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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-color-collector-walking

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.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-color-collector-colorful-items

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!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-color-collector-cover

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 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.

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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.”

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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

February 23 – International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

People have holidays celebrating their favorite treats—like Popcorn Day, Cherry Pie Day, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Day—so dogs should have a food holiday of their own, right? Well, today is it! Today we remember that our best furry friends like to be rewarded with a special treat or just shown a little extra love with a tasty morsel. Before anyone thought about what dogs ate, dog “treats” included some pretty awful stuff—moldy bread and rotten leftovers included—but an American manufacturer named James Spratt was struck by an idea when he saw stray, hungry dogs gobbling up ship’s biscuits on one of his travels in Liverpool, England in the 1800s. While in London, he created the first dog biscuit, which was soft and made of fresh ingredients like meat and vegetables. The first commercial dog biscuit was developed in 1908 by the F. H. Bennett Biscuit Co. It was hard and made with meat products, milk, and important minerals.

Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog

By Lisa Papp

 

Madeline gives her dog, Star, a hug at his first birthday party. While they have cake, Madeline’s mom asks if Star is ready for his test the next day. Madeline assures her he is because they have been practicing meeting people, like the postman, “sitting still when a bike goes by,” and even “meeting other dogs.” Madeline tells Star that he’s “going to make the best therapy dog ever.” The next day Madeline takes Star to the Walker Oaks Retirement Village, where he’ll meet three people. Mrs. Dimple greets them with her therapy dog, Bonnie, who helped Madeline when she was learning to read.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madeline-finn-and-the-therapy-dog-practicing

Copyright Lisa Papp, 2020, courtesy of Peachtree Publishing.

Inside, Mr. Finch tells Madeline that he’ll be grading Star on his visits. First, Mr. Finch watches Star walk around the room, stop, and begin walking again on command. Even when Star sees other therapy dogs, he doesn’t stop to play. “Next, Mr. Finch pets Star, especially touching his ears and tail. Star doesn’t mind.” Star also sits still when a wheelchair rolls by. Finally, Star is supposed to stay where he is when Madeline and her mom walk away, but instead he walks across the room to a woman in a wheelchair and lays his paw on her knee. Mr. Finch writes something down, but he is smiling.

For Star’s next test, he’s taken into a room with a group of people. While Madeline is nervous, Star “walks right up and smiles.” One woman calls Star sweet, a man kisses Star right on his nose because he reminds the man of a dog he had when he was young, and another woman tells Star about her garden and reads him a letter. “Everyone seems happy,” but there’s one man sitting alone near the window.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madeline-finn-and-the-therapy-dog-first-test

Copyright Lisa Papp, 2020, courtesy of Peachtree Publishing

A nurse introduces him as Mr. Humphrey, and Madeline asks him if he’d like to pet Star. Mr. Humphrey says nothing. Mr. Finch writes something down. Then Madeline, her mom, and Star leave. Madeline’s mom says that Star did well on his second test, but Madeline wonders about Mr. Humphrey. “‘Some people need time,’ Mom says” and reminds Madeline of how patient Bonnie was with her. At home, Madeline thinks about things that Mr. Humphrey might like. That night, Madeline practiced reading with Star before bedtime.

The next time they visit Walker Oaks, they have to ride the elevator. At first Star doesn’t want to get in, but Bonnie nudges him and they walk in. When they get out, they see that someone has dropped a plate of cookies, but Star doesn’t react. Mr. Finch takes notes. When they see Mr. Humphrey, Madeline approaches him and introduces Star and asks if he’d like to pet him, but he stays silent. A little later Madeline asks if he’d like to look at her magic cards, but he still says nothing. Then Mrs. Dimple called her over and talked to her.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madeline-finn-and-the-therapy-dog-mr-finch

Copyright Lisa Papp, 2020, courtesy of Peachtree Publishing

 Afterward, Madeline thought that maybe Mr. Humphrey wasn’t ready to smile. She asked Mr. Finch if she and Star could see Mr. Humphrey again. This time, Madeline sat in a chair next to Mr. Humphrey with Star close by. In a little while, she took a book from her bag and whispers to Mr. Humphrey that she didn’t always like to read. Seeing Madeline with a book, Bonnie loped over and sat next to Star. Madeline began to softly read her book out loud.

