May 16 – National Love a Tree Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-oliver-the-second-largest-living-thing-on-earth-cover

About the Holiday

Trees are some of the most majestic, surprising, and giving things on Earth. The glorious beauties that make up our forests provide shelter, shade, and food to countless birds and animals and fruit trees around the world provide nutrition all year long. Trees’ root systems hold soil in place, and their leafy branches work as wind breaks on flat prairie land. The foliage of trees and plants provide us with oxygen and clean our air. Today, we celebrate all of these benefits and more. To participate, consider planting a tree in your own yard or contributing to an organization dedicated to protecting our forestland.

Oliver, The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth

Written by Josh Crute | Illustrated by John Taesoo Kim

 

Sherman towers over all the other trees in the forest. In fact, “he is the largest living thing on Earth, and, boy does he know it.” A sign at the base of his trunk even proves it. People from all over the world come to see him, take pictures, stretch their arms around a tiiiny part of him, and even eat their lunch nestled next to his roots.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-oliver-the-second-largest-living-thing-on-earth-sherman

Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

There’s another tall tree in the forest—Oliver. “He is the second-largest living thing on Earth, but there isn’t a sign for that.” Visitors to the forest hardly give him the time of day, and even though he’s 268.1 feet tall, “he often feels invisible.” One day, he decides he was going to change the dynamics. All year long, he worked on growing bigger—and he did. Unfortunately, Sherman had also grown.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-oliver-the-second-largest-living-thing-on-earth-work-out

Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of johntaesookim.com.

“Oliver wilted.” And while he was bent over, he noticed Agnes. Agnes “is the third-largest living thing on Earth” and stands 240.9 feet tall. But she wasn’t all Oliver saw. There was also Gertrude, Peter, Guadalupe, and Lars—all in descending order. “Oliver waved shyly.” Suddenly, Oliver had a change in perspective. Now, he stands proud and happy because he realizes “he is part of something larger”— the Sequoia National Forest.

Back matter reveals that even General Sherman isn’t the largest living thing on Earth—that distinction goes to the Humongous Fungus in Oregon. It also includes a discussion about sequoias as well as several other first- and second-largest things on Earth.

Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of johntaesookim.com.

Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of johntaesookim.com.

In his spare, but compelling story, Josh Crute reveals a truth that often gets overlooked in the competitive nature of the world today: no matter how hard one works to be the best, the biggest, or the most renowned, there is usually someone or an up-and-comer who can or will best them. Crute ingeniously uses the example of the Sequoia National Forest to show readers that true happiness comes from doing their best, being true to themselves, and recognizing that they are an important part of something bigger, which might include their group of friends, their class, a team, an organization, and definitely their family and the world at large.

John Taesoo Kim’s anthropomorphic trees include the actual General Sherman Sequoia, here with a muscular-looking trunk and sporting a leafy hairdo and beard along with bushy hands and several offshoots. Images of people with arms outstretched and sitting at the base of Sherman will impress kids with this tree’s grandeur. Oliver, with striking foliage of his own, appears thinner even though he too towers over the other trees. His work-out routine shows results, encouraging children to develop their own talents and personal style. When Oliver notices all the other tall trees in the forest, this confident crew—made up of all different sizes and personalities—shows him that they all have their place and role in the forest.

A straightforward and reassuring look at how readers can consider their place in the world, Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624145773

To learn more about John Taesoo Kim, his art, and his animation, visit his website.

