June 19 – Juneteenth

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About the Holiday

This week Juneteenth became America’s eleventh federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery and celebrates the historical date of 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 in Texas. On the one-year anniversary of the proclamation, freedmen in Texas organized the first Jubilee Day, which became an annual event. 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. You can learn more about Juneteenth and the symbolism of the flag on Oprah Daily.

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.

Enjoy this Juneteenth for Mazie book trailer!

Juneteenth Activity

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Celebrate Juneteenth Coloring Pages

 

You can celebrate our newest federal holiday with these two printable Juneteenth coloring pages!

Juneteenth Coloring Pages

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You can find Juneteenth for Mazie at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & NobleBooks-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, visit

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 31 – Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is observed each year on the last Monday of May to honor all members of the military who lost their lives in the service of their country, especially in battle. Begun after the Civil War, the holiday expanded after World War II to remember those who died in all American wars. Memorial Day was made a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. 

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

Every year Mrs. Randall’s third-grade class attends the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What’s more every year four students are chosen from her class to carry the wreath. This year everyone wonders who those lucky four will be. Students who want to be in the running to be selected, Mrs. Randall, says, must write a letter telling her why they should be chosen. Hearing that, Freddie and Tommy drop out immediately while Nancy says her letter will be the best.

Anna dreams of being chosen too, but experience tells her she will not. She’s never chosen for the basketball or softball team, the cheerleading squad, or the lines of Red Rover. “Sure, someone always chose her for the spelling team, but the others—the fun ones—never.” But this time seems different. All day—even though Mrs. Randall’s eagle eyes catch it—Anna daydreams and makes plans. When the bus drops her and her sister off, they hurry home to start work.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

There Anna makes a secret call to her grandpa and then she and Natalie go to the front porch, and while Nat naps on the swing Anna pulls out her computer and begins writing her letter to Mrs. Randall. The next day Mrs. Randall collects the letters with the promise to choose the team by tomorrow and a reminder for those who will not be picked: “‘Remember,’” she says, “‘it certainly is an honor to be on the team, but it is also an honor to visit the Tomb.’” Then “they talked about Washington and the monuments and the Capitol and the White House, but especially they talked about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard.”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

At school the next day, Mrs. Randall says that while she received four excellent letters, one stood out. She begins to read it to the class: “‘I want to be on the team, not for myself, but for many others who have not been honored or remembered….They worked long and hard and saved many lives….And sometimes they were heroes bigger than the strongest men around. Sometimes they carried medicine and food to dangerous places to save the wounded soldiers. My own great-great-grandfather was in this special service and saved lives. I would like to be on the team to say thank you to those forgotten heroes of World War II. Yours truly…’ Mrs. Randall’s voice cracked and choked, and then she read, ‘From Natalie (with help from Anna)’”

The class starts whooping and cheering, but Mrs. Randall interrupts their celebration to read one more line: “P.S.—Would you please let Anna walk with me so I will not be alone and she won’t be either?” The class begins chanting “Yeah, Anna! Yeah, Anna!,” and Anna can’t believe that her dream of being on the team has come true. When Anna gets home from school and tells her family, they proudly make plans to travel with their “two girls” to the ceremony.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Finally, the day of the Wreath-Laying Ceremony arrives. The students are dressed in their best clothes, and as the four team members prepare to accept the wreath, “Natalie led the procession down the long marble steps, her black coat glistening and her brass buttons shining like the sun. Anna walked beside her.” As the soldier hands the children the wreath fashioned from “dogwood flowers, magnolias, and decorative red birds,” he loudly announces, “The students of Willow Run School and Natalie, a seeing-eye dog, will lay this wreath to honor the men who served in World War II and the dogs who helped them. ATTENTION!”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

The clear notes of Taps rang across Arlington National Cemetery as Anna and the three other children lay the wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, Anna’s grandfather and parents took pictures of Anna and Natalie to remember “this shining moment of Anna, and of Natalie, who saw the world that Anna could not see.”

An Author’s Note revealing the use of dogs during wartime—from ancient history to today—follows the text.

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Memorial Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog, whose great-great-grandfather served in the canine corps. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams, and a good friend is poignant and inclusive. Cole’s straightforward narration of a school day and the announcement of a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life depicts an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Ronald Himler’s realistic illustrations of Anna’s Willow Run School, her home, and Arlington Cemetery beautifully represent this moving story. His pages are full of diverse, real kids, smiling, laughing, getting off the school bus, enjoying a family dinner, and solemnly performing their job at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A hint to Natalie’s true identity is subtly inserted into various scenes, making the final reveal a satisfying moment.

