July 12 – National Simplicity Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who was born on this date in 1817 and who, along with his many other talents and interests, advocated for a simplified life. As summer heats up with a full calendar of activities, vacations, work, day trips, and more, take today “off” and just enjoy the simple pleasures around you. This is great advice throughout the year, too. Dedicating some time to fully appreciate the small things can be rejuvenating! 

More than Sunny

By Shelley Johannes

 

A girl knocks on her brother’s door and, before he’s even fully awake, she bursts in and announces with exuberance that this spring day is “sunny.” Yawning and rubbing his eyes, her brother adds “and early.” But his big sis pulls him outside to show him all the birds at the feeder and birdhouse. It’s not only sunny, she tells him “it’s sunny and birdy!” They head down to the pond, where the siblings have different ideas of what the day’s like. Little brother finds the day “sunny…and mucky!” But his sister, with feathers in her “wings,” states, “I say it’s sunny and ducky!”

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

On another day, these two compatible siblings head outside to discover what summer brings besides heat. The sunny day takes them to a field, a tree, and a dock, where they explore, relax, and use their imaginations. But not all summer days are sunny, and that’s okay because being inside when it’s “stormy” these kids make it cozy. And when the storm tapers off a bit, they grab their raincoats and big umbrella and go outdoors, where the girl exclaims, “it’s rainy and wormy!” and her brother inspects the mud and greets a small worm, “Hello squirmy.” The rainy day brings lots of fun with Mom and their dog too.

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

But summer days turn into autumn days with wind and squirrels and piles of leaves to jump in. The kids read and make paper snowflakes, waiting for winter to come. And, finally, the flakes fall. They taste so good. “Can we? Can we?” the siblings ask, eager to be out in the snow. “But I’m warm and socksy,” says Mom. But her kids, tiptoeing and playing, lure her out with “Let’s be snowy and foxy!”

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

They take a walk in the woods and, while sledding, see Daddy coming home. “Are you ready and sleddy?!” they ask, but there’s shoveling to be done. That’s all right; there are other ways to have fun in the snow. Tired out and chilly, the family goes inside for bedtime. Now there’s a knock at the sister’s door. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she goes to see who it is. It’s her brother, and he has something magical to show her.

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Copyright by Shelley Johannes, 2021, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Shelley Johannes’s exuberant call to play and explore is a perfect jumping off place for kids to look at and interact with their surroundings with new eyes, imagination, and creativity. Hopping from season to season, Johannes touches on moments of freedom and wonder and those happy discoveries so formative in childhood. Her playful rhymes and bouncy rhythm echo kids’ delighted banter, and her sprightly adjectives invite readers to come up with their own descriptions of their day.

Johannes’s bright, energetic, and cheery illustrations dazzle with lively depictions of the siblings playing outside in all weather. Her smile-inducing portrayals of the siblings mirror real kids and each page is loaded with details readers will love lingering over. Mom and Dad make warm cameos to create a book the whole family will enjoy.

More than Sunny is a generously sized picture book that kids and adults will find themselves joyfully sharing throughout the year. For teachers and homeschoolers, Johannes’s storytelling provides a spark for writing prompts, grammar lessons, and observational skills. Sure to become a quick favorite, More than Sunny is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Harry N. Abrams, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419741814

Discover more about Shelley Johannes and her books on her website.

Take a look at the More than Sunny book trailer!

National Simplicity Day Activity

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Fluffy Clouds Craft

 

One of the best simple pleasures is looking up at the clouds and imagining what shapes you see. Bring those fluffy, white clouds into your room with this craft!

Supplies

  • White girls’ dress bobby socks in various sizes
  • Fiber fill, 20-ounce bag
  • Fishing line, different lengths
  • Needle
  • Clear adhesive mountable hooks or clips

Directions

  1. Stuff the socks with fiber fill, pushing it far into the sock and adding more here and there to make various lumps and give it a rounded, cloud-like shape
  2. When the sock is full, tuck the end of the sock in to close it
  3. Cut lengths of fishing line. The lengths will depend on how and where you will hang the clouds
  4. With the needle or by hand, feed one end of the fishing line into the top of the sock and out to attach the line for hanging.
  5. Knot the fishing line
  6. Attach the mountable hooks or clips to the ceiling
  7. Hang your clouds!

