January 10 – It’s International Quality of Life Month and Q & A with Deborah Sosin

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About the Holiday

How one achieves their definition of a good quality of life may differ for every person, but in general it encompasses being happy and satisfied with one’s relationships, work, living conditions, and self. Whether you find happiness and quality of life in outdoor or indoor pursuits, with others or alone, at work or at home, this month’s holiday gives you time to get in touch with your inner quiet place and reflect on changes or improvements to bring you more peace and happiness in life.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin | Illustrated by Sara Woolley

 

Charlotte is a girl who likes quiet who lives in a noisy world. Everywhere she goes, it seems, it’s impossible to escape from sounds that disturb her peace. At home the hallway creaks where “the floorboards groan,” the living room is like an arcade where the “TV bellows and blares,” and the kitchen is filled with Otto’s barks for his dinner. Even in Charlotte’s bedroom, “which is supposed to be a quiet place, the old steam radiator hisses, whistles, and whines. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

When Charlotte goes to school, things are no better. In the classroom kids are boisterous and bells ring; the lunchroom echoes with clattering trays and scuffing chairs; and the playground blares with big voices and stomping feet but also with the little squeaks and rattle of the swings. “Even in the library, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the children giggle, yammer, and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

The outside world resounds with the din of jackhammers, horns, sirens, shouts, cars, music, and the “screeches, rumbles, and roars” of the subway. “Even in the park, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the leaf blower buzzes, blusters, and hums.” Charlotte puts her hands to her ears. “‘Nooo!’” she cries, “‘I have to find a quiet place!’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

On Saturday Charlotte takes her dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, Otto spies a squirrel and takes off running, wrenching his leash out of Charlotte’s hand. She chases after him down a hill, over a bridge, into the middle of a grove of trees. Out of breath, Charlotte and Otto sit beneath a tree. Gasping, Charlotte’s “belly rises up and down, up and down. Her breath goes in and out, in and out. Hooooo ahhhhh. Hooo ahhh.”

Slowly, Charlotte’s breath comes easier and “her mind slows down.” In this state, she discovers another, even quieter place. It is a place deep inside where her breath is soft and her “thoughts are hushed and low.” It is “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

In a little while, Charlotte and Otto leave the grove, but now whenever home or school or the neighborhood is too loud, Charlotte remembers where she can find a quiet place. She simply closes her eyes and pays attention to that place deep in her belly and deep in her mind—“that quiet place inside.”

For so many children the world is a blaring, clattering place where their thoughts are drowned out by the noises around them. Deborah Sosin’s award-winning Charlotte and the Quiet Place validates these feelings and offers children a way to discover inner peace wherever they are. As a tonic to today’s hyper-stimulated environment, kids and adults alike will benefit from the method of mindful reflection Sosin presents. Sosin’s combination of evocative verbs and repetition makes the story fresh and an excellent read-aloud while also mirroring the sounds that are a part of our everyday life.

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

Sara Woolley’s beautiful watercolor illustrations vividly depict not only Charlotte’s world but the sounds that disturb her peace. Amid the fully realized home, school, and neighborhood environments, complete with realistic details kids will recognize, sharp cracks of equipment, blaring bells and whistles, high-pitched voices, and other noises spark the page. Portrayals of Charlotte, her hands over her ears and her eyes sad, express her distress in a way kids will understand. When Charlotte finds the grove of trees in which she first experiences inner peace, Woolley’s color palette turns softer, with peaceful tones of green, blue, and yellow where, previously, “louder” purples, reds, and golds predominated.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a very welcomed book for those times when peace seems elusive and will give comfort to children who prefer quiet places and have more introverted natures. The book would make a wonderful addition to all children’s book shelves as well as to school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Parallax Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1941529027

Visit Charlotte and the Quiet Place on her own webstite! You’ll find resources, images and videos, news about events, and more!

Discover more about Deborah Sosin, her writing for children and adults, writing workshops, mindfulness services, and more on her website!

View a gallery of artwork for books, comics,  and other illustration work by Sara Woolley on her website!

