January 21 – National Hugging Day and Interview with Vikki VanSickle

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About the Holiday

Hugs are good medicine! Giving and receiving hugs releases oxytocin, a hormone that provides a wide-range of health benefits. Getting a hug can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower one’s risk of heart disease. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public, National Hugging Day gives people the opportunity to give—or ask for—a nice, big hug!

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m delighted to be partnering with Tundra Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know if you have any events coming up and what’s up next for you.

I am hosting a whole bunch of Teddy Bear’s Picnics, which you can see posted below. Attendees are invited to bring their own teddy and together we will read the story, have some snacks, and hold our own Teddy Bear Service Awards complete with diplomas for the teddies and stickers and colouring sheets for the kids. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone’s beloved toys! Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit on the Tundra website.

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Teddy Bear of the Year Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Tundra Books in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Teddy Bear of the Year, written by Vikki VanSickle| illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your or your child’s favorite teddy bear or toy for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

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

A winner will be chosen on January 28. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Tundra Books.

National Hugging Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

January 7 – Old Rock Day

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About the Holiday

Do you love rocks—the history they tell, their versatility, their intricate patterns? Today’s holiday celebrates these wonders of nature and encourages geologists—both professionals and amateurs—to indulge their passion. To celebrate today, take a walk in your area or even in your own backyard, pick up a few rocks, and research a little more about them. Then build a rock cairn or have fun with today’s craft.

Lubna and Pebble

Written by Wendy Meddour | Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

 

As Lubna and her father disembarked from the boat onto a new shore, Lubna bent down and picked up a pebble. “It was shiny and smooth and gray” and it became her best friend. She fell asleep in her father’s arms and when she woke up in the morning, she was in “a World of Tents.” With one hand, she held onto Daddy’s fingers and with the other she “gripped her pebble. Somehow, she knew they’d keep her safe.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

With a marker that she found in one of the tents, Lubna drew a smiley face on her pebble. Lubna told Pebble all of her stories about home, about her brothers, and about the war. Pebble was a good listener and made her feel better when she was frightened. “‘I love you, Pebble,’ Lubna said with a sigh.” Winter came with snow and bitter winds, but Daddy kept Lubna warm. Lubna worried about Pebble: how would it stay warm? What if it caught a cold? Daddy gave her a shoebox and a tea towel, and Lubna settled Pebble in and gave it a kiss before going to sleep.

Not long after, a little boy named Amir arrived. He and Lubna played together, but every night Lubna reassured Pebble that it was still her best friend. One day Daddy brought happy news. He had found them a new home; they were leaving the World of Tents. Lubna was happy too. “Then sad. Amir cried.” That night Lubna lay in bed wide awake. “She asked Pebble what to do,” but Pebble remained silent.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

In the morning, though, Lubna had her answer. She found Amir and gave him “the shoe box with Pebble and the pen.” Amir wanted to know what to do if Pebble missed Lubna, and she told him to “‘draw the smile back on.’” And when Amir asked what he should do if he missed Lubna, she told him to talk to Pebble. Amir and Pebble watched as Lubna sailed away on the sea. “‘Good-bye, Pebble, Lubna whispered,’” while Amir greeted his new best friend.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

At once heartrending and uplifting, Wendy Meddour’s story about the resilience of children will resonate not only with children who have experienced major life changes but also with those sensitive to the ups and downs of growing up. Meddour captures the beauty of children’s ability to find strength and comfort in inanimate objects, creating in Pebble a fourth main character that readers will care about. Lubna’s selfless act in giving Pebble to Amir will ring true with young readers, whose hearts are generous and kind. Meddour’s straightforward storytelling is more powerful for its brevity and inclusion of well-chosen details that kids will recognize and empathize with. Lubna’s new home and Amir’s adoption of Pebble end this story on the note of hope and optimism embodied naturally in our children.