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You can find More Than Sunny at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 23 – It’s National Homeownership Month

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About the Holiday

Owning a home is a major goal for many people, and while home ownership provides security for individuals and families, it’s also good for cities and towns, offering stability, economic benefits, and community cohesion. To that end, today’s holiday was established as a week-long observance in 1995 by then-President Bill Clinton as a way to increase homeownership by helping people negotiate the sometimes confusing elements of finding and purchasing a home. In 2002, President George Bush extended the holiday to a full month. A home is so much more than just a building, and each person has their own idea about what makes a home—or a neighborhood—perfect. Sometimes you can’t really put your finger on it—it’s just a feeling. Today’s sweet book shows how one community welcomed its newest member.

Thanks to Tundra Books for sending me a copy of Mr. Mole Moves In for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Mr. Mole Moves In

By Lesley-Anne Green

 

Mr. Mole was new to Juniper Hollow and couldn’t wait to meet his neighbors. “Now, Juniper Hollow doesn’t get too many new residents, so when they do, boy oh boy, do these critters get excited!” In fact, Raccoon had been playing close to Mr. Mole’s house, just waiting for him to come outside. When he did, Raccoon ran over, introduced himself, and stuck out his paw. Mr. Mole was happy to meet Raccoon, but instead of shaking Raccoon’s hand, he grabbed a branch from the bush next to him and gave “it a good shake.” Although a bit confused, Raccoon took it in stride and figured that’s just how things were done in Mole Town.

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Copyright Lesley-Anne Green, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

While Raccoon was relating this story to the Rabbit family, Mr. Mole ran into a fence post and apologized to it. Rabbit was impressed with Mr. Mole’s manners and hurried after him to introduce herself and her bunnies. They caught up with him at the general store, where he was talking to Giraffe. “‘What a beautiful baby!’ Mr. Mole said, looking sweetly at the watermelon Giraffe was holding.” When Mr. Mole went inside the store, Giraffe and Rabbit discussed what had happened. They decided that watermelons must be very prized in Mole Town. Inside the store, Cat and Chicken were talking about Mr. Mole too.

Mr. Mole stocked up on cans of worms and approached the counter, where Rabbit introduced herself and her bunnies. He was so thrilled to meet them that he immediately reached for a jar on the counter. “‘Bear, I will also take three of these candies for the little ones,’” Mr. Mole said as he handed them around. The bunnies looked at the erasers in their paws and decided to keep them for later.

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Copyright Lesley-Anne Green, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Watching all of this, Cat and Chicken decided that they would plan some kind of special event to welcome their wonderful new neighbor to Juniper Hollow. Everyone wanted to help. The next day they all went to visit Mr. Mole, and called out that they wanted to welcome him to town. A little nervously, Mr. Mole went out onto his front porch. All the critters had made him a welcome basket of all his favorite things.

Then “the littlest bunny hopped over to Mr. Mole and handed him her extra pair of glasses.” Mr. Mole was surprised and thanked her profusely. He had lost his glassed while moving, he told them, and couldn’t “‘see a THING without them.’” After the get-together, Mr. Mole took his basket inside and found—along with a handknit sweater and a pie—branches, erasers, and watermelon. Hmmm… he thought. “‘I guess that’s just how they do things in Juniper Hollow.’”

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Copyright Lesley-Anne Green, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Lesley-Anne Green’s story of friendship and acceptance charms with humor, clever misunderstandings, neighborliness, and one particularly sweet and empathetic bunny. Green’s enchanting storytelling immerses readers in the world of Juniper Hollow, a gentle, easy-going community that welcomes readers with the same warmth it extends to Mr. Mole. Kids will be especially pleased to see that the littlest bunny understands Mr. Mole’s plight and knows just how to help. Green’s adorable needle-felted critters, decked out in dapper outfits, shine with personality, conveying the critters’ confusion as well as their enthusiasm to embrace their newest resident and desire to make him feel at home. Her handmade backgrounds will also captivate readers with their rustic appeal, and readers will want to spend some time in the General Store exploring its well-stocked shelves.

The second book in Lesley-Anne Green’s Juniper Hollow series, Mr. Mole Moves In is a story with depth and charm and inspiring illustrations that will be asked for again and again. The book is a top choice for home, school, and public library bookshelves. You’ll also want to check out Fox and Raccoon, the first Juniper Hollow book.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra, 2021 | ISBN 978-1101918029

You can connect with Lesley-Anne Green on Instagram.

