April 24 – Arbor Day

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About the Holiday

Today is Arbor Day, a national celebration of trees that began as a campaign by J. Morton Sterling and his wife after they moved from Michigan to Nebraska in 1854. Morton advocated for the planting of trees not only for their beauty but as windbreaks for crops on the state’s flat farmland, to keep soil from washing away, as building materials, and for shade. In 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting day to take place on April 10. On that day nearly one million trees were planted in Nebraska. The idea was made official in 1874, and soon, other states joined in. In 1882 schools began taking part. Today, most states celebrate Arbor Day either today or on a day more suited for their growing season. To learn about events in your area, find activities to download, and more, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Peter and the Tree Children

Written by Peter Wohlleben | Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

 

One day while Peter enjoyed his morning coffee on his porch while listening to the birds singing, “a squirrel scampered up and sat down next to him as though they were old friends.” With tears in his eyes, the squirrel told Peter that he was all alone with no family. Peter was empathetic—his children didn’t live with him anymore—but, he said, “‘I still have the trees.’” He then told the squirrel how tree families live in the forest and asked if he would like to go look for some. This cheered the squirrel, and they headed out into the woods. On the way, Peter introduced himself, and the squirrel said his name was Piet.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

When they reached a sunny clearing, Piet wondered where the tree children were. Peter told him it was too hot there and led the way deeper into the woods. The way was muddy, so Piet climbed on Peter’s shoulders. In the distance, they could hear a loud rumbling. As they grew nearer, they saw a “big machine busy cutting down trees.” Peter told Piet that they wouldn’t find tree children here either because the heavy machine had “‘packed the soil down so much that the little trees can’t grow in it.’”

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

They walked on sadly until they heard another noise. It was Peter’s friend Dana and her horse dragging a tree trunk. Piet introduced himself and told Dana of their mission to find tree children. She said she hadn’t seen any for a long time while Peter explained to Piet that Dana’s horse left the soil soft and loose unlike the big machine. After a close call with a hawk, Piet rode in Peter’s jacket.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

They came to a rocky overlook where they watched a crew planting small trees in a clearing below. Peter looked at all of the big trees that had been cut down, and his face turned red with anger. Piet sniffed one of the little trees, wondering if they’d found tree children at last. He liked the orangey scent the seedling gave off. But Peter told him the trees were sad. “‘This smell is how trees talk to each other, and it means that the trees don’t feel so well. They miss being shaded and protected by their families.’” He wanted to show Piet some happy trees.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

At last they came to a dark, cool beech forest, where “the silvery-gray trees formed a roof of leaves way up high.” On the ground Piet noticed “‘butterflies everywhere.’” Peter chuckled and told him that those green fluttering wings weren’t butterflies but “‘freshly sprouted beech children.’” Now it was Piet’s turn to laugh. He told Peter how he had hidden beechnuts in this spot in the fall and then forgotten where he’d buried them. They both thought that this forest where beech trees and their children grew together was the most beautiful they’d ever seen.

The sun was beginning to set, so they started the long walk home. Back on Peter’s porch, Piet looked sad again. He didn’t eat the snack Peter brought him and a tear rolled down his cheek. Everyone had a family except him, he said. Peter picked Piet up and told him that he liked him very much. Then he invited him to stay. “Piet’s eyes grew wide. ‘Does that mean we’re family now?’” Peter replied “‘Of course.’” Piet smiled, and then they made plans to visit the tree children again tomorrow.

Back matter reveals five more fascinating facts about how trees grow.

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Image copyright Cale Atkinson, 2020, text copyright Peter Wahlleben. Courtesy of Greystone Kids.

Peter Wohlleben’s engaging guides, Peter and Piet, educate children about the conditions necessary for trees to grow from seed to adult in his follow up to The Hidden Life of Trees for adults and Can You Hear the Trees Talking? For older children. In an attempt to cheer up Piet, Peter takes him into the forest in search of tree families and their little ones. Along the way, readers learn about the harmful effects of heavy logging machinery and the benefits of sustainable forestry. They also discover the fascinating fact that trees talk to each other through scent, which will inspire them to learn more. Adverse conditions and natural dangers draw Peter and Piet closer together, building a bond that culminates in Peter’s adopting Piet as a new family member. This turn of events, as well as Piet’s part in helping to foster the tree children they find, will cheer young readers.

Little ones will immediately empathize with Cale Atkinson’s cute squirrel, Piet, as he shares his sadness at not having a family with Peter. As Peter and Piet head into the forest, Atkinson’s sun-dappled pages invites readers to point out the butterflies, caterpillars, and flowers along their route. Kids may be surprised to see Dana and her horse and want to learn more about this type of forestry. Images of the impressive beech tree and thriving tree children will spur readers to look for young seedlings and saplings among stands of trees in their own area.

Ages 4 – 8

Greystone Kids, 2020 | ISBN 978-1771644570

Discover more about Peter Wohlleben, his books, and his work on his website.

To learn more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

You can find Peter and the Tree Children at these booksellers

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

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Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest

By Peter Wohlleben

 

For older children, Peter Wohlleben’s endlessly astonishing Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Reveals the depth of senses, awareness, and long-lasting family bonds that trees possess. In seven chapters, Wohlleben discusses in a conversational tone how trees work, what it’s like for them growing up in a forest, trees’ friends and enemies, how types of trees are different, forest animals, the impact of trees, and a tree’s transformations over a year. Each chapter is broken into short sections of discussions on one topic, illustrated with stunning photographs that clearly depict the concept.

