July 28 – It’s Culinary Arts Month

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About the Holiday

The recipe—the step-by-step recitation of the ingredients and process for making any dish—is the heart of the culinary arts. Following along, improvising in just the right places, and inventing completely new tastes is its own special kind of literacy. Today we say goodbye to Culinary Arts Month, but hope that the joy of cooking delicious treats and reading fabulous books together remain common, fun activities with which to explore life and love—as shown with today’s book!

Cake Day

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Estelle Corke

 

An adorable little boy runs to his grandma, excited that it’s “Cake Day!” “That’s right,” his grandma agrees, “Today we’re going to bake a cake!” The boy, hardly able to see over the counter, wants to be picked up and see what’s in the cabinet. His grandma happily obliges, and the pair carefully pick the ingredients for their cake.

“‘Hmmm…we need flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar to make a cake,’ says Grandma.” With all the ingredients set on the table, the two start measuring. The little chef is eager and curious: “Cake Day! How much, Grandma? As the flour pours into the cup, a soft, powdery cloud envelops them. “Too much, Grandma!” the delighted boy laughs. The two work side by side, Grandma adding the eggs while her grandson pours in the milk.

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Image copyright Estelle Corke, courtesy of Star Bright Books

As the ingredients start to mesh, Grandma exclaims, “‘Look! What’s happening to the batter?’” The little boy wants to help it along and takes up the wooden spoon. Round and round he stirs, creating swirls in the yellow batter until it’s ready for the oven. “‘Bake day! Your turn, Grandma!” the boy stands wide-eyed as his grandma slides the deep pan into the oven.

The little boy and his dog settle in front of the oven to watch the cake bake. With eagerness the boy asks, “‘Cake day! Ready, Grandma?” Grandma encourages her grandson’s inquisitiveness and explains the process: “‘We have to wait until the cake rises. The heat makes it rise. When you hear the timer go BEEP BEEP it will be ready.’” At last the cake comes out of the oven, but it’s not ready to be decorated yet. First, they must wait for it to cool.

In a short time the high, golden cake can be iced and decorated. The little boy vigorously shakes a jar of sprinkles over the top, scattering a rainbow of colors across the white frosting. The cake is beautiful and just the right complement to the little boy’s Cake Day, Bake Day, Shake Day—Birthday!

Ellen Mayer’s language-rich and playful story of a small child and his grandmother baking together is a wonderful introduction not only to reading but to the type of full-sentence conversational modeling that improves and increases literacy. The steps to baking the birthday cake flow organically and lyrically through the loving relationship between the little boy and his grandma, enticing young readers to learn more about the world around them and how it works. The repeated phrases “Cake day! Bake day!,” and “Ready, Grandma?” as well as the boy’s short statements offer opportunities for kids to read along and learn new vocabulary as they develop important language skills.

Estelle Corke’s cheery illustrations glow with enthusiasm and the close bond between grandmother and grandson. The grandmother lifts, steadies, and holds the boy while still allowing him to perform all the tasks he can. The little boy, in his green apron, delights in every aspect of the baking process, his eagerness expressed in his animated smile and keen participation. The homey kitchen is awash in inviting colors and objects that children will recognize. The clearly drawn boxes and jars of ingredients, kitchen tools, and furnishings offer readers a chance to practice their vocabulary and learn new words.

Ages Birth – 5

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727466

To see more books by Ellen Mayer as well as language development and reading strategies for young children, visit her website!

Visit Estelle Corke’s website to view a gallery of her artwork!

Star Bright Books publishes fiction nonfiction, and bilingual “great books for great kids” and provides literacy resources for readers.

Culinary Arts Month Activity

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Image copyright Ellen Mayer

Grandma’s Cake

 

Grandma and her grandson baked a delicious, special cake—and now you can too! Here’s the full recipe that Grandma uses. Recipe courtesy of Ellen Mayer.