Near the end of the story, Madeline saw Star move close to Mr. Humphrey and rest his chin on his knee. Mr. Humphrey put his hand on Star’s nose. Finally, Mr. Humphrey looked at Madeline. “‘My wife loved books,’” he said. “‘How about another story?’” While Madeline was choosing another book, Mr. Finch came over and handed her “a tag for Star. I AM A THERAPY DOG, it says.” Madeline “fastened his new tag onto his collar, right above his heart.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madeline-finn-and-the-therapy-dog-mr-humphrey

Copyright Lisa Papp, 2020, courtesy of Peachtree Publishing

Lisa Papp’s immersive storytelling will delight children as they follow Madeline through her practice sessions with Star and see her grow in confidence as she visits the retirement home and devises her own solution to engaging Mr. Humphrey. Kids will empathize with Madeline’s kindness as well as her nervousness over Star’s performance and will cheer each time he does well. Young readers will be fascinated to learn about all of the practice and testing a dog undergoes to become a recognized therapy dog.

Papp’s beautiful pencil, watercolor, and digital illustrations, rendered in soft hues invite kids to Star’s first birthday party and into the Walker Oaks Retirement Village, where the surroundings, the residents, and the staff are depicted in sensitive and realistic scenes. Madeline’s thoughtfulness and consideration for Star and the residents—and especially her concern for Mr. Humphrey—are clearly visible and mirror the natural empathy of children. 

Infused with love, empathy, and heart, Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog will charm readers as a stand-alone story or to spark additional research into therapy dogs and other animals. The book will quickly become a favorite read aloud and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Peachtree Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1682631492

Discover more about Lisa Papp, her books, and her art on her website.

You can find an extensive Activity Kit to download on the Peachtree Publishing website.

International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day Activity

CPB - Dog Biscuits

Homemade Dog Biscuits

 

These homemade dog biscuits are fun to make and a special treat for your dog at home, a neighbor’s pet, or dogs waiting for forever homes at your local shelter. 

*Children should have adult supervision when using the oven.

Supplies

  • 1 large bowl
  • Large spoon or whisk
  • Cookie cutters – shaped like traditional dog bones or any favorite shape

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1/3 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1 egg beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Add buckwheat flour to bowl
  3. Add powdered milk to bowl
  4. Add salt to bowl
  5. Stir to mix dry ingredients
  6. Add water
  7. Add melted margarine or butter
  8. Add egg
  9. Stir until liquid is absorbed
  10. Knead for a few minutes to form a dough
  11. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water, one Tablespoon at a time
  12. Place the dough on a board
  13. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness
  14. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters
  15. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes
  16. Biscuits will be hard when cool.

Makes about 40 biscuits.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-madeline-finn-and-the-therapy-dog-cover

You can find Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 25 – Christmas Day

CPB - I Got the Christmas Spirit Cover

About the Holiday

Christmas is anticipated all year round for the joy of giving, the fun of receiving, and the message of hope the holiday gives. There are as many ways to celebrate as there are families, but today’s book shows that the inspiration of the season can live in every person all year round.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of I Got the Christmas Spirit for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the Christmas Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl wakes up with a smile on her face and “the spirit of the season” in her heart. As she and her mother head out into the snowy city, she hears “the spirit in the air” as carolers sing and a corner Santa rings a bell. She’s been saving her money to add to the familiar red pot and happily drops it in the slot. The choir is now singing “Deck the Halls,” and the little girl sings along with all her heart.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then it’s time for a yummy roasted treat to warm her up in the shivery air. On the ice-skating rink, the girl and her mom “swirled and twirled around the spirit” with other kids and adults enjoying some frozen fun. Afterward, a tour of the store windows decorated with lights and glitter makes her feel sparkly inside. But when they come upon a mother and her two children huddled against the wind with a “Help Please” sign, the girl says, “I felt the spirit deep down in my soul.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-Got-The-Christmas-Spirit-skating

Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In a crowded store nearby, the little girl looks wide-eyed at all the toys then whispers to a tired Santa her wish “for the spirit everywhere.” As she, her mom, Santa, and a host of other people leave the store carrying wrapped packages, they feel the spirit spread by the girl’s smile. Outside, the little girl and the other shoppers give the presents to the needy family. The little boy grins from ear to ear as his mom stands by happily and the baby rests in Santa’s arms.

