December 14 – It’s Human Rights Month

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About the Holiday

December is Human Rights Month, an observance established by the United Nations in order to raise awareness of, promote, and protect the equality of the world’s citizens. It takes vigilence, compassion, dedication, and determination, but achieving the goal of equal human rights is a responsibility we all share.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Written by Laurie Ann Thompson | Illustrated by Sean Qualls

 

A baby is born in Ghana, West Africa with bright eyes, healthy lungs, and tiny, clasping fingers—but with only one strong leg. Most people think the baby will grow up to be a burden or worse—a curse. His father leaves the family, but his mother keeps the faith. Her name is Comfort and she names her child Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

As Emmanuel grows, his mother encourages his independence. He learns how to crawl and hop to complete his daily work all with one leg. Most kids with disabilities don’t go to school, but Comfort carries her son back and forth until he becomes too heavy. From then on Emmanuel hops the two miles each way all by himself. At first the other kids won’t play with him, but Emmanuel is clever. He buys a soccer ball with the money he earns shining shoes and when he offers to share it, the kids include him. On crutches he is a fierce competitor and earns his classmates’ respect. Riding bikes is another favorite activity. Can Emmanuel pump those pedals with only one leg? He practices and falls, practices and falls some more until he masters the technique.

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

When Emmanuel is 13 years old, his mother becomes ill. As the only family member capable of working, Emmanuel takes a train to a city 150 miles away to find a job. He doesn’t see his family again for two years. Because of his disability it is hard for him to find work. Finally, a food stand owner hires him and gives him a place to live. Over time Comfort grows sicker. When Emmanuel goes to be with her, she tells him to never beg and never give up. He takes these words to heart.

Emmanuel has an idea to show the world that “disabled does not mean unable”—all he needs is a bike. When the Challenged Athletes Foundation learns of his plan to bike around Ghana, they give him a bike, a helmet, and clothing. He trains and receives a blessing from the king of his region. Then accompanied by people who will document his trip, he takes off. “He pedaled through rain forests, over rolling hills, and across wide, muddy rivers….He pedaled as trucks roared past on the narrow highways and wild animals stalked his thoughts….He rode up, down, across, and around his country, proudly wearing the colors of its flag on a shirt printed with the words “The Pozo” or “the disabled person.”

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Image copyright Sean Qualls, text copyright Laurie Ann Thompson. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

Emmanuel talks to others with physical challenges and to those without. He meets farmers, landowners, government officials, and reporters. He wants everyone to learn of his message. People begin to pay attention—they ride and run alongside him; people with disabilities come out of their houses to see him (some leaving home for the first time ever). Emmanuel is becoming a national hero! Emmanuel completes his journey—nearly 400 miles—in only 10 days. In that short amount of time he proves that anyone can do great things and that one person is enough to change the world.

An Author’s Note expanding on Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah’s life since his bike ride follows the text.

Laurie Ann Thompson tells this story of courage and achievement in straightforward language that highlights the difficulties and prejudices Emmanuel overcame to live the full life his mother envisioned for him. The details Thompson reveals—both within the school setting and in the world beyond—will inspire anyone who reads this special and moving true story.

Sean Qualls renders the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah in the vibrant colors and patterns of his native West Africa, giving energy and spirit to the fire that burned inside the young boy who rose above his disability and the expectations of his community. His relationship with his strong, supportive mother is drawn with obvious love and compassion. The use of a folk-art style combined with scenes of African markets, landscapes, and traditional tableaus, effectively sets the story for children. One particularly touching illustration shows a tiny Emmanuel hopping off to school as his mother, shown larger in the foreground, watches.

Ages 4 – 9

Schwartz & Wade, Random House, 2015 | ISBN 978-0449817445

Discover more about Laurie Ann Thompson and her books on her website!

To view a gallery of picture book illustration by Sean Qualls, visit his website!

Human Rights Month Activity

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Change Your World Coloring Page

 

You can make a difference in your school, your town, and the world around you. Here’s a printable Change Your World message that you can color and hang in your room or locker to remember how much power you have.

