October 7 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

Beginning on September 15th  and running through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation. From the military, to business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment Hispanic Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. First observed in 1968 as a week-long holiday, the commemoration was expanded to a month in 1988. You can learn more about today’s holiday, find classroom and other resources, and discover fun facts on the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Written by Anika Aldamuy Denise | Illustrated by Paola Escobar

 

In 1921 Pura Theresa Belpré left her home in San Juan to visit Nueva York and celebrate her sister’s wedding. “Words travel with her: stories her abuela taught her. Cuentos folklóricos Pura retold in the shade of a tamarind tree, in Puerto Rico.” Pura’s visit lengthened, becoming a new start in a new land. At first, she got a job in a garment factory, but then Pura saw that the library needed a bilingual assistant. Pura spoke Spanish, English, and French. She thought she was perfect for the job, and the library did too.

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Image copyright Paola Escobar, 2019, text copyright Anika Aldamuy Denise, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

But while she shelved books, she noticed that there were no books of folktales from Puerto Rico in the collection. “How lucky for the library that Pura has story seeds ready to plant and grow.” In the children’s room she sits with the kids around her and tells the story of a beautiful cockroach and a galant rat who loves her: “la cucarachita Martina and el ratoncito Pérez.

After sharing the story with the children at the library, Pura hopes to “plant her story seeds throughout the land.” Pura makes puppets and performs her folktales for families who come to listen “en inglés y español.” But Pura wants children to be able to readPérez y Martina and other cuentos de Puerto Rico.” She types up her story and sends it to the publisher Frederick Warne. He agrees to publish her book.

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Image copyright Paola Escobar, 2019, text copyright Anika Aldamuy Denise, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Now Pura travels from library to library and to schools, “churches and community centers…planting her story seeds in the hearts and mind of children new to this island who wish to remember la lengua y los colores of home.” She spends her time writing, traveling, and speaking until she meets and marries Clarence Cameron White. Pura decides to take a year off from working at the library to be a wife. But one year becomes many as she and Clarence travel, playing music and telling stories. They spend many happy years together. When Clarence dies, “Pura’s story must begin again.”

“It is 1961,” and Pura returns to the library. Now other storytellers share Pura’s stories with the children and “the seeds she has planted…have become a lush landscape into which she steps as though she has never left.”

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Image copyright Paola Escobar, 2019, text copyright Anika Aldamuy Denise, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

An Author’s note reveals more about the life and work of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City and the author of the first mainstream Latinx storybooks published in America. Back matter also includes selected bibliographies, archival resources, titles of articles and films, a list of books for further reading, and more information on the four folktales mentioned in the book.

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Image copyright Paola Escobar, 2019, text copyright Anika Aldamuy Denise, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Anika Aldamuy Denise’s lovely and lyrical tribute to the trailblazing and prolific Pura Belpré is a fast-paced introduction to the influence this librarian, storyteller, and writer had on children and the community as the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York and the first published Latinx children’s author in America. By blending Spanish words and phrases and English into her evocative sentences, Denise reflects the immigrant experience while also embracing Belpré’s and her Latinx reader’s love for and pride in their culture. As children learn how Belpré brought Spanish-language programs and books to children and families in New York and beyond, they will be inspired to look for ways that they, too, can make a difference in areas that are important to them.

Mirroring the lush landscape of language that Pura Belpré tended, Paola Escobar infuses her illustrations with rich hues and enveloping details. Belpré’s love for San Juan and her heritage is shown through the sprinkling of flowers, rendered in the bright pastels of her native country, that float around her whenever she tells her stories. The whimsical images of Martina and Pérez, characters from her first published folktale, also follow her from page to page throughout the story. Spectacular images of the city and inside the New York Public Library will have readers lingering over the pages.

A gorgeous read-aloud about a woman all children should know, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré is a must for all school and public libraries and would make an inspiring choice for home collections as well.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062748683 | Spanish-language edition ISBN 978-1400212644

Discover more about Anika Aldamuy Denise and her books on her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Paola Escobar, visit her on tumblr.

Hispanic Heritage Month Activity

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We Are All Family English/Spanish Word Search

 

Find the names of family members in both English and Spanish in this printable heart- shaped We Are All Family Word Search! Here’s the Solution!

