September 15 – International Dot Day

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About the Holiday

Usually, I match books to existing holidays. Today, though, I have the pleasure of posting a review of a book that established a holiday. On September 15, 2009 teacher Terry Shay introduced his class to Peter H. Reynold’s The Dot. From that one event grew a national and then an international celebration of creativity and the freedom to make art with your heart. All around the world, school children and adults are inspired on this day to make their mark and celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration. For more information and to join in on a live event starting at 10:00 a.m. PT, visit the International Dot Day website.

The Dot

By Peter H. Reynolds

 

At the end of art class, Vashti looked at her paper. It was still as blank as it was at the beginning of art class. Her teacher came over and took a peek. She saw right away that Vashti had drawn “‘a polar bear in a snowstorm.’” Vashti wasn’t fooled by the joke. “‘I just CAN’T draw,’” she said. But her teacher had a suggestion. “‘Just make a mark and see where it takes you.’”

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti jabbed at the paper with a marker, making a dot right in the center. Her teacher studied her drawing carefully then told Vashti to sign it. That, at least, was something Vashti could do. She signed her name and gave the paper to her teacher. At the next week’s art class, Vashti was stunned to see her dot framed and hanging above the teacher’s desk. She looked at the tiny mark and decided that she could do better than that.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Vashti opened her watercolor set and began. She “painted and painted. A red dot. A purple dot. A yellow dot. A blue dot.” Then she discovered that blue mixed with yellow made a green dot. Vashti went to the easel and began painting lots of little dots in all sorts of colors. She realized if she could make little dots, she could make big dots. She knelt down on the floor with a big piece of paper and a big brush and created a huge dot.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Then on an enormous canvas Vashti “made a dot by not making a dot.” At the school art show, Vashti’s dot paintings covered two walls and were quite a hit. Coming around the corner a little boy spied Vashti. He came close and told her, “‘You’re a really great artist. I wish I could draw.’” Vashti was encouraging, but the little boy said he couldn’t even “‘draw a straight line with a ruler.’”

Vashti wanted to see. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. With a quivering pencil, he drew a line and handed the paper back to her. Vashti studied the wavy line for a minute, and then gave the paper back. “‘Please…sign it,’” she said.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Peter H. Reynold’s classic story of a little girl who believes she can’t draw is inspirational for anyone at any age who listens too closely to that voice in their head that stops them from letting go and doing. Whether it’s painting, writing, changing the décor of one’s house, updating a wardrobe, getting healthy, or even taking a class, the project often seems insurmountable. But what if you could start with a YouTube video, one step, a pair of earrings, a pillow, a word, or…a dot? Reynolds says you can! With his straightforward storytelling, Reynolds gives readers permission to play, experiment, and feel free.

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Copyright Peter H. Reynolds, 2003, courtesy of Candlewick Press.

Reynold’s familiar line drawings that sketch out adorable Vashti and her wise teacher are punctuated by the colorful dots that Vashti draws in profusion. Even Vashti, herself, is surrounded by circular auras of color throughout the story, reflecting her talent and creative spirit. The final scene of the art show gallery is a revelation, showing readers that one’s work or life work adds up to an impressive display of the self.

Through and through The Dot is charming, moving, and encouraging. It is a must addition to home libraries, public libraries, and classrooms.

Ages 5 and up

Candlewick Press, 2003 | 978-0763619619

To learn more about International Dot Day and find ideas and resources for classrooms, libraries, and booksellers, a variety of coloring pages to download, and a gallery of projects, visit the International Dot Day website

You’ll learn more about Peter H, Reynolds, his books, and his art as well as find lots of inspiration and creative tips on his website!

International Dot Day Activity

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Make Your Mark! Mini-Poster Coloring Page

 

Grab your favorite paints, markers, crayons and Make Your Mark with this printable mini-poster from Peter Reynolds!