In his gorgeous collage-style illustrations, Daniel Egnéus uses the power of shadow and light, of darkness and color to create the real and imaginative worlds that Lubna and Amir traverse. The play with imagery begins on the title page, where the ship carrying Lubna, her father, and other refugees seems to be poised for flight as vibrant flowers are projected on its dark hull. Readers first meet Lubna eye-to-eye in a two-page spread as she gazes upon Pebble, while the next page zooms out to show her crouched on the beach beneath two hulking ships and a golden sliver of moon. The “World of Tents” is represented with laundry lines filled with towels and clothes that present both a barrier and a welcome to Lubna and her daddy. As Lubna tells Pebble about her old life, her memories take her back to a day when her brothers’ kites shared the sky with three fighter jets, the kites’ strings mirrored in the planes’ contrails. Alert readers will notice that Egnéus often depicts Lubna’s daddy with his arms cradling his daughter, creating the same rounded profile of comfort as Pebble. Ingenious touches of floral motifs add to the meaning and impact of this beautiful story.

A stirring story with many applications for discussing kindness, courage, and friendship, Lubna and Pebble is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0525554165

Discover more about Wendy Meddour and her books on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Egnéus, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Old Rock Day Activity

CPB - Nasty Bugs magnet II (2)

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give you a natural canvas for your creativity! With a little bit of paint, pins or magnets, and some imagination, you can make refrigerator magnets, jewelry, paper weights, and more!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

To make magnets

  1. Design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a magnet to the back with strong glue, let dry
  3. Use to hang pictures, notes, or other bits of important stuff on your refrigerator or magnetic board

To make jewelry

  1. Using a smaller, flatter stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a jewelry pin to the back with the strong glue, let dry
  3. Wear your pin proudly

To make a paper weight

  1. Using a large stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Let dry
  3. Display and use on your desk to keep those papers in place

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You can find Lubna and Pebble at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 11 – Get Ready for Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The lighting of the menorah is at the heart of the celebration. On the first night, the first of the eight candles is lit using the shamash, or attendant, candle. Each subsequent night another candle is lit until at the end of the eight days all the candles are lit. The menorah is displayed in the window of homes and synagogues. Special blessings, traditional songs, prayers, oil-based foods, fun games, and gifts are part of this much-anticipated holiday.

Hanukkah Hamster

Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin

 

The city was decorated with twinkling lights for the holidays, and busy shoppers bustled in and out of stores, delivered there by Edgar and his cab. After one shift, Edgar was so tired he took a nap in the back seat. He was awakened when “Ohhhf! Something scrambled onto his chest. Ayyee! Something hairy brushed his face.” Edgar opened one eye to see… a hamster! He picked it up and gazed at its tiny eyes and ears and feet.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Edgar wondered which of his many customers may have lost the little hamster as he called in to the cab company’s lost and found department. Edgar took the little hamster home and shredded some paper to make him a bed. Then he went to his menorah, said the Hanukkah blessing, and lit two candles. All the next day as he drove people in his cab, Edgar wondered if someone had claimed the hamster, but no one did.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That night after lighting three candles, Edgar made a chopped salad dinner for himself and a tiny one for the hamster. As he watched the little animal nibble on a chickpea, Edgar asked, “‘Okay if I call you Chickpea?’” No one had claimed Chickpea the next day either, so Edgar went to the pet store and bought hamster food. At home, he lit four candles and gave Chickpea some food. As Chickpea ate, “Edgar took pictures on his phone and shared them with his family in Israel.”

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, Edgar made Chickpea “a slide out of a cardboard tube. Chickpea whooshed down. Wheeee! His nose twitched.” As the week of Hanukkah went on, Edgar was fearful that someone might call about their missing hamster. He spent the evenings telling Chickpea about Tel Aviv until the little one fell asleep.

The next day, Edgar took a customer to a neighborhood on the edge of town. There he saw a woman who looked familiar. With her was her son. “Edgar felt a punch in his heart.” But he rolled down the window and asked the boy if he’d lost a hamster. The woman answered that she had bought the hamster for her classroom and thought he had escaped at home. “Edgar showed them pictures on his phone” of Chickpea eating salad, sliding through the tube and drifting off to sleep.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the woman saw Edgar’s menorah in one of the pictures, Edgar told them how he and Chickpea were celebrating Hanukkah together since the rest of his family lived in Israel. When Edgar began to tell them that he could return the hamster tomorrow morning, “the boy touched his mother’s arm, and the two of them exchanged glances.” The woman told Edgar that she thought Chickpea belonged with him. Then she wished him a wonderful holiday. That night, “Edgar said the blessing and lit all the candles on the menorah.” Then, while he enjoyed a doughnut, Chickpea ran and ran on his new wheel.

