October 6 – Get Ready for Halloween

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About the Holiday

October may have just begun, but kids are already thinking of the thrills and chills of Halloween. Witches and jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and skeletons take center stage all month long with fun Halloween-themed books like this one. So get shivering and giggling with the kids and skeleton in today’s book! 

Thanks go to Page Street Kids for sharing a copy of If You Ever Meet a Skeleton for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Review by Dorothy Levine

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton

Written by Rebecca Evans | Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling

 

Have you ever met a skeleton? No? Phew. Well, if you ever do, there’s no need to be spooked! If You Ever Meet a Skeleton teaches that creepy crawly bones that emerge on Halloween are not as scary as you may think.

On Halloween night, a skeleton claws its way out of the earth, and the trick-or-treating children are frightened. They run away as the bones follow, stumbling over hills and fallen candy. When the skeleton catches up, the kids realize that it may not be as fearsome as they first thought. When they all try to play, the kids find out skeletons have no guts, no muscles, no brains: Because they have no muscle, they can’t win races, and with no brain to count with they play hide-and-seek. “Skeletons have no guts, so they can’t be brave like you. They’re scared of nighttime shadows and owls that say ‘whoooo’”— just like these kids, or maybe me, or you!

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Image copy Katrin Dreiling, 2021, text copyright Rebecca Evans, 2021. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Skeletons have no nose to smell the stinky boots of kids. But most of all, “Skeletons have no friends,” and “they’d like to find a few: some kids with stinky feet and little brothers too.” When a child loses his shoe the skeleton returns it to him, and the group of friends invite the skeleton up to their treehouse fort.

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Image copy Katrin Dreiling, 2021, text copyright Rebecca Evans, 2021. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

They find that “Skeletons like to smile at stories in the dark…” and “they’ll trick-or-treat with you then share their chocolate bar just like buddies do.” And when one friend’s mother brings drinks out to the fort, they love to hear her “SHRIEK!” They dance and play and draw a trio of other skeletons hoping to join their joyous, Halloween romp.

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Image copy Katrin Dreiling, 2021, text copyright Rebecca Evans, 2021. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

While skeletons seem spooky to the kids at first, Rebecca Evan’s lyrical rhyming prose about skeletons’ parts helps readers to realize they’re not so scary after all. The story contains an underlying message encouraging readers to not be scared of making friends that may seem different at first glance. The story of friendship is simple, sweet and a delight to read. It’s a perfect bedtime story for anyone who may be frightened of (or excited by) spooky Halloween creatures. Treat yourself by getting into the Halloween spirit with this quirky read!  

Katrin Dreiling is well known for her spooky, yet adorable drawings. She says, “the spooky is a fascinating genre to work with because you need to create a certain atmosphere in a spooky illustration. Also, it is very challenging to achieve a balance so that the finished work is neither too scary nor too bland.” Her multi-medium illustrations in If You Ever Meet a Skeleton accomplish this exactly. The skeletons and children mirror each other with the same cute and spooked expressions. With spreads that are fully black and white, adding to the late-night Halloween scene, pops of red, gold and green draw attention to the diverse cast of children and glorious candy details of the story.

A creative tale of friendship and festivities on Halloween night, If You Ever Meet a Skeleton combines spooky and sweet framed by the tradition of trick-or-treating. The story can also provide a fun way to introduce anatomy to young readers throughout the year.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-1645672159

Discover more about Rebecca Evans, her books, and her art on her website.

To learn more about Katrin Dreiling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Get Ready for Halloween Activity

A Little Artsy A Little Craftsy Q-tip Skeleton Image 2

Q-tip Skeleton from A Little Artsy A Little Crafty (littleartsylittlecraftsy.blogspot.com)

 

Create Your Own Q-tip Skeleton Friend

 

You can make a skeleton just in time for Halloween with this easy craft by A Little Artsy A Little Craftsy. Will your skeleton be dancing, walking, scaring—or maybe trick-or-treating? You can find the directions for this craft as well as other fun crafts and delicious recipes on A Little Artsy A Little Craftsy.

You Will Need

  • Q-tips
  • Glue
  • 1 piece of black or other dark colored construction paper
  • 1 piece of white paper or white foam sheet
A Little Artsy A Little Craftsy Q-tip Skeleton Image 1

Q-tip Skeleton from A Little Artsy A Little Crafty (littleartsylittlecraftsy.blogspot.com)

 

What to Do

To Make the Bones

  1. Draw and cut out a skull from the white paper or foam sheet
  2. Cut eyes, a nose, and a mouth in the skull
  3. Cut 2 Q-tips in half for the legs
  4. Cut 2 Q-tips shorter than the leg parts for the arms
  5. Use 4 Q-tips to create the ribs (the top two sets will be slightly shorter than the bottom two)
  6. Cut 1 short piece from the end of one Q-tip to make the neck
  7. Cut 2 short pieces from the ends of one Q-tip to make the feet
  8. Use the stick part of one Q-tip to make the spine
  9. Use the stick part of one Q-tip to cut small pieces for the fingers

