December 31 – No Interruptions Day

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About the Holiday

Perhaps on this last day of the year you’re suffering from a little stimulation overload. Everywhere you go, it seems, there is something else begging for your attention, whether it’s flashing signs, sale advertisements, that chore you haven’t gotten to, or just coworkers, family members, or others wanting to say hi or needing help. On No Interruptions Day you’re allowed to take a little time for yourself to decompress and enjoy a bit of silence and relaxation. Sure, you can party later, but for now—Ahhhhh….

The Quiet Book

Written by Deborah Underwood | Illustrated by Renata Liwska

 

Quiet comes in many guises, for many reasons, and with many internal emotions attached to it. Each type of quiet is unique, compelling, and special. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a “first one awake quiet,” you have a bit of time to compose yourself for the day because you never know if you might experience “jelly side down quiet,” “thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet,” or even “last one to get picked up from school quiet.”

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Image copyright Renata Liwska, text copyright Deborah Underwood. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suspense is full of quiet—like “hide-and-seek quiet,” “pretending you’re invisible quiet,” and bubbling “top of the roller coaster quiet.” There are times when quiet is required, for instance “sleeping sister quiet” and “right before you yell ‘SURPRISE!’ quiet.” Experiences in nature inspire quiet awe, like “swimming underwater quiet,” “first snowfall quiet,” and “don’t scare the robin quiet.”

Concentration, commiseration, and companionship all contain their own depth of quiet, and the end of the day brings comfortable moments of quiet in story time, tucking in time, bedtime kisses, and finally “sound asleep quiet.”

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Image copyright Renata Liwska, text copyright Deborah Underwood. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In her sweet tribute to the wondrous moments of quiet, Deborah Underwood is always surprising. Her original examples of quiet times are both ingenious and familiar, lending depth, humor, and insight to those times of the day that may defy definition but are felt in the heart.  The Quiet Book is perfect for bedtime, but also for any time when quiet reigns. It’s a beautiful book for children who are more reflective and for whom quiet times are treasured.

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Image copyright Renata Liwska, text copyright Deborah Underwood. Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Renata Liwska’s soft, enchanting illustrations are as cuddly and comforting as a favorite blanket. Her little furry, spiky, and feathery animals navigate their day, experiencing those occasions of calm or turmoil with faces registering thoughtfulness, sadness, resignation, or cheer. Each page contains details, such as a bunny with an ear bandaged in solidarity with her friend who has a hurt tail and head, a bear holding a hiccupping rabbit upside down, and a cactus whose shadow is transformed into a monster, that will give even the youngest readers much to discover.

While the text on each page is sparse, the feelings they elicit are intimate and profound. Offering readers—both children and adults—much to discuss, The Quiet Book is a must for children’s home bookshelves.

Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2016 (paperback) | ISBN 978-0544809048

Discover the world of books by Deborah Underwood, including picture books, books for older readers, and nonfiction on her website!

View a gallery of picture book artwork by Renata Liwska on her website!

No Interruptions Day Activity

Quiet Time 

 

Finding opportunities to spend time in quiet contemplation or creativity is rejuvenating. Teaching children to appreciate down time and listen to their own thoughts is a gift that can bring them happiness and success that follows them into adulthood.

Today, set aside 15 minutes (or an appropriate amount of time for your child) and do one—or both—of these activities:

  1. You can do this with or without a piece of paper and pencil. Sit still and quietly in a place with no distractions and listen to what you hear. If you’d like write down the answers to these questions or just consider them:
  • What do you hear inside?
  • What do you hear coming from outside?
  • Can you tell how close or how far away the sound is?
  • In what way might you be a part of the sounds you hear?
  • Pick one sound and expand on its meaning
  1. Listen carefully to your own thoughts. What do you “hear” or “see”? On the paper draw or write whatever comes to mind, without changing it or erasing anything.

Picture Book Review

December 20 – It’s Write to a Friend Month

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About the Holiday

As long as you have a pen or pencil and some paper out to write a list, why not jot a quick note to a friend? Even just a few words like “I’m thinking of you” or a few lines about what you’ve been doing make a special surprise when they appear in someone’s mailbox.

