September 20 – It’s a Book Birthday Party for Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

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About the Holiday

Today, I’m celebrating the book birthday of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! with two holidays – Read a New Book Month and Friendship Month. I also have amazing interviews with author Jamie Michalak and illustrator Sabine Timm that really dive into the creation of this unique book. So, come on in!

Thanks go to Hippo Park and Deborah Sloan for sharing a copy of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

Written by Jamie Michalak | Illustrated by Sabine Timm

 

Kids first meet the sweet lemon (yes, an adorably sweet lemon) at the center of this story peeking out from a cutout in the cover. The narrator, having revealed that “there’ a party in this book,” now invites Lemon to find it: “Come on, Lemon! Let’s go look.” So, a little uncertainly, Lemon knocks at a red door with a mouse door knocker. Once inside, Lemon, readers, and the narrator meet a jaunty cast of characters—suspender shorts atop three pillows, a paint-tube mouse on a bed, a curious sock on the top of a bunkbed, and a little pink-and-green house on more pillows.

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

The scene sets Lemon and crew wondering… “Is this a mouse party? A pants, sock, and house party?” And the answer? “No! This is a game where we can’t touch the floor.” Ah! So the narrator says, “Lemon, keep looking. Try the next door.” Lemon tries another house, but there’s no party there either—just some fashionable cats and fruit.

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Hmmm… Lemon is getting a little discouraged. But the narrator gives Lemon a nudge, saying “This book is not done.” Although Lemon meets a group of friends at the beach, they’re not partying, just hanging out together. Lemon meets some pigeons and enters a kitchen, where a bear, a bunny, and a little toast dog made of bread are baking up treats. But there’s no party! Finally, “…Lemon’s back home. Does the book end right here, with her sad and alone?”

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

But then Lemon has an idea! An idea that needs readers’ help to succeed! Lemon (and readers) are going to host the party for everyone they’ve met! There’s going to be cake and candy, decorations and games. “This is a big and a small, / have a ball party. / Hooray for new friends at the / come one and all party!” And what about readers? Everyone shouts, “Come on in!”

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image copyright Sabine Timm, 2022, text copyright Jamie Malachek, 2022. Courtesy of Hippo Park.

Kids can’t help but get excited about joining Lemon in searching for the party promised on the cover. Jamie Michalak’s enthusiastic, inclusive storytelling speaks directly to them from the very first words as she exclaims “What?! There’s a party in this book?” As Lemon goes from door to door and page to page, readers follow, carried along on Michalak’s buoyant rhythm and rhymes that surprise—coming at the ends of lines but also sometimes in the middle, which keeps each page fresh and fun. 

When Lemon returns home after not finding the party and hits upon the idea of being the one to host it, the promise that “there’s a party inside” is fulfilled in an unexpected way. An interactive page gets readers involved in the party preparations and will make them feel both included and empowered to invite others to their own party—or just to make new friends. 

Sabine Timm’s illustrations, created with found objects, burst with childlike imagination and endearing personalities. Each page is a showstopper that kids and adults will want to explore together to soak up all the details. And you don’t have to stop there! Each character—from Lemon to the yarn cat and clothespin rabbit to the paintbrush dog and soccer-loving log boy (see Sabine’s answer to question 2 in her interview below)—offers up an opportunity for readers to have fun creating their backstories, imagining what they’re doing when Lemon first encounters them, and guessing what their favorite part of the party is. But wait! The party isn’t over yet! The front and back endpapers, full of tiny objects from the story, give families a super search-and-find game to do together.

Full of humor, whimsy, imagination, and the joys of inclusive friendship. Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! will quickly become a family favorite to read again and again. The book would make a terrific gift and one you’ll want in your home, school, or public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Hippo Park, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662640001

Meet Jamie Michalak

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Jamie Michalak is a children’s book writer, who loves toast, dogs, and toast shaped like dogs. She is the author of Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! illustrated by Sabine Timm. Jamie’s other titles include the multiple starred reviewed Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Kato-Jones; Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; the Frank and Bean early reader series, illustrated by Bob Kolar, and the Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. She lives with her family in Rhode Island.

You can connect with Jamie Michalak on her website | Instagram | Twitter

This story feels so fresh—whimsical, comical, and surprising.  I’d love to have you talk about how your story came to be and your writing process for it.

Thank you! Long ago, I jotted down the title and idea for this story—an interactive picture book with a different party on every page that the reader was invited to join. But I never wrote it. Several years later, my agent, Victoria Wells Arms, told me that editor Jill Davis was looking for a manuscript for artist Sabine Timm. So I checked out Sabine’s irresistible art on Instagram.

I instantly fell in love with her characters and wanted to write a story that included as many of them as possible. That’s when my old idea for COME ON IN; THERE’S A PARTY IN THIS BOOK! came to mind. I wrote the story and threw a party for Sabine’s characters—cats wearing boots and fruits dressed in suits, pigeons named Fred, and dogs made of bread. As it turns out, this party was just waiting for the right guests to get it started!

The idea of anthropomorphizing everyday objects is so interesting, especially as it’s a practice universal to adults and kids. As a storyteller, do you think this is just part of human nature or do we learn it in childhood?

That’s a fascinating question! I’m not sure. But I do love how children and children book creators are always turning inanimate objects into characters. A hot dog and baked bean can be new friends who form a band called The Chili Dogs. Or the salt and pepper shakers might face off in a talent competition before dinner arrives. Life is more interesting when you use your imagination.

The story lends itself so well to the “search and find” fun of Sabine’s illustrations. Was this also part of your intention as you crafted the story?

It wasn’t, but you’re right! I discovered all of the seek-and-find elements, just like readers will, when I first saw Sabine’s illustrations. There are so many whimsical details that I spot new ones with every read.

Every page is so creatively put together, but do you have a favorite spread in the book?

The cats wearing boots spread is one of my favorites from any picture book ever. How did Sabine create a cat from a small ball of yarn and sassy plastic doll boots? I mean … the BEST!

What would you like kids to take away from the story?

Everyone is invited to this book’s party—and that’s what makes the last spreads, starring all of the characters, the most joyful of all. I hope that readers take away that parties are more fun when no one is left out.

Do you have any special events or other marketing planned that you’d like to tell readers about?

Here’s a video “Welcome to Sabine Timm’s Studio” that introduces readers to Sabine Timm and Lemon. Then Sabine gives a tutorial on how they can make a character of their own. a link to a video “Welcome to Sabine Timm’s Studio – the illustrator of COME ON IN.”

And here’s a short bit of animation showing closeups of the objects that make up the book cover.

What’s up next for you?

I’m excited about several books coming out next year. The first is a picture book about a tiny treasure hunt set in a Parisian bookshop: DAKOTA CRUMB AND THE SECRET BOOKSHOP illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Candlewick Press). It’s the follow-up to DAKOTA CRUMB: TINY TREASURE HUNTER about an Indiana Jones-ish mouse. The third Frank and Bean early reader, FRANK AND BEAN: THE STINKY FEET MONSTER, illustrated by Bob Kolar (Candlewick Press), is a hilarious take on Bigfoot. And two Chicken Soup for the Soul for Kids books—THE SUNSHINE GARDEN, illustrated by Jenna Nahyun Chung, and PLAYDATE (WITH BEAR TOO?), illustrated by Katie Mazeika—will be released from Charlesbridge.

Thanks, Jamie, for taking time to chat with me todat! Finding new book of yours is always a reason to celebrate! 

Meet Sabine Timm

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Sabine Timm calls herself an artist, creator, beach-trash collector, flea-market lover, and photographer. She draws, paints, assembles and shares her work nonstop on Instagram. She lives in Dusseldorf Germany, but has fans from around the globe.

You can connect with Sabine Timm on Facebook | Instagram

Hi Sabine! I’m so thrilled to have a chance to talk with you about your incredible illustrations! As your 168K Instagram followers would, I’m sure, agree, your adorable creations are not only awe-inspiring but always bring a smile. Can you tell readers how you got started doing this kind of art?

It’s hard to say when I started making art like this. I always had a big interest in playing with found objects. When I was a child, I collected various things from nature. Shreds, sticks, seeds, buttons I’ve found on the streets etc.

