November 19 – Children’s Grief Awareness Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Created in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families in Pennsylvania, Children’s Grief Awareness Day is now recognized by organizations around the world. The day seeks to raise awareness of the painful impact that the death of a loved one has on a child and the fact that receiving support can make all the difference in their life as they grieve. It also provides an opportunity to make sure that these children receive the support they need.

The statistics are sobering. Before graduating from high school, one child out of every 20 children will experience the death of a parent. That number does not include those who experience the death of a sibling, a grandparent, an aunt, uncle or cousin, or a friend.

To learn more information on the needs of grieving children and find available resources, visit the Children’s Grief Awareness Day website.

Thanks to Candlewick Press for sending me a copy of The Boy and the Gorilla for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Candlewick in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers.

She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

The Boy and the Gorilla Giveaway

 

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Candlewick Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The Boy and the Gorilla, written by Jackie Azúa Kramer| illustrated by Cindy Derby

To enter:

This giveaway is open from November 19 to November 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on November 26. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Candlewick Press

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 24 – World Gorilla Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

About the Holiday

Instituted in 2017, the same year that the Karisoke Research Center, operated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, celebrated its 50th anniversary, World Gorilla Day encourages people around the globe to honor these majestic beasts and take action to help protect them in the wild. An annual fund-raising initiative, “Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call,” works with zoos, aquariums, schools, and other organizations to raise funds by collecting cell phones for recycling. To learn more about World Gorilla Day and ways that you can get involved or even adopt a gorilla, visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International website.

The Boy and the Gorilla

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Cindy Derby

 

The sun casts long shadows as a little boy, his father, and a few mourners walk away from the cemetery. In the background a gorilla, strong and watchful, knows he’s needed. At home, the boy and his father sit on the sofa, aware of the family and friends gathered, but separated by grief. The gorilla waits silently nearby, filling some of the empty space. Escaping into the backyard, the boy kneels in his mother’s garden to pick a tomato. Now that he is alone, the boy acknowledges the gorilla, who asks if he can help. “Okay,” the boy says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cemetery

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Here, to this friend of his heart, the boy can express his deep sadness as well as the questions he has about death. “My mom died,” he says. Gently holding one and picking up another tomato, the gorilla answers, “I know.” As some of the routines of life return, the boy and his dad are separated by their individual thoughts and the tasks that need to be done. But the boy works through his questions about whether all people die, where his mom went, and if she can “come back home” with the gorilla. To each question, the gorilla offers honest answers as well as comfort. His mom won’t come home, the gorilla explains, “But she’s always with you.”

When the boy misses the things he and his mom did together, the gorilla quietly suggests that his dad might do them too. The gorilla reassures the boy when he needs to be alone or look for his mother in out of the way places. Finally, the boy asks the question that tugs at his mind: “Why did she have to die?” The gorilla acknowledges his pain, saying “It hurts not to be able to be with someone we love.” When the boy wonders when he’ll feel better, the wise gorilla says, “When you know she’s still with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-strawberries

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

The boy is ready to see his mom in their shared activities, like baseball, baking, and gardening. Each of these are gifts from his mother that will stay with him forever, the gorilla reminds him. That day, the boy goes to find his father and tell him the feeling he’s been carrying: “I miss Mom.” His dad takes him in his arms and they share their grief. The gorilla embraces them with love and understanding. The boy and his dad sit together looking at photographs and talking about Mom. The gorilla watches them from across the room. Later, they plant new flowers together, and then as the sun sets and the gorilla ambles away across empty fields, the boy and his dad walk back to the house, hand in hand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-swings

Image copyright Cindy Derby, 2020, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2020. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In her emotionally resonant story, Jackie Azúa Kramer gives adults a poignant way to talk with children—and readers of any age—about the feelings of sadness, confusion, and loss that fill their hearts and days after someone they love passes away. Beginning with general questions that children have about death, Azúa Kramer offers honest answers or acknowledgements that “no one knows” the answers. She then leads readers to ways they can accept a loved-one’s death and find comfort in memories, discover the constancy of their love in shared activities, and reach out to others. Told entirely in dialogue between the boy and the gorilla and, later, between the boy and his father, the story feels as personal as an embrace, allowing a grieving child to identify with it without any distancing. Beautifully paced, the story ends with a sense of acceptance, hope, and renewal.