Make Your Mark! Mini-Poster

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You can find The Dot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

Celebrating Back to School Month with Deb Pilutti

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Deb Pilutti feels lucky to have a job where reading, playing with toys, and watching cartoons is considered “research.” Before becoming an award-winning author & illustrator, Deb was a graphic designer and created toys for Oliebollen.com and graphics for SeaWorld and Warner Brothers theme parks. She’s the author of Old Rock (is not boring), Idea Jar, The Secrets of Ninja School, Bear and Squirrel are Friends, and Ten Rules of Being a Superhero.

You can connect with Deb Pilutti on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Deb! It’s so great to talk with you! This month we’re celebrating Back to School Month, Get Ready for Kindergarten Month, Family Fun Month, and even Happiness Happens Month! All of these are perfect opportunities for kids, families, and teachers to discover the creative ideas and self-confidence-boosting reassurance in your wonderful books as they leave summer behind and head back to the routines of a school year! Before we do that, though, can you share a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

The first time my family camped at Ludington State Park in Michigan. One summer, my parents packed my three brothers, my sister, and me into the station wagon and we drove from Indiana to Ludington and put up a huge canvas tent in our designated camping spot. We were thrilled when we discovered the rolling sand dunes that lay in between the campground and Lake Michigan. We spent our days running and jumping off the dunes, looking for tadpoles in the ponds nearby and body surfing in the ice-cold lake. Back then, I never imagined I would live in Michigan. Now when I head to the big lake every summer, I think back on the joy we felt.

Ludington State Park sounds gorgeous! How wonderful that you get to enjoy it every summer! Thanks so much for sharing that 

I’m happy to be featuring one of my favorite books for guiding kids on that journey to become the self-assured, optimistic, and ingenious person they want to be.

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Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero

By Deb Pilutti

 

Lava Boy and his favorite toy, Captain Magma, have saved the day many times. But there’s one superhero skill they haven’t mastered yet: the ability to fly. It shouldn’t be too hard for Captain Magma and Lava Boy to figure out. But it’s going to take a new set of rules, plenty of glitter, and some help from the brave Star Girl and her action figure, Meteor Shower, before these superheroes actually reach new heights. This clever gender-inclusive story takes young readers on an adventure in which learning lessons in friendship is just as important as learning how to fly like a superhero.

With humor and imagination, Deb Pilutti outlines terrific advice on how children can achieve their goals—whether they revolve around school, sports, art, making friends, or any activity—and soar. Her straightforward steps, which can apply to any situation, are charmingly paired with specifics for helping Captain Magma fly and kid-centric reminders like “never skimp on the glitter.”

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Image copyright Deb Pilutti, 2020, courtesy of Henry Holt & Company.

Kids will appreciate Lava Boy’s toy-strewn floor, where Lava Boy’s imagination takes flight with action, peril, animals, and people on the go. Captain Magma offers up lots of funny looks and asides (appropriately expressed in sunny yellow speech bubbles) that kids will recognize and empathize with. Hints on the identity of Lava Boy and Captain Magma’s new like-minded friends can be glimpsed early in the story through Lava Boy’s window and while he’s outside playing with his toys.

Wrapped in an exuberant story, Ten Steps to Flying like a Superhero – the soaring picture book companion toTen Rules for Being a Superhero – is a super way to teach kids the steps that lead to success. The book would be a favorite for story times as well as times when encouragement is needed and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 9

Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt & Co, 2020 | ISBN 978-1627796507

Check out Deb Pilutti’s other books too!

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celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-secrets-of-ninja-school-cover    celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ten-rules-of-being-a-superhero-cover

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You can find Ten Steps to Flying Like a Superhero at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

 

June 6 – It’s National Vacation Rental Month

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About the Holiday

A great vacation starts with a great place to stay! Whether you like a cabin by the lake, a cottage by the shore, a tent or camper in the woods, an airbnb, or that good-ol’ staple the hotel, getting away from home is an adventure in itself. National Vacation Rental Month takes place in July because this is the month when most people go on vacation. If you haven’t planned a get-away yet, there’s still time to find just the right accommodation for maximum enjoyment! You might even look into staying in a sandcastle – especially if it’s as luxurious as the one in today’s story!

