February 8 – Opera Day

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About the Holiday

Opera has been a favorite art form since its beginnings in Italy in the 1500s. Combining magnificent voices, soaring arias, grand costumes, and dramatic storylines, operas continue to thrill audiences and gain new fans. To celebrate Opera Day today or at a time in the future, enjoy a performance in your area or find one on YouTube and gather your family and friends for an opera party.

I received a copy of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings

 

Fernando had many loves in his life—including chocolate, cheese, gumdrops, and popcorn—but what he loved most was “feasting on Mozart, Puccini, and Strauss, / and lending a paw at the Old Opera House.” Delores loved nothing more than being in the spotlight, and now she was getting the chance to leave her place in the chorus to “take center stage and be Diva Delores.” She warmed up in her dressing room with “Me-me-me-me!”

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Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Fernando wanted to give Delores the benefit of all of his years of experience, but she wasn’t having it. A mouse was not a suitable helper for someone as great as she, she thought. At the rehearsal the next day, Delores was a flop, hitting wrong notes, missing her entrance, and the last song? Well…. From the back Fernando called out that he could help. He wrote cues on little cards “and—presto!—Delores knew just what to do.” You’d think Delores would be thankful, but instead she complained that a mouse’s help was just not proper for a diva, and she shooed Fernando away.

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Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

The day before her big performance, Delores found that her dress didn’t fit. Again, Fernando rushed to her rescue, but what thanks did he get? Delores grumbled and fussed. “Then grabbing a bottle / of stinky perfume, / she spritzed poor Fernando / right out of the room!” Fernando went home, wanting to quit. But as he looked at his pictures of Mozart, Puccini, and Strauss, he knew that without him the show would fail and that he couldn’t quit now.

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Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

First, he went to Delores and laid down the rules: “For starters, I’d like to hear / thank you and please / when I help fix your dress / or bring crackers and cheese.” Delores was startled and quickly said good night. At home she wondered: had she been rude? The next day, Delores was nervous. She tried calming herself with candy and tea. She even looked for Fernando, but he was nowhere to be found.

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Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Standing on stage in the glare of the spotlights, “as the orchestra played, / Delores felt faint. / First she swooned… / then she swayed.” When she opened her mouth, no notes, no sound, no song came out. Then inside her wig she saw Fernando, who squeaked “‘You can do it.’” And then Delores did sing “with a voice rich and sweet.” When she forgot some words to her song, Fernando reminded her by tra-la-la-ing along.

The audience loved them. They cheered for Delores; they cheered for Fernando. Later, Delores admitted she could not have done it alone. Then she apologized to Fernando and asked for a fresh start on their friendship. “Of course!” he agreed, and now they bring down the house night after night as “the Opera House team!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-cheering

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Laura Sassi’s clever and original story about teamwork and sharing the spotlight hits all the right notes in showing how accepting help can elevate anyone’s performance and lead to a new friendship. After playing second fiddle in the chorus, Delores finally gets her chance to shine, but her vanity exceeds her experience. When a tiny mouse offers help from his deep well of knowledge, Delores takes one look at Fernando’s diminutive size and rejects him and his advice. Through her perfect rhymes and musical rhythm, Sassi engages readers in how to graciously learn from another’s experience and encourages the Fernandos out there to keep trying, even when their initial offerings of assistance are rebuffed.

Rebecca Gerlings lends charm and humorous touches to Sassi’s tale, and the promise of the enticing cotton-candy fluff of a wig, introduced in the first pages and teased throughout the story, is comically and satisfyingly fulfilled in the end as Fernando directs Delores to a winning performance from within. Along the way, readers are treated to an octopus piano player, multiple meltdowns as Delores dispatches Fernando from her orbit, and demonstrations of persistence as the little mouse stands up for himself, good manners, and the honor of his beloved opera. 

A smart, fresh, and fun read aloud, Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse has multiple applications for discussing friendship, modesty, respect, and collaboration. The book would make a delightful addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454922001

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca Gerlings, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, written by Laura Sassi | illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for extra entry

This giveaway is open from February 10 – February 17 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on February 18. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

Opera Day Activity

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Sparkly Opera Glasses by Laura Sassi

 

Make a pair of these fancy glasses, then pretend you are at the opera while reading Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse.

