July 27 – Celebrating National Culinary Arts Month with Cathy Ballou Mealey

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Cathy Ballou Mealey has never worked in a pickle factory but she has been a crossing guard, pet sitter and professional gift wrapper, among many other jobs. When she is not writing or reading, she volunteers for schools and organizations that support children with autism spectrum disorders. Her favorite type pickle is the crispy and tangy bread-and-butter kind. She lives with her husband, son and daughter north of Boston, Massachusetts, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics, and is patiently waiting for a sloth to appear. Cathy is also the author of When a Tree Grows (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019).

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi, Cathy! Thanks for dropping by to celebrate National Culinary Arts Month with me! Since Sloth and Squirrel made it big with their culinary talents after a comical turn as pickle packers, I bet it’s one of their favorite holidays too! Which got me wondering: has a previous job ever influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

You have probably watched at least part of this famous scene from I Love Lucy entitled “Job Switching” in which Lucy and her friend Ethel work on the chocolate conveyor belt at Kramer’s Kandy Kitchen.

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In both of my picture books, I’ve tried to pay homage to this classic, slapstick food factory funniness.

Squirrel, starring in When a Tree Grows, gets a job at Nifty Nuts as a quality control inspector. Sounds perfect until he consumes too much product and is fired!

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Sloth and Squirrel work at the pickle packing plant in Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle to earn money for a bicycle. These friends also discover that a job that seems easy may not be simple in reality.

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Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Was I too fired from food service? Yes, indeed. Working in a narrow service window next to my boss, I was repeatedly scolded for bumping her arm as we scooped entrees onto cafeteria trays. I was demoted to dishwasher where being left-handed didn’t matter, but at least I was free from the hairnet and plastic gloves!

Who knew cafeterias were so fraught with danger?! At least readers reap the very funny benefits of the inspiration this job provided! 

Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kelly Collier

 

A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two lovable, but unlikely, friends. Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things—and different speeds of doing them. So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don’t go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightening squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome and, before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory’s door, along with the 677 and ½  jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think—until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan!

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Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Cathy Ballou Mealey’s tongue-twistingly funny story of odd-couple friends working to buy a bike will keep kids giggling from start to finish. Her creative story based on the literal and figurative definition of “pickle” seamlessly blends unique characters and events while hilariously incorporating the traits of squirrels, sloths, and even pickles to ramp up the suspense and humor. Plenty of clever alliteration as well as Squirrel’s rapid-fire dialogue make this a read aloud kids are going to want to hear again and again. Woven throughout Mealey’s story are messages of friendship, ingenuity, perseverance, creative-thinking, and industriousness.

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Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

In her pickle brine-hued illustrations Kelly Collier accentuates the humor of the story with comical visual elements that begin on the first page, where a bear and a bunny, near doppelgangers for Sloth and Squirrel go whizzing by on their bike. Once inside the pickle factory, kids will love pointing out all of the pickle-inspired décor, from the wallpaper to Mr. Peacock’s university degree to his old-style telephone. Collier’s slapstick images will have kids laughing out loud, and her illustrations of Sloth engaging in sloth-like behavior while attaching labels hints at the upcoming and pitch-perfect plot twist without giving it away. Pickle puns and a pack of pleased customers celebrate Sloth and Squirrel’s new venture and a little turtle’s dare leads to a surprising finish.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1525302381

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

You can connect with Kelly Collier on her website | Instagram | Twitter.

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For another hilarious picture book by Cathy Ballou Mealey with plenty of nuts, nuttiness, and suspense plus a group of forest friends, you’ll want to check out When a Tree Grows (illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska and published by Sterling Children’s Books). You can read my review of When a Tree Grows and another interview with Cathy here.

You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

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You can find Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 26 – Celebrating All or Nothing Day with Jane Kurtz

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Jane Kurtz is an award-winning children’s book author, speaker, educator. She is also on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Children’s and YA Literature. She is a co-founder of the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads, an organization that brings books and literacy to the children in Ethiopia, where Jane grew up. She also heads the creative team of Ready Set Go Books, a project of Open Hearts Big Dreams to create fun, colorful, local language books for people in Ethiopia. She is the author of many books for children, including River Friendly River Wild, winner of the SCBWI Golden Kite award for picture book text, and What Do They Do With All That Poo?, a finalist to the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Excellence in Science Books list; it has also been named to several state reading lists, voted on by children.

