January 22 – It’s National Hot Tea Month

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing cozier during the month of January than enjoying a steaming cup of your favorite, flavorful tea as the temperature dips and the snow swirls. To celebrate this month’s holiday, why not try a new kind of tea, or you could even try a virtual tea party! Many teas have health benefits and can help you relax and get a good night’s sleep. This drink has been around for thousands of years and is enjoyed the world over. So boil up some water, grab the honey or sugar, add a splash of milk if you like, and enjoy!

Tea with Oliver

By Mika Song

 

Oliver the cat sits at his kitchen table, holding a conversation with himself. It’s something he does “a lot.” He’d like to have a cup of tea, but wonders who will join him. Philbert, the little mouse under the couch calls up that he would be happy to drink tea with Oliver, but Oliver doesn’t hear him and Philbert is “too shy to come out.” Meanwhile, Oliver is having a tea party with his teddy bear.

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Copyright Mika Song, 2017, courtesy of mikasongdraws.com.

“Philbert decides to write Oliver a letter. ‘Dear Oliver, Let’s have tea,’” it reads. Philbert secretly hopes they have cookies too. Now, though, Oliver is cleaning the floor, and Philbert’s letter gets swept back under the couch. While he sweeps, Oliver sings about his lonesomeness, and Philbert tries another tactic. He folds his note into an airplane and shoots it into the air. Instead of floating into Oliver’s field of view, however, it hits him in the back. “Eek! A flea!” Oliver cries. He dances around, scratching and itching and completely misses the note.

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Copyright Mika Song, 2017, courtesy of mikasongdraws.com.

Philbert is just imagining what to do next when someone knocks on the door. When Oliver opens it, his wild cousin Lester leaps in playing his banjo. Oliver invites him for tea. “I’m throwing a party,” Lester says, “but I guess there could be tea.” Philbert’s ears perk up. He wants to go to this tea party. Feeling brave, Philbert decides to deliver his note to Oliver personally.

It seems Lester’s party is at Oliver’s house, and before Philbert can deliver his letter, the guests start arriving. The guests are too boisterous and bouncy to want tea, and Philbert, wanting to stay out of the way, flattens himself against the floor. “I don’t like this party one bit,” he tells himself. Oliver tries to serve tea to some other guests, but they’re dancing and too busy for tea. From far below, Philbert shouts, “Me! I want tea!” But Oliver doesn’t hear him. Then one guest bumps into Oliver, and his tray of teacups goes flying.

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Copyright Mika Song, 2017, courtesy of mikasongdraws.com.

“The party ends as quickly as it began” as Lester and the other guests depart, leaving Oliver to clean up the shards of china. Oliver lays on the floor, despairing that he’ll “never have tea with anyone now.” He rolls over to see Philbert under the couch. Philbert introduces himself and hands Oliver his letter. Mistaking it for a tissue, Oliver blows his nose in Philbert’s note.

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Copyright Mika Song, 2017, courtesy of mikasongdraws.com.

Philbert alerts Oliver to his error, and contritely Oliver opens the note and reads it. He’s surprised and excited to find that Philbert wants to have tea with him, but then  remembers that he has no more cups. Now it’s Philbert’s turn to be excited – and surprising.”Yes you do!” He runs away and returns pulling a soft cushion holding two of Oliver’s tea cups. “I saved these for you!” Philbert exclaims. “Hooray!” Oliver cheers. “And the new friends sat down to a nice cup of tea.” With cookies.

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Copyright Mika Song, 2017, courtesy of mikasongdraws.com.

Mika Song’s sweet story will have little ones giggling as one thing after another goes just a little bit wrong. Many will empathize with Philbert’s predicament as he tries to attract Oliver’s attention and will cheer along with Oliver when he saves two of Oliver’s beloved tea cups and the day. Song’s straightforward tale offers gentle lessons on the true nature of friendship as Philbert watches out for Oliver when others don’t, and the two discover they have a lot in common despite the traditional differences between cats and mice.

Through her delicate ink and watercolor illustrations, Song brings out the adorable natures of Oliver and Philbert, the subtly humorous and slapstick events of the afternoon, the moments of disappointment, and Philbert’s happy surprise that lead to the friend’s cozy tea party. 

Tea with Oliver will charm young readers and would be a cute, often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public libraries. 

Ages 4 – 8 

HarperCollins, 2017 | ISBN 978-0062429483

Discover more about Mika Song and her books on her website.

National Hot Tea Month Activity

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Tea Bag Buddy

 

It’s fun to have a tea party with a friend, and this little tea bag buddy is ready to hang out with you!

