November 12 – It’s World Kindness Week

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About the Holiday

Today begins a week-long awareness of acts of kindness and how gestures of praise and encouragement of others can make life better for all. These days, when negativity seems all pervasive, take some time to look around and really see the goodness that is being done. Take a vow to join in and help make the world a better place for you and especially for your children. Just a smile, a single nice word or a helpful action can make a tremendous difference. To celebrate this week’s holiday, seek out opportunities to say something nice to your family members, friends, coworkers, and those you meet along the way.

Be Kind

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Jen Hill

 

At school during snack time when Tanisha spilled grape juice on her new dress, the class burst out laughing. One student remembered that their mom always taught them to be kind and tried to make Tanisha feel better by saying, “Purple is my favorite color.” The student thought Tanisha would smile, but she just ran away. All during art class, Tanisha’s classmate thought about what they should have done instead, wondering, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

They think, “Maybe it’s giving.” Like baking treats for someone who lives alone, or giving away old clothes to someone who can use them. Helping out might also show kindness. For instance, “putting dirty dishes in the sink” or taking care of a pet. Paying attention to others could be another way to show you care. Like noticing someone’s new shoes, offering to be the new girl’s partner in class, or even just listening to someone’s stories—even if you’ve heard them before. Sometimes being kind is easy, but there are other times when it can be challenging or even scary—“like sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind.”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The child decides that maybe all they can do for Tanisha is to sit near her and paint her a picture of purple and green—of pretty violets. They hope that small acts like these will join with other people’s and that they will expand, fanning out from school into the community, across the country, around the world, and back. “So we can be kind. Again. And again. And again.”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Miller’s tender prose is perfect for planting the seeds of kindness and opening discussions about what it means to be caring and compassionate. With more and more children speaking up and creating change, Miller’s gentle and affirming story shows readers that it’s often the little things that count the most. Some of the examples she gives are acts that many children may do already, confirming their innate sensitivity, while others may spark new ideas and expand readers’ definition of kindness.

Jen Hill’s soft-hued illustrations beautifully depict the emotional tug at the heart that Tanisha’s spilled grape juice sets in motion for the protagonist and young readers. As one caring child wonders what kindness really is, Hill clearly portrays diverse children helping out at home, at school, and in their community locally and—as the kindness spreads—around the world. Hill draws the caring student with gender neutral clothing and hair, allowing all children to relate to the story’s main character. 

Be Kind is a lovely perceptive and sensitive book that would be an asset to any home or classroom library.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1626723214

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jen Hill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

World Kindness Week Activity

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Say Something Nice! Cards

 

Do you want to give someone a nice surprise? Print out these cards and give one to a friend, to someone you’d like to know, or to anyone who looks like they need a pick-me-up! If you’d like to make your own cards, print out the blank template and write and/or draw your own message! You can also print these on adhesive paper and make your own stickers.

Say Something Nice! Cards | Say Something Nice! Cards Blank Template

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You can find Be Kind at these booksellers

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

 

Picture book review

October 5 – World Teachers Day

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About the Holiday

World Teacher’s Day, sponsored by the United Nations, was established to celebrate the role teachers play in providing quality education from preschool through college and beyond. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948, where education is recognized as a key fundamental right—a right that cannot be fulfilled without qualified teachers. To commemorate this event, today’s holiday is being celebrated under the theme “The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher.” According to UNESCO, in order to reach the goal of universal primary and secondary education by 2030, worldwide nearly sixty-nine million new teachers will need to be hired. “This ‘teacher gap’ is more pronounced among vulnerable populations—girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, and poor children living in rural or remote areas.” Today, thank a teacher for everything they do to further quality education.

Because You Are My Teacher

Written by Sherry North | Illustrated by Marcellus Hall

 

The child narrator in Because You Are My Teacher is excited to learn all about the world and its wonders. They have an unbounded imagination for all the things the class could do “if only….” The child is excited to share their ideas.  “If we had a schooner, we would have our class at sea / And study the Atlantic, where the great blue whales roam free.”

