May 25 – Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to commemorate the laying of wreaths and flowers on soldiers’ gravesites, was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. In 1971 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The day is honored with parades and special commemorative events. At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh | Illustrated by Layne Johnson

 

In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson declared that America was going to war in Europe. As a teacher and foster mother to girls at the University of Georgia’s Normal School, Moina Belle Michael wanted to do something to honor the boys going off to fight—boys who were the brothers, sweethearts, even fathers of her students. Moina did what the other women were doing to help—knitting socks and sweaters and rolling bandages—but she wanted to do more. She went to the soldiers’ camps nearby to deliver books, magazines, and candy, and she waved goodbye to them at the train station. But she still wanted to do more.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina wanted to go overseas to help the young men with the Y.M.C.A, but after she finished her training at New York’s Columbia University, she was told she was too old to go. She then set up a desk in the basement of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus where she assisted soldiers before they deployed, but the room was dark and dreary. Moina wanted them to have a more cheerful meeting place.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina brightened the room with fresh flowers she bought with her small salary. More soldiers came to spend time with her, to share their pictures, letters, and hometown news. But Moina wanted to do even more. One day she rediscovered a poem she had read many times. Titled We Shall Not Sleep, it was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and was a tribute to soldiers who had died on the battlefields of Flanders. The poem was illustrated with a field of nameless crosses and bright red poppies. The last verse of the poem urged others to take up the torch of the noble fight. Suddenly, Moina knew what she had to do.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

She wrote a poem of her own, giving poppies a special meaning: “And now the Torch and Poppy red / We wear in honor of our dead. / Fear not that ye have died for naught; / We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought / In Flanders Field.” Moina shared her poem with soldiers at the Y. Many wanted to wear red poppies on their uniforms to honor their fallen friends. With a ten dollar donation, Moina went shopping to find artificial red poppies that she and the soldiers could wear.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

But finding these flowers was difficult. She finally found one large poppy and 24 smaller ones. She pinned the large one to her coat and with the others wrapped, hurried back to the Y. There she gave the small flowers to some of the men and women leaving for the war in France. But there were so few flowers to share. Moina wanted every American to wear a poppy to remember the soldiers. Always.

The epilogue goes on to reveal that two days after Moina bought those 24 poppies, World War I ended.  While everyone was happy to see the soldiers coming home, people wanted to move on, to forget the horrors of the war. But for veterans it wasn’t easy. Jobs were scarce, some veterans were disabled or suffered lingering effects of war.

Moina wanted to help. She wondered if the poppy could benefit returning veterans. After much work she convinced local and international veterans’ groups to adopt the poppy as their memorial flower. People began donating to veterans’ causes, and in return they received a red poppy. Millions of dollars were raised to help the soldiers. Even today, Moina’s red poppies benefit veterans and remind us of their sacrifices and service.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Through her detailed telling of how Moina Belle Michael discovered her life’s work, Barbara Elizabeth Walsh provides a realistic view of the World War I era and the desire of most citizens to do something to help the soldiers fighting the war. The sense of suspense, camaraderie, fear, and disappointment that fueled Moina Michael’s heart and actions are beautifully and straightforwardly presented and give children true knowledge of this time period.

Accompanying the text to maximum effect are Layne Johnson’s inspiring, realistic paintings of the scars of war on both the landscape and the human heart. In close-up portraits, Johnson captures the emotions of the women learning that their brothers, boyfriends, and fathers will be joining the war effort as well as scenes of soldiers training, deploying, and returning to tell their stories. Turning the pages is like stepping onto the university campus, visiting the basement gathering space, and walking the city streets. Especially evocative are the two battle scenes and the view of the Flanders Fields with their endless carpet of poppies and straight rows of white cross markers.

For anyone wanting to teach or learn about the origins and meaning of Memorial Day and the significance of the red poppy, The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans is a must read.

Ages 7 – 12 and up

Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590787540

Discover more about Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and her books on her website.

To learn more about Layne Johnson and his art, visit his website.

