May 31 – Memorial Day

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

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

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

Discover more about about Ronald Himler and view a gallery of his work, visit his website!

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

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You can find Anna & Natalie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 6 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s picture books are amazing! Offering inspiration, characters that really speak to kids, moments to laugh out loud or reflect, glimpses into history, revelations in science, and much of the best art currently being produced, picture books defy their slim appearance with content that can change young lives. Reading a wide variety of books to children from birth on up is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Make choosing the books to read a family affair! Kids love picking out their own books and sharing cozy and fun story times with you!

Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story

Written by Amy Webb | Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

 

Emma loved making art of all kinds, she also loved laughing, her big sister, Chloe, and her mom and dad. Emma had limb differences. “She had no hands and used a wheelchair to get around.” When she drew or painted she held the pencil or paint brush with her toes. Today, Emma was painting a picture of herself. “Emma looked at her drawing and said, ‘No bodies are wrong. All bodies are right. We’re all different colors, sizes, and heights.’” Emma knew that her body worked differently, and she loved who she was.

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Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

When Emma’s class went to the art museum, Emma hoped to find a painting by her favorite artist, Matisse, who also used a wheelchair. But when they got to the museum, there was no ramp out front for Emma to use. Instead, she and her teacher would have to go around back and meet up with the class inside. Emma felt sad and frustrated because she wanted to use the front door, but she put on a smile and reminded herself “‘My body works differently – I love being me! Because ME is an awesome thing to be.’”

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Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Once inside, the kids raced all over the museum looking at the different types of art. At last, Emma found a painting by Matisse. Gazing at it, Emma dreamed that one day maybe her art would hang in a museum. Her musings were suddenly interrupted when Charley grabbed hold of her wheelchair and began pushing. Emma had to remind him that she liked to drive herself. Then at lunch, before she could even unpack her bag, Charley started doing it for her. And when they stopped to draw, Charley was right there again to help. It made Emma angry, and she told Charley to stop.

Charley apologized and said he felt bad about her not being able to use the front door and about other things Emma couldn’t do. Emma explained to him that everyone is different and that she loves who she is. Emma said that it was okay if she couldn’t do everything. No one can do everything, she told Charley. Then she reminded him of all the things she could do on her own and with her feet.

Suddenly, Emma had an idea. In her sketchpad she wrote a letter, and the whole class signed it. Before they left, Charley handed it to a museum worker. Several weeks later, a letter arrived for the class. In it the museum director agreed that there should be a ramp out front and promised to begin building one right away. Everyone cheered, and Emma “felt awesome.”

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Image copyright Merrilee Liddiard, 2020, text copyright Amy Webb, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Positive, straightforward, and empowering, Amy Webb’s book about a girl with limb differences and a strong sense of self-confidence and self-esteem is both a compelling story and an excellent way for adults and children to discuss the wide range of abilities people possess, inclusivity, and individuality. Emma, displaying talent, poise, and enthusiasm as well as the courage to speak up for herself, is a delight. She is a superb role model for all children.

Merrilee Liddiard’s charming illustrations show Emma as a regular kid, drawing, painting, at school with friends, and enjoying the trip to the museum—just differently. Her happiness and self-possession are evident in her expressions and interactions with her friends. When no ramp is available at the front door of the museum and Charley begins taking over, Emma’s expression registers her frustration, allowing readers to see and understand how these experiences make her feel. Images of Emma in her wheelchair and performing tasks with her bare feet demonstrate Emma’s independence and abilities.

Uplifting and inclusive, Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story is highly recommended and would be an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. Don’t miss the first book in this series: When Charley Met Emma.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506464954

Discover more about Amy Webb and her books on her website.

To learn more about Merrilee Liddiard, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find Awesomely Emma: A Charley and Emma Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 22 – It’s American Artist Appreciation Month

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About the Holiday

From the earliest days of the exploration and settlement of America, artists have been creating works that reveal the beauty, complexity, and meaning of this country and her people. Over the years American artists have developed innovative styles and delved into universal subjects in new ways. This month we celebrate these artists of the past and present who, through their work, make us see the world in fresh ways.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen

 

“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”

While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.

She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”

An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.

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Image copyright Eileen Ryan Ewen, 2018, text copyright Lindsey McDivitt, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.

An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.

Ages 6 – 10

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053

Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.

To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.

American Artist Appreciation Month

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Nature Coloring Pages

 

If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.

Meadow Coloring PageOcean Coloring Page

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You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review