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Image by Marcellus Hall, 2012, text copyright Sherry North, 2012. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Other enticing rhymes follow the intrepid class as the kids try out different modes of transportation. They could study from camelback, traversing deserts and exploring the pyramids; peer from a whirling helicopter as it hovers over an erupting volcano; and ski past baby penguins gobbling down their first fish. From their river raft on the Amazon, the children could listen to howler monkeys “growl their spooky song.”

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Image by Marcellus Hall, 2012, text copyright Sherry North, 2012. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

A submarine would be the perfect place to learn about the ocean depths and its unique creatures, while from an off-road truck the class “would ride savanna trails, / Where Africa’s young elephants hold on to mothers’ tails.” These adventurous kids would love paddling in a kayak on a Grand Canyon river, soaring with hang gliders over the Australian outback, gliding on an airboat throug the Everglades, polling through Venice on a gondola, and zooming in a rocket ship for an out-of-this-world experience.

But the narrator and the class are happy right where they are. Why? Because: “Our classroom is our vessel, / always headed someplace new. / Because you are our teacher, / We’ll explore the world with you.

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Image by Marcellus Hall, 2012, text copyright Sherry North, 2012. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Sherry North’s exuberant ride of discovery honors all teachers and their students who daily adventure into new worlds together. North’s clever rhymes and superb turns of phrase combine with uncommon experiences to entice readers to join these exciting field trips. The last pages are a nice reminder that teachers bring the universe into their classrooms no matter where they are.

Marcellus Hall brings readers up close to the world of the sea, the vast sands of the desert, a slippery ice floe, the lush rainforest, and more exotic environments with his bold, vibrant artwork. The denizens of these world landmarks nearly walk off the page into a child’s reading area, and kids will love searching for the little mouse that is the class’s constant companion on their journey.

Because I Had a Teacher would make a much-appreciated gift for a teacher or future teacher as well as an inspiring book for classroom, public, and home libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012 | ISBN 978-0545768887

Discover more about Sherry North and her art on her website.

To learn more about Marcellus Hall, his books, and his art, visit his website.

World Teacher’s Day Activity

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Thank You, Teacher! Certificate

 

If you have a favorite teacher, here’s a printable Thank You, Teacher Certificate for you to color, fill out, and give to them today or any day.

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You can find Because You Are My Teacher at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

Usually, I match books to existing holidays. Today, though, I have the pleasure of posting a review of a book that established a holiday. On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration.

The Dot

By Peter H. Reynolds

 

At the end of art class, Vashti looked at her paper. It was still as blank as it was at the beginning of art class. Her teacher came over and took a peek. She saw right away that Vashti had drawn “‘a polar bear in a snowstorm.’” Vashti wasn’t fooled by the joke. “‘I just CAN’T draw,’” she said. But her teacher had a suggestion. “‘Just make a mark and see where it takes you.’”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti jabbed at the paper with a marker, making a dot right in the center. Her teacher studied her drawing carefully then told Vashti to sign it. That, at least, was something Vashti could do. She signed her name and gave the paper to her teacher. At the next week’s art class, Vashti was stunned to see her dot framed and hanging above the teacher’s desk. She looked at the tiny mark and decided that she could do better than that.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti opened her watercolor set and began. She “painted and painted. A red dot. A purple dot. A yellow dot. A blue dot.” Then she discovered that blue mixed with yellow made a green dot. Vashti went to the easel and began painting lots of little dots in all sorts of colors. She realized if she could make little dots, she could make big dots. She knelt down on the floor with a big piece of paper and a big brush and created a huge dot.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Then on an enormous canvas Vashti “made a dot by not making a dot.” At the school art show, Vashti’s dot paintings covered two walls and were quite a hit. Coming around the corner a little boy spied Vashti. He came close and told her, “‘You’re a really great artist. I wish I could draw.’” Vashti was encouraging, but the little boy said he couldn’t even “‘draw a straight line with a ruler.’”

