September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 14 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month and Interview with Author Cathy Breisacher

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About the Holiday

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

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

 

Spud City was about to hold its annual festival, and everyone was excited. Chip was practicing for the sack race. This year “he was determined to win the first-place prize: a Golden Bushel Award.” But a new spud in town—Curly—had a “spring in his step” and seemed to be real competition. Even though the other potatoes cheered him on, Chip was nervous.

On the day of the festival, the race route was lined with spectators. The couch potatoes lounged near the path while “the French Fries stood with their Tater Tots.” Even the sweet potato cheerleaders were waving pompoms and shouting. Just before the race began, Curly took a place next to Chip at the starting line.

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Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the whistle blew, Chip took off. He was in the lead until he heard someone behind him. “‘Look out!’ the BBQ Chips shouted. ‘Here comes a hot potato!’” Chip raced on, but then Curly bounced in front of him and even though Chip gave it his all, he couldn’t catch up. A moment later, though, Curly tripped and fell, leaving the path—and the race—wide open for Chip.

Chip hopped past Curly and was in clear sight of the finish line when he realized “he felt rotten.” He glanced back and “hashed it over in his mind.” He decided the only right thing to do was to go back. He offered Curly a hand up, and together they bounded down the route and past the other racers. But Curly was too quick for Chip, and he broke through the tape first. “In an instant, Chip’s dreams of winning were mashed.” 

Chip was just about to leave when Curly asked him to be his partner in the relay race. Curly thought they made a great team. They practiced until they found their groove. Everything was looking good until a new team showed up….

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Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kids will devour Cathy Breisacher’s pun-filled romp that takes them to Spud City’s annual festival, where Chip and Curly face off to win a Golden Bushel Award in the sack race. While Chip pulls out to an early lead, Curly bounces back and threatens Chip’s years-long dream to win. A misstep by Curly gives Chip the opportunity to achieve his goal, but in his decision, Breisacher shows readers true sportsmanship and integrity. Curly also displays the qualities of a gracious winner, and as the two work together to perfect their relay skills, a friendship sprouts. The final scene offers a funny “oh, no!” moment while also reminding readers that winning can be fleeting, but friendship and staying true to oneself endure.

Joshua Heinsz populates Spud City with a wide array of taters—from tots to waffle fries, sweet potatoes to twice-bakeds, French fries to home fries, and more. Heinsz adds plenty of visual humor to the mix with clever street sign and shop names, and the couch potatoes are, ingeniously, those impossible-to-peel curved ones that lurk in many a 5-pound bag. Kids will love picking out their favorite kind of potato, and the expressive spuds will have readers captivated from the very first page.

For rollicking story times that also offer opportunities to discuss the nature of competition and friendship, Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race is one to add to your home, classroom, or library shelf.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364084

Learn more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

To learn more about Joshua Heinsz, his books, and his art on his website.

A Chat with Cathy Breisacher

011CB

It’s so great to be talking with you again! This must be a really exciting—and busy!—time for you, so I’m thrilled to have you stop by!

You’ve mentioned that the inspiration for this story was a local potato festival. Can you describe that event a bit and tell what sparked the idea for Chip and Curly?

Every year, on the last Saturday in September, a town not far from where I live holds a Potato Fest.  The county where it is located is the second-largest supplier of potatoes in the state. People come from all around and a good portion of the downtown area is closed off for the event. There are tons and tons of vendors selling a variety of crafts, and the food vendors whip up all kinds of potato treats: sweet potato fries, potato candy, baked potatoes, perogies, potato soup, French fries, potato bread, etc. There is live music as well as games for the kids. I love the fall season, and this is a great kick-off to the fall. I try to attend every year. So, in 2016 when I wrote this story, I thought about the potato festival and all of the kinds of potatoes that are sold at the event.  The names CHIP AND CURLY came to me and the idea for the story just flowed from there.

Of course, I have to ask—what’s your favorite kind of potato? Do you have a favorite recipe? Would you like to share it?

 I love twice baked potatoes. They are probably my favorite. But, there really isn’t a potato I don’t like. I also love perogies and sweet potato fries. Oh my goodness…it’s hard to choose just one. 

I’ll share a recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown potatoes that are gobbled up at many family events. They are so easy to make.

CHEESY HASH BROWN POTATOES

26 oz. Bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (thawed)
2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
16 ounces sour cream
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 ½ sticks butter
3 cups Crushed corn flakes
1 teaspoon garlic salt and pepper to taste

Thaw the hash browns.  Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with the hash browns.  Pour into 9 x13 pan.  Mix the sour cream, soup and cheese in a bowl. Spread over the potatoes. Melt ½ stick of butter and mix it with the crushed corn flakes.  Sprinkle over the potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Being competitive can take so many forms. Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what way?

Yes, I’m definitely competitive. I always want to put 110% into things that I do. If there is a challenge of some sort, I am in it to win it. J In the past couple of years, I’ve been intrigued with Escape Rooms and trying to solve all of the clues before the time runs out. Recently, I heard of an Escape Room that no one has “broke out of” yet.  I want to be the first! J

Chip and Curly is loaded with puns and really clever word play! The story must have been a blast, but also challenging to write. Can you talk a little about how you put it all together?

Chip and Curly was definitely a fun story to write. I just pulled out my first version of this story, and it has so few puns in it. I didn’t initially write this story to be punny.  But, as I was doing my first set of revisions, a pun popped in my head.  More puns came to me as I continued to revise. It wasn’t long before I knew this had to be a story that centered on potato puns. I scoured the Internet to find words associated with potatoes. I must have looked at every list that exists online. The tricky part was to include those words and phrases that fit nicely with the story. I didn’t want to include something just to include it if the word or phrase really didn’t flow with the storyline. My amazing editor, Sarah Rockett, had excellent suggestions for tweaking the story a bit more after she acquired it. And I was delighted with the fun, playful, colorful art provided by the illustrator, Joshua Heinsz.

After practicing for a year to win a Golden Bushel Award for the sack race, Chip makes a surprising decision part way through the race. What would you like kids to take away from the story?

This is the crucial part of the story. I want kids to know that competing can be a lot of fun. And it can feel good to win at something, too. However, practicing good sportsmanship is important and helps build character. When we show respect toward our opponents, we can still have fun and compete, but it helps us to keep our focus on what’s most important—treating one another the way we want to be treated.

Since CaveKid Birthday was released in March, what’s been the best part of being a published author? The most surprising? As a librarian, how does it feel to see your own book on your library’s shelf?

Gosh, there is so much I am enjoying about being a published author. I love meeting new people (kids and adults) at book events and talking with them about stories. It has also been a treat to see friends and family who I haven’t seen for a while. Being a school librarian, I get an extra treat when kids ask to check out my book. That has truly meant the world to me. When my students tell me they love my books, my heart just completely melts.

During our first interview for CaveKid Birthday how did I miss that you’re from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania? Does the town live up to its celebratory name? Do you have a favorite town celebration or spot to write or visit?

Hmmm…very good question. The town where I live is a true community. People really get behind and support the schools, sports teams, agencies, fundraising events, etc. So I guess you can say that the people who live in Hollidaysburg celebrate one another’s aspirations and accomplishments. I am proud to live in this town. I do have a few favorite spots that I like to visit. There are a couple of parks that are so beautiful and serene. They are a great place to spend timejyeither alone or with family and friends. As for a favorite town celebration, I would have to say the Winterfest Light-Up Night that is held at the end of November each year. There are festivities in the downtown area and everything is decorated for Christmas. Local restaurants hold soup samplings and people vote on their favorite. Santa arrives and a giant tree is lit up that evening. There are ice carvings, too. It’s such a fun night and everyone is in the holiday spirit.

