June 16 – Wish Fulfillment Day

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About the Holiday

Have you made a wish that you’re just waiting to have fulfilled? Today’s holiday encourages you to get the ball rolling and plan how to make whatever you’re wishing for a reality. With perseverance (and maybe a cupcake) you may get your heart’s desire—just like the sweet French bulldog in today’s book.

A Family for Louie

By Alexandra Thompson

 

Louie was quite a gourmet. “He knew every chef in town,” and every day he visited his favorite restaurants for scrumptious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners—and dessert too, of course. “Louie ended each day with a bath, a good book, and a hot cup of cocoa. It was perfect.” While Louie thought his life was as good as it could be, when he saw other dogs enjoying time with their families, he thought “maybe there was one thing missing.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-family-for-louie-diner

Copyright Alexandra Thompson, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Louie decided to look for a family. At the beach, he saw a woman and her son who looked nice, but when he saw what they were eating for their picnic lunch—“green Jell-O salad and sardine sandwiches”—he just turned away. He went to his favorite sushi restaurant, he spied a man and his daughter with an empty seat at their table. When he approached, however, a very territorial cat chased him away. He tried one more time at the park when a dad and his two kids invited him for a yummy burger and a game of frisbee. But he was no match for that flying disc. Louie thought maybe he’d never find a family.

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Copyright Alexandra Thompson, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Louie walked back to town, where he saw a new bakery. A little girl was setting up a table of cupcakes on the sidewalk in front of the shop. He went over, and the girl introduced herself and offered him a cupcake. The cupcake was delicious, and Louie loved playing with Bea. Bea begged her Mom to let them keep Louie. That night a bubble bath, “a home-cooked meal, and a story with hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies told Louie he’d found his perfect family.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-family-for-louie-bea

Copyright Alexandra Thompson, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Alexandra Thompson’s story about an absolutely adorable canine foodie searching for a place to truly belong is full of heart and humor—and delicious-sounding foods for every taste. Thompson’s charming storytelling is accompanied by her lovely illustrations that take readers into Louie’s favorite restaurants, where he gazes lovingly at the dishes in front of him and his eyes are never bigger than his stomach, to the beach, a barbecue, and to the middle of town, where the new bakery stands like a freshly frosted cake.

Thompson’s attention to details creates scenes rich in atmosphere and emotion. Kids will love Louie’s city park home, where he bathes in a fountain and goes to sleep in a well-decorated den under the roots of a tree. When Louie finally meets Bea, kids will immediately see that they belong together, and the gentle suspense when Bea asks her mom if they can keep Louie leads into a page turn that’s full of sweet celebration of love and family. And as Louie and Bea snuggle up with a book and snacks before bedtime, readers will already be looking forward to seconds.

Fresh and delightfully enchanting, A Family for Louie serves up a delectable recipe for story times and would be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1984813213

To learn more about Alexandra Thompson, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Wish Fulfillment Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Grandma—and they’ll become your favorite confection too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-family-for-louie-cover

You can find A Family for Louis at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 4 – It’s Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week

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About the Holiday

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week was established with the idea of getting authors, illustrators, and children together to share great books, the joys of creating them and the fun of reading. During the week, authors and illustrators hold special events, including storytelling, exciting presentations, and writing workshops in venues around the country. To find out more about the Children’s Authors Network and discover classroom resources to use throughout the year, visit the Children’s Authors Network website.

I received a copy of Old Rock (is not boring) from G. P. Putnam’s Sons for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Old Rock (is not boring)

By Deb Pilutti

 

It seemed that Old Rock had been sitting in the same spot forever. Tall Pine and Spotted Beetle thought being a rock must be pretty boring. Hummingbird wondered, “‘Don’t you ever want to go anywhere?’” She knew she would be if she couldn’t fly all over the world and taste exotic nectars. But Old Rock had flown once, and he began to tell his story.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

It was during the time when he was surrounded by darkness, but then the volcano erupted and Old Rock “‘soared through a fiery sky into the bright light of a new world.’” Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird weren’t very impressed. They still thought Old Rock must be bored. Spotted Beetle told him how much he might see if he climbed to Tall Pine’s very highest branch.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-volcano

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Old Rock countered that he had seen a lot. He’d watched dinosaurs pass by and had even hidden a spinosaurus from a hungry T. rex. He’d traveled in a glacier and been left teetering on a ridge overlooking a vast desert, where he “could see the place where the sky touches the earth.” Spotted Beetle and Hummingbird were intrigued, but Tall Pine dismissed these experiences as “ages ago.” He wanted to know about now. Didn’t Old Rock feel like moving? Tall Pine showed Old Rock how his limbs could dance in the wind.

