November 7 – National Bison Day

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About the Holiday

Beginning in 2012, a movement grew to name the bison as America’s national mammal and declare the first Saturday of November as National Bison Day to bring together bison supporters, including Native Americans, bison producers, conservationists, sportsmen, and educators to celebrate the significance of Bison. On May 9, 2016, President Barak Obama signed into law the proclamation naming the bison our national mammal.

The bison, also known as the American buffalo are considered a historical symbol of the United States and were integrally linked with the economic and spiritual lives of many Native American tribes through trade and sacred ceremonies. Bison also play an important role in improving soil and creating beneficial habitat whilst holding significant economic value for private producers and rural communities. Hunted to near extinction, bison now reside in all 50 states in national parks, refuges, tribal, and private lands.

My Bison

By Gaya Wisniewski

 

The first time a little girl meets the bison she was walking with her mother through a field of tall grass. “‘Look!’” her mother said. “‘He’s back!’” Every day after that the girl went out into the field to see the bison, coming a little closer each time until she was able to pet him. Once, she even thought she heard him whisper an invitation to come closer.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The little girl began to feed him food she’d made herself. Sometimes he didn’t like it, but he always tried it and that made her happy. One day it was time for him to move on with the rest of the herd. The girl walked with him as far as she could. When she said goodbye, the bison gave her a long look and she “knew he’d be back when snow covered the ground again.” The girl was lonely without him, but when winter returned she knew he had too without even seeing him. Now, seated together near the fire, the girl told him stories about the forest and what she’d done over the year while he, silent, “listened with tenderness.” She loved everything about him and loved him with her whole heart.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The girl and the bison grew old together, winter to winter, never feeling the cold of the snow. Once, they talked all night about their mothers. The girl remembering the first time her mother had shown her the bison, how she had comforted her and taught her the lessons of nature. She missed her mother so much, she told him, and imagined he missed his mother too.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

One winter the bison didn’t return and no amount of looking could find him. The girl, now an old woman, went home. She cried with missing him. And then just as in those winters so long ago when she felt his presence without seeing him, she knew he was with her. In her heart she “heard him say, ‘I am in every spring flower, every sound in the forest, and every snowflake.’” And she knew he was with her always.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Gaya Wisniewski’s stunning and gorgeous story about a friendship between a little girl and a bison is deeply moving, it’s straightforward and metaphorical meanings blending in harmony to settle in a reader’s heart. The girl’s and bison’s relationship is one of mutual respect and trust, and they are in many ways alike. With her shaggy coat and tousled hair, the girl looks like a miniature bison, while the bison is perfectly comfortable sitting at the table near the fire sipping hot chocolate or snoozing in the cozy built-in bed  in the girl’s home. The girl loves the bison the way children love their pets, and the way she takes care of him replicates a mother’s tender affection and attention.

Here the text and images take on deeper meanings as the little girl offers the bison homemade food, holding her long-handled spoon to his mouth the way mothers the world over do for their babies. She walks with him to the edge of the clearing as he leaves in the spring, waving goodbye but with the promise of his return like a mother taking her child to the bus stop, seeing them off to college, or watching them move away.

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Image copyright Gaya Wisniewski, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At other times the bison seems to take on the role of the mother. In the endearing illustration of the bison and the girl talking over cups of hot chocolate, the girl relates how the bison would listen to her stories. Later, readers learn that her mother made her hot chocolate when she couldn’t sleep, letting them imagine how the little girl might have told her mother about her day, about the things keeping her awake. The china cup also holds the bison’s memory of cuddling with his mother, their fur smudged and merging with the steam rising from the hot drink. This blending of roles subtly demonstrates the cycles of life and the reciprocal nature of love.

Readers don’t know when the girl lost her mother; but a snapshot of the girl playing Ring around the Rosie with her and her teddy bear, in which only the mother’s arms are visible at the side of the page and the circle of light highlighting this scene is surrounded by darkness, hints at the loss. As the bison and the girl grow old together and there comes the winter when the bison does not return readers discover that any great love is always with them.

Wisniewski’s charcoal and ink illustrations, punctuated with blue create a mystical, dreamlike atmosphere where the forest and the mountains, the girl and the bison reach out to embrace the reader and invite them into this world of a love like no other.

A tender story to share all types of unending love with children, My Bison would be a poignant addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898861

To learn more about Gaya Wisniewski, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Bison Day Activity

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Bison Coloring Page

 

Bison are majestic creatures. Enjoy this coloring page of a bison roaming Yellowstone National Park.

