October 13 – National Fossil Day

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About the Holiday

Did you know that some fossils date back to 4.1 BILLION years ago? Just think of that the next time you’re feeling a little bit old (or so recommends the website National Today). Today we celebrate National Fossil Day to recognize the importance (and, well, awesomeness) of paleontologists, geologists, and fossils in providing us with information on the history of our earth and those who have inhabited it before us. ​National Today provides some further information, with a timeline of fossil history, and fun facts like this one: The highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil was $8.3 million (they named it “Sue”).

To celebrate National Fossil Day, check out National parks near you, learn more about fossils, do something to help protect the earth, read some books about evolution—like Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!—or visit the National Parks page for more information and resources on how to celebrate our geologic heritage.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!

Written by S.K. Wenger | Illustrated by Jojo Ensslin

 

If you ask Chicken Frank he’ll tell you, “I’m a dinosaur! Cluckity-roar!” But the other barnyard animals aren’t so sure. Everyone is puzzled by this evolution thing Frank keeps talking about (“Evo-what?”). Chicken Frank tries to explain, “Evolution! Change! Change happens over time so we can survive.” He takes a stick and draws lines of lineage, connecting crocodiles to plant-eating dinosaurs and eventually birds. “From a dinosaur. See?” But the other animals don’t see it: “I see a chicken who was a chicken five minutes ago,” a sheep says. “I see a chicken who’s been a chicken since he hatched,” a pig chimes in.

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Image copyright Jojo Ensslin, 2021, text copyright S. K. Wenger, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Chicken Frank then presents different types of evidence to try to convince the farm that birds evolved from dinosaurs. He points out his feet look like those of T. rexes, to which another chicken looks at the readers and says, “More like T. crazy.” Frank explains that feathers evolved from dinosaur scales, and that both dinos and chickens had little tails when they were embryos. Other animals start wondering if they come from dinosaurs, since they have tails too. So, in a last straw attempt, Chicken Frank returns to his mud lineage map once more.

He shows how fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals come from different branches in the evolutionary tree. Birds, however, branch off from reptiles. Nobody is convinced, and pig, sheep, and horse turn their attention to pretending to be unicorns with carrot horns instead. But then, the results from Frank’s DNA test arrive. The data shows Chicken Frank has a reptilian cousin: Crocodile Ike.

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Image copyright Jojo Ensslin, 2021, text copyright S. K. Wenger, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Chicken Frank decides to send a post card to his cousin Ike inviting him to come for a family reunion, much to the dismay of everyone. A crocodile and a chicken in the same place? Seems like a recipe for disaster…and maybe some chicken franks too. And while Crocodile Ike and his mom are first tempted to gobble Frank up, they take some time and study his charts. And, to everyone’s surprise, they get it! “One of us isn’t a dinosaur… But we’re both Archosaurs! KINGS of the dinosaurs! Roar!” Ike tells Frank. Ike’s mom wonders who else they may be related to, so Frank starts a letter to an even further distant cousin—the sharks!

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Image copyright Jojo Ensslin, 2021, text copyright S. K. Wenger, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

They all decide to take a trip to the aquarium, where the pig, sheep, and horse are delighted to find “a swimming unicorn!” (a narwhal), and Crocodile Ike exclaims, “family!” Chicken Frank happily agrees and adds, “Ours is the very best.”

The story is followed by five informational sections: “What Is DNA?”, “What Is Evolution?”, “Is Chicken Frank Really Related to T. rex?” “Similarities Between Dinosaurs, Chickens, and Alligators”, and “Frank’s Glossary of Favorite Animal Groups” Each of these sections provide in-depth scientific explanations for those who want to know a bit more about how it all works. S. K. Wenger masterfully explains each of these concepts at an advanced level that is clear to read and understand for readers of a wide range of age and abilities.

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Image copyright Jojo Ensslin, 2021, text copyright S. K. Wenger, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

A joyous read, with important concepts about evolution scattered in with the fun. This comic-style picture book will have kids laughing out loud at the farm animals’ speech bubble puns and jokes. S. K. Wenger (and Chicken Frank) explain concepts of evolution in easily digestible terms for readers of all ages. The story is quick-paced and intriguing, with distinct characters and a quirky humor. A must-read for all kids, especially those with a fondness for dinosaurs.

The story would not be nearly as fun or educational without Jojo Ensslin’s colorful, cartoon-like drawings. As Chicken Frank explains his evolutionary reasoning, Ensslin depicts the ideas clearly and closely juxtaposed. For example, when Frank talks about how his feet match those of a T. rex, kids see both feet on the same page. Likewise, a scaled dinosaur and an ancient bird are portrayed on the same blackboard.