International Quality of Life Activity

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Share a Smile Cards

 

Life is better when you share smiles with those you know—and those you don’t! Try it! When you’re out today at school or other places, look someone in the eye and smile. You’ll probably get a smile back—and you can be sure that you will have made the other person’s and your day better!

Here are some Smile Cards that you can share. Why not slip one into your dad’s pocket or your mom’s purse, put one in your friend’s backpack, or sneak one onto your teacher’s desk? You can even leave one somewhere for a stranger to find! Have fun sharing your smiles, and see how much better you and the others around you feel!

Click here to print your Share a Smile Cards.

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Photo by Kevin Day Photography

Q&A with Author Deborah Sosin

 

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with Debbie Sosin, a writer, editor, and clinical social worker who specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy, about her first picture book, her choral singing, and how kids respond to her presentations.

In your career you write for adults and children, work within the publishing industry, provide publicity services, and teach. How did you get started? Did you always want to write?

I kept a diary starting at around age ten and always loved writing for school or for fun. I started getting more serious about writing for publication in the past ten years, studied at GrubStreet, attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and eventually went back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. I wish I had started earlier, but it’s been rewarding to finally follow my true passion.

What influenced you to write Charlotte and the Quiet Place?

I wrote the book as an independent project as part of my MFA studies at Lesley University. They say “write what you know,” so I thought about my childhood growing up in kind of a noisy house, where my brother played the piano, my father had a radio and TV on simultaneously, and my mother was on the phone a lot. And then I thought about my longtime meditation practice and how tuning in to my breathing has helped me find a quiet place inside. So I wanted to write a story about children finding their own quiet place inside themselves.

You give school presentations on mindfulness and your picture book Charlotte and the Quiet Place for various ages. Is there an experience from any of these that you would like to share?

School visits are my favorite part of being an author! No matter what age the students are, they love to help me tell the story by repeating the “noisy” sounds and the “hoo ahh” breathing sounds. We usually do a few calming/breathing exercises together and, without fail, even the squirmiest group will settle into a beautiful, shared, often profound silence. Once, when asked where Charlotte finds her quiet place, one kindergarten girl said, “In her belly and in her brain, where it’s calm.” Many kids get that idea. What could be better? I also love showing them my early scribbles and illustrator Sara Woolley’s wonderful sketches and storyboards, and sharing the step-by-step process of publishing the book, from concept to completion

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Deborah Sosin reads Charlotte and the Quiet Place to students at Newton Montessori School. Photo courtesy of Newton Montessori School.

Can you talk a little about mindfulness and how it can benefit children?

Mindfulness has become a catchword these days, but my favorite definition is from Dr. Amy Saltzman: “Noticing what’s happening right here and now, with a friendly, curious attitude, then choosing what to do next.” Many top-notch scientific studies show that mindfulness can help kids with concentration, attention, self-soothing, anxiety, depression, sleep, mood, compassion, confidence…I could go on. Compared with adults, most kids are naturally mindful, that is “in the moment,” but kids do get stressed out and worried about the past or the future, so mindfulness helps. I sometimes worry that parents and teachers might use it for disciplinary reasons (“Enough! Go be mindful in the corner!”), which is not the point. It’s a whole-life practice, not a technique or intervention. And, as the book shows, mindfulness can lead us to a quiet place inside that we can access whenever we want.

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Students at the Cottage Montessori School in Arlington, Massachusetts play the Silence Game with director Karen Wagner, watching the sand in the hourglass. Photo courtesy of Stacey Moriarty.

Can you tell me a little about your work with Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston?

I started taking classes at GrubStreet in 2008; my first class was “Six Weeks, Six Essays,” and from that class, I helped form a longtime regular writing group. I started blogging soon after and then submitted personal essays for publication, with some good luck. GrubStreet is a fantastic, inclusive community, with excellent faculty and a huge range of motivated, smart, and enthusiastic students, from beginners to veterans. After a few years, I applied to teach classes there and am proud to be on their instructor and consultant rosters now.

You are an accomplished choral singer, having performed at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and on an international tour. When did you begin choral singing? Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share from any of your experiences?

