February 4 – Get Ready for Valentine’s Day

About the Holiday

Love is in the air! Love for family, friends, and our special valentines. Begun as a religious feast day, Valentine’s Day became a day of romance with the bloom of courtly love during the 14th century. In England during the 18th century, those in love began showing their affections by giving flowers and candy and making valentine’s cards. Now, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and a favorite of adults and kids alike. 

Love, Violet

Written by Charlotte Sullivan Wild | Illustrated by Charlene Chua

 

Out of all the kids in her class, Violet thought only one “raced like the wind. Only one had a leaping laugh. Only one made [her] heart skip. Mira.” Every day, Violet dreamed of “astounding Mira with heroic feats,” of “bringing her treasures” and of all the adventures and fun they could have playing pirates, astronauts, knight and princess, and more. But whenever Mira asked her to play or wondered what she was drawing, Violet became shy and ran away.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2022, text copyright Charlotte Sullivan Wild, 2022. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

But on the day before Valentine’s Day, Violet had an idea. She made a glittery valentine for Mira and signed it “Love, Violet.” She dreamed that this might be the start of their adventures together. Before leaving for school, Violet tucked the valentine under her lucky white cowgirl hat. On the way, she heard other kids teasing each other about their valentines, and when Carlos asked Violet if she’d made someone a special card, Violet blushed and ran off, holding tightly to her hat.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2022, text copyright Charlotte Sullivan Wild, 2022. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

Suddenly, Mira raced up to her and complimented her on her hat. “Snow sparkled on Mira’s eyelashes. Mira was magnificent.” Violet thought her valentine was not nearly good enough. With her heart pounding “like a hundred galloping horses,” Violet dashed away. All during class she worried whether she could actually give Mira the valentine and if Mira would want it anyway. Mostly, she worried that they’d never have their adventures.

When it was finally time to exchange valentines, Violet gave out all of her cards – except one. Standing next to the coat rack, Violet slowly began to lift her hat. But all at once, Mira appeared, causing Violet to jump, crash into Mira, and fall to the ground amid a pile of coats and scarves. The other kids laughed. Instead of apologizing and handing Mira her card as she wanted to, Violet rushed away again.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2022, text copyright Charlotte Sullivan Wild, 2022. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

Alone at recess, Violet lay on the ground and made a snow angel. She’d never be able to face Mira now. Just then, however, she heard “a laugh like leaping horses,” and she jumped up. She realized that only one person had “praised her hat…hadn’t laughed when she fell…had ever asked her to play horses.” It struck her that maybe “Mira wanted to be her valentine.” Violet ran to find Mira, but on her way a gust of wind picked up her hat and her valentine. The glittery heart landed right in where kids were playing.

When Mira heard Violet’s anguished cry, she ran over to see what was wrong. Violet showed her the ruined valentine she had made for her. Mira thought it was still beautiful, and she “tucked a torn bit into her cap.” Then Mira took a locket out of her pocket and gave it to Violet. When she opened it, Violet found a small heart on one side and a purple violet on the other. “‘Want to go on an adventure?’ asked Violet. ‘Yes!’ cried Mira.” And hand-in-hand they ran off – together.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2022, text copyright Charlotte Sullivan Wild, 2022. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

Charlotte Sullivan Wild’s emotion-filled story of a girl-girl crush sweetly and realistically portrays the heart-pounding and nerve-wracking feelings of first love. As Violet tries to pluck up the courage to give Mira her valentine, kids will be rooting for her as events and her own fears threaten to derail her dreams of adventuring with Mira. Clues along the way hint at Mira’s reciprocating feelings, but the final exchange of valentines will melt readers’ hearts. Wild’s evocative vocabulary, beautiful phrasing, and natural dialogue make the story a rich read aloud, and her depiction of the adventures Violet dreams of as well as Mira’s concerned and hopeful attention to Violet create a warm and universal friendship story as well.

Charlene Chua reveals all of the hopes, dreams, and angst that go into Violet’s valentine for Mira in her lovely and poignant illustrations. Snapshots of the adventures Violet longs to have with Mira are drawn with the excitement and vivid imagination kids bring to the games they play. As Violet creates her valentine, readers can see how much work and thought she puts into it as paper, glitter, and other supplies lay strewn around her. This portrayal accentuates the disappointment Violet feels when her card meets its fate under the stampeding kids as well as Mira’s delighted reaction upon receiving it. Throughout the story, Chua invites kids to experience and empathize with Violet’s rollercoaster of emotions and mishaps on the way to discovering that Mira has been thinking about Violet too.