Vashti wanted to see. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. With a quivering pencil, he drew a line and handed the paper back to her. Vashti studied the wavy line for a minute, and then gave the paper back. “‘Please…sign it,’” she said.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Peter H. Reynold’s classic story of a little girl who believes she can’t draw is inspirational for anyone at any age who listens too closely to that voice in their head that stops them from letting go and doing. Whether it’s painting, writing, changing the décor of one’s house, updating a wardrobe, getting healthy, or even taking a class, the project often seems insurmountable. But what if you could start with a YouTube video, one step, a pair of earrings, a pillow, a word, or…a dot? Reynolds says you can! With his straightforward storytelling, Reynolds gives readers permission to play, experiment, and feel free.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Reynold’s familiar line drawings that sketch out adorable Vashti and her wise teacher are punctuated by the colorful dots that Vashti draws in profusion. Even Vashti, herself, is surrounded by circular auras of color throughout the story, reflecting her talent and creative spirit. The final scene of the art show gallery is a revelation, showing readers that one’s work or life work adds up to an impressive display of the self.

Through and through The Dot is charming, moving, and encouraging. It is a must addition to home libraries, public libraries, and classrooms.

Ages 5 and up

Candlewick Press, 2003 | 978-0763619619

Discover more about International Dot Day, download an Educator’s Guide, and see a gallery of projects on thedotclub.org.

You’ll learn more about Peter H, Reynolds, his books, and his art as well as find lots of inspiration and creative tips on his website!

International Dot Day Activity

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Decorate the Dots Coloring Page

 

How would you color these dots? Grab your favorite paints, markers, or crayons and let your imagination fly with this printable Decorate the Dots Coloring Page.

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You can find The Dot at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 12 – National Day of Encouragement

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was conceived by the Encouragement Foundation at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas as a day to prompt people to perform deliberate acts of encouragement to cheer and inspire others. On September 12, 2007 Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe signed a proclamation for a “State Day of Encouragement.” President George W. Bush later established September 12 a National Day of Encouragement. To celebrate, say a kind word, mail a card, make a call, or send a text to anyone who needs a little more encouragement to complete a goal, deal with a problem, or just to have a good day.

Hanukkah Hamster

Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

The city was decorated with twinkling lights for the holidays, and busy shoppers bustled in and out of stores, delivered there by Edgar and his cab. After one shift, Edgar was so tired he took a nap in the back seat. He was awakened when “Ohhhf! Something scrambled onto his chest. Ayyee! Something hairy brushed his face.” Edgar opened one eye to see… a hamster! He picked it up and gazed at its tiny eyes and ears and feet.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Edgar wondered which of his many customers may have lost the little hamster as he called in to the cab company’s lost and found department. Edgar took the little hamster home and shredded some paper to make him a bed. Then he went to his menorah, said the Hanukkah blessing, and lit two candles. All the next day as he drove people in his cab, Edgar wondered if someone had claimed the hamster, but no one did.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That night after lighting three candles, Edgar made a chopped salad dinner for himself and a tiny one for the hamster. As he watched the little animal nibble on a chickpea, Edgar asked, “‘Okay if I call you Chickpea?’” No one had claimed Chickpea the next day either, so Edgar went to the pet store and bought hamster food. At home, he lit four candles and gave Chickpea some food. As Chickpea ate, “Edgar took pictures on his phone and shared them with his family in Israel.”

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, Edgar made Chickpea “a slide out of a cardboard tube. Chickpea whooshed down. Wheeee! His nose twitched.” As the week of Hanukkah went on, Edgar was fearful that someone might call about their missing hamster. He spent the evenings telling Chickpea about Tel Aviv until the little one fell asleep.

The next day, Edgar took a customer to a neighborhood on the edge of town. There he saw a woman who looked familiar. With her was her son. “Edgar felt a punch in his heart.” But he rolled down the window and asked the boy if he’d lost a hamster. The woman answered that she had bought the hamster for her classroom and thought he had escaped at home. “Edgar showed them pictures on his phone” of Chickpea eating salad, sliding through the tube and drifting off to sleep.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the woman saw Edgar’s menorah in one of the pictures, Edgar told them how he and Chickpea were celebrating Hanukkah together since the rest of his family lived in Israel. When Edgar began to tell them that he could return the hamster tomorrow morning, “the boy touched his mother’s arm, and the two of them exchanged glances.” The woman told Edgar that she thought Chickpea belonged with him. Then she wished him a wonderful holiday. That night, “Edgar said the blessing and lit all the candles on the menorah.” Then, while he enjoyed a doughnut, Chickpea ran and ran on his new wheel.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Immersed in the special yearning for family and togetherness the holidays bring, Michelle Markel’s touching story glows with kindness and empathy. The growing friendship between Edgar and Chickpea will tug at readers’ hearts just as it does for Edgar, who so hopes to keep the little hamster but also knows there may be someone in the city missing him. As the days pass, and Edgar, alone for Hanukkah, shares his traditions with the hamster, readers also become participants in the holiday. Children will be riveted to the increasing suspense, and the pitch-perfect solution is joyful and satisfying. Realistic dialogue and honestly portrayed emotions provides depth to this moving story.

