November 2 – It’s Historic Bridge Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-rollins-plays-the-bridge-cover

About the Holiday

Bridges can do so much more than just take vehicles and people over waterways or highways. Many are beautiful structures that enhance the skyline or environment in which they’re found. Covered bridges, stone bridges, and soaring steel and cable bridges all have their own stories to tell and inspire awe in their own way. Unfortunately, many older bridges are slated for destruction or replacement. To honor this month’s holiday, visit a historic bridge in your area or research famous bridges of the past and present. On November 6, we also celebrate National Saxophone Day! To get in the swing of this holiday, why not listen to music by Sonny Rollins? You can find his jazz classics on YouTube. To get started, you can listen to The Bridge here.

Thanks go to Nancy Paulsen Books for sharing a copy of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by James Ransome

 

“The Bridge / leaps / spreads its wings / joyfully / joining shore to shore”

“Steel towers / standing tall / reaching high / touching / sky” as people – walking and riding bikes – and cars and trucks move above “the River / stretched out below / a shiny / endless / song”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-rollins-plays-the-bridge-apartment-building

Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

In another part of New York City, Sonny Rollins, already a jazz great, is trying to find a place to play his saxophone – to become a better musician and a better person. The neighbors in his apartment building complain from their windows as he practices on the fire escape, so he takes to the sidewalks to find a more accommodating spot. He wanders the busy streets until he sees, towering above the tall buildings, the Williamsburg Bridge and wonders…. He listens to “that / small voice / inside / which says / you need to do this

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-rollins-plays-the-bridge-city

Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

He climbs the stairs to the walkway high above the noisy, busy city and takes his saxophone from its case. Here, alone, Sonny finds the place where he can play as loud as he wants. But he’s not really alone. Around him the “clanking clanging” subway trains lend rhythm to his music, and the “tugboats / blowing bass notes / back / and forth” are answered “note-for-note / with / low moans” from Sonny’s sax while seagulls are “echoing / Sonny’s funny / squeaks / & / squawks.”

Here, this jazz great “can play / anything / EVERYTHING / that comes into his mind.” With his “mind opened wide,” Sonny finds the sound he’s been looking for and “the Bridge / leaps / spreads its wings / just like / Sonny.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-rollins-plays-the-bridge-playing

Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

Back matter includes more about the life and career of Sonny Rollins; a history of the Williamsburg Bridge and The Bridge – a series of songs inspired by his experience, recorded in 1962; and Sonny’s words about how he lives his life and what he thinks is important. Sonny’s website and recommended songs found on YouTube round out these informative pages.

Gary Golio’s story floats on the jazz rhythms of his poetic verses, enveloping readers in the musicality of Sonny Rollins’s life and the sounds of the city. In addition to relaying the facts of this seminal period in Rollin’s career, Golio emphasizes Rollin’s belief in the importance of listening to your own internal voice on the road to self-discovery. Lyrical descriptions of the impromptu “band” that accompanied Rollins on the bridge are both beautifully evocative and inspirational reminders for readers that they too can shine while working with or playing off of others. 

James Ransome’s glorious watercolor and collage paintings give readers a sense of the time period as well as the scale of the bridge as it soars above the high-rise buildings, providing a practice room and stage for Sonny Rollins’ talent. Textured and patterned details along with a variety of perspectives echo Golio’s lyrical verses. Gold accents on each page mirror Rollins’ shiny saxophone and visually represent the notes that rise and float away over the city.

A gorgeous and jazz-infused snapshot of a stirring and influential time in Sonny Rollins’ life,  Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge will delight any music lover and inspire all readers to search for the best in themselves. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2021 | ISBN 978-1984813664

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about James Ransome, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Historic Bridge Awareness Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-spaghetti-box-bridge-craft

Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge

 

You don’t need fancy blocks and construction materials to build a bridge! Little ones will be fascinated to put together a bridge made out of items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin. Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports.

Want to build a whole town? Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar, oatmeal container, or aluminum can. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—add some paint and details! So look around, use your imagination, and get creative!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-rollins-plays-the-bridge-cover

You can find Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 1 – International Music Day and Interview with Author Gary Golio

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-cover

About the Holiday

International Music Day was established in 1975 by Lord Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist and conductor  – widely considered to be one of the great violinists of the 20th century – to promote the art of music across all segments of society and to apply the UNESCO ideals of peace and friendship among all people, with an exchange of experiences and mutual appreciation of all cultures and their aesthetic values. To celebrate today’s holiday, listen to your favorite music and take some time to discover a new style – it might just become a favorite too!

Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

 

As readers open the cover to Dark Was the Night, they discover a date: 1977. In this year Voyager I was shot into space carrying “a precious Golden Record, a message to the Universe from Planet Earth.” The record contained pictures of the people and things that make up our life, sounds we hear every day, music from Navajo chants and West African drumming to Beethoven and Chuck Berry. There was also one “ghostly song, about loneliness and the night….a tune of light and hope” from a blind man named Willie Johnson.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-baby

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Who was Willie Johnson? In 1897, he was a newborn baby in a small Texas town wrapped in his mother’s love. narrator picks up the thread of Willie’s story when he’s become a small boy who “loved to sing” and play the cigar box guitar his father made him. But that joy was interrupted when “your mama died, and some light went out of your life.” Then at seven or eight, Willie became blind, “and that’s when things got darker still.” But Willie rose above these hurdles. His blindness didn’t keep him “from singing in church, or on street corners.” Using his voice to uplift people brought him “back in the light.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-choir

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

He sang blues and learned how to play a slide by running the edge of a pocketknife along the steel strings of his guitar. “This made a sound like someone laughing or crying, as if the guitar had a voice of its own.” He traveled from town to town in Texas, wherever farmers came to socialize and shop, setting up on street corners and collecting the coins people tossed into his tin cup. Little by little, people grew to know his name. “Then a man from a music company heard you sing. You were given the chance to make a record….”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-street-corner

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

On that record listeners heard “the sound of one human being reaching out to all the others, telling them not to be afraid of the dark.” That first record was a hit, lauded for its unique sound. One song in particular, “Dark Was the Night,” “touched people deep in their souls” and made Willie “a shining star.” The light Willie brought to people has never dimmed; in fact it continues to shine through the darkness on Earth and through Space.

Back matter includes a discussion on what is known about Blind Willie Johnson and what still remains a mystery as well more information about Voyager I and why Johnson’s song Dark Was the Night was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record. A link to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, where readers can access Voyager I—The Golden Record is also included.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-song

Image copyright E.B. Lewis, 2020, text copyright Gary Golio, 2020. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Gary Golio’s ethereal tale of the life of Blind Willie Johnson and his song, which has touched and continues to move so many people, is a stirring tribute to a unique artist and the power of music to change lives. Golio’s use of the second person creates a poignant personal bond between the story and reader, which allows children to put themselves in Willie’s shoes and believe that they, too, can inspire others with their talent and life. Golio’s lyrical storytelling flows with the cadence of the blues, and his evocative vocabulary brings Willie Johnson’s voice and times fully to life for young readers.

E.B. Lewis transports readers to early 1900s Texas in his stunning watercolor paintings rendered in soft washes of grays, blues, and greens punctuated with yellows that reflect the hope and light that spurred Willie on and flowed from his music. As his mother holds him in her arms as a baby, the landscape outside the window blazes with gold that reflects on Willie’s and his mother’s face. As children learn about Willie’s blindness, the page turns dark, except for a swatch of light across Willie’s eyes, representational, perhaps, of his inner sight that sustained him.

Among the realistic depictions of his farm home, the outskirts of a Texas town seen from a train, and a bustling city, where Johnson plays on a street corner to an appreciative audience, his tin cup hanging from a tuner on his guitar, are transcendent images of Willie performing, his face always lifted to the light. As people gather around a radio listening to Blind Willie Johnson, light once again streams into the shop, and as Golio describes how “Dark Was the Night” becomes a hit, Willie is bathed in a golden glow, his face euphoric with the joy of singing.

At once sensitive, rousing, and inspirational, Dark Was the Night is a beautiful book about one man’s talent and dream that will resonate with all readers. The book is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524738884

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about E.B. Lewis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Listen to Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.”

Meet Gary Golio

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gary-golio-headshot

Gary Golio is the author of the New York Times bestseller JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow – A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrixwinner of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Bird & Diz and Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, both ALA Notables; and other books about legendary artists. A writer and musician, Golio has been featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition”, CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning News,” and on radio stations nationwide. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, children’s book author Susanna Reich.

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with the multi-talented Gary Golio about Dark Was the Night, his love for writing and art, his father’s influence in his life, and the power of music.

Welcome, Gary! To start off, can you tell readers about your journey with this Dark Was the Night from idea to publication?

A few years back I was listening to some early blues songs, and came upon Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night.” The song stunned me—and gave me the chills. I knew of Willie’s connection with the Voyager I space probe, but had no idea that blues aficionados and amateur music sleuths were devotedly digging for details of his life through the decades. So much mystery surrounded this man—revered by Jimmy Paige, Eric Clapton, and Lucinda Williams—but what intrigued me the most was that, after dying in poverty and being forgotten, Willie and his work enjoyed a revival of interest during the 1960s Folk Movement. Then, in 1978, “Dark Was the Night” ended up on Voyager‘s Golden Record, hurtling through space. And what that said to me is, you never know how a life, and its effect on others, will play out. It’s a hopeful message that inspired me to write the book.