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Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

While Old Rock couldn’t dance, he did recall how he’d turned somersaults off the ridge, landing in a prairie where mastodons grazed near a lake. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird were mesmerized by Old Rock’s story and wanted to know what had happened next. Out of the prairie, sprang a pine forest, Old Rock revealed. And from one of the pine trees a pinecone fell and a seed was released. That seed grew “to be the tall pine who dances in the wind and keeps me company.” Sometimes, he continued, a spotted beetle and a hummingbird meander by. Old Rock was very pleased with his spot, and the others had to agree that it was “very nice” and “not boring at all.”

An illustrated timeline of Old Rock’s life from 18 billion years ago to the present day follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-time-line

Copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

So much clever thought went into Deb Pilutti’s Old Rock as she reveals to kids what a fascinating and active life the rocks and boulders we see every day have had. Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle, and Hummingbird’s skepticism keeps the suspense building as Old Rock rolls out stories of his various travels and talents. Once he has them hooked, they—like young readers—want to hear more, leading to the just-right ending that sweetly encompasses shared history, happiness with one’s place in life, and friendship. The trio’s questions to Old Rock and their related experiences also engage children to think about issues and opinions from a variety of perspectives.

Pilutti’s mixed-media illustrations are nicely textured to bring out Old Rock’s grainy surface while highlighting nature’s vivid colors. Her vignettes from the dinosaur eras, the ice age (where the skeletons of dinosaurs are also swept up and away in the same glacier as Old Rock), and beyond impress upon readers the long time-frame involved, how the earth has changed, and even the fascinating science of the fossil record.

A multi-layered story, perfect for general story times or as a lead in to science lessons and to promote discussion and research in the classroom, Old Rock (is not boring) would be an original and exciting addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525518181

To learn more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocks-word-search-puzzle

Rock This Puzzle! Word Search

 

You can discover a lot about an area by its rocks. Find the twenty rock-related words in this printable puzzle then learn more about them.

Rock This Puzzle! Word Search | Rock This Puzzle! Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-old-rock-is-not-boring-cover

You can find Old Rock (is not boring) at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 13 – National Hot Cocoa Day

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About the Holiday

There may be no hot drink that dispels the frostiness of winter like hot cocoa. Whether you make it from cocoa powder or from a pack, add extra flavors like peppermint or cinnamon or enjoy it straight, top it with whipped cream or marshmallows, hot chocolate is a favorite for cozy snuggling. And if you think that hot cocoa is too indulgent, you’ll be happy to know that it actually has health benefits. Used medicinally up until the 19th century, this warm drink contains antioxidants that protect against cancer, flavonoids that help with arterial health, and elements that aid in digestion. So sit down with a good book and enjoy a cup – or two!

When the Snow Falls

Written by Linda Booth Sweeney | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

A little curly-haired girl and her younger brother wake up from a sleepover with Grandma to a magical sight. As they gaze out the big picture window in the little girl’s room, they’re dazzled to see “When the snow falls…Frost paints. / Skies gray. / Windows sparkle/ Snow? Yay!” There’s no school today, so Mommy and Daddy and Grandma bundle up and get the kids ready to head outdoors to take care of the farm animals.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-kitchen

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

Soft flakes flutter down, piling into deep drifts and providing a little extra after-breakfast treat as “Boot sink. / Lashes flick. / Tongues tickle. / We lick.” In the barn the horses, puppies, and chickens are just as excited about the snowy day. Riding an old chair sled, Grandma and her grandchildren glide down the hill, following tracks left by lively rabbits and now-dozing foxes.

Deep in the forest the three take in the beauty: “Woods hush. / Fields glisten. / Wren sings. / We listen.” On the other side of the woods, people continue their daily routine but at a slower pace as “plows push” and “mountains grow.” Grandma and the kids slide into town, where people are hard at work keeping up with the storm: “Wheels crunch. / Shovels scoop. / Ice cracks! / Awnings droop.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-barn

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The trio has reached Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They all grab shovels and help clear the walk. Now it’s Grandpa’s turn to have some fun. He takes his granddaughter by the hand, seats her little brother on a sled, and walk to the park. There, kids are making snowmen, building snow forts, and zipping down hills on their snow saucers. At the bottom of the hill everyone plops into the fluff and make snow angels.

