April 20 – It’s National Humor Month

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About the Holiday

National Humor Month was established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde, who is also the director of the Carmel Institute of Humor, to promote all things funny and raise awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented. Lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Reading funny books is a fantastic way to share a laugh—for kids and adults—and to encourage a love of literature. In fact, there’s even a Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. This year, perhaps more than any, a little laughter helps us and our kids get through difficult times. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a laugh not only during April but every day! 

I received a copy of When a Tree Grows from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

When a Tree Grows

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska

 

We all know that age-old question “When a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?” Inexplicably, this riddle seems to forget all about the adorable woodland animals—many of which we meet in this hilarious book that poses many thought-provoking conundrums of its own. For instance: “When a tree grows in the forest, two things can happen. It becomes a scratching post for Moose’s itchy antlers, and the tree sways gently side to side. OR… CRASH-BOOM! Moose pushes a little too hard, the tree falls on a cave, and the bear inside wakes up.”

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But how does Bear react? He can stay inside… OR come out to see what all the ruckus is about. And when he comes outside? Well, the domino effect could take over the forest… OR not. Alert readers will notice that Bear’s not the only one affected by the falling tree. Squirrel loses his home, but does he find the perfect replacement when a Nifty Nuts truck loaded with acorns gets entangled in this roller-coaster ride of a story… OR not?

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As readers follow the action, they’ll wonder—will Squirrel discover a lifetime supply of nuts? Fame and fortune? An empty spot in his heart? And when (if?) “Scribble-Scratch! He writes a letter to Moose,” will Moose eat it or read it? The answers to these forest-related questions lead to a fantastic welcome-home feast with party hats and decorations and, of course, lots and lots of acorns that Squirrel will either gobble all up… OR….

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Nuttiness abounds in this funny story that will have kids on the edge of their seats and excitedly chiming in as each situation plays out, leading to more and more consequences for Squirrel. Cathy Ballou Mealey’s action-packed storytelling, punctuated with onomatopoeia, makes each page a joy to read aloud. Underlying all of the shenanigans is a sweet friendship story that will tug at readers’ hearts as the gently suspenseful circumstances seem to take Squirrel farther and farther away from the forest. Kids will cheer along with Moose, Bear, and a bevy of other cute animals as they celebrate Squirrel’s homecoming and enthusiastically approve of what Squirrel does with his windfall to guarantee that all the friends can stick together forever.

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Kasia Nowowiejska populates this most friendly of forests with adorable, wide-eyed animals whose expressions perfectly reflect their dilemmas without giving away the secret answers. Kids will laugh out loud to see Moose nervously clinging half-way up a tree as Bear growls, applaud squirrel’s aim with a slingshot, and wish they could join in the party when Squirrel comes home. Nowowiejska’s beautiful earth-tone color palette provides depth and texture to the lush foliage while highlighting each animal’s choices in clever and original ways that kids will love. The onomatopoeic phrases are spotlighted with vibrant, bold lettering, ensuring that readers will add their own spin to this fun element of the story.

No “OR…”s about it, When a Tree Grows will be a hit for lively, animated story times and would be an often-requested addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 and up 

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454921202

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kasia Nowowiejska, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Cathy Ballou Mealey

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Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Thank you for inviting me to the fabulous Celebrate Picture Books! I am delighted to join your celebration of Get Caught Reading Week by talking about writing inspiration and what we might learn from our hobbies and jobs, and also sharing a story starter for a favorite fall holiday!

I’m delighted that we get to talk about all of these things—and more! So let’s get started at the beginning of your journey with When a Tree Grows!

What was the spark of inspiration that led to When a Tree Grows?

When A Tree Grows was inspired by a distant creaky Crash! that I heard in the woods while hiking with my family. Was it a falling tree? An animal? I wondered: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.

You must have had fun coming up with the alternate scenarios in your book. Can you share any that didn’t make the cut?

An early draft had a sweet city scene between Squirrel and a pigeon, but it didn’t make the final cut. It was tender and poignant, but needed a funnier alternative outcome to move the storyline along. In the end, I am happy that only Squirrel, Moose and Bear share the spotlight!

I love Kasia Nowowiejska’s illustrations that combine adorable, expressive animals with silly antics. Do you have a favorite spread? Did anything in the illustrations surprise you? 

I agree! Kasia is from Poland, and I loved the European flair in her forest sketches. Seeing the warthog was a complete, delightful surprise. Warthogs are not animals we would typically see in a North American woodland, and that leads to great discussions with young readers.

