August 12 – World Elephant Day

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About the Holiday

This year World Elephant Day celebrates its 10th anniversary. The holiday was launched to raise awareness of the dangers the Asian and African elephant populations face. Poaching, habitat destruction, human-elephant conflict, and mistreatment in captivity all threaten these gentle, intelligent creatures. World Elephant Day encourages people to enjoy seeing elephants in safe, non-exploitive environments and to get involved in their protection and survival. To learn more about elephants, discover how you can be elephant ethical, and commemorate today’s holiday with virtual events led by elephant specialists, artists, zoos, and other organizations, visit the World Elephant Day website.

Thanks to Familius for sending me a copy of She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch

Written by June Smalls | Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

 

The elephant matriarch is the queen of the family group. “She is usually the oldest, but not always. It is her job to guide and teach her subjects to give them the best opportunities for survival.” Her family group consists of blood relatives—daughters and granddaughters—living together. When groups get too big, some elephants break off and form their own group. The matriarch leads the other elephants to food and water, and when water is scarce “she guides them on journeys to watering holes remembered from long ago.”

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

Like a loving grandmother, the matriarch teaches younger elephants how to take care of their little ones. Everyone in the family group helps rear the young. “The clumsy babies are sometimes caught in mud or water and the older elephants will work together to push, pull, or dig to rescue them.”

Sometimes, groups of elephants that once lived together will meet. They remember each other and spend time “foraging for food together. These meetings are like a family reunion.” When danger from another animal lurks, the elephants watch and learn how the matriarch defends them. They also huddle together and surround the smaller elephants for protection. “If nature, or predators, or poachers take her friends, she will comfort and care for the orphans.”

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

Little ones grow and play under the watchful eye of the matriarch and, just like human children, “elephants are not born with all the skills they need.” The matriarch helps teach her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren how to use their trunks for heavy work like moving logs and for delicate finessing, such as having the “ability to gently pluck a leaf from a tree.”

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

The matriarch also thinks about the future when she won’t be able to lead the group anymore. She passes on her knowledge and skills to the elephants in her lineage, “so that when she is gone another matriarch will lead her family.” When the matriarch does die, the elephants mourn their loss in ways similar to humans. “Elephants have been observed burying their dead with grasses and branches,” and they will return to the spot months later to “touch the bones of their lost family member.” A new matriarch emerges to lead the family group. This is “usually the oldest daughter of the matriarch,” and her call “to her daughters and their daughters” can be heard for miles and miles – sometimes up to 110 square miles – as this new queen begins her reign.

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Image copyright Yumi Shimokawara, 2020, text copyright June Smalls, 2020. Courtesy of Familius.

June Smalls’ tribute to the matriarchal society of elephants and, through her lyrical storytelling, to strong women in every family and community is both poignant and powerful. The main story reveals the role of the matriarch in leading and teaching her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters over a lifetime, which can span seventy years. Smalls’ stirring text illuminates the similarities between elephants and humans in everyday needs, behavior, memory, familial care, and even in death. In addition to the story, each page spread includes fascinating, and often touching, facts about how a family group forages for enormous amounts of food, finds crucial water supplies, protects each other, rears their young, and sustains each other in the passing of the matriarch. Smalls’ book ends with an inspirational entreaty to young girls to awaken to their future role as leaders.

Yumi Shimokawara’s stunning realistic illustrations of an elephant matriarch leading and teaching her family group in the wild will thrill readers. On each page spread, young readers follow their elephant peer as she (or he, as male elephants stay with the family group until about age thirteen) plucks leaves from a sun-drenched tree, splashes in a watering hole, walks in the shade of two adults on a long, hot journey, is protected from predators, and plays games with sticks and other babies in the group. Shimokawara’s delicate color palette and beautifully composed images depict the intelligence and gentle manner of these animals in lively and tender moments that children will want to view again and again.

An exquisite combination of inspiration and education, She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch will captivate children as a spark for further learning about these majestic animals, the environment, and nature conservation as well as encouragement to bravely take their place in the world with grace, love, and strength. The book is a must for all home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Familius, 2020 | ISBN 978-1641702324

Discover more about June Smalls and her books on her website.

You can find more books from Familius that joyfully reflect the habits of happy families, including reading, talking, laughing, eating, working, loving, healing, learning, and playing together as well as the Familius blog The Habit Hub here.

World Elephant Day Activity

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Elephant Handprint Craft

 

This easy craft is fun for families to do together. Using siblings’ hands or the hands of a child and an adult to make the elephants can make a meaningful and comforting picture to hang in a child’s room or gift for mom, dad, or other family members.

Supplies

  • Craft paint in two colors of the children’s choice
  • Yellow craft paint
  • Black fin-tip marker
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils to make a background
  • Paper
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint one child’s hand and press it on the paper. The thumb is the truck and the fingers make the legs.
  2. Paint the second child’s or adult’s hand and press it on the paper near the other “elephant.” 
  3. After the paint has dried, draw on ears and an eye.
  4. Add a sun with the yellow paint or crayon.
  5. Add grass, trees, or other background features if desired.