National Love a Tree Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paper-plate-tree-craft-2

Paper Plate Tree

 

On Earth Day children love planting trees in their yard or as part of a community project. With this easy craft, they can also plant a tree 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. Straighten the tree so that it can stand up, or hang your tree on a wall, bulletin board, in a window

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-oliver-the-second-largest-living-thing-on-earth-cover

You can find Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 30 – It’s Jazz Appreciation Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birth-of-the-cool-cover

About the Holiday

Jazz Appreciation Month got its start at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2001. The aim was to celebrate and educate people on the history of and continuing love for jazz. The holiday encourages people of all ages to become familiar with jazz music and the musicians of the past who created this original sound and those today who keep innovating jazz for new audiences. This year’s theme is “jazz beyond borders” and looks at the “dynamic ways jazz can unite people across the culture and geography.” In connection with this initiative, the Smithsonian Masterworks Orchestra will travel to cities in North America, Europe, and Asia as a way to use music to open dialogue about “diversity, identity, diplomacy, and innovation.” To celebrate jazz not only this month but anytime, attend a concert, listen to recordings, and read up on your favorite musicians or a new one. And don’t forget to share your love of jazz with your kids! A great place to start is with today’s book!

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.”

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 clubsto listen to Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play. He’s “blown away / by the energy of the music.”

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.

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.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kathleen-cornell-berman-headshot

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?  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kathleen-cornell-berman-and-keith-henry-brown

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jazz-trumpet-word-search-puzzle

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birth-of-the-cool-cover

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

 

April 23 – It’s National Dance Week and Interview with Author/Illustrator Anne Lambelet

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maria-the-matador

About the Holiday

The National Dance Federation wants everyone to fall in love with dance, and National Dance Week is just the time to do it! With so many types of dance, there are ways to enjoy this activity throughout one’s life. This week has been established to introduce the fun and benefits of dance in schools, community centers, dance studios, and through special performances. If you—or your kids—feel your toes tapping or a desire to get up and move as soon as the music starts, why not check out the opportunities for learning your favorite dance styles in your community?

Maria the Matador

By Anne Lambelet

 

Even more than “tea parties and dancing and wearing her hair in pigtails…Maria loved churros.” So when she saw that a lifetime supply of churros went to the matador who could remain in the arena with the bull the longest, she knew she had to enter the contest. But as “one of the smallest girls in all of Spain,” could Maria pull it off? She knew she couldn’t outrun the bull, intimidate him, or overpower him. So, what could she do?

Maria wandered through the streets of town, gazing at the posters on the walls advertising the brave matadors who would challenge the bull as well as the Feria de Mayo, with its beautiful dance performances, looking for inspiration. When the big day came and Maria walked into the room where the other matadors had gathered, they burst out laughing. “‘You should just give up now,’ they all agreed. ‘There is no way such a little girl could ever fight such an enormous bull.’”

Maria kept her mind on the grand prize even though she was growing worried. Soon the bullfight began. The fastest matador was quickly run out of the arena, the strongest matador was soon lying on the ground, and the biggest matador was nothing but a plaything for the big bull. At last it was Maria’s turn.

She entered the ring and saw “the most ferocious-looking bull she had ever seen, but she marched up to him anyway…and asked the bull to dance.” The bull was charmed by the little girl’s kind request and offered his hoof to her outstretched hand. The bull, it turned out, was a very good dancer. Around and around the ring they danced, and when the men carrying trays of churros entered the arena, “the crowd burst into thunderous applause.” And Maria and the bull? They enjoyed a churros tea party!

Anne Lambelet’s highly original story shows young readers that with motivation, confidence, and creative thinking they can accomplish their heart’s desires. With a pragmatic take on her situation, Maria realizes she’s not fast enough, strong enough, or big enough to best the bull the usual way, and lacking anyone to ask for advice, she comes up with her own solution. Lambelet’s storytelling is rich with examples of Maria’s courage in the face of adversity and her own misgivings, allowing kids to see that bravery comes in many forms. And Lambelet’s clever solution to Maria’s dilemma demonstrates that kindness wins out. The humorous frame of Maria’s churros obsession will resonate with kids, who all seem to have their own favorite motivators to rely on.

Lambelet’s stylized illustrations combine the texture of wood etchings with the colors and feeling of a small Spanish village. The brown, maroon, and purple palette sprinkled with bits of blue is striking and lends depth, light, and shadow to the tale. Kids will love the expressive crowd as they “ooh,” “ahh,” and gasp at the formidable bull. (One mother even shields her son’s eyes with her hand.) When tiny Maria marches out into the ring the crowd’s disbelief brings pointing and shocked faces, but cheers and celebration erupt as Maria and the bull take their bows.