Later, when Ike receives the postcard from Frank in a muddy swamp, swarming with crocodiles, and calls out, “Does anyone know a cousin named Frank?” little speech bubbles with “Nope!” scatter the swamp, prompting kids to join in. In a carved-out corner, a close-up view of Ike and his mom show their evil plans to crash the reunion with some chompers. The facial expressions of each of the animals add to their characters and the humor of the story. Many carefully placed illustrative details add to the plot in meaningful and silly ways, such as, the DNA Test Kit shown the page before the story begins and the large bone Chicken Frank stores in his coop; the illustrations and text come together to create a read-aloud that is enjoyable to all.

Creative nonfiction at its best, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! is both a hilarious story and a highly engaging way to explain evolutionary science in a way kids will respond to and remember. Sure to spark an interest in further science learning, the book is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807511411

Discover more about S. K. Wenger and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jojo Ensslin and view a portfolio of his illustration, animation, and woodcout work, visit his website.

National Fossil Day Activitycelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chicken-frank-dinosaur-national-park-service-dinosaur-coloring-pageDinosaur Coloring Pages

 

Enjoy these four dinosaur coloring pages from the National Park Service’s free prehistoric coloring book in honor of National Fossil Day!

Dinosaur Coloring Pages

For more, you can download the whole coloring book from the National Park Service here.

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You can find Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 22 – It’s National Insect Week

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About the Holiday

Insects are endlessly fascinating, and this week celebrates their diversity, purpose, and beauty. This week was established by the Royal Entomological Society to encourage people to learn more about insects, from those close to home to the exotic species around the world. This year the theme is Entomology at Home and people are invited to participate by learning about local species of insects and enjoying the resources on the National Insect Week website. There’s a photography contest, learning videos for all ages, access to Instar the Magazine for Young Entomologists, and so much more, including a mention of “the most bizarre use” of an insect ever imagined. To discover all of the resources and fun, visit the National Insect Week website.

I received a copy of Moth for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Moth

Written by Isabel Thomas | Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

 

“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope. It starts with a little moth.” Long ago a peppered moth wiggled out of its cocoon, unfurled its “salt and pepper” wings, its legs, and its antennae and took to the air to avoid predators. It met up with other peppered moths flitting and fluttering among the trees in the night sky. Most of these moths “had speckled, freckled wings,” but some had “wings as dark as charcoal.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

During the day, the peppered moths rested, flattening themselves against the speckled bark of the trees, camouflaged from birds and other animals. But the black-winged moths weren’t so lucky. Easy to spot against the light bark, they began to vanish as birds nipped them up for themselves and their chicks. As the speckled peppered moths had more and more babies, they also sported a mottled pattern.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Over many years, the speckled moths became dominant while the dark-winged variety dwindled. But then, factories, trains, and other machines that burned coal were built. They spewed dark clouds of soot into the air. The soot settled everywhere, turning buildings and trees black. Now, the lighter-colored moths became the meals of birds and other predators, and the black-winged peppered moths had better camouflage. “Now they lived long enough to lay eggs of their own…and their wing color passed on to their offspring…and their offspring’s offspring.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

After decades of pollution and adaptation, the peppered moth population was still strong, but now most of the moths were dark, while the lighter moths were rare. But then, people came together to clean up the pollution. Less coal was burned as new ways to fuel machines were found. In time, the air cleared, the sky was again blue and the clouds white. “The trees shed their sooty bark.” Modern life brought many changes to the landscape, providing places for both dark and speckled peppered moths to hide. Today, a mix of peppered moth can be found flittering and fluttering in the night sky, offering their “story…of survival…and hope.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Isabel Thomas’s superlative nonfiction picture book masterfully combines lyricism with clear descriptions of the science of adaptation and natural selection to create a story that touches on natural history, human history, and the interactions of the two. Thomas’s conversational tone and direct address to the reader makes this a personal story and will captivate children sensitive to nature and the world around them. Her excellent pacing serves to show the passage of time involved in the evolutionary changes within the moth community. Thomas begins and ends her story with a note of hope that living things will adapt to today’s changing world. The underlying lesson may also encourage readers to find ways in which humans can adapt to promote the survival of all living things.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Isabel Thomas, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Exquisite mixed-media illustrations by Daniel Egnéus will immediately draw readers—both children and adults—into the nighttime forest where peppered moths take wing, silhouetted against the golden moon and the deep blues and purples of the midnight sky before finding a hiding place from hungry bats and birds. The story’s theme of light and dark in its variations is powerfully presented. In the early pages, images are set against bright, open backgrounds; foliage is vibrant green; and birds dazzle with color. As a bird brings a charcoal-winged moth back to her nest while speckled moths hide, children can easily see natural selection at work.