Your father was an artist and you have worked as a fine-artist since you were a teenager. Can you talk about what inspired you to begin writing picture books? Did you always like to write?

My father is an ongoing inspiration in my life. He was a talented amateur artist who provided me with a real-life example of the Art Spirit by how he thought and created. Most importantly, he was a skilled improviser, and didn’t allow himself to be limited by what he didn’t have, something that’s always meant a lot to me. As for writing picture books, I mostly read comics as a boy, and I think it was that combination of pictures and text that really struck a chord. For me, the picture book is a modern descendant of cave painting, Egyptian wall art (images + hieoroglyphs), and Etruscan/Pompeian murals: using words and pictures to tell a story.

In your Author’s Note you talk about the dearth of knowledge about Willie Johnson’s life. Can you share one thing you learned about Willie that didn’t make it into the book?

Willie has a unique voice that somehow manages to balance the rough and the tender. There’s raw power there, but also delicacy, which is very rare. So Willie was in New Orleans at one point—during a recording session there in 1928—and the story goes that he began singing “If I Had My Way I’d Tear this Building Down” in front of the Customs House. A crowd had gathered, listening to him, and a police officer reportedly became so worried—thinking Willie was instigating a riot—that he considered arresting the man. That’s the power of music—to rouse, protest, and stir up human souls—and it’s easy to see why it threatens authority and institutions.

Dark Was the Night is your eighth biography of a musician or entertainer for children. Could you discuss what drew you to write about these musicians?

While there are no actual musicians in my family-of-origin, my parents, grandmother, and maternal aunt all had strong musical interests. Each exposed me to very specific genres and musical tastes—from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole (whom I adore), Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley. Many of these people were Black, and many were strongly influenced by blues and jazz, and I have vivid memories of watching them on TV with my beloved grandmother, even at five and six years old. That openness to all kinds of music really shaped me, and growing up I looked for clues, in the lives of artists, that would help me find my own path and direction. So my books often focus on the early years of an artist’s/musician’s life, highlighting the roots of their artistry—what inspired and shaped them—to provide young readers with roadmaps, of sorts, to a life in the arts.

In addition to being an artist and writer, you also admit to being “a pretty good musician” – something you share with kids on school visits that sound awesome. Which instruments do you play and how do you incorporate music into your book events?

I play acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, and very simple piano, but love above all to improvise. Since my first book on Jimi Hendrix came out, I’ve used the guitar (both electric and acoustic) to demonstrate a wide range of effects and possibilities (Hendrix and Santana), but also to accompany singalongs I did for my Bob Dylan/Woody Guthrie book. At one school visit, the entire fifth grade and I sang “This Land is Your Land” in Spanish, which was both meaningful and fun.

Each of your books has such distinctive illustrations from incredible illustrators. Can you talk a little about E.B. Lewis’s gorgeous illustrations in Dark Was the Night and how he captured your story and Willie’s personality?

E.B. is truly a master of illustration, and specifically of the watercolor medium. His real superpower, however, lies in his ability to convey human feeling, to mysteriously imbue a person or setting with mood and life. That’s remarkable—reminiscent of watching my father draw an American Indian on horseback, straight out of his head—and it’s what lends E.B.’s work both its power and subtlety. Not surprisingly, he has a real love for human beings, a quality fed by his passion for traveling and teaching all over the world. Though we only met at a bookstore panel five years ago, Earl and I have become close friends, and spend a lot of time on the phone collaborating about the joining of text and image. He’s a pleasure to work with, and his art for Dark Was the Night is truly sublime. This book also gave him the chance to bring his use of color (in his own words) to another level, something that will be obvious to anyone who knows his artwork and sees the new images.

From your bio on your website, you sound as if you were a pretty inventive kid – creating all sorts of cool electronic devices. And I love your story about being “shocked” to find books with Van Gogh’s paintings in them as a child and how formative that was. Could you discuss the importance of nonfiction, and biographies in particular, to children?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gary-golio-childhood-photo

My father could fix most anything, and it was that spirit of improvisation and inventiveness that led me to create little electronic gadgets a la James Bond and The Man from Uncle. For a time, I wanted to be an inventor or electrical engineer, but Art won out. As for van Gogh, watching Lust for Life with my dad had a HUGE impact on me, and seeing a book in the middle school library with all those paintings reproduced made it clear to me—even at 10 years old—that there was gold in reading about the lives of artists.