Maria the Matador is a story that kids will embrace as it sparks ideas for creative problem solving with more than a dash of kindness thrown in. The book will be asked for again and again and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146565

To learn more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Anne Lambelet

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-anne-lambelet-headshot

I’m excited to be chatting with Anne Lambelet about art, influences, inspiration and what she might do to get her favorite treat!

What was the inspiration behind Maria the Matador?

Maria the Matador, as crazy as it might sound, actually started out as a dream I had about having to fight a bull! I woke up and instantly felt like that was the sort of silly idea that could, just possibly, be perfect for a children’s book. From there though, it had to go through a lot of development. I had to return to my roots and really examine my original picture book influences…The Story of Ferdinand, World-famous Muriel, Madeline, etc. Using those as inspiration, I figured out what it was that had made me love them as a child (silliness, whimsy, problem-solving, getting paid in food), and tried to combine that with what made them stick with me now that I’m an adult…(peaceful, fun solutions in situations where it seems like violence is the only answer, indictments of toxic masculinity, female empowerment, culturally immersive settings). Maria was a long road of editing and re-writing to try and get my favorite elements to co-exist in the same story.

You’ve enjoyed success as an illustrator since your college days. Can you talk a little about how you developed your style and how it’s changed over the years?

In high school I’d say my artistic style leaned more towards photo-realism. Like most high school students, I accepted a sort of un-original, generic idea of what it means to make a “good drawing,” and, although I wasn’t terrible at hitting that mark, I wasn’t making anything very special either. Without a real sense of artistic individuality and purpose, I shied away from going to college for art and instead chose to major in computer science after graduating. I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, miserable during most of those four years, and I ended up pouring all my free time into discovering new artistic outlets to assuage that misery. What I discovered (online t-shirt design competitions, lowbrow pop surrealism, street art, artists like Gris Grimly, Brandi Milne, Lori Early, Mark Ryden, etc.) gave me a new, darkly humorous and whimsical artistic voice as well as newfound confidence in my skills. 

So, I put together a portfolio of monsters and creepy, big-eyed women and returned to college to give illustration an honest shot. The classes I took at the University of the Arts exposed me to so many new influences. Each one opened my mind to new, fascinating approaches to illustration, and my style fluctuated dramatically in relation to whatever artist was my latest craze. As a result, most of my sophomore/junior work just looks like one bad rip-off after another. The more influences I accumulated though, the more I began to figure out what about each “rip-off” had worked with my own identity and what didn’t. I started cherry-picking little bits of each style I’d loved and mushing them together into an amalgam of aesthetics and techniques that could begin to be called a “unique style.” Instead of stealing everything from one artist I liked, I stole one thing from every artist I liked, and, by the end of my senior year, that resulted in basically what you see now!  Style takes a lot of failing and soul-searching and figuring yourself out. I feel like I’m still evolving and changing to this day, but the increments of change get smaller and smaller every time. 

What were your favorite books growing up? Who were your artistic influences when you were a child and now?

Oh wow, picking favorite books is so hard. There are so many to love, and it’s a struggle to narrow them down! I’ll try though! For picture books some favorites were World Famous Muriel by Sue Alexander, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Santa Calls by William Joyce, and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.  I also adored almost all Dr. Seuss books, but especially McElligot’s Pool and Happy Birthday to You. I liked picture books that were whimsical and imaginative while being infused with a sense of humor as well as emotional poignancy. Interactive elements like the letters in The Jolly Postman or the hidden picture puzzles in The Eleventh Hour were always great too.  

Then, as I grew out of picture books, I began a love affair with middle grade fantasy that has persisted to this day. Favorites then became Harry Potter, Brian Jacque’s Redwall series, Dinotopia by James Gurney, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.  Also, although it’s not fantasy per se, I think Holes by Louis Sachar is one of the greatest kid’s books of all time. 

