August 28 – National Bow Tie Day

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About the Holiday

We’ve all learned about the 30-year war in school, but I bet your teacher never mentioned that world-side use of the bow tie was one of the results. It seems the Croatian soldiers used a bow tie to close the collars of their shirts. The idea caught on, and, later, French tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard wore a bow tie to a Tuxedo Club event. The black-and-white fashion statement gained popularity, and bow ties took off in all kinds of colorful, wacky, and iconic ways.

Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems

Written by Brian P. Cleary | Illustrated by Andy Rowland

 

Acrostics are special nuggets of information or creativity formed by using the letters of a word to begin each new sentence. Writing poems in acrostic style takes thought and ingenuity—and that’s just what Brian P. Cleary offers in his twenty-seven poems that tackle all kinds of subjects, from pirates to spiders to sharks, from holidays to colors to food, and from people to places to things.

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Image copyright Andy Rowland, 2015, text copyright Brian P. Cleary, 2015. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Bow-Tie Pasta riffs on the wearable and edible types of bow ties and comes to a conclusion we can all digest: “Blue gingham / Orange striped / White formal / Tartan plaid / Irish shamrocks / Embroidered stars / Polka dots / Argyle / Silky yellow / Tweed / Awful tasting.”

In Piano, a boy wistfully watches a parade go by: “Parading down Main Street / Is a sea of red-uniformed players of flute / And clarinet and drum / Navigating their way through confetti and applause / Only wish that I could march with my instrument.”

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Image copyright Andy Rowland, 2015, text copyright Brian P. Cleary, 2015. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

A Rainy Day inspires another clever verse: Reading in a cozy nook / Asking for another book / I made cookies by the sheet / Next they cool. I dunk and eat. / Yo-yo, board games, watch the rain, / Draw a face inside each pane. / Afterwards I make s’mores. / Yes, I love the great indoors.”

Fish aficionados may want to heed the warning in Piranha: Peering into my aquarium, / I spy the fish with two rows of / Razor-sharp teeth. / As he swims towards my tapping finger / Near the top of the tank’s glass, / He serves as a reminder that there / Are some pets you should never pet.

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Image copyright Andy Rowland, 2015, text copyright Brian P. Cleary, 2015. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

For those who like their poems non-fiction, Triceratops reveals some fascinating facts about this prehistoric favorite: Two hard horns and a third soft one that’s / Really a snout made from soft proteins. / Inside its mouth: 200 to 800 teeth. / Can you imagine the dentist appointments? / Extinct, so none are living. / Rumored to be a slow walker. / Ate only plants. / T. rex wanted to have it for lunch. / Older than your parents and even your teacher! / Popular in dinosaur movies. / Seen last alive: 65 million years ago.

Just waiting for kids are more acrostics about some of their favorite things, such as fire trucks, snack time, lacrosse, Halloween, giggling, the library, and jokes. There’s even an acrostic poem explaining what acrostic poems are!

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Image copyright Andy Rowland, 2015, text copyright Brian P. Cleary, 2015. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Brian P. Cleary’s supple wit and word play turn words into poems and poems into new ways of looking at his subjects. Young readers will laugh at his observations and juxtapositions and be tempted to try writing an acrostic poem of their own.

Andy Rowland accompanies each poem with bright, amusing illustrations that highlight the humor and “ah-ha!” moments of the verses. A boy tries to chew down the contents of a plate piled high with cloth bow ties of every color and pattern, a triceratops visits the dentist, kids go trick or treating with an green alien, the state of Kansas stretches out like a patchwork quilt, and a boy and girl toast marshmallows on a rainy day. Along the way readers also meet a wiener dog sporting a bun and ketchup, a toothy shark, and a rather sly spider.

For kids who love poetry and humor Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems is a winner. The book is also perfect for classroom poetry units and fun library story times.

Ages 6 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1467781077

Have a blast exploring all the nooks and crannies of Brian P. Cleary’s website!

Learn more about Andy Rowland on his website!

National Bow Tie Day Activity

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Colorful Bow Ties

 

Bow ties come in all colors and patterns. Here is a printable Colorful Bow Ties page for you to decorate! You can then use your bow ties to play the game below!

Alternate Match the Bow Ties Game:

  1. Print two sheets of the Colorful Bow Ties page
  2. Color the bow ties to make matching pairs
  3. Cut the bow ties into separate cards
  4. Turn them face down and scramble them
  5. Turn one of the cards over and try to find its match. If the two ties are not the same, turn them face down and try again
  6. Keep playing until all the bow ties have been matched.

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You can find Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poetry at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 29 – It’s Book Blitz Month

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About the Holiday

Is your motto “So many books, so little time?” Is every shelf, nook, and cupboard in your house filled with books? Is your library card the first one on your ring? If so, you’ll love Book Blitz Month! During this month book lovers are given the green light to read, read, read as many books as possible! Or if there’s a tome you’ve always wanted to tackle, crack the cover and let yourself become immersed in someone else’s story. For kids, Book Blitz Month can be particularly exciting. Sit down with your child or students and make a stack of books they’d like to read. Find time every day to read one, two, or a few of the books in the pile. Seeing the stack shrink gives kids a sense of accomplishment, and they might even want to build it up again! Mix reading with fun activities to encourage a new generation of avid readers!

Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones

Written by Sara Levine | Written by T.S Spookytooth

 

You like dinosaurs, right? I mean, who doesn’t? Of course, I’m not talking about those folks with outdated ideas or that old clunker in the garage that you just can’t part with. I’m talking about the big, huge carnivores and herbivores that roamed the earth millions of years ago—parasaurolophus, diplodocus, apatosaurus, brontosaurus, t-rex, and all the rest that have fun-to-say names. You might think that having those guys and gals around now would be fun, but how would you feel if you, yourself, were a dinosaur?

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Does that thought make you laugh or maybe shudder a little? Well, if you were a dinosaur “you might be pretty funny looking. Or even quite scary.” If you think it’s totally impossible that you could be a dinosaur, you might want to reconsider: Sure, “on the outside, people and dinosaurs look very, very different. But on the inside, we’re actually very similar.” Compare some dinosaur fossils and a human skeleton, and you’ll see!

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Dinos have skulls, and—yep—you’ve got one too! Vertebrae and ribs? Dinosaur, check; you, check. How about scapula, humerus, ulna, radius, metacarpals, and phalanges? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! And that’s just in our arms and in a dinosaur’s front legs! We both have “hip bones and leg bones and toe bones” too! So why aren’t we dinosaurs? And why aren’t dinosaurs people?

That’s because “dinosaurs had some extra bones in their bodies that made them different from us.” Would you like to try some of these on for size? Imagine having a bony ridge jutting out from the back of your head and two big horns and one littler one jutting out the front? “What kind of dinosaur would you look like then?” You got it! A triceratops! Nowadays all those enhancements would just make it hard to wear a hoodie, but back in the Cretaceous Period? “Scientists think this dinosaur used its horns for fighting.” The frill in the back “probably helped protect a triceratops’s neck and shoulders.”

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

This is fun! Let’s try another one…How about if you had “rows of chunky triangle-shaped bones along your back and…an enormous ball of bone stuck onto the end of your vertebrae?” Well, you wouldn’t be a world-class runner and dunking a basketball would probably be out of the question. Why? Because you’d be an ankylosaurus, and the “bones on the end of this dinosaur’s tail weighed more than 60 pounds (27 kg).” You would be a pretty awesome competitor, though—even for the likes of T-rex!

What if those bones along your back ranged from small to huge and ran from your head to the end of your long tail, which, by the way, ended with a few knife-sharp spikes? Then, you’d be a stegosaurus! And what would you do with those plates on your back? Good question! Maybe they’d gather sun like solar panels and keep you warm, or maybe you’d just flash them around to impress your friends.

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Is having more of something ever a bad thing? You might think so if you looked like our next dinosaur. “What if we added lots and lots of extra vertebrae in your neck? And what if your vertebrae didn’t stop at your rear end but kept going and going and going? What kind of dinosaur would you be then?” Here’s a hint: a picture of you wouldn’t even fit on a regular two-page spread in a book! That’s right—it takes four pages to fit you in because you would be a diplodocus! You’d be so long it would take three school buses to get you to class!

From large we move onto small—small arms that is and only two fingers on each hand instead of five. Any ideas? What if I added that “you’d also have dagger-like teeth lining your jaw?” Yeah, you know it! A tyrannosaurus rex! And what did t-rex use those small arms for? “Scientists think it might have used its puny front legs to help it get up after lying down for a rest.”

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Okay, so those are just some of the dinosaurs that lived on land. But there were other ones in the sea and in the air. Imagine if your nostrils were on the top of your head, your skull was long and pointy, and your arms and legs were more like paddles. What would you be good at? Exactly! You’d be an excellent swimmer—which would make you an ichthyosaur!

Let’s do one more! What would you be able to do if your “pinky bones grew really, really long and a membrane of skin was attached to these bones?” Sure! You’d be able to fly, and as a pterosaur, you’d be the first animal with bones to accomplish that amazing feat.

Now, you may have seen dinosaur skeletons in a museum and felt a little sad that you’d never see these creatures in person, but did you know that “you may have even seen one already today? What kind of animal would you be if you were a dinosaur living on Earth right now?” You’ll want to look skyward for this answer. “Scientists now consider birds to be dinosaurs,” and that they “use their first three fingers” to fly. “So if you want to find a dinosaur…Go outside and look around. You’re very likely to see one!”

Backmatter includes a discussion on birds as dinosaurs, a list of dinosaur groups, a glossary, a pronunciation guide, and resources for further study.

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Sara Levine draws on kids’ love of dinosaurs and their growing knowledge of human anatomy to create this mashup of science and laughs that teaches as much as it delights. By revealing on the first two pages that kid and dinosaur skeletons have many of the same kinds of bones, Levine immediately taps that “Wow!” factor that keeps children engaged in a topic.

Add on the funny “what if…” descriptions and illustrations of children sporting bony projections, long tails and necks, noses and fingers, and you’ve got a science book that readers can’t put down. Along the way, budding archaeologists and paleontologists learn facts about each dinosaur and the purpose of their particular anatomical feature or features. Levine’s conversational tone directly addresses her readers and makes learning as fun as going on a field trip with your best friend—how cool is that?

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Image copyright T.S Spookytooth, 2018, text copyright Sara Levine, 2018. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Readers needn’t worry if they can’t quite imagine having horns sticking out of their head, being eighty feet long, or having pinky fingers long enough to roast marshmallows on. T.S Spookytooth has it all covered. As the diverse group of kids visit a museum of natural history, they suddenly find themselves sporting prehistoric traits that confound, surprise, and—as it is with kids—amuse them. Each dinosaur’s skeleton (as well as a human skeleton) is drawn clearly and with realistically.