You can connect with Jane Kurtz on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Jane! I’m so glad you could join me to celebrate All or Nothing Day, which encourages people to seize the day—whatever comes—and make the best of it, even if that means overcome fears or obstacles to accomplish something they’ve always wanted to do. The stars of  your latest book, Chickens on the Loose, certainly embrace this philosophy and stop at nothing to enjoy a bit of freedom!

I love your and John Joseph’s book not only because it’s funny and action-packed but because my family had our own “chickens on the loose” experience last year when two chickens mysterious ly showed up in our yard—right outside our cat’s favorite window. Needless to say, he was delighted with all the activity. They hung around for a bit and then wandered away. We’re not entirely sure how they got to our yard or where they came from, but they’ve never been back. It definitely made for a fun memory!

Since you’ve published more than forty books for children in a variety of genres – including many award winners – I’m sure readers would like to know how you get the ideas for your books. How do you know when an idea “will stick?”

 When I was a young writer, I only remember hearing that books come from a writer’s imagination. I still think that a writer has to have a way of imagining scenes in vivid detail, but often the ideas that first spark a book (or a scene) come from staying curious and paying attention to life as it happens right around me. With my new picture book, Chickens On The Loose, for example, the idea sparks came from my neighbor’s chickens running around my backyard in Portland, Oregon—and from the many notices I was reading on my “Next Door” neighbor site pleading for help with escaped chickens. My mind drifted to where the chickens would go in my urban neighborhood. It’s hard for me to craft a draft from a mere spark of an idea, though. One thing that makes an idea stick is when it comes paired with a lively voice. “Chickens on the loose. Chickens on the lam, zipping from the yard as quickly as they can.” Where did those words come from?

I suppose they came from my imagination.

Later, when I was working with an editor to refine the story arc, I was having trouble imagining what plot move would allow the chickens to shake off the people who were following and slowly make their own way back home. I was walking in my neighborhood park when I saw a dog walker with too many dogs on too many leashes and a desperate look on her face that said the situation might be out of control any minute. Suddenly, in my mind, I saw the chickens and crowd running around a corner, tangling with all those leashes…humans landing “splat” with chickens flapping onward.

Just like a cook experiments, tries something, adds, tastes, steps back, considers…I sometimes instantly and sometimes slowly know that I’ve come up with a sticky idea for a book or a scene depending on the sensation it leaves in my reader’s mind. The whole thing takes curiosity, patience, and anything that keeps discouragement at bay.

Thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us! I hope you’re having a wonderful—and idea-filled—summer!

Now let’s take a look at:

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Chickens on the Loose

By Jane Kurtz | Illustrated by John Joseph

 

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

Oh no! The backyard gate is open and there are “chickens breaking loose. / Chickens on the lam. / Zipping from the yard, / as quickly as they can.” It’s a wild chicken chase, with humans trailing behind, trying and failing to stop the loose chickens. The chickens zoom and do not stop; they peek in windows, take items from shops. They do some yoga at a local studio, before grabbing some snacks at an outdoor food court fest. What a crazy, hilarious, chicken-filled mess!

An ever-growing crowd of people race behind, trying to stop them in their tracks. Throughout the story, each new member of the crowd yells, “STOP!” but the chickens pay no heed. When the chickens reach the local pet store, “‘STOP!’ shouts everybody. But the chickens will not stop. / ‘No way!” they say, “We will not stay.” It sounds like BOC BOC BOC.” What will bring these chickens home? Find out in the madcap ending that will have kids wanting the hear the story all over again.

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Image copyright John Joseph, 2021, text copyright Jane Kurtz, 2021. Courtesy of West Margin Press.

Author Jane Kurtz wows again with another read-out-loud tale perfect for youngsters. Her infectious rhymes and zippy rhythm propel the story with wit as quick as those runaway chickens. Kurtz’s vivacious vocabulary adds to the fun, and her repeated phrasing will have kids vocally joining the chase. 