I’ve been singing my whole life and have been in choruses since elementary school. Singing with other people is extremely gratifying and, after all the “verbal”-type things I do, including my work as a psychotherapist, it’s a lovely change of pace. I spent about 15 years in the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which specializes in Jewish choral music. Our tours to Eastern Europe, Italy, and Israel were extraordinary. In 1999, when we sang at Auschwitz and Terezin, the sites of former concentration camps, it was hard to keep our emotions in check, but it felt important to revive the voices of the Jewish people that the Nazis had attempted to quell. A PBS documentary film, “Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland,” chronicled our tour that summer. I think it’s still available through the Zamir Chorale website.

What’s the best part about writing for children?

After having focused almost exclusively on nonfiction for most of my writing career, it’s been wonderful to work in the very precise and rich world of picture-book writing with so many lovely, funny, imaginative, and supportive fellow writers I’ve met through SCBWI and the amazing Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass.

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Debbie’s niece Mollie and a friend draw a noisy thing at The Oblong Bookstore event. Photo courtesy of AM Media Group

What’s up next for you?

I have a couple of Picture Book manuscripts in progress and I’m participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) this month, so I hope to generate more ideas and get some new work out there soon.

Since this is a holiday-themed blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one question about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite, as it means getting together with my family, which is now spread far and wide, and having an opportunity to express our gratitude.

Thanks, Debbie, for stopping by and chatting! I wish you all the best with Charlotte and the Quiet Place and all of your future endeavors!

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You can find Charlotte and the Quiet Place at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Parallax Press |Porter Square Books (signed copies available)

Connect with Deborah Sosin on

Her Website | charlotteandthequietplace.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

December 1 – Antarctica Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday marks a milestone in the search for peaceful and productive cooperation among nations. Commemorating the 1959 signing of the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed by 12 countries and set aside nearly 10% of Earth “forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes….” Antarctica Day was established in 2010 and is now an annual event, with activities held within schools, science organizations, governmental organizations, and other institutions across more than 25 participating countries. According to the Foundation for the Good Governance of International Spaces, Antarctica Day is “an opportunity to demonstrate how diverse nations can work together peacefully, continuously using science as a global language of cooperation for decision making beyond national boundaries.”

Penguin Problems

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Lane Smith

 

A little penguin lies flat out on a snow bank. It’s morning, which is “way too early.” To top it off his “beak is cold” and there’s a bunch of squawking coming from a hoard of other penguins nearby. As the penguin starts his day, he trudges through snow that’s deeper than it was yesterday, and the little guy doesn’t “even like the snow.” Ugh! The sun is too sunny, and the fish don’t even have the courtesy to jump out of the water into his beak! He has to wade into the freezing water where he just sinks like a stone.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, text copyright Jory John, Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

Down in the darkest depths he comes face to teeth with an orca. “Oh, great.” A leopard seal nips at his feet (“Oh, great.”), and a shark has his sharpened fangs ready to chomp (“Oh, great.”)! All that swimming around has left the poor penguin hungry and his flippers exhausted. He waddles up an iceberg to safety, but, ya know, that brings up something else—the penguin decides he waddles too much and thinks he looks “silly when he waddles.” What do you think? Look! He wobbles to the left; he wibbles to the right; he rocks back into place. “See?” Really, it would be so much better if he could fly—but those tiny wings just flap up and down ridiculously. Look! “See?”

And another thing: every other penguin looks exactly like him! And he looks just like every other penguin! Don’t think so? Watch—he thinks he sees someone he knows over there. “Mum?” Awww! That’s so sweet. I’ll bet he gets a big hug. Here it comes…: “I literally have no idea who you are.” Ouch! That does hurt! Wait! There’s his dad. Phew! This time he’ll get a chuck on the…umm…shoulder for sure. “I literally have no idea what you’re talking about. My name is Mortimer.” Yikes!

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Image copyright Lane Smith, text copyright Jory John, Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

The little penguin gives vent to his feelings: “I have so many problems! And nobody even cares!” The penguin stands dejectedly under the full weight of his loneliness when he feels a tap on the…umm…shoulder. He turns to see a walrus behind him. “Good afternoon,” the walrus greets him. It seems that he has been watching, and he has a message, “I sense today has been difficult, but lo! Look around you, Penguin. Have you noticed the way the mountains are reflected in the ocean like a painting? Have you gazed up on the blue of that cloudless winter sky, my friend?”