The double gate-fold illustration of the diplodocus is a show-stopper, and you can bet that children will want to count the vertebrae! Spookytooth’s color palette and imagery beautifully represents the interior of a museum and shows the dinosaurs off to best advantage. The final two-page spread of the children interacting with today’s dinosaurs is whimsical, will inspire kids to look at birds differently, and holds a question—is there an imposter among them?

Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Skeletons would be a favorite addition to home bookshelves as well as classroom, school, and public libraries to spur enthusiastic learning.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1467794893

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website

Learn more about T.S Spookytooth and his illustration work on his website

Book Blitz Month Activity

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Hatch Your Own Dinosaur Eggs

Think there are no more dinosaur eggs? Think again! You can make your own with this easy craft that will have you hatching some t-rex-size fun! All you need are a few simple ingredients!

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Supplies

  • Old clothes or apron
  • Large box of baking soda (makes between 6 and 8 eggs)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Plastic dinosaur toys
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Spoon
  • Wax paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Plastic or metal spoon, stick, popsicle stick, or other implement to chisel with
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Spray the egg with vinegar to hatch your dinosaur

Directions

  1. Wear old clothes or an apron
  2. Cover work surface with wax paper, parchment paper, newspaper, or other protection. Food coloring can stain some surfaces
  3. Pour baking soda into the bowl
  4. Add drops of food coloring in whatever color you’d like your eggs to be. The eggs will darken when baked.
  5. Mix in the food coloring with the fork. You may want to use your hands, too
  6. When the baking soda is the color you want it, begin adding water a little at a time
  7. Add water until the baking soda holds together when you squeeze it in your hand
  8. When the baking soda is the right consistency, spoon some out into your hand or onto wax paper
  9. Push one plastic dinosaur into the middle
  10. Cover the dinosaur with more of the baking soda mixture
  11. Carefully form it into an egg shape
  12. Repeat with other dinosaurs
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Chisel the egg open to hatch your dinosaur

To Bake the Eggs

  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 200 to 225 degrees
  2. Set the eggs on a baking sheet lined with foil
  3. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, check
  4. Turn the eggs over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes
  5. Remove from oven and let cool

To Hatch the Eggs

  1. Eggs can be hatched by chiseling them with a spoon, stick, or other implement
  2. Eggs can also be hatched by spraying or sprinkling them with vinegar

Picture Book Review

September 7 – Buy a Book Day and Interview with Sara Levine

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About the Holiday

Today is one of the best days of the year! Anyone who loves books will want to take the opportunity of the holiday to visit their favorite bookstore and buy one of those books you’ve been hearing and reading about. And why stop at just one? Winter is coming—that time when there’s nothing more cozy than snuggling in with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and reading late into the night. As the school year begins, children benefit from having new books in their home libraries that reflect their changing interests and maturing thoughts. Take a little time to look through the children’s or tween sections of the bookstore and let your kids pick out some new favorites! Yes, today is a wonderful day, no bones about it! 

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth

 

Can you imagine if we sloshed through life like soup without a bowl? What would we set our hats on? Where would we carry our phones? How could we sit in class or the office or perform our favorite activities? And what would happen to our organs, our hair, our homes? It’s all a little disturbing! Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that scenario because “we’re vertebrates, animals with bones. Our bones hold us up.” Phew!

There are different kinds of vertebrates—mammals, reptiles, fish, and more—but many of our bones are similar. For example, “all vertebrates have skulls and ribs. And we all have vertebrae. Vertebrae stack up one on top of another to make the spine, or backbone.” Humans have vertebrae that end…well…you know where, but imagine for a minute if your vertebra kept on going. What if they poked a hole right through your shorts? Yes! You’re right—you’d have a tail. Tails are pretty helpful for some animals. They help them swim, communicate, even keep their balance.

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

Good job! Let’s try again…how about if you only had a skull, vertebrae, and ribs. No arm bones; no leg bones. You’ve got it! A slithery snake! Nah…really…you’d look great! Okay, maybe you’d prefer if you had a skull, vertebrae, and arm bones—but no leg bones—and your nose was transferred to the top of your head. Sounds fishy? Maybe, but not quite. Oh! Did I give it away? Yep, you’d be a whale or a dolphin, and you’d use those powerful vertebrae to propel yourself to the ocean’s surface to grab a breath.

Imagine what kind of gloves and shoes you’d need if your “middle fingers and middle toes were so thick that they supported your whole body.” Hey, you’re good at this! It was a trick question. You wouldn’t need gloves, but you’d wear horse shoes (or no shoes if you’re a less domesticated animal like a zebra). Now, let’s take a trip through a room full of fun-house mirrors. What kind of animal would you be if your neck was reeeaally long and each vertebrae was “as big as your head?” Or if your legs were muuuuuch longer than your arms? Or your “finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Seeing those transformations is definitely worth the price of admission, right?

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Image copyright T. S Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Publishing

But getting back to the bowl of soup: “Could you be an animal if you didn’t have any bones at all?” Sure! Some insects and sea creatures “have their hard parts on the outside,” and some are just “mushy.” Think of worms, slugs, and jellyfish, just to name a few. But bones make life more fun, don’t ya think? So if all vertebrates have bones, what makes humans different? Well, for one thing we (as well as some apes and monkeys) have opposable thumbs, which means that “we can move our thumbs in a special way that allows us to do many things, including turning the pages of a book,” using tools, and picking up objects. “Did you get that one? If so, give yourself a thumbs-up!”