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Image copyright André Ceolin, 2018, text copyright Michelle Markel, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Immersed in the special yearning for family and togetherness the holidays bring, Michelle Markel’s touching story glows with kindness and empathy. The growing friendship between Edgar and Chickpea will tug at readers’ hearts just as it does for Edgar, who so hopes to keep the little hamster but also knows there may be someone in the city missing him. As the days pass, and Edgar, alone for Hanukkah, shares his traditions with the hamster, readers also become participants in the holiday. Children will be riveted to the increasing suspense, and the pitch-perfect solution is joyful and satisfying. Realistic dialogue and honestly portrayed emotions provides depth to this moving story.

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From the tiny white lights lining main street to the first glimpse of the little hamster to Edgar’s cozy apartment with his menorah in the window, André Ceolin’s richly colored illustrations invite readers into Edgar’s life with his new friend, Chickpea. Chickpea is adorable as it nibbles on salad, poses for pictures, and curls up in its shredded paper bed. Images of Edgar lighting the menorah are luminous, and the Edgar and Chickpea’s smiles will spark happiness in readers’ hearts.

The portrayals of friendship, generosity, empathy, and family make Hanukkah Hamster a poignant story for all children to share not only at the holidays but all year around. The book would make a wonderful gift and much loved addition to home and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363995

Discover more about Michelle Markel and her books on her website.

To learn more about André Ceolin, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Ready for Hanukkah Activity

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Festival of Lights Word Search

 

Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Hanukkah Hamster at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

October 8 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

All this month people are reading and celebrating their favorite books—both old and new. It’s also a terrific time to honor independent bookstores that serve their community with carefully chosen titles for all ages of readers. Some indies focus on one genre or age of reader, offering a vast array of familiar and surprising books for customers to explore. Others are known for a particular ambience—mysterious, scholarly, fun! But all give readers a sense of community and a feeling of awe and wonder at all of the stories to discover. This month make a stop into your local bookstore a family event and pick up a new book (or several) for everyone!

King Mouse

Written by Cary Fagan | Illustrated by Dena Seiferling

 

In a wordless spread, a child with a tricycle cart full of various shaped crowns wheels through a field, spilling crowns as she goes. Later, a mouse creeps out of his hole in the ground and looks for something to nibble. He finds no food but does spy a small crown “glittering in the grass.” After inspecting it, he places the crown on his head. “It was a perfect fit.” Just then a bear walks up and asks the mouse if he is a king. The mouse replies that he is. The bear bows and cries, “‘Hail to the king!’”

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Soon a crow lands on a nearby branch. The bear introduces the mouse king. When the crow learns that the mouse is hungry, the crow immediately sets to looking for food to offer him. As the bear and the crow gather food, a tortoise approaches. Thrilled to learn that they “at last” have a king, he joins in. The mouse gobbles up all the seeds the trio brought.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

After he was full, the mouse announces that he is bored. As the three are deciding what to do, a fox appears. She suggests they perform a play. The mouse is delighted with the drama. He applauds. “‘I haven’t been this amused for ages,’ he said. ‘I like being king.’” Meanwhile, a snake slithering through the woods spies another crown. She puts it on her head.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As soon as she does the other animals hail her as their queen. Everyone, that is, except the mouse who isn’t too happy. When the animals bow to the queen, the fox, the tortoise, and the crow each find a crown just their size hiding in the grass and proclaim themselves royalty. The bear searches for a crown for himself but can’t find one. He plods away while the others dance around singing their own praises. The bear finds a tree stump and sits down, dejected about his lack of good luck.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Discovering that the bear is no longer with the group, the mouse goes in search of him. When he finds him, the mouse removes his crown and begins picking dandelions. He creates a wreath and gives it to the bear. The two sit quietly together. When the sun begins to set, the mouse hints that he might have a better vantage point “from up there.” The bear obliges and lifts the mouse to his shoulder. “‘I’m not really a king,” the bear sighs. The mouse agrees and then notes the beautiful sunset. Now it’s the bear’s turn to agree, and “they sat for a long time.” Returning through the field, the child, her tricycle cart now empty, spies a pile of five crowns discarded on an old tree stump.