Cindy Derby’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations will stir readers’ hearts with her touching depictions of the little boy and his father, both struggling in the wake of the loss of their mother and wife. The gorilla, painted in shades of purple and gray, is a hulking, yet soft, presence, a representation of the magnitude of the boy’s sadness but his capacity to understand too. Derby incorporates fragility and strength into her images that reinforce the boy and father’s changing awareness: On the day of his mother’s funeral, the boy goes into the garden to pick tomatoes. The gentle care the gorilla takes in helping hold these tender fruit reflects his mindfulness of the boy’s vulnerability. At the park, the chains on the swing set, where the boy and gorilla come to terms with the fact that his mother will not come back, as well as the climber appear precariously brittle, yet they are both capable of holding great weight. And a single branch, no thicker than a twig, supports them as they talk about why the boy’s mother died.

Derby also evocatively portrays how the boy and his father are each processing their feelings independently as two-page spreads allow for the boy to appear on one page while his father is on the other. They gradually grow closer—appearing on the same page, but in different places or rooms. When the little boy courageously approaches his dad, their reunion is moving, and to see them sitting next to each other after the page turn is uplifting and affirming. Derby’s use of color, especially touches of red, adds metaphorical depth to the story, and children will want to watch for the little red bird that seems to watch over this family from page to page, until the boy and his father reconnect and move forward.

For any child who has suffered a loss or knows a friend who has, or for families looking for a way to discuss death and the process of grieving, The Boy and the Gorilla is a must. The book also belongs in every school and public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-0763698324

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cindy Derby, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-boy-and-the-gorilla-cover

You can find The Boy and the Gorilla at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

July 6 – It’s National Umbrella Cover Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-cover

About the Holiday

Okay, so this is one of those holidays that just make you say, “Hmmm….” But, really, you know…why not? Made of the same material as the umbrella, and either slippery enough to slide right off or maddeningly tight enough to require superhuman peeling abilities, the umbrella cover is apparently the subject of controversy: Is it useful or just a waste of material? One woman who is firmly on Team Useful is Nancy 3. (formerly Arlene) Hoffman, who–in 1996–founded the Umbrella Cover Museum. First displayed in Hoffman’s kitchen, her collection has grown from “seven or so” covers to more than 700–enough to warrant mention in The Guinness Book of World Records. The museum is now housed in  two rooms on Peaks Island, Maine. Today’s holiday was officially recognized in 2014. To learn more about Nancy Hoffman and her collection, visit the Umbrella Cover Museum’s website.

The Green Umbrella

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Maral Sassouni

 

On a gray and rainy day, Elephant went out walking with his green umbrella. He met a hedgehog who hailed him and said, “‘Excuse me. I believe you have my boat.’” Elephant was perplexed, so Hedgehog expounded on his theory. “‘I crossed deep oceans on my boat and faced the crash of icy waves. I saw dolphins leap two by two and tasted the salty spray of whales. The stars were my guide and my boat a faithful friend.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-hedgehog

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This poetic travelogue did not convince Elephant of the umbrella’s provenance, but he offered to let Hedgehog ride along and share in its protection. The two came upon a Cat, who took one look at the green umbrella and recognized it as her tent. Hmmm…said Elephant and Hedgehog. It was true replied Cat, and she related how when she visited the woods to study plants and flowers, she would rest in its shade and drink a cup of tea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-bear

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This story seemed no more plausible than Hedgehog’s, but Elephant invited Cat to ride along and share in the umbrella’s protection. As they continued on, the Bear approached, sure that they had his flying machine. “‘Your what?’ asked the Elephant, the Hedgehog, and the Cat.” The Bear got a faraway look in his eyes as he said, “‘I soared through clouds high up in the air and saw Northern Lights glimmer above rolling hills. I floated on wings free and far from the noise of busy towns below.’”