I always loved the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and I was very much inspired by the hidden life of things in his stories. Many years later when I became a mother myself we had holidays at the sea and me and my son made a beach walk. We found a lot of funny things…a broken flip-flop, a red-checked French-fries bag, sandblasted wood sticks, small rope pieces, bottle caps, shells, feathers, and stuff like this.

Together we started playing, and we made characters from this found trash. We transformed trash to treasures…through our eyes and visions the things got a second life. I was deeply fascinated by these experiences, and I continued in arranging and photographing characters like this.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

When you look at an object, do you immediately see its potential to become something else? I’m thinking of the sofa you made from crackers that appeared on your Instagram page recently.

When I work with found or everyday objects there two options. Sometimes the objects themselves are attractive (colour, shape, size) and while looking at these things I get an inspiration. For example, the Swedish bread that became an upholstered sofa.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

The other option is that I have the plan of creating a special character and I go around in my home or in my studio and look around for something that works.

I always try to look at the things around me with the eyes of a child. Forgetting about function and use, I enjoy playing and arranging.

For example the little tree trunk character from the book….I found the miniature soccer shoes at the flea market and I came back to my studio where I had a box with collected objects from nature. I immediately had the idea of a little tree trunk boy who loves playing soccer!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Come On In! is your debut picture book. What were your first impressions when you read Jamie’s manuscript?

I was totally thrilled!!! All my characters united in such a wonderful story! When I read the lovely text for the first time I could hardly believe that Jamie has never been in my studio.

She pictured everything so detailed and gripping. Jamie wrote a charming story of cohesion and team spirit. I love the rhymes and the imaginative language.

I’m so happy to have in Jamie an author who empathizes so much with my characters. Come on In! invites everyone to have a great time together, and I was inspired from the first moment! 

Your scenes in Come On In! are beyond adorable. Can you share a little bit about your process in creating them?

So let’s go into my studio . . .

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Here I will show you something about my working process. In the very first beginnings of this book, I started with sketches and scribbles to get an idea of the story and the characters.

When I want to build and arrange a scene, I usually start with the characters! When they “come to life“ I start playing and letting them interact with each other. I take a lot of test photos to see how it works.

Next step is building the background or finding the location. In the case of a cardboard background I recycle used boxes and cut them into the right size. I cut out windows and build doors and in the end I paint. 

When I just have to find a nice location, I pack all my utensils and my camera. I never go out before checking the weather forecast (no rain and wind, please)!

For example, the scenery with the pigeons is arranged on my studio rooftop even though I had built a nice cardboard roof, but it didn’t work as I imagined. I changed my plans and placed all the pigeons on the real rooftop…this was an authentic and perfect place for a crazy party with sunflower seed snacks and drinks and music! Adding these kind of items is like the icing on the cake!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Did you have a favorite part of the story to create an assemblage for? What made it stand out for you?

It’s hard to make a decision…each assemblage is unique and special.

Creating the characters of fruits and bread was a great fun. Working with edible materials is particularly appealing to me—it is easy to get and you can eat it up when the work is done. (I have to say…sometimes I can’t eat them when they are looking at me so sweetly.)

For the kitchen scene, I was so happy that I could use my lovely vintage furnishings I’d collected for my photo arrangements years before.

I found the perfect buns and cakes to assemble the characters—Mr. Bear looked like a fantastic pastry chef and little bunny girl in her crunchy dress was so photogenic! Very same with the fruits-in-suits scene—in the beginning there is just a bag with fruits and vegetables, and after a few hours you have a gallery of fruity friends!

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

 

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

What are you hoping to inspire in readers with your illustrations?

I hope I can inspire the readers to realise that the best thing in life is coming together, having a good time, respecting each other, and celebrating the uniqueness of each being.

Lemon takes the initiative, and I hope she will empower the readers to do the same.

What would you like for children to take away from your illustrations in this book?

Children are so creative, and I would like for my illustrations to encourage them to play with anything they find around at home, in nature. or wherever. They don’t need to buy new and expensive Playmobil or Lego figures…just a lemon can become a friend.

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Image courtesy of Sabine Timm

Thanks, Sabine, for sharing so much of your creative process and all of these images! I’m sure readers are excited to read the book—and to stretch their creativity! I wish you all the best with Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book!

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You can find Come On In: There’s a Party in this Book! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 8 – Cover Reveal of Monsters in the Briny

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Monsters in the Briny

Written by Lynn Becker | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

What do you do with a grumpy kraken, a sickly sea serpent, and a tearful gigantic tortoise? You sing them a tune! Following the sea shanty rhyme of “What Do You Do With . . . ,” a ship’s crew has to contend with a coterie of mythical sea creatures, all demanding comfort and attention. As each creature threatens to swamp the ship, the quick-thinking crew knows just what to do to save the day, from serving pancakes to mopping a sweaty forehead. But what happens when the sailors have had enough?

Back matter includes information about the sea creatures featured, music and lyrics, and a brief history of sea shanties.

I’m thrilled to be talking with author Lynn Becker and illustrator Scott Brundage about their rollicking sea-going adventure – a story and sea shanty that you can read or sing with your kids! 

Meet Lynn Becker

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lynn-becker-headshotLynn Becker has been a reader and creator all her life. These days, when she’s not writing picture books or children’s book reviews, she’s hiking, doing crazy-long yoga classes, and dreaming up even more picture books. After growing up in New York, Lynn spent many years in the Southern California desert with her husband, children, cats, dog, and lots and lots of chickens. She now lives in Colorado. The chickens stayed behind, but a few mythical beasties may have followed her to her new home…! You can connect with Lynn on Her Website | Facebook | Twitter .

Hi Lynn! Thanks for dropping by to talk about your first picture book. I’m so excited to be sharing the first look readers have of this fun book! I’m sure everyone is intrigued to learn how your book came to be, so let’s get started!

You grew up in New York City but have spent many years in the South California desert and Colorado. Did a longing for the sea inspire your unique story?

Kathy, thank you so much for hosting this Monsters in the Briny cover reveal!

I’ve actually been in and around both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans quite a bit, and have always done lots of swimming. But my inspiration for this book absolutely came from my love of monsters. I’m drawn to mythological beings of all kinds, and always have been, maybe because thinking about them adds a dollop of fun and magic to real life. I grew up drowning myself in fantasy and fairy tales, folklore and mythology. My favorite stories tend to feature dragons. (Although I’m a sucker for vampire stories, and who doesn’t enjoy a good, witchy cackle now and then?!)

I knew I had to feature sea monsters in a picture book because, while writing a longer work (a bestiary/poetry collection), I decided to include a sea shanty. What else could I do but spotlight a kraken? And when my critique partners all demanded that this kraken star in a story of her own, Monsters in the Briny took off from there!

The sneak peek of your book is so enticing and really promises a madcap romp to come. How much fun was it to choose the sea creatures and match them with a problem? Can you take readers on the book’s journey?

Once I had my sea shanty format and my kraken, the song practically wrote itself. I used a famous tune that everyone should be familiar with (sorry in advance for any ear worms) and reworked it with my own rollicking, monster-and-kid-friendly scenario. Originally, the story was just about the kraken experiencing a variety of moods, but I got some terrific advice to try pairing each “crisis” with a different sea beast, and I think the story is much stronger for it.

It must have been so thrilling to see your story come to life through Scott Brundage’s illustrations and especially this awesome cover. Can you share your first reaction to seeing the final cover and the interior artwork?

You can’t possibly imagine how happy I was to see this art. I was in the supermarket when I first looked at the cover on my phone, and I cried, right there by the dairy case. It was so very perfect! But I had known from the moment I saw Scott’s website that he was the right person to illustrate this book. My editor, Barb McNally, and the entire team at Sleeping Bear Press (shout out to Hailey in Publicity!) has been a dream to work with, and I couldn’t be happier with the support and know-how they’ve brought to these Monsters. And I’m grateful to my wonderful agent, Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary, for finding Kraken and Co. such a wonderful home.

You’ve previously worked in animation for films and TV, and Monsters in the Briny is your debut picture book. Do you find that your work in animation influences your writing for kids? What made you want to write for children?