As the Industrial Revolution alters the skyline and the quality of the air, the images become denser and the hues of the sky, trees, and birds muted. For children who have not grown up with the air pollution of the past—even the near past—double spreads of smog-churning factories and trains will make a strong impression. The introduction of a child at the beginning and end of the story reminds readers of two things: that we owe it to our children to treat the world with kindness and that our children are the hope this story builds on.

Special mention must be made of the magnificent and poignant illustrations of the speckled peppered moths. Looking closely at their outstretched wings, you will see nature—trees, water, dappled sunlight—reflected in them. The stunning cover—with its foil-embossed lettering, stars, and moth—reflects the importance of each reader to our world: touch or look into the shining silver and you will find yourself mirrored there.

A beautiful book to enhance nature and science studies and help children develop an understanding of the impact of change, Moth is a must for school, public library, and home collections.

Ages 6 – 10

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1547600205

Discover more about Isabel Thomas and her books on her website.

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

Take a look inside Moth with this beautiful book trailer.

National Insect Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tree-branch-with-white-cocoons

Beautiful Moths Game

 

Moths go through many stages of metamorphosis—from egg to caterpillar to cocoon— before they finally emerge as a moth. In this game, help six moths emerge from their cocoons to win!

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print a Tree Branch Game Board and set of Moth Cards for each player
  2. Print one Moth Playing Die
  3. Choose a player to go first
  4. The first player rolls the die and places the matching moth card on one of the cocoons on the Tree Branch Game Board
  5. Play then moves to the player on the left
  6. Players continue to roll the die and place moths on each cocoon
  7. If a player rolls a moth that they already have placed on their game board, they pass the die to the next player and wait for their next turn.
  8. The player who fills their Tree Branch with moths first is the winner

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moth-an-evolution-story-cover

You can find Moth at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

October 16 – National Fossil Day

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About the Holiday

Welcome to the 10th anniversary of National Fossil Day! Today’s holiday puts a spotlight on paleontology and its value in the scientific community and for education. The day raises awareness of the importance of preserving fossils for future generations. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park, a treasure for scientists and nature-loving visitors alike. To celebrate today and Earth Science Week all this week, visit a natural history museum, learn more about the prehistory of your area, or read up on fossils and prehistoric creatures. You can learn more about today’s holiday and find resources, including Junior Paleontology Activity Books to download, on the National Park Service Website.

Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts!

By Mike Lowery

 

If there’s one thing kids can’t get enough of, it’s dinosaurs. And if there’s one thing Mike Lowery knows, it’s how to wow kids. The mash-up of the two has resulted in a wild and wacky book “that’s totally loaded with info, weird facts, and jokes that you will dig!” There are even dinos at the ready to point out these awesome puns. And these facts aren’t just presented like some old, dried-up report, the whole book—every page—is full of eye-popping illustrations and cool typography that will keep kids reading and reading and learning (and, oh yeah, having T-rex size fun).

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

What kinds of things will kids learn? First, there’s a completely captivating prehistoric timeline that lays out the different eras and depicts some of the creatures and vegetation that existed in each. Like jellyfish during the Paleozoic Era, horsetails plants and dicynodonts during the Triassic, stegosaurus and cycads in the Jurassic; bees, birds, and flowering plants along with velociraptors in the Cretaceous; and finally, woolly mammoths and us during the Age of Mammals. Along the way there were also several extinction events. And this all comes even before the Table of Contents!

While kids chew on the fact that “some giant dinos ate up to 12,000 pounds a day,” they can dip into Part One—What Is a Dinosaur? Here, they’ll learn stuff like where the word “dinosaur” came, who coined it, what “prehistoric” means, and who “were some of the first people to keep written records.” They’ll also get to know some animals that weren’t dinosaurs and how dinosaurs are defined. Of course, there are some dino jokes to keep kids chuckling while they read.

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Part Two reveals a short history of the earth as well as lots and lots about each era and representative creatures. After learning just how old Earth is, kids will be interested in a Quick Fact about one Jeremy Harper who counted to one million live on the internet. How long did it take him? Longer than you might think. Have you ever tried smooshing the whole history of the earth into just 24 hours? Mike Lowery did and it’s fascinating! Kids will also discover how Earth formed and about early signs of life.