To Assemble the Skeleton

  1. Decide how you will pose your skeleton
  2. To make elbow, knee, and ankle joints, glue the “bones” to the construction paper tip-to-tip, end-to-end, or tip-to-end by following the example in the picture.
  3. Follow the picture to place the ribs, neck, and fingers

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You can find If You Ever Meet a Skeleton at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 18 – It’s Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact enjoying special moments during each day, doing something spontaneous with friends or family, taking time for a favorite activity, or even savoring a cup of tea may be all you need to feel happier every day! If anxiety, anger, or other emotion is getting in the way of your happiness, this month can provide an impetus to try soothing activities or mend relationships as today’s book shows. 

Thanks to Page Street Kids for sending me a copy of Clovis Keeps His Cool for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Clovis Keeps His Cool

Written by Katelyn Aronson | Illustrated by Eve Farb

 

Clovis, a bull and former linebacker for the Cloverdale Chargers football team, had inherited his granny’s china shop. As he delicately unpacked and filled the shelves on inventory day, he reminded him of his granny’s mantra, “‘Grace, grace. Nothing broken to replace.’” But below the surface, “there was just one problem. Clovis had a temper as big as he was.” Running Granny’s shop made him feel calmer, but one day when three of his old rivals came by, they mocked him, calling him a wimp and teasing him about his apron. One said, “‘Well looky here! The bull in the china shop!’” Clovis felt his anger rising. He breathed in and out and counted to ten, and when his hecklers didn’t get a quick response, they walked away.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-clovis-keeps-his-cool-Granny

Image copyright Eve Farb, 2021, text copyright Katelyn Aronson, 2021. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Before he got to work on dusting day, Clovis did yoga and listened to calming music. Carefully he polished each piece until it gleamed, but then he heard the voices of his rivals once again. “Clovis clenched his teeth. There it was again—that urge to charge.” But instead, he picked up his cat and stroked her soft fur. Bored by Clovis’s silence, the trio moved on. On the day he created a new display in the front window, Clovis filled the shop with the gentle aroma of a lavender candle and made himself a cup of chamomile tea. As he placed the fragile items in the window, he chanted Granny’s saying. “‘Grace. Grace. Nothing. Broken. To replace.’” But suddenly his rivals were back, smearing the window with their noses.

This time they didn’t stay outside but barged in and began insulting the picture of Granny. Clovis restrained himself until one of his rivals picked up Granny’s favorite teacup and threw it at Clovis, taunting him to catch it like in his old football days. But Clovis couldn’t turn in time and the cup sailed past him and smashed on the floor. “Clovis was all out of grace. He chose the chase. And charged. ‘GET OOOOOOUUT!’” he shouted.

He stormed through the shop pushing them out as china crashed and smashed around him and chased the three through town, finally cornering them in an alley. This was a Clovis they recognized, and they shook in fear. Clovis was preparing to strike when a teabag that had become tangled on one horn swung into view. With a tear in his eye he thought of Granny and all that had been broken: her teacup, her shop.

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Image copyright Eve Farb, 2021, text copyright Katelyn Aronson, 2021. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

But then, “from somewhere deep in Clovis’s memory, Granny’s voice answered: My dear…Grace. Grace. What is broken can be replaced.” He looked at his cowering rivals and told them who he was: “‘Look, I may be a bull. But I’m no bully.’” Then he offered them a cup of tea. Back at the shop, Clovis set up a table and served tea surrounded by the broken china. “For a moment, it was as if they were all on the same team. It made the hecklers think…”

The next day they were back. But they weren’t there to heckle Clovis as he feared. They were there to help. And “they came back the next day and the next.” Each day, Clovis served tea as they put the shop back together. Now Clovis enjoys playing football and practicing yoga with his new friends, and he always has “plenty of grace to go around” as he serves high tea for all.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-clovis-keeps-his-cool-tea-with-rivals

Image copyright Eve Farb, 2021, text copyright Katelyn Aronson, 2021. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Katelyn Aronson’s clever take on the idiom “like a bull in a china shop” provides readers with a profound and heartwarming look at issues of anger management, bullying, graciousness, friendship, and being oneself. Her rich storytelling, kids meet a bull with an outsized temper, who uses his granny’s influence and strategies common to all to calm his anger. They also are introduced to a gang of bullies who think it’s funny and/or permissible to torment Clovis past his tipping point when they break a precious family heirloom.