A Simple Sponge Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus a little to grease cake pan.
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • You will need: 3 mixing bowls:
  1. 1 to cream butter and sugar
  2. 1 to mix flour, baking powder and salt
  3. 1 in which to beat the eggs
  • A 7-inch diameter, deep cake pan

Directions

  1. Butter pan and dust with flour.
  2. Set the rack at the middle of the oven.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  5. In large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In the third bowl, beat the eggs and add milk.
  6. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to butter mixture then alternate with the egg and milk mixture. Continue to alternate ending with flour mixture. Scrape bowl and beater often.
  7. Add vanilla and mix well.
  8. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.
  9. Bake cake about 45 minutes. Insert knife or wooden skewer into the center. If it emerges clean, the cake is done. If not, bake for 5 more minutes.
  10. Remove cake from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes.
  11. Turn cake out onto a cake rack and leave to cool.

Grandma’s Favorite Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1⁄4 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Blend all ingredients together with a mixer until smooth
  2. Spread on the top and sides of cake
  3. Decorate with sprinkles or your favorite topping

Picture Book Review

July 3 – Compliment Your Mirror Day

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About the Holiday

Take a peek in the mirror and who do you see? That’s right—a fantastic person with inner and outer beauty! Today is dedicated to recognizing and appreciating that person in the mirror!

Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History

By Sarah Albee

 

Whether you’re a fashionista or an “any ol’ thing will do” kind of person, there’s no denying that clothes make a statement. Sarah Albee’s fascinating look at human wraps spans history from 10,000 BC to the modern era. Along the way she exposes both historical facts as well as the often repugnant, laughable, and can’t-look-away fashion fads and disasters that have brought us to “wear” we are today. 

In Chapter 1: That’s a Wrap, Albee reveals facts about the first needles and thread, silk production, the Mayan tradition of forced elongation of skulls (this was considered attractive, denoted social status, and was intimidating), the first pants, warrior wear, and much more.

Chapter 2: Keeping the Faith exposes the influence religion had on clothing in the Middle Ages. White or russet colored robes were worn by men traveling on pilgrimages while penitents could wear a hair shirt made of itchy, bristly horsehair as punishment. Medieval armor, Samurai dress, why modern men’s loafers are decorated with little holes, and more are also discussed here as is the job of Wool Fuller – in which the Fuller soaked wool in urine to degrease it and improve its texture.

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Image courtesy of National Geographic

Chapter 3: Going Global covers the Age of Exploration, which changed fashion as explorers from Europe came in contact with Native peoples in the New World. Red dye, rubber shoes, and the leather Moccasins were all adopted by Europeans. And if you think the search for remedies for wrinkles and other vestiges of older age is a modern pursuit, you’ll learn about Ponce de Leon and his quest for the fountain of youth.

Chapter 4: Ruff & Ready takes a look at the Renaissance. You may have seen fur stoles with the head of the animal still attached and wondered, Why? This fashion statement goes back to “Flea Furs” which were dead, stuffed animals that people draped over their shoulders in the belief that the fleas that were munching on their skin would transfer to the animal instead. Unfortunately, people discovered that fleas prefer warm bodies. Another curious fad was the ruff collar. While people may have thought they looked swell, these collars hindered physical movement and even led to the invention of the long-handled spoon because people could not get food to their mouths any other way. One “benefit” perhaps: when the first American settlers ran out of all other food options, they ate their collars, which were stiffened with wheat paste. And there’s so much more!

In Chapter 5: Lighten Up! readers will discover facts about the dour dress of the Puritans and the ostentatious dress of the French court. The tradition of men’s wigs is explained, and today’s face-painting has nothing on the unusual solution for facial blemishes—black velvet, leather, or silk patches in various shapes.