Bison Coloring Page

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You can find My Bison at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 1 – May Day and Interview with Author Denise Brennan-Nelson

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About the Holiday

May Day has for centuries celebrated the coming of spring. In ancient calendars May 1 heralded the first day of summer. Often celebrated with flowers and dancing, May Day has ushered in many traditions, such as dancing around a Maypole and May Day baskets, which are cone-shaped baskets filled with flowers. A May Day basket is usually given in secret as the giver hangs it on a friend’s doorknob and then rings the doorbell and runs away. (Which sounds like a perfect way to celebrate the holiday in these days of social distancing.) Whether nature is blooming in full or just starting to bud where you live, May Day offers the promise of brighter days ahead. Today’s book—and its adorable character Mae—shows us how to celebrate that feeling every day.

I received a copy of Mae the Mayfly from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Mae the Mayfly

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Florence Weiser

 

“Near the bank of the river one warm spring day / a new life began, and her name was Mae.” Before her mama said goodbye, she hugged her daughter and told her that she had her “whole life—a day, perhaps more” to explore her world. As Mae flitted along the river, a large, hungry trout waited for just the right moment to lure her in. It smiled deceitfully and beckoned to her, and, even though her inner voice told her not to, Mae flew down closer to take a look.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That’s when the trout leapt from the water to snatch Mae from the air. But she darted and dodged and got away. Shaking with fear, Mae found a hole in a hollow tree and flew in. “I’ll stay here forever! I’m not coming out!” she told herself.  But once her heart stopped beating so loud, she heard a happy tweet and peeked out of the tree. She saw a mother robin feeding her chicks and a spider web glittered in the sun. “The mist on the river was a fine, pink cloak. / A bullfrog bellowed his morning croak.” 

Mae remembered what her Mama had said and “launched herself from the dark, hollow place.” She followed the river, where she saw flowers and birds, a deer and a bear and one “stubby toad.” Then, she came to a clearing where she found “a singing, dancing jamboree… a wild mayfly jubilee! / Joining in, Mae danced with glee!”

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As morning turned to afternoon, Mae was floating on the breeze when she heard a call for help. She went in search of who it was and found Trout lying motionless and barely breathing. Fearful that he might leap at her again, she carefully went closer to inspect. “But Trout was weak, no flip or flail. / Tangled line had caught his tail.” Then Mae noticed something else—his shimmering “rainbow stripes in every hue, silver, pink, and shades of blue.” And in his eyes she saw his fear and realized that she and Trout were alike.

Mae went to work to try to free him. The knot was tight, but Mae worked patiently until the line slipped free and Trout swam away with the current. Mae hoped that he would be okay. Just then she saw a flash as Trout returned and with a flip of his tail said, “Thank you.” As nighttime settled over the river and the moon rose high, Mae settled on a cattail leaf. She listened to the bullfrogs and watched the fireflies glow. “The stars came out early for  sweet, little Mae. / She counted each one… then called it a day.”

Back matter includes a message about mindfulness, an exercise to try and facts about mayflies.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soaring and uplifting, Denise Brennan-Nelson’s unique story reminds children and adults alike to live each day to the fullest and reveals where the treasures that make life so fulfilling can be found. The short lifespan of a mayfly gives Brennan-Nelson a perfect canvas for compressing the lessons of a lifetime into one day, and her superlative storytelling incorporates parental love, fear, appreciation for our surroundings, courage, selflessness, and friendship. Her language is triumphant, carried breezily on rhyming couplets that are a joy to read aloud. The pitch-perfect ending may bring a tear to the eye but spur readers to find the beauty in every day.

Through Florence Weiser’s lovely textured illustrations, readers can almost feel the breeze ruffling the tall grasses, the spray of river water, and the warmth of the sun as they follow Mae on her adventure. Mae is a cutie with lacy wings and a sweet, expressive face. A powerful image of empathy comes in a close-up, two-page spread in which Mae, looking into Trout’s frightened eye, sees her own reflection. Whereas up to now Mae has been an observer of life, she now becomes an active participant by helping a fellow creature. Working in perfect tandem with Brennan-Nelson’s text, Weiser’s pages take readers on a journey of growth and discovery they’ll take to heart. Calming shades of green dotted with subtle pinks, purples blues, and browns reflect Mae’s mindful approach to life, making this a delightful book to share for quiet story times.

Beautiful and resonant, Mae the Mayfly is highly recommended and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110519

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Florence Weiser, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Denise Brennan-Nelson

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Denise Brennan-Nelson has written a number of books for children, including Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes, Leopold the Lion, Someday Is Not a Day of the Week, My Momma Likes to Say, Santa’s Secret, and the popular Willow series. As a national speaker, Denise encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She travels the country, sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob. She strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be talking with Denise Brennan-Nelson about her inspiring story, her journey in writing it, and how we can all appreciate the life around us. My blog partner Jakki’s sons, Jack and Steve, also loves Mae the Mayfly and had a few questions of their own. 