The Christmas spirit is not just a thing or a place or a person, the girl understands, “The spirit is you!” Then the girl gets her own surprise when she spies her dad coming home. She runs to him and he lifts her into a hug. Here is what she wants for Christmas—“Peace for all, good tidings, and cheer—let’s live the spirit every day of the year.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-Got-The-Christmas-Spirit-coming-home

Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2018, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2018. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As the sights and sounds of Christmas begin to light up towns, stores, and homes, Connie Schofield-Morrison’s story fills young readers with the joy and deeper meaning of the holiday. Little ones wanting to share their bubbly excitement for Christmas as well as their innate empathy will fall in love with the little girl who eagerly joins in on all of the city’s festivities while also embracing those in need. Her big heart and buoyant spirit will inspire kids to find the spirit of the holiday in everything they do too. Kids are invited to join in reading with exuberant alliterative words like “Ding Dong Ding, that call out to the little girl

Readers can almost hear the bells and singers, feel the soft snow, and smell the roasting nuts as he takes readers on a tour of the city decked out for the holidays. In his gorgeous, realistic paintings, the emotions and actions of the little girl cheer young readers as they see her belting out a Christmas carol, gliding on ice rink, and walking side-by-side with Santa to deliver her surprise gifts to the needy family. Images of the girl dropping money that she has saved into the Salvation Army pot and frowning sadly as she comes upon the destitute woman and her family mirror the compassion many children feel for those less fortunate.

Like its predecessor I Got the Rhythm, I Got the Christmas Spirit is an uplifting and beautiful book to add to any child’s collection—not only at Christmas, but any time of the year. A top choice for public libraries too.

Ages 3 – 7

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681195285

To learn more about Frank Morrison and view a gallery of his art, visit his website.

Christmas Day Activity

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Santa’s Sack Maze

 

Santa has one more present to put into his sack. Can you help him take the gift through the maze in this printable puzzle?

Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Puzzle | Santa’s Sack Full of Presents Solution

CPB - I Got the Christmas Spirit Cover

You can find I Got the Christmas Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 8 – Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

I was honored to host the cover reveal of Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer on March 11 and am thrilled to be part of Jim Benton’s book tour as this story about the beloved Comet is launched around the world, just in time for Christmas. This funny and poignant book will light up Christmas-season story times with joy and themes that will be remembered all year round.

Thanks goes to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sharing Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. I’m also thrilled to be teaming up with them in a giveaway of the book. You can find details below.

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer

By Jim Benton

 

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas….” We know how this one goes, right? Or do we? Let’s see…

“’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” (so far, so good) / “a tense situation.” / “The elves had worked the whole year / without a vacation.” (Oh, rein-deer!)

It seems all this work, work, work, had left the elves in bad moods, especially Stinky and Stanky who got into it over wrapping a present. Seeing that their argument might escalate, Comet hoofed in to break it up, only to be knocked out colder than a North Pole winter. While Comet’s intervention worked as he’d hoped, when he woke up, his arm didn’t. The doctor set Comet’s broken arm in a cast. When Comet jumped up to get back to work, though, the doc gave him the bad news: “‘No dashing, no dancing, / your arm, it needs fixin’. / It will be a long time / before you’re prancing with Vixen.’” Comet was sad to miss out on the big night, but he went down to the launch anyway,  only to see that his replacement was a “rookie named Freddy.” Although the other reindeer were skeptical about Freddie’s flying prowess, they took off into the sky as usual.

Finished for the night, the elves headed to their homes, leaving Comet in the workshop all alone. But what was THIS? There in the corner and reaching up to the ceiling was Santa’s bag of toys! Comet did what any conscientious reindeer would do: “he called Santa’s cell.” Getting no response, Comet knew Christmas was all up to him.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-comet-the-unstoppable-reindeer-toys-left

Copyright Jim Benton, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Try as he might, though, Comet couldn’t lift that bag of toys. He was about to give up when he noticed a letter lying on the floor. He sat down with a mug of hot chocolate and a few plates of cookies and began to read. He was expecting the usual, but this letter was from a little boy asking for something for his sister. It said: “‘She’s too small to write, / but I know what she’d like: / a little green pig / on a little pink bike.’”