Sandcastle

By Einat Tsarfati

 

A girl finds an empty spot near the water’s edge and begins to build a sandcastle. This is no ordinary sandcastle, though. It’s “a real castle with domes and turrets and a crocodile moat. And large windows with an ocean view.” Indeed, it is a spectacular castle, representing all the world’s architecture and decorated with seashells. Winding staircases lead to outside viewing spots, and its sculptural features are astounding. The girl stands on tippy-toe on a tall tower to place a pebble just on the tip of a taller tower.

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Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

Inside, chandeliers hang in the great hall and above the double staircase on either side. The girl pauses during construction for a moment to gaze out of the five-paned bay window at the rolling sea. But she is not alone. A king peaks out of a doorway, watching her. It didn’t take long for more kings and queens from across the globe to discover the girl’s castle and come to visit, bringing along their children and pets and plenty of luggage.

They took in their surroundings, marveling at the girl’s craftsmanship. “‘It’s one hundred percent sand,’ murmured a king with a curly mustache. ‘And you can hear the ocean!’ added a queen with a fancy pearl necklace.” From the great hall they fanned out into the castle to enjoy its many rooms—the music room and the aquarium room; the camping room, complete with trees and a tent; the ice-skating rink and the carousel; the natural history room and the archaeology room with its brontosaurus skeleton. There was a library and a room with many safes for the royal jewelry. Visitors could play tennis, dance, and spend time feeding the swan in the pond room. Of course, there were bedrooms, and bathroom, and dining rooms galore.

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Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

The first night there was a “grand party in the ballroom. Dollops of ice cream were served all night long. It was awesome.” But in the morning the kings and queens saw things quite differently. The almond strudel, the pizza, the soups, the sandwiches, and all the cakes were full of sand. The next day, the Triathlon of Knights Tournament of badminton, cards, and Twister was “completely ruined. ‘Aargh! There is sand in my suit of  armor!’ sobbed the bravest knight in the kingdom.” It was so bad that he couldn’t even pick up a playing card from the stack. Royal toes grew itchy. Royal treasure chests became welded shut. And one elderly queen thought it was “even worse than a single pea underneath [her] mattress.

They all came to the girl to bitterly complain. There wasn’t much the girl could do. After all, the castle was made of sand. She decided to make a sand ball and then another and another until there were enough for a huge sand ball fight. Then, suddenly, the castle sprung a leak, and the kings and queens, their kids, and their luggage floated away on furniture, towers, and pedestals. Everything was washed away, so the girl “built a sandcastle.”

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Copyright Einat Tsarfati, 2020, courtesy of Candlewick.

Einat Tsarfati’s Sandcastle is a feast for the eyes, loaded with humor, marvels, and whimsy on every page. From the crowded beach to the luxurious interior of the sandcastle, kids will have a blast scouring the detailed drawings for their favorite feature. As the royal visitors’ initial awe dissolves into whiny complaining, Tsarfati’s droll storytelling will elicit plenty of laughs (and maybe even a bit of recognition). The girl’s clever solution to her guests’ dissatisfaction may surprise readers, but with a turn of the page, Tsarfati promises to begin the imaginative journey all over again.

Highly recommended for funny and immersive story times, Sandcastle wows with ingenuity that will inspire kids’ imaginations. Sure to be an often-asked-for favorite on home, school, or public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 7

Candlewick, 2020 | ISBN 978-1536211436

Discover more about Einat Tsarfati, her books, and her art on her website.

National Vacation Rental Month Activity

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Family Vacation Fun! Maze

 

This family is really looking forward to their vacation in the woods. Can you help them find their way to their cabin in this printable maze?

