July 12 – New Conversations Day

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About the Holiday

This brand-new holiday extols the virtues of a really good conversation. Too often our exchanges with others fall into the realm of small talk where the weather, the score of the latest game, or a cursory “how are you?” is as deep as it gets. But there are so many more interesting topics to discuss that would lead to better connections with and understanding of family, friends, and acquaintances. Take the opportunity of today’s holiday to get together with your friends and talk about the funniest thing that ever happened to you, the best meal you ever had, or your favorite work of art. Of course a perfect topic of conversation is your favorite book or character and why! You’ll find out a lot about your friends as well as about yourself!

The Blue Songbird

By Vern Kousky

 

There once was a little blue songbird who loved to listen to her sisters singing in the morning, but when she tried to join in, the notes always fell flat. Sadly, she told her mother that she thought there were no songs for her, but her mother gently told her, “‘not just any notes will do. You must go and find a special song that only you can sing.’” So the little songbird began a journey to “find her special song.”

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

When she was far from home, she met a great crane and asked if he knew of any song made especially for her. The crane said he couldn’t help her, but pointed her in the direction of the mountains, where a wise bird lived. When she reached the pine forest on the other side of the mountains, the songbird explained to Mr. Wise Old Bird his quest for a song. But the owl could only ask, “‘Whoooo? Whoooo?’” so the songbird went on her way.

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

She stopped here and there to talk to a buzzard, a group of pigeons, and a family of penguins, but “no bird ever had the answer.” Then one snowy day the songbird saw “a bird who looked a little bit mean and more than a little hungry. Even so the songbird bravely chirped: ‘Please don’t eat me, Mr. Scary Bird. I was just wondering if you’ve ever heard of a very special thing—a song that only I can sing.’” The crow did know of such a thing and told the songbird about an island filled with enchanting music.

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

The songbird grew weary searching for the island, and then one day he saw a glow on the horizon and knew she had found it. She could hear the faint strains of beautiful music, and she flew faster and faster to get there. When she neared the island, though, she knew this place. It was home. “The songbird’s heart fell.” After all that time and all the conversations with other birds, “her quest had failed.”

When she saw her mother, however, her mood brightened. She wanted to tell her mother all about her travels and the other birds she’d met. When she opened her beak to tell her stories, though, “what came out was not words at all…but a song!” She sang about Crane and Owl and Crow, “of cities and of stormy seas and mountains capped with snow.” She told of warm days and cold days and most of all “of the love the songbird felt for her family and her home.”

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Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

Vern Kousky gently nudges little ones out of the nest to begin exploring the world on their own, to test their wings, meet others, and discover their talents. Along the way young readers learn that they can trust their instincts, be brave, and that perseverance pays off. Kousky’s lyrical story also reassures children that home is always waiting and that no matter where they go or what they do, family will always welcome them.

Kousky’s tiny blue smudge of a bird is adorable as she cuddles with her mother to reveal her doubts and then demonstrates hopeful pluck as she talks with much larger birds on her way to self-discovery. Kousky’s settings delight with muted hues of blues, yellows, and reds and angled mountains, skyscrapers, and glaciers that point the little songbird—as well as readers—skyward. The image of the little songbird’s mother welcoming her home with outstretched wings is heartwarming, and the songbird’s elation at having found her song will fill readers with joy.

A joyful story for inspiring self-confidence, interactions with others, and personal growth, The Blue Songbird is a beautiful book for home and classroom libraries that will be asked for again and again.

Ages 4 –  8

Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762460663

To learn more about Vern Kousky, his books, and his art, visit his website.

New Conversations Day Activity

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Family Conversation Starters

 

Because children have such fertile imaginations, great conversations can start from just one intriguing question. Put these printable conversation starters on the dinner table and let the fun and serious talk begin!