But the letter writer didn’t stop there. He added that he knew there were a lot of deserving kids in the world and told Santa it would be all right if he couldn’t bring his sister the pig, ending with “‘She won’t cry a bit. / She won’t even pout. / Just don’t wear yourself / or your poor reindeer out.’” By the time he’d finished reading, Comet had tears in his eyes. No one had ever considered the reindeer before. Comet looked up, up, up at that heavy, heavy bag and saw at the top… “that little green pig.” Comet thought about that bag and his broken arm, and then, with only one reservation, “he hefted that bag / like a brave little fighter. / ‘Would it kill kids to ask / for some toys that are lighter?’”

So Comet took to the sky, carrying that sackful of toys, and touched down in countries from East going West. His travels were fraught with mishaps aplenty. After losing a tooth and getting nearly run over, he flew “on to Egypt and Sweden, / Italy and France, / where he scraped up his butt / (‘cause he didn’t wear pants).” Trips to every city in the world, along with a few more painful encounters, brought Comet no closer to finding the yellow house with a blue roof where the boy and his sister lived.

Comet consulted his map once more and a single tear dropped onto a place he realized he’d missed. He reached the yellow house just as the sun was rising over the horizon and slipped down the chimney. There he was met by the little boy and his sister. Just as he was handing them their gifts, the “phone gave a jingle. / ‘I’ll get it,’ said Comet. / ‘I’ll bet it’s Kris Kringle.’” And it was with many thank-yous and “‘a vacation,’ said Santa. / ‘Can the elves have one too?’ / asked Comet, who knew that’s / the right thing to do.’”

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Copyright Jim Benton, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Laugh-out-loud funny and with a message about going above and beyond for family and friends, Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer will become a kid-favorite in any house for Christmas and throughout the year. Comet’s misadventures on his travels around the globe are slapstick gems kids will want to hear over and over. Adults will also find themselves “Ho-ho-hoing” at Jim Benton’s bouncy rhymes and funny wordplay as well as Comet’s hilarious thoughts that echo ones we’ve all had at one time or another. Amidst all the fun, too, is a heartfelt story about thinking of others, kindness, and the true meaning of giving that will impress and cheer kids.

Benton’s expressive, madcap cartoon illustrations will have kids giggling at the overworked elves wrapping presents with fatigued, bored expressions, the goofy reindeer (especially Freddy), and Comet’s valiant efforts to lift the enormous bag. Images of Comet’s accidents and near misses will be met with guffaws. Benton’s illustrations also show many examples of empathetic kindness, deep appreciation, and unstoppable perseverance that will resonate with kids beyond the holiday season.

Sure to be asked for again and again on its way to becoming a Christmas tradition, Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer would make a perfect pre-holiday gift for your own family or any child. The book will be a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043472

Jim Benton Photo

Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of the New York Times bestselling series Dear Dumb Diary and Franny K. Stein as well as the popular It’s Happy Bunny brand. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies in twenty-five countries and have garnered numerous honors. Like Comet, Jim knows what it’s like to hobble around in a cast; however, he is still learning to fly. Find out more about him at www.jimbenton.com.

You can connect with Jim Benton on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Giveaway

I’m pleased as Christmas punch to be teaming with Two Lions and Blue Slip Press in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer by Jim Benton

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite reindeer for extra entry. Each reply earns you one extra entry

This giveaway is open from December 8 to December 13 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 14. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

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

Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer Book Tour Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-reindeer-puzzle

Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

 

Match the two-member reindeer teams so they can help Santa in this printable puzzle!

Reindeer Teams Match-Up Puzzle

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You can find Comet the Unstoppable Reindeer at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

August 13 – Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

It’s all up to you to make his month-long holiday happen. It offers an opportunity for each person to ask: What makes me happy? During these last weeks of summer, be sure to include those things that truly bring you and your children joy. While many of the usual activities may not be available, finding new ways to use your talents or to help others can bring a new kind of happiness, as you’ll see in today’s book.

Dewdrop

by Katie O’Neill

Little Dewdrop, an adorable axototl, runs to join the line to sign up for the Sports Fair. He asks his friends if they’re going to go too. Mia, a turtle, says she’s entering the “pebble-throwing contest,” Newman the Newt tells Dewdrop that he’s going to be writing “a song to cheer everyone on, and three minnows are using their cooking talents to make the food. Dewdrop says he’s working on a cheerleading routine, but he wants to help everyone else too.