Aronson’s thoughtful pause before what seems like an inevitable fight lets Clovis—and by association, readers—decide and take control of who he really is. His choice propels the story to a poignant lesson. Aronson’s characters give adults and children an opportunity to discuss how Clovis ultimately chooses to treat his rivals with kindness, and—although not presented in the text—what the bullies may have thought about and regretted when Clovis invited them to tea instead of fighting. Her gracious ending shows kids that just like broken objects, relationships can be mended when both sides work at it.

Eve Farb’s stunning images of Clovis’s China Shop with their intricately decorated vases, delicate tea sets, and gleaming dishware are gorgeous backdrops to Clovis’s delicate touch in pouring a cup of tea, stocking and cleaning the fragile giftware, and performing his morning yoga ritual. Interposed with these are snapshots of Clovis in his more rough-and-tumble persona. When the bullies show up, they are depicted from Clovis’s—and readers’—point of view through the shop window.

A highlight of Farb’s illustration is her command of the emotional impact of Aronson’s story. The animals’ facial expressions and body language clearly depict their actions and emotions, and when Granny’s favorite teacup crashes to the floor, the next page spread demonstrates Clovis’s anger in a powerful closeup. As Clovis corners his rivals in the alley, readers once again see them through Clovis’s point of view, but this time their eyes hold fear. Another compelling page spread follows this as the teabag—glowing with Granny’s grace—refocuses Clovis’s thinking. Farb’s following bold pages compare and contrast notions of brokenness, connection, and even redirection of energy—all served up with tea and scones.

A unique and emotionally resonant story that will captivate kids and can spark important discussions, Clovis Keeps His Cool is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-1645672135

Discover more about Katelyn Aronson and her books on her website.

You can connect with Eve Farb on Instagram.

Happiness Happens Month Activity

CPB - Happiness typography

Happiness Is…Game

 

Happiness is all around you! Grab one or more friends to play a game that reveals what things make you happy. Here are two ways to play:

  1. Like the “Geography” game: the first player names something that makes them happy, the next player must think of something that starts with the last letter of the word the previous player said. The game continues with each player continuing the pattern. Players drop out as they cannot think of a word. The last player left is the winner.
  2. Using a time limit (depending on age): players must think of something that makes them happy. Players drop out if they cannot think of a word within the time limit. The last player left is the winner.

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You can find Clovis Keeps His Cool at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 6 – National Coaches Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 1972 by President Richard Nixon to honor the men and women who inspire us to work harder and do our best in many of life’s pursuits. Coaches help us develop a good work ethic, learn how to work as a team, and learn how to focus and achieve goals. Sometimes our most influential coaches can be surprising—as you’ll see in today’s book.

Kid Coach

By Rob Justus

 

Kid Coach knew a challenge when he saw it. And he saw a couch-potato sized challenge lying in his own living room with soda in one hand and a computer, a tablet, and a phone all streaming a different wrestling match in the other. And…yeah…there was a bowl of peanuts there too. Was Kid Coach up to the task of turning this marshmallow into a champion? He thought yes and dragged his dad away from all the distractions.

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Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Kid Coach started his dad’s strength training with simple push-ups and an itty-bitty bar bell. But soon those “small wins” led to “bigger challenges and major wins” until Kid Coach and Dad were ready to “wrangle big guys, bad guys, bald guys, (and a scary guy with tattoos of big, bad, bald guys!) in the grandest arena of them all”—the “Wrestle-Rumble Mania Kingdom Tournament of Champions.”

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Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

The competition is fierce, but Dad “snaps into action” and soon those big, bad, and bald guys in their fancy costumes are being flipped, chopped, and tied into knots. Kid Coach cheers him on, whistling and clapping, until he begins to notice something. “Dad starts to dance a little too long, celebrate a little too much, and rudest of all…he won’t even shake hands! Instead of making friends, Dad’s leaving the other wrestlers sad and mad.

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Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

That’s when Kid Coach does some soul-searching and realizes he didn’t teach his dad everything about being a true champion. A real champion, he knows, is a leader, someone who inspires others, and “most of all, they make everyone feel like a winner.” By now, Dad was feeling kind of bad himself for being so insensitive. Kid Coach gave him a hug, and the two of them tried to make amends. But the other wrestlers didn’t want flowers, and they weren’t interested in high-fives. So, Dad dug deep and came up with…a “sincere apology” and…a jumbo bag of chips! Now all those frowns are smiles and everyone’s having a blast in the ring.

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Copyright Rob Justus, 2020, courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Rob Justus reminds children about good sportsmanship and the qualities that make for a true champion in his visually exhilarating story. Kids will be all in with the couch-potato twist in which a child physically drags his dad—who holds on for dear life—from his leisurely pursuits.

