June 16 – Father’s Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

About the Holiday

Today is all about celebrating dads and telling them how much you love them. It’s a great day to think of all the things dads do for their kids and their families and to share a thank-you, a hug, and of course a book! Reading together is one of the best ways for dads and their kids to bond not only today, but every day!

It’s Great Being a Dad

Written by Dan Bar-el | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

A lovely pink unicorn with a sparkling rainbow horn clip-clops over a grassy hill, a golden castle and a candy forest in the background. The playful animal believes it’s “great being a unicorn. Who wouldn’t want to be a unicorn?” What makes them so special? Well…as she says, “We’re terrific at prancing and we’re very pretty and, best of all, we have an adorable horn just above our eyebrows.” It’s hard to argue with those reasons!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But it seems there are some downsides to this whole unicorn thing. Grazing might be at the top of the list. That shiny horn just always seems to get in the way. There’s no way for teeth to touch the ground, and trying to grab a snack off a table just results in the table being stuck on the “adorable horn.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

How about Bigfoot? What’s it like for him? Let’s ask—here comes Bigfoot now! “It’s great being Bigfoot. I love being Bigfoot. Who wouldn’t want to be Bigfoot?” What’s so great about being…you know…? Well…he’s warm in his furry coat, he’s well camouflaged among the trees, and his super strength “can help unicorns get tables off their heads.” Sounds great! What could go wrong? Hmmm…. It seems those big feet get themselves into some sticky situations—like ending up with a tree trunk lodged around your leg.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maybe being a Robot is better. Indeed! In fact, Robot says, “If I had feelings, I would love being a robot.” Pretty compelling stuff there. Robot is very flashy and has lots of memory and has an arm that can convert into a saw just in time to help “unicorns and Bigfoot with their wood problems.” So what’s not to like? Rain can really mess with the mo(tor)-jo.

Poor Loch Ness Monster! She’s not even going to try being positive. It kind of stinks being a monster—especially when you don’t feel like one. But maybe things aren’t all bad. Unicorn, Bigfoot, and Robot hitch a ride on Nessie’s back across the lake to the hospital. There they meet a “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who loves being a fairy queen ballerina doctor. Who wouldn’t?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

This Jill-of-all-trades can prescribe medicine for the sick, “perform a happy dance” for the sad, and wave her magic wand “if you have trouble with your saw arm…or your head horn or your big foot.” Sounds perfect…until a “sneaky flying alligator pirate” swoops in and swipes the magic wand just as the fairy queen ballerina doctor is about the save the day. “Dad!”

Ha! Ha! Here’s a little guy who’s super excited to be a sneaky flying alligator pirate. “I’m sneaky, so you never see me coming. I can fly, so you can never catch me. And… And…that’s enough reasons. So what’s not to like about being a sneaky flying alligator pirate?” Ooof! “Dads, that’s what!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But how does Dad feel about being a dad? Let’s see: “It’s great being a dad. I love being a dad.” It does look pretty fun! Dad gets to remove pizza box “tables” from hobby horse unicorns; remove stepped-on drums from a brown-fuzzy-hoodied-and-hiking-booted Bigfoot; fix cardboard-saw arms; give medals to super swimmers; and “return magic wands to… to… ‘Fairy queen ballerina doctors. I told you a million times already.’ Right. What she said.” Plus Dad can help little brothers play nicely.

So you must be wondering… “what’s not to like about being a dad? Sudden makeovers, that’s what.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Dan Bar-el’s laugh-out-loud romp through an afternoon of play hits the perfect tone to entertain kids and adults as well. Bar-el’s wry delivery and repetition of the appealing—and not-so—traits of each fantasy character will have readers giggling and eagerly anticipating the next page. The revelation that the characters are kids with big imaginations offers multiple payouts in creativity, personalities, friendship, and family.

Gina Perry’s vibrant, whimsical illustrations riff on all the fantasy clichés to ramp up the humor in this vivacious story. When happily-ever-after turns into happily-never-after for each character, Perry amusingly depicts their dismay, but the next page finds them cheerfully adjusted to their new circumstance and weaving it into a revised storyline. As the story wraps up, readers will enjoy pointing out aspects of the kids’ interests and the parts of the backyard that spurred their imagination in earlier pages. The diverse group of friends is welcome, and good-natured Dad doesn’t really seem to mind his impromptu makeover.

It’s Great Being a Dad is a fantastically fun read-aloud that makes a wonderful gift for dad and would be an often-asked-for addition to home and school bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1770496057

Discover more about Dan Bar-el and his books on his website!

You find a gallery of illustration work and books by Gina Perry on her website!

Father’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-building-blocks-craft

I Love Dad Building Blocks

 

This craft will stack up to be a favorite with kids! With wooden blocks and a little chalkboard paint, it’s easy for kids to make these unique building blocks that show dad just how they feel about him. They’re also great for gifts, decorating, party favors, or when you just have a little time to play!