You have degrees in psychobiology and classical civilization. Can you describe these a bit and how they are connected? Does your study of psychobiology help inform the character development in your stories?

Psychobiology is the study of the brain, behavior and cognitive processes. I found it fascinating to research why and how we think, feel and do the things we do! I learned how to be a good observer, listener, and follower of the empirical method. I also studied classical civilization because I loved Latin, and the professors were extremely gifted storytellers. They brought ancient texts to life through dramatic readings and captivating extemporaneous performances. Exactly how these field of study inform my present work is unclear, but a liberal arts education really does cultivate curious minds!

In your bio, you also say that you were a crossing guard, hash-slinger, gift-wrapper, and pet sitter. This sounds like perfect prep for becoming a picture book author! Have any of these jobs inspired a story? Do you have a funny or surprising experience you’d like to share?

Writers DO find a way to wring fictional purpose out of anything, don’t we? I have found that one common theme across many of my stories is work. In When A Tree Grows, Squirrel gets a job in the Nifty Nuts factory as a quality control inspector. That’s one job I have not done! But working as a department store gift-wrapper was a job where quality mattered. Customers could buy a specialty paper/ribbon combination or choose the free “store wrap” which was red with tiny white checkered squares. The squares had to line up perfectly, no matter how lumpy or bumpy the item was, or the boss would make us re-wrap it. Wrap a floor lamp? Rocking chair? I like to imagine one of my co-wrappers invented printed gift bags out of desperation.

In previous interviews, you’ve described how you wrote your first picture book to enter the Cheerios “spoonful of stories” contest. But did you always like to write? What kinds of writing did you do? What inspired you to try the picture book form?

As a kid I loved to write and illustrate greeting cards, so my earliest efforts were short and to the point, just like picture books. I also wrote scripts for Muppet-like puppet shows, assigning the best roles to myself, of course. When school assignments piled up and writing lost its luster, I stopped scribbling for pleasure. Decades later, having children led to reading many picture books and to many boxes of Cheerios. So those factors definitely helped re-ignite my passion for writing and picture books specifically.

When a Tree Grows was released on April 2. What have you found to be the best part of being a published author? If you’ve held any book events, can you describe the reactions of kids to your story?

Of course seeing Tree on bookstore shelves and in readers’ hands is delightful. Hearing people laugh at the funny spots is a thrill! I like to ask a helper to wave a big sign that says “OR” to dramatize the page turns during readings. And kids love to see Squirrel scooping coins out of the fountain to buy a bus ticket home – so naughty!

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret, super funny picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Halloween – because it is in the fall, my favorite season. It also happens to be my birthday! Costumes, candy, glowing pumpkins, being outside after dark – all these elements make magical memories for kids. And on top of all that I got a cake, candles, and presents too? Pretty great.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

What a great idea! Let’s imagine re-casting When A Tree Grows as a Halloween story.

When an Owl hoots in the forest on Halloween, two things could happen.

Warthog blows out the candle in her pumpkin. Trick or treat is over.

OR…

Eek! Warthog is startled and tosses her candy into the air.

When Warthog tosses her candy into the air, two things could happen.

What do YOU think should happen next?

Oh my! Let’s see…

Bat neatly snatches all the candy out of the air with her trick-or-treat bag.

OR…

A candy corn ricochets off a tree and bonks bat, sending her wildly off course.

Readers? What do YOU think? Add your ideas in the comments section below!

Well, this was tons of fun, Cathy! I’m so glad we had a chance to chat! I wish you all the best with When a Tree Grows!

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Moose starts a whole string of events in today’s book! What will you get up to in your own moose antlers?

Supplies

  • Stiff brown paper
  • Brown hair band
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Directions

  1. Trace your hands with fingers spread on the brown paper. Leave a 1 – 2 inch tab on the end of the wrist for wrapping around the head band
  2. Cut out the hand prints
  3. Place one hand print on the right side of the headband with the thumb of the hand pointing up.
  4. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape
  5. Place the second hand print on the left side of the headband with the thumb pointing up.
  6. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape.