John Joseph’s colorful, comedic drawings feature a diverse cast of city residents of different races, religions, ethnicities, and abilities. The girl whose chickens got loose in the first place leads the crowd down the streets from page to page. Joseph illustrates the neighborhood with colorful storefronts, homes, bustling crowds, and the silliest of chickens. The exaggerated body language and expressiveness of the humans and chickens tell a story in themselves, adding a great deal of humor to the story. 

Ages 4 – 8

West Margin Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1513267241

For classroom resources, a peek inside the book, and a fun video, check out this page on Jane Kurtz’s website!

For more fantastic reading, check out these picture books and middle grade reads by Jane Kurtz too!

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You can find Chickens on the Loose at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 16 – It’s National Blueberry Month

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About the Holiday

Farmers’ Markets are bursting with fresh produce during the summer months, and that is especially true for blueberries, those little round morsels of sweetness. The United States Department of Agriculture recognized July as National Blueberry Month in 2003, and it’s been delicious eating ever since! Blueberries are the perfect accompaniment to muffins, pancakes, bread, fruit salads, and of course they’re delectable just on their own! So visit a farmers’ market today and pick up a peck.

Blueberry Cake

By Sarah Dillard

 

A little bear comes into the kitchen and tugs at his mother’s apron strings. When she turns her head, her cub asks shyly, “Blueberry cake?” Mama looks thoughtfully at her little one and sends him outside with a bucket. The cub dashes through the back yard and into the forest. Playfully, he wears the bucket like a hat and then does cartwheels until he comes to the edge of the woods. Peeking through the trees, the cub exclaims, “Oh!”

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Copyright Sarah Dillard, 2021, courtesy of Aladdin.

What meets his eye is a wide-open field, a sea of blueberries. The little one sits down in the middle of a patch of delicious berries and begins filling the bucket with a concentrated, “Blueberries.” But it’s just so hard not to take a taste. Maybe just a handful. “Blueberries!” he exclaims. Then something else catches the little bear’s attention. It’s a butterfly – a monarch wanting to play chase. The cub runs after the butterfly, swinging the bucket and spilling the blueberries little by little along the way.

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Copyright Sarah Dillard, 2021, courtesy of Aladdin.

The game brings the cub to another field – this one dotted with black-eyed Susans and queen Anne’s lace. They’re so pretty that the cub can’t help but pick some. Into the bucket they go. At home, the little bear holds the bucket out for Mama and asks, “Blueberry cake?” Mama looks at the offering and asks, “Blueberries?” The cub offers the flowers, but Mama still wonders where the blueberries are. The little bear inspects the bucket and quietly says, “No blueberries.” Mama crosses her arms and delivers the bad news: “No blueberry cake.”

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Copyright Sarah Dillard, 2021, courtesy of Aladdin.

That night in bed, the cub dreams of what might have been and just as the sun begins rising over the horizon, he’s ready to try again. The cub dashes back to the blueberry field and fills the bucket until it’s brimming with delicious berries. The sun is still dawning when he gets home and puts the bucket on the kitchen counter and returns to his room. When Mama gets up, she’s surprised to find the blueberries. When the little bear comes downstairs again, he skips into the kitchen, his eyes alight, and he exclaims, “Blueberry cake!” The flowers, arranged in the bucket, decorate the middle of the table, and Mama lays out a placemat and plate for her little cub. He eagerly watches his mama cut a slice of cake and serve it. He gazes at the cake, and has just one thing to say: “Applesauce?”

A recipe for blueberry cake that’s easy enough for “little cubs and other small people” to make with some help “from a mama or papa bear” follows the story.

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Copyright Sarah Dillard, 2021, courtesy of Aladdin.

With just six words, a darling cub, and a loving mother, Sarah Dillard creates a story that will charm kids. Dillard’s sunny illustrations are infused with poignant moments of childhood that are fanciful, disappointing, surprising, humorous, and always full of love. An expressive reading of the simple dialogue brings out all the feeling of the gentle ups and downs of the story and can also serve as a lesson in recognizing emotions for young readers. Kids will also have a blast joining in and reading along.