Supplies

  • Wooden blocks in various sizes, available from craft stores
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Paint brush
  • Chalk in various colors

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden blocks with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. Write words or draw pictures on the blocks
  3. Have fun!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

You can find It’s Great Being a Dad at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

October 31 – National Magic Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-cover

About the Holiday

While there’s lots of magic going on today as little witches and wizards roam neighborhoods across the country casting spells and charming people to give them candy as part of Halloween, National Magic Day got it’s start in 1938 when a Chicago member of the Society of American Magicians sought official permission to honor the great Harry Houdini with a special day of recognition for his contributions to the world of magic. Houdini’s wife sanctioned the holiday and proclaimed October 31 – the date of his death in 1926 – as National Magic Day.

Tundra Books sent me a copy of The Magician’s Secret to check out. All opinions are my o own. 

The Magician’s Secret

Written by Zachary Hyman | Illustrated by Joe Bluhm

 

When Mom and Dad dropped Charlie off at his grandfather’s for an overnight visit, they pleaded with him to make sure his grandson went to bed early. “‘No more hocus-pocus!’” his daughter said. That wasn’t just some phrase she conjured up, because her father had once been a magician and was still “like a big kid who never grew up.” He loved to play games with Charlie and “also knew the most amazing tricks.” But he never told Charlie his secrets.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-attic

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

What Charlie loved best were Grandpa’s stories. Whenever Grandpa told a story, he and Charlie went up to the “most cobwebby corner of the attic” where a big green trunk full of special things from Grandpa’s adventures sat. Grandpa would pull out an item and begin to talk. This night he showed Charlie an hourglass filled with sand that Grandpa said came from the tomb of King Tut.

Another time, he pulled out a scarf that had belonged to the World War I Red Baron fighter pilot. Grandpa had plucked it from the Red Baron’s neck during a dogfight in which Grandpa left the Baron and his plane floating in a French sea. One summer evening the story revolved around a coconut shell that he found on a tropical beach. He had fallen asleep under a palm tree only to be awakened by a roaring T-Rex intent on eating him. Just in the nick of time, “dozens of rocks rained down through the air, scaring the nasty dinosaur away.” Who had saved him? Grandpa never told, saying that was for Charlie to figure out.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-red-baron

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

Charlie loved Grandpa’s stories, but his father said that they were just “things Grandpa’s made up.” Charlie couldn’t believe it. He felt like he “had lived every one of those adventures with Grandpa. How could they not be true?” When Charlie asked his grandfather about it, Grandpa sighed. He said the problem with grown-ups was that they didn’t “have faith in make-believe” but that if you “use your imagination, you can turn a dream into something real.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-twilight

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

Charlie wasn’t so sure, but Grandpa assured him: “‘We’ve done it over and over again, with cameras and computers, automobiles and airplanes…. Magic is all around us, kiddo—in me and in you.’” Then Grandpa waved his hands in the air and produced a…rock. He said it was the philosopher’s stone that could do magical things, but the secret was that “‘You have to see it, you have to believe it.’” That night Charlie fell into a deep sleep with the rock under his pillow. When he woke up, he heard an earth-shattering roar. He looked and saw a T-Rex threatening his grandpa. He looked at the rock in his hand and knew what to do….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-in-bed

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

Zachary Hyman makes magic with traditional storytelling combined with the wonder of imagination and the encouragement to make dreams come true. As Grandpa talks about his daring feats, Charlie believes him, but more importantly, Charlie believes that he could do such marvelous things too. Hyman’s reminder that all great discoveries and achievements began as someone’s seemingly impossible idea is well aimed at his young audience whose boundless imaginations may just be our next realities. Hyman’s evocative language and conversational tone  will keep children enthralled until the surprise ending.

Joe Bluhm lends a mysterious enchantment to Hyman’s story with his atmospheric depictions of the cobwebby attic, darkened, creature-infested tomb, and twilit skies. Turning from the setup to the heart of Grandpa’s stories, readers are immersed in vibrant colors and dazzling light, representative of that flash of ingenuity or creativity in each of us. In a nice cyclical set of images, Charlie is first seen watching TV and playing aviator, spaceman, explorer, artists, and magician with Grandpa in sepia-toned snapshots. Near the end of the book when Grandpa talks about the power of imagination, these same scenes are presented in full color with Charlie as a pilot, astronaut, movie director, mountain climber, race car driver, and explorer.

Like the best magic trick, The Magician’s Secret will captivate readers but will also tell them what they really want to know: the answer to how they can do wondrous things themselves. The book would make a terrific addition to home, classroom, and school libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Tundra Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1770498945

To learn more about Joe Bluhm, his books, and his art, visit his website.

It’s no secret that you’ll love this The Magician’s Secret book trailer!

National Magic Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-magic-maze

It’s Magic! Maze

 

Help the spell flow to the top hat to make the magic work in this printable maze!