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From the tiny white lights lining main street to the first glimpse of the little hamster to Edgar’s cozy apartment with his menorah in the window, André Ceolin’s richly colored illustrations invite readers into Edgar’s life with his new friend, Chickpea. Chickpea is adorable as it nibbles on salad, poses for pictures, and curls up in its shredded paper bed. Images of Edgar lighting the menorah are luminous, and the Edgar and Chickpea’s smiles will spark happiness in readers’ hearts.

The portrayals of friendship, generosity, empathy, and family make Hanukkah Hamster a poignant story for all children to share not only at the holidays but all year around. The book would make a wonderful gift and much loved addition to home and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363995

Discover more about Michelle Markel and her books on her website.

To learn more about André Ceolin, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Day of Encouragement Activity

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Random Acts of Encouragement Cards to Share

 

Today’s a day to spread a little encouragement to friends, neighbors, teachers, and anyone who looks as if they could use some cheering up.

Random Acts of Encouragement Cards 1Random Acts of Encouragement Cards 2

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You can find Hanukkah Hamster at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 24 – It’s Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact paying attention to those little moments during each day, going on spontaneous outings with friends or family, or taking time to do a favorite activity may be all you need to feel happier every day!

My Heart Fills With Happiness

Written by Monique Gray Smith | Illustrated by Julie Flett

 

A little girl gazes into her mother’s eyes as she sits on her lap wrapped in a big, soft blanket. She thinks, “My heart fills with happiness when…I see the face of someone I love.” Waiting for the bannock to bake, a mother and her children huddle close around the oven surrounded by the delicious aroma that fills their hearts with joy. Singing brings its own lightness and pleasure as it fills one’s soul.

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Image copyright Julie Flett, 2016. Courtesy of Orca Books Publishing.

A girl lifts her face to the sky and swirls around, her dress floating with a swish as she smiles to “feel the sun dancing on [her] cheeks.” Happiness can be the tickly feeling of “walking barefoot on the grass,” the freedom of dancing, and the security of holding a loved one’s hand. Hearing stories and making music can also set hearts racing with delight. When you think about joy, what do you see? “What fills your heart with happiness?”

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Image copyright Julie Flett, 2016, text copyright Monique Gray Smith, 2016. Courtesy of Orca Books Publishing.

Monique Gray Smith’s sweet book for little ones about the various types of happiness offers readers and listeners a moment to stop and share the connection that joy brings. Whether feelings of happiness come from outside influences or from deep within, Smith encourages readers to reflect on what really makes them happy. Such awareness can inspire future activities and improve your quality of life. Smith’s lyrical phrasing and choice of pleasures will delight little ones, who will recognize each as a bond of love.

Julie Flett’s beautiful illustrations of indigenous families spending loving moments together are infused with warmth and strength. In her vignettes of the unhurried occasions that allow for profound happiness, children and adults sit together, hold hands, and wrap their arms around each other. Little ones also discover the individual joys found in a sunbeam, a blade of grass, or the abandon of dance. 

My Heart Fills With Happiness would be wonderful quiet book to add to a little one’s bookshelf to start a happy day or invite sweet dreams. 

Ages 2 – 4

Orca Book Publishers, 2016 | ISBN 978-1459809574 

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My Heart Fills With Happiness / Ni Sâkaskineh Mîyawâten Niteh Ohcih, 2018 | ISBN 978-1459820180

Discover more about Monique Gray Smith, her writing, and speaking engagements on her website!