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home

By Kazue Takahashi

 

Framed by his window Kuma-Kuma Chan, the little bear, sits at his writing desk penning a letter. It says simply, “How are you? Come visit me soon.” When it is received, Kuma-Kuma Chan’s friend begins the long journey to see him. “I have to ride a train for an hour, take a bus for thirty minutes, then walk for fifteen minutes,” the boy states. From the bus stop, the boy can see the red roof of Kuma-Kuma Chan’s house in the distance, and as he approaches he sees hisfriend waiting outside to welcome him.

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Copyright Kazue Takahashi, courtesy of museyon.com

The boy has been here before and once more enjoys the routine as “Kuma-Kuma Chan serves bear tea. The first thing he always does is serve bear tea,” the boy explains. It seems that the time between visits has been long, and at first the silences are longer than the conversation. In the quiet the boy watches “the dust floating around in the afternoon sunbeams” and looks “at the books on the shelf,” reading “the titles one by one….” Meanwhile Kuma-Kuma Chan may be having second thoughts about his hospitality. He “gets up and opens the window to let in some fresh air” and checks the expiration date on the bear tea.

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Copyright Kazue Takahashi, courtesy of museyon.com

By the time Kuma-Kuma Chan serves the rice crackers conversation comes easier. For dinner Kuma-Kuma Chan prepares a salmon dish as always. It is, the boy thinks, his favorite and “perfect for a bear.” After dinner the two watch television and enjoy a mutually favorite snack of chocolate and hot milk. Soon all of the chocolates the boy brought are gone and it is time for him to catch the last bus home.

He slings his backpack over his shoulders and says goodbye to Kuma-Kuma Chan, who invites him to come back soon. Framed in the golden light of his doorway, the little bear waves farewell to his friend as he ventures out into the sapphire blue night.

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Copyright Kazue Takahashi, courtesy of museyon.com

Kazue Takahashi, a Japanese illustrator and children’s book author, employs kawaii—the quality of being cute and adorable—in creating her quiet, moment-in-time story that focuses on the essence of true friendship. The boy and the little bear are happy simply being together. The details of the day that Takahashi chooses to highlight are ones that we as adults choose to overlook, but which for children are still new and fascinating: the way Kuma-Kuma Chan’s house “smells slightly of bear,” a self-consciousness on the part of a host, the desire of each party to please the other.

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Copyright Kazue Takahashi, courtesy of museyon.com

Each right-hand page contains a central image that highlights the spare text presented on the left-hand page. The white space surrounding the illustrations, which are free of all extraneous details, echoes the openness of the storyline. The only two-page illustration spreads come at the beginning of the story, when Kuma-Kuma Chan stands at his door welcoming the boy, and at the end, when the two are saying goodbye, emphasizing the connection of their friendship and perhaps also the distance between them when they are apart. The muted colors and downy texture of the images enhances the sweet charm of Kuma-Kuma Chan, who is no bigger than a thumbprint.

Kuma-Kuma-Chan’s Home would appeal to a varying age-range of children—and even adults. Young children would enjoy discussing the story page-to-page, while older readers would like the quiet respite the book offers. It’s depiction of a one-on-one friendship would be welcomed by introverted children as well. Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home is a perfect little book to keep on personal library shelves for those times when companionship—and cuteness—is needed.

Ages 3 and up

Museyon, 2016 | ISBN 978-1940842097

Write to a Friend Day Activity

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There’s Snow Time Like Now to Write! Stationery

 

Shorter days and colder weather usually means more indoor time. Why not write a short letter to a friend who’s far away or just down the street. Maybe make a game of it—see how many letters you can write to each other or send secret coded messages—and have fun writing! Print out this special Snowman Stationery and get started!

Picture Book Review

September 28 – Good Neighbor Day

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About the Holiday

With our busy lifestyles it’s sometimes hard to get to know our neighbors. We might give them a quick wave and smile as we’re driving in and out, but finding time to stop and chat can be more difficult. Today’s holiday encourages us to get to know our neighbors and become friends. Why not take the opportunity to say “hi” to someone on your block or in your building or even share a special note of thanks for being a great neighbor!

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

Written by Michelle Cuevas | Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

 

A man in a red stocking cap and clam digger pants sits at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee, sharing space with a tabby cat. His day as the “uncorker of ocean bottles” is about to begin. He follows the path from his isolated house on the hill down to the water’s edge, where he keeps “his eyes on the waves, watchful for a glint of glass.” When he sees a bottle floating past, it is his job to retrieve it and read the message inside.