Here are just a few highlights:

From Do Trees Have Grandparents?: Trees can recognize members of their own family. How? Through their roots! “If a tree’s roots meet those of a neighboring tree, the can check whether they belong to the same species.” If they are related, “now their roots will grow together. The trees send messages and exchange the sugar they have made through this connection. It’s as if they’ve invited each other to dinner.” And what about old stumps? Looking at the condition of the stump can tell you a lot. “If the bark is falling off and the stump is rotten, the tree is out of touch with its neighbors” and is no longer alive. “If the edge of an old stump is very hard and still has solid bark, the stump is still alive… [and] getting food from its family through its roots.”

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Copyright Peter Wohlleben, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Kids.

In What Do Tree Children Learn at School? kids discover that mother trees don’t leave their children alone and on their own. Mother trees search out their children with their roots, and when they’ve found them, these caring mothers connect with their babies and nurse them with sugar water. They need this nourishment because “in an old-growth forest, it’s very dark at ground level. With so little light, the tree children can’t produce their own sugar with their leaves, so they have to rely on their parents.

Can Trees Talk? Reveals that “a single tree notices when something bites it. After the initial shock, the tree will taste who is nibbling on it. Yes, you read that right: trees can taste. Because whenever an animal bites into the bark, a leaf, or a branch, it injects a bit of saliva into the wound. And every animal’s spit tastes different.” The tree then pumps a foul-tasting or even poisonous liquid into the site that wards off the predator. For example, to defeat bark beetles, trees “release a sticky, bitter substance called pitch” that trap beetles. The tree then alerts other trees to the danger by releasing a scent that causes nearby trees to begin generating pitch for themselves.

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Copyright Peter Wohlleben, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Kids.

We all know that animals, such as squirrels, hide food for the winter, but did you know that jays are masters of this autumn task? In Who’s the Best Forest Detective? Kids learn that when jays bury nuts and worms there are certain considerations. “Acorns and beechnuts remain fresh for more than six months, while dead earthworms only last a few days. The bird knows it has to eat the worms first so they don’t spoil.” And with the ability to “remember up to ten thousand hiding places,” quickly finding his stash is easy. “Usually, two thousand acorns and beechnuts are enough to see it through the winter. But because the jay can’t be sure that will be enough, it prefers to bury a few thousand more just in case.”

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Copyright Peter Wohlleben, 2019, courtesy of Greystone Kids.

With quizzes, prompts for observation, and interesting experiments to try, Can You Hear the Trees Talking? will keep young readers riveted to the pages and eager to get out into nature to explore the trees in a forest, a park, in their neighborhood, and close to home. This book would make a superb and often-referred-to addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12 and up

Greystone Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771644341

You’ll find a Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Companion Guide for parents and teachers to download on the Greystone Books website.

Discover more about Peter Wohlleben, his books, and his work on his website.

You can find Can You Hear the Trees Talking? at these booksellers

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

Arbor Day Activity

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Paper Plate Tree

 

On Arbor Day children love planting trees in their yard or as part of a community project. With this easy craft, they can also make a tree for the table or to hang on their wall or bulletin board.

Supplies

  • Two paper plates 
  • Paper towel tube
  • Brown craft paint
  • Green craft paint (using a variety of green paints adds interest)
  • Paintbrush, cork, or cut carrot can be used to apply paint
  • Glue or hot glue gun or stapler

Directions

  1. Paint the paper towel tube brown, let dry
  2. Paint the bottoms of the two paper plates with the green (or other color) paints, let dry
  3. Flatten about 4 inches of the paper towel tube 
  4. Glue or tape the flat part of the paper towel tube to the unpainted side of one paper plate
  5. Glue the edges of the two paper plates together, let dry.
  6. Pull out the bottom of the tube so the tree can stand up, or hang your tree on a wall or bulletin board or in a window

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You can find Peter and the Tree Children at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 3 – World Wildlife Day

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About the Holiday

This United Nations-sponsored holiday was established in 2013 to celebrate the world’s wild animals and plants and to raise awareness of the perils they face. Since that time, World Wildlife Day has grown to be the most important global event dedicated to wildlife. This year’s theme is “Big cats: predators under threat.” The big cats are some of nature’s most majestic animals, and they are now being threatened by habitat destruction, declining prey populations, conflicts with people, poaching, and illegal trade. It is up to us to protect the animals that share our planet. To commemorate today’s holiday, learn more about the world’s creatures and consider donating to a wildlife cause. To learn more about the holiday, visit the official website of UN World Wildlife Day.

Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals

Written by Gabrielle Balkan | Illustrated by Sam Brewster

 

When you think about bones, you know a lot, right? You know they’re hard and not soft, you know they form your skeleton and that they come in different sizes and various shapes, and you know that all vertebrates have them. But have you ever wondered “which animal has the biggest bone in the world? Or the smallest, Or the spikiest?” Well, you’re about to find out thanks to this big book all about bones.

