October 8 – World Octopus Day

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About the Holiday

With fossils dating back 300 million years, the octopus is one of the world’s oldest and most fascinating creatures. It’s also one of the smartest as more than 500 million neurons fire information through an octopus’s brain and arms, allowing them to learn from experience and solve problems. Octopuses are versatile and are found in all the world’s oceans. While most prefer warmer waters and living along the ocean floor, some species swim in shallower, cooler waters. Octopuses have an excellent sense of touch and sense of vision—some even see in color. They fool predators by hiding or camouflaging themselves but can defend themselves by shooting an inky substance at their pursuers. To celebrate today’s holiday, plan a visit to an aquarium or other sea life center!

Also an Octopus

Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall | Illustrated by Benji Davies

 

“Every story starts with nothing.” But as you think about your story, you imagine a character. This character can be anyone or anything—maybe a little girl, or a bunny, or an octopus. Maybe even an octopus that plays the ukulele. Yes! Now, by itself that seems kind of boring, so the octopus has to want something like a sandwich or a friend. Hey! Didn’t you think of a little girl? Maybe she could be the friend. But wait! How about if the octopus wants a “totally awesome shining purple spaceship capable of intergalactic travel?”

Now there’s a story! It’s not? Oh…too short? Too ehh? What if the octopus builds the rocket ship from stuff around the house? Easy-peasy! Oh dear, it doesn’t work. It can’t even get off the ground. Maybe that bunny from your earlier imagination can help. I’m sure that rabbit is great at building rockets—carroty ones anyway. Not exactly what the octopus had in mind though, huh? What’s an octopus to do beside feel “heartbroken”…beside feel “despondent?”

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Image copyright Benji Davies, text copyright Maggie Takuda-Hall. Courtesy of candlewick.com

Maybe the octopus’s sorrows can be drowned in music. A few strums on the ukulele might be soothing. Not a bad idea! Doing this changes things completely! “People come to listen to the ukulele-playing octopus.” What a turn of events! Some of the people are rocket scientists who can help construct a spaceship and who “also play the saxophone, tambourine, trumpet, and lute!” Now this is getting interesting! “So what happens next?” Well, that is up to you!

But you say “I’ve got nothing”? That’s all you need—“because every story starts with the same thing: just a little bit of nothing.”

In Also an Octopus Maggie Tokuda-Hall encourages budding writers and other creative kids to trust their imaginations and let the ideas fly. With humor Tokuda-Hall demonstrates how characters, needs or wants, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution come together to make a whole story. Readers will see how one randomly chosen element can spark an entire work of art—one that is unique to its creator. Tokuda-Hall’s Octopus is a sweet, appealing character who just wants a spaceship (and a story) to take them wherever their heart desires.

Benji Davies’s adorable Octopus, sporting a red knit cap, immediately forms a bond with readers with sweet smiles, a determined work ethic, and a sad, dejected ukulele performance on a lonely curb. Davies’ vibrant purple, yellow, and orange palette highlights the gray octopus, making this would-be astronaut the star of each page. The rocket scientists who come to listen to, jam with, and help Octopus are a welcome diverse group of adults, and the final spreads show kids that with any object or idea, the sky’s the limit.

Ages 3 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763670849

Learn more about Maggie Tokuda-Hall and her work on her website!

You’ll discover a colorful world of illustration and kids books on Benji Davies’ website!

World Octopus Day Activity

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Cute Sock Octopus Craft

 

Who wouldn’t like to have a cute octopus for a pet? With this fast and easy craft you can make your own little cephalopod to hang out on your bed, your shelves, or on your desk!

Supplies

  • Child’s medium or large size sock, white or colored
  • Polyfiber fill, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Ribbon
  • 2 Small buttons
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue or strong glue

Directions

  1. Fill the toe of the sock with a handful of polyfiber fill
  2. Tie the ribbon tightly around the sock underneath the fiber fill to separate the head from the legs
  3. Tie the ribbon into a bow tie
  4. With the scissor cut up both sides of the sock almost to the ribbon
  5. Cut these two sections in half almost to the ribbon
  6. Cut the four sections in half almost to the ribbon
  7. Glue the eyes to the lower part of the head
  8. To display, set the octopus down and arrange the legs in a circle around the head

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You can find Also an Octopus at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 7 – Random Acts of Poetry Day

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad

About the Holiday

Today is the day to unleash your inner poet – without thinking twice about it. What are the words in your heart or in your imagination? Write them down! You don’t have to be Shakespeare for your words, lines, thoughts, jottings – your poems – to have meaning and value. Then share them with family, friends, or even strangers. To celebrate today’s holiday you can also attend a poetry reading or enjoy a volume of verse – like today’s book!

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons

Written by Julie Fogliano | Illustrated by Julie Morstad

 

Sometimes you wish for just the right words to express a moment in time, a skip of the heart, or a glimpse of color that truly captures the elation, sadness, or awe you feel. Those words live on every page of When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons. Each month of the year is represented by three to five dated poems that expose a nugget of inspiration or a spark of recognition about the natural world and our place in it.

Spring begins its reawakening in the poem dated march 20, on which “from a snow covered tree / one bird singing / each tweet poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter / and landing carefully / balancing gently / on the tip of spring.”