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You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 8 – National Zoo Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

Zoos are wonderful places to see and learn about exotic animals from around the world. In addition to creating educational exhibits, zoological experts are involved in the preservation of endangered species. Although we can’t visit a zoo in person right now, there are still lots of ways to stay in touch with a zoo near you or even far away. Many zoos and aquariums provide webcams so you can check in with your favorite animals whenever you want. Connect online with your favorite zoo. Many are bringing the zoo to you with behind-the-scenes videos, activities for kids and families, and lots of learning opportunities. Here are a few to get you started: Dallas Zoo | Oregon Zoo | San Diego Zoo | Smithsonian’s National Zoo Monterey Bay Aquarium | Shedd Aquarium.

By Jakki Licare

This Zoo is Not for You

Written and Illustrated by Ross Collins

 

The zoo is holding interviews and when a platypus walks with an envelope in hand, Tiger assumes he’s there to apply for entry. Tiger rushes him through to the first interviewer, Panda. Panda thinks she is incredibly special and rare and isn’t impressed with platypus who doesn’t even eat bamboo! She concludes, “I think this zoo is not for you.”

Next, Platypus meets the flamingos. They talk about how beautiful and graceful they are, but they are disappointed platypus. He’s rather brown after all. The wild monkeys provide a very active interview for Platypus. They talk about all the tricks they can do like throw poo and play the kazoo. Does Platypus have any cool tricks? “If not, this zoo is not for you.”

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Copyright Ross Collins, 2018, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

Platypus passes a tree filled with multicolored chameleons. They greet him with: “We’re green, then red, then pink or blue. Is brownish-gray your only hue?” Unimpressed the chameleons send him on to Elephant. Elephant rudely tells him that he isn’t powerful or huge like him. Instead he’s small and weird and has “failed this interview.”

The other animals watch surprised as the Platypus drops his envelope on the ground and walks away. They look at each other, saying, “I’m not proud of that interview. I think I was unkind. Were you?” All the animals gather around and wonder what they can do to make it up to Platypus. Monkey picks up the envelope Platypus dropped. The other animals look shocked as monkey holds up the letter that platypus had left.

All the animals leave the zoo and head towards Platypus’s bus. The zoo animals apologize to Platypus. They realize they had gotten it wrong and that Platypus hadn’t wanted to join their zoo. He wanted to give them an invitation. They ask if Platypus would still be willing to be friends. Platypus tells them it’s all right, “this platybus is for all of us!” The animals climb aboard and party away together with a DJ, a hot tub, fancy drinks with little umbrellas, and, of course, a shiny disco ball.

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Copyright Ross Collins, 2018, courtesy of Nosy Crow.

Fun rhyming couplets paired with bold colorful illustrations make for a delightful read. Collins’s  rhymes have a wonderful rhythm that make the reader flow right through the book. The repetitive phrasing “this zoo is not for you,” makes it easy for young readers to join in.  All the zoo animals have  strong personalities which are further enhanced by Collins’s striking illustrations. The flamingos are drawn with their heads held high and stand out against a yellow background. The panda is slouched against her pile of panda souvenirs. The monkeys are all over the page: swinging, playing the kazoo, and, to many kids’ delight, flinging poo. 

Collins has provided many opportunities to discuss the problems of presumptions and the necessity for open mindedness. The zoo animals are snobs who quickly dismiss the platypus for being odd looking, brown, common, and unexciting. Their quick dismissals make it obvious to young readers that they are being judgmental. This Zoo is Not for You reminds all of us that  we should be open minded when meeting someone new. Another strong theme through the book is the necessity of making amends. When the zoo animals realize their mistake, they hang their heads looking sad. They realize they could have been kinder to the platypus and decide to apologize. Platypus graciously accepts their apologies and invites them in. The readers can see how apologies can solve conflicts and strengthen friendships.

A fun book in rhyme that offers a great opportunity to open discussions about presumptuousness, quick judgement, and forgiveness. This Zoo is Not for You would make a wonderful addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 3-7

Nosy Crow 2018| ISBN  978-1536200157

Discover more about Ross Collins, his books, and his art on his website.

You can find a game of This Zoo is Not for You! Animal Snap on the Nosy Crow website.

National Zoo Lovers Day Activity

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Platybus Play Set

 

The Platybus has arrived at your house!  Print and accessorize your characters for their big party.

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print out Platybus, characters and accessories.
  2. Cut out Platybus, characters and accessories. Make 6 slits marked on the platybus. These slits will hold the puppets in place.
  3. Glue characters to popsicle sticks.
  4. Glue accessories to characters.
  5. Slip puppets into bus.