Supplies

  • Tea bags
  • Poly-fill
  • Permanent markers
  • Needle

Directions

  1. Gently open a tea bag, unfold it, and discard the tea
  2. Remove the string with the tag and set aside
  3. Fill the tea bag with a bit of poly-fill
  4. Thread the string of the tag through the needle
  5. Fold the tea bag back up
  6. Fold the ends of the bag under and sew them closed with the tag string, leaving the tag dangling
  7. With the permanent markers, draw a face on the front of the tea bag

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You can find Tea with Oliver at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 27 – Visit the Zoo Day

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About the Holiday

After all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, today has traditionally been set aside to take a relaxing outing with the family to the zoo, aquarium, or other animal park. While that may not be possible this year, you can still visit your local zoo or see what’s going on in a zoo in another state or even another country by way of the institution’s website and webcams. Another fun idea is to make a “zoo” of picture books (both fiction and nonfiction) about the different animals you would see at the zoo. Today’s book is a perfect way to start your tour!

There’s a Giraffe in My Soup

By Ross Burach

 

It seems that in such a fine establishment ordering the Special of the Day—Sonia’s Tomato Soup—would be easy, but for one little boy it is anything but. “Excuse me, waiter?” The boy politely summons the red-tuxedoed attendant, who is polishing crystal to a diamond sheen. “There’s a giraffe in my soup!” Offended, the waiter pokes his verrrry long nose in the air and says, “That simply cannot be.” But when he comes nose to teeth with said errant ingredient, he speeds off with the giraffe on his tray through the kitchen door.

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Image copyright Ross Burach, courtesy of rossburach.com

Ah, a new bowl of soup is delivered post haste! But as soon as the bowl is set on the table, a little frog pokes its bulging eyes over the rim. Only it’s not a frog, but an alligator with its chompers ready to reverse the dining experience. It’s even seasoning the poor boy with pepper! Once again the waiter comes to the rescue.

Before the waiter even lifts the cover from the next bowl of soup, a suspicious blue trunk emerges. The elephant flails in the small bowl of soup as the boy yells for help. “Save her! Save her! Please hurry!” Before the elephant drowns, the waiter is on the scene. The next bowl fares no better. “Yak! Yak! Yak!” the boy shouts. “Yuck? Yuck? Yuck?” the waiter thinks, insulted by the young food critic. But no, indeed a hairy, horned yak has invaded the soup.

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Image copyright Ross Burach, courtesy of rossburach.com

Bowl after bowl is delivered and bowl after bowl the boy encounters a walrus (that balances the chair and the boy on his nose), an ostrich (with its head in the soup), a koala bear (shhh…it’s sleeping), a snake (burp…it swallowed the boy!), and a whale (well…you can imagine). The bruised and sweating waiter slumps on the table with his last offering. “Here, huff at last. Your soup, huff roaring with flavor.”  “Lying? Lying? Lying?” the waiter hears from the boy’s chair. He has had enough and loses his cool. “Sure, I made a minor gaffe with the giraffe. Maybe I overlooked a whale. But when it comes to taste, I am a professional. Do not dare accuse me of…LION!! Why didn’t you say something!”

Trying to tame the lion with his platter and a fork, the waiter runs for the kitchen. He returns bandaged and on crutches to reveal to the boy that there has been a mix up. It seems the zoo was sent the restaurant’s food and the restaurant was sent the zoo’s animals. The little boy is magnanimous and ready to let bygones be bygones. “Let’s skip the soup. Maybe dessert?” The waiter agrees.

He wheels out the dessert cart to present “one mousse…with a cherry on top!” And while the whipped cream and sprinkles look appetizing, the hooves and antlers? Not so much. “Never mind!” says the boy. “I’m eating somewhere else!” He quickly hops on his Big Wheel tricycle to follow the parade of animals on their way back to the zoo.

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Image copyright Ross Burach, courtesy of rossburach.com

Just as it’s impossible not to laugh at the perennial favorite restaurant joke—“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!” / “What’s a fly doing in your soup?” / “The backstroke”—There’s a Giraffe in My Soup creates giggles on every page. Ross Burach creates a great comedy team in the little boy who only wants a bowl of soup and the snooty waiter who aims to please. Their dialogue crackles with puns, misunderstandings, and witty banter. Mixed in to the recipe are the creatures—some clueless, some dangerous, and some just out of their element—that act as the catalyst for the animated facial expressions and frenetic action that propel the story. Vivid colors, a variety of typography, and some of the cutest zoo animals ever complete the entertaining effect.

There’s a Giraffe in My Soup is sure to be asked for again and again and would be a very welcome addition to any child’s library.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2016 | ISBN 978-0062360144 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1338147896 (Paperback)

Learn more about Ross Burach and view his illustrations on his website!

There’s a There’s a Giraffe in My Soup book trailer in this post!