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You can buy She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch on the Familius website.

 

This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure statement here.

Picture Book Review

July 11 – All American Pet Photo Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday probably needs no special promotion since sharing pictures of our singular pets with our friends, coworkers, and family is something all many of us pet owners do every day, whether it’s on social media or just scrolling through pics of our pet’s latest antics on our phone. Our pets are just so cute and funny and clever that it’s hard not to show everyone. To celebrate today, capture your pet doing something extraordinary—or ordinary, it doesn’t really matter—and share them for your family, friends, and the world to see!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Tails from the Animal Shelter for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Tails from the Animal Shelter

Written by Stephanie Shaw | Illustrated by Liza Woodruff

 

Welcome to the Humane Society Animal Shelter! The animals are waiting to meet you, and the staff are happy to introduce you to the wonderful animals who are available for adoption. While most animals who arrive at shelters across the country are dogs or cats, there are lots of other pets looking for a new home. Why do some animals come to live in a shelter? The book reveals many reasons. Among them are that “some of the animals are strays; some are rescued from natural disasters” and “some have been given up for adoption because their owners can no longer care for them.”

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Image copyright Liza Woodruff, 2020, text copyright Stephanie Shaw, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Are you ready to find a new friend? If it’s a puppy you’re looking for, you’ll love Tinkle, who’s so excited to see you that he “cannot help but piddle.” But it’s okay. “Happy puppies always dribble….As time passes and pups grow, / This little guy won’t pee ‘hello.’” If you don’t know what type of dog is best for your family, the staff at the shelter can help match you to the perfect one.

Cats also make wonderful pets for many reasons. Whether you like long-haired or short-haired, large or small cats, you’ll find just the right fit for your family at the shelter. Not ready for a long-term commitment? You can look into fostering a newborn kitten to get them ready for adoption. What kinds of kittens will you find? All sorts, like Ariel, who says: “I’m an acrobat cat! / I can climb anywhere! / I’ll roll in a ball and then / leap to a chair!”

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Image copyright Liza Woodruff, 2020, text copyright Stephanie Shaw, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

These dogs and puppies, cats and kittens are only a few of the animals that turn up needing a new home. Take Pooter, for example. Pooter is black and white and, despite the recognizable stripe down its back, does not stink. Skunks that make their way to shelters “have never lived in the wild” and have had surgery so they cannot make their “smelly spray.”

Veterinary advances have improved the lives of injured animals or animals with health problems. Animals with special needs can now be fitted with “rear-support leashes or wheelchairs” and “can live happily for many years.” If you can adopt “an animal with special needs [you] will bring a grateful and loyal pet into your family.” A popular pet that has some surprising talents, a rabbit can also be a top choice for people who live in a smaller home. Trained to use a litter box, rabbits “can live indoors just like cats do.” 

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Image copyright Liza Woodruff, 2020, text copyright Stephanie Shaw, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

If you live on a farm or have a lot of land in an area that allows for farm animals, you may be interested in Hamlet, who tells readers, “I am a sweet potbellied pig. / I started small but I grew BIG….I know some tricks. I’m neat and clean. / I’m many things. I’m just not… / lean.” Around the nation there are many “pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens [that] need new homes. There are over two hundred thousand horses alone rescued or surrendered to shelter care every year.” 

Along with detailed descriptions of the birds, reptiles, and senior animals that also make loving pets, the book is packed with information about how and why certain animals come to shelters and programs that sponsor a variety of animals and help get them ready for adoption. Back matter reveals how animal shelters were established, gives extensive tips on and issues to consider when adopting a shelter animal, lists ways people can help shelter animals even if they can’t adopt, and provides online resources for learning more and finding shelters in your area.

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Image copyright Liza Woodruff, 2020, text copyright Stephanie Shaw, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In her fascinating and accessible text, Stephanie Shaw combines poetry with facts and interesting tidbits about each type of animal to discuss why they make excellent pets for the right person or living condition. Her humorous, whimsical verses that accompany each category and introduce a particular animal will charm kids with a snapshot of the animal’s personality. Kids will also enjoy talking about how each name fits the animal.

Liza Woodruff’s cheery illustrations will enchant animal lovers with adorable images of funny, loving, and endearing animals happy to find a forever home. The joy that pets bring to a family is evident as kids hug, play with, and react to their pets.

An excellent introduction to shelter animals and pet ownership, Tails from the Animal Shelter is highly recommended for any family thinking about adopting a pet as well as for young animal lovers and kids interested in veterinary medicine or volunteering to help animals. The book would also make a favorite addition to school and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110489

Discover more about Stephanie Shaw and her books on her website.