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Image copyright Julie Morstad, text copyright Julie Fogliano. Courtesy of us.mcmillan.com

Spring is slow in shaking off its winter coat, however, and march 22 finds “just like a tiny, blue hello / a crocus / blooming in the snow” Even though the days continue to dawn chilly and rainy, early flowers long to see the sun. On march 26: “shivering and huddled close / the forever rushing daffodils / wished they had waited.”

With the onset of April and no reprieve from the weather, everyone it seems is tired of the persistence of winter, which sticks around like a party guest who doesn’t know when to go home. On april 3 “today / the sky was too busy sulking to rain / and the sun was exhausted from trying / and everyone / it seemed / had decided / to wear their sadness / on the outside / and even the birds / and all their singing / sounded brokenhearted / inside of all that gray.”

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Image copyright Julie Morstad, text copyright Julie Fogliano. Courtesy of us.mcmillan.com

At last summer comes and on june 15 “you can taste the sunshine / and the buzzing / and the breeze / while eating berries off the bush / on berry hands / and berry knees.” The warm days also bring swimming holes and fireflies, and by july 10 “when green becomes tomatoes / there will be sky / and sun / and possibly a cloud or two…” and summer bursts with all the wonder that makes it such a yearned for season. 

Then as summer wanes and the nights grow dark, september 10 makes you look into that deep vast space and think “a star is someone else’s sun / more flicker glow than blinding / a speck of light too far for bright / and too small to make a morning”

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Image copyright Julie Morstad, text copyright Julie Fogliano. Courtesy of us.mcmillan.com

A nip in the air means Fall has come around again. It’s time for sweaters and pumpkins, and for the trees to rest. If you listen carefully, you may hear on november 2 “more silent than something / much noisier than nothing / the last leaf / when it landed / made a sort of sound / that no one knew they heard.”

Then on december 21 “as if one day, the mountain decides / to put on its white furry hat / and call it winter” the season has changed, bringing with it crackling, cozy fires and snow, snow, snow. But this too offers its own enchantment on december 29: “and i woke / to a morning / that was quiet / and white / the first snow / (just like magic) came / on tiptoes / overnight.”

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Image copyright Julie Morstad, text copyright Julie Fogliano. Courtesy of us.mcmillan.com

When Green Becomes Tomatoes begins and ends with a poem dated the same day—March 20, the vernal equinox—giving this book a cyclical form that echoes the passing of time. Julie Fogliano’s delicate and gentle poems are a perfect tonic for the busy, non-stop days the year becomes. Instead of letting the surprising, profound, or beautiful moments pass us by Fogliano gives readers a reason and a way to stop and fully enjoy them.  

In Julie Morstad’s gorgeous watercolors of nature and the changing seasons, readers can almost feel the warm sunshine that feeds the vivid spring and summer blooms, the icy breeze that loosens the last leaf of autumn, and the fluffy blanket winter tucks around the earth. The multiethnic children in Morstad’s paintings are thoughtful, charming, and enchanted with the world around them, actively experiencing the marvels of each changing day. 

When Green Becomes Tomatoes contains such lovely verses that readers will want to revisit them over and over – the way the seasons recur and we are always glad to welcome each one back. This volume of poetry would make a wonderful gift and a terrific addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

Ages 6 and up (adults will enjoy these poems too)

Roaring Brook Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1596438521

You can connect with Julie Fogliano on Facebook!

You’ll find a gallery of picture books, prints, and other illustrations on Julie Morstad‘s website!

Random Acts of Poetry Day Activity

CPB - Plant Poem

 

Grow a Poem Craft

 

A poem often grows in your imagination like a beautiful plant—starting from the seed of an idea, breaking through your consciousness, and growing and blooming into full form. With this craft you can create a unique poem that is also an art piece!

Supplies

  • Printable Leaves Template, available here and on the blog post
  • Printable Flower Template, available here and on the blog post
  • Wooden dowel, ½-inch diameter, available in craft or hardware stores
  • Green ribbon
  • Green craft paint
  • Green paper if leaves will be preprinted
  • Colored paper if flowers will be preprinted
  • Flower pot or box
  • Oasis, clay, or dirt
  • Hole punch
  • Glue
  • Markers or pens for writing words
  • Crayons or colored pencils if children are to color leaves and flowers

Directions

  1. Paint the dowel green, let dry
  2. Print the leaves and flower templates
  3. Cut out the leaves and flowers
  4. Punch a hole in the bottom of the leaves or flowers
  5. Write words, phrases, or full sentences of your poem on the leaves and flowers (you can also write the poem after you have strung the leaves and flowers)
  6. String the leaves and flowers onto the green ribbon (if you want the poem to read from top to bottom string the words onto the ribbon in order from first to last)
  7. Attach the ribbon to the bottom of the pole with glue or tape
  8. Wrap the ribbon around the pole, leaving spaces between the ribbon
  9. Gently arrange the leaves and flowers so they stick out from the pole or look the way you want them to.
  10. Put oasis or clay in the flower pot or box
  11. Stick your poem pole in the pot
  12. Display your poem!

Picture Book Review

October 5 – World Teachers Day

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About the Holiday

Teachers are amazing! They dedicate their lives to connecting students to the wider world and opening doors to opportunities for a bright future. Today’s holiday celebrates all the work, thought, and planning that teachers put into every day’s lessons as well as the care and concern they have for every one of their students. Wherever you are, thank your teacher or teachers for everything they do to help you write your own story and ultimately your own ticket—like the sharp heroine of today’s book!