While I love fantasy, myth, and good stories, the thing about nonfiction is that you’re reading about real people—with all their talents and troubles—and so it’s easier to believe that if someone else muddled through to achieve something, you can also. That’s why I don’t shy away from talking about a person’s “faults” and failures (particularly in my books about John Coltrane and Billie Holiday), because I want kids to see that great people and artists are just as human as everyone else.

What’s up next for you?

Author-wise, I’ve a book coming out next year on the revered jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins (based on many phone conversations we’ve shared), to be illustrated by the great James Ransome. I’ve also sold, just this year, two new picture book texts: one on Roy DeCarava—a gifted artist who photographed the people of Harlem in all their humanity—and another on Walt Whitman, focused on his remarkable and moving nursing experience during the Civil War. After that, who knows where Destiny will lead me?

International Music Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-musical-instruments-word-search

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle

 

International Music Day celebrates all types of music and instruments. Can you find the eighteen different instruments in this printable word search puzzle?

I Love Music! Word Search Puzzle | I Love Music! Word Search Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dark-was-the-night-cover

You can find Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars at these booksellers

The Village Bookstore, Pleasantville, NY | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 11 – International Mountain Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-cover

About the Holiday

This United Nations-sponsored holiday aims to raise awareness of the crucial importance of mountains to the livelihood and even survival of the world’s population. Covering nearly one-fourth of the earth’s land mass, mountain areas are home to almost one billion people, and over half of the human population relies on mountains for clean energy, food, and water, including 60 to 80 percent of the world’s freshwater supply. Today, mountains are under threat from land degradation, over exploitation, natural disasters, and climate change. This year’s International Mountain Day theme is Mountains Matter, and scientists, activists, and others involved in protecting these unique ecosystems will be advocating for recognition and protection on social media and directly to politicians who can enact change. To celebrate, learn more about the importance of mountains and consider getting involved locally or with national organizations.

A Chip Off the Old Block

Written by Jody Jensen Shaffer | Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

 

Rocky had an impressive family. There was Aunt Etna, Uncle Gibraltar, and his Great-Grandma Half Dome. His cousins were pretty well-known too. In fact, “tons of his relatives were rock stars.” Rocky loved hearing his parents’ stories about his family. Rocky wanted to be important too, but his parents thought he was too little. He may have been “just a chip off the old block” like his dad said, “but inside, Rocky was a boulder!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-aunt-etna

Image copyright Daniel Miyares, 2018. text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2018. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Rocky made a plan, and in the morning he hopped on a pickup truck headed for Arizona to join his cousin The Wave. As soon as he got there, though, a gust of wind blew him away. He landed hard and “noticed that a piece of him had broken off.” Undeterred, he caught a flight with an eagle out to Wyoming and another cousin, The Tower. Rocky was almost settled in when a rainstorm washed him over the side.

At the bottom of the long slide down, Rocky hitched a ride on a car bound for Texas. There, he thought he could watch over the sauropod tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park. But it didn’t take long for an armadillo to dig him out and send him back on the road again. this time he was determined to go to South Dakota. When he arrived, tinier than when he’d begun his trip, he decided that he’d make a terrific souvenir of his cousin Rushmore.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-the-wave

Image copyright Daniel Miyares, 2018. text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2018. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Just then he heard the news. The park was closing because a crack had been discovered in Abraham Lincoln’s nose. “Rocky was crushed.” His dreams of being important would never come true now. But looking up at his cousin, he realized that maybe he could help. A passing lizard gave him a ride to the top, and Rocky jumped. He tumbled down, down and right into the crack in Lincoln’s nose. “He was a perfect fit! I did it! I did something important! I saved Abraham Lincoln!” Rocky exaulted, excited and proud.

Down below, visitors and park employees cheered. Reporters relayed the news, and photographers took pictures. The park was saved, and it was “all thanks to Rocky, the little pebble that wouldn’t be taken for granite.”

A guide to igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, illustrated descriptions of some of the world’s most majestic rock formations, and an Author’s Note about Mount Rushmore follow the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-mount-rushmore

Image copyright Daniel Miyares, 2018. text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2018. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

There’s so much to love about Jody Jensen Shaffer’s A Chip Off the Old Block! Part adventure, part educational travelogue, and completely inspirational—with lots of funny wordplay to boot—Shaffer’s story will charm kids. Little Rocky is a sweetie of a go-getter who has big dreams and sets out to achieve them. He overcomes obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments and adjusts to changes with optimism while never losing heart and building up his self-confidence. Kids will cheer when Rocky finally finds the place where he can make the most monumental difference.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-rocky

Daniel Miyares’ gorgeous illustrations depict the splendor of Rocky’s magnificent cousins and the landscape they dominate while cleverly tracing his journey from state to state, carried along by a truck and a car, in a backpack, and with the help of some animal friends. Rocky is full of personality and childlike expressions that will endear him to readers. Miyares’ full-color, full-bleed pages will get kids excited to learn more about geology and each rock formation, and will no doubt inspire some vacation wish lists.