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You can find This Zoo Is Not for You at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 26 – It’s Rising Star Month

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About the Holiday

Are you a rising star? Of course, you are! What is a rising star? It’s someone who shows great promise for the future. That sounds like you, right? Today, celebrate all of your special talents and knowledge that will take you far as you grow up. How far? Well, why not shoot for the stars? Get started on a new learning journey about those stars with today’s book.

Animals in the Sky

By Sara Gillingham

 

The weather’s warmer and the sky is dark. From your window or in backyard you can look up and find… what? Little ones know the sky is “filled with twinkling stars.” But do they “know that it’s full of pictures too?” Just like a dot-to-dot puzzle, “if you draw lines between some of the brightest stars, you can find animals.” These animals and other pictures made from stars have a special name: constellations. Youngest astronomers will shine while putting their scientific minds to work on the riddles that accompany each constellation and discovering the answer. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.

Riddle: “I have thick, shiny fur, and large, padded feet. I the winter, I like to take a long sleep in my warm den. What animal in the sky am I?”

If your little one guesses “a bear,” they’ll be grr-atified to learn that they’re right! In reward they learn about another well-known constellation that is part of the Big Bear.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Ready to try another one? Terrific! Riddle: “I have a tail that wags when I’m happy, a big wet nose, and a loud bark. What animal in the sky am I?” Anyone lucky to have one of these for a pet will know right away that connecting these stars makes the Big Dog. But readers will also discover the name of the that right where his dog tag would be is “the brightest star in the whole sky”––Sirius.

Five more clever riddles and facts about the Rabbit, the Lion, the Southern Fish, the Eagle, and the Wolf also await star-struck kids. A fold-out page at the back depicts ten more constellations named for favorite animals.

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Copyright Sara Gillingham, 2020, courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Sara Gillingham introduces the youngest stargazers to twenty animal constellations that will pique their interest in astronomy and all things space related. Her lyrical riddles for seven constellations give kids clues to their names with evocative descriptions that not only lead readers to the right answer but reveal facts about the real animals in nature. Her stylish presentation of connected stars on a navy-blue background, as crystal clear as a cloudless night, allows little ones to easily see the basic formation of the constellation. The page then folds out, and the outline is superimposed with an image of the animal inspired by the shape. The third page goes on to show the two floating in a star-sprinkled sky along with another interesting tidbit of information.

With a gold-embossed cover and sturdy pages, Animals in the Sky is fun to share for nighttime star gazing and as a spark for lessons on astronomy, science, space, history, and mythology. The book would make a beautiful gift for new babies, baby showers, new little siblings as well as a go-to favorite for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 2 – 5

Phaidon Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1838660246

Older children will enjoy the stunning Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations, also by Sara Gillingham. You can read my review here.

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You can find Seeing Stars: A Complete Guide to the 88 Constellations at these booksellers

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

Phaidon Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-0714877723

To learn more about Sara Gillingham, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Rising Star Month Activity

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Courtesy of education.com

Star Gazing Dot-to-Dot

 

What constellation do these kids see in the sky? Print and follow the dots to find out. Then color the picture! Then enjoy another page filled with star-studded fun!

Star Gazing Dot-to-Dot | Constellations Dot-to-Dot

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Older children will enjoy this printable Read the Stars Constellations Word Search

Read the Stars Word Search Puzzle | Read the Stars Word Search Solution

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You can find Animals in the Sky at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 6 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

The month of March is a reading lover’s favorite! Why? Because from the 1st to the 31st, every day is dedicated to reading. Special events for adults and children take place at libraries, bookstores, community centers, and schools, bringing authors, illustrators, educators, and readers together to get them excited about this favorite past time. A love of reading is a life-long pleasure with so many benefits. 

You Are Mine, Porcupine

Written by Helen Wilbur | Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

 

A mother porcupine is teaching her little pup the ways of their world. Because porcupines move rather slowly, her first lesson is to beware of the dangers, like bears and wolves, that lurk in the forest. She reminds her little one: “So don’t forget those long, sharp spines / Protect all wandering porcupines.” The baby sleeps the day away in a hollow log, coming out at night for “porcu-play.”

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2020, text copyright Helen L. Wilbur, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

After dinner, mama porcupine shows her porcupup how they use their “claws and padded feet” to “climb where porcu-grown-ups sleep.” After a swim, the little pup is lured away from his mother’s side by the promise of sweet clover and dandelions. But after nibbling his fill, porcupette discovers he is lost. Unseen by the pup, “a wolf creeps softly through the night, / His eyes aglow, his teeth shine white.”