Visit the Zoo Day Activity

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In the Soup! Animal Card Game

 

Play this fun and easy game to fill your bowl with a variety of animals!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print out the bowl and playing card templates, one of each for every player
  2. Color the cards and bowl if you would like to
  3. Roll the die to see who goes first
  4. Each player takes turn rolling the die to collect animals to fill their bowl:
  • 1 = Elephant
  • 2 = Giraffe
  • 3 = Seal
  • 4 = Lion
  • 5 = Alligator
  • 6 = Whale

The first player to fill their bowl with all six animals is the winner

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You can find There’s a Giraffe in My Soup at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 15 – World Greatness Day

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About the Holiday

Founded in October 2019 by Professor Patrick Businge, World Greatness Day celebrates greatness in all things – people, places, pets, businesses, and especially the unsung heroes among us. Businge encourages us to honor and thank the people who are instrumental in our lives. He also wants us to recognize the greatness that we all have inside. Ensuring that each child understands how unique and special they are improves their self-esteem and self-confidence and sets them on a path to greater success and happiness. Sharing today’s book is a terrific place to start.

Remarkably You

Written by Pat Zeitlow Miller | Illustrated by Patrice Barton

In her stirring Remarkably You, Pat Zeitlow Miller celebrates each child’s individuality and gifts. She talks directly to the reader assuring them that they are exceptional, whether they’re bold, timid, small or “practically grown.” She then fills them with confidence, telling them that they are smart, have power, and can change the world.

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Image copyright Patrice Barton, 2019, text copyright Pat Zeitlow Miller, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With encouragement Miller beckons each child to find their place in the world and do what they can; and when that is done to “choose a new problem and do it again.” How do kids know where they fit in? “Just look for the moments that let you be you.” Miller goes on to validate each child, saying, “You have your own spirit, unparalleled flair. / So rock what you’ve got—every day everywhere.”

She then channels how every parent or caregiver feels about their child—“You are a blessing, / a promise, a prize. / You’re capable, caring, courageous, and wise.”—and emboldens kids to embrace who they are and get out there and enjoy life—their own, remarkable life.

In her stirring Remarkably You, Pat Zeitlow Miller celebrates each child’s individuality and gifts. She talks directly to the reader assuring them that they are exceptional, whether they’re bold, timid, small or “practically grown.” She then fills them with confidence, telling them that they are smart, have power, and can change the world.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-remarkably-you-parade
Image copyright Patrice Barton, 2019, text copyright Pat Zeitlow Miller, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With encouragement Miller beckons each child to find their place in the world and do what they can; and when that is done to “choose a new problem and do it again.” How do kids know where they fit in? “Just look for the moments that let you be you.” Miller goes on to validate each child, saying, “You have your own spirit, unparalleled flair. / So rock what you’ve got—every day everywhere.”

She then channels how every parent or caregiver feels about their child—“You are a blessing, / a promise, a prize. / You’re capable, caring, courageous, and wise.”—and emboldens kids to embrace who they are and get out there and enjoy life—their own, remarkable life.

World Greatness Day Activity

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You’re Amazing Magnets

You can remind your kids about how special they are with these complimentary sayings. Print them out and attach adhesive magnet strips to create decorations for a child’s room, their locker, the fridge or anywhere they’ll see them and take the message to heart. You can also use heavy paper or poster board, markers, and stickers to create your own encouraging magnets.

You’re Amazing Magnet Templates

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You can find Remarkably You at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

June 27 – National Sunglasses Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday has been long in the making. Tinted glasses have been around since judges in ancient China used them to disguise their emotions. Modern sunglasses were first sold in 1929 by Sam Foster on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Bausch and Lomb was commissioned in the 1930s by the Army Air Corps to create glasses to ease the high-altitude glare pilots faced. In 1936 Polaroid filters were first used to protect eyes from  damaging UV rays in Ray Ban sunglasses.Since the 1970s movies have helped escalate the popularity of many styles of sunglasses as fans strive to look like their favorite actors and actresses. Today, grab your sunglasses or shop for new ones because—you know why…sing it with me… “The future’s so bright, I gotta have shades!”

Chu’s Day at the Beach

Written by Neil Gaiman | Illustrated by Adam Rex

 

As readers of this series know, “when Chu sneezed, big things happened.” With this tantalizing and slightly-ominous-in-a-way-kids-love statement, Chu’s latest adventure begins. Turning the page kids discover that Chu and his family have headed out to the beach. Chu is having a great time: the octopus selling ice-cream gives him an extra scoop of vanilla, and Chu meets a crab in a rock pool; even Chu’s mom is enjoying a book under the umbrella and his dad is wading in the ocean.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Chu takes his sunglasses off to better enjoy the bright, sunny day, but suddenly Chu’s nose tickles. The tickle grows until it fills his whole head and he can’t hold it in anymore—“AAH- AAAAH- AAAAAH- CHOoOoOoOO!” Chu looks out to sea. “‘Uh-oh,’” he says. Everyone on the beach comes down to the water’s edge to look at the huge suspended wave Chu has sneezed up.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Like standing in front of an aquarium exhibit, the beachgoers find themselves eye-to-eye with sea creatures who are suddenly encased in the wall of water. The fish, turtles, whales, and merpandas are sad—“‘With the sea broken, I cannot go home,’” one whale explains. The ice-cream vender tells Chu to sneeze again and put the sea “‘back the way it was.’” But try as he might, Chu can’t sneeze. A seagull tickles Chu’s nose with a wing feather and the octopus offers Chu a fizzy drink with bubbles that go up his nose, but nothing elicits a sneeze.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