You can watch Lesley-Anne Green talk about her work and create an adorable critter on Tundra Illustrator Studio.

National Homeownership Month Activity

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Pop Up Houses Play Set

 

You can own your own home with this printable Pop Up Play Set thanks to Education.com. It has a house for you and one for a friend! Give your houses some color, plant the trees and move in! Print on heavy paper to make the figures sturdier.

Pop Up Houses Play Set

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You can find Mr. Mole Moves In 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

May 21 – World Meditation Day

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About the Holiday

While we may not know exactly when World Meditation Day was established, their is evidence that the practice of meditation has been observed since 5000 BCE and talked and written about since 1500 BCE. In today’s hustle-bustle world (and has life ever really been leisurely?) taking some time each day to center yourself and get in touch with your feelings – and even yourself – can make for a more peaceful, less stressful, and more positively productive day. Meditation can also lead to more creativity, better health, and more happiness. There are many ways to learn how to meditate, from classes to YouTube videos to books. To celebrate today, take a few minutes to learn more about how mindfulness and meditation can help you and your child or children. 

Thank you to Henry Holt and Company and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story

Written by Julia Alvarez | Illustrated by Raúl Colón

 

Mari, a butterfly, lived in a field of wildflowers, spending “her days flitting from flower to flower to flower, touching down only for seconds before she was off again. She went so quickly that she took no notice of which flowers she visited. For Mari “everything was a blur in her hurry to gulp down nectar and pollinate the whole field.” If she did stop for a moment, it was only to do her wing exercises or think about what came next.

At night she was proud of everything she had accomplished that day, but she could never fall asleep as all the things she had to do tomorrow crowded in on her. Mari felt that there was “no time to enjoy just being a butterfly.” When Mari asked her parents, the Posas, how to be a happy butterfly, they had not had the time to teach their children, either. Instead, Papa Posa told her that her “instincts will guide you.”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, 2020, text copyright Julia Alvarez, 2020. Courtesy of Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan Publishing.

One day, as her feet sank into a flower’s pollen, the heady fragrance brought back memories of when she was still wrapped in her cozy chrysalis. She wished she could find that peaceful feeling again. Then she heard a voice that “sounded as if it were coming from deep inside her” and saw a bud just beginning to open. To Mari’s questions, the bud just hummed “‘Ommmmm.’” But Mari didn’t have time to figure out what the bud was trying to say.

She apologized and rattled off her long to-do list. Then she realized she might sound rude, so she asked the bud what its name was. It told her that for now she could call him Bud, “But that will soon change. What’s important is feeling happy just being who I am,” Bud explained. Again, Mari remembered the time in her chrysalis and wondered if that was the feeling of being herself.”

Bud seemed to read her thoughts and said, “‘of course, back then… you were just following your instincts.’” And “‘those instincts led you to become a beautiful winged creature who doesn’t yet feel like a butterfly.’” Mari knew Bud was right. She was always so busy that she didn’t feel like anything at all. But, Bud told her, “‘you already are a butterfly.’” Then he told her that she could capture that feeling of happiness and sense of self anytime she wanted. Mari didn’t believe it.

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, 2020, text copyright Julia Alvarez, 2020. Courtesy of Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan Publishing.

Bud taught her how to breathe in and out while she imagined her happy time in her chrysalis. He showed her how to put aside all of the busy-ness of her life and just enjoy that moment. Mari tried it. She felt peaceful and calm, and something else. Suddenly, she was aware of all the different flowers, scents, and sounds there were. Bud gave her a chant to say while she breathed in and out.

Mari joined in, “and for the first time ever, from the tip of her tiny feet to the tippy top of her curly antennae, Mari felt like a butterfly.” Mari slowly fanned her wings and rose into the air. When she looked down to thank Bud, she didn’t see him. Instead, “a beautiful flower was blooming.” Mari dipped her toe into the flower’s “pollen to carry with her everywhere.”

Following the story, Julia Alvarez has included an Author’s Note with photographs—Growing Your Own Wings—about her volunteer work with the Mariposa DR Foundation in the Dominican Republic and how it, as well as the experiences of her own granddaughters, inspired Already a Butterfly. She then talks directly to the reader, revealing how to sit for meditation, how to breathe, and then how, with self-care and kindness, to clear your mind to find peace and contentment.