It’s been an exhilarating, adventurous day, but twilight is on the horizon and now “toes tingle. / Lips quiver. / Cheeks glow. / We shiver.” As grandma calls from her front porch, the little girl and Grandpa, carrying his grandson, race toward home amid the swirling snowflakes. Inside, the light, warmth, and cozy comforts of warm soup, popcorn, and a crackling fire await. Later, the two kids enjoy quiet time with Grandma and Grandpa when “Cocoa warms. / Mittens puddle. / Day dawdles. / We cuddle.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-fox

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

With her brilliantly expressive staccato sentences—each only two words long—Linda Booth Sweeney evokes the sights, sounds, and joy of a care-free, snowy day. Each four-line, rhyming verse abounds with melodic verbs that spark readers’ imaginations and concrete nouns that in many places form delightful alliterative pairs that softly trip off the tongue. Readers will love the story line that takes them from a rustic farmhouse to Grandma and Grandpa’s cozy home through woods, over hills, past the highway, and into downtown all with the help of an old-style sled. Several verses full of snow day fun play out like a long afternoon spent with friends, leading naturally into the slower pace and loving comfort of the night spent with Grandma and Grandpa.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-sledding-with-grandma

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

In glorious two-page spreads, the wind-swept snow swirls, spatters, and blankets the world in downy white fluff. Jana Christy takes children into the family’s large farmhouse kitchen where a blackboard announces Grandma’s Sunday sleepover as well as Monday’s snow day in place of the crossed-out piano lesson. The family steps out into the sparkling countryside where purple mountains form a backdrop for the barn and sheep pen. As Grandma and the kids start their journey, the forest, a quiet enclave of teal and greens, welcomes them. By the time they reach town, cars are stuck in snowdrifts, snow shovels scrape against the sidewalk, and kids are heading to the park.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The thrill of playing in the snow is palpable as saucers zoom down hills, hats fly off, and hair blows in the wind. The final spreads of Grandma and Grandpa’s tidy home glow with love and laughter as the kids pull off their snow gear, their dog shakes off the snow, and they settle on the couch for cocoa and cuddles. The busy townspeople, happy playmates, and close-knit mixed-race family make When the Snow Falls a cheerful celebration of diversity.

When the Snow Falls is a joyous book to add to winter collections and would be often asked for during home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399547201

Discover more about Linda Booth Sweeney, her books and her systems work, visit her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her art, and her books, visit her website.

Hot Cocoa Day Activity

CPB - Hot Chocolate trio (2)

Friendship Hot Chocolate Jar 

 

There’s nothing better than sipping hot chocolate with a friend or family member during the cold months ahead! Here’s an easy way to make a special gift for someone you love!

Supplies

  • Mason jar, canning jar, or any recycled jar from home
  • Canister of your favorite hot chocolate mix
  • Bag of mini marshmallows
  • Bag of chocolate chips
  • Measuring cup
  • Spoon
  • Piece of cloth
  • Shoelace, string, elastic, or ribbon
  • Paper or card stock to make a Friendship Tag
  • Hole punch
  • Scissor

CPB - Hot Chocolate from above with whisk

Directions for Filling the Jar

  1. Wash and completely dry the jar
  2. Drop a handful of mini marshmallows into the bottom of the jar. With the spoon push some of the marshmallows tight against the glass so they will show up when you add the hot chocolate mix.
  3. Measure 1/3 cup of hot chocolate mix and sprinkle it on top of the marshmallows. With the spoon gently spread the mix over the marshmallows.
  4. If you wish, add a layer of chocolate chips.
  5. Continue layering marshmallows and hot chocolate mix until you get to the top of the jar.
  6. At the top add another layer of chocolate chips and marshmallows.
  7. Put the lid on the jar and secure it tightly.

Directions for Decorating the Lid and Adding the Tag

  1. Cut a 6-inch circle from the cloth. To make the edges decorative, use a pinking sheers or other specialty scissor.
  2. Cover the lid of the jar with the cloth and secure with an elastic or rubber band.
  3. Tie the string, shoelace, or other tie around the rim of the lid.
  4. If using a Mason jar, place the cloth between the disk and the screw top
  5. Create a Friendship Tag and add your name and the name of your friend.
  6. Use a hole punch to make a hole in the Friendship Tag, slide it onto the tie, and knot it.

Directions for Making the Hot Chocolate

  1. With a spoon measure 1/2 cup of the hot chocolate, marshmallow, chocolate chip mix into a mug
  2. Fill the mug with boiling water, hot milk, or a combination of both
  3. Enjoy!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-cover

You can find When the Snow Falls with these booksellers:

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

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

December 8 – Gingerbread Decorating Day

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About the Holiday

Originating in the Middle East the art of gingerbread making made its way to Europe in the 10th century. It was quickly embraced for its delicious combination of spices as well as for its soothing medicinal qualities. It was during the 13th century that gingerbread began to be decorated and displayed. The gingerbread man we know today was first introduced in 1875 in a story published in St. Nicholas magazine. To celebrate, mix up a batch of gingerbread cookies and get out the icing and sprinkles!

The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas

Written by Laura Murray | Illustrated by Mike Lowery

 

One wintry morning, the Gingerbread Man heard the teacher calling. It was time to wake up and start a very special day. All the kids listened as the teacher told them, “It’s the season of giving, / and we can give, too! / Our gifts could be things / that we make, say, or do.” Individually, paired up, or in groups, the kids went to work on their gifts. Some made cards, some baked cookies, and one trio practiced singing a holiday song.