The wise walrus goes on to point out the warmth of the sun and his adoring penguin brothers, sisters, and elders. He admits that there are challenges, and that all creatures face difficult times. “But hear me now, my new friend: I wouldn’t trade my life for any other, and I am quite sure you wouldn’t, either.” In fact, he suggests “you are exactly where you need to be.” With an abrupt goodbye the walrus flops his way back home across the snow.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, text copyright Jory John, Courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

The penguin is flabbergasted by the audacity of a walrus trying to explain penguin problems. “Who the heck was that guy?! He exclaims to some nearby brothers, sisters, and elders. But he sighs and sits down in the shadow of the mountain and thinks. He does actually “love the mountains. And the ocean. And the sky.” He agrees that he has family and friends and has only one home. He sits on the top of a high snowbank and reflects on his life until night falls and the stars appear. But really…his “beak is cold.” And ya know? “It gets dark way too early.”

Jory John impeccably captures those days (weeks? months? …?) when the grumbles take over, and even the sun seems “too bright.” As one quibble builds on another, the wry grousing of the disgruntled penguin adds up to a sardonic comic routine that will make kids laugh out loud. The intervention of the walrus is likewise hilarious as he lectures the penguin at length like some old-age guru holding court. With perfect pitch John lets the penguin revel in life’s gifts for an hour or two before returning to his true nature.

Lane Smith’s penguin, at turns dumbfounded, resigned, self-conscious, rejected, flummoxed, and reflective, is so adorable readers cannot help but empathize. The small black-and-white figure of the penguin set against the pages of white snowdrifts highlights his singular dissatisfaction, while the softly mottled depictions of his underwater misadventure and escape, meeting with the garrulous walrus, and moment of contemplation enhance the humor.

Keeping Penguin Problems on any child’s bookshelf is the perfect remedy for days when the doldrums hit, a charm for days that are giggly, and a delight for any day in between.

Ages 3 – 8

Random House Books for Young People, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553513370

Discover more books by Jory John and what’s coming next on his website!

View a gallery of picture book illustration and other artwork by Lane Smith on his website!

Antarctica Day Activity

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Antarctic Animals Coloring Sheets

 

Antarctica is home to some of the world’s cutest and best-loved animals. Here are three printable coloring sheets for you to have fun with!

Emperor Penguin | Orca | Walrus and Pup

Picture Book Review

October 19 – Global Dignity Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2008, Global Dignity Day aspires to inspire and educate young people to understand their self-worth and achieve their goals. Events take place in schools in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Oceania. On this day speakers from all walks of life speak to children, revealing experiences from their life and work as it relates to dignity and a sense of self-respect, accomplishment, and interconnectedness.

Students then talk among themselves about what dignity means to them, and many speak their thoughts in front of the class. Following this they write letters to themselves outlining their feelings and aspirations. The letters are collected and handed back to them on the next Global Dignity Day so each child can assess how their life has changed and whether they have achieved their goals or are working toward them.

Today take some time to measure your own sense of dignity and to set goals. Discuss the issue with your child or children and make sure they know that whatever road they choose, they deserve dignity and the opportunities to achieve their full potential.

Wherever You Go

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

 

“When it’s time for a journey, to learn and to grow, / roads guide your footsteps wherever you go. / Roads give you chances to seek and explore. / Want an adventure? / Just open your door.”

So opens this lovely, inspirational picture book that looks at life through the metaphor of those sometimes straightforward, sometime winding, but always intriguing roads. In these pages “Roads…go” over hills, under bridges, and through valleys. They can take you past vast seas and small streams. “Roads…zoom” through brightly lit cities, and “bend,” taking you on detours “you wouldn’t expect, / showing you various ways to connect.”