So, let’s get started! About that biggest bone…would you like to take a guess who it belongs to? Here are some clues: This mandible bone “is a whopping 20 feet long. That means three motorcycles could sit in a row” on it. The animal it belongs to lives in the ocean, swims great distances, and “can live for 100 years.” Just take a look at the skeleton on the next page with one long spine, two flippers, fifteen pairs of ribs and a huge skull. Good guess! Let’s turn the page and see… Yes, it is a Blue Whale!

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Now that you know, you can learn more about the blue whale—like how its mouth is so big that you and one hundred of your friends could fit on its tongue, how it eats 700,000 krill in one gulp, and slurps down 40,000,000 krill every day! Go ahead—touch the illustration of the whale. Feel all of those bones?

Ready for another one? Okay! We did the biggest, how about the smallest bones? Here are some clues from the animal herself: “I am teeny tiny. My skull is smaller than your pinky nail….Inside my ears are the smallest bones in the world: my hammer, anvil, and stirrup bones,” which are about the size of a • . You’d find this animal on farms, in gardens and in olive groves, and even though it’s small, its bite is poisonous. But you’d have to look very closely to find it because its skeleton is “the size of a paperclip and weighs less than a single raisin. What is it? The Etruscan Shrew! You can pet it to feel its bones—this one isn’t venomous.

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Imagine if your bones were as thin as a strand of spaghetti. It might make lifting heavy boxes and throwing baseballs or running on the playground pretty hard, if not impossible. But for this next animal having such thin bones is just right. Let’s see if you can guess what it is from these clues: “I sleep upside down, snuggled with my family. I flit through cool limestone caves. I am an amazing flyer…but can’t walk very well.” You know it—it’s a bumblebee bat!

This bat is as small as its namesake, and its thin finger bones support its wings. “If your finger bones were as long and thin as [the bumblebee bat’s], your pinky would be as thin as a strand of hair and keep going past your toes!”

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

This is fun! How about another? Guess who has the spikiest bones? You’d find these bones covered with keratin on top of the animal’s head to protect its brain—and to keep it from being eaten by snakes or coyotes or other predators. This animal lives in the deserts of Arizona, eats ants, and…can shoot stinky blood from its eyes when threatened! What is it? It’s a Regal Horned Lizard! Now, feel those spiky horns and all of the rib bones that make this lizard so round.

You’re a great guesser! So try them all—there are a lot more animals to discover and fascinating facts to learn in this book! No bones about it! You’ll find out more about the Reticulated Python, Reticulated Giraffe, African Bush Elephant, Peregrine Falcon, Alaska Moose, and Hammerhead Shark. At the end, there’s also a Glossary of Bone Words for you to bone up on!

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Image copyright Sam Brewster, 2017, text copyright Gabrielle Balkan, 2017. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Gabrielle Balkan makes learning about the ten animals Book of Bones exciting by including the kinds of facts that kids find most eye-popping and eww-inspiring described in ways that they can relate to. Comparing the size of an animal to a paperclip or the thickness of a bone to a strand of spaghetti creates an immediate visual that makes budding scientists want to learn more. Balkan’s conversational style lends a personal touch to the text—as if the reader is interacting with a wildlife expert one-on-one.

Opening the oversized Book of Bones is like walking into a natural history museum where skeleton exhibits stand side by side with natural habitat dioramas. Sam Brewster introduces each animal with accurately drawn skeletons on black backgrounds that let readers see the placement of each bone. Special features are called out in a whisper of gray, adding to the museum display feel. Turning the page allows children to see each animal in its vibrant, natural habitat. Ingenious printing lets readers feel and see the rough bones beneath the skin.

A fun, fact-filled resource for nature lovers, Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals would make a great gift and addition to classroom, school library, public library, and home bookshelves.

Ages 8 – 12

Phaidon Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-0714875125

Discover more about Gabrielle Balkan and her books on her website.

To view a portfolio of illustration work by Sam Brewster, visit his website.

World Wildlife Day Activity

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Lion and Lioness Coloring Pages

 

The lion is one of the most majestic of the big cats, and is—of course—the king (and queen) of the jungle. Here are two lion coloring pages for you to enjoy!

Lion Coloring Page | Lioness and Cub Coloring Page

Picture Book Review

February 21 – It’s National Bird-Feeding Month

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About the Holiday

Spring comes early for our feathered friends. You may have noticed more bird activity in the past few weeks as birds get ready to build nests and mate. February can be a tough month for these little creatures, though. In some places snow still covers the ground, and the spring blooms that offer nutrition haven’t sprouted yet. To remedy this situation, in 1994 John Porter read a resolution into the United States’ Congressional record recognizing February as National Bird-Feeding Month. One-third of the American population have backyard feeders that provide the sustenance birds need to survive. To celebrate, if you have feeders make sure they are well stocked. If you don’t have a feeder in your yard, consider hanging one. Enjoying the beauty and songs of birds is a day brightener!

Warbler Wave

By April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre

 

“In spring, as you nightly nap, / warblers flap / over oceans, lakes, / and mountains.” These tiny birds ride on streams of wind, navigating their way around buildings and towers and sharing space with bats, insects, and other birds. Then, nearly out of energy, they alight to rest and look for food.