“Sometimes to deliver a bottle, he needed only to stroll to the nearest village. Other times, he would journey until his compass became rusty and he felt loneliness as sharp as fish scales.” Some messages have been buffeted by the seas for a long time, and while some messages are sad, most make their recipients very happy, “for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl.”

Although the man doesn’t mind living alone and loves his job, he sometimes feels a niggling wish to receive a letter himself. It is a fleeting dream, however, and as likely as finding a mermaid’s toenail on the beach,” because the man “had no name and no friends who would ever write him a letter.” One day, thoiugh, the man opens a very singular message: “I’m not sure you will get this in time, but I am having a party. Tomorrow, evening tide, at the seashore. Will you please come?”

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Image copyright Erin E. Stead, text copyright Michelle Cuevas, courtesy of Penguin Random House

Without a name or an address the Uncorker is at a loss as to how to deliver this very important invitation. It is such an intriguing invitation, in fact, that the man finds that he wants to go himself. With reasoned purpose, the Uncorker rides his bicycle into town to investigate who might know something about the letter. The maker of cakes studies the note but can offer no insight beyond the fact that he, too, would like to attend such a get- together.

At the candy shop neither the owner, nor a woman buying candy, nor a young girl know anything about the note, but they too wish they had been invited. The Uncorker meets others—a sailor, a seagull, and a one-man band—but no one can help him. The man goes home feeling dejected. Never before has he failed to deliver a message. Lying awake in bed he decides the only thing he can do is to meet the sender of the letter the next night at the seaside and apologize.

He arrives early with a gift of seashells and discovers the seashore “draped in seaweed and starfish. Candles floated in clamshells, There were sand sculptures and umbrellas.” Standing in the festive atmosphere are the maker of cakes, the candy shop owner, the woman and her daughter, and all the others the Uncorker had met in his search the previous day. As the rest of the group play music, the little girl asks the Uncorker to dance, and although the man says he isn’t sure he knows how, he twirls the little girl on the golden sand.

Later, sitting quietly the party gazes out at the ocean that has brought them together. The Uncorker has opened a gift chosen specifically for him and is enjoying a piece of cake while “his heart was a glass vessel filled to the brim.”

Michelle Cuevas’s unique story of a man adrift in life without the anchor of family or friends is a gorgeously written reminder that companionship is often waiting if we just invite it in. With moving language and fresh, evocative metaphors—in two of my favorites, loneliness is “as sharp as fish scales,” and some messages are “very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall”—Cuevas gently nudges readers to acknowledge the little voice inside and discover what else the world has to offer.

Erin E. Stead’s warm green, gold, and gray-hued illustrations rendered in delicate lines and gossamer washes are as wistful as the Uncorker himself. The man’s calm resolve is echoed in the serene ocean water, the soft companionship of his cat, and the tidy seaside town. There is a wonderful quiet, unhurried feeling to each page which seems to allow not only the Uncorker but the reader to enjoy contemplative moments. The final scene of the party happily enjoying the view and each other’s company fulfills not only the Uncorker’s deepest longing, but that of readers as well.

For it’s beauty and message The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles should find a place on every child’s and school library’s book shelf. Adults will enjoy this book as much as children and it would make a wonderful coffee table book.

Ages 4 and up

Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin, 2016 | ISBN 978-0803738683

Discover more books by Michelle Cuevas on her website!

View a gallery of artwork and children’s book illustration by Erin E. Stead on her website!

Good Neighbor Day Activity

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Bottle of Friendship

 

Sometimes a small gesture means so much more! With this easy craft you can make a unique-to-you message for a neighbor or friend that can later also be used as a vase. After making the Bottle of Friendship, take it to a recipient or leave it on the doorstep as a nice surprise!

Supplies

  • Recycled glass or plastic bottle, or a decorative bottle from a craft store
  • Glitter (Or Glitter Glue)
  • Glue
  • Real or imitation flowers
  • Small piece of paper
  • Thread or string

Directions

  1. Wash and dry the bottle
  2. Along the bottom (or in any design you’d like) spread the glitter glue. If using glue and glitter separately, spread glue and sprinkle with glitter.
  3. Let the bottle dry
  4. Write a note of thanks or friendship on a small piece of paper
  5. Roll and tie with thread or string
  6. Add flowers and the note to your bottle
  7. Deliver!