For me, the best picture books are a perfect pairing of words and art. I’ve been enjoying—and studying—them for quite a while now, and for a long time I thought I might also illustrate my own work. Because I previously worked on films, my book dummies often felt like animation storyboards. However, I found that when I wrote a manuscript with no intention of illustrating it, my writing became a lot more interesting. In part because I’m not limited anymore to what I think I can draw! More importantly, without the images to rely on, the writing had to do a lot more heavy lifting. And, since this was about the time I realized I enjoyed the writing part more than the illustrating, this scenario worked out really well.

What are you most looking forward to when the book launches in March? Do you have any book events scheduled that you’d like to tell readers about?

The book launches on April 15 now and I can’t wait to share it with kids! I hope they get as big a kick out of it as I got while writing it. When it publishes, I have a number of blog posts and giveaways lined up. There will also be a book launch scheduled for around that time, and readers can check my website for information on these and other book-related events. I’ll be posting a musical track for the Monsters song, an animated book trailer, and other fun extras on my website

Meet Scott Brundage

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-first-men-who-went-to-the-moon-scott-brindage-head-shotScott Brundage is a Brooklyn-based illustrator and character designer. As a child, his parents rightly decided he was far too indoorsy for his own heath and encouraged him to try various hobbies. When T-ball’s rules confused him and judo required too much coordination, he found his love for drawing cartoons at a local art class. Scott has sketched and painted ever since, eventually attending the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His children’s books include Where’s My Cow? and The First Men Who Went to the Moon. His work has been recognized by American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, and the Society of Illustrators. You can connect with Scott on His Website | Instagram | Twitter.

Hi Scott! Welcome back to Celebrate Picture Books! As soon as I learned that you illustrated Monsters in the Briny, I knew kids and adults are in for a special treat, and this cover is just the start as it really sparks the imagination!

Can you share what you loved about Lynn’s story from an illustrator’s point of view?

Well, I was sold at “Monsters.”  The Briny part was gravy after that. I’d jump at any opportunity to take a monster and twist it to fit a children’s audience. This book is just that, a fun twist on a sea shanty about the creepy things in the ocean. I think the cover makes a nice lure to get kids’ minds thinking of what could possibly be lurking deep in the ocean, and the book’s contents shows them just that, but also reassures them that they mostly just want some snacks or a haircut.

How many different versions of the cover did you design before the final one was chosen? I love how realistic the ocean looks in this illustration! Can you share your process in creating the cover and interior images? 

We had the rough idea of what the cover could be pretty early. The bare bones of illustrated text as old, submerged lumber from a boat, interacting with giant tentacles below a tiny ship. When I originally painted the final art, I had just come off several weeks of 16-hour days working on an animated movie. I gave myself one exhausted day to get it done and, unsurprisingly, I was given notes to revise it quite a bit. Sleeping Bear Press found a couple more weeks for me to work on it, which allowed me to rest a bit and give it it’s proper care. I’m glad too, I’m super happy with the final product, even though I was a shell of myself when I started it.

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2021. Courtesy of Scott Brundage and Sleeping Bear Press.

 

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2021. Courtesy of Scott Brundage and Sleeping Bear Press.

I had the interior sketches finished pretty early on, but my first pass had all the sailors as adults, since I was diving headlong into full on pirates. My art director suggested, very wisely, that they all be children, with a running musical gag involving an accordion player. Oh, right! This is for children. This is why art directors are great!

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2021. Courtesy of Scott Brundage and Sleeping Bear Press.

 

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2021. Courtesy of Scott Brundage and Sleeping Bear Press.

The way I normally work is to pitch a very rough idea of what the pages could be. Once that’s approved, I develop the sketches a bit more and send for approval. After any revisions or notes to the sketch, I develop a more finished drawing and print the clean drawing on watercolor paper, then paint it. Final touches in photoshop after that.

Did you need to do any kind of research before drawing the sea creatures? How or where did you do this? Did you discover anything surprising along the way?

I needed a bunch of research for the sea creatures, which was pretty easy to find. I wasn’t aiming to make anything super accurate in terms of specific types of animals, more a fun design that would work for the story. It was easy enough to grab a bunch of photos of snakes or turtles or old illustrations of hydras, then put my spin on how they could look.

The much more difficult part was researching the ship itself. I know very little about nautical anything, much less historical pirate ship shapes, types, how the rigging and sails work, etc. Luckily, another illustrator friend of mine, Gregory Manchess, had done a series of murals for National Geographic specifically about historically accurate pirates. He was kind enough to send me piles of ship reference, as well as pirate clothing reference.

So, what I discovered along the way is that those ships are waaaaaay more complex than I had previously guessed. Most of the finished pages would have been intricate webs of ropes and knots had I tried to be super accurate. So, instead… we have a ship that hopefully feels relatively similar throughout, but with a lot of liberties taken.

Did you have a favorite sea monster and/or scene to create? What made it your favorite? Can you give readers a little preview of one of the sea monsters?

I have a couple favorites, but the kraken is probably at the top. Tentacles are always fun to draw, they can feel long, elegant, and powerful in their gesture and shape, but also have those inherently upsetting but also sorta silly suction cups. And playing with the giant squid’s scale in relation to the ship adds fun aspect to designing the illustrations. The tentacles can literally hug the ship and highlight whatever I want to call attention to. There’s not much more an illustrator could ask for. Plus, it’s a ridiculous bright red, who isn’t a fan of that?

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Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2021. Courtesy of Scott Brundage and Sleeping Bear Press.

What would you like for kids to take away from your illustrations for Monsters in the Briny?

Well, for one, I hope the song gets stuck in their head. But that aside, I hope kids realize that giant sea monsters are fun and usually just need some music and a pancake to be your friend.

Sea monsters, an unforgettable sea shanty, and pancakes! I can’t wait to read the whole story – and I’m sure readers are hooked too! Thanks, Lynn and Scott, for stopping by to give us a preview of your treasure to come!

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Monsters in the Briny will be published this coming spring. Preorder your copy now from these booksellers!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | The Wandering Jellyfish

Picture Book Review

Celebrating Back to School Month with Deb Pilutti

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Deb Pilutti feels lucky to have a job where reading, playing with toys, and watching cartoons is considered “research.” Before becoming an award-winning author & illustrator, Deb was a graphic designer and created toys for Oliebollen.com and graphics for SeaWorld and Warner Brothers theme parks. She’s the author of Old Rock (is not boring), Idea Jar, The Secrets of Ninja School, Bear and Squirrel are Friends, and Ten Rules of Being a Superhero.

You can connect with Deb Pilutti on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Deb! It’s so great to talk with you! This month we’re celebrating Back to School Month, Get Ready for Kindergarten Month, Family Fun Month, and even Happiness Happens Month! All of these are perfect opportunities for kids, families, and teachers to discover the creative ideas and self-confidence-boosting reassurance in your wonderful books as they leave summer behind and head back to the routines of a school year! Before we do that, though, can you share a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

The first time my family camped at Ludington State Park in Michigan. One summer, my parents packed my three brothers, my sister, and me into the station wagon and we drove from Indiana to Ludington and put up a huge canvas tent in our designated camping spot. We were thrilled when we discovered the rolling sand dunes that lay in between the campground and Lake Michigan. We spent our days running and jumping off the dunes, looking for tadpoles in the ponds nearby and body surfing in the ice-cold lake. Back then, I never imagined I would live in Michigan. Now when I head to the big lake every summer, I think back on the joy we felt.

Ludington State Park sounds gorgeous! How wonderful that you get to enjoy it every summer! Thanks so much for sharing that 

I’m happy to be featuring one of my favorite books for guiding kids on that journey to become the self-assured, optimistic, and ingenious person they want to be.

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Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero

By Deb Pilutti

 

Lava Boy and his favorite toy, Captain Magma, have saved the day many times. But there’s one superhero skill they haven’t mastered yet: the ability to fly. It shouldn’t be too hard for Captain Magma and Lava Boy to figure out. But it’s going to take a new set of rules, plenty of glitter, and some help from the brave Star Girl and her action figure, Meteor Shower, before these superheroes actually reach new heights. This clever gender-inclusive story takes young readers on an adventure in which learning lessons in friendship is just as important as learning how to fly like a superhero.