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Image copyright Dena Seiferling, 2019, text copyright Cary Fagan, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Cary Fagan’s modern fable has much to say and, as the genre often affords, offers much for readers to ponder and talk about. It is a fitting time for this story that, among other themes, questions the nature of leadership. When the mouse finds the first crown, not only does he proclaim himself king but he demands food and entertainment from his sudden subjects, unconcerned with their needs. But, yet, the animals mechanically bow to him and rush to fulfill his whims. When the snake, crow, and tortoise also find crowns, they gleefully decree their own sovereignty, forgetting the bear.

The mouse, however, seems to have learned a lesson. When he finds the bear, he removes his crown and offers one of his own creation to the bear, making him the only “king” independently chosen. Wiser than the others, the bear understands that he does not rule the others, and the mouse too sees that the equality of friendship and the grandeur of nature that is beholden to no one is more majestic than any crown. The introduction of the child in the wordless spreads give kids and adults the opportunity to discuss the possibility that the main story is one of imaginative play. Fagan’s dialogue-rich storytelling spotlights themes of pride, envy, disappointment, friendship, inclusion, and modesty and makes this a perfect tale for a school class, drama troupe, or other group to act out.

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Dena Seiferling’s soft, sepia-toned illustrations give the story a magical, dream-like quality while also anchoring it in the “real world.” Small snapshots that accompany the text on the left-hand pages introduce each animal as they come on the scene while full-page images clearly show the progression of the story and the changing attitudes of the animals. Early on, the mouse is uncertain, nibbling at the unknown object he finds. But once the crown is settled on his head, it takes only three pages for him to be accepting tributes and one more to find him lounging and demanding.

Children will be enchanted by the dramatic scenes of the play the animals put on for the mouse, and the tall crown the snake wears is a cunning stroke of suspense and one-upmanship. The illustration of the bear leaving the group as the others, oblivious to his feelings, parade around provides an opportunity for adults to talk about empathy and inclusion. As the bear and the mouse watch the setting sun together, readers can imagine that a new and more thoughtful day will dawn tomorrow.

A profound and affecting book, King Mouse is a story that will move and inspire children to think about interacting with others. The book would be have multiple applications for home, classroom, and school libraries and is a must for public libraries.

Ages 3 – 8

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264045

Discover more about Cary Fagan and his books on her website.

To learn more about Dena Seiferling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-book-love-word-search-puzzle

Book Love! Word Search

 

There are all kinds of books for every reader. Find your favorite along with twenty favorite genres in this printable puzzle.

Book Love! Word Search Puzzle | Book Love! Word Search Solution

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You can find King Mouse at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 11 – National Quiet Day

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About the Holiday

We’re surrounded by noise every day. Cars whoosh by on the street, TVs drone on, and voices fill the air in the office and at school. Sometimes it seems as if you don’t hear the constant din, but you do. Quiet Day was established to give people an opportunity to experience the benefits found in silence. Not only did the founders envision a day in which you sought out quiet places, but they suggest that you don’t speak at all for the entire day. Reconnecting with yourself and your thoughts can make you feel more relaxed and give you new perspectives that can stimulate creativity and better communications.

Albert’s Quiet Quest

By Isabelle Arsenault

 

With an “Ugh!” Albert heads out to his backyard to escape all the noise inside. He opens the gate to the alley, and there he sees, tossed away with an old lamp and some other trash, a painting of the setting sun shimmering on a calm ocean. Albert has an idea. He retrieves a chair and sits back, relaxing in front of the painting. In Albert’s imagination the hard, straight back chair becomes a beach lounger and the stony asphalt turns to soft sand.