Thanks, Cathy! I can’t wait to try those delish-sounding potatoes! I know you’ll have lots of fun with Chip and Curly, and I wish you all the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Cathy Breisacher on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in this giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race written by Cathy Breisacher | illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

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

BONUS: Reply with your favorite kind of potato or potato dish for an extra entry

This giveaway is open from May 14 through May 20 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 21.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Appealing Potatoes Game

 

If you love potatoes, you can never get enough! Race to fill your plate with all six kinds of potatoes in this fun game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a game board and set of game cards for each player.
  2. Choose a player to go first.
  3. Taking turns, each player rolls the paper die and places a game card matching the rolled potato to their plate
  4. Or: If using a regular playing die, use the corresponding number and kind of potato listed below
  5. The first player to add all six kinds of potatoes to their plate is the winner.

Corresponding Numbers and Potatoes:

  1. Mashed Potatoes
  2. French Fries
  3. Potato Chips
  4. Baked Potato
  5. Twice-baked Potato
  6. Sweet Potato Fries

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You can find Chip and Curly, the Great Potato Race at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

March 1 – Read Across America Day and Interview with Author Cathy Breisacher

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established in 1997 by the National Education Association. Celebrated across the country, the day encourages children to discover a love of reading that will follow them throughout their life. Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures and, begun early, it can be a powerful force for future success. Through reading, kids learn about the world, meet different people, laugh, cry, and are always entertained. To commemorate the day, authors, illustrators, politicians, athletes, librarians, and families hold special reading events in schools, libraries, bookstores, and community centers. Celebrate today by reading with a child or on your own. Visit your local bookstore or library and find some new books to share—or grab some favorites from your own shelf and enjoy them again!

I received a copy of Cavekid Birthday from Charlesbridge to check out. All opinions are y own. I’m excited to be partnering with Charlesbridge in a giveawy of Cavekid Birthday. See details below.

Cavekid Birthday

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Roland Garrigue

 

In two neighboring caves on the very same day, Caveboy and Cavegirl were born. They did everything together and grew to be best friends. “Eventually Caveboy discovered that he loved…rocks!” He showed Cavegirl his collection of shiny, spiny, smooth, and colorful rocks to Cavegirl and even taught her how “to play stone toss.” Cavegirl developed a love of tools—tools that she could dig, build, and paint with. She shared her tools with Caveboy and “taught him how to create masterpieces on cave walls.”

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

As their birthdays neared, Cavegirl tried making Caveboy a present, but her efforts failed. She decided to go to Caveman’s Collectibles to see what she could find. There, she spied a “‘Box for Caveboy’s rocks!’” Caveman was happy to make a trade. Cavegirl said, “‘Have nothing to trade except…tools!’” It took all ten of Cavegirl’s tools to get the box, but she knew Caveboy would love it.

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Meanwhile, Caveboy was making a present for Cavegirl. He had no luck either, so he hurried down to Caveman’s Collectibles. Inside, he spied the perfect gift: “‘Box for Cavegirl’s tools,’” he told Caveman. This box cost twenty rocks—all that Caveboy had—but he knew Cavegirl would love it. When they exchanged gifts, they ripped off the wrapping and…. Without tools or rocks to keep in the boxes, they found other uses for them. They were great for playing hide-and-seek and making carts to race in, but they began to miss their old favorite things.

They went back to Caveman Collectibles and told Caveman their dilemma. “‘Make trade?’ they asked.” For their rocks and tools, Caveboy and Cavegirl gave Caveman a shiny polished and painted store. And Cavegirl and Caveboy? They had best birthday ever!

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Cathy Breisacher knows how much kids love to rock their birthdays. In her original story set in a precociously prehistoric time, Breisacher chisels a funny and touching tale about the true meaning of friendship. Cavegirl and Caveboy only pause for a moment before trading their most precious belongings to get a gift for the other. Without things to put inside the boxes, Caveboy and Cavegirl—like kids of all eras—find other creative ways to use them. When they begin to miss their rocks and tools, instead of feeling regret they work together to devise an innovative way to get them back—and make Caveman happy too. Kids will be wrapped up in the suspense and enjoy hearing—and repeating—Breisacher’s cavespeak, and in the end will take the ever-timely lesson to heart.

There are plenty of hairy moments in Cavekid Birthday, and Roland Garrigue takes full advantage to create wild and wooly (mammoth) illustrations to accompany the story. Caveboy and Cavegirl play hide-and-seek among dinosaur bones, race their bear and elephant ancestor pets, and may be the world’s first collector and artist. Hilarious modern-primitive mash-ups—like furry, animal skin wrapping paper—will have kids laughing and pointing out the anachronisms.

Children would love finding Cavekid Birthday among their gifts, and adding the book to home, classroom, and library shelves will ensure a sweet and timeless story time.

Ages 4 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2019 | ISBN 978-1580898768

Discover more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

To learn more about Roland Garrigue, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Book trailer good! Watch. Fun!

Meet Cathy Breisacher

011CB

Thank you for having me!  I love your questions.  They were a lot of fun to answer.  I’m excited to have an opportunity to share a bit about myself and my books.

I love the prehistoric setting of your book. What was it about this time period and these characters that attracted you?

One day, I spotted an adorable clipart image of a cavegirl and a caveboy. That image got me thinking about how fun it would be to write a story with cavekids as the main characters. I’m glad I chose them, especially once I decided to write a story with a Gift of the Magi twist. Using the prehistoric setting for this theme seemed like a great idea since cavekids had no money, and they really wouldn’t have had many possessions. I’m sure cavekids had a few items they treasured, so thinking along these lines helped me to craft the story.

Roland Garrigue, the illustrator, shared with me that he loved the idea of kids having a Mammoth and a Cave Bear as pets. His art work is so detailed and charming. I adore the caves, the animals, and the cavekids that he drew. Cave art intrigues me and I enjoyed researching and learning about places such as the Cave of Lascaux in France.  It’s been educational for me to work on this book because I have been imagining what life would have been like a long, long time ago. And, in my libraries, it’s been fun talking to students about prehistoric life as well.

Which would you collect—rocks or tools—and why?

I would definitely collect tools. I enjoy painting, just like Cavegirl! And even though I’m not much of a gardener, I do think I’m pretty handy whenever my husband and I take on home projects. I have a makerspace in my library and I enjoy making things. My husband, on the other hand, is a rock collector. He studied Geology in college and he is always picking up rocks and bringing them home.

What were a few of your favorite books when you were a child? Do you have a special memory related to any of the books you liked?

I loved Ramona Quimby. I read all the Ramona books, and the rest of Beverly Cleary’s books, too. For picture books, I read and reread the Frances books by Russell Hoban. I also loved Madeline and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.   

Did you always like to write? What inspired you to write picture books?

I have always enjoyed writing. When I was in elementary school, I liked to draw and write, and my teachers always complimented me and encouraged me to keep at it. I was drawn to the magic of picture books when I was in graduate school studying to become an Elementary School Counselor. At the campus library, there was a room for Education majors filled with picture books. It was wonderful. I would get caught up in the stories (ones that I remembered from my childhood and new ones that I wanted to use in the classroom). I started thinking about how fun it would be to write my own books someday. But I didn’t actually pursue this idea until several years later. One day, I received a brochure in the mail about a Children’s Book Writing Conference in Chautauqua, New York put on by the Highlights Foundation. I was so intrigued.  The conference was absolutely amazing.  I left that conference feeling inspired to write picture book stories that would someday be in kids’ hands.