It’s Magic! Maze | It’s Magic! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-cover

You can find The Magician’s Secret at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

Picture Book Review

March 29 – It’s International Ideas Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-cover

About the Holiday

This month we celebrate something that you can’t see or hold but which is real all the same. What is it? An idea! Ideas are amazing things. Sometimes seemingly conjured up out of thin air and sometimes the “Eureka!” result of long, hard work, ideas fuel our arts, sciences, education, and home life. So today, write down those ideas you have while driving or commuting to work, while in the shower, when you’re daydreaming, or just as you turn off the light to go to sleep. You never know what they might become!

Tundra Books sent me a copy of The Magician’s Secret to check out. All opinions are my own. 

The Magician’s Secret

Written by Zachary Hyman | Illustrated by Joe Bluhm

 

When Mom and Dad dropped Charlie off at his grandfather’s for an overnight visit, they pleaded with him to make sure his grandson went to bed early. “‘No more hocus-pocus!’” his daughter said. That wasn’t just some phrase she conjured up, because her father had once been a magician and was still “like a big kid who never grew up.” He loved to play games with Charlie and “also knew the most amazing tricks.” But he never told Charlie his secrets.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-attic

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

What Charlie loved best were Grandpa’s stories. Whenever Grandpa told a story, he and Charlie went up to the “most cobwebby corner of the attic” where a big green trunk full of special things from Grandpa’s adventures sat. Grandpa would pull out an item and begin to talk. This night he showed Charlie an hourglass filled with sand that Grandpa said came from the tomb of King Tut.

Another time, he pulled out a scarf that had belonged to the World War I Red Baron fighter pilot. Grandpa had plucked it from the Red Baron’s neck during a dogfight in which Grandpa left the Baron and his plane floating in a French sea. One summer evening the story revolved around a coconut shell that he found on a tropical beach. He had fallen asleep under a palm tree only to be awakened by a roaring T-Rex intent on eating him. Just in the nick of time, “dozens of rocks rained down through the air, scaring the nasty dinosaur away.” Who had saved him? Grandpa never told, saying that was for Charlie to figure out.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-red-baron

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

Charlie loved Grandpa’s stories, but his father said that they were just “things Grandpa’s made up.” Charlie couldn’t believe it. He felt like he “had lived every one of those adventures with Grandpa. How could they not be true?” When Charlie asked his grandfather about it, Grandpa sighed. He said the problem with grown-ups was that they didn’t “have faith in make-believe” but that if you “use your imagination, you can turn a dream into something real.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-twilight

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

Charlie wasn’t so sure, but Grandpa assured him: “‘We’ve done it over and over again, with cameras and computers, automobiles and airplanes…. Magic is all around us, kiddo—in me and in you.’” Then Grandpa waved his hands in the air and produced a…rock. He said it was the philosopher’s stone that could do magical things, but the secret was that “‘You have to see it, you have to believe it.’” That night Charlie fell into a deep sleep with the rock under his pillow. When he woke up, he heard an earth-shattering roar. He looked and saw a T-Rex threatening his grandpa. He looked at the rock in his hand and knew what to do….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-magician's-secret-in-bed

Copyright Joe Bluhm, 2018, courtesy of joebluhm.com.

Zachary Hyman makes magic with traditional storytelling combined with the wonder of imagination and the encouragement to make dreams come true. As Grandpa talks about his daring feats, Charlie believes him, but more importantly, Charlie believes that he could do such marvelous things too. Hyman’s reminder that all great discoveries and achievements began as someone’s seemingly impossible idea is well aimed at his young audience whose boundless imaginations may just be our next realities. Hyman’s evocative language and conversational tone  will keep children enthralled until the surprise ending.

Joe Bluhm lends a mysterious enchantment to Hyman’s story with his atmospheric depictions of the cobwebby attic, darkened, creature-infested tomb, and twilit skies. Turning from the setup to the heart of Grandpa’s stories, readers are immersed in vibrant colors and dazzling light, representative of that flash of ingenuity or creativity in each of us. In a nice cyclical set of images, Charlie is first seen watching TV and playing aviator, spaceman, explorer, artists, and magician with Grandpa in sepia-toned snapshots. Near the end of the book when Grandpa talks about the power of imagination, these same scenes are presented in full color with Charlie as a pilot, astronaut, movie director, mountain climber, race car driver, and explorer.

Like the best magic trick, The Magician’s Secret will captivate readers but will also tell them what they really want to know: the answer to how they can do wondrous things themselves. The book would make a terrific addition to home, classroom, and school libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Tundra Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1770498945

To learn more about Joe Bluhm, his books, and his art, visit his website.

It’s no secret that you’ll love this The Magician’s Secret book trailer!

International Ideas Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-share-your-bright-idea-activity

Share Your Bright Idea! Page

 

Do you sometimes have a lightbulb moment when an idea seems just right? Use this printable Share Your Bright Idea! Page to write about or draw your idea!

