September 8 – International Literacy Day

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About the Holiday

In 1966 UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture) established International Literacy Day on this date to “actively mobilize the international community to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies.” This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education and educational resources around the world. In response, this year’s initiative focuses on “‘literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,’ and especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.” 2020 also ushers in a new five-year program: UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy to develop policies and strategies to address the learning needs of disadvantaged groups, especially women and girls; to leverage digital technologies to expand access and improve outcomes; and to monitor and assess literacy programs. To learn more about today’s holiday and UNESCO’s global literacy programs, visit the United Nations International Literacy Day webpage.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard | Illustrated by Oge Mora

 

As a child slave on an Alabama plantation, Mary Walker knew the rules: Keep working and no learning to read or write. But when she stopped for a moment to rest while “picking cotton, toting water to Papa and the other slaves who chopped wood for the train tracks, or helping Mama clean the Big House,” she watched the birds and dreamed of being free. In bed at night, she would think “When I’m free, I’ll go where I want and rest when I want. And I’ll learn to read too.”

When Mary was fifteen, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. While many freed slaves moved north, Mary and her family, like others, chose to stay in the South. With the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau, they moved into a one-room cabin. To raise money, Mary worked long hours every day of the week without a break to eat, drink, or even use the outhouse. “At week’s end, she would offer Mama the one lonely quarter she had earned.” One day, Mary met an evangelist who gave her a Bible, telling her “Your civil rights are in these pages.”

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Image copyright Oge Mora, 2020, text copyright Rita Lorraine Hubbard, 2020. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Mary didn’t know what that meant. “She only knew that top to bottom, front to back, that book was filled with words”—words she vowed to learn…someday. But first came marriage, sharecropping, and a son. When a friend wrote his birth date in the Bible, all Mary could do was make a mark beside the words.

When Mary’s first husband died, she married again and had two more sons. To bring them up, Mary spent the next forty years sharecropping and doing odd jobs to help support her family. Eventually, the family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mary was sixty-eight and too old to farm, but she still cooked, cleaned, and cared for other people’s children to make money. She also cooked and sold food to support her church. On Sunday’s she listened to the preacher while clutching “her family Bible—the Bible she still couldn’t read.”

“When Mary was well past ninety,” her sons read to her and her husband. As time passed, her younger sons died and then her husband. Her oldest son died at the age of ninety-four, leaving Mary alone and living in a retirement home. As she looked out the window at the signs and billboards, “she sighed. All this time, she thought, and they still look like squiggles.”

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Image copyright Oge Mora, 2020, text copyright Rita Lorraine Hubbard, 2020. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

When her retirement home offered a reading class, Mary joined in. At 114, “she was the oldest student in the class—and probably in the entire country.” For the next year and longer, she studied and wrote and memorized. She began recognizing sight words and putting them together into short sentences. All of Mary’s hard work came together, and at last at the age of 116, she could read! Mary’s story traveled across the country, and journalists came to interview her. A representative from the US Department of Education pronounced her “‘the world’s oldest student.’”

“Mary felt complete.” When she felt lonely, she read her Bible or the signs she could see from her window. In Chattanooga, Mary’s accomplishment was celebrated with annual birthday parties. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent her a letter when she turned 118 in 1969, and President Richard Nixon sent a card when she turned 121. Among all the gifts she received over those years, her favorite was a ride in small airplane that dipped and soared like the birds she had watched as a child. As she looked at the landscape below, “Mary decided that flying was a lot like reading: they both made a body feel as free as a bird.” Each year, to start her birthday celebration, Mary read to the people gathered and as she closed the book, she always said, “You’re never too old to learn.”

An Author’s Note that reveals more about Mary Walker’s life follows the text.

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Image copyright Oge Mora, 2020, text copyright Rita Lorraine Hubbard, 2020. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade.