Supplies for each pair of opera glasses

  • Two recycled toilet tissue tubes one large craft stick
  • Markers tacky glue
  • Two paper clips assorted fancy embellishments (We used feathers, sparkly gems and snippets of shimmery ribbon, but use whatever you have around the house. Be creative!)

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Directions

  1. Decorate the tissue tubes using markers.
  2. Glue the tubes side by side, as shown. Be sure to insert the craft stick in between so your opera glasses have a handle. Slip a paper clip at each end over the sealed part for extra  pressure while drying.
  3. Use tacky glue to affix whatever fancy embellishments you choose. The more the better!
  4. When dry, elegantly hold your opera glasses up to your eyes and pretend you are watching Diva Delores and Fernando at the opera!

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You can find Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 8 – National Grandparents Day

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About the Holiday

As a child in the 1920s, Marion McQuade accompanied her grandmother as she visited elderly neighbors, offering friendship and help when needed. This early experience sparked Marion’s lifelong concern for the elderly and especially for grandparents. In 1956, Marion helped institute a tribute to octogenarians. It was just the beginning of her work on behalf of the elderly and her hopes to create a special day commemorating the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared the first Sunday after Labor Day to be National Grandparents Day. As Marion envisioned it, the day gives grandparents and grandchildren an opportunity to show their love for one another and for older members of the family to pass down their stories and wisdom to younger generations. 

Love is Kind

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Lison Chaperon

 

Little Owl had been saving up his coins to buy something special for Grammy’s birthday. He even knew exactly what he wanted to give her—“a heart-shaped box of chocolates.” He took the coins out of his pocket to look at them, but just as he did he tripped over a tree root and his money went flying. One, two, three, they rolled down the hill “until wobble PING” they landed right by Beaver’s dam. Little Owl ran after them. Just as he got close, he heard little Beaver excitedly showing her mommy that the tooth fairy had come after all. Seeing the big smile on Beaver’s face, Little Owl just wished her a “tooth-errific day” and headed back home.

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

As luck would have it, though, Little Owl spied a dollar lying among the fallen autumn leaves. He was excited that now he could buy Grammy’s gift, but then he saw the “Missing $1.00” sign on Mrs. Mouse’s house. He picked up the money and rang Mrs. Mouse’s doorbell. Mrs. Mouse was thrilled to see her money again as she and Mr. Mouse needed it to fix up the nursery for the new babies they were expecting. “Little Owl smiled. ‘That’s wonderful news. Congratulations!’” he said.

Little Owl continued on and while cutting through the sunflower field, he ran into Rabbit, who had “THREE heart-shaped boxes of chocolates—” one for Ma, one for Pa, and one Rabbit was going to keep for herself. “Little Owl’s feathers stood on end. You have THREE! That’s not fai…’ Little Owl stopped. Getting angry wouldn’t get Grammy those chocolates.” Instead, he told Rabbit to enjoy her candy, and she hopped happily off. In a moment, though, she was back with a coupon for one free box of chocolates.

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Little Owl skipped all the way to Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe. But when he got there, all of Chipmunk’s chocolates were gone and he was just closing the shop. Once again, Little Owl smiled, gave good wishes, and waved goodbye. Still, little Owl was disappointed. He had nothing to give Grammy.

When he got to Grammy’s house, he tearfully told her about his day. After he was finished, Grammy told him that the love he had shown to Beaver, Mrs. Mouse, Rabbit, and Chipmunk was “‘better than any heart-shaped box of chocolates.’” Little Owl was surprised. Just then he caught his reflection in the window. The white feathers of his face formed a perfect heart. “‘…I guess I gave you a heart-shaped gift after all!’” he said. “‘Me!’” And Grammy thought that was “‘the best gift of all.’”

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Laura Sassi’s tender intergenerational story delves gently and with an endearing main character into what it means to love. Not only does Sassi reveal the true meaning of love, but she shows young readers how to express it by what they do and say (or don’t say). Through each of Little Owl’s encounters, he demonstrates kindness and empathy as he puts the happiness of others ahead of his own desires. Sassi’s genuine storytelling doesn’t shy away from Little Owl’s honest emotions that touch on ownership, disappointment, anger, and sadness, but in each case Little Owl is guided by his strong internal moral code revealed organically through his thoughts and actions.