Picture Book Review

November 24 – National Day of Listening

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wee-sister-strange-cover

About the Holiday

The day after Thanksgiving was chosen by StoryCorps for family and friends to tell and record their unique and collective stories for themselves and future generations. The mission of StoryCorps is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” StoryCorps even provides an online archive of individual and family stories that enrich our culture for anyone to listen to. Whether you share your stories with others or record them for your own family, remember that every story counts and should be heard. To learn more about StoryCorps, hear fascinating stories, or upload your own, visit StoryCorps.

Wee Sister Strange

Written by Holly Grant | Illustrated by K. G. Campbell

 

“They say there’s a girl / Who lives by the woods / In a crooked old house / With no garden but gloom.” Because she has no parents or even a name of her own, the townspeople “call her Wee Sister Strange.” During daylight she stays to herself, but as evening approaches she climbs out of the window and goes into the dangerous woods. She delights in the darkness, and “drinks up the moon / like a cat drinking cream.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wee-sister-strange-leaving-house

Image copyright K. G. Campbell, 2017, text copyright Holly Grant, 2017. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

She talks with the owls and rides a “fierce bear” through “groves golden-leafed.” But when the wild wolves catch her scent, she climbs into high branches as they “prowl down below.” From her high perch she scans the wide world and “peels back the clouds… / As through keyholes one peeks.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wee-sister-strange-peeling-back-clouds

Image copyright K. G. Campbell, 2017, text copyright Holly Grant, 2017. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

She’s searching for something she just cannot find, so she “dives into the bog. Here, way down below, she continues to look amid the odd creatures, and she checks “every snail / As a mermaid counts pearls.” But even here she does not see what she’s looking for. She climbs out on the bank into thorny, twisting vines and in the distance sees a bright light.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wee-sister-strange-listening

Image copyright K. G. Campbell, 2017, text copyright Holly Grant, 2017. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

She tiptoes closer and finds a little stone house “with one window aglow.” She peeks in through the pane and sees “you in your bed / With this book ‘neath your nose.” She listens where the window is open a crack and hears a murmur: “‘They say there’s a girl / Who lives by the woods…’” The girl’s eyes light up bright; her search is now ended. She’s found what she sought: “A wee bedtime story!”

“Her ears gobble the rhymes! / They sop up the poem-crumbs!” Sister grows sleepy and next to the house, she blankets herself with golden leaves as her eyes close and she starts to dream.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wee-sister-strange-sleeping

Image copyright K. G. Campbell, 2017, text copyright Holly Grant, 2017. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Holly Grant’s Wee Sister Strange is a magical story of such mystery and beauty that it opens a world of unbounded imagination as the plot plays out. Combining just the right balance of realism and fantasy, Grant’s wonder-full tale allows each reader the freedom to interpret her poem in their own way.  When Sister at last finds the house and hears her own story echoed back to her, her restless yearning is satisfied, suggesting that our life stories are what make us knowable to ourselves and others. As the little girl of color and her mother share the bedtime story of the girl in the woods, Sister’s given name helps us understand that we are all sisters (or brothers) through our collective stories. Grant’s gorgeous language and original metaphors are further causes for celebrating this glowing, dreamy modern fable.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wee-sister-strange-house

Image copyright K. G. Campbell, 2017, text copyright Holly Grant, 2017. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

In K. G. Campbell’s luminescent watercolor-and-colored-pencil illustrations, Wee Sister Strange is as delicate and glowing as the autumn leaves, as buoyant as the bog creatures, and as human as the little girl in the house. On her nightly hunts, she traverses landscapes that are recognizable yet are also the terrain of dreams. Children will find much to discuss in the similarities and differences in the two girls’ homes as well as the identity of  Wee Sister Strange. Campbell’s paintings beautifully convey the cyclical nature of this tale that offers the comfort of knowing that our stories unite us while keeping the wolves at bay.

Embodying the mystical elements that children love best in a bedtime story, Wee Sister Strange is an inventive marvel that should find a home on any child’s bookshelf.

Ages 4 – 8

Schwartz & Wade, 2017 | ISBN 978-0553508796

To learn more about K. G. Campbell, his books, and his art, visit his website

National Day of Listening Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stars-border-template

Tell Your Story Page

 

Everyone has their own story to tell! Use this printable Tell Your Story Page to write an original story or a story from your life. Then tell your story at bedtime!

Picture Book Review

June 9 – It’s National Family Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

About the Holiday

The weeks between Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June have been designated as National Family Month. This time gives us the opportunity to honor everything that makes a group of people a family. Shared experiences and memories—and especially love—create that unique feeling in the heart that defines family. To celebrate, get the family together for some fun!