Rita Lorraine Hubbard’s moving portrait of Mary Walker and her resolve to learn to read even at an advanced age is inspirational for all. Hubbard’s straightforward storytelling focuses on Mary’s grueling work and the obstacles and responsibilities that delayed her education while also revealing her resilience, her generosity, and the strong bonds she shared with her family. Mary’s equating reading and education with freedom even as a child will resonate with today’s students and offers encouragement when lessons are difficult. With excellent pacing and a depth of details that will keep children riveted to this true story, Hubbard tells not only Mary’s history but that of many African-American families, making The Oldest Student a poignant book to share for reading, history, and social studies in classrooms as well as for home story times.

Oge Mora’s collage-style illustrations, incorporating strips of written text and musical scores, enrich Hubbard’s story with images of Mary working as a slave and later at various jobs always surrounded by words she cannot read. Later, as Mary gazes out of the window of her retirement home and passes fliers on the bulletin board there, the signs and papers are covered in squiggles, giving young readers an idea of how Mary sees the written world. After Mary learns to read, Mora replaces these with the actual signs, a clear example of the difference the ability to read makes. Mora’s early depictions of Mary, her head and back bowed by arduous, exhausting labor, are heartbreaking, making later images of her, head held high with pride and accomplishment, all the more emotional.

An uplifting and powerful lesson on perseverance and never giving up on a dream, The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Schwartz & Wade, 2020 | ISBN 978-1524768287

Discover more about Rita Lorraine Hubbard and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Oge Mora, her books, and her art, visit her website.

International Literacy Day Activity

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Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite genre along with nineteen others in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 19 – Juneteenth

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About the Holiday

Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, when Union army general Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas to read “General Order #3,” which proclaimed the emancipation of all those held as slaves, from the balcony of the Ashton Villa. Commemorations began on the first anniversary of that pivotal day with church-focused gatherings in Texas, Celebrations later spread across the south and then nationwide. The day includes parades, festivals, music, readings by prominent African-American writers, educational events and barbecues, complete with refreshing strawberry soda. Juneteenth was proclaimed a state holiday in Texas in 1980. Since then, 47 other states and Washington D.C. have recognized the date as a state holiday. National recognition of this important holiday is long overdue.

Juneteenth for Mazie

By Floyd Cooper

 

As nighttime falls, Mazie would like to go outside to play, but she’s told it’s too late. Later, she’d like a cookie, but when she asks the answer is “‘Not now, little one. It’s too close to bedtime.’” And when she wants to stay up late, she’s reminded of the bedtime rule. Mazie’s dad notices that she’s feeling a little grumpy and asks why. “‘I can’t go where I want, have what I want, or do what I want,’” Mazie says. To cheer her up, Mazie’s dad tells her that tomorrow she can celebrate.

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Copyright Floyd Cooper, 2016, courtesy of Picture Window Books.

Mazie’s dad lifts her into a big hug and tells her that tomorrow they will celebrate the day when her “great-great-great grandpa Mose crossed into liberty.’” He tells Mazie about Grandpa Mose’s life as a slave working in the cotton fields from sunup to sundown, all the while thinking about freedom. Before they slept, they prayed and planned for a better future. And, finally, it came.

On June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, Grandpa Mose heard President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation that the Civil War was over and that slavery was abolished. Cheers rang out from the crowd gathered there. Then “‘the cheers became dancing. The dancing became celebrating. It went on and on into the night.’”

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Copyright Floyd Cooper, 2016, courtesy of Picture Window Books.

Now when Grandpa Mose worked, he was paid for his labor. He saved and made that better future he had long prayed and prepared for. Life for Black people continued to be hard as they struggled for equality, lobbying for jobs, schools, voting rights, opportunity. “‘But they never gave up.’” Mazie’s Dad tells his daughter, “‘and every year on Juneteenth, they celebrated and remembered.’”

Black people moved forward, with higher education, talent, and perseverance woven with forgiveness. They became heroes and leaders—even the President of the United States. Now, Mazie’s dad says, it’s her time to celebrate where she’s come from and where she’s going.