An Author’s Note including more about bones, the types of vertebrates, a glossary, and resources for further reading follow the text.

With humor and a kid’s sensibility of the bizarre, Sara Levine presents an anatomy lesson that young readers will respond to. Juxtaposing individual bony features of humans and animals is a brilliant idea to give children perspective on the differences in animal skeletons and the uses of each unique trait. Levine’s quiz-like format engages readers, encouraging independent thought and active participation as well as building suspense for what transformation comes next. Kids will laugh and learn and be on the lookout for other ways human and animal skeletons differ as they become more aware of the natural world around them.

With illustrations of tailbones sticking out of pants, empty socks, two fingered hands and two toed feet, a neck that needs two scarves, and more, T. S Spookytooth illuminates what it means to be human in an animal world or an animal in a human world. Kids will laugh imagining themselves as Spookytooth depicts them with animal features and “Ewww” when their portrayal dissolves into a muddy mess. The accurate drawings of human and animal skeletons educate readers on the names and placement of particular bones.

The unique approach to the study of human and animal skeletons, the wide range of animals presented, and the enticing writing and illustrations make Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons a wonderful choice for libraries and home bookshelves of budding scientists and nature lovers.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-0761384649

To learn more about Sara Levine and her books, visit her website! You’ll also discover fun Bone by Bone activities to enhance your reading!

View a gallery of artwork by T. S Spookytooth, plus videos and more on his website!

Buy a Book Day Activity

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Dog Paw and Human Hand X-Ray Craft

 

X-rays are cool to look at, but they always stay at the doctor’s office! With this craft you can simulate an X-ray of a dog’s paw and a human hand!

Supplies

  • Printable skeleton templates: Human Hand Template | Dog Paw Template
  • Black chalkboard drawing paper, 8 ½ inches by 11 inches
  • White colored pencil
  • White chalk
  • Clear Plastic Report Sheet Protectors
  • Magnetic clip to hang your x-ray on the refrigerator or other metal surface (optional) OR
  • String or wire, adhesive squares, and clothes pins to hang x-ray on the wall (optional)
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Print the Human Hand and Dog Paw Templates (you may want to print two—one to cut and one to follow when transferring the bones to the black paper)
  2. Cut the bones apart
  3. Lay the bones on the black chalkboard paper
  4. Trace the bones with the white colored pencil
  5. Color in the bones with the white chalk
  6. Slip the black paper into the plastic report sheet protector
  7. If desired, hang the x-ray on the refrigerator with the magnetic clip or on the wall using string, adhesive squares and clothespins

 

Q & A with Author Sara Levine

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Today, I’m thrilled to talk to Sara Levine about her writing as well as to learn about her early experiences with animals and to discover a kid’s-eye-view of women in science.

Your writing for kids is so infused with humor that really captures their attention. What were some of the books that you liked best as a child?

When I was younger, one of my favorite picture books was Katerine and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch. I’ve noticed that this book has gone back into print; I was so happy to find it online. It’s basically about creativity. A girl and her friend keep finding new uses for a large cardboard box—a house, a car, a dance platform. I can still recall my feeling of excitement when hearing it read to me—it made me want to go make something. It’s actually a feeling very similar to what I have today when I think of a new idea for a book. There was also a book called Wisher, which was about difference—about a cat who dreamt he was really a fish. I remember that the illustrations were beautiful and somewhat scary—just done in blues, browns and yellows.  As an older child, I loved Charlotte’s Web by E.B White, Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater and pretty much everything by Judy Blume.

I don’t suppose any of these books are like the books I write. I used to tell people that I liked my science and my books separate. I just wanted to go outside to learn about science. But, I wanted stories in my books. I don’t think there were any of the sorts of books I write about science out for kids when I was young. At least I didn’t find them. But if I had, I think I would have enjoyed them—the fact that they were funny and interactive. But here’s a picture book I LOVE that I found as an adult that is certainly infused with humor and captures a kid’s (and a grown-up’s) attention: Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer. I think this is currently my favorite picture book.

You grew up on a farm in Guilford, Connecticut. Can you tell me a little about the farm and how or if it influenced your current work?

Calling it a “farm” might be a bit of a stretch. My parents were two kids who grew up in Brooklyn and then moved to CT and decided to get some animals, cheered on by their enthusiastic offspring. First there was a goat, who got lonely. So then there was another goat. And they had a baby. And there was a chicken at school who needed a place to go for the summer. And then never went back to school… And so on. We ended up having over 100 named animals—a horse, a cow, peacocks, geese, a donkey and more. I loved taking care of the animals, with my siblings. It was a wonderful experience, one that I’m very grateful for. But it wasn’t at all lucrative. I think the only money made was by my brother who would sell extra eggs to his teachers.

How did it influence my current work? I’m not sure. Certainly my interest in animals is a lifelong one. I think the stories about the animals actually show up more in my writing for adults than in my picture books. The ideas for the books for children come more from teaching ideas that I think will translate well into a picture book format.

You have a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a masters in fine art. When and how did the two merge into your work as an author?