It’s Great Being a Dad

Written by Dan Bar-el | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

A lovely pink unicorn with a sparkling rainbow horn clip-clops over a grassy hill, a golden castle and a candy forest in the background. The playful animal believes it’s “great being a unicorn. Who wouldn’t want to be a unicorn?” What makes them so special? Well…as she says, “We’re terrific at prancing and we’re very pretty and, best of all, we have an adorable horn just above our eyebrows.” It’s hard to argue with those reasons!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, text copyright Dan Bar-el. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But it seems there are some downsides to this whole unicorn thing. Grazing might be at the top of the list. That shiny horn just always seems to get in the way. There’s no way for teeth to touch the ground, and trying to grab a snack off a table just results in the table stuck on the “adorable horn.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, text copyright Dan Bar-el. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

How about Bigfoot? What’s it like for him? Let’s ask—here comes Bigfoot now! “It’s great being Bigfoot. I love being Bigfoot. Who wouldn’t want to be Bigfoot?” What’s so great about being…you know…. Well…he’s warm in his furry coat, he’s well camouflaged among the trees, and his super strength “can help unicorns get tables off their heads.” Sounds great! What could go wrong? Hmmm…. It seems those big feet get themselves into some sticky situations—like ending up with a tree truck lodged around your leg.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, text copyright Dan Bar-el. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maybe being a Robot is better. Indeed! In fact, Robot says, “If I had feelings, I would love being a robot.” Pretty compelling stuff there. Robot is very flashy and has lots of memory and has an arm that can convert into a saw just in time to help “unicorns and Bigfoot with their wood problems.” So what’s not to like? Rain can really mess with the mo(tor)-jo.

Poor Loch Ness Monster! She’s not even going to try being positive. It kind of stinks being a monster—especially when you don’t feel like one. But maybe things aren’t all bad. Unicorn, Bigfoot, and Robot hitch a ride on Nessie’s back across the lake to the hospital. There they meet a “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who loves being a fairy queen ballerina doctor. Who wouldn’t?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, text copyright Dan Bar-el. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

This Jill-of-all-trades can prescribe medicine for the sick, “perform a happy dance” for the sad, and wave her magic wand “if you have trouble with your saw arm…or your head horn or your big foot.” Sounds perfect…until a “sneaky flying alligator pirate” swoops in and swipes the magic wand just as the fairy queen ballerina doctor is about the save the day. “Dad!”

Ha! Ha! This little guy is super excited to be a sneaky flying alligator pirate. “I’m sneaky, so you never see me coming. I can fly, so you can never catch me. And… And…that’s enough reasons. So what’s not to like about being a sneaky flying alligator pirate?” Ooof! “Dads, that’s what!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, text copyright Dan Bar-el. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But how does Dad feel about being a dad? Let’s see: “It’s great being a dad. I love being a dad.” It does look pretty fun! Dad gets to remove pizza box “tables” from hobby horse unicorns; remove stepped-on drums from a brown-fuzzy-hoodied-and-hiking-booted Bigfoot; fix cardboard saw arms; give medals to super swimmers; and “return magic wands to… to… ‘Fairy queen ballerina doctors. I told you a million times already.’ Right. What she said.” Plus Dad can help little brothers play nicely.

So you must be wondering… “what’s not to like about being a dad? Sudden makeovers, that’s what.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, text copyright Dan Bar-el. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Dan Bar-el’s laugh-out-loud romp through an afternoon of play hits the perfect tone to entertain kids and adults as well. Bar-el’s wry delivery and repetition of the appealing—and not-so—traits of each fantasy character will have readers giggling and eagerly anticipating the next page. The revelation that the characters are kids with big imaginations offers multiple payouts in creativity, personalities, friendship, and family.

Gina Perry’s vibrant, whimsical illustrations riff on all the fantasy clichés to ramp up the humor in this vivacious story. When happily-ever-after turns into happily-never-after for each character, Perry amusingly depicts their dismay, but the next page finds them cheerfully adjusted to their new circumstance and weaving it into a revised storyline. As the story wraps up, readers will enjoy pointing out aspects of the kids’ interests and parts of their backyard that spurred their imagination in earlier pages. The diverse group of friends is welcome, and good-natured Dad doesn’t really seem to mind his impromptu makeover.

It’s Great Being a Dad is a perfect book for young readers to share with their own dads and would be an often-read addition to children’s home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1770496057

Discover more about Dan Bar-el and his books on his website!

You find a gallery of illustration work and books by Gina Perry on her website!

National Family Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-charades-activities-cards

Family Charades

 

Getting together to play charades is a fun way to spend family time with a little bit of thought, a little bit of action, and lots of laughs. You can find lots of charades cards, ideas, and rules at funstufftodo.com.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

You can find It’s Great Being a Dad at these booksellers

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

May 28 – It’s National Pet Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-cover

About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a dog, cat, bird, or small animal from your local animal shelter. You’ll both benefit!