All seems lost until Tiny the snail reveals that sometimes he sneezes when he looks at the sun. Chu removes his sunglasses and gazes into the light. “AAAAACHOOOOO!” “‘There, said Chu. Everything is back just as it was before.’” The sea creatures are happy that they get to return to their homes, the ice-cream seller is so pleased that she scoops up another cone for Chu, and Chu? He declares that it was the best day at the beach ever.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With his singular style Neil Gaiman conjures up a story for kids that combines just the right amount of sweetness and absurdity to keep the giggles going from the first page to the last. We all experience those uncontrollable mishaps and “oh no!” moments where a little help and empathy is appreciated. And what child wouldn’t love to stop the ocean, even if only for a moment? Gaiman’s repeated sneezes will have kids “Aah-chooing” along, and an animated reading of the chorus “AAH. AAAAH. AAAAAH. NO.” is sure to bring laughs and requests for “Again! Again!”

If only the beach was as full of interesting creatures as Adam Rex portrays in his vivacious illustrations! Crossing the dunes Chu and his family encounter an intriguing array of animals stretched out on towels—from a tiny cricket to a pangolin to a hunky frog with his clever insect-snack-strip-adorned umbrella and more. Ice-cream vendors no doubt wish they had the eight arms of Rex’s frozen-treat seller, and there’s even an ostrich with his head in the sand. Chu’s tidal wave teems with surprised sea creatures, some stuck mid-way between their ocean world and the dry outside. Chu remains as cute as ever, inviting kids to join him on his latest adventure.

Chu’s Day at the Beach makes for fun summer reading and would be a favorite on home bookshelves. Check out Chu’s Day, and Chu’s First Day of School too!

Ages 2 – 7

HarperCollins, 2015 | ISBN 978-0062223999 (Hardcover) | HarperFestival (Board Book, 2016) | ISBN 978-0062381248

Discover more about Neil Gaiman, his books for children, and all of his work on his website.

To learn more about Adam Rex, his books, and his art on his website.

National Sunglasses Day Activity

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Perfect Sunglasses Matching Puzzle

 

The summer sun is so bright that these friends need sunglasses before they go out to play! Can you follow the paths to match each child with the perfect pair? Get the printable Perfect Sunglasses Matching Puzzle and have fun!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chu's-day-at-the-beach

You can find Chu’s Day at the Beach at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

May 19 – It’s National Pet Month and Interview with Sarah Kurpiel

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About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat now and then. This year, our pets may be feeling stressed from stay-at-home restrictions. To help, try to keep your pet’s routines as normal as possible. Dogs may benefit from extra walks––just like Maple in today’s story!

I received a copy of Lone Wolf from Greenwillow Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Lone Wolf

By Sarah Kurpiel

 

Maple, a Siberian husky, loved living with the Parkers. He loved playing tug-of-war with Jax, reading with Avery, extra treats from Mom, and especially long walks with everyone. “But on her walks, people would say… ‘Dude, that dog looks like a wolf.’” Some little kids clung to their mom’s leg when they saw her, some older people asked if maybe she wasn’t just a little bit wolf, and even babies shouted “‘WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!’”

The Parkers tried to explain the differences between Maple and a wolf, but eventually, “even Maple had her doubts.” After all, when she compared herself to other dogs, she saw that so many had floppy ears or lots of fluff or handsome spots. She wasn’t like them at all. Plus, she was good at digging, howling, and hunting just like a wolf.

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Copyright Sarah Kurpiel, 2020, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

She began to think that she belonged in the wild, and one day when the gate was left open, she bounded out into the woods. But here the ground was hard, not soft like the Parker’s garden; squirrels were faster and harder to catch than Avery’s shoes; and sticks were pretty boring without Jax. Being a wolf was not as much fun as it seemed. As nighttime came and the sky darkened, Maple decided to head home.

On the way, she saw a flashlight and behind it familiar faces. Someone was looking for her. It was the Parkers—her pack! Now when people call Maple a wolf, she doesn’t have doubts. She knows just who she is and exactly where she belongs.

Sarah Kurpiel’s multilayered story about a husky who is often mistaken for a wolf will delight dog and pet lovers as it gently introduces the ideas of identity, self-doubt, and self-discovery. Her charming storytelling provides an excellent opportunity for adults and kids to discuss these important topics of individual growth with the backdrop of a supportive family. Children, familiar with being peppered by questions about what they’re doing and who they want to be (as opposed to who they are) as well as by comparisons to others, will relate to Maple. Maple’s exploration of what she considers her wolf-like abilities is humorous and models a positive self-analysis that is honest and non-judgmental while also embracing one’s unique qualities.

