again about her newest book for Christmas.

What inspired you to write The Gifts of the Animals?

In my random travels around the Internet, I came across a site called “The Hymns and Carols of Christmas.” One post contained the words to a song called “The Friendly Beasts.” The notes said “This song originally hails from a 12th century Latin song,” which was later known in England as “The Animal Carol.” It began: “Jesus our brother kind and good/was humbly born in a stable rude/and the friendly beasts around him stood/Jesus our brother, kind and good.” Here’s one more verse: “I,” said the cow all white and red / “I gave Him my manger for His bed;/I gave him my hay to pillow his head.”/ “I,” said the cow all white and red.

The song also mentions a dove cooing Jesus to sleep, the sheep giving him a blanket. It ends: “Thus every beast by some good spell/in the stable dark was glad to tell/of the gift he gave Emmanuel/The gift he gave Emmanuel.” What I wrote sounds nothing like the original, but it gave me the idea that sparked my story. I then developed my story into a 32-page picture book by including Mary and Joseph, other animals with useful gifts, the angels announcing the birth, and the arrival of the shepherds.

“The Animal Carol” sounds lovely. Do you know if it’s still performed?

After the book went to press, I found that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had performed the exact words of the original song. There’s a YouTube video that lasts about six minutes. I had no idea that it was famous! A man named Brian Stokes Mitchell was the main singer. He and the choir actually tweet and baa, making some of the animal sounds.  

Such a feeling of peace and love flows through your book. How do you go about choosing words and phrasing and even the poetic form to create that mood?

I wrote and revised it many times, of course. But I never felt frustrated and truly did feel peaceful and loving as I wrote. The art director, David Miles, was great to work with. We brainstormed about other animals that would live in a stable and might contribute to preparing the manger. I came up with mice to carry the feathers from the birds perched on the rafters. Nothing appropriate rhymes with “manger” so I came up with “ox” to rhyme with “manger box.” A sweet result of involving more animals (besides getting enough pages to fill the book) was that they all worked cooperatively.

The Gifts of the Animals is absolutely gorgeous, from the glowing gold-embossed cover to the images of the gentle animals that are happily helping to the jubilant angels that mirror a modern choir. Can you tell me about Yumi Shimokawara and how she was chosen to illustrate your book?

David Miles met her at the Bologna Book Fair in 2017, and was absolutely blown away by her talent. She lives in Japan and had won many awards, including the grand prize at her art school. Yumi had written and illustrated several books published in Japan. My favorite title is Potsu, posu, potsu daijobu, which translates in English to Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Plip-plop, Are You All Right? The title makes me smile. Yumi is not fluent in English so she worked with a Japanese friend who helped her translate David’s emails containing art directions. She did the cover first and it is beautiful. But she had given the baby blond hair and pale skin. My comment was, “We can’t have Jesus looking Swedish!” David replied, “No worries. I will fix this with Photoshop.” He darkened the baby’s hair and skin a bit and directed Yumi as she worked on the interior pages, to make all the people more authentically Middle Eastern.

Each spread is so beautiful on its own, but do you have a favorite? What makes that illustration special to you?

I love how happy and expressive the animals are, especially in the last spread when the people and animals are gathered around the Holy Family. Jesus is not the only baby in that picture. Yumi put baby chicks in that spread, too, which makes it even more touching. I also smile at the inside cover page, which has at the bottom an adorable illustration of a small choir of mice and birds. One little mouse is clasping his paws as he sings his heart out.

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

At the end of your story you include a condensed version of Chapter 2 from the Biblical book of Luke in the King James Version. How did you choose which version of the story to include?

I earned a King James Bible when I was about eight years old as a reward for attending Sunday School for 10 Sundays straight. Ever since, I have loved the grandeur of the language in the King James Bible. Compare the words between the King James and The New International Version.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The New International Version of the Bible states:

“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

No guest room available? It sounds like what a desk clerk in a motel would say. Bah!

What is one of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

Every time I get a new book published, my husband makes a Christmas tree ornament of the cover. This started years ago when my daughter Jess was in middle school. She secretly used my husband’s power tools – EEEK! – to cut to size a small piece of plywood on which she glued a small photocopied cover of one of my first published books. She put a doll house size clothes hanger on the back to attach it to the tree. After that, every Christmas, the last things we put on our tree are the miniature covers of my books.

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What a sweet and supportive tradition! It’s such a nice idea to adapt with photos or drawings for any family wanting to celebrate achievements from the past year. Thanks so much for this chat, Carole! I wish you all the best with The Gifts of the Animals and a very Merry Christmas with your family.

National Day of Giving Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

Find the sixteen words about the first Christmas in this printable puzzle.

Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle | Tell the Good News! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Gifts of the Animals: A Christmas Tale at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

October 4 – Kids Music Day and Interview with Carole Gerber

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About the Holiday

Kids Music Day was established in 2016 by Keep Music Alive to raise awareness of the importance of music education for children. The day includes events like student performances, opportunities for kids to see and try a wide range of instruments, instrument donation drives and more. On the first Kids Music Day, 80 music schools in 24 US states took part. In 2017 that number jumped to over 400 participants in more than 40 states and Canada. Last year 600 music schools and retail shops in 10 countries participated with free music lessons and other activities. Keep Music Alive is a nonprofit whose mission is to demonstrate the importance of music in everyone’s life from listening for pleasure to participating as an instrumentalist or composer to partaking in music therapy and more. To learn more, visit keepmusicalive.org and kidsmusicday.org

I received a copy of If You’re Scary and You Know It! from Familius for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Familius in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

If You’re Scary and You Know It!

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Noël Ill

 

Your kids have it, right? That giddy energy as they prepare for the big night of chills and thrills and 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.

Perfectly suited for singing or reading, If You’re Scary and You Know It! Introduces eight adorably creepy characters for kids to play and play with. Kids under the Halloween spell may be feeling a bit witchy these days. If that’s true, there’s only one thing to do: “If you’re witchy and you know it, mix a brew. / Throw some frog legs in your potion—icky poo! / Cackle as the cauldron bubbles. / Add a taste of trolls and troubles. / If you’re witchy and you know it, mix a brew.”

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Image copyright Noël Ill, 2019. Courtesy of Familius.

Kids got a taste for spooky tricks instead? Then they’ll love to “…moan and groan. Float around and haunt the people in your home.” Especially any younger siblings! Now that the fun is truly out of the bag, kids can brandish their pirate sword, flash a fiendish vampire smile, howl at the full moon, shoo crows away from the pumpkin patch, and perform other bits of mischief.

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

By this time their teeth may be chattering and their bones rattling. Well then, “If you’re bony and you know it, touch your toes. / You can bend and twist to strike a funny pose. / Spread your arms and bend your knees— / move in any way you please! / If you’re bony and you know it, touch your toes.” Finally, that most anticipated day arrives! What now? You know! It’s time to “meet up with your friends out in the street. / Walk together door-to-door, to get candy and lots more! If you’re scary and you know it—Trick or Treat!

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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.

A must inclusion in any Halloween collection, If You’re Scary and You Know It! is a book you’ll want to keep out year-round for energetic, active story times. It is a perfect book to share with groups and as an activity at Halloween parties. Published in a board book format, this book will also appeal to older children.

Ages 3 – 6

Familius, 2019 | ISBN 978-1641701464

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Noël Ill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Carole Gerber

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Poet and author Carole Gerber has written sixteen picture books, three chapter books, and more than one hundred elementary science and reading texts for major publishers. Her picture book, A Band of Babies, was named a 2017 Best Book for Children by Amazon editors. 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 newswriting and factual writing at OSU.

I’m thrilled to be chatting with Carole Gerber today about how adults can have fun with her new book, how she gets everyone participating at school visits, and a favorite part of her writing routine.

The rhythm of If You’re Scary and You Know It comes from a favorite child’s interactive song, but your clever verses go well beyond the simple repetition of the original. What inspired you to adapt this song for Halloween? I love the examples of scary that you chose and your other fun, evocative words. How did you choose your scary adjectives and develop each verse?

It’s much easier to write a story or song based on an existing one, because the structure is already there. Most kids and adults know the tune “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” so I decided to use it as a template. I then looked on Amazon to see what similar Halloween books were already on the market. If there were dozens, I would not have written mine. Luckily, I saw only one. It was titled If You’re Spooky and You Know It. I love the word “spooky” and had at first thought to use that word in my title. However, I did not want my book to compete with a title already published. I wanted a story/song that kids could act out, so I chose eight characters and thought up different silly but logical actions for each. For example, the pirate shouts “Yo ho!” and waves his sword, the witch “cackles” as she mixes her brew, the black cat arches her back and spreads her claws, and so on.

If You’re Scary and You Know It lends itself to singing and acting out as well as reading. Do you have any advice for adults on sharing this book with kids and “playing” with it?

Get into it along with the kids! Be playful and happy and sing your heart out. Kids love it when adults act silly. It’s fun to cackle like a witch, shout like a pirate, and shout “Meeeoow” as you spread your “claws.” Plus, the funny-sounding descriptors like “vampy,” “fiendish” and “hairy” are fun for everyone to sing. And, without realizing it, kids will learn some interesting vocabulary.

Noël Ill’s enchanting illustrations are adorably kid-centric. They also really invite kids to join in on the fun. Did you get to collaborate on the illustrations? I know it must be hard to choose a favorite illustration—but do you have one?

The publisher’s art director let me choose among the work of three artists he thought would do a good job. All were talented, but Noël’s illustrations were so sweet, bright, and clever that I knew she would come up with pictures that perfectly complemented my words. And she did! As is customary, I got to see sketches before she did final illustrations, and my input was honored. The first thing she illustrated was the cover – and I was thrilled! When all illustrations were complete, I learned from her short online video that the illustration of the black cat is based on her own childhood Halloween costume. After seeing the resemblance, the black cat became my favorite illustration! You can see it here: https://youtu.be/NPsn7syYvJo

You sponsor children around the world through World Vision. Does this experience influence your writing in any way?

Some of the money I earn as a writer helps children in less fortunate parts of the world get fed and educated. I became a World Vision sponsor 34 years ago when my daughter Jess was born and began adding more children as she grew up. I became a sponsor for another Christian relief organization, Feed My Starving Children, 20+ years ago when I learned about their amazing organization while researching an article for a magazine. Contributing regularly to these charities for children is one small way I can consistently thank God for giving me the opportunities I’ve had as a writer and also the great good fortune to be born in the United States. 

In addition to your fiction for children, you’ve authored a long list of school reading and science texts for all grade levels and about a wide range of topics. How did you get started writing for this market? What kind of research goes into each book? Do you have a favorite and why?

 I got into the education market as a result of writing textbook ad copy for McGraw-Hill. The product manager put me in touch with some editors. Each book I wrote had to be written at a specific reading level, and often I was required to use certain vocabulary words. Many of them required extensive research, which I mostly did online using reputable sources. One of my favorites was Once There Were Two: The Negro Baseball League. It was enlightening to learn about how African-Americans were forced to play in a separate league and had to stay in “colored” hotels. The most challenging were the books I wrote as part of a series called “Retold Classics.” I had to summarize and rewrite very simply The Iliad and other stories based on an oral tradition. Eeek! It was challenging to boil these lengthy tales down to their “bones.”

Your school visits sound amazing – especially the “poetry jams” and creating a class poem collaboratively with students. Can you talk about what you love about visiting schools? Do you have an anecdote from one you’d like to share?

After showing a funny slide show of my “creative process,” I let kids use the microphone (which they love) to do the talking. They read from my book Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More: Poems for Two Voices. I also wrote funny, tricky riddle poems specifically for school visits that kids read in pairs. The poems give clues about common objects (i.e., pencil, basketball). The first student in the audience to guess the correct answer chooses a partner and they read the next poem. To guess correctly, students must LISTEN! 😊. At the end, those who haven’t yet participated read from my poem for 13 voices titled “Cats!” Kids who are shy or not good readers get their chance to shine. As a lesson extension, the teacher is given a format for collaboratively writing a class poem if she or he chooses.

Do you have a special place you like to write or routine while writing?

I prefer to write on my desktop computer, which is in my home office. I have a laptop I can use if I am away, but I prefer the keyboard on my desktop. My routine requires me to drive to Starbucks to buy a chai latte before I seriously spend any time writing. I periodically attempt to stop this addiction. I did quit once for a few months but went back to buying one as an occasional treat and soon was back my costly morning habit. Sigh.         

What’s up next for you?

I have another holiday book out this year: The Gifts of the Animals, A Christmas Tale. It is loosely based on an old Latin hymn and tells in verse about gifts the stable animals gave to prepare the manger. It is beautifully illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara, who lives in Japan and speaks very little English. There’s an interesting story about how she was chosen. I’d love to share it with your readers if you invite me back.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Clearly, I love both Halloween and Christmas! I have had two Halloween books published and three Christmas books. I grew up in a small town in a simpler time. My mother helped us make our Halloween costumes and my sister and I went trick-or-treating with our neighborhood friends. Everyone’s parents stayed home to hand out treats. At Christmas, we participated in church children’s productions.

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday (or holiday-themed book) that you’d like to share?

I admit to soaping a few windows of people who turned out their lights and did not answer their doors on Halloween. This was one of the “tricks” played on those did not “treat.” Once for the church Christmas play, my sister and I got to play the parts of shepherds. We wore our chenille bathrobes as costumes and got to sing a Christmas song with nine parts in which each letter of “Christmas” had a line. I don’t recall her letter, but mine was “A’s for all he stands for.”

Thanks so much, Carole! It’s been wonderful learning about your work and about your love of chai lattes—they’re my favorite too!  I can’t wait to talk to you again soon about your upcoming Christmas book The Gifts of the Animals, A Christmas Tale!

Kids Music Day Activity

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Rock Jack-O-Lantern

 

With carefully chosen rocks you can create one jack-o’-lantern or a whole pumpkin patch!

Supplies

  • Round, smooth rock ( or rocks in a variety of sizes)
  • Orange craft paint, and other colors for a multi-hued pumpkin patch
  • Black permanent marker or black craft paint
  • Short sturdy twig (one for each rock)
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue
  • Paintbrush

Directions

  1. Clean and dry the rock
  2. Paint the rock, let dry
  3. Draw or paint a jack-o’-lantern face on the rock, let dry
  4. Glue the short twig to the top  of the rock pumpkin

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

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

Picture Book Review