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, 2020, text copyright Julia Alvarez, 2020. Courtesy of Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan Publishing.

Julia Alvarez gifts children and adults with an uplifting story that will inspire them to find their true selves amid all the outer and inner noise of nonstop activities, chores, assignments, work, expectations, and all the other obstacles to peaceful, contemplative thought. The gentle mindfulness and meditative exercises that Bud teaches Mari are easy for children to remember and help them discover and stay focused on who they really are as well as who and what they want to become. At various times, Alvarez’s graceful taps along at the pace of Mari’s (and readers’) busy, busy lifestyle then slows to mirror the languid restfulness we all crave. In certain sentences, readers (especially adults) will recognize a gentle ribbing about our penchant for multi-tasking, as when Mari, seemingly taking a break, is actually doing wing exercises or mentally reviewing her schedule (or probably both). The overarching message to listen to your instincts is sage advice for finding happiness in all stages of life and is echoed in Alvarez’s final, poignant sentence.

Raúl Colón’s softly textured mixed media illustrations burst with the beauty of nature in vibrant, glowing colors that remind readers that we are all part of one Earth and should take the time to appreciate our place in it. His seamless melding of human and butterfly creates a stirring image for children to carry with them as they begin to fly free. As Bud talks with Mari and teaches her the art of meditation, Colón’s images help children to stop along the way to appreciate all they have already accomplished as well as the surroundings that nurture them. Bud’s transformation into a beautiful flower shows readers of all ages that we are all on a journey to becoming who we who are truly meant to be.

A stunning, inspirational, and concretely helpful story about believing in yourself, mindfulness, and finding contentment, Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story is a must for children of all ages and will become a go-to book on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves to sustain tranquil thought and self-affirming growth.

Ages 5 – 9 and up

Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-1627799324

Discover more about Julia Alvarez and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Raúl Colón, his books, and his art on his professional website.

Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Macmillan Publishing and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story written by Julia Alvarez | illustrated by Raúl Colón

To enter:

This giveaway is open from May 21 to May 27 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 28. 

Prizing provided by Macmillan Publishing and Blue Slip Media.

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

World Meditation Day Activity

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Mindfulness Jar

 

You can capture the beauty of a glittering snowfall in this easy craft—that also makes a special gift for a friend!

Supplies

  • Small to medium mason jar or other decorative jar with a tight lid
  • White glitter glue,
  • Light blue glitter glue,
  • Fine white and/or blue glitter
  • Large white and/or blue glitter
  • Warm water

Directions

1.For every 1/2 cup of warm water add:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white glitter glue
  • 1/2 teaspoon blue glitter glue
  • 2 teaspoons fine glitter glue
  • 1/2 teaspoon large glitter

2. Close lid tight

3. Shake

4. As glue dissolves, the liquid will become clearer and the glitter will remain suspended in it

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-already-a-butterfly-cover

You can find Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 4 – National Teacher Day

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About the Holiday

This school year has been like no other – for students and teachers. Switching from in-person, in-the-classroom learning to virtual learning and zoom classes to hybrid models has been a head-spinning experience for all. Yet our teachers have adapted, designing new lesson plans and devising creative ways to engage their students online. This week (National Teacher Appreciation Week) and today in particular, we honor and thank the teachers that make a difference in our and our children’s lives. Teachers open the world to their students by instilling a love of learning through their enthusiasm, caring, and creativity. Before you move on to a new class next year, don’t forget to tell your teacher or teachers how much they’ve meant to you. You can find 51 ways to thank your teacher on Waterford.org and a Teacher Appreciation Week toolkit, complete with virtual and printable thank-you cards and certificates and other ideas to download on the National PTA website.

I Wish You Knew/Ojalá Supieras

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Magdalena Mora

 

As a little girl approaches her school building, she tells the reader, “Our school wraps around a hundred-year-old oak tree.” The students mark the passage of time by the changes in the leaves. The school has a garden with cabbages, tomatoes, and sunflowers that the girl’s father helped her class plant. “One day,” the girl says, her father told her “that because he wasn’t born here like me, he must return to his native country.”

