April 4 – World Rat Day & Guest Post by Mike Allegra

About the Holiday

In 2002 Robyn Archer and James Kitlock thought people should take another look at rats and recognize them for their endearing traits. They established World Rat Day to celebrate these rodents and promote the adoption of Fancy Rats as pets. Clean, smart, and devoted, Fancy Rats are beloved by many. How can you celebrate today? Why not hold a Rat Day party, read a book or watch a movie starring a rat, or if you’re looking for a new pet, check out your local shelter for these furry friends. To learn more about World Rat Day, visit the official website!

The Reliable Rodent

Guest Post by Mike Allegra

 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am pro-rodent (or, as I prefer, “prodent”).

In elementary school, I took care of two four-legged gerbils and one three-legged gerbil. (The three-legged one was much faster than the four-leggers, by the way). In the years since, I have cuddled and cared for field mice, hamsters, one fancy rat, one sewer rat posing as a fancy rat, and the world’s most ornery guinea pig. My bucket list dream is to skritch a capybara’s belly. (A capybara, in case you don’t know, is the world’s largest rodent. Fully grown capys can be 100 pounds and nearly as big as a golden retriever.) 

My prodent views can be found in my fiction. One of my picture books stars a mouse with a commanding grasp of the principals of scientific inquiry. In another picture book, I feature a guinea pig the size of a mastodon.

The more I work rodents into my stories, the more I realize that a rodent is The Best Picture Book Protagonist Ever. This discovery isn’t a revelation by any means; wee rodents have been helming stories since the days of Aesop and will continue to do so as long as children’s books continue to be published.

But here’s my take:

Three Reasons why Rodents are Perfect for Picture Books

 

Rodents Are Teensy-Eensy Tiny

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Rodents are so very vulnerable. They’re surrounded by larger, stronger, more aggressive animals. And, jeepers, the world is just so dang big!  

If that doesn’t describe kid-dom, I don’t know what does.

I’m 48 years old, yet I still remember the toddlerhood ordeal of having to reach waaaay above my head to grab a doorknob. I remember having to stand of a stool to peek over the lip of the bathroom sink. I remember everything being either too bulky or heavy to lift. And I remember how Mom could thwart me by putting the object of my desire inside The Top Cabinet. God, how I hated, hated, hated The Top Cabinet.

It seemed so unfair to be so little in such a large world. Rodents—mice, rats, guinea pigs, and the rest (except capybaras)—have to live in that world for their entire lives. They can embody the same frustrations and physical limitations that children know all too well.

And yet…

Rodents Have Moxie!

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I love the word “moxie” because it has so many great definitions. And every rodent adheres to every moxie definition:

Are rodents energetic? Lord, yes (except capybaras).

Intelligent? Yup.

Resourceful? My Houdini Rat escaped from her cage six times (six times!). So, yeah!

Curious? The fact that my Houdini Rat explored the entire house before choosing to cuddle in my son’s bed is a big yup.

The “moxie” definitions apply to children, too. Who but a kid would jump from the highest monkey bar? Or run a half-mile to chase down the ice cream truck? Or ask questions both innocent and profound. Or find a hundred different ways to play with an empty cardboard box? Kids tick off all the moxie boxes. Rodents are their spirit animals.

Which leads to my final reason…

Rodents are Cuuuute!

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All rodents are cute (especially capybaras). Sure a naked rat might take a little getting used to, but as soon as you see one washing his widdle face in a bathroom sink, the cuteness is oh, so apparent.

We go the extra mile for cute things, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s why we all tolerate (and often chuckle fondly) at all of our kids’ nonsense. And, really, who doesn’t wanna read about a cute something? I do! And you probably do, too!

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I gotta go. I’m calling dibs on a capybara picture book.

While Mike’s off doing that, you can check out this giveaway!

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Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist Giveaway

 

I’m giving away a signed copy of Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist, written by Mike Allegra and illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel from Dawn Publications. It’s a story of excitement and experimentation in which Scampers and her friend Nibbles (who, by the way, are teensy-eensy tiny, have moxie, and are cuuuute) reclaim their vegetable patch from a wide-eyed owl.