A Chip Off the Old Block is a smart and witty book that will excite a child’s imagination. It would be a terrific addition to home bookshelves and should be included in classroom libraries to accompany STEM, STEAM, and English Language Arts lessons and well as fun story times.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2018 | ISBN 978-0399173882

Discover more about Jody Jensen Shaffer and her books and find teachers’ resources and activities on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Miyares, his books and his art, visit his website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-cover

You can find A Chip Off the Old Block at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Penguin Random House

International Mountain Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-marvelous-mountains-word-search

Marvelous Mountains! Word Search

 

If you love mountains, you’ll want to find the names of the nineteen mountains in this printable word search puzzle – no climbing necessary!

Marvelous Mountains! Word Search Puzzle | Marvelous Mountains! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-cover

You can find A Chip Off the Old Block at these booksellers

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

 

 

Picture Book Review

May 3 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month and Interview with Author Jody Jensen Shaffer

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-cover

About the Holiday

Launched in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers and managed by Every Child a Reader, Get Caught Reading Month hopes to instill a love of reading in every child and encourages people of all ages to read more. Celebrities, authors, illustrators, and others participate by sharing pictures of themselves reading an old favorite or new book on social media. Special materials are available for and programs held in schools, libraries, bookstores, and community venues all month long. Why not join in by finding a new book to lovelike today’s book?! For more information and to find resources, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

Penguin Random House sent me a copy of A Chip Off the Old Block to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m partnering with Penguin Random House in a giving away a copy of A Chip Off the Old Block. See details below.

A Chip Off the Old Block

Written by Jody Jensen Shaffer | Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

 

Rocky had an impressive family. There was Aunt Etna, Uncle Gibraltar, and his Great-Grandma Half Dome. His cousins were pretty well-known too. In fact, “tons of his relatives were rock stars.” Rocky loved hearing his parents’ stories about his family. Rocky wanted to be important too, but his parents thought he was too little. He may have been “just a chip off the old block” like his dad said, “but inside, Rocky was a boulder!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-aunt-etna

Image copyright Daniel Miyares, 2018. text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2018. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Rocky made a plan, and in the morning he hopped on a pickup truck headed for Arizona to join his cousin The Wave. As soon as he got there, though, a gust of wind blew him away. He landed hard and “noticed that a piece of him had broken off.” Undeterred, he caught a flight with an eagle out to Wyoming and another cousin, The Tower. Rocky was almost settled in when a rainstorm washed him over the side.

At the bottom of the long slide down, Rocky hitched a ride on a car bound for Texas. There, he thought he could watch over the sauropod tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park. But it didn’t take long for an armadillo to dig him out and send him back on the road again. this time he was determined to go to South Dakota. When he arrived, tinier than when he’d begun his trip, he decided that he’d make a terrific souvenir of his cousin Rushmore.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-the-wave

Image copyright Daniel Miyares, 2018. text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2018. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Just then he heard the news. The park was closing because a crack had been discovered in Abraham Lincoln’s nose. “Rocky was crushed.” His dreams of being important would never come true now. But looking up at his cousin, he realized that maybe he could help. A passing lizard gave him a ride to the top, and Rocky jumped. He tumbled down, down and right into the crack in Lincoln’s nose. “He was a perfect fit! I did it! I did something important! I saved Abraham Lincoln!” Rocky exaulted, excited and proud.

Down below, visitors and park employees cheered. Reporters relayed the news, and photographers took pictures. The park was saved, and it was “all thanks to Rocky, the little pebble that wouldn’t be taken for granite.”

A guide to igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, illustrated descriptions of some of the world’s most majestic rock formations, and an Author’s Note about Mount Rushmore follow the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-mount-rushmore

Image copyright Daniel Miyares, 2018. text copyright Jody Jensen Shaffer, 2018. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

There’s so much to love about Jody Jensen Shaffer’s A Chip Off the Old Block! Part adventure, part educational travelogue, and completely inspirational—with lots of funny wordplay to boot—Shaffer’s story will charm kids. Little Rocky is a sweetie of a go-getter who has big dreams and sets out to achieve them. He overcomes obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments and adjusts to changes with optimism while never losing heart and building up his self-confidence. Kids will cheer when Rocky finally finds the place where he can make the most monumental difference.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-chip-off-the-old-block-rocky

Daniel Miyares’ gorgeous illustrations depict the splendor of Rocky’s magnificent cousins and the landscape they dominate while cleverly tracing his journey from state to state, carried along by a truck and a car, in a backpack, and with the help of some animal friends. Rocky is full of personality and childlike expressions that will endear him to readers. Miyares’ full-color, full-bleed pages will get kids excited to learn more about geology and each rock formation, and will no doubt inspire some vacation wish lists.

