November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

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The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

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CPB - the family and frog haggadah
 
 

They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

September 21 – International Day of Peace

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About the Holiday

The International Day of Peace is a United Nations sponsored holiday, which is dedicated to strengthening the ideals of peace by observing twenty-four hours of non-violence and ceasefire. Each year the holiday focuses on a theme. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s theme is “Shaping Peace Together” The 2020 theme for the International Day of Peace is “Shaping Peace Together,” with the idea that people celebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope as the world struggles with a common problem. People are also asked to stand together with the UN against attempts to use the virus to promote discrimination or hatred. To learn more, visit the United Nations website. Of course, for little ones, the values of peace and harmony begin at home. With today’s book, you can pass this comfort on to your children.

Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Ag Jatkowska

 

In her sweet ode to shalom bayit—a Hebrew phrase that means “peace of the home,” and celebrates the Jewish value of the home as a sanctuary from the stresses, worries, and noise of the outside world—Linda Elovitz Marshall gives parents and caregivers a book to share with their youngest children that shows that no matter whether a home is a den or a castle, it is a place where they can find contentment. With tranquil rhyming verses, Marshall introduces little ones to cozy nests, dens, underground tunnels, and other places where animals make their snug homes. “Shalom bayit, / bayit shalom! / Quiet places, / peaceful homes.”

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Image copyright Ag Jatkowska, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

In her nest on a high branch, a mother robin and father robin watches over their five babies, while below a squirrel fills a hole in the tree trunk with soft leaves and a mouse snoozes in a small cave in the roots. Turtles, worms, frogs, and a fox also happily make their homes in the pond and grounds nearby. From this calm, bucolic scene, Marshall takes children into a house, where three children spend time with their family, cuddled up with Mom as Dad reads a story. “A home’s a cozy, restful place, / a safe and loving family space,” Marshall says. “Shalom bayit, / bayit shalom.”

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Image copyright Ag Jatkowska, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Ag Jatkowska accompanies Marshall’s gently flowing verses with lovely illustrations of the sun-dappled banks of a pond and the natural places a variety of animals call home. The adorable squirrels, turtle, frogs, fox, worms, robins, and mice as well as the trees and flowers are painted in a calming, yet vibrant color palette that will enchant little readers. Jatkowska’s final spread of a happy home, where a fire burns in the fireplace as the family enjoys a relaxing evening together is a loving portrayal of the meaning of shalom bayit.

A charming board book to inspire comforting story times or bedtimes—especially during these challenging times—Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home would be a favorite on home bookshelves and is highly recommended for school and public library collections. The book would also make an excellent gift.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541542471

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ag Jatkowska and see a portfolio of her work, visit her page at The Bright Agency.

International Day of Peace Activity

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Peaceful Home Craft

 

Kids squabbling over what to do or bored because there’s nothing to do? With this easy-to-make craft, kids can find activities to do with siblings, parents, or other caregivers to pass the time and have fun together. Kids can recreate their own house or make a house from their imagination.

Supplies

  • Small recycled box
  • Paper
  • Tape
  • Colored Pencils, crayons, or markers
  • Wide craft sticks

Directions

  1. Tape closed the open end of a small box 
  2. Wrap box in white or colored paper
  3. Cut a wide slot on one side of the roof for the sticks
  4. Draw features of the house on the front, sides, and back
  5. Think of ideas that kids can do together by themselves or with an adult and write one on each stick
  6. Put the sticks in the slot
  7. When there’s free time, choose a stick and have fun with that activity

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You can find Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 12 – Month of the Young Child

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About the Holiday

This month is dedicated to families and their young children and aims to raise awareness of all the ways we can support and advance our children’s happiness and wellbeing. One way families do this is by celebrating meaningful holidays together and passing on beliefs,  history, and traditions. Passover, the Jewish spring festival that celebrates the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt and their freedom of a nation under Moses, begins on April 19th and is celebrated through the 27th. The holiday begins with a seder meal, for which family and friends gather to remember their history, have symbolic dishes, and celebrate the joy of freedom.