Jack wonders: What inspired you to write about a mayfly? 

The inspiration to write about a mayfly came when I discovered that they live, on an average, only one day. I started digging and discovered that while mayflies have many interesting qualities, it was their life cycle that reeled me in and set the basis for the story: a mayfly begins as an egg, then hatches into a nymph. It then lives as a nymph for one to three years before emerging from the water as an adult. Once they have molted––the only insect known to molt twice!––they only have about a day to live. ONE DAY? How do you live your entire life in ONE day? Where would you go? What would you do? I had so many questions. And so, the journey began!

Steve would like to know: Where is your favorite place to go and enjoy nature?

Our backyard has many trees and a few paths to meander on. One of those paths leads to a playhouse that my husband built years ago for our children, Rebecca and Rachel. I love to sit on the steps and take it all in––especially the forever-changing trees and the way the light filters through them. It’s quiet and I watch the birds and the chipmunks, squirrels, and occasionally deer show up. It’s far enough away from our house that I can forget about my “to-do” list and relax.

There are also a couple of parks nearby that have trails and lakes and offer a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Jack and Steve asked if you spent a lot of time at a pond while creating the story.

No, I didn’t spend a lot of time at a pond, but I did a lot of research to help me visualize the setting.

In early drafts, I pictured Mae’s life beginning on a pond but as the story emerged it turned into a river. Unlike a pond, a river “flows.” It seemed to fit with the ebb and flow of Mae’s life.

The river became integral to the story; Mae’s life began there, she experiences a harrowing ordeal with Trout, which causes her to flee the river out of fear, but ultimately, Mae returns “home” to the river and completes her life. (This was in keeping with a mayfly’s lifecycle.)  

Hi Denise! I love your answers to Jack and Steve’s questions! What an amazing character a mayfly makes. You’ve published many, many books for kids. What inspired you to become a children’s writer? What’s the best part about your job?

I had been happily writing for myself – journals and poetry mostly – when inspiration came knocking at my door in the form of a documented study about bumblebees. According to scientists, bumblebees are not “equipped” to fly. Aeronautically, their wings are too small for their bodies. Upon hearing that, I was compelled to write what was in my head and my heart. I wanted to answer the questions I had: What would happen if bumblebees found out about their small wings? Would fear and doubt stop them from doing what they love to do? Once it was written, I felt I had written something that I wanted to share with others. Four years and many rejection letters later, my first book, Buzzy the Bumblebee was published.

The best part about my job is creating something – taking an idea and turning it into something new that entertains and inspires children and adults. I also love the freedom to work when and where I want to, often in my pajamas in the wee hours of the morning.

Mae the Mayfly is a gorgeous, poignant reminder for both kids and adults to look around and appreciate the beauty all around us. Not only the mayfly, but all of the sights that Mae sees are ephemeral parts of nature. How did you choose each of these?

I felt they had to be simple, yet remarkable acts of nature that would draw Mae out from the hollow of a tree. You know that awe-inspiring feeling you get when you discover a bird’s nest or a spider’s web? That was the basis for the sights and sounds Mae encountered.

I also drew from a trip to Yellowstone where the vivid images of rivers, flowers, bear cubs, and other magnificent acts of nature are forever embedded in my mind.

The rhymes of Mae the Mayfly are as light as she is, and your rhythm is as jaunty as a mayfly’s flight. Could you describe your journey in writing this story?

After learning of a mayfly’s short lifespan, the mulling-over period ensued. A lot of thinking and dialogue in my head takes place before taking pen to paper. Often, I share my initial thoughts with family and friends which helps the pieces come together.

I did more research, too. I watched a video showing how some mayfly nymphs resist the pull to come to the surface when it is time to shed their outer covering and expose their wings. After spending years at the bottom of the dark river, why would they resist? I wondered. Why would they want to stay at the bottom of the river when they could break through the surface into the light, and fly––if only for a day?

Ah, fear.

It was starting to come together – I would write about a mayfly and how beautiful and meaningful one day could be, if she can overcome her fears.

Initially, the story was written in prose and then I wrote it in verse. At one point, I even wrote a funny version for my kids about Mae being stubborn and not listening to her mama. That version didn’t end well for Mae, because, well, she didn’t listen to her mama! My kids got a kick out of it.

Before she was Mae, she was Martha. From Martha to Marvin. Then I changed it to May. And then May became Mae.