With humor and imagination, Deb Pilutti outlines terrific advice on how children can achieve their goals—whether they revolve around school, sports, art, making friends, or any activity—and soar. Her straightforward steps, which can apply to any situation, are charmingly paired with specifics for helping Captain Magma fly and kid-centric reminders like “never skimp on the glitter.”

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

Kids will appreciate Lava Boy’s toy-strewn floor, where Lava Boy’s imagination takes flight with action, peril, animals, and people on the go. Captain Magma offers up lots of funny looks and asides (appropriately expressed in sunny yellow speech bubbles) that kids will recognize and empathize with. Hints on the identity of Lava Boy and Captain Magma’s new like-minded friends can be glimpsed early in the story through Lava Boy’s window and while he’s outside playing with his toys.

Wrapped in an exuberant story, Ten Steps to Flying like a Superhero – the soaring picture book companion toTen Rules for Being a Superhero – is a super way to teach kids the steps that lead to success. The book would be a favorite for story times as well as times when encouragement is needed and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt & Co, 2020 | ISBN 978-1627796507

Check out Deb Pilutti’s other books too!

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celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-secrets-of-ninja-school-cover    celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ten-rules-of-being-a-superhero-cover

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You can find Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

 

April 1 – April Fools Day Interview with Pug & Pig and Sue Lowell Gallion & Joyce Wan

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About the Holiday

What would April Fools Day be without having fun with friends? Just April 1st. Sounds boring, huh? So to celebrate, we have a surprise! A couple of your favorite literary friends, the adorable Pug & Pig, have dropped by for a chat about life together and their new book Pug & Pig and Friends coming on August 3. And, oh yeah! They’ve even brought along their friends—author Sue Lowell Gallion and illustrator Joyce Wan who also join in the fun! No joke! If, after spending time with Pug & Pig, you’d like to discover astounding facts about the origins of April Fools Day and learn some outrageous pranks played throughout history, visit History.com

A Sneak Peek at . . . 

Pug & Pig and Friends

Written by Sue Lowell Gallion | Illustrated by Joyce Wan

 

Pug and Pig and their friends Robin and Squirrel love digging in the garden and zooming around the backyard together. But there’s another “friend” in the backyard who isn’t quite so friendly. That’s Cat. What does Cat love doing? Cat loves sneaking up on Pug and scaring him! Pug does not think this is funny. And he does not like it at all. But when a thunderstorm comes and Cat gets scared up a tree, Pig, Robin, and Squirrel can’t get him to climb down. Only Pug can help. But will he?

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Image copyright Joyce Wan, 2021, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2021. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Pug & Pig and Friends is the third book in the Pug & Pig series that includes Pug Meets Pig and Pug & Pig, Trick or Treat. The book will be released August 3, 2021.

Ages Baby – 8

Beach Lane Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534463004

Now let’s have some fun with the stars of the series and their creators!

Meet Pug

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Pug made his publishing debut in Pug Meets Pig, published by Beach Lane Books in 2016. Before meeting Pig, Pug was a very happy pup. He had his own yard, his own bowl, and even his own cozy bed! That is, until Pig moved in and started eating from Pug’s bowl, interrupting Pug’s routine, and, worst of all, sleeping in Pug’s bed. The world wondered: could Pug and Pig ever learn to live together as friends? The answer was Yes! Since then Pug & Pig had a wonderful adventure together in Pug & Pig, Trick-or-Treat and are excited to share their new story Pug & Pig and Friends. You can connect with Pug here and here.

Welcome to Celebrate Picture Books, Pug! It’s quite a treat to talk with you today! I’m sure readers would love to know – What’s the best thing about being a pug?

Being everybody’s favorite. Oh, and the naps.

What is your favorite holiday and what do you like best about it?

Halloween. Answering the door with Pig, trick-or-treating with Pig, and eating all the tasty tidbits with Pig,

Eating all of those Halloween treats is fun! What is your favorite?

Lolli-pups

You’ve known Pig for a long time. What do you like best about her?

Once you get past her attention-hogging tendencies, she is fun-loving and radiates positivity. There’s never a dull moment when Pig is around.

I can imagine! So, tell me, what is it about Pig that makes her such a great friend?

She makes a great snuggle buddy during nap time.

What part of the day do you like best?

Nap time, with meal time being a very close second.

Today is April Fools Day, a holiday when people play tricks on each other. Have you ever played a trick on Pig?

I don’t like surprises or tricks as much as Pig does, but I covered myself with mud one time and pretended to be Pig’s shadow. Whatever Pig did, I followed. We had a really good laugh about it later.

That sounds like so much fun! I bet you can’t wait to unleash your newest book! And no bones about it – I’m sure kids are eager to read it! What’s that? Ohhh… Almost nap time…! Let me talk with Pig a little and then you can snuggle into your little house in the yard. Thanks for spending time with me!

Meet Pig

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Pig first trotted onto the literary scene in Pug Meets Pig. Even though she might have been a little bit oinksious about Pug’s initial reaction, Pig and Pug have grown to be best of friends. Pig is always ready to try something new and her welcoming smile is an ever-present part of her sty-le. For Pig there’s nothing better than sharing a new adventure with Pug, and she’s excited for the summer launch of Pug & Pig and Friends. You can connect with Pig here and here.

It’s so nice to meet you, Pig! In your stories, you’re always so happy. What’s the best thing about being a pig?

Being a pig is delightful in every way. I am a pig for all seasons. I do wish I was taller, and I’d like to get out of the yard more. Maybe in another book?

Did you say, “another book?” That would be fantastic! Just listen to all those kids saying, “Yes, please!” I bet they’re also wondering what your favorite holiday is and what you like best about it.

I like to find something to celebrate in every single day. But my birthday would have to be my favorite. I love to look around and see friends and family all together for one happy reason—a party! With treats!

From Pug & Pig, Trick-or-Treat, readers know you love treats, but what’s your favorite Halloween treat?

I am very fond of candy corn (I’m a pig, after all!). I also like miniature Snickers bars. I might peek in Pug’s treat basket when mine is empty, but don’t tell him. . . .

Ok, I got it: Shhhh…. What do you like best about Pug?

Pug is in charge of security at our place. He’s always on the alert for any change in our routine. I can relax and go with the flow. We make a good team.

You certainly do! What makes Pug a great friend?

Pug’s bark is definitely worse than his bite. (With that underbite, I’m not sure he could bite too well. He’s a champion chewer, though.) Underneath that tough guy exterior, he’s a sweetheart.

What part of the day do you like best?

I’m definitely a morning pig.

Today is April Fool’s Day, a day for pranks and shenanigans. Do you like playing tricks on your friends?

Of course! I like to keep my friends on their toes/hooves/paws/claws!

I can see why Pug and all of the neighborhood animals love you! Thanks so much for trotting over to chat with me today! I understand it’s nap time, so I’ll let you meet up with Pug and talk awhile with Sue and Joyce. 

A Chat with Sue Lowell Gallion

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As the daughter of a printer, Sue Lowell Gallion has a life-long love of type, paper, and the aroma of ink. She is the author of the Pug & Pig series and the picture book All Except Axle as well as a nonfiction board book, Our World: A First Book of Geography, and three books in the Tip and Tucker early reader series. Sue lives in Leawood, Kansas, with a black lab mix who provides her with daily inspiration. To learn more and download free activities for all of her books, visit suegallion.com. You can also connect with Sue on Instagram and Twitter.

Hi Sue! I’m so happy to be talking with you about your next Pug & Pig book with Joyce! Since we’re celebrating April Fool’s Day today, I have to ask: Have you ever played an April Fool’s joke on anyone? Can you tell readers more about it?

I grew up in a family and neighborhood of practical jokers. One of the most memorable was when the neighborhood set up a Used Christmas Trees lot on the driveway of a family that was out of town for the holidays. In fact, some jokes are better done on days other than April Fool’s Day! People are less suspicious.

Would Pug and Pig ever play tricks on each other?

Yes, their relationship has grown to this point. But at first, Pug probably would be annoyed.

I’m sure readers are eager to find Pug & Pig and Friends on bookstore shelves. Can you give readers a sneak peek of your and Joyce’s upcoming book?