What was going on in the Paleozoic Era? The haikouichthys (one of the first animals to have a skull), tiktaalik (a land and sea creature), and the meganeura (a giant dragonfly) can tell them. It was also the time of the Permian Period, when some pretty weird reptiles roamed the earth and some way-unusual marine life swam the seas. Then came “the Great Permian Extinction” that led into the Mesozoic Era, “aka the age of reptiles.”

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Here, kids learn about the development of dinosaurs, non-dino animals, and bugs. If you think a few stormy days are bad, imagine living during the Triassic Period, when “it once rained for two million years.” What do you wear in weather like that? A “Jurassic parka,” of course. Next up is the Jurassic and then the Cretaceous periods and their gigantic creatures of the land, ocean, and sky.

In Part Three readers get to meet the dinosaurs up close and personal (well, not too close). They’ll learn what dinos really ate, how they really sounded, and this delectable fact: “More time passed between stegosaurus and T. rex than the time between velociraptor and microwavable pizza!” And while kids are digesting that, they’ll want to watch out for the gigantic sauropods (who grew that big partly because “they didn’t chew their food…. Mammals don’t get as big as the sauropods, in part, because chewing requires a lot of energy.” Kids will see who won the “smartest dino award” and who was unfortunate enough to win “the, um, not-so-smartest dinosaur award.” They’ll also learn about horned dinos, armored dinos, fast dinos, and “the weirdest lookin’ dino.”

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Part Four talks about the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event and various theories that have been floated throughout the years. Part Five takes kids on a hunt for bones and other fossils and reveals how paleontologists study them. Part Six offers a tour of post-dinosaur beasts, and Part Seven invites kids to learn how to draw dinosaurs. That’s followed up by a Dino Field Guide, an illustrated list of dinos organized by time periods, and to round it all up, Lowery includes a few more irresistible dinosaur jokes.

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Copyright Mike Lowery, 2019, courtesy of Orchard Books.

Mike Lowery’s free-wheeling sense of humor, on exhibit in both his text and illustrations, will have kids laughing and learning billions of years’ worth of scientific facts. Funny asides by dinosaurs who just want in on the action put a spotlight on major events and conditions on Earth. Boxed and highlighted facts reveal the science of paleontology and provide explanations of dinosaur and prehistoric animal behavior and comparisons on size that will resonate with kids. Lowery imbues each of his creatures with personality while staying true to their nature and body type. Simply said, if there’s something you want to know about prehistoric creatures, dinosaurs, and the times they lived in, it’s in this book.

A must for home, classroom, and public library collections, you’ll want to put Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! on your shopping list for kids, teachers, and anyone who loves science, dinosaurs, and entertaining ways to learn or teach.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338359725

Discover more about Mike Lowery, his books, and his art on his website.

National Fossil Day Activity

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Hatch Your Own Dinosaur Eggs

 

Think there are no more dinosaur eggs to be found? Think again! You can make your own with this easy craft that will have you hatching some T.-rex-size fun! All you need are a few simple ingredients!

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Supplies

  • Old clothes or apron
  • Large box of baking soda (makes between 6 and 8 eggs)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Plastic dinosaur toys
  • Bowl
  • Fork
  • Spoon
  • Wax paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Vinegar
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Plastic or metal spoon, stick, popsicle stick, or other implement to chisel with

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Spray the egg with vinegar to hatch your dinosaur

Directions

  1. Wear old clothes or an apron
  2. Cover work surface with wax paper, parchment paper, newspaper, or other protection. Food coloring can stain some surfaces
  3. Pour baking soda into the bowl
  4. Add drops of food coloring in whatever color you’d like your eggs to be. The eggs will darken when baked.
  5. Mix in the food coloring with the fork. You may want to use your hands, too
  6. When the baking soda is the color you want it, begin adding water a little at a time
  7. Add water until the baking soda holds together when you squeeze it in your hand
  8. When the baking soda is the right consistency, spoon some out into your hand or onto wax paper
  9. Push one plastic dinosaur into the middle
  10. Cover the dinosaur with more of the baking soda mixture
  11. Carefully form it into an egg shape
  12. Repeat with other dinosaurs

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dinosaur-eggs-craft-chiseled -darker

Chisel the egg open to hatch your dinosaur

To Bake the Eggs

  1. Set the oven or toaster oven to 200 to 225 degrees
  2. Set the eggs on a baking sheet lined with foil
  3. Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, check
  4. Turn the eggs over and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes
  5. Remove from oven and let cool

To Hatch the Eggs

  1. Eggs can be hatched by chiseling them with a spoon, stick, or other implement
  2. Eggs can also be hatched by spraying or sprinkling them with vinegar

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-everything-awesome-about-dinosaurs-cover

You can find Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review