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Image courtesy of National Geographic

Revolutionary Times take center stage in Chapter 6: Hats (and Heads) Off. During this time clothes began to fit the task. There were clothing items to protect (walking canes became popular as a way to ward off marauding wild dogs), uniforms to highlight the good looks of running footmen, elaborate costumes for Venetian parties, and homespun clothes that became a sign of protest from the American colonists. And if you think “bumpits” and hair extensions are new, women trying to keep up with Marie-Antoinette wore their hair (real and artificial) “cemented upward over wire armatures into two-foot (0.6-m)-high coiffures that made the wearer stand 7 ½ feet tall!”

Chapters 7 through 9 bring readers into the modern age, taking them from a time when children were dressed as young adults and boys wore elaborate gowns until the age of 7 to the textile innovations of the Industrial Revolution and the popularity of bustles that put fanny packs to shame to the fads of the 1960s and today.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-why'd-they-wear-that

Image courtesy of National Geographic

Albee’s Why’d They Wear That? is much more than a book about fashion. It’s a humorous, fabulously entertaining way to learn about so many aspects of history, from social revolution to inventions to cultural differences. Enlightening side bars, especially the fascinating “Tough Job” entries, and full-color illustrations, paintings, and photographs depicting every concept make Why’d They Wear That? an essential book for school libraries as well as for home bookshelves. Readers of all ages will want to dip into it again and again…and will “Oh!” “Ah!” and “Ewww!” over every page.

Ages 7 and up (children on the younger end of the range will enjoy the facts and pictures during a read-along session) 

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1426319198

Learn more about Sarah Albee and her books on her website!

Watch the trailer for Why’d They Wear That? Fashion never looked so…good? unsettling? hilarious? You decide!

Compliment Your Mirror Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mirror-word-search

Mirror, Mirror, What Shall I Wear?

 

In this magic mirror word search are 20 fashion-related terms from history. Find them all! Here’s the printable Mirror, Mirror, What Shall I Wear puzzle and the Solution.

June 20 – American Eagle Day

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About the Holiday

The first American Eagle Day was proclaimed by President Bill Clinton and Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist in 1995 to commemorate and bring awareness to this most enduring American symbol. Chosen as the United States’ National Emblem by our Founding Fathers on June 20, 1782, the Bald Eagle represents the best of America: freedom, courage, strength, spirit, and excellence. Once threatened with extinction—only 400 nesting pairs existed in the early 1960s—the American Eagle has made a comeback, with 15,000 nesting pairs living in the lower 48 states. Besides celebrating what the American Eagle symbolizes, today’s holiday is used to raise awareness of conservation efforts for this most majestic bird.

Is a Bald Eagle Really Bald?

Written by Martha E. H. Rustad  | Illustrated by Holli Conger

 

“Our class is having a visitor today,” Ms. Patel tells her class. “Guess who it is,” she urges after giving the kids a hint that the visitor eats fish. Anabelle thinks it might be her dad, but Ms. Patel adds that the visitor has a sharp beak and feathers. Joshua guesses that it’s a duck. The kids are getting closer, and with one more hint—Ms. Patel holds up a one-dollar bill—Rose correctly shouts, “‘a bald eagle!’”

Natalie wants to know why there’s a bald eagle on the dollar, and Ms. Patel tells her that the eagle is a symbol of our country. When John asks what a symbol is, she compares the eagle to the school’s bear mascot and goes on to say that the eagle can also be found on the Great Seal. Luke is momentarily excited about the prospect of a seal also visiting the class, but Ms. Patel shows the class that the Great Seal is actually an image. This image demonstrates that something is officially American and appears on stamps, government buildings, important papers, and even the buttons on military uniforms.

The class takes a closer look at the Great Seal, with its eagle in the center. In one foot the eagle is holding a plant, says Karen. Right, Ms. Patel says. “‘It’s an olive branch. It stands for peace.’” Noah notices that in the other foot the eagle carries arrows. The arrows represent strength, Ms. Patel explains. The banner in the eagle’s beak reads E. Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “one from many” and describes how the single country of America is made of many states. The thirteen stars above the eagle’s head reminds us of the 13 original colonies and states.