To learn more about Liza Woodruff, her books, and her art, visit her website.

All American Pet Photo Day Activity

CPB - Pig Day pigs

Roly Poly Spool Potbellied Pig and Piglets

 

Get ready to have fun making this cute and easy craft! Ham it up with your own pig and piglets who can keep you company on your desk, near your bed or anywhere it’s fun to play!

Supplies

  • Printable Pigs Ears Template
  • 2 ½-inch wooden spoon, available from craft stores
  • 1-inch wooden spool, available from craft stores
  • Pink yarn, I used a wide-strand yarn
  • Pink fleece or felt
  • Pink craft paint
  • Pink 5/8-inch or 1-inch flat button with two holes
  • Pink 3/8-inch flat button with two holes
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Black marker

CPB - Pig Day with spools (2)

Directions

  1. Print Pigs Ears Template
  2. Trace the ears onto the fleece or felt and cut them out.
  3. Paint the spool with the pink paint
  4. Let spool dry
  5. When the spool is dry, glue the ears to the spool, letting the ears stick up over the rim of the spool.
  6. Wrap yarn in straight layers around spool until the body of the pig is a little bigger than the end of the spool, which will be the face
  7. Cut yarn off skein and glue the end to the body
  8. To make the nose, glue the button over the hole in the middle of the spool
  9. Mark the eyes and mouth with a marker
  10. To make the tail for the large pig, cut a 4-inch long piece of yarn. Tie a triple knot in the yarn (or a knot big enough to fill the hole in the spool). Then tie a single knot near the other end of the yarn. Insert the large knot into the spool’s hole at the back of the pig. Trim the yarn in front of the second knot as needed.
  11. To make the tail for the piglets, tie a single knot in the yarn and another single knot below the first. Insert one of the single knots into the hole. Trim yarn as needed.

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You can find Tails from the Animal Shelter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 2 – World Porcupine Day

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About the Holiday

Whether you know today’s holiday – which was established in 2018 – as World Porcupine Day or as National Porcupine Appreciation Day, it’s the perfect day to celebrate and learn more about these distinctive rodents that are native to the forests of North America. Second in size behind the beaver, porcupines sport more than 30,000 quills that serve them well as a defense against predators. While porcupines may not be the cuddliest of creatures, when they’re congregated together, they may just have the cutest name, as a group of porcupines is called a prickle. To commemorate the holiday,  spend a little time getting to know more about porcupine families with today’s sweet book. To view some adorable baby porcupines from around the world, visit ZooBorns.

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. Wilbur’s heartening tale also shows children how much they are loved by their own family 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

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

June 29 – International Day of the Tropics

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About the Holiday

The International Day of the Tropics is a United Nations–sponsored holiday that celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the tropics while putting a spotlight on the unique challenges and opportunities the nations of the Tropics face. The Tropics are a region roughly defined as the area between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn and have in common a warm and typically unvaried seasonal temperature fluctuations and the prevalence of rain  determined by a region’s proximity to the equator. While it is projected that by 2050, the Tropics will be home to most of the world’s population and two-thirds of its children, the area faces challenges due to climate change, deforestation, logging, urbanization, and demographic shifts.  Today’s observance provides individuals, organizations, and governments an opportunity to take stock of progress across the tropics, to share stories and expertise, and to acknowledge the diversity and potential of the region. Today’s book tell the true story of one woman who is working to make a difference.

Thanks to Lee & Low Books for sending me a copy of Galápagos Girl/ Galápagueña for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. 

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Angela Dominguez | Translated by Adriana Dominguez

 

On the day when baby Valentina joined Mamá, Papá, and eleven brothers and sisters, even the sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and iguanas seemed to welcome her to the “island formed by fire.” Valentina loved growing up on the Galápagos Island of Floreana. She explored the lava rocks, where Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled back and forth. She swam with dolphins and manta rays, and even played with penguins.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

“Valentina watched pink flamingoes wading near mangroves. Blue butterflies fluttering on the breeze. Red-and-green iguanas sneezing salt like tiny geysers.” The crashing waves, albatross, and finches created a symphony as Valentina stopped to rest on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean. The lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and twirling sea lions provided young Valentina with a variety of dance partners.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

At home, Valentina’s family shared their home with two giant tortoises—Carlitos and Isabella. One day Papá told Valentina their story as they fed the tortoises plums that had fallen from their backyard trees. Papá had gotten Carlitos and Isabella from a friend when he first moved to Floreana. Although it was nearly impossible to imagine now that the tortoises were grown, at the time they were so small that they fit into Papá’s pockets.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

There was also a sad note to Papá’s story. He said that while giant tortoises still lived on other Galápagos islands, pirates and whalers had wiped out the population on Floreana. Papá went on to tell Valentina that many Galápagos animals were in danger. They were “threatened by other animals that don’t belong here. Threatened by people who don’t understand how to care for our islands.” Valentina promised that she would always protect them.