Picture Book Review

December 10 – Gingerbread Decorating Day

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 2007 by the Encouragement Foundation at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, today’s holiday entreats us to cheer on our friends, coworkers, and even those we don’t know as they attempt to reach goals or start new endeavors. A pat on the back, a simple “you can do it!,” or a reassuring “great job!” boosts people’s self-confidence and makes the world a happier place.

Tough Cookie

Written by Kate Louise | Illustrated by Grace Sandford

 

Although one gingerbread man in the bakery looks like all the others, there is one important difference. Yes, the batter had “eggs and cinnamon and flour and butter and sugar—but wait! The baker forgot to add the ginger!” Without this signature ingredient the gingerbread man just doesn’t feel like a gingerbread man at all. In fact his whole life has been turned upside down. He’s different from his friends, and what’s worse, he can’t be sold. Instead, he lives in the back of the bakery  and in his sadness makes all kinds of mischief.

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Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

The gingerbread man chases the cat, splatters icing on other cookies, and squirts icing on the walls. “‘I need that for my cupcakes!’” the baker yells, but the gingerbread man just laughs. He moves on to the decorative candies, stuffing them in his mouth as fast as he can even though the baker needs them for his other treats and stands by tapping his foot. Next the gingerbread man scatters sprinkles all over the counter and slips and slides along on his belly—“‘woohoo!’” But the baker is not amused. “‘I need those for the donuts!’” he shouts.

 

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Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

Finally, the baker has had enough. Not only is the gingerbread man upsetting the other gingerbread men and women, he is ruining the business. The baker orders the gingerbread man to leave the store. But this is one gingerbread man that does not want to run away. “‘I don’t want to leave!’” he cries. The baker relents. He takes the little cookie in hand and teaches him that even though he is missing an ingredient he can still be kind. The baker shows him by being nice he can become one of the group. 

Now, the little gingerbread man is happy. Instead of gobbling up all the candy, he helps create the other cookies. He no longer shoots icing on the walls or flings sprinkles around the kitchen. Rather, he helps the baker decorate the cupcakes and the donuts. He’s even learned how to sift flour and roll out dough, and he uses the cookie cutter to make new friends. And he never forgets to add the ginger!

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Image copyright Grace Sandford, text copyright Kate Louise, courtesy of Sky Pony Press

Grace Sandford’s bakery gleams with the golden hues of fresh-baked bread, the festive colors of sprinkles and icing, and the sparkle of sugar. Kids will love the vibrant pictures of cupcakes; lollypops; stacks of cakes, donuts, and candy; and decorated gingerbread houses surrounded by cookie forests. Her expressive gingerbread men and women register dismay at the wayward gingerbread man’s shenanigans and joy at his kindness. And the hero of the story? When he leaves behind his impish pranks he becomes a charming baker’s companion, sifting clouds of flour, running on the rolling pin to flatten dough, and passing out sugar-shiny gumdrop buttons to his new friends.

Young children will ask for this fun and funny read over and over. Tough Cookie makes an especially delicious accompaniment to an afternoon of baking or decorating gingerbread houses!

Ages 3 – 6

Sky Pony Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1634501972

Discover more of Kate Louise’s books for kids and young adults as well as Tough Cookie Coloring Pages on her website!

Read an interview with Kate Louise!

View the colorful world and signature style of Grace Sandford’s artwork on her website!

Read an interview with Grace Sandford!

Gobble up this Tough Cookie book Trailer!

Gingerbread Decorating Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gingerbread-kids-craftGingerbread Kids Decorations 

 

Way back in the past when gingerbread was new it was creatively iced and used to decorate windows. You can make decorations for your home or room with this easy craft!