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You can find Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré at these booksellers

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

Sembrando historias: Pura Belpré: bibliotecaria y narradora de cuentos

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

Picture Book Review

Pk Review

 

September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

August 9 – National Book Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

Simply stated today’s holiday gives those who love to read an opportunity to indulge their passion. With so many amazing books available, both old and new—like today’s book—it’s easy to fill the day reading for yourself and with your kids!

I received a copy of A Boy Like You from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Boy Like You

Written by Frank Murphy | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

In his loving tribute to all the things a boy can be, Frank Murphy speaks directly to his boy readers, telling them that out of all the billions of people in the world, “you are the only YOU there is! And the world needs a boy like you.” What kind of boy does he mean? One who is “kind and helpful…smart and strong.” But “strong” doesn’t only mean tough and muscled, instead Murphy says, “maybe your ‘strong’ is making sure everyone has a chance to play.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And while you’re playing, always do your best, play fair, be complimentary, and be a good teammate. But boys shouldn’t look only to sports. There are so many other amazing things they can do—like gardening and baking, music and writing, science and exploring. Learning to do these things takes smarts and bravery. The kind of bravery it takes to jump off the high-dive, but also the willingness to “take a risk and raise your hand” because “smart kids ask questions,” and “the more you know—the less you’ll fear.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

While learning and exploring, boys are told, don’t forget to dream…and “dream big” then work hard to make it happen. Listen to others—all kinds of people—and learn their stories, and “don’t forget to tell your own story too.” While growing up boys will want a support group too, so they’re encouraged to stay close to their family and friends while also meeting new people. By keeping their head up and eyes open, they’ll see opportunities to leave every place they visit better than it was and “every person better than [they] found them.” 

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But the most important thing, Murphy says is to be you—“the you that is ALL you…. Not a little you and a little someone else.” After all, “you are an original” and “the world needs…a smart boy, a brave boy, a kind boy. Oh boy, a boy like YOU!”

An Author’s Note from Frank Murphy—an elementary school teacher, coach, and parent of boys—about what it means to be strong and the messages boys receive about masculinity follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Frank Murphy’s appeal to boys—and the adults who raise, teach, coach, and befriend them—is a timely and welcome discussion on the often overlooked or rejected ideas that “real” boys and men embody a full range of emotions, thoughts, talents, and dreams. As Murphy presents examples and reassurance from page to page, he also reveals how much boys—and the world—miss out on when they are held to a narrow definition of boyhood, manhood, and masculinity. Many boys—some perhaps hearing words like these for the first time—may be surprised and feel a sense of relief to have their true views validated. Murphy’s conversational and caring tone draws readers in while his direct address to the child allows the words to sound as if they are coming from the parent, teacher, or other caregiver reading the story, reinforcing the message in a personal way.

As readers open the book to the first page, a sea of diverse people from around the world with all manner of abilities, skin color, dress, and hairstyles welcomes readers and the little boy who carries the story. Kayla Harren, an artist who masterfully depicts people in action and displaying emotion, goes on to show this boy playing sports for fun and friendship, helping his mom in the garden and his dad in the kitchen, playing music with his baby sister, and creating a volcano with his lab partner at school. In all of these illustrations, the boy’s enthusiasm shines. At school, he ask a question, and while learning to ride his bike he shows uncertainty and wipes a tear away as his mom bandages a scraped knee.

A two-page spread takes readers into the mind of the boy as he considers all the professions and looks he can aspire to. In snapshots and lush panoramas, Harren populates the world of A Boy Like You with real kids and adults and realistic situations in which one person can make a difference, whether it’s tying a sibling’s shoes, holding a door open for a bag-laden shopper, alerting someone to a lost wallet, hugging a friend goodbye, or bringing a grandparent a cup of tea. Harren’s color palette glows with warmth and happiness, inviting all children to become the best they can be.

Gorgeous in story, art, and spirit, A Boy Like You is highly recommended and belongs in all classrooms and public libraries. The book is also an inspirational addition to home bookshelves for boys and girls and makes an empowering gift for kids as they go back to school.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110465

Discover more about Frank Murphy and his books on his website.