View a gallery of books and illustration work by Julie Flett on her website!

Happiness Happens Month Activity

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Happiness Cards

 

Happiness can happen anywhere, and you can help make someone’s day extra happy with these printable Happiness Cards. Just give them to a friend, someone in your family, or someone who looks as if they need a pick-me-up. It’ll make you feel happy too!

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You can find My Heart Fills with Happiness and My Heart Fills With Happiness / Ni Sâkaskineh Mîyawâten Niteh Ohcih at these booksellers

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

English/Plains Cree: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 3 – It’s National Back to School Month

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About the Holiday

It may seem like summer vacation just began, but it’s already time to start thinking about the new school year. The stores are stocked with clothes, supplies, and plenty of gear to make the new school year the best ever. But the stuff of going to school is just part of getting ready. Kids are looking forward—eagerly or maybe with a little trepidation—to meeting new friends, having new teachers, and exploring new subjects and ideas. Making the transition to a different grade easier and exciting is what National Back to School Month is all about.

Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of Idea Jar to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with Simon & Schuster in a giveaway of a copy of Idea Jar. See details below.

Idea Jar

Written by Adam Lehrhaupt | Illustrated by Deb Pilutti

 

On the teacher’s desk sits an Idea Jar that holds her student’s story ideas. The teacher “says a story can be about anything” the kids want it to be. Like maybe “a space robot” or a “horseless cowgirl” or, yes, even that Viking who is trying to hoist himself over the edge of the jar to freedom. See, “there’s no such thing as a bad story idea,” and there are so many ways to tell your story.

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, text copyright Adam Lehrhaupt, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

You can even combine your own ideas or make up a story with a friend. And maybe even that Viking in the back of your mind would make a good character too. He certainly thinks so. His motto is “Everything is better with a Viking”—even a giant badger who has lost her pink dress.

There is one thing about the Idea Jar, though. “It’s important to create stories for your ideas, or else your ideas get rowdy.” Just look at that Viking, who’s poking…at…the…jar! “Oh no! The ideas!”  They’re all loose! Now the robot is shooting his laser eyes and the dragon is swishing its enormous tail and the ideas are running amok!

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, text copyright Adam Lehrhaupt, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

“These ideas need a story. Will you help?” Great! Should we? Should we start with the Viking? What if he gets into a battle with the space robot? Then gets rescued by the dragon? Who’s ridden by the horseless cowgirl! What? You’d like to change some ideas around? Go for it! This is your story, after all! “Wow! You were awesome!” You made all of those story ideas very, very happy. But it’s time that they went back in the jar to meet some other ideas for next time.

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2018, text copyright Adam Lehrhaupt, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

As the award-winning author of Warning: Do Not Open this Book, Please Open this Book, This is a Good Story, and many others, Adam Lehrhaupt knows a thing or two—or three—about corralling ideas into a story. By appealing directly to students and any story creator, the narrator of the madcap Idea Jar will excite kids to pay attention to the ideas rattling around and flashing through their minds and inspire them to write, draw, or tell their own stories. The persistent Viking, who gives story suggestions throughout the book and nudges the story along, will delight kids and can serve two purposes for teachers or other writing coaches.

With his infectious enthusiasm, the Viking is that great idea that knocks at your consciousness until it is used. His whispered recommendations may also remind writers and artists of that little self-editor who so often can keep great ideas from running free. Learning to manage both of these is what great storytelling is all about. As the Viking sails into the classroom portrayed in the book, kids will jump at the chance to turn on their imaginations and give him—and their own characters—a story full of suspense, humor, and unexpected twists and turns.

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

As a space robot rockets from the Idea Jar, a horseless cowgirl lifts herself over the edge, and a big, scaly arm reaches from within to pull out the words “dragon” and “giant,” kids will be instantly invested in these characters without a story…yet. Deb Pilutti’s vibrant and dynamic illustrations show the creative process in action, whether a child’s talent lies in writing, drawing, or even reciting ideas aloud. The crafty Viking makes a frequent appearance—just like any good idea does—to prod the ideas in the jar (including the horseless cowgirl, the space robot, and the dragon as well as a pirate, a unicorn, a giraffe, a monster, and various animals) to unleash their inventive power. As the story comes together, the students and teacher cheer as they see their creation come to life. 