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2020, text copyright Helen L. Wilbur, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But he smells the wolf coming close and knows just what to do. He doesn’t back away or flee but instead starts to chatter. The wolf moves closer, his teeth are near, but the porcupup raises his quills. “A growl, a howl––the wolf backs out, / A pack of prickles in his snout!” Hearing the ruckus, Mama hurries over and is proud to see that her little one has sent the wolf running. Now, it’s time to have some fun. They find tasty berries for a snack then curl up in their tree trunk den. As Mama sings “porcu-lullabies” she reassures her porcupette, “‘You’ll grow and grow; you’ll be just fine. / You are mine, porcupine.’”

Back matter reveals interesting facts about porcupines, their quills, teeth, diet, and habits.

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Image copyright Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2020, text copyright Helen L. Wilbur, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

With charming rhymes, lovely language, and clever endearments, Helen L. Wilbur teaches readers about the life of a porcupine through her sweet mother-and-child story. Sprinkled with suspense, the story will captivate kids as they explore the forest with a porcu-peer and cheer as he outwits an adversary. and Wilbur’s heartening tale also shows children how much they are loved and reassures them that they too will grow up to be brave, smart, resourceful, and just fine.

Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s striking illustrations of a forest at twilight invites readers into the porcupines’ world where they slumber in a hollow log, nibble clover, and climb a tree. Her mottled greens and violets, accented with vibrant foliage, create a peaceful and tender setting for the mama porcupine’s important lessons. The silhouette of the wolf gives way on the next page to obvious danger, but is little porcupine paying attention? Readers need not worry as the porcupette knows just what he’s doing—an instinct clearly shown in the following spread. Along the way, children will enjoy finding other forest creatures behind trees, in tall grasses, and among branches. The final pages, dotted with cheerful flowers and depicting the porcupines’ delightful mother/child relationship, make this an engaging daytime or bedtime book.

Lyrical, comforting, and informative, You Are Mine, Porcupine makes a sweet, multilayered addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110038

Discover more about Helen L. Wilbur and her books on her website.

To learn more about Stephanie Fizer Coleman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Reading Month Activity

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Cute Porcupine Coloring Page

 

This little porcupine is just waiting for you to come and play, so print this coloring page, grab your crayons, and have fun!

Cute Porcupine Coloring Page

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You can find You Are Mine, Porcupine at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 3 – World Wildlife Day

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About the Holiday

This United Nations-sponsored holiday was established in 2013 to celebrate the world’s wild animals and plants and to raise awareness of the perils they face. Since that time, World Wildlife Day has grown to be the most important global event dedicated to wildlife. Each year, the organizers adopt a theme addressing a pressing wildlife issue. This year’s theme is Sustaining All Life on Earth and encompasses raising awareness of the importance of biodiversity to the environment and to humans as well. The world relies on its biodiversity for clean air and water, food, energy, and materials of all types. But our biodiversity is in danger through unsustainable human activities. It is up to us to decide and act now for the future. Today’s book gives readers a good place to start in seeing species we’ve recently lost and how we can help. To learn more visit the World Wildlife Day website.

I received a copy of Extinct from Phaidon Press for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared

Written by Lucas Riera | Illustrated by Jack Tite

 

When most people hear the word extinct, they picture T-rex, brontosaurus, or maybe a mastodon. Images of bones long buried and museum exhibits of fossils come to mind. But Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared introduces young readers to the fact that “species become extinct all the time—in fact, it’s happening right now.” Lucas Riera and Jack Tite focus on 90 species that have been lost recently, specifically from the 20th century to today. These animals from all habitats are familiar to children and provide examples of how and why certain species are disappearing. For young conservationists, the stories and facts included offer a roadmap to future action and protective measures while honoring these beautiful animals.

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Image copyright Jack Tite, 2019, text copyright Lucas Riera, 2019. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Turning to the first page, readers meet six big cats that have disappeared from their homelands due to habitat destruction or hunting. The Formosan clouded leopard, a great climber native to Taiwan and named for the “distinctive shape of their spots,” succumbed to the loss of their natural habitat through logging. “The species was declared extinct in 2013. However, in 2019, two unconfirmed sightings have given hope that they may still be out there.” Also on this page, children are introduced to Tibbles—a house cat (or lighthouse cat, to be more precise) that single-pawedly wiped out the population of New Zealand’s Stephens Island wrens.