When she was older, Valentina left the island to go to school. She didn’t want to leave her beautiful home, but Mamá told her that she was “ready to learn about the world beyond.” And Papá reminded her that “like our islands, you have a heart full of fire.” On school vacations, Valentina always came back to study the wildlife on the Galápagos islands. She had not forgotten her promise to keep them safe.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

After she graduated with a degree in biology, Valentina returned to the islands as a nature guide to teach visitors about the beauty and uniqueness of the Galápagos. Some visitors were even lucky enough to meet Carlitos and Isabella when the plums dropped from the trees and the two old tortoises returned from exploring Floreana to eat them. Because of Valentina’s commitment to the Galápagos, her visitors also made a promise to always remember and protect them.

Extensive backmatter includes an Author’s Note about Valentina Cruz, the tortoises Carlitos and Isabella, and the history of tortoises on Floreana. There is also information on the Galápagos as well as fun facts about all of the animals in the story. A bibliography of sources invites readers to learn more.

Each two-page spread presents the text in English and translated into Spanish by Adriana Dominguez.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s lyrical and buoyant passages sing with the carefree joy Valentina felt as a girl exploring her beloved Galápagos and which brought her back home as a biologist to protect them. After seeing Valentina playing and swimming with the native animals and feeding Carlitos and Isabella, readers will also feel Valentina’s sadness at the dangers they face and want to make a positive difference to the environment and the world around them. Arnold’s dialogue-rich storytelling highlights the personal nature of the subject and will draw children into Valentina’s world.celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Galápagos-Girl-blue-footed-booby

Saturated with glorious color, each of Angela Dominguez’s illustrations is a celebration of the splendor of the Galápagos. Playful sea lions, high-stepping blue-footed boobies, scampering crabs, and even a sneezing iguana will captivate young readers and inspire them to learn more about these creatures and the islands. Images of Valentina camping out to study the animals during school breaks will excite environmentally conscious kids, and pictures of Carlitos and Isabella happily munching on plums will generate smiles and “awwws.”

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña will excite kids to learn more not only about the Galápagos region but about their own local environment, and the call to action will spark an enthusiasm for protecting the earth’s animals. The book would make an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and an excellent way to begin classroom discussions on environmental issues and science lessons. The engaging Spanish translation will delight Spanish-speaking and bilingual families.

Ages 4 – 8

Lee & Low Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0892394135

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website. You can also download activity sheets and teachers’ guides for most of her books here as well.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Welcome Marsha Diane Arnold

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In 2018, I was thrilled to talk with award-winning picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold about the backstory of Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña. Her interview, originally for National Wildlife Day, is just as timely today. Marsha was inspired to write this story after traveling to the Galápagos Islands, where she met Valentina Cruz and had the opportunity to swim with sea lions and dolphins.

Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author whose books have sold over one million copies. Her 21st book, Lights Out, was published in the fall of 2020. Arnold’s other books include Badger’s Perfect Garden, May I Come In? and Mine. Yours. Among Marsha’s honors are the Ridgeway Award for Best First Book, state Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book, and Smithsonian Notable Book. Her bilingual book Galápagos Girl was selected as a 2019 Bank Street Best Books of the Year, a Campoy-Ada honor book, and a 2019 Green Prize in Sustainable Literature. The media has referred to her as, “a born storyteller.” Educators have called her a “true literary artist” whose books show “warmth and respect for one’s self.”  She lives with her family in Alva, Florida.

Thank you, Kathryn, for inviting me to celebrate Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña, along with conservation of wild places and animals!

As a child, would you have enjoyed swimming with sea lions? Feeding plums to giant tortoises by hand? Having warblers fly through your house? That was the life of Valentina Cruz. Galápagos Girl is based on her idyllic life on remote Floreana island in the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago west of Ecuador.

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My photos of actual blue-footed booby and Galápagos marine iguana.

Valentina grew up surrounded by nature, but perhaps more accurately, she grew up in nature. I think when a child grows up seeing wild wonders every day, they grow up respecting and protecting nature and wildlife. Valentina and her siblings certainly did. She grew up to be a biologist and naturalist guide. One brother, Eliecer Cruz, was director of the Galápagos National Park and, later, director of the Galápagos branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Another brother, Felipe, worked on many projects with the Charles Darwin Research Station, including studying the challenges that face the Galápagos petrel. Her sister, Marilyn, is director of Galápagos Biosecurity Agency, which helps control and prevent invasive species in the islands.

In some ways, Valentina’s childhood was similar to mine. She was surrounded by a loving family—her parents and eleven brothers and sisters. I only had one brother, but along with my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, we gathered on many Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s house. Valentina and I both delighted in nature, though hers was a more exotic nature—the distant Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin discovered those famous finches and came up with his theory of natural selection. Mine was a small farm on the Kansas plains—I didn’t see the ocean until I was an adult. Valentina had Galápagos tortoises as pets and swam with sea lions. (Of course, keeping tortoises as pets is not allowed today.) I played with my neighbor’s pet raccoon (also, not allowed today) and listened to the meadowlark’s song from the roof of my house.