Soon, two girls enter the alley. They’re repotting a green, leafy plant and ask Albert if he’d like to join them. “No, thanks, I’m reading. I’m fine,” Albert answers. Albert picks up the book on his lap and while he reads, the girl’s flowerpot turns into a beach pail, their coats become summer dresses, and the crown one girls is wearing softens into a wreath of flowers. Instead of potting a flower, they are building a sandcastle.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-albert's-quiet-quest-going-out

Copyright Isabelle Arsenault, 2019, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

In a few more minutes Albert’s brother Tom comes out with badminton racquets clutched in his arms. He’s been looking for Albert to play with, but Albert tells him he’s reading. It doesn’t look like he’s reading to Tom since Albert is just sitting in a chair with a book on his lap, but then one of the girls says she’ll play with Tom. The sandcastle grows as one girl pats sand into turrets and stairs while Tom and the other girl bat around an enormous birdie with oversized racquets.

Suddenly, another girl appears, strolling her doll in a green carriage. She wants Albert to watch her doll while she goes back to get her cat. Albert starts to object, but the girl is already gone. When she returns with her cat, she proclaims Albert “so sweet.” But the beach is now quite crowded and the baby doll is crying and crying. The sandcastle has sprouted taller towers and a grand entrance. Albert tries to shut it all out by putting his nose in his book.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-albert's-quiet-quest-sitting

Copyright Isabelle Arsenault, 2019, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Just then a boy from down the block shows up with his radio. The music blares through the alley, calming the baby, inviting dancing, and attracting another child to join in. Albert sits on his beach chair with his head on his fist scowling at the huge boom box, the caterwauling baby, the dancing kids, and that enormous birdie. And you should see the castle! It’s now big enough to stand on.

Then Jimmy comes rolling in on his skateboard. He scares the cat, tips over the potted plant, causes the birdie to “thunk!” into the painting, and in Albert’s imagination causes everything to go kerflooey. Albert slams his book shut, steps onto his chair, and lets loose about how all he wants to do is read. All the kids in the alley stare sadly at him as they gather up their stuff and head back home. Albert climbs down from his chair and sits, a bit forlornly. Then he hears the “KRRRRRR!” of a scraping chair. Tom is back with his own seat and book. Soon, there’s a “Clomp! Clomp,” a “Tap Tap Tap,” a “Zzoooom,” a “tip tap,” and a “TTRRRRR,” and all of the kids are back with their own books.

Albert looks around at all of his friends sitting nearby quietly reading and smiles. He says, “Hey, guys… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—.” The kids all turn to him and say, “SHHH! SHHH!” Albert gazes at them and they gaze at Albert. Then they all erupt in laughter and enjoy the last moments of the sunset on the beach.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-albert's-quiet-quest-beach

Copyright Isabelle Arsenault, 2019, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Isabelle Arsenault’s clever story nimbly switches back and forth between Albert’s imagined day at the beach and the reality in the alley, which little-by-little overtakes Albert’s quiet interlude. Each child, intent on their own activity, is not aware of or not bothered by the collective noise, but for Albert the din takes him to the breaking point. When Albert loses his cool, these children—first met in Arsenault’s Colette’s Lost Pet—flee, but not away from Albert. They empathize, and soon return with books of their own to fulfill Albert’s quest for quiet and show true friendship.

Arsenault’s buoyant cartoon-inspired line drawings alternate between the gray-scale background of the alley and the beach scenes rendered in tranquil tones of aqua and orange—the same colors that define Albert and his book. Details like the crying “baby” and the growing badminton set and radio as well as Albert’s meltdown provide opportunities for kids and adults to talk about how noise is perceived by people who thrive in a quieter atmosphere.

A charming mix of imagination, humor, and friendship, Albert’s Quiet Quest would be a delightful addition to home and public library bookshelves and a conversation starter for elementary school classrooms.

Ages 3 – 7

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0553536560

To learn more about Isabelle Arsenault, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Quiet Day Activity

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Make Your Own Sensory Sand

 

You can have quiet fun with this sensory sand that you can mold or just let slip through your fingers.