Ages 3 – 8

Aladdin, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534451346

Discover more about Sarah Dillard, her books, and her art on her website.

National Blueberry Month Activity

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A Bounty of Blueberries Maze

 

Can you help pick blueberries to make some delicious treats in this printable puzzle?

A Bounty of Blueberries Maze | A Bounty of Blueberries Maze Solution

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You can find Blueberry Cake at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 15 – It’s National Shark Week

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About the Holiday

It’s Shark Week – one of the most anticipated holiday’s of the year! Kids and adults are fascinated by these denizens of the deep, and especially the Great White, which sports fearsome teeth and intimidates with their imposing size. But there are many more sharks in the sea – about 500 species! – and they are an important part of the world’s ecosystem. If Shark Week is your favorite week of the summer, you’re no doubt enjoying a full schedule of shark-related shows on the Discovery Channel. To learn more information about sharks, including statistics from this year’s coastal shark survey, a chance to cast your vote for “freakiest shark,” a line-up of top videos, and more, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shark Week page. To celebrate sharks and the wonders of the ocean every day, you’ll want to put today’s book at the top of your reading list.

Thanks to Joan Holub for sharing a copy of I Am the Shark with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Joan in a giveaway package that kids will love. See details below.

I Am the Shark

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Laurie Keller

 

Great White Shark is excited to introduce himself, especially since he is “the GREATEST SHARK in this book.” But a voice contradicts Great White. Who begs to differ? It’s Whale Shark, and she loses no time in demonstrating why she is “the greatest shark in this book” due to her enormous size, which can’t be matched anywhere in the undersea world. And if that weren’t enough, she adds this bite: “Compared to me, you are small.”

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

But Great White takes it in stride. If he isn’t the greatest shark, that’s okay because being the smallest has some pretty great perks too. So he’s in the middle of a “smallest shark” victory dance when a voice calls out, “No, you’re not.” It seems there’s a much smaller shark in the sea—Dwarf Lantern Shark, who, besides being the tiniest shark has a rather enlightening ability too. After the long take down from Whale Shark, this time Great White pivots quickly, thinking about how “smart and curious” he is. Could he be “the smartest shark in this book?”

Well, that would be a no. Hammerhead Shark has that one nailed down as well as a unique view of their colorful world. This time, Great White is a little intimidated. “Whoa!” he exclaims. “How can I top that?” But being smart (just not as smart as Hammerhead), Great White has another idea. This one, though, is quashed just like the others in a sneak attack. Turns out Great White isn’t the best hunter, the oldest, or even the “fishiest” shark in this book.

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Undeterred, Great White decides to do a little research in other books to “figure out the greatest thing about [him]. He learns all about his different body parts and even shares a labeled diagram (on graph paper and everything) with you. And he doesn’t stop there. He’s discovered all sorts of awesome facts about their skeletons, senses, teeth, skin, and other cool tidbits that he lets you know about. Great White could probably go on and on, but suddenly there’s a “snack alert” and all the sharks take off at top speed after their prey. Great White’s fast! He’s in the lead! Great White’s the fast..est… “Crumbs.” Great White’s passed up by a faster shark. Who is that anyway?

By this time Great White is feeling pretty down in the dumps. “Maybe I should change my name to Just-Okay White Shark or Not-So-Great White Shark,” he bemoans. But then Dwarf Lantern Shark swims up to him and enlightens him with some perspective and sage advice: “Just be happy being you.” Great White takes it to heart. In fact, it helps him think of a new, can’t-miss quality that finally gives him a “GREATEST in this book” status.

Backmatter includes more details on the eight sharks introduced in the story as well as books and links about sharks for kids wanting to learn more.

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Image copyright Laurie Keller, 2021, text copyright Joan Holub, 2021. Courtesy of Crown Books for Young Readers.