Images of this noodle-thin dad in his flashy robe going up against some real heavy-weights will have kids giggling, and his over-the-top self-celebrations will elicit plenty of laughs (and probably copycats too.) But Justus doesn’t let this behavior go without showing its effects on the other wrestlers—and ultimately on Dad too. As Kid Coach and his dad try to mend fences, kids will see that gifts and token gestures aren’t as meaningful as a straightforward apology. The loving relationship between the boy and his dad is a highlight of the story, and will have readers—kids and adults—engaging in some rough and tumble and plenty of snuggles.

For rough-and-tumble fun story times—especially for dads and kids—with an inspirational life lesson, Kid Coach would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2020 | ISBN 978-1624148866

To learn more about Rob Justus and see a portfolio of his work, visit his website.

National Coaches Day Activity

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Best Dad Coloring Page

 

Good coaches win lots of trophies, and there’s no better coach than Dad! Let your dad know what a great coach he is with this printable coloring page!

Best Dad Coloring Page

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You can find Kid Coach at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 14 – National Lazy Day

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About the Holiday

Lazy Day may be the easiest day of the year! Today you have carte blanche to do absolutely nothing. Don’t feel like changing out of your pajamas? Don’t! Feel like lounging in front of the TV all day – or taking a nice long nap? Do it! We all need down time, maybe this year more than most. So grab some snacks (ready-made, of course), find your comfort spot, and relax!

The Little Blue Cottage

Written by Kelly Jordan | Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

 

All year long the little blue cottage waited at the edge of the bay for the little girl to come visit again, and every summer she did. Then the house “whistled and hummed and filled with light.” Up in her room, sitting on the window seat and gazing out at the of the large, porthole-shaped window, the girl “whispered, ‘you are my favorite place.'”

From the end of the dock, the little girl watched sailboats skim over the waves and dolphins leap above them. In the sky seagulls and pelicans circled, looking for food. When evening came, the girl and her mother and father sat in the creaky rocking chairs and watched the moon rise and the stars twinkle. Waves were the little girl’s lullabies.

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Image copyright Jessica Courtney-Tickle, 2020, text copyright Kelly Jordan, 2020. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Fall came too soon, and as the family drove away, the little girl waved goodbye to the blue cottage. All winter long, “the little cottage shivered through snow, ice, and rain.” But with the warm sun, the girl and her family returned. Then “the little cottage smelled like bacon, pancakes, and popcorn. The little girl smelled like syrup, sunscreen, and sea.”

As summers came and went, the girl grew. She took to the outdoors and the sea, swimming with the fish and waterskiing on top of the waves. On hot nights she caught fireflies. When summer storms battered the little cottage, it “stood strong” as the girl stayed snug and safe inside. And so it was that the girl and the little blue cottage “grew up together.”

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Image copyright Jessica Courtney-Tickle, 2020, text copyright Kelly Jordan, 2020. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

One year, the girl didn’t return with the summer. That year turned into many more, and the blue cottage became weather-beaten and gray, but it never gave up hope that the girl would come back. Then it happened. The cottage heard a beep-beep and the crunch of gravel. The girl – now, though, a mother herself – had returned with her own family. In her old room, she sat at the round window and whispered, “‘I missed you while I was away.'”

Once again the cottage became filled with light and the sounds and smells of summers long ago. The girl painted the cottage blue and “it was just like always.” And at night they fell asleep to the waves’ lullaby.

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Image copyright Jessica Courtney-Tickle, 2020, text copyright Kelly Jordan, 2020. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Infused with the deep-seated impressions of childhood, Kelly Jordan’s lyrical The Little Blue Cottage speaks of tradition, growing up, and the steadfast continuity of life. While the story beautifully depicts a seaside setting, readers will be reminded of their own special place or tradition – the one that will grow with them, coloring their hopes and dreams just as the blue cottage does for the little girl. Throughout the story, children follow two storylines: that of the family and that of the cottage. This dual storyline reinforces Jordan’s reminder of the cyclical nature of life and assures them that memories are never lost but always in reach to sustain them.

Jessica Courtney-Tickle’s airy and enchanting illustrations shine with sun-dappled loveliness and delicate renderings of the vegetation and sea creatures that make the seaside unique. Courtney-Tickle’s rich colors give each scene depth and movement. The storm scene is especially compelling From panel to panel and page to page, children can see changes taking place, and pointing these out while reading will give kids and adults an opportunity to talk about the transformations in the book as well as in their own lives. As the girl – now a mother – sits on the end of the dock with her smiling face tipped toward the sun, children will happily bask in the story as well as their own dreams for the future.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2020 | ISBN 978-1624149238

Discover more about Kelly Jordan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jessica Courtney-Tickle, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Lazy Day Activity

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Carefree Sloth Coloring Page

If there’s any animal that represents carefree relaxation, it’s the sloth. On this laziest of days, grab some crayons or colored pencils (or maybe just one or even none at all!) and enjoy this printable coloring page.