Anna & Natalie is a wonderful choice for all kids observing Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

To learn more about Anna & Natalie and download a Curriculum Guide, visit Star Bright Books!

Discover more about about Ronald Himler and view a gallery of his work, 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 Anna & Natalie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 28 – Great Poetry Reading Day and Workers Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

This month we honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as we commemorate his assassination on April 4, 1968. Today’s book, told in lyrical language along with interwoven poems, relates the events of the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 as well as the day of Dr. King’s death and touches on two holidays held today: Great Poetry Reading Day and National Workers Memorial Day. 

Great Poetry Reading Day

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, people are encouraged to engage in one more special celebration of poets and their work by reading and sharing poems by their favorite writers as well as discovering new writers whose work they can enjoy today and in the future. To get started why not visit your local library or bookstore and take home a book or two of poetry for you and your kids today as well as today’s superb book. 

Workers Memorial Day

Some jobs are so dangerous that workers get hurt or even die doing them. Around the world organizations have been established to help industries provide safer working environments for their employees by establishing standard rules and regulations for buildings, machinery, working hours, and more. Unions and other groups have also been founded that represent workers to ensure their rights are upheld and their needs are met. Today we honor the sacrifices of workers in dangerous professions and raise awareness for safe working conditions.

I’d like to sincerely thank Alice Faye Duncan for sharing a digital copy of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

Informed by the memories of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who as a child participated in the sanitation strike and told through the eyes of fictional nine-year-old Lorraine, Alice Faye Duncan relates the story of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King just a day after giving his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple Church in support of the strike.

Through thirteen titled vignettes composed of lyrical and powerful language, Duncan reveals the detailed facts and emotions of those days that changed lives, altered the Civil Rights movement, and still resonate today. Duncan begins with “Memphis—1968” in which Lorraine describes a Memphis roiled by “the stinking sanitation strike” when “Black men marched for honor” and she also marched “with red ribbon in [her] hair.” She entreats the reader: “You must tell the story—so that no one will forget it.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“Mud Puddles” tells of the moment in January when Lorraine’s father comes home so “distressed and out of breath” that Lorraine’s muddy shoeprints are forgotten by her mama as he tells them about his two fellow sanitation workers and friends—Echol Cole and Robert Walker—who were killed when a truck’s packer blade malfunctioned. “Daddy told Mama, ‘It ain’t right to die like that.’ / Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. / I saw it in their eyes.”

In “Marching Orders” Lorraine lays out the ugly conditions sanitation workers like her father toiled under and introduces readers to Mayor Loeb, who refused to increase their wages from $1.70 an hour. She states, “When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels. They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968. In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As the strike continued through the winter, “[crippling] garbage collection with terrific success,” “Winter Blues” depicts the sacrifices Lorraine’s family made, from going without electricity to missing bill payments to skipping treats or getting anything new. But Lorraine also “learned what the grown folks knew. Trouble visits every life. But as strikers marched through sun and rain, help came in many forms.” Two of these were a group of Memphis preachers who helped strikers pay bills and the NAACP.

Winter turns to spring with no concessions from Mayor Loeb and no end to the strike in sight. But then in “Martin” Lorraine learns in the newspapers her mama’s boss gave her that Martin Luther King Jr. would be coming to support the striking workers. “Silver Rights” recounts Lorraine’s memories of listening to Dr. King, his voice “loud and stirring” when he said, “‘All labor has dignity.’” He set the date of March 22nd when he would march with the striking workers. Lorraine’s daddy and mama vowed to be there. And as she recalled, “then Mama patted my hand and said, ‘We will take Lorraine. She can march with us.’” A haiku “Omen” reveals the cancellation of the march.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Beale Street,” Lorraine explains more about Dr. King’s dreams and work and his crusade he named “the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” The march was rescheduled for March 28, and on that day “Six thousand people—blacks, whites, men, women, and children—gathered in downtown Memphis. / Police stood guard with tear gas, billy clubs, and guns.” When looters shattered storefront windows, the police moved in, spraying tear gas and beating people.” Lorraine became separated from her mother but was swept to safety by her father. Following the riot, the National Guard was called in and a curfew put in place.

In the aftermath of the riot, Dr. King left Memphis, Lorraine tells readers in “Dreamers.” But he had promised to return despite death threats, and on April 3 he flew from his home in Atlanta to Memphis. It was a stormy night, but Lorraine and her family along with many others packed Mason Temple Church to hear Dr. King preach. But when they got there, Dr. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy told the crowd that Dr. King was too sick to appear.