As Grammy comforts her young grandson, she reinforces the idea that the best gift someone can give an individual, their community, and the world at large is not stuff but a caring and compassionate heart. Little Owl and little readers need not rely only on the words of the story but come to understand this important lesson through Little Owl’s reflection in the window as well. Lines from the poem “Love is Kind,” found in 1 Corinthians 13, are sprinkled throughout the text: in the river that runs past Beaver’s dam, over Mrs. Mouse’s hearth, in the petals of a sunflower, and elsewhere, reminding readers that these ideals can be found everywhere and encouraging them to look for and contribute to universal kindness.

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Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With his soft tufts of autumn-hued feathers and cozy coat and scarf, Little Owl is an adorable friend to follow on a journey. Lison Chaperon’s woodland neighborhood glows with gold and russet leaves, providing a warm backdrop to the snug homes of Little Owl’s neighbors. Children will be enchanted by the Mouse’s tree trunk-and-toadstool house, where a swing set with walnut-shell swings wait in the yard for little mice to play. When Little Owl heads into the sunflower patch, kids will spy a snoozing caterpillar, a bee and a ladybug having a picnic, and a glimpse of the bunny he’s about to bump into.

In Little Owl’s encounters, readers can clearly see what the coins, the dollar bill, and the three boxes of chocolates mean to each respective family. In this way, children discover both sides of each story and can better understand how generosity affects both the giver and the receiver. As Little Owl loses hope of getting a gift for Grammy, the sunny sky turns gray and rainy to reflect his mood, but a rainbow appears when Rabbit pays her good fortune forward by giving Owl a coupon. It’s nighttime when Little Owl reaches Grammy’s, and he’s welcomed by shining lanterns and a starry sky. Inside, Grammy’s just finishing up a delectable cake to share while snuggling in Grammy’s rocking chair.

This lovely, multilayered story is delightful for any story time while also providing many opportunities for adults and children to talk about ideas of love, kindness, empathy, and how one person’s actions and words can make a difference in others’ lives. Love is Kind would be a favorite for grandparents and children to share. Reading it with little ones is also a wonderful way to bring closer grandparents who live far away. The book would make a sweet gift and addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310754893 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0310754848 (Board Book)

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website

Love is Kind Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Zonderkidz in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Love is Kind written by Laura Sassi | illustrated by Lison Chaperon

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from September 8 through September 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on September 15.

Prizing provided by Zonderkidz

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

National Grandparents Day Activity

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Little Owl Cookies (and Grand ones too!)  

Made with Love by Laura and her daughter

 

My 14-year-old daughter loves spending time her grandparents and she thought these LOVE IS KIND owl-themed cookies would be a fun and tasty way to celebrate that special bond between child and grandparent. We hope you enjoy our activity—and after baking and decorating together, we hope you’ll be inspired to spread some love by sharing the cookies with neighbors or friends who perhaps live too far away to be with their grandchildren on Grandparents Day! Enjoy!

Supplies

  • A favorite sugar cookie recipe (or buy pre-mixed cookie dough from the market)
  • Two glasses with different sized rims for cookie cutters (so you can make little and big owls)
  • A bag of confectioners’ sugar, a few splashes of milk, food coloring
  • Several bowls to mix your icing along with a spoon and toothpick for each color
  • Candy eyes (found in baking section at market)

Directions

  1. Roll out the dough, then press circles—both big and small (to represent grandparents and grandchildren) using rims of two different sized glasses. 
  2. Place the dough circles on a cookie sheet. Then, taking little scraps of cookie dough, shape and press triangle-shaped owl tufts atop each circle, as shown.
  3. Bake according to recipe or package directions. Let cool.
  4. Using my sweet daughter’s samples as a model, or following your own owl vision, decide how many colors you will need to decorate your owls. 
  5. For each color, add a generous half cup of confectioners’ sugar and a splash of milk to a small bowl. Add a drop or two of food coloring, or mix two colors to create a new color. Stir gently using a spoon. (The amount of sugar, milk, and color drops you use will depend on how much icing you need.  Also, you will have to play with consistency until you get it just right – not too watery and not too thick.  My daughter apologizes for being so vague, but really mixing it up is part of the fun. Your grandkids will LOVE it!)
  6. To paint the owls, cover the cookie with your base glaze. Add the eyes while the glaze is still wet so they stick in place. Wait for the bottom coat to get a little crusty (so colors don’t bleed) before adding the final details such as beak and feathers.
  7. Finally, arrange a plate of big and little owl cookies for yourselves and another to share (in true LOVE IS KIND fashion)!  Have fun!

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You can find Love is Kind at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review