To learn more about Kayla Harren, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Boy Like You Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of

One (1) copy of A Boy Like You written by Frank Murphy | illustrated by Kayla Harren

To enter:

This giveaway is open from August 9 through August 15 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on August 16.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National Books Lovers Day Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

Has your state gone plastic bag free? Here’s an easy craft for turning a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag! 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

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You can find A Boy Like You at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 8 – National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day

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About the Holiday

If you’re a gardener, you know how prolific summer squash plants can be! By now you’re probably knee deep in luscious zucchini and yellow squash. Of course, they’re delicious—giving a snap of flavor to side dishes, salads, pastas, and even breads—but, really, how do you keep up with the harvest? Today’s holiday offers a suggestion. Perhaps, you can put together a box or basket of fresh squash with a recipe or two and—when no one’s looking—leave it where a neighbor or a friend will find it. What to do if all of your neighbors and friends are gardeners too? Have a zucchini party!

Zora’s Zucchini

Written by Katherine Pryor | Illustrated by Anna Raff

 

Summer vacation was only three days old, but already Zora was bored. She was tired of riding her bike aimlessly around the neighborhood. But this time when she rode through town, she noticed a Free Zucchini sign in the window of the hardware store. She liked that the plant’s name began with a Z like her name, so she loaded up her basket and went home.

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Zora showed her dad her new plants. As she carefully dug in the garden and settled them in, her dad said “‘That’s going to be a lot of zucchini.’” “‘We’ll eat it!’ Zora promised.” All June and July, Zora tended her garden, cheering “every time she saw a yellow-orange zucchini blossom.” When Zora saw her first zucchini, she picked it and ran inside to show her family. Soon, they were enjoying zucchini for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was zucchini bread, zucchini soup, and grilled zucchini. “By the first day of August, Zora’s garden was a jungle of prickly, tickly, bushy, blossomy plants,” and each one “was covered in zucchini. There was no way her family could eat it all.”

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

When Zora peeked into her neighbor’s yard, she noticed there was no zucchini in her garden—but plenty of tomatoes. She asked Mrs. Thompson if she’d like to trade. Mrs. Thompson was delighted to swap a bushel of tomatoes for a bushel of zucchini. But Zora’s zucchini kept on coming. “‘This is crazy,’ Zora said.” She filled her bicycle basket and rode through the neighborhood, giving them all away. But the day after that, more zucchini was ripe for picking. Then Zora had an idea and got her family involved. “Her brother painted the signs. Her parents printed the fliers. Zora and her sister posted them all over the neighborhood.”

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

On Saturday, Zora stood next to her homemade stand that sported a sign that read: “Take a Veggie, Leave a Veggie” with an added entreaty that said “Or at least please take some zucchini.” As sun rose in the sky, though, no one had visited her stand. But then Mrs. Rivera came by with a bowl of raspberries, Mr. Peterson brought potatoes, and others traded carrots, green beans, and peppers as well as apricots, plums, and cherries. “Zora traded and traded until all her zucchini was gone.”

But Zora’s Garden Swap stand had done much more than share fruits and vegetables. As she looked around at all of the people laughing, talking, and nibbling, she realized that “her zucchini garden had brought so many people together.” She couldn’t wait for next year’s garden!

Back matter includes a note about gardening and the amount of food from a prolific garden that can go to waste. It also includes ideas for donating, preserving, and sharing excess harvests.

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Katherine Pryor’s easy-going storytelling and gentle humor will charm kids with its realistic portrayals of the excitement that every growth spurt, bud, and blossom in a garden creates. As the zucchini keeps coming, Zora’s family’s willingness to keep trying new recipes is heartening, and their help in making her Garden Swap Stand a success shows welcome family unity and support. Zora’s outreach, first to one neighbor, then to individuals throughout her neighborhood, and finally through her stand, encourages creative problem-solving. As Zora realizes that her garden has brought many people together, readers will also embrace the ideas of camaraderie and sharing and see that they too can foster such friendship in their school and community. For today’s food-savvy and socially conscious kids, Pryor’s addressing the issue of food waste and ways to share our bounty with others will appeal to and resonate with children.

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Copyright Anna Raff, 2015, courtesy of annaraff.com and Readers to Eaters.