To enter all you have to do is:

Leave a comment here on this post about your favorite kind of rodent or favorite literary rodent

OR

Check out my Giveaway on Instagram. To enter just

  • Like a giveaway post
  • Follow me at celebratepicturebooks.
  • Bonus: Comment with your favorite kind of rodent or your favorite literary rodent for an extra entry (each comment gives you one more entry)

This giveaway runs from April 4 through April 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only

Read my reviews of 

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Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist 

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Everybody’s Favorite Book

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Mike Allegra is the author of Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist, Everybody’s Favorite Book, the Prince Not-So-Charming series, and Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday. 

To learn more about Mike Allegra, his books, and his other work, visit his website.

 

 

 

You can find Mike’s books at these booksellers:

 

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist

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

Everybody’s Favorite Book

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

Prince Not-So-Charming: Once Upon a Prank (and the rest of the series)

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

Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

March 18 – International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate something that you can’t see or hold but which is real all the same. What is it? An idea! Ideas are amazing things. They ideas fuel our arts, sciences, education, and home life. This month-long holiday invites all you would-be inventors and clever folk alike to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. So, write down those ideas you have while driving, while in the shower, when you’re daydreaming, or just as you turn off the light to go to sleep. You never know what they might become!

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist

Written by Mike Allegra | Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel

 

All the field mice gathered at the vegetable garden to play and eat, eat, eat. But one day an owl arrived, so the mice went off to the grassy fields far away where they were safe but not nearly as well-fed. “Still they all agreed that having a hungry belly was better than filling the belly of a hungry owl.” After that the mice kept their distance from the farm—all except Scampers, who hid nearby and watched the owl. She thought there was something a little suspicious about it since the owl never moved.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zechel, 2019, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2019. Courtesy of Dawn Publications.

When Scampers’ friend Nibbles saw what she was doing, he was afraid for her safety. But Scampers was gung-ho on finding out what was going on. The next day they waved a rag-doll mouse above the cauliflower, but the owl stayed put. “‘Maybe owls can tell if a mouse is fake,’ Nibbles whispered.” That gave Scampers another idea. She jumped out and yelled “HELLO!” to the owl, but the owl didn’t blink. Nibbles thought maybe owls were hard of hearing, so Scampers put on her one-girl-band set. Nothing.

Next it was time to bring out the heavy machinery, but even when Scampers lobbed an egg at the owl from her homemade eggapult, the owl didn’t move. Nibbles thought that owls might not like eggs, but a soaring rock had the same result. Scampers decided it was time to try out all of her experiments on another owl—one they’d find in the woods.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zechel, 2019, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2019. Courtesy of Dawn Publications.

While Nibbles hid in the hollow of a tree, Scampers called out “HELLO!” “An owl’s head spun around.” The owl nabbed the rag-doll mouse in a snap, and he did not sit still for the eggapulted rock. “‘Maybe you’ve figured out why the garden owl doesn’t move,’” Nibbles said. Now it was time to explain it all to the other mice. With a glittery display, Scampers and Nibbles presented their findings.

As Scampers and Nibbles raced to raid the veggies, the other mice lagged behind, skeptical about what they’d heard. “‘Sometimes a new discovery is so amazing that others need a little time to accept it,’” Scampers told Nibbles. “‘So while they’re thinking it over, let’s eat.’”

Extensive back matter includes an illustrated description of how scientists think over a problem, more information about Great Horned Owls and field mice, suggestions for teachers on reading the book to students, ways teachers can discuss science and engineering practices, and four activities kids can do at home or in school that engage them in science, technology, engineering, and math learning.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zechel, 2019, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2019. Courtesy of Dawn Publications.

In his clever story, Mike Allegra infuses the scientific method with enthusiasm, humor, and a problem that will engage kids. When the field mice are run out of their vegetable garden by an owl who has taken up residence on a fence post, readers will love following Scampers as she uses her logical mind and a few experiments to restore their food source. Through Scampers’ keen sense of observation and engineering know-how, kids see how to go about proving a hypothesis correct. As Nibbles eats away at Scampers’ results with the kinds of alternate theories scientists must disprove, children get caught up in the suspense and thrill of discovery that fuels scientific advancement.