Carefree Sloth Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-blue-cottage-cover

You can find The Little Blue Cottage at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 26 – National Take Your Dog to Work Day

 

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About the Holiday

In 1996 Pet Sitters International established Take Your Dog to Work Day as a time to raise awareness of the pets left home all day by themselves with no stimulation. The organization was also dedicated to promoting adoption from local and humane shelters. Over the years the idea of Take Your Dog to Work Day has grown in popularity. This year our pets have been our constant companions at work, providing their own kind of encouragement and always a bit of entertainment. To celebrate today’s holiday, give your “office mate” a little extra treat!

Dogs and their People

By Anne Lambelet

 

When the day is fine, a girl likes “to take the long way home from school” and watch people and their dogs. Some people have both babies and puppies, while others share their advanced age with their loyal hound. “Some dogs and their people look alike, and others could not be more different, but however they look, each person “seems to have found their perfect match.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dogs-and-their-people-school

Copyright Anne Lambelet, 2019, courtesy of annelambelet.com.

Take Cordelia Vanderlay, the painter, and her dog Fluffernutter Vanderlay, who loves to make prints of her paws. Or Jennette and Lisette, who are twins, but very different. While Jennette likes to wear sleek black attire, her sister loves things that are frilly. And their dogs—a smooth dark greyhound and a fluffy, groomed standard poodle—are perfect mirrors of their owners. And of course there’s “Lord Banberry and his schnauzer, O’Grady,” who both sport the same impressive, well-trimmed, downturned mustachios.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dogs-and-their-people-park

Copyright Anne Lambelet, 2019, courtesy of annelambelet.com.

A young hot-dog lover, accompanied by his wiener-dog dachshund, buys an after-school treat from Freddie McDarrow and his smiling pup. Yes, “watching dogs and their people is fun,” the girl says, “because I can always tell they are best friends.” But she’s always happiest to come home to her best friend…can you guess who?

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Copyright Anne Lambelet, 2019, courtesy of annelambelet.com.

Anne Lambelet’s story charms as she introduces dog-and-owner pairs who look alike, act alike, or are polar opposites but still besties. As author and illustrator, Lambelet perfectly melds the joy of people- and pet-watching with a Victorian elegance that sets her story in an enchanting universe. Readers will get a kick out of Lambelet’s flowery names—both human and pet—that add to the ambience and seem as perfect as the friendships.

Lambelet’s unique mixed-media style of illustration, which highlights each owner and their dog—often with simple props surrounded by airy white space, but also in several two-page spreads that give kids a glimpse into the girl’s city—brings texture, interesting perspectives, and movement to the pages. Her lovely, muted color palette is as refreshing as the glow of autumn, and her fashionable city dwellers and their equally well-turned-out pooches could easily have just stepped out of a fashion magazine. Lambelet’s surprise ending will delight readers and gives the other side a sweet, heart-felt nod.

A jaunty trip through the joys of pet-and-people friendships, Dogs and their People will be a much-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves and would be a fun spark for or take along on a people- and pet-watching walk.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146893

Discover more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art on her website.

National Take Your Dog to Work Day Activity

CPB - Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

 

Each of the puppies has a friend. Can you match them up based on one trait? There may be multiple right answers! Why do you think the dogs you chose go together in this printable puzzle?

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dogs-and-their-people-cover

You can find Dogs and Their People at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 23 – It’s National Tennis Month

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About the Holiday

When the weather turns warm, thoughts turn to love. Not romantic love, but tennis! Tennis can’t be matched for thrilling one-on-one competition, exercise, and fun. While this year the world’s great tennis tournaments may be cancelled, outdoor tennis courts may be open, allowing you to reap the benefits of this favorite sport. Even though tournament viewing is limited this summer, you can always immerse yourself in a stirring biography of the game’s great players––starting with today’s book that’s all about love––of tennis and family!

Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

 

On that day when “Serena stood in Arthur Ashe Stadium and kissed the trophy,” her fans, sisters, and parents cheered. How had that day come about? It started thirteen years earlier when Serena, then four years old, joined her older sisters on the tennis court where their dad coached them. As he showed Serena how to swing, her sisters celebrated when she hit one and ran after the ones she didn’t. Mostly, the equipment they used was old and donated. Sometimes the balls had even lost their bounce, but “their father explained that it was good practice for Wimbledon—a Grand Slam tournament where the balls bounced lower because the tennis court was made of grass.”

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Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

When they weren’t on a real tennis court, the girls played a pretend game of tennis on the sidewalk. Serena loved when she won these games “because, well, Serena loved being the star.” As they grew, their father never allowed them “to use the word can’t.” Their mom told them, “‘Whatever you become, you become in your head first.’ So the girls dreamed of what they could become.” While the other sisters became a nurse, a lawyer, and a singer, Venus and Serena became top tennis players.