Roads can bring you closer to your dreams, but also veer away, giving you choices “To go? / Or to stay?” “Roads…reach” from shore to shore or mountain to mountain, “attaching two places that once were apart.” You can “choose to cross over. Follow your heart.” Some roads are small—only built with one lane, but they merge with another “and the two become one.”

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Image copyright Eliza Wheeler, courtesy of hachettebookgroup.com

With time and change “Roads…grow,” becoming longer and wider and more populated with people you know and those you don’t—yet. Often “Roads…wait. For click-clacking trains / and boats with tall sails. / Slow-going hay wagons carrying bales. / Stoplights and crosswalks, a deer with a friend. / Roads sometimes pause, or just come to an end.”

Roads also rise to dizzying heights and the sense of accomplishment is well worth the climb. From on top “Roads…remember. Every life landmark, the big and the small. / The moments you tripped, the times you stood tall.” At last when you’re ready there are roads that will help you find your way home. So… “Which path should you choose? / That’s easy to see. / The one that will take you / where you wish to be.”

Pat Zietlow Miller’s lyrical journey down the paths life presents is an enchanting quiet-time and story-time read. Wherever You Go also offers parents, caregivers, and teachers a wonderful opportunity to discuss the concepts of self-confidence and self-respect and also the idea that life is made up of many different experiences that can be accepted or rejected like alternate routes on a map. Miller’s rhymes flow as smoothly as an wide open country road, soaring and winding on her exquisite descriptions and word choice. Adult readers may well find a catch in their throat as they read the last line to their children.

Eliza Wheeler captures not only the literal meanings of the lines in Wherever You Go, but also the heart and thoughts of life’s travels. Her softly hued watercolor-and-ink illustrations glow with the promise and possibilities encountered on life’s roads. Intricate details fill every page to show readers that their journeys are shared. Children will enjoy following the main character, a rabbit who rides a bike along a chosen path, but they will also love keeping track of traveling companions met along the way.

Wherever You Go is a fabulous book for all children and makes a wonderful gift for baby showers, new babies, and graduations. The gender-neutral text offers inclusiveness for all.

Ages 4 – 9 (and up)

Little Brown and Company, 2015 | ISBN 978-0316400022

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller, her books, and her writing life on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork and a gallery of books by Eliza Wheeler on her website!

Before taking off on your journey, watch this Wherever You Go book trailer!

 Global Dignity Day Activity

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I Love Myself! Heart-Shaped Letter Tempate

 

Before you start life’s journey and while you travel the roads you choose, it’s important to believe and remember that you are unique, wonderful, talented, and valuable. Children and adults can use this printable heart-shaped I Love Myself! Letter Template to write a letter to themselves or their children about what makes them such a fantastic person and the goals they want to achieve.

Picture Book Review

September 27 – It’s Fall Hat Month

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About the Holiday

As the weather turns cooler in certain parts of the world, it’s time to pull out those old favorite cozy hats or buy a stylish new one to keep your head and ears warm! Whether you like wearing felt hats, knit hats, furry hats, or even top hats—like the character in today’s book—this is the season for you!

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

By Ayano Imaí

 

Mr. Brown lived alone and, if you asked him, he’d tell you he liked it that way. He “had no friends and he didn’t want any.” If you were privy to his secret thoughts, however, you’d learn that Mr. Brown was actually very lonely. Mr. Brown liked to take long walks, and when he went out, he always wore his “smart,” distinctive hat. “One day while Mr. Brown was sleeping, a woodpecker flew down and started tapping a hole in his hat, thinking, ‘What a wonderful nest this hat would make!’”

When Mr. Brown woke up he was shocked to discover that a bird had moved into his hat. Someone living this close to him was not what Mr. Brown had in mind at all. Then to Mr. Brown’s dismay the “woodpecker soon told all his friends about the wonderful new home and invited them all to join him.” Soon Mr. Brown’s hat was full of holes—and birds! You might think a regular hat would not have enough room for so many residents—but Mr. Brown’s hat was no ordinary one. As more and more birds moved in, his hat grew taller and taller!