Dr. Kelly from the raptor center soon arrives with a bald eagle named Sam. Dr. Kelly puts on a protective glove and carefully takes Sam out of his carrier. Sam is huge! Kyra exclaims, and Jackson wants to know why he’s called “bald.” Dr. Kelly explains that the word bald actually comes from piebald, which means “‘having white marks.’” The class learns many facts about bald eagles, including that they have keen eyesight, can see their prey from high overhead, and can swallow a meal in mid-air.

Then the class talks about how the bald eagle became America’s mascot. Lily raises her hand and suggests it’s because eagles fly free and Americans are free. “‘Good answer,’” Ms. Patel says. She adds that bald eagles are native to North America, and shows the class a map of their summer and winter habitats.

All too soon class is over and it’s time for lunch. “Fish is on today’s menu,” Ms. Patel tells the kids, and they feel just like bald eagles. The children say “thank you” and “goodbye” to Dr. Kelly and Sam, and after lunch they draw their own mascots. You can do that too with the activity at the back of the book!

Scattered throughout the pages, sidebars expand on the facts delivered in the story. Readers learn that the Great Seal has been used since 1782, what raptors and raptor centers are, the weight and wingspan of an adult bald eagle, incredible statistics on eagle’s nests, and about conservation efforts to protect bald eagles.

A Draw-Your-Own Mascot activity follows the text along with a glossary and resources for further study, including free downloadable educational resources.

In her Our American Symbols books Martha E. H. Rustad does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of America’s emblems to children. Through classroom discussions between a teacher and her students, Is a Bald Eagle Really Bald? answers readers’ questions about how and why the bald eagle became a United States symbol. The natural give-and-take will resonated with kids, and Rustad’s clear and kid-friendly definitions of concepts will make an impact. The inclusion of a representative from a raptor center will also feel familiar to children experienced with these types of classroom visitors as well as similar field trips. Sidebars provide more scientific and historical facts.

Holli Conger’s bright, bold illustrations distinctly depict the concepts in the text through large, colorful, and easily understood images. A bulletin board holds pictures of a bald eagle and the American flag, while the teacher holds up a school mascot t-shirt to help relay the idea of a symbol; the Great Seal is shown with well-defined details as the teacher uses a pointer to indicate its various parts; and pages portraying the visit by the raptor center representative give kids a good idea of the size and grandeur of the bald eagle. The children portrayed in the classroom are enthusiastic and welcoming, and readers will feel right at home in their midst.

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-1467744669

American Eagle Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-american-eagle-coloring-page

American Eagle and Flag Coloring Page

 

The majestic American Bald Eagle is a perfect symbol to represent the courage, freedom, and spirit of the USA. Here’s a printable American Eagle and Flag Coloring Page for you to enjoy!

May 30 – Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to commemorate the laying of wreaths and flowers on soldiers’ gravesites, was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. In 1971 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The day is honored with parades and special commemorative events. At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh | Illustrated by Layne Johnson

 

In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson declared that America was going to war in Europe. As a teacher and foster mother to girls at the University of Georgia’s Normal School, Moina Belle Michael wanted to do something to honor the boys going off to fight—boys who were the brothers, sweethearts, even fathers of her students. Moina did what the other women were doing to help—knitting socks and sweaters and rolling bandages—but she wanted to do more. She went to the soldiers’ camps nearby to deliver books, magazines, and candy, and she waved goodbye to them at the train station. But she still wanted to do more.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina wanted to go overseas to help the young men with the Y.M.C.A, but after she finished her training at New York’s Columbia University, she was told she was too old to go. She then set up a desk in the basement of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus where she assisted soldiers before they deployed, but the room was dark and dreary. Moina wanted them to have a more cheerful meeting place.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady-poppy-camp

Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina brightened the room with fresh flowers she bought with her small salary. More soldiers came to spend time with her, to share their pictures, letters, and hometown news. But Moina wanted to do even more. One day she rediscovered a poem she had read many times. Titled We Shall Not Sleep, it was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and was a tribute to soldiers who had died on the battlefields of Flanders. The poem was illustrated with a field of nameless crosses and bright red poppies. The last verse of the poem urged others to take up the torch of the noble fight. Suddenly, Moina knew what she had to do.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady-war

Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

She wrote a poem of her own, giving poppies a special meaning: “And now the Torch and Poppy red / We wear in honor of our dead. / Fear not that ye have died for naught; / We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought / In Flanders Field.” Moina shared her poem with soldiers at the Y. Many wanted to wear red poppies on their uniforms to honor their fallen friends. With a ten dollar donation, Moina went shopping to find artificial red poppies that she and the soldiers could wear.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady-poppy-on-coat

Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

But finding these flowers was difficult. She finally found one large poppy and 24 smaller ones. She pinned the large one to her coat and with the others wrapped, hurried back to the Y. There she gave the small flowers to some of the men and women leaving for the war in France. But there were so few flowers to share. Moina wanted every American to wear a poppy to remember the soldiers. Always.

The epilogue goes on to reveal that two days after Moina bought those 24 poppies, World War I ended.  While everyone was happy to see the soldiers coming home, people wanted to move on, to forget the horrors of the war. But for veterans it wasn’t easy. Jobs were scarce, some veterans were disabled or suffered lingering effects of war.

Moina wanted to help. She wondered if the poppy could benefit returning veterans. After much work she convinced local and international veterans’ groups to adopt the poppy as their memorial flower. People began donating to veterans’ causes, and in return they received a red poppy. Millions of dollars were raised to help the soldiers. Even today, Moina’s red poppies benefit veterans and remind us of their sacrifices and service.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady-moina

Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Through her detailed telling of how Moina Belle Michael discovered her life’s work, Barbara Elizabeth Walsh provides a realistic view of the World War I era and the desire of most citizens to do something to help the soldiers fighting the war. The sense of suspense, comaraderie, fear, and disappointment that fueled Moina Michael’s heart and actions are beautifully and straightforwardly presented and give children true knowledge of this time period.

Accompanying the text to maximum effect are Layne Johnson’s inspiring, realistic paintings of the scars of war on both the landscape and the human heart. In close-up portraits, Johnson captures the emotions of the women learning that their brothers, boyfriends, and fathers will be joining the war effort as well as scenes of soldiers training, deploying, and returning to tell their stories. Turning the pages is like stepping onto the university campus, visiting the basement gathering space, and walking the city streets. Especially evocative are the two battle scenes and the view of the Flanders Fields with their endless carpet of poppies and straight rows of white cross markers.

For anyone wanting to teach or learn about the origins and meaning of Memorial Day and the significance of the red poppy, The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans is a must read.

Ages 7 – 12 and up

Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590787540

Memorial Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memorial-day-word-scramble

Memorial Day Word Scramble

 

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

Picture Book Review

April 22 – Earth Day

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About the Holiday

In 1970 the first Earth Day was celebrated to bring awareness to environmental issues and begin a dialogue about how governments, corporations, communities, and individuals could create change that would benefit the Earth and all her inhabitants. Forty-six years later, we are working toward solutions to problems like pollution, climate change, renewable energy, and more. Today look around your home, office, school, or community and see how you can better support our Mother Earth.

Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future

By Allan Drummond

 

On May 4, 2007 a devastating tornado hits Greensburg, Kansas, destroying the town in 9 minutes. When the residents of the town climb from their shelters, they emerge into a world completely changed. There are no more homes, no school, no hospital, no grocery store or other shops. No banks, theater, churches, or water tower. Even the trees have been shredded. Only three buildings remain.

The citizens are urged to move away. Rebuilding will be impossible, some say, and what’s the point anyway when the wind could destroy it all again? But others see opportunity to construct a different kind of town. With the help of volunteers and donations from around the world, Greensburg begins the Herculean task of designing and building a new town.