Elizabeth Zechel’s field mice know how to feast—and how to get things done. With bright eyes and jubilant expressions, the mice chow down on corn and tomatoes, and as Scampers performs her experiments her joy in the process is evident. More timid Nibbles bites his nails, wraps his tail tightly around himself, tries to stop the eggapult in its tracks, and cowers in the crook of a tree as danger looms. Zechel’s detailed drawings realistically depict the garden, forest, and wildlife. Her two Great Horned Owls beautifully demonstrate the difference between the false one and the real one, which has focused and piercing eyes, soft textured feathers, sharp talons, and quick reflexes.

Perfectly aimed at young scientists with charming characters, fun language, and a glittery final report that mirrors school projects, Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist is a terrific addition to home, classroom, and library STEM collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Dawn Publications, 2019 | ISBN 978-1584696438

Discover more about Mike Allegra, his books, and his other writing on his website

To learn more about Elizabeth Zechel, her books, and her art, visit her website

National Ideas Month Activity

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Green onions as they looked when put in the jar on Day 1

Green Onions Garden in a Jar

 

Kids will be wowed by this gardening experiment that shows results in as little as two days and just keeps getting more dramatic as the days go by.

Supplies

  • 1 or 2 batches of green onions (also called scallions and spring onions)
  • Jar
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Here’s how the onions looked two days later.

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Three days later, the green onions are really growing!

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In four days the stalks have gotten much longer and new shoots have appeared.

Directions

  1. Cut the stalks off of each onion so that the bulb and about two inches of stem remain. 
  2. Place all of the onions in a jar with the bulbs and roots in the water and the stalks above the rim of the jar
  3. Place the jar in a sunny spot and watch the onion tops grow taller day by day
  4. Harvest the stalks and enjoy them in a variety of recipes and as a substitute for chives

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You can find Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 30 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

It’s been a terrific month of celebrating the joys of reading at home, in the classroom, and at the library! Every book read to and with a child enriches their life and helps to foster a life-long love of learning. Whether your child likes books that are fiction or nonfiction, stories or poetry, funny or poignant, there are a vast array of new and old books to teach them about the world and get them excited about being part of it. There really is a book for every child—as you’ll see in today’s review!

I received a copy of Everybody’s Favorite Book from Imprint to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Macmillan Publishing in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Everybody’s Favorite Book

Written by Mike Allegra | Illustrated by Claire Almon

 

You are quite lucky, the narrator greets you, to be holding the world’s most favorite book. What makes it everybody’s favorite? Well, “lots of great books have cool heroes.” But these are heroes with just one talent—“like spacemen! Or ninjas! Or cowgirls!” In this book, though, the hero multitasks! What is he? “A space ninja cow!” and “his name is Bob.”

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Of course, a hero needs a villain to vanquish, and Bob is lucky because instead of a one-dimensional bad guy, he gets to pit himself against a fierce mash up of a robot, a dragon, and a pirate. What’s this horrible marauder’s name?. Are you ready? It’s Corky! So Bob and Corky fight. It’s thrilling…it’s dangerous…it’s stopped? Ah, the narrator sees now— “everybody doesn’t like violent books” and since this is Everybody’s Favorite Book, the story needs to be a bit more… Well, let’s see if Princess Glittersprinkles can help!

Yes! A tea party would be splendid. Bob and Corky and the princess sit down to a lovely spread with the adorable but really, really, really, really BIG guinea pig, Snuggy. But, wait! We’re forgetting about babies. Baby’s love books too, right? Now might be a good time to offer a bit of ABC fun. “A is for Apple. B is for Bob.” By the way…where is Bob? Is that a suspicious bulge in Snuggy’s cheeks? 

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Finding Bob’s going to require spies, especially cool ones. Now, while they’re out spying, let’s give it up for those teachers and librarians who love big, educational words like “Gallimaufry, Codswallop, and Frippery.” Sure, the narrator knows the definitions, but the book will be more fun and educational if you read them for yourself. Oh, dear! Are those words too educational? Then maybe a poop jok…wait a minute! Do you see a suspicious bump in Snuggy’s belly? No, me either.