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

As the days went on Mr. Brown discovered that he was beginning to enjoy the birds’ singing and their company. Now Mr. Brown had renewed purpose in his daily walks: “He loved to show off his hat. Everywhere he went it was full of the music of singing birds.” People on the street took notice and wanted to emulate Mr. Brown. All over town people began wearing tall hats, “but the birds preferred to stay with Mr. Brown no matter how hard people tried to persuade them.”

One day as autumn settled in, Mr. Brown noticed that all the birds had flown away. He was sad and didn’t understand where they had gone or why they had left him. He wondered if he would see them again. The idea of a quiet life no longer held the appeal it once did, and Mr. Brown missed his friends. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care that the birds had left, but he continued to fill the feeders and watch out for them every day.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

Even though it was time for Mr. Brown to take a long winter’s nap, he tried to stay awake, worried that there would be no one to care for the birds if they returned. But nature took its course, and Mr. Brown fell into a deep sleep. One morning after a particularly vivid dream in which Mr. Brown could hear the birds singing, he woke to a tapping sound. He went to the door and peered out.

Spring had come and with it Mr. Brown’s hat had grown roots and sprouted branches and leaves. The old holes were filled with their previous tenants. The sight filled Mr. Brown with joy, and he finally could admit to himself that sharing his life with friends “was better than being alone.”

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

Ayano Imaí’s gloriously beautiful book plumbs the nature of solitude and loneliness as well as the value of friendship with an honesty that is at once heartrending and uplifting. For so many quiet, introspective people—children and adults alike—navigating the world of small talk, casual relationships, and making friends is similar to traveling uncharted territory, where the language and mores are foreign. It can become easier to tell oneself that it doesn’t matter, when in reality it matters a great deal. Many times happiness comes when one finds their niche or, in some surprising way, a niche finds them.

Imaí tells the story of Mr. Brown and his fantastical hat in straightforward narration, but more profound meaning is revealed in her illustrations. Mr. Brown, it is discovered, is a brown bear who has taken on the aspects of humans. He walks upright, carries an umbrella and bag, owns a home, and wears a hat. His fur is even the same color as the townspeople’s clothing. But while he may be among people, he is not of them. His home has a grass floor which sprouts mushrooms and weeds; another weed pokes out from the bristles of his brush; a tree branch juts from a wall; and mushrooms share space with the laundry on the drying line.

Mr. Brown comes from nature and belongs with nature, so it is no surprise that the birds flock to him and prefer him to humans, who in an ironic twist long to be like Mr. Brown. I especially like the ending of Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat, in which Mr. Brown stays true to himself. He does not suddenly discover his “wild” side and become someone that he is not. He is able to remain a quiet, introspective bear while also embracing his friends, his love for them, and his place in the world. He finds inner happiness and loved ones to share it with.

Ages 3 – 8 (and up)

minedition, 2014 | ISBN 978-9888240845

Fall Hat Month Activity

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Favorite Fall Hat Matching Puzzle

 

Each child has a favorite hat for cooler weather. Follow the paths in this printable Favorite Fall Hat Matching Puzzle to find out which hat each child chooses!

Picture Book Review

August 31 – It’s Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

Summer is coming to a close and school is starting again. It’s a great time to reflect on the fun you’ve had in the warmer weather and all the memories that are about to be made as another year of activities, education, new friendships, and excitement unfolds. Happiness really does happen if you let it!

Double Happiness

Written by Nancy Tupper Ling | Illustrated by Alina Chau

 

This quiet, thoughtful picture book tells the story of a family’s move from China to America in a series of unrhymed verses that reveal the experience honestly from alternating viewpoints of a brother, Jake, and his sister, Gracie. Each page is dedicated to one sibling or the other with the Jake’s poems written in blue and Gracie’s in purple. In several poems the children interact with each other, the blue and purple lines acting as dialog tags.

In the first poem, The Move, Gracie stands on her doorstep surrounded by boxes and suitcases and thinks, “I won’t go! / I won’t move / away / from our city house / by the trolley tracks….” But Jake is more adventurous and in the second poem, Train, is already imagining his new room. After considering different décor, he decides what he really wants is something familiar, something outside—“just one long train / that rocks and wobbles / my bed each night. / I can’t fall asleep until the train passes by.”