The Gingerbread Man wanted to join in too. He thought hard about what he would make and then went to work. As the kids headed out the door of their classroom and into town, the little cookie excitedly said, “I’ll deliver this present / as fast as I can. / With a jolly Ho-Ho from the / Gingerbread Man!” All through town the kids delivered their gifts. A few children sang a song to a police woman, the garbage men got a plate of cookies, and a special card went to the librarian. The kids also visited the dentist, the grocer, and the vet.

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Image copyright Mike Lowery, 2015, text copyright Laura Murray, 2015. Courtesy of lauramurraybooks.com.

When an icy wind blew up and it started to snow, the teacher gathered all the kids and hurried back to school. But the Gingerbread Man hadn’t delivered his gift yet. He yelled for the class to stop, but they didn’t hear him. He decided to deliver it himself and dashed past the barber, the bookseller, the doctor, the florist, and the bank teller giving them all a happy wave on the way. The snowy sidewalks took their toll on the Gingerbread Man, though, and by the time he found the bake shop, his “feet were all mushy and crumbled.”

Inside, the warm, delicious-smelling shop, the Gingerbread Man held up his card. “I’ve come to say thanks / for your sweet recipe. / without it, / my class would’ve / never made me.” The baker was so touched that she gave the Gingerbread Man a kiss and then noticed his feet. She knew just what he needed. She sat him on the side of a bowl and let him dip his feet into the dark chocolate icing. When she took him out, he was wearing boots! He smiled and told the baker, “I’ll run in my boots, / as fast as I can. / Thank you so much, from the / Gingerbread Man!”

He dashed back to school just in time to join the class in presenting a last, surprise gift—a poem they had all written just for their teacher: “You are a gift / that we get every day. / You help us to learn / in our own special way.” They told her she was “funny and kind,” encouraging, and “clever,” and when they were finished with their special thank-you, their teacher gave them all “a warmhearted hug and a very big grin.”

The book also includes a poster of fun activities to extend the fun.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-gingerbread-man-loose-at-christmas-town

Image copyright Mike Lowery, 2015, text copyright Laura Murray, 2015. Courtesy of lauramurraybooks.com.

Fans of Laura Murray’s sweet Gingerbread Man series will be delighted with this holiday treat. With jaunty, pitch-perfect rhymes and a message about the joys of giving thanks for and to all the members of a community, Murray’s story resonates long past the holiday season. Murray’s adorable cookie creation will make kids smile with his plucky attitude as he “hobbles” on mushy legs through the slushy streets to deliver his gift and giddy enthusiasm on succeeding in surprising the teacher. The story offers a wonderful opportunity to talk with kids about truly valuable gifts and ways they can show their love for others.

As cute as ever, Mike Lowery’s Gingerbread Man is a pint-sized dynamo spreading happiness and thoughtfulness wherever he dashes. Kids will love following the class as they fan out into town delivering baked treats, songs, and cards to the adults who make their lives better. Smiles and hugs abound, making this one of the merriest Merry Christmas books around. Little ones will love pointing out the tiny Gingerbread Man on the pages, talking about familiar shops and businesses in the town, and giggling over humorous details like the bat hanging from the vet’s examining table.

A thoroughly charming way to celebrate Christmas and sure to spark random acts of giving in young readers, The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas will be a favorite on home bookshelves for years to come.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015 | ISBN 978-0399168666

Discover more about Laura Murray and her books on her website and find lots of Gingerbread Man-related activities too!

To learn more about Mike Lowery, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Gingerbread Decorating Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gingerbread-man-dashing-home-maze

Dashing Home! Maze

 

Help the Gingerbread Man find his way home the fastest way in this printable puzzle!

Dashing Home! Maze | Dashing Home! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-gingerbread-man-loose-at-christmas-cover

You can find The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 18 – International Picnic Day

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About the Holiday

Is it a perfect day to get outside? Then why not pack up lunch, a blanket, and the kids and have a picnic?! Spending time and having fun at a park, on the beach, or even in your own backyard is what summer’s all about! Memories are made, even if things don’t always work out as planned—as you’ll see in today’s book.

Max and Marla Are Having a Picnic

By Alexandra Boiger

 

Max and Marla are waiting for a perfect day to have a picnic. Today is going to be rainy, but tomorrow promises to be warm and sunny. Max and Marla jump for joy. It’s their tradition to “celebrate the beginning of spring with a picnic extraordinaire down by the lake.” They go to the kitchen to start preparing the homemade feast they will pack along, including “Grandma’s special cake: a gugelhupf.” Marla wants to be helpful, but…oh, dear! Still, everything is ready just in the nick of time.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-max-and-marla-are-having-a-picnic-sunny-day

Copyright Alexander Boiger, 2018, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Max peddles down the road while Marla, wearing her best hat, rides in the bike’s basket. They stop in a beautiful spot where the river and mountain meet. When they get hungry, Max begins to unpack the picnic basket. There’s just one thing missing, so Max goes to fetch it. While Marla waits—and naps—squirrels come sniffing—and nibbling—around. They can’t believe how “this day is perfect!”