Kar-Ben Publishing sent me a copy of Paulie’s Passover Predicament to check out. All opinions are my own. 

Paulie’s Passover Predicament

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi

 

Paulie was a moos-ician who loved practicing the guitar in his basement studio, but today he had to cut it short because there was so much to do. Passover was starting that night, “and Paulie wanted his Passover seder to be perfect!” He headed to the grocery store to buy everything he needed for the meal. At the store he ran into two friends, Sally and Irving. They were excited about coming to Paulie’s house later that day.

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Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

With his cart loaded with boxes of matzah, grape juice, two moose-shaped candles, and other supplies, Paulie was ready. As soon as he got home, Paulie began cooking. Each dish was delicious. He set the table and “hummed happily as he placed the matzah cover over the matzah.” He smiled at the attractive picture of a moose printed on it. “‘Perfect!’ he thought.”

There was much excitement as Paulie’s friends arrived. They complimented Paulie on the yummy-smells from the kitchen and his decorated table. “‘The candles are very ‘you,’ Paulie, said Evelyn” while Sally commented on the unusual matzah cover. When they sat down to eat, Moe noticed the extremely large egg on the seder plate. “‘Yes,’ said Paulie, beaming. ‘An egg is a sign of new life. I used an ostrich egg to make sure everyone could see it.’” Sally pointed out that the salt water representing the tears of their ancestors looked different too. 

When Evelyn tasted the charoset that reminded them of the bricks and mortar their “ancestors used to build the pyramids,” she questioned the recipe. Paulie admitted that he liked it with apples and pinecones instead of walnuts. In place of the usual parsley, Paulie had used his “favorite green thing”: grass. This was met with some chuckles. Paulie had taken the horseradish maror rather literally and carved a horse from a radish. Hearing this, Horace couldn’t help but laugh out loud. And the lamb’s wool in place of the lamb bone set everyone else “roaring with laughter.”

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Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

“Big tears formed in Paulie’s eyes,” but his friends hugged him and told him that although his seder plate was a bit different, each element reminded them “‘of the meaning of Passover—in a Paulie way.’” Cheered, Paulie and his friends continued with the blessings, the Four Questions, and the telling the Passover story. They ate and recited the Ten Plagues. Then it was time for Sally to hide the afikomen.

Paulie felt better, but he really wanted to find the afikomen. He looked under the table and behind the couch then Paulie went to look in the basement. The afikomen wasn’t under his drum set or in the laundry basket. Paulie finally found it in the dryer, but when he tried to go upstairs, the door was locked! No one heard Paulie calling for help. He sat down on the stairs and considered his Passover seder. It “was not perfect at all…. And now he was stuck in the basement. ‘What a predicament!’ he thought.”

Just then he had an idea. He slipped the afikomen under the door, alerting his friends. They swung the door open, and Paulie was free! Paulie’s friends were excited to see that he had found the afikomen and would get the reward. But Paulie told them that being free like their ancestors was enough for him. Then everyone sang the song Dayeinu, happy to be together and free.

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Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

A short description of the Passover story and traditions follows the text.

Young readers will empathize with and cheer for Paulie in Jane Sutton’s sweetly emotional Passover story. In his excitement to host the perfect Passover seder, Paulie can’t help but include his favorite things instead of the traditional offerings. Even though his friends chuckle at Paulie’s missteps, they show their love for him with understanding and hugs. When he is freed from the basement, Paulie demonstrates the true spirit of Passover in his happiness to be with his friends again. Kids will giggle along at each unique seder dish while they also learn their symbolic importance.

Barbara Vagnozzi’s bright, joyful illustrations reflect the excitement children feel as they prepare for Passover—shopping, cooking, and setting the table with special foods and decorations. The camaraderie of the friends is infectious as they explain the various parts of the seder, enjoying Paulie’s unique, moose-centric spin on it. These good friends, smiling, talking, happily hunting for the afikomen, and singing together are adorable companions for this special holiday.