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-albert's-quiet-quest-cover

You can find Albert’s Quiet Quest at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 8 – National Grandparents Day

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About the Holiday

As a child in the 1920s, Marion McQuade accompanied her grandmother as she visited elderly neighbors, offering friendship and help when needed. This early experience sparked Marion’s lifelong concern for the elderly and especially for grandparents. In 1956, Marion helped institute a tribute to octogenarians. It was just the beginning of her work on behalf of the elderly and her hopes to create a special day commemorating the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared the first Sunday after Labor Day to be National Grandparents Day. As Marion envisioned it, the day gives grandparents and grandchildren an opportunity to show their love for one another and for older members of the family to pass down their stories and wisdom to younger generations. 

Love is Kind

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Lison Chaperon

 

Little Owl had been saving up his coins to buy something special for Grammy’s birthday. He even knew exactly what he wanted to give her—“a heart-shaped box of chocolates.” He took the coins out of his pocket to look at them, but just as he did he tripped over a tree root and his money went flying. One, two, three, they rolled down the hill “until wobble PING” they landed right by Beaver’s dam. Little Owl ran after them. Just as he got close, he heard little Beaver excitedly showing her mommy that the tooth fairy had come after all. Seeing the big smile on Beaver’s face, Little Owl just wished her a “tooth-errific day” and headed back home.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-love-is-kind-coins

Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

As luck would have it, though, Little Owl spied a dollar lying among the fallen autumn leaves. He was excited that now he could buy Grammy’s gift, but then he saw the “Missing $1.00” sign on Mrs. Mouse’s house. He picked up the money and rang Mrs. Mouse’s doorbell. Mrs. Mouse was thrilled to see her money again as she and Mr. Mouse needed it to fix up the nursery for the new babies they were expecting. “Little Owl smiled. ‘That’s wonderful news. Congratulations!’” he said.

Little Owl continued on and while cutting through the sunflower field, he ran into Rabbit, who had “THREE heart-shaped boxes of chocolates—” one for Ma, one for Pa, and one Rabbit was going to keep for herself. “Little Owl’s feathers stood on end. You have THREE! That’s not fai…’ Little Owl stopped. Getting angry wouldn’t get Grammy those chocolates.” Instead, he told Rabbit to enjoy her candy, and she hopped happily off. In a moment, though, she was back with a coupon for one free box of chocolates.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-love-is-kind-beaver

Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Little Owl skipped all the way to Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe. But when he got there, all of Chipmunk’s chocolates were gone and he was just closing the shop. Once again, Little Owl smiled, gave good wishes, and waved goodbye. Still, little Owl was disappointed. He had nothing to give Grammy.

When he got to Grammy’s house, he tearfully told her about his day. After he was finished, Grammy told him that the love he had shown to Beaver, Mrs. Mouse, Rabbit, and Chipmunk was “‘better than any heart-shaped box of chocolates.’” Little Owl was surprised. Just then he caught his reflection in the window. The white feathers of his face formed a perfect heart. “‘…I guess I gave you a heart-shaped gift after all!’” he said. “‘Me!’” And Grammy thought that was “‘the best gift of all.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-love-is-kind-coupon

Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Laura Sassi’s tender intergenerational story delves gently and with an endearing main character into what it means to love. Not only does Sassi reveal the true meaning of love, but she shows young readers how to express it by what they do and say (or don’t say). Through each of Little Owl’s encounters, he demonstrates kindness and empathy as he puts the happiness of others ahead of his own desires. Sassi’s genuine storytelling doesn’t shy away from Little Owl’s honest emotions that touch on ownership, disappointment, anger, and sadness, but in each case Little Owl is guided by his strong internal moral code revealed organically through his thoughts and actions.

As Grammy comforts her young grandson, she reinforces the idea that the best gift someone can give an individual, their community, and the world at large is not stuff but a caring and compassionate heart. Little Owl and little readers need not rely only on the words of the story but come to understand this important lesson through Little Owl’s reflection in the window as well. Lines from the poem “Love is Kind,” found in 1 Corinthians 13, are sprinkled throughout the text: in the river that runs past Beaver’s dam, over Mrs. Mouse’s hearth, in the petals of a sunflower, and elsewhere, reminding readers that these ideals can be found everywhere and encouraging them to look for and contribute to universal kindness.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-love-is-kind-beaver

Image copyright Lison Chaperon, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With his soft tufts of autumn-hued feathers and cozy coat and scarf, Little Owl is an adorable friend to follow on a journey. Lison Chaperon’s woodland neighborhood glows with gold and russet leaves, providing a warm backdrop to the snug homes of Little Owl’s neighbors. Children will be enchanted by the Mouse’s tree trunk-and-toadstool house, where a swing set with walnut-shell swings wait in the yard for little mice to play. When Little Owl heads into the sunflower patch, kids will spy a snoozing caterpillar, a bee and a ladybug having a picnic, and a glimpse of the bunny he’s about to bump into.

In Little Owl’s encounters, readers can clearly see what the coins, the dollar bill, and the three boxes of chocolates mean to each respective family. In this way, children discover both sides of each story and can better understand how generosity affects both the giver and the receiver. As Little Owl loses hope of getting a gift for Grammy, the sunny sky turns gray and rainy to reflect his mood, but a rainbow appears when Rabbit pays her good fortune forward by giving Owl a coupon. It’s nighttime when Little Owl reaches Grammy’s, and he’s welcomed by shining lanterns and a starry sky. Inside, Grammy’s just finishing up a delectable cake to share while snuggling in Grammy’s rocking chair.

This lovely, multilayered story is delightful for any story time while also providing many opportunities for adults and children to talk about ideas of love, kindness, empathy, and how one person’s actions and words can make a difference in others’ lives. Love is Kind would be a favorite for grandparents and children to share. Reading it with little ones is also a wonderful way to bring closer grandparents who live far away. The book would make a sweet gift and addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310754893 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0310754848 (Board Book)

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website

Love is Kind Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Zonderkidz in a Twitter giveaway of:

One (1) copy of Love is Kind written by Laura Sassi | illustrated by Lison Chaperon

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

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

A winner will be chosen on September 15.

Prizing provided by Zonderkidz

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

National Grandparents Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-love-is-kind-cookies

Little Owl Cookies (and Grand ones too!)  

Made with Love by Laura and her daughter

 

My 14-year-old daughter loves spending time her grandparents and she thought these LOVE IS KIND owl-themed cookies would be a fun and tasty way to celebrate that special bond between child and grandparent. We hope you enjoy our activity—and after baking and decorating together, we hope you’ll be inspired to spread some love by sharing the cookies with neighbors or friends who perhaps live too far away to be with their grandchildren on Grandparents Day! Enjoy!

Supplies

  • A favorite sugar cookie recipe (or buy pre-mixed cookie dough from the market)
  • Two glasses with different sized rims for cookie cutters (so you can make little and big owls)
  • A bag of confectioners’ sugar, a few splashes of milk, food coloring
  • Several bowls to mix your icing along with a spoon and toothpick for each color
  • Candy eyes (found in baking section at market)

Directions

  1. Roll out the dough, then press circles—both big and small (to represent grandparents and grandchildren) using rims of two different sized glasses. 
  2. Place the dough circles on a cookie sheet. Then, taking little scraps of cookie dough, shape and press triangle-shaped owl tufts atop each circle, as shown.
  3. Bake according to recipe or package directions. Let cool.
  4. Using my sweet daughter’s samples as a model, or following your own owl vision, decide how many colors you will need to decorate your owls. 
  5. For each color, add a generous half cup of confectioners’ sugar and a splash of milk to a small bowl. Add a drop or two of food coloring, or mix two colors to create a new color. Stir gently using a spoon. (The amount of sugar, milk, and color drops you use will depend on how much icing you need.  Also, you will have to play with consistency until you get it just right – not too watery and not too thick.  My daughter apologizes for being so vague, but really mixing it up is part of the fun. Your grandkids will LOVE it!)
  6. To paint the owls, cover the cookie with your base glaze. Add the eyes while the glaze is still wet so they stick in place. Wait for the bottom coat to get a little crusty (so colors don’t bleed) before adding the final details such as beak and feathers.
  7. Finally, arrange a plate of big and little owl cookies for yourselves and another to share (in true LOVE IS KIND fashion)!  Have fun!