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

 

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

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You can find The Poppy Lady at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 23 – It’s National Tennis Month

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About the Holiday

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

Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

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

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

National Tennis Month Activity

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Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle

 

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

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle | Tennis Love Word Search Solution

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You can find Serena: The Littlest Sister at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 18 – International Museum Day

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About the Holiday

On today’s date, museums around the world typically hold special exhibits, events, and activities with visitors in their buildings and other venues. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic means that the 40th anniversary of International Museum Day will be celebrated online through digital activities. The theme for this year’s remembrance is “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion.” The International Council of Museums––a global network of more than 44,000 museum professionals at 20,000 museums in 138 countries––”hopes that this special day will ‘become a rallying point to both celebrate the diversity of perspectives that make up the communities and personnel of museums and champion tools for identifying and overcoming bias in what they display and the stories they tell.'” To take part, visit the website of your local museums or a favorite museum elsewhere in the world and see what treasures they have to share.

Rocks in His Head

Written by Carol Otis Hurst | Illustrated by James Stevenson

 

Carol Otis Hurst tells the story of her father, who—even when he was a boy—loved everything to do with rocks. He collected them and in his spare time walked “along stone walls and around old quarries, looking for rocks.” Everyone said “he had rocks in his pockets and rocks in his head,” and he had to agree. When he thought about what he wanted to do when he grew up, he imagined it would have something to do with rocks, and when he was told “‘There’s no money in rocks,’” he was okay with that. In the end, though, he opened a gas station in Springfield, Massachusetts with his father’s help. He called it the Antler Filling Station.

In the back of the filling station, Carol’s father displayed his rock and mineral collection. “He carefully labeled each rock to show what kind it was and where it had come from.” When the Model T automobile came out, more people could afford to buy a car. Carol’s father learned every inch of the Model T by taking it apart and reassembling it many times. He thought that someone who could repair the car and sell spare parts would have a good business, so he began collecting parts for the Model T—so many that “the pile of parts was bigger than the filling station.”

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Image copyright James Stevenson, 2001, text copyright Carol Otis Hurst, 2001. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Most people in town said he “had rocks in his head” if he thought he would sell all those parts, but pretty soon drivers were flocking to the Antler Filling Station for gas and fixes to their cars. They also came inside to see the rocks, ask questions, and hear the stories of each rock and gemstone. Then the stock market crashed and people didn’t have the money for gas or to fix their cars. Things slowed down at the Antler, and when things were really slow, Carol, her father, and her friends would pile into their Model T and go searching for more rocks.

But while the collection at the filling station grew, people stopped coming because they were all out looking for jobs. Soon the Antler Filling Station closed and the family had to move to a new house. The house was falling apart, but Carol’s father began repairing it—after building shelves in the attic for his rock collection. When he wasn’t repairing the house, he was studying more about rocks. Along the way, he looked for work, taking any job he could even if they only lasted a day or two.

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Image copyright James Stevenson, 2001, text copyright Carol Otis Hurst, 2001. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

On days when he had no work, Carol’s father went to the Springfield Science Museum, where “they had a whole room full of glass cases containing many rocks. Sometimes he’d spend the whole day in that room.” One day, he met a woman who asked him what he was looking for. He answered “‘I’m looking for rocks that are better than mine.’” Out of the hundreds of rocks in that room, he told her, he’d only found ten, “‘maybe eleven,’” that were better. They smiled at each other.

Then the lady introduced herself as Grace Johnson, the director of the museum. “‘These rocks have come from all over the world,’” she told him, and he said that his had too. She wanted to see his collection, and so they drove out in her big car. Carol’s father showed her up to the attic. After looking around, she told him that while the board of directors wouldn’t allow her to hire him as a mineralogist because he lacked a college degree, she did need a night janitor. When he heard that the job sometimes included cleaning rocks, he took it.

One day, Mrs. Johnson discovered him correcting a label on one of the rocks. She smiled and told him that she had told the board of directors that she needed “‘somebody with rocks in his head and rocks in his pockets.’” Then she asked, “‘Are you it?’ Maybe I am,’” Carol’s father answered. “‘Maybe I am.’” And he was!