Family Vacation Fun! Maze | Family Vacation Fun! Maze Solution

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You can find Sandcastle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 17 – National Week of Making

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About the Holiday

In 2016 President Barack Obama instituted June 17 – 23 as the National Week of Making to celebrate the spirit of American ingenuity and invention and ensure that future generations receive the support they need to continue this proud tradition. In his official proclamation, President Obama stated: “Since our earliest days, makers, artists, and inventors have driven our economy and transformed how we live by taking risks, collaborating, and drawing on their talents and imaginations to make our Nation more dynamic and interconnected. During National Week of Making, we recommit to sparking the creative confidence of all Americans and to giving them the skills, mentors, and resources they need to harness their passion and tackle some of our planet’s greatest challenges.” Today, makerspaces can be found across the country in studios, libraries, schools, and community venues to encourage kids and adults to explore their ideas and the feasibility of bringing their creations to market. To learn more about this week-long holiday, visit the Nation of Makers website.

Goldilocks and the Three Engineers

Written by Sue Fliess | Illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis

 

“In a tiny bungalow, / there lived a clever thinker. / Young Goldilocks invented things. She’d make and craft and tinker.” Goldilocks made lots of useful things, like machines to help you tie your shoes, to a self-zipping zipper to a hat outfitted with a flashlight, magnifying glass, and itty-bitty satellite dish to help you find the things you’ve lost. But one day, Goldilocks found that she had “inventor’s block,” so she decided to take a walk.

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

At the same time, the Bear family was out gathering nuts and berries for their pre-hibernation celebration. Baby Bear had a nifty contraption that knocked fruit and nuts into a basket with a tennis racquet. Papa Bear had an ingenious wheelbarrow with mechanical arms and hands that picked berries one by one and deposited them in the cart—but only after tossing them through a tiny basketball hoop. Swish! And Mama Bear’s handy vacuum sucked fruit right off the bushes and collected them in a tank.

Their next stop was the beehive at the top of a hill. After they’d eaten all their goodies, Baby Bear spied a little bungalow. The Bears thought it was just the place to spend the winter. When they went inside, they found “the room was full of strange devices, / widgets, tools, and more!” Looking more closely, Papa Bear found a chair that was perfect for Baby Bear. He marveled that “it feed you and it wipes your mouth, / and reads you stories, too!” Meanwhile, Mama Bear had discovered a bowl that stirred porridge and a bed that automatically rocked you to sleep.

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Baby Bear loved the chair but wished for one more innovation that would make it just right. Papa Bear found parts and tools and fixed the chair to Baby Bear’s specifications. Mama Bear tasted the porridge and found it lacking one ingredient, so Papa Bear created a porridge-stirrer accessory to add it drop by drop. By now it was dark, and even though Papa Bear thought it wasn’t right to stay, Baby Bear convinced him that one night would be okay.

But when they crawled into bed and turned it on, it rocked so much that it tipped the Bears right onto the floor. There was only one thing to do: “Baby fixed the engine block. / Replace the gears that burned. / Soon the bears were fast asleep… / Then Goldilocks returned.” She saw the chair, tasted the porridge, and then… “heard snoring sounds.” Wide awake now, the bears began to explain. But Goldilocks was not upset. Instead she said, “‘You’ve improved my projects here, / and made them much more fun. / Proving that four brains, by far, / are better than just one!’”

Excited to be inventing again with the bears on board to lend their smart innovations, Goldilocks sends the family off amid promises to “‘…meet up in the spring’” when they will “‘…make the next big thing!’”

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Image copyright Petros Bouloubasis, 2021, text copyright Sue Fleiss, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

With her fun flip on the Goldilocks story, Sue Fleiss invites kids to indulge their inner inventor with wacky contraptions that can make getting dressed, cooking, going to bed, and chores more exciting. Fleiss’s clever takes on the well-known “just right” chair, porridge, and bed get readers thinking creatively—perhaps even about their own household appliances. While the original story ends with the interloper being chased away, Fleiss’s version shines with the benefits of cooperation, collaboration, and being open to new ideas.