If I Had a Gryphon

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

Sam gazes at her first pet—a hamster—as he slumbers on his bed of shavings. She’s a little disappointed because mostly all he does is eat, sleep, and hide. She snuggles into her reading chair with a cup of tea and a book of mythical creatures and thinks: “If only I could have a pet / With strange, exotic powers, / I know that I’d find lots to do / To while away the hours.” She considers having a unicorn whose mane she could braid and who she could ride through fields of posies, then remembers that “Unicorns are pretty, / but they’re also very shy. / On second thought, I’d like to give a hippogriff a try.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-hippogriff

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam plans to take her hippogriff to the dog park to “run and jump and fetch” and “to give his wings a stretch.” Considering it again, though, she realizes that the dogs may find a hippogriff scary and that “when it comes to playing ball, / Well, things could get quite hairy.” Instead, she decides to get a sasquatch “with burly, curly fur,” but then she remembers all the time she’d spend brushing out the tangles. A gryphon with “flashing feathers” sounds better until she thinks how she’d have to fly it every day “regardless of the weather.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-gryphon

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

A kraken would be an unique pet, but to survive the cold, wet depths while playing with it she’d need a scuba suit. A warmer companion might be a dragon, although she thinks with its “temperamental snout / I’d need a fire extinguisher / to put her sneezes out.” A kirin could be a possibility, although it “needs a field of grass / At least an ocean wide” to keep it happy; and a jackalope, while cute, is much, much, much too hoppy.

A phoenix might be an enduring pet, but it “needs a chimney nest / That’s smoke and fire proof” while a “Manticore needs special floss / For EACH and EVERY tooth.” There are oh so many creatures to contemplate—from harpies and chupacabras to fairies and kelpies to basilisks and sprites—but each is problematic in its own way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-phoenix

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam takes another look at the adorable hamster in its cage and reconsiders: “He may not be a gryphon, / Or a creature from the sea, / But I am his and he is mine / And that’s enough for me.”

Vikki VanSickle’s entertaining rhymes frolic, gallop, and prance through her encyclopedic array of fantastic beasts. Her young readers will be delighted that the fun of an imaginary menagerie is not just for the older set and will eagerly await each newly considered pet. VanSickle includes all the favorite mystical creatures, plus fascinating new ones that will spark kids’ imaginations and have them scrambling to find out more about them. The juxtaposition of attractive and less so traits of each possible pet adds a nip of humor to the verses that will make kids giggle. Sam’s ultimate realization that her hamster is the perfect companion is a sweet ending that reaffirms readers’ own relationship with their pets.

Cale Atkinson’s Sam is already a dreamer when she acquires her hamster. Her mug of tea sports a picture of a narwhal, her bookmark is a paper-thin dragon, and the book of Mythological Creatures that she consults is already well-thumbed. As the little girl with the square-rimmed glasses contemplates each creature as pet, Atkinson presents an illustration that is both humorous and beautiful. The hippogriff with its bird legs in front and horse legs in back is a gorgeous hue of blue, but it’s expressive reaction to seeing the dogs at the park as well as its enthusiasm to play along also causes the dogs to hide behind a tree. The sasquatch is a cutie, but he also snarls Sam’s bike and bed, trees, road signs, and a dog in its thick brown hair. And a turquoise dragon may shimmer with lovely scales, but it also chars walls and furniture. Despite its apparent sloth, Sam’s hamster actually is the perfect pet—besides, he might have a secret identity of his own!

If I Had a Griffin is a fun romp through a mystical realm of pets that kids will love to hear again and again. The book would be a welcome addition to kids’ bookshelves, especially if they have older siblings enjoying that other series that features magical creatures!

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498099

To learn more about Vikki VanSickle and her books as well as to download an If I Had a Gryphon Activity Guide and coloring page, visit her website!

National Pet Month Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Treats

 

Pets love it when you do something special for them! Here’s a recipe for homemade dog biscuits that will taste even better than store-bought because they’re made with love! Making dog biscuits is a fun way to spend time together and benefit furry friends. These biscuits make tasty treats for your own pet, or consider making a batch to donate to your local animal shelter. This recipe is easy and proven to be a favorite.

Children should get help from an adult when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog bones or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, 1 Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits

November 18 – It’s National Pet Awareness Month and Q & A with Author Vikki VanSickle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-cover

About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat. If you don’t have a pet, consider adopting a dog, cat, bird, or small animal from your local animal shelter. You’ll both benefit!