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Image copyright Alina Chau, 2015, courtesy of Chronicle Books

In Grandmother, the siblings are each given a happiness box by their Nai Nai, who wisely challenges her grandchildren to “Find four treasures each, / leading from this home / to your new.” Gracie takes this to heart, and readers see in Panda that even before leaving Nai Nai’s Gracie has added a favorite keepsake to her box: “Nai Nai’s panda sits / by the window / like always. / “I’ll miss you,” I say. / Nai Nai leans over me. / She places Panda / inside my box. / “He has a new home / now.”

Too soon moving day comes, and in Goodbye Gracie and Jake give hugs and kisses to beloved relatives. The search for items to fill Nai Nai’s boxes is taken up in the next three poems. In Treasure, Jake becomes a dragon keeping his “dragon eyes / wide open for stuff / along the way.” He is rewarded in Lucky, in which he discovers an old penny on the bus ride to the airport. In Leaf Gracie receives a surprising gift for her happiness box: “One stray leaf / flutters down / onto my box— / Eucalyptus! / If I had a koala I’d feed / her this minty meal all / day long— / the perfect treasure / to remind me of home.” 

In keeping with the long hours of travel from China to the United States, the next six poems chronicle the brother and sister’s experiences in the airport, waiting for their plane, and during the flight. Airport sees the children running, hopping, waiting, and navigating their way through the crowds of people to their gate. Dad is already tuckered out in Quiet, but Jake is wrangling to look for treasure: “’Huff puff. Puff huff.’” / Dragon blows fire. / Dragon stomps his feet. / “’Ssshhh, you’ll wake Daddy. / I giggle. / Gracie giggles. / “’Daddy can sleep / anywhere.’” Jake finally discovers gum in his backpack and creates a treasure. “I stretch it / and roll it / and ooze it / into one slinky snake / Sssssee, his penny pillow. / Sssssee, he’s kai xin— / so happy—in his brown box. / I’m tied with Gracie now— / two treasures each.”

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Image copyright Alina Chau, 2015, courtesy of Chronicle Books

Adventures at the airport continue in Cat and Wings, and as the plane takes off Gracie draws pictures of the day’s events in Picture. In Here the children wake up to see their new city far below them and wonder, “can I find our house / from the sky?” Marble and Sadness juxtapose Jake’s happiness at finding another treasure for his box with the apprehension of Gracie as the plane lands and the family makes its way into their new country.

At last in Home the family reaches their new house by taxi. Gracie seems only to see the “piles of snow,” but Jake likes the “windy roads, lots of trees, and the curvy driveway.” In Explore Gracie and Jake walk around the countryside, and while Gracie still determines that she won’t like it, Jake hears a train and is happy. My Room and Dinner see the kids settling in, with a photograph of the family they’ve left behind accompanying them on the table while they eat. In A Surprise, Gracie finds that her grandmother is still with her through a special scarf, and in Paints Jake and Gracie accept the move as they paint their happiness boxes: Jake decorates his with a dragon and a train, while Gracie depicts herself and her brother walking in the snow and “they look very, / very / happy.”

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Image copyright Alina Chau, 2015, courtesy of Chronicle Books

While Double Happiness tells the story of a family’s distant move, Nancy Tupper Ling’s gentle verses are appropriate for any situation involving change or uncertainty. She reminds children that happiness can be found wherever they are and all around them if they look for it. The poems flow as freely as thoughts, fears, and unguarded moments. As Gracie and Jake resolve their feeling, readers or listeners will also see that feelings of apprehension are common, and that happiness is waiting for them.

Alina Chau’s soft, lovely watercolor illustrations are beautiful representations of Gracie and Jake’s move from the familiar surroundings of their home in China to a new home in a snowy countryside.  The children’s emotions resonate as they alternate between sadness and happiness and between the concrete places of Nai Nai’s house, the airport, and their new city and their own imaginations of dragons, drawings, and dreams.

Ages 5 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1452129181

Discover more books for children and adults by Nancy Tupper Ling on her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Alina Chau and more on her website!

Happiness Happens Activity

CPB - Happiness typography

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.

Picture Book Review