I’ve been pondering Pug’s relationship with Cat since the first book, Pug Meets Pig. It took a lot for Pug to welcome Pig into his world, and his relationship with Cat was tricky to begin with. Expanding the circle of characters gave me lots to work with. I want each Pug and Pig book to have unexpected twists and explore feelings and friendships in a different way.

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Image copyright Joyce Wan, 2021, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2021. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

A thunderstorm in Pug & Pig and Friends is another layer. I was terrified of thunderstorms as a kid (and I grew up in Kansas City, right in the middle of Tornado Alley). I hope it’s a conversation starter or reassurance for kids who aren’t fans of storms, either.

Pug and Pig make such perfect companions. Where did the idea for this sweet series come from?

A friend in my water aerobics group told us about her daughter and family adopting a rescue pig. The family already had a pug, and the two animals didn’t end up getting along. I was intrigued with how the words “pug” and “pig” rolled off my tongue together. These two animals somewhat resemble each other, with their snouts and curly tails. And the joy of fiction is that you can make the story unfold (and end!) however you want!

In Pug Meets Pig, you mix humor and disappointment in such a poignant way. How do you balance those emotions in a story for little readers?

Kids feel deeply and those feelings are important. Experiences may seem small from an adult perspective, but they aren’t small to a child. The themes of handling change and growing in empathy are intriguing to me as a story creator. I also love funny moments in books and sharing giggles with kids over a story and the illustrations! Sometimes it’s easier for all of us to absorb or process emotions and ideas that way, too.

In your Pug & Pig stories, you show how friends don’t always like the same things but can still find ways to enjoy time together or cooperate. Why do you think this is such an important idea? What do you want kids to take away from your stories?

I hope the takeaway is that all of us experience the world differently and we don’t always feel the same way as others. Those differences need to be understood and respected, and friendship involves supporting each other in our differences. I want to continually grow in trying to understand others’ perspectives, and in giving others grace. And a sense of humor always helps! Joyce’s illustrations in Pug Meets Pig where Pig is stuck in the new doggy door really show that combination of humor and understanding. It’s one of my favorite spreads.

Do you identify more with Pug or Pig?

I probably am closer to Pig’s personality. I’m pretty sensitive at times. Pug was partly based on the personality of my dog, Tucker, but there’s plenty of Pug in me, too.

Thanks, Sue! I’ve loved learning more about your series and its two stars, Pug and Pig! I wish you all the best with Pug & Pig and Friends!

A Chat with Joyce Wan

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Joyce Wan is the author and illustrator of several books for children, including Pug Meets Pig, Pug & Pig Trick-or Treat, Sleepyheads,You Are My Cupcake, We Belong Together, and The Whale in My Swimming Pool. Joyce lives with her husband and daughter in New Jersey. Visit her at wanart.com. You can connect with Joyce on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter.

Hi Joyce! It’s so wonderful to chat with you about your newest Pug & Pig book with Sue! These two characters are so endearing, you just can’t help but fall in love with them. In this latest story there’s a little bit of shenanigans going on, so since we’re celebrating April Fools Day today, I have to ask if have you ever played pranks on anyone? 

Yes, mostly on my siblings, like using trick birthday candles that don’t blow out and wrapping a Christmas gift in an empty cereal box.

Your illustrations of Pug and Pig are adorable. It’s hard to imagine them looking any different than as these little bundles of cuteness. Did they undergo transformations as you developed your drawings for Pug Meets Pig? If so, can you talk about that a little?

My drawings usually require a few iterations before I get to a final design. I often work backwards, drawing things as they look with a lot of details and then stripping away lines, making things rounder, and simplifying as much as possible.

The upcoming Pug & Pig and Friends is the third book in the series. As the illustrator, what do you look forward to as you revisit the characters and setting with each new book?

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Image copyright Joyce Wan, 2021, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2021. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

I love revisiting characters and settings. The look and feel of the characters, and the world they inhabit have already been established (that part of the process can often feel daunting) so I get to dive back in and pick up where we left off. It’s like visiting and spending time with old friends.

I love your gentle color palette. Even though there are conflicts in the story, the calming colors give you the feeling that things will work out. Is that idea in your mind when you choose colors for these books?

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Image copyright Joyce Wan, 2021, text copyright Sue Lowell Gallion, 2021. Courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Sue created such sweet and heartwarming characters and stories. I wanted to carry this through into the pictures, picking colors that evoke a cozy and comforting feeling, books that feel like a warm hug.

Would you say you identify more with Pug or Pig?

I have more of a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving personality like Pig but I do enjoy and appreciate my alone time like Pug—even more so with everyone home these days!

Thanks, Joyce! I know readers can’t wait to see Pug and Pig in their new adventure!

Readers, while you wait for Pug & Pig and Friends, enjoy Pug & Pig’s other adventures! You can find activities and coloring pages to enjoy on Sue Lowell Gallion’s website and on Joyce Wan’s website while you read Pug Meets Pig and Pug & Pig, Trick-or-Treat. Visit their page at Beach Lane Books, too!

April Fools Day Activity

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Snoozing Together!

 

Enjoy this coloring page of Pug & Pig snuggling up for nap time!

Pug & Pig Snoozing Together Coloring Page

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You can preorder signed and personalized copies of Pug & Pig and Friends at Rainy Day Books!

 

You can also preorder Pug & Pig and Friends at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 26 – It’s Celebration of Life Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established by Food for Health International to encourage people to take a holistic approach to taking care of themselves, benefitting not only their bodies but their emotional health as well. Celebrating all that life has to offer and taking time out from work to enjoy time with family and friends goes a long way towards greater happiness and health. The events of this past year have prompted all of us to find new ways to spend time together, help each other, find comfort, and celebrate successes and good times. Today I’m celebrating the Book Birthday of a moving reminder that there are always better days ahead. 

There Is a Rainbow

Written by Theresa Trinder | Illustrated by Grant Snider

 

As two children add the finishing touches to their rainbow chalk drawing—clouds at both ends—Theresa Trinder’s tender story opens with “A story has a beginning and an end.” And just like the ends of a rainbow, every story has “something in between.” The girl and boy say goodbye, and the boy heads down the block to his house.

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The girl sits on her front stoop and watches the rain fall and the colors of their rainbow flow into each other on the wet sidewalk. She goes inside and picks up her computer, where “on the other side of [her] screen” are her classmates. She waves at them and smiles while she does her work. At home, the boy begins painting stripes on the windows—stripes that form another rainbow for all the neighbors to share.

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Later the boy crosses the street to put a letter into the mailbox—a letter that connects him to his grandma across town. Night falls, and the girl cuddles a stuffed rabbit as she looks at a photo of the friends she misses. But “on the other side of sadness,” the girl knows as she seeks out her mom, “there are hugs.” A rainy day brings the boy and girl together again as they race down the sidewalk toward each other and stop to see that in a puddle “there is a rainbow.”

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Theresa Trinder’s lovely book, written at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that altered the way we interact with others, is a reassuring reminder for children, and adults as well, that they are not alone and that better days do lie ahead. Through her spare text, Trinder allows even very young children to make the clear connection between a barrier and a bond or a challenge and a solution. Trinder’s inspirational storytelling includes concrete concepts that will resonate with kids, such as using a computer or looking out of a window to embrace their world of neighbors, friends, and the familiar, as well as more abstract ideas that will broaden their understanding of the promise that exists. She includes both a river and a mountain, two objects that can seem mysterious or insurmountable, and reveals that even these lead to hopeful possibilities. A poignant and meaningful book to share during these times, Trinder’s story also promises uplifting assurance any time it is needed.

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Grant Snider’s scribbled childlike illustrations are moving reflections of the lead kids took in responding to the pandemic lockdowns as well as their seemingly infinite capacity for optimism and resilience. Readers will respond to Snider’s vivid rainbow hues and images that are as current as distance learning and rainbows in windows and as comforting as playing with friends, talking with loved ones, and helping neighbors. Kids will like pointing out all of the actual rainbows and messages of hope in the illustrations as well as discovering how the promise of rainbows can be found in the colors all around them.