Well, Elephant could play this game too. The umbrella was his and his alone. When he was a child, Elephant said, the umbrella was his pirate sword, his tightrope balance, and his baseball bat. By this time the rain had stopped. Elephant rolled up his umbrella and said good-bye to the Hedgehog, the Cat, and the Bear. The three couldn’t stand to see their boat/tent/flying machine taken away, so they clung to the Elephant.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-tea-party

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A moment later they met an old Rabbit. “‘I believe you have my cane,’” he said. The others thought he was wrong. But this handy stick, the Rabbit explained, had helped him climb pyramids, hike mountains to ancient ruins, and navigate dark caves full of treasure. Again the Elephant objected, but seeing the old Rabbit mopping his forehead, he opened it and shaded the Rabbit from the sun. The Cat offered to make a pot of tea, and the Bear and the Hedgehog helped lay out a picnic lunch.

Under the cool umbrella, the five “shared their stories, drank tea, planned adventures, and became fast friends.” From then on when it was sunny, they went “Sailing, Camping, Flying, and Hiking” together. “And when it rained they stayed dry under the green umbrella.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-friends

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Jackie Azúa Kramer’s multi-layered story delves into the large points and small nuances of relationships old and new. The Elephant’s green umbrella is both a subject of envy and a uniting object. It also serves to demonstrate Elephant’s ability to stick up for himself as well as his willingness to share. As each animal presents an imaginative and compelling reason why the green umbrella belongs to them, the Elephant rejects the story while accepting the friend. In each animal’s lushly described imagination, Kramer does a beautiful job of showing readers how each of these friends are similar. She reveals that while friends can have different opinions, they can still find common ground.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-followers

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Maral Sassouni’s dream-like illustrations are both exotic and homey. Village houses give way to turreted and domed towers, and the imaginative stories the animals tell are accompanied by details as free, cozy, or eccentric as their tales. The Elephant’s account is cleverly rendered in sepia tones, showing the age of the memories and who the original owner of the coveted umbrella really is. The final images of the five new friends sharing adventures in the green umbrella are sure to delight little ones.

The Green Umbrella is a perfect book to share on rainy days or sunny days. With humor and creativity, the book provides an opportunity to talk about the nature of friendship and sharing with children. It would make an often-read addition to public, classroom, and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-0735842182

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer, her books, and a fun book-related activity on her website!

Learn more about Maral Sassouni and her artwork on her website!

Don’t wait for a rainy day to watch The Green Umbrella book trailer!

National Umbrella Cover Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-umbrella -friends-match-upUmbrella Friends Match Up Puzzle

 

These friends are all enjoying a day out! Can you find the matching pairs in this printable Umbrella Friends Match Up Puzzle?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-cover

You can find The Green Umbrella at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 10 – Stay Up All Night Night and Interview with Author Jackie Azúa Kramer

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-you-want-to-fall-asleep-cover

About the Holiday

Sure, everyone pulls all-nighters sometimes for work or school, and kids revel in pushing their bedtimes later and later. The founders of today’s holiday understand the lure of nighttime and present the perfect chance to stay up late and have some fun with friends and family. They also honor all of those people who work the night shift and encourage the rest of us to appreciate the sacrifices they make to keep hospitals, safety services, and other necessary businesses operating twenty-four hours a day. This worldwide celebration is sure to be a favorite with kids, so why not plan a sleepover or a family game night and enjoy the nightlife?!