Finally, Max comes back with a big bouquet of wildflowers, but they scatter to the wind when Max sees that Marla has already started eating. It doesn’t take Max long to notice the squirrels ransacking the picnic basket. “‘LOOK! There are food thieves at work!’” Max shouts. Marla and Max look at each other—but just for a moment. “Marla and Max don’t feel like staying any longer. They don’t even want to look at each other. They pack everything up and ride away. This time Marla rides in back.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-max-and-marla-are-having-a-picnic-perfect-spot

Copyright Alexander Boiger, 2018, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

At home, Max and Marla go their separate ways. “This was not a good day.” Later, when getting ready for bed, Max thinks about how much Marla loves to be read to and have her beak brushed. Marla must be tired and hungry, Max thinks. Max has an idea and creeps downstairs and out into the yard to pick the blue flowers that grow along the walk. Max goes back inside and gives them to Marla along with a hug. Then, in the light of the refrigerator, the two best friends pack up the picnic basket again and head to the living room. There, they have “the best picnic ever! it’s cozy, it’s warm, and it is heavenly scrumptious.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-max-and-marla-are-having-a-picnic-squirrels

Copyright Alexander Boiger, 2018, courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Alexandra Boiger’s cuter-than-cute best friends navigate the ups and downs of expectations and disappointment in this tender, friendship-affirming story. Boiger’s excellent storytelling sweeps young readers into the promise of a “perfect” day, allowing them also to feel Max and Marla’s sadness when things don’t work out as planned. Honest descriptions of these two friends’ emotions and actions when returning home make their reconciliation all the more heartening.

Many twists and turns, thoughtful characters, and a cleverly included line about a perfect day for the squirrels, give readers and adults much to talk about while enjoying this second adventure with Max and Marla. With no pronouns used and gender-neutral clothing, hair, and even name, the story is universal for all children. Boiger’s warm and humorous scenes at home and sun-drenched images of the perfect picnic spot will charm young readers as they’re invited along on this memorable day.

Ages 3 – 6

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-0399175053

Discover more about Alexandra Boiger, her books, and her art on her website.

International Picnic Day Activity

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Picnic Basket Match-up Puzzle

 

Can you find the matching pairs in this printable Picnic Basket Match-up Puzzle?

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You can find Max and Marla Are Having a Picnic at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 26 – National Tell a Fairy Tale Day

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About the Holiday

Today, we remember that fairy tales often have their origin in the oral stories, myths, and legends of long ago. In addition to entertainment, their purpose was to teach a lesson, change behavior, or warn of dangers. Over the years magical elements and mystical creatures were added to the stories. The Brothers Grimm published their collection of stories in 1812 under the title Household Tales. The plots were darker and meant for more of an adult audience. Hans Christian Andersen’s work was first published in 1829. Through him, readers were introduced to The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, and today’s story. Over the years, fairy tales have evolved to include “fractured” versions—tales told by another character or with a funny or quirky twist. To celebrate today, reread some of your and your child’s favorite fairy tales—and discover some new ones!

La Princesa and the Pea

Written by Susan Middleton Elya | Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

 

“There once was a prince who wanted a wife, / but not any niña would do in his life.” His madre demanded just the right sort of girl and said “No!” to all the princesses who wanted to catch the prince’s eye. But then along came a girl riding home to her castle who asked to stay “if it isn’t a hassle.” The girl winked at the prince and he was immediately smitten.

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Copyright Juana Martinez-Neal, 2017, courtesy of juanamartinezneal.com.

The prince invited her in, but his mother planned to test her to make sure she was “buena.” So “Mama crept away / to the royal jardín / and found a small pea / that was fit for a queen.” She went up to the guest room and called for twenty mattresses to be brought in. Then while she ate bon-bons, her workers carried the colchones in. The first mattress was soft, the second was small, the third was muy grande, and the fourth was un sueño—as comfy as a dream. Then came striped ones and dotted ones and ones that were fleece. There were red ones and blue ones and ones that were gris.

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Copyright Juana Martinez-Neal, 2017, courtesy of juanamartinezneal.com.

When the twenty mattresses were piled high on the bed, Mama showed the girl to her room. Seeing the soft bed, she said, “‘Thanks! I won’t even count sheep.’” But under the first mattress way down below sat the small pea. “Meanwhile el príncipe practiced ‘I do’s.’ / He knew that this maiden was the one he should choose.” But when he told his mama how much he liked the girl, she just said, “‘we’ll see.’”