Venus was taking the tennis world by storm with her hard hitting, speed, and 100-miles-per-hour serve. Serena wanted to play in tournaments too, but her father said she wasn’t ready. But one day, Serena noticed an application for a tournament Venus was playing in. Serena filled it out and sent it in. At the tournament, Serena snuck off to play on one court while her parents watched Venus on another. Serena ran her opponent ragged and won the match.

Serena thought her father might be angry, but instead he was proud and began teaching her how to play against her next opponent. “Serena won all her matches, moving up and up until…she faced her big sister in the final match.” During the match, Serena asked Venus to let her win one game, but Venus ignored her plea. Later at home, though, Venus traded her gold trophy for Serena’s silver one. “Serena cherished that trophy.” Serena idolized Venus and did everything she did until her father reminded her that she was her own person. Some people didn’t think Serena would have the success Venus did, but her oldest sister told her, “‘You’ll have your day. And it’s gonna be even bigger.’”

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Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

After several years of winning, Serena, Venus, and her family moved to Florida for training. On those courts the girls stood out for their skin color, their beaded braids—and “their powerful strokes.” When Venus was fourteen, she was allowed to enter professional tournaments. She won her first match. When Serena turned pro, she didn’t win. The two teamed up as doubles partners, and by the time she was sixteen, Serena had grown in both height and confidence. She had her own style of play too.

The sisters continued to play as a doubles team, and in 1999 they won the French Open Doubles competition. Venus was eighteen and Serena was seventeen. That same year, the sisters entered the US Open, the tournament Serena had long dreamed of winning. Surprisingly, Venus was knocked out early, but Serena kept winning her matches. In the finals she met the player who had beaten Venus. Serena served eight aces and “her fierce forehand earned her point after point.” Serena won the match and became “the first black woman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament in more than forty years.” At the awards ceremony, Serena thanked her dad, her mom, and her sisters for all of their support. The crowd cheered as cameras flashed. “And one of the many headlines of the day read, Little Sister, BIG HIT!”

An Afterword highlights other victories Serena and Venus have enjoyed during their careers, follow-ups on their sisters, and quotations from each of the five sisters.

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Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Karlin Gray’s masterful biography of Serena Williams shows young readers the determination, confidence, and strong familial bond that followed Serena through her life and made her one of tennis’s most influential women players. The family’s remarkable life and focus on what one can achieve will inspire all kids, no matter what their dream is. Choosing seminal events in Serena’s and Venus’s life, Gray follows Serena’s reputation on the court as she loses and wins matches, building suspense until that day when she accomplishes her goal and wins the US Open. Her inclusion of articles and comments that cast doubt on Serena’s future success, demonstrates that even the greats face opposition and naysaying, and Serena’s sister’s advice to ignore it is sound.

Monica Ahanonu’s textured, collage-style illustrations leap off the page with vibrant images full of action and the girls’ personalities. As the girls race onto a court for practice, their eager expressions show their love of the game and being together. Even as a four-year-old Serena has the steely eyed gaze of a champion as she watches the bouncing ball and lines up for her swing. Ahanonu’s use of various perspectives and shadowing create dynamic scenes on the court, and tennis lovers will be thrilled at the many illustrations of Venus and Serena playing their sport. The bond between the sisters is evident in images of Serena interacting with one or more of her sisters. Those who remember Serena’s win at the 1999 US Open will recognize her joyous win.

Perfectly aimed at young readers who are the same age as Serena and Venus when they began developing their skills and sport, Serena: The Littlest Sister is an inspirational biography of a present-day role model that is sure to spark an “I can” attitude. Adults who have followed the Williams sisters’ rise to tennis stardom will be equally enthralled with this beautiful biography. The book would make a stirring addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

To learn more about Monica Ahanonu and her work, visit her website.

National Tennis Month Activity

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Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle

 

If you’re a tennis ace, you’ll enjoy finding the tennis-related words in this printable word search puzzle.

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle | Tennis Love Word Search Solution

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You can find Serena: The Littlest Sister at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 30 – International Jazz Day

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About the Holiday

International Jazz Day was instituted in November 2011 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to spotlight jazz and it’s role in uniting people worldwide. The holiday is celebrated by communities, musicians, students, teachers, historians, and especially jazz enthusiasts as a way to learn about jazz, its roots, and its influence. Every year, jazz is recognized for its part in promoting a dialogue among cultures, diversity, freedom, and respect for human rights. 

While the celebration was originally planned to take place in Cape Town, South Africa and in other cities around the world, this year International Jazz Day 2020 will take place online and be hosted by Herbie Hancock. The day’s centerpiece will be a Virtual Global Concert featuring artists from across the globe, streamed live on jazzday.com. The concert will begin at 3:00 pm US eastern time. This spectacular musical event is a great opportunity to introduce kids to jazz and to enjoy the masters of the form with jazz lovers around the globe.

Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

 

As a child, Miles Davis listens to the radio before school, clapping and swaying along to “Louis Armstrong’s soaring trumpet” and “Duke Ellington’s sensational big band.” The “swinging sounds of jazz / swirl together like / colors on a pinwheel.” When he’s older, Miles watches the riverboats on the Mississippi as they bring musicians from New Orleans to play in the East St. Louis clubs. At night he listens as “melodies drift down the street. / Some croon country, / some cry the blues. / Sassy saxophones wail / through the night.”

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

During the summer, Miles visits his grandfather’s farm in Arkansas. Here, he hears the music of horses’ hooves. On his walks through town, he listens to the sounds of guitars and singing, and at church he learns the notes of “soulful singing.” For his thirteenth birthday, Miles receives a trumpet. He takes lessons and practices again and again.

While he’s still in high school, Miles begins being paid to play at dance halls. His confidence grows and he begins to develop his own sound. A new form of jazz is attracting attention—Bebop: “far-out harmonies / with fast, flipping beats / that hop and bop.” He goes to clubs to listen to Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play. He’s “blown away / by the energy of the music.”

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

Then one night, one of the band members doesn’t show up, and Miles—who always has his trumpet with him—is asked to fill the spot. In awe and a little intimidated in the presence of his idols, Miles’ playing “doesn’t shine.” But he knows that “jazz / is all he wants to play.” Miles moves to New York to go to school at Juilliard, but, really, to learn from Bird, Dizzy, and all of his idols. In the morning he goes to class, practicing between classes. At night he plays clubs throughout the city.

Soon, he leaves Juilliard to concentrate on playing and learning from the greats. His father advises him: “Don’t be like the mockingbird / that copies others. / Be your own man. / Be your own sound.” When Dizzy leaves Bird’s band, Miles takes his place. But he plays differently than Dizzy. “Some listeners put him down— / they want Dizzy’s rippling trumpet.” The criticism make Miles lose confidence and want to quit. But Bird encourages him.

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

With practice and patience, he discovers his own sound, holding and savoring perfect notes “just for the beauty of it.” He forms his own group with talented musicians who want to create new sounds. The nine musicians play “slowly and mysteriously…. Cool— / relaxed, / with a lighter, / lyrical feel.” Mile’s solos enchant audiences.

But the endless work takes its toll. He begins to lose gigs; his health declines. Miles doesn’t give up. “He climbs out / of his dark days / by playing his horn again.” Then in 1955 he takes the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival and begins to play. “…His mystical voice hangs / like a cloud, / leaving space / for each listener’s / imagination to wander.” The crowd cheers and applauds. Miles is back with his unmistakable sound and new ideas for the future of the music he loves.

Notes about Miles Davis from Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Cornell Berman, and Keith Henry Brown as well as a selected discography and bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Keith Henry Brown, 2019, text copyright Kathleen Cornell Berman, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Books.

Kathleen Cornell Berman’s lyrical passages reveal a boy, a teenager, and a man who embodied music, listening to and absorbing the various sounds around him and incorporating them into his own, unique sound. Her evocative vocabulary (swirl, rollicking, croon, rumbling, far-out, rippling, blizzard of notes, itching to play) and phrasing that blends short staccato lines with longer sentences echoes the rhythm of jazz and will keep readers riveted to the story. Berman emphasizes the listening, practice, and experimentation that informed Miles Davis’s original sound, showing children that innovation is built on hard work, dedication, and even history. Her inclusion of Davis’s setbacks also demonstrates that perseverance is part of the success of any endeavor.

Keith Henry Brown’s gorgeous, detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations take readers from Miles Davis’s living room, where he listens to the radio as images of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington swirl through his imagination, to an overlook on the Mississippi River and its paddlewheel steam ships to the clubs and jam sessions of New York and finally, to the Newport Jazz Festival. Brown’s color palette of cool blues, greens, purples, and browns, punctuated with Davis’s ever-present gleaming brass trumpet, brings Davis’s country and city experiences to life while mirroring the tone and feel of his unique sound. Quotes from Miles Davis are sprinkled throughout the story and set apart with type that looks handwritten, giving his words a personal touch.

Sure to inspire readers to learn more about Miles Davis and listen to his music, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound would be an excellent accompaniment to school music programs, an inspiring book for biography lovers and young musicians of all types, and a beautiful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

Discover more about Kathleen Cornell Berman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Keith Henry Brown, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Kathleen Cornell Berman

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In your author’s bio you say that you fell in love with Mile’s Davis’ music when you were 10 years old. Was there a particular spark that made you love his music?