Kids are always fascinated by the superlative—the fastest, the biggest, the smallest, the silliest, the best—and Joan Holub makes superlative use of this fact in her highly entertaining and educational romp. As Great White goes on a rollercoaster of emotions, one moment thinking he’s the best at something while the next moment having his hopes dashed, readers learn eye-opening details about eight sharks, described in engaging ways that will wow kids. Great White’s boundless optimism is infectious while setting up his disappointment for maximum comic effect. Kids will eagerly await the chance to chime in on the “No, you’re not.” asides that are sure to bring plenty of giggles. But this story isn’t all about sharks. Holub masterfully weaves in an important message for kids about self-acceptance, true happiness, and finding their unique qualities and talents.

Laurie Keller uses her prodigious talent for humor in her up-close images (and is there any other way kids would want to see them?) of these competitive sharks. Loaded with attitude, each shark swims onto the pages to demonstrate their “greatest” trait in ways that will stick with kids and have them excited to learn more. Expressive faces and silly antics add personality and laughs to each page spread. Keller’s vivid, textured, and collage-style illustrations are eye-catching, and funny details, such as Tiger Shark’s tattoos, chain bangle, band-aid, and gold tooth, will have kids lingering over the pages. While they’re there, they’ll want to keep a look out for the Dwarf Lantern Shark who finally lets Great White in on a great secret.

Full of facts, action-packed, and loaded with laughs, I Am the Shark is creative non-fiction at its GREATEST. Kids who love learning about sharks, nature, and the ocean or who just love a fantastic read will want to sink their teeth in this charmer. I Am the Shark is a can’t-miss must for homes, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0525645283

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Joan Holub has authored and/or illustrated over 150 children’s books, including the Goddess Girls series and the Heroes in Training series (with Suzanne Williams); the New York Times bestselling picture book Mighty Dads, illustrated by James Dean; Little Red Writing, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; and Zero the Hero, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Her board & novelty books include This Little Trailblazer and Fa la la Llama. Joan adores line dancing to the Jaws theme, reading Sharkspeare, and vacationing in Finland.

You can connect with Joan Holub on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-laurie-keller-headshotLaurie Keller is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Scrambled States of America, Potato Pants!, Arnie the Doughnut, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners, the Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut chapter book series, and We Are Growing!, part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series and winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. When Laurie isn’t busy making books, she enjoys playing the banjo, traveling, cross-country skiing, and splashing in Lake Michigan, where as far as she knows, there is not a single shark.

You can connect with Laurie Keller on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

I Am the Shark Giveaway

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I’m happy to be teaming with Joan Holub in a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive:

  • One (1) copy of I Am the Shark with an illustrated bookplate signed by Joan Holub and Laurie Keller
  • A kid-sized shark-design art or cooking apron 

To enter:

This giveaway is open from July 15 to July 21 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on July 22. 

Prizing provided by Joan Holub

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Shark Week Activity

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Fin-tastic Shark Fun

 

Your kids can make a splash during Shark Week and all year around with this easy-to-make craft! 

Supplies

  • 2 pieces of 8.5 x 11 gray card stock paper
  • Ribbon
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

fin outline white

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Directions

  1. Tape the top of the two pieces of paper together
  2. Fold them back together
  3. Measure an inch up from the bottom of the papers (the un-taped side) and trace a straight line across both papers
  4. Trace a shark fin outline onto your paper. The shark outline should stop an inch above the bottom
  5. Cut out the fin on both pieces of paper. If you should cut through the tape, re-tape the tops together
  6. Fold along the lines of both papers so the folds face towards each other.
  7. Tape the folds so the fin becomes a triangle
  8. Cut two slits parallel to the folded lines
  9. Thread ribbon through slits

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You can find I Am the Shark at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 10 – National Kitten Day

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About the Holiday

There are few things cuter than a kitten! Playful, sweet, surprising, and did I mention playful? kittens melt your heart with their big eyes, fluffy fuzz, and tiny mews. They make the purr-fect pet for many families. To make sure more kittens find loving forever homes, Colleen Paige, Pet & Family Lifestyle Expert, Author, and Animal Advocate, founded National Kitten Day to encourage adoption and celebrate the joy kittens can bring to our lives by knowing just when we need an extra snuggle, a bit of goofiness, or a moment of downtime play. In fact, today’s book shows just how much kittens are needed.