Supplies

  • Printable Gingerbread Girl and Boy Template
  • 2 Brown foam sheets
  • White paint (or any color you like)
  • Glitter in two colors
  • Paint brush
  • 2 Small heart buttons (optional)
  • Mounting squares (for mounting)
  • Thread  and needle (for optional hanging)

Directions

  1. Cut out gingerbread girl and boy
  2. Trace gingerbread girl and boy on brown foam sheets
  3. Cut out gingerbread girl and boy
  4. Paint around the edge of the gingerbread boy and girl with the white paint
  5. Add trim to the edge of the gingerbread girl’s dress
  6. Add socks to the gingerbread boy
  7. Add buttons
  8. Add faces
  9. Paint the hands of each figure with the paint
  10. Sprinkle glitter on the hands to make mittens
  11. To use as decoration attach mountable squares or with a threaded needle make a hole in the top of the figures and tie the thread to create a hanger.
 Picture Book Review

December 4 – It’s Universal Human Rights Month

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About the Holiday

In the aftermath of World War II the Four Freedoms that had guided the Allies—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear—did not go far enough in defining the areas that need to be covered. In December 1948 the United Nations General Assembly put forth 30 articles to further delineate the freedoms and rights of the world’s citizens, including the freedom of education, thought, health, opinion, and expression as well as the right to take part in government, have a free choice of employment, and more. To honor today’s observance, speak out when you see inequality and work to bring freedom in all it’s forms to everyone.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

Written by Rebecca Langston-George | Illustrated by Janna Bock

 

Malala Yousafzai lived in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where her father, Ziauddin, ran a school in the town of Mingora. Malala loved school and even when she was tiny visited classes with her father often. Not all Pakistani children could go to school—some families couldn’t afford it and some believed girls should stay home to clean, cook, and keep house. But Malala’s father believed his daughter had the same right to an education as his sons. Malala thrived at school. She learned multiple languages and won many academic awards.

“But Taliban leaders who controlled the area were against letting girls go to school. They declared that females should be separated from males. They wanted to outlaw education for girls.” The Taliban leaders even tried to intimidate Malala’s father. “One ordered Ziauddin to close his school because girls and boys used the same entrance.” Ziauddin refused.

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Image copyright Janna Bock, courtesy of Capstone Press

While her father was worried, Malala’s determination grew stronger. She studied harder at school, and during the school holidays instead of covering her hands with henna flowers and vines as most Pakistani women did, Malala painted science formulas on hers. The Taliban continued to exert a tight grip on the Swat Valley, and instituted new rules: men could not shave, women had to cover their faces, movies were banned. And the radio “crackled with the sound of the Taliban preaching: No education for girls! Girls who attend school bring shame to their families!”

The Taliban frightened many, and empty seats in school classrooms began to be more frequent. Ziauddan and Malala appeared on TV to express the importance of education. In response the Taliban threatened Ziauddan and his school. Despite the threats Malala and her father continued to speak and write, “demanding equal education for girls.” The Taliban began patrolling the streets, perpetrating violence and destruction on anyone who didn’t obey their rules.

In December 2008, the Taliban announced that all girls’ schools would close by January 15. “Even before the deadline, bombs started to rain down on nearby schools as warnings.” The British Broadcasting Corporation wanted to reveal to the world what was happening. They wanted a girl to write a blog about her experience and “how it felt to be denied an education. Malala volunteered.

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Image copyright Janna Bock, courtesy of Capstone Press

She took the pen name Gul Makai and related her blog by phone to a reporter who typed and published her words for two months. The first post appeared on January 3, 2009. On January 14 Malala wrote: “‘They can stop us from going to school, but they can’t stop us learning!’” Because activists were growing angry, the Taliban let girls ages 10 and younger go to school. Malala and her friends were 11. They began dressing to look younger and hid school books in their clothes. If they had been caught lying about their ages, they and their teachers could have been beaten or executed.

In May 2009 the Pakistani army began battling the Taliban and ordered everyone to evacuate. Malala and her family had to pack their belongings and leave. Malala wanted to take her books along, but there wasn’t room. She could only hope that they—and her home—would survive the fighting. Three months later, the people of Mingora were allowed to come home, but the town was not the same as they had left it. Shops and buildings were destroyed, burned frames of cars were strewn across the roads. The school’s walls were riddle with bullet holes. But the Taliban was gone. Ziauddin reopened his school for boys and girls.

While Malala returned to school, her life was not the same. Because of her blog, speeches, and interviews, she was internationally famous. Everyone wanted to hear what she had to say—everyone but the Taliban. “Talban leaders began to threaten her on the Internet. Saying she was working for the West, they announced Malala was on their hit list. The police warned the Yousafzai family to leave, but Malala refused to hide. She refused to be silenced.”

