April 4 – It’s National Humor Month

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About the Holiday

Humor month was established to promote all things funny and to raise awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented. Lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Reading funny books is a fantastic way to find the humor in life—for kids and adults—and to encourage a love of literature. In fact, there’s even a Funny Literacy Program that can get you started! Click here to learn more and to find a list of funny books to celebrate with. You’ll notice that the Jon Agee—the author of today’s reviewed book—is at the top of the list.

Life on Mars

By Jon Agee

A little boy travels in a rocket all the way to Mars to find life on this mysterious planet. He strolls confidently away from his ship, past craters and mountains, singularly focused on his mission even though he knows that everyone thinks he’s crazy and “nobody believes there is life on Mars.” The boy is so focused, in fact, that he doesn’t notice a head pop up from inside a crater.

As he weaves his way around the planet, the boy decides that Mars is “pretty gloomy,” and begins to doubt that anything could live there. He’s disappointed, too, because he brought chocolate cupcakes, and now it seems he’ll never get to share them. By now the pink creature is is following along behind, completely intrigued. 

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Copyright Jon Agee, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers

The boy stops with the Martian only a half step away. I was wrong,” the boy thinks. “Mars is nothing but miles and miles of rocks and dirt! It’s obvious. Nothing could possibly live here!” Disillusioned, the boy drops his bakery box and heads back to his rocket ship, determined to return to Earth. The Martian picks up the box, the size of a chocolate chip in his four-fingered hand.

The boy wanders and wanders, but can’t find his ship. Suddenly, as the Extraterrestrial looks on, the awful truth hits him—he’s lost! “Lost on Mars, where there is no life.” In that moment, though, something catches his eye. High up in the crag of a cliff, the boy spies a yellow flower. He climbs to the top and gazes at his “amazing discovery.” As he picks the flower and turns to go, he sees his cupcake box sitting on a nearby ledge.

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Copyright Jon Agee, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers

He picks up the box, ignoring the fleeting conundrum of how it got there, and resumes the search for his space ship. He climbs higher onto the cliff, where an even taller rock juts skyward. “I bet I’ll get a good view from the top of that mountain,” he tells himself. He steps up onto the Martian’s backside, and happily locates his ship.

With his flower and box in hand, the boy settles into the rocket. As it roars off into space, he unties the string, thinking that he “deserves a treat” after his adventure. But where did the cupcakes go?!

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Copyright Jon Agee, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers

Jon Agee has such a wonderful way with quiet books in which the humor sneaks up on readers much like the alien in Life on Mars. Kids will love being in on the joke as the little astronaut wanders around the dark, lonely planet unaware that the very thing he seeks is right behind him. His discovery of the yellow flower and the moved cupcake box add suspense, and the final scene of the box full of crumbs is deliciously surprising.

The barren Martian landscape, set against the blackness of space, provides the perfect setting for the simple comic touches that propel the story. The first glimpse of the pink creature’s head in the crater sets the stage for the giggles to come, as single objects lead to the final joke. Readers will feel for the adorable creature as it copies the little astronaut’s expressions, scratches its head in bewilderment, and unwittingly becomes the stepping stone to the resolution of the boy’s search.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399538520

Check out more books and illustrations by Jon Agee on his website!

Begin the humorous adventure of Life on Mars in this book trailer!

Humor Month Activity

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Happy Alien Coloring Page

 

This alien is enjoying a funny joke, and you’ll enjoy coloring this printable Happy Alien Page!

Picture Book Review

August 10 – World Lion Day

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About the Holiday

The organization Big Cat Rescue established today’s holiday to bring awareness to the declining lion population. Habitat depletion, climate change, poaching, and other dangers have taken their toll on these majestic animals, and they are now on the endangered list. Global organizations aim to reverse the trend through education, protection, and governmental policy.

Lion Lessons

By Jon Agee

 

Passing signs for yoga lessons, violin lessons, Spanish classes, knitting classes, karate classes tutoring, a little boy turns into a shop advertising Lion Lessons in 7 Easy Steps. A closet to the right of a poster depicting “Great Lions in History” contains the appropriate garb—lion costumes. The boy steps into the body and attaches the mane. “It’s not easy getting your Lion Diploma,” the boy tells readers. “I know. I took lessons.”