With so many cool inventions to discover on every page, readers will love taking extra time to find and talk about them all. Any young maker would swoon over Petros Bouloubasis’s well-stocked workbench, and readers would have a blast drawing their own gadgets using the tools and supplies depicted. Quirky, abstract landscapes add to the kid-centric ambiance, and just like the Bear family, who drives away in a new vehicle with their full wheelbarrow in tow, readers will look forward to returning to Goldilocks’ little bungalow again and again.

Imagination, creativity, teamwork, and friendship all wrapped up in a clever fractured fairytale—what could be better?! Goldilocks and the Three Engineers is one to add to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807529973

Discover more about Sue Fleiss and her books on her website.

To learn more about Petros Bouloubasis, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Week of Making Activity

CPB - Inventor's Tool Kit II (2)

Inventor’s Tool Kit

 

Every idea begins as a jumble of seemingly unrelated parts. Gathering whatever types of material inspires you and keeping it in a box ready to go when inspiration hits is a great way to support innovation and spark experimentation.

Supplies

  • Small parts organizer with drawers or compartments, available at hardware stores and craft stores
  • A variety of parts or craft materials that can be combined, built with, or built on
  • Some hardware ideas—pulleys, wheels, small to medium pieces of wood, wire, nuts, bolts, screws, hooks, knobs, hinges, recyclable materials
  • Some craft ideas—clay, beads, wooden pieces, sticks, paints, pipe cleaners, string, spools, buttons, glitter, scraps of material, recyclable materials

Directions

  1. Fill the organizer with the materials of your choice
  2. Let your imagination go to work! Build something cool, crazy, silly, useful—Amazing!

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You can find Goldilocks and the Three Engineers at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 11 – Making Life Beautiful Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established by Apriori Beauty in 2015 to recognize all those people who make life more fun, meaningful, joyful—more beautiful—for someone else. This can be done in so many ways. Spending more time talking with someone lets them know you care. Sharing your talent for baking, art, music, gardening, home repair, or any skill with a friend, family member, or coworker brings joy to them and you. Even just giving a smile to those you meet can brighten someone’s day. Making someone else feel good will make life more beautiful for you too!

The Color Collector

Written by Nicholas Solis | Illustrated by Renia Metallinou

 

A boy notices a new girl, Violet, at school. He knows what it’s like to be the new kid, so he waves to her as she sits on a bench alone, reading. She gives him a small smile—he thinks—but doesn’t say anything. He knew that Violet lived near him because they always “walked home the same way,” although he “was on one side, she on the other.” She was “always quiet. Always alone.”

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

It was always the same until one day when the wind blew a red candy wrapper Violet’s way and the boy watched her pick it up and put it in her backpack. When she looked up, Violet saw the boy watching. “She looked at me,” he says. “She waved. Then her eyes went down and she turned the corner.” Now, the boy noticed how many things Violet picked up along the way home. “Bright blue cookie wrappers. Yellow pieces of paper. Green bottle caps. Red fall leaves. All disappearing into the gray backpack.”

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

One day the boy crosses the street and asks Violet what she does with the things she picks up. Violet invites him to come see. They come to a brownstone and up a few flights of stairs, Violet takes him inside her home and opens the door to her room. “Here in her room, the sun comes to shine,” the boy says. “It reaches in and makes her glow. It makes her collection glow as well.”

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What the boy sees—on the walls, the ceiling, the door—is “her sky, her beach, her village” recreated from the wrappers, paper, leaves, caps, and other bits she’s found. “We came here for a better life,” Violet tells the boy. “I miss home, though. I miss the sounds and smells. And I miss the colors.” The boy tells her the mural is beautiful. Then Violet tells him stories about her village, the people there, and the ocean. The boy and Violet “sit and talk. Then laugh. Then talk some more.” The boy sees that Violet is not so sad or alone anymore, and he’s glad to be her friend. When he leaves, he and Violet wave goodbye and “smile the same.” One the way home, the wind blows a red leaf his way. He picks it up and puts it in his backpack.