My first submission was declined. So, I gave it a rest. The idea was there but I needed to start over. I believed in this story with my whole being and I wasn’t giving up. In June 2018, I resubmitted it and in August I learned that Sleeping Bear Press wanted to move forward with it. I signed the contract in September and it was released in March of 2020 amid a pandemic. It wasn’t the launch I envisioned, but the story is about appreciating the simple things and living life to the fullest. It is also about empathy, fear, and gratitude. Perhaps the timing was just right.

Florence Weiser’s illustrations are adorable while truly highlighting the beauty of what Mae sees. Do you have a favorite spread? Why do you love it?

I love the cover and the end sheets, and the illustration of Mama saying good-bye to Mae tugs at my heart. But my favorite is the spread where Mae encounters Trout tangled in fishing line and Mae sees herself – literally and figuratively – in Trout’s eyes. Mae is confronted with a difficult decision between fear, or courage and compassion. This was a pivotal part of the story and Florence did a remarkable job capturing the emotion of both Mae and Trout.

You encourage people to be aware of and open to inspiration and those small moments in life that make them the best version of themselves they can be. How can kids and adults practice this kind of mindfulness while at home during this time of self-isolating and social distancing?

In a robust and enthusiastic voice my dad often proclaims, “This is living!” He says it with such conviction that you might think he won the lottery. On the contrary, he says it to express his delight over life’s simple/small pleasures; a sunset, eating a fresh-picked tomato from the vine, watching the birds, the daffodils sprouting, a delectable meal, a rainstorm . . .

I am by no means an expert on mindfulness, but I have learned a few things that help me enjoy life a little bit more:

  • Be aware/pay attention – the list of things to delight over is endless when we notice what is going on around us
  • Make room for quiet time and stillness every day
  • Focus on one thing at a time and do it with intention and purpose
  • Write down 3-5 things daily that you are grateful for. Do it as a family with a “family journal” or get a notebook for every member and make it a nightly ritual

Lately I’ve been asking people, “What do you like most about the shelter-in-place order that we are being asked to follow?” Over and over, I’ve heard, “It feels good to slow down . . . less hectic . . .” I hope we emerge from this unique experience with the realization that life is not a race, it’s a gift.

What’s up next for you?

My publisher is currently reviewing two stories that I have submitted. Fingers crossed that they accept both of them!

What inspires you each time you start a new story?

When I have an idea that interests me I feel invigorated and purposeful. What can I do with it? Where will it take me? What can I learn from it?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its only little lighthouse.”

Each time I begin a story I am hopeful that what I write “will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”

Thanks so much, Denise! This has been such a wonderful talk! I wish you all the best with Mae, the Mayfly and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

You can connect with Denise Brennan-Nelson on 

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

May Day Activity

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Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

 

Like Mae, you can calm your mind and be present in the moment as you enjoy your surroundings. Use this printable activity to get into that peaceful state of mind. Just look at the picture inside the star and follow the breathing directions as you trace each arm. You can download it from the Sleeping Bear Press Website under Teachers Guides here:

Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

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You can find Mae the Mayfly at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 13 – National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

Reading with your child every day gives you time to relax, giggle, talk, and enjoy some precious moments together. In fact, that’s what National Reading Month is all about! So grab some old favorites and new finds – like today’s book – and make treasured family memories.

In My Heart

Written by Mackenzie Porter | Illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

 

A little girl tiptoes into her mom’s room, giggling as she jumps on the bed and wakes her up. They have breakfast together and get ready for their day. Buckled into her car seat, the girl says, “‘Mama, I will miss you. What do you do all day?’” With loving words, her mom takes her through her day. She says, “First, before I go, my love, I give you a good-bye kiss. / Then as I am leaving, I remind myself of this: / Though we’re not together, / we’re never truly apart / because you’re always on my mind / and you’re always in my heart.”

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2020, text copyright Mackenzie Porter, 2020. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Her daughter learns that her mom starts thinking about her as soon as she drops her off to spend the day with other kids. Driving to work, Mama listens to her little one’s favorite song and thinks about how she sings along. While participating in meetings, she wonders if her little girl is learning new things too. And at lunchtime she feels especially close as she thinks of them eating the same meal. As she doodles, she’s reminded of the drawings taped up around their house.

But while the day brings joy and sweet memories, this mom reassures her wondering child that her favorite part of the day is picking her up so they can spend the evening and nighttime together. “Once I hear your voice again / the whole world melts away. / The moment you say ‘Mama’ is what I’ve waited for all day.”  

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2020, text copyright Mackenzie Porter, 2020. Courtesy of Little Simon.