A Chip Off the Old Block is a smart and witty book that will excite a child’s imagination. It would be a terrific addition to home bookshelves and should be included in classroom libraries to accompany STEM, STEAM, and English Language Arts lessons and well as fun story times.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2018 | ISBN 978-0399173882

Discover more about Jody Jensen Shaffer and her books and find teachers’ resources and activities on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Miyares, his books and his art, visit his website.

Meet Jody Jensen Shaffer

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I’m excited to talk with Jody Jensen Shaffer today about what she loves about writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, her favorite childhood memories, and her rescue dog, Sophie.

What was the spark for A Chip off the Old Block?

Hi Kathy! Thanks for having me on your blog. The spark for A Chip off the Old Block was the phrase, “Rocky loved his rock star relatives.” It came to me as I was brainstorming picture book ideas, and it felt like the first line of a story. I loved the word play of the line, so I created a story around it. I just had to discover who Rocky was and what his story would be.

A Chip off the Old Block combines terrific storytelling with science and history. What would you like for readers to take away from the book? How have children reacted to Chip?

Thanks! It was lots of fun to write. I hope readers take away from the book the idea that you’re never too small to matter and to never give up on your dreams. Bonus points if they learn a little about rocks, US landmarks, maps, and natural formations! I’ve been really happy with how Chip has been received by children and adults! One class even did a Google maps tour of the places Rocky visits in his travels.

You write across the spectrum of children’s literature from poetry to nonfiction to fiction. Can you briefly describe what you like about each?

I love writing poetry because of the challenge of the form. It’s like putting a puzzle together, and the pieces are brevity, beauty, meaning, and joy.

I love writing fiction because I can choose any characters I want, put them in any situations I want, and have fun with the language, voice, and story.

I love writing nonfiction because I love learning new things! And my interest in science comes to me naturally because of my dad’s influence. He was a college professor of biological sciences (and a great wordsmith).

You’ve said that you loved being a kid. What’s one of your favorite memories? How does being able to tap into that feeling of childhood influence your work?

I have so many great memories of my childhood: fishing with my family at local ponds, riding bikes to the swimming pool, visiting my dad’s lab at the college, even working our huge garden with my siblings (before we were allowed to ride our bikes to the swimming pool). I feel so blessed to have had the parents I had and the childhood they gave me. It’s easy to recall feelings of being loved and valued. I hope to send that same message to my readers through my writing.

You say you can remember the exact moment you learned to read. Can you talk about that a little?

It’s a very brief memory. I was reading an early chapter book and laboriously sounding out each syllable, index finger on page, when it occurred to me that if I just read “lighter,” the words might come to me more easily. I relaxed, I guess, and the words came. It was like a light switch turned on. From then on, I read fluently.

What’s the best part about being a children’s author? Do you have an anecdote from an author event that you’d like to share?

There are so many great things about writing for children, and I feel really blessed to be able to do it, but if I have to choose the best thing, I’d say it’s being able to play with words for a living. In terms of an anecdote, I was Skyping with a class for World Read Aloud Day recently, and a little guy stepped up to the screen and told me how much he liked one of my less well-known books. I felt his sincerity, and I appreciated him telling me.

In 2017, your book Prudence the Part-Time Cow was chosen to represent Missouri in the National Book Festival in Washington DC that is hosted by the Library of Congress. Can you talk about this honor a little? How was Prudence chosen and what did it mean for you as an author and for the book?

I was super excited to learn that the Missouri Center for the Book chose Prudence for that honor! At the National Book Festival, each state chooses a book to represent it. All the states’ books are displayed together in one room for festival-goers. I didn’t attend the event, but several people who did told me Prudence sold out several times!

You’re a dog lover and have a rescue dog named Sophie. I’d love to hear more about her!

How much time do you have? Just kidding. She’s part long-haired dachshund, part chihuahua, we think. Very friendly, a good walking companion, pretty, and a real cuddler. She sleeps under the sheets with us.

What’s up next for you?