Other people gave speeches about the strike, and Lorraine had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when “KABOOM! A voice like the evening thunder shook me from my sleep.” In his booming voice, Dr. King “charged men, women, and children to make the world a promised land flowing with freedom and justice” and “encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for worker rights until victory was won.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Lorraine” the narrator reveals that her name is the same as the Memphis motel where Dr. King lost his life. She recounts his last hour spent with friends and the moment when he steps out onto the balcony and James Earl Ray shot him from a boarding house nearby. In other cities across the country grief-fueled protests broke out, but Memphis was relatively quiet. As Lorraine listened to the radio that night, she wrote a poem “The King is Dead” that her mama hung on the wall of their rented house.

“Black Widow” relates the events of April 8, when Coretta Scott King fulfilled her husband’s promise to march for the Memphis sanitation workers. Along with 40,000 other people—“ministers, labor leaders, political figures, entertainers, and everyday people”—from Memphis and around the country, Lorraine and her parents marched. In “Victory on a Blue Note,” the Memphis Sanitation Strike comes to an end when president Lyndon B. Johnson sent a labor official to negotiate a settlement. The men received a pay increase and promotions based on merit, not race. As Lorraine’s daddy and mama celebrate, Lorraine reveals what she has learned: “So much was won. / So much was lost. / Freedom is never free.”

An inspirational poem for all readers, “Mountaintop” closes the book. Back matter includes an extensive and detailed timeline as well as information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and a list of sources.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Alice Faye Duncan’s use of a nine-year-old narrator makes her book even more powerful for today’s children in telling the story of the Memphis sanitation strike and the world-changing events surrounding it. Duncan intertwines conviction, pride, activism, and heartbreak together in her compelling and lyrical snapshots that reveal the facts and emotions behind this pivotal Civil Rights and economic rights protest for a living wage for all Americans. Children’s hearts will be filled with empathy for Lorraine as she supports her father, accepts the sacrifices her family must make during the strike, joins her mother in marches, and fears for the safety of the strikers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The life and work of Dr. King, his influence, and the hope he embodied as well as his shocking assassination are all encapsulated in Duncan’s concise paragraphs, allowing readers to understand his enduring inspiration to all who fight injustice. By overlaying the text with descriptions of the volatile weather experienced during the winter and spring of 1968, Duncan amplifies the fearful atmosphere of the times in a metaphorical way that will resonate with readers. Lorraine’s growth and insight gleaned from her experiences will stay with readers long after they read the story.

R. Gregory Christie’s dramatic collage-style gouache paintings set off Duncan’s vignettes with bold blocks of color while inviting readers to experience the determination, community, and dignity of the workers fighting for the universal desire for and right to recognition, safety, and a living wage. Christie’s illustrations are all the more evocative for their varied use of perspective, subtle glimpses of hope and support, and moving portraits of Lorraine’s father, strikers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lorraine herself. The death of Dr. King is depicted in a tiny image of the Lorraine motel balcony on which three men pointing upward, a kneeling figure, and the fallen Dr. King are all portrayed in silhouette. The intense focus the reader puts on this image increases its effect on the heart and mind.

Compelling, moving, and inspirational, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a must-read for all children. The book is a first-rate choice for home libraries and belongs in every school and public library.

Ages 7 and up

Calkins Creek, 2018 | ISBN 978-1629797182

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about R. Gregory Christie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Great Poetry Reading Day and Workers’ Memorial Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-martin-luther-king-jr-coloring-page

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, color this printable page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

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You can find Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 27 – National Tell a Story Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established to celebrate the art of storytelling. Historically, oral storytelling was the way people handed down knowledge, philosophies, and experiences from one generation to the next. Today, while National Storytelling Day highlights oral storytelling, the day also encourages families to get together and have fun remembering and sharing family tales, traditions, history, and events. Reading together is another wonderful way to discover your own stories and those of others around the world. Today’s book reveals a story every reader should know – the story of what perhaps is America’s most recognized symbol and the children who saved her.  

Thanks to Scholastic Press and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Let Liberty Rise! for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with them on a giveaway for the book. See details below.

Let Liberty Rise! How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty

Written by Chana Stiefel | Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

 

America was about to celebrate her 100th birthday and the people of France were creating a huge gift to commemorate the two countries’ friendship. “It was an enormous statue — one of the largest the world was yet to see! Her name was Liberty” and she symbolized freedom. To be shipped across the ocean, Liberty had to be disassembled and packed into 214 crates. In the spring of 1885 the ship Isère began her voyage with her precious cargo.