A superb and timely book to read and discuss with children, There is a Rainbow offers comfort, understanding, and hope when it’s needed most. The book is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Chronicle Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1797211664

Discover more about Theresa Trinder and her books on her website.

To learn more about Grant Snider, his books, and his art visit his website.

Meet Theresa Trinder

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Theresa Trinder spent a decade at Hallmark Cards, where she wrote and edited children’s books. She has also developed literacy curricula and has an MFA in Poetry. She was inspired to write this book by the rainbows made by her family during the COVID-19 Shelter in Place in Greenlawn, New York.

Hi Theresa! Congratulation on your Book Birthday today! I’m excited to get a chance to talk with you today about your beautiful book. 

There Is a Rainbow is an especially comforting story for all that kids are going through right now as well as being reassuring for any time. Can you talk a little about how this story came to be?

In short—the rainbows. When I started writing, New York was in a bad place. Everyone was either suffering or afraid. Or both. We’d just said goodbye to my mom and dad, not sure when we were going to see them again, and my kids didn’t get it. They were so incredibly sad. And there were (and still are) so many families going through so much worse. But then, these beautiful rainbows started popping up everywhere. A neighbor friend drew a message for my son on our driveway. And kids everywhere were making signs for health care and essential workers, thanking them and cheering them on. With all our kids were going through themselves, they just kept lifting everyone else up. To me, kids are the heroes of this moment, and, to me, that’s what the book is really about.

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Theresa’ children painting rainbows

As someone who writes in various genres and who has achieved the goal of becoming a published author, can you briefly describe your journey? Did you write as a child and always want to have a career in writing, or did your interest in writing come later?

I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always had to earn a living, though, too—so my path to publication was a little winding. But I’ve somehow managed to always have books in my life. I started as an intern in the Scholastic book clubs, then moved on to educational publishing, then into the Books division at Hallmark Cards. Over the years I’ve gotten to make all kinds of books for all kinds of readers. But I stopped working full time when my second child was born, and I realized: if I want to make books now, I’m going to have to write them myself. Which was sort of freeing—and sort of terrifying. But here we are!

What does it mean for you as an author to give families a way to share their love and encouragement not only in There Is a Rainbow but also in the books you wrote for Hallmark Books—All the Ways I Love You, I’m Thankful for You, and interactive board books Hello, Baby!, Look, Baby! and Peekaboo, Baby!

I don’t know about There Is a Rainbow yet. When it’s out there in the world, I hope it does give families a way to connect—and a way to feel hopeful about what’s to come. And it’s my first trade publication, so it’s very exciting. And the board books are fun. It’s so amazing to see tiny baby fingers try to figure things out. But All the Ways I Love You was a one-of-a-kind experience. Hallmark developed a technology that allowed someone to record their own voice reading, then play it back as a child turned the pages. And we got so many letters from so many people, telling us things like “My husband is deployed overseas but now he ‘reads’ to our daughter every night” and “My mom recently lost her battle with cancer but left her grandson this book, and it’s helping to keep her memory alive.” You can’t really get much closer to people than that. To me, that’s everything.

It’s so true that those cozy moments with a book are unforgettable bonding experiences. Can you talk a little about how important it is for children to be read to often?

What does the data say? Kids need to hear something like 20,000 words per day? And they can’t all be “No,” “Shh,” “Get off the table,” “Please don’t eat that,” etc? So, yes, books are an excellent way to fill the gap, especially on days when you just…can’t. Which I think all parents are feeling right now.

Grant Snider’s illustrations for There Is a Rainbow are so wonderfully distinctive. Can you share a little about Grant was chosen to illustrate the book? What were your first thoughts when you began to see his illustrations? Did they undergo many changes? How was the cover chosen?

I’m not privy to the whole process but Grant literally brought all the color to this book. The text is purposely pretty spare, and he created the visual story arc. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say it was really neat to see his thought process—how he created these characters and brought them full circle at the end.

The books you’ve written give families an opportunity to share fun and thoughtful moments together. How has your own family supported you in your writing career?

I had—and still do have—the kind of parents who always said you can be whatever you want to be. Though I do remember my mom telling me to “Stop reading and go outside” every now and then, which was annoying at the time but is actually pretty good advice. My husband and kids are the same way. We’re just…really busy at home these days. It’s hard to carve out the time, but I think everyone reading this right now can probably say the same. (Though I’m super grateful they’re spending their precious little time reading this interview!)

In your bio, you say two of your favorite things is hearing a funny joke and making weird faces. It sounds as if you have an ear and eye for humor. Does your sense of humor influence your writing? Would you like to share a favorite joke?

Ha! I’m quite deadpan, actually. But my kids have been practicing telling jokes, so we have been laughing a lot—but mostly because they tend to botch them a bit. For example, “How do you make a tissue dance?” (Long pause) “You put a little burger in it!” Hahaha, see what I mean?

HaHa! That’s so great! I miss those days in my own house!

What’s the best thing about being a children’s writer?

For me, it’s being able to do the thing I love. So few people actually do, so I know how rare and amazing it actually is. I feel grateful every day.

What’s up next for you?

Piles of laundry, probably. But after that I hope to get back to a picture book I’m working on. I recently scrapped the latest and started from scratch—which I needed to do, but then I needed to walk away from it for a few weeks. I think it’s safe to go back now.

Thanks, Theresa for talking with me today—it’s been a joy! I wish you all the best with There Is a Rainbow and all of your books. 

You can connect with Theresa Trinder on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

There is a Rainbow Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Chronicle Books in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of There is a Rainbow, written by Theresa Trinder| illustrated by Grant Snider

To Enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Reply with something you celebrated this week for extra entry

This giveaway is open from January 26 through February 1 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on February 2. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Chronicle Books

Celebration of Life Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rainbow-magnet-craft

Mini Rainbow Magnet

 

If you’d like to see a rainbow every day, you can make this mini rainbow to hang on your fridge or in your room.

Supplies

  • 7 mini popsicle sticks
  • Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, Indigo, violet (ROYGBIV)
  • Adhesive magnet
  • OR: ribbon, string, or fishing line
  • A little bit of polyfill. Cotton balls can also be used
  • Paint brush
  • Glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Paint one popsicle stick in each color, let dry
  2. Glue the popsicle sticks together side by side in the ROYGBIV order, let dry
  3. Fluff a bit of polyfill into a cloud shape and glue to the top of the row of popsicle sticks
  4. Attach the magnet to the back of the rainbow
  5. OR: attach ribbon, string, or fishing line to make a rainbow hanging

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-is-a-rainbow-cover

You can find There is a Rainbow at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 9 – Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

The month of December is a gift-giver’s delight and looking at the long winter ahead there’s no better gift for everyone on your list than a book (or two or…). With so many new books hitting bookstore shelves, there really is a perfect book to fit everyone’s taste. Young children, especially, benefit from reading a wide range of picture books from laugh-out-loud or touching stories to nonfiction that introduces them to influential people, science, history, and—in a case like today’s book—to all three! Today’s reviewed book also has the distinction of being timely and inspirational. If you’re still looking for gifts to give, it’s not too late to head to your local bookstore or their online shop to find books that will make kids’ eyes light up.

Thank you to Knopf Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of The Polio Pioneer for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Knopf in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Polio Pioneer: Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

 

Even at the tender age of four, “Jonas Salk was a kid who saw things differently.” As he watched the soldiers marching in the victory parade in New York City following World War I, instead of cheering, he was saddened by all of the injured and wounded men he saw. In his free time, instead of playing ball or games with his friends, he read book after book, and yet he was the one the other kids came to when they needed a fair and knowledgeable referee. Jonas’s family had moved to America, fleeing religious persecution of Jews in Russia and Lithuania. Money was short, yet Jonas’s parents “taught their children the importance of education, of kindness, and of doing good works. Jonas prayed that he might, someday, help make the world a better place.”

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Image copyright Lisa Anchin, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

In college Jonas became enthralled with the study of chemistry and its use in making medicines. He went on “to medical school to become a doctor and researcher.” After graduation, he joined Dr. Thomas Francis in developing a flu vaccine. They had an idea for a new kind of vaccine that could help a “person’s body ‘practice’ fighting the flu” with the hope that the person’s body would “learn to fight the flu virus… and WIN.” After much research and work, they succeeded.