His instructor, a lion himself, reveals that there are seven steps to becoming a lion. But first comes stretching. Converted yoga poses—“the Upward Lion, the Downward Lion, the Upside-Down Lion, the Rolling Lion, and the Flying Lion”—prepare them for the class to come. And, oh yes, they must shake their manes.

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Image copyright Jon Agee, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers

Step One to becoming a lion is “Looking Fierce.” The instructor demonstrates how to do it, complete with bared claws, gnashing teeth, and glinting fangs. The boy attempts these poses, but his instructor isn’t impressed. Step Two is “Roaring.” The boy steps up to the microphone and gives it his loudest growl. The sound barely registers on the noise meter.

Step Three is “Choosing What to Eat.” The instructor folds out the menu, with its wide choice of meats: “free-range muskrat, wombats, organic iguana, grass-fed gnu, all-you-can-eat antelope, sloth, prairie-raised anteater, and wild warthog.” Where’s the spaghetti? the boy wonders, only to learn that lions don’t eat spaghetti. Next up is Step Four: “Prowling Around.” Practice takes place in the forest where the boy learns to hide in the bushes and behind trees without letting his tail show.

Step Five is “Sprinting” and requires meeting the instructor at a faraway tree in five minutes; it took the boy one hour. After Sprinting comes “Pouncing.” The lion maneuvers the boy behind a woman talking on her phone and says, “‘It’s simple. You get a running start and then you jump on that lady.’” The boy protests that he will scare her to death. “‘Uh,’” says the lion, “‘that’s the idea.’” So the boy gets a running start and leaps—right into the lady’s arms. “‘What a cute little kitty-cat!’” she says.

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Image copyright Jon Agee, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers

Step seven is “Looking Out for Your Friends.” The boy peers through the telescope and sees a kitten: friend. The dog chasing the kitten: not a friend. The boy lets out a “ferocious roar.” He bares his claws, gnashes his teeth, paws the ground, shakes his mane and sprints across the field. When he’s within striking distance, he pounces…and saves the kitten! “‘Bravo!!’” congratulates the lion.

And that is how the little boy earned his diploma and became a hero to all the neighborhood cats in the bargain!

What kid wouldn’t like to be a lion—if even for a day? To be king of the classroom, or king of the playground, or even king of the house would be awesome. Jon Agee taps into that childhood (and adulthood?) mind set with his story of the little boy who channels his inner big cat to save a little cat from the neighborhood bully dog. Agee’s droll allusions to other popular classes enhances the humor for both kid and adult readers. Instead of yoga pants or a karate gi, the boy dons a lion uniform and proceeds on to perform lion-inspired exercises. While seemingly simple give-and-take, the dialogue between the two characters contains more dry wit that will have kids agreeing with their picture book counterpart and giggling at his predicament.

The over-sized pages and full-bleed colorful spreads allow for king-sized laughs. This is one lion instructor who takes his job seriously no matter how unsavory the menu or pouncing practice may seem to humans. Jon Agee never fails to entertain, and Lion Lessons continues the fun.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0803739086

To learn more about Jon Agee and his books and view a gallery of his illustrations, visit his website!

World Lion Day Activity

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Wooden Spoon Lion Puppet

 

Unleash your inner lion! With this craft you can make a ROARingly cute lion puppet!