Emergency Kittens

Written by Jody Jensen Shaffer | Illustrated by Dave Mottram

 

“Are you in a tough spot? Has life got you down?” Perhaps you feel the need to be rescued by a superhero—you know the kind: strong, fast, and with an awesome costume. But maybe there’s an even better option for making your day brighter. What is it? It’s actually three things. Three soft, cuddly, BIG eyed “Emergency Kittens!” “Meet Mimi, Twee-Twee, and Adorbs! These three cuties make everything better!”

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Image copyright Dave Mottram, 2020, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2020. Courtesy of Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

From ice-cream disasters to bad hair days to sticky situations, Emergency Kittens save the day. Take Sheldon, for instance. One day at the playground “his ball takes a bad bounce” right into the hands of three bullies. Sounds like this calls for some superheroes! And sure enough, they all “show up in a Flash!” with inspirational sayings, big promises, and eve their own hashtag. But while they’re busy lifting bulldozers, leaping tall walls, flying here and there, and getting all tied up in knots, Sheldon’s ball is still being bounced out of reach.

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Image copyright Dave Mottram, 2020, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2020. Courtesy of Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Sheldon worries—who can help him? “Mimi, Twee-Twee, and Adorbs know the answer!” They spring into action—paws outstretched, capes flying—and in a bound they’re in the middle of the playground vanquishing those bullies with cuteness antics. But they still have one more play to make…ready? Who could resist those BIG EYES and rumbling Purr? No one! Not even the bullies. While those guys are distracted, Adorbs shoots the ball back to Sheldon. It’s just another day in the life of Emergency Kittens!

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Image copyright Dave Mottram, 2020, text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2020. Courtesy of Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Kitten lovers (and who isn’t?) rejoice! If you’ve ever gazed into a kitten or cat’s wide eyes and felt their little revving motor of happiness, you know how they can make any bad day seem better. Jody Jensen Shaffer brings that feel good warmth to her funny story that is purr-fectly aww-some. Sprinkling her story with puns and take-offs on superhero lore, Shaffer plays with stereotypes to deliver cuddles galore and a message that might is no match for sweetness and a little unconditional love.

Dave Mottram pulled out all the glimmering, hypnotic adorable stops in giving these Emergency Kittens their show-stopping, bully-melting gaze. Hilarious exaggeration, giggle-inducing rescues, and a set of clueless, self-absorbed superheroes will have kids in stitches from beginning to end. And the double-spread, poster-worthy reveal of the Emergency Kittens using their super power in its full force is sure to elicit plenty of prolonged Awwws and Ooos and exclaimations of “I want one!”

Sure to be a super hit with kids, Emergency Kittens! belongs on every home, school, and public library bookshelf for those times when extra TLC is needed.

Ages 3 – 7

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1984830081

Discover more about Jody Jensen Shaffer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Dave Mottram, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Kitten Day Activity

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Match the Kittens Puzzle

 

These kittens all have a twin, but they got mixed up while playing! Can you find the pairs again in this printable Match the Kittens Puzzle?

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You can find Emergency Kittens! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 6 – It’s National Vacation Rental Month

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About the Holiday

A great vacation starts with a great place to stay! Whether you like a cabin by the lake, a cottage by the shore, a tent or camper in the woods, an airbnb, or that good-ol’ staple the hotel, getting away from home is an adventure in itself. National Vacation Rental Month takes place in July because this is the month when most people go on vacation. If you haven’t planned a get-away yet, there’s still time to find just the right accommodation for maximum enjoyment! You might even look into staying in a sandcastle – especially if it’s as luxurious as the one in today’s story!

Sandcastle

By Einat Tsarfati

 

A girl finds an empty spot near the water’s edge and begins to build a sandcastle. This is no ordinary sandcastle, though. It’s “a real castle with domes and turrets and a crocodile moat. And large windows with an ocean view.” Indeed, it is a spectacular castle, representing all the world’s architecture and decorated with seashells. Winding staircases lead to outside viewing spots, and its sculptural features are astounding. The girl stands on tippy-toe on a tall tower to place a pebble just on the tip of a taller tower.