Conversation Starters Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6

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You can find The Blue Songbird at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 25 – National Telephone Day

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About the Holiday

It may be safe to say that one of the first inventors children learn about is Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of telephone. In the late 1800s, the need for a better communication device was well recognized, and various people were at work on a solution. Bell, was the first to apply for a patent—awarded on March 7, 1876—and so the acclaim goes to him. Communication had always been a part of Bell’s life. His father had developed a “visible speech” system for deaf students, and he himself was a teacher at a boy’s boarding school. On May10, 1876, the first public demonstration of the telephone occurred at the Philadelphia World’s Fair. The Bell Telephone Company was founded on July 9, 1877, and the one millionth telephone was installed in May of 1967. To celebrate today’s holiday, call someone—okay, or text—and marvel over this indispensable invention and how far it has come.

Telephone

Written by Mac Barnett | Illustrated by Jen Corace

 

Above a little row of houses and two children playing, a group of very disparate birds sit along the telephone wire. Mama pigeon, holding a nice, steaming potpie, has a message for her little Peter. She turns to Cardinal and says, “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.” The cardinal, with a baseball bat tucked under his wing, turns to the goose sitting next to him and says Peter should “hit pop flies and homers.”

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Image copyright Jen Corace, 2014, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2014. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Ostrich, outfitted in an old aviator’s hat and carrying a map, hears the message a bit differently. While gazing out at the small craft zipping through the sky, he whispers into Ostrich’s ear to tell Peter jus who it is that uses “prop planes.” Ostrich has the day’s cleaning on her mind and tells the titmouse what Peter should do with his “wet socks.” The titmouse, with a guitar slung over her shoulder and perhaps a bit of hope in her heart, hears, “Tell Peter, rock stars are admired.”

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Image copyright Jen Corace, 2014, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2014. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The Toucan has his binoculars trained on a passel of crocodiles down below and has some words of warning for Peter. Pelican, meanwhile, is playing hide and seek with Lobster and has some words of praise for these wily crustaceans. Duck is preoccupied with monster truck tires, and turkey is a little concerned about being so “high up on this wire.”

By now moms down below are cooking dinner and calling their kids home. The robin smells smoke and tells the chicken he’s afraid there’s a fire. The chicken, channeling her inner Henny Penny, puts it all together and with a touch of hysteria tells the owl to warn Peter of a smelly, crocodile-riding, fire-breathing monster of a lobster who’s coming to eat him. The owl opens one skeptical eye, then turns nonchalantly to the young birds hanging out and blowing bubble gum bubbles and says, “Hey, Peter, your mom says fly home for dinner.”

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Image copyright Jen Corace, 2014, text copyright Mac Barnett, 2014. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Mac Barnett’s perfectly goofy read aloud will have kids giggling and eagerly anticipating what interpretation could possibly come next in this story that’s just right for fun story times when you just want to laugh out loud. An enthusiastic reading ramps up the humor and the droll ending.

Jen Corace’s witty illustrations of each bird and their particular preoccupation give eagle-eyed readers clues to how Mama bird’s simple message may be mangled next. The ostrich uses a feather duster to tidy up the goose, the titmouse wears star-shaped sunglasses, and the chicken, with her wild topknot of feathers puts new meaning into the term “wired” with her over-the-top dire warning.

Surprising from one side of the telephone pole to the other, Telephone is a fantastic choice for dialing up fun at home or in the classroom.

Ages 4 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2014 | ISBN  978-1452110233

Discover more about Mac Barnett and his many books on his website.

To learn more about Jen Corace, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Have you heard? It’s the Telephone book trailer!

National Telephone Day Activity

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Telephone Tie-Up Puzzle

 

These kids want to use a telephone. Can you follow the tangled wires to find a phone for each child in this Telephone Tie-Up Puzzle?

Picture Book Review

February 28 – It’s National Bird-Feeding Month

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About the Holiday

As birds begin coming back to your area during this last bit of winter to build nests, mate, and hatch little cheepers, they still need help finding nutritious food to sustain them. Without the lush vegetation and increased insect activity that will come with warmer weather, birds often rely on backyard feeders for food. Attracting colorful birds to your home can be a rewarding and joyful hobby – one you can enjoy year-round. If you’ve been considering hanging a bird feeder to one of your trees, today is the perfect day to get started!