A short note about the history of Juneteenth follows the story.

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Copyright Floyd Cooper, 2016, courtesy of Picture Window Books.

Floyd Cooper’s beautiful and soft-hued paintings accompany his straightforward storytelling with emotional resonance as Mazie snuggles close to her father in a big chair and listens as he tells her about her great-great-great grandpa Mose, who was among the first slaves to be emancipated on June 19th in 1865. Cooper focuses on the perseverance, faith, and optimism that filled the hearts of Mazie’s ancestors and the generations of Black families who followed. His paintings span the more-than-150 years since Lincoln’s proclamation, with powerful depictions of newly freed men and women standing proudly in their best clothes as if posing for a photograph; the types of jobs Black men were able to get in the mid 1900s; a freedom march of the 1960s; and another grandfather passing down the stories to a younger generation gathered at his feet.

Cooper’s image of a Black woman raising her hand in university classroom of all-white students and his simple mention of those who have become leaders—with an illustration of Barack Obama taking the presidential oath of office, provide opportunities for further discussion and research. Mazie’s father’s exhortation for his daughter to celebrate now is paired with images of today’s kids laughing and smiling while they enjoy a cookout, cheer, dance, and parade, while always holding their past close to their hearts.

A gorgeous book to celebrate not only Juneteenth but the accomplishments and history of Black Americans, Juneteenth for Mazie is highly recommended for all readers and should be included in school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Picture Window Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1479558209

To learn more about Floyd Cooper, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Juneteenth Activity

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Celebrate Juneteenth Word Search

 

Can you find the fifteen words related to Juneteenth in this printable puzzle?

Celebrate Juneteenth Word Search Puzzle | Celebrate Juneteenth Word Search Solution

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You can find Juneteenth for Mazie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, visit

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

March 27 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

National Reading Month is winding down, but that doesn’t mean you need to slow down on your reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed lots of new and old favorites this month and are inspired to keep discovering new books every day – like today’s book!

Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town: Based on the History of the African American Pioneer Settlement

Written by A. LaFaye | Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

 

In Dede Patton’s dreams she could see the wide-open prairie where she and her family could build a better life. To pay off their sharecropping debt, “Dede’s mama sewed dresses so fine, they practically got up and danced.” Her father made furniture after a long day in the fields, and Dede shined shoes at the train station on a box she had made herself. Even though they worked “from sun-climb to sun-slide,” they knew it would take years to make enough money if ever.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Then one day Dede noticed a sign “offering land for colored folks in Kansas.” In Kansas they could own a farm in a few years. A new town, Nicodemus, was going to be built only a short ways away. Learning about this opportunity Dede’s family worked harder than ever and their money grew. One day, Dede found that one of her customers had dropped his wallet. She ran after the train and handed it up to him through the window.

Soon after Dede received a letter from the man with ten dollars inside. This, along with the money Dede’s mama and papa had made, was enough to pay off their debt. “Dede’s shoe shine money would buy the seeds for planting.” They took the train to Kansas and then traveled to Nicodemus with other new settlers. Along the bank of the Solomon River, they dug a house they could call their own. Dede and Papa staked off their land. With winter coming, they made plans for the years ahead.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

For supper, Dede hunted prairie dogs with her slingshot until they grew scarce. Looking for food, Dede and her papa went far out into the fields and met Shanka Sabe, a member of the Children of the Middle Waters tribe. “The white folks call them the Osage, but they say they’re the Ni-U-Kan-Ska.” He had noticed that the smoke coming from the Patton’s chimney had grown wispy and thought their food was growing thin too. He was bringing them rabbits.