Kurpiel’s lovely color palette and rounded shapes are fresh and welcoming while her use of directional lines allows readers to dash along with Maple from one enchanting detail to another. Her use of various perspectives puts kids in Maple’s point of view while providing depth to this enthusiastic pup’s experience. Maple is adorable, and his wondering nature is clearly visible in his expressive face. Kurpiel’s images of family love begin on the copyright page with sweet framed family pictures, many of which include Maple. Avery, who is shown using a power wheelchair, is a welcome portrayal of a child with a disability. The final snapshot of the Parker family and Maple snuggling together is heartwarming and reminds readers that individual attributes are what make each person so special.

Touching and uplifting, Lone Wolf will charm children and adults anew with every reading. The book would make a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062943828

Discover more about Sarah Kurpiel and her art on her website.

You can download a Lone Wolf Activity Kit from HarperCollins here.

Meet Sarah Kurpiel

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Sarah Kurpiel is a librarian and artist inspired by nature and animals. She grew up in the Midwest with a Siberian husky named Mikayla. Consequently, most of her childhood was spent removing dog fur from her clothes. Lone Wolf is her first book. Sarah Kurpiel lives with her family (which includes her wonderfully goofy dog, Roxie) in Downers Grove, Illinois.

I was really excited to have a chance to talk with Sarah Kurpiel about her debut picture book, how it came to be, her illustration work, and more! Jack and Steve, who are also dog lovers, are back with lots of questions for Sarah too.

After reading––and loving––Lone Wolf, they wondered:

Do you have a dog?

Yes! My family has a dog named Roxie. We adopted her from a local animal shelter. We think she’s part Border Collie and part Retriever. She loves herding us around and rolling in the grass.

We have a miniature poodle. What breed of dog is your favorite?

Miniature Poodles are adorable! My favorite breed of dog is giant by comparison: the Borzoi. Borzois look a bit like extra-large, extra-furry greyhounds.

 Have you ever seen or heard a wolf?

I’ve never seen or heard a wolf in the wild, but I have seen Mexican Gray Wolves in a zoo. The Mexican Gray Wolf is one of the most endangered wolf subspecies in the world. Thankfully, there are recovery programs working to change that.

We’ve been taking our dog on lots of walks (just like the Parker family!) during this quarantine. What have you’ve been doing to keep busy?

I’ve been hanging out with my family and our pets, reading, catching up on Star Trek, and drawing lots and lots of cats for my next picture book.

Hi Sarah! Jack and Steve had so many terrific questions! Maple, the star of Lone Wolf, really connects with readers on so many levels. Through your story you introduce a wonderful way for kids and adults to talk about identity and belonging. This issue is really important, especially as children are developing their self-confidence and self-esteem. What was the spark for this story? What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The main character in Lone Wolf, Maple, is inspired by my childhood dog, Mikayla, a Siberian husky who had loads of personality. As anyone with a husky would probably attest, huskies often get compared to wolves. My dog was no exception. When translating this idea into a picture book, I asked myself, “What would a dog think about people comparing her to a wolf again and again?” I found I could relate to her feelings of self-doubt, as I think many people can. Lone Wolf is a cute, funny story, but like you mentioned, identity and belonging are at its heart. I hope readers will take away self-confidence to stay true to themselves despite assumptions others might make about them.

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celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lone-wolf-Mikayla

Lone Wolf is your debut picture book. Can you take readers on the book’s journey from idea to being published? Have you always wanted to illustrate and write children’s books?

When I was a kid, I loved to draw, but I don’t remember dreaming about becoming an illustrator. I don’t think I even knew it was a job! Throughout my life, drawing has always been a relaxing hobby. Years ago, I made a few comic strips about my family’s husky just for fun. Then, in 2018, while brainstorming picture book ideas, I reflected back on those comic strips. The one about wolf comparisons had potential for layers, but it wasn’t a story. So, over the course of a few weeks, I built out the idea, created a dummy, and sent it off to the agents who were considering representing me (and who later became my co-agents).

They sent me a few rounds of feedback, which pushed me to develop the story further. The point-of-view moved from first-person to third-person and the story arc evolved. I revised on and off for about three months. Then the story went out on submission, and I (very happily!) accepted Greenwillow’s publication offer. In the weeks that followed, I revised the dummy based on the editor’s helpful feedback before getting the go-ahead to start the final art. I learned a lot during this process that I expect will help me navigate future projects.

Just as you do, the little girl in this story uses a wheelchair. Can you discuss what it means to disabled children to see themselves in the books they read? Can you discuss the impact that having disabled characters in books for all ages has on society as a whole?