For little ones missing Mom during the day, Mackenzie Porter’s lyrical story simply and beautifully connects a child’s experiences at daycare or school with their mother’s day at work. Examples familiar to all kids reassure them that throughout the day their mom is thinking about them and looking forward to being together again. Porter’s sweet repeated verse gives kids an easy-to-memorize reminder of their mother’s love to comfort them when they experience those pangs of separation. For working moms, In My Heart lets them share that they too feel those pangs but are always and forever bonded with their child.

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Image copyright Jenny Løvlie, 2020, text copyright Mackenzie Porter, 2020. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Jenny Løvlie’s soothing colors and joyful scenes of mother-and-child togetherness create a tranquil reading experience that moms and their little ones will love to share. Hugs, hand-holding, gentle caresses, and mirrored smiles demonstrate the strong and caring relationship between the two. Facing pages portraying mom at the office and the little girl at daycare or school show that they are each independent yet connected by thoughts and their mutual love.

A delightful and poignant book that is sure to become a daily read, In My Heart would be a favorite addition to home bookshelves and school and library collections.

Ages Baby and Up

Little Simon, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534454330

To learn more about Jenny Løvlie, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Reading Month Activity

CPB - Heart Jar

Jar Full of Love

 

With this easy-to-make craft your child can see the love that’s in your heart. Whether you fill it up right away or add to it a day at a time, just looking at this jar will make your child happy. 

Supplies

  • A clear jar with a lid—you can use a recyclable plastic or glass jar or buy a mason jar or other decorative jar at a craft store
  • Red felt
  • Scissors

Directions

1. Cut red hearts from the felt

2. Add hearts to the jar in a way that’s meaningful to you and your child. Here are some ideas:

  • Fill the jar all the way to the top to show your child how your heart overflows with love for them
  • Add one heart every day. As you and your child put it in the jar, talk about a time during the day that you thought about each other.
  • Add one heart for each thing you love about your child, Write one trait on each heart
  • Add a heart each time you do something fun together

3. Display the jar in your child’s room or somewhere else they can see it

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You can find In My Heart at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 13 – It’s Happiness Happens Month and Interview with Illustrator Talitha Shipman

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About the Holiday

Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact paying attention to those little moments during each day, going on spontaneous outings with friends or family, or taking time to do a favorite activity may be all you need to feel happier every day! And there are always those times of achievement, large and small, to celebrate—just like the one in today’s book!

On Your Way

Written by John Coy | Illustrated by Talitha Shipman

 

On a glorious morning as the sun rises, a mom sits under an apple tree while her son climbs its branches and recounts a momentous day. It was a glorious day, just like today, and she and her little one sat together in the rocker on the front porch. But then he began to squirm, wanting to crawl. As he made his way down the long porch, he watched the action near the barn: “cats and kittens crept round a corner. Ducks and ducklings waddled to water.” Rabbits and their bunnies and dogs and their puppies also bounded in the yard.

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When the baby reached his own little chair, he pulled himself up and “steadied for balance.” Perhaps there was a certain look in her son’s eyes that told her that day was the day. She tells him, “I knelt down and held out my arms. You wobbled, tumbled, plopped.” For inspiration they watched the sheep and her lamb ramble and the goat and her kid trot near the brook. Out in the yard now, the little boy tried again and fell again.

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Mom picked him up and they watched their horse and her filly galloping. A deer and her fawn even jumped over the fence of the coral. With resolve and his mom’s encouragement, the tyke stood on his own again and with a “serious look” took one step and then another. With a smile of pride, he reached his mom’s outstretched arms. Then, she remembers, “We walked in the grass, where you practiced over and over.”

As he grew, his mom tells him, he took off, hopping and bounding, jumping and galloping. “Now,” she says, “you’re big and move in so many ways.” And even as she recalls his first halting steps, she imagines how far he will go.”

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Image copyright Talitha Shipman, 2019, text copyright John Coy, 2019. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

John Coy’s sweet reminiscence of a child’s first steps is a tender book for parents and children to share as they grow and achieve milestones both large and small. Coy’s encouraging storytelling juxtaposes the little boy’s progress with that of the baby animals on the family farm, a touching connection for children with nature and the wider world. The open ending is a heartening and emboldening look to the future for both children and adults.

Talitha Shipman pours heart and soul into her vibrant, cheerful illustrations that follow a child as he successfully accomplishes a major milestone. The soon-to-be toddler displays uncertainty, resolve, and pride in his expressive eyes, while his mom has that look of encouragement and love so familiar to parents and other caregivers. Each scene captures just the right gestures from Mom, who is caught rising from her chair as she realizes what her son is contemplating, kneeling down to meet him with welcoming arms, and holding his hands as he marches through the wispy grass. The toddler wobbles and high steps and in the blink of an eye—just as it seems in real life—is stomping through puddles and running with his dog. The shining dawn sun illuminates this new beginning and the child’s bright future ahead.