Supplies

  • Wooden mixing spoon
  • Yellow Fleece
  • Brown felt
  • Colorful Fleece or felt
  • Fabric glue
  • Light brown marker
  • Dark brown marker
  • Hot glue gun or super glue

Directions

  1. To make the lion’s face
  2. Draw a nose, mouth, and eyes on the front/bowl of the spoon

To make the mane

  1. Measure the rim of the spoon from one side of the handle to the other
  2. Cut a strip of yellow fleece as long as rim measurement and 4 inches wide
  3. Fold the piece of fleece in half long-ways
  4. Glue the open edges of the fleece together
  5. Along the folded side cut a fringe, leaving the loops intact

To make the ears

  1. Cut round ears from the brown felt

To assemble the lion

  1. Glue the ears to the back of the spoon
  2. Glue the mane to the back of the spoon

To make the bow

  1. Cut a 3-inch x 1 ½-inch piece of colorful fleece or felt
  2. Cut a long thin strip of fleece or felt
  3. Pinch the bow in the middle and tie with the longer piece of cloth. Trim as necessary
  4. Glue the bow to the handle

To make the tail

  1. Cut three thin 4-inch-long strips of yellow fleece
  2. With fabric glue, glue the tops of the strips together
  3. Braid the strips
  4. At the bottom, glue the strips together, leaving the ends free
  5. Fold the top of the tail and push it into the hole in the handle of the spoon

May 26 – It’s Mystery Month

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing like a mystery to rivet your attention. Odd sounds, sudden darkness, unusual circumstances, eerie apparitions, and other unexplained phenomena have beguiled people since the beginning of time. We can’t help investigating to find out who, what, why, or how? Today read  great mystery—or solve one!

It’s Only Stanley

By Jon Agee

 

“The Wimbledons were sleeping / It was very, very late, / When Wilma heard a spooky sound, / Which made her sit up straight.” Walter goes out into the yard to investigate.  He finds their dog Stanley howling at the moon. A little later that night their daughter Wendy is wakened by a clanking sound below her floor. Walter goes down into the basement to investigate. There’s Stanley fixing the oil tank.

Next comes young Willie: “it was even later still, / When Willie smelled a funky smell / That made him kind of ill.” So Walter goes to the kitchen to investigate. He finds Stanley has constructed a homemade lab and is cooking up a bubbling catfish stew on the stove. At half past three Wanda hears a buzzing noise and Walter finds Stanley fixing the old TV.

Tiny Wylie comes in next, having heard a splashy sound, but Walter discovers it’s only Stanley clearing the bathtub drain. “Now Wilma wasn’t happy. / And the children threw a fit. / ‘We’ll never get to sleep tonight if Stanley doesn’t quit!’” So Walter says he’ll talk to Stanley but before he can leave the room a huge KAPOW! sends the family flying.

“‘I’ll go and look,’ said Walter, / ‘And I’ll be back very soon.’ / ‘It’s only Stanley.” Walter said. / ‘We’re going to the—’” Perhaps the biggest mystery isn’t how Stanley does all this…but why!

We know dogs are smart, but who can account for Stanley!? Jon Agee’s loveable, incredibly adept family pet is laugh-out-loud precocious as his nighttime exploits expand to out-of-this-world proportions. The clever word play, alliteration, and rhyming scheme of the text adds to the humor.

Kids will love Agee’s illustrations of the serious, self-assured Stanley as he goes about his tinkering all to the nonplused consternation of his family and the detriment of his nemesis—the household cat. As in many homes with pets, readers will rightly wonder—who’s in charge here? Kids will want to hear It’s Only Stanley over and over.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Group, 2015 | ISBN 978-0803739079

Mystery Day Activity

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What Went Missing In the Dark? Game

 

This fun and fabulous game combines memory building with just the right amount of suspense and spookiness. The game is best played at night or in a room that can become totally black when the lights are turned off. If you play in the daytime, just have the players leave the room while you take away objects.

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Rules

  1. Gather a number of small objects (the number will depend on the ages of the players. For younger players, gather 5 – 7 objects. For older players try 12 or more)
  2. Lay the objects on the ground or a blanket
  3. Tell the players to look at the objects for a certain amount of time. The time will depend on the ages of the players—a longer time for younger children, shorter for older kids (or to make the game more exciting)
  4. When the time is up, turn out the lights or send players out of the room.
  5. Remove 1 – 3 objects. To make the game more difficult rearrange the remaining objects
  6. Turn the lights back on.
  7. Let children guess which objects have been removed.
  8. Repeat until all the objects are gone
  9. For an alternate game, instead of removing objects, add one or two

Picture Book Review