In July 2018, just in time for back-to-school, Beach Lane will publish It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! about a school bus’s first day of school. In 2019, Grosset & Dunlap will release my bobble-head biography, Who Is Jackie Chan? I’ve got more projects coming that have yet to be announced, so I better stop there. I’ll continue to publish poetry in great children’s magazines, too.

What’s your favorite holiday? Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?

I really like Earth Day and Arbor Day. I love helping take care of the earth.

Thanks, Jody! It’s been so great chatting with you! I wish you all the best with A Chip Off the Old Block and all of your books and projects!

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You can find A Chip Off the Old Block at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Penguin Random House

(Leaving a review is one of the best ways to support authors and illustrators!)

You can connect with Jody Jensen Shaffer on

Her website | Twitter

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Catch the Reading Bug Bookmark and Bookplate

 

If you love to read, show it with these printable Reading Bug book bling!

I’ve Got the Reading Bug Bookmark | I’ve Got the Reading Bug Bookplate

Picture Book Review

October 16 – Dictionary Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the birthday of Noah Webster who published his first dictionary—A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language—in 1806 and went on to create the first truly comprehensive American dictionary in 1828. Along the way in completing his life’s work, he learned twenty-six languages, reformed the spelling of many words from the British form to an American spelling, and introduced new American words never before published. To commemorate the holiday, take a little trip through the dictionary or play a word-based game like Scrabble, Boggle, or Balderdash. If you’re interested in lexicography—the making of a dictionary—or just love words, you’ll find Webster’s 1828 Dictionary fascinating reading!

Lexie the Word Wrangler

Written by Rebecca Van Slyke | Illustrated by Jessie Hartland

 

With just one look at Lexie in her cowboy hat, boots, and bandana, or a peek at her talent for riding a horse, twirling a lariat, and rounding up cattle, you could tell she was a wrangler. But Lexie was no ordinary wrangler; she was a “word wrangler.” With her lariat she could rope together separate words and make entirely new stuff. She could tie up “an ear of corn and a loaf of bread and make some tasty cornbread.” A “stick of butter and a pesky fly” became a “butterfly.”

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

In the spring, Lexie tended little letters until they grew into big words. She could also be found in the chuck wagon each morning stirring up big pots of new words from old ingredients. In the blink of an eye, she could transform “an annoying P-E-S-T…into some fine P-E-T-S. And that “S-P-O-T?” With a swirl of the spoon, it became a handy “P-O-S-T.”

Since there were so many words roaming around her ranch, Lexie herded them into sentences, long letters home to Ma, and even fascinating stories. But one day Lexie noticed that something was wrong. When she went to put on her bandana, the d was missing, and tying the banana was impossible. The problem didn’t just involve missing letters, either. Words were disappearing too, creating some pretty strange results. Once after a storm, a big red bow appeared in the sky instead of a rainbow.

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

Lexie’s work around the ranch became harder too. Once day, instead of rounding up a neighbor’s calves, she discovered that someone had “released a whole passel of baby g’s into the calf pen” and now “all the little dogies” were “doggies.” Later, when Lexie rolled out her sleeping bag, she discovered that the usually S-T-A-R – speckled sky was full of  “R-A-T-S.”

Lexie realized there was a word rustler on the loose and set out to find him. She headed into the desert, but discovered that the sandy ground had turned into a messy, gooey dessert. After cleaning out her horse’s hooves, she was more determined than ever to find the culprit. She climbed a tall tree and kept a lookout for the word rustler. Soon enough she spied him sneaking toward her front gate and the sign that announced Lexie’s Longhorn Ranch. He was just about to lasso the word “long” when Lexie lassoed him.

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

The word rustler protested that he was just having a bit of fun, but Lexie didn’t like the idea of being left with a corral full of horns. All he wanted, Russell admitted, was to work with words like Lexie did. Lexie could see that Russell had talent, so she made him promise to use his skills in a positive way. Then she released him and told him from now on he would be known as “Russell the Word Wrestler.”

Now Russell works alongside Lexie doing jobs like keeping the place free of rattlesnakes by wrestling them into “a baby’s rattle and a harmless snake.” Lexie and Russell are happy to raise baby letters, help words grow, and even teach young cowpokes how to rope and tie words together, so they can join the word-wrangling circuit in the future themselves.

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Image copyright Jessie Hartland, 2017, text copyright Rebecca Van Slyke. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books.

If Lexie got her lariat around Rebecca Van Slyke’s name and separated the S-L-Y from the K-E, she’d have the perfect description for this nifty story. Deconstructing words can be a fascinating way to get kids interacting with and researching words and spelling as they really think about what they are reading. Van Slyke’s ranch setting serves up an ingenious metaphor for the word wrangling that students are doing at this stage of their education. Her quick wit and smart word choices provide plenty of “ah-ha!” moments, laughs, and opportunities for visual humor. The introduction of Russell allows Van Slyke to increase her stable of puns, which will delight readers.