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Copyright April Pulley Sayre, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com

“They search. Stalk. / Wag. Walk. / So dainty, / these colorful diners.” They’re dots of color and intricate patterns among the leaves and “flit, like flying flowers.” They look and listen then dart to capture dinner. They are “crushers of caterpillars! / Slurpers of spiders!” Insects can hide from these clever hunters that know every nook and cranny to search.

And they’re not above nabbing a snack that a spider has so carefully wrapped. After a meal, “warblers sing. / Preen. / Scan the local scene.” But then as soon as nighttime falls, they’re off again, with miles to go until they reach their nesting grounds. Like good friends, they keep in touch with each other in the darkness as they fly “Surfing rivers of wind way up high…calling zeep, zeep, zeep in the sky.”

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Copyright April Pulley, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Following the lyrical text, an extensive discussion of the “Migration Marathon” warblers take each spring reveals fascinating facts about the birds, their instinct to migrate, and why and how they migrate as well as the role of science in recording warbler migration. For instance, warblers weigh no more than a couple of baby carrots, yet they fly hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from their winter homes in the southern hemisphere to their summer homes in the northern United States and Canada.

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Copyright April Pulley Sayre, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Blackpoll warblers even undergo physical changes in preparation for their 4,000-mile journey taken three days at a time nonstop. And how do these tiny creatures find their way? They’re born with an innate knowledge of the direction they need to fly, and they navigate by the stars, the setting sun, and the earth’s magnetic field (which they may be able to see!). There’s much more to discover here, too, about the lovely warblers that may be flying through your area soon.

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Copyright April Pulley Sayre, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com

April Pulley Sayre’s poetic narrative of the astounding migration warblers undertake every year is as bright and spry as her little subjects. Staccato sentences echo the birds’ quick, sure movements and alertness to the sounds and motions around them while longer passages flow with the rhythm of the birds in flight, soaring to the next stopping place and taking off again for home.

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Copyright April Pulley Sayre, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Gorgeous photographs of a fiery horizon and rising moon that invite warblers to the air each night open the book and lead to lush, close-up views of a variety of warblers in their regal colors and patterns. Their sharp eyes, attentive expressions, and perky personalities are on full display in their native habitat. As dusk descends once more over sea and forest, the warblers take wing while birdwatchers wait to see them.

For children who are bird lovers and for families who have backyard feeders or enjoy taking bird-watching walks, as well as for classroom science and story times, Warbler Wave is a beautiful addition to home, classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Beach Lane Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1481448291

To learn more about April Pulley Sayre her books, and her work, visit her website.

National Bird-Feeding Month Activity

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Pine Cone Bird Feeder

 

You don’t need a fancy bird feeder to help out the birds in your backyard. With a pine cone, birdseed, and a bit of peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening, you can make feeders that birds will flock to!

Supplies

  • Item to Cover, such as a pine cone, conical ice-cream cone, piece of toast or stale bread, bagel, paper towel or toilet paper tube
  • Peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening
  • Bird seed
  • String or wire for hanging
  • Large bowl or container
  • Knife for spreading

Directions

  1. Attach the string or wire to the item to be covered
  2. Cover the item with peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening
  3. Pour birdseed into a large bowl or container
  4. Roll the covered item in the birdseed until well covered
  5. Hang your homemade bird feeder!

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day & Interview with Author Linda Booth Sweeney

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. To kick off all of this literary love today, we remember and honor American authors past and present. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, has promoted the holiday since her Nellie’s death in 1968 and encourages people to spend a bit of the day writing a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

When the Snow Falls

Written by Linda Booth Sweeney | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

A little curly-haired girl and her younger brother wake up from a sleepover with Grandma to a magical sight. As they gaze out the big picture window in the little girl’s room, they’re dazzled to see “When the snow falls…Frost paints. / Skies gray. / Windows sparkle/ Snow? Yay!” There’s no school today, so Mommy and Daddy and Grandma bundle up and get the kids ready to head outdoors to take care of the farm animals.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

Soft flakes flutter down, piling into deep drifts and providing a little extra after-breakfast treat as “Boot sink. / Lashes flick. / Tongues tickle. / We lick.” In the barn the horses, puppies, and chickens are just as excited about the snowy day. Riding an old chair sled, Grandma and her grandchildren glide down the hill, following tracks left by lively rabbits and now-dozing foxes.

Deep in the forest the three take in the beauty: “Woods hush. / Fields glisten. / Wren sings. / We listen.” On the other side of the woods, people continue their daily routine but at a slower pace as “plows push” and “mountains grow.” Grandma and the kids slide into town, where people are hard at work keeping up with the storm: “Wheels crunch. / Shovels scoop. / Ice cracks! / Awnings droop.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The trio has reached Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They all grab shovels and help clear the walk. Now it’s Grandpa’s turn to have some fun. He takes his granddaughter by the hand, seats her little brother on a sled, and walk to the park. There, kids are making snowmen, building snow forts, and zipping down hills on their snow saucers. At the bottom of the hill everyone plops into the fluff and make snow angels.