Bird Builds a Nest: A First Science Storybook

Written by Martin Jenkins | Illustrated by Richard Jones

 

It’s early morning and Bird is already chirping. It’s going to be a busy day! To get started she needs breakfast. Of course, “what she wants is a nice, juicy…worm.” What the worm wants, though, is to not be eaten. So while “bird pulls hard…the worm pulls back.” This is one strong worm, and it ends up winning the tug-of-war. Nearby, though, is a smaller and weaker worm that is just as delicious.

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Image copyright Richard JOnes, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Full and satisfied, Bird takes off on her next task. She needs to find twigs. “Lots of twigs.” The first one she finds is more like a branch to the little bird—and is too heavy. The next one is as long as a snake and too heavy too. But there are plenty of perfectly small twigs scattered around, so Bird gets to work. She “can carry one large twig or two medium-size twigs or three or four small twigs (although it’s hard to fit that many in her beak at once).”

What is Bird doing with all of these twigs? Building her nest, of course! It takes time to arrange the twigs she brings back to the branch of her tree. “Carefully, she pushes a twig into the side of the nest and pulls its end back out.” As if weaving a basket, Bird intertwines more and more sticks, making her nest strong. It takes hours to complete her new home. Once in a while a twig falls or she drops one, but there are plenty more to find.

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Image copyright Richard JOnes, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Once the twigs are all in place, Bird searches for soft material to line it. She gathers dried grass and feathers. These are so light that it’s easy to carry a lot at one time. Back in her nest she places the grass and feathers inside and “turning around and around, pushing with her whole body, she makes a snug little cup, smooth and soft on the inside.” Now the nest is comfy and all ready for…the five little eggs that are waiting to hatch!

Bird Builds a Nest is a First Science Storybook for young readers that, while showing how birds build nests also demonstrates various scientific forces. As kids see the baby birds emerge from the nest for the first time, they can also answer a few questions in the Afterward that prompt them to think about pushing and pulling, moving light and heavy objects, and the force of gravity. An Index reveals where in the text these forces can be found.

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Image copyright Richard JOnes, 2018, text copyright Martin Jenkins, 2018. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Spying a nest in a tree, eave, or other tucked-away space is like finding a secret, and is one of the joys of spring. Martin Jenkins’ delightful day out with Bird gives kids…well…a bird’s eye view of the nest-building process. Just like an artist, this sweet, industrious feathered friend gathers her materials and sets to work to make her instinctual vision come true. Jenkins’ step-by-step description is conversational and homey with words such as snug, tuck, fetching, and twigs that lend themselves to the charming alliteration that gives the story a poetic sound and feel.

Richard Jones’ mixed-media illustrations sing with beautiful folk-art inspired scenes of Bird gathering her material and creating her nest. Softly vibrant earth tones of autumn and spring accentuate Bird’s quiet and solitary endeavor. Bird is bright-eyed and cheerful as she flies back and forth carrying twigs and arranging them just so—activities that are clearly shown for budding scientists to see and understand. Readers will enjoy finding small details here and there—a mouse in a tree hole, a tiny ladybug, hearts in the swirls of the tree bark and formed by leaves, and even a bit of foreshadowing of the eggs to come. The male and female bird cuddle together in the finished nest as two ladybugs find each other under a purple heart, and the little chicks venturing out for the first time will enchant children.

Bird Builds a Nest wonderfully weaves together facts and a sweet story to introduce young readers to one particular natural phenomenon and some of the scientific forces involved. The captivating story would be a terrific addition to home libraries and classroom bookshelves for discussions about the natural world.

Ages 4 – 6

Candlewick Press, 2018 |ISBN 978-0763693466

To learn more about Richard Jones and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

National Bird-Feeding Month Activity

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Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle

 

When you put up a bird feeder in your yard, you’ll see so many different types of birds come to visit! Find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle.

Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle | Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Solution

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Christmas Bird Count

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About the Holiday

Concerned with declining bird populations, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman suggested a new holiday tradition—a Christmas Bird Census that would count birds instead of hunting them. The first census took place on December 25, 1900. On that day, twenty-seven birders, centered mostly in northeastern North America, counted 90 species of birds. The tradition has grown tremendously from those humble beginnings. Today, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave all types of weather to conduct the count, which helps conservationists and scientific organizations create strategies for protecting the health and habitats of bird populations. The Christmas Bird Count is now held from December 14 through January 5. To learn more or to get involved yourself, visit the Audubon website. 

Grumpy Bird

By Jeremy Tankard

 

Bird woke up on the wrong side of the nest. “He was too grumpy to eat” and “too grumpy to play.” In fact, he was so grumpy he couldn’t even lift himself into the air. “‘Looks like I’m walking today,’ Bird said.” His steps took him past Sheep who was grazing in a field. When Sheep found out that Bird was walking, she offered to come along.

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Copyright Jeremy Tankard, 2007, courtesy of jeremytankard.com.

The two soon came to where Rabbit was nibbling grass. Rabbit was curious about what Bird was doing. “‘I’m walking,’ said Bird. ‘It’s no fun.’” Even this less-than-enthusiastic response enticed Rabbit, though, and he joined in. Raccoon was just scampering down a tree truck when he spied the little parade. He called out to Bird to see what was going on. “‘I’m walking,’ snapped Bird, ‘What does it look like?’” Well, Raccoon said, “‘It looks like fun,’” and he joined the group.

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Copyright Jeremy Tankard, 2007, courtesy of jeremytankard.com.

Next, they came upon Beaver gathering sticks. His inquiry into Bird’s actions was met with a bit of pique: “‘Let me give you a hint,’ said Bird. ‘You do it by putting one foot in front of the other.’” Beaver caught on right away, and since he loved walking, he came too. When the animals passed Fox and the usual question was asked, Bird lost his temper. “‘WHY DOES EVERYONE KEEP ASKING ME WHAT I’M DOING?’ Bird shouted. ‘I’m walking, okay?’” That sounded okay to Fox, so she bounded along too.

“Bird walked,” and so did the other animals. When Bird stopped, the animals stopped. And when “Bird stood on one leg,” so did everyone else. Bird tried jumping, and the other animals jumped too. Bird began to have a change of heart. He thought this game was pretty fun. It was so fun, in fact, that “Bird forgot all about being grumpy” and invited his friends to “fly back to [his] nest for a snack. And they did.’”

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Copyright Jeremy Tankard, 2007, courtesy of jeremytankard.com.

Jeremy Tankard’s adorable Bird who has the grouchies will keep kids giggling and laughing as his crankiness grows. The repeated phrasing allows enthusiastic listeners to join in, and a dramatic reading will enhance the humor. The animals’ good-natured responses to Bird’s grumpiness reminds kids that everyone has bad days, and that a little bit of silliness goes a long way toward making friends smile again. The fanciful ending, stated so simply, provides a bit of magic that suggests anything is possible—especially among good friends.

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Tankard’s illustrations are as multi-layered as his story, with sophisticated backgrounds that swirl with vibrant color, texture, bubbles, and sketched-in details. Silhouetted woods, sun-drenched fields, and riots of flowers give shape to Bird’s walking path while also highlighting the thickly outlined characters. As the appropriately blue Bird marches along on spindly legs, kids will be amused by his narrowed eyes and furrowed brow. Even his beak seems clenched. When he finally takes note of his fellow walking companions, his eyes turn questioning then attentive and finally cheerful.

Grumpy Bird would be a much-asked-for addition to any child’s bookshelf, especially on those days when a little more encouragement is needed.

Ages 3 and up

Scholastic Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0545871822 (Board Book edition); 978-0439851473 (Hardcover edition, 2007)

Discover a portfolio of books and art by Jeremy Tankard on his website

Christmas Bird Count Activity

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Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle

 

It’s fun to watch for different kinds of birds when you take a walk or in your own backyard. Can you find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review