Jessie Hartland’s vibrant, folk-style illustrations are a rip-roaring accompaniment to the story, providing visual clues and humor as words change due to missing or jumbled letters. Kids will laugh when one of Lexie’s bandanas turns into bananas and may shudder to think how easy it might be for rats to fill the night sky instead of stars. Hartland’s cleverly designed typography lets readers easily see how small words grow into bigger new ones with the addition of one, two, three, or more letters. Likewise, as “wild” words are tamed into a sentence, young writers can begin to understand the mechanics of grammar.

A Dictionary of Wrangler Words follows the text.

Lexie the Word Wrangler is an entertaining and educational choice for kids who love words, puns, and the West. It would be a welcome gift and imaginative addition to home libraries. The book would also be an inspiring starter for writing, spelling, and other language arts units.

Ages 5 – 8

Nancy Paulson Books, 2017 |ISBN 978-0399169571

To learn more about Rebecca Van Slyke, visit her website.

View a gallery of illustration work by Jessie Harland on her website.

Dictionary Day Activity

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What a Difference a Letter Makes Word Search Puzzle

 

Each of the word pairs in this puzzle are close in spelling but not in meaning. Take a look and find the twenty words in this printable What a Difference a Letter Makes Word Search Puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

Picture Book Review

March 12 – National Plant a Flower Day

MIss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

It’s March—that funny month when some people are basking in 80-degree sunshine and others are still shoveling snow. But no mater where we live, we’re thinking about the same thing—Spring! Spring brings new green leaves, gentle rains, and little shoots that will grow to be trees, vegetable and fruit plants, and flowers. Whether you live somewhere warm and can already plant outside or somewhere that’s still a little chilly and requires indoor propagation, planting flower seeds is a perfect way to beautify your home and your life.

Miss Maple’s Seeds 

By Eliza Wheeler

 

Late in the summer, Miss Maple hurries to prepare for some very special guests. She has searched all summer for unplanted “orphan” seeds, and baskets full of them are winging their way to her home on the backs of bluebirds. Once they arrive she “learns each seed by heart.” There are poppy, wild rice, maple, water lily, pine, impatiens, apple raspberry, sunflower, acorn, pea, fern seeds, and as many more as make up our world.

As she lovingly tends to each one, she says, “Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small.” Miss Maple takes them on field trips and shows them the world they will inhabit—the muddy soil along riverbanks, grassy fields, and thick forests. She cautions them about “weedy characters” who can show up even in a “bustling garden.”

At night Miss Maple snuggles each seed into a comfy bed and reads to them by the light of fireflies. During the winter Miss Maple entertains other guests—woodland creatures who gather in her maple tree home and share food, stories, and songs. With the spring come rains and new lessons on burrowing into the ground.

May ushers in another summer, and Miss Maple knows it’s time for her little ones to “find roots of their own.” She sends them out into the world, knowing that she has prepared them well for what they will become. Her seeds say goodbye and sail off to begin their futures, and Miss Maple is left alone. But soon another summer day comes, and Miss Maple sets off to gather more orphan seeds, because “the world is big and they are small.”

Eliza Wheeler’s Miss Maple’s Seeds is a triumph—as comforting as a warm blanket and as empowering as a master key. Wheeler’s beautiful language floats quietly and unhurried like the flight of a leaf on a gentle breeze. The metaphor of seeds and children is so sweetly made, and Miss Marple’s wish for her little charges can bring a tear to the eye of any caretaker.

Wheeler’s luminous artwork is breathtaking in its fully realized details of the wide world Miss Maple’s seeds and all of us inhabit. Each season is gorgeously rendered in soft blues, roses, browns, and yellows, and she imbues the little seeds with personality without making them anthropomorphic. The reader may wish they could be friends with these future beauties and Miss Maple as well.

Miss Maple’s Seeds would be a wonderful gift for high school graduates, teachers, and anyone who loves taking care of children.

Ages 3 – 7, all ages

Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group | ISBN 978-0399257926

Plant a Flower Day Activity

CPB - Flower Pot

Decorated Flower Pot

 

Spring is almost here, and that means flowers will soon be blooming. If you want to beautify your home plant your favorite flower seeds in a pot you’ve decorated yourself!

Supplies

  • Terra cotta pot in any size
  • Acrylic multi-surface paint in various colors
  • Flower seeds
  • Soil

Directions

  1. Paint your terra cotta pot—be creative!
  2. Let paint dry
  3. Fill pot with soil
  4. Plant flower seeds