It’s been an exhilarating, adventurous day, but twilight is on the horizon and now “toes tingle. / Lips quiver. / Cheeks glow. / We shiver.” As grandma calls from her front porch, the little girl and Grandpa, carrying his grandson, race toward home amid the swirling snowflakes. Inside, the light, warmth, and cozy comforts of warm soup, popcorn, and a crackling fire await. Later, the two kids enjoy quiet time with Grandma and Grandpa when “Cocoa warms. / Mittens puddle. / Day dawdles. / We cuddle.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

With her brilliantly expressive staccato sentences—each only two words long—Linda Booth Sweeney evokes the sights, sounds, and joy of a care-free, snowy day. Each four-line, rhyming verse abounds with melodic verbs that spark readers’ imaginations and concrete nouns that in many places form delightful alliterative pairs that softly trip off the tongue. Readers will love the story line that takes them from a rustic farmhouse to Grandma and Grandpa’s cozy home through woods, over hills, past the highway, and into downtown all with the help of an old-style sled. Several verses full of snow day fun play out like a long afternoon spent with friends, leading naturally into the slower pace and loving comfort of the night spent with Grandma and Grandpa.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

In glorious two-page spreads, the wind-swept snow swirls, spatters, and blankets the world in downy white fluff. Jana Christy takes children into the family’s large farmhouse kitchen where a blackboard announces Grandma’s Sunday sleepover as well as Monday’s snow day in place of the crossed-out piano lesson. The family steps out into the sparkling countryside where purple mountains form a backdrop for the barn and sheep pen. As Grandma and the kids start their journey, the forest, a quiet enclave of teal and greens, welcomes them. By the time they reach town, cars are stuck in snowdrifts, snow shovels scrape against the sidewalk, and kids are heading to the park.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The thrill of playing in the snow is palpable as saucers zoom down hills, hats fly off, and hair blows in the wind. The final spreads of Grandma and Grandpa’s tidy home glow with love and laughter as the kids pull off their snow gear, their dog shakes off the snow, and they settle on the couch for cocoa and cuddles. The busy townspeople, happy playmates, and close-knit mixed-race family make When the Snow Falls a cheerful celebration of diversity.

When the Snow Falls is a joyous book to add to winter collections and would be often asked for during home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399547201

Discover more about Linda Booth Sweeney, her books and her systems work, visit her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her art, and her books, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

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Snow Buddies

Even when there’s no snow, you can make yourself a snow buddy with this fun and easy craft!

Supplies

  • White dress ankle socks
  • Polyester Fiber Fill
  • Tiny buttons
  • Fleece or ribbon, enough for a little scarf
  • Toothpicks
  • Twigs
  • Orange craft paint
  • Cardboard
  • White rubber bands, one or two depending on the size of the snowman
  • Fabric or craft glue
  • Small hair band (optional)

Directions

To Make the Snowman

  1. Cut a circle from the cardboard about 2 inches in diameter for the base
  2. Place the cardboard circle in the bottom of the sock
  3. Fill the sock with fiber fill about ¾ full or to where the ribbed ankle cuff begins. Pack tightly while making a sausage shape. You can make your snowman different shapes with the amount of fill you use.
  4. Stretch out the cuff of the sock and tie it off near the top of the fill either with a loop knot or with the hairband.
  5. Fold the cuff down around the top of the filled sock to make the hat.
  6. Wrap a rubber band around the middle of the sock to make a two-snowball snowman. For a three-snowball snowman, use two rubber bands. Adjust the rubber bands to make the “snowballs” different sizes.

To Make the Scarf

  1. Cut a strip of fleece or ribbon 8 to 10 inches long by ½ inch wide
  2. Tie the fleece or ribbon around the neck of the snowman
  3. To Make the Nose
  4. Dip one end of the toothpick into orange paint, let dry
  5. Cut the toothpick in half
  6. Stick the toothpick into the head or top portion of the snowman

To Make the Arms

  1. Insert small twigs into each side of the body of the snowman
  2. You can also use wire or cardboard to make the arms
  3. Attach two mini-buttons to the face for eyes with the fabric or craft glue
  4. Display your Snow Buddy

Interview with Linda Booth Sweeney

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As the weather turns cooler, I’m happy to talk with Linda Booth Sweeney about the event that inspired her first book for children, a favorite wintertime activity, and how we can learn to see and benefit from systems.

How did you get started writing for children?

It seems like I’ve always been writing though it has taken me a long time to call myself a writer. During our last move, I discovered an old cardboard box from my parents’ attic.  After moving it literally for years, I finally opened it this summer. Inside there must have been 15 diaries and journals. When I looked at the dates, I realized that I started writing in those when I was about twelve and I really haven’t stopped. 

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I actually remember the exact day I began writing for children! Jack, my oldest son (now 19), was three. I was pushing him around Cambridge in one of those $20 pop-up strollers. We were a good fifteen minutes from home when a gale force wind blew in. The little canopy on this stroller snapped off and I remember feeling like the stroller lifted up off the ground. This was before cell phones so there was no calling for a ride. I put my head down and ran for home. Well, Jack loved that, and the wind blowing! He was bouncing up and down, pointing to everything he saw: signs rattling, balls rolling, hats flying.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

During his nap that afternoon, I flopped down at my desk, grateful we made it home in one piece. Jack’s excitement was contagious and his words were swimming around my head so I wrote them down. That was the beginning of my first children’s book, When the Wind Blows.

Using short, two-word phrases, your picture books are so evocative of actions outdoors and indoors as well as internal emotions. Can you describe your writing process?