What a great question. I have always had this science side and this humanities side. A lot of my life, I’ve been struggling with how to balance and feed both sides of myself. It’s taken me a long time to find a way to merge the two interests, and it’s been very satisfying to do so in writing about science, especially for kids.

You offer four different school and library programs, all of which sound fascinating. Do you have any anecdotes from a presentation you’d like to share?

In one of my workshops, the one for Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons, I bring in an articulated skeleton for the kids to see and a disarticulated skeleton in a box. The kids learn the bones, and I then hand them each a bone which they take up to the standing skeleton to figure out which bone it is, and then work together to put together the second skeleton on the floor. Inevitably, someone asks if the skeletons are real. They are. I literally found them in the closets, when I started my teaching at Wheelock. There are all sorts of questions about that, generated by the kids, and then, often, someone will ask if the skeletons are “boys or girls.” Recently, at a school near Boston, I was explaining to a group of second graders that both were female, that we could tell by the shape of the hips, and I heard one girl, going, “YES!” and pumping her arm up and down, in victory. The boy next to her says, “Why are you so happy? That means a girl died.” To which she responds, “That’s true. But it also means one more girl in science!”

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Sara Levine leads a workshop at Cold Spring School

What’s the best thing about writing for kids?

I enjoy trying to think of engaging and interactive ways to teach something that hasn’t been taught before. I like the creativity involved. And, of course, reading it to the kids when I’m done and seeing them respond!

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Students at Al Hamra Academy examine a skeleton

You also write articles for adults and were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007. Can you tell me more about your writing for adults?

I write science related essays for adults. The writing comes more from my own experiences.  I do have a handful of essays published. I think the one that was nominated for the Pushcart, “What Hands Can Do” is still available to read online. Here’s a link to it on Fictionaut. It’s about spaying a dog. And more, of course. I think my most successful essay is “The Body of a Cow” which originally appeared in the Massachusetts Review. It’s also on Fictionaut, if anyone wants to have a look. Eventually, I hope to work the essays into a memoir for adults.

What’s up next for you?

I have a book on dinosaur bones which will be published by Lerner next year. I also have three children’s books written which I’m trying to find homes for at the moment—one on animal classification (but interactive, written like a “do your own adventure” story), one on how plants communicate with animals, and one very funny one (if I can say so myself) called “Breakfast at the Omnivore Café,” which is about what animals eat. This one might never get published because it falls into the cracks between nonfiction and narrative fiction, but I haven’t given up on it yet. The book I’m currently working on is an attempt to explain climate change through stories of the carbon cycle. Doesn’t sound very interesting when put that way, but it’s written as an interactive story, and is also actually quite funny in parts, so I think kids will like it.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you what your favorite holiday is…

Passover. You get to tell a story to children in a way that is interactive and engaging for kids, AND it involves food. What could be better?

Thanks so much for chatting and sharing your unique perspective on the natural world, Sara! I, for one, would love to read Breakfast at the Omnivore Café—that would be one interesting menu, I bet! I wish you the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Sara Levine on:

Her Website | FacebookTwitter

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Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons and Sara’s other books can be found at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Lerner Publishing

About Sara Levine

Sara Levine is an assistant professor of biology at Wheelock College and a veterinarian.  Her science books for children include Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (2013) and Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks and Chompers (2016).  Her third book, Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones will be published in 2018.  Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons has received much recognition, including the Utah Beehive Book Award, selection as a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, and finalist for the Cook Prize for best STEM picture book.

Sara also writes science-related essays for adults, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2007.  Her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Review, Bayou, and in the anthology And Baby Makes More. In addition to teaching college students, she has taught children’s environmental education classes for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and other nature centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut for over 15 years. 

Sara holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine (DVM) from Tufts University, a master of fine arts degree (MFA) in creative nonfiction writing from Lesley University and a bachelor of arts degree (BA) in English from Haverford College.  She is a native New Englander and lives with her daughter and their dogs and cat in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  

Picture Book Review

August 28 – National Bow Tie Day

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About the Holiday

We’ve all learned about the 30-year war in school, but I bet your teacher never mentioned that world-side use of the bow tie was one of the results. It seems the Croatian soldiers used a bow tie to close the collars of their shirts. The idea caught on, and, later, French tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard wore a bow tie to a Tuxedo Club event. The black-and-white fashion statement gained popularity, and bow ties took off in all kinds of colorful, wacky, and iconic ways.

Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems

Written by Brian P. Cleary | Illustrated by Andy Rowland

 

Acrostics are special nuggets of information or creativity formed by using the letters of a word to begin each new sentence. Writing poems in acrostic style takes thought and ingenuity—and that’s just what Brian P. Cleary offers in his twenty-seven poems that tackle all kinds of subjects, from pirates to spiders to sharks, from holidays to colors to food, and from people to places to things.

Bow-Tie Pasta riffs on the wearable and edible types of bow ties and comes to a conclusion we can all digest: “Blue gingham / Orange striped / White formal / Tartan plaid / Irish shamrocks / Embroidered stars / Polka dots / Argyle / Silky yellow / Tweed / Awful tasting.”

In Piano, a boy wistfully watches a parade go by: “Parading down Main Street / Is a sea of red-uniformed players of flute / And clarinet and drum / Navigating their way through confetti and applause / Only wish that I could march with my instrument.”