If You Want to Fall Asleep

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Lisa Brandenburg

 

No sooner had Mama Mouse tucked Little Mouse into bed, kissed him on the head, and closed the door then Little Mouse began jumping on the bed calling, “‘I can’t sleep.’” Mama had a little advice: “If you want to fall asleep and you’re jumping on your bed… / Read pages in a story. / Not one or two or three, / but the whole book, from cover to cover.” Imagining adventures will fill the time while you “wait for yawning.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-you-want-to-fall-asleep-jumping

Image copyright Lisa Brandenburg, 2018, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2018. Courtesy of Clavis Books.

Pretty soon, Little Mouse interrupted Mama Mouse’s sweeping. He had read his favorite book and still wasn’t tired. Mama encouraged her little one to think about the pancakes and berries he’d have in the morning, and “wait for stretching.” In a bit, Mama Mouse heard Little Mouse “rocking and rolling in his bed.” She suggested, “If you want to fall asleep and you’re tossing and turning… / Snuggle up to things that are soft” and will remind you of friends and family, pets and toys.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-you-want-to-fall-asleep-flying-saucers

Image copyright Lisa Brandenburg, 2018, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2018. Courtesy of Clavis Books.

But even though Little Mouse tried it, he was still wide awake. He slid down the banister right to where Mama was having tea. She had just the thing to make her child sleepy and told him to count the stars and “remember wishes: birthday wishes, secret wishes, dream wishes. And wait for dozing.” The house was quiet as Mama read her book, but then she heard her Little Mouse still awake.

Mama Mouse knew one more remedy that was sure to make Little Mouse comfy and cozy and ready for sleep. She knelt down and hugged Little Mouse and he hugged her with “a warm embrace forever.” Then, said Mama, “when your heart feels full of love, remember dreams to come: sweet dreams, good dreams, peaceful dreams.” Little Mouse didn’t have to “wait for yawning”…or stretching… or even dozing because he was fast asleep.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-you-want-to-fall-asleep-hug

Image copyright Lisa Brandenburg, 2018, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2018. Courtesy of Clavis Books.

Jackie Azúa Kramer’s sweet bedtime story combines a twinkle of endearing mischief with the comfort of a lullaby to float little ones off to sleep and reassure them that they are always loved. As Little Mouse goes through the stages of sleeplessness—jumping on the bed, tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling, snuggling with toys, and frequent visits to mom in between—young readers will giggle with recognition. Mama Mouse’s suggestions of stories, treats, favorite loveys, and making wishes will make little ones cuddle up more closely, and her final solution of lots of hugs will spark plenty of real ones between adult and child. Kramer’s story line and realistic dialogue from Little Mouse flow nicely into the lilting rhythm of Mama’s poetic remedies. Both include repeated phrasing that children will enjoy reading along with.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-you-want-to-fall-asleep-endpaper

Lisa Brandenburg’s illustrations are as softly hued as a dream and include the kinds of details kids love lingering over. Little Mouse’s vivid imagination is fully evident as, from under the covers, he peeks with one eye at his toys beckoning for a little more playtime. These toys continue their nighttime capers, spilling out from Little Mouse’s room every time he gets up to join him in frolicking, hiding, and ultimately helping Mama put her sleepy one to bed. Throughout, Brandenburg includes visual humor and puns that kids and adults will enjoy. Readers will love keeping track of Little Mouse’s beloved kitty, and be ready to snooze with the whole crew (except Little Mouse?!) as they happily doze on the final page.

Rest assured, If You Want to Fall Asleep is a dreamy bedtime story that kids will want to hear again and again. It would be a star on any child’s bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 6

Clavis Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1605373959

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lisa Brandenburg, her art, and her books, visit her website.

Meet Jackie Azúa Kramer

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-headshot

Today, I have the pleasure of talking with author Jackie Azúa Kramer about her love of travel, little piggies, and, of course, getting kids to sleep.

What inspired you to write If You Want to Fall Asleep?