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I’m glad you noticed this connection! When I was 11, I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, and by 18, I had transitioned to a power wheelchair. The character Avery in Lone Wolf also uses a power wheelchair. She isn’t the main character. She’s just a girl who’s part of a family that has an awesome dog. Her presence is only notable because we don’t usually see kids in power wheelchairs in picture books. In fact, I can’t think of a single fiction picture book that includes a kid who uses a power wheelchair. I’m not saying there aren’t any out there, but if there are, I haven’t come across them yet. Kids who use manual wheelchairs are represented more often, but they’re still few and far between. And despite good intentions, some representations of disability are problematic. I think it’s important for kids with mobility disabilities to see themselves in happy stories where they are neither problems to solve nor sources of inspiration. For society as a whole, it helps normalize disability.

I love your illustration style that often mixes lovely rounded shapes with equally lovely lines, as a self-taught illustrator how did you develop your style?

I learned to draw when I was younger by sketching everything around me and from books I checked out from my public library. In 2016, I started drawing digitally. It opened up so many new possibilities. I started drawing every day, following illustrators on Instagram, thinking consciously about what made me like one illustrator’s work more than another, and taking part in a few fun, informal art challenges on Instagram. In 2017, one such challenge (a Harry Potter 20th Anniversary challenge, to be precise!) led me to draw a hippogriff. I tried some digital brushes I hadn’t used before and very desaturated colors. In that moment, I had never liked something I drew as much as that simple, imperfect hippogriff. It felt right. So I continued in that direction, drawing animals using digital dry media brushes, desaturated colors, flowy shapes, weathered edges, and sketchy, wobbly lines until, after a while, it was my style—and still is, at least for now!

As I looked at the portfolio of your art, I was moved by how uplifting the scenes are. In so many of them, the animals are looking into the sky or tenderly interacting with another animal or a person. Can you talk a little about the themes of your art and the colors you choose? What about nature inspires you the most?

It’s true! I love drawing animals looking up at the sky. It’s my go-to subject these days! Like many people, I’m drawn to the vastness of nature: the night sky, the ocean, mountains, wide open fields. A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and was not prepared for how awe-inspiring it was. The vastness of nature stirs up all kinds of emotions and memories, and also a sense of interconnectedness. I like placing people and animals in those environments. For those drawings, I tend to use quiet, desaturated colors, which I’m naturally drawn to. But there’s this other side to me that’s enamored with cute, funny, whimsical characters. Lately, I’ve been trying to use vibrant colors when I draw them. So I feel like there’s these two separate sides to my work. I like both, so do both.

When you’re not drawing or writing, you can also be found working as a librarian. What are your favorite parts of your job? How exciting will it be to see your own book on the shelf and share it with patrons?

I’m an academic librarian focused in digital services, so what I enjoy most is simplifying processes and improving access (which might sound pretty dull!). My first library job was a cataloger, so I was weirdly excited to see Lone Wolf’s Library of Congress MARC record and my Cutter number at the end of the call number for the first time. It’ll be gratifying to see my book on library shelves one day when the pandemic subsides. I’ll probably pull out my phone and snap a picture!

What are you most looking forward to in sharing your book with readers? Although you’re just getting started, what has been the best part of becoming a published children’s author?

I’d love to show kids how to draw the main character, Maple, themselves. When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher demonstrated on the chalkboard a simple way to draw a face. I still remember exactly how she did it. After that, I became obsessed with drawing stylized faces and that never really went away for me. I’d love to spark a little creativity like my teacher did for me.

So far, the best part of becoming a published author/illustrator is feeling empowered to talk more openly about my interests. Few people outside of my immediate family knew I draw. It’s also been wonderful to make connections with people I never would have met otherwise.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book will be about another popular pet: cats! I’m busily working on the final art right now.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing so much about your life and work! I wish you all the best with Lone Wolf and can’t wait to see your next book.

You can connect with Sarah Kurpiel on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

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You can find Lone Wolf at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Anderson’s Bookshop (Sarah’s local indie) | Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

April 3 – National Find a Rainbow Day

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About the Holiday

April brings plenty of showers and downright downpours that give rainbow lovers lots of opportunities to see this colorful phenomenon. Legend has it that at the end of every rainbow waits a pot of gold—but if you aim to find it, watch out! It’s guarded by a tricky Leprechaun. Rainbows result when light from the sun reflects and refracts through water droplets in the sky, creating a spectrum of colors. Whether people ooh and ahh over the luck, the science, or the beauty of rainbows, there’s no denying that they always attract attention and create smiles.