Because of the danger, Malala’s mother wanted her to ride the bus to school instead of walk. On October 9, 2012 as Malala and her classmates rode the bus home after school, the bus was stopped and a man boarded, demanding to know which girl was Malala. While no one spoke, the girls couldn’t stop their eyes from flashing quickly toward Malala. That was all the man needed. He “pointed a gun at Malala. Three shots shattered the silence.”

The bus driver rushed Malala and two of her friends to the hospital. Word spread quickly about the shooting through the town and around the world. Malala lay unconscious for days as the Taliban threatened her again should she live. As determinedly as Malala fought for equal education, she fought for survival. Finally, she was flown to a hospital in England for more surgery and to keep her safe. Gifts and wished poured in from all over the world. Malala stayed in the hospital for three months and underwent many procedures to correct the damage done by the Taliban’s bullets.

When she had recovered, Malala returned to her family and to her place on the world stage where she continues to speak out for the rights of all. On July 12, 2013 in a speech at the United Nations, Malala “declared, ‘One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.’” On December 10, 2014 Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her “strength, power, and courage” to “lift her voice for children everywhere.”

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Image copyright Janna Bock, courtesy of Capstone Press

Malala. Those three syllables have become synonymous with bravery, freedom, and education. Rebecca Langston-George tells Malala’s remarkable story with the same unstinting vision that fuels Malala’s mission. Told sensitively, but candidly, this compelling biography reveals the harrowing evolution of the Taliban’s reach that, far from intimidating young Malala, only served to make her more determined. Langston-George’s excellent command over her well-chosen details and gripping pacing enhances the power of this important true story. Readers should come away inspired—not only by Malala’s life, but the fact that they too can make a difference.

Janna Bock depicts the changing landscape of Malala’s hometown both physically and philosophically with illustrations that help readers clearly envision and understand Malala’s life and environment. The faces of the townspeople and the Yousefzai family register distress and fear, but also determination, courage, and optimism as schools close, Mingora comes under fire, and the citizens become refugees. Malala’s shooting, and recovery are portrayed with thoughtful consideration of the readers, and the ending takes children inside the United Nations to witness Malala’s ultimate triumph.

An Author’s Note detailing more about Malala’s story then and now as well as a glossary and index follow the text.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story is an important biography of current events and people shaping the world and our children’s future and is a must read for all.

Ages 8 – 12

Capstone Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1623704261

Discover more fascinating books by Rebecca Langston-George on her website!

View a gallery of art by Janna Bock on Tumblr!

Universal Human Rights Month Activity

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Friends of the World Coloring Page

 

Love and understanding for others makes the world a smaller—and better—place. Have fun coloring this Friends of the World Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review

November 13 – World Kindness Day

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About the Holiday

Perhaps now—more than we’ve seen in a long time—the world needs a day of kindness. Today’s holiday was initiated in 1997 when a number of humanitarian groups made a Declaration of Kindness and dedicated themselves to paying goodness forward and sharing positivity. With so many ways to help our friends, neighbors, even strangers living both near and far away, it’s within each person’s grasp to make the world a better place for all. To learn more about World Kindness Day and ways that you can make a difference, visit Random Acts of Kindness.

Extra Yarn

Written by Mac Barnett | Illustrated by Jon Klassen

 

In the dulled world of winter, “Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.” With it she knit herself a sweater, and because she had not run out of yarn, she knit a sweater for her dog, Mars, too. Afterwards, the two went for a walk, and Annabelle carried her box of yarn with her. They happened on Nate and his dog—dreary smudges against the monochrome landscape. “‘You two look ridiculous,’” Nate taunted. “‘You’re just jealous,’ said Annabelle.” Nate denied it, but after Annabelle knit him and his dog their own sweaters, they discovered she was right.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, text copyright Mac Barnett. Courtesy of harpercollinschildrens.com

These four sweaters hardly put a dent in the yarn in the box, so Annabelle took it to school. There, the kids in their dark, winter clothes couldn’t stop staring at and whispering about Annabelle. Their teacher, Mr. Norman, shouted for quiet. “‘Annabelle, that sweater of yours is a terrible distraction. I cannot teach with everyone turning around to look at you!’” Annabelle knew just what to do. The class—and even Mr. Norman—looked brighter with their new sweaters. “And when she was done, Annabelle still had extra yarn.”