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Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

Inside, chandeliers hang in the great hall and above the double staircase on either side. The girl pauses during construction for a moment to gaze out of the five-paned bay window at the rolling sea. But she is not alone. A king peaks out of a doorway, watching her. It didn’t take long for more kings and queens from across the globe to discover the girl’s castle and come to visit, bringing along their children and pets and plenty of luggage.

They took in their surroundings, marveling at the girl’s craftsmanship. “‘It’s one hundred percent sand,’ murmured a king with a curly mustache. ‘And you can hear the ocean!’ added a queen with a fancy pearl necklace.” From the great hall they fanned out into the castle to enjoy its many rooms—the music room and the aquarium room; the camping room, complete with trees and a tent; the ice-skating rink and the carousel; the natural history room and the archaeology room with its brontosaurus skeleton. There was a library and a room with many safes for the royal jewelry. Visitors could play tennis, dance, and spend time feeding the swan in the pond room. Of course, there were bedrooms, and bathroom, and dining rooms galore.

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Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

The first night there was a “grand party in the ballroom. Dollops of ice cream were served all night long. It was awesome.” But in the morning the kings and queens saw things quite differently. The almond strudel, the pizza, the soups, the sandwiches, and all the cakes were full of sand. The next day, the Triathlon of Knights Tournament of badminton, cards, and Twister was “completely ruined. ‘Aargh! There is sand in my suit of  armor!’ sobbed the bravest knight in the kingdom.” It was so bad that he couldn’t even pick up a playing card from the stack. Royal toes grew itchy. Royal treasure chests became welded shut. And one elderly queen thought it was “even worse than a single pea underneath [her] mattress.

They all came to the girl to bitterly complain. There wasn’t much the girl could do. After all, the castle was made of sand. She decided to make a sand ball and then another and another until there were enough for a huge sand ball fight. Then, suddenly, the castle sprung a leak, and the kings and queens, their kids, and their luggage floated away on furniture, towers, and pedestals. Everything was washed away, so the girl “built a sandcastle.”

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Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

Einat Tsarfati’s Sandcastle is a feast for the eyes, loaded with humor, marvels, and whimsy on every page. From the crowded beach to the luxurious interior of the sandcastle, kids will have a blast scouring the detailed drawings for their favorite feature. As the royal visitors’ initial awe dissolves into whiny complaining, Tsarfati’s droll storytelling will elicit plenty of laughs (and maybe even a bit of recognition). The girl’s clever solution to her guests’ dissatisfaction may surprise readers, but with a turn of the page, Tsarfati promises to begin the imaginative journey all over again.

Highly recommended for funny and immersive story times, Sandcastle wows with ingenuity that will inspire kids’ imaginations. Sure to be an often-asked-for favorite on home, school, or public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 7

Candlewick, 2020 | ISBN 978-1536211436

Discover more about Einat Tsarfati, her books, and her art on her website.

National Vacation Rental Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vacation-rental-maze

Family Vacation Fun! Maze

 

This family is really looking forward to their vacation in the woods. Can you help them find their way to their cabin in this printable maze?

Family Vacation Fun! Maze | Family Vacation Fun! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sand-castle-cover

You can find Sandcastle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 23 – It’s National Homeownership Month

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About the Holiday

Owning a home is a major goal for many people, and while home ownership provides security for individuals and families, it’s also good for cities and towns, offering stability, economic benefits, and community cohesion. To that end, today’s holiday was established as a week-long observance in 1995 by then-President Bill Clinton as a way to increase homeownership by helping people negotiate the sometimes confusing elements of finding and purchasing a home. In 2002, President George Bush extended the holiday to a full month. A home is so much more than just a building, and each person has their own idea about what makes a home—or a neighborhood—perfect. Sometimes you can’t really put your finger on it—it’s just a feeling. Today’s sweet book shows how one community welcomed its newest member.