Valentina loves nature, home, and family, but has the soul of an adventurer. I’m much the same. When I grew up I yearned to see as much of the world as possible. When my long-time traveling buddy, Jean Gallagher, asked me to travel with her to the Galápagos, one of my long-time dreams came true.

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The Galápagos Gang – fellow travelers to a far-off land. Jean is 3rd to right in front. I am 4th.

It was on that 2007 trip that I met Valentina, one of our naturalist guides. With her, we visited Floreana and saw the home where she grew up. I was enamored. I thought how wonderful a book about the islands and their unique wildlife, woven together with Valentina’s childhood, would be. Yet it wasn’t until April 2009 that I emailed Valentina and told her of my dream to write a picture book based on her life. Over months and years, Valentina generously shared her stories with me.

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Valentina showing us the lay of the land.

Valentina got her sense of adventure and love of nature from her father, Eliecer Cruz Cevallos, who first arrived in the Galápagos in 1939. He was one of only 100 people living in the Galápagos at that time!

Eliecer returned to Ecuador and married Valentina’s mother, Emma Bedon. She made him promise they would never live in the Galápagos. Who can blame her? They’d have almost no human neighbors! But in 1944, she changed her mind. Emma sailed to Floreana with Eliecer to build a life together. Valentina told me that even living in the wild, her mother taught her children “to keep all the rules of a city so we do not grow up wild.”

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Valentina and her father on Floreana

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Valentina, her mother, and her sister

Two Galápagos tortoises were a big part of Valentina’s childhood, so I had to include them in Galápagos Girl. Floreana tortoise had long been extinct (or so it was thought).  So when Eliecer moved to Floreana, his friend gave him young tortoises from other islands. Eventually, the family released the tortoises to roam free. One of the most exciting things that happened to Valentina as a child was seeing the tortoises return to their farm that first year after their release. The main reason was the tasty plums dropping from the trees. Every year after that, when the plums ripened, the family waited for the tortoises to return. They always did!

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An illustration of one of the family’s tortoises eating a plum treat by Angela Dominguez

The tortoise story changed several times during the writing of my book due to Valentina’s remembering more over time, checking facts with her family, and a discovery near Wolf Volcano on Isabela, another Galápagos Island. What’s in my book isn’t exactly the way things were, but it’s close to the real story. As Valentina wisely shared: “Each of us remember things in different ways. Our memory is like pictures of what impresses us in that specific moment, so everything can be true and everything can be fiction.”

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One of eleven species of Galápagos tortoise

Regarding the exciting discovery on Wolf Volcano, scientists recently found tortoises there that carry some of the Floreana tortoise genes! There is a project now to bring these tortoises back to Floreana. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have partial Floreana tortoises wandering freely, restoring the ecology of Floreana?

You may ask, “How did Floreana tortoises get on Isabela Island?” That’s one more fascinating question about the Galápagos. If I visit your school, you can ask me and I’ll share more.

Thanks so much, Marsha, for sharing the fascinating story behind Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her Website | Earth’s Voices | Facebook

International Day of the Tropics Activity

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Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

 

There are so many fascinating animals that live in the Galápagos! Can you match the picture of each animal to its description in this printable Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle? You can find and download the activity sheet from the Lee & Low Books website:

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 19 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-true-tales-of-animal-heroes-flufflesAbout the Holiday

When you love to read, you want to share the excitement that books hold. Get Caught Reading Month encourages people to pass along their love of all things written by asking folks to take pictures of themselves reading their favorite book and uploading those images to social media. Movie and TV celebrities, sports figures, authors, illustrators, teachers, mom, dads, grandmas and grandpas, and kids of all ages take part in this favorite annual event. Why don’t you?! For more information, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

True Tales of Animal Heroes Series

This new picture book series presents real-life stories of animals from around the world who have shown courage and individuality. Through her stories Vita Murrow, an educator, writer, artist, and mom, shows kids that heroes don’t always wear capes or rely on gadgets—some wear fur, rely on claws, and have a brave heart. Your kids will fall in love with these inspiring animals!

Fluffles: The Brave Koala Who Held Strong through a Bushfire

Written by Vita Murrow | Illustrated by Rachel Qiuqi

 

Fluffles the koala lived in southeastern Australia in a vast eucalyptus forest. His home had everything she needed, from delicious leaves to lots of koala friends to sturdy branches to snooze on. “Then one day, a storm announced itself with a BOOM of thunder.” It hadn’t rained in a long time and the lightning strikes threatened to set the forest on fire.