This weekend is Mother’s Day! So, I wish all the Mamas out there a very Happy Mother’s Day! When you meet Mama Mouse in my story, and her child Little Mouse, I am sharing a small window into my world as a young mom. After many sleep-deprived nights with my kids, I discovered there’s no one way, no one method, to get your over-tired, yet filled-with-imaginative-excuses, little one to bed. It seemed the moment I was high-fiving and declaring, “I got this!” was when it all changed. My kids behaved about bedtime as if sleep was a test like in The Princess and the Pea. I wanted to capture the crazy moments that make you wonder why you chose to be a mom while at the same time wish this time wasn’t so fleeting. Mama Mouse is every mother who loves her child.

celebrate-picture-books-pciture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-1

What was your favorite way to get to sleep as a child?

I don’t know why, but I needed to create the feeling of being in a burrow or cave. So, I would pull the blanket way over my head and disappear under the covers. I still do that sometimes. Blushing.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-2

On your website you have a picture of your writing space. Could you describe it a little and talk about your collection of piggies?

My piggies!!! Years ago, when I was in college, a friend gave me a small, blown-glass pig. I was enchanted by its delicacy and size. Like ‘Tennessee Williams’ I began collecting my own “glass menagerie.” The collection has grown and now includes pigs made of ceramic, clay, wood, pewter, silver, plastic, and even candy.

Wherever I travel, I always try and find a pig that reflects the culture. For example, I have two ceramic pigs from Italy that remind me of the farms I saw in the countryside. The best thing about the collection is that some are gifts from family and friends. Each pig has its own story loaded with good memories!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-3

You also have a snapshot of you and a young girl you met while volunteering. Can you talk about your volunteering efforts around the world? How did you get started? Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share? Has volunteering influenced your writing?

I’ve travelled around the world most of my life. Meeting new people, new vistas, history, and culture is my true heart’s desire. Volunteering took travel to another level. Unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to volunteer once in Israel and Ecuador.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-4

My father was born in Ecuador, and I had visited as a young girl, but I always knew I wanted to return. I can still hear the laughter of the young Quechua woman living in the remote village near a dormant volcano. Her smile came so easily and naturally, all the while knowing that the little she had (by American standards), came from very hard work, patience, and a good attitude. I’m not sure what she learned from me, if anything, but I’m certainly grateful and honored to have spent time in her beautiful country.

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

There’s much to love! The practice and process of writing. Seeing your ideas develop into a story then become a book and go out into the universe. The generous people that I’ve met in the kidlit world and had the pleasure to work with—editors and illustrators.

The passionate librarians and teachers who invite me into their classrooms. Each time I hope it’s a reciprocal experience—that the students and I may learn something about each other’s world experience.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-5

Number one on the love hit-parade are the readers that share how my story touched or inspired them or made them feel or think. Perhaps my story inspired them to write or draw their own story. It’s crazy to think, but all it takes is one person, one story to make a difference in a child’s life.

What’s up next for you?

I’m so excited about my next two picture books which share the same super-cute, super-spunky, and super-fun protagonist, Prunella or Pru. The reader is introduced to Prunella in That’s for Babies (Clavis, 2018), and in Miles Won’t Smile (Clavis, 2019) we meet her new baby brother, Miles. I feel names in stories are important; Prunella’s name reflects how properly silly and human she is. In addition, I’m thrilled to work again with illustrator Lisa Brandenburg.

The Boy and the 800 Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, 2020) is a story near and dear to my heart. A picture book about a boy, his father, and loss. As I mentioned earlier, one of the joys of what I do is working with illustrators. I can’t wait to discover other layers revealed in my story by illustrator, Cindy Derby. Here’s one of Cindy’s stunning illustrations (not for the book).

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-6

What is your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving! Food, family and fun! There’s a little Martha Stewart in me. I love pulling out all my favorite recipes, buying the freshest and best ingredients and setting a beautiful table. Full and happy bellies lead to (hopefully) good times. My kitchen table before the cooking gets started!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jackie-kramer-interview-7

Thanks so much for chatting, Jackie! I wish you all the best with If You Fall Asleep and all of your books!