Because of my love for fantasy, I spent most of my childhood drawing dragons and fairies and other mythical creatures. As such, major artistic influences back then were Brian Froud, John Howe, Jan Brett and James C. Christensen. I also loved looking at my older brother’s Magic: The Gathering cards and watching Jim Henson movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, I lost sight of that important self-defining nerdy-ness in my high school art. I guess I was trying to be “too cool” or something, haha.  I re-discovered them again later, though, and incorporated them into new influences I’d found that also dealt with whimsy and nostalgia. My current greatest influences are Eyvind Earl, Carson Ellis, Julia Sarda, Rankin/Bass’s The Last Unicorn and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea

In Maria the Matador, Maria will do anything—even get in the ring with a bull—for lifetime supply of churros. What’s your favorite treat and what would you do for an endless supply?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think my greatest food weakness is doughnuts. If a doughnut enters my field of vision, I just can’t not be immediately hungry for doughnuts. I don’t know what I would do for them. Right now, I feel like the struggle is to stop myself from eating them, not to get more. I do really dislike public speaking and cleaning the toilet, but I think I’d probably clean the toilet while reciting the Gettysburg Address in front of a very large audience if I was promised a bunch of doughnuts afterwards! 

When did you become interested in writing and illustrating picture books? Can you describe your journey to publication?

Since before I can remember, I’ve always been making up stories and characters and illustrating them, but, like I said, I didn’t always believe in my ability to leverage those skills into a viable career. I think what really changed my mind was being introduced to online t-shirt design competitions where I got hooked on having to design around certain prompts and parameters, meet deadlines, and then sometimes (miraculously) even get paid for my work! I realized the potential to build a career on doing that professionally and that’s when I officially decided to go back to school for illustration.  

Then, throughout all that soul-searching for style I previously mentioned, I discovered that a key, defining aspect of my art is nostalgia. I realized that, all along, every drawing had been an attempt to re-open the floodgates of imagination that had flown so freely in my childhood games of pretend. At some point in my time at the University of the Arts, I figured that if childhood was where my heart was, then the people that I should make illustrations for were children!

After that I joined SCBWI which provided me with a ton of essential resources for embarking on the journey to publication. I got an agent through a local SCBWI pitch day and we workshopped Maria a little bit but ultimately made the mutual decision to go our separate ways. I regrouped after that setback, used the SCBWI handbook to create a small list of dream agents, and sent my portfolio out to all of them. A little while later, I got an email from Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary and immediately felt like she was a great fit. Stephanie helped me re-visit Maria and while we were polishing that up together, I attended the SCBWI winter conference in New York where I went to a breakout session hosted by Kristen Nobles of Page Street Kids.  She said she was on the hunt for new manuscripts so almost as soon as I got back, Stephanie and I made sure to get Maria in front of her. Luckily, she liked it, and within a few months, we’d signed a contract for my very first author-illustrated picture book!

You have another book coming soon from Page Street called Dogs and Their People. Can you give readers a sneak peek? In your bio you mention that you have a dog Eevee (that’s such a cute name!). What kind of dog is she, and is she like you or anyone in your family? If so, how?

Dogs and Their People is basically an anthology of different types of people-dog relationships tied together by who the narrator sees on her walk home from school. There are small people with tall dogs, people and dogs who share ice cream, and even pairs with matching mustachios. Some people are just like their dogs and some are very different, but no matter what, each person and each dog is clearly with their very best friend.  When the girl finally makes it home, the best friend that she has waiting for her provides a surprising comedic twist to the story’s end.

My dog, Eevee is a chowbrador (a mix between a labrador and a chow-chow). I definitely think she and I have a lot in common. She’s a little aloof for a dog, and it takes her a little while to warm up to new places and new people. However, once you’re “in” her enthusiasm to hang out with you will verge on embarrassing. She’s completely comfortable spending time alone, but she’s still very excited when she gets to have all her favorite people in one place. And lastly, like me (and Maria for that matter), she is highly food motivated and loves her snacks!