A fun and meaningful introduction to Passover for children and adults of all faiths, Paulie’s Passover Predicament would be a delightful addition to home and classroom bookshelves for any time of year.

Ages 3 – 8

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2018 | ISBN 978-1512420975

Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Vagnozzi and view a portfolio of her books and artwork, visit her website.

Month of the Young Child Activity

Celebrate Passover! Word Search

 

Celebrating Passover means honoring history, eating special foods, and having fun! Can you find the twenty words related to Passover in this Celebrate Passover! Word Search?

Celebrate Passover! Word Search Puzzle | Celebrate Passover! Word Search Solution

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You can find Paulie’s Passover Predicament at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

December 2 – Hanukkah Begins

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the celebration. On the first night, the first of the eight candles is lit using the shamash, or attendant, candle. Each subsequent night another candle is lit until at the end of the eight days all the candles are lit. The menorah is displayed in the window of homes and synagogues. Special blessings, traditional songs, prayers, oil-based foods, fun games, and gifts are part of this much-anticipated holiday. 

Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Andy Rowland

 

While enjoying a breakfast of Gorilla Flakes and bananas, Esther viewed her calendar. Time had crept up on her, and she realized with a shock that Hanukkah was only one day away and she hadn’t bought her friends any presents. She hurried out to the Jungle Store and hit the clothing department. There she found a pair of striped and a pair of argyle socks for her friend Sarah. “Then she spotted a bright red turtleneck. ‘I’ll surprise my friend Zack with this,’ she decided.”

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

In the sports department Esther spied a jogging suit. It was even on sale—“marked down from $13.00 to only $12.99.” Esther quickly put it in her cart for her friend Josephine. She also discovered a make-your-own jungle gym that would be perfect for Hal, and it wouldn’t even take that long to build. “Just 10 minutes…or 10 days at the most!” the directions on the box said. “In the book department, Esther picked up a paperback called 100 Jokes About Elephants.” The jokes were so funny that she bought it for her pal Oscar. Back home, Esther wrapped her gifts.

The next night “Esther placed two candles in her menorah. She lit the shamash candle and said the special blessing. Then she lit the candle for the first night of Hanukkah and said the other two blessings. She remembered the story of the Maccabees and the little jug of oil that lasted eight days.” Soon it was time for her to deliver her presents.

She was happy to stop first at Sarah’s house. Esther was sure she would love the socks she had gotten her. But when the little monkey opened her gift she burst out laughing and said, “‘These socks are big enough for an elephant!’” but added that the gifts were not the most important part of Hanukkah. Sarah’s gift for Esther was Gorilla-Vanilla perfume, which was the perfect thing to make Esther smell nice.

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Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

Next, Esther headed over to Zack’s house. When the zebra unwrapped the red sweater Esther had chosen for him, he frowned. “‘I never, ever wear red clothing,’” he said, citing “‘that terrible riddle.’” When Zack related the riddle, ending with “an embarrassed zebra,” Esther laughed and agreed that red was probably not the best clothing choice. Zebra’s gift to Esther was membership in the Coconut of the Month Club—a perfect, yummy gift. Esther was beginning to feel bad about the gifts she was giving

At Josephine’s house Esther learned that the jogging suit she had picked for her turtle friend missed the mark, while the princess costume Josephine gave her fulfilled her dream of dressing up like a human. A little later when Oscar the Elephant opened the joke book, he gently told Esther that he thought “the book was in very poor taste” and that “there should be a law against elephant jokes.” Poor “Esther wasn’t laughing anymore. In fact she felt more like crying. ‘I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,’ she said.” She felt even worse when she opened Oscar’s thoughtful cookbook 1001 Ways to Serve Bananas.