Next, children learn about the Thylacine (aka Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf). Striped like a tiger, carnivorous like a wolf, and the size of a large dog, Thylacines were actually marsupials, capable of hoping on their back legs. Their population dwindled to one by 1933 because of hunting by settlers and through their dogs, which killed the Thylacine’s prey and introduced diseases. “The last specimen was captured in 1933 and lived out its lonely life in an Australian zoo until September 7, 1936.

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Image copyright Jack Tite, 2019, text copyright Lucas Riera, 2019. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Speaking of marsupials, Riera highlights seven of these distinctive creatures, ranging from mouse-sized to about three feet tall, that once hopped their way across grasslands and deserts. Many fell victim to foxes, other predators, and habitat change. These include the crescent nail-tail wallaby, the yallara, and the pig-footed bandicoot, which was the size of a cat, had the streamlined face of a bird and whose front feet resembled pigs’ hooves while their back feet were more like horses’ hooves.

Twelve species of reptiles, including three types of giant tortoise, a turtle, skinks, lizards, and snakes, as well as nine species of amphibians, including toads, newts, salamanders, and frogs will fascinate kids. One of these—the gastric brooding frog—may have been one of the most unusual creatures in the forest. What made them unique? “The females swallowed their eggs during gestation. The eggs grew inside her belly! After six weeks, her developed babies would emerge from her mouth. Sadly, these wonderful weirdos have been extinct since 2002.”

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Image copyright Jack Tite, 2019, text copyright Lucas Riera, 2019. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Two-page spreads are also dedicated to Amazing Athletes, Superb Swimmers, Big and Beautiful rhinos and hippo, Powerful Pack wolves, Birds, Primates, and Fantastic Foragers, including the Caucasian wisent, a bison that once thrived in the cold mountains of Eastern Europe. “In the 19th century, their population numbered in the thousands, but then humans settled in the mountains and hunting ensued. In 1927, poachers killed the last three individuals that lived in the wild.” In addition to the Thylacine, Riera highlights three other individual animals—the passenger pigeon, the great auk, and the California Grizzly.

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Image copyright Jack Tite, 2019, text copyright Lucas Riera, 2019. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Following the species profiles, Riera presents an extensive discussion of extinction today, including the fact that currently “the rate of extinction is estimated to be much faster than the natural rate—by as much as 1,000 times”—and that “it’s the sixth time in billions of years that levels of extinction have been extremely high.” He also reveals causes of extinction, wildlife organizations and examples of positive results, and summaries of work to protect three critically endangered animals. On the next page, Jack Tite depicts more critically endangered animals being tracked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Finally, concerned children and adults will find resources for getting involved on local and international levels as well as tips for being more environmentally conscious.

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Image copyright Jack Tite, 2019, text copyright Lucas Riera, 2019. Courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Lucas Riera introduces readers to this wide variety of animals through fascinating, conversational, and descriptive paragraphs that reveal tidbits about their distinctive features, where they lived, and how they became extinct. Dates of extinction are eye-opening, especially those for creatures that have disappeared within the lifetime of many young readers. Pages packed with reptiles, birds, amphibians and more, invite children to explore these animals further and present jumping off points for nature and environmental science classes for a wide age range of students.

In this stunning oversized book, Jack Tite accompanies the text with vibrant, eye-catching imagery of animals prowling, leaping, swimming, running, and otherwise on the move that gives readers an up-close view of their beautiful markings and distinguishing traits. Textured backgrounds place the animals in their natural environments from sun-drenched deserts to deep seas to tropical forests and beyond. In what may be a plea for the future, most of the animals gaze out from the page directly at readers, seeming to invite them to learn more and engage them in conservation efforts.

Full of information about environmental science, extinction, and animals that once roamed our planet, Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared is a lush and deep resource for young nature lovers and conservationists at home, in schools, and for public libraries.

Ages 5 and up

Phaidon Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1838660376

To learn more about Jack Tite, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Wildlife Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wonderful-wildlife-board-game

Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice as shown on printable guide
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!

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You can find Extinct: An Illustrated Exploration of Animals That Have Disappeared at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 3 – Festival of Sleep Day

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About the Holiday

After all the celebrating, we’re finally ready for some down time – and when I say down time, I mean sleep! That feeling of sinking into a deep slumber and waking refreshed the next morning is so comforting. And the opportunity to sleep in – or sleep all day? That’s luxury! To take full advantage of today’s holiday, jump in bed, pull up the covers and…Zzzzzzzzzz…

Henry & Leo

By Pamela Zagarenski

 

Ever since Henry was two, he and his stuffed lion, Leo, have been inseparable. “Perhaps it was his glass button eyes, which made him look as if he knew secret things” that made him so special and unlike Henry’s other toys. One Saturday Henry’s parents suggested a hike in the Nearby Woods. Henry was excited because he knew Leo would love the outing. Henry’s sister thought this idea was foolish, after all Leo wasn’t real, she said, and couldn’t love anything.