What advice would you give a young person who would like to pursue art as a career?

Never be ashamed of what you love even if—actually especially if—it’s something that you feel like no one else loves. Your personal combination of unique interests is going to be what makes your artistic style something the world has never seen before. Also, understanding why you love that thing that no one else loves will be a big clue to figuring out your ultimate purpose as an illustrator and/or author and the types of messages you want to convey. 

What’s up next for you?

After Dogs and their People, I illustrated another picture book called The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison. That’s set to hit shelves in October of this year. I’ve also just begun work on two new picture books, How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson for Millbrook Press and The Poisoned Apple, my third author/illustrated book with Page Street Kids. Both of those are set to come out fall of 2020. I’m super excited about both of them!

What’s your favorite holiday

Oh boy…another hard choice to make.  It might be cliché, but I’ve always loved Christmas. I love the decorations and the lights and the food, and I love spending time with my family and re-visiting all the good memories and traditions we’ve built since I was small. I also consider myself a champion gift-giver and getting to see other people open gifts from me is way more fun (in my opinion), than getting to open my own.

A close second, though, would be Halloween. Once I’ve thought of a costume idea I really like, I feel giddy anticipation about it for weeks to months in advance. 

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share? (Alternately, has a holiday ever influenced your work?)

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was very little, my mom was reading me a bedtime story. Meanwhile, my dad went outside, stood under my bedroom window and shook a set of sleigh bells. My mom convinced me that it was the sound of Santa’s sleigh flying by overhead.  It was probably one of the most magical moments of my life, and I love that my parents were so enthusiastic about making the magic of Christmas seem real for me. One of my favorite things about both Christmas and Halloween is that, as a kid, they made me feel like there was actually magic tucked away in the unseen corners of the world…whether that be toy-making elves at the North Pole or a ghost in an old, abandoned house or just the promise that if you put on a mask, you can become whoever you want. I think the best children’s books bring that same promise of magic to the world, and that will always be something that motivates what I create.

Thanks, Anne for this amazing talk and the reminder that people should always embrace their uniqueness and be true to themselves. I wish you all the best with Maria the Matador and all of your upcoming projects!

National Dance Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dance-word-search-puzzle-with-art

Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle

 

There are so many different kinds of dances to learn and enjoy! Can you find the sixteen styles in this printable puzzle?

Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle | Get up and Dance! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maria-the-matador

You can find Maria the Matador at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 19 – National Hanging Out Day and Interview with Author/Illustrator Catherine Lazar Odell

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pepper-and-frannie-cover

About the Holiday

National Hanging Out Day began in 1995 as a way to encourage people to use less electricity by hanging out their laundry. A look at social media shows that it’s also celebrated at a day to get out and enjoy some time with friends. Why not combine them both? While your wash is drying, take a break with your friends or family and do something fun—or learn a new skill like the Pepper in today’s story!

I received a copy of Pepper and Frannie from Page Street Kids for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Page Street Kids in a giveaway of two copies of the book. See details below.

Pepper and Frannie

By Catherine Lazar Odell

 

“Pepper is practical and prepared, and follows the rules. Fannie is fancy and free, and follows her own path.” They are best friends. They love to go on adventures together and enjoy activities in their own particular way. This weekend they’re heading off to the forest—Pepper to photograph a wildflower and Frannie to participate in the Wheels in the Woods skateboarding festival.

As Pepper passes the bus stop on her motorcycle, she’s flagged down by Frannie, who has missed her bus. When they get to the festival, Pepper’s interested in what’s going on, and Frannie convinces her to stay. “Pepper is mesmerized. She snaps photos of perfect flips, ollies, and tailstalls on the half pipe,” as Frannie joins the skaters.