Picture Book Review

 

September 27 – It’s Fall Hat Month

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About the Holiday

As the weather turns cooler in certain parts of the world, it’s time to pull out those old favorite cozy hats or buy a stylish new one to keep your head and ears warm! Whether you like wearing felt hats, knit hats, furry hats, or even top hats—like the character in today’s book—this is the season for you!

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

By Ayano Imaí

 

Mr. Brown lived alone and, if you asked him, he’d tell you he liked it that way. He “had no friends and he didn’t want any.” If you were privy to his secret thoughts, however, you’d learn that Mr. Brown was actually very lonely. Mr. Brown liked to take long walks, and when he went out, he always wore his “smart,” distinctive hat. “One day while Mr. Brown was sleeping, a woodpecker flew down and started tapping a hole in his hat, thinking, ‘What a wonderful nest this hat would make!’”

When Mr. Brown woke up he was shocked to discover that a bird had moved into his hat. Someone living this close to him was not what Mr. Brown had in mind at all. Then to Mr. Brown’s dismay the “woodpecker soon told all his friends about the wonderful new home and invited them all to join him.” Soon Mr. Brown’s hat was full of holes—and birds! You might think a regular hat would not have enough room for so many residents—but Mr. Brown’s hat was no ordinary one. As more and more birds moved in, his hat grew taller and taller!

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

As the days went on Mr. Brown discovered that he was beginning to enjoy the birds’ singing and their company. Now Mr. Brown had renewed purpose in his daily walks: “He loved to show off his hat. Everywhere he went it was full of the music of singing birds.” People on the street took notice and wanted to emulate Mr. Brown. All over town people began wearing tall hats, “but the birds preferred to stay with Mr. Brown no matter how hard people tried to persuade them.”

One day as autumn settled in, Mr. Brown noticed that all the birds had flown away. He was sad and didn’t understand where they had gone or why they had left him. He wondered if he would see them again. The idea of a quiet life no longer held the appeal it once did, and Mr. Brown missed his friends. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care that the birds had left, but he continued to fill the feeders and watch out for them every day.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

Even though it was time for Mr. Brown to take a long winter’s nap, he tried to stay awake, worried that there would be no one to care for the birds if they returned. But nature took its course, and Mr. Brown fell into a deep sleep. One morning after a particularly vivid dream in which Mr. Brown could hear the birds singing, he woke to a tapping sound. He went to the door and peered out.

Spring had come and with it Mr. Brown’s hat had grown roots and sprouted branches and leaves. The old holes were filled with their previous tenants. The sight filled Mr. Brown with joy, and he finally could admit to himself that sharing his life with friends “was better than being alone.”

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition

Ayano Imaí’s gloriously beautiful book plumbs the nature of solitude and loneliness as well as the value of friendship with an honesty that is at once heartrending and uplifting. For so many quiet, introspective people—children and adults alike—navigating the world of small talk, casual relationships, and making friends is similar to traveling uncharted territory, where the language and mores are foreign. It can become easier to tell oneself that it doesn’t matter, when in reality it matters a great deal. Many times happiness comes when one finds their niche or, in some surprising way, a niche finds them.

Imaí tells the story of Mr. Brown and his fantastical hat in straightforward narration, but more profound meaning is revealed in her illustrations. Mr. Brown, it is discovered, is a brown bear who has taken on the aspects of humans. He walks upright, carries an umbrella and bag, owns a home, and wears a hat. His fur is even the same color as the townspeople’s clothing. But while he may be among people, he is not of them. His home has a grass floor which sprouts mushrooms and weeds; another weed pokes out from the bristles of his brush; a tree branch juts from a wall; and mushrooms share space with the laundry on the drying line.

Mr. Brown comes from nature and belongs with nature, so it is no surprise that the birds flock to him and prefer him to humans, who in an ironic twist long to be like Mr. Brown. I especially like the ending of Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat, in which Mr. Brown stays true to himself. He does not suddenly discover his “wild” side and become someone that he is not. He is able to remain a quiet, introspective bear while also embracing his friends, his love for them, and his place in the world. He finds inner happiness and loved ones to share it with.

Ages 3 – 8 (and up)

minedition, 2014 | ISBN 978-9888240845

Fall Hat Month Activity

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Favorite Fall Hat Matching Puzzle

 

Each child has a favorite hat for cooler weather. Follow the paths in this printable Favorite Fall Hat Matching Puzzle to find out which hat each child chooses!

Picture Book Review