One of the best parts about being an elementary school librarian must be reading books with students. Do you have any memorable anecdote about story time you’d like to share? 

Story time is so special.  Kids’ reactions are the best and they say the funniest things. Recently I read Tammi Sauer’s book Knock Knock (illustrated by Guy Francis). After the story, kids eagerly began raising their hands and telling their own knock knock jokes. As soon as one student told a joke, the next kid’s hand went up, and on and on it went. Very few of their jokes made any sense, but they were cracking themselves up and it made me smile. You never know what will happen during story time.

Probably my favorite story to read during story time is Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen).  Kids are so amazed at how Sam and Dave keep digging around the diamonds. The students start yelling at the characters as the story is being read. It’s fantastic. The page turns in this book work so well.  The storytelling is brilliant.

Congratulations on your second picture book—Chip and Curly: The Great Potato Race—which is being released in May! This looks like another fun and original story full of humor. Can you talk a little more about this book and how it came to be?

This book is a story about two potatoes, Chip and Curly, who compete against each other in Spud City’s Annual sack race. Chip has his heart set on winning the Golden Bushel Award, but when Curly shows up with a spring in his step, Chip is worried. He practices and gains admiration from the other taters in town, but he wonders if he will be able to get this win in the bag or if his dreams of winning will be mashed.

Chip and Curly cover

I had such a fun time coming up with a list of all of the kinds of potatoes there are, and generating a list of words and phrases associated with potatoes. There is an Annual Potato Festival close to where I live, and I enjoy going to it. That event was really the inspiration for this book. While strolling alongside the craft booths one year, I felt inspired to write a book with potatoes as the characters. After some thought, I knew I wanted the story to address competition.  Following several drafts of this story, it occurred to me that a sack race would be the perfect situation for potato characters to be in.

I wanted to have fun with this story and fill it with potato puns to make both adults and kids chuckle. I hope readers will see how enjoyable it can be to play with words and language. The illustrations by Joshua Heinsz are colorful and bright, and readers will want to keep their eyes peeled for the variety of potato characters that appear on the pages. Finally, and probably most importantly, this book touches on the themes of friendship, competition, and the idea that winning isn’t everything. I want readers to think about how good it feels when we practice good sportsmanship. This is a meaningful topic to discuss with children, especially in light of today’s climate. Chip and Curly, the Great Potato Race will release on May 15, 2019 and is published by the incredibly talented team at Sleeping Bear Press.

What are you most looking forward to about being a published author?

I am looking forward to meeting new people—young readers as well as adults: parents, authors, illustrators, bookstore owners, librarians, teachers, and folks in the publishing industry. I can’t wait to make these wonderful connections. I am also looking forward to writing new stories and sharing them with the world.

What’s up next for you?

I have two manuscripts I’m working on right now, and my agent has a couple of my other stories out on submission.  I will be traveling a bit this spring and summer to promote my two books.  I will be posting the list of events on my website at www.cathybreisacher.com.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is holiday based, I have to ask—what’s your favorite holiday and why?

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love being around family and celebrating the true reason for the season. There is always an extra skip in people’s step between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It’s not just a one-day celebration. The festivities last for a month and get-togethers and fun activities bring people together. It’s a time of the year when there is so much joy, love, and hope.  Interesting note: the earliest drafts of my cavekid story were called Cavekid Christmas, but after a series of revisions, it became Cavekid Birthday.

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share?

Many years ago, I had a chance to spend Thanksgiving in New York City and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person instead of watching it on TV. I watch the parade every year, but to see it in person was truly magical.

Thanks, Cathy! I’ve really enjoyed our chat and getting to know you better! I wish you all the best with Cavekid Birthday and, along with all of your readers, can’t wait to meet Chip and Curly!

You can connect with Cathy Breisacher on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Cavekid Birthday Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Charlesbridge in a Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Cavekid Birthday written by Cathy Breisacher | illustrated by Roland Garrigue

This giveaway is open from March 1 through March 7 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 8.

Prizing provided by Charlesbridge

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

Read Across America Day Activity

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Homemade Shaving Cream Wrapping Paper

 

If you have birthdays coming up or plans to give a book or two for Read Across America Day, grab the kids and have fun making this wrapping paper that has a high hands-on coolness factor.

Supplies

  • 1 can of shaving cream
  • Food coloring
  • Shallow baking tray
  • Frosting spatula or regular spatula
  • Toothpicks or skewer for swirling food coloring
  • White paper, computer paper works well

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Directions

  1. Squirt the shaving cream onto the tray in small amounts and spread into a thin layer with the spatula
  2. Squeeze a few drops of different colored food coloring onto the shaving cream
  3. With the toothpick or skewer gently swirl the colors. Alternately, gently smooth the colors around and together with the icing spatula.
  4. Lay a piece of white paper on top of the shaving cream
  5. Gently pat the paper all over. Do not submerge the paper in the shaving cream.
  6. Lift the paper up and place on the table
  7. Let sit for a few minutes
  8. Scrape the shaving cream off the paper and let the paper dry
  9. To wrap larger boxes, tape several pieces of paper together

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You can find Cavekid Birthday at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 20 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Paul Schmid

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About the Holiday

Fall is giving way to winter and kids’ thoughts turn to snow days, sledding, snowmen, and all sorts of frosty things. There’s a book for that…and that…and all those things too! Kids love following the seasons through the books they read. There’s nothing better during the cold-weather months than snuggling indoors with a stack of books and a steamy mug of hot chocolate. During Picture Book Month and all through the year, introduce your children to the joys of reading!

Phaidon Press sent me a copy of Little Bear Dreams to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Phaidon in a giveaway of the book! See details below.

Little Bear Dreams

By Paul Schmid

 

A baby polar bear rides atop Mom’s back, catching snowflakes on a little pink tongue. As the snowflakes change to twinkling stars in the dark night sky, a question hangs in the air—“Of what do little bears dream?” Perhaps it’s the frothy sweetness of “hot chocolate” or the delicious spiciness of “cold pizza.”

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

As the day brightens once more, maybe the baby imagines all kinds of things that lie beyond those “straight horizons” or giggles at wearing tickly, “curly moustaches.” There are so many things to discover, both big and small, short and tall, and blue—lots of blue in the frozen north. But night has come around again and it’s time for sleep. So, curl up with “soft, snowy beds. Warm fur…and frosty nights” and drift off to sleep.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Paul Schmid’s snuggly story about an adorable polar bear pair rendered with soft curves, quiet blues, and sweet surprises is, simply, love in a book. The gentle text lulls little ones toward sleep while reminding them of the wonders of life. Images of opposites—hot and cold, straight and curly, big and small, and others—are full of charm and wit and give little readers lots to talk about or an invitation to fill in their own details.

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Copyright Paul Schmid, 2018, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Schmid’s beautiful use of line, shape, and color expresses the loving relationship between baby and adult as the little one peeks from behind Mom, hides underneath her during a game of hide-and-seek, and nuzzles noses in a little bear kiss. Marshmallow-plump bunnies wait silently to play, and pudgy little polar bear twists to try and spy a stubby tail. Gorgeous perspectives show the magnitude of the night sky and the mother bear’s protective power. The moving image of the pair curled into a ball for sleep underneath a full moon and then risen to replace it as a little one’s shining light is the perfect ending to this story so rich in cuddles, caring, and comfort.