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Image copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Before he left he hugged her and said, “Te quiero mucho, Estrella…my little star.” He promises to come back one day “to see the sunflowers bloom. Until then, Estrella skips between the tall flowers and “think[s] of his smile.” In her thoughts she addresses her teacher: “I wish you knew that when I forget my homework or sit alone at lunch or cry over little things, it’s because I miss him.” And it is not only these things that have changed. Everything at home, for her mother and her brother, too, is different.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-garden

Image copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As Estrella’s teacher enters the classroom one day, she says she is also proud that her school surrounds the old oak tree. Her favorite place is in her classroom, where her students are busy and curious. She also loves to watch them play on the playground. The students may not realize it, but the teacher sees when they are sad and understands when they are without their homework. She wishes they knew that “they are not alone.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-home

Image from Ojalá Supieras, copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

The teacher starts a new tradition, a “sharing circle called I Wish You Knew.” There the kids can tell their classmates how they are feeling, what they’re thinking about, and other “secrets” they are ready to share. Estrella’s teacher lets her students know she’s there if they need help. One student reveals that they are “hungry a lot.” Another student’s mom is in the military and another explains that he lives in a shelter.

But not all of the children’s sharing is sad. Estrella likes to talk about all the things her dad taught her and what they did together. And while she waits to be together with her father again, she and her friends plant more sunflower seeds and “wait for them to bloom.”

I Wish You Knew is also available in a Spanish Version with the title Ojalá Supieras.

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Image copyright Ojalá Supieras, Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

In her moving story Jackie Azúa Kramer embraces the many children affected by hardships, whose parents are absent for a variety of reasons, or who live with difficult family situations. Through Estrella, whose father has been deported, Kramer dives deep into the hearts of children grappling with strong feelings, hunger, homelessness, and otherwise disrupted home lives while still trying to succeed in school. Using “I wish you knew” from a variety of points of view, Kramer first draws children into Estrella’s confession as she directly addresses the reader. With the tenor of a confidant, Estella gives readers a tour of the favorite parts of her school. It is here, among the sunflowers that she feels comfortable talking about her father. During lunch, Estrella wishes her teacher knew what had happened at home.

The perspective then shifts to the teacher who shows her favorite parts of the school while revealing that, while she may not know the exact situation, she does recognize when something is wrong and hopes her students understand she is there to empathize and help. These two storylines merge when the teacher establishes the sharing circle and three students share their wishes straightforwardly, addressing the reader as much as their teacher and creating a poignant reading experience for all. Echoing the resilience of children, Kramer ends her story with a message of hope.

Magdalena Mora uses warm earth tones in her evocative mixed-media illustrations, mirroring the ideas of growth and renewal found in Kramer’s story. Estrella’s school building is a green-and-glass structure that looks out on the old oak tree, a symbol of steadfastness and strength for the students and teachers alike. The events and situations the children share are rendered in gray, giving them a feeling of distance from the children’s school day. Mora’s stylized sunflowers grow in profusion, framing the students and teacher on various pages and appearing in the background on others, an ever-present reminder that friendship and understanding are nearby and that better days lie ahead.

A moving story of empathy, sharing, and kindness, I Wish You Knew is a must for classrooms and is highly recommended for home and public library collections to help children and adults initiate difficult discussions about emotions and events or experiences affecting their lives.

Ages 4 – 7 

Roaring Brook Press | ISBN 978-1250226303 (I Wish You Knew) | ISBN 978-1250814784 (Ojalá Supieras)

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Magdalena Mora, her books, and her art on her website.

I Wish You Knew Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Jackie Azúa Kramer in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of I Wish You Knew written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | illustrated by Magdalena Mora

To enter:

This giveaway is open from May 4 to May 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 11. 

Prizing provided by Jackie Azúa Kramer.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-cover      celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ojalá-supieras-cover

You can find I Wish You Knew at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

You can find Ojalá Supieras here

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order I Wish You Knew from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Order Ojalá Supieras here

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 17 – It’s National Introverts Week

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About the Holiday

Introverts, this is your week to shy-ne. National Introvert’s Week was founded by author Matthew Pollard to celebrate the achievements of introverts and combat the stigma and stereotypes associated with being on the shy side. Oftentimes extroverted people are considered more powerful, popular, and successful in society. Introvert’s Week is meant to offer a counternarrative to this belief. In actuality, introverts and extroverts alike can be perfect friends, role models and achievers. Celebrate National Introvert Week by recognizing the introverts in your life, learning about role models who identify as introverted, and reading lots of books. Meesha Makes Friends provides a sweet story of how an introvert makes friends in her own, unique style.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Meesha Makes Friends with us for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Meesha Makes Friends

By Tom Percival

 

Meesha loves to make her own pictures, music and imaginary creatures. There is just one thing that she can’t figure out how to make—friends! She is a shy kid, and often has trouble connecting with other kids her age. “For Meesha, making friends was so difficult that she wondered if she would ever be able to do it.”