I received a copy of Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) from HarperCollins for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed)

By Ged Adamson

 

After the rain was over and the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds, Ava was excited because she knew she’d get to see a rainbow. When she reached the perfect rainbow-viewing spot, she was amazed. Up in the sky was “the most beautiful rainbow Ava had ever seen.” She wished it could stay forever. That wish even carried over into her dreams that night, and when she woke up Ava thought she might actually still be asleep. Why? Because when she looked out the window, “the rainbow was still there!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ava-and-the-rainbow-who-stayed-beautiful-rainbow

Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

It was even still glowing over the town that night. It didn’t take long for people to start coming from all over to see the famous “rainbow who had decided to stay.” The townspeople loved all the attention—and the customers. Shopkeepers held rainbow-inspired sales, rainbow souvenirs like T-shirts, snow globes, and toys flew off the shelves, rainbow science became one of the most popular lectures by university professors, and a rainbow even became the new town mascot. For weeks there were special events and festivities all centered around the rainbow.

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Ava loved to talk to the rainbow. “She introduced him to her friends…sang to him…and showed him all her favorite books and toys.” The rainbow even stayed throughout the winter, shivering in the cold. When spring rolled around, people seemed to have forgotten all about the rainbow. They didn’t look at him like they used to. In fact, they didn’t look at him at all.

As Ava walked around town, she saw rainbow souvenirs in the trash and graffiti covering signs advertising the rainbow. When she saw the rainbow, Ava was shocked to see him plastered with ads and sporting antennae of all kinds. The rainbow was sad. “‘How could they do this to something so special?’ Ava said in despair.” She cheered up when she saw a crowd of people with cameras rushing toward her and the rainbow, but they were only interested in a little bird in a nearby tree.

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

It seemed that the bird was a Russian water sparrow and would only be there for a few hours before continuing its flight. “We’re so lucky!’” someone said. “‘Such a rare and precious sight!’” The rainbow overheard this exclamation and thought about it. The next morning when Ava went to visit the rainbow again, he was gone. Ava hoped that someday he’d return, and every time it rained she looked for him. One day he did come back, and was “a rare and precious sight indeed.”

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Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Seeing a rainbow after a storm never ceases to cause awe and amazement. Often we’re not finished following its arc before it vanishes from the sky. But is it just that quality that makes a rainbow so special? In his multi-layered story Ged Adamson explores a spectrum of ideas about the fleeting moments in life—from dreams to fads to fame—as well as about the dangers of going against ones true nature to please others. Through the townspeople’s rush to celebrate and then capitalize on the rainbow only to ignore and mar its beauty as its presence becomes commonplace, Adamson provides adults and children an opportunity to discuss the nature of celebrity, respect, and individual rights. Readers will learn along with Ava that truly appreciating ephemeral experiences as they happen and knowing when to let go goes a long way towards enjoying a happy life.

As enthusiastic Ava and the adorable rainbow forge their unique friendship, readers will be captivated by Adamson’s whimsical art. Scenes of the town’s celebration will cheer kids and savvy observers will recognize the implications of images depicting the proliferation of souvenirs and accolades. Children will empathize with the rainbow as it becomes covered in ads and its height is used as a support for antennae and be happy as the rainbow realizes its true value and once again becomes a rare and precious thing.

An enchanting story in itself and a wonderful way to engage children in discussions of true value and happiness, Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) would make a terrific addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062670809

Discover more about Ged Adamson, his books, and his art on his website.

National Find a Rainbow Day Activity

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Mini Rainbow Magnet

 

If you’re stuck on rainbows, you can make this mini rainbow to stick on your fridge or locker!

Supplies

  • 7 mini popsicle sticks
  • Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, Indigo, violet (ROYGBIV)
  • Adhesive magnet
  • A little bit of polyfill
  • Paint brush
  • Glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Paint one popsicle stick in each color, let dry
  2. Glue the popsicle sticks together side by side in the ROYGBIV order, let dry
  3. Roll a bit of polyfill into a cloud shape and glue to the top of the row of popsicle sticks
  4. Attach the magnet to the back of the rainbow

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You can find Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

Picture Book Review

February 12 – Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who was born February 12, 1809. He was elected president in 1861, shortly before the beginning of the Civil War, and went on to become one of the most beloved presidents in the nation’s history. In 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in rebel states and led to the abolition of slavery across the country. Lincoln’s birthday is celebrated in various ways throughout the United States. Organizations and institutions dedicated to teaching and preserving Lincoln’s legacy often hold large-scale events. A wreath-laying ceremony and reading of the Gettysburg Address is traditionally held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Take some time today and on Presidents Day, which is observed on February 17 and commemorates the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, while remembering all those who have served as president.

I received a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln from Katherine Tegan Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with HarperCollins. 

Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

Written by Shari Swanson | Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

 

Young Abe Lincoln was deep in the forest when he heard the whistle that told him the corn he’d brought to the mill was ready. He knew he’d be late, but it was worth it to have saved a frog from the jaws of a snake. When Abe got back to the mill, John Hodgen, the miller, wondered what it had been this time that had kept Abe so long. “‘I just can’t move along fast like some boys, Mr. John, because I see so many little foolish things that make me stop. I can’t help it to save my life,“‘ Abe answered.