Henry didn’t care what his sister thought, and as they walked through the forest, he “could tell that Leo loved hearing the birds and finding the woodland animals as much as he did.” When evening began to fall, the family headed home, Henry riding on his father’s shoulders. At home, Henry discovered that Leo was missing. They looked everywhere, but Leo could not be found.

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Image copyright Pamela Zagarenski, courtesy of Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt

Papa promised that they would resume the hunt in the morning, but Henry worried. He knew Leo would want to be home with him tonight, and asked that a light be left on for him. Henry’s mother suggested that since Leo was only real in Henry’s imagination that he “‘imagine Leo tucked into a safe place.’” In the morning, she said, they would return to the Nearby Woods and find him.

In the darkness of his room, clutching a stuffed rabbit and fox, with a toy bear nearby, Henry thinks about Leo. He “knows that his family just didn’t understand what it truly meant to be real.” But Henry and Leo were best friends. They cared for each other. “That’s real.”

Meanwhile, in the Nearby Woods, a bear, a rabbit, and a fox discover Leo sitting at the base of a tree. With a twig, Leo sketches a house in the dirt, washed white in the gleam of the full moon. The rabbit produces a compass as the fox consults the stars. The foursome takes off down the path, watched over by owls and other night creatures. As the trip grows longer, Leo rides on the bear’s back. At last they reach the edge of the forest, and in the distance Leo points to a house bathed white in the moonlight.

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Image copyright Pamela Zagarenski, courtesy of Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt

With the dawning sun Henry and his family take up the search again. Suddenly, Henry spies Leo near the front door. “‘Leo!’” he shouts. His family sighs in relief, but his sister and father are both perplexed. They know they had “‘looked in that very spot last night.’” As Henry hugs Leo tightly, he whispers “‘You found home! I love you, Leo.’” And Leo whispers back, “‘I love you, too, Henry.’”

With her signature grace and lyricism. Pamela Zagarenski infuses her lost-toy story with the mystical imagination of childhood. As the title suggests, she presents the experience from both Henry’s and Leo’s perspectives, echoing the wonderful ability of young children to fully embrace and transfer their emotions, giving—and accepting—love from animate and inanimate objects equally. Zagarenski’s illustrations are glorious, with the richness of royalty—a motif that is carried through in the crowns that hover above and settle on the heads of Henry, his family, other toys, and the woodland animals. Children may enjoy discussing and interpreting the different crowns. The middle spreads of nighttime in the forest are wordless, allowing the animals to communicate in their own way and in a way children believe. Young readers will appreciate the gentle suspense and be satisfied with the correctness of Henry’s prediction as Leo finds his way home. Fans of Zagarenski’s work will notice familiar images, such as teapots, tea cups, and paper sailboats, scattered among the pages.

The beauty of Zagarenski’s art and her stardust magic of imagination make Henry & Leo an excellent choice for bedtime and quiet time reading, and would be an often-asked-for addition to children’s bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 7

Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544648111

To learn more about Pamela Zagarenski, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Festival of Sleep Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snuggle-buddy-craft

Snuggle Buddy Craft

 

It’s easy to make your own snuggle buddy with a few pieces of fleece, some fiber fill, and a needle and thread or fabric glue. The great thing about creating your own friend is you can personalize your pal anyway you want!

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. 
  2. Sew or glue the face to the buddy

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-henry-and-leo-cover

You can find Henry & Leo at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

October 8 – It’s National Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-cover

About the Holiday

All this month people are reading and celebrating their favorite books—both old and new. It’s also a terrific time to honor independent bookstores that serve their community with carefully chosen titles for all ages of readers. Some indies focus on one genre or age of reader, offering a vast array of familiar and surprising books for customers to explore. Others are known for a particular ambience—mysterious, scholarly, fun! But all give readers a sense of community and a feeling of awe and wonder at all of the stories to discover. This month make a stop into your local bookstore a family event and pick up a new book (or several) for everyone!