An excellent book for baby shower, birthday, and holiday gifts as well as an endearing addition to home libraries, Little Bear Dreams is a book you will find yourself reaching for again and again. It’s a sweet book for preschool classrooms and a must for public libraries.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877242

To learn more about Paul Schmid, his books, and his art, visit his website

Meet Paul Schmid

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I’m thrilled to be chatting with Paul Schmid today about his the inspirations of winter, following where ideas lead, and the role of that curly moustache in Little Bear Dreams.

Readers are always interested in the creative process that goes into a book. Can you talk us through how Little Bear Dreams came to be?

Little Bear Dreams started in a somewhat dreamlike way. I just began playing with the dramatic, graceful shapes of winter landscapes without knowing where I was going with it. I love winter, and since childhood have been fascinated by its stark simplicity and seeming contradiction of severity and softness.

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This was the start of it all. Roughly sketched musings on a bear in her environment.

As dreams will do, the book evolved as it progressed. It took hundreds of sketches to bring this book to life. At one early point it was called “Black and White and Blue.” The more I sketched my characters, though, the more they began to assert their personality. We all eventually settled into a gentle, loving mother bear and her rather impish and imaginative little bear.

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Sketches, sketches, sketches!

Ideas for stories can come from anywhere, but what for you makes an idea stick so that you develop it further?

DH Lawrence wrote: “If you try to nail anything down in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail.”

I follow ideas perpetually. “Follow” being the operational word here. Many times I’ve tried to force an idea, and it generally ends up looking so. 

I follow until an idea becomes something or peters into nothing. Some ideas I’ve been following for years and haven’t arrived anywhere wonderful—yet. Some ideas drag me after them at a speed which shocks me. I guess the key is to always be receptive. Ideas will rudely wake me at 2 a.m., obliging me to creep into my studio and sketch or write.

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There are so many ways to convey an idea! I jokingly call the first few months of developing a book “The Period of Ten Thousand Decisions.” Here are explorations on just one spread from Little Bear Dreams: “Blue water.”

Little Bear Dreams began as an indulgence to play with simplicity in color and shape, visual and verbal rhythms and contrasts, but evolved also into a story of love and connection. Of gentleness and playfulness.

The idea is the boss. Not me. I just obey.

Your illustration style is very distinctive, and your adorable characters immediately inspire readers to feel empathy for them. Can you talk a little about the role of different shapes, line, white space, and even the use of small features in your illustrations?

I have a compulsion to express as much as possible in the simplest manner possible. It is a great pleasure to me to strip an illustration or sentence of all that gets in the way of advancing the story or mood or character of the book.

CPB - Paul Schmid Interview - more sketches for Little Bear Dreams

Although my illustrations seem simple, I’ve found simplicity a very complicated feat to achieve. With no busyness, what is there must be perfect. For me that requires a lot of drawing and redrawing.

But it must connect with a reader! Children live real, dramatic, joyous, painful, confused, confident, knowing, learning lives. I feel my job as a storyteller for children is to reflect and connect with the vitality of life they dwell in.

So when I draw a character in a situation or emotion I feel that emotion myself as I draw. The great illustrator Howard Pyle was quoted as saying: “Project your mind into your subject until you actually live in it.” 

In 2010 you were chosen as one of four illustrators to attend a fellowship with Maurice Sendak. What is the most memorable thing that he told you? What is your favorite memory from that experience?

Maurice was to me a shining example of emotional courage and depth and intelligence. I’ve never met anyone more brilliant and intuitive. He was unafraid of his feelings, of complexity, of embracing sadness and joy. 

For all he was a superstar, he was also amazingly generous and one of the most caring, attentive listeners I’ve ever known.

It is how he was as a person that has inspired me rather than any one thing he said.

My favorite memory of Maurice was a visit I paid to him about a year after the Fellowship. We took a walk and for hours discussed how elusive happiness is for an artist, the difficulty in waking our muses, the impossibility of not continuing to always create and express ourselves, the challenge and imperative of being truthful to kids, loss, death, life, beauty. The whole of our love for life and creating. 

As a speaker at  the 2015 Words, Writers, and West Seattle” series of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, you talked about several of your books, including Oliver and His Alligator, which involves a surprising turn of events, and mention that kids love being shocked. In Little Bear Dreams, the baby polar dreams of things she would naturally see in her environment juxtaposed with things like cold pizza and curly mustaches. Can you discuss the benefits for young children of unexpected moments that cause surprise or giggles?

Kids are still putting the puzzle pieces together on their perceptions of “What is this thing called life?” Incongruities help reinforce our understanding of reality. As a little girl my own daughter enjoyed pointing out when something was not right. It is a source of humor for children and adults.

As I write I imagine a parent reading the book with their child and discussing it together. “Do polar bears eat pizza?” “No, that’s silly!” I endeavor to create those moments for a parent and child. My books such as A Pet for Petunia and Oliver and his Alligator are full of such opportunities. Surprise, along with the comfort of seeing true familiar things is the balance I sought for Little Bear Dreams.

Putting the child in the position of knowing something the book affects not to know is great fun for a young reader too.

As I watched the Word, Writers, and West Seattle event, I was thrilled to see you present The Story of Ferdinand as one of your childhood favorites. That book was also one of my favorites—the first one I remember truly loving. For me, as a quiet child, it was the story that was so validating, and for you, you said that even as a child you appreciated the perfection of the illustrations. Could you talk a bit about that relationship between a child and a book that is a beloved “first” in some way. Is that an idea you are aware of when creating a book?

One of the most gratifying results of creating books for kids is getting a note from a parent telling me it is their child’s favorite book; that they have to sleep with it under their pillow, or they’ve memorized the whole book. I love knowing I made something that touched a child so deeply.

I believe this profound connection is because a child reads so much more intensely than an adult. They seek in books information and affirmation of what they are feeling or thinking. They find adventure and discover possibility. Reading for kids is not just a distraction, it is an important part of their world.

Oh, and because of this I have a small personal conviction that the only reviewers of kid’s books should be kids. Ha!

What’s up next for you?

I am always working on new manuscripts! I’m having a great time this week with a particularly fun story I am sketching up. Not a bad way to spend my days.

A new endeavor I am also enjoying is designing images for greeting cards. One company, Great Arrow Graphics, has picked up about a dozen or so of my designs which are available in select stores or on line here: https://www.greatarrow.com/cards/cardlist/did/494

I have also set up a shop at society6, where you can buy quality prints of images from my books and some other fun stuff I’ve illustrated.

The shop lives here: https://society6.com/paulschmid

New designs are always on the way.

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

I find Winter Solstice particularly appealing, since for me it represents the paradox of life. Solstice marks the end of the shortening days, the return of light and warmth, of renewal. At the same time it also means the beginning of Winter, of coldness, hardship and patience. This is not a conflict to me but a lovely insight. Up cannot exist without down, it is its opposite that makes a thing itself be. 

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Paul hiking with Mount Rainier in the distance.

So at the moment of Winter Solstice we are able to feel simultaneously both joy and sadness, hope and fear. That is a concept I find strangely satisfying.

Wow! Thanks, Paul, for such an insightful talk! I wish you all the best with Little Bear Dreams and all of your books!

Little Bear Dreams Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Phaidon Press in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Little Bear Dreams by Paul Schmid

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, November 20 – November 26. Already a follower? Thanks! Just Retweet for a chance to win. 

A winner will be chosen on November 27.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Phaidon Press.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Opposites Sensory Tin

Little ones love touching and feeling different objects and trying to guess just what they are or how they’re the same or different than other things. Putting together a sensory tin is a quick and easy way to keep kids occupied with a fun activity while they also learn!