In her room, “the girl stretched her brazos / and yawned with her boca. / But the bed felt so lumpy / like there was a roca.” That tiny pea—that little guisante—could that be the reason she just could not sleep? In the morning the maiden dragged herself down to breakfast, and when Mama asked how she’d slept, she answered, “‘Great…if you like hard and lumpy.’” But when she spied the prince, she cheered up and said, “‘it wasn’t that bad.’”

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Copyright Juana Martinez-Neal, 2017, courtesy of juanamartinezneal.com.

“‘¡Ay!’” Thought la reina. / How’d she detect it? / Is she a real princess? / I think I suspect it.” When the prince learned that the girl had passed the test, he gave her a golden anillo, and they married “that week in the royal castillo.” The wedding was huge and the girl’s dress most stylish. With “‘¡acepto!’” “‘¡acepto!’” they were quickly wed. And only the prince knows to this very day that he helped things along by adding “pitchforks and stones en la cama / to help his true love pass the test of Queen Momma.” The prince and the princess “had hijos galore. / One for each mattress and then had no more.”

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Copyright Juana Martinez-Neal, 2017, courtesy of juanamartinezneal.com.

Susan Middleton Elya’s Latin-inspired take on The Princess and the Pea story is fresh and funny and puts control of the prince’s future in his own hands. Young readers will embrace this twist that shows when they know what is right for them, they can make it happen. The use of Spanish words throughout the story, and especially to create clever rhymes, make the verses as joyful to read aloud as they are to hear.

Juana Martinez-Neal’s warm colors and beautifully patterned clothing, inspired by Peruvian textiles, infuses this favorite story with a homey and family-centered, folk-tale feeling that sets it apart. Readers will be charmed by the llamas, guinea pigs, and even the grumpy cat that inhabit the castle and will want to linger over the softly colored illustrations to see every detail. The sweet looks between the prince and princess show their true love, and among their twenty children, readers may find la reina’s favorite(?) grandchild.

La Princesa and the Pea is a terrific addition to children’’s fairy tale book collection at home and in the classroom.

Ages 4 – 8

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399251566

Discover more about Susan Middleton Elya and her books on her website.

To learn more about Juana Martinez-Neal, her books, and her art and find lots of fun story-related activities visit her website.

National Tell a Fairy Tale Day Activity

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Fairy Tale Coloring Pages

 

What’s a fairy tale without a castle and maybe a dragon or two? Have fun coloring these pages, then make up your own story!

Fairy Tale CastleHappy Dragon

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day & Interview with Author Linda Booth Sweeney

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. To kick off all of this literary love today, we remember and honor American authors past and present. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, has promoted the holiday since her Nellie’s death in 1968 and encourages people to spend a bit of the day writing a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

When the Snow Falls

Written by Linda Booth Sweeney | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

A little curly-haired girl and her younger brother wake up from a sleepover with Grandma to a magical sight. As they gaze out the big picture window in the little girl’s room, they’re dazzled to see “When the snow falls…Frost paints. / Skies gray. / Windows sparkle/ Snow? Yay!” There’s no school today, so Mommy and Daddy and Grandma bundle up and get the kids ready to head outdoors to take care of the farm animals.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

Soft flakes flutter down, piling into deep drifts and providing a little extra after-breakfast treat as “Boot sink. / Lashes flick. / Tongues tickle. / We lick.” In the barn the horses, puppies, and chickens are just as excited about the snowy day. Riding an old chair sled, Grandma and her grandchildren glide down the hill, following tracks left by lively rabbits and now-dozing foxes.

Deep in the forest the three take in the beauty: “Woods hush. / Fields glisten. / Wren sings. / We listen.” On the other side of the woods, people continue their daily routine but at a slower pace as “plows push” and “mountains grow.” Grandma and the kids slide into town, where people are hard at work keeping up with the storm: “Wheels crunch. / Shovels scoop. / Ice cracks! / Awnings droop.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The trio has reached Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They all grab shovels and help clear the walk. Now it’s Grandpa’s turn to have some fun. He takes his granddaughter by the hand, seats her little brother on a sled, and walk to the park. There, kids are making snowmen, building snow forts, and zipping down hills on their snow saucers. At the bottom of the hill everyone plops into the fluff and make snow angels.