You can connect with Jackie Azúa Kramer on

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Stay Up All Night Night Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dream-catcher-craft

Dream Catcher

 

Even if you can’t sleep, you can still dream! With this easy-to-make dream catcher, kids can keep their dreams until they all come true!

Supplies

  • Small wooden or plastic embroidery hoop
  • Colorful rubber bands or hair bands
  • Yarn or string
  • Three medium plastic or wooden beads
  • Three smaller plastic or wooden beads or perler beads
  • Two feathers

Directions

  1. Separate the embroidery hoop sections
  2. Stretch different colored rubber bands around the smaller hoop
  3. If the larger hoop has a screw on it, put it back on and tighten the screw
  4. Measure a length of yarn or string and slip it between the screw and hoop
  5. Making one side longer than the other, tie a knot to secure it to the screw
  6. If the embroidery hoop has no screw, lay two or three differing lengths of yarn or string between the two sections of the hoop before you put the top on
  7. String on beads and tie a knot to secure them
  8. Add feathers
  9. Tie a string or yarn to the top of the dream catcher to hang it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-you-want-to-fall-asleep-cover

You can find If You Want to Fall Asleep at these booksellers

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

Picture book review

February 10 – National Umbrella Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-cover

About the Holiday

When you grab your umbrella and open it (not indoors of course!), do you ever think about what an ancient device it is? The umbrella was invented over four thousand years ago and appears in art from ancient Greece, Egypt, China, and Assyria. The Chinese developed waterproof umbrellas to use in the rain by waxing and lacquering paper umbrellas. One of the first umbrella shops opened in London in 1830 and is still open for business there today. If it’s raining or snowing where you are today, celebrate the holiday by taking your umbrella for a spin. If you’re having fair weather, why not get yourself a new umbrella? After all, spring is coming!

The Green Umbrella

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Maral Sassouni

 

On a gray and rainy day, Elephant went out walking with his green umbrella. He met a hedgehog who hailed him and said, “‘Excuse me. I believe you have my boat.’” Elephant was perplexed, so Hedgehog expounded on his theory. “‘I crossed deep oceans on my boat and faced the crash of icy waves. I saw dolphins leap two by two and tasted the salty spray of whales. The stars were my guide and my boat a faithful friend.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-hedgehog

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This poetic travelogue did not convince Elephant of the umbrella’s provenance, but he offered to let Hedgehog ride along and share in its protection. The two came upon a Cat, who took one look at the green umbrella and recognized it as her tent. Hmmm…said Elephant and Hedgehog. It was true replied Cat, and she related how when she visited the woods to study plants and flowers, she would rest in its shade and drink a cup of tea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-bear

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This story seemed no more plausible than Hedgehog’s, but Elephant invited Cat to ride along and share in the umbrella’s protection. As they continued on, the Bear approached, sure that they had his flying machine. “‘Your what?’ asked the Elephant, the Hedgehog, and the Cat.” The Bear got a faraway look in his eyes as he said, “‘I soared through clouds high up in the air and saw Northern Lights glimmer above rolling hills. I floated on wings free and far from the noise of busy towns below.’”

Well, Elephant could play this game too. The umbrella was his and his alone. When he was a child, Elephant said, the umbrella was his pirate sword, his tightrope balance, and his baseball bat. By this time the rain had stopped. Elephant rolled up his umbrella and said good-bye to the Hedgehog, the Cat, and the Bear. The three couldn’t stand to see their boat/tent/flying machine taken away, so they clung to the Elephant.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-tea-party

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A moment later they met an old Rabbit. “‘I believe you have my cane,’” he said. The others thought he was wrong. But this handy stick, the Rabbit explained, had helped him climb pyramids, hike mountains to ancient ruins, and navigate dark caves full of treasure. Again the Elephant objected, but seeing the old Rabbit mopping his forehead, he opened it and shaded the Rabbit from the sun. The Cat offered to make a pot of tea, and the Bear and the Hedgehog helped lay out a picnic lunch.