With a six-cup tin for youngest readers and a twelve-cup tin to try and stump older kids, you have plenty of space to add items that are soft and hard, cold and warm, crunchy and crumbly, spiky and smooth, and so many more!

To make the tin into a game, have kids close their eyes or blindfold them and let them feel the different items and guess what they are.

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You can find Little Bear Dreams at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 23 – National Near Miss Day and Interview with Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson

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About the Holiday

Today we remember a cosmic fly-by that occurred on March 23, 1989. On that day the 300-meter-wide asteroid 4581 Asclepius, named for the Greek god of medicine and healing, came within 430,000 miles of hitting Earth—actually passing through the exact position Earth had held only six hours earlier. This near miss wasn’t discovered until nine days later by astronomers Henry E. Holt and Norman G. Thomas. “On the cosmic scale of things, that was a close call,” Dr. Holt said at the time. To celebrate today, you can thank your lucky stars for this near miss or any others you’ve experienced recently or in your lifetime. Another stellar way to spend the day is to learn more about space and our universe!

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of A is for Astronaut to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also thrilled to be partnering with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of a signed copy of A is for Astronaut and a tote bag. View details below.

A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet

Written by Astronaut Clayton Anderson | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

There are some books that just make you say “Wow!” when you open the cover. A is for Astronaut is one of these. Leafing through the pages is like stepping out into a clear, starry night, visiting a space museum, and letting your own dreams soar all rolled into one. When you settle in to read, you discover that each letter of the alphabet introduces both poetry and facts to enthrall space lovers.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To get things started, “A is for Astronaut, / the bravest of souls. / They fly into space / and assume many roles. / They pilot, they spacewalk, / and they even cut hair. / But seeing Earth from our orbit— / that will cause them to stare!” A sidebar reveals more about astronauts—even astronaut nicknames!

“B is for Blastoff, a powerful thing! / When those engines are fired, it’ll make your ears ring.” And did you know that two and a half minutes after blastoff, the engines are cut off and everything begins to float? Pretty amazing! Blasting through the alphabet we come to G, where readers learn about our Galaxy that is “shaped like a spiral filled with billions of stars.”

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

How are astronauts able to walk and work in space? “Space Helmets are crucial and H is their letter.” At K kids meet John F. Kennedy, who helped develop the space program, and L is for the Landing that brings astronauts back to Earth. M is for Meteors with their very long tails, and N, of course, is for NASA, which was formed in 1958 with a “goal to better understand our planet and solar system.”

How do astronauts do that? “Working outside in space is sure to impress. / We call it a Space Walk, and its letter is S. / Floating weightless, with tools and a bulky white suit, / we can fix and install things—it’s really a hoot!” And there’s also V for  “Voyager, two NASA space probes. / They are still sending data, / having long left our globe.”

At Z, time is up—that’s Zulu time and “our reference to England, when London’s clocks chime. / As we fly ‘round the Earth, folks must know our day’s plan, / so we all set our watches to match that time span.” 

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2018, text copyright Clayton C. Anderson, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Both children and adults who have an affinity for space travel and all things related to astronomy will want to dip into A is for Astronaut again and again. With his wealth of knowledge and engaging voice, astronaut Clayton Anderson presents a book that will have readers starry-eyed and full of the kinds of facts and tidbits that answer questions and spur further discovery. A is for Astronaut can be read through from A to Z for its vivid poetry or explored in small chunks to absorb the fascinating facts included with each letter—or both. Expertly written for kids of all ages, Anderson’s A is for Astronaut is a stellar achievement.

Scott Brundage’s incredibly beautiful and detailed illustrations will thrill space buffs and serious scientists and engineers alike. Readers will love meeting astronauts tethered to their ship while working in space, experiencing the vibrant, mottled colors of a darkened sky or distant planet, and viewing the technological marvel that is the NASA control room. With the precision of a photograph and the illumination of true artistry, Brundage’s images put readers in the center of the action, where they can learn and understand more about this favorite science.

A is for Astronaut is a must for classroom, school, and public libraries and would be a favorite on home bookshelves for children (and adults) who love space, technology, math, science, and learning about our universe.

Ages 5 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363964

Discover more about retired astronaut Clayton Anderson and access resources on his website, or follow him on Facebook | Twitter | or InstaFor speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

To learn more about Scott Brundage and view a portfolio of his publishing and editorial work, visit his website.

Visit Sleeping Bear Press to learn more about A is for AstronautYou can download two A is for Astronaut Activity Sheets here:

A is for Astronaut Vocabulary Sheet | A is for Astronaut Fill in the Blanks

Meet Astronaut Clayton Anderson
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Today, I’m honored to speak with retired astronaut Clayton Anderson about a pivotal childhood moment that inspired his life’s work, the challenges of being an astronaut, and his most vivid memories from space.  

What inspired you to make the journey to become an astronaut?

It was Christmas Eve, 1968.  I was nine years old when my parents put my brother and sister and me on the floor in front of a black-and-white TV around midnight. We sat on an old throw-rug gifted from our grandmother to watch humans circumvent the moon for the first time in human history. As I watched the control center team and listened to the flight director bark out commands, I was enthralled. “I need a Go/NoGo for the trans-lunar injection burn… FIDO? GO!  Retro…? GO!  Surgeon…? GO!  GPO…? GO! The entire team was GO! The craft disappeared behind the moon, leaving me to enjoy the rapid-fire chatter no more. It was simple static on our TV… for about 15 minutes. Then, after a couple of non-answered calls from the Houston CAPCOM to the Apollo 8 crew, I heard the quindar tone (famous “space-beep” you hear on TV), and the first words from the Apollo 8 commander, Frank Borman: “Houston, Apollo 8. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus!” That’s all I needed. The bit was set in my mind that one day, I would become a United States Astronaut.

How did your perspectives change while on the International Space Station?

I am a man of faith. Seeing our earth from orbit did allow me to have the “orbital perspective” so many astronauts speak of. However, while I totally agree that this perspective changed my outlook and my willingness to do better with trying to protect and preserve our “spaceship earth,” it strengthened my faith in God much more. The earth and those of us privileged to be on it, is not random. There is a reason why Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity and invented calculus. There is a reason why Albert Einstein was able to derive the Theory of Relativity. While I am unable to truly explain my rationale, I believe that there is a higher power. A power that created this universe and gave humans an adaptable brain. That incredible gift will continue to enable us to uncover the secrets of the universe, continuing to strengthen my faith.

What was a big challenge you faced during your career?

The dream of flying in space as an American astronaut was something I pursued for many years of my life. To have finally been selected and given that opportunity is incredible. Yet having the “best job in the universe” is not without difficulty. For me, it was family separation. I love my wife and kids more than anyone… on or off the planet.  To have to be separated from them for months at a time was extremely difficult, especially given their ages (6 and 2) when I began my training. It got easier as they grew older, but it didn’t assuage my guilt very much. While I lived my dream, they sacrificed greatly, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay them.

What is your best memory from being in space?

It must be my first spacewalk. Poised above the opened hatch, floating in my spacesuit while looking into the abyss of darkness created by the sun’s travel behind the Earth, I was calm. I watched ice crystals fly from behind my suit (they were created by my sublimator… or air conditioning unit) into the total black void of space. The slight pressure still available after the depressurization of the airlock was “pushing” the crystals into the vacuum of space. I was entranced just watching them sail by. When I finally came back to reality—buoyed by the Mission Control call to exit the airlock—I paused for just a moment to contemplate what was happening. The only thought going through my mind was that “…I was born to be here, right now, in this special place, doing this.”