A joy-filled story of a crush between two queer girls and their courage to express their feelings to and for each other, Love, Violet is a moving, age-appropriate way to celebrate love on Valentine’s Day or any day you’d like to share your heart. Love, Violet is also a reassuring and affirming invitation for all children to discuss their own feelings with parents or other caregivers. The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 (and up)

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0374313722

Discover more about Charlotte Sullivan Wild and her books on her website.

To learn more about Charlene Chua, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Love, Violet Video and Author Story Time 

Author Charlotte Sullivan Wild, illustrator Charlene Chua, and a few other kidlit authors chipped in to make this video about Love, Violet, first crushes, and queer childhood that’s a perfect resource for educators and parents. Start out with listening to Charlotte Sullivan Wild read Love, Violet!

Get Ready for Valentine’s Day Activities

Valentine Activity Sheets

 

Have fun with these printable Valentine’s Day activities!

Share Your Heart! Valentine | Funny Valentine! | Love, Violet Coloring Page

You can find Love, Violet at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 5 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit in many ways from close relationships to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members. This month and next, as family gathers together for special holiday events, it’s a terrific time for adults to share family history and their own stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family helps them develop a sense of belonging, a good self-image, and confidence. Reading together is a perfect way to spend time together and get conversations started. 

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

Written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence | Illustrated by Yuko Jones

 

This true story opens with an invitation to listen as Niki Nakayama talks about her journey to becoming a chef in thirteen bites. “Come. Sit. Taste…” Bite 1: Niki was born in California but her parents were born in Japan. “Outside of Niki’s house was Los Angeles. Inside of her house was Japan.” While the two cultures often felt disparate, in Niki’s family’s kitchen “they became one.” Niki’s mother always put a Japanese twist on American dishes, with soy sauce or rice or teriyaki.

Bite 2: Close to New Year’s Eve, Niki’s grandmother took her to the grocery store to shop for the holiday dinner. Niki was excited. She loved buying all the ingredients for the feast to come: an opportunity to share “a table of love and laughter” in addition to the food. As Niki grew older, she created her own recipes and determined that she would get away from her family’s seafood-selling business and do her own thing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Niki’s dreams seemed to get little attention from her parents, who doted on their son and encouraged his success. But Niki new she could be successful too. “Kuyashii! Niki thought. ‘I’ll show them!’” After high school, Niki traveled to Tokyo, Japan, tasting all the delicious food on offer. Later she took the train to where her cousins owned an inn. There she was served a meal comprised of many dishes, each “a work of art” and each with a delicious memory attached or story to tell. “Niki learned this storytelling feast had a name: kaiseki.”

When Niki returned home, she told her mother she wanted to go to school to become a chef. Her mother discouraged her, but Niki went anyway. “She began to see food as art—a carrot as a mountain.” And while her family thought her cooking was just a hobby, Niki thought “Kuyashii! ‘I’ll show them!’” Niki got a job at a sushi restaurant. “Female sushi chefs were rare,” and the head chef didn’t think she could handle the work. “‘You’re just playing chef,’ he joked.” But Niki told him she wasn’t playing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

After working there and learning all she could, Niki decided to travel back to her cousins’ inn to study kaiseki. But there was a big obstacle. “As far as she knew, female kaiseki chefs didn’t exist. In Japan recipes and training was only handed down to males. People told Niki her dream was impossible, but she thought she could do it. Niki studied for three years and then returned to Los Angeles to open a sushi restaurant of her own.

Instead of being happy for her, her family was dismissive. At last she convinced them to give her a loan—but it came with the stipulation that “if the restaurant failed, she would have to close it and say goodbye to her dream forever.” Instead of the kaiseki dishes she wanted to serve, her mother thought sushi would be a better choice. Against her own wishes, she agreed. In a year, customers were lining up for her food. But making sushi was not what she really wanted to do.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

She closed her restaurant and wondered what to do next. Then, after much thought and exploration, she had her answer. She wanted to serve kaiseki that told her story—both Japanese and Californian. “Niki called her new restaurant n/naka. Naka means ‘inside’ in Japanese. Finally, Niki was inside her dream.” Through thirteen courses she told her stories—never serving customers the same meal twice. Now, every night tables are full of love and laughter, and Niki showed everyone that she could be a master chef.

Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life from her birth in Los Angeles in 1974 to the awarding of two Michelin stars for her restaurant n/naka in 2019; a discussion of the words kuyashii and kaiseki; and a recipe for wonton pizza.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence’s biography of Niki Nakayama is an enthralling story of self-confidence, obstacles overcome, and success that will inspire readers to stay true to the voice inside themselves. Telling Nakayama’s story through thirteen bite-sized vignettes that reveal formative moments in her life that informed her journey is a captivating and effective way to show Niki’s growth as a chef as well as to explain the meaning and experience of kaiseki.