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Image copyright Andy Rowland, 2015, text copyright Brian P. Cleary, 2015. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

A Rainy Day inspires another clever verse: Reading in a cozy nook / Asking for another book / I made cookies by the sheet / Next they cool. I dunk and eat. / Yo-yo, board games, watch the rain, / Draw a face inside each pane. / Afterwards I make s’mores. / Yes, I love the great indoors.”

Fish aficionados may want to heed the warning in Piranha: Peering into my aquarium, / I spy the fish with two rows of / Razor-sharp teeth. / As he swims towards my tapping finger / Near the top of the tank’s glass, / He serves as a reminder that there / Are some pets you should never pet.

For those who like their poems non-fiction, Triceratops reveals some fascinating facts about this prehistoric favorite: Two hard horns and a third soft one that’s / Really a snout made from soft proteins. / Inside its mouth: 200 to 800 teeth. / Can you imagine the dentist appointments? / Extinct, so none are living. / Rumored to be a slow walker. / Ate only plants. / T. rex wanted to have it for lunch. / Older than your parents and even your teacher! / Popular in dinosaur movies. / Seen last alive: 65 million years ago.

Just waiting for kids are more acrostics about some of their favorite things, such as fire trucks, snack time, lacrosse, Halloween, giggling, the library, and jokes. There’s even an acrostic poem explaining what acrostic poems are!

Brian P. Cleary’s supple wit and word play turn words into poems and poems into new ways of looking at his subjects. Young readers will laugh at his observations and juxtapositions and be tempted to try writing an acrostic poem of their own.

Andy Rowland accompanies each poem with bright, amusing illustrations that highlight the humor and “ah-ha!” moments of the verses. A boy tries to chew down the contents of a plate piled high with cloth bow ties of every color and pattern, a triceratops visits the dentist, kids go trick or treating with an green alien, the state of Kansas stretches out like a patchwork quilt, and a boy and girl toast marshmallows on a rainy day. Along the way readers also meet a wiener dog sporting a bun and ketchup, a toothy shark, and a rather sly spider.

For kids who love poetry and humor Bow-Tie Pasta: Acrostic Poems is a winner. The book is also perfect for classroom poetry units and fun library story times.

Ages 6 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1467781077

Have a blast exploring all the nooks and crannies of Brian P. Cleary’s website!

Learn more about Andy Rowland on his website!

National Bow Tie Day Activity

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Colorful Bow Ties

 

Bow ties come in all colors and patterns. Here is a printable Colorful Bow Ties page for you to decorate! You can then use your bow ties to play the game below!

Alternate Match the Bow Ties Game:

  1. Print two sheets of the Colorful Bow Ties page
  2. Color the bow ties to make matching pairs
  3. Cut the bow ties into separate cards
  4. Turn them face down and scramble them
  5. Turn one of the cards over and try to find its match. If the two ties are not the same, turn them face down and try again
  6. Keep playing until all the bow ties have been matched.

Picture Book Review

July 3 – International Plastic Bag Free Day

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About the Holiday

Plastic bags are everywhere! Used by supermarkets, department stores, discount stores, and just about anywhere goods are sold, plastic bags are a take-home-then-throw-away item that never quite goes away. These bags may seem lightweight, but they do heavy damage to the environment, taking hundreds of years to fully decompose. Many shops encourage patrons to bring their own bags and offer cloth and paper bags as well. These are great alternatives that benefit the earth. Today’s holiday was established to promote awareness around the world to the dangers of plastic bags and spur people to use reusable containers.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Written by Miranda Paul | Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

 

In Njau, Gambia Isatou walks home carrying a basket of fruit on her head. As raindrops begin to fall, the basket shields her, but suddenly the basket tips and falls. The fruit inside tumble to the ground. The basket is in shreds; how will Isatou carry her load? “Something silky dances past her eyes, softening her anger. It moves like a flag, flapping in the wind, and settles under a tamarind tree.” Isatou picks it up and finds that it can hold things. She gathers her fruit and puts them in the bag. She leaves her basket behind, “knowing it will crumble and mix back in with the dirt.”

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zunon , text copyright Miranda Paul. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

At home Grandmother Mbombeh has a dinner of spicy rice and fish ready. When Isatou tells her about the broken basket and shows her the bag, Grandmother frowns. She has seen more in the city. Now, Isatou notices plastic bags everywhere. They are as colorful as a rainbow. As Isatou swings her bag full of papers, the handle breaks, sending the papers inside flying. She finds another plastic bag lying nearby and transfers her papers. She leaves the torn bag in the dirt as everyone else does.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zunon, text copyright Miranda Paul. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

As she passes the spot day after day, she spies her old black bag. It has been joined by others, and the pile grows bigger and bigger. Isatou chooses another path to take and forgets about the bags. “Years pass and Isatou grows into a woman. She barely notices the ugliness growing around her…until the ugliness finds its way to her. One day when coming to Grandmother’s house, she hears one of her goats crying. It’s tied up and there is no sign of her Grandmother’s other goats.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zunon, text copyright Miranda Paul. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Inside, the butcher is talking to Grandmother Mbombeh. He says that the goats have eaten the plastic bags they find lying around. The bags get twisted around their insides, killing the goats. Three of Grandmother’s goats and many more in the village have died. Something must be done. Isatou goes to the road piled with bags. Insects, rotting food, and dirty water mingle with the bags. Goats “forage through the trash for food.”