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

When Mia wears herself out training, Dewdrop brings her healthy snacks. Then he joins in on the recorder while Newman composes his song, but he falls asleep before they finish. Next, Dewdrop is happy to supply ingredients for the minnows’ concoction. Everyone is busy building the tents and stands for the fair, while the participants train. Mia sweats it out lifting rocks, but then she sees Bear lifting a heavy barbell with one arm. She feels dejected and wonders if there’s even a point in competing.

Writing a song seemed easy to Newton, but now none of his tunes are coming out just right. The ground around him is littered with balled-up paper. The minnows are worried that the food they’re making is too boring and think maybe a new recipe would be better. Dewdrop, on the other hand, is leaping and dancing and shaking his pompoms. “WOW! I am so good at cheerleading!” he says to himself.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dewdrop-pebble-throwing

Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

The next day Dewdrop goes off to see if his friends need any help. He finds Mia struggling to lift a barbell as big as Bear’s. She manages to raise it over her head as Dewdrop applauds. Then he asks her to lift him the way she used to when they were younger. She does it easily, and Dewdrop is impressed by how much stronger she’s gotten. As Dewdrop runs off to find another friend, Mia realizes that Dewdrop is right and that she doesn’t need to compete against anyone but herself and should just “try to do better than [she] did yesterday.”

Dewdrop finds Newton down in the dumps. He still hasn’t written a song he likes. Dewdrop encourages him to relax and listen quietly to his inner voice. When he does, a beautiful tune bursts out. Next, Dewdrop follows his nose to where the minnows are trying yet another recipe, worried that no one will like what they make. Dewdrop has a solution to that. “I will bravely volunteer to lay my life on the line…and taste test for you,” he says. He dips his spoon into what one minnow calls “a boring old stew” and declares it…”probably the best thing I have ever tasted!” Cheered by this news, the minnows realize they can’t please everyone and go to work creating dishes that would make them happy.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dewdrop-cheerleader

Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

At last the day of the sports fair comes. The stage and playing fields are ready; the stands are packed, and the food court is open. Newton steps up to sing his song that he says expresses his feelings about the sports fair. The audience smiles and claps along. First up, it’s time for Mia to show her stuff at the pebble pitch. When she steps up to the line, Dewdrop performs his special cheerleading routine just for her. She throws…. The rock sails over the-much-bigger Bear, Tortoise, and Lobster’s heads. At the end of the competition, the judge presents her with a medal for “New Personal Best.”

At lunchtime everyone rushed to get in line at the minnows’ booth. When Dewdrop finally gets to the front, one minnow tells him that they made something special for him and that Mia and Newman are waiting for him to join their picnic. Dewdrop finds them in a field, and they present him with a basket to thank him for everything he’d done to remind them about “what’s important.” Dewdrop lifted the cover and discovered… a Worm Pie! Which made this “the best day ever.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dewdrop-music

Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

Everyone needs a little encouragement now and then and Katie O’Neill’s endearing axototl, Dewdrop, is just the one to deliver it. A natural cheerleader, he helps his friends and readers learn a simple, but most-important lesson about growing up and growing into your individual talents. As Dewdrop enthusiastically gives his friends a hand when they worry, strain, and struggle to become the very best at the fair, kids will see that comparing oneself to others and trying to please everyone is a losing proposition and actually stifles ones creativity and ability. When Mia, Newton, and the minnows succeed at the fair by being themselves, kids will understand that it’s only when they are true to themselves that they are really winners. O’Neill adds humorous touches throughout the story that will charm kids and fleshes out the characters’ personalities. Comics’ and graphic-novel-loving kids will be drawn to O’Neill’s candy-colored illustrations that prompt them to examine and empathize with the actions and emotions of excitement, disappointment, pride, and friendship depicted.

Fun and confidence-boosting, Dewdrop would make a thought-provoking addition to home, school, and public library collections. 