After clearing away 388,000 tons of debris and moving into a community of trailer homes, the people begin to envision a unique, green town. Individuals design sustainable houses of different shapes and materials to work with the environment. Businesses, too, incorporate sustainability into their offices, retail centers, and hotels as do the hospital and the water tower. A wind farm large enough to provide energy for the entire town is built on the edge of this innovative city.

A new school is central to the town’s survival, and for three years the teachers hold class in small trailers. Along with their regular studies, the kids become experts in environmental science. After several years Greenburg is now thriving—a testament to conservation and sustainability that is an example for global communities now and in the future.

Allan Drummond tells this fascinating story of a community that would not give up in an honest and sensitive way that highlights the courage and pride of a town amid devastating loss. Told from a child’s point of view, the story has extra impact for readers who are growing up amid an era of environmental awareness and activism. The sustainable construction of homes and other buildings is effectively explained and clearly depicted in Drummond’s colorful illustrations.

The images also demonstrate the process of negotiation and cooperation among townspeople that went into designing and building a new Greensburg. The final two-page spread of the town’s layout will interest kids as well as adults who have followed this story in the news.

Ages 5 – 9

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016 | ISBN 978-0374379995

Earth Day Activity

celebrate-picture-book-review-caterpillar-planter-craft

Hatch a Caterpillar Planter

 

As spring days grow warmer, it’s fun to start growing your own garden. Propagating plants from seed on a windowsill or sun room gives you an up-close view as the seeds develop roots, sprout, and flourish!

Supplies

  • Egg carton made from recycled paper
  • Seeds for your favorite veggies or flowers
  • Potting soil
  • Spoon or small shovel
  • Craft paint or markers in the colors you’d like for your caterpillar
  • Pipe cleaners or wire
  • Googly eyes
  • Marker

Directions

  1. Carefully cut the egg carton into two rows lengthwise, you may need to trim the cardboard between cups
  2. If the cups have low openings on one side, place the second row of cups inside the first facing the opposite way.
  3. Paint or color the carton, let dry
  4. Push pipe cleaners or wire through the edge of the egg carton on one end to form antennae (I used wrapped wire and painted it)
  5. Attach googly eyes and draw a smile on the front of the carton
  6. Fill cups with soil
  7. Plant seeds according to package directions
  8. Place caterpillar planter in a sunny spot

Picture Book Review

April 16 – Record Store Day

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield picture book review

About the Holiday

Vinyl has made a resurgence—and why not?! Records have so much to offer music lovers, from the awesome album art to extras like posters, lyrics, photos and more. Those special packages are all about the relationship between the artists and their fans. All over the world Record Store Day celebrates this art form and the shops—both large and small—where you can find albums by your favorite musicians. Entering a record store is an adventure in itself. Flipping through the bins you might discover a new artist, an old album you don’t have, or an intriguing concept you just have to experience for yourself. Today, visit a record store near you and see how what once seemed old is new again!

The Bear and the Piano

By David Litchfield

 

One day a bear cub happens upon a piano in a clearing in the middle of the forest. Wondering what it could be, he approaches and lays his paw on the keys. The strange thing goes PLONK!—such an awful sound. The bear cub leaves, but is drawn back again and again for days, months, and years. Over time the bear grows up and learns to play the piano. The music is beautiful and transports him to strange and wonderful places.

Other bears soon gather in the clearing to hear the “magical melodies” the bear plays. The bear is happy entertaining his friends. One night a girl and her father hiking in the forest come to the clearing. They listen and then tell the bear what his strange instrument is. They invite him to move to the city with them, where he will be able to play grand pianos for hundreds of people. The music he will play and hear “will make your fur stand on end,” they tell him.

The bear is conflicted. One on paw he knows that leaving the forest will make the other bears sad; on the other he longs to explore the world, to play the piano better, and master more intricate music. He decides to go with the girl and her father.