Fluffles watched the sky. She knew that if she saw “red and brown clouds in the sky,” it meant there was a fire. Soon “the cool grey sky indeed grew red.” Fluffles ran for the nearest tree and, using her nimble hands, scurried up to the top of the canopy. The fire sped along the ground, coming to the stand of trees where Fluffles sheltered. She held tightly onto the tree as the fire “jumped at the lower trunk and kissed at the branches.”

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Image copyright Rachel Qiuqi, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

At last, the fire burned itself out, and Fluffles wanted to come down and look for her friends, but the trunk was still too hot. “If she climbed down now, it might burn her hands.” Still, the tree wasn’t safe. Carefully, she climbed down, but each grasp hurt her paws. By the time she “reached the forest floor, her hands were one big ‘ouchie.’” Fortunately, there were helpers ready to put soothing cream and special mittens on her paws. It felt nice, but Fluffles was missing something to calm her feelings too.

When her paws had healed and it was time for the mittens to come off, Fluffles reached out to the other koala who was recuperating with her for a big hug. Instead of fear and worry, Fluffles now felt “relief and comfort.” Released back into the forest, Fluffles and her friends stuck together as they watched the forest renew itself slowly but surely.

Two pages of backmatter, including photgraphs, reveal more about the koala population of Australia as well as how veterinarians and volunteers rescued and nurtured the koalas caught in bushfires in 2020.

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Image copyright Rachel Qiuqi, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Through Vita Murrow’s true story of a koala surviving a forest fire, kids discover not only the courage shown by these gentle creatures but interesting facts about their eating habits, instincts, paws, and emotional needs. They also learn how wildlife experts are deployed immediately to areas ravaged by fire in order to help injured animals or those whose homes and food sources are destroyed. A sweet fact that will further endear koalas to kids is how much they love and need hugs.

Rachel Qiuqi’s soft-hued illustrations will melt readers’ hearts. Her adorable Fluffles and the other koalas are sweet and lovable and their expressive faces show love, determination, fearlessness, and trust. Images of Fluffles clinging to the helper’s pant leg after the fire as well as the koalas hugging and snuggling in their eucalyptus tree will make all readers smile. Qiuqi’s light green leaves depict the coolness and comfort of the eucalyptus forest, and her textured portrayals of the storm and the smoky skies place readers in Fluffles’ point of view as she gazes out on the burning landscape. As the forest grows back and the koalas return, kids will see that courage comes in brave acts as well as hugs.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0711261594

Discover more about Vita Murrow and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachel Qiuqi, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find Fluffles: The Brave Koala Who Held Strong through a Bushfire at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to Be a Leader

Written by Vita Murrow | Illustrated by Anneli Bray

 

For seventy years no wolves lived in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. Then one day a group of wolves was reintroduced into the park. As the wolves flourished, “each ridge of the mountain was protected by its own pack. While wolves had traditionally lived in the park, some people did not agree with bringing them back. “In one wolf family, hunters stole the father away in the night. Leaving the mother and her pups alone.”

As the pups grew, most were feisty, but Onyx was “small and shy. Life was unusually hard for him.” But he had developed his own way of thinking. When it was time for him to leave the pack, he ventured out and met a family like his—“a lone mother wolf with pups.” Instead of fighting with the pups, Onyx played with them. The pups came to think of Onyx as their father, and Onyx enjoyed his relationship with the pups, especially the smallest one, Bravo, who had a strong, independent personality.

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Image copyright Anneli Bray, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Onyx taught Bravo to share food and to understand that things weren’t always fair. He also showed him that Onyx would always be there for him. When Bravo left his family, he found “a partner and a pack of his own.” One day he saw an old wolf coming into his territory. He knew he would have to defend his ridge, to demonstrate that he was a leader.

But the old wolf was Onyx. Bravo had “planned to snarl and growl, attack and defend,” but when he looked into Onyx’s eyes, he remembered the lessons Onyx had taught him. Instead of fighting, Bravo demonstrated to his pack that showing respect was another way to be a leader. Over time, Bravo’s behavior was passed down to the other wolves in the pack, and “Bravo’s ridge was a place for any wolf who dared to be different.”

Two pages following the text tell more about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone as well as about the two wolves featured in the story and includes photographs.

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Image copyright Anneli Bray, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Vita Murrow’s compelling true story of wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone and followed by wolf watchers and wildlife biologists over their lifetime, children learn that one of the most powerful traits one can have is the ability to think differently. Acting on those individual feelings and beliefs can lead to influencing others as well as the outcome of important situations. Nature lovers will also be fascinated with the facts Murrow presents on wolf pack behaviors, how father and mother wolves teach their young, and how wolves recognize each other even after long separations. The story of these particular wolves and the program to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone serve as a wonderful spark for further research and learning.