Kids will love answering the call to create a story and interacting with the ideas in Idea Jar. Idea Jar is infused with the natural spontaneity and inventiveness of children’s imaginations, making it a winner for jump-starting writing or art lessons in classrooms and inspiring creativity at home for kids and adults.

Ages 4 – 8 (and up)

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481451666

Discover more about Adam Lehrhaupt and his books on his website.

To learn more about Deb Pilutti, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Deb Pilutti

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Today I’m excited to talk with author/illustrator Deb Pilutti about her new book Idea Jar with Adam Lehrhaupt, her branding work inspired by vintage signs, and the old Creepy Crawlies Thingmaker, a toy which I was surprised and delighted to discover we both loved as children.

Readers will love the way the characters interact with each other and with the kids writing and drawing stories in Idea Jar. Can you describe your journey from when you first received Adam Lehrhaupt’s manuscript for Idea Jar to the finished book?

I am a fan of Adam’s Warning: Do Not Open this Book! so I was quite excited when Paula Wiseman at Simon & Schuster asked me if I would like to illustrate IDEA JAR. Who wouldn’t want to illustrate a book with a Space Robot, a Viking, a cowgirl and a Dragon as the main characters? Adam left a lot of room for me to play. He did not specify what the other ideas in the jar would be, only the characters he had written into the text. It was fun to develop additional characters and their relationships and mini-side stories, like the developing friendship between the Yeti and the small dog, and the mouse driving a race car.

Kids’ imaginations are always so full of possibilities, and they can make such funny and amazing leaps of character and plot. What are some steps you’d give young writers and illustrators for capturing those snatches of imagination and developing an idea into their own story?

Keep a journal. I have several that I write or doodle in. If there is something I find interesting, like an idea or a character, I go back to it and try to work out a story. I start by asking questions of the character or situation. What would happen if… type of questions.

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Your branding work for Sea World, Warner Brothers, artists, food trucks, and more are infused with such a fun vintage vibe. Do you have a favorite decade to draw design ideas from, and why?

I absolutely love vintage signage and type from the 50s and 60s. Some of it is so campy while others can be evocative or elegant. The colors used were bold and saturated.

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Before you began illustrating and writing for children, you designed toys, and in your recent release The Secrets of Ninja School, the main character makes dragon stuffies for all of her classmates. Why do you think playing with traditional toys is so important for children? What was your favorite toy when you were a child?

Mostly because it’s fun. I also think it’s a way to navigate the world, but that isn’t something I thought about as a child. When I was young, I loved making Creepy Crawlers, which was an incredibly dangerous toy at that time. You pored possibly toxic goop into a metal mold and cooked it in a blisteringly hot ThingmakerTM oven, which resulted in many scorched fingers. But totally worth it, because once the plate cooled, you would have an army of colorful and stretchy bugs.

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My cousin is a graphic designer and whenever I visited her as a child I loved seeing her special corner of the house. It was so full of color and knick-knacks (inspiration, really, I guess) and works in progress, that I developed a fascination with artists’ studios. Do you mind describing your work space a little? What is your favorite thing in it?

My studio is in a small bedroom. I have a long table with a computer and extra monitor set up on it, and I sometimes sketch here as well. A painting easel is in the corner of the room. It’s a very messy place, with papers everywhere and knick-knacks and toys and bits of shiny things on every surface. I like all of my toys, but my favorite one is a realistic toy model of a T-rex with a moveable jaw.

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What’s the best part of being a children’s illustrator and author?

I have always loved books. To be involved with the art of bookmaking is a wondrous thing. My favorite part of the process is making the final illustrations.

Do you have any anecdotes from a reading or event that you’d like to share?

I was visiting a school last April and had a blast creating stories with the students using an Idea Jar. We made some pretty silly stories together. One student came up with a zombie tomato for a character, which was brilliant!

What’s up next for you?