In the city the bear is a sensation! He quickly becomes a celebrity with his name on marquees and playing to sold-out crowds. The bear records albums that go platinum, he appears on the covers of magazines, and wins awards. His experience is everything he could ever wish for. But deep in his heart there is another longing. He misses the forest and his friends there.

He decides to leave the city and rows a boat across the expanse of water to his old home. Excitedly he runs to the clearing, but when he arrives everything has changed. His piano is gone and there are no friends to greet him. The bear worries that everyone is angry at him for leaving, or worse—that they have forgotten him.

Suddenly an old friend peeks around the trunk of a tree. The bear hails him with a hearty “Hello!”, but the other bear remains silent then turns and runs into the trees. The bear follows plunging deeper and deeper into the forest. Suddenly he stops. In front of him is a sight that makes his fur stand on end.

There, protected in the shade of a tree and surrounded by the albums, magazines, t-shirts, and other mementos of the bear’s success sits the old piano. The bear’s friends have not forgotten him and they are not angry. They are proud and welcoming. The bear tells them all about his adventures, and then he sits down to play again—for the most important audience of all.

David Litchfield’s very original and moving story is such a wonderfully conceived microcosm of the changes life brings. Stumbling upon a talent, cause, or inspiration; opening up to other influences; and acting on hard decisions are all part of growing up. These concepts are honestly and sensitively presented, and the reassuring ending brings comfort as well as a tear to the eye.

Litchfield’s touching illustrations—rendered in gorgeous hues of browns, greens, yellows, and blues—brim with yearning and mystery. The piano sits in a misty glow, silent and draped with vines, when the cub discovers it. While the bear grows and learns to play, the air clears and the colors become brighter. As the bear moves to the city, the pages glint and swirl with his enormous achievements. But as the bear sits on a rooftop one night looking out toward his old home, the lights around him are the elements of normal life—lamps, stars, the moon glimmering on the water. His nostalgia to be home will resonate with both kids and adults. The Bear and the Piano makes a wonderful gift for any age—especially as a graduation or new-job gift—and is a must-have for anyone’s personal library.

Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544674547

Record Store Day Activity

CPB - Record Bulletin Board

Make a Record Chalkboard Bulletin Board

 

Would you love to make a record some day? Why wait? In this fun craft you can create your own record bulletin board—and even create your own label art! While this record may not spin on turntables around the world, it will drop in a more important place—your very own room!

Supplies

  • Printable Record Label for you to design
  • Foam board, or a corkboard at least 12-inches x 12-inches square
  • Adhesive cork
  • A 12-inch round plate, record, or other round object to trace OR a compass
  • Chalkboard paint, black
  • X-acto knife
  • Paint brush or foam paint brush
  • Mounting squares

Directions

  1. Cut a section from the adhesive cork a little larger than 12 inches by 12 inches
  2. Affix the cork to the foam board
  3. Trace the 12-inch round object onto the cork/foam board OR use the compass to make a 12-inch circle
  4. With the x-acto knife, carefully cut out the circle (adult help needed for children)
  5. Cut out a ¼ -inch circle in the center of the record bulletin board
  6. Paint the cork, sides and inside the spindle hole with the black chalkboard paint. Let dry
  7. Print the label template and design your own record label
  8. When the paint is dry, glue your label to the center of the bulletin board
  9. Hang your bulletin board with the mounting squares
  10. Decorate!

April 3 – National Find a Rainbow Day

Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

It’s not often someone wishes you a rainy day. Today, though, I’m doing just that because you can’t see a rainbow without a little of the wet stuff. This early spring month was chosen for this special day because, as we all know, April showers bring May flowers. Those same April showers lead to beautiful rainbows—even double rainbows sometimes! So, I hope you have a bad (weather) day and good luck finding a rainbow today! By the way—what do May flowers bring? Right! Pilgrims!