I was mimicking the voice of a three-year old so the two words. Balls roll. Object and action. Noun and verb. It just made sense. In my other books like the one I’m working on now about the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, I am writing for older readers (ages 7-12). My sentences are longer. The book is inspired by big themes like being true to oneself, equality, social justice, and love for country so I find myself writing punchy sentences in the scenes and more lyrically the bridges, or the transitions, between scenes.

Do you remember your favorite picture book when you were a child?

As a little kid, I always loved Dr. Seuss books. My imagination was going full tilt as a kid. Dr. Seuss made me feel like the other worlds I created were not just okay but to be celebrated! As a nine-year-old, I devoured Encyclopedia Brown and anything by James Herriot.

Your first book for children, When the Wind Blows, takes readers on a jaunt through town on a blustery day. When the Snow Falls is a joyful romp through a winter day. What is it about weather that inspires you and your writing?

It’s the immediacy that weather brings. When the rain is pouring down or the snow is falling, that grabs my attention. Of course my attention is also on how to keep my fingers warm or my feet dry. But I can’t think of much else. I love that. I have to be in the moment. My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, captures this idea well in her “Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

If you’re outside stomping in puddles or making snow angels, who needs to be on a phone? There’s a lot of research coming out that equates nature to a “vitamin” we all need. Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, says it well: “Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” 

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You mentioned in one of your blog posts that When the Snow Falls first took shape during “found time” during the winter of 2015 with its four nearly back-to-back snow storms. Do you have any advice for recognizing and taking advantage of found time not only for writers, but for anyone?

I think the biggest opportunity to enjoy found time comes when we’re willing to put down technology. Sure the photos we can take on our iPhone may be lovely but what if sometimes we are just there, fully present, open and even willing to be a little bored.  Maybe then we can be dazzled by the red Cardinal that lands on the white snowman or the hush that creeps in when no can one drive.

What is your favorite wintertime activity?

I love looking for snow art and especially love seeing it through the eyes of little ones. I’m always amazed by the “art” that forms during snow storms – polka-dotted fields, top hats on fence caps, intricate patterns on round porch tables, delicate animal tracks that look like instructions for some kind of dance move. 

And then of course there is cross country skiing with my family and my crazy friends.

Your other work involves Systems Thinking. Can you describe systems thinking and talk about your systems thinking work with children and schools?

Sure. Like a spider’s web, what happens on one part of the web affects every other part. The same is true of living systems. A pond, our family, our school, a city, the climate—these are all systems. They have two or more parts that interact over time. What’s really interesting is that these different kinds of systems share some similarities, and they can act in surprisingly similar ways. (You can learn more about my systems work here).

How does considering systems thinking and living systems benefit children and their education?

Systems thinking, or “Thinking about systems,” means paying attention to the interrelationships and patterns that surround us. My experience, and that of systems educators around the globe, shows that children are naturally attuned to this. They can read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and then recognize that same closed loop of cause and effect in their everyday lives.  

A few years back I wrote When a Butterfly SneezesA Guide for Helping Kids Explore Connections in our World as a resource for anyone who wants to help children think about interconnections in our world. Each chapter focuses on a favorite children’s picture book—like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss—and shows how to use the story to engage children in systems thinking. I just finished updating that book and the new version should be up and ready by next week!

To answer your question about how systems thinking benefits children, learning about systems, and about living systems in particular, can help children to make better decisions and avoid unintended consequences. It can also help them to develop a more compassionate and sustainable sensibility about what is beautiful and what is essential.

I always come back to the Joseph Campbell quote—“People who don’t have a concept of the whole, can do very unfortunate things.…”—and flip it: People—and especially children—who have a concept of the whole can do very fortunate things. If we encourage young people to look for the “whole” and not just focus on the parts, they will be geared toward seeing connections and will not see things in isolation. So much in our culture forces us into compartments. But just as we teach kids not to be victims of advertising, we can teach them to see beyond the obvious, to see the systems all around us.  

What’s up next for you? 

My next children’s book is a richly illustrated biography about Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.  I am thrilled to be working with Shawn Fields a representational artist on this book.  The working title of the book is Monument Man, and that subject is very much a part of our public conversation at this point in our history. 

Thanks, Linda! Your books inspire us to look closure and pay attention to the moment, and I wish you all the best with them!

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You can connect with Linda Booth Sweeney on:

Her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Linked in

You can find When the Snow Falls with these booksellers:

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

Picture Book Review

September 10 – Grandparents Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the grandparents in a child’s life. A close relationship between children and grandparents can benefit kids in so many ways. When children spend time with grandparents they can discover family history, learn new hobbies, and always feel the unconditional love a grandparent has to give. Children also learn compassion and a long view of the world that inspires empathy and kindness for others – as the girl in today’s book shows. 

Lotus & Feather

Written by Ji-li Jiang | Illustrated by Julie Downing

 

Lotus was lonely since her winter illness had left her without a voice. The children at school “treated her like a strange creature,” and she was left without playmates or someone to keep her company on the walk home. She lived with her grandfather who made reed baskets and found solace when he took her to ride in his boat on the nearby lake. As he poled the boat through the still water, Lotus’ grandfather sadly pointed out how the lake had changed. No longer did the lotus flowers, fish, birds, or animals thrive. Instead, the landscape had “‘been ruined by greedy fishermen and hunters, and by ignorant people who took over the land where animals once lived.’”