Anneli Bray takes readers to the mountain ridges of Yellowstone, where they get a panoramic wolf’s eye view of mountains, waterfalls, valleys, and the forests beyond. Through various images, kids can see how Onyx was different from his brothers and sisters. They’ll also notice that, although he was the one hanging back while a pup, Onyx is the first to strike out on his own. Bray also depicts how Onyx teaches Bravo and reigns in his more aggressive behaviors with actions and facial expressions, developing him into a leader. When Onyx crosses into Bravo’s territory, Bray’s illustrations enhance the suspense and poignancy of Murrow’s story. The final image of Bravo’s ridge demonstrates the legacy that can result from individual thinking.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0711261457

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You can find Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to Be a Leader at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

March 27 – Earth Hour

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About the Holiday

Earth Hour was organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature as a way to engage people in the discussion on climate change. First enacted in Australia in 2007, the observance has grown to include cities, businesses, corporations, and individuals world wide. For one hour – from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time – participants will turn off all unnecessary lights in a show of solidarity and commitment to protecting our earth. Among the places going dark this year are the Empire State Building, the Space Needle, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Sydney Opera House, and the Eiffel Tower. One action you can take is as easy as turning off a light – as today’s book shows. To read more about the holiday, find virtual events taking place around the world, and learn how you can participate, visit earthhour.org.

Lights Out

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Susan Reagan

 

A little fox peeks out of her den. It’s night, but her surroundings are lit up as if it were noon. A Beetle hovers nearby taking in all the “House lights / Car lights / Truck lights / Street lights… / Blinking lights / Flashing lights / Blazing lights / Flickering lights.” There are lights in every color and on every structure. Fox and Beetle wonder where Darkness is—the dark of Night that invites coyotes to sing, owls to hunt, foxes to hunt, and beetles to become “more than beetles.” Perhaps, they think, Night is lost.

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Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Fox and Beetle set out to find Night. They pass a wetlands, where Frog waits in vain for darkness to lend his voice to the nighttime chorus. “Across the wide, wide world, / they search… / for the Dark of Night. / But everywhere – Lights!” Up on the mountain, Bear is waiting for the signal to hibernate, but the brightness keeps him awake. Frog and Bear join in the search for Night.

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Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Fox and Beetle travel through forests and fields, over deserts and dunes, and across wide prairies, but don’t find Night. When they come to the seashore, they witness baby turtles hatching. Instead of scuttling toward the ocean, they’re running toward the lights of the boardwalk shops. Frog stops the little turtles then Bear, Fox, and Frog wade out into the waves and shows them the way.

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Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

The three friends swim “away from shore and lights” while Beetle and Songbird fly above. Out here, where the sky is dark, Beetle at last sparks and glows. At last the friends reach a far-away island that’s cloaked in darkness. Here “they can see…Everything…. / Mushrooms glowing / Fireflies / Moonlit garden / Shining eyes / Nighttime weavers / Webs of stars / Constellations / Venus, Mars….” Here, they find Night.

An Author’s Note discussing light pollution and its effect on animals and humans and including a resource where readers can learn more about light pollution and what we can do to help precedes the story.

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Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s affecting story about how light pollution changes animal behavior and confuses the natural order of life is a poignant appeal to today’s young environmentally conscious kids, sparking an awareness of the extent of the problem while inviting them to consider ways to restore the darkness of night so important to the health of our planet. Through non-rhyming, yet lyrical language, Arnold takes readers on a journey to find Night. As the friends search place after place, children come to understand that light pollution is a worldwide issue.

Arnold’s capitalization of Night and Darkness makes them characters in the story as well, imbued with living traits and purpose that are just as crucial to wildlife as food and shelter. In one powerful combination of text and illustration, a list of light sources streams from corner to corner in a beam of white light. The number of examples builds to create a glaring realization of all the types of lights that keep the world turned on twenty-four hours a day. After reading Lights Out, children and adults will find themselves paying attention to the lights around them and even in and near their own home.

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Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Susan Reagan’s stunning illustrations of cities, waterways, and even out-of-the-way places bathed in a permanent twilight by street lamps, headlights, lighted windows, neon signs, and more are compelling reminders of just how pervasive light pollution is. As the animals wander from place to place looking for Night, their weary and distressed expressions reflect the loss of their natural nocturnal activities. When Beetle and Fox and their friends reach the distant island, Reagan’s gorgeous spreads of a star-and-moonlit sky and vegetation, in which nocturnal animals hunt, luminescent flowers glow, and spider webs glint will have readers taking a nighttime jaunt to discover what they can see in their surroundings.

A unique and important book that raises awareness not only about light pollution but about natural cycles of sleep and wakefulness, Lights Out would be an excellent addition to lessons in science and the environment and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 8

Creative Editions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1568463407

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Susan Reagan, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Earth Hour Activity

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Image copyright Susan Reagan, 2020, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2020. Courtesy of Creative Editions.