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Copyright Tom Percival, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Luckily, Meesha has a solution. She gets out her creating materials and makes a whole crew of friends. Meesha happily totes her new pals around with her. She is pleased to find that they are easy to talk to and transport. However, her creations are not exactly perfect: “Admittedly, Meesha’s new friends weren’t very good at tennis…or soccer…or catch. / But Meesha felt comfortable with them, and that was what mattered.”

When Meesha attends a birthday party, she is nervous to join in with the other children. Overwhelmed, she finds a quiet spot to do what she likes best—creating creatures, her ownfriends. A boy named Josh comes to watch and asks if Meesha will teach him how to make them. At first this makes Meesha a little worried. She wonders if Josh will not be gentle enough with her friends. But she takes a deep breath and decides to give it a try.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-meesha-makes-friends-Josh

Copyright Tom Percival, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

And, as a matter of fact, “Josh didn’t get it all wrong, and he didn’t ruin anything either.” Josh and Meesha soon build a whole town for all of their creatures to live in together. When Josh suggests that they show their new creations to the rest of the kids at the party, Meesha is once again hesitant. But, with some bravery and encouragement, Meesha and Josh share their creations with the rest of the group. And, to Meesha’s excitement, everyone loves them! “For the first time ever Meesha knew exactly what to say and what to do.” And with that, Meesha makes new friends.

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Copyright Tom Percival, 2021, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

“Making friends is one of those things that looks really easy but can sometimes feel like the hardest thing in the world!” Tom Percival says it best in his kind note to readers at the end Meesha Makes Friends. Author and illustrator of the Big Bright Feelings picture book series, Percival produces yet another beautiful read for children to explore and engage in conversations about feelings. Meesha Makes Friends teaches young readers how to communicate, make friends and interact in their own unique ways. At the end of the story, Percival provides helpful tips on how to make friends for readers who may identify with Meesha’s struggles.

Tom Percival described himself in an interview as a quiet, creative and thoughtful child. Through his Big Bright Feelings series, he hopes to help kids explore different emotions and why we feel the way we do. Intricately drawn details and expressions allow readers to easily understand and empathize with the emotional states of the characters. Percival thoughtfully plays with the color pallet of his illustrations to perhaps allude to sensory sensitivities and provide a vibrant view of Meesha’s perception of the world. A diverse cast of characters of different races and abilities makes this book an accessible read for all. Truly a book driven by thoughtfulness, kindness, creativity, and compassion.  

For parents, teachers, and other caregivers who are looking for a sensitive, relatable, and truly helpful way to talk to kids about shyness, making friends, and socializing, Meesha Makes Friends is a must addition to home, school, and public library collections. Be sure to look for the other books in the Big Bright Feelings series: Perfectly Norman, Ruby Finds a Worry, and Ravi’s Roar.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547605194

To learn more about Tom Percival, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Introverts Week Activity

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Image courtesy of Free Kids Crafts

Mixed-up Creatures

 

You can make creations like Meesha’s with this Flower/Animal Mix-Up Activity! 

Materials

Instructions

Print these pages, cut up the parts, and glue or tape together pieces on a blank piece of paper to make the quirkiest creatures you can!
 
You’ll find many more craft and activity ideas at Free Kids Crafts and Making Friends!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-meesha-makes-friends-cover

You can find Meesha Makes Friends at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 19 – It’s Nest Box Week

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About the Holiday

Nestle in for Nest Box Week! Nest Box Week was founded in 1997 by the British Trust for Ornithology to raise awareness about the widespread loss of habitats for birds. During the week people are encouraged to put up nest box homes to support bird conservation and breeding. The holiday begins on Valentine’s Day, marking the beginning of bird breeding season. To celebrate Nest Box Week, listen closely for backyard birdcalls, look out for local neighborhood birds, read books about birds, or even install your own nest box at home!

Thank you to Carolrhoda Books for sharing a copy of Rissy No Kissies for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Rissy No Kissies   

Written by Katey Howes | Illustrated by Jess Engle

 

Everybody loves a kiss goodnight, right? Well no, not quite! Rissy the lovebird does not love kisses, even though lovebirds are known for loving to kiss each other. The book begins when Miss Bluebird came over for a visit and tea; she leaned in to give Rissy a smooch on the cheek and, “‘NO KISSIES!’ Rissy chirruped with a most emphatic squeak.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rissy-no-kissies-bluebird

Image copyright Jess Engle, 2021, text copyright Katey Howes, 2021. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

At first everyone laughed, but later as Rissy continues refusing “kissies,” family members are perplexed. They worry Rissy might be confused or coming down with a bug. Grandma Lovebird says, “We know lovebirds all love kisses. I think Rissy’s being rude.” Meanwhile at school, Rissy meets some friendly chick friends, and the three sit and smile and sing together. When Rissy’s friends cuddle in and try to show their love with a kiss, Rissy erupts “NO KISSIES!” once again. Rissy’s friends feel hurt and dejected.

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Image copyright Jess Engle, 2021, text copyright Katey Howes, 2021. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

Rissy is worried too. She wonders if she’s being mean by refusing kisses. Perhaps if she doesn’t like kisses, she isn’t even a lovebird after all. Rissy tells her mother, “Kissies make my tummy icky. I feel worried, weird, and wrong. If I can’t show love with kissies, then I’ll never quite belong.” But, does Rissy’s not liking kisses really mean she can’t ever show her affection for others? Why of course not! That would be silly. Rissy’s mother comforts her, tells Rissy she’s a lovebird “through and through.” She explains, “Your body and your heart are yours, and you choose how to share. You get to pick the ways you want to show us that you care.”

With this reassurance, Rissy is able to speak up for herself and show others the way she feels comfortable sharing her love. She braces her wings in a heart shape and pulls out a homemade card. While she isn’t one for kisses, she loves to make cookies, sing with friends, give feather fives, and hold wings. She realizes it’s okay – we all like different things!

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Image copyright Jess Engle, 2021, text copyright Katey Howes, 2021. Courtesy of Carolrhoda Books.

Author Katey Howes draws on her experience with neuro-diverse children and adults to provide a story that normalizes issues of sensory processing, bodily autonomy, and consent. Rissy is a loveable narrator who will make readers and caregivers alike giggle and smile as the story provides a gentle way to jumpstart conversations about limits and differences.

Jess Engle’s beautiful water-colored lovebirds show clear emotional responses, allowing for kids to easily connect to the feelings in the story beyond just the words. Through subtleties in the pictures, she captures Rissy’s confusion surrounding forms of affection and how lovebirds can show their love. Additionally, the illustrations add depth to the storyline. For example, on the first page Rissy is shown coloring a card with the image of a lovebird and a heart while Miss Bluebird visits with her mother. When Miss Bluebird later admonishes Rissy for refusing a kiss, Rissy’s card appears crumpled and hidden behind her back. The card motif returns at the end, when Rissy declares that making cards is one of the ways she enjoys sharing her love. Together, Howes and Engle have created an accessible story that can help everyone feel loved in a better and comfier way—what could possibly be sweeter?!

Rissy No Kissies provides a platform to empower children to discuss what makes them feel good and how they like to show their love best. With Jess Engle’s gorgeous painted pages and Katey Howes’ singing AB rhyme scheme, Rissy’s story is a joy for all. The book is filled with love, wisdom, kind dialogue, and little hearts brimming from the pages. Following the story there is one note for kids, and another for caregivers; both offer guidance on how to respect one’s personal boundaries and others. Rissy No Kissies teaches that it’s never too early to teach listening and caring practices and the power of consent.

Rissy No Kissies is highly recommended for home libraries and a must for school and public library picture book or family issues collections.

Ages 4 – 9

Carolrhoda Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541597983

Discover more about Katey Howes and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jess Engle, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Nest Box Week Activitiescelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-consent-heart-coloring-page

Consent Heart Coloring Page & Activities

 

Love can be shown in so many ways! Share what’s in your heart with this printable coloring page! Parents, teachers, and other caregivers can engage with their kids on the issue of consent with more activities and coloring pages found at SafeSecureKids.org.

Consent Heart Coloring Page

Baby Love Birds

You’ll fall in love with the baby love birds in this video!

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You can find Rissy No Kissies at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review