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Image copyright Renia Metallinou, 2021, text copyright Nicholas Solis, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Poignant and honest, Nicholas Solis’s multilayered story touches on friendship, loneliness, new experiences, immigration, creativity, and how acts of welcome, empathy, and kindness can change perspectives and bring joy to life. Told from the boy’s point of view in short, straightforward observations, the story captures readers’ emotions and curiosity as they walk with him and Violet, waiting to see why the reason for her collection. As days and maybe weeks or months pass before the boy speaks to Violet, readers on “both sides of the street” (those who are hesitant to talk and share as well as those who would like to get to know someone better) learn that friendship takes time, patience, trust, and sincere interest. 

Renia Metallinou adds visual eloquence to the story with his gray- and dun-hued illustrations, which pick up increasing hints of color as Violet and the boy grow closer to Violet’s house and finally explode with vibrancy when she opens the door to her room. The first clue of the importance of color to the “new girl” is in her name, and to punctuate this fact, Metallinou gives Violet purple hairbands for her braids. As Violet walks home on a parallel track to the boy, purple tints the pots and flowers decorating the sidewalk, a woman’s purse, and her dog’s collar as if to show that Violet is already assimilating and contributing to her new community.

After she picks up the red wrapper, red flowers, and accents dot the next page, and after the boy describes the blue, yellow, and green items she finds, the trees gain red and yellow leaves, container gardens overflow with greenery, an orange cat watches a trio of red-bellied birds, and blue curtains hang in a downstairs room. But it’s when Violet opens her bedroom door that the real magic happens.

Readers are treated to one more two-page spread of suspense, heightened by the boy’s look of wonder and Violet’s proud gaze. Surrounded by light, Violet smiles. Her gray-and-white-striped shirt turns green and yellow, her brown skin glows with joy. Then readers turn the page and, like the boy, step into a sun-drenched coastal village with candy-colored buildings, lush foliage, a sparkling sea, and a woman – perhaps Violet’s grandmother – looking toward the horizon, maybe looking for Violet herself. Metallinou has made Violet’s mural a masterpiece of art, life, longing, and love. As Violet’s stories pour forth, she and the boy discover how to let their true colors show.

A beautiful and evocative story about the power of friendship, empathy, and kindness, The Color Collector provides a unique and highly effective way for kids and adults to talk about feelings of loneliness, homesickness, making new friends, opening up to others, and many other feelings kids experience. The book could spark meaningful art projects for classrooms and homeschoolers and would be an excellent addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 6 – 9 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111059

Discover more about Nicholas Solis and his books on his website.

To learn more about Renia Metallinou, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Making Life Beautiful Day Activity

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Initial Bookend or Decoration

 

Today’s holiday is all about making someone feel special. With this easy craft, kids can make a gift for a family member, friend, or teacher that shows them why they think the person makes the world more beautiful. And don’t forget to make one for yourself too!

Supplies

  • Wooden letter block of the recipient’s first initial or both initials
  • Chalkboard paint
  • Chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden letter with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write words on the letter that you think best describe the person you’re giving it to
  3. Wrap and give your letter!

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You can find The Color Collector at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 16 – National Panda Day

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About the Holiday

National Panda Day was established to raise awareness of the dangers faced by these favorite, adorable animals. Destruction of the vast bamboo forests on which pandas rely for food, coupled with their low birth rate has resulted in their being placed on the endangered list. Conservation groups as well as zoos and other animal sanctuaries are working to breed and protect these gentle black-and-white beauties. If you’d like to get involved, consider donating to a local zoo program or other environmental group.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sharing a digital copy of When I Draw a Panda for review. All opinions of the book are my own.

When I Draw a Panda

By Amy June Bates

 

A little girl, art box in hand, gazes at her full-wall blackboard and tells readers “I love to draw.” She tells them, though, that “when they say to draw a perfect circle, [hers] turns out a little wonky.” There are things she can draw perfectly, like a cloud or a flat bicycle tire, and to draw a panda she just keeps drawing circles until one appears. Then she gives it a personal touch and makes it hers.