With one gift left to deliver, Esther was sure there would be something wrong with it too, and when she reached Hal’s house she discovered what that was. “‘Hyenas can’t climb jungle gyms like monkeys can,’” he told her as he handed her two tickets to The Gorilla Theater. As Esther trudged away, she felt miserable, but at home with a cup of tea she had an idea. She sat down and wrote out invitations for all of her friends to join her on the Eighth Night of Hanukkah. “‘Make sure to bring the gift I gave you!’” she added.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-esther's-hanukkah-disaster-after-dinner

Image copyright Andrew Rowland, courtesy of Andrew Rowland

When her friends arrived, they lit the shamash candle, said the blessings, and sat down to a delicious dinner. Afterward, Esther admitted, “‘I know that my gifts to you were a total disaster, but now you can trade!’” She looked at Sarah. “‘The two pairs of socks I bought you would fit an elephant,’ she said. Sarah smiled and handed the socks to Oscar. Hal’s jungle gym turned out to be just right for Sarah. Zack Zebra was thrilled to get Josephine’s jogging suit, and Hal laughed like the hyena he was at 100 Jokes About Elephants. And that red turtleneck was the exact thing for their turtle friend, Josephine.

After her friends left, Esther thought that her gifts had not been so bad. After all, they brought everyone together for a perfect Hanukkah celebration.

Jane Sutton brings humor and meaning to her Hanukkah story that reveals the true nature of the holiday and friendship. With clever gift choices and a sweet plot twist, Sutton’s Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster will have kids giggling and empathizing as Esther’s plans go awry. Her easy-going delivery invites kids along on Esther’s shopping trip and sets up the jokes and final swap in a natural and engaging way. Sutton’s inclusion of Esther’s and her friend’s honest reactions to the gifts encourages discussion of how to choose gifts, how to make up for mistakes, how to graciously accept gifts, and more topics surrounding gift-giving.

Andy Rowland’s purple gorilla Esther is sweetly expressive even as she is a bit oblivious to the needs of her friends and clearly disgruntled when her gifts don’t work out. Kids will love the brightly colored illustrations loaded with details appropriate to Esther’s world, especially the bowls, drawers, and hangers of bananas, banana cookbooks, banana-decorated table cloth and even a banana-shaped teapot in her kitchen. The Jungle Store is a riff on big-box stores with multiple departments where shoppers finding everything from fish for a pelican to a book of Antelope Recipes for a lion to Ele-Wellie boots for an elephant.

Esther’s nighttime neighborhood is likewise beautifully drawn with lush foliage; hanging lanterns; wood, bamboo, and stone homes; and even a waterfall. The window of each friend’s home frames a menorah.

With its humorous take on a common mishap and loveable characters, Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster is a book kids will enjoy no matter what the gift-giving occasion is!

Ages 4 – 7

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761390435

Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books as well as book-related activities on her website!

Become wrapped up in this swinging Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster book trailer!

Hanukkah Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-hanukkah-word-search

Festival of Lights Word Search

 

Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-esther's-hanukkah-disaster-cover

You can find Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 30 – Passover

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About the Holiday

Passover is a Jewish spring festival that celebrates the Jews liberation from slavery in Egypt and their freedom of a nation under Moses. The holiday begins on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month Nisan, which is the first ecclesiastical month and occurs in March or April and continues for seven or eight days. The holiday begins with a seder meal, for which family and friends gather to remember their history, have symbolic dishes, and celebrate the joy of freedom.

Kar-Ben Publishing sent me a copy of Paulie’s Passover Predicament to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also excited to be giving away one copy of the book! See details below.

Paulie’s Passover Predicament

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi

 

Paulie was a moos-ician who loved practicing his guitar in his basement studio, but today he had to cut it short because there was so much to do. Passover was starting that night, “and Paulie wanted his Passover seder to be perfect!” He headed to the grocery store to buy everything he needed for the meal. At the store he ran into two friends, Sally and Irving. They were excited about coming to Paulie’s house later that day.

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Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

With his cart loaded with boxes of matzah, grape juice, two moose shaped candles, and other supplies, Paulie was ready. As soon as he got home, Paulie began cooking. Each dish was delicious. He set the table and “hummed happily as he placed the matzah cover over the matzah.” He smiled at the attractive picture of a moose printed on it. “‘Perfect!’ he thought.”