But there was a disease worse than the flu that was paralyzing or killing thousands every year—“including many babies and small children.” Even future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was affected and required a wheelchair to get around. Not fully knowing how the polio virus spread, public swimming pools and beaches were closed. “Parents kept children away from movie theaters, sleepovers, and crowds.”

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Image copyright Lisa Anchin, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Dr. Salk believed a polio vaccine could prevent the disease. He and his team of scientists worked tirelessly to develop one. When a viable vaccine was made, they tested it on children in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Dr. Salk gave “many of the shots himself.” The vaccine did seem to help defend the body from polio, but could it prevent it? To learn the answer to that question, a larger trial was needed. “Throughout America, almost two million children—POLIO PIONEERS!—participated.” Then on April 12, 1955 the world learned that Dr. Salk’s vaccine could indeed conquer polio.

“Within a few years, cases of polio plummeted,” and soon it was nearly eradicated from America and most areas of the world. But polio was not the only disease that Dr. Salk wanted to eliminate. He continued to work and test and dream. Then in California, Jonas Salk established the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, where “researchers question and discover, seeking cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other diseases.” All of this good stemmed from a little boy “who saw things differently.” Perhaps you know a child like that too.

An Author’s Note from Linda Elovitz Marshall follows the text and describes her own experiences as a young child growing up with the fear of polio as well as what inspired her biography of Jonas Salk. Images of letters children sent to Dr. Salk thanking him for his life-changing vaccine are also included.

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Image copyright Lisa Anchin, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s compelling biography of Jonas Salk, begun many years before the COVID-19 pandemic, reminds young readers—many of whom may also be dreamers like Dr. Salk—that their impressions, feelings, and unique view of the world can make valuable, even indispensable, contributions to the world. Marshall’s introduction of Jonas Salk as a serious, curious, intelligent, and caring child—even very young child—will impress readers with his life-long commitment to helping others and inspire their own good works. Her straightforward storytelling reveals to children a time with fears and hopes similar to their own recent experiences—an eye-opening history that offers context and hope and demonstrates the value of science not only for today but as a glimpse into the past and a light for the future. Through excellent pacing and well-chosen details, Marshall gives readers a sense of the urgency researchers, parents, and the public felt as polio raged and intensifies the suspense as Dr. Salk and his team race to find a vaccine for this dreaded disease. 

The parallels of today’s COVID-19 pandemic to the ravages of polio make The Polio Pioneer a unique teaching tool for parents, teachers, librarians and other caregivers for discussing viruses, how epidemics and pandemics occur, the role of doctors and researchers around the world in developing vaccines to combat them, and the importance of getting vaccinated.

Children curious about their peers from the past as well as how science and new ideas in history have transformed today’s medicine will find much to marvel at in Lisa Anchin’s realistic illustrations. Readers, familiar with modern scientific technology and laboratories, may be astonished at illustrations of a lab in the 1950s, where simple bottles, plastic tubing, and stacks of test tubes were the latest tools of the trade. They’ll enjoy comparing these earlier illustrations to a later spread showing scientists currently at work at the Salk Institute. Readers will empathize with images of children restricted to their homes, and a later illustration of a diverse group of children lined up to receive an experimental vaccine as part of the country-wide trial will impress them with the knowledge that kids just like them were instrumental in conquering polio for themselves and future generations.

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine is a superb and timely book for teachers and parents to introduce children to one of the world’s great scientific thinkers and lifesaving doctors. The story also gives adults a way to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and how vaccines are developed and work that will resonate with kids. A superb addition to STEM curriculum that will inspire future researchers and doctors, the book is a highly recommended for home libraries and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 9

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525646518

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lisa Anchin, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Linda Elovitz Marshall

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Linda Elovitz Marshall grew up near Boston, graduated from Barnard College, and raised four children and a flock of sheep on a farm in the Hudson River Valley. The author of several picture books, Linda still lives on the farm with her husband, Bob. To learn more, visit LindaMarshall.com.

 

I’m thrilled to be talking with Linda Elovitz Marshall today about this year’s cornucopia of books, her personal connection with The Polio Pioneer and how the book came to be, and her love of research.

2020 has been an amazing year for you with five books published—Saving the Countryside: Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, Shalom Bayit, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?, Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Round the World, and The Polio Pioneer! Can you talk a little about each of your books? Did you conceive of them around the same time or have some been percolating longer than others?

Thank you very much for interviewing me, Kathy. What a year this has been! Hopefully, we’ll have a vaccine widely available soon and can return to being with people we love and doing things we love to do.

Still, in this midst of it all, having all these books come out has definitely kept me busy and kept my spirits up. I’m very thankful for that. I’m thankful, too, to be part of the wonderful community of children’s writers.

About the books…

The idea for THE POLIO PIONEER: DR JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE came because Jonas Salk, who lead the team that discovered the polio vaccine, was a hero to me and many in my generation. That, coupled with the realization that people would soon forget about the once-dreaded disease polio – inspired me to write the book.

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The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California

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My research began back in 2016 when I’d told a friend of mine—a scientist who had just moved east from California—that we were planning a trip to La Jolla. I asked him what to do there. When he mentioned the Salk Institute, I told him that Salk was one of my heroes. That conversation led to my getting a tour of the Institute. The people at the Salk Institute were so very helpful… and helped me get my research off to a wonderful beginning.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shalom-bayit-coverSHALOM BAYIT: A PEACEFUL HOME (KarBen/Lerner 2020) was inspired by a project I did decades ago about how people live. I’ve come to believe that each home, whether small or grand, has the potential to be sacred space in its own way. A few years ago, a project that my synagogue did called the Jewish Home Project gave me the impetus to write the story. The book may have a specifically Hebrew title—the words mean “Peace in the Home”—but the concept in universal. We all need a sacred space, a place to feel safe, warm, and well-fed.

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HAVE YOU EVER ZEEN A ZIZ? – This story about a mythological Jewish bird just seemed to fly into my mind. I really don’t remember how it began. I heard the word ZIZ and chuckled…and made up a poem that later became this book. In a way, it really was magical!

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ANNE FRANK: THE GIRL HEARD AROUND THE WORLD was suggested to me by my friend and editor (who was formerly) at Scholastic, Orli Zuravicky. She asked if I’d take on the challenge of writing about Anne Frank and how she became a writer. I was honored, but also frightened. Could I do it? Dare I try? That was back in 2017. I re-read Anne’s diary…and cried. I thought and thought about Anne and when, at last, I could feel Anne, I began writing.

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SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT was inspired by a trip I took to England in 2018 with 11 other children’s writers and illustrators. As preparation, we each chose a writer or illustrator that we would become an “expert” on. As we visited the different writers’ homes, we shared our expertise. I chose Lewis Carroll but, in the end, it was Beatrix Potter whom I found so fascinating that I had to write about her. Beatrix was restrained by the many constraints of her day, and yet she broke loose and did what she wanted to do! She became a writer, an artist, a scientist, a sheep farmer, land conservationist, a helper to many in the countryside. She was AMAZING! I couldn’t stop myself from writing about her!

Three of your new books are biographies. What drew you to these particular people? What do you like best about writing biographies?

I love, love, love research. Also, I like to learn about a person so that I can feel what makes them tick. I want to identify—in some way—with that person about whom I’m writing.

Shortly after leaving my (not-completed) Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology program, I began to interview people, tape-record the interviews, and write their as-told-to autobiographies. Following the interviews, I would personally transcribe each recording. It took hours! However, playing the tapes over and over would help me feel their voice and get a better sense of the interviewee. And when, at last, I had a good sense of them, I’d begin to write.

As for my choice of subjects… Anne came via a friend. Jonas Salk was a hero to me. Beatrix plopped herself in my lap.

What kind of research did you do for each of your biographies? What is one surprising thing you learned about each of your subjects while writing the books?

I’m a leave-no-stone-unturned researcher. I immerse myself in all things related to that person: books (non-fiction and fiction), movies, articles, everything. I try to get to know the time period, the sensibilities, issues, the problems of the time…I try to learn as much as I can so that I can feel that person and, for a while, carry that person inside me.