When Spring came, Dede and Papa sowed seeds, and she and Mama began a garden. Spring also brought more people to Nicodemus. On Sundays, the Pattons rode into town, and Mama got orders for dresses from the other women. Once when Dede took the mail into town, she Mr. Zachary say his hotel was full. She mustered her courage and asked if any of his customers would like their shoes shined. From then she had “a job shining shoes at the St. Francis Hotel” that she went to after a day of helping Papa on the farm and Mama with the sewing.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In a few years the Patton’s farm was thriving and “they could prove their land claim.” Dede paid for the deed with her own shoe shine money. She made a frame for it from prairie grass, and the deed hung prominently in their home. On Sunday they held a party, and all the folks of Nicodemus as well as Shanka Sabe and his family turned out to enjoy the festivities and Mama’s pies. And that night they celebrated having a “home where they could tell stories, use the stars to guide them, and make plans for the things to come.”

An Author’s Note explaining more about the founding of Nicodemus, the Exodusters who settled the land in Kansas and other Midwestern states, and information on Nicodemus today follows the text.

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Image copyright Nicole Tadgell, 2019, text copyright A. LaFaye, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

A. LaFaye tells this fact-based story of resilience, hope, and freedom with charm and heart, following a girl and her family from the constraints of a sharecropper’s life to owning a home and farm of their own. Descriptions of the close-knit Patton family shine as LaFaye demonstrates the importance of each member’s contributions. Children will be especially fascinated by Dede’s role in helping secure the family’s future. LaFaye captures the dreams and community spirit of this important, yet little-known history of the African-American and Midwest experience through lyrical storytelling peppered with period words and phrases.

Through Nicole Tadgell’s softly washed illustrations of Dede and her family, readers see the hard work and perseverance that Dede, Mama, and Papa put into every day as they work to make money to pay off their debt. When they dance and cheer at receiving the last ten dollars they need to make the move, their joy radiates to readers. Details and dreamy pastel images of the vast, empty prairie, the nascent town, and the Patton’s home transports readers to the 1870s.

An excellent story about a transformative period in American history, Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town is an enriching choice for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807525357

Discover more about A. LaFaye and her books on her website.

To learn more about Nicole Tadgell, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Reading Month Activity

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Kansas State Bird Coloring Page

 

Enjoy the beauty of the Kansas prairie as you color this printable page of the Western Meadowlark, the state bird of Kansas, which was selected by children in 1925.

Kansas State Bird Coloring Page

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You can find Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

November 7 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s picture books are amazing! Offering glimpses into history, revelations in science, introductions to incredible people, fabulous reasons to laugh out loud, poignant moments for reflection, and much of the best art currently being produced anywhere, picture books defy their slim appearance with content that inspires and changes young lives. Reading a wide variety of books to children from birth on up is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Make choosing the books to read a family affair! Kids love picking out their own books and sharing cozy and fun story times with you!

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Written by Dee Romito | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

 

As a young girl living on a farm in Alabama, Georgia Freeman learned from her mother a lesson she took to heart: “Think twice before doing anything you might regret, and never, ever hate anyone.” When Georgia grew up and had children of her own, she was known for her delicious cooking. She even worked as a cook at the National Lunch Company, a restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, segregation laws dictated that white customers sit on one side of the counter and black customers on the other.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

On December 1, 1955, Georgia heard a radio report that “an African American woman named Rosa Parks had been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.” The next day, the Black community in Montgomery was asked to boycott the buses in support of Rosa Parks and because of the poor treatment African Americans were forced to endure by the bus drivers. Georgia wanted to do even more to support the movement.

Soon after the boycott began, Georgia went to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the Holt Street Baptist Church. “He talked about freedom. Unity. Equality.” And Justice. “Those were things Georgia believed in, and she was willing to fight for them.” Georgia decided to use her talent for cooking to help. She and a group of women got together and cooked. They made sandwiches and dinners and sold them at the boycott meetings and in their neighborhood, including to those walking to and from work instead of taking the bus.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

The money that Georgia made went to the “Montgomery Improvement Association, which helped fund the boycott.” This work by Georgia and the other women was dangerous. If anyone learned that they were involved in the boycott, they would lose their jobs, so all cooking and selling was done in secret. Georgia’s customers at local shops and businesses paid for her scrumptious pies in cash so that only Georgia knew who they were. Over time, Georgia’s group donated enough money  to pay for “gas for the carpool system that had been set up for the boycott” and even to buy station wagons to transport people around town. Whenever Georgia was asked where she got this money, she answered, “‘it came from nowhere.’”