It took a month for Isère to reach New York’s Bedloe Island, and soon the crates were waiting to be unloaded. “But a colossal problem had been brewing.” To hold the weight of the statue, the Americans were building a pedestal for Liberty to stand on, and it was only half built. To finish it would “cost more than $100,000 to complete. (That’s $2.6 million today…)” and no one, it seemed, wanted to help. “Without a pedestal, Lady Liberty would never rise.” Lady Liberty needed a champion.

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2021, text copyright Chana Stiefel, 2021. Courtesy of Scholastic.

When Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World newspaper and an immigrant himself, heard about the problem, he was furious. He wrote a small article for the newspaper appealing  not to the millionaires of America but to the common people and asking them to give money to finish the pedestal. He also offered to print the name of every person who contributed, no matter how much they gave. “The next day pennies, nickels, dimes, and dollars poured in.”

Even schoolchildren sent what they could. Kids donated money they had saved to go to special events or for special treats, they made up Pedestal Fund clubs, and wrote letters saying how proud they were to give. Schools from around the country raised as much as they could—and whether it was $105.07 from New Jersey, $10.00 from a charity group, or $1.35 from a kindergarten class in Iowa, every bit helped.

“Finally, on August 11, 1885, the World’s headline read: ‘One Hundred Thousand Dollars!’” From across the nation, 120,000 people had donated money to make sure Lady Liberty had a pedestal to stand on. As soon as the pedestal was finished, work began on constructing Lady Liberty piece by piece. On October 28, 1886 the inauguration of Lady Liberty was celebrated with festivities and a parade. Now everyone could see America’s monument to “freedom and hope,” and the Statue of Liberty welcomed the immigrants who sailed to our shores in steamships from around the world. Today, Lady Liberty still stands “thanks to the contributions of people all across America — and children just like you.”

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Image copyright Chuck Groenink, 2021, text copyright Chana Stiefel, 2021. Courtesy of Scholastic.

Extensive back matter includes a timeline of Lady Liberty’s history from 1865 to 2020, more facts about the Statue of Liberty, resources for further reading and research, and photographs from the original construction of Lady Liberty and the pedestal as well as the inauguration celebration and photographs of sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and Joseph Pulitzer.

Chana Stiefel raises children’s empowerment, excitement, and pride what they can achieve in her uplifting true story of how children were instrumental in building the foundation for the Statue of Liberty. Her straightforward storytelling shines with her conversational style and size and monetary comparisons that clearly demonstrate the enormity of the fundraising accomplishment. The inclusion of quotes from children’s letters at the time will impress and charm today’s kids. As children today become the champions of so many causes they care about, this connection to their historical peers will bring cheer, satisfaction, and inspiration.

Chuck Groenink’s delightful mixed media illustrations inform readers on every page about the time period surrounding, the personalities involved in, and the scale of the project to build the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. As Groenink portrays the creation of the statue in France, children can see the size of the sculpture in proportion to the men working on it. His depiction of the French harbor town from which the Isère launches is charming, and the process of offloading the crates onto barges that deliver them to the island reveals the meticulous procedures necessary to ensure the statue’s safe arrival.

So when readers turn the pages to discover the scowling faces of adults who didn’t want to pay for the pedestal—and even wanted to send the statue back—they may be shocked. The images of kids donating their hard-earned change, knitting socks to sell, sacrificing candy and trips to the circus, and creating special clubs to raise money will remind charitable readers that they are carrying on a proud tradition to make a difference to their community and their country. A vertical two-page spread of the Statue of Liberty standing over the harbor with fireworks flashing behind her, followed by a view of Lady Liberty as seen through the eyes of immigrants coming to America’s shores are two illustrations that are as inspirational as they get.

A noble, inspiring story about the hope and charity offered by our country, our symbol of freedom, and our children, Let Liberty Rise! is a must-read for all children and should be included in every home, classroom, and public library collection.

Ages 6 – 9

Scholastic Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1338225884

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. She hails from sunny South Florida and now lives in New Jersey, just a ferry ride away from the Statue of Liberty. Chana loves visiting schools and libraries as well as sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. She earned a master’s degree in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. To learn more, visit Chana at chanastiefel.com. You can connect with Chana on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Chuck hails from an overgrown village among the peat bogs in the north of the Netherlands, where he spent his formative years climbing trees, drawing, reading, and cycling. He attended the Artez Institute of Visual Arts in Kampen, graduating from the Department of Illustration in 2004. He now resides in Valatie, New York, with his wife, dog, and two cats. Visit Chuck at chuckgroenink.com and on Instagram.