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, text copyright Mac Barnett. Courtesy of harpercollinschildrens.com

She began knitting sweaters for everyone in town. Mr. Crabtree was the only exception. Since he wore shorts and a t-shirt in even the snowiest weather, Annabelle knit him a cap to keep his bald head warm. When all the people were snug, Annabelle fashioned sweaters for all the animals—from the tiniest birds to the biggest bears. “Soon, people thought, soon Annabelle will run out of yarn. But she didn’t. So Annabelle made sweaters for things that didn’t even wear sweaters.” Suddenly, the town was no longer drab and lifeless.

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Word spread about Annabelle and her endless box of yarn. People came from all over to meet her and see her sweaters. The news even reached a clotheshorse of an archduke, who sailed his ship into port and demanded to see Annabelle. He offered her one million dollars for her box of yarn, but Annabelle turned him down. He raised his offer to two million, but Annabelle shook her head. “‘Ten million!’ shouted the archduke. ‘Take it or leave it!’” “‘Leave it,’ said Annabelle. ‘I won’t sell the yarn.’”

That night the archduke sent robbers to steal Annabelle’s box of yarn, and when they had it, the archduke sailed away under the dark cover of night. In his shadowy castle, the shady archduke opened the box. It was empty. In a fit of rage, he flung the box out the window into the sea, cursing Annabelle with eternal unhappiness. But the box found its way onto an ice floe, and it rode the current back to Annabelle, who was forever after happy.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, text copyright Mac Barnett. Courtesy of harpercollinschildrens.com

Mac Barnett’s extraordinary story of a box of yarn and a little girl that keeps giving despite teasing, challenges, and attempts to strip her of her gift is an uplifting reminder that even the simplest of gestures can create profound change. With the lilt of a fairy tale but the anchors of reality, Barnett’s tale offers a universal lesson that children and adults can use their individual talents to improve their own lives and those of others. The title of the book may be Extra Yarn, but the question remains: is it the yarn or Annabelle who is special? The final scene proves that goodness and kindness always win out and will find its way back to the giver.

Jon Klassen’s brown, stolid town seems poised to suck readers in to its close, silent emptiness until Annabelle discovers the box of yarn and knits herself a rainbow to wear. With Mars similarly outfitted, they return to the somber outside. Annabelle, at first the only bright spot in the town and school, quickly transforms her classmates and neighbors into colorful individuals with sweaters as unique as they are. After the homes, buildings, mailboxes, and birdhouses acquire their own cozies, the town looks open and inviting. Once the archduke arrives on the scene, the pages turn dusky and gray, but there is one point of light: in the black, nighttime sea the little box floats on an icy raft that shines in the full moonlight.

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Image copyright Jon Klassen, courtesy of macbarnett.com

Klassen adds plenty of visual humor here too, as when Mars tangles his yarn leash around a grove of trees, and the archduke demonstrates a penchant for monogramming all of his possessions. Kids will be delighted to see some of their favorite Klassen characters so dandily dressed, and the images of the students and townspeople connected by a leading thread of yarn may help them see that Annabelle not only knit them sweaters but made them a much closer-knit community as well.

Ages 3 – 8

Balzar + Bray, HarperCollins Childrens, 2012 | ISBN 978-0061953385

Want to see what other books Mac Barnett has written? Visit his website and find out!

You can find a gallery of picture books and other artwork by Jon Klassen on tumblr!

World Kindness Day Activity

CPB - Random Acts of Kindness cards

Kindness Cards to Share

 

It’s fun to surprise someone with an unexpected compliment! It makes the other person and you feel happier! Here are some printable Kindness Cards that you can give to anyone you meet today—or any day. If you’d like to write your own, here is a set of Blank Cards. You can give one to your teacher, librarian, favorite store clerk, your postal worker, your neighbors and friends, the person next to you on the bus or train. Or why not brighten someone’s day by leaving a note where they might find it—in a book at the library or bookstore, in a friend’s lunchbox, in your mailbox, on a store shelf, or anywhere you go!