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

One morning while Lotus was out collecting reeds for her grandfather she spied a rare crane. It’s wide white “wings were edged with black feathers, like lace on a dress”…and “its head was crowned with a red top like a dazzling ruby.” As she watched a gunshot rang out. Unable to alert the hunter by shouting, Lotus banged on her bucket, frightening him away. Lotus rushed toward the wounded bird, picked it up and carefully brought it home to Grandpa.

Grandpa tended to the crane’s injury and fed him rice soup while Lotus stroked the soft head. For two days, Lotus hardly slept as she took care of the crane. On the third day she fell asleep next to the crane, waking when he stirred and nestled her cheek. “Lotus’s heart pounded, and tears sprang to her eyes.” Lotus named the crane Feather. As it grew stronger she gathered food for it, and on the day Feather took his first steps, “Lotus jumped and swirled and hugged Grandpa blissfully.”

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

Soon Feather was following Lotus everywhere—even to school. After class Lotus would blow her whistle and Feather would come running and dance as Lotus played. The other children joined in, dancing and playing along every day. One night Lotus heard Feather crowing and woke to find that the village was flooded. Poling his boat through the streets, Grandpa shouted, Lotus banged her pail, and Feather crowed to alert the neighbors. “Over three hundred villagers were saved. Feather was the hero.” He became famous, and people wanted to hear his story again and again.

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

When Spring arrived Feather was still too weak to fly but he looked longingly at the birds migrating north. Lotus was frightened that her friend might want to leave them, but she “knew she would never separate him from his home and family.” One day Feather spread his wings and leaped into the air. Lotus realized that he had healed and knew it was time for him to leave. Grandpa and Lotus took Feather to the lake. Grandpa tossed Feather into the air, but he returned again and again. Grandpa gave Feather to Lotus. Lotus hugged Feather one more time and threw him into the sky.  

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

Holding back tears, Lotus watched as “Feather flapped his big wings and soared north, disappearing into the horizon.” Lotus and the other children missed Feather. They gathered together listening to Lotus play her whistle, imagining that Feather could hear them. One autumn morning, Lotus heard a familiar crow and rushed outside. There stood Feather with his family. Then Lotus gasped. The sky was filled with hundreds of cranes coming to the lake. Lotus blew her whistle, and the notes, “accompanied by the birds’ singing, echoed far, far away in the golden sky.”

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Image copyright Julie Downing, courtesy of Disney Hyperion

Ji-li-Jiang’s tender story resonates on every page with love and friendship. The relationship revealed in Jiang’s tale exists not only between Lotus and Feather, but between readers and their environment. Beautifully interwoven throughout the plot, the idea of responsibility between friends, to the earth, and to ourselves makes Lotus & Feather a compelling book to read and discuss. Through lyrical passages and detailed storytelling, Jiang develops a deep, emotional bond between Lotus and Feather that readers will respond to. The heartwarming connection between Lotus and her grandfather brings comforting and another level of family commitment to the story.

Julie Downing’s stunning illustrations allow readers to walk, sit, worry, and cheer with Lotus as she finds and cares for Feather. Her sadness is palpable as she walks home from school past a group of classmates playing ball; in the corner of the dark lake, children will find bottles, cans, and other debris floating among the reeds; and Feather makes his debut with a graceful ballet. Readers will love watching the progression of Feather’s healing and Lotus’ reintegration into her circle of friends and will applaud when Feather and his family and friends return to the lake.

Lotus & Feather is a multi-layered story that will captivate readers. It is a must for public and school libraries and would make a beautiful addition to home libraries as well.

Ages 5 – 9

Disney Hyperion, 2016 | ISBN 978-1423127543

Discover more about Ji-li Jiang and her books on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork as well as other books by Julie Downing on her website!

Grandparents Day Activity

 

I Love Grandma and Grandpa!

 

Grandparents are the best! On this special day, tell your grandparents what you love most about them and why with this printable I Love Grandma and I Love Grandpa Pages!

Picture Book Review

August 19 – World Honey Bee Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 1990 by American beekeepers and once known as Honey Bee Awareness Day, this holiday has grown to world-wide stature. The importance of honey bees to sustainable farming cannot be overstated. In recent years the mysterious depletion of bee colonies has threatened not only the population of these beneficial insects but also the industries that rely on them. There are many ways to celebrate! If you have a yard or garden, plant bee-attracting plants such as lavender or marjoram, have a cup of tea—with honey, of course, or consider donating to the preservation of bees.

Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book

By Britta Teckentrup

 

As the sun comes up over the meadow of poppies, a bee gets ready for her day. She flits through the forest, blending her quiet buzz with the songs of the birds in the trees. “As she travels here and there, / A gentle humming fills the air.” With no map to guide her, the bee knows exactly what route to take to visit each colorful flower. “Gathering nectar as she goes, / From every foxglove, every rose, / Dusty with pollen, the little bee / Buzzes, buzzes, busily.”

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Copyright Britta Teckentrup, 2017, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

The flowers attract the little bee with their sweet perfume, and with the sun as her compass, she finds them all. As she flies from flower to flower, tree to tree, she picks up and leaves bits of pollen that will create more blossoms.  But when she looks out over the field, the bee sees more flowers than she could ever hope to visit. The bee hurries back to her hive to tell the others about the smorgasbord waiting for them.