Anna Raff’s cheery illustrations sparkle with the enthusiasm of children who go all in on a new interest. Kids will love seeing the zucchini plants grow from tiny seedlings to leafy giants that produce a flood of zucchini. Raff clearly shows Zora’s disbelief in her inexhaustible supply of squash and puzzlement as to what to do with it all, letting readers join in on her ever-growing problem. As Zora tries one solution after another and then hits on an idea, suspense grows, helped along with Raff’s visual clues in the signs and fliers her family makes. When the neighbors come together, smiling and chatting, at Zora’s stand, readers can see what a close-knit community can accomplish.

Sure to inspire a child’s interest in gardening and community sharing, Zora’s Zucchini, an award-winning book, is a fantastic addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves. The book also makes a fun pairing with picnics and visits to farmers markets and food festivals.

Ages 4 – 10

Eaters to Readers, 2015 | ISBN 978-0983661573 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0998436616 (Paperback, 2017)

Discover more about Katherine Pryor and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anna Raff, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day Activity

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Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread from Creme De La Crumb

 

If you have zucchini to spare, you’ll love this delicious zucchini bread from Creme de la Crumb that’s sweet and moist and flavored with the homey taste of cinnamon! To find this scrumptious recipe and lots more, visit Creme de la Crumb!

Creme de la Crumb’s Cinnamon Swirl Zucchini Bread

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You can find Zora’s Zucchini at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 30 – National Water a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

If the showers of April have dried up where you are and the May flowers are getting a bit thirsty, today’s holiday makes the perfect reminder to fill the watering can or turn on the sprinkler and give them a drink. Colorful flowers are some of the joys of summer and provide food for birds and insects all season long. If you haven’t begun your garden yet, it’s not too late! Grab a packet of seeds or visit your local nursery and see what a wonderful, wild patch you can grow!

The Curious Garden

By Peter Brown

 

“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.” People didn’t notice because they spent most of their time inside—working, going to school, or at home. “As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.” There was one boy, though, who loved being outside. One rainy day Liam discovered a stairway leading to a bridge that held unused railway tracks. Of course, he was curious, and when he reached the top he discovered a scrawny patch of wildflowers. They needed water; they needed a gardener.

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Liam wasn’t officially a gardener, “but he knew that he could help.” After a few false starts and a mis-snip here and there, the plants began to look better. After several weeks, “Liam began to feel like a real gardener, and the plants began to feel like a real garden.” Now that the garden was healthy, it began to be curious about what lay up and down the railway track. The weeds and mosses crept down the tracks while the “more delicate plants” plucked up their courage and followed. During the next few months, Liam and the garden explored all the nooks and crannies of the railway bridge. Liam looked out over his city with a new perspective.

When winter came, the garden lay under a blanket of snow and Liam stayed below, sledding and preparing for spring. With warmer weather, Liam gathered his new shovel, hoe, pruners, and watering can in his red wheelbarrow and went back to the railway. “Winter had taken a toll on the garden.” The grass and moss were brown, the flowers were just brittle twigs, and the little tree was dull and unkept. But Liam watered, snipped, and even sang to the plants, and soon they “awoke from their winter sleep.”

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Now the garden was even more curious about the rest of the city, and the brave weeds and mosses led the way. “They popped up farther and farther from the railway and were closely followed by the more delicate plants.” They explored “old, forgotten things,” wiggled their way into sidewalk cracks, and even poked their heads out of broken basement windows. When some plants planted themselves where they didn’t belong, Liam moved them. He also began leaving them in surprising spots around town.

This led to an even more surprising thing: new gardeners also popped up all over the city. Now there were rooftop gardens, backyard gardens, and even gardens that climbed walls. Plants created soft carpets for stairs, huge lily pad boats, an animal parade, and high-rise tree houses for neighbors to share. “Many years later, the entire city had blossomed.” But Liam still loved his patch on the railway line the best.

An Author’s Note following the text reveals the true-life inspiration for the story.

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Copyright Peter Brown, 2009, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Peter Brown’s classic story about a little boy who brings new life to a city that has shut itself off from the natural world, reminds readers of the importance of the environment and getting outside to enjoy it and participate in its survival and growth. But Brown’s story is about so much more too. As Liam’s garden begins to branch out, readers see how one person can be instrumental in spreading ideas, happiness, good news, kindness, in fact any number of life-changing events. In the title and the description of the garden, Brown taps into a dual nature of “curious.” What may seem odd or new or even forgotten sparks interest and exploration and new, often better, perspectives that can bring people together.