Then Frannie wants Pepper to try skating. When she stands on the board, she feels a bit shaky, but Frannie is right there to support and teach her. When Frannie thinks Pepper is ready, she lets go of her friend. Pepper glides along until…she falls. Then “Pepper is done skating.” But Frannie has her up and trying again and again until…she’s got it. The two speed down the forest path with the other skaters. Pepper’s success inspires her to dream of all the things she could accomplish. They spend the rest of the day skating and helping each other when they fall. It becomes a weekend adventure to remember.

Catherine Lazar Odell takes kids out to the skate park in her fresh and original story about friendship and the courage to try new things. For more cautious Pepper, succeeding on the skateboard is a revelation and leads her to contemplate all the things she might be and do. Frannie exemplifies the kind of enthusiasm, camaraderie, and support a good friend shows to a more reluctant companion, and the friends’ love and concern for each other is a highlight of the story.

Odell’s evocative and action-packed mixed-media illustrations will charm readers as Frannie hops up and down and waves her arms with excitement and Pepper gets up again and again while learning her new skill. Images of the skateboarding characters doing tricks on their boards will thrill young skaters and would-be skaters. Early images of Pepper reading a “stay on path” sign but then leaving the path to photograph a wildflower and her choice of a motorbike for transportation both hint at Pepper’s unrecognized bravery.

A lovely book sure to encourage and inspire kids to reach out of their comfort zone as well as to support friends in their varied pursuits, Pepper and Frannie would be heartening addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146602

To learn more about Catherine Lazar Odell, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Catherine Lazar Odell

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Catherine-Lazar-Odell-headshot

I’m excited to be talking with Catherine Lazar Odell today about how her world travels influences her work, the most rewarding part about being a children’s author, the value of community and more. 

Pepper and Frannie is your debut as an author-illustrator. You’re also the illustrator for the recently released I’m Done! with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan. What inspired you to start writing and illustrating for children?

To be honest, writing and illustrating books was not the career I had been dreaming of since I was little. I’ve never had that kind of clarity. But I’ve always loved drawing, and I’ve always loved things that were deceptively simple. I was visiting my parents at a point when I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do next. I had worked at a fancy design job, and I had toured as a musician in a band, and I was just getting by on freelance design gigs and starting to dedicate more time to drawing from my imagination. My mother had kept a couple shelves of my favorite books from childhood and I found myself in the basement flipping through them, absolutely flooded with memories and excitement. I couldn’t believe how much had stuck with me after all these years. It was almost like I could see some of the blueprints to my own way of thinking.  It was actually my brother who suggested I give it a try. He’s always been my biggest fan.

You’ve traveled all over the world and called many places home. How did those experiences influence your creative development? What’s one thing you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to kids?

As we flew from one side of the world to the other, I remember thinking about all the people we were passing over, all the different countries, cities and towns, and how different their lives were from mine. I was fascinated by all the ways you could grow up, and while I felt like I was getting a sampling platter, I knew that others were having very specific experiences—on a farm, in a city, somewhere hot, somewhere cold, in a big house, or a little hut. I guess this might have contributed to my obsession with the idea that we are all different, but we are the same. I believe that it’s important to celebrate and honor our unique stories, and then to remember that those differences make us stronger when we work together.

You’ve created designs for many companies. Can you reveal one or two designs we’d recognize?

Nothing that really made it to a shelf. Most of the work I’ve done for recognizable companies was what we call ‘blue sky’ design, so it was more conceptual and behind the scenes—great work for a dreamer. That work also helped develop my interest in storytelling, because at the end of the day it’s less about the object and more about the story it tells or the one it is a part of. I learned a lot about everything that goes into making a single bottle of shampoo, or a diaper. Yes, I worked on diapers, and I can tell you that the technology and design behind those things is riveting. 

As a new author, what are some of the things you’re enjoying most about the process and engaging with readers?