Watch the Let Liberty Rise! Book Trailer!

Let Liberty Rise! Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Scholastic Press and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Let Liberty Rise! by Chana Stiefel | illustrated by Chunk Groenink
  • Bookplate signed by Chana Stiefel

To enter:

This giveaway is open from April 27 to May 3 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 4. 

Prizing provided by Scholastic Press for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media.

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

Tell a Story Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let-liberty-rise-educator's-guide

Let Liberty Rise! Educator’s Guide

 

Download this six-page educator’s guide and enjoy the cross-curricular activities that are great for classrooms, homeschoolers, or just having family fun.

Let Liberty Rise! Educator’s Guide

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-let-liberty-rise-cover

You can find Let Liberty Rise! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review 

March 29 – It’s International Ideas Month

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About the Holiday

The onset of spring with its  wide-open sunny days seems to beckon to us to open our minds to all sorts of new possibilities. International Ideas Month also invites would-be inventors and clever folk alike to think differently and pay attention to your brainstorms. You never know – there may be a book, a work of art, a new invention, or a solution to a need inside you just waiting to be let out! 

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City Subway

Written by Beth Anderson | Illustrated by Jenn Harney

 

James Kelly had a super sensitive nose. It seemed that there was nothing he couldn’t smell: “rats in the shed. Circus elephants a mile away. Tomorrow’s rain.” While this was interesting, James wished he had a different “super power,” one that would get him noticed. When James was older, he moved to New York and set out to find a job. But lots of jobs—like working at the fish market, the butcher shop, or the sanitation department—were just too stinky.

Then James “heard a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.” James descended below the street and discovered the subway. Here “a nick, a crack, a break, a spark could wreak havoc.” Down here, James Kelly sniffed out water and gas leaks and other problems then led repair crews to the spots. People were so impressed that soon he had “a new name: Smelly Kelly. James began studying about new equipment that could help him.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The subway wasn’t the only place having trouble with bad odors. At the Hotel New Yorker, a mysterious leak was causing guests to flee and the staff to hold their noses. Everyone blamed the subway, so the hotel manager called for Smelly Kelly. James could smell the leak, but he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. Using a bit of his new equipment, though, the break in the pipes exposed itself. James had found his calling.

Next, people began complaining about “toilets flushing steam” at the 42nd Street men’s room. He followed the pipes and finally found the cause, but Smelly Kelly realized that “sniffing wasn’t enough.” He needed to be able to hear problems too. But that would require a different kind of equipment—something “like a telephone or stethoscope.” James Kelly tinkered and experimented until he had created just what he needed. Every day, Smelly Kelly rid the city of leaks, toxic spills, and clogs—most unassociated with the subway at all. But one danger did lurk among the tracks: the electricity of the third rail.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

One night his phone rang. It was an emergency—a “tar-like smell” was coming from underground. Smelly Kelly took one whiff and proclaimed, “‘Gasoline. One spark from the third rail and we’re all history,’” he warned. The station was evacuated and the trains slowed. Then Kelly went to work until he found the leaking storage tank. It took ten hours to make the city safe, and when it was Smelly Kelly was hailed as a “superhero.”

Smelly Kelly’s days were always different and often surprising. Once, he unearthed long-buried elephant manure, but his most dramatic save happened the day a man fell from the platform onto the tracks just as a train rolled into the station. That time Kelly’s sense of smell couldn’t help him, but his courage could. James Kelly crawled under the train car and pinned the unconscious man down and away from the electrified rail. Slowly, the train backed up over them, and when it was clear, James and the man got up. Everyone cheered. That day James Kelly discovered his real superpower: “the force that pushed him…to study, invent, and risk his life. His special power was inside.”

Backmatter includes two Author’s Notes, one revealing more about James Kelly, and the second explaining more about the research that went into writing the story. There is also a section on the tools Kelly used and some fascinating facts about what lies beneath New York City’s streets. Children will also find books and websites for further reading and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Jenn Harney, 2020, text copyright Beth Anderson, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Kids will marvel at Beth Anderson’s biography of James Kelly, his super-sensitive nose, and the New York City subway. As readers learn about James Kelly’s unique abilities, they also discover facts about the ever-growing city of the early to mid-1900s. Anderson’s suspense-filled storytelling will keep kids riveted to the action and keep them guessing at where the smells come from. Kelly’s ingenious inventions and uses of new equipment will impress future engineers and other creative kids. Anderson’s unifying theme reminds readers that everyone has the power to use their particular talents to make a difference.