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Image copyright James Stevenson, 2001, text copyright Carol Otis Hurst, 2001. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Carol Otis Hurst’s lovely and affectionate memoir of her father offers young readers a snapshot of history while introducing them to a man who stayed true to himself and his life-long love of rocks despite obstacles and good-natured jibes by those around him. Hurst’s easy-going, conversational storytelling represents her father well, allowing children to get a feel for his personality and steady outlook on life. His acceptance as a mineralogist (and ultimate position as director of the Springfield Science Museum as told in the author’s bio on the jacket flap) will satisfy readers.

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James Stevenson’s familiar watercolor-and-ink illustrations are infused with charm, taking children beside an old stone wall that meanders through the woods, back to old-style filling stations and Model-T cars, and into the heart of a true collector. Images of the author’s father attentively setting up his collection in the filling station and later in the attic will resonate with any young collectors reading the book, and the full-page illustration of Grace Johnson and the author’s father talking and smiling together is happy validation that kindred spirits do cross paths in life.

For children who love collecting, history, museums, and biographies, Rocks in His Head is a delightful choice for home libraries and would make am appealing lead in to science lessons or museum field trips for elementary classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2001 | ISBN 978-0060294038

International Museum Day Activity

CPB - Cookie Jar Museum (2)

Create a Museum Exhibit

 

Every item has a story. A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is to create a museum exhibit of objects in your home. Maybe there’s a funny anecdote behind a knick-knack on the shelf. Perhaps the family’s favorite serving dish holds sentimental value. How about your child’s best-loved toys or  drawings or crafts they’ve made? This can be a fun way to spend some time while staying at home and let everyone see common objects in a whole new light.

Supplies

  • A number of household 
  • Paper or index cards
  • Marker, pen, or pencil
  • A table, shelf, or other area for display

Directions

  1. To get started help children gather a number of items from around the house to be the subjects of their exhibit. An exhibit can have a theme, such as Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, like toys, plants, tools, or artwork.
  2. Using the paper or cards, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children can write the labels themselves; younger children may need adult help.
  3. Spend a little time relating the story behind each object: where it came from, how long you’ve had it, and when and how it was used in the past. Include any funny or touching memories attached to the item. Or let your child’s imagination run free, and let them create histories for the objects.
  4. When the labels are finished, arrange the items on a table, shelf, or in a room, and let your child lead family members on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or other app.

Museum Coloring Pages

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Museum Coloring Pages

 

You may not be able to visit a museum in person right now, but you can enjoy three of the most amazing museums in the world with these coloring pages. 

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art | London’s British Museum | The Louvre in Paris

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You can find Rocks in His Head at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 6 – It’s National Bike Month

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About the Holiday

Established in 1956 and sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month celebrates all the fun and benefits of cycling. Communities around the country usually celebrate with special events, tours, and safety lessons. This year the League of American Bicyclists is encouraging riders to ride solo or with family and share their experiences online with #BikesUnite. For a list of ideas on ideas for making this year’s Bike Month fun, meaningful, and special, visit the League of American Bicyclists website.

I received a copy of Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride from Oni Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride

By Joel Christian Gill

 

Maybe you’ve been criticized for your hair or your body shape; told that “you are not enough.” Bessie heard that over and over. When the boys gathered after school to race on their bikes, they rode past Bessie, laughing that she wasn’t fast enough. But Bessie wanted to join them. The boys just laughed harder and said, “Silly little Bessie! Girls can’t ride bikes!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fast-enough-Bessie

Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

Bessie asked her mama if girls could ride bikes, and she suggested Bessie “ask the Man Upstairs.” That night Bessie said her usual prayers and then asked “if girls are supposed to ride bikes.” That night in her dreams she rode up and down hills, through cities, by the ocean, and even on top of the waves. She rode through cities and up into space.

In the morning, Bessie knew just what she was going to do that day. When the boys got together, she was there, hanging behind. As the leader of the group started the countdown to race, Bessie waited. And when he shouted “Go!” “Bessie zoomed past the boys. She sailed over the concrete like it was the ocean in her dream. She was fast enough.” She zipped past the ladies walking their dogs as if they were skyscrapers in the city and tore up the track with the speed of a comet.