I learned that Beatrix Potter was a bit of a rebel but that she (somehow) did her rebelling quite graciously. If she had a pet that died, she boiled the animal, removed its skin, reassemble its bones, and studied its anatomy. She was a brilliant scientist and an amazing entrepreneur, too!

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Linda Elovitz Marshall researching Jonas Salk at the Salk Institute.

I learned that, as a child, Jonas Salk thought about becoming a rabbi. Later, he decided to go into government. It was in college that he discovered chemistry…and fell in love with it! And when he and his wife were first married, he cut his own wood for the woodstove/fireplace that heated their cabin.

I also learned that Anne Frank was a lively, boisterous kid with a twinkle in her eye who loved making jokes and liked making a bit of mischief, too.

I’d like for you to talk a little more in depth about today’s reviewed book. Can you take readers on its journey from idea to publication? Why do you think it’s important for children to know about Jonas Salk?

Thank you for asking. As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Salk was a hero to me and to many of my generation. There was even a stamp issued in his honor! It was part of the Distinguished Americans series of postage stamps. When I decided to write picture book biographies in addition to my other writing, Dr. Salk—my hero—was one of the first people I chose to write about. He was someone who saw a problem, wanted to fix it, and did. He was such a hero to me and my husband that when our first son (who grew up to become a doctor) was born, my husband (also a doctor) and I named him Jonah.

When I started researching this book, years before COVID-19 came on the scene, Americans had all-but-forgotten how deadly and devastating a communicable disease could be. Sure, there was fear with recent outbreaks of diseases like Ebola, Zika, and H1N1. But with good fortune and quick action, those diseases were (temporarily, at least) brought under control and, consequently, swept off the radar. It seemed the United States had become a fairly safe place regarding communicable diseases. Then came COVID-19.

The first vaccine that Dr. Salk worked on was the flu vaccine. Worldwide, the Spanish flu had killed millions of people. More people were killed from flu than died during all of World War I. The flu vaccine that Dr. Salk and his mentor, Dr. Francis, developed is the basis of the vaccine we still use. It has saved millions of lives!

Then Dr. Salk saw another problem: polio. He wanted to solve that problem… and he did! But he didn’t stop there. After that, he opened the Salk Institute—a place to identify, study, and solve problems. As we are seeing first-hand with COVID-19, the first step is to recognize a problem. The second is to have the desire to solve them. The third is to get to work. I hope this book inspires people to do all three!

Your experiences with polio outbreaks when you were a child and today’s restrictions in response to the pandemic have direct correlations. What do you remember about those times? What would you tell children today?

I was quite young, but I remember not being allowed to go to lakes or swimming pools or even to the movies. There were many restrictions, much as there are now. Polio, however, was thought to be a disease that struck mostly young children and babies. I don’t remember not being allowed to see or hug my grandparents. On the other hand, we lived quite far from them and didn’t see them often.

What would I tell children today? Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. A mask helps keeps the wearer safe. It helps keep people around the wearer safe. It’s a little thing and it doesn’t hurt.

I would also like to start a public service announcement campaign about masks. Inspired by the words of former U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” this public announcement campaign would be:

MASK:

What YOU can do for your country!

Anyone want to come up with a graphic? Anyone want to help get the word out?

If we all wear masks and all work together—for our country—we can help stop this pandemic. We can each do our part. MASK: what YOU can do for your country.

And when the vaccine is ready for us to take, we need to be ready to take it…for ourselves, for our communities, for our country.

The announcement of a successful vaccine for COVID-19 has generated excitement and hope. Your descriptions of the research Jonas Salk and his team did on a flu vaccine and on the polio vaccine can inform children’s understanding of the world’s current search to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. How can adults use your biography of Jonas Salk to discuss this topic with their kids or students?

At last, we are seeing rays of sunshine, glimmers of hope. It looks like there will soon be a COVID-19 vaccine readily available. Maybe soon, COVID-19, like polio (and diphtheria, measles, pertussis, etc.), will be a preventable disease. But for that to happen, people need to take the vaccine.

This book is a wonderful teaching tool—especially with its soothing 1950’s retro look—for teaching about how a vaccine solved a problem in a previous epidemic. I’m hoping that teachers, parents, librarians, and caregivers will see the parallel and use it during COVID-19 (and, ugh, in the event that there’s yet another pandemic down the road…).

Adults can read The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine with their kids or students and talk about it. Read and talk about children around the country who took the shots. Those children, those “polio pioneers,” were heroes! By taking the vaccine, they helped save themselves—and many other people—from a devastating, communicable disease. Dr. Salk was so positive that his vaccine was safe and effective that he gave the shots to his own children!

Speaking of his children, I contacted them while I was researching this book. They’re grown up with children and grandchildren of their own. They were wonderfully helpful! If any of Dr. Salk’s children are reading this, thank you, again!

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Thank you letters to Dr. Salk from children who received the polio vaccine.

While you were raising your children, you lived on a farm. I’d love to hear a little more about your farm. Did the experience influence any of your books?

I raised my children on a small sheep farm in New York State’s Hudson River Valley. We had sheep, chickens, rabbits, and an occasional goat. We had dogs in the house and cats in the barn. My book, The Passover Lamb, was inspired by something that took place on our farm. The middle grade novel I’m working on is set on the farm. I also have several stories I’m working on, none of which are yet sold, that are also set on – or inspired by – the farm.

In doing a little research for this interview, I saw that you wrote a book about your father, Jerry Ellis (Gerald Elovitz), who founded Building #19—described as “New England’s laziest, messiest department store.” One joke that your dad incorporated into the store caught my eye. It was a sign at the door that read: “Wipe your feet before leaving this store.” Several of your books are based in humor. Did you inherit your sense of humor from your dad? How would you describe the humor in your books for kids?

I wish I could attribute my sense of humor to my father—he was a genius at humor and at making lemonade out of lemons. When he was completely bankrupt with three small children, a new house, and a new mortgage, he started a business that eventually became quite successful. Before that, he’d tried another business venture (selling TV’s and appliances) that failed miserably and depleted his (and the family’s) resources. When he started the new business—selling overstocked, imperfect goods, and damaged items from insurance losses—he wrote his own ads, saying he couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to write them. He even filmed his own TV commercials—using puppets because actors were too expensive! His humor helped make “America’s laziest and messiest department stores” a great success. The business eventually grew to 12 stores…and lasted almost 50 years!

Like my father, I try to add gentle humor to some of my writing. Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? and The Mitzvah Magician are good examples of that type of humor. Sometimes, I’m serious, too. Mostly, though, I like to play with words. I also need to keep myself amused. That’s important! When I read what I wrote the day (or week or month) before and laugh out loud (assuming it was supposed to be funny), I know it’s good.

Are you working on any new projects now? Would you like to give readers a hint for what’s to come?

I’ve just put (what I hope are) the finishing touches on a picture book biography that will come out in 2022. I have another picture book bio coming out in 2023. I’ve also got another picture book coming out in 2022 or 2023. Covid-19 has changed some of the dates and the illustrators haven’t yet been selected, so I won’t say more about them yet.

I’m also working on several projects, including a middle grade novel. I’ve just completed a wonderful poetry course (taken online, of course) through Highlights. Now I have several poems brewing. I have a long list of projects as well as a list of things that are just twinkles-of-ideas, ranging from board books to adult novels. There’s no way I’ll ever finish even half of what I’m interested in doing. And the list grows longer every day!

Thanks, Linda, for this wonderful talk! Your enthusiasm for your subjects is inspiring! I wish you all the best with The Polio Pioneer and all of your books!

You can connect with Linda Elovitz Marshall on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine has been named to these “Best Books” lists!

The National Science Teaching Association Best STEM books for 2021

 The Jewish Journal Best Non-Holiday books 2020

And Kirkus calls it “An exciting, informative introduction to medical research, the work of Jonas Salk, and the man himself.”

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming up with Knopf Books for Young Readers in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine, written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | illustrated by Lisa Anchin

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Reply with your hero or person you admire for an extra entry. Each reply earns one extra entry.

This giveaway is open from December 9 to December 15 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 16. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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You can find The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

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The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

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They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound