March 30 – It’s Women’s History Month

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About the Holiday

National Women’s History Month is all about celebrating women who broke barriers with their intelligence, creativity, courage, persistence, and unwavering confidence in their abilities. In every discipline, women have brought and continue to bring new perspectives, experiences, and talents to make contributions toward a better world. Today’s book celebrates a writer who broadened readers’ understanding of women and their lives through her complex and compelling novels. 

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

Written by Jasmine A. Stirling | Illustrated by Vesper Stamper

 

While Jane loved stories, there were some she couldn’t abide. These were stories about women who fainted at the slightest thing, stories about orphans with dark secrets, and stories about couples who fell in love at first sight. To Jane these books were boring, unbelievable, and predictable. But they were all the rage. Instead, Jane like the ridiculous, and she made up her own stories that “poked fun” at the popular literature of the day. When she read her “stories to her family,… they couldn’t stop laughing.”

Jane lived in a large house in the English countryside. It was always full of people, fun, and learning. Jane’s father was the village rector of Steventon in Hampshire, England, and her mother wrote poetry. Sometimes Jane’s family (mother, father, six sons, and two daughters) staged plays in the barn. They made their own sets and costumes and played all the roles. When there was quiet time, Jane wrote and wrote in the study her father had created just for her and her sister.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jane loved the satires she wrote, but “she stared to dream about writing stories that mattered to her. They would come from her own voice—a style that was uniquely hers.” She began to pay attention to tiny personal details, particular conversations, and the way her family, friends, and neighbors interacted. She found it all fascinating. Jane’s father encouraged her writing, saving up to buy her the best pens, blank books, and even a “portable mahogany writing desk.”

Jane had an idea about a story involving “three or four families in a country village,” and soon the characters came to life in her imagination, even when she wasn’t writing. She “wrote three novels before she turned twenty-four. Jane’s voice was clever and real… But something was still missing.”

Over the years as Jane’s brothers left home, the big house grew quiet. When her father stopped teaching, money grew short and Jane’s parents decided to move to a small house in another town, Bath. They sold their possessions, even the books in her father’s library, and left the neighbors and friends they’d known so well. Jane wondered if she would feel at home anywhere else. When they moved into their new home, Jane put away her writing things. Time passed, but “Jane persisted in a very determined, though very silent, disinclination for Bath.” Years passed and Jane spent her time in “busy nothings.”

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When her father died, Jane, her sister, and their mother had to move into a cheap apartment, and then when they could no longer afford that, they moved in with her brother Frank in a rough-and-tumble town. “The weight of Jane’s losses threatened to drown her,” and she still couldn’t write. Four years later, her brother Edward gave her, her sister, and their mother a small cottage near their childhood home. Here she found her way to happiness.

At last she brought out her pens, paper, and writing desk and began to write. Her voice was still clever and “filled with real people, but grief and loss had added something new. Jane’s voice was wise.” Her characters were even more realistic and complicated. She wrote about happiness and wealth, but also about heartbreak and sadness “mixed together in a way that was completely new.”

Jane’s novels were a hit—even with the future king of England. George IV loved them so much that his librarian wrote to Jane and asked her to write one of those “love-at-first-sight” stories she hated. Jane wrote back and told him that she could not unless her life depended on it, that she must remain true to her own style. At long last, “Jane had found her voice.”

Extensive backmatter includes a list of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels that are used in the story, more about Jane Austen’s life, Notes from the Author and Illustrator, a list of Austen’s novels, further resources for young readers, and a bibliography.

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Image copyright Vesper Stamper, 2021, text copyright Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jasmine A. Stirling’s in-depth biography of Jane Austen shines with specific details about her and her family’s life, their happy times and tribulations that informed her writing and made it so distinctive for its time and beloved even now. Stirling’s engaging and lively storytelling invites children to share the joys and heartaches that molded Jane Austen’s personality and writing. Quotations from Austen’s novels sprinkled throughout the story give young readers a taste of Jane’s writing and the truths and understanding her novels embody.

Dazzlingly lovely, Vesper Stamper’s expressive illustrations draw readers into Jane Austen’s world and give them a glimpse into her childhood and adult experiences as well as the society of the time. Cleverly designed images allow kids to understand how much Jane loved to read, to laugh along with her as she reads the sentimental and gothic stories she satirized, and to see at a glance all the shenanigans, work, and entertaining that went on in her beloved home. The elegance of these surroundings and the dinner parties that enlightened Jane’s writing are realistically reproduced and her characters come to life on the page. A moving metaphorical image shows Jane riding away from the home she loved while pages of her novels fly out of the writing desk strapped to the back of the carriage. Jane’s sadness is depicted on pages sketched in gray, but her vibrancy returns with her brother’s generosity and the novels that finally take wing.

A superb biography of a beloved and influential writer that will spark enthusiasm for Jane Austen’s novels as well as literature and writing in general, A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice is a must for students of all ages as well as for those who simply love reading and writing stories. The book would make an exceptional addition to lesson plans for readers from elementary school to high school and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547601103

Discover more about Jasmine A. Stirling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Vesper Stamper, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Women’s History Month Activity

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Jane Austen Coloring Page

 

Enjoy this printable coloring page of Jane Austen as you learn more about this clever writer.

Jane Austen Coloring Page

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You can find A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 26 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

No matter whether you live in a city, a small town, or a farm, in a house or an apartment, you can travel anywhere through books. The magic of reading lies in its ability to transport readers through history, to far-away places and long-ago times, or perhaps to the future, where all it takes is one’s imagination to make it so. National Reading Month invites readers of all ages to experience the world in new and unfamiliar ways through amazing books like today’s that transports you to medieval times.

The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

 

A young girl introduces herself and her father from their fire-warmed room in the castle. Outside the window, a majestic bird waits. The girl says, “This is our hawk: a sight to behold, / a master of flight, graceful and bold. / My father trains this bird of prey / who lives with us at the castle.” An inset on the page reveals facts about the birds of prey used in medieval times for hunting: hawks and falcons.

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Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Down in the courtyard the girl and her father prepare the hawk to fly as it sits on its favorite perch, which, as the inset explains, resembles a tree branch a hawk would normally search out in the wild. Falcons, on the other hand, prefer perches with flat surfaces like the cliffs they gather on. The girl’s father puts on a thick leather glove that protects him from the hawk’s “razor-sharp claws” as they take the bird outside the castle walls. Next, the girl gets out the hood the hawk “wears on his head, / with fancy top feathers of purple and red. / It hides his eyes so he’s not afraid / of soldiers who roam ’round the castle.” Readers learn more about this hood and its purpose in the illustrated inset.

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Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Out in a nearby field, the girl, her father, and the hunting hound they have also trained are ready to begin the day. But before the hawk’s flight begins, children learn an astonishing fact about the bells hawks wear on their legs. Then the girl’s father raises his arm, signaling to the hawk that it’s time to take flight. The hawk takes to the sky with a cry that echoes over the castle.

As the hound flushes grouse from under a bush, the hawk, “…folds his wings and dives headfirst / in pursuit of his prey for the castle.” In midair the hawk grasps the grouse with its talons and brings it to the ground. More information about how a hawk captures its prey is found in the inset. The girl and her father follow the sounds of the bells to where the hawk and its catch hide in the tall grass. Readers discover more about the bells and what a falconer does if the raptor does not catch its prey.

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Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

As a reward, the girl feeds the hawk a treat. The inset explains what kinds of treats falconers often provide for their birds. And when they get back to the castle, a large shallow bowl of water is put out for the hawk to bathe in. When the sun goes down, the sleepy hawk settles on its perch in its own room, called a mews, designed to keep the bird safe. “Built with windows for natural light and ventilation, a mews is large enough for a hawk to move freely inside without damaging its wings.”

Backmatter includes an extensive Authors Note about Danna Smith’s personal experience with falconry, the history of falconry, fascinating information about social standing and different types of raptors, and modern falconry. A list of books and websites is also provided for further reading and research. An index makes finding specific facts and topics easy for young readers.

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Image copyright Bagram Ibatoulline, 2017, text copyright Danna Smith, 2017. Courtesy of Candlewick.

Readers will be mesmerized by Danna Smith’s rich tale of a girl and her father and their important role in a medieval castle. The girl’s pride in her father and awe for the hawk they have trained and care for stands out on every page, creating a story steeped in history and emotional bonding. A wealth of knowledge about falconry and hunting flows fluidly through Smith’s enchanting poetry, and the graceful language of her insets, some of them illustrated, allow for smooth transitions while reading the story aloud.

Bagram Ibatoulline’s breathtakingly realistic acrylic gouache paintings of the castle and countryside will wow kids and draw them into the story to discover the processes, equipment, and purposes of falconry. No detail has been overlooked in these sumptuous pages that make readers feel they only need to reach out to feel the rough stone walls, the elegant fabrics, or the soft feathers of the stunning hawk. The castle environment is fully realized as soldiers in armor stand guard, a horse and rider exit through a stone arch, and plants even wait to be watered on a high ledge.

The centerpiece, of course, are the images of the girl and her father preparing the hawk for hunting and the hawk itself. Through various perspectives, Ibatoulline gives children an idea of the scale of the castle and the rolling countryside outside its walls. In their colorful clothing, father and daughter stand out as they kneel with the bird on its perch, summon it with an outstretched arm, add hood and bells, and release it into the sky. The facial expressions on the father and the girl depict love and trust, not only for each other but also for their hawk.

Enthralling for family reading or as an exciting addition to school or homeschool lessons on many levels, The Hawk of the Castle is a must for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Candlewick, 2017 | ISBN 978-0763679927

Discover more about Danna Smith and her books on her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Bagram Ibatoulline, visit his website.

About Danna Smith

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-danna-smith-with-owlDanna Smith is a poet and an award-winning author of seventeen books for children, including Arctic White, Swallow the Leader, Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, and several Little Golden Books. Her nonfiction picture book, The Hawk of the Castle: A story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Danna was exposed to all sorts of creatures through her father, who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals. It wasn’t uncommon to find bobcats, alligators, monkeys, hawks, or even vultures at her home. A love of animals and nature has spilled over into her love of writing.

Danna is currently living in northern California, where she is hard at work on her next book. For more information about her books, upcoming releases, and teaching activities, visit her book website and her poetry blog. You can also connect with Danna on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Learn about why Danna Smith wrote her beautiful story and how it came to be on The Story Behind the Story on Lynne Marie’s blog

Look for these forthcoming books from Danna Smith
One Blue Gnu (Amicus / Spring 2022)
Wake Up, Freight Train (Little Simon / Spring 2022)
Rooftop Garden (Barefoot Books / Summer 2022)
The Thank You Book (Little Simon / Summer 2022)

National Reading Month Activity

The Hawk of the Castle activity sheet questions

The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet

 

Can you identify this equipment used in falconry? Learn the answers and more about each item in the Answer Sheet

The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet | The Hawk of the Castle Activity Sheet Answers

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Hawk Coloring Pages

 

Enjoy these printable coloring pages while you learn about three kinds of hawks.

Broad-winged Hawk | Red-shouldered Hawk | Ridgeway’s Hawk

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You can find The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

March 27 – National Reading Month: Rosie: Stronger than Steel Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

The month of March is dedicated to reading—an initiative that’s taken on new importance as parents and caregivers search for resources for homeschooling and to share family time. Authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers, and others in the publishing and education fields are finding new ways to connect with readers and bring them the books they love. Today, I’m happy to be taking part in a book tour for Rosie: Stronger than Steel, an original look at another momentous time in history that brought people together to work for the good of all.

I received a copy of Rosie: Stronger than Steel from Two Lions for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Rosie: Stronger than Steel

By Lindsay Ward

 

Rosie, a tractor built during World War II, reveals what she’s made of as her story begins: “Refrigerators, fences, old cars, and a toaster… all melted down to build me up strong.” In the factory four women weld and rivet Rosie together. As they work on her they sing…”This is our Rosie, / stronger than steel. / She’ll plow all the land / with a turn of her wheel.” A finishing touch—a single red rose—is painted on, and Rosie offers a promise: “I’ll plow and I’ll dig. / I’ll dig and I’ll plow. / No matter the job, / this is my vow.”

Then Rosie is sent out, traveling by air, ship, truck, and train to a farm far away. The fields are overgrown—in need of Rosie’s expertise. Rosie is happy to get to work, churning the ground so that the Land Girls can plant seeds to grow crops—“wheat and barley. Oats and potatoes. Sugar beets, currants, apples, tomatoes.”—to support the war effort.

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Some days Rosie toiled in the shadow of a war plane, her green body hiding among the green crops. But she never faltered, always singing to herself promise she made to the women who built her. Year after year “more crops were needed! Load after load, sent out to the troops. To feed them. To help them. To win the war!”

Rosie did more than plow. She was hitched to wagons that carried milk and wool and hauled bushels and bushels of apples. She trudged uphill with logs to be converted into supplies. And then one day Rosie heard cheers ringing out across the farm. “The celebration spread throughout the world. The war was over!”

As time passed, new-model tractors joined Rosie on the farm. And then came the day when Rosie sputtered to a halt. She was taken to the barn, where the farmers tinkered and brought her back to life. Now Rosie had rubber tires and new paint, and the little rose had blossomed to fill her hood. Rosie was back, working the farm but never forgetting her promise to the women who built her and her fight for freedom.

In an extensive Author’s Note and accompanying timeline, Lindsay Ward talks about the inspiration behind her story, the work of women in factories during World War II in the US, and the Women’s Land Army in England. She also reveals fascinating facts about tractors built by Ford Motor Company and sent to England. Ward also includes a list of resources for those interested in learning more.

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Lindsay Ward introduces children to the heroism and sacrifice displayed during World War II through her unique story. Told from the perspective of a tractor built by women factory workers in the United States and shipped to a British farm supplying food for the troops, Ward’s story reveals details of the time period that children may not know but that will make an impact: In the first page spread, children see women lined up with donations for the scrap metal collection—not only cans and unneeded items, but toasters and bed frames too. The reason for Rosie’s green paint—a familiar color for tractors—also becomes apparent later in the story.

With the war’s end and the passage of time, Ward demonstrates the return to normalcy and progress again through tractors—Rosie, who acquires rubber tires, and new, sleeker models. Straightforward storytelling describing Rosie’s origins and her hard work on the farm intermittently shares the page with Rosie’s inspiring rhymed promise to do any job necessary.

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Copyright Lindsay Ward, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Ward’s colored pencil and cut paper illustrations evoke the 1940s and give Rosie a determined personality while maintaining a realistic view of the important work of these valuable machines. Green predominates, highlighting Rosie, reminding readers of the camouflaged troops she served, and spotlighting the crops she fostered while adding a touch of metaphorical depth in the idea of renewal. Images created from lined notebook paper hint at the importance of remembering history through stories, and other choices of paper add texture and interest.

An excellent story to add to lessons on World War II, women’s history, American history, farming, and industry as well as for children interested in vehicles and machinery, Rosie: Stronger than Steel would be an inspirational addition to home, school, and public library collections.

To learn more about Lindsay Ward, her books, and her art, visit her website.

For a Learn to Draw Rosie Activity Sheet, visit Lindsay’s Rosie: Stronger than Steel page.

Ages 4 – 8 

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542017947

National Reading Month Activity

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Build a Tractor Jigsaw Puzzle

 

With this printable jigsaw puzzle, you can color and build a tractor of your own! Just print the Tractor Template, color, cut, and have fun putting it together!

Supplies

  • Printable Tractor Template
  • Card stock paper, poster board, or cardboard (optional)
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Scissors
  • Glue (optional)
  • Tape (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the Tractor Template. For a sturdier puzzle, print on card stock or glue the pieces to poster board or cardboard before cutting.
  2. Color and cut out the pieces
  3. Put the tractor together

Optional Game

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If you’d like to play with your tractor, you can print this Vegetable Garden Game.

  1. To use your tractor to play with the game, tape the pieces together.
  2. Then pretend to plow and plant your garden then play the game with the directions provided.

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You can find Rosie: Stronger than Steel at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review