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Copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

The panda also has its own style of drawing, which includes drawing a castle the left way “when someone tells him to draw a castle the right way.” The panda has his own interpretations of pictures people tell him to draw, and sometimes he gets distracted by something better, begins to daydream, and forgets what he was told to draw. The panda shows the girl how to draw a dragon from a squiggle.

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Copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

The girl says that she has her individual way of drawing too, and “when they say to draw it ‘this way,’” she asks, “‘Why?’” When she does draw a picture the way they want her to, she changes it later. Sometimes people tell the girl her drawing won’t work or remind her to stay in the lines, but the drawings turn out just fine. And when people can’t figure out what she and her panda have drawn, they let it remain a mystery. The girl and her panda can draw quietly, but there are times when their pencils like to ROAR! Then they go willy-nilly, the girl says, to “somewhere that makes us happy.”

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Copyright Amy June Bates, 2020, courtesy of Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

Amy June Bates celebrates the imagination and creativity of kids who, when given paper and freedom, will draw a unique picture every time, a masterpiece. Her storytelling in which the young artist counters the instructions of all of the “theys” who tell her to draw a “perfect” circle, castle, or other shape, is reassuring and uplifting to children who are proud of the artwork they do—artwork that is just what they want it to be. The girl’s honesty will resonate with readers of all ages who engage in the creative process, whether its art, writing, music, dance, inventing, or other discipline.

Bates’ own distinctive art shines in her illustrations of a child’s room that any kid will envy. One wall is painted completely with chalkboard paint, allowing her to give full expression to her imagination. Kids will appreciate the second and third spreads in which the girl demonstrates her “wonky” circles and then reveals that these become “perfect” clouds, ice cream cones, and flat tires. As the panda emerges from a great storm of squiggles, the girl’s imagination comes to life, and readers will cheer her on as she turns “the right way,” “something pretty,” and a “perfect” character or animal on their heads with panache and humor.

The front endpapers depict a series of familiar step-by-step diagrams that show how to draw a perfect circle, panda, princess, pirate, and more. The final diagram includes a fancy frame in which “something perfect” should be drawn. In the endpapers, these same diagrams appear covered in crayon scribblings, and the final frame holds a drawing of the girl herself.

Encouraging, freeing, and a delightful celebration of the ingenuity of children, When I Draw a Panda is a book kids will ask for again and again. This one’s a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1481451482

Discover more about Amy June Bates, her books, and her art on her website.

National Panda Day Activity

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Pick a Panda! Puzzle

 

Can you match the six twin pandas in this printable puzzle?

Pick a Panda! Puzzle

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You can find When I Draw a Panda at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 16 – Innovation Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate all those people who look at a problem and design a solution, or who just ask, “What if…?” and search for answers. The holiday was established by the Science History Institute in conjunction with the Society of Chemical Industry to help bring attention to those people who were not only producing technology, but were also pushing the envelope on what was possible. Each year, these two organizations coordinate to host Innovation Day. This year, restrictions and life-changing alterations needed to combat COVID-19, have sparked innovations both large and small at home, for business, at schools, and for medical researchers. Creative individuals have kept us entertained, given us hope, and kept things going even in the most difficult of times. To celebrate today, put on your thinking cap, look around you, and do something new, novel, and completely unexpected. Who knows…you may be the next great inventor!

Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever!