Seeing my hometown from space…for the very first time, is a very, very close second. On that day, when I expected to excitedly capture photos of my Ashland, Nebraska, I had everything prepped and ready to go. Equipment was strategically placed around the U.S. Lab module’s earth-facing window, cameras were Velcroed securely to the wall, with timers set to remind me when to get into position. Finding my home on earth—without all the wonderfully placed lines, borders, squiggly river italics, and large stars designating capital cities—was tougher than I imagined. But when I finally found success, and saw Nebraska rolling into view by virtue of a big gray splotch known as Omaha (and a smaller gray splotch further southwest called Lincoln), the south bend of the Platte River was the last valid vision I had. When I saw my home, nestled there where the river bent, the place where I was raised and where many of my family and friends still reside, I took not a single photo. I simply broke down and cried. Overcome by the incredible emotions of floating weightlessly, as an American astronaut flying 225 miles above the exact spot where I was born and raised, having first dreamed of doing exactly that, was simply too much for me. So, I did what seemed to come to me naturally.  I wept.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and memories of your incredible career. I wish you all the best with A is for Astronaut and all of your future endeavors as you inspire children and adults to always reach for the stars.

About Clayton Anderson

Retired Astronaut Clayton Anderson spent 167 days in outer space, having lived and worked on the International Space Station (ISS) for 152 days and participated in nearly 40 hours of space walks. With a strong belief in perseverance and the importance of STEAM as part of every child’s education, Astronaut Anderson brings his “out of this world” insight to issues faced by children, parents, and educators. 

You can connect with Clayton Anderson on:

His website: astroclay.com | Facebook | Instagram | TwitterFor speaking events and appearances visit www.AstronautClayAnderson.com

You can find A is for Astronaut at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Near Miss Day Activity

 celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

Rocket to the Moon! Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

Supplies

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

Directions

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

Picture Book Review

March 14 – Moth-er Day and Interview with Author Karlin Gray

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About the Holiday

Did you know that some moths are even more beautiful than butterflies? It’s true! Adorned in vibrant oranges, greens, blues, and reds and with patterns more intricate than the finest fabrics, moths are some of nature’s loveliest creatures. With spring right around the corner, moths will once again be emerging in woods, fields, and gardens, so today take a little time to celebrate these often overlooked insects and learn more about them and their habitats.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth to check out. All opinions are my own. 

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

 

As a grayish-brown moth flits among the leaves framed by the full moon, he says, “I’m an ordinary moth, / as you can plainly see. / A dusty, grayish, dull insect— / nothing-special me.”  He compares himself to the Luna Moth “who floats in graceful green” and to the Spider Moth who’s “so cool at Halloween!” He’s nothing like the Hummingbird Moth who mimics its namesake bird, and he can’t hide like the Wood Nymph Moth that looks like “birdy dung.” He’s much smaller than the Atlas Moth and not as pretty as a butterfly. While all of these are special—extraordinary even—this little guy thinks he is just “a dusty, grayish moth— / very ordinary.”

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then a little boy runs through the yard shouting “‘A moth! A moth!’” The moth freezes against a wall, afraid and unsure and hoping to hide. But when the moth sees the excitement in the boy’s eyes, he moves “toward his joyful light.” He lands in the boy’s hands, uncertain still if he’ll be shooed away. And sure enough, the boy’s sister screams, “‘Ew, a bug!’” When she knocks her brother’s hand away, the moth flies off.

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Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The moth hears the boy tell his sister, “‘Hey, it’s an insect—not a bug— / and my favorite kind!’” then he sees the boy trailing him “all through the yard. / with her two steps behind.” She thinks the moth is nothing special, but her brother disagrees. And as the moth alights on his finger, he shows her why. What looks like dust are really “‘scales that keep him warm at night. / And they flake off in a web so he escapes all right.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-web

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The little girl’s a bit more interested but thinks his color is “kind of blah.” The boy explains that the moth is the color of tree bark and can camouflage himself during the day while he sleeps. Then at night he’s ready to fly, guided by moonlight and the scents he smells through his antennae. Now the little girl thinks the moth is pretty cool. She calls their mom to come and see, and when Mom wants to know what bug they found, “the girl says, ‘Mom—a moth’s an insect, / and out favorite kind!’”

Hearing that, the moth soars in the moonlight with a new self image—“So how ‘bout THAT?! / I’m someone’s FAVORITE! / Little grayish me— / proof of how / EXTRAORDINARY / ordinary can be.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-mom

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ten Extraordinary Facts about Moths, as well as an activity for constructing a moth observation box follow the text.

Through her vivacious rhymes, Karlin Gray elevates the “ordinary” back-porch moth to star status with fascinating facts that will lure kids to discover more. The conversational verses echo a sweet sibling relationship while the moth, overhearing them, begins to appreciate himself. The bookending of the children’s story with the moth’s thoughts—first comparing himself to other moths and later realizing his own merits—will encourage readers to think about the nature of nature and about the importance of positive interactions with others. Told from the moth’s point of view, the story also has a deeper meaning, reminding readers that, like this moth, people also have special talents  that make them exceptional. Taking extra time to really learn about another’s unique qualities and to get to know them is exciting and has benefits for all.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-moonlight

Image copyright Steliyana Doneva, 2018, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Steliyana Doneva’s gorgeous illustrations of moths and butterflies will dazzle insect-loving kids and convert the more squeamish. Doneva captures each delicate marking and texture of the little grayish moth as it flits in the light and camouflages itself on the wall and tree. The moth is also well spotlighted against Doneva’s vibrant backyard oasis where the little boy and his sister discover him. Nighttime scenes sparkle with starlight, and the full moon brings out the rich blues of an evening sky. The boy’s enthusiasm for moths and nature is infectious and will captivate young readers, enticing them to look closer at the world around them.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth is a beautiful, eye-opening book that would spur further discovery for nature and science lovers at home and in science or STEM classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1-58536-372-8

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

View a portfolio of work by Steliyana Doneva and learn more about her on her website.

Download and have fun with these An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Activity Sheets!

An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Matching | An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth Fill in the Blank

Moth-er Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tree-branch-with-white-cocoons

Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-cards

Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

Meet Karlin Gray

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Today I’m excited to talk with Karlin Gray about how moths became extraordinary in her eyes, what types of characters she’s drawn to, and what might be the best holiday in the world

Did you like to write as a child? How did you get started writing books for children?

Yes, I did like to write as a child. When I was little, I would retell stories like Alice in Wonderland, changing the names and some details. Someone must have explained ‘plagiarism’ to me and, eventually, I learned to write my own stories.

I started writing picture books when my son was a toddler (about seven years ago). I joined a local writing center where I workshopped all three of my contracted books, including AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH.

Before you began working in the publishing field and writing for children, you worked for newspapers. Can you talk a little about that experience? What did you like most about it? Has it influenced your work for children?

After college, my first two jobs were graphic design positions at weekly newspapers in Northern Virginia and D.C. I loved learning about the publishing process—how words and images were selected, designed, printed, and distributed. It’s a fast-paced, exhausting business. But those jobs taught me to work on a deadline which helps me as a children’s book writer, for sure!

What inspired you to write about moths?

My son. When he was three, he announced that the moth was his favorite insect. I imagined that moth was having a bad day—comparing himself to “cooler” moths like the Luna moth or Spider moth—and then overheard my son’s statement. It’s a nice reminder that sometimes it takes just one kind comment to improve someone’s day.

What do you think makes the “ordinary” extraordinary?

Perspective. My son saw something special in a creature that I never really considered. But his interest piqued my interest, so I did some research. That led me to learning several amazing things about moths. Now, instead of shooing them away, I celebrate moths in An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth.

What was your process in writing An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth?

Once the first line popped into my head—“I’m an ordinary moth, as you can plainly see…”—the story was set in rhyme. Usually, I research then write a story. But here, I did my research as I wrote the manuscript. The first draft took a couple days and was MESSY. I workshopped the manuscript on and off for two years, tightening the story, rhyme, and meter. I eliminated a whole stanza where the ordinary moth compares itself to other moths like the poodle moth. Trust me, it wasn’t easy cutting out the poodle moth! But, like they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

Do you have a favorite place to write? If so, can you describe it a little? Do you have a favorite thing on your desk or in your writing space?

In my house I have an office but I don’t do much writing there. I usually move from the dining table to the kitchen table to the outside table when it’s warm.

In an earlier interview, you mentioned that you had “stories about presidents, magicians, explorers, athletes, mermaids, monsters, scarecrows, cats, mice, and one sad moth” in your desk drawer. What types of characters—or personalities—attract your creative interest? Do you have a preference for nonfiction? If so, why?

Oh yeah, I guess I’ll have to change that since the “sad moth” is out of the drawer and on the cover of a book. I’m a sucker for characters whose “flaws” are really their strengths, and I love a good finding-your-tribe story. Both nonfiction and fiction stories appeal to me but I enjoy the challenge of taking a true story and translating it into a picture book—selecting a character and timeframe, finding dialogue and active details, setting the tone and style, and staying true to the facts as well as the heart of the story.

In your website biography you have links to “things you like.” These are amazing and range from The American Mural Project to Storyline Online to the Landfill Harmonic. Can you talk about what draws you to these types of projects? Why do you think they are important not only for those directly involved in them, but for all kids—and adults?

Those two projects have a lot of heart. I met Ellen—she is a tiny person who has a big personality and a HUGE dream. The fact that one person had a goal to make the biggest indoor art installation is worthy of a book right there! And the Landfill Harmonic group—kids making music with trash!—was made into a book, Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood. I think both of those stories appeal to kids because it shows them that there are no limitations in art.

What’s the best part about writing for kids?

So many things…but probably the best is when kids tell me that they want to be a writer when they grow up. My response is always: “If I could do it, you can do it.”

You share your books at school and bookstore events. Do you have any anecdote from an event you’d like to share?

Twice a month I volunteer at a nearby school where I read books selected by the teacher. When I read my first book NADIA to the kids, the first graders had a hard time believing that I was the author. They knew me as someone who visited every other week and read a book from their shelves. They didn’t know me as a writer so that was a fun surprise for them.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book is a biography of Serena Williams—SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER—and will be published in early 2019.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Probably New Year’s Eve. We can see the town fireworks from our back deck so we invite a few families over for a casual get-together. It’s a nice way to end the year and the kids love staying up past midnight.

And, until your email, I didn’t know there was a Moth-er Day. (Not to be confused with Mother’s Day.) Very cool. The moth is also celebrated during National Moth Week in July: http://nationalmothweek.org

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share?

When I was 10-14 years old, I lived in Japan because my dad worked with the military. I remember feeling sorry for Japanese kids because they didn’t celebrate holidays like Christmas or Halloween. But once I discovered that they had an even better holiday—Children’s Day!!—then I just felt sorry for myself.

Thanks so much for this great chat, Karlin! I wish you all the best with An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth and all of your books!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-an-extraordinary-ordinary-moth-cover

You can find An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth at these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

You can connect with Karlin Gray on

Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Picture Book Review

January 22 – Celebration of Life Day and Interview with Author Alison Goldberg

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-love-you-for-miles-and-miles-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is all about celebrating the children and grandchildren in our lives and what makes each one truly unique. When you watch your own children or those in your care grow and develop their own personalities, talents, and dreams, you realize that each one is an individual with a bright future ahead of them. Take the opportunity of this special holiday to encourage your children, support them, and—most of all—tell them how much you love them every day.

I Love You for Miles and Miles

Written by Alison Goldberg | Illustrated by Mike Yamada

 

Love—like air—is one of those things that everyone needs. People wonder about it, write about it, and talk about it. But, like air, love can’t been seen—how do you measure it? How do you weigh it? How do you let kids see it? I Love You for Miles and Miles shows you! Opening the cover, you read “My love for you is / Longer than the longest train / Linking engine to caboose, / Winding for miles and miles.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-love-you-for-miles-and-miles-big-rig

Image copyright Mike Yamada, 2017, text copyright Alison Goldberg, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

If love is long, can it be wide? Sure! How wide? “It is wider than the widest big rig” on the highway. When you hug your child with all your might, they know that your love for them is continuous and “stronger than the strongest excavator / Scooping heap after heap….” Such strong love runs “deeper than the deepest drill / digging down, down, down, uncovering mysteries.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-love-you-for-miles-and-miles-sail-boat

Image copyright Mike Yamada, 2017, text copyright Alison Goldberg, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Since love burrows deep, it makes sense that it can soar as well. How high? Look up at cranes on a construction site and imagine a love that goes beyond higher, a love that “reaches toward the sun.” While some days may hold hardships, you can assure your child that your love always remains “smoother than the smoothest sailboat” navigating the waves and changing winds.

When your child needs a hug, a kiss, or some special attention now, you can reassure them that you will be there “faster than the fastest fire truck / Hurrying faster, faster, / Rushing to you, anywhere you are.” If your child wonders if love can handle anything that comes along, remind them of the tractor, “planting crop after crop, / Helping through mud and muck.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-love-you-for-miles-and-miles-dump-truck

Image copyright Mike Yamada, 2017, text copyright Alison Goldberg, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The obstacles that life throws our way are manageable, you can tell your child, because like the biggest dump truck, you can help remove them and fly “above all the rain” like an airplane. And at the end of the day, your love guides them “home, day or night” with the steadiness of a tugboat.

And for the days and years ahead, when your child sees that long, long train, they will understand when you say that is “my love for you… / Riding from station to station, / Traveling with you always.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-love-you-for-miles-and-miles-tugboat

Image copyright Mike Yamada, 2017, text copyright Alison Goldberg, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

In her sweet tribute to a parent’s or caregiver’s love, Alison Goldberg gives concrete shape and weight to that feeling of love which can be so hard to describe. Little ones awed by the size and power of vehicles and machines, will readily recognize and understand the comparisons and be excited to share their own abundant love. Goldberg’s short verses are composed of words most young readers know, and by using comparative and superlative forms of the adjectives, she fosters a deeper comprehension of how love transcends even the biggest, longest, strongest, or toughest things a child can imagine. The first-person perspective allows not only the adults reading to express their love but also the children listening to say, “yes, I feel this way too.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-love-you-for-miles-and-miles-tractor

Image copyright Mike Yamada, 2017, text copyright Alison Goldberg, 2017. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Mike Yamada’s stunning two-page spread illustrations, full of vivid color and dramatic perspectives, will delight little readers. A cub and adult are at the controls of each vehicle, the little one driving or guiding when possible, or being helped if needed. Young readers will love lingering over each page to view all of the realistic elements on every vehicle or machine. The sweet, happy looks between adult and cub reinforce the strong bond between them. Gender-neutral clothing and first-person point of view makes this a universal book.

I Love You for Miles and Miles is an adorable and meaningful book for adults and children to share and would make a great addition to home and classroom libraries. Besides fun at bedtime, it would make a terrific take-along book for car trips or waiting times, and the theme can easily be extended to an “I-Spy” type of activity while out driving or walking around the neighborhood and beyond.