Picture Book Reviews

November 11 – Veterans Day

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About the Holiday

Veterans Day is observed each year on this date to honor and thank all members of the military who are currently serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces. The official ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and comments by dignitaries. While an official government holiday, some schools remain in session, holding special ceremonies of their own and inviting veterans to relate their experiences.

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

 

Every year Mrs. Randall’s third-grade class attends the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What’s more every year four students are chosen from her class to carry the wreath. This year everyone wonders who those lucky four will be. Students who want to be in the running to be selected, Mrs. Randall, says, must write a letter telling her why they should be chosen. Hearing that Freddie and Tommy drop out immediately, while Nancy says her letter will be the best.

Anna dreams of being chosen too, but experience tells her she will not. She’s never chosen for the basketball or softball team, the cheerleading squad, or the lines of Red Rover. “Sure, someone always chose her for the spelling team, but the others—the fun ones—never.” But this time seems different. All day—even though Mrs. Randall’s eagle eyes catch it—Anna daydreams and makes plans. When the bus drops her and her sister off, they hurry home to start work.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

There Anna makes a secret call to her grandpa and then she and Natalie go to the front porch, and while Nat naps on the swing Anna pulls out her computer and begins writing her letter to Mrs. Randall. The next day Mrs. Randall collects the letters with the promise to choose the team by tomorrow and a reminder for those who will not be picked: “‘Remember,’” she says, “‘it certainly is an honor to be on the team, but it is also an honor to visit the Tomb.’” Then “they talked about Washington and the monuments and the Capitol and the White House, but especially they talked about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard.”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

At school the next day, Mrs. Randall says that while she received four excellent letters, one stood out. She begins to read it to the class: “‘I want to be on the team, not for myself, but for many others who have not been honored or remembered….They worked long and hard and saved many lives….And sometimes they were heroes bigger than the strongest men around. Sometimes they carried medicine and food to dangerous places to save the wounded soldiers. My own great-great-grandfather was in this special service and saved lives. I would like to be on the team to say thank you to those forgotten heroes of World War II. Yours truly…’ Mrs. Randall’s voice cracked and choked, and then she read, ‘From Natalie (with help from Anna)’”

The class starts whooping and cheering, but Mrs. Randall interrupts their celebration to read one more line: “P.S.—Would you please let Anna walk with me so I will not be alone and she won’t be either?” The class begins chanting “Yeah, Anna! Yeah, Anna!,” and Anna can’t believe that her dream of being on the team has come true. When Anna gets home from school and tells her family, they proudly make plans to travel with their “two girls” to the ceremony.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Finally, the day of the Wreath-Laying Ceremony arrives. The students are dressed in their best clothes, and as the four team members prepare to accept the wreath, “Natalie led the procession down the long marble steps, her black coat glistening and her brass buttons shining like the sun. Anna walked beside her.” As the soldier hands the children the wreath fashioned from “dogwood flowers, magnolias, and decorative red birds,” he loudly announces, “The students of Willow Run School and Natalie, a seeing-eye dog, will lay this wreath to honor the men who served in World War II and the dogs who helped them. ATTENTION!”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

The clear notes of Taps rang across Arlington National Cemetery as Anna and the three other children lay the wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, Anna’s grandfather and parents took pictures of Anna and Natalie to remember “this shining moment of Anna, and of Natalie, who saw the world that Anna could not see.”

An Author’s Note revealing the use of dogs during wartime—from ancient history to today—follows the text.

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Veterans Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her great-great-grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability is honest and inclusive, and while the fact of Anna’s blindness is contained in a surprise ending, this serves to present Anna as just another student in the class—a girl who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams to be part of the team, and a good friend.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Cole’s straight narration of a school day and a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life creates an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

Ronald Himler’s realistic illustrations of Anna’s Willow Run School, her home, and Arlington Cemetery beautifully represent this moving story. His pages are full of diverse, real kids, smiling, laughing, getting off the school bus, enjoying a family dinner, and solemnly performing their job at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A hint to Natalie’s true identity is subtly inserted into various scenes, making the final reveal a satisfying moment.