There was much excitement as Paulie’s friends arrived. They complimented Paulie on the yummy-smells from the kitchen and his decorated table. “‘The candles are very ‘you,’ Paulie, said Evelyn,” while Sally commented on the unusual matzah cover. When they sat down to eat, Moe noticed the extremely large egg on the seder plate. “‘Yes,’ said Paulie, beaming. ‘An egg is a sign of new life. I used an ostrich egg to make sure everyone could see it.’” Sally pointed out that the salt water representing the tears of their ancestors looked different too. As Paulie explained, he thought he heard a few giggles.

When Evelyn tasted the charoset that reminded them of the bricks and mortar their “ancestors used to build the pyramids,” she questioned the recipe. Paulie admitted that he liked it with apples and pinecones instead of walnuts. In place of the usual parsley, Paulie had used his “favorite green thing”: grass. This was met with some chuckles. Paulie had taken the horseradish maror rather literally and carved a horse from a radish. Hearing this, Horace couldn’t help but laugh out loud. And the lamb’s wool in place of the lamb bone set everyone else “roaring with laughter.”

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Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

“Big tears formed in Paulie’s eyes,” but his friends hugged him and told him that although his seder plate was a bit different, each element reminded them “‘of the meaning of Passover—in a Paulie way.’” Cheered, Paulie and his friends continued with the blessings, the Four Questions, and telling the Passover story. They ate and recited the Ten Plagues. Then it was time for Sally to hide the afikomen.

Paulie felt better, but he really wanted to find the afikomen. He looked under the table and behind the couch then Paulie went to look in the basement. The afikomen wasn’t under his drum set or in the laundry basket. Paulie finally found it in the dryer, but when he tried to go upstairs, the door was locked! No one heard Paulie calling for help. He sat down on the stairs and considered his Passover seder. It “was not perfect at all…. And now he was stuck in the basement. ‘What a predicament!’ he thought.”

Just then he had an idea. He slipped the afikomen under the door, alerting his friends. They swung the door open, and Paulie was free! Paulie’s friends were excited to see that he had found the afikomen and would get the reward. But Paulie told them that being free like their ancestors was enough for him. Then everyone sang the song Dayeinu, happy to be together and free.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paulie's-passover-predicament-seder-dinner

Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

A short description of Passover follows the story.

Young readers will empathize with and cheer for Paulie in Jane Sutton’s sweetly emotional Passover story. In his excitement to host the perfect Passover seder, Paulie can’t help but include his favorite things instead of the traditional offerings. Even though his friends chuckle at Paulie’s missteps, they show their love for him with understanding and hugs. When he is freed from the basement, Paulie demonstrates the true spirit of Passover in his happiness to be with his friends again. Kids will giggle along at each unique seder dish while they also learn their symbolic importance.

Barbara Vagnozzi’s bright, joyful lllustrations reflect the excitement children feel as they prepare for Passover—shopping, cooking, and setting the table with special foods and decorations. The camaraderie of the friends is infectious as they explain the various parts of the seder, enjoying Paulie’s unique, moose-centric spin on it. These good friends, smiling, talking, happily hunting for the afikomen, and singing together are adorable companions for this special holiday.

A fun and meaningful introduction to Passover for children and adults of all faiths, Paulie’s Passover Predicament would be a delightful addition to home and classroom bookshelves for any time of year.

Ages 3 – 8

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2018 | ISBN 978-1512420975

Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Vagnozzi and view a portfolio of her books and artwork, visit her website.

It’s a Paulie’s Passover Predicament Giveaway!

I’m excited to partner with Kar-Ben Publishing in this giveaway of:

  • one copy of Paulie’s Passover Predicament!

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, March 30 – April 5. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on April 6.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Kar-Ben Publishing

Passover Activity

Celebrate Passover! Word Search

 

Celebrating Passover means honoring history, eating special foods, and having fun! Can you find the twenty words related to Passover in this Celebrate Passover! Word Search?

Celebrate Passover! Word Search Puzzle | Celebrate Passover! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paulie's-passover-predicament-cover

You can find Paulie’s Passover Predicament at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review