Under the cool umbrella, the five “shared their stories, drank tea, planned adventures, and became fast friends.” From then on when it was sunny, they went “Sailing, Camping, Flying, and Hiking” together. “And when it rained they stayed dry under the green umbrella.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-friends

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Jackie Azúa Kramer’s multi-layered story delves into the large points and small nuances of relationships old and new. The Elephant’s green umbrella is both a subject of envy and a uniting object. It also serves to demonstrate Elephant’s ability to stick up for himself as well as his willingness to share. As each animal presents an imaginative and compelling reason why the green umbrella belongs to them, the Elephant rejects the story while accepting the friend. In each animal’s lushly described imagination, Kramer does a beautiful job of showing readers how each of these friends are similar. She reveals that while friends can have different opinions, they can still find common ground.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-followers

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Maral Sassouni’s dream-like illustrations are both exotic and homey. Village houses give way to turreted and domed towers, and the imaginative stories the animals tell are accompanied by details as free, cozy, or eccentric as their tales. The Elephant’s account is cleverly rendered in sepia tones, showing the age of the memories and who the original owner of the coveted umbrella really is. The final images of the five new friends sharing adventures in the green umbrella are sure to delight little ones.

The Green Umbrella is a perfect book to share on rainy days or sunny days. With humor and creativity, the book provides an opportunity to talk about the nature of friendship and sharing with children. It would make an often-read addition to public, classroom, and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-0735842182

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer, her books, and a fun book-related activity on her website!

Learn more about Maral Sassouni and her artwork on her website!

Don’t wait for a rainy day to watch The Green Umbrella book trailer!

National Umbrella Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rain-stick-craft

Rain Stick Craft

 

The steady sssshhhhhh of gentle rain is a sound that never fails to relax. With this easy craft, you can create your own rainfall for whenever you need  to de-stress.

Supplies

  • Heavy cardboard tube
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wrapping paper or other paper 
  • Rice or popcorn – 1/3 to 1/2 cup
  • Paint (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Rubber bands – 2

Directions

  1. Paint the cardboard tube, let dry (optional)
  2. Cut the paper into 3-inch or 4-inch squares
  3. Cover one end of the tube with paper and secure with a rubber band
  4. Crumple and twist two or three long pieces of foil 
  5. Put the foil strips into the tube
  6. Add the rice or popcorn to the tube
  7. Cover the open end of the tube with paper and a rubberband
  8. Turn the tube end-to-end and listen to the rain

Picture Book Review

July 29 – Rain Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-cover

About the Holiday

Are you feeling a bit parched? Is the grass turning brown and the garden droopy? Would a rainy day be the perfect antidote? Well, today, wishing might just make it so! Throughout history people have relied on rain to nourish crops, fill up reservoirs, and cool things down. Rain is a crucial part of the ecosystem and a weather pattern that deserves its own holiday. So, no saying “Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.” You can do that tomorrow!

The Green Umbrella

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Maral Sassouni

 

On a gray and rainy day, Elephant went out walking with his green umbrella. He met a hedgehog who hailed him and said, “‘Excuse me. I believe you have my boat.’” Elephant was perplexed, so Hedgehog expounded on his theory. “‘I crossed deep oceans on my boat and faced the crash of icy waves. I saw dolphins leap two by two and tasted the salty spray of whales. The stars were my guide and my boat a faithful friend.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-hedgehog

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This poetic travelogue did not convince Elephant of the umbrella’s provenance, but he offered to let Hedgehog ride along and share in its protection. The two came upon a Cat, who took one look at the green umbrella and recognized it as her tent. Hmmm…said Elephant and Hedgehog. It was true replied Cat, and she related how when she visited the woods to study plants and flowers, she would rest in its shade and drink a cup of tea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-bear

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This story seemed no more plausible than Hedgehog’s, but Elephant invited Cat to ride along and share in its protection. As they continued on, a Bear approached, sure that they had his flying machine. “‘Your what?’ asked the Elephant, the Hedgehog, and the Cat.” The Bear got a faraway look in his eyes as he said, “‘I soared through clouds high up in the air and saw Northern Lights glimmer above rolling hills. I floated on wings free and far from the noise of busy towns below.’”