If I Had a Gryphon

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

Sam gazes at her first pet—a hamster—as he slumbers on his bed of shavings. She’s a little disappointed because mostly all he does is eat, sleep, and hide. She snuggles into her reading chair with a cup of tea and a book of mythical creatures and thinks: “If only I could have a pet / With strange, exotic powers, / I know that I’d find lots to do / To while away the hours.” She considers having a unicorn whose mane she could braid and who she could ride through fields of posies, then remembers that “Unicorns are pretty, / but they’re also very shy. / On second thought, I’d like to give a hippogriff a try.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-hippogriff

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam plans to take her hippogriff to the dog park to “run and jump and fetch” and “to give his wings a stretch.” Considering it again, though, she realizes that the dogs may find a hippogriff scary and that “when it comes to playing ball, / Well, things could get quite hairy.” Instead, she decides to get a sasquatch “with burly, curly fur,” but then she remembers all the time she’d spend brushing out the tangles. A gryphon with “flashing feathers” sounds better until she thinks how she’d have to fly it every day “regardless of the weather.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-gryphon

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

A kraken would be an unique pet, but to survive the cold, wet depths while playing with it she’d need a scuba suit. A warmer companion might be a dragon, although she thinks with its “temperamental snout / I’d need a fire extinguisher / to put her sneezes out.” A kirin could be a possibility, although it needs an ocean of grass to keep it happy; and a jackalope, while cute, is much, much, much too hoppy.

A phoenix might be an enduring pet, but it “needs a chimney nest / That’s smoke and fire proof” while a “Manticore needs special floss / For EACH and EVERY tooth.” There are oh so many creatures to contemplate—from harpies and chupacabras to fairies and kelpies to basilisks and sprites—but each is problematic in its own way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-phoenix

Image copyright Cale Atkinson, text copyright Vikki VanSickle. Courtesy of Tundra Books

Sam takes another look at the adorable hamster in its cage and reconsiders: “He may not be a gryphon, / Or a creature from the sea, / But I am his and he is mine / And that’s enough for me.”

Vikki VanSickle’s entertaining rhymes frolic, gallop, and prance through her encyclopedic array of fantastic beasts. Her young readers will be delighted that the fun of an imaginary menagerie is not just for the older set and will eagerly await each newly considered pet. VanSickle includes all the favorite mystical creatures, plus fascinating new ones that will spark kids’ imaginations and have them scrambling to find out more about them. The juxtaposition of attractive and less so traits of each possible pet adds a nip of humor to the verses that will make kids giggle. Sam’s ultimate realization that her hamster is the perfect companion is a sweet ending that reaffirms readers’ own relationship with their pets.

Cale Atkinson’s Sam is already a dreamer when she acquires her hamster. Her mug of tea sports a picture of a narwhal, her bookmark is a paper-thin dragon, and the book of Mythological Creatures that she consults is already well-thumbed. As the little girl with the square-rimmed glasses contemplates each creature as pet, Atkinson presents an illustration that is both humorous and beautiful. The hippogriff with its bird legs in front and horse legs in back is a gorgeous hue of blue, but it’s expressive reaction to seeing the dogs at the park as well as its enthusiasm to play along also causes the dogs to hide behind a tree; the sasquatch is a cutie, but he also snarls her bike, her bed, trees, and road signs in its thick brown hair; and a turquoise dragon may shimmer with lovely scales, but it also chars walls and furniture. Despite its apparent sloth, Sam’s hamster actually is the perfect pet—besides, he might have a secret of his own!

If I Had a Griffin is a fun romp through a mystical realm of pets that kids will love to hear again and again. The book would be a welcome addition to kids’ bookshelves, especially if they have older siblings enjoying that other series that features magical creatures!

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1770498099

To learn more about Vikki VanSickle and her books as well as to download an If I Had a Gryphon Activity Guide and coloring page, visit her website!

National Pet Awareness Month Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Treats

 

Pets love it when you do something special for them! Here’s a recipe for homemade dog biscuits that will taste even better than store-bought because they’re made with love! Making dog biscuits is a fun way to spend time together and benefit furry friends. These biscuits make tasty treats for your own pet, or consider making a batch to donate to your local animal shelter. This recipe is easy and proven to be a favorite.

Children should get help from an adult when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog biscuits or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, 1 Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits

Q & A with Author Vikki VanSickle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vikki-vansickle-head-shot

Today I’m pleased to talk with Vikki VanSickle about her books for kids and tweens, her influences, and the unique place she draws inspiration from.

What were your favorite picture books growing up?

My mind was absolutely blown by Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall. It was likely the first mystery I was exposed to and I have loved mysteries ever since. This is a perfect example of text and illustration working together. Nothing in the text explains the true identity of Viola Swamp (what a name!), but there are hints in the illustration. It takes a certain kind of genius to make readers side with the adult—a beleaguered teacher—instead of the children in the book

Teddy Rabbit by Kathy Stinson and Stephane Poulin really spoke to me because like the main character, I had a teddy rabbit instead of a teddy bear. It also spoke to my deep fear of the subway. Growing up in a small town I was equally fascinated and terrified by the big city. I found Toronto loud, overwhelming, and very fast-paced. The subway in particular was frightening, and the idea of dropping my beloved Bunny on the tracks was as high stakes as it gets. If little Vikki knew that she would grow up to take the subway every day (without fear or incident, in fact I look forward to the extra reading time) she would not believe it.

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Lastly, Steven Kellogg’s Pinkerton books, Pinkerton, Behave and A Rose for Pinkerton were also favourites of mine. I have always loved pet stories, and the giant, clumsy Great Dane with a heart of gold totally captivated me. Especially when he meets his match in tiny but fierce Rose, a kitten after my own heart.