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

When the boys saw that, they called for her to wait up, and when they reached her there were high-fives all around. From then on Bessie could be found speeding around town on her bike until the day she heard “ROOOAAAR VAAROOM!,” saw…a motorcycle, and “realized she could be even faster.”

Extensive back matter continues Bessie’s story as a pioneer for women in motorcycling in the early and mid-twentieth century. Also a nurse, Bessie traveled all over the United States, following the Negro Motorist Green Book to find safe accommodations, as well as the world. She was “the only woman on a team of civilian motorcycle couriers for the U.S. military” and became “the first woman to ride a motorcycle across America.” Children will be fascinated by her adventurous life and captivated by the various versions of her life and legend. 

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Copyright Joel Christian Gill, 2019, courtesy of Oni Press.

Joel Christian Gill introduces children to Bessie, a determined, brave, and pioneering woman at a formative time in her life. Told that girls don’t ride bikes and that she wasn’t good enough or fast enough anyway, Bessie Stringfield wrestled with self-doubt, but she took control of what she wanted and ultimately proved to herself and others that she was more than capable. Gill’s first pages set the stage for readers to contemplate ways in which they may doubt themselves, before encouraging them to find inspiration and confidence in Bessie’s story.

Gill’s vivid illustrations clearly show Bessie’s sadness as she internalizes the boy’s taunts, her tenacity, and finally her jubilation is besting them and achieving her goal. Images of Bessie’s dream and its resulting reality creatively play on the dual meaning of the word dream while a change in Bessie’s room décor while she sleeps is a clever touch.

A singular story about a trailblazing black woman, Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride encourages children to embrace their own identity instead of letting others define them. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Oni Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1549303142

To learn more about Joel Christian Gill, his books, and his cartoons, visit his website.

National Bike Month Activity

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Ride with Me! Maze

 

These two girls want to ride bikes together. Can you help them find each other in this printable maze?

Ride with Me! Puzzle | Ride with Me! Puzzle Solution

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You can find Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 30 – International Jazz Day

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About the Holiday

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

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

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

Written by Kathleen Cornell Berman | Illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 8 – 12

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146909

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

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

Meet Kathleen Cornell Berman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up next for you?

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

What is your favorite holiday?

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

You can connect with Kathleen Cornell Berman on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Jazz Appreciation Month Activity

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Cool Jazz! Word Search Puzzle

 

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

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

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

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 7 – It’s National Poetry Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate poets and the poetry they create to illuminate our lives in new and often surprising ways. National Poetry Month is a world-wide event, bringing together tens of millions of poets, readers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers, and other poetry lovers in readings, school visits, and special events. To celebrate, check out some events in your area and enjoy reading the work of your favorite—or a new—poet. You might even try writing your own poetry! Get inspired with today’s book!

I received a copy of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks from Abrams Books for Young Readers for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

 

Growing up in Chicago, Gwendolyn Brooks’ family didn’t have a lot of money but they did own “great treasure—a bookcase filled with precious poems.” Every night Gwendolyn’s father read aloud from those books, and, mesmerized, Gwendolyn memorized poems to recite for her visiting aunts. “When she was seven, Gwendolyn began arranging words into poems of her own.” One day, her mother read her poems and declared that one day she would be as great as Paul Laurence Dunbar—Gwendolyn’s favorite poet.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Gwendolyn loved to sit on her porch and watch the clouds float by. She filled notebooks about them and about her “paper dolls, ticktock clocks, raindrops, sunsets, and climbing rocks.” When Gwendolyn was eleven, she sent four of her poems to a newspaper, and, much to her delight, they were printed. A poem she sent to a national magazine also appeared in print.