Well, Elephant could play this game too. The umbrella was his and his alone. When he was a child, Elephant said, the umbrella was his pirate sword, his tightrope balance, and his baseball bat. By this time the rain had stopped. Elephant rolled up his umbrella and said good-bye to the Hedgehog, the Cat, and the Bear. The three couldn’t stand to see their boat/tent/flying machine taken away, so they clung to the Elephant.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-tea-party

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A moment later they met an old Rabbit. “‘I believe you have my cane,’” he said. The others thought he was wrong. But this handy stick, the Rabbit explained, had helped him climb pyramids, hike mountains to ancient ruins, and navigate dark caves full of treasure. Again the Elephant objected, but seeing the old Rabbit mopping his forehead, he opened it and shaded the Rabbit from the sun. The Cat offered to make a pot of tea, and the Bear and the Hedgehog helped lay out a picnic lunch.

Under the cool umbrella, the five “shared their stories, drank tea, planned adventures, and became fast friends.” From then on when it was sunny, they went “Sailing, Camping, Flying, and Hiking” together. “And when it rained they stayed dry under the green umbrella.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-friends

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Jackie Azúa Kramer’s multi-layered story delves into the large points and small nuances of relationships old and new. The Elephant’s green umbrella is both a subject of envy and a uniting object. It also serves to demonstrate Elephant’s ability to stick up for himself as well as his willingness to share. As each animal presents an imaginative and compelling reason why the green umbrella belongs to them, the Elephant rejects the story while accepting the friend. In each animal’s lushly described imagination, Kramer does a beautiful job of showing readers how each of these friends are similar. She reveals that while friends can have different opinions, they can still find common ground.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-followers

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Maral Sassouni’s dream-like illustrations are both exotic and homey. Village houses give way to turreted and domed towers, and the imaginative stories the animals tell are accompanied by details as free, cozy, or eccentric as their tales. The Elephant’s account is cleverly rendered in sepia tones, showing the age of the memories and who the original owner of the coveted umbrella really is. The final images of the five new friends sharing adventures in the green umbrella are sure to delight little ones.

The Green Umbrella is a perfect book to share on rainy days or sunny days. With humor and creativity, the book provides an opportunity to talk about the nature of friendship and sharing with children. It would make an often-read addition to public, classroom, and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-0735842182

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer, her books, and a fun book-related activity on her website!

Learn more about Maral Sassouni and her artwork on her website!

Don’t wait for a rainy day to watch The Green Umbrella book trailer!

Rain Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rain-stick-craft

 

Rain Stick Craft

 

The steady sssshhhhhh of gentle rain is a sound that never fails to relax. With this easy craft, you can create your own rainfall for whenever you need  to de-stress.

Supplies

  • Heavy cardboard tube
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wrapping paper or other paper 
  • Rice or popcorn – 1/3 to 1/2 cup
  • Paint (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Rubber bands – 2

Directions

  1. Paint the cardboard tube, let dry (optional)
  2. Cut the paper into 3-inch or 4-inch squares
  3. Cover one end of the tube with paper and secure with a rubber band
  4. Crumple and twist two or three long pieces of foil 
  5. Put the foil strips into the tube
  6. Add the rice or popcorn to the tube
  7. Cover the open end of the tube with paper and a rubberband
  8. Turn the tube end-to-end and listen to the rain

Picture Book Review