If this really is Everybody’s Favorite Book, it seems that “we are still missing so many things that everybody likes. Things like wizards! And a fairy tale!” And so many other characters and things to do…. Hey! Why is everyone fighting? There’s plenty of room for everybody, but right now “this is nobody’s favorite book.” What’s needed is a hero. “Oh wait! There’s Bob,” launching from Snuggy’s HUGE burp just in time! “Maybe he has an idea.” Bob suggests a “sweet ending.” This is more like it! All the hugs and smiles and cooperation is so sweet. Sweet, Snuggy. Not sweets! Oh dear….

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Image copyright Claire Almon, 2018, text copyright Mike Allegra, 2018. Courtesy of Imprint at Macmillan Publishing.

Mike Allegra will have kids laughing out loud with every page turn in his riotously clever genre mash-up. Allegra’s well-meaning narrator offers up droll juxtapositions of characters and situations while riffing on favorite books and movies, fads and fantasies with some crafts, coloring, and craziness to boot. The fast pace, abrupt interruptions, and zigzagging storyline keep kids guessing and eager to find out what comes next. As the action devolves into a free-for-all, the promise of a book for everybody is fulfilled with inclusive hugs and teamwork.

Claire Almon’s cartoon-inspired illustrations are bold, dynamic, and full of action with plenty of humor thrown in. Ingenious details, comically used tropes, and familiar styles of graphics from kids favorite TV shows and movies give young readers a feeling of shared experiences and culture that underline the theme of friendship. Readers will love following Bob’s journey to escape from Snuggy’s belly, and cutaways and character involvement from page to page keeps everybody reacting to the narrator’s directions until the big finale.

For book lovers of all stripes, Everybody’s Favorite Book will be a much-asked for addition to home, classroom, and library bookshelves. The book makes a terrific gift for all those readers on your list.

Ages 3 – 7 

Imprint, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250132765

Discover more about Mike Allegra, his books, and other projects on his website.

To learn more about Claire Almon, her books, and her art, visit her tumblr.

Meet Mike Allegra

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I’m excited to be chatting with Mike Allegra today about his inspiration for his most original book, what kind of mash-up character he’d be, and his role in a family holiday tradition.

What was the inspiration or spark for Everybody’s Favorite Book?

The idea came to me while wandering around the children’s book section of Barnes & Noble. In the picture book area, I stumbled upon a huuuuge display dedicated to ninjas. Everything you could imagine was ninja-related: ninja pigs, ninja school, ninja camp, ninja grandma, ninja notary public… It was crazy. So I thought, “Hmm…I wonder if I can write a book about a ninja? Then I saw another display dedicated to astronauts and a third display dedicated to cowboys—and thought, “Hmm…I wonder if I can put ninjas and spacemen and cowboys into a single book?” That thought soon evolved into, “I wonder if I can cram a spaceman and ninja and cowboy into a single character?”

And Bob the Space Ninja Cow was born.

Then the creative floodgates opened wide. I giddily zipped around the children’s section looking for characters and genres and themes I could shoehorn into a single picture book. It was a blast!

If you were a mashup hero like Bob or even a mashup villain like Corky, what would you be? What would your name be?

I would want to be a mastodon-sized guinea pig like Snuggy. And I’d want to fly. And solve mysteries.

And they would call me Wondersnug, The Flying Pigamajig.

You’ve done a bit of everything in the writing field—plays, journalism, essay-writing, communications, editing—what do you like about writing for children?

Writing for children is like giving yourself permission to let your creative spirit soar. The possibilities are almost endless. I can write about a Space Ninja Cow! Or a dragon who knits! Or a boy who turns into a Kafka-esque giant bug! My mind can move in the wildest, weirdest directions. It’s wonderful.

You wrote so much as a child that a teacher predicted you’d become a writer. Was your work always funny?

No, but I always tried to make it funny, which is not the same thing.

My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Snelback, was the first person outside of my own family to say that I could write “funny.” And Mrs. Snelback was not one of those teachers who spouted compliments. Quite the opposite, really. She was pretty miserly, compliment-wise.