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

On his way home, he heard rustling in the bushes. At the bottom of a cliff, Abe found a dog with a broken leg. Although he “was only seven years old, Abe had spent his whole life on a Kentucky farm and knew how to tend to animals.” He cut a small branch to make a splint and peeled bark from a pawpaw bush to use as a bandage. He tied it all together with rawhide from his belt. It was already dark when Abe and the dog reached home.

Even though his mother knew he was prone to lateness, she’d been worried, but Abe told her about the “‘honey of a dog’” he’d found and begged her to let him keep it. “‘He’ll do lots of good things for me,’ he told her. ‘You just watch and see.’” Abe’s mother relented and soon Honey was on the mend. Even though, once healed, Honey’s foot was curved, he was able to keep up with Abe on his adventures.

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

On another day, after Abe had dropped off his grain at the mill, he grew tired of waiting and wandered into the woods, where they found the mouth of a cave. “Deep, twisting caverns traveled for hundreds of miles under Kentucky. A boy and his dog could get lost in caverns like these.” Abe and Honey made their way down into the rocky darkness. Abe was too busy looking around at the stalactites, bats, and other creatures who lurked in the shadows to notice the gap between two boulders. In a moment he was stuck tight. “Honey normally never left Abe, but this time he headed alone back into the darkening woods” to get help.

Meanwhile, everyone in town had gathered to look for Abe. Abe’s mother was at least relieved to know that Honey was with her son to protect him. As the search party began to look, Abe’s mother heard a noise in the bushes. Then she saw Honey dashing toward her. He barked and whined, but when he saw Mr. John, Honey “jumped up…and barked in his face.” Mr. John called for everyone to follow Honey.

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

Honey led them through the forest to the cave’s entrance. Mr. John blew on his whistle, and Abe answered. Mr. John crept in and found Abe. There was no room for him to swing a sledge hammer to break the rock, so he pulled him out “even though it meant leaving some of the boy’s hide behind.” Once outside, Abe’s mother rushed to hug him and Honey. Abe had been right about Honey doing great things. And for many more years, Honey and Abe enjoyed adventures together.

Back matter includes a timeline recounting Abraham Lincoln’s major life events as well as his adventures with animals throughout his life.

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2020, text copyright Shari Swanson, 2020. Courtesy of Kathrerine Tegen Books.

In her enchanting story, Shari Swanson introduces young readers to the boy who would grow up to be the 16th president of the United States. Children meet this beloved man as a peer, discovering that his kindness, self-deprecation, sense of humor, and big heart were always part of his personality and guided him throughout his life, during good times and times of turmoil. Abraham Lincoln’s voice drives Swanson’s storytelling, which is charming and uplifting and gives a feel for the community that raised a president. Children may be awed by the responsibility Abe took on as a mere seven-year-old but will also recognize and appreciate his knowledge, competence, and confidence. Abe’s relationship with Honey is heartwarming, demonstrating that love and loyalty are repaid in many ways.

Chuck Groenink’s digital illustrations shine with sun-dappled Kentucky forest scenes and raise the stakes with foreboding and atmospheric images of the darkened cavern. His double-page spreads give readers close-up views of the action in the story as well as places they may not be familiar with, such as the mill and the Lincoln family’s log cabin. Images of Abe setting Honey’s broken paw, sneaking table scraps to Honey, and rescuing a variety of animals will delight kids. Torchlit scenes of the nighttime search party and dramatic rescue will have readers on the edge of their seats but knowing that Honey is watching out for Abe, they will be as certain of the triumphant ending.

A charming and compelling story for teaching young children about Abraham Lincoln and the lessons his life exhibits, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln would be a first-rate addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062699008

Discover more about Shari Swanson and her books on her website. You’ll also find an educators’ curriculum guide and a child’s activity kit to download on her website. or here:

Educators’ Curriculum Guide | Activity Kit for Kids

To learn more about Chuck Groenink, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Activity

CPB - Abe Lincoln's Top Hat chalkboard (2)

Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat Chalkboard

 

Abraham Lincoln was known for the black top hat he wore – and for his inspiring words In this activity you can learn how to make a top hat chalkboard to use for your own drawings or inspiring words!

Supplies

  • Cereal Box (I used a large sized cereal box), cardboard or poster board
  • Chalkboard Paint (black)
  • Paint brush
  • Hot Glue Gun or extra-strength glue
  • Removable mounting squares
  • Chalk

Directions

  1. If you are using cardboard or poster board: cut a rectangle at least 8 inches wide by 12 inches long for the hat and 12 inches long by 2 inches wide for the brim (but your top hat can be any size you’d like!)
  2. If you are using a Cereal Box: open the seams of the Cereal Box
  3. Cut the panels of the cereal box apart
  4. Take one face panel and one side panel
  5. With the chalkboard paint, paint both panels
  6. Let the panels dry
  7. Attach the side panel to the bottom of the face panel to create the shape of Lincoln’s top hat
  8. Hang Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat Chalkboard 

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You can find Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review