It’s been an exhilarating, adventurous day, but twilight is on the horizon and now “toes tingle. / Lips quiver. / Cheeks glow. / We shiver.” As grandma calls from her front porch, the little girl and Grandpa, carrying his grandson, race toward home amid the swirling snowflakes. Inside, the light, warmth, and cozy comforts of warm soup, popcorn, and a crackling fire await. Later, the two kids enjoy quiet time with Grandma and Grandpa when “Cocoa warms. / Mittens puddle. / Day dawdles. / We cuddle.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-fox

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

With her brilliantly expressive staccato sentences—each only two words long—Linda Booth Sweeney evokes the sights, sounds, and joy of a care-free, snowy day. Each four-line, rhyming verse abounds with melodic verbs that spark readers’ imaginations and concrete nouns that in many places form delightful alliterative pairs that softly trip off the tongue. Readers will love the story line that takes them from a rustic farmhouse to Grandma and Grandpa’s cozy home through woods, over hills, past the highway, and into downtown all with the help of an old-style sled. Several verses full of snow day fun play out like a long afternoon spent with friends, leading naturally into the slower pace and loving comfort of the night spent with Grandma and Grandpa.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

In glorious two-page spreads, the wind-swept snow swirls, spatters, and blankets the world in downy white fluff. Jana Christy takes children into the family’s large farmhouse kitchen where a blackboard announces Grandma’s Sunday sleepover as well as Monday’s snow day in place of the crossed-out piano lesson. The family steps out into the sparkling countryside where purple mountains form a backdrop for the barn and sheep pen. As Grandma and the kids start their journey, the forest, a quiet enclave of teal and greens, welcomes them. By the time they reach town, cars are stuck in snowdrifts, snow shovels scrape against the sidewalk, and kids are heading to the park.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The thrill of playing in the snow is palpable as saucers zoom down hills, hats fly off, and hair blows in the wind. The final spreads of Grandma and Grandpa’s tidy home glow with love and laughter as the kids pull off their snow gear, their dog shakes off the snow, and they settle on the couch for cocoa and cuddles. The busy townspeople, happy playmates, and close-knit mixed-race family make When the Snow Falls a cheerful celebration of diversity.

When the Snow Falls is a joyous book to add to winter collections and would be often asked for during home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399547201

Discover more about Linda Booth Sweeney, her books and her systems work, visit her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her art, and her books, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

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Snow Buddies

Even when there’s no snow, you can make yourself a snow buddy with this fun and easy craft!

Supplies

  • White dress ankle socks
  • Polyester Fiber Fill
  • Tiny buttons
  • Fleece or ribbon, enough for a little scarf
  • Toothpicks
  • Twigs
  • Orange craft paint
  • Cardboard
  • White rubber bands, one or two depending on the size of the snowman
  • Fabric or craft glue
  • Small hair band (optional)

Directions

To Make the Snowman

  1. Cut a circle from the cardboard about 2 inches in diameter for the base
  2. Place the cardboard circle in the bottom of the sock
  3. Fill the sock with fiber fill about ¾ full or to where the ribbed ankle cuff begins. Pack tightly while making a sausage shape. You can make your snowman different shapes with the amount of fill you use.
  4. Stretch out the cuff of the sock and tie it off near the top of the fill either with a loop knot or with the hairband.
  5. Fold the cuff down around the top of the filled sock to make the hat.
  6. Wrap a rubber band around the middle of the sock to make a two-snowball snowman. For a three-snowball snowman, use two rubber bands. Adjust the rubber bands to make the “snowballs” different sizes.

To Make the Scarf

  1. Cut a strip of fleece or ribbon 8 to 10 inches long by ½ inch wide
  2. Tie the fleece or ribbon around the neck of the snowman
  3. To Make the Nose
  4. Dip one end of the toothpick into orange paint, let dry
  5. Cut the toothpick in half
  6. Stick the toothpick into the head or top portion of the snowman

To Make the Arms

  1. Insert small twigs into each side of the body of the snowman
  2. You can also use wire or cardboard to make the arms
  3. Attach two mini-buttons to the face for eyes with the fabric or craft glue
  4. Display your Snow Buddy

Interview with Linda Booth Sweeney

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As the weather turns cooler, I’m happy to talk with Linda Booth Sweeney about the event that inspired her first book for children, a favorite wintertime activity, and how we can learn to see and benefit from systems.

How did you get started writing for children?

It seems like I’ve always been writing though it has taken me a long time to call myself a writer. During our last move, I discovered an old cardboard box from my parents’ attic.  After moving it literally for years, I finally opened it this summer. Inside there must have been 15 diaries and journals. When I looked at the dates, I realized that I started writing in those when I was about twelve and I really haven’t stopped. 

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I actually remember the exact day I began writing for children! Jack, my oldest son (now 19), was three. I was pushing him around Cambridge in one of those $20 pop-up strollers. We were a good fifteen minutes from home when a gale force wind blew in. The little canopy on this stroller snapped off and I remember feeling like the stroller lifted up off the ground. This was before cell phones so there was no calling for a ride. I put my head down and ran for home. Well, Jack loved that, and the wind blowing! He was bouncing up and down, pointing to everything he saw: signs rattling, balls rolling, hats flying.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

During his nap that afternoon, I flopped down at my desk, grateful we made it home in one piece. Jack’s excitement was contagious and his words were swimming around my head so I wrote them down. That was the beginning of my first children’s book, When the Wind Blows.