Gwendolyn was looking forward to a bright future when the Great Depression hit. But Gwendolyn kept writing. In high school she was an outsider, never seeming to fit in despite trying several schools. “Gwendolyn felt invisible. But when words flowed from her pen, she became invincible.” After college she took whatever jobs she could find and continued writing. She got married and had a baby boy. Even though she was busy, she took poetry classes about modern poems and wrote in a new style herself.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

She wrote about what and who she saw in her South Side Chicago neighborhood, Bronzeville. She began to win poetry contests and had some poems published in a well-known poetry journal. She and her family were still poor, but that didn’t stop her from writing “‘what she saw and heard in the street’” even when there was no electricity. Just as when she was a little girl, Gwendolyn “kept dreaming about a future that was going to be exquisite.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

One day, she gathered her best poems and submitted them to a book publisher in New York. Soon after, they wrote asking for more. She wrote and wrote until she had enough to send. With the next letter from the publisher, she learned that they “loved her poems!” They were published with the title A Street in Bronzeville. After that book, came a second, Annie Allen. Her poems were now read all over the world. They “helped people better understand others” and “changed the way some people thought and acted.”

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Even with two books published, money was scarce. And yet she kept writing because “everywhere she looked, Gwendolyn saw more stories that needed to be told.” One day two things happened in Gwendolyn’s apartment: the electricity was turned off—again. And the phone rang. The reporter on the phone had one question for her: “‘Do you know that you have won the Pulitzer Prize?’” She and her young son danced around the apartment as “outside, exquisite clouds exploded in the sunset sky, because Gwendolyn had won the greatest prize in poetry!”

“Clouds,” a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks when she was fifteen, follows the story. An Author’s Note giving more information about Brooks’ work, a timeline of her life, and resources are also included.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In her outstanding biography, Suzanne Slade highlights the prodigious talent of Gwendolyn Brooks, illuminating the influences, continual study, and inborn voice that informed and created her poetry. Gwendolyn’s self-confidence, unique perspective, and the support she received throughout her youth and career are strong themes that will inspire readers. Slade focuses on the awe Brooks found in her subjects, demonstrating her singular vision and how poetry is found in the everyday aspects of life. Beginning with Gwendolyn’s childhood, Slade links the events of Brooks’ life with beautiful imagery of the clouds she once likened to her exquisite future. Quotes are sprinkled throughout Slade’s lyrical text, allowing children to hear Brooks’ own voice and the dreams and pride had for her work.

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Image copyright Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2020. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Cozbi A. Cabrera’s acrylic paintings are stunning representations of Gwendolyn’s life. Her family life with her well-read and supportive family comes alive with images of their home, where the large glass bookcase has pride of place, portraits hang on the walls, Gwendolyn practices the piano while her mother exclaims over her poetry, and the family gathers for a meager dinner during hard times. For young readers, Cabrera visualizes the parts of Gwendolyn’s life that fed her imagination and work and the copious amounts of poetry that she created—even as a child. Images of Gwendolyn’s early publishing successes give way to the changes brought by the Depression, school, marriage, and motherhood, but a pen, paper, and books are still her constant companions. Scenes from Chicago give children a look at the city that inspired Gwendolyn’s poetry, and intermittent views of the pastel clouds let readers dream along with her.

A stirring biography to inspire the dreams of any child, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks is a story that children will want to hear again and again. On its own or paired with Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, the book also makes an impactful lesson for homeschooling. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020 | ISBN 978-1419734113

Discover more about Suzanne Slade and her books on her website.

To learn more about Cozbi A. Cabrera, her books, and her art on her website.

Watch the Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks book trailer

National Poetry Month Activity

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You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the twenty poetry-related words in this printable puzzle then write a poem of your own!

You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Puzzle | You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Solution

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You can find Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

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

March 30 – National Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

Women have been inventing, discovering, questioning, challenging, and changing the world in the same ways and for just as long as men have—but often without recognition, the ability to take jobs in their fields of expertise, or equal (or even any) pay. This month’s observance serves to educate people on the amazing women who have blazed trails in the past and those who are continuing that tradition today. As we close out National Women’s History Month, we take a look at a book about one woman who has broken many barriers throughout her life and continues to inspire children and adults.

Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison (Work It, Girl! series)

Written by Caroline Moss | Illustrated by Sinem Erkas

Focused, intelligent, courageous, and giving, astronaut Mae Jemison is an inspiration to millions of kids and adults around the world. Through her captivating biography, Caroline Moss introduces readers to this accomplished woman in ten engrossing chapters that, through pivotal events, dialogue, and thoughts, reveal Mae’s dreams, motivations, and triumphs. Paced in short, impactful chapters, this biography reads like a novel yet imparts factual information that will entice readers to learn more about Mae Jemison and careers in science.