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

The bus system was losing money because of the boycott, “so the city did what it could to stop the protesters and their efforts.” Ninety people, including Dr. King, were arrested. Georgia was called to testify in court. She told of her experience in which after paying her fare, she was told to get off the bus and go to the back door to get on. Before she could reenter the bus, the driver shut the door on her and drove off. After that, she said, she no longer rode the bus.

Georgia knew supporting the boycott was the right thing to do, but when the National Lunch Company found out, they fired her. With six children to raise on her own, Georgia worried about what she would do. Dr. King encouraged her to open her own business. He helped her improve her kitchen, and soon Georgia’s house had long lines of people waiting to eat her meals and more waiting for deliveries. Georgia made hundreds of lunches every day. While she was feeding her community, Georgia “was also bringing the people of Montgomery together—black and white.” Georgia’s house was also used for secret meetings among civil rights leaders.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

On November 13, 1956—nearly a year after the boycott had begun, Georgia heard another radio report saying that the United States “Supreme Court had declared that segregation on buses was illegal! The boycotters had won.” This meant that people could sit anywhere they wanted. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was just a beginning. “There would be more battles to fight . . . so Georgia Gilmore kept right on cooking.”

An Author’s Note revealing more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Georgia Gilmore follows the text. Kids are also invited to make Georgia’s Homemade Pound Cake using the recipe on the back cover.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

Dee Romito’s inspiring biography delves into the crucial role individuals can make in supporting people and causes they believe in. By focusing on unsung historical hero Georgia Gilmore and using her own words and thoughts, Romito reveals how those with strong beliefs can use their talents and courage to fight for change behind the scenes and still make an important difference. Her conversational storytelling brings a personal touch to this biography, drawing young readers in to learn the details of this early battle in the Civil Rights movement—also begun by an act of a solitary person. Bookended by the radio reports that Georgia hears, the story is well-paced to show how Georgia’s contribution grows over nearly a year. This timely biography is made even more resonant perhaps in that Georgia’s cooking and selling of meals and baked goods is an activity that many children will recognized from their own involvement in bake sales and other food-related fund raisers. The open ending invites readers to learn more about the Civil Rights movement and Georgia Gilmore.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2018, text copyright Dee Romito, 2018. Courtesy of little bee books.

Laura Freeman’s boldly colored, realistic artwork allows children to embrace the historical context of Romito’s biography through her expressive portraiture that introduces Georgia Gilmore, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the members of Georgia’s Nowhere Club. A double-spread of the National Lunch Company’s segregated counter is visually striking as the divide comes at the book’s gutter, creating the side for white customers on the left and the side for black customers on the right. The injustice of this separation is expressed in the similar red clothing and dark hair of the woman on the right and the man on the left. Illustrations of crowds walking as buses go empty, attending the boycott strategy meetings, secretly buying pies, and filling Georgia’s home place readers at these scenes of the resistance movement. Freeman uses action, media coverage, and Georgia’s courtroom appearance to great effect. Knowledgeable readers will understand that making a positive difference continues across all generations.

Pies from Nowhere is a stunning book of empowerment for children and adults. The theme of using ones talents to make a difference is a timely lesson that kids will respond to. The book belongs in all classroom, school, and public libraries and is a top choice for home bookshelves as well.

Ages 6 – 9

little bee books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1499807202

Discover more about Dee Romito and her books on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. As Picture Book Month begins, make this easy craft to turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pies-from-nowhere-cover

You can find Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review