Lights Out Activity Kit

 

This extensive Activity Kit gives teachers, homeschoolers, and parents many ways to engage with Lights Out in the disciplines of science, language arts, art, and social action. Through the various activities, children will learn about light pollution and its effects as well as about the ways in which darkness benefits wildlife. You can download the kit from Marsha Diane Arnold’s website:

Lights Out Activity Kit

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You can find Lights Out at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 22 – National Goof Off Day Book Tour Stop for Cow Says Meow

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About the Holiday

Have things gotten a little too serious? Do you just feel like letting go and being silly? Then today’s the day to do it! Established in 1976 by Monica Moeller Dufour of Davidson, Michigan, encourages people to relax and let go of all the stresses.Having fun once in awhile can put you in a better frame of mind and give you new perspectives. So tell your best (or worst) jokes, watch a comedy, or read some funny books. Now that you have permission to goof off and a whole twenty-four hours to do it in, plan some wacky fun. There are no rules—so enjoy!

Thanks to Kirsti Call and HMH Books for Young Readers for sharing a digital copy of Cow Says Meow with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with HMH Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Cow Says Meow

Written by Kirsti Call | Illustrated by Brandon James Scott

 

We all know what each animal sounds like, right? But what if the animals themselves forgot or got confused? Well, it might sound a lot like Kirsti Call’s giggle fest, Cow Says Meow. To start off the fun, a little boy peeks up from the bottom of the first page at a cow that already looks a little perplexed as the narrator announces, “Cow says…” Hey! I know this one! readers will think, but when they turn the page, the cow lets out a vigorous “MEOW.”

The boy has something to say about that—as well as a clever sense of humor. He tells the cow “What a copycat!” With this pun, a cat—looking as if someone has just stepped on its tail—pops up. What does this cat say? Well, here’s a hint: the boy thinks “the cat sounds hoarse!” By now kids will be laughing and begging to turn the page to hear what the horse has to say for itself.

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Image copyright Brandon James Scott, 2021, text copyright Kirsti Call, 2021. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Each page introduces kids to another befuddled animal and a funny pun to go with their mixed-up language. At last the boy meets a pig who greets him with a friendly “HI!” But “pigs don’t say ‘hello’!” the boy marvels. And here’s a new kid to set the record straight. But what does she say? Let’s just say the boy thinks “this story was an udder disaster.” Maybe it’s time to start over… after all, the cow’s back asking, “Can I say MEOW again?”

The hilarity of Kirsti Call and Brandon James Scott’s book doesn’t begin and end with just the story. Round cutouts on the front and back covers allow kids to look at the world through the eyes of the cow and the cat and have fun saying whatever animal (or other) sounds they want.

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Image copyright Brandon James Scott, 2021, text copyright Kirsti Call, 2021. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Kirsti Call’s funny, feel-good book is pure escapism into that kid realm of in-the-moment goofiness and laughter that’s so refreshing. Cow Says Meow offers multitudes of rereading opportunities as children will want to match their own mixed-up sounds to each animal and young wordsmiths may want to try out their brainpower by coming up with new puns and jokes.

Brandon James Scott’s big-eyed, bemused animals, shown in comical close-up portraits as they prepare to speak on one page and then full bodied on the next as they do, are the perfect foils for Call’s story. Their vibrant, textured images and slightly crossed eyes enhance both the mystery and the humor of this cleverly conceived book. All dialogue is delivered in speech bubbles, which will thrill new and emergent readers who want to join in. The cut-out eyes in the covers are genius, creating a whole package of storytelling and playtime in one.

If you’re looking for a book that will elicit laughs every time you share it, one that makes a terrific take along, and would be a much-loved gift, Cow Says Meow is it. The book is a must for goofy, just plain fun story times at home, in the classroom, and for public libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-0358423348

Discover more about Kirsti Call and her books on her website.

To learn more about Brandon James Scott, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Sing along with Kirsti Call and this Cow Says Meow song!

National Goof Off Day Activity

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Silly Balloons

 

You can have lots of silly fun with balloons! Try some of these ideas—they’re sure to make you laugh!

Goofy Faces

Blow up a balloon and draw a funny face on it. Rub the balloon on your shirt or a blanket and stick it to the wall, your shirt, or even your mom or dad!

Crazy Hair

Rub a blown-up balloon on your shirt or a blanket (fleece works well) then hold it near your hair and watch it go a little crazy!

Bend Water

This bit of balloon magic will amaze you! Rub a blown-up balloon on a blanket (fleece works well). Turn on a faucet to a thin stream of water. Hold the balloon near the stream of water and watch it bend toward the balloon. 

Volleyballoon

This is a fun game for two or more people played like volleyball—but with balloons! All you need is a balloon and a line on the floor. Players form teams and bat the balloon back and forth over the line, keeping it in the air.as long as possible. A team wins a point when the opposing team can’t return the balloon.

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You can find Cow Says Meow at these booksellers 

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review