Thanks to Tundra Books for sending me a copy of Mr. Mole Moves In for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Mr. Mole Moves In

By Lesley-Anne Green

 

Mr. Mole was new to Juniper Hollow and couldn’t wait to meet his neighbors. “Now, Juniper Hollow doesn’t get too many new residents, so when they do, boy oh boy, do these critters get excited!” In fact, Raccoon had been playing close to Mr. Mole’s house, just waiting for him to come outside. When he did, Raccoon ran over, introduced himself, and stuck out his paw. Mr. Mole was happy to meet Raccoon, but instead of shaking Raccoon’s hand, he grabbed a branch from the bush next to him and gave “it a good shake.” Although a bit confused, Raccoon took it in stride and figured that’s just how things were done in Mole Town.

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Copyright Lesley-Anne Green, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

While Raccoon was relating this story to the Rabbit family, Mr. Mole ran into a fence post and apologized to it. Rabbit was impressed with Mr. Mole’s manners and hurried after him to introduce herself and her bunnies. They caught up with him at the general store, where he was talking to Giraffe. “‘What a beautiful baby!’ Mr. Mole said, looking sweetly at the watermelon Giraffe was holding.” When Mr. Mole went inside the store, Giraffe and Rabbit discussed what had happened. They decided that watermelons must be very prized in Mole Town. Inside the store, Cat and Chicken were talking about Mr. Mole too.

Mr. Mole stocked up on cans of worms and approached the counter, where Rabbit introduced herself and her bunnies. He was so thrilled to meet them that he immediately reached for a jar on the counter. “‘Bear, I will also take three of these candies for the little ones,’” Mr. Mole said as he handed them around. The bunnies looked at the erasers in their paws and decided to keep them for later.

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Copyright Lesley-Anne Green, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Watching all of this, Cat and Chicken decided that they would plan some kind of special event to welcome their wonderful new neighbor to Juniper Hollow. Everyone wanted to help. The next day they all went to visit Mr. Mole, and called out that they wanted to welcome him to town. A little nervously, Mr. Mole went out onto his front porch. All the critters had made him a welcome basket of all his favorite things.

Then “the littlest bunny hopped over to Mr. Mole and handed him her extra pair of glasses.” Mr. Mole was surprised and thanked her profusely. He had lost his glassed while moving, he told them, and couldn’t “‘see a THING without them.’” After the get-together, Mr. Mole took his basket inside and found—along with a handknit sweater and a pie—branches, erasers, and watermelon. Hmmm… he thought. “‘I guess that’s just how they do things in Juniper Hollow.’”

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Copyright Lesley-Anne Green, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Lesley-Anne Green’s story of friendship and acceptance charms with humor, clever misunderstandings, neighborliness, and one particularly sweet and empathetic bunny. Green’s enchanting storytelling immerses readers in the world of Juniper Hollow, a gentle, easy-going community that welcomes readers with the same warmth it extends to Mr. Mole. Kids will be especially pleased to see that the littlest bunny understands Mr. Mole’s plight and knows just how to help. Green’s adorable needle-felted critters, decked out in dapper outfits, shine with personality, conveying the critters’ confusion as well as their enthusiasm to embrace their newest resident and desire to make him feel at home. Her handmade backgrounds will also captivate readers with their rustic appeal, and readers will want to spend some time in the General Store exploring its well-stocked shelves.

The second book in Lesley-Anne Green’s Juniper Hollow series, Mr. Mole Moves In is a story with depth and charm and inspiring illustrations that will be asked for again and again. The book is a top choice for home, school, and public library bookshelves. You’ll also want to check out Fox and Raccoon, the first Juniper Hollow book.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra, 2021 | ISBN 978-1101918029

You can connect with Lesley-Anne Green on Instagram.

You can watch Lesley-Anne Green talk about her work and create an adorable critter on Tundra Illustrator Studio.

National Homeownership Month Activity

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Pop Up Houses Play Set

 

You can own your own home with this printable Pop Up Play Set thanks to Education.com. It has a house for you and one for a friend! Give your houses some color, plant the trees and move in! Print on heavy paper to make the figures sturdier.

Pop Up Houses Play Set

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You can find Mr. Mole Moves In at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review