An adorable book to share with children just starting out on life’s road or to celebrate their accomplishments, On Your Way makes a delightful gift for new parents or other caregivers and a tender story time read at home, in the classroom, or for libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Beaming Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1506452586

Discover more about John Coy and his books on his website.

To learn more about Talitha Shipman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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Meet Talitha Shipman

Today, I’m happy to be talking with Talitha Shipman, an award-winning illustrator whose work appears in picture books, board books, magazines, and on greeting cards and other stationery products, about her inspirations, interacting with readers, and depicting emotion in illustrations.

What inspired you to become a children’s illustrator?

I have loved art all my life, and I was the “kid who could draw” all through elementary and high school. I went to college for Fine Art, but I realized after I graduated that what I loved most was telling stories through my art. That’s when I went back to school to get an MFA in illustration. The picture book illustration classes were my favorite. I knew I wanted to focus on that market.

Which artists were influential for you when you were growing up? Which picture books or illustrated books were your favorites? 

My absolute favorite artist growing up was James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. I spent a lot of time redrawing his dinosaur illustrations. I also loved Bill Peet a former Disney artist who illustrated many picture books, and Steven Kellogg, who wrote and illustrated the Pinkerton series.

What drew you to John Coy’s story when you first read the manuscript?

My daughter had just learned to walk about two years beforehand when I received John’s manuscript, so the process of babies taking those first few wobbly steps and all those crazy mixed emotions that come with them were fresh in my mind. There was that immediate emotional connection with the story that I hope other parents and caregivers of babies will make.

Your illustrations really shine with details that show a loving connection between characters. What, for you, are the keys to depicting the joy of being together or empathy between characters?

I think life is so much better when we focus on those little joyful moments that happen throughout the day. In my art, I try to really feel the emotions and moments I’m trying to portray. There’s that feeling when my daughter comes running at me full tilt and throws her arms around me. I can tuck that away and pull it out later to make an illustration more authentic. I think when we draw on life experiences, good and bad, and are vulnerable enough to express them somehow in art, we are able to pass that feeling along to an audience.

You count many greeting card companies among your clients. Can you talk a little about the process of designing cards and other products like notepaper?

Greeting cards are fun to create, but there are usually two avenues for artwork to get picked. Many illustrators will create designs that are finished, and card companies will buy them at trade shows or through the artist’s agent. They add text later on. Sometimes they will commission art, and they usually have a pretty good idea of what they want to be depicted, right down to the color palette. They’ll send reference images as well.

Meeting your readers at a book event must be a joy! Can you talk about one of your favorite events or visits? Why is this one memorable?

Hands down, doing an interactive art workshop with kids is the best. I want to inspire kids to pursue their own creative passions. Last year I did a winter-themed workshop with @KidLitCrafts in my hometown of Fort Wayne, and we created a wall of snowflakes and snowmen on black paper using white and blue paint. It was so amazing to watch the paper fill up with all the kids’ beautiful art.

One thing you love is helping kids find their style of creativity. How do you encourage children to develop their special talent? Do you have any anecdote from these interactions with kids that you’d like to share?

I’m going to tell a story about an adult. I recently met a woman at a state park nature preserve. She watched me sketch some turtles in a terrarium and then approached me and told me that when she was little, she loved drawing. One day her art teacher gave the class an assignment of drawing a turtle. She didn’t consider herself artistic, but she tried her best and was so proud of that turtle. All of the kids’ work was going to be on display for a special art night. She was so excited to share her turtle drawing with her parents. When they got there, she couldn’t find her drawing. So she asked her teacher where it went. The teacher told her that she accidentally spilled some coffee on it and threw it away. This deviated her so much that she didn’t do anything artistic until recently. This is tragic. One careless teacher changed this girl’s life and not for the better. Teachers, parents, tell your children that they are creative, and prove you mean it by valuing their work. If kids are bummed that they can’t draw as well as one of their classmates, help them practice and improve, or try some other way to express themselves artistically. Don’t ever tell them that art may not be their thing. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be a working artist, but everyone can incorporate art into their lives and reap the benefits. Don’t be the person who shuts that down in a child.

Which classic story would you like to illustrate? How would you portray a pivotal scene?

This isn’t a classic fairy tale, but we sing Silent Night to my daughter every night before bed. I’d love to illustrate a picture book version as a poem with visuals reminiscent of Austria, where the carol was written. I think there’d have to be a scene with snow softly falling and Christmas tree lights shining in village windows.

What’s up next for you?