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Copyright Britta Teckentrup, 2017, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

In droves they leave the hive, gliding over a pond, navigating an orchard, and continuing on. “The bees pass over a woodland stream. / Droplets sparkle and pebbles gleam. / Water trickles, bubbles, and weaves. / A weeping willow trails its leaves.” As the bees stop here and there along the way, they give life to new flowers and plants, expanding the wildflower meadow that is home to so many creatures.

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Copyright Britta Teckentrup, 2017, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers

Readers can see that Britta Teckentrup’s beautiful tribute to bees is something special before they even open the book. On the cover, a sunset-hued flower stretches into the blue sky. Through its die-cut center, children can see the complexity of the flower and, in its very middle, a honey bee harvesting nectar. Teckentrup’s lyrical story of a bee’s day is complemented by gorgeous illustrations of the vibrant wildflowers that call to the little bee. Each page is rendered in a breathtaking palette that surrounds young readers with the mysteries of the natural world—and in the center is the bee, going about her job as squirrels scamper, deer silently look on, and butterflies flutter nearby.

Children will adore following the bee—and later, more and more bees—through open windows to the final two-page spread of a meadow in full bloom. All along the journey, the bee has made friends with woodland, pond, and orchard creatures, and young readers will delight in finding each of them hidden in this glorious field.

Ages 3 – 7

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1524715267

Discover more about Britta Techentrup, her books, and artwork on her website!

World Honey Bee Day Activity

CPB---Busy-Buzzy-Bee-Maze

Busy Buzzy Bee Maze

 

Can you help the little bee find her way through this printable Busy Buzzy Bee Maze? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

August 16 – It’s Water Quality Month

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About the Holiday

Water is one of earth’s most precious resources. Worldwide, millions of people do not have access to clean water. Climate change is also contributing to alterations in water temperature which affects sea life and coastal animals. Pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides, and a disregard for the crucial importance of this limited resource all threaten not only the quality of water, but the quality of life on this planet. To get involved in the solution, volunteer to clean up waterways, be mindful of the products you use, and consider donating to the cause.

Over and Under the Pond

Written by Kate Messner | Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

 

A mom and her son have taken their rowboat out on the pond, where they “slide, splashing through lily pads, sweeping through reeds.” As they gaze over the side of their little boat, they can see the sun, the clouds, and themselves reflected in the still surface. But the little boy wonders what is below, where they can’t see. His mom tells him there is a “hidden world of minnows and crayfish, turtles and bullfrogs.”

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

On top the two can see tall grasses that break the water’s surface and little beetles and skaters making their way along the water. Below, a brook trout waits for his dinner. As the mom and her son paddle between thick stands of cattails, three painted turtles take turns slipping from their sunny perch back into the safety of the pond. Hidden in the cattails is a small nest, just a pocket of sticks and grass for red-winged blackbird babies.

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

There are babies under the pond, too. “A secret shelter of pebbles and sand” that hold the larva of a caddisfly. Along the shore, trees cast shadows on the water as a moose makes a lunch of water lilies. It’s also mealtime under the pond, where three beavers pull up roots to chew on. The weather is turning breezy over the pond, making the current stronger and blowing leaves here and there. All around animals are maturing: “a new goldfinch teeters, finally ready to fly” while tadpoles are “losing tails, growing legs, growing up.”

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Carefully picking his way in the muddy shallows, a great blue heron searches for food. He spies a minnow and with a flash snaps it up with his long, pointy beak. Way up in the trees the tat-tat-tat of a woodpecker looking for ants echoes through the air while down below an otter has her eyes set on a passel of mussels. The sun is beginning to set, and an iridescent dragonfly takes a rest on the little boy’s knee. Perhaps it is related to the dragonfly larvae underwater who has just grabbed a minnow for its dinner.

The nocturnal animals begin making an appearance in the spindly grasses. “Ospreys circle on quiet wings. Raccoons and mink stalk the shoreline for supper.” In the blue-black evening, the mother and her son head home as “a far-off loon calls good night.”

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Image copyright Christopher Silas Neal, 2017, text copyright Kate Messner, 2017. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

An Author’s Note about the ecosystem of a pond and the animals that live in and around the water follows the text.

Kate Messner’s lyrical environmental books invite young readers to discover the world around them through the eyes of their peers. In Over and Under the Pond, Messner takes children on a leisurely afternoon boat ride that compares and contrasts what is happening on top of and below the water. Along the way, kids learn fascinating facts while absorbing the feel and beauty of the outdoor world.

Christopher Silas Neal gorgeously depicts the mysteries of a pond environment in his matte, mixed media illustrations that allow readers to view the birds, fish, insects, plants, and animals in action as they go about their day. The mixture of familiar and new creatures will engage children interested in learning more about the natural world. As the sun goes down and evening falls with its comforting starlit sky, young readers will feel happy to be part of this wonderfully complex world.

Ages 5 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1452145426

To learn more about Kate Messner and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of artwork by Christopher Silas Neal on his website!

Water Quality Month Activity

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Busy Pond Coloring Page

 

There’s so much going on at the pond! Get your pencils, markers, or crayons and have fun with this printable Busy Pond Coloring Page! You can even add tissue paper grass, real sand, and other materials to make it look realistic!

Picture Book Review