Little Red Writing

Written by Joan Holub | Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

 

One day in pencil school Ms. 2, the teacher, tells her class that they are going to write a story. Her students are excited, and each one has an idea of what to write. The birthday pencil, wearing a bright pink cone-shaped hat, yells “‘Yippee! I want to write a happy story!’” The state pencil, sporting a map of Pencilvania on its eraser end, wants to tell a nonfiction tale about its state, and the basketball pencil with a small replica basketball topper imagines writing a sports story.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, text copyright Joan Holub, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Little Red, looking sharp in her shiny scarlet coat of paint chooses to “write a story about bravery because red is the color of courage. But what would a brave pencil do?” she wonders. She decides to go in search of unusual characters that will give her a chance to fight evil and save the day. Ms. 2 gives “Little Red a basket of 15 red words to use in case she ran into trouble” and reminds her that “it’s ok to wander a little, but stick to your basic story path so you don’t get lost.”

Little Red takes her basket full of nouns and sets off. In her notebook she begins to describe her journey. “As she walked along…” she writes and then stops. “Walking is boring,” she decides. To discover some action she heads for the gym, where other pencils are twisting, throwing, catching, swinging, and jumping. Little Red bounces and boogies and cartwheels “right off the page into a deep, dark, descriptive forest.”

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, text copyright Joan Holub, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

The adjectives lay thick on the gnarled, flowery, shadowy path. The towering trees smell piney and their verdant, russet leaves hide squirrelly creatures. The forest is beautiful, but suddenly Little Red feels “bogged down, hindered, lost!” Remembering her basket, she reaches in and pulls out scissors. They help her “cut through all this description and stick to the story path.” Back on the straight and narrower, Little Red encounters a bottle of “conjunction glue” with just the right kinds of words to help her. She gives the bottle a squeeze, but now finds that her sentences go on and on without saying anything important. All seems lost until “Suddenly” arrives.

“Suddenly,” she hears a throaty roar that begins to chase her. Little Red runs without stopping, throwing out any word she can grab from her basket until she can escape to the next page. Here, however, she discovers a “long, tangly tail” and decides to investigate. The tail winds all along the school corridors, passing the cafeteria, the music room, the art room, and the auditorium. It even meanders by the math room and the after school clubs room into the principal’s office.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, text copyright Joan Holub, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Little Red knocks on the door. Inside, Principal Granny, her long tail tangled behind her, roars her greetings. Little Red is suspicious, but she continues to explain the growly voice she heard. In fact, she says, “It sounded kind of like yours.” “The betterrr to be hearrrd on the school interrrcom,” the principal states. Little Red also reports the tangly tail, to which the principal answers, “the betterrr to get charrrged up for my school duties when my batteries are rrrunning low. All at once Red notices the principal’s big sharp teeth. “The betterrr to chomp little pencils like you and grrrind them up!”

With that Little Red realizes that this isn’t Principal Granny but the “Wolf 3000: the grumpiest, growliest, grindingest pencil sharpener ever made!” The Wolf 3000 begins to chase Little Red around the office, and just when there seems no hope, in walks Mr. Woodcutter, the janitor—who immediately faints. There is only one thing left to do. Little Red grabs her last word and hurls it at the Wolf 3000. “KABLOOEY” goes the dynamite, reducing the Wolf 3000 to a pile of parts.

Principal Granny emerges from the rubble shortened but okay and declares Little Red a hero. Little Red rushes back to her classroom in time to hear the other pencils’ stories and to share her own brave adventure.

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Image copyright Melissa Sweet, text copyright Joan Holub, courtesy of chroniclebooks.com

Joan Holub’s delightfully clever tribute to writing draws on the Little Red Riding Hood story to get kids excited about using the various parts of speech that make writing so fun and reading so enjoyable. The metaphorical “story path” that Little Red traverses brings her into contact with characters that provide immediate understanding of the concepts. When Little Red squeezes the bottle of conjunction glue, out squirt the words so, but, and, although, yet, and or, which are incorporated into the illustrations on the page. Readers’ familiarity with the original fairy tale increases suspense in this fractured version. The Wolf 3000 electric pencil sharpener makes a perfect nemesis, and the fainting janitor leaves Little Red to sharpen her wits and defeat the beast. Dynamite—at least the word itself—truly is mightier than the sword.

Holub’s nibble talent with puns and wordplay elevates Little Red Writing from simply a book about the subject of grammar and writing to a captivating story kids will love to hear again and again.

Grammar has never looked as enticing as in Melissa Sweet’s vivacious illustrations of adorable Little Red on the story path to prove her bravery. Sweet’s pages, combining pencil drawings, watercolor, and collage, burst with animated typography, scraps of vivid red nouns, and expressive characters in a detailed and fully realized pencil school. Little Red’s final battle with the Wolf 3000 gives full range to Sweet’s rousing visual humor in a highly satisfying climax to the story.

For kids who love reading, writing, and a really good story, Little Red Writing would be a welcome addition to their bookshelves. Teachers will find the story enhances any unit on writing, grammar, and literature.

Ages 5 – 9

Chronicle Books, 2013 | ISBN 978-1452152097

You will find children’s books for all ages as well as fun videos, activities, and teachers’ resources on Joan Holub‘s website!

Discover books, things to make, and lots of fun on Melissa Sweet‘s website!