I am working on my first Author/Illustrator book. It’s called Finding Beauty and it’s about a mother hoping to open her daughter’s eyes to the beauty in the world around her.

What is your favorite holiday?

Christmas all the way. I love the lights, the snow (if we’re lucky), Christmas carols, (as mentioned before) Christmas movies (Polar Express), and candlelight Christmas Eve services. The Christmas season encompasses so many happy memories and traditions in my family.

A holiday-themed event you recently participated in was Paddles Aweigh in Fort Wayne, Indiana that coincided with National Rivers Day. The paddle you painted is lovely with its depiction of river animals.

Can you tell readers about this project?

This was such a fun project and a bit out of my wheelhouse. I haven’t painted traditionally for a long time. Most of my work is digital art, so it was a bit scary to break out the paintbrushes again. There’s no delete button! I wanted to create a paddle that featured Indiana wildlife that you might see on or near rivers. I painted a beaver, a bullfrog, some minnows, a painted turtle, a northern water snake, and some Indiana wildflowers. 

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Fort Wayne sits at the confluence of three rivers, the Maumee, the Saint Joseph, and the Saint Mary’s. I was just one of over a hundred artists who painted a paddle. They’re all going to be on display at our new riverfront Promenade Park from the end of September through October. The project is also going to help fund field trips for kids on Fort Wayne’s restored canal boat the Sweet Breeze.

You can see more about this project on Talitha’s Instagram!

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Thanks so much, Talitha, for this fun chat! I wish you all the best with On Your Way and your upcoming Finding Beauty, also with Beaming Books!

You can connect with Talitha on

Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Twitter

Happiness Happens Month Activity

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Happiness Cards

 

Happiness can happen anywhere, and you can help make someone’s day extra happy with these printable Happiness Cards. Just give them to a friend, someone in your family, or someone who looks as if they need a pick-me-up. It’ll make you feel happy too!

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You can find On Your Way at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 6 – National Smile Month

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About the Holiday

During this month we take time to make sure our smiles are as bright and healthy as they can be by ensuring that we’re following the latest advice by dental professionals about brushing, diet, and oral health and scheduling dental visits for ourselves and our children. It’s also a great time to celebrate all the things that make us smile. One of which is spending time with our kids. On May 12 families will celebrate Mother’s Day—a holiday that’s guaranteed to bring out smiles all around!

Mom Loves Little Jumbo: Hello I Am Jumbo

By Yasushi Muraki

 

When young readers open the cover of this sweet board book, a tiny elephant named Jumbo introduces himself and his mom. “Mom is big,” he says. “I am small.” Mom’s size and strength come in handy when he falls, Jumbo explains, and if he’s in trouble, his mom keeps him safe. Jumbo’s mom not only protects him from big dangers like lions but from small bothers like rain.

Every day Jumbo’s mom takes good care of him. She shows him where to find the freshest grass and the most delicious fruit. Jumbo’s mom also remembers other things he loves, like having fun and playing hide-and-seek “She makes me laugh,” he says.

To show Mom how much he loves her, Jumbo picks “the most beautiful flower” for her. And at the end of the day? “At bedtime Mom cuddles me tightly. I like this best of all.” Yes, Jumbo reveals, “My mom loves me. And I love my Mom.”

Yasushi Muraki revels in that deeply felt awe little ones feel for their mom and all the things she does for them in his adorable board book. By using the matriarchal, close-knit structure of elephant families for his story, Muraki reinforces the bond between mother and child, which he simply, but lovingly demonstrates in his rich, textured images. Each page welcomes children with comforting  earth tones and actions by Jumbo’s caring mom that even the youngest readers will find meaningful.

Told from Jumbo’s point of view, Muraki’s storytelling incorporates two straightforward sentences on each page. In the first, Jumbo reveals something that his mom does for him, and in the second, he explains how it makes him feel. Jumbo even plays a game with readers midway through the book. When Jumbo picks a flower for his mom, little ones will learn that gestures of love are reciprocal, and the cuddly ending will lead to lots of snuggling between mom and child.

A perfect book for little ones to share with their mom on Mothers’ Day or any day, as a new baby present, or baby shower gift, Mom Loves Little Jumbo: Hello I Am Jumbo would be a favorite on home bookshelves and to find at public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

minedition, 2019 | ISBN 978-9888341788

Discover more about Yasushi Muraki, his books, and his art on his website.

National Smile Month Activity

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Spool Elephant and Baby

 

Who wouldn’t like a tiny elephant for a pet?! With this easy craft you can make your own little pal to keep you company.