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You can find Love is Kind at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 30 – Share a Hug Day

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About the Holiday

There’s something about a hug that’s restorative. Today’s holiday was established for people to share this spontaneous and heartfelt gesture with others who look as if they could use some extra encouragement or with family and friends to remind them how much they mean to you. Celebrate the day by giving out plenty of hugs—whether they’re bear-sized or, as today’s book shows, teeny-tiny dinosaur-sized.

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug

Written by Jonathan Stutzman | Illustrated by Jay Fleck

 

Tiny T. Rex notices right off that his friend Pointy looks pretty sad. He asks Pointy if he’s okay, and Pointy tells him he’s too sad to play. The little dino wants to give his friend a hug, but his arms are so short that a hug seems almost impossible. Even though he grows, Tiny tells readers, his arms never do. But that’s not going to stop him. After all, he says, “Pointy needs me.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tiny-t-rex-and-the-impossible-hug-growing

Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2019, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

He asks his dad for advice, but his solution seems too logical. “Rexes are thinkers, not huggers,” Tiny’s dad explains while offering a mathematical equation to solve the problem. Math is not Pointy’s forte, though, so the little rex seeks out his Auntie Junip. He finds her practicing yoga and making cucumber juice—at the same time. Auntie Junip suggests balance is the answer.

Tiny goes to find his mom. While she is encouraging and complimentary, she can’t tell her son how he can hug with his tiny arms. His brother and sister tell him he must practice, and he takes this advice to heart. He begins a regimen to become stronger and develop his hugging ability. He practices on books, flowers, balls, an ice cream cone (messy!), and a cactus (sticky!).

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tiny-t-rex-and-the-impossible-hug-math

Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2019, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

At last, he thinks he’s ready. With just one more hug under his belt, he’ll be ready to cheer up Pointy. But it’s not a tree trunk he’s hugging—it’s the leg of a pterodactyl! And now he’s soaring way up in the sky. “From up here, everything looks tiny, like me. I could hug anything I wanted,” he says. Then as suddenly as he was flying, he’s falling… with no hope of finding Pointy for that hug. Unless… he lands right on top of him.

Tiny tells Pointy all about his search for the perfect hug and explains that even though his “hugs are still tiny”… he will do his best “because you are my very best friend.” He embraces Pointy as hard as he can—and that itty-bitty hug turned out to be the “biggest hug ever.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tiny-t-rex-and-the-impossible-hug-pointy

Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2019, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Tiny dinosaurs are adorable, but Jonathan Stutzman’s tiny dinosaur with lots of love to give will melt your heart. Stutzman’s T. Rex sweetie is as earnest as any little one and wants only to help his friend feel better. As the little dino seeks advice from the adults in his life, readers will giggle at their world views that don’t quite hit the mark. When his brother and sister offer a way forward, though, kids will recognize that with practice, self-confidence, and self-reliance anyone can accomplish their goals—and that helping a friend is one of the best ways to use your talents, big or small.

Jay Fleck’s tiny T. Rex with his nubbin arms and sincere expression will endear him to children and adults alike. His diminutive size is evident as he stands atop his father’s head, walks along the chalk tray of a chalk board, and gets lost in a side-table drawer. As the little T. Rex determines to practice his way to the hug he so wants to give, Fleck humorously shows that there are flubs and fails along the way to a winner—just as there are in any endeavor. During Tiny’s first attempts at the game of ping-pong his siblings are playing, he suffers whiffs, plunks, and even a bonk on the head before giving the ball a solid Wham! Hugging an ice cream cone leaves him dripping with chocolate and strawberry ice cream, and he comes away from squeezing a cactus completely covered in prickles. When Tiny finally gives Pointy the hug he needs, you can bet that readers will be smiling as wide as Tiny and Pointy.

Kindness, friendship, and droll humor go (tiny) arm-in-(tiny)-arm in Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, a charming, original story that will be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Chronicle Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1452170336

Discover more about Jonathan Stutzman and his books on his website.

To learn more about Jay Fleck, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Share a Hug Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-coupons

Free Hug Coupons

 

Everyone needs a hug now and then! With these printable Free Hug Coupons you can be sure that all of your favorite people get a sweet hug when they need it most.

Free Hug Coupons

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tiny-t-rex-and-the-impossible-hug-cover

You can find Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review