Anna & Natalie is a wonderful choice for all kids observing Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

To learn more about Anna & Natalie and download a Curriculum Guide, visit Star Bright Books!

To view a gallery of artwork and picturebook illustration by Ronald Himler, visit his website!

Veterans Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-american-flag-and-wreath

Wreath and American Flag Coloring Page

 

Remember everything our members of the Armed Forces do to keep our country safe as you color this printable Wreath and American Flag.

Picture Book Review

October 30 – Candy Corn Day

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About the Holiday

It says something about a candy that is only sold for a month or two out of twelve and yet has been around since the late 1800s. What is that candy? Candy Corn, of course! Seeing those little triangular white, yellow, and orange morsels on store shelves means Halloween is just around the corner. Whether you can eat them by the handful or find them too sweet, there’s no denying that Candy Corn is part of trick-or-treat fun!

Witches

Written by Cheryl Christian | Illustrated by Wish Williams

 

A gaggle of witches, too small for their feet to touch the floor as they sit around the table, stir up a special brew in their iron caldron. Into the bubbling pot go spiders’ webs and “a bone or two,” in fact “any kind of smelly, slimy, sticky stuff will do.” The witches gobble up their feast and hurry on their way, flying broomsticks into the night. They cackle with “screeching screeches”—“what a fearful sight.”

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Image copyright Wish Williams, text copyright Cheryl Christian. Courtesy Star Bright Books

Wearing dark capes and “witchy hats,” they creep along the street, meeting ghosts and astronauts, lions and crocodiles, and of course black cats. There are “witches ringing doorbells” and “running through the street. Witches having lots of fun…calling ‘TRICK OR TREAT!’”

Cheryl Christian’s bouncy, bounding rhyme bubbles with the excitement and joy kids feel on Halloween night. Transformed by costumes into witches that want more treats than tricks, favorite animals, personal heroes, mythical creatures, and spooky haunters, children relish the abandon of going door to door collecting goodies, meeting their friends, and “screeching screeches”—and all in the mysterious deep, dark night when they might usually be going to bed. Kids will love Christian’s focus on them and the activities that make Halloween such a looked-forward-to holiday.

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Image copyright Wish Williams, text copyright Cheryl Christian. Courtesy Star Bright Books

Wish Williams’ luminous celebration of Halloween night radiates a glow-in-the-dark feeling that lends the story an element of the fantastical even as it illuminates the traditional fun kids have on this special night. A distinctive color palette of deep turquoise, magenta, green, purple, and orange lit with an eye toward creating an atmosphere of spooky coziness, makes each two-page spread a joy to explore. In the kitchen scenes, cats frolic, jack-o-lanterns grin, and kids happily concoct a witchy potion from ingredients found in the fridge and pantry. Spatulas, whisks, and spaghetti spoons held up to the light become monstrous shadows on the wall.

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Image copyright Wish Williams, text copyright Cheryl Christian. Courtesy Star Bright Books

Outside, readers can almost hear the shouts and laughter of the trick-or-treaters as they fan out across the neighborhood, play in the town center fountain and gazebo, jump in fallen leaves, and run door-to-door calling out “trick-or-treat.” There are so many details tucked away from corner to corner of every page that kids will want to linger and find them all.

One very welcome and distinguishing aspect of Witches is its inclusion of children of color and children with disabilities among the group of witches as well as the other trick-or-treaters. Witches would be an excellent addition to library shelves for all kids to enjoy.

Ages 3 – 7

Star Bright Books, 2011 | ISBN 978-1595722836

Candy Corn Day Activity

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Halloween Word Search

 

Join the witch in this spooky printable Halloween Word Search as she concocts the perfect potion for a fun holiday!