Jenn Harney’s engaging illustrations capture the details and personalities of this quirky biography while also giving kids an underground tour of New York City. Kids will be fascinated to see the dark tunnels of the subway system, crowded with a maze of pipes and wiring over which James Kelly kept constant vigil. The foul aromas that lead Kelly to leaks, dangerous conditions, and other problems waft through the tunnels in ghostly green swirls. With his prominent nose, black jacket, and fedora perched on his red shock of hair, James Kelly looks like the detective he was, and his facial expressions reveal not only the strength of the odors he discovered but also the pride he took in his work.

A unique and intriguing addition to history, science, and STEM lessons for classrooms and homeschoolers as well as a captivating read for home story times, “Smelly” Kelly and his Super Senses is highly recommended for home, school, and pubic library bookshelves

Ages 7 – 10

Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1684373994

International Ideas Month Activity

CPB - Nose Smelling Clipart

 

It makes sense to learn about your senses! Follow your nose to fun and discovery with these two activities!

  1. Can you guess each smell in this scent-sational experiment from KidsHealth?
  2. Paint your next picture with kool-smelling watercolors with this Scratch-and-Sniff activity from Learn Create Love!

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You can find “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 10 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

Calling all gals, pals, and woman-identifying people! This month is dedicated to YOU and all the women throughout history who have worked to make things fair. Women throughout history have often been treated as less than men, especially women of color. This concept is called gender inequality, and a whole lot of wonderful ladies across the world have been working to change it. In 1987 the National Women’s History Project petitioned to have the US Congress officially designate March as Women’s History Month. From that point on, organizations and communities have celebrated and recognized the month-long holiday by uplifting the stories of role-model women throughout US history. To celebrate Women’s History Month, read about some of the achievements of women in various fields of study, learn about (and from) stories of activism, and spend some quality time with the women and girls who matter most in your life. To learn more about Women’s History Month, visit: https://womenshistorymonth.gov/ 

Thank to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Send a Girl! for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Reviewed by Dorothy Levine

Send a Girl! The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY

Written by Jessica M. Rinker | Illustrated by Meg Hunt

 

As a girl growing up in the 1950’s, Brenda Berkman dealt with a lot of adults telling her what she could and couldn’t do. Brenda loved to play sports and spend time outside. But many of her favorite activities were ones that people considered “boy’s games.” When Brenda tried to join a baseball team, the coach said he wouldn’t send a girl to play a boy’s game. But, did Brenda let this stop her? Nope! Brenda was determined to keep doing the things she liked to do, so she made her own all-girls football team with friends instead. 

As Brenda grew older, people’s views on what boys and girls could do began to expand. Brenda had moved to New York and studied to become a lawyer but realized that she yearned for a career that was more active. In 1977 the New York City Fire Department announced that they would finally allow women to take the exam to become firefighters. This was exciting news! Brenda didn’t think that this would ever be a possibility for her because “In the past, every firefighter in the city had to be a man. In fact, they’d only ever been called firemen!”

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Image copyright Meg Hunt, 2021, text copyright Jessica Rinker, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books for Children.

Brenda knew she wanted to do something that would involve helping people, using her mind to strategize, being active, and getting outdoors. Becoming a firefighter seemed like the perfect fit. Becoming a firefighter proved to be a tough journey for Brenda. Even though the fire department now allowed women to apply, many people did not support this decision. “They said, ‘Don’t send a girl to do a man’s job!’ They didn’t think women were courageous enough, smart enough, or strong enough.” Brenda knew she was going to have to work really hard to prove these people wrong. She passed the written test and began to train for the fitness test.

When Brenda took her physical exam, she found that the men in charge were not looking for the strengths firefighters need to do their jobs. None of the women who took the test passed, and Brenda knew this was no coincidence. It wasn’t that the women weren’t strong enough, but rather the people in charge of the firefighters’ test didn’t want women to pass. Brenda realized that she could use her background in law to fight against this injustice. After four long years of working to prove her case in court, Brenda won, and the test was restructured to better match the skills that people need to have as firefighters. 

In 1982 Brenda Berkman and forty others became the first female firefighters to join the New York City Fire Department. In Brenda’s new job, “She hauled hoses! Climbed ladders! Broke through walls! Fighting fires was exciting and gritty, loud and dirty, and sometimes dark and dangerous.” But her fight against people’s bias and discrimination was far from over. Many people still didn’t think that women were tough enough for the job, even after they had proved they were. “They said, ‘I want to be saved by fireMEN!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-send-a-girl-test

Image copyright Meg Hunt, 2021, text copyright Jessica Rinker, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books for Children.