As a kid I loved all kinds of music. When I first heard Miles’ trumpet sound, I fell in love. His trumpet sound was different. It wasn’t flashy, it was slow, haunting and very beautiful. I longed to hear it again.

Can you take readers on your journey of writing Birth of the Cool and having it published? What kind of research did you do? What was the most surprising thing you learned about Miles Davis?

I was thrilled when I got the email from Charlotte Wenger from Page Street. It’s beyond exciting when you find someone who loves your story as much as you do. And Charlotte was a dream editor to work with.

I read Miles’ autobiography and many other books about him, as well as journal and magazine articles. I listened to countless interviews and researched players in his band. And I listened to his music a lot. He went through many changes in his musical career. I realized I had to keep my focus on his early career. 

I was surprised to learn he had slave ancestors who played music in the main house on a plantation. It was interesting to discover that Miles loved rural life (from his visits to his relatives’ farms). When he first moved to NYC, he visited the stables and asked to ride their horses. He had fond memories of riding them on his grandfather’s farm.

Keith Henry Brown’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and full of expression. Can you talk about your reaction to seeing the illustrations for the first time. Do you have a favorite spread?  

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Kathleen Cornell Berman and Keith Henry Brown at the book launch for Birth of the Cool and the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

My first reaction to Keith’s illustrations was like an “out of the body” experience. To see my words come to life was a wonderful feeling. His art illuminated Miles’ journey in a jazz inspired way. I was very happy when he accepted the job. I already knew he was a jazz fan, so he was a good choice.

Keith’s goal was to create drawings that weren’t too tight or realistic. He wanted to create a loose, abstract feeling. I think Keith achieved that beautifully. Kudos to his courage in creating illustrations in watercolor, a very unpredictable medium. It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite illustration, I really love them all.

Your inspirational biography highlights the ups—and downs—of Miles Davis’ early career. What message would you like readers to take away from the story?

Miles is a great example of how hard work pays off. Some kids today think it’s easy to play an instrument. For some it might be, but inventing your own sound, is extremely difficult. It takes perseverance and dedication to create your own voice on the instrument. That goes for anything you attempt, whether you become an architect, a visual artist, writer, or a singer. Unfortunately, many jobs don’t allow individuality, but finding something, anything that you’re good at can boost happiness.

I hope this story inspires kids to reach for the stars, to find their own voice, and never give up. I also hope kids will take time to listen to jazz; it’s America’s classical music. Listening to music has so many benefits, intellectually as well as emotionally.

I saw on your website that you like to collect words. Can you tell me five of your favorites and what you love about them? Do you remember where they first caught your eye—or ear?

I’m usually attracted to words that tickle the tongue and have a unique sound, like mesmerizing, prickly, crumpled, nuzzle, etc. There are so many. I love alliteration. When words are paired with another, they sing and make the text come alive. I usually have my wordbook at my side as I read any kind of book. I also use my phone memo to jot words as I hear them in daily life.  

Besides writing, you paint, and create assemblages from found objects. Your sculptures are gorgeous and fun and have so much personality! Which came first—writing or art? When creating an assemblage, do you start with one object or do you see how several of the materials you have can fit together?

Thank you very much. Creating found art sculptures is like therapy. I’ve always been into creating something out of ordinary things. The art and writing coincided with a strong desire to break out of the box of being a teacher.

I collect a lot of wood as well as words. When I find a piece that inspires me, I visualize what it might become and I begin the search for a complimentary piece. It’s kind of like doing puzzles.

Is there a similarity for you in constructing a sculpture and creating text for a picture book?

Yes, there is. I look for a seed of an idea that touches my senses or emotions. And in art I choose a piece of wood that inspires me visually. Then it all comes down to layering and adding details that make the story or art shine in a new way. Finally, adding the “just right” color or details can be compared to the continual revisions to discover perfect words that fit my story.

Birth of the Cool is your debut picture book. What are you looking forward to most as a picture book author?

Reading the book to children and getting them to reflect about their feelings. And, of course, introducing them to jazz.

I love writing picture book biographies. I also enjoy writing books that will amuse kids, as well challenge their thoughts about nature.

What’s up next for you?

I have a new picture book bio about another musician that I just started submitting. And I’ve started research on another interesting, relatively unknown musician that had a big impact on many.                                  

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love the traditions and the history. Holidays are so important in bringing busy families together. As a former teacher,             Thanksgiving gave me the opportunity to discuss the importance of the Native American people. They taught us so much. At the Thanksgiving table, we as a family celebrate the Native American contributions to our country. I wish more people did the same.

You can connect with Kathleen Cornell Berman on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Jazz Appreciation Month Activity

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Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle

 

Jazz has a sound and vocabulary all it’s own! Can you find the twenty jazz-related words in this printable puzzle? Then have fun coloring it!

Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle | Cool Jazz! Word Search Solution

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You can find Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review