Rainbow Stew

By Cathryn Falwell

 

Grandpa’s making pancakes for his three favorite kids, and his granddaughter and two grandsons are excited to be visiting where they can play outside all day. Through the window the kids see that it’s a rainy day. Does this mean they’ll have to stay inside? Their grandpa knows just what to do! “Let’s go and find some colors for my famous Rainbow Stew!” he says.

Out to the garden they run in their raincoats and hats. They collect green spinach, kale, and zucchini; yellow peppers, purple cabbage and eggplant, red radishes and tomatoes; brown potatoes; and orange carrots. After some muddy fun between the garden rows, the kids go inside, get dried off, and begin to cook.

They peel and chop the vegetables, fill a pot with water, add herbs and the good things that they’ve picked then settle in to wait. While the pot simmers on the stove, the family snuggles on the couch with favorite books. Just in time for lunch, the delicious stew is ready.

Cathryn Falwell’s Rainbow Stew is a wonderful book to share with young children on many levels. The bright colors of Grandpa’s house mirror the vividness of the garden vegetables in his stew, which could be made into a matching game for extra fun. The rhyming verses—each begun with an energetic couplet that would be fun for kids to repeat or act out—draw listeners into the story. Introducing colors through familiar and delicious vegetables can get kids excited about gardening, cooking, even going to the grocery store.

Children will identify with the disappointment of the three siblings when they learn it’s too wet to spend the day outside as well as their glee at squishing in the mud. The close bond between the kids and their grandfather as they cook and read together is a strong anchor for this story.

A recipe for Rainbow Stew follows the story. Combined with the craft below, the book and recipe could make for a fun rainy-day get-together!

Ages 4 – 7

Lee & Low Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-1600608476

National Find a Rainbow Day Activity

CPB - Rainbow Crayon Art 3

Crayon Rainbow Art

 

With this cool project you can create an art piece that’s as colorful as a rainbow and as unique as you are! Adult help is needed for children.

Supplies

  • Box of 24 crayons
  • White foam board or thick poster board, 8 inches by 17 inches
  • A small piece of corrugated cardboard, about 5 inches by 5 inches (a piece of the foam board can also be used for this step)
  • A small piece of poster board, about 5 inches by 5 inches
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife (optional)
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hair dryer
  • Old sheets or towels, newspapers, a large box, or a trifold display board

CPB - Rainbow Crayon Art 2

CPB - Rainbow Crayon Art 1 (2)

Directions

  1. Remove the various red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, and violet hued crayons from the box of crayons
  2. Strip the paper from the crayons by slicing the paper with the x-acto knife, or removing it by hand
  3. Line them up in order at the top of the white foam board
  4. Glue the crayons with their tips facing down to the board with the hot glue gun
  5. Cut an umbrella or other shape of your choice from the poster board
  6. Trace the umbrella or other shape onto the corrugated cardboard or a piece of the foam board and cut out
  7. Glue the poster board shape onto the corrugated cardboard, let dry
  8. Glue the umbrella or other shape to the foam board, about 4 ½ inches below the crayons
  9. Set up a space to melt the crayons. The wax will fly, so protect the floor and walls by placing the art piece in a large box or hanging newspapers, old sheets or towels on the walls and placing newspapers on the floor. A trifold display board and newspapers works well.
  10. Stand the art piece upright with the crayons at the top
  11. With the hot setting of the hair dryer, blow air at the crayons until they start to melt
  12. Move the hair dryer gently back and forth across the line of crayons from a distance of about 6 to 12 inches away. The closer you are to the crayons, the more they will splatter
  13. The crayons will begin to melt and drip downward
  14. You can experiment with aiming the hair dryer straight on or at an angle to mix colors
  15. Wax that drips onto the umbrella or other shape can be chipped off after it dries or wiped off to create a “watercolor” effect on the shape
  16. Once the hair dryer is turned off, the wax cools and dries quickly
  17. Hang or display your art!