Brown opens the story with a two-page, aerial-view spread of the drab city dotted in only two places with a bit of color and giving readers a bit of foreshadowing of the transformation to come. The scrubby patch of greenery next to the rotted tracks includes a tiny tree, cleverly imbued with personality. As the garden spreads, kids will love hunting for the itty-bitty birds, bees, and beetles that appear among the colorful flowers. Kids will “ooh” and “ahh” over the pages that show how and where the garden has spread (a parking lot reclamation is a bright spot) and its influence on new gardeners. The final spread completes the promise held in the first and is a true showstopper.

Ages 4 – 9

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009 | ISBN 978-0316015479

To learn more about Peter Brown, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Water a Flower Day Activity

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Spoon Flowers Craft

 

Plastic spoons aren’t just for enjoying yummy treats, they make cute flowers too! With this easy and quick craft, you can give everyone you love a bouquet!

Supplies

  • Colorful plastic spoons
  • Heavy stock paper or construction paper in various colors, including green for leaves
  • Multi-surface glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Cut petals from the heavy stock paper or construction paper
  2. Glue the petals to the bowl of the spoon
  3. Cut leaves from the green paper (optional)
  4. Glue leaves to the handle of the spoon (optional)

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You can find The Curious Garden at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 8 – National All is Ours Day

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About the Holiday

National All is Ours Day is about noticing nature and the world around you and taking pleasure in the beauty you see. The holiday also encourages people to appreciate our surroundings and embrace the gifts that we all have in common. Being grateful for and sharing what we have while not dwelling on what we don’t is a way to extend the meaning of the day and to live more simply and more happily.

Mine. Yours.

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Qin Leng

 

There are picture books that tell their story with no words and picture books that charm with hundreds of words, and then there is Marsha Diane Arnold’s Mine. Yours., which fills the pages with the abundance of emotions and opportunities life offers using only three words. As a little panda meanders through the forest, he comes upon a cave and wanders in. He wakes up the older panda sleeping there with his question: “Yours?” The older panda gets up and with a wave of his hands and one word, he makes it clear—the cave is “Mine” and the little one belongs outside.

But the little guy is undeterred and returns hoping for a bit of breakfast. While the big panda chows down on a full plate of bamboo, his visitor is handed a plate with two meager twigs of this favorite meal. Perhaps, though, the adult panda is softening. While he clasps his bamboo-gathering basket close, reminding the child that it is “Mine,” he spies a kite hanging from a shelf and hands it down: “Yours.”

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The tyke runs into the forest to find a place to fly the kite, but—as kites do—it has a mind of its own. It careens into a pangolin pounding a drum, a fox and raccoon playing a board game, a fishing cat with his pole in the water, an otter rafting down the river, and more unsuspecting animals trying to go about their day. They each proclaim their ownership over their possessions and remind him that the kite is his.

But the kite is more in control than the panda, and the string begins to snag everything it touches and fly away with it all—including the little panda. The alarmed animals give chase, grab onto the end of the string, and find themselves airborne. The big panda, returning from bamboo gathering, sees the commotion at the end of a kite and wonders, “Mine?” The little panda, hoping for rescue, shouts down, “Yours!”

With a tug, the big panda brings all the animals and all the stuff back to earth in a heap. They cheer, and with a new perspective, shout, “Ours!” This brings many changes of heart and an invitation from the big panda to a party in the cave—complete with plenty of food, fun, and games to share.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mine-yours-flying-kite

Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Not only is Mine. Yours. a book about sharing, it is truly a book to be shared. The prompts of Marsha Diane Arnold’s thought-provoking “mine” and “yours,” combined with Qin Leng’s expressive illustrations provide many opportunities to discuss the various meanings and emotions behind these words and the actions they elicit. Readers will be enchanted by Qin Leng’s pen-and-ink and watercolor images that are full of humor and consternation as the little panda innocently interrupts the regular routine in the forest. As the suspenseful drama ensues the animals, who are for the most part engaging in individual pursuits, are brought together and discover that the friendship of “ours” is liberating—and more fun too.

Children will enjoy discussing the action and how each animal feels about what is happening, which is clearly readable in their facial expressions. While the animals react crossly to the initial disruptions, subtle changes in attitude are apparent—especially when they see that the little panda is in danger and hurry to help. Opportunities abound for talking about the ideas of kindness and compassion, accidents and intension, inclusiveness and community, and even the fact that learning continues throughout one’s life.

A list of the Asian animals featured in the story can be found at the beginning of the book.

An excellent book for opening discussions that allow children to express their ideas and relate their experiences concerning possessions, community, and sharing, Mine. Yours. would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7 and up

Kids Can Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771389198

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

To learn more about Qin Leng, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Marsha Diane Arnold

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Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called “whimsical” and “inspiring.” She has two new picture books out this spring – Mine. Yours. and Badger’s Perfect GardenBorn and raised on the Kansas prairies, Marsha lived most of her life on a hill overlooking redwoods and oaks in Sonoma County, California, and now lives with her husband in Alva, Florida, surrounded on two sides by nature preserves. Family and nature are her two great loves.

I’m happy that Marsha dropped by again to talk a little about her inspiration for Mine. Yours. and how it all came together—fascinating!

When you conceived this story, did you have a specific situation or incident in mind? What was the inspiration for Mine. Yours.?

This story was meant to be a follow-up to Lost. Found. The minimal text of Lost. Found. was only 18 words, two words repeated. I wanted another title with just two words and I knew those two words had to allow a story to unfold. Of course, for Mine. Yours. a third word needed to be in the text – “Ours.”

The idea for Lost. Found. came to me in a dream. Though both stories were challenging, Mine. Yours. took more time to figure out and more rewrites, as there wasn’t the same dream inspiration that assisted me with Lost. Found.

Created with just two words, this picture book is a true collaboration between you and illustrator Qin Leng. Can you describe the process that went into bringing this book to life?

As with Lost. Found., I wrote very specific art notes to go with each word, to show what I envisioned for each particular page. Qin Leng and I never spoke after the manuscript was accepted and I had minimal contact with my editor. They faithfully “followed my lead.” Qin’s gorgeous details and whimsical facial expressions make the book come alive. Just look at grumpy Big Panda giving Little Panda a teeny-tiny bit of bamboo and Little Panda’s disappointed face! It’s amazing how much expression Qin is able to get with just a few lines.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

I’ve had so many questions from writers about how I formatted the manuscript. Some have even thought I just sent the words to an editor with no art notes! Not at all!! Here’s a little of the submitted manuscript with the two spreads they go with:

[Wind picks up moderately. Kite rises, leading Little Bear toward river. Kite exits right

followed by Little Panda.] 

[Kite crashes into Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), fishing in river. His

fishing pole flips away. Fishing Cat runs into the stream to snatch it.]

“Mine!”

[Frowning, Fishing Cat points at kite as it moves higher.]

“Yours!”          

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

          

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Qin Leng infuses the story with so much suspense and humor. What was the most surprising detail of the illustrations for you? What is your favorite spread?

I know! I love the suspense and humor and was thrilled when I first saw Qin’s gorgeous illustrations. However, there were no surprises, as I had specified exactly what was to happen. The only spread that is different from my notes is the final spread, but when my editor and Qin wanted to go a different way with it, my editor shared about that prior to my seeing it.

I do love the image above with Little Panda and the kite along the stream. It feels so serene, a calm before more storms. And the page with the word “Ours”, after all the animals have come together to save Little Panda, is a favorite.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

There’s such a depth of emotion in the words “mine” and “yours” for kids and adults (from the positive pride one feels in accomplishments to the not-so-positive proprietary side of things), and sharing can be difficult for anyone regardless of age or what one has. What would you like for readers to take away from your story? 

Mine. Yours. is about kindness, compassion, and community and I’d love for my young readers to take those feelings away from the story. It’s a bit like my 2018 book May I Come In? in its theme of inclusiveness and opening your door to friends who knock. I actually haven’t thought about this before, but look at the final pages of each one. Community! Ours!

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Image copyright Jennie Poh, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Thank you for letting me be part of the Celebrate Picture Books community!

Thank you, Marsha! I always enjoy our chats about your books and your generous, thoughtful answers!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Mine. Yours. Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Kids Can Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Mine. Yours. written by Marsha Diane Arnold | illustrated by Qin Leng

To enter Follow me @CelebratePicBks on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet.

This giveaway is open from April 8 through April 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Kid Can Press.

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts. 

National All is Ours Day Activity

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Mine. Yours. Activity Pages

 

You’re welcome to make these activity pages yours—why not print two or more copies and create some “ours!” fun!