Readers will respond to Michalak’s and Florence’s straightforward text and the details of the hurdles placed in her way. One take-away for adult readers is the importance of recognizing, encouraging, and supporting their children’s dreams and talents—an awareness that can lead to ongoing discussions with kids as they grow, learn, and get involved in activities.

Yuko Jones’ lovely illustrations take readers into Niki Nakayama’s home to see her interacting with her family and the foods that so inspired her life’s work. Jones’ images of Japanese delicacies are particularly beautiful, giving kids a strong understanding of the courses served during a kaiseki meal. Niki’s self-assurance in the face of her family’s protests and her male-dominated culinary school class as well as the rarity of female sushi chefs is stirring for all readers. Jones’ final page spreads reveal the gorgeous dishes Niki serves and the inviting atmosphere at her restaurant n/naka.

A captivating and impactful biography of a contemporary chef and role model, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections to inspire all kids who are contemplating their place in the world now and in the future.

Ages 4 – 10

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021 | ISBN 978-0374313876

Discover more about Jamie Michalak and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Debbi Michiko Florence and her books on her website.

To learn more about Yuko Jones and see a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

You can learn more about n/naka and view a gallery of Niki Nakayama’s spectacular dishes on the n/naka website.

Family Stories Month Activity

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Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites Activity Kit

 

Educators and families can find an extensive Activity Kit and coloring pages to accompany classroom or homeschool lessons or just for fun on Jamie Michalak’s website and Debbi Michiko Florence’s website.

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You can find Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 27 – It’s Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

It’s all up to you to make his month-long holiday happen. It offers an opportunity for each person to ask: What makes me happy? As the summer comes to a close and the hustle-bustle of school and extracurricular activities starts up again, be sure to include those things that truly bring you and your children joy. Spending more time with siblings and friends may be at the top of the list—just like in today’s book!

Twins

By Mike Ciccotello

A little boy and a giraffe love being twins. In fact, they are so alike, the boy says, that “sometimes our friends can’t tell us apart.” Having a twin means there’s always someone to play games—“and piano duets”—with. While it’s true that twins like many of the same things, the way they do activities is way different. Take the little boy and his giraffe twin, for instance. The boy’s tricycle is short, while his twin’s is looong, and the snowman the boy makes has three sections while the giraffe’s snowman has six—and antlers.

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Copyright Mike Ciccotello, 2019, courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

As you might imagine, salad is high on the list of favorite foods. Other faves include dancing, reading, and drawing. But who does these best? That question sometimes causes squabbles. And when there’s, say, only one tool to share or a big issue like “who is stronger,” sometimes that “disagreement…might last all afternoon, and turn into a big, rotten fight.”

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Copyright Mike Ciccotello, 2019, courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

But after a little alone time, the boy and his twin and the giraffe and his twin “can never stay mad for very long.” Then they end up compromising because they know that they “work best together.” Yes, “it’s great being a twin, knowing there’s someone who’s just like you.”

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Copyright Mike Ciccotello, 2019, courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Mike Ciccotello’s sweet tribute to twins, whether they’re siblings, best friends, or even pet-and-people pairs will have kids giggling at the juxtapositions of the little boy and his extra-tall twin as they play and work together. The two are exuberant partners, smiling, laughing, and making knowing eye contact, as they dress the same, share the same activities, and talk in their bunk beds before going to sleep. When the inevitable quarrels come, readers will recognize the mixed emotions that ultimately bring these two best friends back together. Ciccotello’s emphasis on resolving disputes, compromise, and staying mindful of all the benefits to having a twin or “near twin” gives the story deeper resonance for building bonds between siblings and friends.

Ciccotello’s vibrant illustrations are clever and cheerful, touching on kid-favorite year-round events and everyday routines. They also give a sly wink to the idea that twins are always identical and highlight the individuality of not only these twins but each reader too. The wide-open pages and spotlighted vignettes allow the youngest readers to focus on the relationship between the boy and the giraffe and offer opportunities for adults and kids to talk about that special bond.

A funny book with a lot of heart, Twins would be an endearing addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 6

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0374312121

To learn more about Mike Ciccotello and his work, visit his website.

Happiness Happens Month Activity

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Happiness Is…Game

 

Happiness is all around you! Grab one or more friends to play a game that reveals what things make you happy. Here are two ways to play:

  1. Like the “Geography” game: the first player names something that makes them happy, the next player must think of something that starts with the last letter of the word the previous player said. The game continues with each player continuing the pattern. Players drop out as they cannot think of a word. The last player left is the winner.
  2. Using a time limit (depending on age): players must think of something that makes them happy. Players drop out if they cannot think of a word within the time limit. The last player left is the winner.

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You can find Twins at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review