Using short, two-word phrases, your picture books are so evocative of actions outdoors and indoors as well as internal emotions. Can you describe your writing process?

I was mimicking the voice of a three-year old so the two words. Balls roll. Object and action. Noun and verb. It just made sense. In my other books like the one I’m working on now about the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, I am writing for older readers (ages 7-12). My sentences are longer. The book is inspired by big themes like being true to oneself, equality, social justice, and love for country so I find myself writing punchy sentences in the scenes and more lyrically the bridges, or the transitions, between scenes.

Do you remember your favorite picture book when you were a child?

As a little kid, I always loved Dr. Seuss books. My imagination was going full tilt as a kid. Dr. Seuss made me feel like the other worlds I created were not just okay but to be celebrated! As a nine-year-old, I devoured Encyclopedia Brown and anything by James Herriot.

Your first book for children, When the Wind Blows, takes readers on a jaunt through town on a blustery day. When the Snow Falls is a joyful romp through a winter day. What is it about weather that inspires you and your writing?

It’s the immediacy that weather brings. When the rain is pouring down or the snow is falling, that grabs my attention. Of course my attention is also on how to keep my fingers warm or my feet dry. But I can’t think of much else. I love that. I have to be in the moment. My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, captures this idea well in her “Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

If you’re outside stomping in puddles or making snow angels, who needs to be on a phone? There’s a lot of research coming out that equates nature to a “vitamin” we all need. Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, says it well: “Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” 

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You mentioned in one of your blog posts that When the Snow Falls first took shape during “found time” during the winter of 2015 with its four nearly back-to-back snow storms. Do you have any advice for recognizing and taking advantage of found time not only for writers, but for anyone?

I think the biggest opportunity to enjoy found time comes when we’re willing to put down technology. Sure the photos we can take on our iPhone may be lovely but what if sometimes we are just there, fully present, open and even willing to be a little bored.  Maybe then we can be dazzled by the red Cardinal that lands on the white snowman or the hush that creeps in when no can one drive.

What is your favorite wintertime activity?

I love looking for snow art and especially love seeing it through the eyes of little ones. I’m always amazed by the “art” that forms during snow storms – polka-dotted fields, top hats on fence caps, intricate patterns on round porch tables, delicate animal tracks that look like instructions for some kind of dance move. 

And then of course there is cross country skiing with my family and my crazy friends.

Your other work involves Systems Thinking. Can you describe systems thinking and talk about your systems thinking work with children and schools?

Sure. Like a spider’s web, what happens on one part of the web affects every other part. The same is true of living systems. A pond, our family, our school, a city, the climate—these are all systems. They have two or more parts that interact over time. What’s really interesting is that these different kinds of systems share some similarities, and they can act in surprisingly similar ways. (You can learn more about my systems work here).

How does considering systems thinking and living systems benefit children and their education?

Systems thinking, or “Thinking about systems,” means paying attention to the interrelationships and patterns that surround us. My experience, and that of systems educators around the globe, shows that children are naturally attuned to this. They can read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and then recognize that same closed loop of cause and effect in their everyday lives.  

A few years back I wrote When a Butterfly SneezesA Guide for Helping Kids Explore Connections in our World as a resource for anyone who wants to help children think about interconnections in our world. Each chapter focuses on a favorite children’s picture book—like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss—and shows how to use the story to engage children in systems thinking. I just finished updating that book and the new version should be up and ready by next week!

To answer your question about how systems thinking benefits children, learning about systems, and about living systems in particular, can help children to make better decisions and avoid unintended consequences. It can also help them to develop a more compassionate and sustainable sensibility about what is beautiful and what is essential.

I always come back to the Joseph Campbell quote—“People who don’t have a concept of the whole, can do very unfortunate things.…”—and flip it: People—and especially children—who have a concept of the whole can do very fortunate things. If we encourage young people to look for the “whole” and not just focus on the parts, they will be geared toward seeing connections and will not see things in isolation. So much in our culture forces us into compartments. But just as we teach kids not to be victims of advertising, we can teach them to see beyond the obvious, to see the systems all around us.  

What’s up next for you? 

My next children’s book is a richly illustrated biography about Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.  I am thrilled to be working with Shawn Fields a representational artist on this book.  The working title of the book is Monument Man, and that subject is very much a part of our public conversation at this point in our history. 

Thanks, Linda! Your books inspire us to look closure and pay attention to the moment, and I wish you all the best with them!

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You can connect with Linda Booth Sweeney on:

Her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Linked in

You can find When the Snow Falls with these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Penguin Random House

Picture Book Review