I love hearing the responses I get while sharing the book—comments, questions, interruptions—attention is a wonderful gift. When I see young minds giving thought and consideration to something I spent many, many hours developing, it’s the best reward. I’m also thrilled about meeting all the people that have such a passion for books and helping to bring them to young readers.

I love Pepper and Frannie and their seemingly opposite personalities. One of my favorite parts of your book comes when Pepper skateboards for the first time without Frannie’s help, but then falls. The simple line that follows—“Pepper is done skating.”—is such an honest reaction, and it sets up a wonderful sense of suspense in the story. What is some advice you’d give for encouraging a child (or an adult) to keep trying?

I have been stopping at this page during readings and asking kids if they think Pepper will try again. I feel like it’s pretty obvious—all the great stories have so much failure before the success! But I’ve been shocked to hear some “no’s” from a few children at readings. I want to come to a full stop and talk to them, but instead I turn the page and hope that they can get a different perspective by the end of the book. One girl who said no at my last reading came up and gave me an unannounced hug before leaving. That might be the best moment so far. I want to remind folks (at any age) that the enjoyment is in the effort, and every time you try, you’re one step closer to getting it.

Skating is a perfect example because it’s so literal: falling is an inescapable part of learning. Really great skaters have fallen a lot more than skaters with less skill. It’s the same with writing, or playing an instrument, or baking…everything! I’ve always been drawn to perseverance. My favorite book when I was very small was The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. That little boy planted a seed and he believed the carrot would come up. He watered it and tended to it, and it didn’t look like anything was happening, but he believed.  And, of course, underneath, things were happening. He remained faithful through the constant skepticism from others and guess what—the carrot came up. Ugh, I still get the feels just thinking about that final page turn.

Animals feature prominently in your work. What do you love about animals and nature?

What’s not to love? I think it’s easy to forget that we share this place, and to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world. But I think anything that deepens our sense of connection is really important, from a good poem, to a community garden, or a walk in the park, or… bunnies on skateboards. Making art takes a lot of time, so it’s good to make art about things you love.

You can be found at the Portland Saturday Market selling your work, at P & Q’s Market holding Sip and Sketch gatherings with a friend. Can you describe both of these and talk a little about how connecting with the community this way inspires you?

Let’s see, The Portland Saturday Market is a craft market that is open every weekend March – December, and it has been running for over 40 years. It’s a big attraction for visitors to the city, and I’m in my 6th season now—not sure how that happened! It has been a wonderful way to connect with others through my work. I get to people watch for two days a week, and it takes me out of my bubble. People are an endless source of inspiration. I get to watch facial reactions, and hear what memories come up for people when they look at my drawings. I also see what doesn’t resonate. It’s all helpful.

P’s and Q’s is entirely different. It’s more like a neighborhood restaurant with a small food market. It’s the epitome of quaint, and the perfect place to have a group sit around a farm table and enjoy each other’s company. Selfishly, hosting a drawing night has been a great reason for me to get out of the house, eat a delicious meal and draw without purpose—it’s more like art therapy. I always come home with some new insight or perspective or curiosity, and maybe a new friend. Hosting our drawing night at a space like P’s and Q’s means that all ages are welcome to join—which is important to me. Connecting with other humans in real spaces is something we are doing less and less, and I don’t think that it’s benefiting us. I’m inclined to think that gathering together is almost a subversive act at this point. A casual drawing night is very low key, and it takes off some of the social discomfort for introverts.

What’s up next for you?

Book 2 for Pepper and Frannie! I’m deep in the final art-making phase right now, and really excited that I get to continue their story. The second book experience has been totally different from the first, mainly because I’m more comfortable with the process of making a book. It’s such a long timeline, but now that I know more about what to expect I’m able to settle in and enjoy it more. I’m also spending more time with the same characters. I already know them, so we can skip the getting to know you phase of character development  and jump right into a new situation. Really, I’m just digging into a different part of my own past.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

I’m particularly fond of the New Year. I love the global awareness that comes with the idea of time sweeping around the planet. I suppose technically it’s the planet spinning and orbiting, but it kinda feels the other way around. (I know everyone doesn’t celebrate the New Year on the same day, but I’ll have to pull from my own experiences here.) I love the reflective aspects of this holiday. Looking back and looking forward, and everyone around you doing the same.