Picture Book Reveiw

October 24 – United Nations Day

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About the Holiday

Founded in the aftermath of World War II to promote cooperation among all nations and prevent another devastating conflict, the United Nations is an intergovernmental organization whose purpose has grown to include encouraging social and economic development, protecting human rights, and providing aid in times of natural disasters, famine, and war. Today’s holiday commemorates the establishment of the UN and advocates the remembrance and implementation of its principles for this and future generations.

Welcome

By Barroux

 

A polar bear sits on the edge of an ice floe enjoying some relaxing time with his friends when he hears an ominous noise. “CRACK! The ice breaks! ‘We’re drifting away!’” his friends cry. In no time at all the three polar bears are adrift in the middle of the sea in need of a new home. They float and float, but “the water goes on forever!” To pass the time the friends play games: “‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with W…’”

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Copyright Barroux, courtesy of little bee books and simonandschuster.com

Perhaps days go by. The bears ride out a storm with dark skies and huge waves that threaten to sink them. It’s scary and the trio wants “to find a new home right now!” At last their ice floe—smaller now—approaches a sandy shore. “Land! We’re saved,” cheer the polar bears. They ask the cows on the beach if they can live there, but the cows take exception. The bears are “too furry…too tall…and too bear-ish.” And with a “Sorry!” the cows turn the weary travelers away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-welcome-barroux-ice-breaks-away

Copyright Barroux, courtesy of little bee books and simonandschuster.com

Once again on their own, the bears have no choice but to let the current steer them. With standing room for only one their icy raft, they near another beach where a single panda relaxes on pillows in the midst of expansive land. “Yes! This could be our new home,” the polar bears shout. The panda ponders the situation for only a moment before stating, “‘…you are too many. Look around, there’s just not enough room! You can’t live here.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-welcome-barroux-polar-bears-meet-cows

Copyright Barroux, courtesy of little bee books and simonandschuster.com

As the polar bears continue on their journey, their “little ice boat has almost melted” and they are running out of time. They bob next to a tall sea wall. “‘Help us!’” they plead. Behind the wall two giraffes lounge on the beach, too lazy to investigate the noise they hear. The ice floe has melted to a thin disk, with room for only one. The bears are hanging on and about to give up hope when they find an empty island. They jump to shore just in the nick of time and begin enjoying their new home.

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Copyright Barroux, courtesy of little bee books and simonandschuster.com

It’s not long before a dinghy floats into view with three monkeys on board. “‘Excuse me, we’re looking for a new home. Can you help us please?’” The polar bears stop their game of badminton and step forward. “‘Hmmm,’” they think. “‘You are…

Welcome!’”

With vibrant blue, full-bleed pages as wide open as the sea itself and three endearing long-nosed polar bears, Barroux has crafted a poignant tale with depth and far-reaching applications for readers of all ages. Inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, Welcome stands on its own as an uplifting story of friendship and inclusiveness, but also offers an excellent means for beginning a discussion on the world events that children see and have questions about. Employing a bear’s first person point of view and incorporating a child-centric perspective on travel—from the humor of the I Spy game to the perseverance of the bears—Barroux sets just the right tone for his audience.

With sparse text and repetition of the bears’ simple request, the subject matter is handled with sensitivity, not fright, which allows children to understand that the theme of the story is relevant on many levels. Whether the “traveler” comes from near or far, is a classmate, teammate or neighbor, or is even the reader or someone else feeling adrift in a certain situation, children will see that all deserve welcome.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2916 | ISBN 978-1499804447

United Nations Day Activity

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Give Me Your Hand! Puzzle

 

In this printable Give Me Your Hand! Puzzle, everyone is welcomed with a handshake. Offering friendship to all, the interchangeable pieces can be mixed and matched as the animals become buddies with one another.

Supplies

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Copyright Conor Carroll, courtesy of celebratepicturebooks.com

Directions

  1. Print the puzzle: to make the puzzle sturdier: Print on heavy stock paper or glue the page to poster board
  2. Color the pictures with colored pencils or crayons
  3. Cut the pieces apart
  4. Switch the pieces around to make many alternate pictures
celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-UN-day-puzzle

Copyright Conor Carroll, courtesy of celebratepicturebooks.com

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review