King Mouse

Written by Cary Fagan | Illustrated by Dena Seiferling

 

In a wordless spread, a child with a tricycle cart full of various shaped crowns wheels through a field, spilling crowns as she goes. Later, a mouse creeps out of his hole in the ground and looks for something to nibble. He finds no food but does spy a small crown “glittering in the grass.” After inspecting it, he places the crown on his head. “It was a perfect fit.” Just then a bear walks up and asks the mouse if he is a king. The mouse replies that he is. The bear bows and cries, “‘Hail to the king!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-finds-crown

Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Soon a crow lands on a nearby branch. The bear introduces the mouse king. When the crow learns that the mouse is hungry, the crow immediately sets to looking for food to offer him. As the bear and the crow gather food, a tortoise approaches. Thrilled to learn that they “at last” have a king, he joins in. The mouse gobbles up all the seeds the trio brought.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-crown

Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

After he was full, the mouse announces that he is bored. As the three are deciding what to do, a fox appears. She suggests they perform a play. The mouse is delighted with the drama. He applauds. “‘I haven’t been this amused for ages,’ he said. ‘I like being king.’” Meanwhile, a snake slithering through the woods spies another crown. She puts it on her head.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-bear

Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As soon as she does the other animals hail her as their queen. Everyone, that is, except the mouse who isn’t too happy. When the animals bow to the queen, the fox, the tortoise, and the crow each find a crown just their size hiding in the grass and proclaim themselves royalty. The bear searches for a crown for himself but can’t find one. He plods away while the others dance around singing their own praises. The bear finds a tree stump and sits down, dejected about his lack of good luck.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-crow

Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Discovering that the bear is no longer with the group, the mouse goes in search of him. When he finds him, the mouse removes his crown and begins picking dandelions. He creates a wreath and gives it to the bear. The two sit quietly together. When the sun begins to set, the mouse hints that he might have a better vantage point “from up there.” The bear obliges and lifts the mouse to his shoulder. “‘I’m not really a king,” the bear sighs. The mouse agrees and then notes the beautiful sunset. Now it’s the bear’s turn to agree, and “they sat for a long time.” Returning through the field, the child, her tricycle cart now empty, spies a pile of five crowns discarded on an old tree stump.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-king-mouse-seeds

Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cary Fagan’s modern fable has much to say and, as the genre often affords, offers much for readers to ponder and talk about. It is a fitting time for this story that, among other themes, questions the nature of leadership. When the mouse finds the first crown, not only does he proclaim himself king but he demands food and entertainment from his sudden subjects, unconcerned with their needs. But, yet, the animals mechanically bow to him and rush to fulfill his whims. When the snake, crow, and tortoise also find crowns, they gleefully decree their own sovereignty, forgetting the bear.

The mouse, however, seems to have learned a lesson. When he finds the bear, he removes his crown and offers one of his own creation to the bear, making him the only “king” independently chosen. Wiser than the others, the bear understands that he does not rule the others, and the mouse too sees that the equality of friendship and the grandeur of nature that is beholden to no one is more majestic than any crown. The introduction of the child in the wordless spreads give kids and adults the opportunity to discuss the possibility that the main story is one of imaginative play. Fagan’s dialogue-rich storytelling spotlights themes of pride, envy, disappointment, friendship, inclusion, and modesty and makes this a perfect tale for a school class, drama troupe, or other group to act out.

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Dena Seiferling’s soft, sepia-toned illustrations give the story a magical, dream-like quality while also anchoring it in the “real world.” Small snapshots that accompany the text on the left-hand pages introduce each animal as they come on the scene while full-page images clearly show the progression of the story and the changing attitudes of the animals. Early on, the mouse is uncertain, nibbling at the unknown object he finds. But once the crown is settled on his head, it takes only three pages for him to be accepting tributes and one more to find him lounging and demanding.

Children will be enchanted by the dramatic scenes of the play the animals put on for the mouse, and the tall crown the snake wears is a cunning stroke of suspense and one-upmanship. The illustration of the bear leaving the group as the others, oblivious to his feelings, parade around provides an opportunity for adults to talk about empathy and inclusion. As the bear and the mouse watch the setting sun together, readers can imagine that a new and more thoughtful day will dawn tomorrow.

A profound and affecting book, King Mouse is a story that will move and inspire children to think about interacting with others. The book would be have multiple applications for home, classroom, and school libraries and is a must for public libraries.

Ages 3 – 8

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264045

Discover more about Cary Fagan and his books on her website.

To learn more about Dena Seiferling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-book-love-word-search-puzzle

Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

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

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You can find King Mouse at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review