Did a holiday ever influence your work? If so, how?

Can’t say that has yet, but anything is possible.

Thanks so much Catherine for chatting with me today and sharing so much about your life and work! It’s been so nice getting to know you! I wish you the best with Pepper and Frannie and their next adventure too!

You can connect with Catherine Lazar Odell on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Pepper and Frannie Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Page Street Kids in a Twitter giveaway of

  • One (2) copies of Pepper and Frannie by Catherine Lazar Odell

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from April 19 through April 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Page Street Kids.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National Hanging Out Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-Shredding-is-Fun-Skateboarding-Word-Search

Shredding is Fun! Word Search Puzzle & Coloring  Page

 

There are so many cool tricks to learn in skateboarding! Can you find the names of fifteen tricks in this printable puzzle? Then color the skateboard in your own style!

Shredding is Fun Word Search Puzzle | Shredding is Fun Word Search Puzzle 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pepper-and-frannie-cover

You can find Pepper and Frannie at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 16 – National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-night-train-cover

About the Holiday

If you like dressing casually for work, then you’re going to love today’s holiday. Why is National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day celebrated today? It follows what may be one of the most stressful days in the US calendar—April 15, or Tax Day. While it may not actually be possible to wear your comfiest clothes to the office, you and your family could make that change as soon as you get home and wear your pajamas to work on dinner, homework, house projects, or whatever you have going.

Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn

Written by Annie Cronin Romano | Illustrated by Ileana Soon

 

As dusk descends, the night train wakens, “groggy, stretching.” Coal’s loaded in while excited passengers get on board. The night train creeps up the hills, winding its way through stands of pine trees, startling small creatures with its clattering wheels. After navigating the hills, the night train crosses a wide plains, where wheat fields sway their golden greeting.”

Over the river the train chugs across a bridge passing a deer who’s come to the edge to drink and a silently watching raccoon. As a dad and his son eat and chat in the dining car, the train travels by “whitewashed barns” and races wild stallions. The train rumbles into a tunnel where the track is cloaked in darkness by the “granite passage.” But its “headlamp brightens, pathway lightens— / never-fearing, calmly steering night train.”

The train approaches its destination just as the sun begins to lighten the sky. The city is coming awake; children rising, workmen rushing. The night train’s breaks squeal as it thunders into the station, slows and stops. The “worn conductor yawns and stretches,” and the train, with its journey finished, gets to sleep.

Annie Cronin Romano’s lovely, lyrical ode to the mystery and allure of a nighttime journey by train is the perfect antidote to a busy day for sleepy children or those who just need some down time. With rhythmic phrasing, the sounds of the train as it progresses on its steady route play out, enveloping readers in a blanket of security and custom that mirrors the constant love and care of the adults in the young reader’s life.

Ileana Soon takes children on a gorgeous journey from golden sunset to velvet blue night to pastel dawn. As evening settles in, the train makes its way up dusky brown hills while small animals scurry away from the clattering wheels. Seen from above, the train puffs along tracks that are as straight as an arrow cutting through a vast wheat field. Silhouetted horses race the train, but like the little bats in the sky, they are soon left behind. When dawn breaks, the town welcomes the train and its passengers with lighted windows and a busy station.

Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn is a beautiful bedtime or quiet time story and would be a favorite on home, school, or public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146572

Discover more about Annie Cronin Romano and her books on her website

To learn more about Ileana Soon and her art, visit her website.

National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-train-dot-to-dot

Riding the Rails Dot to Dot

 

Taking a trip by train long distance can be fun—especially if you travel overnight in a sleeper car! Instead of counting sheep, count and follow the numbers in this printable Riding the Rails Dot to Dot.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-night-train-cover

You can find Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review