Sinem Erkas punctuates this personal narrative with her stirring 3-D cut paper artwork. Vivid colors and  action-packed imagery, take readers along on Mae’s journey from childhood dreams of “sailing off into space on a rocket ship” to the day she fulfills that dream and beyond. Images of Mae completing experiments in college and medical school as well as detailed depictions of Mae inside the space shuttle working and interacting with other astronauts will have children lingering over the pages.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In the first chapter, children meet Mae as a young girl and her parents who took her dreams seriously, instilled in her a strong work ethic, and guided her on her way to the stars. Is a splinter science? In Chapter 2, readers learn how an infected injury led Mae and her mom to “do a science experiment with the infection” that taught her “so much about doctors and science and health…. Mae was also excited to realize this was something that truly interested her.” Excited to share her research and discovery at school, Mae instead felt those first feelings of doubt when her teacher discouraged her goal of becoming a scientist.

In Chapter 3, children sit in on this class, but also follow 9-year-old Mae home, where her mom tells her “‘It does not matter what anyone thinks…. What matters is that you work hard, set goals, and do your best to achieve them. What matters is that you believe in yourself.” It’s also at this time that Mae watched the Apollo moon landing and thought that maybe someday she go into space too.

When she was 11, Mae discovered dance. She not only discovered it, she discovered she loved it and was good at it. Would Mae decide to become a dancer instead of a scientist? Or, Mae wondered, could she do both? Her mom gave her a bit of perspective that made sense to Mae and “helped her to prioritize her goals and dreams.” What was that advice? You can read about it in Chapter 4.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Chapters 5 and 6, Mae is getting closer to her goal as she goes off to Stanford University at age 16 and then on to medical school at Cornell University, from which she graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1981. After grad school, Mae spent a few years in the Peace Corps overseas. When she came back, she learned that “NASA was accepting applications for astronauts. She thought of Sally Ride, a trailblazer; the first American woman in space. She was inspired.” The application was long, and so was the wait to hear back. When she finally got the letter and tore it open, she learned that “out of 2,000 people, she had been accepted to the NASA astronaut program!” She also “realized quickly that out of the fifteen people selected for the 1987 NASA program, she was both the only Black person and the only Black woman.” After her training, she was given a job in the Cape Canaveral, Florida, Kennedy Space Center, “using her math and science knowledge to work with software for shuttles.”

You know that Mae Jemison did go into space, so when does she blast off? In Chapter 7! Young future astronauts will discover what she did before that momentous trip, and in Chapter 8, they’ll read about microgravity, what experiments Mae worked on, how she slept strapped to the wall, what she ate, and other details of her eight days in space.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Chapter 9 relates what Mae has done after leaving NASA. Her teaching career and the Dorothy Jemison Foundation she began were fostered by “a pull inside her to get in front of young people to impart this wisdom. She wanted to create a better world than the one she lived in as a little girl. She wanted kids, especially girls, to know that the world needed them, and the world of science definitely needed them.” As the leader of NASA’s 100 Year Starship Program, Mae’s doing just that. Read about it and be inspired to shoot for your own stars in Chapter 10.

Quotes by Mae Jemison and motivational snapshots are highlighted throughout the text. Back matter includes ten key lessons from Mae Jemison’s life on becoming a leader, questions to prompt kids to think about science, their passions, staying motivated, making a difference, and what they want their legacy to be. There is also a list of books, websites, and organizations for further reading and exploration.

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Image copyright Sinem Erkes, 2020, text copyright Caroline Moss, 2020. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Compelling and personal, Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison is a biography young readers won’t be able to put down. The book is highly recommended for homeschooling and home libraries as well as for school and public library collections.

Ages 8 – 12

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0711245150

Discover more abouCaroline Moss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sinem Erkas, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Women’s History Month Activity

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

Out-of-this-World Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

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

SUPPLIES

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

DIRECTIONS

To Make the Rockets

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

To Make the Capsule

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

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

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You can find Blast off into Space Like Mae Jemison at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review