World Teachers Day Activity

CPB - Pencil Maze

Pencil It In Maze

 

Writing a story is like completing a maze – you must stay on the right path from the beginning to the end to write a satisfying tale. Find your way through intricacies of this printable Pencil It In Maze

Picture Book Review

 

 

September 11 – Grandparents Day and Q&A with Author Ellen Mayer

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About the Holiday

In the early 1970s Marion McQuade had the idea for a special day of the year when grandparents and grandchildren could show their love for one another. She further wanted it to be a day when grandparents could pass down the wisdom they had gained over their lifetime as well as share a bit of family history. Of course the same goes for grandparents learning the latest and greatest from the kids in their lives—from new technology to current fads. When all generations share their experiences, we’re all a lot smarter—and have closer relationships!

Rosa’s Very Big Job

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Sarah Vonthron-Laver

 

Rosa may be little, but she has big ideas about how to help. While Mama is out shopping for groceries for that night’s dinner, Rosa decides to surprise her by folding and putting away the laundry. The basket is piled high with fluffy dry clothes, sheets, and towels. Rosa watches her grandpa reading the newspaper. “‘Please help me, Grandpa!’” she says. She tugs on her grandpa’s hands, trying to pull him out of his chair. “‘Come on, Grandpa! Get up.”

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Grandpa seems to have a little trouble managing: “‘It’s difficult to carry these enormous piles,’” he sighs. But Rosa knows that smaller armloads work better. Grandpa’s clothes come unfolded as he puts them in the drawer. “‘Be neat. Like me,” Rosa says, showing him her tidy stack. Poor Grandpa! He has to keep hanging up the same jacket over and over. “‘It’s difficult to keep this jacket from sliding off the hanger,” he says. Rosa has the answer: “‘Zip it up,’” she explains. “‘Then it stays on.’”

Grandpa sinks back into his chair. “‘You are terrific at doing laundry, Rosa. And I am exhausted,’” he says. But this is no time to quit—Rosa has big plans. As she steps into the now empty laundry basket, she exclaims, “‘Come on, Grandpa! Get in the boat. Help me sail back to there.’” Rosa points to the linen closet.

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Suddenly, the floor swells with ocean waves teeming with fish. Grandpa channels his inner sailor as he holds aloft a sheet as a sail. As the wind billows and they come perilously close to the kitchen table, he says, “‘It’s difficult to sail around this enormous rock!’” Contemplating the rising sea, he exclaims, “‘It’s difficult to sail over this enormous wave!’”

There’s a dangerous storm ahead, warns Grandpa, “‘I can’t hold the sail in this strong wind.’” Rosa is there to help and grabs one side of the sheet. “‘Hold tight,’” she orders. “‘Use both hands.’” At last the seas die down and Grandpa is ready to steer the laundry basket back to port, but Rosa has a more entertaining thought. Spying a sock on the floor, Rosa wants to catch the “enormous fish.” Grandpa obliges and picks up a hangar for a fishing pole. He holds Rosa as she stretches out over the edge of the laundry basket to land her fish.

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Just as Rosa nabs the fish, Mama comes home with her bags of groceries. She’s surprised to see that the laundry is not in the basket. Rosa runs to her and proudly explains, “‘We put all the laundry away. It was a very big job. We carried enormous piles. Grandpa dropped things. And I picked them up. It was very difficult for Grandpa. He got exhausted. But not me. I am terrific at laundry!’” Mama agrees that Rosa is a terrific helper. Then Rosa leads her mother to see the most surprising thing of all—the fish she has caught for dinner!

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In her series of Small Talk Books® Ellen Mayer presents exciting stories for preschoolers full of imagination and rich language learning. Rosa’s Very Big Job introduces Rosa, a sweet girl bubbling with enthusiasm and the desire to help. The close relationships between Rosa, her mother, and her grandpa promote cooperation as well as effective modeling of speech patterns and a way to introduce larger words in an organic manner through play and common chores. Rosa’s inventive idea to turn the laundry basket into a boat is delightfully enhanced by her grandpa’s willingness to share in the story and expand on it. Humor, cheerful banter, and the easy camaraderie between Rosa and Grandpa invite young readers to join in the fun as they build confidence in their language learning.

Sarah Vonthron-Laver depicts Rosa’s afternoon with her Grandpa with joy and the spirited energy young children bring to everything they do. Grandpa is happy to spend time with his granddaughter, yet shows honest feelings of tiredness and frustration that spur on the plot. The transition from doing laundry to using the basket as a boat is as seamless as a child’s imagination, and the way Rosa and her grandpa use household items to create “sails,” “rocks,” “fish,” and “fishing poles” will give readers great ideas for post-reading play. Bright colors, an adorable kitten, and familiar surroundings welcome young children into the world of reading and expanded vocabulary.

Rosa’s Very Big Job would be a welcome addition to a young child’s bookshelf, not only for its fun story that kids will want to hear again and again, but for its leap into imagination that kids will want to replicate.

Dr. Betty Bardige, an expert on young children’s language and literacy development, provides tips for parents, grandparents, and caregivers following the text.

Ages 2 – 6

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727497

Discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books as well as book-related activities and literacy initiatives she’s involved with on her website!

Find Sarah Vonthron-Laver on Facebook!

Grandparents Day Activity

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Original illustrations by Saran Vonthron-Laver, Copyrights © 2016 Star Bright Books. Paper dolls created by AislingArt and Celebrate Picture Books, copyrights © 2016

Rosa’s Very Big Job Paper Dolls

Rosa loves helping out at home. She’s terrific at doing laundry – folding and putting away the family’s clothes, socks, and linens. You are terrific at helping too! Can you help Rosa, Mama, and Grandpa get dressed and ready for the day with these printable paper dolls? You’ll even find a laundry basket, socks, and Rosa’s sweet kitty to play with! 

Supplies

Printable Paper Dolls, Clothes, and Extras

  • Heavy stock paper and/or poster board
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Print dolls on regular paper or heavy stock paper. Dolls printed on heavy stock paper may stand on their own with the supplied stand cross piece. For dolls printed on regular paper, you can cut the supplied stand templates from poster board or card stock and glue the dolls to the backing.
  2. Rosa’s kitty and the laundry basket can also be attached to the supplied template if needed
  3. Print clothes for each figure
  4. Color the blank clothes templates any way you’d like
  5. Cut out clothes and extra items
  6. Fit outfits onto dolls
  7. Make up your own stories about Rosa, Mama, and Grandpa!

Interview with Author Ellen Mayer

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Today, I’m happy to present a fascinating interview with Ellen Mayer, a writer and expert in early literacy, in which she discusses her involvement with various organizations and programs, her baby granddaughter, why Hug Your Cat Day is at the top of her list of holidays, and gives us a peek at a very special sugar egg.

I’m really interested in your work in the education and literacy fields. Could you talk a little bit about your job as an education researcher and an early literacy home visitor, and how you got into those fields?

I got into these fields after leaving a Sociology PhD program right near the end.  I didn’t want to be an academic and teach, I wanted to do applied research – to solve practical problems out in the world and to make a difference in the lives of those who were struggling. At the Harvard Family Research Project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, I studied the ways that families from underserved communities were engaged in supporting their children’s learning and education, and created research-based materials for families and schools to promote effective engagement. One of these was the Family Involvement Storybook Corner—curated picture book selections with family engagement themes. That got me interested in early literacy and picture books.

After researching family engagement in children’s learning for many years, I decided I wanted to go out into the field and be a practitioner and work directly with families on this topic. I worked as an early literacy home visitor with diverse families with the Parent-Child Home Program, modeling ways to share stories with little ones to build early language. I actually got paid to read picture books and play with families in their homes!

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At the same time, I was pitching my Small Talk Books®, a collection of playful stories about everyday activities that provide fun for kids and ideas for adults – Rosa’s Very Big Job is one. The adults in the stories are engaged with children’s learning, modeling conversational ways to build young children’s language.

I read that your book Red Socks, another of the Small Talk Books®, is being used in a program to turn wash time at Laundromats into talk time for literacy development. Could you discuss this early literacy initiative?

Yes! Wash Time/Talk Time is a terrific campaign led by Too Small To Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute teaming up with a host of partners to turn Laundromats in underserved areas into venues for early literacy. This campaign distributes free books and information to families in Laundromats about building early language to help close what’s called the “word gap” by promoting parent conversation with babies and young children. Almost 60% of children in our country start kindergarten behind in their language development and this then sets them on a downward path and they get even further behind in school.

Red Socks was a natural fit for this program. In it a Mama narrates what she is doing for her little pre-verbal child as she folds the laundry and dresses the child—and as they search for a missing sock!

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Illustration © 2015 by Ying-Hwa Hu, text © 2015 Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books

I have to say that it’s a dream come true that Too Small To Fail is using my book.

Wash Time/Talk Time is really reaching the families on the other side of the word gap who most need the ideas and inspiration in Red Socks. When I began writing the Small Talk Books® I wanted to include stories about doing laundry, as it’s something we all do as parents and provides lots of things to talk about with children. (Like the color of socks!) In fact, I used to sit in Laundromats and observe families when I was thinking up ideas for stories. I guess that’s the sociologist in me.

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We just had the opportunity to visit one of the Laundromats in the campaign—at the Free Laundry Day in Tampa, FL hosted by The Laundry Project—and share Red Socks with families. You can see some of the fun illustrator Ying-Hwa Hu and I had here: 

What inspired you to begin writing picture books?

I came to picture book writing through a backdoor. When I was at Harvard Family Research Project, I was thinking about new ways to convey our ideas from research into practice for parents, and it occurred to me that a read-aloud picture book could address an audience of parents, as well as the primary one of children. My boss was enthusiastic about the idea, and so I enrolled in an adult ed class on writing for children. Then I turned one of our research case studies about challenges an immigrant Latino family had in communicating with their son’s teacher into a picture book, Tomasito’s Mother Comes to School/La mamá de Tomasito visita la escuela. Joe Cepeda did the art for it, and we made it downloadable for free.

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Illustration ©2007 Joe Cepeda

What’s up for you next?

Some new things! I have a fellowship with the Storytelling Math Project that’s funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and coordinated by TERC, a not-for profit STEM research and development organization here in Cambridge, MA. I’ll be a member of a group that’s identifying, creating, and promoting math-infused storybooks for diverse young children and I hope to create a couple of Small Talk Books® along these lines—probably about supermarket shopping! I also was asked to help out the Highlights magazine editorial team that creates HELLO magazine for 0-2 years and be an outside reviewer for issues before they go to publication. And then I’ll be volunteering as a visiting children’s book author to the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative, the family engagement and early childhood hub of the Somerville, MA Public Schools, sharing my books with playgroups and new parent groups.  

But mostly, I plan to write! I have a bunch of picture book manuscripts in various states, and ideas for new ones. These manuscripts are different from the Small Talk Books®; they don’t have a deliberate educational underpinning to them. They are fun, and just fun. One, for example, is called What To Do With Ruby-Lou and it’s about a baby who doesn’t laugh, no matter what her family does. Who is going to be able to get a laugh out of Lou? Well, it’s a surprise and it just might require some audience participation. I’ve had an agent in the past and hope to find a new one to rep me with these picture books.

You recently became a grandmother. Can you tell me a little about your granddaughter?

I thought our granddaughter was the most wonderful and expressive baby in the world when was she born – of course! She and my advance copy of the new Rosa book arrived into the world at just about the same time.

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At three months now my granddaughter is a big reader and is riveted on the B&W hi-contrast board book genre, especially one board book about cars and trucks. She moves her head back and forth, from one end of the spread to the other, scanning the images on the page like a studious scholar of some ancient text.

What is the best part about being a grandmother?

For me the best part about being a grandmother is being able to simply enjoy my granddaughter and play with her and watch her develop, and not have to worry about taking care of her daily needs. I didn’t have to stress when she refused to take the bottle before starting full-day childcare. That wasn’t my job. (She did take it – of course!) They live nearby, and seeing her once or twice a week, I love noticing small changes on each visit. I also love seeing our daughter and son-in-law parent.

Have you given thought to what you’d like your granddaughter to call you?

Our daughter asked us ahead of time what we’d like to be called when we became grandparents. I thought it was a wise idea to be proactive and select a name immediately, to avoid being named by the grandchild something like “Grandma GA-GOO-GA.” My great aunt Jane is called “Nini” as a grandmother, and I’ve always loved that, but I didn’t want to steal it. So I chose “Mimi.”

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It sounds as if Grandparents Day may be one of your top holidays! Do you have another favorite?

When I was little, I liked Easter a lot because it combined a lot of my favorite things: crafts, springtime, running around outside, candy. Also, we didn’t dress up much as kids, but I do remember Easter bonnets!

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When our children were little, their birthdays became my favorite holiday celebrations. Now that they are grown, maybe I need to pick a new favorite holiday? I see that June 4th is Hug Your Cat Day. That might be just right: we have a rather large and ferocious cat and when she actually lets you hug her, well, it’s a cause for celebration.

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Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

When I was six years old, I saw the Easter Bunny. I was staying at my Grandparents’ house, and I looked down the stairwell, and there he was, crossing the landing at the foot of the stairs. He was quite tall, wore a yellow slicker that was too small for him, and he was carrying a large Easter basket. I’m afraid I didn’t have my Brownie camera with me at the time to snap a photo.

But I do have an unwrapped sugar Easter egg that I’ve saved from that era.

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Thanks for sharing so much about your work and life, Ellen! I wish you all the best with Rosa’s Very Big Job, your other Small Talk Books®, and of all your other ventures!

You can also find Ellen Mayer on Facebook and Twitter

Rosa’s Very Big Job can be found at

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

Other Small Talk Books® available from Ellen Mayer and Star Bright Books include Cake Day, Red Socks, and A Fish to Feed and can also be found at the above booksellers.

Visit Ellen Mayer on her:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

July 28 – It’s Culinary Arts Month

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About the Holiday

The recipe—the step-by-step recitation of the ingredients and process for making any dish—is the heart of the culinary arts. Following along, improvising in just the right places, and inventing completely new tastes is its own special kind of literacy. Today we say goodbye to Culinary Arts Month, but hope that the joy of cooking delicious treats and reading fabulous books together remain common, fun activities with which to explore life and love—as shown with today’s book!

Cake Day

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Estelle Corke

 

An adorable little boy runs to his grandma, excited that it’s “Cake Day!” “That’s right,” his grandma agrees, “Today we’re going to bake a cake!” The boy, hardly able to see over the counter, wants to be picked up and see what’s in the cabinet. His grandma happily obliges, and the pair carefully pick the ingredients for their cake.

“‘Hmmm…we need flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar to make a cake,’ says Grandma.” With all the ingredients set on the table, the two start measuring. The little chef is eager and curious: “Cake Day! How much, Grandma? As the flour pours into the cup, a soft, powdery cloud envelops them. “Too much, Grandma!” the delighted boy laughs. The two work side by side, Grandma adding the eggs while her grandson pours in the milk.

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Image copyright Estelle Corke, courtesy of Star Bright Books

As the ingredients start to mesh, Grandma exclaims, “‘Look! What’s happening to the batter?’” The little boy wants to help it along and takes up the wooden spoon. Round and round he stirs, creating swirls in the yellow batter until it’s ready for the oven. “‘Bake day! Your turn, Grandma!” the boy stands wide-eyed as his grandma slides the deep pan into the oven.

The little boy and his dog settle in front of the oven to watch the cake bake. With eagerness the boy asks, “‘Cake day! Ready, Grandma?” Grandma encourages her grandson’s inquisitiveness and explains the process: “‘We have to wait until the cake rises. The heat makes it rise. When you hear the timer go BEEP BEEP it will be ready.’” At last the cake comes out of the oven, but it’s not ready to be decorated yet. First, they must wait for it to cool.

In a short time the high, golden cake can be iced and decorated. The little boy vigorously shakes a jar of sprinkles over the top, scattering a rainbow of colors across the white frosting. The cake is beautiful and just the right complement to the little boy’s Cake Day, Bake Day, Shake Day—Birthday!

Ellen Mayer’s language-rich and playful story of a small child and his grandmother baking together is a wonderful introduction not only to reading but to the type of full-sentence conversational modeling that improves and increases literacy. The steps to baking the birthday cake flow organically and lyrically through the loving relationship between the little boy and his grandma, enticing young readers to learn more about the world around them and how it works. The repeated phrases “Cake day! Bake day!,” and “Ready, Grandma?” as well as the boy’s short statements offer opportunities for kids to read along and learn new vocabulary as they develop important language skills.

Estelle Corke’s cheery illustrations glow with enthusiasm and the close bond between grandmother and grandson. The grandmother lifts, steadies, and holds the boy while still allowing him to perform all the tasks he can. The little boy, in his green apron, delights in every aspect of the baking process, his eagerness expressed in his animated smile and keen participation. The homey kitchen is awash in inviting colors and objects that children will recognize. The clearly drawn boxes and jars of ingredients, kitchen tools, and furnishings offer readers a chance to practice their vocabulary and learn new words.

Ages Birth – 5

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727466

To see more books by Ellen Mayer as well as language development and reading strategies for young children, visit her website!

Visit Estelle Corke’s website to view a gallery of her artwork!

Star Bright Books publishes fiction nonfiction, and bilingual “great books for great kids” and provides literacy resources for readers.

Culinary Arts Month Activity

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Image copyright Ellen Mayer

Grandma’s Cake

 

Grandma and her grandson baked a delicious, special cake—and now you can too! Here’s the full recipe that Grandma uses. Recipe courtesy of Ellen Mayer.

A Simple Sponge Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus a little to grease cake pan.
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • You will need: 3 mixing bowls:
  1. 1 to cream butter and sugar
  2. 1 to mix flour, baking powder and salt
  3. 1 in which to beat the eggs
  • A 7-inch diameter, deep cake pan

Directions

  1. Butter pan and dust with flour.
  2. Set the rack at the middle of the oven.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  5. In large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In the third bowl, beat the eggs and add milk.
  6. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to butter mixture then alternate with the egg and milk mixture. Continue to alternate ending with flour mixture. Scrape bowl and beater often.
  7. Add vanilla and mix well.
  8. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.
  9. Bake cake about 45 minutes. Insert knife or wooden skewer into the center. If it emerges clean, the cake is done. If not, bake for 5 more minutes.
  10. Remove cake from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes.
  11. Turn cake out onto a cake rack and leave to cool.

Grandma’s Favorite Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1⁄4 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Blend all ingredients together with a mixer until smooth
  2. Spread on the top and sides of cake
  3. Decorate with sprinkles or your favorite topping

Picture Book Review

July 5 – It’s National Culinary Arts Month

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About the Holiday

July is designated as a time to recognize the creativity and dedication of professional chefs and anyone who makes the world a more delicious place. The way to celebrate this month is a no-brainer! Visit your favorite restaurants, cafes, and bakeries—and discover new ones!

How to Bake a Book

By Ella Burfoot

 

A little girl decides to bake a book. She gathers her ingredients and begins: “I’ll break some ideas into a cup. / I’ll beat them, whisk them, mix them up.” To the dough she adds words both small and big then feelings, colors, and pictures for flavor. To set the scene she drops in “watery words,” choosing from “splish, splosh, splash, or sprinkle”—or would “glug and gurgle” or “squelch and twinkle” be better? She cuts out characters of all kinds and sets them aside to play.

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Image copyright Ella Burfoot, courtesy ellaburfoot.co.uk

With the dough set, the girl puts the lid on the bowl and waits while it rises. When it’s ready, she rolls it out, finding out what her story is all about. She lays the crust in the pan, letting her characters jump right in. Next she stirs up “the middle, the action, the filling” and adds a “spoonful of good and a pinch of bad” to get the pot bubbling and the plot to thicken.

A dash of good grammar finishes it up, and then the ending is pressed down tight. A cover design and a glaze of happiness are brushed on to make the book shine. Finally, the book is ready for baking. It comes out of the oven baked looking tasty. The little girl cuts a big slice and gets to reading her delicious book.

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Image copyright Ella Burfoot, courtesy ellaburfoot.co.uk

Ella Burfoot’s delightful recipe for writing a captivating book will enchant children who love to read and may spark an interest in writing a story themselves. The rhyme is as light and fun as chiffon and the homey ideas as satisfying as a warm chocolate cookie. Kids will love poring over Burfoot’s bright, colorful illustrations. The girl’s baked-up pages burst with dragons, knights, princesses, animals, kites, and more. There’s even a witch who’s having a tough time staying on her broom. The kitchen is a cook’s and crafter’s paradise with pantry shelves well stocked with jars of periods and capital letters among the monster flakes, alphabet spaghetti, porridge oats, and other writerly puns and ingredients.

A reading of How to Bake a Book would be a fun lead-in to getting out the pots, pans, and paper and creating an original recipe/story.

Ages 3 – 6

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014 | ISBN 978-1492606512

To discover more books by Ella Burfoot visit her website!

National Culinary Arts Month Activity

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Don’t Whisk Losing Your Page Bookmark

 

The author’s of your favorite books have cooked up such fantastic stories that you don’t want to risk missing a word! To make sure that doesn’t happen, use this culinary-themed bookmark!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print your bookmark
  2. Glue it to the poster board
  3. Cut out the bookmark
  4. Slip it into the book you’re reading now!