Mine. Yours. Activity Pages

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You can find Mine. Yours. at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 5 – It’s National Garden Month

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About the Holiday

In 1987 National Garden Week sprouted on the calendar to celebrate the beginning of spring and the growing season. But a week just isn’t enough to enjoy all the fun and excitement (and delicious food and glorious flowers) of gardening. In 2002, the National Gardening Association extended the holiday to encompass the full month of April. A perfect activity for the whole family—even the youngest loves playing in the dirt and planting seeds!—gardening is a wonderful way to teach kids about the growth cycle, pollinators, nutrition, patience, and more! If it’s warm enough to start planting where you live, engage your kids in preparing and planting your garden. If it’s still a little chilly, gather the whole family and plan this year’s garden!

Little Yellow Truck

Written by Eve Bunting | Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer

 

At his lumberyard, Riley had four trucks: “a red dump truck, a green flatbed truck, a blue concrete mixer, and a little yellow pickup truck.” One day he announced that together he and his trucks were going to turn a plot of land he’d bought into a children’s park. Little Yellow was excited to be included. Riley and his helpers drove all the trucks to the area. First, they cleaned up all the trash and put the bags in Big Red. “Little Yellow watched.”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When Big Red drove away, Big Blue rolled up, and as his bowl turned he “pumped out concrete” to make a sidewalk that meandered through the land and over the hills, a floor for a picnic shelter and a spot for a fountain: “Squish Squash Slurp Burp.” Next, Big Green drove up with his load of lumber, and Riley and his helpers built the picnic shelter and a fence: “Bang Clang Smack Whack!” Riley thought it was “‘Fabulous!’”

As Big Green sped away with Riley, Little Yellow wondered…and waited. “He flicked his lights on and off.” He didn’t want to be forgotten. He wanted to do an important job. Then Big Green and Riley were back. Throughout the day, Big Green transported the swings, slides, merry-go-round, tables, and benches. Little Yellow stayed silent. “The important job was finished and he had done nothing.” Riley proclaimed it “‘Fabulous!’” But the park wasn’t finished yet, he said.

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Riley walked over to Little Yellow and took the wheel. As they drove down the road, Little Yellow recognized they were going the way back to the lumberyard. Maybe he wasn’t going to be part of the job after all. But then they stopped at Ray’s Garden Shop and the workers began loading Little Yellow up with “plants and shrubs and flowers. There were bags of soil and grass seed and fertilizer.”

As they drove through town, people smiled and waved. One girl even said, “‘Look! It’s a garden in a truck!” Back at the park, Riley and his helpers scattered the grass seed and planted the bushes and flowers. Birds, butterflies, and bees flew over to check them out. There was even a little shower burst to water them. When at last everything was just right, Big Red, Big Green, Big Blue, and Little Yellow all hooted and honked their horns, and kids came running from all over. Little Yellow “even gave an extra-long Toot Toot Tootle Toot” because “the children’s park was open for business. And he was part of it!”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

For every little one who feels like they stand on the sidelines while all the “important jobs” are done, Eve Bunting’s sweet story shows that they play a big role in what happens at home, at school, and elsewhere. As Little Yellow watches while all the bigger trucks get to help out, his doubts will be familiar to readers. The suspense grows as job after job is completed without Little Yellow’s input, and young readers will cheer when his patience is rewarded. Little truck lovers will enjoy seeing their favorites at work and chiming in on the alliterative and rhyming words that accompany each action.

Kevin Zimmer’s happy-to-help trucks will thrill kids who love vehicles of all kinds with their realistic details and anthropomorphic personalities. Zimmer’s vivid colors are as cheery as a day at the park, and little ones will love pointing out and talking about the different jobs and what they entail as well as their favorite playground equipment. A diverse group of children, including a boy in a wheelchair, run and play in the new park.

An engaging story to reassure kids that they make a big difference even if they are small, Little Yellow Truck makes a fun read aloud for home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364077

To learn more about Kevin Zimmer, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Garden Month Activity

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Colorful Garden Coloring Pages

 

Your plants and flowers may not have bloomed—or even sprouted—yet, but you can still enjoy a colorful garden with these printable pages!

Planting the Garden | Colorful Flowers

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You can find Little Yellow Truck at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review