I’m currently working on final illustrations for two books. The first is Old Rock (is not boring). A story about a rock sounds like it could be boring, right? At least Old Rock’s friends think so. Old Rock reveals her own surprising story, slowly and languidly, as rocks do. I’m also illustrating a sequel to Ten Rules of Being a Superhero. It’s called Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero. I had so much fun with the characters from the first book that they are back for another adventure. Lava Boy’s superhero toy, Captain Magma, wants to fly more than anything. They devise a plan, which does not go as anticipated.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Summer Solstice. I live in Michigan, which is quite lovely, but the cold and dark of winter can get a bit old. I miss the light. Our summer nights are very long. On Summer Solstice, I try to stay outside until the last vestiges of daylight disappear at around 9:45.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Yes, I illustrated The Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan, illustrated by Susan Collins Thoms.

Thanks so much for chatting, Deb! I wish you all the best with Idea Jar and all of your books!

National Back to School Month Activities

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Make Your Own Idea Jar

If you have lots of ideas looking for a place to hang out, discover how to make your own Idea Jar and find some cool starter ideas from Adam Lehrhaupt! Make your own IDEA JAR!

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Dream up Story Ideas

Do your kids (or maybe you!) want to think up awesome story ideas? Check out Deb Pilutti’s 5 Methods of Generating Story Ideas

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You can find Idea Jar at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 1 – National Say Something Nice Day

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About the Holiday

Starting off the month of June with a compliment, encouragement, or praise for the people in your life can only make the summer brighter for everyone. In today’s world where too often bullying and negativity are evident, a single nice word or action can make a tremendous difference in how people feel about themselves and those around them. To celebrate today’s holiday, look for opportunities to say something nice to your family members, friends, and those you meet during the day. But don’t just make this a one-day thing, whenever you see that you can share a smile or a laugh, tell someone they’re doing a good job, or help out—do it!

Be Kind

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Jen Hill

 

At school during snack time when Tanisha spilled grape juice on her new dress, the class burst out laughing. One student remembered that their mom always taught them to be kind and tried to make Tanisha feel better by saying, “Purple is my favorite color.” The student thought Tanisha would smile, but she just ran away. All during art class, Tanisha’s classmate thought about what they should have done instead, wondering, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

They think, “Maybe it’s giving.” Like baking treats for someone who lives alone, or giving away old clothes to someone who can use them. Helping out might also show kindness. For instance, “putting dirty dishes in the sink” or taking care of a pet. Paying attention to others could be another way to show you care. Like noticing someone’s new shoes, offering to be the new girl’s partner in class, or even just listening to someone’s stories—even if you’ve heard them before. Sometimes being kind is easy, but there are other times when it can be challenging or even scary—“like sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind.”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The child decides that maybe all they can do for Tanisha is to sit near her and paint her a picture of purple and green—of pretty violets. They hope that small acts like these will join with other people’s and that they will expand, fanning out from school into the community, across the country, around the world, and back. “So we can be kind. Again. And again. And again.”

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Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Miller’s tender prose is perfect for planting the seeds of kindness and opening discussions about what it means to be caring and compassionate. With more and more children speaking up and creating change, Miller’s gentle and affirming story shows readers that it’s often the little things that count the most. Some of the examples she gives are acts that many children may do already, confirming their innate sensitivity, while others may spark new ideas and expand readers’ definition of kindness.

Jen Hill’s soft-hued illustrations beautifully depict the emotional tug at the heart that Tanisha’s spilled grape juice sets in motion for the protagonist and young readers. As one caring child wonders what kindness really is, Hill clearly portrays diverse children helping out at home, at school, and in their community locally and—as the kindness spreads—around the world. Hill draws the caring student with gender neutral clothing and hair, allowing all children to relate to the story’s main character. 

Be Kind is a lovely perceptive and sensitive book that would be an asset to any home or classroom library.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1626723214

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jen Hill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Say Something Nice Day Activity

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Say Something Nice! Cards

 

Do you want to give someone a nice surprise? Print out these cards and give one to a friend, to someone you’d like to know, or to anyone who looks like they need a pick-me-up! If you’d like to make your own cards, print out the blank template and write and/or draw your own message! You can also print these on adhesive paper and make your own stickers.

Say Something Nice! Cards | Say Something Nice! Cards Blank Template

Picture book review