Ages 6 – 9

Oni Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620106891

Discover more about Katie O’Neill and her books on her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dewdrop-cover

You can find Dewdrop at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 3 – Love Conquers All Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-breaking-news-cover

About the Holiday

The phrase “love conquers all” is attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil, but it’s veracity is still timely today. As the world is rocked by agonizing and heartbreaking events, children watch, worry, and wonder. Sharing today’s book can help adults and kids talk about their emotions and come up with ways they can show the love they feel for family, friends, and their community.

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

 

A little girl remembers “when we heard the bad news.” She was sitting at the kitchen table repotting plants with her mom, dad, and little brother. They were happy, her dad sipping coffee and her mom smiling. The TV was on in the background. And that’s how they heard the breaking news. Her mom’s head whipped around to see; coffee splashed out of her dad’s cup. And the plant tipped over spilling all of its new soil.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

After that, her parents can’t stop watching the news on the television and their phones. When they talk about it, they whisper, and the little girl pretends “not to hear. It is more than a little scary.” The regular routine no longer exists; happiness seems to be gone too. At school, the “teacher says to look for the helpers,” those “good people trying to make things better in big and small ways.”

The girl wants to help. At home she tries to make her mom and dad laugh, she invents magical ways to keep her family safe, and she even helps out with the chores, but nothing seems to help. The failure of her plans to do something big, just makes her “feel small.” Then she sees her brother giving their dog a hug. It cheers her and she begins to think “maybe…I can try to do…just one…small thing?” So she does. And then again…and again.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-breaking-news-after

Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

She starts by watering that newly potted plant, which has become droopy with neglect. She spends time with her brother and the dog, and she puts the now-perky plant in a sunny window. Outside, the bad news still lurks, but inside the girl’s parents notice this small change. She takes them by the hand and asks for the extra seeds, pots, and soil.

When the flowers sprout, the girl and her family take them outside. The bad news still exists, but as the girl gives the flowerpots away to their neighbors, they stop and smile. they sit on the stoop and in their front courtyards and talk. Here and there along the block of apartments, flower pots appear on the windowsills, and hope begins to dispel the gloom.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-breaking-news-sun

Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As children hear, see, and are directly affected by recent events—this week, over the past months, and in the future—feelings of fear, worry, anger, and helplessness impact their daily lives. Sarah Lynne Reul’s honest depiction of a time of upheaval reflects a child’s experience and offers them an opportunity to express their emotions. She also shows concrete ways that kids can channel their desire to help—ways that may seem small to them but that create much-needed connections among family members and the community they love.

Reul’s emotion-packed illustrations work hand-in-hand with her potent text to examine that moment when everything changed and its aftermath. The family’s happy, enthusiastic expressions are replaced with sadness and a world-weary stoop; a gray fog and somber hues predominate. An image of the little girl filled to the brim with everything that is happening around her will squeeze your heart and give kids a chance to say, “that’s how I feel.” The girl’s realization that small actions of kindness and love can help restore at least some of the lost light in their lives can be a revelation not only for children but for adults too who may be wondering how to process and respond to overwhelming circumstances and events. Reul’s two scenes of the neighborhood—one cast in shadow and the next washed in light (with an extra glow around the people and plants)—provide a strong visual of the results of positive action.

The Breaking News presents many openings for family discussion and shared comfort. The book a must-have for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250153562

To learn more about Sarah Lynne Reul, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Love Conquers All Day Activity

CPB - Heart Jar

Jar Full of Hearts

 

If your kids ever feel the need for more love or reassurance in their life, this jar full of hearts can be a visual reminder of the love that surrounds them, can be used to encourage discussions about feelings, or can provides little gifts kids can give to family and friends––old and new.

Supplies

  • A clear jar with a lid—you can use a recycled jar, a mason jar or a decorative jar found at craft stores
  • Red felt
  • Scissors

Directions

1. Cut red hearts from the felt

2. Add hearts to the jar. The jar can start out full or hearts can be added over time. Here are some ideas for giving jars to family members or friends:

  • Add one heart for each thing you love about your child or that a child loves about their sibling or friend.
  • Give a new heart whenever the recipient of your jar does something nice for someone.
  • If talking about feelings is difficult for your child, encourage them to bring you a heart from the jar to start a conversation.
  • Encourage the recipient of your jar to pass the love along! Tell them they can give a heart from the jar to someone else.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-breaking-news-cover

You can find The Breaking News at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review