And, some of the men already on the New York City Fire Department agreed. They were mean and made the job as difficult as possible for Brenda and the other women firefighters. Sometimes they would pull pranks on the women in their departments that were incredibly cruel and dangerous. “Firefighters need to depend on one another. Brenda wasn’t sure she could depend on all her fellow firefighters. Sometimes it was lonely. Often, she felt invisible.” To combat against this, Brenda formed a group called United Women Firefighters, where women could come and talk about these issues and support each other. 

With this new group, strong friends, and time, things got slowly better for Brenda. People began to change their opinions on firefighting only being for men. Brenda continued to excel as a firefighter, and eventually became a captain of her department. She continued to fight fires—and discrimination—throughout her life, and she proved that firefighting is something you can “send a girl” for. Now there are people of all genders across the nation who fight fires every day and save lives. 

An Author’s Note at the end details the importance of learning stories like Brenda’s and provides more information on the history of firefighting and Brenda’s accomplishments. A list of websites where readers can learn more about women firefighters and other influential women is also included.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-send-a-girl-rescue

Image copyright Meg Hunt, 2021, text copyright Jessica Rinker, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Books for Children.

In this inspiring story of overcoming norms and gender discrimination, Jessica Rinker eloquently recounts Brenda Berkman’s stirring biography. Readers of all ages will rejoice in the perseverance that Berkman exhibited throughout her career. Rinker’s repetition of Brenda’s firefighting tasks takes on an exciting, triumphant tone and echoes the thrill Brenda felt while fighting fires despite all of the hardship she faced. Rinker’s straightforward writing discusses difficult themes of women’s inequality, bullying, and discrimination in an easily digestible manner for young readers. 

Illustrator Meg Hunt provides a diverse cast of characters to make the story come alive. Her multimedia images match the bustling, busy nature of New York City and provide an immersive view into city living. Readers are transported into the story to fight fires right alongside Brenda with intricate, realistic, and colorfully designed spreads. They watch the protagonist age throughout the story with determination and power. The first image of Brenda valiantly hauling a firehose to a window of billowing smoke in an NYC apartment is mirrored near the end. Readers follow Brenda in a full circle—working tirelessly to become a firefighter, shining at her job, and then extending her joy for firefighting to the next generation of young women on the final spread. 

Book lovers of all types will be inspired by Brenda Berkman’s story and how she shaped the history of fighting fires, both literal and metaphorical. An honest, informative and empowering book. The sentiment and lessons in Send a Girl! are of utmost importance for young girls, and really all young readers to hear.

Ages 4 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601745

Discover more about Jessica M. Rinker and her books on her website.

To learn more about Meg Hunt, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activities

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-womens-history-month-word-search

Women’s History Month Word Search

 

Find the names of fifteen inspirational women in this printable word search puzzle.

Women’s History Month Word Search Puzzle | Women’s History Month Word Solution

Teacher Thrive mint tin book report craft

Mint-Tin Book Report

 

Create a mint-tin book report of Brenda Berkman’s story in Send a Girl! or of another book highlighting an important women’s biography. You can find more about this clever idea from Melissa at Teacher Thrive

Materials

Instructions

Cut out the pages from the printable template and fold along the creases. Glue the “conflict” and “rising action” pieces together using the extra rectangle of paper. Write down the most important facts or highlights from each part of the story and decorate. Fold up the pages accordion style and stick into a mint tin. Use the blank parts to decorate the top and inside of the lid. Then you’ll have a portable, cute book report to carry around wherever you please!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-send-a-girl-cover

You can find Send a Girl! The True Story of How Women Joined the FDNY at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 8 – International Women’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by this mission, the theme for 2021 is “Choose to Challenge.” The sponsors of today’s holiday know that “a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.” Individually, each of us can choose to call out and challenge gender bias and inequality wherever we see it. Each of us can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. To celebrate today and all year through, commit to helping forge an inclusive world. To learn more about International Women’s Day and how you can get involved in making positive change toward gender equality, visit the International Women’s Day website.

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with them for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Change the Course of Two World Wars

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, readers open the cover to an intriguing question: “Could it be? Had enemy spies sneaked into the United States?” World War II was raging, but the United States had not yet joined the effort. And yet the “FBI had intercepted hundreds of coded messages from a secret base in New York.” The problem was no one could read them. Who did the FBI turn to? Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who broke the codes, discovered a cadre of Nazi spies, and provided the evidence “to send thirty-three German spies to prison.” Who was Elizebeth Friedam? Children are about to find out!