Ages 2 – 6

Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0374304430

Discover more about Alison Goldberg and her work on her website

Learn more about Mike Yamada and view a gallery of his artwork on his website.

Enjoy this I Love You for Miles and Miles book trailer!

Celebration of Life Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tug-boat-craft-front

Tugboat Bathtub Toy Craft

 

Tugboats are always there when a ship needs help or guidance—just like a parent or caregiver. With a few recycled materials, adults and children can have fun making this Tugboat Bathtub Toy that you’ll love to play with in the tub or pool.

Supplies

  • Printable Windows and Life Ring Template
  • Printable Deck Template
  • Container from a grocery store rotisserie chicken
  • One 16-ounce cream cheese container with lid (or other such container)
  • Paper towel tube
  • Cardboard (can use a cereal box)
  • Foam sheet in whatever color you would like the deck to be. (optional, see To Make the Deck options)
  • Two colors of paint in whatever colors you would like your cabin and deck (if painting it) to be
  • Paint brush
  • Glue gun
  • Tape

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Directions

To Make the Deck

  1. Trace the deck template on the cardboard, cut out and trim if necessary.
  2. Trace the deck template on the foam sheet, cut out and trim if necessary. The foam sheet gives waterproofing to the cardboard deck.

To Make the Boat

  1. Wash and dry rotisserie chicken container. The curved part of the container will be the front of the boat.
  2. Set the cardboard into the rim of the rotisserie chicken container. If needed glue with hot glue gun.
  3. Set the foam sheet on top of the cardboard

To Make the Cabin

  1. Print and cut out the windows, life ring, and deck template
  2. Wash and dry cream cheese container
  3. Paint the cream cheese container in the color chosen, let dry
  4. Put the lid on the cream cheese container to make the roof of the cabin
  5. Glue or tape the windows to one curved side of the cream cheese container
  6. Glue or tape the life ring to the opposite side of the cream cheese container
  7. With the glue gun attach the bottom of the cream cheese container to the deck, a little forward of half-way

To Make the Steam Pipe

  1. Cut a 5-inch section from the paper towel tube
  2. Paint alternating stripes of the deck color and the cabin color, let dry
  3. With the glue gun, attach the steam pipe to the deck close behind, but not touching, the cabin

Enjoy floating your tugboat in the bathtub or pool!

Meet Alison Goldberg

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Today, I’m excited to be talking with Alison Goldberg about how her children inspired her book, her collaborative blog M is for Movement, and what kind of vehicle she would most like to be.

What inspired you to write I Love You for Miles and Miles?

When my children were in preschool, they adored trucks and trains. In addition to setting up long and windy train tracks in our living room each day, we planned many family outings with vehicles in mind: train rides, a tractor parade, a visit to a friend’s construction business.  My son was so obsessed with trucks that the teachers from an older classroom at his preschool invited him to present to their class as a “guest expert” on the topic.

At bedtime, the “How much do you love me?” game turned into a comparison of our love to the size, strength, length, and other characteristics of all things that go. After many nights of coming up with these examples for my own children, I thought this could be a fun take on a love book. 

What was your favorite picture book when you were a child?

One of my favorite picture books as a child was Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni. I’ve always been a rock collector and the magic in this story depends on Alexander finding a purple pebble. The collage is gorgeous—I love multimedia art. Rereading it as an adult, I’m still drawn to the story’s theme of empathy.

Before writing for children, your work centered on economic justice. You’ve lived on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and the eastern region of Ghana, Can you talk a little about your work?

For several years I worked for non-profit organizations focused on social and economic justice. In the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, I learned from strong community leaders who expanded out-of-school-time opportunities for kids. In Ghana, I met remarkable organizers who built community infrastructure, improving access to clean water, nutrition, and schools. And in a variety of communities in the United States, I’ve been inspired by amazing activists who are challenging inequality through a variety of strategies. 

Have these experiences influenced your writing for children?

When my daughter was born, I sought out books that would help to educate her about the problems of inequality and injustice. I knew I wanted to start early conversations about the history of social movements and the potential we all have to create change. Picture books felt like an important part of framing this. I found a small number of powerful books that helped guide our discussions and also inspired me to write manuscripts along these lines. So from the start, my work on social and economic justice issues has been at the center of my motivation for writing for children. And while I Love You for Miles and Miles is not focused on these issues, a portion of the proceeds from the book will support the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger.

You began blogging about activism in children’s literature in 2012 and in 2017 established M is for Movement, a website that presents authors and illustrators blogging about a variety of social issues. Can you talk about this work briefly? What kinds of changes have you seen in the years since you began and today?

In 2012 when I first started writing for kids, blogging about books with activism themes was a way to dive into the literature and interview like-minded children’s book creators. I learned so much from these conversations, and though I wasn’t able to blog consistently, I always hoped that someday it could grow into something more.

Then in 2017, through conversations with Innosanto Nagara (A is for Activist), Janine Macbeth (Oh, Oh, Baby Boy!), and other collaborators, together we decided it was time to start a group blog on this topic. Certainly the events of the past year underscored why it’s so important for kids to learn about social justice issues and how they have agency to create change. M is for Movement launched in October. We’ve been grateful to connect with a number of other children’s book creators and librarians who are creating content, and hope that the blog will be a space for a variety of articles, interviews, and reviews. We recently did a roundup of some recommended 2017 activist kids’ books and it was powerful to see how many books with this theme were published. I don’t know if there’s been an increase in recent years or not, but my hope is that those who want to explore these topics in their writing will find a community of children’s book creators to help support that work.

If you were one of the vehicles in I Love You for Miles and Miles, which one would you be and why?

If I could choose to be one of the vehicles, I think I’d go with the crane (“My love for you is/Taller than the tallest crane/Rising up, up, up,/Reaching toward the sun.”). I enjoy rock climbing and mountaintop views so I’d be curious to see things from the perspective of a crane.

Do you have a favorite place you like to write?

I usually write at home, but once in a while I travel about a half hour away to a magical library in Concord, Massachusetts for a mini writing retreat. 

As a New England coastal resident, I couldn’t help but notice that you have an ocean theme to your website—a beautiful image of a whale on your Homepage and a collection of shells on your About page. Do you have a special affinity for the sea? If so, do you connect the sea to your work?

Thank you! I love the ocean, and in addition to rocks I’ve collected many shells and other found objects over the years. The ocean-related images are all connected to the middle grade novel I’m working on. Since I started that story I’ve photographed, drawn, and collaged my characters in a variety of materials.

 What’s up next for you?

More picture manuscripts and draft #4 of my middle grade novel.

Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you go without asking a couple of holiday-related questions, so…

What is your favorite holiday? 

A new favorite holiday of mine is Valentine’s Day. This is not only because I’m sharing my new picture book about a parent’s or grandparent’s love for a child, but also because my kids and I took part in an event last year that expanded my idea of the holiday. Students from a nearby school organized a Valentine’s Day “Love March” to take a public stand opposing discriminatory policies and express what love means to kids. They carried signs about inclusiveness, respect, kindness, and solidarity. I found this to be a meaningful way to celebrate the holiday and I hope to join their march again this year.

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Click here to get this adorable I Love You for Miles and Miles Valentine’s Day Card to share from Alison Goldberg’s website.

Thanks so much Alison! It’s been terrific getting to know more about you and your work. I wish you all the best with I Love You for Miles and Miles and your future projects!

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You can find I Love You for Miles and Miles at these booksellers

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

Signed copies of I Love You for Miles and Miles are available from Porter Square Books

You can connect with Alison on:

Her website | Twitter| M is for Movement 

 

Picture Book Review