Isatou retrieves bag after bag from the pile. She and other women wash the bags. While they dry Isatou asks her sister to teach her how to crochet. Isatou has an idea. From a broomstick she carves crochet needles. Then she and her friends cut the bags into strips of thread. The women teach themselves how to crochet with the plastic thread. The work is slow, and some villagers laugh at them. Long into the nights the women continue crocheting by candlelight.

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Image copyright Elizabeth Zunon , text copyright Miranda Paul. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

At last a day comes when the women can show what they have been working on. “Fingers sore and blistered, Isatou hauls the recycled purses to the city.” People laugh at her until “one woman lays dalasi coins on the table. She chooses a purse and shows it to one friend. The two. Then ten. Soon everyone wants one!” Later that day Isatou puts the money she has made into her own zippered purse. She can’t wait to show Grandmother that she has earned enough to buy a goat. The trash pile is smaller now. Isatou is determined that one day it will be gone. “And one day…it was.”

An Author’s Note provides more details about this true story as well as a Wolof language glossary and pronunciation guide.

Miranda Paul tells this true story of ingenuity and hope with honesty and evocative language. Young readers will learn how one woman’s concern for her community and courage in the face of opposition changed the lives of the people in her village. Paul’s descriptive text interspersed with native Wolof words allows children to discover details about the customs and daily lives of the citizens of Gambia. Paul’s use of the present tense, makes this a universal story that shows the continuing need for answers to ongoing environmental problems. Isatou’s creative solution to a world-wide problem may spur young readers to develop helpful ideas of their own.

Through her collage illustrations, Elizabeth Zunon brings the vibrant colors and patterns of Africa to readers. The textured papers she uses add depth and details to the women’s clothing, homes, foliage, and the plastic bags that Isotau and her friends transform. Children sit in on the candlelit nighttime crocheting sessions and view the beautiful, finished purses—each one unique.

Ages 6 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1467716086

Discover more about Miranda Paul and her books and find resources, videos, photos, and more on her website!

Learn more about Elizabeth Zunon and her books and view a portfolio of her artwork on her website!

International Plastic Bag Free Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-book-bag-craft

Books to Love, Books to Read Reusable Book Bag

 

True booklovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

Picture Book Review

June 29 – International Mud Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 2009 when the students of Bold Park Community School in Wembley, Western Australia teamed with the boys of the Nepalese Panchkhal Orphanage to “celebrate the visceral and primal connection we all share with Earth and the outdoors.” Since that day, schools, families, and early childhood education centers have worked to remind us that we all need to take time to play in the mud sometimes and reconnect with what makes us human. In 2015, the day was expanded to include the entire month of June to allow us to decompress from the high-tech, high-pressure world we live in and to connect with others.

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball

Written by David A. Kelly | Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez

 

“Lena Blackburne wanted to be a famous baseball player.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t one of the greats. In fact starting in 1910, Lena moved around from team to team, playing a variety of positions. He made appearances at every base and played shortstop; he even had a go as pitcher. But he wasn’t a star at any of these positions. He was never going to make it to the Hall of Fame.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

After he retired from playing, Lena became a coach. One day the umpire came to him with a complaint about the soggy baseballs. They were too hard to throw and too hard to see. Besides that, when they were hit, they didn’t soar very far. The problem was that new baseballs had a slick sheen to them, “so players soaked them in dirty water. It got rid of the shine. But it also made the balls soggy and soft.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-miracle-mud-soggy-baseballs

Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Players tried other methods to get rid of the shine, but they had drawbacks too. Shoe polish just turned the balls black, and “spit and tobacco juice…made the balls stink.” Lena Blackburne sat down and considered the problem. The answer came to him in a most unusual place—an old fishing hole where Lena liked to go when he was off the road and home.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

While fishing one day, he happened to step into some dark brown mud. It sucked at his boot, and as Lena pulled his foot out he had an idea. The mud was “smooth and creamy like chocolate pudding. But it felt gritty.” At the ballpark, Lena rubbed the mud on the balls. When the mud dried, it was easy to wipe off. The mud left the balls with a good finish—not soggy, black, or smelly. At the next game, “the pitcher threw muddy fastballs, curveballs, changeups, and sinkers. The batters hit muddy singles, doubles, triples, and home runs.”

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Lena returned to the fishing hole and dug up more mud. He put it into containers and began selling it. Teams all over the league bought Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud. Lena’s famous mud is still used today and is officially the “only thing that’s allowed on major-league balls.” Lena Blackburne always dreamed of being in the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he didn’t make it there as a player, he is remembered for his contributions to the game he loved in a special exhibit for Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

An Author’s Note including more about Lena Blackburne, his baseball statistics, and his special mud follow the text.

Kids who love baseball will be intrigued by David A. Kelly’s unique take on the game. By exploring a small detail that had large effects on the quality of play, Kelly presents a picture book mystery with a surprise ending for younger readers. Kelly’s inclusion of Blackburne’s disappointments shows children that each person’s unique contributions are often found in expected ways.

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Image copyright Oliver Dominguez, coiurtesy of oliver-dominguez.com

Kids get a front row seat at the baseball stadium in Oliver Dominguez’s stunning illustrations. As Lena swings and misses, readers can almost hear the smack of the ball in the catcher’s glove and the ump yelling, “Steee-rrriike!”  When Lena Blackburne becomes a coach and ponders the problem of the soggy baseballs, kids will enjoy seeing baseballs bobbing in a wooden bucket of water, laugh to see a player spitting on a new baseball, and wonder what idea has Lena so wide-eyed at the fishing hole. Baseball lovers will want to linger over the up-close views of players preparing for a game and celebrating their win.