So when she told my parents that I should pursue a career as a writer, it really meant something. Mrs. Snelback didn’t say anything unless she absolutely, positively, 100% believed it. That’s why Mrs. Snelback will always be my favorite teacher. She shoved me onto the writing path and it has been an amazing journey.  

How do you tap into the humor and rhythms that really make kids laugh?

I’d love to say something profound here—like: “I try to see the world through the wondrous eyes of a child”—but the truth is a lot simpler: I like writing silly things and kids like reading silly things. So it works out for both of us!

I love hearing about how holidays inspire picture books. Can you talk a little about your first published children’s picture book, Sarah Gives Thanks: How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday?

Ah, the great Sarah Josepha Hale. She is so awesome. She was a celebrated and prolific writer. She edited the most widely read magazine in America. She founded charities, led patriotic fundraising drives, championed college educations for women, and used her magazine to influence public opinion on a wide spectrum of topics—the most famous of which was a nationalized Thanksgiving, which at that time was rarely celebrated outside of New England.

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And she did all these things in the early- to mid-1800s, when women were widely seen as second-class citizens. And she also did all of these things while raising five children by herself! 

See what I mean? Awesome!

Once I learned about Sarah, I just had to write about her. 

This summer two books in your Prince Not-So-Charming series were released. Can you introduce readers to this prince with other dreams and the very capable princess he encounters?

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Prince Carlos Charles Charming is the young prince of the happy and peaceful land of Faraway Kingdom and the sole heir to the kingdom’s throne. But Carlos would much rather be a jester, so he’s forced to live a double life of sorts, performing dangerous princely duties to satisfy his mom and dad (the queen and king) while also searching out venues to perform his juggling routine and road-test his impressive collection of fart jokes.

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Princess Pinky, from the neighboring kingdom of Ever After Land, is in a similar situation; she would happily give up her crown to be an artist.

So Carlos and Pinky become fast friends who pursue their passions while going on princely and princessly adventures. (Oh, and Carlos has a pet dragon named Smudge who likes to knit. So there’s that, too.)

Any sneak peek into the prince’s future?

Carlos is going to be very busy. In future books he’ll joust, get turned into a frog, lead a search-and-rescue expedition, and attempt to stop a war.

What’s up next for you?

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Well, I have another picture book coming out in March titled Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist, which I’m excited about. I just recorded the audiobook for it—which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you think of my voice.

I’m also writing a middle grade murder mystery novel.

What’s your favorite holiday?

I love Christmas, but as I get older, I find myself gravitating toward holidays that contain a lot less hoopla. Thanksgiving is the holiday for me. I get to eat my favorite food on a crisp fall day. (Oh, how I love the fall with its pumpkin-spiced everything!) Also, I was born on November 25th, so I can celebrate my birthday on Thanksgiving, too! Thanksgiving is pretty much perfect.

In other words, Sarah Josepha Hale was a very wise woman.

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

Sure! When I was a kid, every Christmas the entire family would assemble at my grandparents’ house to open presents and eat dinner.

One year—I think I was about seven—I noticed that every time a present was opened, half the room would say, “Ooh,” the other half would say, “Ahh,” and my grandmother would say, “Isn’t that nice!”

No joke; this happened every single time for every single present.

The problem, as I saw it, was that it these responses were too disorganized; everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over everyone else. It was a big ol’ mess of noise. So I stood up and asked if I could conduct my family’s reactions like Leopold Stokowski. They happily agreed.

So whenever a present was opened, I would wave my arms to cue the “Ooh-ers,” the “Ahh-ers,” and Grandma’s “Isn’t that nice!” I never felt more powerful in my life. More importantly, almost everyone in the room was practically peeing their pants laughing. And, from that point forward, an Allegra Christmas tradition was born.

Everybody’s Favorite Book Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Macmillan Publishing in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra  | illustrated by Claire Almon

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, October 30 – November 5. Already a follower? Thanks! Just Retweet for a chance to win. Quote your Retweet with your favorite kind of book for an extra entry.

A winner will be chosen on November 6.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Macmillan Publishing.

National Book Day Activity

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Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

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You can find Everybody’s Favorite Book at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review