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As a child, Elizebeth loved poetry and especially the work of William Shakespeare, with its structure and patterns. In college, she studied English literature, Latin, Greek, and German. While looking for a job in Chicago in 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.

Elizebeth shared her thoughts with a friend, William Friedman, who also loved puzzles and secret codes. Over a year’s time, their discussions resulted in a stronger friendship and finally marriage. In 1917, the US entered World War I and Fabyan asked Elizebeth and William to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers…. Their methods are now considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology, the study of secret codes.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-childhood

Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In 1921, Elizebeth and William moved to Washington D.C., where they worked as code breakers for the Army. At the time, the Army used a large, cumbersome machine to convert messages into code, which precluded soldiers in the field from sending intelligence back. Elizebeth and William invented a complex code that used “only pencil and paper.” After the war, Elizebeth settled down to write books and raise a family, but still the entreaties came to decode messages for court cases sometimes thousands of miles away.

In 1925 with Prohibition the law of the land, smugglers were running rampant. The Coast Guard summoned her, and within three months Elizebeth had cracked “two years of backlogged messages.” Her work and court testimony that helped to convict smugglers made Elizebeth a recognized expert in the new field of cryptology, and when the work became overwhelming for just two people, she created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit.

With the entry of the US in World War II, Elizebeth’s expertise was once again needed. Again, she needed to create a code-breaking unit, and in 1942 she hired and taught “mathematicians, physicists, and chemists” the skills of cryptology. Now, Elizebeth’s team was learning important war information about the Nazi’s movements and plans. When the FBI director wanted to nab the spies, Elizebeth recommended waiting “until the military could learn more of the enemy’s secrets.” But he disagreed and raided their hiding place. The spies that escaped quickly changed their codes, making their communications harder to decipher. The FBI director took all the credit for breaking the codes and catching the spies.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-world-war-II

Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As the war progressed, Elizebeth helped capture an American spy working for the Japanese, and when the Germans developed Enigma, a powerful code-making machine that could “create billions of different cipher alphabets, it was Elizebeth’s team that broke the code for the United States. In Allied countries around the world, other cryptologists were also decrypting Enigma messages. The Nazis were now at a disadvantage, their planned attacks thwarted. Historians believe the work of these code breakers “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

Throughout her life Elizebeth could not speak a word about her work, even to her family. It was classified as Top Secret Ultra by the government and kept locked in the National Archives. At last, in 2015, Elizebeth’s work was declassified. “She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Compelling and wonderfully detailed, Laurie Wallmark’s biography of Elizebeth Friedman immerses children in the world of war-time spies, where cracking codes equaled saved lives and battles won. Wallmark’s storytelling of Elizabeth’s trajectory from Shakespeare scholar to ultra-secret code cracker reads like a thriller and is sprinkled throughout with quotes from Elizebeth that give kids a sense of her personality and the demands of her career. By including several cases Elizebeth was instrumental in solving, Wallmark provides readers with historical context on the broad range of nefarious activity that relied on secret codes to inform their knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as international spy networks. Each page is a celebration of Elizebeth’s talent, intelligence, and accomplishments, and her incredible story will enthrall readers.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache illustrations offer enticing glimpses into the past while following Elizebeth as she meets George Fabyon who shows her around his museum-like house while carrying a small monkey on his shoulder, establishes the United States’ first code-breaking unit, testifies in court, and thwarts the Nazis’ war plans. Interspersed with Smart’s realistic depictions of Elizebeth’s life are images in which lines of coded messages snake across the page, giving readers a look at the kinds of unreadable text Elizebeth and her teams cracked. In addition to presenting a visual representation of the tangled communications that eventually nabbed our enemies, two of these clever illustrations contain messages of their own.

A superlative biography that would enhance any history, social studies, language arts, or STEM curriculum as well as captivate kids who love spy, military, and detective stories, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Change the Course of Two World Wars is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and library collections.

Ages 7 – 11

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419739637

Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.

To learn more about Brooke Smart, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter written by Laurie Wallmark | illustrated by Brooke Smart

To enter:

This giveaway is open from March 8 to March 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 15. 

Prizing provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media

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

International Women’s Day Activity

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Send a Secret Message

 

Would you like to be a code breaker – or a spy? Get started with this Pigpen Cipher that makes sending secret messages to friends, siblings, and other family easy and fun. This ancient code is called the Pigpen Cipher because each letter is in its own “pen.” Use it as originally developed then try mixing the letters and pens to create new codes. 

Pigpen Cipher Key

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You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review