Picture Book Review

April 23 – Talk Like Shakespeare Day

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About the Holiday

To read or not to read—is that even a question?! Of course “to read!” And who produced literature containing some of the most excitement ever? William Shakespeare! Not only did Shakespeare write astounding plays and poems, he coined words and phrases that are still part of our everyday speech 400 years after his death in 1616. In recognition, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater initiated Talk Like Shakespeare Day in 2009. To honor Shakespeare’s legacy today, read or reread one of his famous plays, attend a performance, or watch a film adaptation of his work, and for goodness sake – use some of the terms he so cleverly invented.

*Italicized words were invented by William Shakespeare

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Written by Jane Sutcliffe | Illustrated by John Shelley

 

“In 1606 London was a bustling, jostling, clanging, singing, stinking, head-chopping, pickpocketing wonder of a city.” With that phenomenal sentence Jane Sutcliffe begins this fascinating and ingenious look at the Globe Theatre and the experience of attending a play in William Shakespeare’s time.

In addition to all the qualities of London mentioned above, the town was also a “play-going city.” Every day of the week except Sunday, a play—or maybe even two or three—was performed, and as many as 18,000 (!) people attended plays every week! They just couldn’t get too much of a good thing!” And everyone loved the plays written by William Shakespeare!

How did a day at the theater begin? Well, at 1:00 a banner was raised from the roof of the playhouse, and men, women, and children streamed through the streets toward the Globe. It cost a penny to get in, but if you paid more you got a chair, and if you paid a little more than that you were seated in the Lord’s Rooms. The Lord’s Rooms were actually for fashionable people who wanted to be seen but didn’t really care what they were seeing.

All the actors were…well…actors. There were no actresses in those days. Men played women’s parts as well as men’s. And if you think phones and talking are problematic in today’s theaters, you would have been aghast at the audiences back then! They were not well behaved at all!

There were plays to please all tastes—comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances—all full of complicated plots and plenty of twists and turns. While the stories may have been intricate, the sets were not. But the bare-bones sets were made up for in gorgeous costumes and even some special effects accomplished with trap doors and ceiling holes. Sounds full of amazement, right? Good thing too because these plays could go on for hours, and most people stood through the whole thing, rain or shine!

William Shakespeare’s plays didn’t end when the last line was spoken. In fact theatre-goers repeated the lines they’d heard long after they left the Globe. They used Will’s words so much that his new phrases became part of the common language, and we still use them today!

Jane Sutcliffe inserts a tongue-in-cheek apology before the main text, explaining how she wanted to tell the world about the Globe Theatre in her own words, but that William Shakespeare’s words kept getting in the way. Yes, using another writer’s words is a no-no—but if they’re Shakespeare’s words? Words we use every day? Hmmm…Sutcliff’s lively history of the Globe Theatre and Old London’s theater culture is conversational, humorous, and highly informative.

The left-hand page tells the story of the Globe with phrases and words coined by William Shakespeare sprinkled throughout and set in bold type. On the right-hand page readers learn the meaning of those words and phrases (some have changed a bit since Will’s time) and which play they come from. A final note from Sutcliffe at the end of the book reveals a bit more about the playwright. A timeline of Shakespeare’s life and a bibliography are also included.

John Shelley’s incredible illustrations of London and the Globe Theatre will take your breath away. The streets teem with vendors, knights, shoppers, kids, Ladies, and Lords. If you look closely at the intricate paintings you’ll also spy the seamier side of Old London—a pickpocket, a criminal in the stocks, a tavern brawl, a cat snatching a free meal, a woman about to empty a chamber pot on her unsuspecting downstairs neighbor’s head, and…could that be a dead rat?— and that’s only on the first page!!

Subsequent pages show the waterfront with its sailing vessels, a peek into Shakespeare’s study and a look at the printing press, an aerial view of London, the Globe Theatre with its thatched awning, the actors donning wigs and costumes, and the audiences enjoying the plays and the fun of a day out. Each illustration is alive with color and movement, texture and design, expressive faces, and all the sights, sounds, and aspects of Old London. Kids will love lingering over each page picking out the funny events going on in the lanes, in the theatre seats, and on stage.

So hurry to get your own copy of Will’s Words and enjoy it to your heart’s content! You will definitely get your money’s worth!

Ages 6 – 10 and up (Anglophiles and Shakespeare lovers will enjoy this book)

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580896382

Talk Like Shakespeare Day Activity

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Fashion a Quill Pen

 

William Shakespeare didn’t have a laptop to compose his great plays; he didn’t even have a desktop or a typewriter or a ballpoint pen! Shakespeare wrote all of those intrigues, characters, settings, sonnets and words with a feather!! (Plus a little ink!) Try your hand at making a quill pen—you may not be able to write with it, but it sure will look cool on your desk!

Supplies

  • Medium to large size feather with quill, available at craft stores
  • Clay, oven-bake or air-dry, in various colors if desired
  • Wire, beads, paint, and/or markers for decorating     
  • Scissors
  • Baking pan for oven-bake clay

Directions

  1. Roll clay 2 ½ inches to 4 inches long 
  2. Push the quill end of the feather into the clay
  3. Add bits of clay or roll sections of the clay between your fingers to give the clay shape
  4. To make the twisted shape pen, twist the length of clay around itself before adding the feather
  5. Shape the end or cut it with scissors to make the pointed writing nib
  6. If using air-dry clay: Add beads and/or wire and let clay dry around feather
  7. If using oven-bake clay: Add beads and other layers of clay before baking then carefully remove feather. Bake clay according to package directions
  8. Add wire and other decorations after clay has baked and cooled
  9. Reinsert feather into clay