Written by Ruth Spiro | Illustrated by Holly Hatam

 

Maxine and her goldfish, Milton, were best friends, and Maxine loved thinking up creative scientific or technical ways to keep him fed, safe, and happy. “Maxine liked making things, and she especially liked making things for Milton. ‘If I can dream it, I can build it!’ she said.” Maxine’s other friend Leo also liked making things, but his creations were more arty.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

One day when Leo was visiting Maxine, they found packets of seeds and decided to build “‘The Greatest Garden Ever!’” Milton hoped the garden would have a pond just for him. Leo and Maxine drew up their plans. “Leo’s was pretty. Maxine’s was practical.” When they planted the seeds, Leo planted them far apart in large beds of soil. Maxine’s seeds were packed close together in pots made from old tires, barrels, toys, and even a chandelier. They both looked askance at the other’s seeds. They did, however, agree on Milton’s pond.

Every day they watered, weeded, and waited. At last, they truly did have “The Greatest Garden Ever!” There were vegetables and flowers, birdfeeders and a gazebo. The wild animals thought the garden was great too. One day, Maxine and Leo came to the garden to find nibbled carrots, radishes, and eggplants; pots were knocked over and little footprints were everywhere. Maxine wanted to make something to keep the animals away. “‘Something that looks nice?’ asked Leo. ‘Something that works.,’” said Maxine.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

They decided to make a scarecrow. While Leo stuffed overalls and made a shirt, Maxine built a mechanical body for the big teddy bear that would wear them. But the animals didn’t think the scarecrow was very scary. While Leo thought the bear had done nothing, Maxine said that it had helped them know what didn’t work. They gathered new supplies and “then while Leo sewed, Maxine wrote some code.” This time the bear had laser eyes, moving parts, loud sounds, a shiny helmet, and a scary black dress. That night, though, the scarecrow was so scary that it made babies cry, dogs howl, and kept neighbors awake.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Leo blamed Maxine, and Maxine blamed Leo. At home, Maxine and Leo thought about the garden and what they’d said. Maxine wanted “to make things better, and she wanted to start with Leo. Because it takes a long time to grow a garden… but even longer to grow a friend.” When they met the next day, they both apologized. As they cleaned up the garden and shared the last of the lettuce, Maxine had an idea. She and Leo repaired, repainted, and replanted, and when they were finished, they invited their new animals friends to enjoy the garden with them.

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Image copyright Holly Hatam, 2021, text copyright Ruth Spiro, 2021. Courtesy of Dial Books.

Ruth Spiro’s celebration of creativity, gardening, and friendship will enchant kids and show them that sometimes projects lead to try and try again cooperation before the original vision or a new idea is perfected. Through Maxine’s talent for engineering, coding, and inventing and Leo’s artistic abilities, Spiro shows readers that whatever their skills are, they can contribute to the success of any endeavor. When Maxine and Leo’s frustrations over the garden spill out into their relationship and an argument ensues, Spiro reminds kids that people and enduring friendships are more important than plans, projects, or events and that apologies and understanding keep relationships strong. Her charming narration, realistic dialogue, and periodic rhymes create a story that’s a joy to read aloud.

Holly Hatam’s vivid illustrations will keep kids lingering over the pages to catch all of her puns, Maxine’s inventions, and Leo’s crafts—many of which enterprising kids may want to try to replicate. Cheery Maxine with her red-and-blue streaked hair, bright eyes, and quick imagination is enthusiastic and confident, and Leo, wearing a dragon shirt any kid would love, is equally as confident and passionate about his talents. The garden is a visual treat, from its first planting to its early stages to its full-grown glory. Hatam’s vision for both of Maxine and Leo’s scarecrows is original and gleefully kid-centric. The final image of the shared garden at night is a spectacular celebration for all.

Both fans of Maxine and Milton’s first adventure in Made by Maxine and new readers of this little series will ask to hear Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! again and again. A rousing friendship story to engage kids in STEAM-related activities or to jumpstart ideas for those times when they’re are looking for something to do at home, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! Is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0399186301

Discover more about Ruth Spiro and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Hatam, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Innovation Day Activity

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Spoon Flowers Craft

 

It may not be time for gardening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “grow” some flowers. With a little innovation, you can give anyone a bouquet with this easy craft!

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)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-maxine-and-the-greatest-garden-ever-cover

You can find Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review