Ages 6 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761380924

Find out more about David A. Kelly, his ballpark mysteries, and his other books on his website!

View a gallery of artwork and videos by Oliver Dominguez on his website!

International Mud Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Make Your Own Sensory Sand

 

While this sensory sand may not be exactly mud, it’s sure as much fun to play with!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack.

Picture Book Review

May 29 – It’s National Smile Month

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About the Holiday

Today we honor that happiest of expressions—the smile! Celebrating its 41st anniversary this year, National Smile Month was established as a weekly event in 1977 by the British Dental Health Foundation (now known as the Oral Health Foundation) to focus on good dental health practices. Over the years the initiative has grown in length and now includes countries worldwide. With the introduction of the Smiley—a bright smile on a stick—and the Smiley Photo campaign on social media in 2012, everyone now has an opportunity to join in the fun, spread the message, and become the face of National Smile Month. National Smile Month runs from May 15 to June 15. If you’d like to participate, visit nationalsmilemonth.org.

Tooth By Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T. S. Spookytooth

 

“Open wide!” a little girl with a good set of teeth herself encourages readers on the first page of this fun nonfiction book. “Look at all the chompers in there.” Mirror in hand she proceeds to reveal that human teeth are unusual because we are mammals, and mammal teeth come in different shapes and sizes. In fact there are three distinct types. A little boy takes over to describe them. Incisors are the four flat teeth in a person’s mouth—two on the top and two on the bottom right in front.

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Image copyright T. S. Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Books

The four pointy teeth next to the incisors are canines, and the rest of the teeth are molars. Other mammals also have these teeth, and you can tell what an animal eats by which type is largest. For example, say your incisors were bigger than all your other teeth and they were so big they stuck out of your mouth even when it was closed, then you would be a beaver…or a squirrel…or a rabbit. These animals are herbivores and their oversized incisors help them break into nuts and scrape bark from trees.

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Image copyright T. S. Spookytooth, courtesy of Lerner Books

From here on Tooth by Tooth offers up amusing illustrations and “what kind of animal would you be if…” questions to spark kids’ powers of recognition. How about if your canines were so long they poked out of your mouth? Well, then you could be a “seal or a cat or a dog or a bear!” All these animals eat meat and need the sharp teeth to do it.

What if you had really tall molars? Then you’d be a “horse or a cow or a giraffe!” These guys use their molars to grind up grass. And if all your teeth were the same height? Come on…you know! You’d be you! Because humans eat plants and meat, we “need teeth that do many different jobs.”

But there are a lot more wacky teeth out there waiting for us to brush up on. So let’s get started. What if “two of your top incisors were so long that they grew out of your mouth and pointed to the sky? What if they were so long you could use them to carry your school bag?” You’ve probably guessed this one—you’d be an elephant. While an elephant’s tusks aren’t used for eating, they are used to procure the bark, roots, and other plant material that make up the elephant’s diet.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tooth-by-tooth-beaver

Image copyright T. S. Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Books

What if you could almost trip over your canine teeth? Yep, you’d be a walrus, and you would use those sharp bad boys to poke holes in the ice to grab your favorite oysters and clams. But after eating they’re not done using their teeth. “After diving down for a meal, walruses can use their tusks to pull themselves back up onto the ice for a nap. Imagine if “your top and bottom canine teeth curled up out of your mouth so you had two pairs of tusks?” Or if your one upper canine grew through your upper lip and kept on growing?  Or if you had no teeth at all? Yikes! The remarkable answers are just a read away!

Fish, amphibians, and reptiles also have teeth of a sort, but because they are all the same shape and size, they don’t get special names—that doesn’t mean you can ignore them, though, because sharks are among this group, and you know what they can do!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tooth-by-tooth-canines

Image copyright T. S. Spookytooth, text copyright Sara Levine. Courtesy of Lerner Books

More information about mammals, mammal teeth, a glossary, and a list of online and print references follow the text.

There’s nothing like the Wow! factor to capture kids’ attention, and Sara Levine uses it to humorous and fascinating effect in Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers. After giving a solid description of each kind of tooth and what it is used for in language that kids use and will relate to, Levine begins her guessing game that leads to even more discovery. We’ve all seen elephants and walruses with their mighty tusks, but how many know what they are really used for? And what about warthogs and narwhals? It’s all here in this creative nonfiction title.

T. S. Spookytooth took a big bite out of the “how to make kids laugh” manual in illustrating each question and type of tooth. Pictures of girls and boys with enormous teeth jutting this way and that will make readers glad to be human. And while the animals that belong to each molar, incisor, or canine sport the scarf, bow, or head band of its human counterpart, they are clearly and scientifically drawn to provide full understanding. Animal skulls also demonstrate the placement of teeth. The cover, with its close-enough-to-eat-you view of a very scary mouth is a show stopper and will attract kids as soon as they see it.

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, Lerner Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1467752152

Check out Sara Levine’s website for more books, stuff for kids, teachers’ resources, and more!

View a gallery of T. S. Spookytooth’s art and read his biography (?!) on his website!

National Smile Month Activity

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-books-review-brush-up-on-your-smile-maze

Brush Up On Your Smile! Maze

 

These kids are practicing good dental heath! Can you bring them the toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss they need in this printable Brush Up On Your Smile! Maze? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review