Supplies

  • Printable Elephant Ears Template
  • 1¾-inch wooden spool with center hole, available at craft stores
  • ¾ -inch wooden spool with center hole, available at craft stores
  • Gray craft paint
  • Chunky gray yarn
  • Gray felt, 1 8 ½ x 11 piece
  • Paint brush
  • Black fine-tip marker
  • Hot glue gun or fabric glue

Directions

To Make the Ears

  1. Print the Elephant Ears Template
  2. Trace and cut out the large and small ears

To Make the Body

  1. Paint the spools with the gray paint, let dry
  2. Glue the tab on the ears to the body of the spool to secure, allowing the ears to stick out on either side of one flat end of the spools
  3. Wind the gray yarn back and forth around the spool, creating several layers of thickness
  4. When the body is as thick as you desire, cut the end and secure with glue

To Make the Trunk

  1. Cut a 2 x 4-inch piece of felt for the large elephant; 1/2 x 2-inch piece for small elephant
  2. Roll tightly and secure with glue
  3. Feed one end of the roll into the hole in the middle of the spool
  4. Cut to desired length

To Make the Tail

  1. Twist a small length of yarn and push it into the hole on the back of the spool
  2. With the marker draw eyes and a mouth on the face

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You can find Mom Loves Little Jumbo at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

January 6 – Cuddle Up Day

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About the Holiday

Cuddling up is great any time of the year, but in the cold, snowy weather of winter it’s especially nice! Little ones love to cuddle! It makes them feel safe and warm and loved! To celebrate today’s holiday spend a little extra time cuddling with your child or children. Reading a sweet book together makes snuggle time even better!

Kisses and Cuddles

By little bee books

 

A little penguin sits at the table with a tall stack of pancakes watching Mom cook up some more on the pot-belly stove. “I love eating pancakes,” the little one says. “And playing with my toys.” After breakfast he loves drumming and making noise, even if Mama isn’t as keen on it. Later on, little penguin gets a steaming cup of hot chocolate, and is lucky enough to see a rainbow in the sky.

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Copyright little bee books, 2015

Back at home with soft pillows for landing and a green towel cape, little penguin loves “being a superhero. Come on—watch me fly!” After all that excitement, the penguin loves to snuggle in a comfy chair and read a book with lots of toys around. As nighttime comes, penguin settles into bed holding teddy tight. “But what I love the most,” says little penguin, “what ends the day just right…are kisses and cuddles from Mama when we say goodnight.”

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Copyright little bee books, 2015

The tiniest readers will be delighted with the adorable little penguin and the busy day that ends in the best way possible—with kisses and cuddles. The baby penguin loves all the same things they do, making this little gem an instant favorite. The smoothly flowing rhymes are spirited and straightforward—perfect for capturing a tot’s attention at nap time, bedtime, or story time.

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Copyright little bee books, 2015

The vivid illustrations have plenty of details for kids to look for and point out, and the joyful little penguin will make them smile and giggle. The final spread of Mama and chick cuddling as they say goodnight will inspire lots of real cuddles after the story ends. Written without pronouns, Kisses and Cuddles is just right for all children.

Ages 1 – 4

little bee books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1499801514

Cuddle Up Day Activity

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Cuddle Buddy

 

It’s easy to make a one-of-a-kind sleepy buddy for naptime or any time. With just a few materials and your own creativity, you’ll soon have a new friend to snuggle with!

Supplies

  • 1 8-inch by 11-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the body (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project). A larger piece of fleece can be used to make a larger buddy
  • 1 5-inch by 8-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the hair (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project)
  • 1 small piece of fleece or other material for a pocket, clothes, or blanket
  • Small scraps of fleece or other material for the face
  • Fiber Fill
  • Thread and sewing needle OR fabric glue
  • Scissors

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Fold the large piece of fleece in half lengthwise and sew along the open side and along the bottom. Alternatively, if using a larger size piece of fleece, fold upward and sew or glue the two sides closed.
  2. Turn the form inside out

To Make the Hair

  1. Cut a piece of fleece as wide as your buddy and about 7 – 8 inches long
  2. Fold the fleece lengthwise
  3. Insert both ends of the fleece into the opening at the top of the body
  4. Sew or glue the opening shut, securing the hair
  5. Cut strips about ¼-inch wide from the top of the hair to close to where the hair is sown into the body

To Make a Pocket or Clothes

  1. Cut a piece of fleece in the shape of a pocket, shirt, pants, diaper, or blanket
  2. Sew or glue the pocket or clothes to the buddy

To Make the Face

  1. Cut eyes, a nose, and a mouth in whatever way you would like your buddy to look. (My buddy is sleeping.)
  2. Sew or glue the face to the buddy
  3. Snuggle up!

Picture Book Review