You’ve said that the idea for If I Had a Gryphon grew out of an observation at a bookshop story time. Can you tell me a little about that?

I used to watch my colleague Elaine create actual magic during story time. I was fascinated with which books resonated with the kids. It wasn’t always the ones that I expected. You don’t know how a book will land until you see it read aloud to children. Two things became clear: rhyme was always a hit (plus it was so fun to read) and pet stories were perennial favourites.

At the same time, I had a lot of little customers with older siblings who were obsessed with Harry Potter. They wanted to share in their older siblings’ love of the series, but when I went looking for good storybooks featuring similar creatures I came up short. There were lots of stories about dragons and unicorns, and some beautiful anthologies about mythological creatures, but no storybooks for the youngest readers. I’m a Harry Potter and mythology fan myself, and decided to write a sort of primer to magical pets.

Which of the mythical creatures that you mention in your book do you like best? Why?

This is a tricky one! Before I saw Cale’s illustrations I would have said a phoenix or gryphon, because I think they’re such majestic and fiercely beautiful creatures. But then the art came in and I found myself totally charmed by the enthusiasm of poor hippogriff, who just wants to play ball. I also love that cuddly-looking sasquatch, I think he’d make a great reading buddy.

You mention in your bio that you liked to go to flea markets when you were growing up. Do you have a favorite item that you found at one? Why is it special?

I am like a kid in a candy store at a flea market—I hardly know where to start and I could spend all day browsing through tables and shelves of random objects. It is such a rich source of story ideas that it’s almost overwhelming. Did that trunk come from overseas? Why? When? Who did it belong to? What does the inscription in this book mean? Who wore that wedding dress, and what happened at the party? How did that teddy bear rip its jacket? The possibilities are endless.

I didn’t bring the treasures home very often, it was enough to ponder the ideas they inspired. The one thing I did buy was Nancy Drew books. I completed my entire collection by searching garage sales, flea markets and antique stores.

You interact with your readers through school visits, library presentations, and at festivals. What do you like best about meeting your readers in person? Do you have a fun or interesting anecdote to share from any of your appearances?

Now that I no longer work in a bookstore, I don’t have as much kid-contact as I would like. Visiting schools and libraries gives me a chance to chat with kids, find out what’s important to them, what books they love, what makes them laugh, and just generally be reminded of what a privilege it is to write for this audience.

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In terms of presentations, the students keep me on my toes with insightful questions, comments, and by pushing me to be flexible when an activity doesn’t work or they are more interested in process rather than plot. It sounds obvious, but you need to be very present when you’re working with children. I appreciate the opportunity to be in the moment, connect with readers, and talk about stories.

Earlier this fall during the question period a little boy asked me if I knew how many species of dragon there were in the world. When I told him I did not, he replied “That was a trick question. Nobody knows.”

Besides If I Had a Gryphon you’ve written a series of three middle grade novels (Words That Start with B, Love is a Four-Letter Word, and Days That End in Y) and a coming of age novel (Summer Days, Starry Nights). Can you tell me a little about how you approach the different genres and what you enjoy most about each?

I find them to be entirely different experiences. Picture books to me are about structure, space, and beats. It’s very much like writing a play. As the playwright, you do not cast, direct, or design the costumes, set, or lighting for your show. Your task is to create the bones of a project that many other people will then flesh out. With a picture book, the illustrator takes on role of casting director, costume, set and lighting designer. I believe in the interplay between text and pictures, and as the writer I need to leave the space for an illustrator to do so in the narrative.

Novel writing is a messy, chaotic, immersive process, at least for me. It’s very instinctual. I write in first person, trying to understand the voice of the narrator and her motivations, and the plot is often secondary. I’ll jump all over the place, sometimes writing the same scene in many different ways, occasionally working backwards from what I think might be the end, or switching narrators. I get to a certain point (usually between 60-80 pages) when I stop writing to seriously consider what I have done. I read, take notes, reorder, cut, refine, and then I have the beginning of a structured draft.

What’s up next for you?

I’m in the final throes of a middle grade novel which I’ve been describing as “Stranger Things” for tweens and I have a picture book I’ve been muddling over for awhile now that’s starting to come together.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you a few questions about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday?

Definitely Halloween—costumes, black cats, AND candy? What’s not to love?

Do you have a funny or interesting holiday anecdote you’d like to share?

Here I am dressed as a Rockford Peach, my all-time favourite Halloween costume.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vikki-vansickle-halloween-costume

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Not yet, but I would love to write something with a Halloween theme eventually. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head but I haven’t settled on the perfect one yet.

Thanks so much for spending time with me, Vikki! I wish you the best with all of your books!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-I-had-a-gryphon-cover

You can find If I Had a Gryphon at these booksellers:

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

You can connect with Vikki on:

Her Website | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review